We now continue with our quotation of Art. 35 of our Confession of Faith, the article which sets forth the Reformed position on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper:
“Further, though de sacraments are connected with the thing signified, nevertheless both are not received by all men: the ungodly indeed receives the sacrament to his condemnation, but he doth not receive the truth of the sacrament. As Judas, and Simon the sorcerer, both indeed received the sacrament, but not Christ, who was signified by it, of whom believers only are made partakers. Lastly, we receive this holy Sacrament in the assembly of the people of God, with humility and reverence, keeping up amongst us a holy remembrance of the death of Christ our Savior, with thanksgiving: making there confession of our faith, and of the Christian religion. Therefore no one ought to come to this table without having previously rightly examined himself; lest by eating of this bread and drinking of this cup, he eat and drink judgment to himself. In a word, we are excited by the use of this holy sacrament, to a fervent love towards God and our neighbor. Therefore we reject all mixtures and damnable inventions, which men have added unto, and blended with the sacraments, as profanations of them: and affirm that we ought to rest satisfied with the ordinance which Christ and his apostles have taught us, and that we must speak of them in the same manner as they have spoken.”
In this article the Fathers declare that we eat and drink the natural and proper body and blood of our Lord. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, therefore, is not merely a remembrance feast, which conception is ascribed to the Zwinglian presentation of this sign and seal. But we do well to bear this in mind also in connection with the Roman Catholic conception of the sacrament. The Romish view declares that we actually eat and drink the body and blood of the Lord. Although we declare this conception to involve us in an abominable idolatry, nevertheless it is well to bear in mind that the Reformed conception believes in an eating and drinking of the body and blood of our Lord. However, they add that this eating and drinking does not occur by the mouth, but by the spirit and through faith; We are also instructed that Christ has instituted an earthly and visible bread and wine, but that our Lord has REPRESENTED unto us His spiritual and heavenly bread by means of the earthly bread and wine. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a spiritual table, at which Christ communicates Himself with all his benefits to us; and gives us there to enjoy Himself with all His spiritual benefits. And we are also informed, in this article, that, though the sacraments are connected with the thing signified, nevertheless both are not received by all men, as the Lutherans declare. Finally, this article also states that Simon, the sorcerer, received the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. This statement is undoubtedly based on what we read in Acts 8:13: “Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.” It may be assumed that he, having received the sacrament of baptism, also partook of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Simon, as is evident from the words of Peter addressed to him, surely did not believe in a real, spiritual sense of the word, only in an external and outward sense. He evidently saw in his becoming a disciple of this Lord Jesus an opportunity to improve himself in the worldly and material sense of the word. And, in the light of what we read in the rest ofActs 8, one may well wonder whether he continued to partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
The Reformed view of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not clearly understood and set forth until the time of the Reformation. As previously stated in preceding articles, there are four views of this sacrament: The Roman Catholic view, known as Transubstantiation; the Lutheran view of Consubstantiation; the Zwinglian view which may be called the symbolical view, although it may be questioned whether the Zwinglian view is presented correctly; and the Calvinistic view, or sacramental view, according to which the relation between the sign and the thing signified is purely spiritual.
During the early period of the Church in the New Dispensation (we speak of the Church in the New Dispensation as in distinction from the same Church as it also existed in the Old Dispensation, always bearing in mind that there is only one Church of God throughout the ages, even as there is only one God and one Saviour), until approximately 300 A.D., there was no distinctive and definite conception developed of this sacrament. The church simply celebrated this sacrament without inquiring into its profoundly spiritual significance. And this, incidentally, was surely to be understood, as far as the Church of God is condemned as in its New Testament infancy. Profound insight into all the truths of the Word of God, as revolving around our Lord Jesus Christ, surely developed as the New Dispensation wore on. However, although not inquiring into the deeper significance of the Lord’s Supper, the early Church was surely under the impression that a profound significance must be attached to the sacrament. And this is easily understandable. All we need do is read the Lord’s institution of this sacrament, and we must realize its importance. The Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper in the upper room the evening before His crucifixion, and He specifically enjoins upon His Church that they eat and drink in remembrance of Him. In distinction from all the feasts and observances of the Church in the Old Dispensation, this is the only observance which the Lord enjoins upon His Church, and this is reason enough to emphasize the importance of this sacrament. Besides, the apostle Paul, not present in that upper room when the Lord’s Supper was instituted by its atoning Lord, later received by special revelation from the Lord this institution of the Lord’s Supper, recorded for us in I Cor. 11:23-26. Hence, the institution of this sacrament in the upper room and its revelation later to the apostle Paul surely emphasize the importance of the Lord’s Supper. During this early period of the Church, the Roman Catholic doctrine, of transubstantiation was completely unknown, although we may say that expressions were used in those days which could serve as seeds for the development of this doctrine. We know, for example, that the word or term, sacrifice, was used in those early days. However, the Lord’s Supper was called a sacrifice, not in the sense, as according to Rome, that Christ offers or sacrifices Himself, but in the sense that the church offers itself in prayer, thanksgiving, etc. The Church in that day certainly did not believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation. Besides, how could such a doctrine be possible during the New Testament infancy of the Church? How would it be possible for the Church of God to entertain such a conception of this sacrament as in the days of the apostles and their immediate followers? When Christ declared in the upper room, “This is my body,” then everybody knew that the Lord, referring to the bread He held in His hand, was not identifying Himself with the bread and wine, surely did not mean that the bread and wine were His body and blood in the essential sense of the word. And it lies in the nature of the case, that the Lord, appearing in the midst of His disciples with His body as before His crucifixion and death, did not refer to His body and blood as the glorified Head of His Church.
During the second period, from about 300 A.D. to 750 A.D., the idea of the Lord’s Supper was further developed. The relation between Christ and the signs in this sacrament was often compared to the union of the two natures in Christ. And we may also say of this period that the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation was unknown as the doctrine of the church. The bread and wine were called types and antitypes of the body and blood of Christ. Augustine writes that the words of Christ to the effect that we must eat His flesh must not be understood in the sense that the grace of Christ is consumed by tooth-biting. This certainly indicates that the doctrine of transubstantiation was wholly foreign to him. Toward the end of this period, however, Gregory the Great plainly speaks of the Eucharist as a sacrifice which is offered by the church, and this certainly led to the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation. Gregory the Great was the pope from 590 to 604 A.D. He is known as the last the Latin fathers and the first of the popes. It is said of him that he believed firmly in a papal primacy, and yet that he regarded the four patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem as coordinate leaders of the church under Christ, corresponding as it were to the four ecumenical councils and the four gospels, as their common foundation. He declared that, although Christ appeased by His death the judge’s wrath, yet His sacrifice undergoes its effectual repetition in the sacrifice of the mass provided by the Church. It is plain, therefore, that he plainly spoke of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrifice which is offered by the Church.
In the next period of the Church, from 750 A.D. to the time of the Reformation, the number of the sacraments was determined to be seven, and the doctrine of transubstantiation became the official doctrine of the Church. At the beginning of this period the number of the sacraments was not yet determined. It was pope Eugenius IV, 1431-1437, who finally declared that there were seven sacraments, and they are: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, holy orders, and marriage. And it was also during this period that transubstantiation became the official doctrine of the Church. Radbertus, Abbot of Corbie, in the ninth century, was the first to teach unequivocally this doctrine. However, this doctrine was not accepted universally immediately. It met originally with considerable opposition. In the time of Radbertus most of his contemporaries opposed this view. But, this view or doctrine gained in popularity and acceptance. After all, according to this view the Roman Catholic plays a tremendous role in the administration of the sacrament, and people like and enjoy power. In 1215, at the Fourth Lateran Council, under Pope Innocent III, it was officially adopted. In this doctrine, we understand, the idea of communion is replaced by that of a sacrifice. And it is also in the latter part of this period, and in connection with the adoption of the doctrine of transubstantiation, that the cup is withheld from the laity, which perversion of the words of Scripture is denied and rejected in almost all the Reformed symbols and confessions.
Since the time of the Reformation no new views have been developed concerning the Lord’s Supper, so that at present we have the four different views of this sacrament: The Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation, the Lutheran view of consubstantiation, Zwingli’s symbolical view (the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as a sort of remembrance feast, if only we bear in mind that it may be considered highly questionable whether this designation is fair to the Swiss reformer), and the Calvinistic or sacramental conception of the sacrament. In our next article we will continue with this discussion, setting forth, positively, the Reformed conception of this sacrament.