Does the Bible teach the doctrine of Transubstantiation, as held and confessed by the Roman Catholic Church? If our investigation of the teachings of the Holy Scriptures convinces us that they teach Transubstantiation, we will be ready to believe and confess that doctrine, no matter who else may believe or disbelieve it. What we want to know, believe, teach and confess, is the Bible doctrine.
What is Transubstantiation? The word means a change of substance. The doctrine of the Romish Church is that after the consecration by the priest, the bread in the sacrament is changed into the material body of Christ, and the wine into His blood -- so entirely changed in substance and matter, that after the consecration there is no more bread or wine there; what was bread has been converted into the flesh of Christ, and what was wine has been converted into His blood. Is this the doctrine of God's word? Does the Word anywhere tell us that the bread and wine are thus changed? Does it call the bread flesh, either before or after the consecration? Let us see. "Jesus took bread." "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine." "The bread which we break." "For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup." Such is the language of inspiration. Now we ask, if the Holy Spirit desired that plain and unprejudiced readers should find the doctrine of Transubstantiation in His words, why does He call the earthly elements bread and wine before, during and after the consecration Why does He not say, "as often as ye eat this flesh and drink this blood?" Evidently because the bread is, and remains plain, natural bread, and so with the wine. There is no change in the component elements, in the nature, matter, or substance of either. Transubstantiation is not the doctrine of God's word; neither was it the doctrine of the early Church. It is one of the human inventions and corruptions of the Church of Rome.
Do then these words of Scripture teach the doctrine of Consubstantiation? There are persons who talk a great deal about Consubstantiation, and yet they know not what it means. What is it? It is a mingling or fusing together of two different elements or substances, so that the two combine into a third. A familiar example, often given, is the fusing or melting together of copper and zinc until they unite and form brass. Applied to the sacrament of the altar, the doctrine of Consubstantiation would teach that the flesh and blood of Christ are physically or materially mingled and combined with the bread and wine; so that what the communicant receives is neither plain, real bread, nor real flesh, but a gross mixture of the two.
Again we ask, is this the teaching of the Word? The very same proofs that convince us that the divine Word does not teach Transubstantiation, also convince us that it does not teach Consubstantiation. The simple fact that the earthly elements are called bread and the fruit of the vine, before, during and after consecration, satisfies us that they remain plain, simple bread and wine, without physical change or admixture. Consubstantiation is not the teaching of the Word; neither is it, nor has it ever been, the teaching of the Lutheran Church. It often has been, and is still called the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord's Supper, but it is found in none of her confessions. It was never taught by a single recognized theologian of our Church. One and all, they have repudiated it and repudiate it still. The question then is still unanswered What is the doctrine of the divine Word?
There are many who have a ready and easy answer as to this doctrine. They say it is only a Church ceremony, one of the old, solemn rites by which Church members are distinguished from outsiders. There is indeed no special significance or Grace connected with it. There is really nothing in it but bread and wine. There is no presence of Christ at all in this sacrament in any way different from His general presence. The bread represents or signifies, is a sign, or symbol, or emblem of Christ's body, and the wine of His blood. The communicant receives nothing but bread and wine, and while he partakes of these he remembers Christ's sufferings and death. Whatever special benefit he is to derive from this sacrament he must first put into it, by bringing to it pious thoughts, good feelings, deep emotions, tender memories, and a faith that swings itself aloft and holds communion with Christ far off in heaven.
This is about the current, popular view of this subject as held and taught in nearly all the Protestant Churches of to-day, outside of the Lutheran Church. As a natural consequence of this superficial view, the whole matter is treated very lightly. There is little, if any, solemn, searching preparation. In many places there is no formal consecration of the elements. The table is thrown open to any one who desires to commune. There are no regulations, no guards, no disciplinary tests, connected with it. Even unbaptized persons, and persons who have never made a public profession of faith, are often permitted to commune. But we digress.
We return to the question: Is the view just noticed in harmony with and based on the Word? Let us see. If there is nothing on the altar but bread and wine, why does Christ say, "This is My body ... My blood?" Why not say, This is bread, this is wine? If Christ wanted us to understand that the bread and wine merely represent or are emblems of His body and blood, why did He not say so? Did He not know how to use language? Did He use dark or misleading words in His last Will and Testament? Why does Paul, in speaking of worthy and unworthy communing, speak of the body of Christ as present, as a matter of course? Was he inspired to misunderstand Christ and lead plain readers astray? If there is nothing more in the sacrament than to remember Christ, why -- as already noticed -- did not the writers of the first two Gospels put in the words, "Do this in remembrance of Me?" Or why did not Christ plainly say, "Take, eat this bread, which represents My body, in remembrance of Me?" Clearly, the doctrine in question is not based on the words of Scripture. It cannot be supported by Scripture. Neither do its defenders attempt to support it by the passages that clearly speak of this sacrament. If they try to bring in any Scripture proof, they quote passages that have nothing to do with the subject. They draw their proofs and supports principally from reason and philosophy.
Surely a doctrine that changes the words of the institution, wrests and twists them out of their natural sense, and does violence to all sound rules of interpretation that must bolster itself up by the very same methods of interpretation that are used to disprove the divinity of Christ, the resurrection of the body, and the eternity of future punishment, is not the doctrine of Christ.
We have not found the Bible doctrine in any of the views examined. Can we find it? Let us see. We are satisfied, from our examination of the passages that have to do with our subject, that there must be earthly elements present in this sacrament. They are bread and wine. They remain so, without physical change or admixture. We also find from these passages that there is a real presence of heavenly elements. These are the body and blood of Christ. Not indeed that body as it was in its state of humiliation, when it was subject to weakness, hunger, thirst, pain and death. But that glorified, spiritual, resurrection body, in its state of exaltation, inseparably joined with the Godhead, and by it rendered everywhere present. And this body and divinity, we remark in passing, were already present, though veiled, when the God-man walked this earth. Peter and James and John caught a glimpse of it on the Mount of Transfiguration. It is of this body, and blood, of which Peter says, 1 Peter i.18, 19, that it is not a corruptible thing, and of which the Apostle says, Heb. ix.12, "By his own blood he entered in once into the Holy Place" (that is, into heaven), and of which Jesus spoke when He said, "Take eat, this is my body ... this is my blood."
Of this body and blood, the Scriptures affirm that they are present in the sacrament. The passage which sets forth the double presence, that of the earthly and heavenly elements, which indeed sums up and states the Bible doctrine in a few words, is 1 Cor. x.16. There Paul affirms that the bread is the communion of Christ's body, not of His Spirit or His influence. If the bread is the communion of, participation in, or connection with His body, then bread and body must both be present. It takes two things to make a communion. They must both be present. It would be absurd to speak of bread as a communion of something in no way connected with it.
As we have already said, the plain sense of the words of this passage is, that the bread is a connection with, or a participation in Christ's body, and so with the wine; so much so that whoever partakes of the one must, in some manner, also become a partaker of the other. The bread, therefore, becomes the medium, the vehicle, the conveyance, that carries to the communicant the body of Christ, and the wine likewise His blood. And this, we repeat, without any gross material transmutation or mixing together. The bread and wine are the earthen vessels that carry the Heavenly treasures of Christ's body and blood, even as the letters and words of the Scriptures convey to the reader or hearer the Holy Spirit. This is the clear, plain, Bible doctrine of the Lord's Supper. There is nothing gross, carnal, Capernaitish or repulsive about it.
And exactly this is the teaching and doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Article X., Augsburg Confession, says, "Of the Lord's Supper they teach that the true body and blood of Christ are truly present, under the form of bread and wine, and are there communicated to those that eat in the Lord's Supper." And Luther's Catechism says, "The sacrament of the altar is the true body and blood of Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, given unto us Christians to eat and drink, as it was instituted by Christ Himself."
We therefore find that on this point also our dear old Church is built impregnably on the foundation of Christ and His Apostles. And though she may here differ from all others, she cannot yield one jot or tittle without proving false to her Lord and His truth. It is not bigotry. It is not prejudice, that makes her cling so tenaciously to this doctrine. She knows, as the great Reformer knew, that the very foundations are at stake; that if she gives up on this point, and changes the Scriptures to suit human reason, she will soon have to give up other doctrines, and by and by the rock on which the Church is built will be removed, and the gates of hell will prevail.
And further, if there is any risk of being mistaken -- which she, however, does not admit -- she would rather run that risk, by taking her Master at His word, than by changing His word. In childlike confidence and trust, she would rather believe too much than not enough. She would rather trust her dear Master too far than not far enough. And therefore here she stands; she cannot do otherwise. May God help her! Amen.
Others may still say, "This is a hard saying, who can bear it? The idea of eating and drinking the body and blood of our Lord offends us."
Well, it also offended the late Henry Ward Beecher, that his salvation should depend on the literal shedding of the literal blood of Jesus. This idea was repulsive to the great Brooklyn divine. But it does not offend us. On the contrary, this same doctrine is to us the very heart of the whole Gospel, and is therefore more precious than life itself.
Neither does it offend us that the mother, whose pure and tender love to her infant child is an emblem of the divine love to us poor sinners, while she presses to her bosom that little one, soothes away its frettings and sings away its sobbings, at the same time feeds and nourishes that feeble life with her own physical life, giving it literally her body and blood. This is no offense to us.
And why should it offend us that our dear loving Saviour comes so close to us, leads us into His banqueting house, where His banner over us is love, speaks to us words that are the out-breathings of the yearning love of His divine heart, and, at the same time, feeds us with His own spiritual and glorified body and blood, and thus makes us partakers of the divine nature.
Instead of being offended, let us rather bow down, and worship, and adore, and sing:
"Lord, at Thy table I behold
"I that am all defiled by sin;
"What strange surprising Grace is this