Two Addresses by W. J. Hocking.
Second Edition, revised.
The Institution of the Lord's Supper as Recorded in the Gospels
It is a striking circumstance that in the New Testament we have very few ordinances of any sort prescribed for the believer. We have baptism, and we have the Lord's Supper, but no others. This absence of ritual is in great contrast with the religion of the Jews. Under the Mosaic Law, there were many sacrifices to be offered daily, and throughout each day, and these sacrifices were of many kinds. There was at Jerusalem a gorgeous and ornate building in which men were to worship. There were priests specially delegated for the purpose of ministering in the holy things and in the holy place and in the various holy services. There were also the Levites with definite duties in the Temple precincts; there was in short a great host of rites and ceremonies to be performed. But when we come to the New Testament, we find that this order of things disappears, and that worship in spirit and in truth takes the place of worship by rote. The Lord's Supper is mentioned definitely in a few places only, but always in the simplest language, while the service itself is distinguished by its simplicity. There is nothing difficult in its observance. There is nothing costly in the bread and the wine which constitute the Supper. They both are inexpensive articles within the reach of all. There is no priesthood, as distinct from the assembly, authorised for its administration; and the prescribed ritual, if we may call it so, is very simple indeed.
Christ Himself not Shadows of Him
Why is there this striking contrast? There are many reasons, but this evening I will mention only one, which I think may be sufficient for my purpose. Under the law, the sacrifices and the services of the priesthood all pointed down the Old Testament ages to One Who was coming, and Who was to do the great and sufficient work of making an end of sins and of introducing righteousness. But in the New Testament, we find that Person has made His advent into the world, and has accomplished the work of redemption. Moreover, He, though absent, makes His presence known and felt in connection with this simple memorial service. And when you have the substance, will you care for the shadow? When you have the Antitype, where is the need for the type? The Lord's Supper as an act of communion brings the hearts of the children of God into close and living association with the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and having Him, all legal symbolism is now superseded, as the Epistle to the Hebrews shows in great detail. It is the Lord, then, Who gives the Supper its essential character, and therefore He is able to make His own people recognise His presence under the most adverse and difficult circumstances. They may be scattered and separated, they may be persecuted, but wheresoever they may be in the wide world, let them only be gathered to His name, let them but be desirous to "do this in remembrance" of Him, and, according to His own promise, He is there in the midst; and His presence amply compensates for every other disability. The presiding presence of Christ Himself enables each believer to rise superior over all outward circumstances, whatever they may be during the observance.
I know that eating the Supper is not altogether an act of individual communion, and we will, perhaps, touch later upon that part of the subject. But it should be clearly understood by all that no person can properly enter into the meaning of the Lord's Supper, and that no Christian can experience the blessed fulness and joy of its observance apart from the personal recognition of the presence of Christ Himself, verily in the midst according to His word, not cognizant to the senses, it is true, but cognizant in spite of the senses. Oftentimes there are matters arising in connection with the observance of the Lord's Supper which may tend to distract or turn away the heart and the thought from the subject of the moment, but when Christ's presence is by faith realised all these things lose their influence, and dwarf into their proper insignificance and irrelevance.
The Circumstances of the Institution
It is interesting to look at the institution of this Supper with particular reference to the circumstances under which it was inaugurated. This will help us I think to gain a view, the right view, of this memorial and of its spiritual import. It was upon the eve of the great climax (shall I say?) in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ that this Supper was instituted. He had been in this world, the Son of God incarnate, passing through its varied scenes, the wonder of the angels and the scorn of men. What that passage through this world meant to Him we shall never know. But there was always before Him during His ministry that crisis to which from time to time He alluded as His "hour." There was an hour, the fixed moment, to which He was advancing. Everything concerning Him had been pre-arranged, all the events were determined by divine counsel beforehand; and He knew the future. He was never taken by surprise, as we are, but consciously faced as one Who had counted the cost, the desertions, the sorrows, the agonies of Calvary. He went forward, unchanged in heart and purpose and action by what He knew was coming. His love never diminished in the slightest; His works of mercy were never left undone because of the greater work of atonement before Him, but with imperturbable grace He proceeded continuously day after day, night after night, in pursuance of His lowly service. His days were filled with beautiful expressions of heavenly love in this dark and evil world, set forth for man's faith and knowledge both then and now.
But when the Lord drew near to Calvary, He was in the very shadow of that oppressive darkness which enveloped Him upon the cross. And it was on the eve of His departure from this world that He instituted this Supper. On the passover night itself, on that night so full, too, of events of universal and eternal importance, He instituted this Supper. You will remember that He was then together with His disciples in the upper room expressly to keep the passover supper. The company was Jesus and the twelve Those with Him were twelve distinguished men, but distinguished in a special manner. They had been called out to be His apostles, His beloved followers and His chosen witnesses. They were selected to see more of His face than any in the world besides, to hear more of His words than others, and to be admitted by Him into scenes of closest intimacy.
Disciples Contending for Precedence
The disciples were around the table, and Jesus at the head. Looking upon them there as, indeed, He is now looking upon us here, He saw all that was within them as well as what they actually did and said. Scripture records that during that memorable night they showed that they were men of like passions with ourselves — changeable, unreliable, sometimes impulsive in love and earnest zeal, and at other times carried away by foolish and wicked thoughts.
The disciples should have known what was before their Master. Only a few days previous Jesus had said to the twelve, "We go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests, and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him unto the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify" (Matt. 20:17-19). Jews and Gentiles would unite in His crucifixion and death. He had told them on three separate occasions of His death (Matt. 16:21; Matt. 17:22, 23; Matt. 20:17-19). You would have thought that their interest in and expectation of this startling event would have been quickened on that night — the passover night. What did the blood of the lamb typify? Did it not recall the hour of judgment and death passed long ago in Egypt? Did not the Lord say when He sat down with them, "With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15)?
Had the apostles considered seriously what the Lord had said to them about His rejection and death, would they not have entered that room with solemn hearts and chastened spirits? Would they not have been filled with a foreboding sense of the sorrow and pain before their beloved Master? We find, however, that they were engaged in petty quarrels, struggling among themselves as to who should be greatest amongst them (Luke 22:24). Observing, I suppose, the disciple whom Jesus loved taking the place nearest to Him, their jealousy was aroused. Why should John be there? Why not one of them?
What a grief this painful altercation must have been to our Lord! He was contemplating the morrow when He would bear their sins in His own body on the tree — just such selfish sins as these. They could not understand His loving purpose. They were unable to enter into the grief before Him. Such lack of spiritual feeling and sympathy was the sorrowful result after His three years' service with them. There was for Him no comforter, no sympathiser, none that cared, even among His own. Do not let us judge them too harshly; let us rather judge ourselves. Are we never guilty of the indulgence of unworthy thoughts at the table of the Lord? In the most solemn moments, when the Spirit of God is making to live again before us the hour of suffering at Calvary, thoughts may even then arise in our hearts, altogether out of harmony with the subject of the Spirit of God. We must know that often we ought to bow our heads in shame when our Lord looks round upon us as we are eating His Supper, because thoughts intrude into our hearts which ought never to be there at such a holy season.
The Lord's Service at the Supper
Jesus rose from the table, He laid aside His garments, He girded Himself with a towel, knowing, as the beloved apostle has said, that the Father had given all things into His hands, that He had come from God and was going to God. He then went round as the servant of them all to wash their feet. Was not this a sight to move their hearts? The Lord of glory, Whom angels delighted to serve, was there meekly serving twelve men of humble birth — Peter, James, John, and Judas too. The Son of God had come down to serve them all! "I am among you as He that serveth." The word, the act, form a rebuke for us all. Let us remember that on no occasion in our spiritual experience do we see the glory of humility exhibited more than at the Lord's Supper. That loaf, that wine — what do they tell us? Of the One Who came down from above to serve; of the One Who did serve in life and death; of the One Who went under the cloud of wrath to serve; and Who went to the death of the cross and into the grave to serve. Let us, then, never be ashamed to serve this Christ, for has He not in His obedience to God served us, even to the death of shame?
Jesus and Judas
All these circumstances are associated with the institution of the Supper, which in its calm beauty forms a striking contrast with the tumult of evil passions around Him in Jerusalem, and before Him on the morrow. Even in the little company itself there was wilfulness as well as weakness. One was altogether divided in heart from the Lord. For Judas was there. "Ye are clean," says the Lord, "but not all." In the little circle, there was this spectacle of direct apostasy before the eyes of our Lord. This man had been able to withstand the benign rays of heavenly grace and glory shed directly upon him for three years. His heart was not softened by the Master's ministry of grace, but was hardened. The love of Jesus had never penetrated his soul. It had, on the contrary, become a stronghold of sin, of shameful deeds, of Satan himself. The betrayal by Judas was an exhibition of the power of Satan, overcoming one in that small apostolic band.
The Lord appealed to the traitor. He gave him the sop, and Judas took it, but withstood the overture. All the love of Christ was thrown away upon him; his soul was completely devastated and ruined. "That thou doest," the Lord said, "do quickly." Then he arose from the table and went out, and Scripture adds, "it was night." He went out into the blackness of night's darkness to do a deed of still blacker darkness. Judas was at the passover-table, but went out from the presence of the Lord, to go to his own place. He was not "clean," as the Lord had said (John 13:10).
But the betrayer having gone, the Lord, as they were eating, took the bread and the cup, and instituted His memorial Supper. This done, He went on to speak those valedictory words which we have, and which we love so much, in the Gospel of John (14–16). These discourses speak, not of the forgetfulness on the part of the disciples, not of the evil within them, but of comfort to their hearts which were full of love for Him, and of sorrow, because He was about to leave them. He knew that they truly loved Him; He knew that in spirit they were prepared to renounce everything for Him. But He knew also that they would be exposed to persecution and death, and that they were feeble in action though fearless in spirit. He said 'I am going away. You are filled with sorrow. I know that you love Me. I know that you will lament when I am gone from you, but I will come to you again.' So He brightened the future for them by the promise of His return, and thus buoyed them up with the blessed hope of His returning, having first taught them the remembrance of Himself in the Supper until He should come.
All these circumstances on the night of the betrayal tend to give a special character to the Supper of the Lord. They all combine in an appeal to our affections that we should value its observance above all else. There is no engagement more solemn and serious, and nothing more blessed as a spiritual occupation. I do not know of anything that we can do or say which calls for more earnest examination of our own hearts than the participation in this feast. Yet the service itself is simple and easy to perform. And, while we are assured of the Lord's presence in our midst, this brings before us no terrors as there were at Sinai — no clouds of darkness, no thunderings or lightnings. On the contrary, we have the sweet and loving invitation of the Lord Himself, "This do in remembrance of Me", uttered afresh to our hearts.
The Lord took Bread and Blessed
Now let us notice for a little the actual institution of the Supper by our Lord though the details are no doubt familiar to us. While the disciples were eating, the Lord took bread (Matt. 26:26). This act was not associated with the ritual of the passover supper, but was quite separate, and quite distinct in meaning. The passover supper was kept, and the ceremony maintained in the prescribed form; and then the Lord instituted a new Supper which would supersede it. The passover was about to be fulfilled by the sacrifice of our Lord Himself, and having been fulfilled, it disappears as an appointed feast for the Christian era.
The Lord took of the bread that was before Him, and He blessed. We do not read that He blessed it. You will observe that the word "it" is in italics in our version, and therefore the significance is not that He took a piece of bread, and made it something else. He did not transform its nature. He blessed. He blessed God. He recognised the Giver of all good. His heart went up, as He loved it should, in thanksgiving to Him that was above. No occasion too great, none too small, for such devotional acknowledgment. For each and all things He always would bless, and give thanks. If you compare the account in Luke with those in Mark and Matthew, you will find that in Luke the parallel words are, "When He had given thanks." Blessing, therefore, is in this instance equivalent to giving thanks. There is no support at all in Scripture for the notion that the bread mysteriously and wonderfully became something different from what it was before.
The Lord blessed on this, as we find He did on other occasions. It was a relief to Him to look upwards. He could find nothing of joy in what was around Him in Jerusalem, but He could turn to God, and to the joy set before Him. His link with the Father was close, His fellowship with Him was intimate and precious. It was His constant habit to look up and give thanks.
There is no doubt that there is more involved in the Lord's act of blessing than the mere giving of thanks for the reception of the bread. There was about to be sacrifice and blood-shedding, and both were before the holy soul of our Lord. This bread was to be the memorial of His body, the vehicle of this supreme service. It had long been before Him to do this deed of redeeming love.
He had come into the world to inhabit the body prepared for Him (Heb. 10:5), and to taste the vicissitudes of life among sinful men. Now He had come near to the accomplishment of the work of atonement given Him to do. He could and did bless God that it was so. Presently He would wrestle in agony in the garden of Gethsemane, with the power of darkness in full view. Wrath would be before Him in vision, and then He would struggle, as it were, at the prospect of bearing sin which was so abhorrent to His holiness. Here at the table, He was about to say of the loaf in His hand, "This is My body." The joy that was before Him of having accomplished the Father's will and glorified His name, and of having rescued from terrible destruction myriads of the souls of men, filled Him with delight; and He looked up and blessed. Then He broke the bread and passed it to them, bidding them eat.
Not that He partook of it Himself. He had desired to eat the Passover with them before He suffered (Luke 22:15), but this Supper was something new and different. This was something for them to do for His sake. This was to be a memorial of Him. Did He Himself require such a memorial? Does He need some tangible token to keep us before His heart? some memorial to bring us to His remembrance? Never; our names are engraved upon the palms of His hands. But do not we forget? Do not we often need reminding? He knew our weakness; and He took the bread, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." And by these simple words He joined us up, so to speak, with Himself in His great work at Calvary and its results. It is as if He said, 'Make this your own, let this truth be yours, let it be within you, let it be assimilated in your very being; take, eat.'
Hence it is, beloved friends, that in the Supper we come so close to the blessed person of the Lord Jesus Christ. "This is My body," are the Lord's words. There is no need, however, for fanciful notions with regard to the bread. Let us be clear that the material is bread, and that it remains bread. He said, "This is My body," using, of course, a figure of speech, such as was often upon His lips. He spake in the pictorial manner of that nation to which He came. When He said "This is My body," He thereby attached a special significance to the loaf as His memorial. This, and nothing else, was to be the emblem which should set forth to them His body, and should for this reason recall to their minds the things done in His body.
The Bread a Memorial
Let us be clear with regard to another point. When the Lord said, "This is My body," He held the bread in His hands, and handed it to them. He handed it to them to eat. But He was still there before their eyes as they ate. He administered, if we may use that technical term, the bread before and to them. But He Himself was distinct from the loaf. The bread was a memorial for them, and given to His own by the Lord, He being separate from the bread which was and is emblematical of the body in which He suffered and completed the work of atonement. This feature of the Supper is ever true, and it is an important one for faith to realise. He Himself, the living, glorious Lord, the One into Whose hands all things are now given, is present to preside at the Supper and to superintend, if allowed to do so, what is done on the occasion. But He is separate from that which is His memorial. The living Lord conducts us in our remembrance of the Christ Who died.
I have a particular reason for referring to this distinction between the Lord Himself and this memorial of His death. I have found that some persons regard the Lord's Supper as if it were only a means of causing them to remember someone they have in some measure forgotten during the previous week. For six days, or the great part of the six days, they have been so busy with other things that the Lord has been altogether out of their thoughts. The memorial is valued because the ordinance brings Him back to mind. This is a false view of the Lord's Supper. In the Supper we remember the Lord as He was, in His sufferings and in His death. It is a shame to think that any Christian should require some formal observance to cause him to remember the Lord as He is in the glory. Can it be that some of us are so far removed from the living joy of knowing Christ Himself as our living Lord that He passes out of our hearts, and that we need something visible, like the breaking of bread, to bring Him back to our minds? We, in fact, do not assemble to remember Christ the glorified Christ, we come to remember the One Who died. There is but the One adorable Person, of course. Jesus Christ, Who is on high, is the same Jesus Who was crucified, but on Lord's day we meet to go back to what is past, and to what is never to be forgotten. And the Spirit uses that marvellous faculty of memory which we possess, the power we have of making yesterday live again, illuminating it so that those events of long ago become as fresh as ever in our hearts. We know that we all can in some degree recall the past, and this power of remembrance is turned to account by the Spirit of God in connexion with the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. So in the presence of the Lord Who lives we remember the Lord Who died.
There is something further stated about the bread, which is His body — which, as Luke says, "is given for you." If you carefully compare the accounts in the three Gospels (which it is always profitable to do) you will find that some words in Luke are not found in Matthew or Mark. Luke adds just those words which lay hold of our hearts, and draw us into close communion with the Master Himself. "This is My body, which is given for you"; and as He said this His words applied to His own individually as well as collectively. The words suited personally any one of those that sat at the table. "It is given for you." 'For me,' says Peter, 'For me,' says James. They each and all could respond thus, and say, 'It is given for me.'
The Lord by this personal touch meant to quicken the pulsation of their affections towards Himself. He wanted to draw out the undivided devotion of their souls, as they should realise that the sufferings through which His holy body would pass would be on their account. The great work would be for their benefit and blessing. I know that therein was the accomplishment of the will of God; I know also that the death of Christ has very wide-reaching results in the heavens as well as the earth. We shall never measure it properly, nor understand it fully. But at the Lord's table, while there may be loftier thoughts, is there anything which can touch the heart more deeply than the remembrance that He suffered for me? He died for me. "My body is given for you," He says. The whole man was given. The blessed Person Who surrendered Himself as an offering, a sacrifice, held nothing back. Such is the sacrifice the Father loves — the whole burnt-offering, everything completely rendered to God. "This is My body, which is given for you."
The Cup after Supper
But the Supper was not confined to the loaf only. Subsequently the cup also was given. He took the cup and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, "Drink ye all of it, for this is My blood of the new testament." In these words the Lord shows us unmistakably that the particular event in His history to be remembered on these occasions is His death, because there were the two elements, each bearing its witness. There was the bread, and there was the wine. The bread was the body, and the wine the blood. Separate as they were in that emblematical form, jointly they truly set forth the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
While in the body, as we know, the blood is the life. So it is expressed throughout the Old Testament. But when blood is seen distinct, it is the witness of death. And it so came about with our Lord historically, for we read that the soldier came with a spear, and pierced His side, after He had delivered up His spirit. Forthwith there came out blood and water (John 19:34). This token of death was registered upon earth as evidence that the great work of life-giving had been accomplished. At the supper the cup reminds us that there was veritable death in the case of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we think that Jesus Christ, our Saviour, and Lord, did indeed taste death, bowing to the king of terrors, who brings paleness to the cheeks and tremors to the hearts of multitudes of men, we are filled again and again with amazement. The Lord Himself tasted death; and yet He had displayed such power over death in others, making the grave yield up its victims, young and old. He had but to speak, and the dead lived again. Yet now He says to the apostles, "This is My body . . . this is My blood."
How full of wonder must have been the hearts of those men as they pondered over these words! What did the Master mean? It was not the first time He had spoken of giving them His flesh to eat. Indeed He had often spoken of His death. It had now come very near at hand. "This is My body which is given for you." 'There is no other way of life but this for you; it must be this way of death for Me. In My life, in My incarnation, I am altogether separate from you. Only through My death can you participate in My life. Only thus can you be blessed; hence I give My body for you, and shed My blood for you.'
The Incarnate Son was present in this world, but His death also was necessary for man's salvation. God had said, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." Here in the loaf and the cup was pictured the sinless One giving His life and going down into death for the blessing of those who were around Him, and of those who should believe on Him through their testimony. The Lord took the cup, and gave thanks, and they all were invited to drink of it. But Judas was not there. Jesus had washed Judas' feet with water, but his heart was left unclean. What would be the use of even an apostle eating and drinking with an unclean heart? It is worse than useless to drink the cup of the Lord if the heart is estranged from the Lord. This is to drink judgment to oneself (1 Cor. 11:29). The hearts of the eleven were true to Him, and He invited them all to take and drink. 'You can share, you can participate. Drink ye all of it.'
Moreover, the Lord added, "This cup is the new testament (covenant) in My blood," speaking of that new covenant of which the prophets had foretold, of the covenant which would be yet made with the house of Israel and Judah and which will be seen in all its glory in days yet to come (Jer. 31:31-34). But the atoning blood of Christ, as the basis of that covenant, was about to be shed, and the cup is the memorial of it.
Sins Forgiven. Christ Remembered
"This is My blood which is shed for you for the remission of sins." You observe the Lord's Supper is not a place where the children of God come together to remember their sins. Their sins are remitted. The institutions of the law differed in this respect. When the sacrifices were offered of old, there was a remembrance made of sins every year on the day of atonement (Heb. 10:3). But believers are not invited to the Lord's Supper to remember their sins. They come to remember Him Who died, having borne their sins in His own body on the tree. It is not that they are unconscious of ever having sinned — for such a person there could be no Supper in its true sense. The supper is for those for whom Christ shed His blood that their sins might be forgiven. Jesus, looking upon the company in the upper room, saw the indelible marks of disfigurement that sin had wrought in their moral characters and that He had come to remove by His blood-shedding. They were clean by His word, but He came not by water only, but by water and blood, and He was about to shed His blood for the remission of their sins. So when we drink the cup, we are reminded of His blood shed; and then we are indeed on holy ground. We are together in close fellowship with our most holy Lord and Saviour. Hence we cannot but think what it is that has brought us there so near to Him, Who is "of purer eyes than to behold evil."
The disciples did not enter into the true character of the cup. They could not anticipate the value of the blood of Christ to them, much less to God. But we know it. Why is it we come together? To remember the Lord in His death. Being there, the cup brings before us that precious blood which has cleansed us from every sin, and made us suitable to sit in the presence of the Lord.
Judas had gone out, but Peter and James and John and others remained, and they were made the recipients of this communication from the Lord, in spite of the activities of Satan in their midst, and the weakness of their own flesh. And why is it they were there? Why is it they were maintained in such hallowed society at such a time? Because of the precious blood of Christ about to be shed that their sins might all be removed.
Oh, beloved friends, consider how wonderful this theme is for our meditation when we are together to remember the Lord Jesus Christ! Can it be possible that sometimes we appear on such occasions to lack subjects for thought and worship? Can it be that the trivial happenings of the past week occupy our hearts, and obliterate every holy memory of Christ and His passion and His death? Is there not enough in the death of Christ to engage our hearts for one brief hour? Do we chafe because there is a long protracted silence? Is there not sufficient love and interest in our individual hearts to cause us to be absorbed with the Lord Jesus and what He suffered for us? Do we find it irksome because there is no audible human voice? It is a happy thing when a man breaks the silence by the Spirit of God, expressing what is on the hearts of all, but it is happy also, when there is no voice, to recognise in our own experience the supremacy and sufficiency of the Lord Himself.
Beloved friends, let us think again of the night of the institution of the Supper. The Lord of glory is here in this world, where for three years He has laboured in active ministry of mercy and truth. He is about to die. He gathers around Him just before He leaves the world eleven men out of the millions of the world's inhabitants — eleven men who, because of previous training, might at least have been expected to enter into what was before Him. But there was not one who showed a sympathetic understanding of the real facts of what was immediately before the Lord. They were all very far away in spirit from sharing the burden of His heart at that time. But is there not still an astonishing lack of interest in the death of Christ? Out of all the millions upon the face of the globe at the present time, how many meet together habitually for the sole purpose of fulfilling the Lord's word: "This do in remembrance of Me"? Very few, comparatively, show any regard for His will in this respect.
Do we care for the Lord's death, as He would have us? Did He anywhere prove His love for us as He did upon the cross? Shall we tire of this holy theme? Is once a week too often to remember Him? Oh, beloved friends, what grief was added to the Lord by the indifference of His own who could not watch with Him one hour on the night when He was being betrayed? What, then, is it now in the eyes of our Lord that so many can be indifferent, careless, regardless of the memorial of that infinite work which cost Him so much to accomplish?
We can, of course, think of the Lord at any time and in any place, but we ought to have the Lord's words written upon our hearts, "This do in remembrance of Me." The "remembrance" is a question of doing, not of meditating only. It is not a material sacrifice to be offered, but it is an act to be performed. The Lord definitely said this, and it is not for us to take away one iota from what He has said. "This do in remembrance of Me." 'I shall leave this world that does not want Me. I shall return to the place I had with the Father before the worlds were. I want you to raise a memorial to My death here in this world, not in marble, not in costly architecture, not in anything which can be procured by the riches of this world, but the memorial of a simple act, of no external value in itself, nor of anything impressive in the grandeur of its ceremony. Do this in remembrance of Me. I call for this act of obedience on your part.'
Beloved friends, be assured that unless we eat the bread and drink the cup, we cannot "do this" in remembrance of Him. You may make excuses for your neglect, you may raise objections and difficulties to its observance, but you cannot carry out the word of the Lord unless you eat the Supper. His words are simple and easy of understanding as we have reiterated this evening; and because they are simple, their claim is irresistible, and our negligence is inexcusable. The Lord does not ask us to make a great sacrifice, but He does ask us to eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of Him. Let your whole heart and soul ever be in the observance of His will. Let all that is true and spiritual and begotten of God within you be concentrated upon the performance of this act. If we honour Him, He will honour us. If we are true to Him, He will be — I was about to say, true to us, but then He is always true to us whatever we may be. If we deny Him, He is still faithful, which is all the greater reason why we should, so far as in us lies, carry out this word of our Lord, laid by Him upon the loyal hearts of those who love Him, and who love to follow His footsteps through this world.
A Hymn of Remembrance
Lord and Saviour, we remember
In that hour of shame,
Thou to God Thyself didst render:
Praise Thy name.
Blessed Saviour, we remember
Thou hadst met the foe;
Yet the darkness gathered round Thee,
And the woe.
Holy Saviour, we remember
Bitter was Thy cry,
When, for sin by God forsaken,
Wrath was nigh.
Precious Saviour, we remember
Thou didst overcome;
Through Thy victory we who wandered
Are brought home.
Lord and Saviour, we remember
Somewhat of Thy love;
All its fulness do Thou teach us
The Observance of the Lord's Supper as Recorded in the Acts and the Epistles
Last week we read the passages from the Gospels which record the institution of the Lord's Supper. There we had the inspired account of the actual circumstances under which the Lord spoke to His disciples on that evening when He set apart the bread and the wine as emblems of His body and His blood, desiring His own to eat and drink of them in remembrance of Himself. It is of interest and help to find that we also have in Scripture instances of the actual observance of the Lord's Supper, showing that the early disciples understood what the Lord wished them to do, and that they very rightly and naturally and spontaneously responded to His desire, and habitually commemorated the Lord's death in the appointed way. And these records shed their light upon the practice that we should adopt today in observing the words of our Lord.
Breaking Bread in Jerusalem
We find from the first Scripture that I read in the Acts that the disciples in Jerusalem immediately after Pentecost were in the habit of breaking bread together. This practice had been speedily adopted by them as a company. There were the apostles who preached, there were disciples who had known the Lord in the days of His flesh, there were others who had believed the preaching of the apostles by the Spirit of God; and these were all banded together by the same Spirit Who came down on the day of Pentecost, and were all given by Him a unity of mind and a unity of purpose. All their hearts and affections were concentrated upon the Person of Jesus Who had risen and Who had ascended to heaven out of their sight. He was out of sight, but not out of mind, nor were His words out of mind.
And these believing Jews were together, being all of this common persuasion, that there was none upon earth and none in heaven comparable to the blessed Person of the Lord Jesus Christ; and whatever had been said of old through Moses or through Isaiah had no greater claim upon them than the words of the Lord Jesus. There was a profound loyalty in the heart of each one of them that led them to carry out the express wish of the Lord concerning His Supper. His word about it was repeated to them, and they felt its authority over them, and that it was incumbent upon them to obey His word. The Lord had said, "This do in remembrance of Me," and therefore they continued steadfastly in the breaking of bread. Other practices of the apostolic company are mentioned which were carefully maintained — doctrine, fellowship, as well as prayers, but bound up with these church observances and of equal importance with them there was the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42).
I think, beloved friends, that we ought to note well with regard to the breaking of bread that its observance demands the personal love and devotion of the heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. The ceremony is nothing in itself, the actual act of eating and drinking is nothing in itself; and as we find from one of the Scriptures that I have just read (1 Cor. 11:20-29), the very simplicity of its form may be misused, and bring a person under the Lord's judgment because of his profanity. But if the Supper is observed in its simple character, and consciously under the eyes of the Lord, there is nothing sweeter, while there is nothing more powerful on this earth as a spiritual service than the breaking of bread.
The observance does not require a high degree of spiritual advancement and growth, but it does require that the heart of the individual participant shall ring true to the presence of the Lord Himself. The Lord's word in the upper room must be recognised behind the bread and the wine on the table. The Lord Himself must be present to our faith, giving us to realise His approval of our presence and of our actions as well as His acceptance of the love and devotion of our hearts. It is a worship service designed by our Lord to lift up and to knit up our hearts to Himself.
In our general walk the Lord comes before our hearts in His glory, as the One Who is on high, as our Captain, our Lord, and also as the One Whom we shall be like eventually; and as the ascended Christ, He directs to Himself all our energies and all our services. But at the Lord's Supper our position is different. We are not then looking at Christ in glory, as the One Whom we are serving, and as the One to Whom we shall go, but at the same Lord conducting us to the foot of the cross, Himself there as the victim, as the Saviour, as the One Who suffered there with our sins upon Him. Then by this remembrance He, as it were, crushes within us all movements of selfishness and sin and draws out to Himself those new affections, those new movements of our hearts, begotten in us by the Holy Ghost.
For this reason, the Lord's Supper is of the greatest spiritual value to young Christians, as it is to the old. Could you have younger Christians than these of whom we read in the Acts 2? Just born again by the Spirit of God, but they nevertheless continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers. Their hearts were brought to realize in these occupations the living presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. I will repeat that this realization is of essential importance in the spiritual life of every believer. It may be said that there is no occupation on earth of a collective character in which the spiritual life is brought into closer touch with Christ than at the proper observance of the Lord's Supper in its inevitable framework of divine worship.
I only allude now to these few verses in Acts 2; they can be studied at your leisure; but we do find from them that the disciples, being all together in Jerusalem, were enabled day by day to break bread. They broke bread "from house to house," or rather, at home. They met together for preaching in the Temple courts; they broke bread at home. They assembled in many places, but at home in their upper rooms they broke bread, and day by day was not considered too frequent to remember the Lord Jesus in breaking bread. The Lord had said, "This do in remembrance of Me." The early observances of these words are a death-blow to the notion of those persons who assume an air of superiority to their fellows, and say, "I can remember the Lord anywhere. I can sit in the privacy of my chamber and remember Him. I can walk along the street and remember Him." This may be so, but this is not to eat the Lord's Supper. "Do this for a memorial of Me." Therefore only in the doing is due obedience rendered. The Lord has not given us a thousand acts to do in His name. His commandments are not numerous, nor grievous. He has not surrounded us with manifold rites and ceremonies, but there is this one thing specially specified for us all to do in remembrance of Him.
Breaking Bread at Troas
In the second passage read from the Acts, we have a very interesting record. There we find the apostle Paul at Troas; and evidently Luke, the writer of the book of the Acts, was also of the company of visitors, for he speaks, as you notice, in the first person: "we sailed away . . . we abode seven days" (Acts 20:6). They all came together with the local assembly (ver. 7) on the first day of the week to break bread. It was not possible for the disciples in Troas to be together for this purpose every day as they did in Jerusalem after Pentecost (Acts 2:46). Many of the latter were foreign Jews who had come to Jerusalem to keep the feast of the passover and later the feast of weeks. These were free from ties by secular occupations and duties. These, therefore, had special opportunities to meet together every day, but it was not so at Troas, where the Lord's Supper was eaten weekly. Consequently, the apostle had to wait seven days until the first day of the week in order to break bread. It is striking that the apostle did so, because he was in a great hurry to reach Jerusalem by the day of Pentecost and his time was precious. His time was so pressing that he could not visit the important assembly at Ephesus, but sent for the elders to meet him at Miletus (Acts 20:16). Nevertheless Paul abode in Troas seven days for the breaking of bread. The great apostle waited seven days so that he might enjoy the incomparable privilege of breaking bread with the disciples, and so have communion with them in the body and blood of Christ (see 1 Cor. 10:16).
The narrative shows that the definite purpose for which they all came together was to break bread. (ver. 7). The Revised Version reads, "When we came together to break bread," expressing the unity of purpose and object between the visitors and the local believers. Yet the occasion of the gathering was in one respect unique. The great apostle to the Gentiles would be there. The disciples would be sure to hear some valuable truths from his lips. Paul was a man of visions and revelations from the Lord, and therefore worth listening to. We might have supposed, therefore, that they would have come together specially to listen to the precious exhortations and instructions that would be sure to fall from the lips of the apostle. But they came together in order to break bread. They came together to meet the Lord of Paul and of all the apostles, and to eat the Lord's Supper. They realised that there was an order in divine things, and first and foremost in divine things is the Lord Himself. Happy the man who keeps first things always first. Christ is first; the Lord is first. His claims must be supreme. Let everyone here tonight make our life's motto this: Let the Master be first.
And so, when they came together in Troas on that first of the week, the one object before them all was to carry out the Lord's word. It was as if they said: "We shall, no doubt, get a needed word from the apostle, but let us fulfil our responsibility to the Lord first of all." Beloved friends, let us all strive to order our habits and dispositions continually in the consciousness that the breaking of bread stands first and foremost of all other claims that may be made upon us. Let us feel that the Supper is the Lord's wish expressed in His word. It is His regular demand laid upon us, and we must regularly respond and not deny Him the obedient worship of our hearts. Let us agree that we will put ourselves to all kinds of discomfort rather than miss the breaking of bread. And when we do come together it will be with this definite object before our minds. Do not let us wait until we enter the door and our eyes fall upon the bread and the wine that then for the first time we think of the breaking of bread before us as a remembrance of the Lord in His death. When we come together, the Lord Himself should fill our hearts; and we should all come to show forth His death. Let there be ten, twenty, or a hundred or more, and let all come with this one purpose to break bread, what a meeting there will be! What power there will be, because all hearts will be united with the common purpose and aim of breaking bread in the presence of our risen and glorified Lord. All will be desirous of fulfilling the word of the Lord, "This do in remembrance of Me." Will any present miss a sense of that joy and peace whose source is in heaven where every eye will rest upon the Lamb that was slain? Not one.
The First of the Week
This example at Troas of the breaking of bread is of special interest also because of its association with the first of the week. There is a beautiful bond, as it were, existing between the first of the week and the breaking of bread. The first of the week — was it not then that our Lord rose victorious from the grave? Did He not come forth and make Himself known to His disciples on that memorable first of the week (John 20)? And He also made Himself known, we are sure, at Troas on that first of the week. On this, the Lord's day, He loves to display Himself to the hearts of His faithful disciples, as He did to John in the Isle of Patmos on that day (Rev. 1:10). It is a day that stands out notably in Christian history, because of its hallowed association with the triumphal resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord in His rising power and glory reveals Himself on the first day of the week as the Firstborn from the dead. And so at Troas they came together on that day for the breaking of bread. Afterwards the apostle delivered a discourse to them, it being the eve of his departure on the morrow, continuing his speech until midnight.
The Lord's Supper at Corinth
Let us now come to the Epistle to the Corinthians. Here we have full instructions with regard to procedure at the breaking of bread. In 1 Corinthians 11, they are set out in detail, and they repay close attention. The breaking of bread is here called the Lord's Supper (ver. 20). The Corinthians had been coming together to break bread, but they had not been eating the Lord's Supper in the true sense.
The apostle corrects their errors. I wish you to notice in this chapter (vers. 20-34) the recurrence of the title of the Master as Lord — the Lord's Supper, the Lord Jesus, the Lord's death, the Lord's body. And the reason for this repetition of this title of supremacy is easy to find. Because the saints at Corinth had forgotten that Jesus is the Lord. The "Lord Jesus" is an expression by which we acknowledge the supreme authority and power possessed by Him even when we remember Him as the crucified One. The world knows Him only as Jesus of Nazareth on the cross; we know Him by the Name which is above every name. Jesus was indeed there at Calvary. He went into that place of seeming weakness, being "crucified in weakness," uplifted between the two malefactors. But God raised Him from the dead and made Him Lord and Christ. He is Lord of all, all persons, places and things, Lord of every one of us, and has the right of perfect control and command over everything that we have and are. There is not a pulse of our beings but is under the strict supervision of our Lord. And we are always responsible to Him for what we do, what we say, and what we think. Much more then when we "do this" are we responsible to our Lord. The Corinthians had forgotten Him in this respect, and each one had made the Supper "his own" supper (vers. 20, 21). They had looked upon their own things and had lost sight of the things of the Lord. It is easy to forget the Lord's presence, and then the true value of the Lord's Supper is lost.
The simple routine of the Supper is a snare to many. It is natural for some to be attracted most by extraordinary acts and uncommon scenes which appeal to the senses. They would celebrate the death of Christ by an impressive ritual. In the absence of such it is difficult for them to concentrate their hearts and thoughts in remembrance and worship of the Lord. There is one object, however, always present and always worthy of the attention of the most careless and fitful persons, and that is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. When His presence is perceived by faith, He collects the wandering thoughts, and subdues the restless spirit. He speaks, as it were, within each tumultuous heart, and says, "Peace, be still." And so, when we are together, on the occasion of the Supper, the Lord Himself comes into the vision of the faith in the heart. Observing the Supper according to the scripture develops this faculty of our faith. Since we come together from time to time to think of Him and remember His death, our hearts and minds should become more practised in the memory of His sacrifice and in the sense of His presence. The oftener we "do this," the better we should "do" it.
I do not know what words I can use to impress upon all who are here tonight the importance of this feature of the observance of the Lord's Supper. It is of the utmost importance to be able to realize on such occasions the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, not in the loaf and the cup, but in the midst of His own. You know that a person can go away into his own room and shut the door, and know the secret presence of Christ with him. This must surely be in accordance with the experience of us all. But this personal experience should also be true collectively, when we come together, and it will be so if our hearts and minds are unitedly set on the things of the Lord Jesus Christ, and not on our own things and the things around us.
There is, as we know, a continual effort to draw away the thoughts of the unwary from the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Something is always apt to arise between our souls and Him, and fill our minds with matters not proper to the Lord's Supper and the Lord's Table. Therefore continual watchfulness is needed on our part, and prayer to the Lord Himself, Who will never fail us. The Corinthians had broken down in due reverence, and had grievously failed in this particular. They had fallen so far as to desecrate the Lord's Supper, reducing it to the level of a common meal. Oh, how the heart of the apostle was horrified by what they were doing! He writes to them urgently, impressively, sternly, to win their hearts back to an apprehension of the real character of the Lord's Supper.
The Lord's Supper and the Lord's Day
This phrase, the "Lord's Supper," is a peculiar one in Scripture usage. The term, Lord's, in the original text is not applied to anything else except to the Lord's Day (1 Cor. 11:20; Rev. 1:10). The Lord's Day and the Lord's Supper are therefore two opportunities which are sacred to the Lord Himself. This Day is the Lord's, and is no one else's. The Lord's day is hallowed because it belongs exclusively to Him, and wherever you are you can never destroy that bond between the Lord and His own day. This term is full of significant meaning to Christians. It is the day of our Lord's resurrection. If Christ be not raised, we are yet in our sins; but He was raised, and that on the Lord's day. Everything belongs to the Risen One, but especially that day. The first of the week is now distinguished from all other days by the special appellation, the Lord's day. It is His day, the first of a new order of things, the beginning of the new creation of God.
But the Lord's Supper is by the use of the same form of the word, "Lord's," distinguished from all other suppers. It is His, and exclusively His. That simple homely meal is His. The Lord Jesus Himself is there. It is His feast, He presides, He makes the Supper what it is ideally. Take away the realised presence of the Lord, and what does it become? Well, at Corinth it became an occasion for gluttony amongst the rich, and for envy and dissatisfaction amongst the poor. Instead of holy meditation, instead of worship and prayers and thanksgiving, instead of bowing at the throne of glory and grace, those present were carried away by selfish earth-born feelings, and the Supper became to them an unholy occupation. But the Lord by His apostle recalled their hearts to Himself in words of instruction, of warning, and of rebuke.
From these verses we learn an important truth. The apostle Paul had received special revelation with regard to the Lord's Supper. He says, "I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you." We know that the apostle Paul was not one of those who saw Christ in the flesh, but he saw Him in the glory. The Lord in heaven communicated direct with the apostle of the uncircumcision. He had special work for Paul to do, and He gave him special instructions concerning the gospel of God and the assembly of God. This memorial service could have been made known to him through the twelve, who were apostles before him, but it was so ordered that full instructions with regard to the Lord's Supper should be communicated personally to the apostle Paul by the Lord Himself. Does not this fact strike you as strongly emphasizing the importance of the Lord's Supper as a Christian institution for believing Jews and believing Gentiles alike?
We saw last week the beautiful and affecting picture of the Lord Jesus in the upper room, dispensing the bread and the wine to His disciples, and giving to them both a significance they never had before. We also recalled the solemn associations of the institution of that Supper, what was proceeding at the table itself, and what was immediately before the Lord, and by these circumstances our hearts were directed to its spiritual beauty and instructive value. We now learn something fresh. Not the Lord at the table, but the Lord on the throne communicated to the apostle Paul the details with regard to the breaking of bread. The Lord in His glory thought it needful to speak directly to Paul and to reveal to him His mind with reference to the Supper. Was not the Supper of the highest importance to the members of His body, seeing the Lord made it the subject of a special revelation to Paul, the apostle of His assembly? The Supper is indeed of the first importance in the assemblies of the saints. May the Lord continually teach our hearts to feel its value and importance in an increasing degree.
The apostle said, in effect, to those men at Corinth who needed to be rebuked, 'What are you doing? I cannot praise you in this. You have altogether strayed from the real meaning of the Lord's Supper, and have eaten and drunk unworthily. Do you know that I received it from the Lord Himself? It was not my own ordinance. I did not even receive it from Peter, James and John. I received it direct from the Lord. What I received from Him I delivered to you. It has therefore the utmost claim upon you. Do not think it is anything which can be undertaken lightly. It is deeply solemn, it is intensely holy, and the Lord Himself has desired that you should eat His Supper with your whole hearts.' The apostle spoke always by the Holy Ghost, of course; but here he says, 'I am speaking to you not merely as an apostle. I am communicating to you that which I received from the Lord Himself.' Always remember, too, that this Epistle to the Corinthians was not only written to the saints at Corinth, but to all calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus everywhere (1 Cor. 1:2). As Gentiles we come within the scope of this communication made to and by the apostle of the Gentiles. The Lord's Supper comes to us, therefore, from the Lord Himself through the apostle Paul.
The Night of the Betrayal
"The Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed." Have you ever at the Lord's Table pondered upon this expression? — "the same night in which He was betrayed." Why is the fact brought into this passage? The betrayal is mentioned, I think, so that saints may recollect that the Lord's Supper is to be observed, not in heaven, but on earth. Its institution in the upper room was in an atmosphere of treachery. The betrayal of the Lord by Judas was a fruit of sin. And it is not to be forgotten that on that night Satan entered into the heart of an apostle (John 13:27). In heaven, where Christ is and where we shall be with Him, there will be nothing of sin, nothing of self hence nothing will then be necessary to recall our wandering hearts. But here upon the earth, even at the Lord's Supper, there is the possibility of the unwanted presence of that which is not of God, but of self and of sin. It is painfully true that nowhere here below can we escape from the evil of our own natural heart and the natural hearts of others. We must take heed, therefore, lest we fall.
"On that night in which He was betrayed, He took bread." These people at Corinth were exposed to the danger of doing, not to the same degree, but to the same kind of disloyalty to Christ that, in its full development, led Judas to betray his Master. We must not execrate Judas and forget our own liability. The Lord did not speak harshly to him. His deed of shame is recorded in holy writ for our warning, not, however, that we should gaze upon Judas, but rather upon the Lord, and think what sorrow it was to Him to say to His apostles, "One of you shall betray Me." The Lord Jesus cared for Judas, and yet Judas betrayed Him. Recall what He has done for you, for me. Is it possible that I can forget Him even in the solemn moment appointed for the remembrance of Him? that I may be engaged unworthily even at such a time as that? that my eyes may be drawn away from Him to consider others, and that I might even think evil thoughts on such a sacred occasion as His Supper? What would it be to the Lord's heart if I should forget Him when I am together with others to remember Him in the breaking of bread?
Beloved friends, it magnifies in our eyes the Christ we adore and serve that in the night in which He was betrayed He took means to awaken the weak and forgetful hearts of His own lest they should wander farther and farther from Himself, and from the remembrance of His coming cross and passion, and so He established this Supper of bread and wine.
Not that Judas was present at the Lord's Supper. We learn from the scriptures that the Supper, the Lord's Supper, was instituted after the passover, "when He had supped" (verse 25). But Judas went out directly he received the sop from the Lord. The Lord gave him the sop, and said, "That thou doest, do quickly" (John 13:26-30). After the exit of the traitor this ordinance of remembrance was founded. Can you think of the Lord requiring Judas to do this "in remembrance of Me"? No, it is true, not treacherous, hearts He wants. He wants your worship, your fellowship in His sufferings. "Could ye not watch with Me one hour?" the Lord said to Peter in Gethsemane. Shall it be that we become tired of being together to think of Him, and when there is silence and opportunity for deep meditation upon the holy theme of the Lord's Supper, we fretfully wish someone would speak, or sing, or pray? Let the Lord's word come home again to you: "Could ye not watch with ME one hour?"
"This is My Body"
"The same night in which He was betrayed, He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat, this is My body, which is [broken] for you. This do in remembrance of Me."
I love that sentence, "This is My body." I know that the words have been misinterpreted and abused to induce men and women to indulge in idolatrous practices. It is not implied that in the Supper the bread becomes the body of Christ. The bread remains bread continually. The Lord said, "This is My body." What then did He mean? He was referring to Himself, and referring to Himself, as it seems to me, in all His absolute perfection and completeness as the Holy Son of God. "This is My body," wholly, completely and unreservedly given up in sacrifice to God for them and us. "This is MY body" think of Him, the blessed Lord, the Holy Christ Who was here in the days of His flesh, perfect man and perfect God, walking through this evil world filled with all the perfection it was possible for man to have and to exhibit. The Lord came at last to the cross, to the altar of sacrifice, and laid Himself completely upon the altar, offering up Himself, His body, soul and spirit, in sacrifice to God. He held nothing back from Him. He was the complete burnt-offering, ever acceptable and fragrant to Jehovah.
We know that our own natural tendency is to hold something back from the Master. It is a great day when through the grace of God a man comes to the point that he is able and is willing with his whole soul to give himself up to the Lord, as we are all enjoined to do in Romans 12, rendering spirit, soul, and body to the Lord for His service and praise. People talk about consecration as a great event, and so it is, but in point of fact we are consecrated from the beginning of our spiritual history. We are the Lord's by purchase and by sanctification. We belong entirely to Him, every part of us. But often there is the disposition, like that of Ananias and Sapphira, to keep something in reserve for ourselves, or to do something or other just in our own way instead of the Lord's. For instance, we may give the Lord one day in the week, and perhaps use the other six mainly for our own pleasure and purposes. How seldom is our offering "without spot or blemish"!
"This is My body, which is for you" (R.V.). The Lord has in this great renunciation set us an example. He has given everything for us. What have we given for Him? What have we done in return? When we look upon the cross, we remember that His body was there offered as a sacrifice for sins, for my sins, for your sins, for the assembly. We have here a wonderful word of our Lord, beloved friends: "This is My body," and My body is for you! God had prepared that body for Him. It was a holy thing born into this world, never tainted with sin; and the Lord from first to last kept Himself pure and unspotted from evil; and when He came to the end of His ministry, He said to His own, "This is My body. I have kept it so that it might be sacrificed to God for you. I am about to lay down My life. No man can take My life from Me. In obedience to My Father, I give it up of Myself for you."
If such self-abnegation does not speak to a man's heart, what will? If this perfect sacrifice does not call out praise and worship from the redeemed, what will? We shall not learn any greater wonder than this in heaven. More fully, no doubt, we shall then know it, but here and now we begin to learn the great lesson. We do so especially at the Lord's table. There the Lord tells us afresh what He did for us at the cross. There are, perhaps, some present, who have been several hundreds of times to the Lord's table. If I were to appeal to any of them for their experience, I think they would say that every time they have learned something fresh, something they had not known before quite in the same way. Some truth has come before them with greater vividness than ever before. The Lord's Supper is always fresh and new and beautiful and joyous to those who realize that the Lord's words were addressed to them personally, "This is My body; it is for you. This do in remembrance of Me."
The Cup and the Covenant
"After the same manner, also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new covenant in My blood." In these words the Lord brings before us the important truth that He offered Himself, and by His blood made an atonement for our sins. Moreover, the cup is the new covenant in His blood. A "cup" is a frequent scriptural figure, the cup referring to what is in the cup. "This cup," that is, the wine, "is the new covenant in My blood." The Lord specially refers to the new covenant, promised of old through Jeremiah, which God will make with His repentant earthly people, when their sins will be done away, and Jehovah will write His laws in their hearts (Jer. 31:31-34). The foundation blessings of that future covenant with Israel are ours now through the blood of Christ.
"This cup is the new covenant in My blood." From these words we learn that the blood of Christ is the only ground upon which we can be at the Lord's table at all. The Lord in the midst is in such words speaking to us, and we enjoy the communion of His presence. He is telling us secret things about Himself and His sufferings, which are hidden from the world. Why is it that we can be in such sacred nearness without fear and dread? Why is it we are not ashamed of ourselves, and our eyes filled with tears because of our sins? The answer lies in the words, "This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the remission of your sins, that you might be with Me at My table, a blood-washed company, a part of that great ransomed throng that will remember My death and sound My praise through all eternity." Thus the deepest realities lying beneath the foundation of our spiritual lives are brought before us in this wonderful Supper.
For a Remembrance
"This cup is the new testament in My blood. This do in remembrance of Me." The apostle reproaches the Corinthians afresh by repeating the Lord's call to remembrance. They had observed the appointed ceremony, but had forgotten Him. They shared the bread and the wine, but the Lord Himself was not before them. They thought only of themselves and of their "own supper," and consequently, they did not eat the Lord's Supper, conscious that the Lord was in their midst while they were doing so.
This serious fault is one to which we also are liable. You may think I am reiterating this warning unnecessarily about the danger of mere formality at the Table of the Lord. But if you honestly consider your own experience, you must admit its necessity for yourself, if not for others. We do require to be reminded of our weakness. The Lord said to His sleeping disciples in Gethsemane, "Watch and pray . . . the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
Besides, let us remember also that there is an evil personage who tempts us to ignore this danger. Remember that Satan was at the passover supper, and that there he entered into the heart of Judas. And in our case Satan seeks always to distract our hearts and take away our thoughts from the real object of our assembling, that is, the remembrance of the Lord in His death. The death of Christ was the defeat, as it will be the ultimate destruction, of Satan. At Calvary he made his most stupendous effort against the One Who came to destroy him and his works. The Lord said, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me" (John 14:30). Satan failed then. Now he seeks to draw the hearts of the faithful away from the Lord Jesus, particularly the unwary at the Lord's Supper. Oh, beloved friends, we shall do well to admit this weakness, and to remember how easily we are tripped up if we are not watching and praying, as our Lord enjoined.
And now, we come to the latter part of this Scripture. We eat this bread and drink this cup, and thereby "show the Lord's death till He come." From the time of His betrayal until the time of His coming again, the observance of the Lord's Supper is to be maintained as a silent but eloquent testimony to the whole world that our Lord has died, but is alive, and will return.
Then the apostle proceeded to speak a special word of admonition and reproof to the Corinthians who had so misbehaved themselves at the Lord's Supper. "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. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup." Now we ought to recollect that these words of the apostle have a direct reference to the manner in which the Corinthians had been eating the Lord's Supper. I say this because of the common mistake that the apostle is speaking of the worthiness or otherwise of the persons at Corinth to eat the Lord's Supper. But personal worthiness is not the question. If eating depended upon personal worthiness, where would worthy ones be found? There are none worthy, no, not one. The very fact of the Lord by this memorial directing attention to His body and His blood given for us shows that we are not worthy. We are only worthy in the sense that He has taken us in our degraded condition, and cleansed us from our sins by His precious blood, and thereby fitted us to be a kingdom of priests to God and His Father (Rev. 1:5, 6). In this manner the Lord has given us peace of conscience, and also by His own invitation has given us the right to partake of the supper. But this right is entirely the result of what He has done, and not of our own personal fitness or worthiness.
It is clear then that the apostle is not speaking here of individual worthiness at all. He is alluding to the manner in which these saints had conducted themselves when they were together. They had acted with reprehensible carelessness before the Lord and at His Supper. They ignored what the bread signified and what the wine signified. They forgot the solemn realities that were expressed by the emblems, and they partook of them as common food with no spiritual significance. They missed therefore, the whole purport of the Lord's Supper as a memorial of the Lord's death. This was a serious lapse, as you will see, if you think of their conduct in the light of the solemn verses which we considered just now.
Take yourself to task in this respect. Ask yourself when you come to the Lord's Supper "What am I here for?" Because someone else comes? Because it is customary to attend? Is this or something like it, your reason? Such are all very poor and insufficient reasons for a lover of the Lord. The real cause of our assembling is that the Lord has invited us to do so, and that He is present at any gathering, and that in the bread and the wine He by the Spirit brings to our view His body which was given for us, and His blood which was shed for us. Having this purpose before us, we discern the Lord's body (ver. 29). It is not that we believe that the bread becomes the body of the Lord, or the wine His blood; such is the wicked opinion of deluded masses in Christendom. Nevertheless, the Lord's own word comes to us even as we are participating. We hear Him speak, and the eyes of faith behold Him, and we are occupied with Him and He is talking to us of His decease, which He accomplished in His body at Jerusalem. This is our spiritual, but real, experience.
Preparation for the Lord's Supper
Do not let these warning words of the apostle keep anyone away from the Lord's Supper. It is an occasion for you to fulfil His desire, but also to think while you are fulfilling it, of what you are doing. Do not be light about your attendance at the breaking of bread. Let it be a serious matter. "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat." Let him be careful of his thoughts and acts. Do you not think there is great need on the Lord's day to be thinking beforehand of the Lord's Supper? I am not referring to that very unwise and improper practice of looking out some scripture to read aloud on the occasion, or some hymn to be sung. This is feeble and wrong, and tends to quench the working of the Holy Spirit in the assembly.
What is the proper way to prepare for the Lord's Supper? What is the theme that will then be specially before us? The Lord's death. Who is there that fully understands what the Lord's death signifies? No person knows anything of its spiritual import apart from the revelation of Scripture. The proper preparation for the Lord's Supper is to store our minds with some of those numerous passages of Holy Writ relating to that subject, so that we may have right and holy thoughts about the sacrifice and death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Saturate your mind with the very words of the Holy Ghost in reference to that death. Never give yourself up to your own thoughts and ideas on that sacred subject. The person who thinks his own thoughts about the death of Christ is sure to end in error and delusion. The one who most rightly appreciates the death of Christ is the one most subject to the word of God, and who will not trust himself to express views about that death in terms other than scriptural.
Throughout the Scripture, both the Old Testament and the New, we find the great theme of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ recurring, and presented to us in diverse ways. The prayerful study of such passages prepares our hearts so that when we are together our meditations are kept in accord with God's revealed truth about His beloved Son. Let us therefore examine ourselves with regard to this practice, and so let us eat the bread and drink the cup in the felt presence of the Lord Who died. We are kept by the word of truth; and we may know that the Spirit of God is assuredly directing our thoughts when in the assembly He brings before us His own words about the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
One Loaf, One Cup
We also read one or two verses from the tenth chapter of this Epistle (1 Cor. 10:16, 17). They refer to the bread and the cup in their symbolism of unity. We see that the loaf sets forth not only the body of Christ that was given for us, but also that it is a figure of that spiritual body which has been framed by the Spirit in this world. By Him all believers are baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). This truth of spiritual oneness is set before us in the unbroken loaf. We, being many members, are one body in Christ. This aspect of the loaf and the cup is subsidiary to the central feature of remembrance in the Supper. It is, however, touched upon in this chapter, and we ought not to overlook it, because in partaking of the bread and the cup, we share the one observance in which all believers everywhere are entitled to unite. It is an act of communion, and an exhibition of the fellowship of the body of Christ. And in that form of communion the most spiritually minded of the members of the body of Christ are to be found. What is the state of the believer who does not rejoice in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ? It is the foundation of every blessing for all the saints.
The one loaf speaks of the invisible unity of the mystical body of Christ, and it is important to observe that there is neither plurality nor division expressed in the appointed emblems. The one body is neither multiplied nor divided. There is one cup and one loaf, both showing that imperishable unity which remains true of the body of Christ in spite of the undeniable disunion exhibited in the professing church. These to faith are silent witnesses of the abiding efficacy of the blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But do not let us overlook the main object of these Scriptures we have been considering, friends. Do not let us forget the teaching of the Holy Ghost as to the Lord's Supper. The Spirit Himself is present on such occasions to weld our hearts together in a holy unity of spiritual worship and joy, and in the power of a holy recollection of the death — the sufferings and death — of our blessed Lord and Master. We need to have this theme brought over and over again before our spirits to fill our hearts and lips again and again with silent devotion and audible praise. Why is it we are often slow to praise? Because we are slow to realize in any measure the value of His death in God's sight. It is the sense of what He has done for the glory of God that centres our affections upon Himself. Depend upon it, it is worth our while to be together in this prescribed manner for united heart-worship of our Lord Jesus Christ.
One has sometimes heard the painful remark by believers that it seems a waste of time to come together only for the Supper. They think the time could be made more profitable by teaching and exhortation. They say the hour passes, and nothing is forthcoming to feed the new man! But what a low view to take, what an altogether misshapen conception of the Supper of our blessed Lord! What can be better than to listen to Him and to hear the whisperings of His love in our hearts? Do we not on such occasions give our hearts over to Him to do with them what He pleases? If so, a human voice, so far from being essential, may even obliterate the heavenly voice of our Master. The voice of the Lord's apostle, Paul, kept quiet at Troas until the bread was broken in remembrance of his Master. Ministry has its needful and appointed service, but is secondary in importance to divine worship.
Therefore, let us strive to see more and more in the simple observance of the Lord's Supper, and always to maintain a sense of His presence with us in it and of His voice speaking to us concerning His sufferings and death.
A Hymn When Gathered
Gathered to Thy name, Lord Jesus,
Gathered here with one accord,
Thine own self we own among us,
Faithful to Thy promised word;
May our eyes on Thee, blest Saviour,
Rest with one unceasing gaze,
And our hearts, with Thee enraptured,
Overflow with songs of praise.
As we wait in Thine own presence,
Brought by Thee to God so nigh,
As we solemnly remember,
Thou for us didst deign to die;
May our souls bow down before Thee
Who didst bear our every sin,
And in hallowed sweet communion
Here below Thy praise begin.