This is not only the teaching of Question and Answer 79, but is also taught already in the 76th Question and Answer: “What is it then to eat the crucified body, and drink the shed blood of Christ? It is not only to embrace with a believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ, and thereby to obtain the pardon of sin, and life eternal; but also, besides that, to become more and more united to his sacred body, by the Holy Ghost, who dwells both in Christ and in us; so that we, though Christ is in heaven and we on earth, are notwithstanding, ‘Flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone’; and that we live, and are governed forever by one spirit, as members of the same body are by one soul.” And in Question and Answer 77 we are taught as follows: “Where has Christ promised that he will as certainly feed and nourish believers with his body and blood, as they eat of this broken bread, and drink of this cup? In the institution of the supper, which is thus expressed: ‘The Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said: eat, this is my body, which is broken for you; this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying: this cup is the new testament in my blood; this do ye, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For, as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.’ This promise is repeated by the holy apostle Paul, where he says: ‘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? For we, being many, are one bread and one body; because we are all partakers of that one bread.” And Question and Answer 78 is also pertinent here: “Do then the bread and wine become the very body and blood of Christ? Not at all: but as the water in baptism is not changed into the blood of Christ, neither is the washing away of sin itself, being only the sign and confirmation, thereof appointed of God; so the bread in the Lord’s supper is not changed into the very body of Christ; though agreeably to the nature and properties of sacraments, it is called the body of Christ Jesus.”
To Question and Answer 79 we already referred in the December 1 issue.
The same note is struck in all the Reformed confessions. Thus we read in the Belgic Confession, Article 35: “We believe and confess, that our Savior Jesus Christ did ordain and institute, the sacrament of the holy supper, to nourish and support those whom he had already regenerated, and incorporated into his family, which is his Church. Now those, who are regenerated, have in them a two-fold life, the one corporal and temporal, which they have from the first birth, and is common to all men: the other spiritual and heavenly, which is given them in their second birth, which is effected by the word of the gospel, in the communion of the body of Christ; and this life is not common, but is peculiar to God’s elect. In like manner God hath given us, for the support of the bodily and earthly life, earthly and common bread, which is subservient thereto, and is common to all men, even as life itself. But for ,the support of the spiritual and heavenly life, which believers: have, he hath sent a living bread, which descended from heaven, namely, Jesus Christ, who nourishes and strengthens the spiritual life of believers, when they eat him, that is to say, when they apply and receive him by faith in the spirit. Christ, that he might represent unto us this spiritual and heavenly bread, hath instituted an earthly and visible, bread, as a sacrament of his body, and wine as a sacrament of his blood, to testify by them unto us, that, as certainly as we receive and: hold this sacrament in our hands, and eat and drink the same with our mouths, by which our life is afterwards nourished, we also do as certainly receive by faith (which is the hand and mouth of our soul) the true body and blood of Christ our only Savior in our souls, for the support of our spiritual life.” Cf. also the French Confession of Faith, Art. 36; the Scotch Confession of Faith, Art. 32; the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, Art. 28; and the Westminster Confession, Ch. 29.
All the Reformed confessions, in fact, emphasize that the eating and drinking which takes place at the Lord’s table is only spiritual. At the Lord’s table Christ imparts Himself to the believers. The bread and wine are spiritual food and drink, food and drink unto life eternal. And through that food and drink Christ imparts Himself at the table of communion. There is therefore also a spiritual operation, effected by the Spirit of Christ. And finally, there is in believers also a spiritual mouth, by which we eat and drink, that is, according to the confessions, the mouth of faith, as we have already quoted from the Belgic Confession. It is by faith, and by faith only, that we are hungry and thirsty for Christ, the only spiritual food.
Herein, therefore, lies the significance of the Lord’s Supper.
We must not imagine that in the Lord’s Supper a certain grace is imparted to us that cannot be received in any other way than by eating and drinking the signs of the broken bread and the wine that is poured out. Christ always imparts Himself to believers, and feeds our souls unto everlasting life, and that too, chiefly by the preaching of the gospel. To this the sacraments principally add nothing. But it is true that through the signs of the broken bread and the wine poured out at the table of the Lord the Holy Spirit accomplishes or effects two things. In the first place, through the visible signs the Holy Spirit strengthens the personal assurance and the personal confidence of faith of the believers. And, in the second place, the Spirit through these same visible signs stimulates faith to a greater hunger and thirst for Christ, that by faith we may eat and drink Him unto everlasting life. Thus, and thus only, the supper of the Lord is a means of grace, a means whereby the believer may grow in grace.
A word must still be said in this connection about the Romish error that the Lord’s Supper is also a continual sacrifice of Christ, offered by the priest. We can distinguish between the Eucharist and the mass. Both presuppose that the bread and wine at the Lord’s table are transubstantiated into the very body and blood j of Christ. However, while the Eucharist consists only in the eating of the wafer and the drinking of the wine by the priest, the mass proper really consists in the sacrifice of Christ, also by the priest, under the form of bread and wine. That this is true, that is, that the Romish Church actually presents the Lord’s Supper as a continual sacrifice of Christ through the priest is very evident from the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. For we read, according to the Twenty-second Session, Chapter 1: “Forasmuch as under the former testament, according to the testimony of the apostle Paul, there was no perfection, because of the weakness of the Levitical priesthood; there was need, God, the Father of mercies, so ordaining, that another priest should rise, according to the order of Melchisedec, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who might consummate, and lead to what is perfect, as many as were to be sanctified. He, therefore, our God and Lord, though He was about to offer Himself once on the altar of the cross unto God the Father by means of His death, there to operate an eternal redemption; nevertheless, because that His priesthood was not to be extinguished by His death, in the last supper, in the night in which He was betrayed,—that He might leave, to His own beloved spouse, the church, a visible sacrifice such as the nature of man requires, whereby that bloody sacrifice, once to be accomplished on the cross, might be represented, and the memory thereof remain even unto the end of the world, and its salutary virtue be applied to the remission of those sins which we daily commit,—declaring Himself constituted a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedec, He offered up to God the Father His own body and blood under the species of bread and wine; and, under the symbols of those things, He delivered His own body and blood to be received by His apostles, whom He then constituted priests of the New Testament; and by those words, ‘Do this in commemoration of me,’ He commanded them and their successors in the priesthood to offer them; even as the Catholic Church has always understood and taught. For having celebrated the ancient Passover, which the multitude of the children of Israel immolated in memory of their going out of Egypt, He instituted the new Passover, to wit, Himself to be immolated, under the visible signs, by the church through the ministry of priests, in memory of His own passage from this world unto the Father, when by the effusion of His own blood He redeemed us, and delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into His kingdom. And this is indeed that clean oblation, which cannot be-defiled by any unworthiness, or by malice of those that offer it; which the Lord foretold by Malachias was to be offered in every place, clean to His name, which was to be great amongst the Gentiles; and which the apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, has not obscurely indicated, when he says that they who are defiled by the participation of the table of devils, cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord; by the table, meaning in both places the altar. This, in fine, is that oblation which was prefigured by various types of sacrifices during the period of nature, and of the law; inasmuch as it comprised all the good things signified by these sacrifices, as being the consummation and perfection of them all.”