The Greatest Exhibition of the Age
“For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come”— 1 Corinthians xi. 26.
FIRST, let me say that the Lord’s supper is nothing to us unless we partake of it as spiritual persons in a spiritual way. We must understand what we are doing in coming to the communion table; the mere mechanical celebration will be vanity; it may even be a sin. To observe this ordinance aright, you must bring your mind in an awakened state, you must come with holy faith, and love, and concentrated thought. I do pray that we may so come to-night. I know how mechanical we all get. We even stand up and sing, and oftentimes we forget what we are singing while the sounds issue from our lips. We cover our eyes in prayer, but we do not always pray. There is such a thing as preaching from the mouth outward, instead of speaking from the heart; and I believe there is a kind of hearing which is dreadfully superficial, and can do the hearer no good. Now, if you come to the supper to-night, bring your hearts with you; and if your hearts are warm with love to Christ, desire to have them yet fuller of love to your Lord. I remember reading of a Mr. Welch, a very devout minister of the gospel in Suffolk, who was found weeping one day; and when he was asked by a brother minister why he wept, he said it was because he could love Christ more than he did. That was a very good reason for weeping. Now, let us love our Lord much to-night; and if we cannot feel the glow of love as we wish to feel it, let us weep to think that it is so. May the Spirit of God come and put life into our communion, that every child of God here may have real fellowship with Christ in the breaking of bread!
But now, let us get to our work. The Lord’s supper, dear friends, is first of all a memorial. “This do in remembrance of me.” It is intended to keep alive in our own hearts, and in the minds of others, the wondrous fact that the Son of God was here among men, and laid down his life a sacrifice for sin. It is well known that a custom, a rite, a festival, has a very great historical power to keep up in the minds of men the recollection of a fact; and our Lord has selected this common meal, this supper, as a method by which men should be made to know to the very end of time that he died. There can be no doubt about the death of Christ, because through long ages all history bears record that Christian men and women have met together, and have eaten bread, and have drunk wine, to keep up the memory of his sufferings and death. This is better than if there had been a statue erected, or than if a document had been written, or than if a brass tablet had been inscribed. We are not without memorials of other sorts; especially we are not without books; but this perpetually celebrated feast, kept up without cessation, kept up in every country on the face of the earth, is one of the very best memorials that the death of Christ can have. All of you who come to the table to-night will be helping to keep alive in the memory of men the great fact that Jesus died.
But the Lord 's supper is more than a memorial, it is a fellowship, a communion. Those who eat of this bread, spiritually understanding what they do, those who drink of this cup, entering into the real meaning of that reception of the wine, do therein receive Christ spiritually into their hearts. Their heart, soul, mind feeds upon Christ himself, and upon what Christ has done. We do not merely record the fact, but we enjoy the result of it. We do not merely say that Christ died; but we desire to die with him, and to live only as the result of his having died. We take scot and lot with Christ as we come to the table. We say deliberately, “Thine are we, thou Son of God, and all that we have; and thou art ours, and in testimony thereof we eat this bread, and we drink of this cup, to show that we are one with thyself, partners with thee in this great fellowship of love.”
Well, now, if you want a permanent memorial, and a perpetual means of fellowship, it will be wise to have a rite or ceremony in which there shall also be a likeness to the fact that has to be remembered. This supper is therefore an exhibition, a showing, a setting forth, a proclamation of the death of Christ. That you may remember that Jesus died, there is something here that bears a resemblance to his death. That you may the better have fellowship with him in his death, here is something which is a vivid picture of that death, and which will help to bring it more clearly before your mind’s eye. That is the subject for to-night’s meditation,— this supper as a showing forth, an exhibition of Christ’s death “ till he come.”
In speaking of this exhibition, this showing forth, wo will consider, first, what it shows; secondly, how it shows it; and thirdly, how long it is to show it.
I. Thinking of this supper, that wo are about to celebrate, we will consider, first, WHAT IT snows, “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death.”
Brethren, to-night, we are to show, to exhibit, to demonstrate, to set forth, to symbolize, to represent, to picture the death of Christ. He lived, or he could not have died; that fact is, therefore, included in our confession of faith. But the point we specially set forth is this, that he died, he who was born at Bethlehem, the Son of Mary, and who lived here on earth, being also the Son of God, in due time died, he gave his life a ransom for many. Why do we record that fact? To my intense grief, I have heard it said, even among a certain class of preachers, that we dwell too much upon the death of Christ. They ask why we do not talk more about his life. The death of a man, they say, is not so important, by a great many degrees, as his life. The Lord have mercy upon the miserable and ignorant men who talk in that fashion! But we have a reason for making so much of Christ’s death. The Lord has instituted no memorial of his life, the memorial that he has instituted is to keep before his people the perpetual remembrance of his death. And why is that the case?
I take it, because this is the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The doctrine that he died, “the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God,” is essential to the gospel. Leave out the vicarious sacrifice unto death, and you have left out the life of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are some truths which ought to be preached in due proportion with other truths; but if they are not preached, souls may be saved; but this is a truth which must be preached, and if it be left out, souls will not be saved. I should have more hope of the salvation of a man hearing a Romish priest, with all his superstition, if he preached the death of Christ, than I should of one hearing a Unitarian, with all his intelligence, if he left out the doctrine of the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. “The blood is the life thereof.” “Without shedding of blood is no remission.” Because the death of Christ is the life of the gospel, therefore it is that there is an ordinance to set forth that death “till he come.”
And this is the more so, in the next place, because this is the point where the gospel is always being assailed. You shall find, in almost every controversy, that the fight thickens about the cross. It is around the standard that the foemen cluster. There the sword rings upon the armour, there the loudest shout is heard, there you see the garment rolled in blood. So the cross, the cross is the standard of our Christianity. Round the atoning sacrifice the controversialists gather. They think they are aiming at other things; but the real password is, “Fight neither with small nor great, save only with the Divine Substitute for men.” If they could once get rid of the doctrine of the atoning sacrifice, they would destroy that which is the greatest tower of strength to the gospel of Christ; but, thank God, they cannot get rid of the cross! We can still sing,—
The cross it standeth fast,
Defying every blast,
The winds of hell have blown,
The world its hate hath shown,
Yet it is not o’erthrown.
Hallelujah for the cross!
It shall never suffer loss!”
Therefore, set forth the atoning sacrifice of Christ, brethren, in this ordinance, “till he come.”
So well does this supper set forth the death of Christ in that respect, that it has been argued by some brethren that, if a man comes to the communion table, unless he is a great liar, he has already made a confession of faith in Christ. I will not go that length; but there is a good deal of truth in the argument. If you truly eat and drink of this supper, you must believe in the atoning sacrifice; you come here under false pretences if you are not a believer in that; for, at the institution of this supper, the Saviour said, “This is my blood of the new testament (or covenant) which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” The pardon of sin must be by the shedding of the blood of Christ; and if you reject the blood of Christ, you have rejected the true meaning of this supper, and certainly you cannot come here with a clear conscience. This supper, then, sets forth the great fact that Jesus died; and it is ordained to set that death forth because it is essential to the gospel, and because it is the point which is most fiercely attacked.
And you will notice, brethren, according to our text, that this showing of the death of Christ is to he kept up through every age “till he come.” It will not be wanted after the coming of Christ, for reasons which we will speak of by-and-by; but until then it will always be wanted. Shall I always have to preach the doctrine of atonement? Yes, always. Shall we always have to set Christ forth evidently crucified among men? Yes, always. First, because we always need to have this truth set forth. You and I, who are firm believers in this glorious truth, yet cannot too often think upon it. I love to come every Lord’s-day to the communion table; I should be very sorry to come only once a month, or, as some do, only once a year. I could not afford to come as seldom as that. I need to be reminded, forcibly reminded, of my dear Lord and Master very often. We do so soon forget, and our unloving hearts so soon grow cold. How is it with you, my brethren? I know that it is thus with me. I sing sometimes,—
“Gethsemane, can I forget?
Or there thy conflict see,
Thine agony and bloody sweat,
And not remember Thee!”
But that is the point of my argument. We need to go often to Gethsemane, and there see our Lord’s agony and bloody sweat, that we may remember him. I suppose that, until we see his face, we shall never have one communion too many, and we shall never have a thought of Christ that is superfluous. Nay, banish all poetic thought rather than that I should lose a thought of him. Begone the most delightful classical expression, and the most charming thoughts of philosophers, if they would push out one thought of Jesus; for thoughts of Christ are golden thoughts, and thoughts of other things, however burnished by the wit and genius of men, are but poor metal compared with thoughts of Jesus. We need this supper for ourselves, brethren, and we should partake of it often, for that is what is meant by our Lord’s words, “As oft as ye drink it.” We need that often we should eat this bread, and drink this cup, and show his death for our own sins.
But this supper is as much needed for the sake of others. We are to show Christ’s death that others may know about it, that others may be impressed by it, that others may be saved by it. I sometimes wonder, when I am talking to you upon this theme, that I do not preach much better; and yet, when I have done, I say to myself, “Well, how can there be anything better if one only tells the tale truly?” That God came here in human flesh, and for our sins did serve, did die, that he bore the vengeance due to our guilt, the punishment which our transgressions had incurred, brethren, that is poetry. It is essential poetry, even though I only put it into a child’s speech. It wants no garnishing. The face of perfect beauty must not be touched with Jezebel’s paints; and all the garnishing of eloquence that can be brought to such a fact as this is unnecessary, meretricious, and degrading. Oh, hear you the tale, and then, as you come to the table, remember what it is that you set forth, and say to yourself, “I am, by this action, telling a story more wonderful than all the histories of men put together. I am showing to those who look on something which angels desire to look into, which the most wonderful intelligences will, throughout all the ages, study with ever-growing wonder and delight— God Incarnate, suffering in the sinner’s stead.” Show that forth, brethren, for it is worth the showing.
II. But now, secondly, having mentioned what it is that this supper shows, let me prove to you now IT SHOWS IT.
It does so, first, very instructively in the emblems themselves. We want to tell men and to tell our own hearts that Jesus died. Well, see, here is bread; mark you, not a wafer, but a piece of household bread. And here is wine in a cup; not wine and water, but the true juice of the grape, which our Lord called “the fruit of the vine.” What then? Here are bread and the fruit of the vine, separately. Bread, representing the flesh of Christ, has a million sermons in it. Shall I tell you its story? It was a grain of wheat, they threw it into the ground, they buried it beneath the clods, it lay there exposed to winter’s cold. It sprang up, and many a frost nipped it in the green blade; but there came spring weather, and summertide, and the wheat grew and grew on till it turned into the yellow golden grain. See, they come along with a sharp sickle, and cut it down; it must feel the keen edge. Alter cutting it down, they take it away in sheaves. They spread it out upon the barn floor. Here are flails, which come hammering down upon it,— in those olden times they did use flails. Now they beat out the grain from the ear; and now, when they have all the grain separated from the straw, it must be winnowed, and the chaff must be blown away. Then they take this com, and put it between two stones, and grind it. Woe unto thee, O grain, thou art ground into the finest flour! But it has not finished its history of suffering yet. When well ground, and separated from the bran, it is taken, and a woman kneads it with all her might, and makes it into dough. Nor is its suffering ended yet, for she thrusts it into the oven. Now does it feel the heat of the fire; and when the loaf is taken out of the oven, it is cut, or broken, and devoured. It is a story of suffering from the beginning to the end. Now take that cup, and look into its ruddy depths. Do you see that vine yonder? You expected to find it festooned on trellis-work, a lovely object; but looking at it in the winter and spring, you
say to yourself, “Is that a vine? It looks like an old, dead stick left in the ground.” Yes, it has been cut down. Did you not see the pruner’s knife? How sharply he cut! “Surely,” you said, “he is killing that vine.” No, vines are made to bear much fruit by being closely cut and pruned. But now it is summer, and in the early months of autumn the vine is loaded with red grapes; and those grapes must be taken off the vine, and severed from the branch. See, they are throwing them into the wine-press, heaps upon heaps; look how they are piled up! And what happens now? Men leap in upon them, and with their feet they tread the grapes. The blood of the grape runs out of the wine-press, red like ruddy gore. This is the history of the wine of which you drink, and so it comes to you. And, oh, I need not tell you of your Lord, how he was thrown into the wine-press, and how he suffered even unto death! These elements of bread and wine are stories to you, and emblems of suffering. You notice, too, that these emblems are separate. If I were to take the bread, and crumble it into the cup, and then pass it to you that you might drink of that curious mixture, you would not celebrate the Lord’s death at all. It would not be possible, for it is the body with the blood separated from it that sets forth death. While the blood is in the veins, you have life; but when the blood is drawn away from the body, which is set forth to you in the pure white bread and in the red juice of the grape, then you have the picture of death; and in that way you show Christ’s sufferings and death in the celebration of this supper. So much I have, I hope, made plain enough for all to understand.
Now notice the manner of the use of these two elements, for the manner of their use vividly shows Christ’s death. I think it is in the Church Catechism that we are taught that the word “sacrament” means “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” That definition will do for this ordinance, which is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.
It is very remarkable how the emblems before us appeal to our various senses. Notice, first, the Saviour took the bread and the cup. You see them; they are before you, you can see them. After he had blessed them, he said, “Take.” Did you ever see, in a very Ritualistic church, that little game played by the priest with his napkin held out under the chin of the communicant, and telling him to open his mouth, and popping the wafer in? This is not eating the Lord’s supper, for the command at the institution of the Lord’s supper was, “Take, eat.” It is essential that you take it in your hand. “Take, eat.” So there is another sense that is affected in this sacred exercise, that is, the sense of touch. Jesus took the bread, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, that they might employ the second sense. They had seen, now they touched. “Take, eat,” said the Lord; and they held it in their hands. But never do you have the Lord’s supper without an appeal to the ear, for he said, “This is my body.” Whenever wo break this bread, we say the same, “This bread is Christ’s body,” so there is an appeal to the ear. You put the bread and the wine into your mouth; there comes in your fourth sense, your taste, so that four senses are made to assist you in realizing that Christ did really die, that his death is no dream, no fiction. It is not merely a man in a book, but a living man who died, a real man who poured out his life unto death for you. I have said that four senses are appealed to; but I might add the sense of smell also. There is an old proverb, “Nothing smells so sweet as bread;” and to a hungry man there is nothing so refreshing as the presence of bread which regales the nostril. The Lord has given us an ordinance here in which he brings our body to support our soul, and to render vivid to our mind by at least four, if not all of our five senses, this most blessed fact, that Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary and the Son of God, did really lay down his life a sacrifice for us.
But now I remind you of another thing. We show the death of Christ, in the next place, by the mode of the disposal of this bread and this wine, for these elements go into our bodies. They are received into the inner man, and are digested and assimilated there, and taken up into our system, to build us up; and herein we teach that Christ, dying for us, is to be received by faith into the heart. We are to believe in that death as being for us. We are to appropriate it as our own; we are to trust in it; we are to live upon it. It is to become part and parcel of our spiritual nature, and we are to be built up thereby, for Christ’s death on the cross saves nobody to whom Christ does not come into the heart. If thou dost not believe, even Christ lifted up between earth and heaven will not save thee. “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” But without receiving him, Christ is dead in vain so far as thou art concerned. Thou hast no part nor lot in this matter. This fact, I say, we set forth by the method of the disposal of the emblems.
And now, carefully note that the spirit of this ordinance also is very instructive. How does it begin? Jesus takes bread, and blesses it. In other words, he gives thanks. It is very usual to call this ordinance the Eucharist, or, the giving of thanks. That is the spirit of it; it is all through a giving of thanks. Now, mark you, there is no reason to give thanks for the death of Christ unless it was an atoning death, and an expiation for sin. I should regret, infinitely regret, that a good man should die as Jesus died unless there was an end to be accomplished by it worthy of that death. The end of Christ’s death was that, dying for us, by the shedding of his blood, there might be remission of sins; and for that we may well give thanks. The communion begins with thanksgiving, but how does it continue? It continues by our sitting at ease. There are some who think that, to kneel at the communion is the most reverent posture. So it is, and I doubt not that God accepts their reverence; but it is a most unscriptural posture. There is more presumption than reverence in it, for to alter the ordinance of Christ even on the pretence of reverence is not justifiable. When our Lord first of all instituted the supper, they did not sit down as we do, but they reclined as the Orientals still do, at their ease, so much at their ease that the head of John was on the breast of Jesus. I cannot conceive anything more exactly the opposite of coming up to an altar rail, and kneeling down, than this reclining upon couches with your head upon your next neighbour’s bosom. The fact is, that it meant ease, it meant rest; and that is what the posture which we take up should mean. Our nearest approach to that which can be tolerated in our western clime is to sit as much as you can at ease, as a person in this country does at a banquet, as near an approach as possible to the method of the Oriental at his banquet. That is how the feast goes on; it began with a blessing, it proceeds with a restful posture. How does it end? After supper they sang a hymn. It was not a dirge, it was not funereal; they celebrated the death of Christ, but not with funereal rites. They sang a hymn, it was joyous, probably part of the great Hallel of the Jewish Passover. This indicates to us, and we set it forth, that the death of Christ is now a joyous event; that to the whole of his people it is not a thing to sigh over; but that, believing in Christ, it is a thing to thank God for, to be at ease about, and to sing over ; and we set that forth by the manner in which we partake of this supper.
One thing more we set forth. The persons who come to the table must be, according to Christ’s rule, believers in him. They, and they only, have a right to eat of this feast. Others eat and drink unworthily, and drink and eat condemnation to themselves. We do, therefore, say, albeit that there is no limit to the value of the sacrifice of Christ (that were inconceivable), yet he had a special object in it, and he died for a special people, which people are known by their being led to believe in him, to unite with him in a distinct affiance by trusting in him. Not for you all will this avail; but for all of you that believe, for so it is written, “For God so loved the world,” so much and no more, “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,”— a universality which, nevertheless, has a speciality hidden in its inner self. Believe this, or else this death is not for thee. Trust Christ, or else thou shalt have no share in the blessings which his death has purchased. And we set that forth when, gathering at the table, we come as believers; but we are obliged to tell others that, if they are not believers, they must not come: they have no right to come.
III. My time has nearly gone, and therefore I must finish with the third point. We have seen what this supper shows, and how it shows it; now we are to consider HOW LONG IT IS TO SHOW IT.
I have tried, as best I could, in a very simple way, to show how this supper does symbolize and set forth the death of Christ. How long are we to do it? “Till he come.” Well, now, what does that teach us? When Jesus comes, we are to leave off observing the Lord’s supper, but not till he comes.
It teaches us, then, that there will always be a value in Christ’s wondrous death. God would not have us set forth a thing that is done with, a sucked orange, a mere shell out of which the seed is gone. If the death of Christ were not abundantly efficacious still, he would not have us set it forth. But to-night we can sing, with as much meaning and force as ever we could,—
“Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransom’d Church of God
Be saved to sin no more.”
It is nearly nineteen hundred years since Jesus was here, and yet his blood is still powerful, his death can still take away sin. Como and try it to-night, some of you who have never believed in him; to-night, I say, at the close of this—
“Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky.”
Come now, to-night, and yield thyself to the Lamb of God, and wash thee in his precious blood, and thou shalt be whiter than snow. That communion table is just now covered with a white cloth; but when it is uncovered, and you see the bread and the wine, they will say to you, “The atonement is still existing, it is still efficacious, it is still full of power.” We celebrate the ordinance because Christ’s death is still available for all who trust to it.
The next thing is, dear friends, that by saying that we will partake of this supper till Christ comes, we set forth our belief in the perpetuity of this ordinance until the influence of Christ’s death shall have been infallibly secured. We are now in a world where men forget; and as long as we are in such a world, we must keep this sign-post, this direction to those who want to journey to heaven. We must never take this sign-post down till there will be no need of it because Christ will have come; and when he shall have come, beloved, we shall not then forget his death. When he shall come, do not think that we shall give up the Lord’s supper because we give up thinking of him. Nay, we shall give it up because we shall then never give up thinking of him. He will be present with us; and he being present with us, we shall not need the help which now our weakness requires.
So then, in closing, I say to you that this supper is a window, a window of agate, and the outlook of this supper is the Second Coming of the Lord from heaven. This supper is also a gate of carbuncle, and through this gate we are to watch for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ from the throne of his glory to this earth. The Lord shall come. As surely as we are sitting here in this house, so surely will he, before long, appear a second time on earth, “without sin, unto salvation”; and we mean to keep up this feast “till he come.”
“See, the feast of love is spread;
Drink the wine, and break the bread:
Sweet memorials, till the Lord
Call us round his heavenly board.
Some from earth, from glory some,
Severed only ‘Till he come!’”
Could you keep on feasting “till he come”, my unsaved hearer? I think that you had better weep and mourn, repent and believe, and so get ready for his appearance. But those who are ready may just keep on feasting upon him, and rejoicing in him, till he puts in his last and glorious appearance. God help us to continue so, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.