1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Now in this that I declare to you I praise you not, that you come together not for the better, but for the worse.…
And what is St. Paul's mood of mind now? "I declare unto you" (command you), and I praise you not, since I hear of "divisions" among you, and "I partly believe it." "Heresies [sects] must be among you," for in the present state of our nature there is no way to develop the good without the evil manifesting itself. The evil has its uses; the evil is not a cause but an occasion of good; the evil is overruled by the Holy Ghost and turned to the advantage of the Church; the evil does not change its character and become a good, but is instrumentally employed to, subserve other and very different purposes than itself contemplates. Thereby the genuine advocates of truth are made to appear, and truth itself is brought out in a more luminous aspect. The standpoint is that God is not only the Author of the institutions of the Church, but their Divine Guardian. The institutions are not left to themselves, nor are circumstances outside of them surrendered to their own operation, but God himself is in the workmanship of his hands, and presides over all external things, so that his providences are in behalf of a providence which has a supreme object and end. Now, the Lord's Supper is a holy sacrament, and St. Paul approaches the discussion of it in a very marked way. We understand him to claim a direct revelation from the Lord Jesus on this subject, and, by virtue thereof, to "declare," or command, as he states in the seventeenth verse. Truth is truth, whether mediately or immediately received. Yet we do know that there are circumstances under which truth affects us in a manner singularly personal. Only one such scene as that "near Damascus" is reported in the New Testament, and only one such unique individuality as that of St. Paul is recorded for our instruction. So that we are moving in the line of all the precedents of his career when we suppose that this account of the supper was communicated directly by the Lord Jesus to the apostle of the Gentiles. In a previous discussion (ch. 10.) he had referred to a specific aspect of the supper as a communion or participation. Beyond this the argument then in hand did not require him to go. Now, however, he is full and explicit as to details - the time when it was instituted, the circumstances, the manner of the Lord Jesus, the formula employed; so that nothing might escape observation, but the utmost depth and solemnity of impression be secured. "In remembrance of me" is the heart of the holy ordinance - the "remembrance" of the broken body and the shed blood - the penalty of the violated Law endured, satisfaction offered to the Lawgiver, the sense of justice met in the human heart, the love of God expressing itself as the grace of God, and the means therewith provided for the sense of God's grace to be awakened and developed in the human heart. Memory is the power in man this holy institution addresses. "In remembrance of me." Now, looking at memory in its position among the mental faculties, we may perchance get some light on the words just quoted. Memory is a very early and energetic activity of the mind. It begins our development and is the chief stimulant of progressive development. It is the spinal column of the faculties. Sensation, per caption, imagination, associative and suggestive functions, reasoning and conclusions reached, are all very intimately identified with its operations. Memory is the first of the intellectual powers to attain perfection, as judgment is the last, and this law of rapid maturity would seem to indicate, by its exceptional character, that memory sustains a very near relation to the growth of our moral nature. It is clear that the Lord Jesus adopted the method of storing facts in the minds of the twelve apostles, and leaving them in latency, the truths in these facts being reserved for subsequent realization. And it is equally certain that one of the chief offices of the Holy Ghost, as the Executive of the Father and the Son, was "to bring all things" to their "remembrance." Naturally, indeed, a past was formed in the memories of the twelve, but it was made a spiritual past by the Divine agency of the Spirit as a Remembrancer. Furthermore, the apostles were to be witnesses, or testifiers: "Ye also shall bear witness;" but the importance of the Spirit as a Remembrancer exhibits itself in this, that, out of the miscellaneous mass of facts deposited in the memories of the twelve, selection was to be made, for, according to the fourth Gospel, there were "many other things which Jesus did" that were not "written," while those "written" were such as were adapted to Christian faith. It seems, then, that memory was inspired by the Holy Ghost in accordance with the principle contained in the words, "These are written" - only these - "that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his Name." Aside, however, from the apostles, is there not a principle here which is recognized by the Spirit in all its gracious administrations? Memory is ordinarily the starting point in religious life when that life becomes positive and decided. It enters largely into conviction for sin and into repentance. Further back than recollection extends, impressions of God's goodness and the need of Christ for pardon and peace were made on the soul, and there they lay like old deposits in the strata of the globe, till the Holy Ghost uncovered them to our consciousness, God keeps for us his witness in this faithful register of the past. Without being Platonists on the subject of reminiscence, or accepting all that Wordsworth teaches in the grand 'Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Early Recollections of Childhood,' we may well believe that memory is the master organ through which grace is imparted to men. A simple hymn of Dr. Watts's or Mrs. Barbauld's learned in childhood; the little prayer, "Now I lay me down to sleep;" and most of all, "Our Father which art in heaven," taught by a mother's lips; our first sight of death; our first walk in a graveyard; - come back to us in after years, and suddenly the hard grip of the world on our hearts is relaxed, and the "little child is set in the midst" of life's scenes, and we know that Jesus has set it there for our restoration to its long lost image. No wonder, then, that it should have pleased the Lord Jesus to make the Holy Supper an institution appealing to memory. There, in that upper room, a few hours on earth remaining to him, the past three years with his disciples were gathered in a few most solemn moments. The righteousness of his perfect life of obedience, all he had taught and done and suffered, had come into this final interview, and were going forward into his expiatory death. The motive and blessedness of the act in the celebration of the Eucharist are drawn from "In remembrance of me." Christ in all his fulness, Christ in his one personality as Son of God and Son of man, Christ in the entire compass of mediation, is in this "me." At the same time, the act shows forth the "Lord's death till he come," and accordingly is prospective. As a natural fact, memory is the great feeder of the imagination, and is ever exciting it to picture the future. Except for memory, the imagination could not exist, or, if existing, would be a very imperfect because torpid faculty. As a religious organ, the medium as we have seen of the Spirit, the memory stimulates the imagination and qualifies it to "show the Lord's death till he come." St. Paul mentions first the "remembrance" in connection with the broken body and again with the blood, and then comes the idea of showing, or proclaiming. Of course, the supper had to be a memorial before it could be an anticipation, but the order involves more than chronological sequence. It is an inner order of ideas, and it states, we think, with force and precision the relativity of these ideas. If this analysis be correct, then the determinative idea in the institution is its memorial character (remembrance), and by this idea we are to judge its nature and influence. Yet not alone by this abstractly viewed, since memory is supplemented by imagination and its vivid sense of futurity. From this point of view we understand why St. Paul should protest so strongly against the shocking abuse of the Lord's Supper among the Corinthians. With this feast, instituted and consecrated by Christ himself, its purpose being to bring him back into their midst and to enable them to realize his coming again, the two ideas being closely joined, - with this tender remembrance and expectation they had associated sensual pleasures, eating and drinking to excess, separating themselves into classes, despising the Church of God, and bringing condemnation upon themselves. What of Christ was in all this? Instead of memories of his sacrificial death, instead of their personal recollections of his providence and grace in their behalf, instead of touching and humbling recallings of how he had dealt with each of them, what utter forgetfulness, what a closing up of every avenue of the past opening into the present, and what a concentration in the animal gratifications of the hour! Instead of anticipation and joyous hope, looking to the Lord's coming, what blindness to all but the transient festivities of the carnal senses! On this account (therefore) "many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep." The reference is not to the weakness and sickliness that follow the violations of natural laws, nor is the sleep the falling asleep in Jesus, but a punishment sent from God and executed under the directive agency of providence. Just in proportion as a man realizes Christ in the past will he realize him in the future. Just in the degree that he loses him from the past of his own heart, in that same degree will he vacate the future of his glorious image. The present is all, and it is all of the senses. And when God arises to judgment, as in the case of the Corinthians, what a sudden intensity surcharges the present, the blessedness of the old yesterdays and the awaiting tomorrows all extinguished, and the immediate moments, once so fugitive and so eager to glorify themselves by larger additions, lingering now and lengthening in the keener consciousness of pain and remorseful anguish! "Judge yourselves," O Corinthians! Examine your hearts; return to your memories and expectations; go to the cross of Christ and learn the lesson of its self sacrifice; condemn and punish yourselves for the guilty past; and make this discipline of self a chastening for future well being. But let no true and humble soul be tortured by the thought of eating and drinking "unworthily," and thereby incurring "condemnation." Whoever comes to the Lord's Supper after a close self examination aided by the Spirit, and brings to it a meek and trustful mind; whoever repairs to it after he has communed with his memories of Christ's goodness to him, - will be a worthy participant in the sacred rite, and may surely expect the seal of God's approbation. A Christian child may understand the essential idea and spirit of the institution. And yet it has connections that transcend all thought, and the soul of every devout communicant welcomes the mysterious glory with which it is invested. Charles Wesley sings for every believer when he says —
"His presence makes the feast,
And now our bosoms feel
The glory not to be expressed,
The joy unspeakable."
Parallel VersesKJV: Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.
WEB: But in giving you this command, I don't praise you, that you come together not for the better but for the worse.