Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hull, Iowa. Previous article in this series: August 2007, p. 444.
We have seen that in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper God is pleased to sit at the feast table with us. The table of our Lord is the table of the covenant! The great and holy God takes sinners into His fellowship—not as sinners, but as those cleansed with the blood of His dear Son. Christ’s work in our redemption instills in us a desire to join our Lord in the fellowship of His love, to confess His name, and to partake of Christ and all His benefits.
While we have yet to consider in depth what is required of us in order properly to approach that table of the covenant, we must now consider more carefully the nature of the feast that God has provided for us.
The Sacramental Operation of the Lord’s Supper
What makes this feast so special? Is it only because weremember something when we partake of the Lord’s Supper? Is it because the bread and the wine change into the physical body and blood of Christ? Is it something else? What makes this feast so special?
The answers to these questions are important. The Lord’s Supper must not be a ceremony of superstition to us. All the exercises of our Christian religion must be exercises of the mind, spiritual exercises of the mind. We must understand these things. They belong, after all, to our worship of the Lord our God.
Satan, that great adversary of the church, understands the significance of the Lord’s Supper to the church and her worship of God her Savior. One of the great reformers of the church in the sixteenth century, Peter Martyr Vermigli, wrote a treatise on the Eucharist (the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper) in 1549 in which he grappled with the controversies that troubled the church at that time on this particular doctrine. Peter Martyr wrote that this doctrine “has been so overwhelmed, buried, and deformed by lies, devices, and superstitions that it could be reckoned anything besides what the Lord instituted in the Supper.”¹
“…the devil (the greatest enemy of all peace and truth) has sown so many opinions, controversies, disagreements, heresies, and battles, although without blood, that scarcely any consent worthy of Christians can be hoped for by human reason. Alas! we have not endured these things without harm, for we have dealt double injury to this sacrament: in part because we have erected an accursed idol instead of the excellent and special gift of Christ; in part because we have abused these holy mysteries, without sincere faith, with conscience defiled by grave sins, scorning a proper examination of our own hearts.”²
The only way out of such calamitous error is by returning to Scripture and evaluating in the light of God’s authoritative Word the doctrine of the sacrament. We make that evaluation recognizing that by that Word the Spirit of Christ leads the church into all truth. We also do so on the backs of the Reformed fathers who have gone before us and who have summarized the biblical teaching in our Reformed confessions. Particularly our Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession are Reformation documents adopted by the Reformed churches as setting forth the Bible’s teaching concerning the fundamental doctrines of the faith, including the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Because the churches of the Protestant Reformation came out of the Roman Catholic Church, and because the Reformed churches themselves are distinguished from the Lutheran churches, it is important that we know where we stand over against the teachings found in those churches as well.
The dispute concerning the Lord’s Supper centered on the nourishment that the sacrament provides.
Our Spiritual Feast
Christ instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for our spiritual nourishment. We must approach the table in that understanding. When we eat and drink spiritually, we enjoy spiritual nourishment by that means. The question today is how.
How are we nourished at the Lord’s table?
What does it mean that the Lord’s Supper is our spiritual feast? Fundamentally it is a question that concerns the grace of God. How is the Lord’s Supper a means of grace? That is essentially the question. And it is certainly our desire, it must be our desire, that we receive grace in this spiritual feast.
Scripture makes plain that the spiritual nourishment that must be ours is very similar to what happens in our physical life.
In our physical life we eat and drink. We must. We can’t live without food and drink. And because God has given us a physical body, that which we eat is physical food. God places on our tables food and drink. In that food and drink are all the nutrients necessary for the sustenance of our earthly life. But if all we do is look at that food, it does us no good. There must also be the physical activity in which we eat and drink.
Still more, our bodies must be functioning properly so that when we eat and drink with our mouth, that food is also assimilated into our bodies. Not only must that food go down and be digested, but the body must also transform that food by the complex process of metabolism, so that the nutrients are put to good use by the body, either energizing vital functions or in fact changing into our very body and into our very blood.
What happens in our physical life is simply a mirror of what must happen in the spiritual sense of the word.
Spiritually too it is necessary that we receive nourishment in order to live. We need that. We cannot live without it! I refer to you who have spiritual life.
By the wonder of regeneration the Spirit of Christ has given us life. Regeneration is not physical. It is not even psychological. It is spiritual. God by His Holy Spirit changes our natural life of spiritual death into a living spiritual existence! We are born again! You must be born again, Jesus said in John 3:3, if you are to see the kingdom of God.
But because of that regeneration, we, as newborn babes, must have spiritual nourishment. Our spiritual life can no more be sustained without spiritual food than we can live without food in the physical sense.
What is that spiritual food that we must have for life everlasting?
Christ, Our Spiritual Food
The spiritual nourishment necessary for our spiritual life isChrist. That, in one word, is the spiritual food necessary for our spiritual life. We must eat and drink Christ.
In John 6 we read of the discourse of Jesus following His miracle of feeding about five thousand. He set Himself forth as the Bread of life. And in verses 53-56 we read: “Verily, 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. Whoso 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.”
That is also what Paul wrote in the opening verses of I Corinthians 10: “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; (now notice) And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink.”
Notice that. He speaks of Israel, the people of God, eatingspiritual meat and drinkingspiritual drink. And so he explains: “for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”
Even in the Old Testament, God’s people ate and drank ofChrist. He is, in one word, the spiritual food necessary for our spiritual life.
What does that mean?
Think of what the Bible teaches as it reveals Christ to us. What does Scripture say concerning Christ?
It says, Christ is righteousness. And you and I must have righteousness. We can have it only in Him.
Christ is holiness. And that holiness we must also have. Christ is that. We must, therefore, partake of Him.
All knowledge of God in the spiritual sense of the Word is to be found in Christ. He, after all, is the revelation of the God of our salvation. So He said in Luke 10:22: “All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.” The same idea is expressed by the inspired John in his gospel account, John 1:18: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Christ is trueknowledge. In Him alone is the knowledge of God as the God of our salvation. And, as we read in John 17:3, that is life eternal. We must be partakers of that knowledge.
Still more, Christ is wisdom. And we must have wisdom—true, spiritual wisdom. That is essential for our spiritual life. Allthe blessings of salvation are in Christ.
We can sum it up as Christ says of Himself, “I am life.” He is life. And you and I have no spiritual life apart from Him. That is exactly what He said in John 6.“Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life.”
The deeper question involved here is the question of how Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper.
When we eat of the bread and drink of the wine of the Lord’s table, how is that eating and drinking Christ?
To that question we turn our attention in our next article, God willing.
¹ Peter Martyr Vermigli, The Peter Martyr Library, Volume 7 (Kirksville, Missouri, Truman State University Press, 2000), p. 125.