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Matt. 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25; Luke 22:17–20; (I Cor. 11:23–26).

The Lord’s Supper is a monument sacred to the memory of Jesus Christ. “This do in remembrance of me.” In Bethany Jesus had spoken as if He desired that Mary should be kept in remembrance in the preaching of His Gospel; in the supper chamber He expressed His desire to be remembered Himself. He would have Mary’s deed of love commemorated by the rehearsal of her story; He would have His own deed of love commemorated by a symbolic action, to be often repeated throughout the ages to the end of the world.

The rite of the Supper, besides commemorating, is likewise of use to interpret the Lord’s death. It throws important light on the meaning of that solemn event. The institution of this symbolic feast was in fact the most important contribution made by Jesus during His personal ministry to the doctrine of atonement through the sacrifice of Himself. Therefrom more clearly than from any other act or word performed or spoken by Him, the twelve might learn to conceive of their Master’s death as possessing a redemptive character. Thereby Jesus, as it were, said to His disciples: My approaching passion is not to be regarded as a mere calamity, or dark disaster, falling out contrary to the divine purpose or my expectation; not as a fatal blow inflicted by ungodly men on me and you, and the cause which is dear to us all; not even as an evil which may be overruled for good; but as an event fulfilling, not frustrating, the purpose of my mission, and fruitful of blessing to the world. What men mean for evil, God means for good, to bring to pass to save much people alive. The shedding of my blood, in one aspect the crime of wicked Jews, is in another aspect my own voluntary act. I pour forth my blood for a gracious end, even for the remission of sins. My death will initiate a new dispensation, and seal a new testament; it will fulfil the purpose, and therefore take the place, of the manifold sacrifices of the Mosaic ritual, and in particular of the Paschal lamb, which is even now being eaten. I shall be the Paschal Lamb of the Israel of God henceforth; at once protecting them from death, and feeding their souls with my crucified humanity, as the bread of eternal life.

These truths are very familiar to us, however new and strange they may have been to the disciples; and we are more accustomed to explain the Supper by the death, than the death by the Supper. It may be useful, however, here to reverse the process, and, imagining ourselves in the position of the twelve, as witnesses to the institution of a new religious symbol, to endeavor to rediscover therefrom the meaning of the event with which it is associated, and whose significance it is intended to shadow forth. Let us, then, take our stand beside this ancient monument, and try to read the Runic inscription on its weather-worn surface.

1. First, then, we perceive at once that it is to the death of Jesus this monument refers. It is not merely erected to His memory in general, but it is erected specially in memory of His decease. All things point forward to what was about to take place on Calvary. The sacramental acts of breaking the bread and pouring out the wine manifestly look that way. The words also spoken by Jesus in instituting the Supper all involve allusions to His death. Both the fact and the manner of His death are hinted at, by the distinction He makes between His body and His blood: “This is my body,” “This is my blood.” Body and blood are one in life, and become separate things only by death; and not by every kind of death, but by one whose manner involves blood-shedding, as in the case of sacrificial victims. The epithets applied to the body and the blood point at death still more clearly. Jesus speaks of His body as “given” — as if to be slain or “broken"4694691 Cor. xi. 24. in sacrifice, and of His blood as “shed.” Then, finally, by describing the blood about to be shed as the blood of a new testament, the Saviour put it beyond all doubt what He was alluding to. Where a testament is, there must also be the death of the testator. And though an ordinary testator may die an ordinary death, the Testator of the new testament must die a sacrificial death; for the epithet new implies a reference to the old Jewish covenant, which was ratified by the sacrifice of burnt-offerings and peace-offerings of oxen, whose blood was sprinkled on the altar and on the people, and called by Moses “the blood of the covenant.”

2. The mere fact that the Lord’s Supper commemorates specially the Lord’s death, implies that that death must have been an event of a very important character. By instituting a symbolic rite for such a purpose, Jesus, as it were, said to His disciples and to us: “Fix your eyes on Calvary, and watch what happens there. That is the great event in my earthly history. Other men have monuments erected to them because they have lived lives deemed memorable. I wish you to erect a monument to me because I have died: not forgetful of my life indeed, yet specially mindful of my death; commemorating it for its own sake, not merely for the sake of the life whereof it is the termination. The memory of other men is cherished by the celebration of their birthday anniversaries; but in my case, better is the day of my death than the day of my birth for the purpose of a commemorative celebration. My birth into this world was marvelous and momentous; but still more marvelous and momentous is my exit out of it by crucifixion. Of my birth no festive commemoration is needed; but of my death keep alive the memory by the Holy Supper till I come again. remembering it well, you remember all my earthly history; for of all it is the secret, the consummation, and the crown.”

But why, in a history throughout so remarkable, should the death be thus singled out for commemoration? Was it its tragic character that won for it this distinction? Did the Crucified One mean the Supper which goes by His Name to be a mere dramatic representation of His passion, for the purpose of exciting our feelings, and eliciting a sympathetic tear, by renewing the memory of His dying sorrows? So to think of the matter were to degrade our Christian feast to the level of the pagan festival of Adonis,

“Whose annual wound in Lebanon allured

The Syrian damsels to lament his fate

In amorous ditties all a summer’s day.”

Or was it the foul wrong and shameful indignity done to the Son of God by the wicked men who crucified Him that Jesus wished to have kept in perpetual remembrance? Was the Holy Supper instituted for the purpose of branding with eternal infamy a world that knew no better use to make of the Holy One than to nail Him to a tree, and felt more kindness even for a robber than for Him? Certainly the world well deserved to be thus held up to reprobation; but the Son of man came not to condemn sinners, but to save them; and it was not in His loving nature to erect an enduring monument to His own resentment or to the dishonor of His murderers. The blood of Jesus speaketh better things than that of Abel.

Or was it because His death on the cross, in spite of its indignity and shame, was glorious, as a testimony to His invincible fidelity to the cause of truth and righteousness, that Jesus instructed His followers to keep it ever in mind, by the celebration of the new symbolic rite? Is the festival of the Supper to be regarded as a solemnity of the same kind as those by which the early church commemorated the death of the martyrs? Is the Coenâ Domini simply the natalitia of the great Protomartyr? So Socinians would have us believe. To the question why the Lord wished the memory of His crucifixion to be specially celebrated in His church the Racovian Catechism replies: “Because of all Christ’s actions, it (the voluntary enduring of death) was the greatest and most proper to Him. For although the resurrection and exaltation of Christ were far greater, these were acts of God the Father rather than of Christ.”470470De Coenâ Domini, Quæstio iv. In other words, the death above all things deserves to be remembered, because it was the most signal and sublime act of witness-bearing on Christ’s part to the truth, the glorious copestone of a noble life of self-sacrificing devotion to the high and perilous vocation of a prophet.

That Christ’s death was all this is of course true, and that it is worthy of remembrance as an act of martyrdom is equally true; but whether Jesus instituted the Holy Supper for the purpose of commemorating His death exclusively, principally, or at all as a martyrdom, is a different question. On this point we must learn the truth from Christ’s own lips. Let us return, then, to the history of the institution, to learn His mind about the matter.

3. Happily the Lord Jesus explained with particular clearness in what aspect He wished His death to be the subject of commemorative celebration. In distributing to His disciples the sacramental bread, He said, “This is my body, given, or broken, for you;.”471471Luke and Paul. thereby intimating that His death was to be commemorated because of a benefit it procured for the communicant. In handing to the disciples the sacramental cup, He said, “Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, shed (for you472472Luke and) for many for the remission of sins;.”473473Matthew. On the genuineness of these words, see Neander, Life of Christ; also Keim, Jesu von Nazara. thereby indicating the nature of the benefit procured by His death, on account of which it was worthy to be remembered.

In this creative word of the new dispensation Jesus represents His death as a sin-offering, atoning for guilt, and purchasing forgiveness of moral debt. His blood was to be shed for the remission of sins. In view of this function the blood is called the blood of the new testament, in apparent allusion to the prophecy of Jeremiah, which contains a promise of a new covenant to be made by God with the house of Israel, — a covenant whose leading blessing should be the forgiveness of iniquity, and called new, because, unlike the old, it would be a covenant of pure grace, of promises unclogged with legal stipulations.474474Jer. xxxi. 31-34. Such a covenant is on man’s side hardly a covenant at all. See Witsius, De Œc. Fid. lib. iii. cap. i. 8–12. The blessings of the new covenant as described by the prophet are these three — (1) The law written on the heart, instead of on tables of stone = regeneration — moral renewal; (2) the knowledge of God simplified, and made accessible to all = abolition of elaborate Levitical ritual; (3) forgiveness of sins. By mentioning His blood and the new covenant together, Jesus teaches that, while annulling, He would at the same time fulfil the old, in introducing the new. The new covenant would be ratified by sacrifice, even as was the old one at Sinai, and remission of sin would be granted after blood-shedding. But in bidding His disciples drink the cup, the Lord intimates that after His death there will be no more need of sacrifices. The sin-offering of blood will be converted into a thank-offering of wine, a cup of salvation, to be drunk with grateful, joyful hearts by all who through faith in His sacrifice have received the pardon of their sins. Finally, Jesus intimates that the new covenant concerns the many, not the few — not Israel alone, but all nations: it is a gospel which He bequeaths to sinners of mankind.

Well may we drink of this cup with thankfulness and joy; for the “new covenant” (new, yet far older than the old), of which it is the seal, is in all respects well ordered and sure. Well ordered; for surely it is altogether a good and God-worthy constitution of things which connects the blessing of pardon with the sacrificial death of Him through whom it comes to us. It is good in the interests of righteousness: for it provides that sin shall not be pardoned till it has been adequately atoned for by the sacrifice of the sinner’s Friend; and it is just and right that without the shedding of the Righteous One’s blood there should be no remission for the unrighteous. Then this economy serves well the interest of divine love, as it gives that love a worthy career, and free scope to display its magnanimous nature, in bearing the burden of the sinful and the miserable. And yet once more, the constitution of the new covenant is admirably adapted to the great practical end aimed at by the scheme of redemption, viz. the elevation of a fallen, degraded race out of a state of corruption into a state of holiness. The gospel of forgiveness through Christ’s death is the moral power of God to raise such as believe it out of the world’s selfishness, and enmities, and baseness, into a celestial life of devotion, self-sacrifice, patience, and humility. If by faith in Christ be understood merely belief in the opus operatum of a vicarious death, the power of such a faith to elevate is more than questionable. But when faith is taken in its true scriptural sense, as implying not only belief in a certain transaction, the endurance of death by one for others, but also, and more especially, hearty appreciation of the spirit of the deed and the Doer, then its purifying and ennobling power is beyond all question. “The love of Christ constraineth me;.” and “I am crucified with Christ,” as the result of such faith.

How poor is the Socinian scheme of salvation in comparison with this of the new covenant! In that scheme pardon has no real dependence on the blood of Jesus: He died as a martyr for righteousness, not as a Redeemer for the unrighteous. We are forgiven on repenting by a simple word of God. Forgiveness cost the Forgiver no trouble or sacrifice; only a word, or stroke of the pen signing a document, “Thus saith the Lord.” What a frigid transaction! What cold relations it implies between the Deity and His creatures! How vastly preferable a forgiveness which means a giving for,475475This idea is well put in Bushnell’s Vicarious Sacrifice. and costs the Forgiver sorrow, sweat, pain, blood, wounds, death — a forgiveness coming from a God who says in effect: “I will not, to save sinners, repeal the law which connects sin with death as its penalty; but I am willing for that end to become myself the law’s victim.” Such a forgiveness is at once an act of righteousness and an act of marvelous love; whereas forgiveness without satisfaction, though at first sight it may appear both rational and generous, manifests neither God’s righteousness nor His love. A Socinian God, who pardons without atonement, is destitute alike of a passionate abhorrence of sin and of a passionate love to sinners.

Jesus once said, “He loveth much who hath much forgiven him.” It is a deep truth, but there is another not less deep to be put alongside of it: we must feel that our forgiveness has cost the Forgiver much in order to love Him much. It is because they feel this that true professors of the catholic faith exhibit that passionate devotion to Christ which forms such a contrast to the cold intellectual homage paid by the Deist to his God. When the catholic Christian thinks of the tears, agonies, bloody sweat, shame, and pain endured by the Redeemer, of His marred vision, broken heart, pierced side, lacerated hands and feet, his bosom burns with devoted love. The story of the passion opens all the fountains of feeling; and by no other way than the via dolorosa could Jesus have ascended the throne of His people’s hearts.

The new covenant inaugurated by Christ’s death is sure as well as orderly. It is reliably sealed by the blood of the Testator. For, first, what better guarantee can we have of the good-will of God? “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us.” Looking at the matter in the light of justice, again, this covenant is equally sure. God is not unrighteous, to forget His Son’s labor of love. As He is true, Christ shall see of the travail of His soul. It cannot be otherwise under the moral administration of Jehovah. Can the God of truth break His word? Can the Judge of all the earth permit one, and especially His own Son, to give Himself up, out of purest love, to sorrow, and pain, and shame, for His brethren, without receiving the hire which He desires, and which was promised Him — many souls, many lives, many sinners saved? Think of it: holiness suffering for righteousness’ sake, and yet not having the consolation of doing something in the way of destroying unrighteousness, and turning the disobedient to the obedience of the just; love, by the impulse of its nature, and by covenant obligations, laid under a necessity of laboring for the lost, and yet doomed by the untowardness, or apathy, or faithlessness of the Governor of the universe to go unrewarded; — love’s labor lost, nobody the better for it, things remaining as before: no sinner pardoned, delivered from the pit and restored to holiness; no chosen people brought out of darkness into marvelous light! Such a state of things cannot be in God’s dominions. The government of God is carried on in the interest of Holy Love. It gives love free scope to bear others’ burdens: it arranges that if she will do so, she shall feel the full weight of the burden she takes upon her; but it also arranges, by an eternal covenant of truth and equity, that when the burden has been borne, the Burden-bearer shall receive His reward in the form He likes best — in souls washed, pardoned, sanctified, and led to everlasting glory by Himself as His ransomed brethren or children.

The principle of vicarious merit involved in the doctrine that we are pardoned simply because Christ died for our sins, when looked at with unprejudiced eyes, commends itself to reason as well as to the heart. It means practically a premium held out to foster righteousness and love. This offered premium carried Jesus through His heavy task. It was because, relying on His Father’s promise, He saw the certain joy of saving many before Him, that He endured the cross. It is the same principle, in a restricted application of it, which stimulates Christians to fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of their Lord. They know that, if they be faithful, they shall not live unto themselves, but shall benefit Christ’s mystic body the church, and also the world at large. If the fact were otherwise, there would be very little either of moral fidelity or of love in the world. If the moral government of the universe made it impossible for one being to benefit another by prayer or loving pains, impossible for ten good men to be a shield to Sodom, for the elect to be a salt to the earth, men would give up trying to do it; generous concern about public wellbeing would cease, and universal selfishness become the order of the day. Or if this state of things should not ensue, we should only have darkness in a worse form: the inscrutable enigma of Righteousness crucified without benefit to any living creature, — a scandal and a reproach to the government and character of God. If, therefore, we are to hold fast our faith in the divine holiness, justice, goodness, and truth, we must believe that the blood of Jesus doth most certainly procure for us the remission of sins; and likewise, that the blood of His saints, though neither available nor necessary to obtain for sinners the blessing of pardon before the divine tribunal — Christ’s blood alone being capable of rendering us that service, and having rendered it effectually and once for all — is nevertheless precious in God’s sight, and makes the people precious among whom it is shed, and is by God’s appointment, in manifold ways, a source of blessing unto a world unworthy to number among its inhabitants men whom it knows not how to use otherwise than as lambs for the slaughter.

4] The sacrament of the Supper exhibits Christ not merely as a Lamb to be slain for a sin-offering, but as a Paschal Lamb to be eaten for spiritual nourishment. “Take, eat, this is my body.” By this injunction Jesus taught the twelve, and through them all Christians, to regard His crucified humanity as the bread of God for the life of their souls. We must eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man spiritually by faith, as we eat the bread and drink the wine literally with the mouth.

In regarding Christ as the Bread of Life, we are not to restrict ourselves to the one benefit mentioned by Him in instituting the feast, the remission of sins, but to have in view all His benefits tending to our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace. Christ is the Bread of Life in all His offices. As a Prophet, He supplies the bread of divine truth to feed our minds; as a Priest, He furnishes the bread of righteousness to satisfy our troubled consciences; as a King, He presents Himself to us as an object of devotion, that shall fill our hearts, and whom we may worship without fear of idolatry.

As often as the Lord’s Supper is celebrated we are invited to contemplate Christ as the food of our souls in this comprehensive sense. As often as we eat the bread and drink the cup we declare that Christ has been, and is now, our soul’s food in all these ways. And as often as we use this Supper with sincerity we are helped to appropriate Christ as our spiritual food more and more abundantly. Even as a symbol or picture — mysticism and magic apart — the Holy Supper aids our faith. Through the eye it affects the heart, as do poetry and music through the ear. The very mysticism and superstition that have grown around the sacraments in the course of ages are a witness to their powerful influence over the imagination. Men’s thoughts and feelings were so deeply stirred they could not believe such power lay in mere symbols; and by a confusion of ideas natural to an excited imagination they imputed to the sign all the virtues of the things signified. By this means faith was transferred from Christ the Redeemer, and the Spirit the Sanctifier, to the rite of baptism and the service of the mass. This result shows the need of knowledge and spiritual discernment to keep the imagination in check, and prevent the eyes of the understanding from being put out by the dazzling glare of fancy. Some, considering how thoroughly the eyes of the understanding have been put out by theories of sacramental grace, have been tempted to deny that sacraments are even means of grace, and to think that institutions which have been so fearfully abused ought to be allowed to fall into desuetude. This is a natural re-action, but it is an extreme opinion. The sober, true view of the matter is, that sacraments are means of grace, not from any magic virtue in them or in the priest administering them, but as helping faith by sense, and still more by the blessing of Christ and the working of His Spirit, as the reward of an intelligent, sincere, believing use of them.

This, then, is what we have learned from the monumental stone. The Lord’s Supper commemorates the Lord’s death; points out that death as an event of transcendent importance; sets it forth, indeed, as the ground of our hope for the pardon of sin; and finally exhibits Christ the Lord, who died on the Cross, as all to us which our spirits need for health and salvation — our mystic bread and wine. This rite, instituted by Jesus on the night on which He was betrayed, He meant to be repeated not merely by the apostles, but by His believing people in all ages till He came again. So we learn from Paul; so we might have inferred, apart from any express information. An act so original, so impressive, so pregnant with meaning, so helpful to faith, once performed, was virtually an enactment. In performing it, Jesus said in effect: “Let this become a great institution, a standing observance in the community to be called by my Name.”

The meaning of the ordinance determines the Spirit in which it should be observed. Christians should sit down at the table in a spirit of humility, thankfulness, and brotherly love; confessing sin, devoutly thanking God for His covenant of grace, and His mercy to them in Christ, loving Him who loved them, and washed them from their sins in His own blood, and who daily feedeth their souls with heavenly food, and giving Him all glory and dominion; and loving one another — loving all redeemed men and believers in Jesus as brethren, and taking the Supper together as a family meal; withal praying that an ever-increasing number may experience the saving efficacy of Christ’s death. After this fashion did the apostles and the apostolic church celebrate the Supper at Pentecost, after Jesus had ascended to glory. Continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. Would that we now could keep the feast as they kept it then! But how much must be done ere that be possible! The moss of Time must be cleared away from the monumental stone, that its inscription may become once more distinctly legible; the accumulated débris of a millennium and a half of theological controversies about sacraments must be carted out of sight and mind;476476The history of these controversies is very humiliating, and their consequences most disastrous. Through them the symbol of union has been turned into a chief cause of division. The church has remembered her Lord, and obeyed His commandment of love, as members of families sometime remember a deceased parent, casting angry glances at each other across his grave, and retiring to the house, whose head they have buried, to squabble about the meaning of his will. the truth as it is in Jesus must be separated from the alloy of human error; the homely rite of the Supper must be divested of the state robes of elaborate ceremonial by which it has been all but stifled, and allowed to return to congenial primitive simplicity. These things, so devoutly to be wished, will come at last, — if not on earth, in that day when the Lord Jesus will drink new wine with His people in the kingdom of His Father.477477   We may here note the momenta of the doctrine of the cross as set forth in the four lessons given by Jesus to His disciples, in order to bring them together in one view. They are these: —
   1. First Lesson. — Christ suffered for righteousness’ sake: herein an example to all His followers (Matt. xvi. 24-28, et parall. vide p. 183).

   2. Second Lesson. — Christ suffered for the unrighteous — gave His life a ransom for the sinful: herein our example so far as He stooped to conquer (Matt. xx. 28, vide p. 291).

   3. Third Lesson. — Christ suffered in the spirit of self-sacrificing love, exemplified by Mary of Bethany (Matt. xxvi. 6-13, et parall. vide p. 301).

   4. Fourth Lesson. — Christ suffered to inaugurate a new covenant of grace, and procure for sinners the forgiveness of sin (Matt. xxvi. 26-29, et parall. vide p. 360).

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