We were made for holiness, union with God, eternal life. These are but different expressions for one and the same thing. For holiness is the realisation of our manhood, of that Divine Image which is the true self, expressing itself and acting, as it does in us, through the highest of animal forms. That perfect self-realisation is not merely dependent upon, but is union with God, at its beginning, throughout its course, and in its final consummation. And the life of self-realisation or holiness, which is the life of union with God, is eternal. Eternal life is not, as in the popular idea of it, an endless and wearisome prolongation of mere existence. Primarily, the idea is of the quality, not the duration of life. In the teaching of the New Testament, eternal life is a present possession of Christians. "These things I write to you, who believe on the Name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life." Being as it is a moral and spiritual reality, it is outside time and space. It is unaffected by "changes and chances." It is for ever beyond the reach of the temporal processes of decay, corruption, death. Here it manifests itself in service, that service of our fellows which is the service of God. Hereafter, it will be manifested in higher and more exalted forms of service. "Have thou authority over ten, over five, cities."
Now all this, the consummation and glorious fruit of our humanity, holiness, union with God, life eternal, we see already realised in Jesus Christ, the Son of man. We see it realised, as we have learnt, not in a separate, solitary, individual, isolated life, but in that common nature which "for us men and for our salvation" He assumed of the Virgin Mary.
All that is in Him was in Him first, in order that it might be in us. And this is the important point: it can only be in us by virtue of our union with Him. That union He describes under the vivid and forcible metaphor of eating His flesh, and drinking His blood. "He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath life eternal." His flesh and blood -- a common Jewish phrase for human nature -- is precisely that common nature which He assumed, in which He died to sin, which He raised from the dead and exalted to the Right Hand of God, and which He imparts to us, by His Spirit given to dwell in us for evermore.
The doctrine of the Atonement is incomplete, it is irrational, until it is completed by the doctrine of the Spirit, the Giver of Life. As He is the source of life in all living organisms, so He is in Christians the source of the Christ-life. He comes to dwell in us, not simply as the Spirit, but as the Spirit of Christ -- the Spirit Who first created, and then "descended" to abide in the Perfect Manhood. That gift of the Spirit of Christ as the indwelling source of the life of Christ, and the means of the Presence of Christ in us, is the characteristic gift of the New Dispensation. It is His work to make us ever more and more partakers of Christ, to be perpetually feeding us with His flesh and blood.
And, as we are about to speak of the Holy Communion, it is well to insist first on this, that the work of the Spirit in there feeding us with the flesh and blood of the Son of man is a continuous process. It is of the very essence of what is meant by being a Christian. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." The sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel is not a mere prediction of the Eucharist. It is the revelation of that principle of which the Eucharist is an illustration. Our Communions are the supreme moments, the crises, in a process which is for ever going on, the feeding of us, by the Spirit, with the flesh and blood, the holy and victorious manhood, of the Redeemer.
What relation, then, can this spiritual process have to the material substances, to the bread and wine which are used in the Eucharist? This question at once opens out into the larger one, as to the relation between matter and spirit. Now, that question could not be dealt with at all satisfactorily without undertaking a vastly larger task than we are prepared for at the present moment. We should have to ask, What is, after all, meant by "matter," and what by "spirit"?
But something may be achieved on a much humbler scale. It will suffice for our present purpose to concentrate our attention on a remarkable fact which seems to underlie all our experience. And we will approach the statement of this fact by first recalling the familiar definition of a sacrament, which fastens upon the union of the outward and visible with the inward and invisible as being the essence of what is meant by a sacrament. Now, the fact we have in view is this: every outward object in the world is, in this respect, a sacrament. What we seem to see is everywhere spirit working through what we call "material" objects. That sacramental principle of the universe is the very principle which underlies our Lord's parables of Nature. Speaking more accurately, we see in "matter" (1) the means of the self-revelation of spirit; (2) the instrument by which spirit acts.
The human organism may serve as a type of this. Here is a spiritual being, the Ego, in its will, its thoughts, its affections, invisible, and it makes its presence manifest, and it acts, through the material manifestation and instrument of itself, the body. To believers in God, nature itself, in its deepest reality, is the revelation of the Divine Presence, and the instrument of the Divine action. A beautiful sunset is a veritable and genuine sacrament. In the light of this profound truth, of matter as the manifestation and instrument of spirit, we are enabled to see how futile was the ancient dispute concerning the number of the Sacraments. In view of the fuller and larger knowledge which has come to us, this, like so many other objects of theological strife, ought before this to have been consigned to the limbo of forgotten controversies.
But in all this we have been, in fact, interpreting the whole universe in the light of the Incarnation. For that is the supreme sacrament of all, the very type and complete embodiment of the sacramental principle. There we see the Divine manifesting Itself through, and using as the instrument of its action, a Human, a "material" Body.
The Eucharist thus for the first time becomes intelligible. It is only one particular illustration, although a most momentous one, of the universal sacramental principle, of which all things else in the world are also illustrations. There we have the Spirit manifesting itself and acting, as always and everywhere, wherever "matter" is found; but in a particular way, and for a particular purpose.
The bread and the wine are the material substances which He uses at the critical moments in His perpetual action of feeding us with the flesh and blood of the Son of man. And these elements were obviously chosen, "ordained by Christ Himself," for their most significant symbolism. There is no truer philosophy of the Eucharist than that which is contained in the familiar words of the Church Catechism, which speak of "the strengthening and refreshing of our souls by the Body and Blood of Christ, as our bodies are by the bread and wine." That wonderful, and in itself essentially sacramental process, by which the organism lives by the incorporation and assimilation into its own substance of other substances which we call foods, is the exact analogue of the way in which our true, spiritual manhood lives by the incorporation and assimilation of the manhood of Christ, that manhood which is holy, which exists in the Divine Union, which has perfectly realised eternal life in the complete dying to sin, and the complete putting on of holiness.
The Eucharist is, in the broadest sense, the final act in the drama of our salvation. It is the means by which, by His own appointment, all that Christ achieved for us upon the Cross, the repudiation of, or dying to sin, the realisation of perfect obedience, obedience unto death, comes to be in us, is made all our own.
But it is most important that we should ever remember that this truth has two sides.
(i) It is Christ Who saves us; that is, Who is the actually putting away of sin, attainment of holiness, union with God, eternal life, by what He does in us. "Christ for us" finds its perfect fulfilment and end in "Christ in us."
(ii) Yet, Christ does not save us apart from ourselves. Else the Eucharist would be degraded to the level of some heathen, magical charm. We must will and intend the putting off of sin, and the putting on of holiness. We must recognise, and this is a truth of experience, our complete inability to attain this without Him. That will, and that recognition, are the repentance and faith which constitute the necessary contribution on our part to the work of Christ for our salvation.
Our Communions are the most important moments in our lives. Each marks a distinct and definite stage in the fulfilment of the purpose of God for us, the fulfilment in us of all that is meant by the Death and Resurrection of the Lord. We ought to come, therefore, not only after due preparation, with repentance and faith, but also with hope and joy; not to perform a duty, but to receive the best gift which God Himself can bestow upon us -- that gift which is the perfect conquest of sin, the complete realisation of holiness, union with God, eternal life; the fulfilment of every aspiration, the accomplishment of every dream, the achievement of every glory, the crown, the consummation, the attainment of our manhood in union with Jesus Christ the Son of man.