THE WICKET GATE
Chapter 4.....The Lord's Supper
"For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup ye do show the Lord's death, till He come. " 1 Corinthians, ch. 11, verse 26.
LET us understand very clearly that all our knowledge of the Lord's Supper is confined absolutely to the Scriptures. There we have the accounts of the inauguration of the Feast, and we are in no sense under the slightest obligation to bring to the Scripture records such ideas and fantasies as have gripped the minds of ecclesiastics since the conclusion of Scripture. Certain simple facts can be established that will be helpful. Scripture records of the inauguration of this ordinance are by our Lord himself. Beyond the shadow of a doubt it was inaugurated in the evening. Those, therefore, who would impose upon us the obligation to take it in the morning have the effrontery to condemn our Lord. It is equally clear that the bread and wine were handed to the disciples at the end of the meal. Nobody, therefore, has the slightest authority to require that those partaking should first have fasted. We have no objection to such as desire to fast, and it may be that fasting has a value, but let us not impose on believers conditions which are not to be found in Scripture.
There is, of course, no mention of an altar, no mention of that extraordinary individual, never heard of in Scripture, who is called a "celebrant." Any honest reading of the records will also show that all took of the bread and of the wine. They knew nothing of what is called "communion in one kind." The present inexcusable practice of offering the wafer only to what is called the laity, has no authority in Scripture nor indeed for many centuries later. Pope Gelasius (494 A.D.) declared that the dividing of the elements was an act of sacrilege. He apparently had some light, but what was sacrilege to him, his successors have now sanctified! These simple observations will have cleared away a good deal of the superstition now surrounding this simple ordinance.
Let us now look at the relationship of the two ordinances. Both of them were for all believers. There should be no baptism without subsequent fellowship at the Table and no fellowship at the Table without first having been baptised into His death. All Assemblies of the Lord's people are commanded to baptise, and all persons baptised are required to enter into the fellowship of the Table. There is, of course, nothing in Scripture to support the present practice of baptising a baby and then delaying its fellowship at the Table until it reaches the age of 12. The two ordinances in the Scriptures are linked intimately in time as well as in faith. The baptismal waters are a personal lonely experience into the mysteries of death with Christ and the Table is the subsequent fellowship of all believers in those same mysteries. Essentially it is the consummation of fellowship with Christ and with all other believers. In no sense is it to be isolated, as for example, mere attendance at Mass without any other relation to the company of the Lord's people, or, equally to be condemned, the attendance at the Table for the purpose of maintaining membership of a Church. The Christian who comes to the Table without any intention of sharing in fellowship with the Lord's people at any other time, shares the misconceptions of those who attend the Eucharist or the Mass, and for the rest know nothing of those of the same like faith in Christ.
The observance of the Ordinance is the responsibility of the Lord's people. This is important because in the growth of ecclesiastical tradition the emphasis is upon that remarkable person the "celebrant." The Vatican recently announced that baptism would be valid provided it was in the Triune Name without reference to the status of the person baptising. We agree with that provided that the person so baptising is authorised by some company of the Lord's people. But if this be so for baptism, it is likewise for the Lord's Supper. Bishop Lightfoot observes that up to the time of Tertullian (early 2nd century) both laity and ministers were regarded as priests. Every child of God is, of course, a priest unto God, but there is no New Testament priesthood upon which has been conferred special powers to certain individuals. Ecclesiastical theologians know this quite well, but their system depends for its power on the position of the priest. No Bible reading is encouraged lest eyes should be opened to this and many other facts. A Romanist may enter as many public houses as he will, he may gamble, but there is one sin he must not commit. He must not enter a Protestant place of worship, All this is cunningly devised for the express purpose of keeping the poor dupes in Romanism in the grip of the power of the priest. So the error is perpetrated that the priest and the priest alone can conduct the Mass. In the first century the authority for the feast was vested in the Lord's people. Paul was sent forth by the Church at Antioch acting under the instructions of the Holy Spirit. Such a person being authorised, either for the occasion or permanently, is a fit and proper person for the observance of the ordinance; and the Table shall be spread.
The words in which our Lord instituted the Feast are recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke and by Paul in his first letter to the Christians at Corinth. He took the bread, He broke it, He blessed it and gave it to His disciples. In offering them the bread he declared: "Take eat, this is My body broken (given) for you." In handing them the cup He added: "This cup is the new covenant in My blood shed for the remission of sins: drink ye all of it." Whatever our Lord meant by His words it is clear that His disciples did not drink His actual blood nor eat any part of His body of flesh. Let us never forget that what matters is truth. It must be the desire of each one to know the truth for it alone sets us free. Every believer recognises that without faith it is impossible to please God. My faith, therefore, is an essential element, in everything Godwards. I believe that the Bread and the Wine so taken have a ministry of grace to every believer. I find no difficulty in regarding the bread and wine taken in such circumstances as having a Divine significance. While I cannot interpret the words of our Lord as meaning His actual body and blood, I am prepared to believe that Christ Himself is the meat and drink of the spiritual life as flesh and blood are of the physical life
Some of course, in Romanist circles would attest more, in this particular matter, so different from baptism, insisting upon the plain and literal fact. I will deal with that point in a moment, but in the meantime let me point out that if we are to be literal, we must be literal from beginning to end. That seems to be reasonable. In such a case, therefore, let it be noted that all that anybody is to do with the bread is to eat it, with the wine to drink it. There is no instruction of any kind as to reservation in an vessel before the altar, no instruction to make the bread an object of veneration. All that our Lord commands His disciples is to eat and to drink, no more, no less. If one brother believes he is actually eating the body of Christ and drinking the blood, so be it, but let him be sure that he does nothing else with the bread and the wine except to eat and drink. To take the bread and wine as literally the body and blood of our Lord and then to scrap the whole literal position by reserving what should be consumed is as farcical a position as any intelligent person could possibly conceive.
Further, the doctrine of the real presence, that on the words spoken by a priest, a priest alone, and no other, transubstantiation takes place, was not taught until 831, and was not finally formulated until the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. In 1214 a Romanist need not believe it was the body and the blood of our Lord, but in 1215 he had to toe the line! Hence the priest who claims to be the one person who can perform this miracle, goes on to teach that nobody can be a faithful Christian and bound for the Kingdom unless he regularly eats the bread and wine which he declares, but cannot prove, is the body and blood of our Lord. So his power extends until every poor benighted Romanist, not being allowed to read the Bible for himself or herself, is bound to the priest for time and eternity. The priest without a shred of authority in the Word of God, without the scintilla of scientific evidence, claims to be able with a few words to produce a localised Deity. The present Bishop of Birmingham observes that " the root principle of idolatry is belief in a Deity localised in material objects through the invocation of a priest." Well, as one who often differs from Dr. Barnes, we can say that on this occasion he exposes the truth concerning this terrible deception foisted upon a public who will not read the Word for themselves.
Now the young convert can appreciate to some extent the position of religious ecclesiasticism. First having been sprinkled as a baby, one is made a Christian. Then in attending Mass and eating the wafer, the Christian life is maintained. That done and thereafter one leads precisely the same sort of life as any decent citizen who never darkens the door of a place of worship. He will read his morning newspaper, call in at the local; in Spain he will patronise the bullfight while the priest teaches him he is safe for eternity. He must, however, not read the Protestant Bible, he must not enter a Protestant place of worship, while, of course, those miserable heretics, who seek by the blessing of God to be obedient to the Scriptures, are right outside the pale of the Christian Church! The poor Romanist comes to the end of life, still concerned about the world to come, and when he passes over, his friends announcing his death in the newspaper add that he was fortified with the rites of Holy Church. Those fortifications, however, will be of doubtful value where they are needed most, for, to quote Dr. Barnes again, "We do not need to be fortified against the love of God, and no rites of the Church can fortify us against His justice!
Perhaps we can now sum up our own position in simple terms. Our Lord offers us plain bread and ordinary wine. He offers these to His believing people first to be eaten and drunk, "in remembrance of Him. " Our memories are so uncertain, it is so easy to forget the pit from which we have been dug. After a great humiliation before God in repentance our poor hearts are apt to forget, and so we are to remember Him. These elements no less direct us to the very heart of our salvation: we are redeemed in the blood, we are reconciled m His flesh. The carnal mind does not like too great an emphasis upon the blood, but Jesus magnifies the Blood in the Ordinance of the Supper. Likewise we are to do this "until He come," because as together we eat the bread and drink the wine amidst the sin and despair of the world we are to remember that He has promised to come again for His redeemed people. He will rapture His own and fulfil His promises to Israel, and take over the government of this bankrupt world.
The ordinance is not between the priest and God but between the believer and God. So faith and hope and love are stirred by the Spirit of God within the heart of the believer as he or she comes to the Table to eat the Bread and the Wine. It is indeed a holy supper in which as we sit with others and remember Him, His blood, His tears, His place on the Throne, His coming again; we are severally refreshed and strengthened. Poor indeed is the feast if in spite of wonderful apparel and the high dignity of the celebrant, our own hearts are lacking in pure love, in holy devotion, in strong and simple faith. Nothing the celebrant can do, can make the Feast a valid blessing where there is no faith, no hope, no love; but if these be in our hearts, then the simplest little meeting in the smallest village that ever was, will be hallowed ground. Although the one who conducts in simplicity the sacred feast in the words of our Lord, has no claim to some special ordination by a bishop, yet obedience to the Lord is fulfilled and the blessing of heaven will enrich the sacred Supper.
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