A Defense of Open Communion
by Robert Murray M'Cheyne

from "Communion with Brethren of Other Denominations"
in Bonar, Andrew A., Memoirs of McCheyne, (Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group) 1999.


I believe it to be the mind of Christ, that all who are  vitally united to Him, should love one another, exhort one another daily, communicate freely of their substance to one another when poor, pray with and for one another, and sit down together at the Lord’s Table. Each of these positions may be proved by the Word of God. It is quite true that we may be frequently deceived in deciding upon the real godliness of those with whom we are brought into contact. The apostles themselves were deceived, and we must not expect to do the work of the ministry with fewer difficulties than they had to encounter. Still I have no doubt from Scripture that, where we have good reason for regarding a man as a child of God, we are permitted and commanded to treat him as a brother; and, as the most sacred pledge of heavenly friendship, to sit down freely at the table of our common Lord, to eat bread and drink wine together in remembrance of Christ.

The reason of this rule is plain. If we have solid ground to believe that a fellow sinner has been, by the Holy Spirit, grafted into the true vine, then we have ground to believe that we are vitally united to one another for eternity. The same blood has washed us, the same Spirit has quickened us, we lean upon the same pierced breast, we love the same law, we are guided by the same sleepless eye, we are to stand at the right hand of the same throne, we shall blend our voices eternally in singing the same song: “Worthy is the Lamb!” Is it not reasonable, then, that we should own one another on earth as fellow travelers to our Father’s house, and fellow heirs of the incorruptible crown? Upon this I have always acted, both in sitting down at the Lord’s Table and in admitting others to that blessed privilege.

I was once permitted to unite in celebrating the Lord’s Supper in an upper room in Jerusalem. There were fourteen present, the most of whom, I had good reason to believe, knew and loved the Lord Jesus Christ. Several were godly Episcopalians, two were converted Jews, and one a Christian from Nazareth,  converted under the American missionaries. The bread and wine were dispensed in the Episcopal manner, and most were kneeling as they received them. Perhaps your correspondents would have shrunk back with horror, and called this the confusion of Babel. We felt it to be sweet fellowship with Christ and with the brethren; and as we left the upper room, and looked out upon the Mount of Olives, we remembered with calm joy the prayer of our Lord that ascended from one of its shady ravines, after the first Lord’s Supper: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe in me through their word, that they all may be ONE.”

The Table of Christ is a family table spread in this wilderness, and none of the true children should be absent from it, or be separated while sitting at it. We are told of Rowland Hill that, upon one occasion, when he had preached in a chapel where none but baptized adults were admitted to the sacrament, he wished to have communicated with them, but was told respectfully,“ You cannot sit down at our table.” He only calmly replied, “I thought it was the Lord’s Table.”

The early Reformers held the same view. Calvin wrote to Cranmer that he would cross ten seas to bring it about. Baxter, Owen, and Howe, in a later generation, pleaded for it; and the Westminster Divines laid down the same principle in few but solemn words: “Saints, by profession, are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God—which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.” These words, embodied in our standards, show clearly that the views maintained above are the very principles of the Church of Scotland.


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