My Dear Brother
Having taken up in some measure the subject of the Lord's Table, it is natural to go on to think a little of the Lord's Supper - that solemn and precious remembrance of Christ Himself which puts us in the right attitude, if it be real with us, for looking at other things. It thus, as you will probably have noticed, precedes, in the epistle to the Corinthians, the whole question of gifts and of their exercise, and even of membership in the body of Christ. With our eyes really on Him, we are in communion, and competent to entertain these questions.
And therefore the great importance of seeing clearly, in the first place, the object and character of that great central meeting which gives its character to all other meetings. It is described for us in simple and familiar style in the Acts, but so as to show us what, in the mind of Christians, was its primary object: "On the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread." As the Passover had changed for Israel the order of the months, and the year must begin with the sign of accomplished redemption, so, for Christians, time must begin its reckoning with the joyful celebration of the love that has visited them. On the first day, therefore, they came together to "break bread." It does not say, as we sometimes hear, "to a worship meeting." Worship, no doubt, they would; but that was not what was present to their minds. It was their Lord who was before them - Him of Whom that bread spoke. So in 1 Cor. 11; "When ye come together into one place, this is not" - it was a rebuke because of their way of doing it destroyed its meaning - "this is not to eat the Lord's Supper."
The purpose of coming together should be distinctly before our minds. We must be simple in it. In two opposite ways this simplicity may be destroyed, and the character of the meeting be lowered and souls suffer. Let us spend a little time in the consideration of this.
In the first place, when we come together, after six days of warfare in the world (would that were always spiritual warfare, and that we realized the world as an enemy's country simply), we are apt to come full of our spiritual needs, to be recruited and refreshed. We may not use the term, but still the idea in the Lord's Supper to us thus will be that it is a "means of grace." We bring jaded spirits and unstrung energies to a meeting where we trust the weariness will be dispelled and the lassitude recovered from. We come to be ministered to and helped. We require the character of it to be soothing and comforting, speaking much of grace and quieting our overdone nerves for another week before us, in which we know too surely that we shall go through the same course exactly, and come back next Lord's Day as weary as before, with the same need and thought of refreshment, with the same self, in fact, as an object, and scarcely Christ at all, or Christ very much as a means to an end, and not Himself the end.
This is the evil of this state of things - Christ is not in any due sense before our soul, but our need, which He is to be the means of supplying. No doubt there is a measure of truth in this view of the Lord's Supper. Can we come ever to Him without finding refreshment from the coming? Does He not, blessed Lord, delight to serve us? Do not the bread and wine speak of refreshment ministered - "wine that maketh glad the heart of man - and bread which strengtheneth man's heart"? Has He not spread us here a table in the wilderness? A table in the very presence of our enemies? Is not His language still, "Eat O friends; drink, yea drink abundantly, O beloved"?
Surely all this is true. But true as it is, it is not this that gathers us. "To show the Lord's death" - has not this deeper meaning? Are not His own words, "Do this" - not for the satisfaction of our own need, not for the recruiting of your own strength, but - "in remembrance of Me"? Thus this sacramental use of Christ, as I may term it (common as it really is, alas, among those who think that they have outgrown sacraments) essientially lowers the whole thought of the Lord's Supper. The remembrance of Christ is something more and other than what I get by the remembrance; something more than "the strengthening and refreshing of our souls by the body and blood of Christ," although in this secondary way indeed His body and blood may be remembered in the sacrament.
The purposed end is not, moreover, attained in this way. Of course, I do not mean to deny that Christ is gracious, and meets us oftentimes in unexpected ways. Sovereign He is, and beyond expression gracious. Still, if our blessing flows from the apprehension of Christ, how will such apprehension of Him as this ensure a blessing? If we make ourselves our object, will that be a blessing? What honour has Christ, and what place, in all this? And what must be the character of meetings to which languid and wayworn souls come, seeking a stimulating cordial to return to what seems only too sadly indicated to be the main business of their lives?
We may have to approach this subject from another side. Let us look now, however, at the other way in which our souls may be tempted from the simplicity of the remembrance of Christ.
Scripture does not speak of a "worship meeting": it does not, of course then, style the meeting to break bread this. The term may be used very innocently, I do not doubt at all; nor do I in the least oppose the thought that the atmosphere, so to speak, of the Lord's Table will be "worship." "In His temple doth every one speak of His glory." But we have need to guard against an abuse of this also - no imaginary, but a frequent one.
When we look at the worship of heaven, in that picture which so often tempts our eyes in Rev. 5, it is the simple presence of the Lamb slain that calls out the adoration of those elders, in whom some of us have learned to recognize our representatives. Worship, with them, was no arranged, premeditated thing, but the pouring out of hearts that could not be restrained in the presence of Him who had redeemed them to God by His blood. And here is the mistake on our parts, when we think we can make worship a matter of pre-arrangement, while it is, in fact, a thing dependent upon another thing, and that the true remembrance of the Lord.
We can recognize the fact that in this thought we have a very different and a much truer one than in that which makes the motive to come to the Lord's table a motive of mere self-interest. Still, the mistake often leads to a similar result - that the very thing we are seeking becomes an impossibility. Worship itself becomes a legal claim, which, as such, we cannot render. We are in the presence of ourselves, not of the Lord, and the result is a strained and artificial service, painfully reaching out after an ideal which is quite beyond it, and robbed of power and naturalness.
Thus there will be blessing on the one hand and worship on the other in proportion as our eyes are taken off ourselves and fixed upon the object which both ministers the one and calls forth the other. Blessing there will be; for how can the sight of Him do otherwise than bless? And worship there will be; for this is the true and spontaneous response of heart to the sight of One who, being the Son of God, yet loved us, and gave Himself for us. The great point pressed, therefore, in Scripture, is discernment - remembrance - "This do in remembrance of Me." "Ye do show the Lord's death." "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." Earnestly, affectionately, solemnly, is this pressed, as the pith and essence of the whole matter.
Of course, we are not to forget that while our eyes look back upon the Lamb slain, it is from the hither side of His resurrection that we contemplate this. "The first day of the week" speaks of resurrection out of death, and gives Him back to us in all the reality of a living person. While we remember His death, we do it in the glad knowledge of His resurrection, and with the Lord Himself in our midst. Who could celebrate the Lord's death but for this? Who could sound a note of praise did He not Himself first raise it? As He says, "In the midst of the Church will I give praise unto Thee." No spectre - as the astonished disciples thought - not conquered of the grave, but Conqueror, Himself with us - this alone turns the most calamitous sorrow into exulting joy. Death, but death passed, do we celebrate; death which, thus seen, is only the depths of a living love which we carry with us, unexhausted, inexhaustible, unfathomed and unfathomable.
"Lo! the tokens of His passion,
Though in glory, still He bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers."
"A Lamb as it had been slain" is the object of the elders' worship. The Living One bears with Him forever the memorials of His blessed death. The Cross is not only atonement effected for us, but the bright and blessed display of God manifest in Christ, and for us, in every attribute displayed.
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