The Supper of our Lord

Report of Address given in Edinburgh, on 1 Corinthians 11

I would speak of the great Saviour and that love that led Him down into the depths of death for us; and, in the fear of God, the effect that those sufferings and the thought of them should have upon us. That is why I have turned to this Scripture. I want you first of all to notice how over and over again in these few verses the Lord is spoken of as "THE LORD". This is a very lax day in Christendom and the Lord Jesus is very often spoken of irreverently. You will find people speaking of our Lord simply as "Jesus" and not very reverently either. There is a way in which we may breathe forth that precious Name which will show the deep reverence of our hearts as we do it, but very specially in these days when the Lord is robbed of His glory we do well to maintain it in word and deed. If He is the Lord let us speak of Him as Lord and let all who thus own Him be in subjection to Him, and heed His word and obey Him.

It was from the Lord that the apostle Paul received this communication, from the Lord in His glory; so it comes to us with all authority of His lordship, and we should, everyone of us, be subject to what He says. But there is something more than His authority in it. We learn from it that while He is glorious in His exaltation and power, while He is in the place of authority to command, He has not forgotten us, His heart is full of tenderness, His love is unabated, He still cares wonderfully for what His people upon earth think about Him. He desires to be remembered, He would not be forgotten; and so from the glory He has given this communication of His will for us.

The Night of the Betrayal

See how the Lord communicated this matter to the apostle, and the relation in which He set it to other events. Paul says, "I have received of the Lord that which also I communicated to you, that on the same night in which He was betrayed He took bread." We must see the setting in which the Lord Himself put His Supper. I have no doubt if the apostle Paul had been left to write it according to his own wisdom, be would have connected the institution of the Supper with the crucifixion, for that which would be greatest in his mind would be that with which he would connect every event. But, the Lord did not connect it with the day of the crucifixion but with the night of His betrayal, and we may be sure that there is the most important teaching for us in that. Let us consider the circumstance — the night of the betrayal! Was there ever in the history of man upon earth a darker night than that? We talk about the treachery of Judas; his name stands out as the most execrated amongst all mankind, but consider for a moment the chief priests and the Pharisees; they were the leaders of light and learning in the land. They were the men who gave the people a pattern by which they should live; they took the place of teachers and of men who stood for God; but see their baseness! They were ready to bargain with that poor covetous wretch for the possession of the body of the Lord. I have no doubt they bargained and beat him down until he was prepared to take a slave's price for his Master, and the money changed hands. And if you ask me whose was the greater crime I would say that the leaders of the nation of Israel sinned the more deeply when that foul business took place. Why did they not drive the traitor out from them with contempt? Because they were as bad or worse than he.

Think of our Lord Jesus in that hour, on that very night. He knew what was going on. He knew that the leaders of that nation, so beloved by Him, had the price for His betrayal ready. He knew that one of His disciples had bargained to sell Him for that price, a goodly price, the price of a slave, and there He sat in the midst of His disciples, knowing all this, and His soul was sorely troubled as He said to them, "One of you shall betray Me." Not a poor, blind pagan; not a besotted cut-throat from the slums of the city, nor even those leaders of that apostate nation, Israel, but ONE OF YOU whom I have chosen and gathered round Me, to whom I have been communicating heavenly things, and revealing the Father's Name. "One of you shall betray Me." No tongue can tell how the Lord felt that! keenly felt it; but, feeling it, He took the bread and then and there instituted the Supper. What was the meaning of that? It seems to me it meant this. You may not be able to trust anyone else, but you may trust Me. If treachery springs up in this inner circle, to whom can you look? My love will not fail you. Throughout all the days of the pilgrimage of the church upon earth you may rest in My unchanging love. Amid days of darkness and nights of treachery and betrayal you will find Me always the same. My death for you is the pledge of it, and the Supper will ever keep this fact before you. Surely that was the meaning of the fact that the Supper was instituted on the night of the betrayal. The betrayal is the dark background, the love of the Saviour, an unchanging love, a love that would go even to death, a love that could not bear to be forgotten, is the picture that shines out upon the background.

Thanksgiving to the Father

He took the bread and before He handed that bread to His disciples He lifted up His voice in thanksgiving to His Father. His Father came first. We might well enquire as to what there was in such circumstances as those to give thanks for, but there we see Him perfect in all circumstances and ever delightful to His Father's heart, we see Him with that bread in His hand which was to speak of His body given to judgment for us, giving thanks to His Father. He was there for the Father's pleasure. He was there to show that He loved the Father — as you remember, His own words expressed it, "That the world may know that I love the Father and as He has given Me commandment even so I do. Arise, let us go hence." And so He gave thanks to the Father. What could He give thanks about? Well, it seems to me that He looked beyond the darkness of Calvary and the bitterness of the cup He had to drink, on to the time when He would be able to surround Himself with His ransomed people in cloudless favour that should never be withdrawn. Beyond the storm, beyond the darkness, beyond the judgment He looked and anticipated the day when He would be able to gather such as we are in His own presence, and give thanks to the Father afresh, as He has said, "In the midst of the church will I sing praises to Thee."

When the saints of God gather in assembly this should be the chief thing with them. In the midst of a world of treachery and apostasy the saints should gather together giving thanks to the Father. We may be sure of this, every blessing that has reached us has come from His blessed heart; and whatever has been revealed of love and grace in our Lord Jesus Christ, He has revealed as being the Father's sent One, and so it is right that thanksgiving should ascend to the Father: that we should tread in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we should take character from Him, that we should be a thanksgiving people, and we surely shall be if we realise the favour in which we stand in Christ. I will press this for a moment, if you will allow me. Do we give thanks sufficiently? God's ear hears many discordant sounds from this world. He hears the bitterness of men cursing His holy Name; He hears their blasphemies; He hears some of His children murmuring and repining. Oh strange sounds for the ears of God! His children murmuring and repining instead of giving thanks and singing songs of praise!

Let us consider the Lord Jesus in these circumstances: surrounded by hatred and treachery He lifted His heart and voice to the Father in thanksgiving; and let us say, as we consider Him, "Lord Jesus make us more like Thee." You may be sure of this, one of our greatest privileges, as being left in this world today, in the midst of a state of things of which I have spoken, is to be able to give thanks to the Father, that He should hear from His children thanksgiving and songs of praise, that sweet harmonious notes should rise to Him, sweeter notes than angels can raise. That thanksgiving of our Lord has stamped upon the Christian assembly its true character — it should be a thanksgiving assembly and everyone of us individually should be of those who give thanks. What cause indeed we have for thanksgiving.

The Bread and the Cup

So He gave thanks to the Father and having given thanks He gave the bread to His disciples saying, "Take, eat, this is My body which is given for you." And likewise the cup after supper. The bread and the cup speak to us of Him in death. We know Him as a living, glorified Lord, but He would have our thoughts carried back to the time when He was dead for us. He handed the bread and the cup to His disciples with these words upon His lips, "Remember Me." Think of Me! It is as though He said, Amid the sorrows of Calvary I thought of you. When it is well and blessed with you, think of Me. And when we take the bread and the cup we are really saying to the Lord Jesus, "Lord, we do not forget Thee. We are keeping in mind the fact that Thou wert dead for us." Consider this, ponder over it, the Lord of glory, the Prince of life was dead for us! There came a time in His history upon earth when He hung dead upon the cross of Calvary. Oh, this is indeed wonderful! but this we have to learn: that nothing less than that would avail. By nothing less than that could He deliver us. We do well to dwell on His sufferings, on all that is recorded in the Word for us, but the bread and the cup impress upon us the fact of His actual death. I know we know these things, but I feel it is well we should be reminded of them — Yes, the Lord of glory hung dead upon a cross for us. Why? Well, there are two great reasons. One great reason was that the judgment of death lay upon us. We had no life toward God. If we were to live He must die, so He poured out His soul to death. God is holy. Eternal justice demanded that judgment should be executed and He died to establish God's throne in everlasting rectitude, to clear God's Name, to show forth His holiness, and to deliver us from the judgment that rested upon us. And along with that, that God's love might be known in all its fullness, for when the blood flowed forth from the side of our dead Saviour we see in that blood the extent, the length to which God would go for our salvation and blessing.

But while we keep all that before us, for the Spirit teaches us these things, the great thing when we come to the taking of the bread and the cup is this, that Jesus gave Himself for us and He does not desire to be forgotten. He would have His love to be real to us in our souls, and so it is brought before us continually in the Supper, that we might have Him as the One who died for us before our souls, that there might be towards Him responsive love on our part.

It is in His death that we know Him. His death has shown us what He is. The Lord's Supper has been likened to the portrait of a man's mother. I point to a portrait hanging upon the wall and I say, "That is my mother." Somebody says, "It is only canvas and paint." I say, "That is my mother." When I look at that portrait I recall what she was, her tenderness, her kindness, her care, her continual unchanging love, and I say, "That is my mother." Oh, yes, it is only canvas and paint to you but it speaks powerfully to me, and it brings back to my memory what once was but is now no more. So in the Lord's Supper, the bread and the cup bring back to our memories that which was once but is now no more, Christ in death, for now He lives to die no more. But His love remains in all its strength; He has come back from the dead and death has not changed His love. But, once He was dead upon a malefactor's cross. He suffered for us that we might be brought out of the darkness and from under the power of death, that the yoke of sin might be broken and that we might be brought into all the realisation of God's favour; that we might live for ever and ever beneath the sunshine of the Father's love, and be bound to Jesus, our great Lover, with bonds that can never be dissolved. We shall need no Supper of remembrance when we reach the glory, it is here where our fickle hearts so easily turn to other things, that He says to us, "Forget Me not," and here it is our privilege, the privilege of love to answer, "Lord, we do not forget, and the remembrance causes our hearts to overflow with praise."

Showing the Lord's Death

But now the Holy Spirit's comment reveals another side of the Supper. "As oft as ye eat this bread and drink this cup ye do show the Lord's death till He come." We might, I think, say that in eating the bread and drinking the cup in the presence of the Lord we have a privilege, great privilege, set before us, one of our greatest privileges as Christians; but in showing forth His death we come to our responsibility. There is our privilege and our responsibility. There is what it means to the Lord Jesus Himself, and there is the place in which it sets us in regard to the world. We show forth His death until He comes. We declare our allegiance to Him; we stand by His cross; and declare by our act that we stand there in the presence of men and angels. It seems to me that the most beautiful illustration of this is seen in Joseph of Arimathaea. Our Lord hung dead upon the cross. The leaders of the people had done their worst and were satisfied with their deed. The only voice raised on behalf of the Lord at that time was the dying malefactor's. The world was against Him. In Hebrew, Greek and Latin the accusation had been written and set over His cross. And now, having cried with a loud voice and said, "Father into Thy hands I commend My Spirit", He bowed His head in death, and hung there with pierced side, rejected, cast out by the world. But, see, there is a movement in the multitude and Joseph the Counsellor steps forward and He takes his stand by that cross and by his action he says, "I am on His side, Christ for me, I take my stand here; there is but His dead body but that dead body I claim," He identified himself with the dead body of Jesus, and he did not stand there alone many minutes, for Nicodemus joined him and two or three women; and in those two men and two or three women we see the very essence of Christian fellowship.

All our ecclesiastical rules and regulations are of no account to God, but let two or three be gathered together to Christ to consider His dying, to think of Him as dead, to have their hearts moved by that wonderful love that led Him into death, let them identify themselves with His cross, truly that will delight the heart of God. Such show forth His death; they hold the fort until He comes; they say to the world, "You despise Him and forget Him, He has no place in your counsels, but to us He is everything, He is supreme." That is Christian fellowship as it faces up to the world. Nothing can bind hearts together like that stupendous love that led Christ into death for us, and bound together by it, together we show forth His death until He come. The apostle Paul was in the spirit of this when he said, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world." That is the spirit in which to truly partake of the Lord's Supper. The Supper has been given to us that He might be kept in our memories while He is away, and we hold the fort for Him until He comes back again. How great, how wonderful is our privilege, and how great is our responsibility. The two things go together. But do we not welcome the responsibility and rejoice in it and seek that God, by His Holy Spirit, will so fill our souls with the sense of the love of Christ that nothing less than that will be our hearts' purpose and determination.

The Secret of Faithful Witness

Let us return to the upper room in which the Lord instituted the Supper, and learn the secret of faithful witness to Christ and what it is that will ensure our standing by His cross and following Him. He says to His disciples, "One of you shall betray Me." Peter rises up; and he meant every word that he said, and says, "Lord I will go to prison and death for You. You may trust me, Lord. I won't fail You. Your head is weary, we can see that You are full of sorrow. Rest Your weary head upon my breast. I am Your man, Lord." That was Peter. But John draws near to the Lord and his action says, "Lord, I hear what you say, I cannot trust my love to You, but I can trust Your love to me." So he puts his head down on the Lord's bosom. The secret of faithful witness is self-distrust, and full reliance on Christ and His unchanging, unwearied love.

It seems plain to me that when we partake of the Lord's Supper it is as though the Lord invited us afresh to put our heads upon His bosom. He says, Here is love that is stronger than death, it will not fail you. We respond and say, "Lord, we cannot trust our love to Thee but we can trust Thy love to us, that love that went through the waves and the billows of death for us, and down into those unfathomed depths beneath which there was nothing. We can trust that love." And who was the man who stood by the cross? He was the man who put his head down on Jesus' bosom. And who was the man who followed, in the last chapter of John's Gospel, without being told? He was the man who leaned his head on Jesus' bosom and who stood by the cross. If we are to follow the Lord in the world that rejected Him, we must have our heads upon His bosom, for we cannot follow Him unless we stand by His cross and we cannot stand by the cross in any power that nature possesses. If you are to say, God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world, you must have your head upon His bosom. And you do that afresh every time you truly partake of the Lord's Supper, You must know that love which is greater, brighter, better than anything the world can present to you. Greater, brighter, better than even self, for when it comes to be a question of self you remember the apostle said, "I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."