This book has definite value in its thorough treatment of the theology and practice
of the Lord's Supper in Scottish Presbyterianism. This part of the book begins with
a good treatment of the Reformed understanding of the Lord's Supper. There follows
an account of the way that Communion seasons developed in the Lowlands from the time
of the Reformation. The theology of the Lord's Supper in the Lowlands is outlined
using the Scots Confession and Westminster Confession and a range of authors such
as James Durham, Robert Bruce, Thomas Boston, John Willison and John Brown of Haddington.
Several other less well known authors are introduced. This is a very helpful section
which traces common emphases and notes practical instruction. The practice of the
Lord's Supper in the Highlands is then taken up. There is undoubtedly a distinctiveness
to Highland communion seasons but in reality the elements were all present in Lowland
communion seasons also. Even the fellowship meeting is only a more formalised version
of Lowland precedent. Rather than a chapter on the Highland theology of the Lord's
Supper as one might expect, the chapter that follows is called Features of Highland
Communion seasons. This is disappointing because there is sufficient material in
John Kennedy of Dingwall's writing to follow this out. We believe that there was
a distinctive theological contribution to the understanding of the sacraments in
way that Kennedy explains the different nature, purpose and meaning of the two sacraments.
While certain features of the Highland practice are commended as positive, this section is more critical than the chapter on the Lowlands of various aspects. The substance of this is the lack of assurance found among Highland Christians. He focuses upon Kennedy's discussion of this in the Days of the Fathers in Rosshire and notes that Kennedy's doctrine of assurance is entirely the same as that of the Westminster Confession. Kennedy connected the issue of assurance to the fact that in the Lowlands the same requirements applied to those receiving either sacrament whilst there was a difference in the Highlands. We do not feel that this section is conclusive in dealing with this complex subject. Maclean says that Kennedy does not acknowledge that both views might be wrong but it is not quite clear what other views are possible in the context of the Westminster doctrine of the sacraments. Maclean then notes the decline in the communion season in the Highlands which is really the same as marking the decline in Highland presbyterianism. He seems to feel that the loss is not significant and that such seasons cannot be sustained due to changes in society. He then wishes to contextualise rather than preserve certain aspects of the Highland communion season.
We have focussed on the substance of the book in order to commend it. There is, however, some other material surrounding it. An introductory section gives a brief overview of the passages that deal with the Lord's Supper in the New Testament. The chapters which follow the historical study deal with miscellaneous practical and theological aspects of the Lord's Supper today such as pastoral and personal preparation, liturgy, the role of the Holy Spirit and the Lord's Supper and children (where a fuller rebuttal of paedocommunion would have been helpful). Some of these sections are rather brief to do the subject justice. The historical treatment accounts for 70% of the substance of the book and we wonder whether it would have been better to focus upon this alone which might have avoided a little unevenness. More space could then have been given to the historical study and appropriate observations.
Malcolm Maclean is very candid about the views and experience that he brings to the writing of this book. 'This book is an expression of my search for my spiritual roots'. He refers to his upbringing in Inverness Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. 'I can still recall the sense of reverence for God and the awareness of his presence that characterised the occasions when the Lord's Supper was held in the congregation that my parents attended when I was young'. He describes the fact that the way these occasions were conducted 'was in line with the traditional practices associated with Scottish Highland communion seasons'. He was converted, however, through the witness of the Brethren and became a member in their Assembly. This brought an entirely different practice of the Lord's Supper. Maclean feels that there is a tendency to shift the focus from Christ to the believer in our approach to the Supper. This of course must never happen. There is a danger, however, that those who perceive a distraction from Christ in thorough, genuine and scriptural self-examination may, in seeking to redress this, undermine true communion with Christ. As the Song of Solomon shows, the communion between Christ and His Church consists in and depends upon seeking the exercise of grace in the means of grace through Christ and His Spirit.
While these observations are necessary, the book is extremely valuable in the diligent historical review it presents, especially in bringing new sources and material into view. It is vital that we have the right understanding and approach to the Lord's Supper and, in highlighting the theology and practice of Scottish Presbyterianism, this book helps us toward that.