Is there a "Real Presence"?
"One sacrifice for sins" "No more sacrifice for sins" Hebrews 10:12, 26.
As simplicity of faith declined in the early Church, the Eucharist became surrounded with all sorts of mysteries and superstitions. As soon as the full efficacy of the sacrifice of the blessed Lord was lost sight of, and the testimony that all sins were put away from him that believed, by that sacrifice: people were obliged to have some means of quieting the conscience. The Church, with growing superstition, provided means to keep the conscience quiet, in a system which gradually developed itself as the Eucharist turned into the Mass and absolution. The Mass was not fully developed till long after the seventh century when Purgatory was invented; but once the perfect acceptance in Christ of the believer had been lost to the Church's faith on account of the growing corruptions of Christendom, souls could not find rest, and sought it in superstitious observances, adorned with all kinds of pomp and show.
The Council of Trent has defined the Mass as "A propitiatory sacrifice available for the sins not only of the living but of the dead—truly propitiatory. Christ is unbloodily immolated there"; and the Catechism of the Same Council says: "The Mass is and ought to be considered one and the same sacrifice with that of the cross, for the victim is one and the same. . . . The bloody and unbloody are not two but only one victim whose sacrifice is daily renewed in the Eucharist. .. . . The priest is also one and the same, Christ the Lord."
The doctrine is that Christ offers Himself visibly, permanently, or renewedly—often, daily renewed, to take the expression as given in the Catechism. This sacrifice, they allege, offered by Christ, appeases God; is a propitiation for the sins of the living and the dead when they are not fully purged, "expiates," or "confers pardon of sins," besides many other graces.
Does Christianity recognise this?
It not only does not do so, but with diligent care expressly denies it in every part. The Mass was instituted, we are told, that the Church might have a perpetual sacrifice by which our sins might be expiated and our heavenly Father turned from wrath to mercy. Now it is quite true, as a principle, that sacrifice lies at the basis of all relationship of man with God; but, at the same time, such an expression as turning our heavenly Father from wrath by it, is not by itself a true or spiritual way of putting it. God is a righteous Judge, and the atonement was absolutely necessary in order that grace might reign through righteousness. But the origin and source of all the blessings that reach us, is left out in the statement referred to. All really flows from the love of God—for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.
It is true that "the Son of man must be lifted up," a holy Victim must be offered. But where was such a victim to be found? The love of God saw us all as lost sinners, and He did not spare His own Son for us. Then again, Christ "through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God"; nay, in the same love, He said, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God." Thus, if the righteousness of God required propitiation, the love of God provided the Victim. God's love was the source and origin of all; for "the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world."
We are told that in the Mass there is "not a mere commemoration of the sacrifice of the cross, but also a truly propitiatory sacrifice." But this would be propitiation and remission without blood-shedding; and Scripture declares positively that there is no more sacrifice for sins. Again, we are told that it is the same Christ that offered Himself upon the cross that offers Himself daily in a renewed sacrifice. We read in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 9:25-27): "Nor yet that He should offer Himself often . . . for then He ought to have suffered often from the beginning of the world: but now once at the end of the ages, He has appeared for the destruction of sin by the sacrifice of Himself." So far from the sacrifice being renewedly offered, the Word of God says, "So also Christ was once offered to exhaust the sins of many"; "Now where there is a remission of these (sins), there is no more an oblation for sin"; and the blessed reason for this is given in Hebrews 10:14; "For by one oblation He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified." Taking the Douay translation as given above, "exhaust the sins of many," it makes it still more clear, that if exhausted, they cannot be brought up against the Christian, nor is any other sacrifice needed.
It is said to be an unbloody sacrifice; that blood is not shed there; but God's Word says (Heb. 9:22) that "without shedding of blood there is no remission." So that in every point the Word of God teaches me the exact contrary of what Rome teaches; and what she teaches, too, respecting that which is the centre and substance of her worship.
As to commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ: this is blessedly true, and is held by Christians generally. But we are expressly told that the Mass is not a mere commemoration of His sacrifice on the cross, but also a truly propitiatory sacrifice. Now, if you will have a real sacrifice thus repeated, not a commemoration of His death, then there is no resurrection, and we are yet in our sins. The whole thing is false; no one element of true sacrifice, the sacrifice of the cross, is there. No death, no blood-shedding, no cup to drink, no bearing of sins, no being made sin, nor suffering the just for the unjust, no forsaking of God—not one single element which makes the cross of the blessed Saviour an accomplishment of redemption, on which our salvation rests secure—a perfect and finished atonement through which we have remission of sins, and a perfectly purged conscience, and acceptance with God. It is a mere return to the repetition of Jewish sacrifices, which proved that the work was not yet done, of which they were but the types and shadows. It denies thereby that Christ's work is now accomplished; instead of pointing forward to it, as those sacrifices did. If a sacrifice is still needed, it is clear that the work of redemption is not yet an accomplished fact.
It is said that the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ are in one kind; and that because this is so in the body, the communicants at large lose nothing by not having the cup, since the blood is in, what is held to be the body—a whole Christ, as they say—or what is called the doctrine of concomitancy. But if He be a whole Christ there is no redemption or remission; for, in order to this, the shedding of His blood was needed. Our Lord Himself said: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone, but if it die it brings forth much fruit." A whole Christ is the perfect blessed Son of God even in humiliation on the earth; but there is no redemption while He is such. For redemption, His death and blood-shedding was absolutely necessary.
Moreover, God has said that Christ's offering of Himself was a work so perfect and so efficacious, that it needed not to be repeated, and indeed it could not be repeated, because, in order to such efficacy, Christ must suffer. He has declared that without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins, and hence, if the offering of Christ had to be repeated, Christ must needs have suffered often.
Now, if I pretend to offer this sacrifice again, and declare that such offering is necessary and right, I deny the efficacy of Christ's one offering of Himself on the Cross; that is, I am infidel or unbelieving as to the efficacy of the one offering accomplished by Christ on the Cross once for all. In accepting the doctrine as to the sacrifice of the Mass, I am infidel as regards the authority of God's Word, which declares that there is consequently no more offering for sins. For he who pretends that there is still an offering for sin in the sacrifice of the Mass is infidel as to that which is the foundation of Christianity, namely, the offering of Christ on the Cross.
It is true that those who so teach allege that the Mass is an unbloody sacrifice, but this excuse is of no avail, for the express declaration of Scripture is, that there is no more offering for sins. Not only is it of no avail, but it even makes the matter worse, for the Romanist doctrine declares that this unbloody sacrifice is efficacious for the remission of sins. But the Scripture, as we have seen, declares that without shedding of blood there is no remission (Heb. 9:22), so that the doctrine in question contradicts Scripture expressly.
And note, further, that this doctrine of an unbloody sacrifice is infidel as to the nature of sin. God declares the nature of sin to be such that nothing less than the sufferings of Christ could expiate it. They pretend that an unbloody sacrifice, in which Christ does not suffer, can put it away. Again, the Word of God teaches that "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin." Blessed truth! just what our conscience needs, in order to have boldness to go before God, and enter into His presence, as knowing Him to be a gracious and loving Father.
One of the passages quoted in defence of the doctrine of the Mass is taken from the prophet Malachi: "For from the rising of the sun even to the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles, and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering; for my name shall be great among the heathen, says Jehovah of hosts." Is that fulfilled? Is Jehovah's name great from one end of the earth to the other? Has not the great mass of the world remained, and does not a very large portion of it still remain heathen? The prophecy clearly is not yet fulfilled. It is vain to allege that the Gospel went out into all the world, as the Fathers sometimes do. In a certain sense nobody denies it; but the essence of the prophecy is, not that it should go forth, but that Jehovah's name should be great everywhere among the Gentiles, and this is not so now; no pure offering is offered. The prophecy will be fulfilled in its time, but it has nothing whatever to do with the Mass.
The argument as to Melchisedec bringing forth bread and wine is no better. In the Old Testament there is not the most distant hint of his offering to God: bringing forth bread and wine is no offering.
In fine, the doctrine of the Mass, sets aside the full and abiding efficacy of Christ's blood, hides the love of God, brings uncertainty into the conscience and fear into the heart; and just gives the carnal mind quietness from time to time, without being really turned to God. It takes peace from the believer, and gives a false quieting of the conscience to the unbeliever, who has no thought of walking with God. But the great truth of the one offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all, His one sacrifice, gives a purged conscience and settled peace to those who rest upon it by simple faith. Read carefully chapters 9 and 10 of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
We cannot do better than to take the definition of Transubstantiation given by the Council of Trent; that "This holy Synod now anew declares, that by the consecration of the bread and wine, conversion of the whole substance into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord takes place, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood. Which conversion is conveniently and properly called by the holy Catholic Church, "Transubstantiation." An anathema is pronounced against anyone who denies "that in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently a whole Christ." The catechism of the same Council declares that, "Not only the true body of Christ, and whatever belongs to the true body, as bones and nerves, but also a whole Christ," is contained in the sacrament. It is said that the whole substance of the bread is converted into the body, and the whole substance of the wine into the blood; only the forms of bread and wine remaining, and it is to be adored with divine worship.
Now when such strong and plain statements are made on such very vital points of the Christian faith, we should expect some evident and substantial proofs in support of the doctrines taught. That superstition and very high-flown statements are to be found in the Fathers is true; but that the doctrines stated above were always the persuasion of the Church is entirely false. The Scriptures usually put forward are the words: "This is my body” etc. and the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel.
We may remark at the outset, however, that every true Christian acknowledges the great and blessed privilege granted to us in the institution of the Lord's Supper. What could be more touching than that He, the blessed Saviour, should care and desire that we should remember Him; and that He should have earnestly desired to eat the last Paschal supper with His disciples before He suffered? But the whole question is, not whether we should value the privilege, and desire to respond to His last request to remember Him, but whether the bread and wine are physically changed into the body and blood of Christ so that there is no bread and wine there at all; but that Christ, a whole Christ (and that expressed in a profane way—His bones and nerves), alone is there.
Now if the blood of Christ be really there, the wine being changed into it in the cup; and by concomitance the body also, which is under the form of bread; how can we say that His blood is in His body and shed out of His body at the same time? If it is in the body, not shed, then there is no redemption, for "without shedding of blood there is no remission" (Heb. 9:22). And now He is entered into glory, though thank God (and wondrous truth it is!) still a man, and there according to the efficacy and power of His precious blood.
But He is not there in His body and unshed blood in the state in which He lived on earth; but in a spiritual and glorious body, which dies no more. There is no such Christ now as a Christ living in flesh and unshed blood: He is glorified in heaven. He is actually, livingly, in a state in which He cannot be offered in sacrifice. A glorified Christ cannot be a Christ living on earth capable of dying nor a Christ offered as a victim of propitiation by bloodshedding. It is clear, therefore, that if you transubstantiate the bread into the Christ that is now, He cannot be a sacrifice, nor one shedding blood, nor flesh and blood as He was, hence not the same sacrifice. The truth is, you have no true Christ transubstantiated in the Eucharist; and the whole thing is a delusion and a fallacy. You have not a glorified Christ—for it is His death and bloodshedding which is there set before us—not a dying One on the cross, nor the blood yet unshed in the body, for there is no such Christ now.
It is not here a question of God's omnipotence or power to perform a miracle, which no one denies—the question is what God has done, not what he can do; and He never acts inconsistently with what He has revealed. Has He revealed that in the Eucharist the priest can turn bread into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ—can "make God," as some say? It is really a monstrous supposition, without any truth revealed in it, or any testimony to it. All the direct testimony which can be produced for it is: "This is my body," and "This is my blood" of the New Testament, "which is," or as they put it, "which shall be shed for you and for many."
Now in ordinary language no one would dream of such a use of words as would make it a change of the bread into the body. Here are two pictures. I say of one, "This is my mother, and that is her sister"; who would think that the pictures were actually changed into my mother and aunt? So, too, when our Lord says, "This cup is the New Testament in my blood," who could think that the cup was actually changed into the New Testament? The use of "is" for "represents" is too common to need that we should dwell long upon it—for example, "That rock was Christ." "The seven kine are seven years." "The seed is the word." "This is the Lord's passover." Again, when we read of John the Baptist, "This is Elias, which was for to come," are we to understand that John was actually Elias? No; but John represented Elias.
Then, further, it must be remembered that Christ was sitting at the table with His disciples and held the bread in His hands, gave thanks, and broke it. Were there two Christs, two bodies, in one of which He sat, the other which He Himself broke? If it were literally, truly and substantially, then there were two Christs. God may be said to be everywhere; but were Christ's body and blood and soul (for these are personal and individual) in the loaf as well as in Himself? Besides, there was then no sacrifice as yet, no blood shed: and this proves clearly that it was a figure, a memorial. That He should institute it as a memorial before He went, as He says, "Do this in remembrance of Me," we can easily understand, and this is what is so sweet and precious to the Christian's heart; but the elements could not be really and substantially a sacrificed Christ, for he had not yet died: and so the idea of the Mass contradicts all the facts—all He said, all He did, all He was.
Many Roman Catholics writers admit that the other passage of Scripture to which we have referred (John 6) does not apply to the Eucharist; and it is perfectly certain that, taking their own view of the matter, it could not do so. No Roman Catholic writer affirms that everyone who receives the Eucharist is finally saved; but this is positively affirmed of those who eat Christ, as the act is spoken of in this chapter. It is not merely that they have life by it; but that He will raise them up in the last day. This is positively declared, four times over, of everyone who eats Christ's flesh and drinks His blood as here spoken of. Without it they have no life; but he that eats and drinks has eternal life, and will infallibly share in a blessed resurrection.
Now we all admit that everyone who receives the Eucharist is not finally saved; but the persons spoken of in John 6 are so: it does not, therefore, apply to partaking of the Eucharist. What, then, does this chapter teach? It speaks of an incarnate Saviour, who came down from heaven, and had yet to give Himself for the life of the world. It is Christ Himself who should die upon the cross, and then ascend up where He was before. In speaking of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, such language refers to spiritually feeding on Christ, not to an actual reception of the Lord's body and blood. A person who eats, as here spoken of, lives by the life of Christ, has eternal life by believing on Him, abides in Him, and is raised up in glory. The chapter itself indeed, makes it plain that our Lord meant His words to be taken spiritually, for He says in verse 63, "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life."
Clearly the terms used on this subject by the Lord, and recorded in the New Testament, are used, not literally, but figuratively. He says, "My Father gives you the true bread from heaven." Do the teachers of Transubstantiation mean to say that Christ was really bread? Surely not. Yet He says, "I am the bread of life"; "He that eats of this bread shall live for ever." He was not physically or literally bread come down from heaven: that is, the "is" was figuratively and spiritually used: the bread means Himself, who came forth from the Father, and came into the world, the Word made flesh, the Son of God. But incarnation was not enough to save us; for this He must die in atonement for sin, and so He gives His flesh (in death) for the life of the world. To get eternal life we must eat His flesh and drink His blood: in other words, we must each one personally, by faith, receive Him as the dying and crucified Saviour.
The doctrine of Transubstantiation is simply the fruit of the speculations of the schoolmen and their use of Aristotle in the middle ages. It depends, on the face of it, on what they call the difference between "substance" and "accidents." The substance of the bread, they alleged, is changed into the substance of the Lord's body, the accidents (such as colour, taste, smell, etc.), remain. But this was a mere metaphysical theory, without any real foundation. We have got, nowadays, to molecules and atoms infinitely minute, which may be called perhaps substance or essential matter; but all this Aristotelian theory of an imaginary substance, and accidents in material objects, is a mere groundless fancy. It is true; that we see certain qualities which awaken sensation in us—colour, form, hardness, etc.; but the schoolmen made a distinct but imaginary substratum in which the various qualities were inherent—there was the substance of bread, etc. But this was a mere philosophical notion, a mere theory of the heathen Aristotelian school, adopted by the schoolmen, without any other foundation whatever.
Thus, in their effort to support the sacramental system, the doctors and teachers of the middle ages fell into thoughts which were really degrading thoughts respecting God; and they worshipped with divine worship that which a mouse can eat. Though the divinity is said to be there, with the soul, body, and blood, it is inert and cannot hinder a mouse eating it, nor move nor give any sign of life. Peter Lombard, whose influence was supreme in the theological schools, after insisting, at length, that the unworthiness of the priest did not invalidate the consecration of the sacrament, adds: "That indeed it may be soundly said that the body of Christ is not taken by brute animals, though it may seem so. What, therefore, does the mouse take, or what does it eat, God knows."
Pope Innocent III. is more precise, "If it is sought what is eaten by the mouse when the, sacrament is burned, it is answered that the substance of bread is miraculously converted when the Lord's body begins to be under the sacrament, so in a certain miraculous manner it returns, when itself (that is, the body) ceases to be there. Not that the substance of bread returns which passed into flesh, but that in its place something is miraculously created, although its accidents may be thus devoured as well as eaten." Bonaventure, a more spiritually-minded man, a mystic, holds that, however this opinion may be sustained, it can never be so sustained that pious ears should not have a horror in hearing that the body of Christ should be in the belly of a mouse, or in a sewer. No wonder! Yet the famous Thomas Aquinas supports this view, because the other derogates from the truth of the sacrament; and his authority prevailed.
But the true doctrine, as given in holy Scripture, is plain and simple enough. St. Paul says, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood"; he had no thought of any literal blood. It suffices him to speak of it as the new covenant in Christ's blood, and he calls it bread when thus given and broken; and not only when so broken, but when eaten by the faithful (1 Cor. 11:26); they "eat this bread," and drink the cup, and show forth the Lord's death. Christ is now a glorified Christ above, One who once hung upon the cross for us in love, the one real sacrifice of never ending and unchanging value, always in the presence of God accepted of Him. True faith ever rests on Him while it feeds daily upon Him as the spiritual food for the soul. The Lord's Supper is the special memorial and presentation of Christ in His death: where we truly discern the Lord's body spiritually, and "show the Lord's death till He come."
Compiled by F. G. Burkitt.
London: F. E. Race (C. A. Hammond) 3 & 4 London House Yard Paternoster Row, E.C.4