Spiritual Conferencing

“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.  And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels.”

Mal. 3:16,17

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Subsection

The Church of Scotland on the Spiritual Conferencing of Elders

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Order of Contents

Articles
Book
Quotes
History in the Church of Scotland

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Articles

1500’s

Rogers, Richard – A Sweet Meditation: A Poem on the Benefit of reading, conference, musing on holy things, and prayer: containing a complaint that these holy exercises are neglected for that which is worse than nothing, even men’s sinful will  1603  46 stanzas

One of the fathers of puritanism, Richard Rogers (1551-1618), in his continual walking with God was ‘the Enoch of his age,’ according to his esteemed puritan grandson, William Jenkyn.  His poem is delightful.

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1600’s

Rutherford, Samuel – Conclusion 2, pp. 257-9  in A Peaceable & Temperate Plea…  (1642)

“They [laypersons] are to edify, exhort, rebuke and comfort one another (Heb. 3:13; Lev. 19:17; 1 Thess. 5:11-12; Col. 3:16; Heb. 10:23; Mal. 3:16; Zech. 8:21), and this they may do, not one to one only, as some say, but one to many:  1. So the Scripture says, Prov. 10:21, ‘The lips of the righteous feed many;’ Eph. 4:29, they are to speak words ministering grace to the hearers.  So says Calvin (Commentary, Hos. 2:2), Bullinger (in Col. 4:6), Beza (Ibid.), Davenant (in Col. 3:16), Whittaker (of the Authority of Scripture, vol. 2, bk. 3, ch. 14), Pareus (in Hos. 2:2), Zanchius, Musculus (in Isa. 2:2), Gualther (hom.[ily?] 17).” – p. 257

Baxter, Richard – A Christian Directory (1673), Part 3, Question 172, ‘Are all Religious and Private meetings Forbidden by Rulers, unlawful Conventicles? Or are any such Necessary?’, pp. 916-7

Baxter has some helpful things to say, though not all of it is correct, insofar as the Magistrate has no more authority than the Natural and Moral Law of God.

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1700’s

Reformed Presbytery – ‘A Short Directory for Religious Societies’  (1772; rep. 1881)

This work is very helpful, though be aware that it contains separatistic principles.  The Steelites, who reprinted it, were very separatistic.

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1800’s

Kennedy,, John – The Fellowship Meeting, pp. 82-87 & 122-23 in The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire

Kennedy, a famed Scottish preacher of the Highlands in the late 1800’s describes what the fellowship meeting was like among believers in the days of his fathers in the early 1800’s in the Highlands.

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Book

Jung, Joanne – Godly Conversation: Rediscovering the Puritan Practice of Conference  Buy  (2011)  224 pp.

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Quotes

Richard Rogers  †1618

Two Elizabethan Puritan Diaries, p. 53, quoted in Joanne J. Jung, Godly Conversation: Rediscovering the Puritan Practice of Conference, p. 128.  HT:  Andrew Myers.

Of things worth the remembrance in this month, this was one: a most sweet journey with Mr. [Ezekiel] Culverwell 2 days, and much time bestowed in the way about our Christian estate, of God’s mercy in the our calling to the fellowship of the gospel, of the true testimonies of faith, and of the great comfort which by continuing herein doth come unto God’s people…

For it is not out of season at any time, to be occupied either in conference about knowledge attaining or growing in godliness…And this shall be one of the greatest stays unto my heavy heart if it may please the Lord to continue this benefit unto us.

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Richard Sibbes  †1635

“Bowels Opened, or, Expository Sermons on Canticles 4:16, ch. 5 & 6” in The Works of Richard Sibbes, Vol. 2, pp. 133-134.  HT: Andrew Myers.

We see there is excellent use of holy conference.  The church coming to the daughters of Jerusalem, speaking of Christ her beloved, that she is ‘sick of love,’ etc., the daughters of Jerusalem are inquisitive to know Christ more and more.  Here is the benefit of holy conference and good speeches. One thing draws on another, and that draws on another, till at length the soul be warmed and kindled with the consideration and meditation of heavenly things.  That that is little in the beginning may bring forth great matters.  This question to the church and talking with her, ‘I charge you, if you find my beloved, to tell him that I am sick of love,’ breeds questions in others, ‘What is thy beloved?’ etc.  Whence, upon the description of her beloved, her heart is kindled, she finds her beloved; so that talking of holy and heavenly things is good for others and ourselves also.

It is good for others, as it was good for the daughters of Jerusalem here; for thereupon they are stirred up to be inquisitive after Christ. And it was good for the church herself, for hereupon she took occasion to make a large commendation of Christ, wherein she found much comfort.

2. Good conference, then, is good for ourselves; for we see a little seed brings forth at length a great tree, a little fire kindles much fuel, and great things many times rise out of small beginnings. It was a little occasion which Naaman the Assyrian had to effect his conversion, 2 Kings 5:2.  There was a poor banished woman, a stranger, who was a Jewish maid-servant. She told her lord’s servants that there was a prophet in Jewry that could heal him, whereupon he came thither, and was converted and healed. And Paul shows that the very report of his bonds did a great deal of good in Cesar’s house, Phil. 1:13.  Report and fame is a little matter, but little matters make way for the greater.

This may put us in mind to spend our time fruitfully in good conference, when in discretion it is seasonable. We know not, when we begin, where we may make an end.  Our souls may be carried up to heaven before we are aware, for the Spirit will enlarge itself from one thing to another. ‘To him that hath shall be given more and more still,’ Matt 13:12.  God graciously seconds good beginnings.  We see the poor disciples, when they were in a damp for the loss of Christ, after He comes, meets them, and talks of holy things.  In that very conference their hearts were warmed and kindled, Luke 24:32.  For, next to heaven itself, our meeting together here, it is a kind of paradise.  The greatest pleasure in the world is to meet with those here whom we shall ever live with in heaven.  Those who are good should not spend such opportunities fruitlessly.

And to this end, labor for the graces of the communion of saints; for there is such a state.  We believe it as an article of our creed.  How shall we approve ourselves to be such as have interest unto the communion of saints, unless we have spirits able to communicate good to others? pitiful and loving spirits, that we may speak a word in due season.

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Samuel Rutherford  1642

A Peaceable and Temperate Plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland

Ch. 20, Whether or not the government of the Church of Scotland can be proved by God’s Word to be lawful?

“Article 13, Private Worship

Our Assembly [the Church of Scotland] also commands godly conference at all occasional meetings (Act at Edinburgh Assembly, 1641), or as God’s providence shall dispose, as the word of God commandsHeb. 3:13; 1 Thess. 5:11,12; Lev. 19:17; Zech. 8:21; Mal. 3:16; Col. 3:16, providing none invade the pastor’s office to preach the word who are not called thereunto by God and his Church, Heb. 5:4,5; Rom. 10:14-15; 1 Cor. 12:28,29, and by that same warrant the grieved in conscience is to confess his sins, which troubles and presses down his soul, to either an experienced Christian or pastor, as James 5:16, but this confession is free to the grieved party, I mean free from being canonically commanded in our assemblies, and far from sacramental confession, or auricular [audible] confession to a priest.”

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The Due Right of Presbyteries (1644), Ch. 5, sections 1-2 in Part 2

pp. 272-3

“6th Distinction.  Gifted Christians may occasionally admonish, warn, re­buke and exhort one another:  1. privately; 2. without any pastoral care of souls as they are a Church, but only as they occasionally con­verse with them; 3. ex communi officio charitatis [out of the common office and charity], by the Law of na­ture, charity tying one member to help another; 4. Not authorita­tively by special office; but all authority here is from the Word occasionally spoken.

The pastor is to preach, 1. publicly; 2. to the Church as the Church. 3. with a pastoral obligation to all alike, whe­ther he converse daily with them or not. 4. not only by the tie of com­mon charity, but by a virtue of a special office. 5. With authority both objective from the Word and official from his charge. 6. and is obliged to separate himself for this charge allanerly [singly, especially or wholly], as a watchman who must give an account in a special manner to Jesus Christ.”

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pp. 298-9  Rutherford is arguing against the argument of a congregationalist.

“Is there no means to edify, exhort, and comfort, but prophesying? and that prophesying-public in the Church and pastoral? that is denied, what say you of private and domestic exhorting, praying, praising, reading, and Christian conference, Col. 3:16; Mal. 3:16; Zech. 8:21, are not they singular means of edifying?”

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Influences of the Life of Grace  (1659), ch. 11, pp. 307-8

“The Church did formerly of late confer with Christ, and refused to open to Him when He was knocking and showering down influences of grace [in the Song of Solomon]; now she is glad to confer:

1. With the smiting watchmen [Church officers], where she found little of Christ.

2. Next with private Christians in assemblies.  This is a mean of the Lords showering down of influences in the public and domestic, or less public meetings of his saints; for ordinances of all sorts that are appointed of Christ, they drop down savory and seasonable dews. The Lord writes in his book the savory conferences of such as fear the Lord’s name, Mal. 3:16; and three things follow:

1. The Lord owns such as are his.

2. His forbearance though there be faults in their service.

3. His making known to his the difference betwixt such
as serve God, and such as serve Him not: and Zech. 8, the
inhabitants of one city encourage the inhabitants of another;
and the fruits of it is: 1. Praying. 2. Owning the saints.  And they take hold of the skirt of a Jew; and both say Christians meeting for prayer and conference want not God, who rains down impressions of grace upon them as his people, especially when they warm one another; as many coals in one heap make a great fire.  Nor is the acting of the Spirit tied only to the public ministry; the saints take to their houses clusters of wine-grapes, which they feed upon at home.  Let the saints meet, and by conference and prayer draw down new influences of the Spirit, Jude 20; Isa. 2:1-3; Jer. 50:4-5; Col. 3:16; Heb. 3:13 & 10:24; 1 Thess. 5:14.”

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Jonathan Mitchel  1677

“Letter to a Friend,” appended to A Discourse of the Glory (1677), pp. 15-16

If you have a friend with whom you might now and then spend a little time, in conferring together, in opening your hearts, and presenting your unutterable groanings before God, it would be of excellent use.  Such an one would greatly strengthen, bestead, and further you in your way to heaven.  Spend now and then [as occasions will permit] an hour [or so] with such a friend more than ordinary [sometimes a piece of a day, sometimes a whole day of extraordinary fast, in striving and wrestling with God for everlasting mercy]. And be much in quickening conference, giving and taking mutual encouragements and directions in the matters of Heaven!  Oh! the life of God that falls into the hearts of the godly, in and by gracious heavenly conference.  Be open hearted one to another, and stand one for another against the Devil and all his angels.  Make it thus your business in these and such like ways, to provide for eternity while it is called today.

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John Bunyan  †1688

The Pilgrim’s Progress, in The Works of John Bunyan, Vol. 3, p. 132

Now I saw in my dream, that Christian went not forth alone, for there was one whose name was Hopeful (being made so by the beholding of Christian and Faithful in their words and behavior, in their sufferings at the Fair), who joined himself unto him, and, entering into a brotherly covenant, told him that he would be his companion.

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Matthew Henry  †1714

Commentary on Matt 13:24-43

It is especially good, if it may be, to ask of the ministers of the word the meaning of the word, for their lips should keep knowledge, Mal. 2:7.  Private conference would contribute much to our profiting by public preaching.

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Commentary on Matt 18:15-20

Though but two or three are met together, Christ is among them; this is an encouragement to the meeting of a few, when it is either,

First, of choice.  Besides the secret worship performed by particular persons, and the public services of the whole congregation, there may be occasion sometimes for two or three to come together, either for mutual assistance in conference or joint assistance in prayer, not in contempt of public worship, but in concurrence with it; there Christ will be present.

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Robert Shaw

An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, p. 328, on WCF 26.1-2

Secondly, Professed saints ought to perform such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification.  They are enjoined to “follow after the things wherewith one may edify another.” – Rom. 14:19.  Among the “services which tend to mutual edification,” may be mentioned mutual prayer; spiritual conference; admonishing, exhorting, and provoking one another to love and good works; comforting the feeble-minded, supporting the weak, visiting and encouraging the afflicted. – Mal. 3:16; Col. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:11,14; Heb. 10:24.

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History in the Church of Scotland

Secondary Source

Stevenson, Donald – ‘Conventicles in the Kirk, 1619-37: the Emergence of a Radical Party’

By ‘radical party’ Stevenson means the presbyterian covenanters which spurred the 2nd Reformation of 1638.

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Primary Sources

Baillie, Robert – ‘Letter to William Spang after Aberdeen Assembly’ (Sept. 1640), pp. 248-255  in Letters, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Ogle, 1841)  See especially the anecdote on Rutherford on pp. 252-3.

ed. James Gordon, History of Scots Affairs, vol. 3 (Aberdeen: Spalding Club, 1841), bk. 5, ch. 28, pp. 221-223

This records the complaints of the Scottish minister Henry Guthrie at Stirling (in the mid part of Scotland), who was a chief opposer and accuser of private meetings for spiritual conference.  Some of the abuses, or perceived abuses, occurring in private meetings were curtailed by Church of Scotland legislation which shortly followed, specifically, as Rutherford taught (a promoter of private meetings), that none but ministers and those in training for the ministry ought to interpret, or expound the Scriptures to others (yet applying and exhorting from them was understood to be allowed).

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“Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.”

1 Thess. 5:11

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Related Pages

Christian Living

Personal Godliness

Family Worship