This sacred institution, also, is a part of God's Way of Salvation. It is one of the means of Grace appointed and ordained by Christ. It "hath been instituted for the special comfort and strengthening of those who humbly confess their sins and who hunger and thirst after righteousness."
It is true that multitudes do not regard it as a means or channel of Grace. To them it is only an ancient rite or ceremony, having no special significance or blessing connected with it. It is at most a symbol, a sign, or representation of something, entirely absent and in no way connected with it. If there is any blessing at all attached to it, it consists in the pious thoughts, the holy emotions and sacred memories, which the communicant tries to bring to it and which are in some way deepened by it. At best, it is a memorial of an absent Saviour, and in some form a representation of His sufferings and death.
Now if this were all that we could see in the Lord's Supper, we would not regard it as a part of God's Way of Salvation. But our Church sees much more in it. With her it is indeed an essential and integral part of that Way. And since this is another of the few points on which the Lutheran Church differs materially from many others, it will be well for us to devote some space and time to its study.
Much has been written on this important subject. We may not have anything new to add, but it is well often to recall and re-study the old truths, so easily forgotten. Before we consider the nature of this sacrament, we will make a few preliminary observations that will help us to guard against false views, and to arrive at correct conclusions.
We observe first, the importance of bearing in mind the source from which this institution has come. Who is its author? What is the nature or character of its origin? Our views of any institution are generally more or less influenced by thus considering its origin. Whence then did the Church get this ordinance which she has ever so conscientiously kept and devoutly celebrated? Did it emanate from the wisdom of man? Did some zealous mystic or hermit invent it, because forsooth he supposed it would be pleasant and profitable to have such an ordinance in the Church? Or did some early Church Council institute it, because those earnest fathers in their wisdom deemed it necessary that the Church should have such a service? Can it, in short, be traced to any human origin? If so, then we can deal with it as with any other human institution. We are then at liberty to reason and speculate about it. We can apply to it the rules of human science and learning. We can test it, measure it, sound it by philosophy, logic, and the laws of the mind. Each one then has a right to his own opinion about it. Each one can apply to it the favorite test of common sense, and draw his own conclusions.
But now, we know that this is not a human institution. The Church has received it from the hands of the Son of God. It was ordained by Him who could say, "All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth," and, "In whom dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;" who even before his birth in human form was called "the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." When we come to deal with an institution of His, we dare never expect to fathom or test it by our poor, short-sighted and sin-blinded reason, philosophy, science, or common sense. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." Whenever, therefore, we come to deal with anything that comes from His hands, it is no longer of the earth, earthy, and is not subject to earthly laws and human rules. His acts, His deeds, His words, belong to the realm of faith, and not of reason. Reason must ever be taken captive and made to bow before the heavenly things connected, with Him. Or shall we try to reason out His human birth, His growth, His nature, His deeds? Shall we reason out the feeding of the multitudes with those few barley loaves and fishes? No; they came through His hands, and the power of those hands we cannot comprehend. We cannot comprehend how that afflicted woman could receive virtue, health and life, by touching the hem of His garment -- a mere fabric of cloth -- or how the clay and spittle from His hands could open the eyes of one born blind.
Whenever, therefore, we come to study this ordinance, let us ever bear in mind its divine origin. It is the Lord's Supper. This precaution will be a safeguard against error, and a help to the truth.
We notice secondly the time of institution. It was "in the night in which He was betrayed." That awful night, when the clouds of divine wrath were gathered over Him, and were ready to burst upon Him; when the accumulated guilt of a sinful race was all to be laid on Him, borne by Him as though it were His own, and its punishment endured as though He had committed every sin. Then, when the strokes of justice were about to fall, our blessed Saviour, "having loved His own, He loved them to the end." He gathered His little band of chosen ones about Him for the last time before His crucifixion. He spoke to them His farewell words, uttered His high-priestly prayer, instituted and administered to them this holy sacrament. All the surroundings conspired to throw round it a halo of heavenly mystery. Everything was calculated to impress that little band that what He now ordained and made binding on the Church, till He would come again, was something more than an empty sign or ceremony. Thus the time, the circumstances, and all the surroundings of the institution of this holy sacrament, prepare us in advance to believe that there must be in it or connected with it some heavenly gift of Grace that can be obtained nowhere else.
We notice thirdly the significant term by which Jesus designates this institution. When he administered the cup He said: "This cup is the New Testament in my blood." He calls it a testament. A testament is a last will.
Jesus was about to go forth to die. Before he departed, He made His will. He bequeathes to the Church an inheritance. The legacy that He leaves is this sacrament. Before we undertake to study the words of the institution, we wish to impress this thought. A will is the last place where one would use ambiguous or figurative language. Every maker or writer of a will strives to use the clearest and plainest words possible. Every precaution is taken that there may be no doubtful or difficult expression employed. The aim of the maker is to make it so plain that only one meaning can be taken from it.
Neither is any one permitted to read into it any sense different from the clear, plain, literal meaning of the words. Fanciful, metaphorical, or far-fetched interpretations are never applied to the words of a will. Much less is any one permitted to change the words by inserting or substituting other words than those used by the maker. Christ's words of institution are the words of His last Will and Testament.
We will consider the nature of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper in the next chapter.