*Paper read on Minister’s Conference.
The presence of Christ and the sacramental working in the Lord’s Supper. My subject is formed of two parts or expressions: They are: 1. The presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper; 2. The sacramental working in the Lord’s Supper. The order in which these expressions appear in the subject is correct. If the matter signified by the last of these two expressions is to be understood, the thing denoted by the first must be first explained. I must confess that the second of the two expressions was not too clear to me. It struck me as being incomplete. I asked myself if perhaps this was not meant, namely, the sacramental working of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, that is, what Christ works in His people by means of this sacrament, what He accomplishes in them by it. Or, I also wondered whether this was not meant, namely, the sacramental working of the Lord’s Supper instead of in the Lord’s Supper. After some thought I concluded that there is really no essential difference between the three formulations of the idea contained in this second part of the subject. Each looks to the same thing.
The two expressions that form my subject divides my paper into two divisions, in the first of which must be treated the matter of Christ’s presence in the Supper. The question is now in what sense it can be said that the body of Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper? As this question has to do with the sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified, we must first have respect to this sign and the thing it signifies. Firstly, that which in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper does service as the sign, is the natural bread and wine. These material substances are not accidentally chosen. Because of their peculiar nature they can serve as signs in the Lord’s Supper. God created them for this use. As bread is for the nourishing and strengthening of man’s body, so Christ is the nourishment of the New Creature, the man of God. There is the question why the wine was added to the bread. The answers vary. As bread nourishes life, wine makes glad the heart, says the Scriptures. But the principle reason doubtless is this, that by the separation of bread and wine Christ is presented to us as the suffering and crucified Savior. In a general sense all bread and wine, like all creatures, are signs of things heavenly, definitely Christ, the true bread of life. But not all bread and wine are signs of Christ in the sacramental sense. To be signs in Holy Communion a certain quantity of bread and wine must be separated from common use and consecrated to this sacred use through the prayer of thanksgiving of the officiating minister at the Lord’s Table. The bread and wine so consecrated are in a special sense signs of the suffering and crucified Christ. More must be said, to be signs, the bread must be broken and the wine shed and both must be used, the former eaten and the latter drunken, by the communicants. The signs includes the bread and the wine as assimilated by the human body and as nourishing it. The sign includes finally also, the action of the minister according to which he, as the servant and ambassador of Christ, delivers these elements to the communicants. Before we go any further, it may be well to define the sacraments. The word sacrament, as we know, is not found in the Bible. It is a Latin word. Among the heathen it denoted a sum of money deposited by two persons involved in civil litigation. The one would say to the other: Since you claim this property I challenge you with a sacrament of 500 asses. Each would deposit this sum, which was then turned over to the priest. The party that lost in the court would then turn over his deposit to the priest for sacred use. The matter was called a sacrament, because it stood in the service of the gods. It thus had a religious meaning. The Greek equivalent of the latin sacramentum was Musteerion, meaning, a thing hidden, concealed. The term was adopted by the Christian Church to denote its mysteries. Tertullian speaks of the Sacrament of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Calvin defines sacrament as follows, “An external sign whereby the Lord seals graciously his promises to us on our conscience to maintain the weakness of our faith and whereby we declare our union with him in his presence and in the presence of the angels.” The definition found in the Catechism is richer. It reads, “Sacraments are holy signs and seals appointed for this end, that by the use thereof, he may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel, namely, that he grants us freely the remission of sin, and life eternal, for the sake of that one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross.” We will return to this definition of Christ’s accomplishment on the cross.” We will return to this definition in the exposition of the last part of our subject.
But the Lord’s Supper is not only a sign; it is also a seal. It is this for the sole reason of its being an institution of Christ. For the sealing of the promises to His people the Lord could have used other elements but not for the sign, the picture, the reason being that bread and wine only are suitable for this use for the reasons already given.
Now the question: What are the matters signified? The following.
1) The suffering and dying of Christ—His broken body and shed blood—signified by the breaking of the bread and by the pouring of the wine.
2) The suffering and dying of Christ as the foundation of the covenant of grace—for Christ said, when He instituted the Lord’s Supper, “This blood is the New Testament or covenant in my blood.
3) This sign is at once a seal of the covenant of grace and all its benefits, from the side of Christ. For Christ said, “Take, eat, this is my body which was broken for you. The matters sealed are the covenant and all its benefits, all the fruits of Christ’s atonement—sealed are they unto the believers.
4) Signified, pictured, further is the exercise of the covenant fellowship of God and His people through Christ in the Spirit, definitely, the feeding and nourishing of the believers by Christ the true bread—signified by the believers eating and; assimilating the natural bread and their being nourished by it. Secondly, the exercise of this sacramental fellowship is pictured by the Lord’s Supper being a meal, a banquet, at which Christ is the host, as Savior and Lord of His people. He gives the bread and the wine, His own flesh and blood, to His people. This is pictured through His giving the natural bread and wine to His disciples, the church. This He continued to do through the ages by His servants. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper implies the resurrected, ascended and glorified Christ. This is implied in the communicants eating the natural bread and in their being nourished by it.
We could next explain the sacramental working in the Lord’s Supper. But it is well that we first explain the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. The question is definitely in what sense can we say that Christ as to His body and blood is present in the Lord’s Supper. This concerns the question of the sacramental union with Christ.
1) It is not a material union. For the bread and the wine are not changed as to their essence into the flesh and blood of Christ. This is the foundation of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper with Rome. There by the words spoken by the priest the substance of the bread is changed into the body of Christ with the visible accidentals remaining, such as color, taste, smell. Hence, according to Rome, Christ’s flesh and blood are eaten with the physical mouth. The bread is the Christ and the Christ is the bread also after the communion.
2) The unsacramental union is not local as the Lutherans teach. The Lutherans reject the transubstantiation of Rome. Here the teaching is not that the essence of the elements are changed into the Christ. Here the formula is: with, in, and under. According to this conception the body of Christ is bound by the elements and included by them, thus confined to space. Also according to this conception Christ is eaten with the physical mouth.
3) According to another conception Christ is present in the mind of the believer or the communicant as an idea of the suffering, dying, resurrected and ascended Christ which the mind receives, and is thus present in the consciousness of the communicant. The communicant combines in his mind, such is the conception, the idea of the Christ, present in his mind, with the bread and the wine. This is the only union that takes place. This was the view of Zwingli.
Just how Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper can best be explained in connection with the treatment of the sacramental working of in the Lord’s Supper.
Let us consider then that God gave man an eye and an ear for receiving the knowledge of the things heavenly. To the ear corresponds the speech, the spoken word. The image, the picture is for the eye. (Hence, the sacraments, definitely the sacramental bread and the wine. Symbols, pictures, they are of the Christ. The word and these sacramental signs go together. The Word can do without the sign however; but the sign cannot do without the word. For the sign, the bread and the wine, speak to us of the Christ, only because God imposed His word upon them. The bread and the wine are really pictures of the word. They serve the word in this sense.
The sacrament and the word of God, the Scriptures, agree in the following respects.
1) God is the author of both. He speaks His word and He instituted the sacraments.
2) The content of both is the same. This content is Christ who is brought to us by word and sacrament. The whole Christ is in the word and likewise the whole Christ is in the sacrament, the whole Christ, as He is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and complete redemption.
3) There is agreement in the manner in which the content of both word and sacrament are received, namely, by faith. Without faith, true faith, the matter signified by the bread and wine cannot become our portion. So, too, we need faith to become the partaker of Christ as presented to us by the Scriptures, the word.
But they differ however in their necessity. The word is absolutely necessary, not so the sacraments. This does not mean that a man can be saved and ignore the sacraments. He cannot because God commanded His people to make use of these means of grace. Not to do so is to be disobedient, and to walk in disobedience and thus to perish.
The two differ as to their purpose. The purpose of the word is to awaken faith, the purpose of the sacrament is to strengthen faith.
Such then is the reason and purpose of the sacrament, definitely of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper presents to the believer the same Christ that is brought to his consciousness by the word.
The foundation of the sacrament is the institution of Christ. This is the only guarantee whereby we are assured that the Lord will use the sacrament as a means of grace. This guarantee is not in the sacrament as such. It is a means of grace only because Christ so instituted it and so willed.
This institution of the sacrament has two parts. There is a command given by Christ. He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Then there is a word of promise spoken by Christ. He said, “In the way of your doing according to my institution and in obedience to my command in faith, I will certainly give you the grace signified and sealed by the sacrament. “This cup is the New Testament in my blood that was shed for you.” Both the promise and the command are repeated by His servants appointed to administer the sacrament. It is Christ who continues to speak this word through them and in the hearts of His people.
The sacramental working of the Lord’s Supper can be plainly brought out by an exegesis of. The passage reads, “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whosoever eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me and I in him. As the father hath sent me and I live in the father, so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is the bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: but he that eateth of this bread shall live forever.”
There are several explanations of these words of Christ. It is asked what may be the meaning of all these expressions? Did Christ have in mind the Lord’s Supper, when he uttered these words, or was he speaking in general? Calvin was of the opinion that Christ was not speaking here of the Lord’s Supper. The Lutherans likewise. The Lutherans maintain that the reference here is to a spiritual eating of Christ. For the Lutherans hold to a twofold eating of Christ, with the physical mouth and spiritually. Also the unbelievers, say the Lutherans, eat Christ with the physical mouth. As in John 6, all those who eat of Christ have eternal life, he could not have been speaking of the Lord’s Supper, for this supper is also eaten by the unbelievers. There are others who maintain that Christ here speaks only of the Lord’s supper. This is the other extreme. It is certain that these words of Christ have reference also to the Lord’s Supper. How can it be otherwise if the signs in this supper—the bread and the wine—symbolize Him, present Him by symbol to our consciousness, and if the symbol, the signs in the Lord’s supper, can be speaking to the believer only, and just because he views them in the light of the word? Christ here speaks of a bread that He will give, and that is His flesh. This reminds one of the words of the institution of the Lord’s supper, “This is my body that is broken for you”. Christ will give Himself as an offering to God, He will give, present Himself, to the consciousness of His people in the preaching of the Gospel. By the Holy Spirit He will impart Himself to His people as the true bread of life. Thus also here He speaks of Himself not only as the Christ who will suffer and die for His people, but also as the risen and glorified Lord who merited Himself for His people as the fountain of Life. And in this Christ as presented to the Christian consciousness both by word and sacrament God’s people believe. Thus, how can the Lord’s supper be excluded here? It certainly cannot.
Let us therefore concentrate on some of these utterances. Firstly, on the expression, “except ye eat My flesh and drink My blood ye have no life in yourselves”. We must notice thee words carefully. He says not, “if ye eat My flesh and drink My blood ye will have life in you, or become alive,” but, “except ye eat. . . . ye have no life.” It means that the eating presupposes life. We could also translate, “except ye do or are eating My flesh ye have no life in you.” In the natural sense, the dead do not, cannot eat. So, too, it is in the spiritual. The man dead in sin cannot and does not eat. In the natural sphere bread is for the living. So to in the spiritual sphere.
Further, Christ says that He is bread. As was said, He merited Himself as bread for His people by His suffering and death. But there is this question. Why is He bread, He the risen and glorified Christ, bread for His people now and everlastingly? There can be but one answer. The fruits of His atonement dwell in Him, are one with Him, wherefore He is called the wisdom, justification, sanctification and redemption of His people. He is their life, according to His person and as to both His natures, the whole Christ. Every blessing is in Him. Life in separation from Him is death. Not to eat (Him is to be without life, is to be dead and in death and under the curse everlastingly. No one can pass Him by and be the recipient of a single blessing. He is bread.
He is bread for the living, for (His people. It means, as has already been suggested, that for His people He is and will be everlastingly indispensable. No man in the natural sense can live without bread. If he stops eating he dies. This is true also of the believers. Should they cease eating Christ, which is impossible, they would fall back into their former state with all its guilt and death. For Lie is bread. Further, as the true bread, Lie is for the maintenance or nourishment of their spiritual life. This all is symbolized by the Sacrament of the Lord’s supper.
(To be continued)