The Lord’s Supper
by John Ritchie
Keeping the Feast
In sacred fellowship we meet,
To celebrate our Saviour’s death;
His blood we drink, His flesh we eat,
His people feed on Him by faith.
We worship Him who bore the cross,
We glory in His death alone;
The world itself appears but loss
To those by whom His name is known.
On earth His dying love shall be
Our spring of hope, our theme of joy;
And, when in heav’n our Lord we see,
His praise shall all our powers employ.
The Lord’s Supper
A happy and devoted Christian lad of our acquaintance has stamped upon the cover of his well-marked Bible the words—“Enquire Within about Everything.” He had happily learned in the early years of his Christian life, that the Word of God is a sure and all-sufficient guide, not only in the matter of salvation, but in everything connected with the Christian’s path and testimony here on earth. This great, this fundamental principle of the Christian life, is worthy of the closest attention of all who are the children of God. Its importance cannot be over-estimated; it is paramount among the laws of God’s kingdom. A joyful acceptance of it and a hearty submission to it, is the sure way of progress and blessing, while its neglect always leads to backsliding and barrenness. To be able, truthfully and honestly, to say—“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105) is the secret of safe guidance, sure direction, and real progress in the Christian life. To be ever able to testify “I esteem all Thy precepts concerning all things to be right, and I hate every false way” (Ps. 119:128), is the only safeguard and preservation from the errors and traditions of men. The Word of God must be the standard of doctrine, the rule of faith, and the final appeal in everything to the believer. Neither the voice of the Church, nor the opinions of men must be allowed for a moment to supersede the supreme authority of the Word of God, in which all the legislation, all the commandments, all the evidences, and all the details of their observance, for all saints of all ages, have been preserved for the obedience of faith. And it is at once the privilege and responsibility of every true believer to “enquire within,” and daily search that blessed Word, for knowledge and information, for guidance and direction in all things on which God has spoken. Alas! that so many who bear the Christian name, should give so little honour to the Word of God and its supreme authority, or allow themselves to be so easily led astray by the traditions of men. Yet blessed be God that Word remains in all its sufficiency, to guide the simple and true-hearted disciple, and to assure him of that which is of the Lord, and well-pleasing to Him.
Let us open the Word of God then, reverently, inquiringly, with the prayer in our hearts “Lead me in Thy truth and teach me” (Ps. 25:5), and learn what is there said about the Lord’s Supper.
In the Gospels we have the Institution of it by the Lord Jesus.
In the Acts we have the Celebration of it by the early disciples.
In the Epistles we have the Explanation of it by the Holy Ghost, with full directions as to the manner of its observance till the Lord’s return.
How simple all this makes it. If the Lord has spoken, it is ours to hear. If He has given commandment, it is ours to obey.
THE LORD’S SUPPER INSTITUTED
On the night before He suffered death on Calvary, the Lord Jesus with His twelve disciples had gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish passover for the last time. The type was about to give place to the antitype—“Christ our passover sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7). While the passover feast was in progress, Judas the traitor went out (John 13:30) and the Lord, left with His eleven true followers, took bread and wine, and instituted the simple memorial feast, saying “This do in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Nothing could be more simple, more expressive. Yet alas! how soon it was corrupted and perverted, alike in its meaning and the manner of its observance, until it became an elaborate ritual and a mischievous denial of the very death it was meant to “show forth” or proclaim (1 Cor. 11:26, R.V).
The Lord’s Supper is not a “sacrifice for the remission of sins,” as the Church of Rome blasphemously says, while her priests profess to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Nor is it the “real presence of the body and blood of Christ,” as the Church of England Ritualist affirms, with farce of altar, vestments, and human priesthood. Nor is it “a sacrament” which is “made effectual for salvation,” as Protestant Confessions of Faith and Catechisms have it. “Sacrament” comes from a Latin word which means an “oath of allegiance,” the vow of a Roman soldier to serve his King and country—a thought entirely foreign to and destructive of the doctrine of salvation by grace, in virtue of the finished work of Christ upon the Cross. All these corruptions of the Lord’s Supper destroy its meaning, subvert the very foundation of the Gospel, delude thousands of souls by giving them a false foundation on which to build, and fill the world’s churches with unconverted communicants, who expect in some mysterious way, by means of this “ordinance” to gain favour with God and reach heaven at last.
From 1 Corinthians 11:23 we learn that the Apostle Paul received from the glorified Lord in heaven a fresh communication regarding this feast, and the manner of its observance for all time “till He come,” so that nothing was left for man’s ingenuity to add, or for Church councils or courts to alter. All has been provided for, perfectly, continuously and unalterably, by Divine legislation, and recorded in the Word for the Church’s obedience. To alter, to supplement, or to violate these Divine rubrics is sacrilege and rebellion against the rule of heaven. There is no priest or presiding minister officially required at this “forget-me-not” feast, the Lord Himself is there, and those who gather around Him to keep the feast appear on a common level as brethren of one family, members of one body, priestly worshippers in one sanctuary, all made equally near to God by the one sacrifice of Christ, and equally fit to offer praise in the holiest by the one anointing of the Holy Ghost of which they share in common. No one takes the place of the Lord, who broke the bread and gave to each a portion (Luke 22:19)—although some who are clear enough as to the sin of priestly assumption, seem to think it needful that one from among the gathered saints should take the bread and break it for the rest, in imitation of the Lord—but the words of 1 Corinthians 10:16—“The bread which we break” leave no room for such a function, and remind us that the Lord, being now personally in heaven, the Spirit who has come from Him thus glorified, has created and sustains a fellowship among saints which did not and could not exist when the Supper was instituted. Thus we find in 1 Corinthians 11:23-24, that the Lord’s Supper is to be observed in the Christian Assembly by the Church “come together” in one place, under the Spirit’s guidance where Divine order obtains, and where human interference and expediency must have no place whatever.
THE LORD’S SUPPER CELEBRATED
In the Acts and Epistles we learn who are to partake of the Lord’s Supper, how often it is to be observed, and for how long.
It is not a feast for the unconverted. It is not for “every parishioner” as the Prayer Book says: nor for “the baptized,” nor for all who “profess faith” in Christ as the Saviour. How can those who reject Christ remember Him? How dare those who despise His death as their only way of salvation “show it forth?” No greater sin is committed on earth in the sight of heaven, than by crowds of worldlings, many of them utterly ungodly in their lives, others with a mere garnishing of “Sunday religion,” being invited and encouraged by their ministers to “renew their vows” at the yearly sacrament. True believers who associate with them, and by partaking of the same bread and wine express their fellowship with the ungodly, help on the awful sham, and openly disobey the Lord’s command—“Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14). Some have tried to defend their conduct by saying that Judas, the traitor, was a partaker of the Lord’s Supper. The Scriptures show that he was not, for we read in Matthew 26:23-25, that while he was present at the passover—the national feast of the Jews—after he received “the sop,” which was part of the paschal feast, “he went out immediately” (John 13:30), before the institution of the Supper. And it ought to be a solemn remembrance to those who claim him as their pattern that ere another week, he was in “his own place” in hell (Acts 1:25).
We read in Acts 20:7, that “on the first day of the week”—that is the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10), the memorial of the Lord’s Resurrection, the disciples came together to break bread.” Here we learn how the saints of early time understood the Lord’s command, and when and how they obeyed it. It was “disciples” who came together, not to hear a sermon, or to preach the Gospel, but to “break bread.” This was the paramount purpose of their coming together. There would be thanksgiving, praise and ministry of a character in keeping with the object of their gathering, as we learn from 1 Corinthians 14—where the assembly is seen as gathered together—but the prime object of their coming together was to “break bread” in remembrance of Christ. And this was their habit on the “first day of the week”—not once a year, or once a quarter, or once a month, but as the memorial day came round, the memorial feast was spread. And it is worth observing that the “day” and the “supper” especially fitted for each other by a word being used by the Holy Ghost to mark them off, nowhere else used in the New Testament. “The Lord’s Day” and “the Lord’s Supper” (Rev. 1:10; 1 Cor. 11:20) or as they may be more correctly read, “The Lordly Day” and “The Lordly Supper”—the supper for the day and the day for the supper. To eat the Lord’s Supper is the greatest privilege, and the highest form of fellowship with God and His people to which the believer is called upon earth. None can treat it lightly or habitually neglect it, without suffering infinite loss. Yet, alas! how many prefer to be in their pews listening to a sermon, or on the platform preaching to their fellows, rather than quietly sitting in the presence of their Lord at His table, where the spikenard of their worship would give forth a sweet fragrance (S. of Sol. 1:12) of more value in His esteem (John 12:7) than much that passes as devotion and philanthropy. To serve the Lord in ministering to His saints, or in preaching to the unconverted, is indeed a holy privilege, which may the Lord give each of us grace to fulfil in our varied spheres—but it is a higher honour still, to banquet with the Captain of our salvation, and to silently and unitedly proclaim His death in a world where He is still despised or forgotten. This honour have all His saints, and when healthy and happy in soul, they will joyfully respond to the Lord’s last command—“This do in remembrance of Me”—by singing as they go to the place where the Lord has placed His Name, and where His saints are gathered around Him:—
“I joyed when to the Christ of God,
Come up—He says to me.”
No hour of the week is comparable to this for there we see the Master’s face and hear His voice, and are strengthened for the walk and warfare of the week we have thus entered.
THE LORD’S SUPPER EXPLAINED
In the Epistles—especially the First Epistle to the Corinthians—we learn the intimate connection between the Lord’s Supper and the church or assembly of saints, as gathered together locally in the Lord’s Name. There is nothing to indicate that the Supper is to be observed by individuals, or by promiscuous companies of professed believers unknown to each other, who casually meet at conferences and such like. The Lord’s Supper is part of the fellowship of saints, and may not be separated from the privileges and responsibilities of the Christian assembly. Nor is the assembly at liberty to receive believers to this one privilege who refuse to share the others of which it forms a part. The adage that “The Lord’s Table is for all the Lord’s people” has been made to mean that if one confesses his faith in Christ, he may hold any unsound doctrine, or continue in any evil practice or remain in any unscriptural association he pleases, and yet claim a right to “break bread” whenever he thinks fit. The Scripture teaches otherwise.
Those who desire to share the privileges and responsibilities of God’s Assembly, must be received to it (Acts 9:26-28), and continue steadfastly in “the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Thus the Lord’s Supper is to be observed according as “He has commanded,” by his saints throughout the whole of the present age, “till He come” (1 Cor. 11:26), which is only now “a very little while” (Heb. 10:37, R.V.). Till then, may the Lord’s redeemed ones, for whom He died on Calvary, for whom in unwearied love He lives on the right hand of God, for whom He soon will come with a shout of welcome and of triumph, continue to gather on the appointed day, and in the appointed way, to “show forth” the death of Christ as the Sacrifice and Saviour, to remember Christ alive for evermore their Lord and Head, while they wait in patient vigil for Christ their Hope, to whose image they shall be transformed, and in whose presence they shall dwell for ever and for aye.