It belongs, of course; to the essence of a sacrament that it be instituted by God through Jesus Christ. The sacraments are signs, but all signs are not necessarily sacraments. All things are signs. Bread and water and wine are always signs. God created the entire universe as one gigantic picture. The Lord created the earthly with a view to the heavenly. The heavenly renewal of all things in Christ Jesus does not simply replace the earthy as created with Adam at its head. The heavenly renewal of all things is not merely a divine after-thought, a divine remedy, another decree of the Lord to save as many men as He possibly can after Adam failed in the so-called covenant of works. God’s decree of election and reprobation, in God’s eternal counsel, surely does not follow upon the creation and fall of man. When the Lord, then, in His eternal counsel, created mankind in Adam, He had not as yet determined or decreed His counsel of election and reprobation. His decree of election and reprobation occurred only after mankind had fallen into sin and death. And according to the so-called covenant of works, Adam was in the position, in the way of obedience, to gain for himself and all his posterity eternal life and heavenly immortality. This implies that Christ was really not necessary, inasmuch as Adam could have attained unto the same heavenly glory in the way of obedience. But this also means that it may be regarded, everlastingly, as a tragedy that he did not succeed, because, had he succeeded, all mankind would have entered into the everlasting glory, instead of a mere remnant according to election. This is certainly not the presentation of the Scriptures. The apostle teaches us emphatically in his epistle to the Ephesians that it was the mystery of God’s will to gather in one all things, in heaven and on earth, even in Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord created the entire universe as one gigantic picture of the heavenly. He made the earthly with a view to the heavenly. The sun, moon, and stars in the heavens above, the world of color, plants, animals, numbers, are all signs. But signs are not necessarily sacraments. A sign becomes a sacrament only when Christ institutes the same in His church, to be used by His church. Only when the church partakes of bread and water, in accordance with Christ’s institution of the same, do we have a sacrament. It is also for this reason that these sacraments must be observed in the church and within the church, in the midst of the gathering of the believers.
The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is the new dispensational fulfillment of the Old Testament Passover. We need not enter into a detailed discussion of this old dispensational feast. Christ, we know, instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper before His crucifixion and at the time when He celebrated His last Passover with His disciples. We understand that the Passover, as observed by Christ and His disciples in the upper room the evening before His death, was the last possible Passover. There could not possibly be another. He was about to die upon the cross of Calvary, His death would be the fulfillment of the lamb of the Old Testament Passover, and another Passover could not possibly follow upon His death upon the cross. The significance of the Old Testament Passover, as observed in the land of Canaan, was two-fold. On the one hand, the Passover was a remembrance feast. Israel was always reminded, through this feast, of its deliverance out of Egypt, the Old Testament house of bondage. It always looked back to that mighty deliverance of the Lord when the angel of the Lord “passed over” the houses of the Israelites because of the blood upon the doorposts, and when that same angel of death visited death upon the land of Egypt because there was no blood upon their doorposts. And, incidentally, Egypt never was informed of the blood, never “had a chance,” inasmuch as it was reprobated of the Lord and it was the will of the Lord to reveal His power to them. Deliverance was divinely reserved only for Israel, the elect people of the Lord. On the other hand, however, this feast was also prophetic; it looked ahead. Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt, the angel of the Lord “passing over” the houses of the Israelites because of the blood upon the doorposts, was a mighty type of the church’s deliverance and. redemption through the blood of Calvary, even as the church’s deliverance through the waters of the flood was also a type of Christ’s deliverance of His own through His blood upon Calvary. In the light of the fact that the church’s deliverance through the waters of the flood and again through the waters of the Red Sea was a symbol of the sacrament of Baptism, as also stated in our Baptism Form, one might well ask how the sacrament of baptism can ever be a token of grace for all those who are baptized. The sacrament of baptism and Christ’s death upon the cross are surely as sovereignly particular as was the love of the Lord as revealed to His people when He delivered them from the world through the flood and the deliverance through the Red Sea. Hence, looking back to Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt, Israel then looked ahead to the fulfillment of this mighty type in the coming of the Messiah, Israel’s Hope, of redemption. In this connection, however, we may ask an interesting question. Roman Catholicism believes in the doctrine of transubstantiation. According to this doctrine, the bread and wine are changed into the actual body and blood of our Lord. The old dispensational Passover is the Old Testament, type or symbol of the New. But, the old dispensational Passover is the Old Testament type or symbol of the new dispensational Lord’s Supper. Where, then, was transubstantiation present in the Old Dispensation? Were the lamb and the unleavened bread also changed from their natural substances into the spiritual reality of Christ? The answer to this question is, of course, obvious. The answer must be given in the negative. Christ, historically, was not yet in the Old Testament. But then it must also be true, upon the standpoint of Rome, that the Old Testament Passover could not have been a true picture of the Lord’s Supper of the New Testament.
In connection with the Old Testament sacraments of circumcision and the Passover, one wonders whether the feast of the Passover was celebrated during Israel’s desert wanderings, from the land of Egypt to Canaan, except for the Passover that was observed at Mount Sinai (Numbers 9:5). It is evident from Joshua 5:2-9 that circumcision was not administered during all these years. Apart from the fact that this sacrament was not administered because of Israel’s daily wanderings, the text in Joshua explains this withholding of the sacrament from the people in the light of the disobedience of the church of God in the wilderness (see Joshua 5:5-6). Israel’s idolatry and the curse of the Lord that followed them all during those forty years in the wilderness rendered the administration of the rite impossible.
The sign of the Lord’s Supper is clearly understood. It contains the following elements. We have, first of all, the bread and wine. Bread is the “staff of life,” refers to food which is indispensable for our earthly existence. Christ is for us the Bread of Life, and this life, eternal life, is fellowship with God. Wine, in the natural sense, rejoices the heart, is something “extra,” and symbolizes Christ as He is for us the Bread of Life in heavenly glory and immortality. Christ does not simply save us, lead us back to the perfection we had in Adam; but He gives us this fellowship with God in heavenly glory, in far richer sense than Adam ever enjoyed or could possibly enjoy. Secondly, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper speaks of the bread as broken and the wine as poured. This, too, is an essential element. The broken bread and poured out wine speak of the body and blood of the Lord as broken and shed for us upon the cross of Calvary. The third essential element in the sacrament is the sign of eating and drinking the bread and wine at the table of communion. Here we have an important difference between the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and that of Baptism. There are also other differences. The sacrament of baptism, for example, is administered only once. Besides; this sacrament is administered first; one is always baptized before he partakes of communion, and this also applies to adult baptism. The baptism of an adult must precede his partaking of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. And, the sacrament of baptism is administered to infants. However, the sign of eating and drinking is also an important distinction. In the sacrament of baptism we are wholly passive, and properly so. Our incorporation into God’s covenant surely does not require any conscious activity on our part. Regeneration is exclusively immediate. But in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper we eat and drink. A fourth important sign in the sacrament of the Eucharist is the word of the minister. The minister exhorts the congregation: “Eat, this is my body; do this in remembrance of me.” This is important because this word of the minister represents the Word of Christ. It is Christ Himself Who addresses His own Word to the hearts of the communing believers. And the last element in this sacrament is the sign of the table of communion, signifying that we eat and drink with God in His tabernacle through our Lord Jesus Christ. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a feast of fellowship, and it is hardly conceivable for this sacrament to be administered to only one individual.
The sign of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, consisting of the five elements set forth in the preceding paragraph, speaks for itself. We need not enter into a detailed discussion of them. But we must emphasize that, as far as the Reformed conception of the sacrament is concerned, the sign remains unchanged. The Romish doctrine of transubstantiation teaches a change of the substances. To this we have already called attention. The bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ, and Christ, is actually present upon the altar according to His human and divine natures. Having officially established this as the doctrine of the Church at the Lateran Council of 1215, Rome, in its Council of Trent, in the sixteenth century, declares accursed whoever denies this change. Lutheranism holds to the doctrine of consubstantiation, and maintains that we receive the actual body and blood of Christ through the mouth, in and with the elements of the bread and wine. And we know that Rome and Lutheranism, as far as the sacrament of baptism is concerned, also apply this theory to the water of baptism, ascribing magical power to the water itself. The Reformed symbols, however, must have nothing of this. They maintain most emphatically that the various elements in the sacraments retain their substances and remain unchanged. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is emphatically a sign. However, this is not all. The Reformed conception recognizes the fact that the Lord’s Supper is also a sacrament. They recognize the fact that we do not merely eat bread and drink wine. They recognize the fact that this sacrament is definitely a means of grace; and, as a means of grace, it is certainly characterized by an operation of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. The question is therefore certainly in order: What, then, is the connection between the sign and the thing signified? What, according to the Reformed view, takes place at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper? To this we expect to call attention the next time.