“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 hath already regenerated, and incorporated into his family, which is his church. Now those, who are regenerated, have in them a twofold 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 is 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: Now as it is certain and beyond all doubt, that Jesus Christ hath not enjoined to us the use of his sacraments in vain, so he works in us all that he represents to us by these holy signs, though the manner surpasses our understanding, and cannot be comprehended by us, as the operations of Holy Ghost are hidden and incomprehensible. In the meantime we err not, when we say, that what is eaten and drunk by us is the proper and natural body, and the proper blood of Christ. But the manner of our partaking of the same, is not by the mouth, but by the spirit through faith . . .” Article XXXV, The Belgic Confession
Because Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper along with Baptism as the two sacraments for His church it follows that our Confession, having discussed Baptism, now speaks of the Lord’s Supper. The two sacraments are related as far as their meaning and significance are concerned. Baptism is first because it is the sign and seal of the believer’s entrance into the covenant of God, into the spiritual family of God. The Lord’s Supper follows, for it is the sign and seal of the believer’s abiding within the fellowship of that covenant, his being nourished and sustained in God’s household. For this reason Baptism is administered but once while the holy supper is celebrated repeatedly. Still more, this is also the reason why Baptism is administered to children in the line of the covenant, while confessing believers partake of the Lord’s Supper. All this theConfession emphasizes: “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 hath already regenerated, and incorporated into his family, which is his church.” The supper is instituted for regenerated believers, those already incorporated into the family of God which is His church.
While the Confession refrains from polemics and presents the truth concerning the Lord’s Supper positively, it does, nevertheless, stand against the errors which have arisen in the church with regard to this sacrament. Roman Catholicism teaches the actual physical presence of our Lord’s body and blood. This according to Rome is accomplished by the miracle of transubstantiation at which time the elements of bread and wine are changed into the very body and blood of the Lord while their properties, appearance, texture, taste, etc. remain unchanged. Thus Christ is on the altar and sacrificed in, an unbloody manner. This our Heidelberg Catechism rightly calls an “accursed idolatry.” But from this it follows that the grace imparted by the sacrament is received automatically and that too by all who partake whether they be believers or unbelievers. The error of Lutheranism which is called by the name, consubstantiation, is somewhat more complicated. Briefly, Lutheranism teaches that the bread and wine are not literally changed into the body and blood of our Lord, but the body and blood of Christ are “in, with, and under” the bread and wine. Principally this is no different from Roman Catholicism. Zwingli went to the opposite extreme and taught that the sacrament is not really a means of grace, but merely a memorial meal. The church celebrates the Lord’s Supper merely to remember the Lord’s death. There is no grace communicated to the believer through this celebration.
Over against these errors stands the teaching of the Word of God concerning the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. This teaching is beautifully set forth by the Confession. The Confession begins its discussion by speaking of the need of the sacrament. This need is spoken of from the point of view of the two-fold life of the regenerated elect: There is the natural life. This life is common to all men. It is received from the first or natural birth and it is a life which is temporal and corporal. For the support of this “bodily and earthly life” God has given us “earthly and common bread, which is subservient thereto, and is common to all men, even as life itself.” The regenerated also have a spiritual life. This is the heavenly life which is given them in their second birth. This life 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.” For the support of this spiritual and heavenly life which belongs to believers God has 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.”
To represent to the believer this spiritual and heavenly bread, Christ Jesus, Christ has instituted an earthly and visible bread as a sacrament of His body, and wine as a sacrament of His blood. These the believer must eat and drink with his mouth as the sign and seal of his receiving Christ by faith, the “hand and mouth of our soul.” The elements, therefore, of the Lord’s Supper are signs and seals. These elements are the bread and the wine which are the signs and seals of Christ’s body and blood. This is literally the Scriptures: “And he (Christ) took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:19, 20) Furthermore, belonging to the elements of the supper are the breaking of the bread and the pouring out of the wine, and the communion of the saints gathered about the table. These are signs because they point to spiritual and invisible realities. The bread and wine stand for the body and blood of our Lord. The breaking of the bread points to the breaking of Christ’s body on the cross and the pouring out of the wine to the shedding of His blood, Taken together, therefore, the broken bread and poured out wine point to the vicarious and meritorious suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross. The gathering of the saints about the table points to the fellowship of the saints in the body of Christ. These elements are seals because they are visible pledges or guarantees of God that He will actually give that which is signified.
As to the eating and drinking of the bread and the wine the believer does not literally eat and drink the body and blood of Christ. Some think theConfession teaches this when it says: “In the meantime we err not, when we say, that what is eaten and drunk by us is the proper and natural body, and the proper blood of Christ.” We must not fail to note, however, that the Confessiongoes on to say: “But the manner of our partaking of the same, is not by the mouth, but by the spirit through faith.” The believer really eats and drinks the body and blood of Christ, but he does so by faith which is “the hand and mouth of our soul.” This means that by faith the believer lays hold on Christ and all the blessings of His cross and makes them his own. This is accomplished by the operation of the Spirit in his heart and through the Word brought by the minister, which Word is the Word of Christ Who is the host at this spiritual banquet. This operation of the Spirit “surpasses our understanding, and cannot be comprehended by us, as the operations of the Holy Ghost are hidden and incomprehensible.”
The blessings received by the believer through the Lord’s Supper are many and rich. His spiritual life and faith are nourished and fed by these visible signs and seals. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself Who is in heaven comes to the believer and makes him partaker of Himself and all His blessings. The Confession puts it beautifully when it says: “Christ gives us there to enjoy both himself, and the merits of his sufferings and death, nourishing, strengthening and comforting our poor comfortless souls by the eating of his flesh, quickening and refreshing them by the drinking of his blood.”
Finally, the Confession speaks of the proper partakers of this sacrament and of the necessity of true self-examination. There is a two-fold operation of the sacrament. The believer who partakes in faith is blessed; he receives the grace of salvation and life through the means of the sacrament. The unbeliever is condemned, condemned the greater for having partaken. As the creed says: “Furthermore, though the 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.”
Proper self-examination is, therefore, necessary for the believer. The Scripture says: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (I Corinthians 11:28, 29) This self-examination must be to discover whether we are in the faith and walking in the right way of sanctification before the face of God. This includes the knowledge of our sins and our sinful natures. The believer must know that by nature he is a sinner who is incapable of doing any good. He must know whether he is truly sorry for these sins and weaknesses and earnestly desirous to fight against them and walk in the way of God’s commandments. He must learn to seek his salvation outside of himself in Christ Jesus. Thus in godly sorrow and in true repentance the believer humbly draws near to the table of the Lord to be nourished up unto everlasting life.