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William Slater

[The opinion of William Slater will be of special interest to ministers and members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA). According to Glasgow’s History, William Slater was licensed by the Pittsburgh Presbytery of the RPCNA on June 1, 1842. He was installed as the pastor of the Miller’s Run congregation near Venice, Washington County, Pennsylvania on May 24, 1843. He resigned almost 44 years later, on April 13, 1887. What follows is an article by Slater that appeared in The Reformed Presbyterian periodical in 1850. We may not agree with each and every point Slater proposes here, but the importance of his witness to the actual practice of the RPCNA during his lifetime is beyond dispute.]


We cheerfully give place to the following article, hoping that, coming from the quarter it does, it may tend to check the introduction of another element of discord into our church. We know that the view opposed by the respected author is held, and has been publicly advanced, by more than one of the esteemed brethren who have been active in introducing, and urgent in pressing some of the subjects, the agitation of which has so greatly marred the peace of our Zion, alienated the affections of brethren, and weakened the mutual confidence that formerly prevailed. We dread the addition of other topics of controversy to those already existing, believing that the fruits will be bitter.—ED.

A few years ago, Covenanters would have thought the above question ridiculous. But I lately heard one of our ministers endeavor to prove the negative; as I thought his reasoning fallacious, I propose to prove the affirmative.

  1. The Hebrew word which we translate wine, when not qualified by some adjective, always in scripture means fermented wine. There is no exception. In Judges ix.13, and Psalm civ. 15, wine is said to cheer the heart, but must has no such tendency.
  2. The New Covenant blessings which are conveyed to believers in the Lord’s Supper are represented by fermented wine, Prov. ix.2, Is. xxv. 6. It is alleged that the phrase “wines on the lees well refined,” no more proves that we should use fermented wine in the Supper, than the phrase “fat things full of marrow” proves that we should use marrow and fat. The reply is easy. Simply considered, it proves nothing; but taken in connection with Christ’s example, it is conclusive: for, certainly, had Christ used marrow and fat in the sacrament, we should do the same. He used wine, but not marrow and fat, and therefore, so do we.
  3. Christ used the fruit of the vine—the juice of the grape, for they could not drink the grapes themselves.
  4. When the apostle reproves the Corinthians for their abuse of the Lord’s Supper, he says, one is hungry and another is drunken, 1 Cor. xi.21. From this it is evident that the Corinthians used fermented wine. For the use of this the apostle does not reprove them; but for its abuse. We must certainly believe that if they had used the wrong sort of wine, he would have told them so; but he does not so much as hint any such thing. My brother was so sensible of the force of this argument, that he alleged the word was not properly translated. He said, it was derived from the word that in Ps. xxxvi. 8, is translated abundantly satisfied. Now I do not think that the Greek word used by the apostle is derived from any Hebrew root; but it is the word by which the Septuagint renders the word in Ps. xxxvi. 8. It may be questioned, however, whether it be a happy translation, as it would be rather unusual to be drunk with fatness. The truth of the matter is this: of the two Greek verbs methuo and methusko, the first is neuter, and signifies, I am drunk; the second, active, I make drunk; they are so nearly allied that both are the same in the future tense active. Both are derived from methu, wine. I have examined all the passages in the New Testament, where drunk, drunkenness and drunkard occur, and find they are all derived from one or other of these verbs. I conclude, therefore, that our translation is correct, and that the Greek word in 1 Cor. xi. 21, (methuei,) means drunk with wine, and not surfeited with meat. The argument then remains in its full force, viz: The Corinthians used wine which caused drunkenness; the apostle does not reprove them for drinking such wine, but only for drinking to excess. From this we learn what sort of wine the apostolic churches used in the sacrament, viz: fermented.
  5. We are commanded to go forth by the footsteps of the flock, Song i. 8, and to follow them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Now it cannot be disputed that from the earliest times of Christianity, the Church has used fermented wine in the Lord’s Supper.

Let us now consider some of the objections offered against our view of the subject.

  1. It is alleged, that it is wrong to use alcohol, unless for a medicine. Ans. This is begging the question. That is the point to be proved. This would exclude the use of must, as well as wine; for it contains the alcoholic principle, and it needs only to come in contact with the atmosphere, to produce fermentation. This principle is recognized in Num. vi. 3, where the Nazirite is forbidden to eat grapes, green or dried, or to drink anything that cometh of the vine.
  2. It is said that the Jews use must at the passover. Ans. With the practice of the modern Jews I have no concern.
  3. It is alleged that the wine used in the passover by the ancient Israelites, must have been unfermented, because there was to be no leaven in their houses at that time. Ans. 1st. We have no evidence that the Israelites in early times used wine in the passover at all. There is no mention of it in the original institution, so that all reasoning from the passover is perfectly nugatory. 2nd There is no command against material leaven in the Lord’s Supper. 3d. At the same time that leaven was prohibited in the offerings of God, wine was commanded. In the holy place shalt thou cause the strong wine to be poured unto the Lord for a drink-offering. Num. xxviii. 7. What sad work was this! that wine, containing leaven and alcohol, and what not, should have been offered to God!
  4. It is alleged by some that when Christ is speaking of the fruit of the vine, he alludes to grapes lying on the table, out of which they pressed the wine into the cup. Fresh grapes in the beginning of April! I had thought the Jews put their grapes into a press to extract the juice. We read in Gen. xl. 11, of a man that saw this in a dream: but dreams are not always according to what takes place in real life. Perhaps, the thought was a wicked one, but I could not forbear thinking, that the man must be dreaming who could picture to himself the Redeemer and his disciples pressing the juice out of the grapes into the cup at the sacramental table.

But to settle this matter definitely, viz: whether it be lawful to use fermented wine, let us examine Luke v. 36. That the passage may be intelligible to common readers the following observations may be useful:

A gentleman, who had been recently in Judea, told me that the inhabitants cut out a certain extent out of the rock for a wine press, and now, as formerly, tread the grapes with their feet. Their bottles are made thus:—having killed a goat, they strip off the skin; with the hair inward, they fill it with sand, to keep it from shrinking; when it is thoroughly dried, they fill it with new wine, or must, and in these bottles carry it to Smyrna, where it is put into vats to be fermented. What they use at home is fermented in the skin bottles. It appears that anciently they hung the bottles in the smoke, to accelerate the fermentation. Ps. cxix. 83. So we see, that till this day, they put new wine into new bottles that can bear the fermentation.

It will be said by some, that Christ alludes to the Jews’ custom of fermenting their wine, without either approving or condemning the practice. Not so. He cites it as a vindication of his own conduct; and thus gives it his most decided approbation.

The speaker to whom I allude gave it as his opinion, that must would be better suited to the design of the Lord’s Supper than old wine. As I never tasted must, I do not pretend to be a connoisseur in the matter; but He who makes the wine, and who, when he was on earth used it, has said “the old is better.” In short, I do not pretend to be wiser or holier than the Head of the church, or than the flock that has gone on before us. “Remember them—who have spoken to you the word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” Heb. xiii.7. W.S.