Theological Institutes

Part Fourth - The Institutions of Christianity

By Richard Watson

Chapter 4


THE agreement and difference between baptism and the Lord's Supper are well stated by the Church of Scotland in its catechism: "The sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper agree, in that the author of both is God; the spiritual part of both is Christ and his benefits; both are seals of the same covenant; to be dispensed by ministers of the Gospel, and none other; and to be continued in the Church of Christ until his second coming." "These sacraments differ, in that baptism is to be administered but once with water,-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 to the soul, and to confirm our continuance and growth in him, and that only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves."

As baptism was substituted for circumcision, so the Lord's Supper was put by our Saviour in the place of the passover; and was instituted immediately after celebrating that ordinance for the last time with his disciples. The passover was an eminent type of our Lord's sacrifice and of its benefits; and since he was about to fulfil that symbolical rite which from age to age had continued to exhibit it to the faith and hope of ancient saints, it could have no place under the new dispensation. Christ in person became the true passover; and a new rite was necessary to commemorate the spiritual deliverance of men, and to convey and confirm its benefits. The circumstances of its institution are explanatory of its nature and design.

On the night when the first born of Egypt were slain, the children of Israel were commanded to take a lamb for every house, to kill it, and to sprinkle the blood upon the posts of their doors, so that the destroying angel might pass over the houses of all who had attended to this injunction. Not only were the first-born children thus preserved alive, but the effect was the deliverance of the whole nation from their bond­age in Egypt, and their becoming the visible Church and people of God by virtue of a special covenant. In commemoration of these events, the feast of the passover was made annual, and at that time all the males of Judea assembled before the Lord in Jerusalem; a lamb was provided for every house; the blood was poured under the altar by the priests, and the lamb was eaten by the people in their tents or houses. At this domestic and religious feast, every master of a family took the cup of thanksgiving, and gave thanks with his family to the God of Israel. As soon, therefore, as our Lord, acting as the master of his family, the disciples, had finished this the usual paschal ceremony, he proceeded to a new and distinct action: "He took bread," the bread then on the table, "and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave it to them, saying, This is my body which is given for you; this do in remem­brance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper," the cup with the wine which had been used in the paschal supper, "saying, This cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you;" or as it is ex­pressed by St. Matthew, "And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."

That this was the institution of a standing rite, and not a temporary action to be confined to the disciples then present with him, is made certain from 1 Cor. xi, 23-26: "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, 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." From these words we learn, 1. That St. Paul received a special revelation as to this ordinance, which must have had a higher object than the mere commemoration of an historical fact, and must be supposed to have been made for the purpose of enjoining it upon him to establish this rite in the Churches raised up by him, and of enabling him rightly to understand its authority and purport, where he found it already appointed by the first founders of the first Churches. 2. That the command of Christ, "This do in remembrance of me," which was originally given to the disciples present with Christ at the last passover, is laid by St. Paul upon the Corinthians. 3. That he regarded the Lord's Supper as a rite to be "often" celebrated, and that in all future time until the Lord himself should "come" to judge the world. The perpetual obligation of this ordinance cannot therefore be reasonably disputed.

Of the nature of this great and affecting rite of Christianity, different and very opposite opinions have been formed, arising partly from the elliptical and figurative modes of expression adopted by Christ at its institution; but more especially from the influence of superstition upon some, and the extreme of affected rationalism upon others.

The first is the monstrous theory of the Church of Rome, as contradictory to the Holy Scriptures, whose words it professes to receive in their literal meaning, as it is revolting to the senses and reason of man­kind.

"It is conceived that the words, 'This is my body; this is my blood,' are to be understood in their most literal sense; that when Jesus pro­nounced these words, he changed, by his almighty power, the bread upon the table into his body, and the wine into his blood, and really delivered his body and blood into the hands of his apostles; and that at all times when the Lord's Supper is administered, the priest, by pronouncing these words with a good intention, has the power of making a similar change. This change is known by the name of transubstantiation; the propriety of which name is conceived to consist in this, that although the bread and wine are not changed in figure, taste, weight, or any other accident, it is believed that the substance of them is completely destroyed; that in place of it, the substance of the body and blood of Christ, although clothed with all the sensible properties of bread and wine, is truly pre­sent; and that the persons who receive what has been consecrated by pronouncing these words, do not receive bread and wine, but literally partake of the body and blood of Christ, and really eat his flesh, and drink his blood. It is farther conceived, that the bread and wine thus changed, are presented by the priest to God; and he receives the name of priest, because in laying them upon the altar he offers to God a sacri­fice, which, although it be distinguished from all others by being without the shedding of blood, is a true propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the dead and of the living,-the body and blood of Christ, which were presented on the cross, again presented in the sacrifice of the mass. It is conceived, that the materials of this sacrifice, being truly the body and blood of Christ, possess an intrinsic virtue, which does not depend upon the disposition of him who receives them, but operates immediately upon all who do not obstruct the operation by a mortal sin. Hence it is ac­counted of great importance for the salvation of the sick and dying, that parts of these materials should be sent to them; and it is understood that the practice of partaking in private of a small portion of what the priest has thus transubstantiated, is, in all respects, as proper and salu­tary as joining with others in the Lord's Supper. It is farther conceived, that as the bread and wine, when converted into the [body and blood of Christ, are a natural object 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 homage of all who meet them. What had been transubstantiated was therefore lifted up for the purpose of receiving adoration, both when it was shown to the people at the altar, and when it was carried about. Hence arose that expression in the Church of Rome, the elevation of the host, elevatio hostiae. But, as the wine in being carried about was exposed to accidents inconsistent with the veneration due to the body and blood of Christ, it became customary to send only the bread; and, in order to satisfy those who for this reason did not receive the wine, they were taught that, as the bread was changed into the body of' Christ, they partook by concomitancy of the blood with the body. In process of time, the people were not allowed to partake of the cup; and it was said, that when Jesus spake these words, 'Drink ye all of it,' lie was addressing himself only to his apostles, so that his command was fulfilled when the priests, the successors of the apostles, drank of the cup, al. though the people were excluded. And thus the last part of this system conspired with the first in exalting the clergy very far above the laity. For the same persons who had the power of changing bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and who presented what they had thus made, as a sacrifice for the sins of others, enjoyed the partaking of the cup, while communion in one kind only was permitted to the people." (Bishop Tomline on the Articles.)

So violently are these notions opposed to the common sense of man­kind, that the ground to which the Romish writers have always been driven in their defence, is the authority of their Church, and the neces­sity of implicit faith in its interpretations of Scripture; principles which shut out the use of Scripture entirely, and open the door to every heresy and fanatical folly. But for the ignorance and superstition of Europe during the middle ages, this monstrous perversion of a sacred rite could not have been effected, and even then it was not established as an arti­cle of faith without many struggles. Almost all writers on the Protestant controversy will furnish a sufficient confutation of this capital attempt to impose upon the credulity of mankind; and to them, should it need any refutation, the reader may be referred.

The mind of Luther so powerful to throw off dogmas which had nothing but human authority to support them, was, as to the sacrament, held in the bonds of early association. He concluded that the body and blood of Christ are really present in the Lord's Supper; but, aware of the absurdities and self-contradictions of transubstantiation, he laid hold of a doctrine which some writers, in the Romish Church itself, had con­tinued to prefer to the papal dogma above stated. This was designated by the term consubstantiation, which allows that the bread and wine re­main the same after consecration as before. Thus he escapes the absurdity of contradicting the very senses of' men. It was held, however, by Luther, that though the bread and wine remain unchanged, yet that, together with them, the body and blood of Christ are literally received by the communicants. Some of his immediate followers did not, how­ever, admit more on this point, than that the body and blood of Christ were really present in the sacrament; but that the manner of that pre­sence was an inexplicable mystery. Yet, in some important respects, Luther and the Consubstantialists wholly escaped the errors of the Church of Rome as to this sacrament. They denied that it was a sacrifice; and that the presence of the body and blood of Christ gave to it any physical virtue acting independently of the disposition of the receiver; and that it rendered the elements the objects of adoration. Their error, therefore, may be considered rather of a speculative than of a practical nature; and was adopted probably in deference to what was conceived to be the literal meaning of the words of Christ when the Lord's Supper was instituted.

A third view was held by some of Luther's contemporaries, which has been thus described: "Carolostadt, a professor with Luther in the uni­versity of Wittenberg, and Zuinglius, a native of Switzerland, the founder of the Reformed Churches, or those Protestant Churches which are not Lutheran, taught that the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper are the signs of the absent body and blood of Christ; that when Jesus said, 'This is my body, This is my blood,' he used a figure exactly of the same kind with that, by which, according to the abbreviations continually practised in ordinary speech, the sign is often put for the thing signified. As this figure is common, so there were two circumstances which would prevent the apostles from misunderstanding it, when used in the institu­tion of the Lord's Supper. The one was, that they saw the body of Jesus then alive, and therefore could not suppose that they were eating it. The other was, that they had just been partaking of a Jewish fes­tival, in the institution of which the very same figure had been used For in the night in which the children of Israel escaped out of Egypt, God said of the lamb which he commanded every house to eat and slay, 'It is the Lord's passover,' Exod. xii, 11; not meaning that it was the action of the Lord passing over every house, but the token and pledge of that action. It is admitted by all Christians, that there is such a figure used in one part of the institution. When our Lord says, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood,' none suppose him to mean the cup is the covenant, but all believe that he means to call it the memo­rial, or the sign, or the seal of the covenant. If it be understood, that, agreeably to the analogy of language, he uses a similar figure when he says, 'This is my body,' and that he means nothing more than, 'This is the sign of my body,' we are delivered from all the absurdities implied in the literal interpretation, to which the Roman Catholics think it ne­cessary to adheres We give the words a more natural interpretation than the Lutherans do, who consider, 'This is my body,' as intended to express a proposition which is totally different, 'My body is with this;' and we escape from the difficulties in which they are involved by their forced interpretation.

"Farther, by this method of interpretation, there is no ground left for that adoration which the Church of Rome pays to the bread and wine; for they are only the signs of that which is believed to be absent. There is no ground for accounting the Lord's Supper to the dishonour of' the High Priest of our profession,' a new sacrifice presented by an earthly priest; for the bread and wine are only the memorials of that sacrifice which was once offered on the cross. And, lastly, this interpretation destroys the popish idea of a physical virtue in the Lord's Supper; for if the bread and wine are signs of what is absent, their use must be to excite the remembrance of it; but this is a use which cannot possibly exist with regard to any, but those whose minds are thereby put into a proper frame; and therefore the Lord's Supper becomes, instead of a charm, a mental exercise, and the efficacy of it arises not ex opere operato, but ex opere operantis."

With much truth, this opinion falls short of the whole truth, and there­fore it has been made the basis of that view of the Lord's Supper which reduces it to a mere religious commemoration of the death of Christ, with this addition, that it has a natural fitness to produce salutary emo­tions, to possess our minds with religious reflections, and to strengthen virtuous resolutions. Some divines of the Church of England, and the Socinians generally, have adopted, and endeavoured to defend, this in­terpretation.

The fourth opinion is that of the Reformed Churches, and was taught with great success by Calvin. It has been thus well epitomized by Dr. Hill :- "He knew that former attempts to reconcile the systems of Luther and Zuinglius had proved fruitless. But he saw the importance of unit­ing Protestants upon a point, with respect to which they agreed in con­demning the errors of the Church of Rome; and his zeal in renewing the attempt was probably quickened by the sincere friendship which he entertained for Melancthon, who was the successor of Luther, while he himself had succeeded Zuinglius in conducting the reformation in Swit­zerland. He thought that the system of Zuinglius did not come up to the force of the expressions used in Scripture; and, although he did not approve of the manner in which the Lutherans explain these expressions, it appeared to him that there was a sense in which the full significancy of them might be preserved, and a great part of the Lutheran language might continue to be used. As he agreed with Zuinglius, in thinking that the bread and wine were the signs of the body and blood of Christ, which were not locally present, he renounced both transubstantiation and consubstantiation. He agreed farther with Zuinglius, in thinking that the use of these signs, being a memorial of the sacrifice once offered on the cross, was intended to produce a moral effect. But he taught, that to all who remember the death of Christ in a proper manner, Christ, by the use of these signs, is spiritually present,-present to their minds; and he considered this spiritual presence as giving a significancy, that goes far beyond the Socinian sense, to these words of Paul: 'The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? the bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?' It is not the blessing pronounced which makes any change upon the cup; but to all who join with becoming affection in the thanksgiving then uttered in the name of the congregation, Christ is spiritually pre­sent, so that they may emphatically be said to partake, koinwnein, mete kein, of his body and blood; because his body and blood being spiritually present, convey the same nourishment to their souls, the same quicken­ing to the spiritual life, as bread and wine do to the natural life. Hence Calvin was led to connect the discourse in John vi, with the Lord's Sup per; not in that literal sense which is agreeable to popish and Lutheran ideas, as if the body of Christ was really eaten, and his blood really drunk by any; but in a sense agreeable to the expression of our Lord in the conclusion of that discourse, 'The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life;' that is, when I say to you, 'Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me and I in him; he shall live by me, for my flesh is meat indeed,' you are to understand these words, not in a literal but in a spiritual sense. The spiritual sense adopted by the Socinians is barely this, that the doctrine of Christ is the food of the soul, by cherishing a life of virtue here, and the hope of a glorious life hereafter. The Calvinists think, that into the full mean­ing of the figure used in these words, there enter not merely the exhor­tations and instructions which a belief of the Gospel affords, but also that union between Christ and his people which is the consequence of faith, and that communication of grace and strength by which they are quickened in well doing, and prepared for the discharge of every duty.

"According to this system, the full benefit of the Lord's Supper is peculiar to those who partake worthily. For while all who eat the bread and drink the wine may be said to show the Lord's death, and may also receive some devout impressions, they only to whom Jesus is spiritually present share in that spiritual nourishment which arises from partaking of his body and blood. According to this system, eating and drinking unworthily has a farther sense than enters into the Socinian system; and it becomes the duty of every Christian to examine himself, not only with regard to his knowledge, but also with regard to his general conduct, before he eats of that bread and drinks of that cup. It becomes also the duty of those who have the inspection of Christian societies, to exclude from this ordinance persons, of whom there is every reason to believe that they are strangers to the sentiments which it presupposes, and without which none are prepared for holding that communion with Jesus which it implies." (Theological Lectures.)

With this view the doctrine of the Church of England seems mainly to agree, except that we may perhaps perceive, in her services a few expressions somewhat favourable to the views of Luther and Melanc­thon, whose authority had great weight with Archbishop Cranmer. This, however, appears only in certain phrases; for the twenty-eighth article declares with sufficient plainness, that "the body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper only after a heavenly and spiritual manner; and the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is faith." "Some of our early English reformers," says Bishop Tomline, "were Lutherans, and consequently they were at first disposed to lean toward consubstantiation; but they seem soon to have discovered their error, for in the articles of 1552, it is expressly said, 'A faithful man ought not either to believe or openly confess the real and bodily presence, as they term it, of Christ's flesh and blood in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.' This part of the article was omitted in 1562, probably with a view to give less offence to those who maintained the corporal presence, and to comprehend as many as possible in the established Church." (Exposition of the Articles.) The article as it now stands, and not particular expressions in the liturgy, must however be taken to be the opinion of the Church of England upon this point, and it substantially agrees with the New Testament.

The SACRAMENTAL character of this ordinance is the first point to be established, in order to a true conception of its nature and import. It is more than a commemorative rite, it is commemorative sacramentally; in other words, it is a commemorative sign and seal of the covenant of our redemption.

The first proof of this may be deduced from our Lord's words used in the institution of the ordinance: "This is my body, this is my blood." are words which show a most intimate connection between the elements, and that which was represented by them, the sacrificial offering of the body and blood of Christ, as the price of our redemption; they were the signs of what was "given for us," surrendered to death in our room and stead, that we might have the benefit of liberation from eternal death. Again, "This is the New Testament," or covenant, "in my blood." The covenant itself was ratified by the blood of Christ, and it is therefore called by St. Paul, "the blood of the everlasting covenant;" and the cup had so intimate a connection with that covenant, as to represent it and the means of its establishment, or of its acquiring validity,-the shedding of the blood of our Saviour. It is clear, there­fore, that the rite of the Lord's Supper is a covenant rite, and conse­quently a sacrament; a visible sign and seal on the part of Him who made the covenant, that it was established in, and ratified by, the sacri­ficial death of Christ.

As it bears this covenant or sacramental character on the part of the Institutor, so also on the part of the recipients. They were all to eat the bread in "remembrance" of Christ; in remembrance, certainly, of his death in particular; yet not as a mere historical event, but of his death as sacrificial; and therefore the commemoration was to be on their part an acknowledgment of the doctrine of the vicarious and pro­pitiatory nature of the death of Christ, and an act of faith in it. Then as to the cup, they were commanded to drink of it, for a reason also particularly given, "FOR this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins:" the recognition, therefore, implied in the act, was not merely that Christ's blood was shed; but that it was shed as the blood of "the new covenant," and for "the remission of sins ;" a recognition which could only take place in con­sequence of" faith in his blood," as the blood of atonement. Again, says St. Paul, as taught by the particular revelation he received as to the Lord's Supper, "For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show or publish the Lord's death until he come;" which publication of his death was not the mere declaration of the fact of "the Lord's death," but of his death according to the apostolic doctrine, as the true propitiation for sin, the benefits of which were to be received, by faith. Thus then we see in the Lord's Supper the visible token and pledge of a covenant of mercy in the blood of Christ, exhibited by God its author; and on the part of man a visible acknowledgment of this covenant so ratified by the sacrifice of Christ, and an act of entire faith in its truth and efficacy in order to the remission of sins, and the con­ferring of all other spiritual benefits. As a SIGN, it exhibits, 1. The infinite love of God, to the world, who gave "his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him might not perish, but have everlasting life." 2. The love of Christ, who "died the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." 3. The extreme nature of his sufferings, which were unto death. 4. The vicarious and sacrificial character of that death, as a sin offering and a propitiation; in virtue of which only, a covenant of grace was entered into with man by the offended God. 5. The benefits derived from it through believing, "remission of sins;" and the nourishment of the soul in spiritual life and vigour, by virtue of a vital "communion" with Christ, so that it is advanced and perfected in holiness, "until he come" to confer upon his disciples the covenanted blessing of eternal life. As a SEAL it is a constant assurance, on the part of God, of the continuance of this covenant of redemption in full undiminished force from age to age; it is a pledge to every penitent who believes in Christ, and receives this sacrament in profession of his entire reliance upon the merits of Christ's passion for forgiveness, that he is an object of merciful regard and acceptance; there is in it also. as to every one who thus believes and is accepted, a constant exhibition of Christ as the spiritual food of the soul, to be received by faith, that he may grow thereby; and a renewed assurance of the bestowment of the full grace of the new covenant, in the accomplishment of all its promises, both in this life and in that which is to come. In every celebration, the sign of all these gracious acts, provisions, and hopes, is exhibited, and God condescends thus to repeat his pledges of faithfulness and love to the Church of Christ, purchased by his blood. The mem­bers of that Church, on the other hand, renew their acceptance of, and reliance upon, the new covenant; they publish their faith in Christ; they glory in his cross, his sacrificial though shameful death, as the wisdom of God, and the power of God; they feast upon the true passover victim by their faith, and they do this with joy and thanksgiving, on account of a greater deliverance than that of the Israelites from Egypt, of which they are the subjects. It was this predominance of thanksgiving in celebrating this hallowed rite, which at so early a period of the Church attached to the Lord's Supper the title of "The Eucharist."

We may conclude this view by a few general observations.

1. The very nature of the ordinance of the Lord's Supper excludes from participating in it not only open unbelievers, but all who reject the doctrine of the atonement made by the vicarious death of Christ for "the remission of sins." Such persons have indeed tacitly acknow­ledged this, by reducing the rite to a mere commemoration of the fact of Christ's death, and of those virtues of humility, benevolence, and patience, which his sufferings called forth. If, therefore, the Lord's Supper be in truth much more than this; if it recognize the sacrificial character of Christ's death, and the doctrine of" faith in his blood," as necessary to our salvation, this is "an altar of which they have no right to eat" who reject these doctrines; and from the Lord's table all such persons ought to be repelled by ministers, whenever, from compliance with custom, or other motives, they would approach it.

2. It is equally evident that when there is no evidence in persons of true repentance for sin, and of desire for salvation, according to the terms of the Gospel, they are disqualified from partaking at "the table of the Lord." They eat and drink unworthily, and fall therefore into "condemnation." The whole act is indeed on their part an act of bold profanation or of hypocrisy; they profess by this act to repent, and have no sorrow for sin; they profess to seek deliverance from its guilt and power, and yet remain willingly under its bondage; they profess to trust in Christ's death for pardon, and are utterly unconcerned respecting either; they profess to feed upon Christ, and hunger and thirst after nothing but the world; they place before themselves the sufferings of Christ; but when they "look upon him whom they have pierced," they do not "mourn because of him," and they grossly offend the all-present Majesty of heaven, by thus making light of Christ, and "griev­ing the Holy Spirit."

3. It is a part of Christian discipline in every religious society to prevent such persons from communicating with the Church. They are expressly excluded by apostolic authority, as well as by the original institution of this sacrament, which was confined to Christ's disciples, and ministers would "partake of other men's sins," if knowingly they were to admit to the Supper of the Lord those who in their spirit and lives deny him.

4. On the other hand, the table of the Lord is not to be surrounded with superstitious terrors. All are welcome there who truly love Christ, and all who sincerely desire to love, serve, and obey him. All truly penitent persons; all who feel the burden of their sins, and are willing to renounce them; all who take Christ as the sole foundation of their hope, and are ready to commit their eternal interests to the merits of his sacrifice and intercession, are to be encouraged to "draw near with faith, and to take this holy sacrament to their comfort." In it God visibly exhibits and confirms his covenant to them, and he invites them to become parties to it, by the act of their receiving the elements of the sacrament in faith.

5. For the frequency of celebrating this ordinance we have no rule in the New Testament. The early Christians observed it every Sab­bath, and exclusion from it was considered a severe sentence of the Church, when only temporary. The expression of the apostle, "as often as ye eat this bread," intimates that the practice of communion was frequent; and perhaps the general custom in this country of a monthly administration, will come UI) to the spirit of the ancient institu­tion. That it was designed, like the passover to be an annual celebra­tion only, has no evidence from Scripture, and is contradicted by the most ancient practice.

6. The habitual neglect of this ordinance by persons who profess a true faith in Christ, is highly censurable. We speak not now of Quakers and Mystics, who reject it altogether, in the face of the letter of their Bibles; but of many who seldom or never communicate, princi­pally from habits of inattention to an obligation which they do not pro­fess to deny. In this case a plain command of Christ is violated, though not perhaps with direct intention; and the benefit of that singularly affecting mean of grace is lost, in which our Saviour renews to us the pledges of his love, repeats the promises of his covenant, and calls for invigorated exercises of our faith, only to feed us the more richly with the bread that comes down from heaven. If a peculiar condemnation falls upon them who partake "unworthily," then a peculiar blessing must follow from partaking worthily; and it therefore becomes the duty of every minister to explain the obligation, and to show the advantages of this sacrament, and earnestly to enforce its regular observance upon all those who give satisfactory evidence of "repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Chris