Monday, May 5, 2014

Evangelical Episcopal Writings: A Brief View of the Nature of Holy Communion (Manton Eastburn)

Manton Eastburn was bishop of Massachusetts from 1843 until 1872. 

IN the 28th verse of the XIth Chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, is found the following admonition. "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup." St. Paul, as you perceive, here recommends the duty of strict self-investigation, previously to the reception of the Lord's Supper. But it is very evident, that, if the institution itself had not been of binding obligation, the blessed apostle would not have troubled himself with enjoining preparation for its observance. He proceeds on the assumption, that this sacrament was of divine appointment; and then insists upon such a state of heart in the Corinthians, as might constitute them worthy partakers of its symbols. "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup." Upon this ordinance, prescribed for the use of his followers by the great "Author and Finisher of our faith," I propose to make some observations in the following pages. And in so doing, I shall, first of all, set forth the true nature and character of the Holy Communion; and, secondly, shall advert to some prevalent errors, in regard to this important subject. In both which portions of the topic before us, may God be present with his blessing!

[4] What, then, is the nature of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper? This is the first inquiry to which I am to direct your attention.

One principal aspect in which the Holy Communion stands before us, is that of a commemorative institution. It was enjoined, for the purpose of calling to mind, through all the generations of the Christian church, the Redeemer's dying love. As often, therefore, as the Saviour's followers meet at his table, they thereby bring up before them, as a subject of grateful recollection, his groans and tears; his "agony and bloody sweat;" his bodily frame bruised for the transgressions of the world, and his precious blood gratuitously poured out for its redemption. That one prominent object of the sacrament under consideration is to call Christ to remembrance, is evident from the very words of its Founder. "This do," said he, "in remembrance of me." And to the same effect speaks St. Paul, in the chapter to which reference has already been made. "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come." And that our Church views the subject in the same light, is as clear as possible. In the first of the two Exhortations, used for bidding persons to this festal celebration, believers are invited to receive the sacrament, "in remembrance of Christ's meritorious Cross and Passion." And the second Exhortation thus speaks; "It is your duty to receive the Communion in remembrance of the sacrifice of his death, as he himself hath commanded." Let me refer you also to the Exhortation read at the time of the celebration. It is there said that Christ "hath instituted and ordained holy Mysteries, as pledges of his love, and for a continual remembrance of his death, to our great and endless comfort." And then, besides these places of the Communion Service, turn to the Prayer of Consecration. This says, that Christ "did institute, and in his holy gospel command us to [4/5] continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious death and sacrifice until his coming again." It also says, "We do celebrate and make here, the memorial thy Son hath commanded us to make; having in remembrance his blessed passion and precious death." It likewise puts into the mouths of the communicants a petition, that they, receiving the symbols "in remembrance of Christ's Death and Passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood." And, in conclusion of these citations from our authorized formularies, let me call your attention to the following question and answer in the Catechism. "Question. Why was the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper ordained? Answer. For the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ, and of the benefits which we receive thereby." Upon this point, therefore, it is needless any further to enlarge. Holy Scripture, and our own Church, teach with consentient voice, that, whenever the sacrament of the Holy Communion is administered, it is for the purpose of commemorating the unutterable love of Christ, as manifested in that one "full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction," which he offered, on the cross of Calvary, "for the sins of the whole world."

Another principal point of view in which this holy Sacrament is presented to us, is that of a means of spiritual nourishment.

It is the privilege of the Christian believer, that, by the gracious providence of God, he is put in possession of certain channels of strength and comfort, by a due resort to which he may experience continual refreshment. One of these prescribed channels is the ordinance which we are now contemplating. And it is very evident that Scripture views it in such an aspect. What does St. Paul say? "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The [5/6] bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" And what are the words of the Author of the institution? "My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." These passages very plainly show, that, whenever the faithful recipient "presses with his teeth" the symbols of bread and wine, he, at the same time, is spiritually fed with that body and blood of the Redeemer, of which these elements are the signs and emblems. He receives consolation: his faith is confirmed: he finds peace in a nearer view of the promises of God through Christ: in fine,—there is a twofold nutriment received at one and the same time; of his bodily frame by what he eats and drinks, and of his soul by that which these outward things set forth and represent. And that we are fully warranted in the idea, that the Lord's Supper is a means of grace, as well as a commemoration of the unspeakable love of Christ, will be seen by a reference once more to the standards of our scriptural Church. We are told, in one of the Exhortations in the Communion Service, that it is our duty to thank God, "for that he hath given his Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, not only to die for us, but also to be our spiritual food and sustenance in that holy Sacrament." In another of these Exhortations, those who come to the Lord's Table are described as "feeding on the banquet of that most heavenly food." So, likewise, when the minister delivers the bread to the assembled communicants, the words which he uses, as you all remember, are these; "Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving." But most fully bearing upon this point, is the language of that same lucid and inimitable Catechism, to which I have already referred. "What are the benefits," it is there asked, "whereof we are partakers thereby?" And the reply is as follows; "The strengthening and refreshing of our souls by the [6/7] body and blood of Christ, as our bodies are by the bread and wine." From this combined testimony, then, of the word of God, and of our Book of Common Prayer, we are brought to the knowledge of that joyful truth, that, in the sacramental feast, the pilgrim through time to eternity is supplied with provision by the way. Overcome with the sense of sins, he is there encouraged with the view of His sufficiency who has blotted them away. Weak in his confidence in Christ, his reliance is there confirmed. Needing comfort and peace, he there finds the rest which he is seeking. "He that eateth my flesh," says the blessed Jesus, "and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him."
There is still another conspicuous aspect, in which this Sacrament stands in our view; namely, that of a special occasion of the presence of Christ.

The great and pressing want under which the human spirit labors, after it has come to the knowledge of its sins, is the desire that the blessed Redeemer may be revealed to it, in the fulness of his power and love. To meet this craving, God has ordained, in his wisdom, particular helps and instruments. Every believer knows, for example, that the Saviour is peculiarly manifested during seasons of sorrow; and under circumstances of worldly disappointment; and at times of great danger. It is on such occasions that the Lord Jesus Christ, comparatively hidden from us in prosperous days, appears distinctly before us: proclaiming himself, with inexpressible comfort, as the Being who has satisfied for our iniquities; who has taken the sting from death; and who, by the efficacy of his blood, has "opened the kingdom of heaven, to all believers." Every servant of God knows also, that the Redeemer shows himself, with unwonted clearness, during the moments of prayer. And the same blessing has been experienced, times without number, during the public ministrations of the sanctuary. And, among [7/8] these external means, whereby our Lord and Master makes himself especially felt and seen, as the Forgiver of iniquity, transgression, and sin, what believer can doubt that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper holds a distinguished place? How many into whose hands these pages come must have proved this, on divers occasions, by personal experience! There is something in the very sight of the emblems, placed upon the Lord's Table, which brings the Saviour, in all his sufficiency and love, home to our hearts. As our eyes fall upon that bread and that wine, in which are represented the body and the blood of the crucified Lamb of God, our spirits rise as if on wings. We appear almost to see that perfect Mediator, removing the load of our guilt; and almost to hear his voice, proclaiming in our ears, as he did once in the days of his flesh, "Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." Now, this being the fact in regard to the blessed sacrament of the Communion, let us be duly thankful for so marvelous a benefit. Let us rejoice, that, at frequent intervals, the Lord Jesus Christ is graciously revealed to our vision, as we approach the table of his appointment. Whenever we assemble to keep this glorious feast, the Founder of it is in the midst of us; and, for our consolation in this valley of tears and of sin, "is evidently set forth, crucified among us."

After this view of the nature of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, we shall be prepared to look, with greater discrimination, at some of those erroneous conceptions of its character, which are prevalent in the world around us. This is that second branch of the subject, to which I promised to invite your attention.

And 1. If the representations that have now been made be correct, then that is a very inadequate notion of this ordinance, which reduces it to a mere [8/9] sign of fellowship between the members of the Christian society.

The idea to which I refer, and which was maintained with pertinacity, in opposition to Luther, by some of the continental Reformers, is simply this. The body of the Church is composed of a large company of members. Now, in organized associations among the children of this world, men find it productive of harmony and mutual good-will to meet together at some fixed season; and, at the festive board, to recognize in each other companions, brethren, and friends. Of the same kind, it is pretended, is the sacramental feast. It is a token and a bond of union, between the numerous persons who compose the family of God. And as such, it deserves to be kept up, from generation to generation, by the professed followers of Christ. Now, that the Holy Communion does answer this purpose, none can pretend to deny. Those who meet at this holy Table are brought together, in a most interesting manner, as disciples of one Master, and as travellers to the same eternal destiny. And the world certainly presents no spectacle to us more impressive, than that which the sacramental celebration holds forth: where the rich and the poor; the learned and the unlettered; the master and the servant; the prince and the peasant; are blended together as beings, who, notwithstanding all the adventitious distinctions of this life, are partakers of the same riches of redeeming blood, and heirs of the same immortality. But to confine this blessed institution to such an intention, were surely to forget the language of that inspired Volume, from which the warrant for its observance is drawn. At this heavenly banquet, we come to commemorate His love, who saved with an everlasting salvation them that were lost. We come to receive, amidst the doubts, the discouragements, and the spiritual darkness of our journey, the supports of divine consolation. [9/10] We come to experience the blessed Master's presence: manifested to us in forms, in which he doth not manifest himself to the world; and with a beauty in which he is seldom presented to us, on other times and occasions. Need I urge, then, how low and defective is that conception of sacramental privileges, to which I have just called your attention? And in thus falling short of the scriptural mark, it has received the unequivocal condemnation of our Church; who, in her Twenty-Eighth Article, thus speaks: "The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather it is a Sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ; and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ."

Again. According to what has already been advanced, those persons must be deemed defective in their views of this Sacrament, who, while they are willing to admit, that, besides being a sign of union, it is also a prescribed commemoration of Christ's death, yet limit it to such a meaning.

It is, truly, an institution in which we bring to mind our Master's sorrows; and, with grateful hearts, dwell upon the remembrance, that He who dwelt in the glory which he had with the Father before the world began, for our sakes divested himself of this splendor—had not where to lay his head—"became obedient unto death"—and endured the sharpness of those pangs, which the wrath of God sent like the iron into his soul. All this the festival of the Lord's Supper is:—but it is something more. It is an established medium of strength and comfort: it builds up the renewed inner man, as with sustaining nutriment: and it is by this very blessing which it carries with it, when received with a true penitent heart, and lively faith, that we, the [10/11] ambassadors of Christ, are emboldened to urge it with such unwearied importunity upon the adoption of all Christian men. We can say to the professed servants of God, who abstain from this heavenly banquet,—Approach to the Lord's Table, as ye value your own peace, and as ye desire your continual growth in grace. Here may the wayfaring man find the choicest food, to revive his fainting powers. Here he may, ever and anon, pause to draw water, from those "fresh springs" of salvation which are bubbling forth, at frequent intervals, along all the line of his journey. Come hither; for "except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." Let us beware, then, how we attribute less to this divine and blessed ordinance, than is pronounced of it in the word of inspiration. And, amidst the loose and conceited notions of this latitudinarian age, it is an edifying exercise to turn to the standards of our wise and sober Church; who, while she treads under foot the perilous delusion, that the simple administration of this sacrament is necessarily attended with spiritual efficacy, yet as clearly maintains, that, where it is taken with the right dispositions, it is "a certain sure witness, and effectual sign of grace, and God's good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us." Allow me to awaken you to the due sense of your privileges, as the possessors of this most precious institution in the Church of Christ. Allow me to speak to you in the unparalleled language of one of our old Homilies:—"Here may the faithful feel wrought the tranquillity of conscience, the increase of faith, the strengthening of hope, the large spreading abroad of brotherly kindness, with many other sundry graces of God. The taste whereof they cannot attain unto, who be drowned in the deep dirty lake of blindness and ignorance. From the which, O beloved, wash yourselves with the living waters of God's Word, whence you may perceive [11/12] and know both the spiritual food of this costly Supper, and the happy trustings and effects that the same doth bring with it."

Thirdly. By bearing in mind the view which I have presented of the character of the Holy Communion, you will perceive plainly the erroneous nature of that conception of it, by which it is supposed to be a means of spiritual blessing to an unawakened and worldly heart.

The mistake to which I allude is simply this. Some individual or other is in a state of uneasiness and anxiety, in regard to the eternal welfare of his kindred or his friends. They are living in a thoughtless and impenitent career; and are without God in the world. Under the notion that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is a channel of grace, without any respect to the inward condition of him who receives it, this well-intentioned relative or companion exhorts them to resort to the Holy Table; intimating to them, that, although they are now dead to spiritual things, this step will be the means of communicating to them a new and heavenly life. Now, a more delusive imagination than this never arose within a human mind. The very nature of a sacrament is, that it is a covenant between God and the creature; promising certain blessings on His part, and requiring certain conditions on the other. In the case of the penitent and believing heart, these conditions are fulfilled. The renewed man approaches the communion table, under a deep sense of his own sins, and of the wonders of redeeming love; and he, being thus quickened and alive, by the power of the Holy Ghost, receives nourishment to his life from this feast of sacred remembrance. Having been born again, he is capable of being fed with food; and, being fed, he grows in the graces and consolations of his high calling. But, on the other hand, allow me to ask,—what terms or requirements have been fulfilled, or can be fulfilled, [12/13] by one who, previously to the reception of the Lord's Supper, has never been made alive to God through the operation of a genuine repentance, and a true faith? Such a man is, spiritually speaking, dead. There is, therefore, no ground, upon which any of the blessings appertaining to this sacrament can be communicated to him from above. He wants the necessary preparation of heart. And, wanting this, no comforting and strengthening virtues can go forth from the symbols of bread and wine, to carry him on "unto perfection." Let not any imagine, then, that, where no life has already commenced, the Holy Communion will produce that life. To believe such an effect in the ordinance, is superstitiously to hold what Scripture has nowhere promised. "The grace which we have by the Holy Eucharist," says the immortal Hooker, "doth not begin but continue life." And common sense is sufficient to expose the absurdity of the notion against which I am contending. You may comfort and nourish a living body, by dispensing to it meat and drink: but who would expect, by giving bread to a corpse, to make that inanimate clod start into motion? To the believing soul, the Lord's Supper is a source of increase, and of strength, and of consolation. But to a cold, indifferent, and earthly spirit, it is utterly "unprofitable, and vain."

But further. Since, as we have seen, the sacramental feast, according to Scripture, and the Church to which we belong, is a commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ, then it is an error to consider the Holy Communion as being itself a sacrifice.

When our blessed Lord and Master breathed out his precious life upon the cross, he thereby completed a full and sufficient satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. He then offered himself once for all. He made a perfect redemption for us, no more to be renewed forever. When, therefore, we meet together around the table of our Lord, what is [13/14] it that we do? We come to this feast, for the purpose of gratefully remembering that wondrous expiation. The cares, and riches, and pleasures of this world, had perhaps cast it into comparative oblivion: but, at this privileged banquet, we summon it once more before the eye of the mind; we go back to the overwhelming spectacle of that cross and passion; we enshrine the event, so to speak, in the innermost sanctuary of our recollections. Now, any application of the term sacrifice to the sacrament under consideration, disturbs this beautiful order of things. It is to confound two objects which are totally distinct; the ransom which Jesus paid, with the act which celebrates that ransom. How interesting, in truth, is the precise position which this ordinance holds, when viewed in that simple and clear light in which the Bible, and the Prayer-Book, present it to our attention! In the fulness of time, Christ makes an offering for transgression. Now, before this oblation, the instituted rites of the Levitical dispensation look forward to Calvary in prediction: after it, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper looks back to Calvary in retrospection. This, then, is that scriptural interpretation of its meaning, which I would hold up prominently and distinctly. The Holy Communion is a stated observance, with the intent of bringing before us the remembrance of the once crucified Mediator. The symbols placed upon the Table are the emblems that remind us of this crucifixion. As such, a portion of the bread and wine are set apart by the minister of Christ. But, as for any sacrifice being performed in this transaction, I cannot do better than cite again the authority of the great Hooker. "Sacrifice," says he, "is now no part of the Church ministry."

And now, last of all: In distinction from that view which has been presented to you, of the Redeemer's presence at this sacramental feast, need I say to you, that it is a gross error to represent the [14/15] body of Christ as being corporally present in the elements?

It is a fact universally known, that even the great mind of the Saxon Reformer was unable to divest itself of this notion; and that, after having broken loose, on so many momentous questions, from the trammels of his early education, he consumed years in laboring to prove, that, although the bread and wine were not transformed into Christ's body and blood, yet with this food and drink the corporeal frame of the Saviour was mingled. Instead of wondering at this singular incongruity in his character, let us rather wonder that he achieved so much; and let us bless and praise God's holy name, for that light which broke in upon the world through the instrumentality of this his chosen servant. And let us, in the clear mirror of Scripture, and of our own reformed Church, read the admonition to avoid every approach to a delusion so pernicious, and so false. That the body of the ascended Son of God should be, at the same time, in heaven and on earth, is physically impossible. That it should dwell in the consecrated elements, is contrary to the evidence of our senses. That this should be the case, moreover, is inconsistent with the very nature of a sacrament. For what is a sacrament? The youngest catechumen could tell you, that it has two parts; the sign, and the thing signified. Now, in the Communion, the sign is the bread and wine; the thing signified, the Lord's body and blood. But if, according to the dogma referred to, the sign becomes the thing which it signifies, where is the sign,—and, by necessary consequence, where is the sacrament? Reader, Christ is indeed present with us, in this glorious feast. But how is he present? By making himself felt, as an all-sufficient Redeemer: by coming near to our hearts, as we taste and see the symbols of his sacrificial death: by feeding us spiritually; in the confirmation of our trust, in the [15/16] increase of our love, and in the enlargement of our hopes, as by faith we behold him wounded, that we might escape, and dying, that we might live. This is the only real presence. "The words that I speak unto you," says Christ, "they are spirit, and they are life." And in correspondence with this is the declaration of our own Church: —"The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner."

I have room but for a word or two, in conclusion of this important subject. Are there any readers of these pages, who feel in themselves the broken and the contrite heart: who are convinced that the name of Christ is a strong tower: whose cry, with him of old, to their adorable Master, is this,—"Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief?" For you, then, the sacramental Supper waits, as for those who should speedily approach its banquet. It is a commemoration of the Lamb who was smitten for you: go, then, to call his love to remembrance. It is a feast to nourish, to console, to sanctify your hearts: resort to it, therefore, that you may find peace, and rest, and quietness; and that you may grow to "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." It is an ordinance where the Saviour is present: fly, then, to it, as to a scene, where you may behold your blessed Surety, in all the fulness of his might, and in all the radiance of his love. All things are ready. "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters! yea, come, buy wine and milk, without money, and without price!"

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