In the next period, that from 750 A.D. to the time of the Reformation, the number of the sacraments was fixed at seven, and the doctrine of transubstantiation was established as the official dogma of the church. In the early part of this period the number of the sacraments was not yet fixed. There were some that believed in only two sacraments, that is, baptism and the Lord’s supper. Some, however, mentioned four; still others a larger number. Pope Eugenius IV, 1431-1437, finally gave his sanction to a list of seven; and this is still the number that is held by the Roman Catholic Church today. These seven sacraments are the following: baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, penance, extreme unction, holy orders, and marriage. At this period the doctrine of transubstantiation was definitely taught and officially adopted. Radbertus, Abbot of Corbie, in Picardy, in the ninth century, was the first to teach unequivocally the complete dogma of transubstantiation. By the words of consecration the bread and the wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ, according to this dogma, although these remain concealed under the qualities of bread and wine to the senses. Yet it must be said that even at that time most of the contemporaries of Radbertus opposed this view. After the Dark Ages, however, from the ninth to the twelfth centuries, it appears that the doctrine of transubstantiation has gained the ascendancy, though there were still occasional voices raised against it. In 1215 A.D. it was officially adopted by the Fourth Lateran Council, under Innocent III. In connection with this doctrine the idea of communion is replaced by that of a sacrifice. In the Lord’s Supper the church, that is, the priest, offers a repeated sacrifice of Christ. 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 communicants, lest part of the blood of Christ be spilled. In justification of this sacrilege the doctrine of concomitance is developed, that is, that the blood is by nature connected with the body and is taken with the latter.
Since the time of the Reformation no new views concerning the Lord’s Supper have been developed, so that at present we have the Roman Catholic conception, the Lutheran view, the view of Zwingli, and the Calvinistic interpretation of the signs of the Lord’s Supper.
Now, as we said before, it is essential for a sacrament to be instituted in the church. That institution is very important. Water as such does not constitute the sacrament of baptism; nor do bread and wine as such have any significance as sacramental signs in themselves. It is true that water in itself is symbolic of cleansing. Also the bread of the Lord’s Supper in itself is nourishing. And it is also true that bread in itself is symbolic of spiritual nourishment and that wine is symbolic of heavenly quickening and refreshment. If this were not true, they could not possibly serve as signs. But although this is true, that is, although it is true that these natural elements are in themselves signs, and able to express in themselves certain symbolic significance, they thereby do not constitute sacraments. The institution, that is, the setting aside, or setting apart, of the water in baptism from all other water, the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper from all other bread and wine, that divine act whereby the Lord God Himself connects His Word with those signs,—that institution is essential in the constitution of the sacraments.
It is evident from all the synoptic gospels that the Lord Jesus Christ in the night in which He was betrayed instituted the New Testament supper to replace that of the Passover. It is hardly possible to explain the Scriptural record concerning the last Passover of Jesus with His disciples in any other way than by assuming that it was the regular day, that is, the fourteenth of Nisan, that the Lord celebrated it. In Luke 22:7-14, Matthew 26:17-20, Mark 14:12-17 it is evident that on that day the Lord instituted the last supper. It was therefore on Thursday evening; the fourteenth of Nisan, that the Lord celebrated the Passover with His disciples. No further explanation can possibly be given to the accounts in the synoptics. The theory that in that year the paschal supper was eaten on the fifteenth of Nisan, instead of the fourteenth, in order to maintain that Jesus died at the same time that the paschal lamb was slain certainly can find no support in the Biblical record. Others claim that Jesus held the paschal supper on the thirteenth of Nisan, and therefore a day early. But also this is not in harmony with the account of the synoptic gospels. And besides, it would mean that the paschal lamb, which must needs be offered in the temple, could not have been eaten at that time.
What was the significance of the Passover? It was, in the first place, also a harvest feast, which was celebrated in the promised land, and therefore in the land of the covenant. On the sixteenth of Nisan the first sheaf of the harvest was waved before the Lord; Thus we read in Leviticus 23:9-11: “And the Lord spake unto Moses saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.” However, it was above all a feast of commemoration, remembering that the Lord had passed over the dwellings of the people that were covered by the blood of the lamb in the night when the Destroyer went through the house of bondage to kill all the firstborn of the land. Besides, on the Passover the people commemorated that great deliverance from the house of bondage by the mighty hand of God. Cf. Exodus 12:3, ff. And so, finally, that OldTestament Passover was a feast that had typical significance. We would not say that circumcision and the Passover constituted two Old Testament sacraments. Circumcision, of course, was a sacrament. The Passover in itself was no sacrament, but it closely approached the New Testament conception of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Israel celebrated its deliverance from the house of bondage, yet at the same time looked forward to its deliverance as it was realized in the blood of the Lamb that was to be slain. It was that Passover which Christ Jesus changed into the New Testament sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. For that purpose He took not the lamb, but bread and wine. The lamb could not serve the purpose of a sign in the Lord’s Supper. The paschal lamb was positively the last lamb that could ever be eaten and that could ever be slain or sacrificed. The lamb which was eaten by Christ and His apostles, that had been carried into the temple and sacrificed there before it was carried into the upper room, that lamb of the Passover which Christ so greatly desired to eat with His apostles, was the last that was ever, and that could ever, be typically slain. For at that Passover the Lamb of God stood ready to be sacrificed: and therefore that lamb could not serve in the New Testament as a sign of the sacrament. It was typical of the sacrifice that was to be accomplished on the cross, and therefore it could not possibly look backward to that accomplished sacrifice. But the Lord took bread, the bread that also was eaten at the Passover, and the wine that was drunken when the third cup, the cup of thanksgiving, was taken at the supper. That bread and wine, instead of the lamb, Christ definitely instituted, therefore.
That they were so instituted to serve as a sacrament, and therefore as signs and seals, is evident from the words spoken by the Lord at this institution. The bread and the wine were separated from all other bread and wine by those spoken words. For we read in Matthew 26:26, 27: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. 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.” Confer also Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20. By these words, therefore, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are definitely separated and instituted as sacramental signs and seals.
Notice also that the Lord instituted this sacrament very definitely in order that it might be observed by the church. For it was instituted by a very definite command of Christ. He gave the bread to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is my body.” And when He gave the cup to them, He said: “Drink ye all of it, For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” And according to the account in Luke, the Lord added: “This do in remembrance of me.” From these words it is very evident that the Lord instituted a sacrament which was to be observed throughout the ages by the church in the world.
The observance of this supper is of great significance. This is very evident from the fact that the institution of it was repeated, and that too, by a special revelation to the apostle Paul, who writes in I Corinthians 11:23-26: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” There can be no doubt, therefore, that the apostle had received this observance of the Lord’s Supper from the Lord Himself. For he writes that he has received this of the Lord. He had received this, evidently, by a special revelation, and not from the rest of the apostles. And this fact, that the Lord from heaven gave a special revelation to the apostle Paul, who had not been personally with the Lord in His earthly sojourn, concerning the institution of the Lord’s Supper, certainly emphasizes the importance of this sacrament. And we are not surprised, therefore, that the church throughout the new dispensation, from the very earliest times, attached great significance to that institution of holy communion. The church guarded jealously that feast of commemoration, which at the same time was a sacrament of nourishment. We need not be surprised, therefore, that in all the Reformed confessions this sacrament is mentioned and rather elaborately explained.
The symbolism of the Lord’s Supper includes more than the mere signs. The signs are, of course, those of the bread and wine. But the symbolism includes the following elements: 1) The signs of the bread and wine, signifying the body and blood of the Lord. 2) The signs of the broken bread and the wine poured out, signifying His broken body and shed blood. 3) The sign of eating and drinking the bread and the wine at the table of communion. 4) The sign of the word of the minister, through whom Christ by His Spirit addresses His own Word to the heart of the believers. 5) Finally, there is the sign of the table of communion, signifying that in His tabernacle we eat and drink with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
A word of explanation of each of these elements is necessary.
First of all, then, there are the elements of bread and wine. The symbolism of these signs is, of course, plain. The bread signifies Christ as the Bread of Life, as He said to the Jews in Capernaum: “Then said Jesus unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”John 6:32, 33, 35. The same idea is expressed in Scripture when it speaks of Christ as the Water of Life. It is true that in the institution of the Lord’s Supper Jesus did not use the symbol of water, but that of wine. For this we can find two reasons. In the first place, wine is the color of blood, and the wine at the communion table is the sign of the blood of Christ. And, secondly, wine is a symbol of communion, of prosperity and joy: and according to Scripture, wine is the symbol of heavenly joy, and therefore it was very fitting at the wedding of Cana that the heavenly bridegroom should change the water into wine. Thus we can understand that at the supper of the Lord it is not water, but wine that is used as the proper sign of the blood of the Lamb, by which not only our sin is changed into righteousness, but also our earthly life is translated into the joy of God’s heavenly tabernacle.
Secondly the bread at the communion table must be broken, and the wine must be poured out. Thus we read in Matthew 26:26: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.” The broken bread, therefore, is the sign of the broken body of Christ. It has been objected that the body of Christ was not really broken. The apostle John even emphasizes this very fact when he records the spear-thrust in the side of Jesus. In John 19:33-36 we read: “But when they came to Jesus, and saw, that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with his spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bear record, and his record is true; and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.” The Scripture referred to in this passage probably has reference to the paschal lamb. For we read in Exodus 12:46: “In one house shall it be eaten; thou shalt not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall ye break a bone thereof.” But although in this sense the body of the Savior was never broken and was laid whole in the sepulchre of Joseph of Arimathea, yet in a very real sense it was broken nevertheless, as the Lord Himself emphasizes in the institution of the Lord’s Supper: “This is my body, which is broken for you.” It was broken by the nails that were hammered through His hands and through His feet, as well as by the spear-thrust of the soldiers, which miraculously resulted in the flowing forth of blood and water from His side. It was broken exactly in such a way that Jesus might for six hours slowly pour out His life-blood, taste death in all its fulness, and suffer the wrath of God for the sins of His own. And therefore it is but proper to preserve this symbolism by breaking the bread before the eyes of the assembled congregation by the hands of the minister. And although this is not expressly emphasized in the account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, this sign also applies to the pouring out of the wine. In Matthew 26:27 we read: “And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my flood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Now just as the broken bread is the symbol of the broken body of Christ, so the poured out wine is the symbol of the shed blood of Christ. And also this part of the symbolism of the supper of the Lord ought to be preserved in the celebration of it. And when the individual cup is used, it certainly would be proper if the minister would pour out the wine into a certain large cup in the sight of the congregation, rather than immediately passing the already filled cups to the communicants.
(continued in next issue)