THE HOLY COMMUNION.
AN ADDRESS BEFORE ADMINISTERING THE LORD’S SUPPER.
JOHN BROWN, D.D., EDINBURGH.
[Published in the United Secession Magazine, January, 1844]
THE ordinance which we have met to observe to-day, was known by various descriptive names in the ancient church. The most common of these are the Lord’s Supper, the Table of the Lord, the Love Feast, the Breaking of Bread, the Eucharist, the Oblation, the Mystery, and the COMMUNION. To the last of these names I wish to turn your attention for a little, before you engage in the solemn act of commemoration, in the hope that the remarks to be made may be of use in guiding our thoughts and affections into a track Which will render the exercise something more than bodily service,—the vehicle and expression of enlightened holy thought and affection,—acceptable to God, useful to ourselves; edifying to the church of God. In the earliest times, (hkoinwnia) "the communion or fellowship," was not a name of the Lord’s Supper; it was the distinctive appellation of another institution which, along with the ordinances of "doctrine, breaking of bread and prayers," the primitive disciples seem always to have observed when they "came together,"—the common consecration of a portion of their property to the cause of their common Lord. The name, however, came soon to be given also to the Lord’s Supper,—probably from these striking words of the Apostle,—"The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?" And it requires little consideration to see that the appellation is an appropriate one.
The word communion has two distinct, yet connected, meanings. It signifies COMMON PARTICIPATION, and it signifies also MUTUAL COMMUNICATION—giving and receiving. In both these related significations, it is applicable to the holy institution which we are about to observe. It is an ordinance of common participation and of mutual communication; and it is so in both cases—both in reference to the worshippers viewed by themselves and viewed in connexion with the great object of worship and the great subject of emblematical representation. There is common participation on the part of the observers of the ordinance, and there is also common participation on the part of the great object of worship, along with the observers of the ordinance. They feast together, and they feast together along with Him. There is mutual communication among the observers of the ordinance, and there is mutual communication also between the great object of worship and the observers of the ordinance.
1st. In this holy ordinance there is COMMON PARTICIPATION on the part of those who rightly engage in it. Common participation in what? There is common participation in eating bread and drinking wine. All engage in these exercises—they all eat of the same loaf—they all drink out of the same cup. But this is but the emblem of a higher and a holier kind of common participation. Their minds and their hearts are occupied about the same objects, and they are of one mind and heart about them. The truth about Christ—Christ himself—the salvation he has procured—and his saved peculiar people,—these are the objects which the ordinance brings before the mind, and the views and feelings with regard to these, on the part of those who rightly observe it, are the same. They think and feel in common.
(1.) The primary object of the ordinance is the emblematical representation of the saving truth respecting Christ—that he, the only-begotten of God, in human nature, suffered and died in the room of sinners to obtain their salvation; and that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. With regard to this principle, there is but one sentiment at a properly filled communion table. The language of the common mind is just "Amen and amen." This is the very truth most sure; we know and are persuaded of it; "we set to our seal that God is true."
(2.) And as all true communicants participate in the faith of this truth, so they all participate in the same affections towards the Saviour, plainly set forth crucified and slain, in their room, and for their salvation. They admire him, they love him, they confide in him as the Saviour—the only Saviour—the all-sufficient Saviour—their Saviour; able and willing to save them to the uttermost. Let the question be put to every believing communicant—What think ye of Christ? and the answer will be, He is infinitely amiable and infinitely kind—he is "the chief of ten thousand and altogether lovely,"--he is "my beloved and my friend,"—he is "all my salvation and all my desire." None but Christ, none but Christ.
(3.) There is common participation, also, in reference to the blessings of the christian salvation. The ordinance presents not only an accomplished Saviour but a complete salvation; and all the believing observers of it cordially receive that salvation in the faith of the truth, and enjoy in the measure of their faith the holy happiness which is its sum and substance. They all gratefully acknowledge the measure of this salvation which they have received; they all earnestly desire to obtain, in all its extent, "the salvation which is in Christ with exceeding glory,"—and they all, too, humbly hope for "the grace that is to be brought to them at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
(4.) Finally. There is a common participation of the same views and feelings in reference to the saved—the peculiar people of God. The unity of mind and heart respecting the truth, and respecting the common Saviour and the common salvation, produces "brotherly kindness"—love to all the brethren "for the truth’s sake, which is in them, and will abide in them for ever." The language of the heart is, "Since he so loved us all, we should, we do, love one another. How can we but love those who love him—those whom he loves? "Grace, mercy, and peace, be on all the Israel of God."
And this mutual participation is not confined to those who, at the same time, in the same place, surround the communion table. The communion of thought, and affection, and enjoyment, is as extensive as the true church of God; and the believing communicant rejoices to think that he sits at the same table and participates in the same rich provision with "the whole family in heaven and earth" called by the one name.
"One family we dwell in him,
One church above—beneath;
Though now divided by the stream,
The narrowed stream of death."
2d. But there is another, a still higher and holier sense in which the Lord’s Supper deserves the name of the communion, in the meaning of common participation,—"We have an altar of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle." The Lord’s Supper is a feast on an accepted sacrifice, and the worshippers are not the only partakers. They sit with Jehovah at his own table. They are of one mind and heart with Him. The great event emblematically represented on the ordinance is the most remarkable display ever made of holy love—of truth, righteousness, and benignity. In these Jehovah delights, and in these the enlightened believing communicant delights also. Jehovah, in his own divine manner, says, in reference to the completed atonement "My justice can demand no more." "The Lord is well pleased for HIS righteousness sake. This is my righteous servant in whom my soul delights—my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." And the happy believing communicant replies, "My heart can desire no more He has finished transgression, He has made an end of sin, He has brought in an everlasting righteousness." This is my beloved Saviour in whom I am well pleased. This is the holy colloquy which, at the communion table, takes place between Jehovah and his delighted guest "I love HIM," "and so do I."—"I trust Him," "and so do I."—"My will is that he should be honoured," "and so is mine."—"He is worthy who hath done this."—"Yes, ‘worthy is the Lamb that was slain receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and blessing.’" And the soul rejoices in a conscious union of mind and will and enjoyment with God.
When we take this view of the Lord’s Supper, it is easy to see who—who alone are fit for observing it. Men whose views and feeling, respecting the truth—respecting the Saviour—respecting his salvation are not in accordance with those which characterise the holy family whose mind and will are not consentaneous with the mind and will of God respecting the person and work of Christ, cannot from the very nature of the case be either acceptable, or benefited communicants. They may participate in the bread and wine, but they have no communion either with the true worshippers, or with the great object of worship. But oh, why should men entertain views and cherish feelings which unfit them not only for this ordinance, but for heaven? To all such we proclaim "Repentance toward God, and faith toward the Lord Jesus." Change your mind respecting God, believe the truth respecting Jesus Christ. "Repent, and believe the gospel." Then, not till then, will you be capable of participating along with God and his people, of that better than "angels’ food" presented in this ordinance, by which all who really receive it are "nourished up into life eternal." To all who are thus fitted for that common participation, which is the essence of the religious service in which we are about to engage, we proclaim, in the Master’s name, "All things are ready, Come ye to the marriage." The table is spread. The entertainment is rich. The entertainer is generous. "Eat, O friends, drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved."
Let us now turn our thoughts for a little on the character of the holy institution we are about to observe as an ordinance—OF MUTUAL COMMUNICATION—SPIRITUAL INTERCOURSE. There is in it mutual communication between the Saviour and the individual communicant, and there is mutual communication among the communicants themselves.
1st. There is mutual communication between the Saviour and the individual communicant. (1.) On the part of the Saviour there is the emblematical statement of truth, "I, the only begotten of God assumed your nature, became the man Christ Jesus—bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh," and suffered and died in your room for your salvation. Such is the language of the emblematical elements as interpreted by our Lord himself. When the communicant receives these elements, when he takes the bread and wine, he, in the most appropriate way, expresses his hearty assent to this statement,—"Wonderful as the declaration is, I firmly believe it, Yes, I know, and am sure: ‘The word was made flesh, and dwelt among men. God was manifest in the flesh. Inasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also took part of the same:’ Yes, I know, and am sure that He ‘the just one died in the room of the unjust—was given for my offences—died for my sins—became a curse for me that he might redeem me from the curse.’"
(2.) On the part of the Saviour,—there is not only the statement of truth, but the conveyance of benefit. "Take, eat—take, drink."—In the exercise of faith, in the belief of the truth, accept and enjoy the blessings it reveals. My death procured pardon: receive the remission of sins. My death procured acceptance with God: receive and exercise the privilege of drawing near to him as your Father because my Father, and your God because my God. I redeemed you from the curse of the law that ye might receive the promised Spirit: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost. My death opened the fountain of living water: drink of its refreshing stream, and thirst no more. I give my body and blood—myself to you—and with myself all the blessings of the salvation procured by the bloody sacrifice of myself. On the part of the communicant there is an appropriate expression of the grateful acceptance of these benefits, dearly purchased for—freely bestowed on us." "Gladly and gratefully do I receive what is freely given me of my divine Saviour. I accept him, and I accept his salvation. "In HIM I have redemption, even the forgivenness of sins—I am washed, I am sanctified, I am justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." He of God is made to me wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. I am "complete in Him." "Surely in the Lord have I righteousness and strength."
(3.) On the part of the Saviour, there is a declaration of tender affection. Jesus says, ‘Behold how I have loved you,’ and, "showing them his hands and his feet," he points to what he has done—what he has suffered—what he has obtained—what he has bestowed—what he has prepared for them. "Behold what manner of love is this." And this declaration of love on his part is met by a corresponding declaration on the part of the believing communicant, "Thy love to me is wonderful. It constrains me. I love thee who hast so loved me—chief among ten thousand, altogether lovely—my beloved, my friend!"
(4.) On the part of the Saviour there is a claim made for implicit affectionate obedience. Jesus says, "Ye are mine, for I bought you with my precious blood, I delivered you by my redeeming power, that ye might be to me a peculiar people,"—and the believing communicant replies, "Truly, O Lord; I am thy servant—I am not my own, I am bought with a price. I will glorify thee in my soul and in my body which are thine."
2d. There is also mutual communication among the believing participants themselves. Amid the solemn silence, there is interchange of sentiment, of affection, of purpose, of expectation. The sacred elements circulate—but there circulates also that of which they are tho emblems. (1.) As to SENTIMENT, each says to his neighbour, "I am a Christian," and the reply is, "so am I"—"I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God—the Saviour of the world,"—"and so do I."(2.) As to AFFECTION each says, "I love Christ; and the reply is, "so do I. Each says, "I love you, for you love Christ, and Christ loves you;" and the reply is, "my heart is as your heart." (3.) As to PURPOSE, each says, "I am determined to walk with you in all his ordinances and commandments blameless;" and the reply is, "I will go with you." (4.) As to EXPECTATION, each says, "I am expecting the Lord’s second coming. I do this not only in remembrance of him, but till he comes. I am looking for the Saviour from heaven, who shall change this vile body, and fashion it like to his own glorious body;" and the reply is, "I, too, am looking, for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,—I too, am looking for and hastening to the coming of the day of God."
You see, then, Christian brethren, what is your appropriate employment at a communion table. Receive and give, give and receive—both in reference to the Saviour, and to one another. And oh may there be not only all emblematical, but a real communion between Him and each of you individually, and between every one of you, and every other one of you as brethren in Christ; and may we have reason to say before we rise from that table, ‘Truly we have had sweet fellowship one with another,’ and better far than this, "truly our fellowship has been with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ."
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