By Aaron Hills
THE LORD'S SUPPER
Having duly considered baptism, the other sacrament of divine appointment is the Lord's Supper. It is called the Eucharist, because it is a thanksgiving rite, - Christ Himself having given thanks at its institution. It is called the Communion, because Christians at the table of their Lord are privileged to have blessed communion with Him.
Baptism and the Lord's Supper agree, in the following respects: (1) The author of both is God: (2) The spiritual part of both is Christ and His benefits: (3) Both are seals of the same covenant, and are to be continued in the Church of Christ until His second coming.
Their difference is, that baptism is to be administered but once with water, to be a sign and seal of our regeneration, and engrafting into Christ, and that even to infants.
Whereas the Lord's Supper is to be administered often, in the elements of bread and wine, to represent and exhibit Christ as spiritual nourishment, and His atonement as our only hope of salvation, and to confirm our continuance and growth in Him, and that only to such as are of years, and ability to know the moral condition of their own hearts.
I. Notice the Institution of the ordinance.
The Lord's Supper was given by the Savior to take the place of the Passover. The Jewish Passover was eminently a type of the sacrificial death of our Lord for the salvation of man. Christ Himself was the true Passover. And that the attention and hope of all men might be forever fixed on Him. On the night before He suffered. "He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take eat; this is my body which is broken for you; this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also He took the cup when He had supped, saying: This cup is the New Testament in my blood; this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup ye do show the Lord's death till He come" (1 Cor. 11: 23-26).
Matthew adds: "This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many, for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26: 27, 28).
II. Its Perpetual Obligation.
What Jesus said to the Disciples on the night before His death. He repeated to St. Paul, about the Lord's Supper. "For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, how that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread. . . . Ye proclaim the Lord's death till He come." 1 Cor. 11: 23-26. This latter clause seems to have been an addition. It must have been made with a special purpose:
1. It enjoined upon St. Paul, and the Churches He should establish, and therefore upon all churches, this rite, as an essential element of church life and service and worship.
2. It was a rite to be frequently celebrated, and that through all future time until the Lord Himself should come to judge the world. Such a perpetual obligation cannot, therefore, be reasonably disputed by any obedient disciple.
III. The Nature of the Lord's Supper.
There have been different and very grave contentions on this subject, which have divided and subdivided the Church of Christ.
1. The doctrine of transubstantiation, - this is the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. It is believed by those who hold this doctrine that the words "This is my body, this is my blood," are to be taken in the most literal sense; that when our Lord pronounced these words, by His Almighty power, He changed the bread and wine into His own body and blood, and really delivered His body and blood into the hands of the disciples. They further hold that, the priest, when the Lord's Supper is administered, by pronouncing those words in Latin with a good intention, has the power of making a similar change, and the whole Christ is in the bread, and the whole Christ is in the wine; and not only so, but in each and every particle of both species, and the change is permanent. They conceive further that the bread and wine, thus changed, are presented by the priest to God as a literal sacrifice, and is a true propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the dead and the living. They further believe that where the body and blood of Christ is, there also is His soul and divinity, and so the priest, by half a dozen words, creates the whole Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity, and He is thus received orally, i. e., by the mouth of the communicant. It is further conceived that as the elements of the supper when converted into the body and blood and soul and divinity of Christ, are natural objects of reverence and adoration to Christians, it is highly proper to worship them upon the altar; and that it is expedient to carry them about in solemn procession that they may receive the worship of all men. This worship of the host, or consecrated wafer, takes place in every Roman Catholic Church on earth. It is what in the days of the Reformation, Protestants called, "the Idolatry of the Mass."
No wonder this monstrous theory of the Church of Rome was opposed; it is as utterly contradictory to the Holy Scriptures, as it is revolting to the reason of mankind. According to it, every priest has the power to create his own God, to which the people must bow in adoring worship.
Such was the doctrine, as formulated by the council of Trent, an outgrowth of the superstition and ignorance of the Dark Ages, chiefly designed to exalt the power of the priesthood.
2. The Doctrine of Consubstantiation. This is the name applied to the theory of Luther, and the Lutherans generally, respecting the presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper. He denied that the elements of the sacrament were changed, by the words of the priest, and held that the bread and wine remained the same; but that "the body and blood of Christ are with, in, and under the bread and wine," and are literally received by the communicants. Lutherans are divided among themselves as to their theories and explanations, as to the mode of Christ's presence, and some hold that it is "an inexplicable mystery." But the very idea that the flesh and blood of Christ are omnipresent, involves a contradiction, which an appeal to the omnipotence of God by no means relieves. Contradictions are not the objects of divine power. Dr. Hodge observes: "It is no more a limitation of the power of God to say that He cannot do the impossible, that He cannot make right wrong, or the finite infinite, than it is a limitation of His wisdom that He cannot teach the untrue or the unwise. All such assumptions destroy the idea of God as a rational being" (Theology, Vol. Ill, p. 671). If the body and blood of Christ are omnipresent, they are everywhere operative. This doctrine of the Lutherans never can be harmonized with reason and Scripture, and leads to a fatal defect in their Christology.
3. There is the theory of Zwingle of Switzerland and the Reformed Churches. Zwingle taught that "The Lord's Supper was nothing else than the food of the soul, and Christ instituted the ordinance as a memorial of Himself. When a man commits himself to the sufferings and death of Christ he is saved. Of this He has left us a certain visible sign of His flesh and blood, both of which He has commanded us to eat and drink in remembrance of Him (Docat Council, Zurich, 1523). In his "Exposition of Christian Faith" just before his death, he says: "The natural, substantial body of Christ, in which He suffered, and in which He is now seated in heaven at the right hand of God, is not in the Lord's Supper eaten corporeally, or as to its essence, but spiritually only. . . . Spiritually to eat Christ's body is nothing else than with the spirit and mind to rely on the goodness and mercy of God through Christ. . . . Sacramentally to eat His body, is the sacrament being added, with the mind and spirit to feed on Him."
The First Helvetic Confession says: "The Lord's Supper is called 'coena mystica' in which Christ truly offers His body and blood, and hence Himself to His people; not as though the body and blood of Christ were naturally united with the bread and wine, locally included in them, or sensibly there present, but in so far as the bread and wine are symbols, through which we have communion in His body and blood, not to the nourishment of the body, but of the spiritual, or eternal life."
In "The Sincere Confession of Zurich," 1545, occurs this precise statement; "We teach that the great design and end of the Lord's Supper, that to which the service is directed, is the remembrance of Christ's body devoted, and of His blood shed for the remission of sins. This remembrance, however, cannot take place, without true faith (Hodge, Vol. Ill, pp. 627, 628). In a word, the Zwinglians Regarded the Lord's Supper as a memorial service, specially used of God to bless the soul, and nourish its divine life.
4. Calvin wholly agreed with Zwingle as far as the latter went, but more strongly emphasized the spiritual presence of Christ to the minds of the communicants, so much so that the ordinance was not only supernatural but truly miraculous. "We conclude that our souls are fed by the flesh and blood of Christ, just as our corporeal life is preserved by bread and wine. . . . Now this sacred communication of His blood and flesh, by which Christ transfuses His life into us, just as if He penetrated our bones and marrow, He testifies and seals in the holy supper; not by the exhibition of a vain and empty sign, but by putting forth such an energy of His Spirit as fulfills what He promises." . . . "In the sacred supper we acknowledge it a miracle, transcending both nature and our understanding, that Christ's life is made common to us with Himself" (Hodge, Vol. Ill, pp. 628, 629).
5. Perhaps the modern Protestant view may be put in these words: The Lord's Supper is a commemorative rite sacramentally observed, - a sign and seal of the covenant of our redemption.
(1) As a sign, it teaches (a) the vicarious and sacrificial character of the death of Christ as an offering for sin, and propitiation, in virtue of which only, a covenant of grace was made with man by God. (b) It signifies the benefits derived from it through believing -"remission of sins," the nourishment of the soul in Spiritual life and its growth in Christ-likeness.
(2) It is a seal, (a) a constant assurance on the part of God of the continuance of His covenant of redemption through the ages, (b) It is a pledge to the believing penitent, who receives the sacrament in sole reliance upon Christ, that he is graciously accepted of God. (c) It is a perpetual exhibition to the world of Christ as the true food of the soul.
So much for the divine side. On the human side the communicants
1. Renew their acceptance of the covenant of grace.
2. Publish afresh to the world their faith in Christ.
3. They glory in His cross, as the wisdom and power of God.
4. They feast their souls on the Bread of Heaven, on Christ, the true Passover, with joy and gladness of heart, rejoicing in the God of their salvation.
IV. Who Are Proper Communicants?
Manifestly, none should approach the Lord's Table who do not abandon all other hopes and expectations, and trust solely in Christ for their salvation. The table is spread for the disciples of Christ, the blood-bought and redeemed children of God who have turned from sin, and accepted Christ as their Savior, and are joined to Him by a living faith. This would exclude:
1. All out and out unbelievers, all profane rejecters of Christ.
2. It would exclude all who deny the true Deity of Jesus Christ, and consequently reject His atonement. The very service proclaims faith in the sacrificial, atoning death of Christ, and faith in His blood as the only remedy for sin. Those who have not this faith could not with any propriety come to the Lord's Table; and it is passing strange that they should even desire to come. They could not help eating and drinking unworthily, and it would only deepen their condemnation.
3. People who are wedded to the world, and in love with sin, and have never forsaken it by hearty repentance, and do not solemnly purpose to do so, - all such shut themselves out from the blessed feast, by their own conscious unfitness of heart.
4. The table of the Lord is to be approached with grateful love, and gladness of heart, by every devout, prayerful and believing soul. It was designed for them, to strengthen their faith, to encourage their hopes, to quicken their life, and renew their strength.
The table belongs to the Lord, and not to any man, or any church; the Lord's true children, all who are in Christ, of whatever name or persuasion, have a right to come and sit at their common Master's table, and thus profess their faith and their love.
5. From the words of its institution we may conclude that it was to be celebrated with reasonable frequency. No specific rule as to time is given. But it is safe to say that he, who habitually neglects the Communion of the Lord's Supper, grieves that gracious Savior who spread the feast, disobeys His command, and spiritually starves his own soul. And what is more, it sadly dishonors Christ in the eyes of a Christ-rejecting world.