The Worship of God

More articles in this collection from past issues of the Presbyterian Standard are available online here.

Method of Admitting to the Lord's Table

by Thomas Boston

The ministry of Thomas Boston in Ettrick is justly famed. His Memoirs reveal the remarkable growth of the congregation from the occasion when he first administered the sacrament of the Lord's Supper there in 1710. It can only be of profit then to learn how Boston dealt with intending communicants. The following 'Method' forms an Appendix to the Memoirs.

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 1, January-March 1996.

1. Admission to the Lord's Table, and debarring from it, being acts of church discipline and government in a particular congregation, belong to the session of the congregation, and are not to be exercised by any minister or elder by themselves, nor any society of ministers and elders in an extrajudicial capacity.

Besides the ordinary examinations in parishes, it is meet there be diets of examination particularly for non-communicants, and specially those of the younger sort. And for this end, that once every year at least, especially before the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper in the congregation, ministers from the pulpit exhort and stir up noncommunicants to serious godliness, and the use of the means of knowledge; and intimate to all such as desire to be prepared to partake of that ordinance, that they give in their names to him, and wait on the diets of catechising to be appointed for such.

3. The names of such as offer themselves to be instructed, in order to their being admitted to the Lord's Table, are to be kept in a roll separate from that of the whole congregation, and to be brought into the session, and read before them; that it may be recommended to all the brethren, to have a particular eye on the enrolled, each especially on those of his own district, to excite, admonish, and exhort them to a walk becoming the Gospel, and the high privilege they are aspiring to.

4. When a non-communicant removes out of one parish into another, it were fit that he produce sufficient testimonials from the place of his former abode, before he be enrolled amongst those who have offered themselves to be instructed as above said, in the congregation to which he comes.

5. When one desires to be admitted to the Lord's Table, he is in due time to intimate his desire to the session, that they may maturely consider of it. But if it were fit, that the party should in the first place acquaint the minister with his purpose; who, if he finds he has not made a competent proficiency by the pains taken on him in the examinations of non-communicants, or otherwise, may advise him yet to forbear for a time.

6. The session, entering on this affair, a strict inquiry is to be made among the members, particularly at the elder or elders of the district which the party belongs to, concerning his life and conversation, whether he be guilty of any scandal, owns, submits to, and ordinarily attends, the ordinances of Christ, the public and private worship of God; if he be of a pious and sober deportment, and reputed to be a worshipper of God in secret, and if he be the head of a family, whether he worships God in his family.

7. If nothing be found on that part to hinder his admission to the Lord's Table, the session convening on a set day in the place of public worship, and the doors being open, that all the communicants, and those who have offered themselves to be instructed as above said, may have access if they please; he is, in face of session, to give proof of his knowledge of the principles of the Christian religion, and particularly of the nature, use, and ends of the ordinance of the supper, by making a confession of his faith, either in the way of a continued discourse, or by answering questions thereupon proposed by the minister.

8. And here special consideration is to be had of some who are known to be serious and willing to learn, yet are weak, namely, that the questions to be proposed to them, so as they may be answered by Yes, or No; or that the truth and error be both laid before them, and they asked which of them they believe.

9. The trial being ended, the session is to judge whether the party be endowed with competent knowledge of the principles of the Christian religion or not.

10. And if they be satisfied in this also, the party is to be put explicitly to consent to the covenant (whereof he desires the seal), to be the Lord's, live unto Him, and serve Him all the days of his life, by answering expressly the following (or the like) questions:-

(1) Do you believe the doctrine of the Shorter Catechism of this church, so far as you understand the same to be the true doctrine agreeable to the holy Scriptures, and resolve through grace, to live and die in the profession of the same?

(2) Do you consent to take God in Christ to be your God, the Father to be your Father, the Son to be your Saviour, and the Holy Ghost to be your Sanctifier; and that, renouncing the devil, the world, and the flesh, you be the Lord's for ever?

(3) Do you consent to receive Christ as He is offered in the Gospel, for your prophet, priest, and king; giving up yourself to Him, to be led and guided by His word and Spirit; looking for salvation only through the obedience and death of Jesus Christ, who was crucified without the gates of Jerusalem; promising in His strength to endeavour to lead a holy life, to forsake every known sin, and to comply with every known duty?

(4) Lastly, Do you promise to subject yourself to exhortation, admonition, and rebuke, and the discipline of the church, in case (which God forbid) you fall into any scandalous sin?

11. The party having professed, consented, and promised, as above said, is to be admitted to the table of the Lord, by a sentence of the session, which is to be recorded in their register, and an extract thereof allowed to be given him, when called for.

12. It were fit, that the names of all those who, from time to time, are admitted to the Lord's table, be enrolled in a bound book belonging to the session.

13. And how often soever that ordinance be administered in a congregation, the aforesaid roll of those who have at any time been admitted, is always to be read over distinctly in presence of the session some competent time before, and the members required to declare if they know anything against the life and conversation of any of them.

14. If anything be objected, the session is to order private exhortation or admonition, or sist (summon) the accused before them, as they shall see ground, and find the matter to require. And this is to be so managed, as that the accused be sisted as aforesaid, on report concerning the private exhortation or admonition made, before the time of the administration of the sacrament. But those who have once been orderly admitted, are at no time after to be denied the privilege they were admitted to, except in the case of scandal: for which they are to be debarred by the session, till they have removed the scandal according to the discipline of the church; which done, they are restored to their former church state.