Simple Papers on the Church of God: Part 19, the Institution of the Supper

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"They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers." (Acts 2:4242And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42)) Such is the sacred historian's brief account of the ways of the first converts to Christianity after the day of Pentecost. The company in which they were found, and the teaching to which they were subject, these are classed together. Then, as a consequence, we learn of the religious exercises which characterized them; viz., the breaking of bread, and prayers; for by the omission of the conjunction and before "breaking of bread" in accordance with the reading of the best MSS., that and prayer are stated as characteristic actions of the Christian community. Here then, for the first time after the institution of the supper, do we read of the Christians meeting to break bread together in remembrance of the Lord's death; and from henceforth this peculiar Christian service is called the breaking of bread (Acts 20:7,117And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:7)
11When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. (Acts 20:11)
) as well as the Lord's Supper. (1 Cor. 11:2020When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. (1 Corinthians 11:20)) By the latter term we are reminded by whom it was instituted, by the former is expressed the action of those who partake of it.
To comfort mourners for the dead, their friends, we learn, would break bread for them, and give them the cup of consolation for their father or their mother. It was all that friendship could do when death had entered the family, and bereavement pressed heavily on the sorrowing ones. Sweet, doubtless, such sympathy had often proved itself to be, as the loving care of friends thus displayed itself in the house, and on the day of sorrow; but sweet as it might be, the heart's ache could not thereby be removed, nor the void which death had caused be thereby filled. But who could comfort the disciples for the death of their Master and Lord? No friends could be found to do it; and worse than that, the world's enmity they were about to experience in a way they had never felt it before. Yet a comfort, but far more than a comfort, would they find in breaking bread together in remembrance of the Lord's death; for whilst friends might give to bereaved ones the cup of consolation, the disciples received from the hands of Christ Himself the cup of blessing. And yet more; for His death was their gain, how great soever was their sorrow in losing Him. Now indeed the thought was new, that the death of one could be productive of real, everlasting gain to others; yet so it was in the case of the Lord's death, though in His only. This the disciples were to remember, and in the presence of the memorials of it to give thanks as they acknowledged it.
Of the institution of the Lord's Supper we have four inspired accounts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us about it; and St. Paul, addressing the Corinthians, acquaints them with that which he had received direct from the Lord in glory concerning it. (1 Cor. 11:2323For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: (1 Corinthians 11:23)) When, and where the apostle of the Gentiles received it we are not told; but the fact that he did receive it direct from the Lord, years after He had ascended to the right hand of the Majesty on high, testifies of the desire that all His people, whether gathered out from Jews or from Gentiles, should equally, and in the same manner, announce His death till He come. Of these four accounts, one only is from the pen of an eyewitness, and a recipient of the elements from the Lord in person. As, however, we examine the four accounts, we have to confess that we should have lost something had any one of them been missing.
Had Matthew's account been lost, we should not have known that the Lord, in giving the cup, said, "Drink ye all of it;" had that of Mark not survived to our day, we should not' have known that they did all drink of it. (Mark 14:2323And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. (Mark 14:23)) Communion in one kind was not practiced in the Lord's presence, nor sustained by anything that fell from His lips. Again, Matthew, the eye-witness, has also recorded other words not met with elsewhere. "For the remission of sins," is an addition only found in this connection in his gospel. Now, comparing Jer. 31:31-3431Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: 33But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31‑34) with the four accounts of the Supper, we trace an important connection. Of all the Old Testament writers, Jeremiah is the only one who mentions the new covenant, though other prophets describe blessings to be enjoyed under it. The Lord is the first person in the New Testament who speaks of it, and He supplies an important link with reference to it. Jeremiah predicted the new covenant, and the blessings to be enjoyed under it; viz., the knowledge of God, and the forgiveness of sins; but he did not state on what sacrifice this covenant would be based. This the Lord did when He uttered the words, " This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." (Matt. 26:2828For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matthew 26:28)) Thus His words, when giving the cup to His disciples, naturally recall to our mind the passage in Jeremiah, and show us that He revealed what the prophet could not; and when we remember the dispensational character of Matthew's gospel, presenting as it does the Lord as Son of David, and Son of Abraham, is there not a propriety in the fullest reference to that covenant which concerns directly God's earthly people, being found in the gospel, which more than any of the others presents the Lord in His special relation to them? Forgiveness of sins we enjoy now, and they will by-and-by; but they will only know it as part of the blessings of the new covenant, and when that covenant shall have been made with them. We who believe know it now, because the blood on which it will rest has been shed; so the blessing, based on the atoning work of the Lord, can be shared in by us whilst the Lord is in heaven.
Turning to Luke's account, we learn what the other two evangelists do not make plain-how distinct was the Lord's Supper from the paschal feast, though both were partaken of by the disciples at the same table, and on the same night. His account of the paschal feast is given us in chap. xxii. 15-18; his account of the institution of the supper follows in verses 19, 20. At the paschal feast the Lord had His place as one with them; at the supper He was, as it were, the host, dispensing that which He had provided to those who were the guests. How much surely we should have lost had Luke's account not seen the light, or had it perished by the carelessness or hostility of man to the truth for the beloved Physician it is, who has given us to understand that the Lord prized the opportunity of observing the passover-" With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer." Matthew, who must have heard these words, has not repeated them. Luke, who certainly was not present, alone records them; and fitly does he do it, since the manhood of the Lord Jesus Christ comes out especially in his gospel. How the Lord Jesus then, as one of Israel, viewed the passover these words show us, and surely afford us instruction as to the light in which we should view the privilege, and the opportunity of now commemorating His death, which, when Israel shall enjoy the fruits of it, will cause them to relegate to a second place God's memorable intervention in the past. (Jer. 23:7,87Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; 8But, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land. (Jeremiah 23:7‑8)) God's intervention was in the Lord's eyes no light thing. How we who sit at His table view redemption by His blood may well be a question, when His words above quoted come before us.
Further, we learn from Luke's account of what passed in that upper room, that though the Lord partook of the passover, He did not drink of the paschal cup, which it would seem had been handed to Him; for the historian wrote, "Having received a cup,"1 not "having taken it," as our English translation would intimate. Now, in the original regulations about the passover there is no mention of a cup, and, as Deut. 16:3-83Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life. 4And there shall be no leavened bread seen with thee in all thy coast seven days; neither shall there any thing of the flesh, which thou sacrificedst the first day at even, remain all night until the morning. 5Thou mayest not sacrifice the passover within any of thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee: 6But at the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt. 7And thou shalt roast and eat it in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose: and thou shalt turn in the morning, and go unto thy tents. 8Six days thou shalt eat unleavened bread: and on the seventh day shall be a solemn assembly to the Lord thy God: thou shalt do no work therein. (Deuteronomy 16:3‑8) shows us, there was originally no room for it; for the character of the feast in the month of Abib, as that chapter teaches us, was not one of joy; and no joy is mentioned as characteristic of a Jewish festival till the time arrived for keeping the feast of weeks, when, in the possession of the fruits of resurrection in the land, they were to rejoice. (Deut. 16:1111And thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you, in the place which the Lord thy God hath chosen to place his name there. (Deuteronomy 16:11)) What then God had instituted, to that the Lord conformed. Of that which man had added the Lord did not partake. He did not, however, condemn the introduction of the cup as wrong; but the time for joy in connection with full redemption not having come, He did not drink of it himself, though, when He had given thanks, He handed it to His disciples to divide amongst themselves, saying, " I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come." Thus far we have Luke's account of the paschal feast. What follows is that of the supper.
This is an entirely new service, quite distinct from any of which Israel as such had been allowed to partake; but one in which all the children of God, of whatever nationality, are privileged to have part. What then is the character of this service? and what the meaning of it? Both these questions are answered by the Lord Himself. His action tells us of the one, His words teach us about the other. " He gave thanks." Then the service is eucharistic indeed; for that was all that we are told that He did before He brake the bread, and gave it to the disciples. And a -second time He gave thanks before He handed to them the cup of which they were to drink. That He gave thanks before handing the cup St. Luke and St. Paul imply; but Matthew and Mark expressly state it. Agreeing in this, they agree also in stating that He blessed (eA0740-as) before He broke the bread, whereas St. Luke and St. Paul affirm He gave thanks (ctixapto-T4o-as). The difference is not great, and admits probably of this explanation, that whilst the two latter give the character of His utterance, the others express the form in which it came forth. A eucharistic service then is that of the breaking of bread. He gave thanks, but in what terms we know not. Matthew, who must have heard it, is silent upon it; neither Mark, nor Luke, nor Paul have supplied the omission. It must have been a wonderful thanksgiving when the Lord gave thanks to God for the results of His atoning death, so soon to be an accomplished fact. Who on earth could enter into them as He could? Who knew like Him what the judgment of God was? Who could then understand but Himself what are the joys of the Father's love, and the Father's house? Full and perfect then must that thanksgiving have been, yet not a syllable of it has been preserved in God's book. And rightly' so; for since the Spirit of God is to direct us in our worship, the words of the Lord on that occasion have been carefully kept from us; and nowhere have we even the thanksgiving utterances of an apostle when breaking bread at the Lord's table. Had it been otherwise, would not such have been used as a form? and no service at the Lord's table would have been thought complete without them. But then dependence on the Holy Spirit's guidance would have been really surrendered. Wisely, therefore, have the terms of the Lord's thanksgiving been omitted from the account of His institution of the supper.
Are we on this account placed at a disadvantage? No; for we know what the character of the service is to be, and we know too, from the Lord's action, how perfect in His eyes is His atoning work; for as He gave thanks, and that only, at the institution of the supper, we are taught that nothing needed to be, nothing could be, added to the value of His sacrificial work, and that nothing more would be wanted, than what He was about to do, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. No word have we here of prayer. What room could there be to ask for anything in the contemplation of accomplished atonement? Prayer may come in after the breaking of bread has taken place, as those gathered together think of saints unable to be present, or of souls still unsaved, or of anything else in connection with the Lord's work or God's purposes; but prayer in the place of thanksgiving, when met to break bread, is assuredly not in harmony with the Lord's ways at His table; for the work is a perfect work, a finished work, as Scripture affirms (Heb. 10:14-1814For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. 15Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, 16This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; 17And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. 18Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:14‑18)), and the Lord's own action of giving thanks abundantly confirms.
The character of the service thus expressed, its meaning too was explained by Him, when He handed to His disciples first the bread, and then the wine-" This is my body, which is given for you;" "this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you."
What grace is expressed in these words, "My body given for you!" None could have lawfully demanded His death. " He made Himself," said the Jews when delivering Him to Pilate, "the Son of God, and by our law He ought to die." But He was, and is, the Son of God. None then could lawfully have demanded His death, though the Jews condemned Him as guilty of blasphemy, and accused Him of high treason to Pilate the governor. His statement about His person was true, and Pilate acquitted Him of any charge of which he could take cognizance. Yet He died. His body was given for us. He surrendered Himself. His blood was shed for us. Did God keep back anything that was for man's good? The devil had persuaded Adam and Eve that He did. Now what an answer has God given to that! an answer such as no man could have expected, and one of which the devil then could have had no foreknowledge. For the death of His Son on the cross, not for man merely, but for sinners, was to be the overwhelming, the touching proof that God would withhold nothing of which we had need. " He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all," writes St. Paul to believers at Rome. (Rom. 8:3232He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)) " He sent His Son," writes John, " to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:1010Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)) Nor this only. The Son gave Himself, as Paul has taught us (Gal. 1:4;2. 20; 1 Tim. 2:66Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (1 Timothy 2:6); Titus 2:1414Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:14)); but the apostle was not the first who declared that. The Son Himself announced it. (Matt. 20:2828Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28); Mark 10:4545For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45); John 6:5151I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (John 6:51)) The joy was His of declaring in plain words that He would surrender Himself to die, to glorify God and to save sinners.
C. E. S.