Nevin on Calvin, Mystery, and Contentment in Sacramental Understanding

As quoted at the end of J.W. Nevin’s The Mystical Presence, pp. 314:

“They are preposterous,” says Calvin, “who allow in this matter nothing more, than they have been able to reach with the measure of their understanding. When they deny that the flesh and blood of Christ are exhibited to us in the Holy Supper, Define the mode, they say, or you will not convince us. But as for myself, I am filled with amazement at the greatness of the mystery. Nor am I ashamed, with Paul, to confess in admiration my own ignorance. For how much better is that, than to extenuate with my carnal sense what the apostle pronounces a high mystery!

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Nevin on the language and implications derived from the Westminster Assembly

The term spiritual as here used, it must always be borne in mind, carries in it no opposition to the idea of substance; nor does it refer to the person of Christ simply as it is spirit, and not body. On the contrary, it has regard to the inmost substance of his body itself. All imagination of a material intermingling of Christ’s flesh with ours is indeed carefully removed; but it is only to assert the more positively a real participation in the true life of his flesh as such. The communion is with the Savior’s body and blood, the very essence of which under a spiritual form, is carried over into the believer’s person. If this be not the meaning of the Westminster Assembly; if in the use of language, borrowed here so plainly from the creed of Calvin and the Reformed Church generally in the sixteenth century, the Assembly intended to signify after all something quite different from that creed, a mere moral union with Christ for instance, a communication with him in his divine nature simply, or an appropriation only of the merits of his life and death; it will be found very hard, in the first place to put any intelligible sense whatever into their words, and more difficult still, in the second place, to vindicate the interpretation as worthy either of their wisdom or their truth.

J.W. Nevin, 1846, The Mystical Presence 112-113

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Westminster, Communion, Meaning

“They that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ—truly and really.” (Westminster Catechism). All this the modern Puritan view utterly repudiates, as semipopish mysticism. It will allow no real participation of Christ’s person in the Lord’s Supper, under any form: but least of all under the form of his humanity. Such communion as it is willing to admit, it limits to the presence of Christ in his divine nature, or to the energy he puts forth by his Spirit. As for all that is said about his body and blood, it is taken to be mere figure, intended to express the value of his sufferings and death. With his body in the strict sense, his life as incarnate, formerly on earth and now in heaven, we can have no communion at all, except in the way of remembering what was endured in it for our salvation. The flesh in any other view profiteth nothing; it is only the Spirit that quickeneth. The language of the Calvinistic confessions on this subject, is resolved into bold, violent metaphor, that comes in the end to mean almost nothing.

J.W. Nevin, 1846, The Mystical Presence, 146-147

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Revivalism (continued…)

The theological issues raised here stand by themselves as ample reflections of new ways of understanding, living, and worshiping as Christians. For better or worse, many of the theological insights, ritual actions, and ways of living that were born in this period, arising out of these particular struggles, have persisted to the present day. This is no more true than with respect to Christian worship, for the revivals of early nineteenth-century America generated a tradition of Christian worship beholden less to denominational or confessional loyalties than to a uniquely American appreciation of both the individual soul and whatever means might turn that soul to the Lord.

(via Witvliet, Worship Seeking Understanding, ch. 8, “Theological Issues in the Frontier Worship Tradition in Nineteenth-Century America”, pp. 198)

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Revivals were hardly new in the nineteenth century… Earlier revivals generally had happened within the contexts of churches with established liturgical traditions. A revival might interrupt a liturgical pattern but generally did not displace it. In the nineteenth century, however, the pattern of revival worship became the basis of regular weekly worship in thousands of evangelical congregations across North America. To this day, thousands of North American Christians worship each week in what might be called a revivalist liturgical pattern.

(via Witvliet, Worship Seeking Understanding, ch. 8, “Theological Issues in the Frontier Worship Tradition in Nineteenth-Century America”, pp. 179-180.)

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