We are now ready to inquire further into the nature and meaning of this holy ordinance. And in order to determine this we desire to go directly to the law and to the testimony. We want to know, first of all: what does the Word of God teach on the subject?
Before we proceed, however, to note and examine the passages of Scripture bearing on the matter, let us recall what we said, as to the interpretation of Scripture, in one of the chapters on the Sacrament of Baptism. We there stated that our Church has certain plain and safe principles of interpretation that are always to guide the searcher after the truth of God's word, viz.:
1. "A passage of Scripture is always to be taken in its plain, natural and literal sense, unless there is something in the text itself, or in the context, that clearly indicates that it is meant to be figurative."
2. "A passage is never to be torn from its connection, but it is to be studied in connection with what goes before and follows after."
3. "Scripture is to be interpreted by Scripture, the dark passages are to be compared with the more clear, bearing on the same subject."
4. "We can never be fully certain that a doctrine is Scriptural until we have examined and compared all that the Word says on the subject."
On these principles we wish to examine what the Word teaches as to the nature of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. We note first the accounts of the institution as given by the three Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Matthew xxvi.26-28, we read, "Jesus took bread and blessed it and brake it, and gave it to the disciples and said; 'Take, eat, this is my body.' And he took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to, them saying: 'Drink ye all of it. For this is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.'" With this the accounts in Mark xix.22-24, and in Luke xxii.19, 20, substantially agree. There is a slight variation of the words, but the substance is the same.
We notice only this difference: Luke adds the words, "This do in remembrance of Me." On this point let us notice, in passing, that St. Luke's was the last written of the three. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark had been written and were read and used in the churches several years before St. Luke's. And yet the two former do not contain the words, "Do this in remembrance of Me." Now we submit right here, if to remember Christ were all that is in this sacrament, or even the chief thing, why did those who wrote the first Gospels, and knew that there were no others, leave out these words? But we go on.
Almost thirty years after the time of the institution of this sacrament, the great apostle of the Gentiles wrote a letter to the Church at Corinth. That Church was made up of a mixed multitude -- Jews and Gentiles, freemen and slaves. Many of them were neither clear nor sound on points of Christian doctrine and practice. In his fatherly and affectionate letters to the members of this Church, Paul, among other things, gives them instruction concerning this sacrament; and, lest some of them might perhaps suppose that he is giving them merely his own wisdom and speculation, he takes especial care to disavow this: "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread," etc., giving in substance the same words of institution as given by the Evangelists (1 Cor. xi.23, 24, 25).
After thus giving them the words of institution, Paul goes on to instruct them about worthy and unworthy communing. In these instructions we cannot help but notice how he takes the real presence of Christ's body and blood for granted all the way through. Notice his language. Verse 27: "Whosoever shall eat of this bread and drink of this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord." Verse 29: "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." Going back to chapter ten, verse sixteen, we find the Apostle giving the doctrine of the Lord's Supper in a few words thus: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?"
We have now noted all the passages that speak directly on this subject. There are other strong passages that are often quoted in defence of the doctrine of the real presence, and which we doubtless have a right to use in corroboration of those above quoted. We refer to John vi.53-56: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life ... for my flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me, and I in him."
As it is a disputed point, however, whether this passage refers to the Lord's Supper or not, we are willing to waive it here. We are content to take those passages quoted above, which every one acknowledges as referring directly to our subject. These we would have the reader carefully examine. Note particularly the language, the words employed. In the four accounts given of the institution, three by the Evangelists and one by Paul, we have the same clear, plain words concerning the bread and wine -- words of the last will and testament of the Son of God, our Saviour -- "This is my body." "This is my blood of the New Testament;" or "the New Testament in my blood." Note the language of Paul: "Guilty of the body and blood of the Lord." "Not discerning the Lord's body." The cup is called the communion of the blood, and the bread, the communion of the body of Christ. The word communion is made up of two Latin words, con and unio, meaning union with, or connection with. The marginal reading in our family Bibles, as well as in the revised version, is "participation in." The plain English of the verse then is, the bread is a participation in, or a connection with Christ's body, and the wine with His blood.
We are now ready to take all these passages together, to compare them one with another, and to ask, What do they teach? What is the Bible doctrine of the Lord's Supper? Is it transubstantiation? Is it consubstantiation? Is it that the bread and wine are mere representations or memorials of the absent body and blood of Christ? Or do these passages teach "That the body and blood of Christ are truly present under the form of bread and wine and are communicated to those that eat in the Lord's Supper?" (Augsburg Confession, Art. X.)