I have made mention in previous posts both here and otherwise that one of the greatest blessings that we have in this age is the work of the good folks at Internet Archive (a San Francisco based non-profit) who, among other things, make available scanned PDF’s of works from previous centuries, free to the consumer. A good friend of mine is a post-doctoral student in Northern Ireland and always lets me know when something new comes along at the site that I may find enjoyable. It was with this in mind that he sent an e-mail to draw my attention to two works that he had found by an original Marrow Man, Alexander Moncrieff (find them here and here). These particular volumes contain the “Practical Works” of this founder of our denomination, with sermons on various subjects and two treatises responding to doctrinal controversies in his day. It is to one of these sermons, from Vol. I, that I would like to draw your attention.
Rev. Moncrieff, in preaching from Isaiah 8:7-8, takes a moment to speak to his congregation concerning the problems facing the church in Scotland. After listing a number of gross immoralities like adultery, atheism, Sabbath-breaking, and other violations of God’s commands he then challenges his hearers to think upon why this is the case. Why is there such an uptick in wicked behavior in their day, despite the plethora of Christian churches and “Christian” people? What he sees as the foundational issue is a kind of carnal Christianity, a faith which may leave the lips, but has no effect on the heart:
“A selfish, sensual, carnal worldly spirit prevails [in the church]. Love to Christ and his saints has decayed, and an eager love for the world has filled its room! And we do not prepare for ordinances, but rush upon them in a customary and formal way. No preparation for prayer by meditation, and looking into our state, and present case and frame; and no preparation for public ordinances, by a lively exercise of faith, and other graces, in all secret and private duties.” — Alexander Moncrieff, “Practical Works, Vol. I”, pg. 110
As the good Rev. Moncrieff sees it the problem lies in the way in which the blessed things of God are treated as a common thing, that have the same place in the lives of the congregants as taking out the trash and other basic life activities. Whatever lip service they may give to the ordinances of Christ are betrayed in the manner by which they approach them. In other words Moncrieff is pressing home the point that if you do not prepare yourself to come before the Lord on His Sacred day and attend to His ordinances with a right heart and a right mind then what can you expect, but for them to have the same effect on your spiritual life as the “customary” things and why then should you be surprised to see the base things of the flesh becoming normal in the culture, not just surrounding, but in the church itself? If you cannot take seriously enough the holy things of God to prepare for them, why should the world then seek to know the things of God that have so little effect on your life and thereby why should God honor the Church which does not take seriously this blessed gift?
Of course this lack of preparation is not something unique to 18th Century Scotland. Notice some other language that Moncrieff employs. The people are “rush[ing] upon them”. It is a common quip among pastors that their people will try their hardest to make appointments with the world, whether they be for work or pleasure, and “prepare” for them for many hours prior, yet will think nothing of sliding in the door of the sanctuary during the announcements. Now what is the reason for this? Part of it I think is the degradation of the Sabbath day and the practical abrogation of the 4th Commandment in the church. This is born out in the way in which we see Sunday as just another day off work, not as a special, holy day set apart by God for our spiritual benefit. Why should I prepare for Lord’s Day worship if there is nothing really unique in God’s economy about it? Moncrieff makes this point earlier in the same sermon:
“And to apply this to our own case, how are men wearying of and loathing the precious things of God? How are the ordinances of Christ deserted, and even scoffed at by many? How is the Sabbath profaned by crowds of people playing in the fields on the Lord’s Day, in some of the most populous places in the kingdom, and by the great many travelling upon the roads upon that holy day, set apart for the solemn worship of God…at how little pains are they to prepare their hearts for worship, in a dependence on his Spirit and grace.” — Alexander Moncrieff, “Practical Works, Vol. I”, pg. 99
Now of course this is not just about the Lord’s Day and the ordinances of God therein. Often a heart that does not see fit to prepare itself for the public worship of God is not taking advantage of the private and family times of worship which themselves are given in order to bring us a greater appreciation for the grace and mercy of God so that when we do go to public worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ we are ready to focus alone on Him.
In closing, I want to leave you with a few questions for application. Should we not take more care with meeting with our Father through the gift of His Son, and the Holy Spirit then we do getting things together for the latest tailgate or fishing trip? Jesus Christ in Matthew 15:18 says, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.” and this most certainly applies to the state of things and to what Moncrieff is pointing to in his sermon. How can we say that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength when we place more preparation for the things of this World rather than getting yourself and your family ready to come before our holy and righteous God?
A few resources I would recommend for further reading on the subject of preparation for the Lord’s Day are as follows:
The Christian’s Daily Walk by Henry Scudder (Chapter 5)
The Hearing of God’s Word by William Ames
The Family at Church by Joel Beeke
How to Exercise Ourselves to Godliness on the Lord’s Day by George Swinnock (Chapter 21)