The astonishing sacramental practice of Robert Bruce

This description of the communion meal at St Giles church in Edinburgh under the ministry of Robert Bruce is quite astonishing and challenges the bare ritual of many contemporary churches:

We must make an attempt in this chapter to bring up to our minds the scene upon Communion Sabbath in St. Giles Church in the year 1590. In 1590 in St. Giles the communicants sat in successive relays at tables specially set apart for the purpose, which were covered with a fair white cloth. As many as twelve or even sixteen of these tables were provided, about one hundred people sitting at each one. Little tokens of metal were used, and these were handed to the officiating elder on his admitting to the table. The Session Records of St. Giles for 1590 show that not port wine but claret was used; the quantity consumed was astonishing.

Bruce’s sacramental theology is explained below. Prizes for anyone who can translate the old Scots dialect:

Quite in accord with this doctrine of the Church is the doctrine of the sacraments held by the Scottish Presbyterians. In the Scottish Confession of 1560 it is taught that “In the Supper rychtlie used, Christ Iesus is so joyned with us that He becumis the verray nurishement and food of our saulis.” Master Robert Bruce, who was a theologian and a student of the history of the Church, bases his teaching upon the sacrament on this Confession, avoiding on the one side extreme sacramental ideas, and on the other side that lax teaching of the opponents of High Churchism which finds in the bread and wine no more than a picture of the transactions of Calvary. Bruce occupies the ground of the Second Helvetic Confession (1566) and of the Thirty-nine Articles (1563), which was afterwards defined in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646). In his Five Sermons upon the Lord’s Supper the view represented by that strong composition, the Scottish Confession of 1560, is laid down with much vigour of intellect and variety of illustration. He steers a straight course between the Scylla of transubstantiation and what he regards as the Charybdis of a bare commemoration theory. In the words of his original, “We will neather wirschip, the signes in place of that which is signifeid by thame; neather yit do we dispyse and interprets thame as unprofitable and vane; but we do use thame with all reverence, examyning ourselfis diligentlie befoir that so we do.”, Or let Master Robert himself state the position: “Will ye speare at us, again, How Christ Iesus His true bodie and blood is present? We will say, That they are spirituallie present, reallie presente, that is present in the supper and not in the bread; we will not say that His true flesh is presente to the hands or to the mouth of our bodie, but we say it is spirituallie present, that is present to thy spirit and faithfull saull, yea even als present inwardlie to thy saul as the bread and wine are present to thy bodie outwardlie. Will ye speare then, Gif the bodie and blood of Christ Iesus be present in the supper? We answer in a word, They are present in the supper, but not in the bread and wine, nor in the accidents nor substance of bread and wine. And we make Christ to be present in the supper, because he is present to my saull, to my spirit and faith.”‘

[Robert Bruce, Minister in the Kirk Edenburg, Banner of Truth 1961, p71-81]

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One Response to The astonishing sacramental practice of Robert Bruce

  1. neilrobbie says:

    Here’s a starter for 10

    “In the Supper rychtlie used, Christ Iesus is so joyned with us that He becumis the verray nurishement and food of our saulis.”

    “In the Supper rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us that He becomes the very nourishment and food of our souls.”

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