August 23: Rev. John Cuthbertson

A Communion for American Covenanters

The entire service of Communion that Sabbath day on August 23, 1752 lasted nine hours.  But for some two hundred and fifty Covenanters gathered on that spot, it was their first communion outside the British Isles.

The teaching elder on that Lord’s Day was the Rev. John Cuthbertson, who was the first Reformed Presbyterian minister in the colonies.  As the only one, he had logged nearly 70,000 miles in the wilds of Colonial America, ministering to scattered Covenanters.  Often, there was no church building.  So they worshiped at various sites called “tents.”  It consisted of a large tree, with a wooden stand for the minister, and another for a Bible, with rough pews for the people, and nothing but the open sky for the roof.  On this occasion, they met at the Junkin Tent, just north of present day New Kingstown, Pennsylvania.

The communion at this first meeting in America lasted five days, with worship times on three of the five days.  The first day, which was Thursday, was a day of fasting, with a sermon by Rev. Cuthbertson.  Tokens of admission were given to those qualified spiritually to partake, after an exhortation for that purpose.  Prospective members were examined and received into the congregation.  On Friday and Saturday, no public worship was conducted.

In the services on the Sabbath, Rev. Cuthbertson paraphrased the 15th Psalm and preached from John 3:35: “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things in his hand.”  After the sermon, there was prayer and singing from the psalter.  Then the pastor spoke again about the sacrament, debarring some from the table while inviting others to the table of the Lord.  The communicants came, singing the Twenty-fourth Psalm, to sit at four tables as was the custom, to receive the elements of the sacred supper.  After the table services were concluded, he exhorted the communicants and led in prayer.  A part of the 103rd Psalm was sung.  Then after an interval of thirty minutes, another sermon was preached.  The entire service of that Communion day worship lasted nine hours.

Before the worshipers started home on Monday, another sermon was proclaimed as a departing reminder from the Word of God.

Words to live by:

We might well wonder whether God’s people today would sit through such protracted services.  As one minister commented, there would not be many left but the preacher, and most probably he too would feel like departing!   But let it be said that these early American Christians did not have all the privileges of weekly services nor access to countless Christian books and media outlets.  What they had, they treasured, and exhibited a spiritual fervor which, with all our spiritual privileges, too many professing Christians and churches lack that same spiritual fervor.

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