Confessing Our Faith in the Culture – Chapter 32

Of the Lord’s Supper

The connection between the Lord’s Supper and Baptism consists in this, that they both and equally are symbols of the death of Christ. In Baptism, we show forth the death of Christ as the procuring cause of our new birth into the kingdom of God. In the Lord’s Supper, we show forth the death of Christ as the sustaining power of our spiritual life after it has once begun. In the one, we honor the sanctifying power of the death of Christ, as in the other we honor its regenerating power. Thus both are parts of one whole,—setting before us Christ’s death for men in its two great purposes and results. Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology

Primary texts: Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 21; 11:23-26

A. Its purposes

1. Primary

a. perpetual remembrance 1 Corinthians 11:24b, 25b

Jesus adds, “This do in remembrance of me.” It was the desire of our Lord that by means of the supper, here instituted, the church should remember his sacrifice and love him, should reflect on that sacrifice and embrace him by faith, and should look forward in living hope to his glorious return. Surely, the proper celebration of communion is a loving remembrance. It is, however, more than that. Jesus Christ is most certainly, and through his Spirit most actively, present at this genuine feast! Cf. Matt. 18:20. His followers “take” and “eat.” They appropriate Christ by means of living faith, and are strengthened in this faith. Hendriksen, NTC

This expresses the whole design of the ordinance. It is a simple memorial, or remembrancer; designed to recall in a striking and impressive manner the memory of the Redeemer. It does this by a tender appeal to the senses – by the exhibition of the broken bread, and by the wine. The Saviour knew how prone people would be to forget him, and he, therefore, appointed this ordinance as a means by which his memory should be kept up in the world. The ordinance is rightly observed when it recalls the memory of the Saviour; and when its observance is the means of producing a deep, and lively, and vivid impression on the mind, of his death for sin. Barnes’ Notes

b. proclaiming the Gospel 1 Corinthians 11:26b

The good news that we are great sinners and Christ is a great Savior. The Lord’s Supper is a visible Gospel, a memorial of Christ’s work, and should never be isolated from the preaching of the Gospel. It proclaims the glory of the cross where Christ satisfied the justice of God and purchased/accomplished the redemption of his people.

The Lord’s Supper is not properly celebrated if we never get beyond self-examination and confession of sin. It was instituted in the midst of thanksgivings, blessings and hymns. It is to be a spiritual oblation [offering] of all possible praise to God. Waldron, Exposition of the 1689

2. Secondary

a. confirming our faith John 6:29, 35, 47-58

We must believe that the elements truly represent Christ and that He has invited us to His table. This provides ongoing reassurance of His love for us and participation in the blessings He has promised.

[U]nless we would charge God with deceit, we will never presume to say that he holds forth an empty symbol. Therefore, if by the breaking of bread the Lord truly represents the partaking of his body, there ought to be no doubt whatever that he truly exhibits and performs it. The rule which the pious ought always to observe is, whenever they see the symbols instituted by the Lord, to think and feel surely persuaded that the truth of the thing signified is also present. For why does the Lord put the symbol of his body into your hands, but just to assure you that you truly partake of him? If this is true, let us feel as much assured that the visible sign is given us in seal of an invisible gift as that his body itself is given to us. Calvin, Institutes, 4.17.10

b. nourishing our spirituality John 6:53-57

Just as bread and wine nourish or bodies, so partaking of the elements in the Lord’s Supper nourishes our souls because of what we receive there by faith. We receive and feed spiritually on Christ crucified and the benefits of his death.

[T]he presence which grounds this receiving, is only a presence to our faith, of Christ’s body and blood! Hence we construe the Confession we think fairly, to mean by the receiving and feeding, precisely the spiritual actings of faith in Christ as our Redeemer, and on His body slain, and blood poured out, as the steps of His atoning work; so that the thing which the soul actually embraces, is not the corporeal substance of His slain body and shed blood, but their Redeeming virtue. R. L. Dabney, Systematic Theology

That sacred communion of flesh and blood by which Christ transfuses his life into us, just as if it penetrated our bones and marrow, he testifies and seals in the Supper, and that not by presenting a vain or empty sign, but by there exerting an efficacy of the Spirit by which he fulfils what he promises. And truly the thing there signified he exhibits and offers to all who sit down at that spiritual feast, although it is beneficially received by believers only who receive this great benefit with true faith and heartfelt gratitude. Calvin, Institutes, 4.17.10

c. increasing our commitment John 14:15, 21; 15:10

He is offered by the promises not that we may stop short at the sight, or mere knowledge of him, but that we may enjoy true communion with him. And, indeed, I see not how any one can expect to have redemption and righteousness in the cross of Christ, and life in his death, without trusting first of all to true communion with Christ himself. Those blessings could not reach us, did not Christ previously make himself ours. I say then, that in the mystery of the Supper, by the symbols of bread and wine, Christ, his body and his blood, are truly exhibited to us, that in them he fulfilled all obedience, in order to procure righteousness for us, first, that we might become one body with him; and, secondly, that being made partakers of his substance, we might feel the result of this fact in the participation of all his blessings. Calvin, 4.17.11

If we are experiencing true fellowship with Christ, we must be mindful of his final exhortations to his disciples – If you love me, keep my commandments.

d. strengthening our communion 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

The effect of this reception of Christ is two fold. First, he and his people become one; and secondly, all true believers in virtue of this union with Christ become one body “and every one members one of another.” Christ and his people are one in such a sense that it is not they that live, but Christ that liveth in them. (Gal. ii. 20.) He dwells in them; his life is their life; because He lives they shall live also. (John xiv. 19.) They are one in a sense analogous to that in which the head and members of the human body are one. The Holy Spirit given to Him without measure is communicated to his people so that they become one body fitly joined together. (Eph. iv. 16.) By one Spirit they are all baptized into one body. (1 Cor. xii. 13.) This union between Christ and his people is also illustrated by the union between the vine and its branches. The life of the vine and of its branches is one. (John xv.) Again, Christ and his people are one, as husband and wife are one flesh. “We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” (Eph. v. 30.)

In being thus united to Christ as their common head, believers become one body, in a mystical sense. The Holy Spirit dwelling in each and in all constitutes them one. They have one principle of life. The Spirit works in all alike “both to will and to do.” They have, consequently, one faith, and one religious experience, as well as one Lord, and one God and Father. They are so bound together that if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or if one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Cor. xii. 26.) So far as this all churches seem to agree. They all admit that in the Lord’s Supper believers are thus united to Christ and to one another. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology

B. Its symbolism

The Lord’s Supper sets forth, in general, the death of Christ as the sustaining power of the believer’s life. Strong, Ibid.

1. It symbolizes the death of Christ for our sins. 1 Corinthians 11:26; Mark 14:24; Hebrews 13:20

2. It symbolizes our personal appropriation of the benefits of that death. 1 Corinthians 11:24; 5:7

It is evident not only that the showing forth of the Lord’s death is the primary meaning of the ordinance, but that our partaking of the benefits of that death is as clearly taught as the Israelites’ deliverance was symbolized in the paschal supper. Strong, Ibid.

Just as we take the bread and eat it, the wine and drink it, thus nourishing our body or appropriating the physical benefits of the elements, doing so symbolizes our taking and appropriating [taking possession of] the spiritual benefits that come to us because of what Christ accomplished by his death and subsequent resurrection.

3. It symbolizes the method of this appropriation 1 Corinthians 10:16; Matthew 25:26

a. through union with Christ himself

Apart from union with Christ we have no standing before God on which to claim access to anything. By partaking of the elements in faith, confident of what they represent, we demonstrate that we are united with Christ, that we share in his body and blood.

Is it not the emblem by which the blood of Christ is exhibited, and the means by which our union through that blood is exhibited? Is it not the means by which we express our attachment to him as Christians; showing our union to him and to each other; and showing that we partake in common of the benefits of his blood? The main idea is, that by partaking of this cup they showed that they were united to him and to each other; and that they should regard themselves as set apart to him. Barnes’ Notes

4. It symbolizes the continuous dependence of the believer for all spiritual life upon the once crucified, now living, Savior, to whom he is thus united. John 15:1-5

Just as the Lord’s Supper is observed on a continuing basis, and, just as we depend on daily bread and wine for our physical nourishment, so we continually depend on Christ for the blessings promised to us for this life. Our faith requires continual strengthening; our imperfect understanding needs further continual enlightening; we stand in need of daily forgiveness for sin; our holiness is in need of daily replenishment and enlargement; the flames of our love for Christ are in constant need of fanning and fueling; we need his constant guidance in order to arrive safely home.

5. It symbolizes the coming joy and perfection of the kingdom of God. Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18

Like Baptism, which points forward to the resurrection, the Lord’s Supper is anticipatory also. It brings before us, not simply death, but life; not simply past sacrifice but future glory. It points forward to the great festival, “the marriage supper of the Lamb”. Strong, Ibid.

In this ordinance Christ is not offered up to his Father, nor any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sin of the quick or dead; but only a memorial of that one offering up of himself, by himself, upon the cross, once for all; and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God for the same. LBCF, 30.2

The Lord’s Supper exhibits the great blessings of redemption, and even Christ himself. This even evident from the words of the institution. To all these things we have a complete attestation in this sacrament, enabling us certainly to conclude that they are as truly exhibited to us as if Christ were placed in bodily presence before our view, or handled by our hands. For these are words which can never lie nor deceive – Take, eat, drink. This is my body, which is broken for you: this is my blood, which is shed for the remission of sins. In bidding us take, he intimates that it is ours: in bidding us eat, he intimates that it becomes one substance with us: in affirming of his body that it was broken, and of his blood that it was shed for us, he shows that both were not so much his own as ours, because he took and laid down both, not for his own advantage, but for our salvation. And we ought carefully to observe, that the chief, and almost the whole energy at the sacrament consists in these words, It is broken for you; it is shed for you. It would not be of much importance to us that the body and blood of the Lord are now distributed, had they not once been set forth for our redemption and salvation. Wherefore they are represented under bread and wine, that we may learn that they are not only ours but intended to nourish our spiritual life; that is, as we formerly observed, by the corporeal things which are produced in the sacrament, we are by a kind of analogy conducted to spiritual things. Thus when bread is given as a symbol of the body of Christ, we must immediately think of this similitude. As bread nourishes, sustains, and protects our bodily life, so the body of Christ is the only food to invigorate and keep alive the soul. When we behold wine set forth as a symbol of blood, we must think that such use as wine serves to the body, the same is spiritually bestowed by the blood of Christ; and the use is to foster, refresh, strengthen, and exhilarate. For if we duly consider what profit we have gained by the breaking of his sacred body and the shedding of his blood, we shall clearly perceive that these properties of bread and wine, agreeably to this analogy, most appropriately represent it when they are communicated to us. Calvin, Institutes, 4.17.3

C. Its celebration

1. remembering 1 Corinthians 11:24b, 25b

We must remember not only what Jesus did but also what he said and in particular what he said his goal was for his disciples.

John 15:11 “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
John 16:20-22
“Truly , truly , I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.
John 16:24
“Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.
John 17:13
“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.

a. mankind’s profound need 2 Corinthians 5:21

b. Christ’s magnificent accomplishment

[A]s I partake in the breaking of the bread when I eat it and the pouring out of the cup when I drink from it, I proclaim again and again that my sins were part of the cause of Jesus’ suffering and death. In this way sorrow, joy, thanksgiving, and deep love for Christ are richly intermingled in the beauty of the Lord’s Supper. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology

2. proclaiming 1 Corinthians 11:26b

a. the Gospel

3. anticipating 1 Corinthians 11:26c

a. the marriage supper of the Lamb

b. the bliss of eternal and perfect fellowship/communion with God

4. rejoicing John 15:11; 16:19-24; 17:13; 20:19-20

John 20:19-20 So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

a. God’s love demonstrated

b. God’s blessings bestowed

c. God’s promises kept

(c) The partaking of these elements is of a festal nature.

The Passover was festal in its nature. Gloom and sadness are foreign to the spirit of the Lord’s Supper. The wine is the symbol of the death of Christ, but of that death by which we live. It reminds us that he drank the cup of suffering in order that we might drink the wine of joy. As the bread is broken to sustain our physical life, so Christ’s body was broken by thorns and nails and spear to nourish our spiritual life.

(d) The communion is a festival of commemoration – not simply bringing Christ to our remembrance, but making proclamation of his death to the world.

As the Passover commemorated the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, and as the Fourth of July commemorates our birth as a nation, so the Lord’s Supper commemorates the birth of the church in Christ’s death and resurrection. As a mother might bid her children meet over her grave and commemorate her, so Christ bids his people meet and remember him. But subjective remembrance is not its only aim. It is public proclamation also. Whether it brings perceptible blessing to us or not, it is to be observed as a means of confessing Christ, testifying our faith, and publishing the fact of his death to others. Strong, Ibid.

The Lord’s Supper, however, reminds us that Jesus’ payment for our sins has already been accomplished, so we now eat in the Lord’s presence with great rejoicing.

Yet even the Lord’s Supper looks forward to a more wonderful fellowship meal in God’s presence in the future, when the fellowship of Eden will be restored and there will be even greater joy, because those who eat in God’s presence will be forgiven sinners now confirmed in righteousness, never able to sin again. That future time of great rejoicing and eating in the presence of God is hinted at by Jesus when he says, “I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29). We are told more explicitly in Revelation about the marriage supper of the Lamb: “And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb”’ (Rev. 19:9). This will be a time of great rejoicing in the presence of the Lord, as well as a time of reverence and awe before him. From Genesis to Revelation, then, God’s aim has been to bring his people into fellowship with himself, and one of the great joys of experiencing that fellowship is the fact that we can eat and drink in the presence of the Lord. It would be healthy for the church today to recapture a more vivid sense of God’s presence at the table of the Lord. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology

Q. How ought this ordinance of the Lord’s Supper to be closed?
A. In singing praises to God vocally and audibly for his great benefits and blessings to his church in the shedding of the most precious blood of his son to take away their sin; which blessings are pointed out in this sacrament. Also we find our Lord and his disciples did close up this ordinance in singing an hymn or psalm; and if Christ did sing, who was going to die, what cause have we to sing for whom he died, that we might not eternally die, but live a spiritual and eternal life with Father, Son, and Spirit in inexpressible glory.
Hercules Collins, The Orthodox Catechism, 1680

D. Its defense

Heb. 9:24-28; 10:10-14

1. complete vs. continuing sacrifice

a. Do in remembrance of me”

i. call to mind, not sacrifice again

b. It is finished” John 19:30; Hebrews 10:18

i. perfect tense, signifying a process that exists in its completed state

c. an “unbloody” sacrifice is ineffectual Hebrews 9:22

2. spiritual vs. physical presence

a. This is my body”; compare the seven “I am” statements of Jesus

i. I AM the bread of life. John 6:35, 48

ii. I AM the light of the world. John 8:12; 9:5

iii. I AM the door. John 10:7

iv. I AM the good shepherd. John 10:11-14

v. I AM the resurrection and the life. John 11:25

vi. I AM the way, the truth and the life. John 14:6

vii. I AM the true vine. John 15:1, 5

b. His presence in heaven Acts7:55-56; Hebrews 10:12-13

c. the nature of His return Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16

3. honor vs. worship

a. worship of anything but God Himself is forbidden Exodus 20:3

i. God will not be confined to, in, with or under any tangible substance other than the God-Man Isaiah 42:8; 48:11

b. we honor the elements because of what they represent

c. we don’t worship the elements because of what they are

4. common vs. ministerial priesthood

a. Christ is the High Priest Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:14; 5:5, 10; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1; 9:11 10:21

b. We have the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies Hebrews 10:19-22

c. We have the privilege/right of offering sacrifices Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:15

d. We are a kingdom of priests 1 Peter 2:9-10; Revelation 1:5,6; 5:10


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