COMMUNION WITH CHRIST AND HIS PEOPLE.
I WILL read you the text as it is given in the Revised Version: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ?" That is to say, -- Is it not one form of expressing the communion of the blood of Christ? "The bread," or as it is in the margin, "the loaf which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? seeing that we, who are many, are one loaf, one body: for we all partake of the one loaf." The word "loaf" helps to bring out more clearly the idea of unity intended to be set forth by the apostle.
It is a lamentable fact that some have fancied that this simple ordinance of the Lord's supper has a certain magical, or at least physical power about it, so that, by the mere act of eating and drinking this bread and wine, men can be made partakers of the body and blood of Christ. It is marvellous that so plain a symbol should have been so complicated by genuflexions, adornments, and technical phrases. Can anyone see the slightest resemblance between the Master's sitting down with the twelve, and the mass of the Roman community? The original rite is lost in the super-imposed ritual. Superstition has produced a sacrament where Jesus intended a fellowship. Too many, who would not go the length of Rome, yet speak of this simple feast as if it were a mystery dark and obscure. They employ all manner of hard words to turn the children's bread into a stone. It is not the Lord's supper, but the Eucharist; we see before us no plate, but a "paten"; the cup is a "chalice" and the table is an "altar." These are incrustations of superstition, whereby the blessed ordinance of Christ is likely to be again overgrown and perverted.
What does this supper mean? It means communion: communion with Christ, and communion with one another.
What is communion? The word breaks up easily into union, and its prefix com, which means with, union with. We must, therefore, first enjoy union with Christ, and with His Church, or else we cannot enjoy communion. Union lies at the basis of communion. We must be one with Christ in heart, and soul, and life; baptized into His death; quickened by His life, and so brought to be members of His body, one with the whole Church of which He is the Head. We cannot have communion with Christ till we are in union with Him; and we cannot have communion with the Church till we are in vital union with it.
I. The teaching of the Lord's supper is just this -- that while we have many ways of communion with Christ, yet the receiving of Christ into our souls as our Saviour is the best way of communion with Him.
I said, dear friends, that we have many ways of communion with Christ; let me show you that it is so.
Communion is ours by personal intercourse with the Lord Jesus. We speak with Him in prayer, and He speaks with us through the Word. Some of us speak oftener with Christ than we do with wife or child, and our communion with Jesus is deeper and more thorough than our fellowship with our nearest friend. In meditation and its attendant thanksgiving we speak with our risen Lord, and by His Holy Spirit He answers us by creating fresh thought and emotion in our minds. I like sometimes in prayer, when I do not feel that I can say anything, just to sit still, and look up; then faith spiritually descries the Well-beloved, and hears His voice in the solemn silence of the mind. Thus we have intercourse with Jesus of a closer sort than any words could possibly express. Our soul melts beneath the warmth of Jesus' love, and darts upward her own love in return. Think not that I am dreaming, or am carried off by the memory of some unusual rhapsody: no, I assert that the devout soul can converse with the Lord Jesus all the day, and can have as true fellowship with Him as if He still dwelt bodily among men. This thing comes to me, not by the hearing of the ear, but by my own personal experience: I know of a surety that Jesus manifests Himself unto His people as He doth not unto the world.
Ah, what sweet communion often exists between the saint and the Well-beloved, when there is no bread and wine upon the table, for the Spirit Himself draws the heart of the renewed one, and it runs after Jesus, while the Lord Himself appears unto the longing spirit! Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. Do you enjoy this charming converse?
Next, we have communion with Christ in His thoughts, views, and purposes; for His thoughts are our thoughts according to our capacity and sanctity. Believers take the same view of matters as Jesus does; that which pleases Him pleases them, and that which grieves Him grieves them also. Consider, for instance, the greatest theme of our thought, and see whether our thoughts are not like those of Christ. He delights in the Father, He loves to glorify the Father: do not we? Is not the Father the centre of our soul's delight? Do we not rejoice at the very sound of His name? Does not our spirit cry, "Abba, Father"? Thus it is clear we feel as Jesus feels towards the Father, and so we have the truest communion with Him. This is but one instance; your contemplations will bring before you a wide variety of topics wherein we think with Jesus. Now, identity of judgment, opinion, and purpose forms the highway of communion; yea, it is communion.
We have also communion with Christ in our emotions. Have you never felt a holy horror when you have heard a word of blasphemy in the street? Thus Jesus felt when He saw sin, and bore it in His own person: only He felt it infinitely more than you do. Have you never felt as you looked upon sinners that you must weep over them? Those are holy tears, and contain the same ingredients as those which Jesus shed when He lamented over Jerusalem. Yes, in our zeal for God, our hatred of sin, our detestation of falsehood, our pity for men, we have true communion with Jesus.
Further, we have had fellowship with Christ in many of our actions. Have you ever tried to teach the ignorant? This Jesus did. Have you found it difficult? So Jesus found it. Have you striven to reclaim the backslider? Then you were in communion with the Good Shepherd who hastens into the wilderness to find the one lost sheep, finds it, lays it upon His shoulders, and brings it home rejoicing. Have you ever watched over a soul night and day with tears? Then you have had communion with Him who has borne all our names upon His broken heart, and carries the memorial of them upon His pierced hands. Yes, in acts of self-denial, liberality, benevolence, and piety, we enter into communion with Him who went about doing good. Whenever we try to disentangle the snarls of strife, and to make peace between men who are at enmity, then are we doing what the great Peace-maker did, and we have communion with the Lord and Giver of peace. Wherever, indeed, we co-operate with the Lord Jesus in His designs of love to men, we are in true and active communion with Him.
So it is with our sorrows. Certain of us have had large fellowship with the Lord Jesus in affliction. "Jesus wept": He lost a friend, and so have we. Jesus grieved over the hardness of men's hearts: we know that grief. Jesus was exceedingly sorry that the hopeful young man turned away, and went back to the world: we know that sorrow. Those who have sympathetic hearts, and live for others, readily enter into the experience of "the Man of sorrows." The wounds of calumny, the reproaches of the proud, the venom of the bigoted, the treachery of the false, and the weakness of the true, we have known in our measure; and therein have had communion with our Lord Jesus.
Nor this alone: we have been with our Divine Master in His joys. I suppose there never lived a happier man than the Lord Jesus. He was rightly called "the Man of sorrows"; but He might, with unimpeachable truth, have been called, "the Man of joys." He must have rejoiced as He called His disciples, and they came unto Him; as He bestowed healing and relief; as He gave pardon to penitents, and breathed peace on believers. His was the joy of finding the sheep, and taking the piece of money out of the dust. His work was His joy: such joy that, for its sake, He endured the cross, despising the shame. The exercise of benevolence is joy to loving hearts: the more pain it costs, the more joy it is. Kind actions make us happy, and in such joy we find communion with the great heart of Jesus.
Thus have I given you a list of windows of agate and gates of carbuncle through which you may come at the Lord; but the ordinance of the Lord's supper sets forth a way which surpasses them all. It is the most accessible and the most effectual method of fellowship. Here it is that we have fellowship with the Lord Jesus by receiving Him as our Saviour. We, being guilty, accept of His atonement as our sacrificial cleansing, and in token thereof we eat this bread and drink this cup. "Oh!" says one, "I do not feel that I can get near to Christ. He is so high and holy, and I am only a poor sinner." Just so. For that very reason you can have fellowship with Christ in that which lies nearest to His heart: He is a Saviour, and to be a Saviour there must be a sinner to be saved. Be you that one, and Christ and you shall at once be in union and communion: He shall save, and you shall be saved; He shall sanctify, and you shall be sanctified; and twain shall thus be one. This table sets before you His great sacrifice. Jesus has offered it; will you accept it? He does not ask you to bring anything, -- no drop of blood, no pang of flesh; all is here, and your part is to come and partake of it, even as of old the offerer partook of the peace-offering which he had brought, and so feasted with God and with the priest. If you work for Christ, that will certainly be some kind of fellowship with Him; but I tell you that the communion of receiving him into your inmost soul is the nearest and closest fellowship possible to mortal man. The fellowship of service is exceedingly honourable, when we and Christ work together for the same objects; the fellowship of suffering is exceedingly instructive, when our heart has graven upon it the same characters as were graven upon the heart of Christ: but the fellowship of the soul which receives Christ, and is received by Christ, is closer, more vital, more essential than any other.
Such fellowship is eternal. No power upon earth can henceforth take from me the piece of bread which I have just now eaten, it has gone where it will be made up into blood, and nerve, and muscle, and bone. It is within me, and of me. That drop of wine has coursed through my veins, and is part and parcel of my being. So he that takes Jesus by faith to be his Saviour has chosen the good part which shall not be taken away from him. He has received the Christ into his inward parts, and all the men on earth, and all the devils in hell, cannot extract Christ from him. Jesus saith, "He that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me." By our sincere reception of Jesus into our hearts, an indissoluble union is established between us and the Lord, and this manifests itself in mutual communion. To as many as received Him, to them has He given this communion, even to them that believe on His name.
II. I have now to look at another side of communion, -- namely, the fellowship of true believers with each other. We have many ways of communing the one with the other, but there is no way of mutual communing like the common reception of the same Christ in the same way. I have said that there are many ways in which Christians commune with one another, and these doors of fellowship I would mention at some length.
Let me go over much the same ground as before. We commune by holy converse. I wish we had more of this. Time was when they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; I am afraid that now they more often speak one against another. It is a grievous thing that full often love lies bleeding by a brother's hand. Where we are not quite so bad as that, yet we are often backward and silent, and so miss profitable converse. Our insular reserve has often made one Christian sit by another in utter isolation, when each would have been charmed with the other's company. Children of one family need not wait to be introduced to each other: having eaten of this one bread, we have given and received the token of brotherhood; let us therefore act consistently with our relationship, and fall into holy conversation next time we meet. I am afraid that Christian brotherhood in many cases begins and ends inside the place of worship. Let it not be so among us. Let it be our delight to find our society in the circle of which Jesus is the centre, and let us make those our friends who are the friends of Jesus. By frequent united prayer and praise, and by ministering the one to the other the things which we have learned by the Spirit, we shall have fellowship with each other in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I am sure that all Christians have fellowship together in their thoughts. In the essentials of the gospel we think alike: in our thoughts of God, of Christ, of sin, of holiness, we keep step; in our intense desire to promote the kingdom of our Lord, we are as one. All spiritual life is one. The thoughts raised by the Spirit of God in the souls of men are never contrary to each other. I say not that the thoughts of all professors agree, but I do assert that the minds of the truly regenerate in all sects, and in all ages, are in harmony with each other, -- a harmony which often excites delighted surprise in those who perceive it. The marks that divide one set of nominal Christians from another set are very deep and wide to those who have nothing of religion but the name; yet living believers scarcely notice them. Boundaries which separate the cattle of the field are no division to the birds of the air. Our minds, thoughts, desires, and hopes are one in Christ Jesus, and herein we have communion.
Beloved friends, our emotions are another royal road of fellowship. You sit down and tell your experience, and I smile to think that you are telling mine. Sometimes a young believer enlarges upon the sad story of his trials and temptations, imagining that nobody ever had to endure so great a fight, when all the while he is only describing the common adventures of those who go on pilgrimage, and we are all communing with him. When we talk together about our Lord, are we not agreed? When we speak of our Father, and all His dealings with us, are we not one? And when we weep, and when we sigh, and when we sing, and when we rejoice, are we not all akin? Heavenly fingers touching like strings within our hearts bring forth the self-same notes, for we are the products of the same Maker, and tuned to the same praise. Real harmony exists among all the true people of God: Christians are one in Christ.
We have communion with one another, too, in our actions. We unite in trying to save men: I hope we do. We join in instructing, warning, inviting, and persuading sinners to come to Jesus. Our life-ministry is the same: we are workers together with God. We live out the one desire, -- "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven."
Certainly we have much communion one with the other in our sufferings. There is not a poor sick or despondent saint upon the earth with whom we do not sympathize at this moment, for we are fellow-members, and partakers of the sufferings of Christ. I hope we can say,
"Is there a lamb in all Thy flock,
I would disdain to feed?
Is there a foe, before whose face,
I fear Thy cause to plead?"
No, we suffer with each other, and bear each other's burden, and so fulfil the law of Christ. If we do not, we have reason for questioning our own faith; but if we do so, we have communion with each other.
I hope we have fellowship in our joys. Is one happy? We would not envy him, but rejoice with him. Perhaps this is not so universal as it should be among professors. Are we at once glad because another prospers? If another star outshines ours, do we delight in its radiance? When we meet a brother with ten talents, do we congratulate ourselves on having such a man given to help us, or do we depreciate him as much as we can? Such is the depravity of our nature, that we do not readily rejoice in the progress of others if they leave us behind; but we must school ourselves to this. A man will speedily sit down and sympathize with a friend's griefs; but if he sees him honoured and esteemed, he is apt to regard him as a rival, and does not so readily rejoice with him. This ought not to be; without effort we ought to be happy in our brother's happiness. If we are ill, be this our comfort, that many are in robust health; if we are faint, let us be glad that others are strong in the Lord. Thus shall we enjoy a happy fellowship like that of the perfected above.
When I have put all these modes of Christian communion together, no one of them is so sure, so strong, so deep, as communion in receiving the same Christ as our Saviour, and trusting in the same blood for cleansing unto eternal life. Here on the table you have the tokens of the broadest and fullest communion. This is a kind of communion which you and I cannot choose or reject: if we are in Christ, it is and must be ours. Certain brethren restrict their communion in the outward ordinance, and they think they have good reasons for doing so; but I am unable to see the force of their reasoning, because I joyfully observe that these brethren commune with other believers in prayer, and praise, and hearing of the Word, and other ways: the fact being that the matter of real communion is very largely beyond human control, and is to the spiritual body what the circulation of the blood is to the natural body, a necessary process not dependent upon volition. In perusing a deeply spiritual book of devotion, you have been charmed and benefitted, and yet upon looking at the title-page it may be you have found that the author belonged to the Church of Rome. What then? Why, then it has happened that the inner life has broken all barriers, and your spirits have communed. For my own part, in reading certain precious works, I have loathed their Romanism, and yet I have had close fellowship with their writers in weeping over sin, in adoring at the foot of the cross, and in rejoicing in the glorious enthronement of our Lord. Blood is thicker than water, and no fellowship is more inevitable and sincere than fellowship in the precious blood, and in the risen life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here, in the common reception of the one loaf, we bear witness that we are one; and in the actual participation of all the chosen in the one redemption, that unity is in very deed displayed and matured in the most substantial manner. Washed in the one blood, fed on the same loaf, cheered by the same cup, all differences pass away, and "we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another."
Now, then, dear friends, if this kind of fellowship be the best, let us take care to enjoy it. Let us at this hour avail ourselves of it.
Let us take care to see Christ in the mirror of this ordinance. Have any of you eaten the bread, and yet have you not seen Christ? Then you have gained no benefit. Have you drunk the wine, but have you not remembered the Lord? Alas! I fear you have eaten and drunk condemnation to yourselves, not discerning the Lord's body. But if you did see through the emblems, as aged persons see through their spectacles, then you have been thankful for such aids to vision. But what is the use of glasses if there is nothing to look at? and what is the use of the communion if Christ be not in our thoughts and hearts?
If you did discern the Lord, then be sure, again, to accept Him. Say to yourself, "All that Christ is to any, He shall be to me. Does He save sinners? He shall save me. Does He change men's hearts? He shall change mine. Is He all in all to those that trust Him? He shall be all in all to me." I have heard persons say that they do not know how to take Christ. What says the apostle? "The Word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart." If you have something in your mouth that you desire to eat, what is the best thing to do? Will you not swallow it? That is exactly what faith does. Christ's word of grace is very near you, it is on your tongue; let it go down into your inmost soul. Say to your Saviour, "I know I am not fit to receive Thee, O Jesus, but since Thou dost graciously come to me as bread comes to the hungry, I thankfully receive Thee, rejoicing to feed upon Thee! Since Thou dost come to me as the fruit of the vine to a thirsty man, Lord, I take Thee, willingly, and I thank Thee that this reception is all that Thou dost require of me. Has not Thy Spirit so put it -- As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name'?"
Beloved friends, when you have thus received Jesus, fail not to rejoice in Him as having received Him. How many there are who have received Christ, who talk and act as if they never had received Him! It is a poor dinner of which a man says, after he has eaten it, that he feels as if he had not dined; and it is a poor Christ of whom anyone can say, "I have received Him, but I am none the happier, none the more at peace." If you have received Jesus into your heart, you are saved, you are justified. Do you whisper, "I hope so"? Is that all? Do you not know? The hopings and hoppings of so many are a poor way of going; put both feet down, and say, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." You are either saved or lost; there is no state between the two. You are either pardoned or condemned; and you have good reason for the highest happiness, or else you have grave causes for the direst anxiety. If you have received the atonement, be as glad as you can be; and if you are still an unbeliever, rest not till Christ is yours.
Oh, the joy of continually entering into fellowship with Christ, in such a way that you never lose His company! Be this yours, beloved, every day, and all the day! May His shadow fall upon you as you rest in the sun, or stray in the gardens! May His voice cheer you as you lie down upon the sea-shore, and listen to the murmuring of the waves; may His presence glorify the mountain solitude as you climb the hills! May Jesus be to you an all-surrounding presence, lighting up the night, perfuming the day, gladdening all places, and sanctifying all pursuits! Our Beloved is not a Friend for Lord's-days only, but for week-days, too; He is the inseparable Companion of His loving disciples. Those who have had fellowship with His body and His blood at this table may have the Lord as an habitual Guest at their own tables; those who have met their Master in this upper room may expect Him to make their own chamber bright with His royal presence. Let fellowship with Jesus and with the elect brotherhood be henceforth the atmosphere of our life, the joy of our existence. This will give us a heaven below, and prepare us for a heaven above.