The Lord's Supper (3)

Notes of an Address on 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

The Lord's Supper, which is the one feast of the assembly of God, stamps upon that assembly a wonderful character, and marks it out as being in complete contrast to the world while still in it. If we have learnt in any measure the meaning of it we are greatly favoured of God; if we have not learnt its meaning we do not understand the blessedness and character of the assembly at all. We cannot consider it too often; it is an inexhaustible theme, and that 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 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." 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 for us. 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 you 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 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, or rest, or 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 and 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" to whom He loved to speak, 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 all 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 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. 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 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 carried Him unto death for us.

"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 reclined upon Jesus' bosom. It was as though He said, "Lord, I cannot trust my heart, or 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 the supper invites us, and encourages us to act as he acted, so that we also may call ourselves "the disciple whom Jesus loves." The love of Christ is not measured by our response to it, it does not change as ours changes, but it will continue in all its strength "till He come." 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.

This should give us confidence in gathering together to partake of it, and should teach us that the joy of the feast springs altogether from what He is in the greatness of His love, and that our fitness and title to partake of the feast rests upon the value of His death which we recall in it.

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, lifting heart and voice in thanksgiving to God, His Father, with the bread in His hands which was to be to them the symbol of His body given in death for them. 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 should 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 vivid 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 apostate 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." Hence our sins removed, and our souls quickened into life, what can we do but adore and thank Him Who is the source of it all?

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." It was to keep powerfully before them His own personal love to them, 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. I know of no better illustration of it than that of Joseph of Arimathea. The Lord hung dead upon the cross; all the world had followed its princes in crucifying Him; 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 it metes out the same treatment to me." So we, when we partake of that broken bread, identify ourselves with the dead body of Christ, for as far as the world knows and cares He is still dead; the world's last act against Him was to rend His side. We know that He lives in resurrection life and power; but we recall Him as He was, and identify ourselves with His death.

His body was given for us. 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. 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 "for you;" "in remembrance of Me." Here is His love, here is our response to it.

We Are One Bread And One Body

In partaking of the supper the assembly declares itself to be one body, for all partake of one bread. There is unity in the assembly, and only there. It is a unity of life formed by the Holy Ghost, and by His power it will be maintained until the assembly appears in glory without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. Here also the assembly stands out in contrast to the world. There is no unity in the world, it is characterized by sin and discord and disintegration. One class in it may combine to defend itself against another class, but there is no vital unity, no true cohesion. This can only be found in the assembly, for it is still true that "There is one body and one Spirit." Outwardly we do not see this unity. The flesh and the devil have wrought sad havoc in the ranks of those who are one in Christ; and the cliques and sects and parties, which are our great shame, deny this blessed and indissoluble unity in practice, yet the unity exists in spite of all the outward denial of it, and it is well to dwell on this side and to hold fast to this truth that "we being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread." This is part of that faith once for all delivered to the saints, and we are called upon to earnestly contend for it.

"Till He Come"

We show the Lord's death by eating the bread and drinking the cup "till He come." We announce the fact that He has died in the world and that we hold to Him who has died. It is said that after James II was driven from the British throne, at royal banquets when the toast "The King" was honoured, his secret adherents drew 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 are identified with the death of Christ, and though men may be indifferent, angels behold us in this act of responsive love, and learn that Christ has not died in vain.

We link His death with His coming again and that coming again is our hope and joy. The assembly is a community awaiting the return of the absent Lord, the heavenly Bridegroom. Here again she stands out in contrast to the world, for that which is to her "that blessed hope," is that which will fill the world with alarm; that which will be the consummation of all our hopes will be the overthrow of all its schemes and the blasting of all its ambitions.

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. It is one united body. Its great hope in the coming again of the Lord Jesus.

May these things be seen more definitely and practically by us all for His Name's sake.