In our preceding article, discussing the Lutheran view of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we were criticizing this conception of consubstantiation. The Lutherans believe that the body of Christ is present at the Lord’s Supper exactly because it is everywhere present. We now continue with our criticism of this conception.
Thirdly, interesting is the argument of Muller. One might assume that if the body of Christ and His blood are everywhere present, then they are received in every ordinary meal as well as in the Lord’s Supper. To say, for example, that only the bread and wine as used in the Lord’s Supper are the body and blood of Christ, in the sense in which the Lutherans believe this in their conception of consubstantiation, and that the bread we eat daily is not the body of our Lord, would certainly seem to teach that the body and blood of Christ are not present always and everywhere. But, the Lutherans deny that the body and blood of Christ are received at every meal as well as during the Lord’s Supper. They say that it is one thing to say that the body of Christ is everywhere present, but quite another thing to declare that it is always accessible and everywhere given whenever we eat our daily bread. But, this contention of the Lutherans does not completely satisfy. It is simply a fact, is it not, that the Lutherans doctrine of consubstantiation is based exactly upon the omnipresence of the body of Christ. Well, that body of our Lord is always omnipresent. So, why, then, is it not true that we always partake of it? Besides, did the body of Christ assume the attribute of omnipresence only after His ascension, as many Lutherans contend? It is for this reason that Muller argues that the Apostles, at the institution of the Lord’s Supper, must have partaken of the body and blood of our Lord in a manner that was peculiar to that one occasion, and that Christ, as far as other Christians are concerned throughout the New Dispensation, only foretold that His body would be omnipresent and therefore present at and in the Eucharist. Christ, therefore, spoke futuristically, and the words, “This is My body,” must be understood in a proleptic sense, as applying to the time when His body would be ubiquitous after His ascension. This explanation, however, is surely not consistent with Luther’s interpretation of Matt. 26:26. Luther insisted upon the literal interpretation of the words: “This is My body.” He contended vehemently that the word, “is,” must retain its literal meaning and not be understood figuratively in the sense: “This represents My body.” If this be true; however, then the Lutherans may not interpret these words proleptically, futuristically, as applying only to the time after Jesus’ ascension. But this only serves to emphasize the hopelessness of Luther’s interpretation of Matt. 26:26. It is simply a fact that Jesus was not yet glorified, that the word “This” refers to the bread which He held in His hand, and that this bread and Jesus’ body could not have been identical.
However, Luther’s main argument for his doctrine of consubstantiation is the ubiquity, omnipresence, of the body and blood of our Lord. This view is certainly impossible. It is impossible, first of all, from the viewpoint of God. The Lutherans would have us believe that God imparted His divine virtues of omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience to the human nature of Christ. God, therefore, imparted Himself to a creature, made a creature, be it the human nature of Christ, divine. But, how can the living God impart Himself to a creature? How can the living God make a creature divine, in addition to Himself? This conception surely smacks of pantheism, the heresy that God is all things and that all things are God. God is the world, and the world is God. Of course, we do not contend that Luther was a pantheist. We are speaking only of his conception concerning the ubiquity of our Lord Jesus Christ. And pantheism is a terrible heresy. The inescapable consequence of pantheism is the denial of God. If God be the world and the world be God, then the simple fact remains that there is only the world, and God does not exist. This is fundamentally the denial of all religion. If there be no God, then, of course, there is no sin, no prayer. This lies in the nature of the case. If there be no God, then there is none against whom we can sin and none to whom we can pray. However, this view of consubstantiation is also impossible from the viewpoint of the creature. No creature can be God. This is simply a contradiction in terms, that a creature can be God or partake of the very essence and nature of the living God. A creature is creature. A creature is necessarily and essentially finite, characterized by time and space. A creature has therefore a creature’s finite capacity. A creature simply cannot be God and remain creature. He is either creature and not God, or he is God and not a creature. But it is impossible for a creature to be creature and God at the same time. And it is surely impossible to contend that the human nature of our Lord Jesus Christ can be human and divine at the same time, partaking of God’s divine attributes and infinite perfections.
To support this doctrine, Luther appeals to God’s omnipotence. He claims that the Lord is able to do all things. The Reformed claim that it is contrary to the nature of such a body as that which belongs to man, that it should be in many places at the same time, and much less that it should fill all space. They contend that it is a contradiction to maintain that the flesh and blood of Christ are omnipresent. Luther appealed to God’s omnipotence. However, this appeal is surely in vain. As Hodge remarks, contradictions are not the object of God’s power. We certainly do not limit the power of God when we declare that He cannot do the impossible. Is anything impossible with God? Of course, we maintain that there are impossibilities with God. God cannot deny Himself. He cannot make right wrong, or wrong right. God cannot become finite and He cannot make the finite infinite. God is not a man that He should lie or change. God is truth, and He cannot lie; He is independent, and He cannot become dependent; He is unchangeable, and He cannot become changeable; He is righteousness, and He cannot act contrary to righteousness and justice; He cannot act contrary to His will. In one of our catechism books, Essentials, the following question appears at the bottom of Lesson 14: “How do you explain that He could be born without original pollution?” This question concerns the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ into our flesh and blood, and we know that He was born without original pollution. We are conceived and born as dead in sins and trespasses, but Jesus was born holy and wholly undefiled. So now the question is asked: “How do you explain it?” In other words, how is it to be explained that the Holy Spirit caused our Mediator to be born without original pollution? And the undersigned asked of a catechumen whether the Holy Spirit could have caused him to be born with original pollution; and the answer, of course, is in the negative. Christ could be born without original pollution because, as the Person of the Son, He was without original guilt and, therefore, also entitled to a spotless human nature. But the point is that the omnipotence of God and the power of the Holy Spirit must certainly be confined to God as He is God. He cannot deny Himself. He cannot cease to be God. And He cannot make anybody else God. Luther appeals, therefore, in vain to the omnipotence of the Lord. Never does the Lord violate Himself. And never does He annul or violate the creature.
Luther’s appeal to Matt. 26:26 cannot be maintained. The passage is familiar to all of us: “This is My body.” The Reformed view maintains that the word, “is,” in this particular Scripture means: represents, signifies, symbolizes. The Lutherans insist that the word “is” must be retained in its literal-natural meaning: This is My body. However, it must be beyond all doubt that Jesus refers to the broken bread in His hand. On the one hand, it must be obvious, that Jesus could not refer to His body as glorified, inasmuch as the Lord had as yet not suffered and died. On the other hand, however, the Lutherans here appear to yield everything to Roman Catholicism. If it be true that “this bread is My body,” then it must also be true that it is no longer bread. This is the only possible interpretation of the passage if the word “is” be maintained according to Lutheranism. Then the Romanists are surely correct. It cannot be bread and the body of our Lord at the same time. To say, however, that the bread Jesus held in His hand is actually His own body is absurd; it is surely absurd to believe that the bread Jesus held in His hand is anything else than bread. Luther, too, denied any change in the bread and wine. But then it is impossible for him to maintain his interpretation of the word “is.” It certainly must mean: signify, represent. Besides, this form of speech appears throughout the Word of God. Jesus is the door, Herod is “that fox,” etc. It must be evident that these explanations cannot be maintained in the literal-natural sense of the word.
In connection with the preceding paragraph, we could also call attention to another expression which appears in the same context, Matt. 26:27-28, and we quote: “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.” Hence, “this cup is the New Testament in My blood,” as we also read it in I Cor. 11:25. Shall we also interpret this expression literally-naturally? Is “this cup” the New Testament? Is it not perfectly obvious that Jesus, when speaking of “this cup,” refers to the content of the cup, the wine in the cup, and not to the cup itself? To speak of “this cup” and refer to its content is a figure of speech which we call a metonymy, the use of one word for another. In this case, the word, “cup,” is used for its content. However, if the expression, “this cup is the New Testament in My blood,” be a figure of speech, why, then, is the expression, “This (this bread in My hand, H.V.) is My body,” not also figurative?
The Lutherans, in distinction from the Reformed (whom they call the sacramentarians), emphasize two elements in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. In the first place, they teach that the literal, natural body of Christ, born of the virgin Mary, is actually present in, with, and under the bread; and His blood, shed upon the cross and which was the life of the body while on earth, is present in, with, and under the consecrated wine. And, in the second place, they emphasize the mode and organ and condition of reception. According to the Lutherans, the body and blood are received corporally; the organ is the mouth; the laity simply receive the bread and wine. The body and blood of Christ are received equally by believers and unbelievers, although only the former receive it to their spiritual good. Also this point of difference is clearly stated in the Formula of Concord.