THE HOLY COMMUNION.
“Take, eat; this is my body.” — Matth. 26: 26.
“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? ” — 1 Cor. 10: 16.
We propose, as a Synod, and as a congregation, to partake this morning of the Holy Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It is a most blessed sacrament of the Christian Church. We must necessarily, as Christians, attach much importance to it. Christ, our Lord, did so, and we, as His faithful disciples, must very highly prize what he solemnly instituted. In the Old Testament Church there were two Sacraments, and there are two in the New Testament Church. Circumcision gave way to Baptism, and the Passover to the Lord’s Supper. Circumcision was received once in a lifetime, but the Passover often; so Baptism is received only once, but the Lord’s Supper often. Circumcision was administered to children, and the Passover to adults; so Baptism is administered to children, and the Lord’s Supper to adults. Circumcision was initiatory and brought the subject into the Church, and the Passover was partaken by the person when in the Church as a regular member thereof; so Baptism brings us into Christ, and translates us from the kingdom of nature into the kingdom of grace, and the Lord’s Supper is a Sacrament for those who are already in the Church, and full members thereof. Circumcision denoted the subject’s regeneration, or entrance upon a new life of true faith and piety, and the Passover was the sustentation of that life and a reminder of blessings bestowed by the Paschal Lamb; so Baptism is the washing of regeneration and effects the vital union with Christ’s life, and the Lord’s Supper is the nourishing of that spiritual life, and a most blessed remembrancer of the benefits bestowed upon us by the sacrifice of Christ, our true Paschal Lamb, on the cross. Circumcision preceded, and the Passover followed after, and was administered to none who were uncircumcised; so Baptism must be received first, and the Lord’s Supper comes after, and is only administered to persons who have been previously baptized. The analogy is complete, and very instructive, between the two Old Testament and the two New Testament Sacraments.
The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper was very early involved in the great and eventful discussions that the Reformation gave rise to. A Sacrament so holy, and occupying so prominent a position in the Christian Church, and that had been so sadly corrupted by the errors against which the entire force of the Reformation was directed, would necessarily early engage a large share of attention, It did so. Luther, at a very early period in the great movement which he inaugurated, perceived the error which the Church of Rome held concerning this Sacrament, both as to its doctrine, and as to its practical administration. It consists of two earthly elements, bread and wine. The one only was administered to the laity, the other was withheld, and was partaken by the priest alone. This, of course, was contrary to its original institution, by our Lord, who gave it in both kinds. Luther therefore restored it to its original institution, and both administered it himself, and required it to be administered by others, in both kinds. He restored the cup to the people, and thus gave, not a part of the holy Sacrament only, but the whole Sacrament, to all who participated.
But the change in the external administration, was not the only benefit which accrued from the Reformation. Its reformatory work descended deeper, and corrected a more vital error, and one that affected the doctrine and life of the Sacrament.
It is well known that the Church of Some held, and still holds, the doctrine known as Transubstantiation. By this is meant, that after the external elements of bread and wine, laid on the altar, are consecrated by the priest, and by that act of consecration, a total change is effected in those elements, so that nothing of their original nature and substance remains, save their outward semblance only. The word Transubstantiation means change of substance, a change of one substance into another substance. The idea is that the entire substance of the bread and wine is changed, and instead of it, another, and a totally different, substance is produced. What was, previous to the act of consecration, simply bread and wine, are such no longer, but are changed — transubstantiated — into the real flesh and blood, together with the soul and divinity of Christ. It follows, therefore, that as the communicant masticates, swallows, and digests something, and that something is not bread and wine, but the actual flesh and blood, together with the soul and divinity of Christ, these are masticated, swallowed, and digested by the communicant.
This doctrine of Transubstantiation was rejected by Luther at a very early period. His faithful adherence to the Word of God, as his only Rule of Faith, and directory of Christian doctrine, would not permit him to receive this as an article of faith. The Bible, indeed, speaks of the Body and Blood as a part of the Sacrament, and he honestly, and in full faith, received its statement. But it also speaks of bread and wine, as a part of the Sacrament, both after, as well as before, the consecration; and he must also receive this statement. If he believed, therefore, that the Lord’s Supper consisted of the Body and Blood of Christ, he must also believe that it consisted of bread and wine. The one is stated as plainly, and with as much positive directness as the other. He would explain neither away, but accept them both on the same divine authority. He could not believe that it was bread without the Body, and he could not believe that it was the Body without the bread. Both were declared, by the same divine lips, to be present, and to constitute the Holy Sacrament, and he must believe both. The Word of God was clear, and decisive, and left him no alternative. As Transubstantiation set aside the bread, took it away from the Sacrament, changed and abolished its nature, and transubstantiated it into the Body, thus destroying one integral part of the Sacrament, and offering only half a Sacrament to the people, Luther did not hesitate to reject entirely the doctrine of Transubstantiation.
The same earnest adhesion to the statements of the Word of God, would not permit him to reject the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ from the Lord’s Supper. Some, in his time, swinging off from the gross doctrine of Transubstantiation, which made the Sacrament all Body, swung over to the opposite extreme, and made the Sacrament all bread. In their view, it was nothing but bread eaten, and wine drank, in a sort of commemorative representation of Christ’s death on the cross, But Christ, when instituting it, had positively said, “This is my body.” He took bread, blessed it, still calling it bread, but at the same time pronounced it His Body, Here was a most solemn transaction, done in the most solemn manner, uttered with the most solemn words, and performed at a most solemn time. He must be supposed to choose His words with great care, and with direct reference to their plain import, because He was instituting an ordinance that was to be observed in all coming time, as the chief Sacrament of His Church. His words, therefore, must be well weighed, and must be accepted in their true and obvious meaning.
It was, therefore, plain to Luther’s mind, that the Lord’s Supper consisted of two kinds of elements, an earthly and a heavenly, both of which were necessary to constitute the Sacrament. The earthly was bread and wine, the heavenly was the Body and Blood of Christ. The earthly was not a Sacrament without the heavenly, neither was the heavenly a Sacrament without the earthly. The bread and wine alone, did not constitute a Sacrament, neither did the Body and Blood of Christ alone, constitute a Sacrament. Therefore, neither must be changed. The bread must not be changed into the Body, neither must the Body be symbolized merely by the bread. Both must be there in their true and real nature, or there is no Sacrament.
Conclusive as are the words of our Lord at the institution of the Holy Sacrament, they receive confirmation from the clear and positive statements of the Apostle Paul.
In 1 Cor. 10: 16, St. Paul asks, “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.” This passage is written in the form of questions, and in such a way that there can be only one, and that an affirmative, answer given to them. To the question, “Is not the cup of blessing the communion of the blood of Christ?” the answer necessarily must be, yes. And to the question, “Is not the bread which we break, the communion of the body of Christ?” the only answer that can be given, and that he intended should be given, is, yes. The one is the communion of the Blood, and the other is the communion of the Body, of Christ.
Now, what is meant by the word “Communion,” as it twice occurs in this verse? We can only rightly understand the meaning of the verse, and the nature of the Lord’s Supper, by carefully considering the meaning of this word. As the cup, or the wine that it contain s, is the “Communion” of the Blood, and the bread is the “Communion” of the Body, of Christ, the question is of essential importance, What is that “Communion?” The Greek word, here translated “communion,” is the word “κοινωνια” and the dictionaries define its meaning by the words “community, sharing, participation, partaking, connection, communication, distribution, alliance,” and others of the like general import. The idea plainly is, as stated by the learned Bengel in his Gnomon on this passage. “He who drinks of this cup, is a partaker of the blood of Christ” and he who eats of this bread is a partaker of the body of Christ. It is the channel, or vehicle, or medium of conveyance, by which as the earthly or visible element, the heavenly or invisible element is imparted to the communicant, and received by him. It means, he who partakes of the cup, partakes of the Blood; he who partakes of the bread, partakes of the Body. This is the meaning of the word Koinonia, here translated “Communion.” The verse might be translated, “When we use the cup of blessing which we bless, do we not also partake of the Blood of Christ? When we use the bread which we break, do we not also partake of the Body of Christ?” This idea of participation, partaking, communication, must be well borne in mind, if we would rightly comprehend the deep and precious meaning of the passage.
But this is not all In 1 Cor, 11: 27, the Apostle Paul says, “Wherefore, whosoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” Of course, disrespect to the bread and the wine, could not involve disrespect to the Body and Blood of the Lord, unless in some way, the Body and Blood of the Lord were connected with the bread and the wine. As it is the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper about which he speaks, this connection of the bread and wine with the Body and Blood, is the same as that which, in the previous chapter, he had called ” the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ.” The disorderly Corinthians were led to treat the Lord’s Supper with disrespect, and to eat and drink the bread and wine in gluttonous and drunken excess, because they failed to consider that there was more than bread and wine in the Sacrament, and that another and a divine element was also present, viz., the Body and Blood of Christ, The Apostle, therefore, with much earnestness, pointed out their guilt, which consisted not simply in treating bread and wine with disrespect, but in treating with contempt the higher, even the divine element of which it consisted. They became guilty of shameful abuse of the Body and Blood of the Lord. The Body and Blood of the Lord must, therefore, be there. These must then necessarily be a part of the Sacrament, and give it its value, and constitute its divine character. Disrespect to bread and wine could not be the crime here charged upon the Corinthians, if the Body and Blood of Christ were not present, and did not form a part of the Sacrament. How could they be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord, by any unworthy eating and drinking of bread and wine simply? Whilst this verse then, clearly teaches the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion, it also teaches that there is no Transubstantiation, for the bread is still called bread, and what the Apostle calls it, that it undoubtedly is. The two elements, constituting one Sacrament, are both distinctly named. Both are there. The one is not destroyed by being changed into the other. The Body of Christ is a part of the Lord’s Supper, but the bread is also. There is no Transubstantiation.
But this is still not all. In 1 Cor. 11: 29, the Apostle says. “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s Body.” How could any man be justly censured for not discerning the Lord’s Body, if there was no Body of the Lord there to be discerned? The Greek word translated “discerning” means to discriminate, to distinguish. They did not distinguish between the common eating and drinking of mere bread and wine, and the solemn partaking of a holy Sacrament of which the Body of the Lord constituted a part. Their sin consisted in failing to discern or distinguish the Lord’s Body. But if there was no Body of the Lord there, there was no Body to be discerned, and they could not be guilty of not discerning what did not exist. The whole verse would be meaningless, and the charge of the apostle of sin and guilt against the Corinthians, would have been absurd, if the Sacrament consisted only of bread and wine, and the Body and Blood of Christ formed no part of it. It was the fact that the Body and Blood of Christ were present, and constituted the chief thing in the Sacrament, that rendered them guilty who partook unworthily, because neglecting to discern this higher element in it. The excesses in which they indulged, proceeded from their not discerning the Lord’s Body in it, and in this consisted their guilt, and on account of it they ate and drank damnation to themselves. Not only bread, therefore, but the Lord’s Body also, are present in the Lord’s Supper. All this is very plain to those who candidly and carefully read these passages.
From these plain passages of our Lord, and His apostle, Luther could do no otherwise than hold, that, whilst the earthly or visible element in the Lord’s Supper was bread and wine, which underwent no change during any period either before or after the consecration thereof, there was at the same time, another element in the Holy Sacrament, which was no other than the glorified Body and Blood of the Lord. The Word of God was too direct and positive in its statements, for him to adopt any other view, without an utter rejection of that Word. Such was his reverence for God’s Word, that he followed wherever it led, and a “Thus saith the Lord” was with him, the end of all controversy.
This doctrine, so Biblical and clear, thus held and promulgated by the great Reformer, was at first assented to and held by all who were associated with him in the work of Reformation. But after the lapse of a few years, other views began to be entertained, and preached by Carlstadt, Zwinglius, Oecolampadius, and others, and thus the unhappy differences arose concerning the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, that have, until this day, afflicted the Protestant Church. These differences are much to be regretted. Whilst the Church of Rome is united on the doctrine of Transubstantiation, the Protestant Church fritters away its strength, by a large part of it very unwisely taking an extreme position in opposition to that of Rome, and which must be maintained, not by Scriptural declarations, but by arguments drawn professedly from reason and philosophy. It is much to be regretted that Luther’s moderate views, and conservative position, sustained as they are by the plain and direct declarations of God’s Word, have not been universally adhered to by Protestants. Many of the views that have been uttered and printed on this doctrine, are very crude and undigested, and indicate much more zeal without knowledge than sound and thorough acquaintance with Biblical theology. The doctrine of Luther has been assailed, not with passages from God’s Word, for these are confessedly plainly and positively in his favor, but with reasons and objections drawn from the inability of the human mind to comprehend the mystery, or to understand how the Word of God can be true in its declarations on this subject. It is, too largely, the old spirit of rationalism that has for many centuries troubled the Church, not only on this, but on other fundamental doctrines of the Gospel. It may serve a useful purpose, if we consider some of these objections and difficulties. The doctrine is strongly intrenched in the Word of God, and mere philosophy cannot overthrow God’s Word. Even if the specious objections that human reason may allege against it, could not be fully explained, still God’s Word must stand firm over against any difficulties which man’s limited capacity to comprehend the infinite, may interpose. A doctrine of God’s Word is not necessarily false, because it is beyond the reach of our feeble reason. Man’s ignorance cannot overthrow God’s infinite intelligence. If God says so, it is true, whether we can explain it or not.
1. It has been charged that the doctrine of Luther, and of the Lutheran Church, differs little, if in anything, from Transubstantiation.
But this charge is so obviously untrue, that little effort would seem to be necessary to refute it. Transubstantiation, or a change of the substance of the bread and wine into the actual flesh and blood of Christ, so that no bread and wine remain, but what seem to be bread and wine, are really something else — this notion was rejected by none more positively than it was by Luther, and by no Church more peremptorily than by the Lutheran Church. The Form of Concord uses the following strong language: “We, therefore, reject and condemn with our hearts and lips, as false, and dangerous, and deceptive, the Transubstantiation of the papists, that the bread and wine are changed into the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ.” The Lutheran Church goes out with this plain and distinct principle that the bread and wine undergo no change of substance whatever. At no time or stage in the consecration, or in the participation of the Sacrament is there any change in the substance of the bread and the wine. They are bread and wine when placed on the table, they are bread and wine when put to the lips of the communicant; they feel, and taste, and smell, and look like bread and wine, and they are so; no change of substance, whatever, of any kind or degree, is effected by their presence on the Communion table. Let this be distinctly borne in mind. If there is no change in the substance of the bread and the wine, then, of course, there can be no Transubstantiation, for this necessarily supposes such a change. Indeed, it is in such a change that Transubstantiation consists. If no change takes place in the substance of the bread and the wine, there can be no gross and carnal eating and drinking of Christ’s Body and Blood at all. If we grant that there is no change in the substance of the bread and the wine, all the gross and repulsive ideas, which Transubstantiation awakens, are at once wholly excluded. The presence of Christ must then be of a Sacramental sort, glorified, spiritual, heavenly, not earthy and gross.
It would seem that a small amount only of candid reflection, is needed to prevent the making of such a charge as this. Christ’s body is His glorified, resurrection body. The saints, when they rise from the dead will be “like unto Christ’s own glorious body.” Our resurrection bodies are spoken of as being “spiritual bodies.” So nearly will our glorified bodies resemble pure spirit, that “spiritual bodies,” is the proper term to designate their nature. In this respect they will resemble Christ’s body. His body is, therefore, a “spiritual body.” There can, then, of necessity, be no gross, carnal eating, as a man eats the flesh, and drinks the blood of an animal slain. It is an eating and drinking of a different kind. It is after a heavenly, divine, Sacramental sort. It is a bodily partaking, but the body is Christ’s glorified, spiritual body, the nature of whose existence, and the mode of whose communication to the partaker of the Sacrament are necessarily incomprehensible to us. It is a real presence, for if not real, it is not a presence of Christ’s Body and Blood at all. But it is the real presence of the glorified human nature of Christ, that is so nearly pure spirit as to be properly called a “spiritual body.”
That this is the doctrine of the Lutheran Church is evident from the following quotation from the “Formula of Concord,” one of our Symbolical Books. After quoting an extended extract from Luther’s works, the Formula proceeds to say: “From these words of Dr. Luther, it is manifest in what sense the word spiritual is used in our churches, concerning this matter. For, with the Sacramentarians, this word spiritual signifies nothing more than that spiritual communion, when by faith the truly believing are incorporated in spirit in Christ, the Lord, and become true spiritual members of His body. But when this word spiritual is used by Dr. Luther and by ourselves in relation to this matter, we understand by it the spiritual, supernatural, heavenly mode, according to which Christ, being present in the Holy Supper, works not only consolation and life in the believing, but also judgment in the unbelieving. And by this word spiritual we reject those Capernaitic thoughts concerning the gross, carnal presence, with which our churches are charged by the Sacramentarians, notwithstanding our public and frequent protestations. In this sense we wish the word spiritual to be understood, when we assert that, in the Holy Supper, the body and blood of Christ are spiritually received, eaten, and drank; for although this participation takes place orally, yet the mode is spiritual.”
When these two things are duly taken into consideration, viz., that there is no change supposed to be effected in the substance of the bread and the wine, but that they remain, during the whole communion, simply bread and wine, and that, further, the presence of Christ is the presence of his glorified, spiritual body, that is inseparably united to the divine nature in one person, — when, we say, these two points are taken into consideration, who can reasonably object to the doctrine as thus held, and set forth, or charge upon it the gross error of Transubstantiation?
Bear with me, whilst, even at the risk of some repetition, I dwell a little longer on this objection to the doctrine of the Lutheran Church on the Lord’s Supper.
Let it, then, be borne in mind,, very distinctly, by friends and opponents of the doctrine of the Lutheran Church, that we hold:
First, the Lord’s Supper is composed of two visible or earthly elements, viz,, bread and wine, both of which must be used in the administration of the Sacrament.
Secondly, neither the bread nor the wine undergo any change at any time, before or during the administration of the Sacrament. They are both so termed in the passages describing it, and not the remotest intimation is given of any change. The bread remains bread, and the wine remains wine. Bread and wine are placed on the altar, and after consecration they are what they were before, substantially bread and wine. The bread is not changed into the Body, nor the wine into the Blood. They remain bread and wine, both in their essence and in their accidents. They undergo no change in their nature, whatever. The communicant eats and drinks bread and wine; they look, and feel, and smell, and taste like bread and wine, and they are bread and wine. They were bread and wine when the proper officer laid them on the altar; they are still bread and wine when the prayer of consecration is said over them; they are bread and wine when the communicant receives them into his lips; and from first to last in the Lord’s Supper they are bread and wine.
But thirdly. The word of God informs us that there is another element present and partaken of, a heavenly and invisible element, that is also received with the reception of the visible or earthly element, and this invisible or heavenly element is called the Body and Blood of Christ. This is very distinctly stated. “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?” There are two factors, or two kinds of elements, therefore, in the composition of the Lord’s Supper. The one is visible, tangible, external, terrestrial, viz., the bread and wine. The other is invisible, intangible, internal, celestial, viz., the Body and Blood of Christ. The one is gross, material, and that can be touched and handled, and that is cognizant by our bodily senses, viz., the bread and wine. The other is refined, spiritual, that cannot be touched or handled, and that is not perceived by our bodily organs or senses, viz.. the Body and Blood of Christ. When I take the earthly, God also with it, gives me the heavenly.
These two kinds of elements are always present, and make the one Sacrament. They, however, remain distinct, as to their different natures, and are never changed the one into the other. The bread is never changed into the Body, nor the Body changed into the bread. How they are related to each other, is, of course, mysterious to us, but the mysteriousness of it does not destroy the fact, nor make it any the less certain. The same mystery exists in all the other means of grace, as well as in other undisputed facts of Christianity. See how this principle runs through them all.
The Word of God is composed, as we have it, of two parts, the material and the spiritual. The material is the Book, visible, earthly, external, which we can see with the eye, and touch with the hand. But the spiritual, is the truth and grace which it conveys, invisible, heavenly, internal, which we can neither see with the eye nor touch with the hand. The material is the vehicle of the spiritual, for through it the spiritual is conveyed; but the material is never changed into the spiritual, nor the spiritual into the material.
The Sacrament of Baptism has two kinds of elements, an earthly and a heavenly. The one is water, and the other is the Holy Ghost, for Christian Baptism is a Baptism both of water and of the Holy Ghost. The water is visible, earthly, external, tangible, as we can see it, and feel it, and handle it. But the Holy Ghost is invisible, heavenly, internal, intangible, and that we cannot see, and feel, and handle with our bodily organs and senses, as we do the water. So here, too, there is no change of the one element into the other element. The water is not changed into the Holy Ghost, nor the Holy Ghost into water, but through the administration of the water in Baptism, the Holy Ghost is given. Yet, although there are two elements in Baptism, and there is no Transubstantiation, or passing of one substance into the other, but both water and the Holy Ghost retain their distinct natures, there are however not two baptisms, but only one Holy Sacrament of Christian Baptism. As in Baptism, so in the Lord’s Supper. The two kinds of elements, the earthly and the heavenly, although not changed, the one into the other, but retaining their distinct natures, yet constitute but one Holy Sacrament of the Lord’s Sapper.
We may here also cite, with such limitations as are necessary to guard against wrong sentiments, several illustrations of a somewhat different kind. Christ, in His Person, as composed of two distinct natures, affords such illustration. Not that the union of the two natures, and the union of the two elements, are the same, for the Lutheran Church does not hold that the union of the Body and the bread, is like that of the divine and human natures in Christ, which are “inseparably joined together in unity of person, being not two Christs, but one Christ.” But guarding carefully against pushing the comparison too far, we note that when on earth, Christ’s divinity manifested itself, and acted through His humanity, as the visible vehicle or medium of communication with men, so in the Lord’s Supper, there is one Holy Sacrament, composed of two different elements, the one earthly, the other heavenly, and in the mode of its operation the heavenly communicates itself by and through the earthly. But as in His own mysterious person, there is no fusing of the natures, no changing of the one into the other, no transmuting of the humanity into the divinity, and yet of the two natures, there is constituted one undivided Christ; so in the Holy Communion, whilst there is no changing of the earthly into the heavenly, no Transubstantiation of the bread into the Body, yet of the two kinds of elements, there is constituted one Holy Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
So also, not precisely like it, for we do not hold that the Body dwells locally in the bread, as the soul lives in the human body, or is physically connected with it, but still near enough for illustration, as to the mode of operation, we remark, that every man is composed of two component parts, or distinct natures, the body and the soul. The body is not changed into the soul, nor is the soul changed into the body. The one is visible, the other is invisible. The one is material, the other is spiritual. The invisible soul, or spiritual nature, manifests itself through the visible body, or material nature, as it is the soul that speaks through the tongue, that acts by the hands and feet, and that hears and sees through the ears and eyes. Where the one is, there is also the other, for in life they are never separated.
When, therefore, we say that the bread and wine are the visible, earthly, external, and material parts of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Sapper, whereas the Body and Blood of Christ, are the invisible, heavenly, internal, supernatural parts of the same Sacrament, that the earthly is the medium through which the heavenly is conveyed, that they are always present, so that when we have the one, we have also the other, and that the invisible arid heavenly element is the higher and nobler element, — when we say this, we are only saying what we see everywhere taught in the Gospel, what is in plain accordance with the analogy that exists in all the ordinances and means of grace, and that we see illustrated in our own complex natures, and in many other things existing around us. When, consequently, our Church Catechism, the smaller Catechism of Luther says, that “the Lord’s Supper is the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, given unto Christians to eat and to drink, as it was instituted by Christ himself,” it only says, in clear and beautiful words, what is most plainly taught in the numerous passages of the New Testament, referring to the Lord’s Supper.
2. Another common objection to the doctrine of Luther, and a favorite mode of rendering it absurd to the minds of unthinking persons, is to ask: How could the Body and Blood of Christ be partaken of in the Lord’s Supper, by the disciples, when He was sitting present with them at the table? When He said, “Take, eat, this is my Body,” did they really eat His Body that was then sitting at the table with them?
Now, if we believed in the Romish tenet of Transubstantiation, and therefore, that there was really no bread nor wine on the table, after Christ had consecrated them, but the bread and wine that had been there, were actually changed into the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ, so that what the disciples masticated and swallowed, and what they saw, and felt, and handled, and tasted, was not bread and wine, but the real substance of the Body and Blood of Christ, then such a question as this would probably give us some trouble to answer. The disciples masticated something with their teeth, what they masticated they swallowed, and what they swallowed the stomach digested. But if it was not bread and wine, which Transubstantiation denies that it was, it must have been the substance into which Transubstantiation affirms they were changed. As that, according to the tenet of Transubstantiation, was the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ, therefore, the disciples masticated, swallowed, and digested the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ, whilst he was sitting at the table with them. But as the Lutheran Church does not believe in the gross, Capernaitish eating and drinking which Transubstantiation proposes, such a question as this, urged as an objection to our doctrine, does not at all affect us.
On the subject of the various modes of Christ’s presence which this question involves, Luther himself has some very admirable remarks in his Treatise on the Sacraments. They show how profound were his sentiments, and how farseeing his views. He was, indeed, the most extraordinary uninspired man that ever lived. Let us hear his words:
“The body of Christ,” says he, “has three different ways, or a triple mode, of being in any place.
“First, the comprehensible and corporeal mode, as when he went about corporeally on earth, where he occupied, and took up space according to His magnitude. This mode, He is still able to use, when He pleases, as He did after His resurrection, and as He will at the last day/’ But this is not the mode of His presence at the Lord’s Supper.
“Secondly, the incomprehensible, spiritual mode, in which He is not circumscribed in space, but penetrates through all creatures, where He pleases, as my vision (to use this rude comparison), passes through air, light, and water, and yet neither takes up, nor makes room; as sound passes through air, or water, or planks, or walls, and yet does not take up. nor make, room; again, as light and heat pass through air, water, glass, crystals, and the like, and yet neither make nor require room, and many similar examples could be named. This method He employed when He arose from the sealed sepulchre, and when He passed through the closed doors.
“Thirdly, the divine and heavenly mode, in which He is one person with God, and according to which, all creatures must, undoubtedly, be far more easily penetrated, and be nearer to Him, than they are according to the second mode. For, if according to the second mode, He can be in and with creatures, in such a way, that they neither feel, nor touch, nor measure, nor comprehend Him, how much more wonderfully is He in all creatures according to this exalted third mode, so that they neither measure nor comprehend Him, but much rather that He has them present before Him, measures and comprehends them! For this mode of the presence of Christ, derived from the personal union with God, you must place far, very far beyond creatures, as far as God is above them; again as deep and as near in all creatures as God is in them, for he is an inseparable person with God, where God is there He must also be, or our faith is false. But who can tell, or imagine the manner in which this takes place? We well know that it is so, namely, that He is in God, that He is apart from all creatures, and that He is one person with God, but how it comes to pass, we know not. It is above nature and reason, yea above all the angels in heaven; it is known and obvious to God alone. Since, then, it is unknown to us, and is nevertheless true, we should not deny His word unless we are able to prove with certainty, that the Body of Christ can by no means be where God is, and that this mode of presence is false. It is incumbent upon the objectors to our doctrine, to prove this, but they will not attempt it.”
These wonderful words of the great Luther, afford a complete answer to the question which is asked with so much confidence, as an unanswerable objection to the true doctrine of Christ’s presence in the Holy Communion. Christ had more than the one mode of presence as He sat in the view of His disciples. He was visible there, was he not at the same time invisible elsewhere? If His divine and human natures were inseparable, and constituted one person, as the Scriptures clearly teach, and all true evangelical Christians believe, was He not in His human nature, wherever He was in His divine nature? Whilst, therefore, He sat visibly in the upper room in Jerusalem, was he not at the same time present in Galilee, in the house of Mary and Martha in Bethany, in the place called Calvary where He was to be offered up as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and indeed in all other places? Who can circumscribe the movements or define the presence of such a Being as the Son of God, and Son of Mary, in His wonderful complex nature? What was there to hinder him communicating Himself after a Sacramental, heavenly, incomprehensible sort, to His disciples as He sat with them at the table and as they received from His hands the earthly elements of that mysterious Sacrament which was to be observed in all future time, to the end of the world, as the “Communion of His Body, and the Communion of His Blood?” It must be plain to every true Christian believing reader of the Holy Scriptures, that our ideas of Christ’s presence, and movements, and powers, must be different from those which we form of any other being of whom we have any knowledge. Here is the mistake that men make, and the source of a large amount of perplexity and error concerning the things of Christ. They think of Christ, as a being like themselves and of His presence and acts as those of men constituted like themselves, and with such narrow and low views, they can never rise to the height and breadth of the wonderful things that are taught concerning Him in the Scriptures. Their measurement signally fails them, when they would measure such a being as Christ, with the measuring rod that they use to measure their own insignificant altitude.
3. It is further alleged as an objection to this doctrine, that it is incomprehensible.
We admit it. We do not know how Christ communicates himself to the partaker of the Holy Communion. We know that it is not visible, tangible, carnal, sensual. It is invisible, intangible, supernatural, celestial, after the manner of His glorified Body. This is all we know. But what then? Does its mysteriousness militate against its reality? Is it not real and true because I do not understand it? I do not so regard it. For the matter of that, it does not seem more mysterious to me than any other of the means of grace, or facts of the Gospel. How God’s grace is communicated to me through the letters, and words, and ink, and paper, that constitute the written Word of God, is a mystery to me. How the Holy Ghost, through the medium of water in Baptism, conveys to the soul of the person baptized, His divine blessing and grace, is a mystery to me. How Christ’s divinity is united to his humanity, so that through the flesh and blood of His mortal body, that suffered and died on the cross, God spake, and wrought miracles, and moved among men, is a mystery to me. How the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross effected an atonement for my sin, and washes it away, and saves my soul, is a mystery to me. How Christ is at all times present wherever two or three are gathered together in His name, and present, too, in His twofold, divine and human nature, for as such only is He the Mediator between God and man, and therefore, present with his people, is a mystery tome. How therefore ” the cup of blessing which we bless” is “the communion of the Blood of Christ,” and “the bread which we break is the communion of the Body of Christ,” is, of course, a mystery to me. But cannot I take His word for it? May I not believe what He says? When Christ says, “This is my Body,” shall I not believe His words? When the Holy Apostle says, in words so plain that I cannot misunderstand them, that the cup is the communion of His Blood, and the bread is the communion of His Body, shall I not believe that he speaks the truth? Christ knows, and the apostle knows, if I do not know. Shall I, who am so much lower in the scale of intelligence, refuse to let Christ or His apostle instruct me? Shall I sit in judgment on Christ’s veracity? Shall I deny the apostle’s truthfulness? I do not refuse to believe other mysteries, why should I refuse to believe this? The other mysteries of my holy faith are not, in any degree, less mysterious to me, or more easy for me to understand, than this, and yet I believe them without any hesitation. I admit them to be facts and realities on the testimony of God’s Word, even though the mode of them is a mystery to me. Why should I feel, and believe, and act, differently concerning the mystery of Christ’s presence in the Holy Communion? Cannot Christ give me His Body and Blood, as He says He does? He says it is so; and why should I doubt His words? He says, “This is my Body,” and shall I deny it in His face? No. I believe what He says. He says so; this is enough for me. Does He say, “This is my Body — this is my Blood?” He does. Does an inspired apostle say, “The cup of blessing which we bless is the communion of Christ’s Blood, and the bread which we break is the communion of Christ’s Body?” He does. This is enough. I believe it. God says so. It is enough.
My feelings are not shocked either by the language employed, or by the sentiment which the language expresses, as some have asserted. It is not shocking to me to believe that Christ gives himself, after a sacramental and heavenly sort, to the communicant — His glorified self to me. I am not shocked by the atonement which is made for my sins by the shedding of Christ’s Blood on the cross, but the doctrine is most welcome, and its influence is most cheering to my heart. I am not shocked that water in Baptism is the medium of the Holy Ghost’s blessing, or that the letter of the Word is the channel through which divine truth reaches my mind; nor that Christ’s divinity acted through the human body which He assumed when He was born of the Virgin Mary; nor that my own immortal soul speaks and acts through my tongue, and hands and feet. None of these things are shocking to me, or wound my sensibilities, or awaken carnal and unworthy thoughts in my breast. Why then should I be shocked at the doctrine that in the Lord’s Sapper there are two kinds of elements, the bread and wine, and the Body and Blood of Christ, and that the heavenly and spiritual employs the earthly and material as the medium through which it is conveyed to my soul? Do I not see the same beautiful analogy here that runs through all the others? Is it not distinctly, and most plainly asserted in numerous texts? Instead of shocking me, is not the doctrine most beautiful, consistent, heavenly, and precious to my heart in the unspeakable blessings which it imparts, in the nearness to Christ which it effects, and in the delightful elevation of my soul above the earthly and visible, to the glorious heavenly and invisible things which it brings to view? The Lord’s Supper would seem to me very tame, and even gross, indeed, if I saw in it nothing but the gross matter of bread and wine, but when I am called to look through and beyond these earthly and material things, to the divine treasure which these earthen vessels contain and present to me, I am, in the highest degree, edified, comforted, and blest. These heavenly treasures, which are in the Holy Communion, on which my eye of faith fixes, as I partake of it with my lips, make this holy Lord’s Table, the most precious of all other places in the world to me. Take this away, and I would be compelled to lament with Mary Magdalene at the sepulchre: “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.”
4. One of the commonest and most flippant objections we hear, is the assertion that this doctrine is Romanism.
It is want of acquaintance with what this doctrine really is, that leads any sincere man to make such a charge as this. They that make it, have perhaps never investigated the subject. They neither understand what the Bible teaches, nor what Rome teaches, nor wherein lies the difference between them. Such charges by such persons, do not for a moment disturb our composure. We must do, in their case, as did the ancient advocate of a cause before Philip, appeal from Philip ill-informed, to Philip better informed. I flatter myself that all who have carefully followed me in the present discourse, will very readily be able to point out wherein the true doctrine of the Lord’s Supper differs from the false doctrine of the Church of Rome on this subject. The difference is very great, and very plain.
Indeed, it is only from this standpoint of the true doctrine of the Lord’s Supper as it is made known in the Scriptures, and confessed by the Lutheran Church, that the error of the Church of Rome can be successfully combated. This doctrine gives us the whole Sacrament, in both its terrestrial and heavenly elements; it does not take away the cup, nor does it change and take away the bread, and yet it gives us the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It leaves us Christ, and does not deem it necessary in order to avoid the error of Transubstantiation, to go to the other extreme, and banish Christ from his own Sacrament. It gives us the whole Sacrament, unmutilated, both in its earthly and heavenly elements, just as Christ instituted it, and the whole primitive Christian Church believed and practiced it. It is also directly in harmony with the words of Christ when instituting it, and with the words of the Apostle Paul when describing it. Most reflecting persons feel that a mere figurative representation does not accord with Christ’s words, “This is my Body” — “This is my Blood,” nor with the Apostle’s strong declarations, “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?” and “he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, shall be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord,” and “he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” If the Lord’s Supper consisted of nothing but bread and wine, these strong expressions of Christ, and His holy apostle, would have no meaning. Why should Jesus have said, “Take, eat, this is my body — this do in remembrance of me,” if no emphasis was intended to be laid on the words, “This is my body,” but only on the words, “This do in remembrance of me?” If it is not His Body, as He says it is, but only a commemorative eating, the words, “This is my body” might have been left away altogether, and all would have been expressed that those who take this view, contend it does. It would then say, “Take, eat, in remembrance of me.” If this is all, why did Christ insert at all, the words, “This is my Body?” They that adopt this view commit the same mistake that the believers in Transubstantiation commit, only in the other direction. Transubstantiation takes away the bread, and professedly makes it all body. These, however, take away the body, and leave nothing but bread. In either case, we have only a part of a Sacrament. If they are censurable who take from us the earthly element, are those not equally censurable, who would deprive us of the heavenly? Is there not almost the same occasion to quote Paul’s earnest words to them, as there was for him to utter them to the Church of Corinth? What answer can they make to him, when he asks, “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?”
5. It is objected that the Lutheran Church teaches the doctrine of Consubstantiation.
The persistence with which the doctrine of Consubstantiation is charged upon the Lutheran Church, in the face of her constant denial of it, in her Confessions, and by her theologians, is wonderful. It would seem that her opponents act upon the principle that a falsehood well stuck to, will in the end be accepted as truth. Even Webster, in his Unabridged Dictionary, defines Consubstantiation as the doctrine maintained by the Lutheran Church. It will be a conclusive answer to this charge, to quote the statements concerning it, of some of the oldest and ablest of our theologians. I cite from Dr. Krauth’s Conservative Reformation:
Hutter, A. D. 1611, says, “When we use the particles ‘in, with, under’ we understand no local inclusion whatever, either Transubstantiation or Consubstantiation.” “Hence is clear the odious falsity of those who charge our churches with teaching that ‘the bread of the Eucharist is literally and substantially the body of Christ;’ that ‘the bread and body constitute one substance;’ that ‘the body of Christ in itself, and literally, is bruised by the teeth,’ and all other monstrous absurdities of a similar nature. For we fearlessly appeal to God, the Searcher of hearts, and the Judge of consciences, as an infallible witness, that neither by Luther nor any of ours was such a thing ever said, written, or thought of.”
Andrew Osiander, Chancellor of the University of Tubingen, A. D. 1617, says, “Our theologians for years long have strenuously denied and powerfully confuted the doctrine of a local inclusion, or physical connection of the body and bread, or consubstantiation. We believe in no impanation, subpanation, companation, or consubstantiation of the body of Christ; no physical or local inclusion or conjoining of bread and body, as our adversaries, in manifest calumnies, allege against us.”
John Gerhard, A. D. 1637, says, “On account of the calumnies of our adversaries, we would note that we do not believe in impanation, nor in consubstantiation, nor in any physical or local presence.” “We believe in no consubstantiative presence of the body and the blood. Far from us be that figment. The heavenly thing and the earthly thing in the Lord’s Supper are not present with each other physically and naturally.”
Carpzov, A. D. 1657, says, ” When the words, in, with, under, are used, our traducers know, as well as they know their own fingers, that they do not signify a Consubstantiation, local coexistence, or impanation. The charge that we hold a local inclusion, or Consubstantiation, is a calumny. The eating and drinking are not physical, but mystical and sacramental.”
Calovius, A. D. 1686, says, “We do not assert any local conjunction, any fusion of essences, or Consubstantiation, as our adversaries attribute it to us; as if we imagined that the bread and the Body of Christ pass into one mass. We do not say that the Body is included in the bread.”
Baier, J. G., A. D. 1695, says, “The Sacramental union is neither substantial, nor personal, nor local. Hence it is manifest that impanation and Consubstantiation, which are charged upon Lutherans by enemies, are utterly excluded. There is no sensible or natural eating of the Body of Christ.”
Leibnitz, A. D. 1716, distinguished as a profound theological thinker, as well as philosopher of the highest order, says, “Those who receive the Evangelical (Lutheran) faith by no means approve the doctrine of Consubstantiation, or of impanation, nor can any impute it to them, unless from a misunderstanding of what they hold.”
Buddeas, A. D. 1728, says, “All who understand the doctrines of our Church know that with our whole soul we abhor the doctrine of Consubstantiation, and of a gross ubiquity of the flesh of Christ. They are greatly mistaken who suppose the doctrine of impanation to be the doctrine of Luther and of our Church.”
Cotta, A. D. 1779, makes the following remarks upon the different theories of Sacramental union: “By impanation is meant a local inclusion of the body and blood in the bread and wine. Gerhard has rightly noted that the theologians of our Church utterly abhor this error. The particles in, with, under, are not used to express a local inclusion. As our theologians reject impanation, so also they reject the doctrine of Consubstantiation. This word is taken in two senses. It denotes sometimes a local conjunction of two bodies; sometimes a commingling or coalescence into one substance or mass. But in neither sense can that monstrous dogma of Consubstantiation be attributed to our Church; for Lutherans believe neither in a local conjunction nor commixture of bread and Christ’s Body, nor of wine and Christ’s Blood.”
These citations are sufficient. We need, and can have, no stronger or more conclusive testimony.
Having now stated the true doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, and defended it from some of the objections with which it is commonly assailed, let me hasten to a few practical conclusions.
1. I will not doubt nor wrangle, but simply believe the Word of my Lord, and yield my reason to the Supreme Reason, in this, and all other doctrines, and ordinances, and institutions of the Gospel.
I am not offended because the Christian religion has its mysteries. That there should be in it things deep and unfathomable, was to have been expected from the nature of the subject, and from the infinite perfections of its divine Author. It would be, to my mind, bare, and meagre, and unattractive, and too much like the production of small men, who could not go beyond their own shallow depth, if it had no mysteries. Its profound mysteries are not only exceedingly interesting, and reasonable, and even fascinating to my mind, but they constitute one of the most satisfactory proofs that its author is God, and its origin in heaven. I will not, therefore, dispute, and object, and find fault, but simply believe and humbly submit. I will take God at His own word, and not attempt to explain it away, or raise difficulties, nor oppose my own feeble reason to the Infinite reason, nor abuse what I do not understand, nor labor to make that look absurd which appears so only because it is too far above the reach of my limited capacities. There are more things in heaven and earth than have ever been dreamed of in our philosophy. Things are not necessarily false because incomprehensible. I will, therefore, not argue, but believe. I will not raise objections, but receive the truth of God, in the terms in which He has himself declared it. Christ has himself used the words, “This is my Body,” “This is my Blood,” “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood.” The words awaken in my mind neither superstitious feelings, nor Romish sentiments, nor carnal ideas. They are the words of my Lord, and I will use them, and hear them used, with the devout and holy reverence which they are adapted to produce.
2. I will endeavor always to commune with the solemn awe which the nature of the Holy Communion inspires.
Of all the ordinances of the Gospel, the Holy Communion is the most solemn. It possesses the highest sanctity, because the whole Gospel seems to centre in it; or rather it is the culmination of all the doctrines, facts, and precepts of the Gospel. “We are at the Lord’s Table. We can rise no higher in this life. There is nothing beyond but heaven.” With the ancient Patriarch we may say, “How dreadful is this place: this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” The nature of the Lord’s Supper produces this solemn feeling. At the communion table I am in the presence of God, There I feel nearer to God than anywhere else. I welcome this feeling. I love to feel that God is near me, and that I am near to him. The feeling is hallowing as well as pleasurable. It subdues my sins, it hallows my heart, it makes me better, it humbles self, it exalts Christ and His ordinances, it lifts me above the world, and it brings me nearer to heaven and the holy angels.
3. I will sanctify my heart, and commune at the Lord’s Table, with clean hands and pure lips, because the holy presence of the Lord demands it.
Christ is present there. Nothing unholy or unclean should come into his presence. He is holy, and He requires all to be holy as He is holy. His ordinances are holy, and they tend to sanctify, and make holy, those who partake of them. There is an especial sanctity pervading the Lord’s Supper. The atmosphere that surrounds it is holy, and it hallows all who come within its influence. I will keep the foot, and cleanse the heart, when I come to the table of the Lord. I will always, when there, remember where I am; and what I am doing. I will consider at whose table I am, who is near me. and whose eye is upon my heart. I will not tremble as a slave in the presence of a hard master, but I will humbly bow as a child before the venerable form of a parent. I will cherish the awe which the place, and the presence inspire, and I will also entertain the joy which the occasion is adapted to awaken. I am an invited guest, and although I feel that I am an unworthy one, still I know that I am a welcome one. Not with awe alone, therefore, but with joy, also, will I draw water out of these wells of salvation. I will sanctify myself, for the feast; its author, its nature, its occasion, are all holy. I will come with clean hands, and a pure heart, and a soul that has not lifted itself up unto vanity. I will repent of all my sins, be sorry with true brokenness of heart on account of them, weep over my great unworthiness, confess and beg absolution on account of my manifold commissions of evil, and omissions of duty, fervently pray God to forgive and save me for Christ’s sake, and humbly renew my vows of piety and obedience at His altar, earnestly relying upon the help of His grace to enable me to carry away from the Holy Communion table, such spiritual strength as will make, and ever keep me, a better and a happier Christian.