The Lord's Supper (1)

It is the first day of the week, THE LORD'S DAY, and my heart and mind have been concentrated on THE LORD'S SUPPER. The Day and the Supper are bound together in the New Testament, by one word that is used to describe them both. Kuriakos, the "Lord's" means belonging to the Lord": the day belongs to the Lord (Rev. 1:10), and the Supper belongs to the Lord (1 Cor. 11:20), but those who have the Lord as their Saviour are called by the grace of God to have their part in both and specially to understand the meaning and importance of the Supper. We greet the Lord's Day with gladness, but it is specially dear to us because on it we can have part in the Lord's Supper. Let us consider it.

It is in 1 Corinthians 11:23-34 that the most definite instructions as to it are given, and the opening words are arresting.

"I HAVE RECEIVED OF THE LORD," wrote the Apostle.

The word has come from the Lord, and from the Lord in glory. It is more than a wish expressed, more than an entreaty, though both are surely in it; it is a command, the command of our royal Lord, who is also our supreme Lover. It were almost treason to ignore it, and to treat it with any sort of indifference would evince an insensitive and backslidden state of soul. Let us realize the importance of this declaration. Paul was not there when the Supper was instituted, but he had not been dependent on Peter or John for his knowledge of it. The Lord Himself had communicated to him what he knew about it, that he might deliver it to the churches among the Gentiles. If the Gospel accounts of it were all that had been preserved to us, we might have said, "It was instituted for the disciples who companied with the Lord, and not for us," but this 1 Corinthians 11 shows what the Lord's thoughts are towards us. He would not be forgotten; He remembers those hours of darkness and the great sacrifice, and His desire is that those whom He loved enough to give Himself for them should remember Him as He passed through them, and in this way have fellowship with Him in His death.

The Lord's Supper is the one feast of the Assembly of God, and it stamps upon that Assembly a wonderful character. By the Assembly I mean that great company of men and women that has been called out of the world by the gospel for Christ — His ekklesia — His called out ones — The Supper marks it out as being in complete contrast to the world.

It is truly an inexhaustible theme and that chiefly because it presents our Lord to us in the fidelity and invincibility of His love. The occasion of its institution emphasizes this. It was on . . .

THE SAME NIGHT IN WHICH HE WAS BETRAYED

This is surely arresting, and we must pause and consider why the Supper is identified with this blackest of all black nights. Had Paul been left to his own wisdom to give an account of the institution of the Supper he would most probably have connected it, as we should have done, with the crucifixion. He would have said, "It was on the night before the crucifixion that the Lord took bread." For the natural thing is to associate events with what is greatest in our thoughts. But that was not the way in which he received it from the Lord, nor was he so inspired by the Holy Ghost to write it. It was on the night of the betrayal. The betrayal is the background that throws into bright relief the love that moved the Lord to give to us the Supper that we might have it until He comes as a memorial of His death. The betrayal was very definitely in the Lord's thoughts; how keenly He felt it we must surely feel, as reverently we consider Him in that solemn hour. "One of you shall betray Me," He said to them (Matt. 26:21). "One of that eateth with Me shall betray Me" (Mark 14:18). Then in Luke 22:21, after they had partaken of the Supper, His words are recorded, "The hand of him that betrayeth Me is with Me at the table." And here in 1 Corinthians 11, though now in the glory of God, the Lord does not forget this; it was on "the same night in which He was betrayed" that He took bread and gave thanks. There was base treachery in the inner circle, and this caused Him the deepest pain. Jerusalem He loved, but it had never professed to love Him. It had always despised Him, proudly asking, "Who is this?" When His love took Him to it to spend laborious days in the midst of it, it offered Him no welcome, no rest, no home. It left Him friendless on its streets, with no place to lay His head unless He sought it on the Mount of Olives. He felt this, and only His touching lament over it and His tears can tell us how keenly He felt it. But in this inner circle He surely could find consolation and rest! These disciples of His, the "you" whom He loved with a special love, they surely would be faithful to Him; for one and all of them had protested oft and again their love to Him! No, He cannot rest even here, for having gathered them together He says, "ONE OF YOU shall betray Me." Treachery within was a hundred fold worse than hatred without, and this treachery was well calculated to discourage and destroy a less than perfect love. But He rose up above it all and in connection with it He instituted the Supper which was to be to all His own as long as ever they needed it, a memorial of His love that no failure on their part could change or destroy.

I am sure that none who are truly and vitally the Lord's could do what Judas did; he was a child of the devil, and the devil was in him; nevertheless he was in that circle, he was one of the "you," and he had received the same tender consideration at the Lord's hands that had been shown to them all. He had been in that best of all company, and had had the best of training and circumstances, but this only brought out the worst that was in him, and proved that the flesh is incorrigibly bad. And the flesh in Judas was no worse than the flesh in Peter and John, and in you and me, and the lesson that his treachery should teach us is that we can have no confidence in the flesh. Then in what and whom may we place our confidence? In instituting the Supper the Lord replies, "You may trust in Me." For the Supper tells us of love that nothing could daunt, an invincible love that was stronger than death.

"What love with His can vie?" "One of you shall betray Me," said the Lord, and "the disciple whom Jesus loved" seemed to enter into the full meaning of it all, for he put down his head upon Jesus' bosom. It was as though he said, "Lord, I cannot trust my heart, nor depend upon my love to You, but I can trust Your heart and I can find perfect rest in the love that beats in your bosom for me." And it was that disciple that stood by the cross; not Peter who boasted in his love to the Lord, who said in effect, "Lord, you may trust me, I'll stand true to You. You may put your head on my breast, I will not fail you," not Peter, but John, who distrusted himself, but leaned wholly upon his Lord; he it was, and he only of all the disciples, that stood by the cross. The Supper invites us, and encourages us to act as be acted, so that we also may call ourselves "the disciples whom Jesus loves." What a resting place is His bosom! What solace and joy His love yields! and that it might be ever fresh before us the Supper has been given to us; and that we might clearly see that; it is not a love dependent upon our faithfulness it was instituted on the night of the betrayal — the same night.

That then is the setting; see now how He acts in it.

HE GAVE THANKS UNTO GOD

Behold Him in the midst of those disciples, with the bread in His hands which was to be to them the symbol of His body given in death for them, lifting heart and voice in thanksgiving to God, His Father. He gave thanks as their Leader and Head; they were those whom He would call "My brethren" when He had overthrown the power of death; they were to be the beginning, the nucleus, of that Assembly in which He would raise a perpetual song unto His Father, and theirs. So now in the midst of them He gives thanks, and the thanks must have been for His death and the great results of it. He looked beyond the cross and beyond the tomb, and measured the favour, immeasurable to all but Himself, in which His Assembly would stand with Him before the Father as a result of His one offering; and with this in full view He gave thanks. That act stamped upon the Assembly its first distinctive feature, it is a thanksgiving company and the Lord's Supper is an eucharistic feast — a feast of thanksgiving. In this the Assembly of God — that which God has called out of the world — stands in complete contrast to the world. The world does not and will not give thanks; "neither were thankful," is one of the charges that God brings against the heathen world in Romans 1:21, and it is not the least item in the heavy indictment drawn up against a pleasure-loving, God-forgetting Christendom in 2 Timothy 3:2. But the saints of God can and do give thanks; from their hearts they can cry with exultation. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

It should cause us much exercise that we give thanks so feebly, and that often murmurings and repinings take the place of praise. We are not living up to our character and privileges when this is the case, and the reason of it is that we have lost the sense of the favour in which we stand, or have never known it. Nothing is more calculated to restore to us a sense of this favour, or teach us what it is, than the Lord's Supper, the feast of thanksgiving. For in the death of our Lord the heart of God was fully declared. His love flowed out there towards us without any reserve, and that when we were both dead and guilty, as we read in 1 John 4:9-10, "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son, to be the propitiation for our sins." Since our sins are removed, and our souls quickened into life, what can we do but adore and thank Him Who is the source of it?

Our thanksgiving is commensurate with the sense of God's favour in our souls; the more fully we enter into this the fuller our thanksgiving will be. It is feeble at the best, yet it is to me a most cheering and comforting thought that a perfect thanksgiving has entered the Father's ear; for when the Lord gave thanks He did so as fully knowing the favour in which His own would stand with Him. That perfect thanksgiving abides, and I delight to think that when the saints of God come together they do so in all the fragrance of it.

HE BRAKE THE BREAD

Having given thanks, thus giving God the first place, He brake the bread and gave it to His disciples, saying, "This is My body given for you; this do in remembrance of Me." Mark the words, My BODY for YOU. This was that His own personal love to them might be kept continually before them and before us all; and in partaking of this broken bread the Assembly responds to that love and shows its devotion to Him. I speak of it when it is done, not as a matter of form but with hearts moved by His love to grateful adoration. In this again the Assembly stands out in contrast to the world; it is a company devoted to Christ whom the world despised and slew. His body was given for us. The cup also He gave to them, for the two elements complete the symbol of the Lord's death — His body given, and His blood shed. His love led Him to sacrifice Himself on our behalf; it is upon this that we dwell, and dwelling upon it our souls are bound the closer to Him. "This do," He says, "in remembrance of Me." "When on the cross I thought of you, now gathered in My Assembly, think of Me." And when we do this, when we eat of that bread and drink of that cup, we say — "Lord, we do not forget." Here then is His love, and here is our response to it.

YE DO SHOW THE LORD'S DEATH

There are two sides to this breaking the bread and drinking the cup, to this memorial feast. First it is for the Lord's joy; we remember Him; it is love responding to love; but in doing this we show to all who can take notice where we stand; we show that we are identified in the world with His death.

I know of no better illustration of it than that of Joseph of Arimathaea The Lord hung dead upon the cross; all the world had followed its princes in crucifying Him; He was utterly rejected and as far as men could tell hopelessly defeated; then stepped forth Joseph and identified himself with that dead and dishonoured body. It was as though he said, "The world hates Him, but I love Him; the world has slain Him, but I claim His body even though the world meets out the same treatment to me." So we, when we partake of that broken bread, identify ourselves with the dead body of Christ. As far as the world knows and cares He is still dead; the world's last act against Him was to rend His side, and it has not seen Him since. We know that He lives in resurrection life and power; the Word of God tells us this and the Holy Spirit who dwells in us is a witness to it, but we recall Him as He was and identify ourselves with His death. We announce to angels and men that we hold to the One who was crucified by the world.

I have read somewhere that after James II was driven from the British throne, his secret adherents, when at state banquets the king's health was drunk, used to draw their glasses across the finger bowls, meaning by that act, "We drink to the king across the water." What they did by stealth we do openly. We drink to the King across the water — to Christ, our earth-rejected Lord. We show His death and by our action say, "God forbid that we should glory save in the cross of our Lord crucified to us, and we to the world," and though men are indifferent to this, angels look on, and learn that Christ has not died in vain.

TILL HE COME

We link His death with His coming again, and that coming is our hope and joy. We look backward and forward; the glory must follow the suffering, the crown must follow the cross, and between the two we hold the fort for Him. And here again the Assembly stands out in contrast to the world; to us His coming again is "that blessed hope," the Assembly is a community awaiting the return of the absent Lord, the heavenly Bridegroom; the world will wail because of Him, when He appears. His coming will be the climax and consummation of all our joys; it will bring to naught all the schemes and pretension of the world that will not have Him.

Here then are some of the distinctive features of the Assembly of God that plainly prove that it is not of the world but of God. It gives thanks to the Father. It is devoted to Christ. Its great hope is the coming again of the Lord Jesus.

We have considered what the effect of the Lord's Supper upon us should be in regard to the Father, to the Lord personally, and to the world; it has a special bearing also for each one of us in regard to the whole body of Christ, and this we must not overlook. It means the joy and blessedness of holy Christian fellowship, but it also involves us in solemn responsibilities.

"THE CUP . . . WHICH WE BLESS . . . THE BREAD WHICH WE BREAK" (1 Cor. 10:16-17)

It is a matter of COMMUNION together, and in this we see the difference between baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptism is an individual matter and done once and for all. This comes out clearly in the request of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 10:36: "See here is water; what doth hinder ME to be baptised?" It was his individual identification with the death of Christ. But in the Lord's Supper it is the cup which WE bless and the bread which WE break. It is not the bread which he breaks, as though a man could do it on his own responsibility, and no one else be involved or affected by it. Not did Paul write, "The bread which YOU at Corinth break," as though each Assembly did it independently of every other Assembly. Paul included himself in it, though he was far away from Corinth, and he included in it all the saints of God on earth. "For WE being many are one bread, one body, for WE ARE ALL partakers of that one bread." The Lord's Supper is the communion of the one body of Christ.

In Pentecostal days the believers broke bread from house to house; probably whenever and wherever they met together they had the Supper, and the simplicity and blessedness of it must have been very real, but we are sure that it would be done in the unity and fellowship into which the gospel that the Apostles preached had brought them. But when the truth of the one Assembly had come out fully through the ministry of Paul, the Lord's Supper is seen in its special place in regard to it. It became a great expression of the unity of the body of Christ, into which all believers had been baptised by the Holy Ghost. We can see the fullness of the saints coming together in one place to partake of it, and if this was impossible from the exigencies of distance, they would still gather where they were and partake of it as being of the one body of Christ on earth. For though ten thousand companies are gathered together in different parts of the land, it remains true, that "we being many are one bread, one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread."

This carries with it a great responsibility but a blessed one; not a slavish subjection to hard "ecclesiastical" prohibitions and restrictions, to rules and regulations, but a tender care for every member of that one body; "that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another" (chap. 12:25). This, I believe, is involved in the Apostle's words, "Wherefore brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another" (chap. 11:33), which most surely means more than wait until all are assembled; it denotes the spirit of patience, consideration and compassion, that those who are bound together by such a bond should display to each other as they gather together in the fellowship of the Lord's death. His death has obliterated all fleshly distinctions; it has abolished the enmity that existed between Jew and Gentile, and is a sufficient solution for every other enmity; it is the basis of all fellowship which is according to God, and without it the body of Christ would have had no existence. Well ought we to bless the cup and break the bread.

I know that it is in the 12th chapter of Corinthians and not in the 10th that the vital unity of the body by the baptism of the Holy Ghost, is spoken of, and that in the 10th it is, we "are one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread," but it is the same body from another point of view. Here we are one body, for we have all eaten of that one bread, we have eaten of the body of Christ, we have partaken of the Lord's table and we have drunk the cup of the Lord. By eating of His body we stand identified with the Lord, who has supreme rights over us by His death, and by drinking His cup we pledge ourselves to Him. It is His death that binds us together here. We may have divergent views as to other things, as Philippians 3:15 suggests, for all have not attained to the same knowledge, but there can be no divergent views as to the death of the Lord; every Christian gratefully owns that to it he owes his very existence as a Christian; here he meets his brethren on one common ground, where to maintain distinctions would appear to be something very much akin to treachery to the One who died to gather together in one the children of God, and who by His death is Lord of all that He gathers. A responsibility flows out of this side of the truth also; we cannot hold faithfully to Him and at the same time throw in our lot with Judaism, idolatry, or anything else outside of which His death has placed us, or that is a challenge to His Lordship. To do that would be to flout His claims over us and to provoke Him to jealousy (chap. 10:22).

"GUILTY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF THE LORD."

The question often arises as to what it is to "eat and drink unworthily," and to be "guilty of the body and blood of the Lord," and what "discerning the Lord's body" means. For answer we must consider again the bread and the cup of the Supper. The bread and the cup have been compared to a portrait of a man's mother, and a good comparison it is. I might point to a portrait and say, "That is my mother." To someone else it may be only an indifferent painting, or mere canvas and paint. But to me as I look at it, my mother fills my thoughts. I remember her gentleness, her patience, her self-denying love. So it is with the bread and the cup. The Lord said, "This is My body given for you. This is My blood which is shed for you." And if our hearts are right He fills our thoughts as we partake of them; we look beyond the emblems and remember Him in the greatness of His love that led Him into death for us. The bread and the wine are only bread and wine, but they are to us, to use our illustration, His portrait, telling us powerfully as we partake of them of the price that He paid to make us His own. Many artists have attempted to portray Him; they had done so according to their own imaginations. We do not need these portraits, they are not Him, but this is Himself, the bread and the cup tell us of Him in death for us, and His death has revealed all His love to our wondering hearts.

Suppose someone threw dirt at my mother's picture, or treated it with disdain, he would be guilty in my eyes, not of disrespect to a mere painting, but to my mother, and I should greatly resent it. Now some in the church at Corinth were doing what was analogous to that; they were treating the Lord's Supper as a common meal, or worse. They did not recognise its sacred character, sacred for two reasons, because of what it represented, and because the Lord Himself instituted it for a remembrance of Himself in death. They were each gratifying his own appetite and behaving in a way that would have disgraced their own houses, as this chapter shows, and by their conduct they were guilty of gross disrespect in regard to the body and blood of the Lord, in which He is set before us in the most moving way in which we can think of Him, even as dead for us.

We cannot imagine such conduct as theirs taking place now, for the Lord's Supper is eaten now in an orderly way and with more or less reverence. God grant that it may be with more reverence and greater reality. But has the passage no application to us? We believe it has. If a man who partook of the Supper were going on in an unjudged sinful course, indifferent to the fact that the Lord died for the very sins he is committing with such lightness, it would show that he was insensible to the reason of that death, that he cared little for its deep meaning, that the bread and wine were to him like the canvas and paint of the portrait. It would show that he did not discern the Lord's body, that he did not see in the death of the Lord the judgment of the evil that he was committing, or the love that led the Lord to bear that judgment; though by eating the Supper he professed to see both. Such a one would be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, and would have no need to be surprised if he were judged of the Lord for his indifference to what is due to the Lord.

But mark verse 28 of our chapter. He is not told to cease to eat the Supper, which would mean that he chose to go on with the sin and abandon that which speaks of the judgment of it, but that he should judge himself, that he should discern the evil of his ways and turn from them with repentance and go on with the Supper, and so cleave to the One who died to put away his sin.