We will now discuss the Reformed view of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. And, of course, it speaks for itself that, inquiring into the Reformed conception of this sacrament, we ask ourselves the question: what did John Calvin, the reformer of Geneva, say about this subject? And then we would remark, in the first place, that sometimes t is most famous of all reformers seemed to teach that the broken body and shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ must be identified with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, that there is an influence of Christ’ s glorified body upon the believers. In support of this, we wish to quote from his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chapter XVII, Paragraph X: “We conclude, that our souls are fed by the flesh and blood of Christ, just as our corporeal life is preserved and sustained by bread and wine. For otherwise there would be no suitableness in the analogy of the sign, if our souls did not find their food in Christ; which cannot be the case unless Christ truly becomes one with us, and refreshes us by the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood. Though it appears incredible for the flesh of Christ, from such an immense local distance, to reach us, so as to become our food, we should remember how much the secret power of the Holy Spirit transcends all our senses, and what folly it is to apply any measure of ours to his immensity. Let our faith receive, therefore, what our understanding is not able to comprehend, that the Spirit really unites things which are separated by local distance. Now, that holy participation of his flesh and blood, by which Christ communicates his life to us, just as if he actually penetrated every part of our frame, in the sacred supper he also testifies and seals; and that not by the exhibition of a vain or ineffectual sign, but by the exertion of the energy of his Spirit, by which he accomplishes that which he promises And the thing signified he exhibits and offers to all who come to that spiritual banquet; though it is advantageously enjoyed by believers alone, who receive such great goodness with true faith and gratitude of mind, For which reason the apostle said, ‘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?’ Nor is there any cause to object, that it is a figurative expression, by which the name of the thing signified is given to the sign. I grant, indeed, that the breaking of the bread is symbolical, and not the substance itself: yet, this being admitted, from the exhibition of the symbol we may justly infer the exhibition of the substance; for, unless any one would call God a deceiver, he can never presume to affirm that he sets before us an empty sign. Therefore, if, by the breaking of the bread, the Lord truly represents the participation of his body, it ought not to be doubted that he truly presents and communicates it. And it must always be a rule with believers, whenever they see the signs instituted by the Lord, to assure and persuade themselves that they are also accompanied with the truth of the thing signified. For to what end would the Lord deliver into our hands the symbol of his body, except to assure us of a real participation of it? If it be true that the visible sign is given to us to seal the donation of the invisible substance, we ought to entertain a confident assurance, that in receiving the symbol of his body, we at the same time truly receive the body itself.”
In connection with this quotation from Calvin, we would call attention to the following. It must be conceded that, also in this quotation, the reformer certainly differs from the view of Luther. He writes, for example, that there is an immense local distance between Christ’s body and us. Lutheranism, we know, teaches that the body of Christ is omnipresent. He also writes that it is really the Holy Spirit Who unites things which are separated by local distance, and he therefore declares that our communion with the body of our Lord occurs really through the Holy Spirit. Moreover, Calvin speaks of the elements of the Lord’s Supper as signs and seals, declares that we deal with a figurative expression, that the name of the thing is given to the sign, and he grants that the breaking of the bread is symbolical, and not the substance itself. Luther, we know, did not want to speak of the elements of the Lord’s Supper as signs, denied the symbolical character of the Lord’s Supper. However, Calvin also asserts in this paragraph that it is folly on our part to apply any measure of our senses to Christ’s immensity, that the secret power of the Holy Spirit transcends all our senses, He also asserts that the Holy Spirit really unites things which are separated by local distance, and that Christ communicates his life to us, just as if he actually penetrated every part of our frame, and that He does this, not by the exhibition of a vain or ineffectual sign, but by the exertion of the energy of His Spirit. Christ, so Calvin continues, exhibits and offers to all who come to that spiritual banquet the thing signified, and therefore, if, by the breaking of the bread, the Lord truly represents the participation of his body, it ought not to be doubted that he truly presents and communicates it. Moreover, Calvin concludes with the remark that in receiving the symbol of his body, we at the same time truly receive the body itself. However, we would also remark that the reformer of Geneva also declares in this quotation that only the believers partake, spiritually, of this spiritual banquet.
That Calvin, however, did not subscribe to the Roman Catholic or Lutheran conceptions of the Lord’s Supper is surely clear from the following quotation, Book IV, Chapter XVII, Paragraph XII: “I now proceed to the hyperbolical additions which superstition has made to this sacrament. For here Satan has exerted amazing subtlety to withdraw the minds of men from heaven, and involve them in a preposterous error, by persuading them that Christ is attached to the elements of bread. In the first place, we must be careful not to dream of such a presence of Christ in the sacrament as the ingenuity of the Romanists has invented; as if the body of Christ were exhibited, by a local presence to be felt by the hand, bruised by the teeth, and swallowed by the throat. For this was the form of recantation which Pope Nicolas directed to Berengarius as a declaration of his repentance; the language of which is so monstrous, that the scholiast exclaims, that there is danger, unless the readers be very prudent and cautious, of their imbibing from it a worse heresy than that of Berengarius; and Peter Lombard, though he takes great pains to defend it from the charge of absurdity, yet rather inclines to a different opinion. For, as we have not the least doubt that Christ’s body is finite, according to the invariable condition of a human body, and is contained in heaven, where it was once received, till it shall return to judgment, so we esteem it utterly unlawful to bring it back under these corruptible elements, or to imagine it to be present everywhere. Nor is there any need of this, in order to our enjoying the participation of it; since the Lord by His Spirit gives us the privilege of being united with himself in body, soul, and spirit. The bond of this union, therefore, is the Spirit of Christ, by whom we are conjoined, and who is, as it were, the channel by which all that Christ himself is and has is conveyed to us. For, if we behold the sun darting his rays and transmitting his substance, as it were, in them, to generate, nourish, and mature the roots of the earth, why should the irradiation of the Spirit of Christ be less effectual to convey to us the communication of his body and blood? Wherefore, the Scripture, when it speaks of our participation of Christ, attributes all the power of it to the Spirit. One passage shall suffice instead of many. In the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, Paul represents Christ as dwelling in us no otherwise than by His Spirit. By the representation, the apostle does not destroy that communion of the body and blood of Christ of which we are now treating, but teaches that it is solely owing to the agency of the Spirit that we possess Christ with all his benefits and have him dwelling within us.”
In this quotation Calvin clearly repudiates the Romish and Lutheran views of the Lord’s Supper. It is true that the reformer teaches an actual partaking of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ when we partake of this sacrament. How true it may be that the breaking of the bread is symbolical, he surely maintains that, in the Lord’s Supper, the believer does not merely partake of bread and wine. The Lord’s Supper is not merely a remembrance feast. The believer partakes of the body and blood of the Lord in a very real sense of the word. Calvin teaches emphatically that, receiving the symbol of Christ’s body, we at the same time truly receive the body itself. However, the reformer emphasizes that this communion with the body and blood of our Lord is exclusively spiritual. He speaks of the preposterous error of the Romanists, that we must be careful not to dream of such a presence of Christ in the sacrament as the ingenuity of the Romanists has invented. He declares that he has not the least doubt but that the body of Christ is finite, that it is contained in heaven, and that it is contained in heaven until it shall return to judgment. And he considers it utterly unlawful to bring this body of Christ back under these corruptible elements, or to imagine it to be present everywhere. However, so Calvin continues, we need not seek recourse to these Romish or Lutheran views of the Lord’s Supper in order to enjoy the participation of it, since the Lord by His Spirit gives us the privilege of being united with Himself in body, soul and spirit. The bond of this union, according to Calvin, is not the external bread and wine, but the Spirit of Christ. He is the Channel by Whom we are conjoined and through Whom Christ Himself is conveyed to us. So, according to Calvin, Christ is actually bestowed upon the believers through the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, but this occurs spiritually, through the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This, we understand, is a radical departure from the Romish and Lutheran views of the Eucharist. Indeed, we could quote much more from the Institutes of the Reformer of Geneva, in which he sets forth the awful heresy of the Popish mass, but this ought to be sufficient. Calvin declares unequivocally that the human nature of Christ is not omnipresent, that it is in heaven and will remain there until He returns upon the clouds of heaven. He surely declares that it is wholly wrong to cause that body of Christ to return under the corruptible elements of the Lord’s Supper, and that the sole bond of union between Christ and us is none other than the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit we actually partake of the body and blood of our Lord, but this occurs only in a spiritual sense of the word. And this is surely the language of all the Reformed Confessions as we also shall see, the Lord willing, in subsequent articles. According to Calvin, we cannot eat and drink the body and blood of Christ with the mouth, but only by faith. Our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be included in the earthly elements. We must seek His communion only by faith, and it occurs only through the Holy Spirit.