In conclusion, as far as our presentation of the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper is concerned, we would make a final observation, namely that it is not clear exactly what the Lutherans mean when they speak of the benefits which are derived from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. On the one hand, Luther commonly represents its special benefit to be the forgiveness of sins, which is received only when faith is exercised. This effect, then, is not due to what is in the sacrament received by the mouth, but to the Word as received by faith. In this respect, there is no difference between Lutheranism and Calvinism. And is this not exactly what we would expect of the German reformer? Had he not experienced the living power of the Word of God, when the truth of the Scriptures that the just shall live by faith exploded in his heart and soul by the irresistible power of God’s grace and Spirit? Had he not been burdened down by a load of sin and guilt which caused him tremendous unrest and distress, caused him to pass up a very lucrative career as a lawyer, to invite upon his head the wrath of his father and the utter consternation of his family and friends when he decided, exclusively upon his own, to enter the convent at Erfurt, there to devote his life to God in a very special sense of the word, in order that he might rid himself of that burden of sin and guilt? And isn’t it true that he found and experienced peace of heart and mind and soul when the Lord caused that word of Scripture, “The just shall live by faith,” to reecho in his heart and mind, and that therefore he received the peace that transcends all understanding only through the Divine and infallible Scriptures? Wouldn’t we therefore expect of this German reformer that he would maintain the benefit of the Lord’s Supper to be exactly the forgiveness of his sins, and also that this benefit is received by the child of God only by faith and as received through the Divine Scriptures? Unflinchingly he had appeared at the Diet of Worms, in April of 1521; there he had been confronted by great dignitaries of church and state; at that memorable gathering he had demanded that he be tried exclusively upon the Scriptures and proven wrong from them; and he had refused to permit anything or anyone, including the church of Rome, to stand between that Word of God and his blessed consciousness of forgiveness and justification. On the other hand, however, Luther appears to attribute to the Lord’s Supper a peculiar effect due to the real, natural body of Christ therein received, which, in virtue of its union with His divine nature, is imbued with a supernatural; life-giving power. To this power he refers the glorious future resurrection of the believer. The German, it appears, was not able to shake free completely, to separate himself entirely, from the Romish conception of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, which conception insists on seeking the grace of God in the things, the bread and wine of the sacrament.
The split in the ranks of Protestantism, occasioned by de difference of views concerning the true nature and significance of the Lord’s Supper, is undoubtedly a sad sequel to the movement of the Reformation, the Church’s liberation from the hierarchical bondage of Rome. At the time of the Reformation, all Protestants were generally agreed on all the great and fundamental doctrines of the gospel. Luther rejected the doctrine of the mass, transubstantiation, and the withdrawal of the cup from the laity, the strongholds of the papal tyranny, as well as justification by works. The schism occurred because of the divergent views on the Lord’s Supper. And even on this point a schism might have been avoided had it not been for the stand taken by the German reformer. The desire on the part of the reformers to avoid division and the spirit of concession which was manifested by the reformers would have prevented a separation, but Luther insisted on the adoption of the very words in which he stated his doctrine on the subject. The Reformed were willing to adopt a mode of stating the doctrine which both parties could receive without a violation of conscience. One attempt after another which was designed to effect a compromise failed; and the Lutheran and Reformed separated into two ecclesiastical denominations, and so they remain at the present time. In the Evangelical Church of Prussia, under pressure of the government, the two parties have been brought into one Church which comprehends the greater part of the people. But beyond the limits of Prussia the two Churches remain distinct, though no longer in a state of mutual alienation.
What must we say of the split in the ranks of Protestantism? The Lord willing, we expect to call attention to the attempts that were made to reconcile the Lutheran and the Reformed elements of Protestantism, to show how the reformers desired and sought to prevent the split. But, in the meantime, what must we say of this split? Of course, all splits and schisms are to be deplored. Concerning this, there cannot possibly be any doubt. Every schism is due to a misinterpretation and distortion of the Word of God. It is true, to be sure, that everything is very imperfect in the Church of God in the midst of the world; and perfect uniformity of thought cannot be expected here below. Besides, we ourselves see in a glass darkly. This does not mean that what we see may possibly be wrong, that views we hold today may prove to be wrong some years from now; but it does surely mean that what we see, even though it be the truth, we see very darkly, even as in a glass. Some years ago, before the split in our churches in 1953, the opinion was expressed that the future could conceivably reveal our churches to be in error with respect to truths which we maintained as in harmony with the Word of God. Do we not see in a glass darkly? Is not all our knowledge in this present earthly house of our tabernacle very imperfect and incomplete? Can our knowledge of the Word be expected to be perfect as long as we live upon this earth? And must it therefore not be conceded that what we now consider to be according to the Word of God may later be proved to be in disagreement with the Scriptures? And does this not lead us to another conclusion, namely that we must always respect the opinions of others, that they may be proven to be right when we are proven wrong? What shall we answer to this?
In the first place, it must certainly be granted that we now see in a glass darkly. It may certainly be conceded that our knowledge of the truths of the Word of God is very imperfect and incomplete. Concerning this there cannot possibly be any doubt. Let us take, as an example, de matter of our sins, and our consciousness of them? Who among us could even begin to render a full and complete account of all his iniquities and transgressions? We cannot even give a complete account of the sins we commit in our consciousness. I refer to the things we know to be evil while we are in the process of committing them. Have we ever considered, at the close of day, to make a complete inventory of the things we have done? Have we ever considered to write a complete record of all the thoughts of our mind, the words we have spoken, the deeds we have committed? What an impossible, hopeless task that would be! This, however, is not all! It is stated that only an eighth part of an iceberg appears above the surface of the water. May we use this as an example or symbol of our spiritual life? There is also that part of our life which we call our subconscious. In God there is no subconscious. But the same cannot be said of us. That subconsciousness we cannot reach. It lies completely beyond us. Imagine all the sins and trespasses that are committed in that part of our existence! Of course, we are also responsible, held accountable for all this evil. Indeed, how true it is that we have a very imperfect knowledge of all our sins and trespasses! The day is coming, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, when also all these sins will be fully revealed to us. In that day we shall appear before the judgment seat of Christ; and this means that we shall be completely uncovered, “turned inside out,” before that Judge of all the earth. And this will occur, we understand, in order that we may see and understand fully, even forever, the wondrous power of the blood of the, Lamb of Calvary, and the grace of the God of our salvation.
However, our imperfect and incomplete knowledge which characterizes us in this earthly house of our tabernacle, also applies to what we know about all the truths of the Word of God. How imperfect and incomplete is our knowledge of the love and mercy and faithfulness of our God! How little we know about all these things in comparison with what we shall know in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ! Of course, we could not possibly have that wonderful knowledge now. What we know now is quite adequate as far as our present earthly needs are concerned. Our present capacity for knowledge is very limited. What we know now is all we can know as “seeing in a glass darkly.” But this does not alter the fact that what we know now can hardly be compared with what that knowledge shall be. In the day of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall see the mercy and love and righteousness of our God upon the background of all our sins and trespasses. In that day we shall behold the faithfulness of our God upon the background of the struggle of all the ages, from its very inception. Indeed, how incomplete is our present knowledge of the love and mercy of our God! Besides, to this must also be added that the knowledge we now have of the blessed future is described to us in earthly terms. Then a salvation shall be given us which no eye could possibly see, no ear could possibly hear. Indeed, in that day we shall say with the queen of Sheba that the half was never told us.
But, does this mean that what we now believe to be in harmony with the Scriptures may later be revealed to us as having been contrary to the Word of God? On the one hand, if this were true, how could we ever be sure that what we believe is the truth? How could we ever have any certainty? Things may really be erroneous which we now consider to be according to the Scripture? This, however, is not all. What must we believe concerning the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He will be present in His Church even until the end of the world, and that His Spirit will lead us into all the truth? Did He not promise us: “And, lo, I am with you even until the end of the world”? Did the Holy Spirit, then, lead His church into error, into believing to be true what is not true? This, however, cannot be. O, we may see in a glass darkly, and our knowledge of the truth of the Word of God may be very incomplete. That we concede without a moment’s hesitation. But must we also admit that the things we now know to be according to the Scriptures may later prove to have been errors? That is impossible. We may see in a glass darkly, but what we see is nevertheless the truth of the Word of God. The guidance of the Holy Spirit is surely infallible. Concerning that, there is no doubt.
Indeed, all splits and schisms are to be deplored. However, as far as the Reformers were concerned, Luther insisted on his interpretation of Christ: “This is My Body,” as the only true interpretation, and the other reformers could never agree. The schism was, therefore, inevitable. And, from this point of view, it was good. The development of the truth may never be bound. We certainly believe that Luther’s interpretation of Matt. 26:26 is untenable. And to go along with him and be compelled to accept his interpretation as the only correct view would have been and is impossible.