I’ve often heard that while the classical Reformers such as Martin Bucer, John Calvin and John Knox favored weekly Communion, their spiritual heirs (particularly, the Reformed experientialists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) did not. In general, that statement may be true, but there are some notable exceptions, including Jonathan Edwards.
In a letter written to John Erskine, Jonathan Edwards wrote,
We ought not only to praise God for every thing that appears favourable to the interests of religion, and to pray earnestly for a general revival, but also to use means that are proper in order to it; and one proper means must be allowed to be, a due administration of Christ’s ordinances: one instance of which is that, which you and Mr. Randal have been striving for; viz. a restoring the primitive practice of frequent communicating. I should much wonder … how such arguments and persuasions, as Mr. Randal uses, could be withstood; but however they may be resisted for the present, yet I hope those who have begun will continue to plead the cause of Christ’s institutions; and whatever opposition is made, I should think it would be best for them to plead nothing at all short of Christ’s institutions, viz. the administration of the Lord’s supper every Lord’s day:—it must come to that at last; and why should Christ’s ministers and people, by resting in a partial reformation, lay a foundation for a new struggle, an uncomfortable labour and conflict, in some future generation, in order to a full restoration of the primitive practice.
Edwards finds the case for weekly Communion convincing and calls for the full reformation of the church, which, among other things, includes the “full restoration of the primitive practice” of weekly Communion.
Edwards also said,
They were wont to have the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the primitive church very often, by all accounts of ecclesiastical history. And it seems by the account of holy Scripture that they were at first wont to celebrate this ordinance daily, as Acts 2:46, “and they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and in breaking bread from house to house”; afterwards weekly, every sabbath day, Acts 20:7, “and upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread.”
In this episode of East of Eden, three Reformed scholars explain why Edwards was in favor of weekly Communion, despite the controversy at Northampton regarding the Lord’s Supper.
I have reservations regarding Edwards’ interpretation of self-examination in 1 Corinthians 11, and I disagree with his understanding of the nature of the punishment of the unworthy communicant. But I agree with him regarding the apostolic practice of weekly Communion. I want to commend this episode to my readers.
1. Jonathan Edwards, “Self-Examination and the Lord’s Supper,” in M. Valeri & H. S. Stout, eds., Sermons and Discourses, 1730–1733, vol. 17 (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1999) 264.