committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHURCH POLITY

CHAPTER XV
THE LORD?S SUPPER

OUR blessed Lord, on the night preceding his crucifixion, instituted a solemn memorial of his death, to be religiously observed by his followers, until the end of time. To this the apostle refers in the following words: "I have received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto 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 shew the Lord?s death till he come."226 The nature and the perpetuity of this ordinance are here expressly declared; and as the apostles were instructed to teach the churches to observe all things whatsoever Christ had commanded them,227 the death of the Redeemer was universally commemorated among them in this manner.

The titles by which this service is known in the Scriptures are these: the Lord?s Supper, the Lord?s Table, the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, the New Testament in his Blood, the Breaking of Bread, and the Eucharist. Ecclesiastical writers have referred to it, under other appellations, as the sacrament, the mass; but these are not to be found in the word of God.228

1. The nature and design of the ordinance.

It is simply commemorative, and might be styled a symbolical sermon on the death of the Redeemer. "The Lord?s Supper was not appointed to be a test of brotherly love among the people of God. It was intended to teach and exhibit the most interesting of all truths, and the most wonderful of all transactions. The design of the great institutor was, that it should be a memorial of God?s love to us, and of Immanuel?s death for us; that, the most astonishing favor ever displayed; this, the most stupendous fact that angels ever beheld."229 The erroneous notion that this ordinance furnishes a test of Christian fellowship, is founded on a misinterpretation of the language of Paul, 1 Cor. 10: 16. "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?" The apostle is here urging his brethren to "flee from idolatry;" and his argument is as follows: He who partakes of the elements of the Lord?s Supper, indicates, by that act, his communion or connexion with Christ: so also, he who eats of the sacrifices offered to idols, places himself in communion with idols. The two things are therefore inconsistent. "I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord?s table, and of the table of devils." The passage refers to fellowship with Christ, and not with each other, and furnishes additional proof that the design of the ordinance is to "shew the Lord?s death."230

It is one of the enormous figments of Popery, that, in the Lord?s Supper, "Christ is truly present, and indeed in such a way, that Almighty God, who was pleased at Cana, in Galilee, to convert water into wine, changes the inward substance of the consecrated bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ."231 This is the doctrine of transubstantiation. Its gross absurdity is manifest both from reason and from Scripture. It is contradicted by the clear and indisputable testimony of our senses, which affirm that no change has occurred in the nature and properties of the bread and wine. Confluence in the evidence of the senses is a law of our nature. If it is to be rejected, the Bible must be rejected with it, for our belief of the Scriptures rests upon the evidence of the senses.232 This dogma is opposed to the universal observation of mankind, that all bodies (material substances,) must occupy definite portions of space, and cannot be in more than one place at the same time; for according to this tenet, every portion of consecrated bread is really the whole material body of the Saviour. His body is therefore present in Heaven and in many different places on the earth, at the same moment. Again, the bread and wine, after they are consecrated, are subject to decomposition, which would not be the case if they were transmuted into the glorified body of the Redeemer. They remain, what the apostle calls them, even after their consecration, bread and wine.233

So far as this monstrous dogma pretends to any support from the Scriptures, it rests upon the literal interpretation of expressions which are manifestly figurative. The words, "this is my body," are supposed to affirm the actual presence of Christ?s body in the elements of the eucharist. But Christ also says, "I am the vine, the way, the door," &c. When, therefore, he affirms of the bread, "this is my body," we have his own authority for understanding him to teach us that the bread is the sign or symbol of his body. No maxim of common sense is more plain, than that language must be interpreted figuratively, whenever a literal interpretation would teach an absurdity. This principle is recognized by the heathen in a case parallel with this. "When," says Cicero, "we call fruits, Ceres, and wine, Bacchus, we employ the language of common life; for who is so stupid as to suppose that what he eats is God?"234 It was, also, applied to the interpretation of this expression of our Lord by the earliest Fathers.235

Upon this sandy foundation the papacy rears its portentous doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass for the living and the dead, by which Christ is dishonored and the Man of Sin exalted; a doctrine which contradicts the testimony of the earliest and purest witnesses to the truth, and totally subverts the glorious gospel of the blessed God.236

In consequence of the exaggerated notion of the holiness of the consecrated elements, transmuted as they were into the real body, blood, and divinity of the Lord, the practice was introduced of withholding the cup from the laity, and thus mutilating the ordinance, contrary to the divine command : "Drink ye all, of it." With respect to the perpetrators of this impious assault upon an institution of Christ, it is said, by a sophistical advocate of Rome: "A pious dread of desecrating by spilling and the like, even in the most conscientious ministration, the form of the sublimest and the holiest, whereof the participation can be vouchsafed to man, was the feeling which swayed their minds."237 Upon such slight pretences do men venture to annul a divine statute.

The Scriptural doctrine on this subject is, that "worthy receivers outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death: the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to the outward senses."238

2. The communicants.

The Lord?s Supper is a social ordinance, and is celebrated by a church in its distinctive character, as a body of baptized believers. Whatever, therefore, determines the conditions of membership, defines also the terms of communion. That baptism is prior to the supper, in the order of their observance, and, therefore, that only the baptized have a right to commune, is so unquestionably the teaching of the Word of God, and was so manifestly the practice of the primitive churches, that we are not surprised at the almost universal agreement of Christians on this point. The splendor of a great name may, for a time, give prominence to the opposite error, which inverts the order of the rites; and a spurious charity may plead for its adoption; but the subject is too plain to admit of much diversity of sentiment or practice. It has, indeed, scarcely ever been deemed worthy of a labored discussion. All the professed followers of the Redeemer, in all ages, with the exception of a very small minority, have concurred in the opinion that the Scriptures make Baptism an indispensable prerequisite to the Lord?s Supper.239

Amid this universal agreement, with reference to the principle of communion, there could have been no diversity in practice, had all Christians concurred, to the same extent, in regard to the ordinance of baptism. It is at this point that they diverge. Had there remained one baptism, as well as one Lord, and one faith, there would have been but one communion. From this point of view, it is easy for a candid mind to understand the real nature of the difference between Baptists and other denominations, with reference to the Lord?s table. The former hold that nothing but the immersion of a believer is baptism; but as they maintain, in common with other denominations, that baptism must precede communion, they cannot receive any one who has not been immersed. It is perfectly clear, therefore, that the only question at issue between them, and the others, is as to what constitutes baptism. To represent the matter otherwise, for the purpose of arraying prejudices against them, and enlisting the passions where reason fails, is ungenerous as well as unfair. Yet upon no point have the Baptists been so frequently assailed or so generally misrepresented. To receive unimmersed persons to their communion, would amount not only to a virtual renunciation of their own views of baptism, but an abandonment of the fundamental law of communion, in the churches of Christ in general. And yet, because they refuse to do this, the cry of bigotry is raised against them. It would be well for those who are disposed to join in this cry, to consider what respect they could have for persons who would thus betray, at once, their own principles and the common principles of the Christian world.240

 
 
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