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The True Christian Communion
( Published by the Tract Association of Friends, No. 304 Arch Street, 1886 )
The communion of the body and blood of Jesus Christ is a mystery hid from men in the first or fallen and degenerate state, which they cannot understand nor comprehend, as they there abide, neither can they be participators of it, nor yet are they able to discern the Lords body. Hence the outward supper was not instituted as an ordinance by our Lord, who was and is himself the bread and water of life. The Lords supper- the realization of those words, “I will come into him, I will sup with him and he with me,”* and “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you,”—like unto his baptism, » If I wash the not, thou has no part with me,” is a spiritual experience. It is not by these supposed ordinances, but, says the apostle Peter,” Unto us is given exceedingly great and precious promises, that by these you might be partakers of the Divine nature.”
And whilst some think that the outward observances may aid in the attainment of the substance, we believe that to a very far greater extent, and in a far greater degree, do those observances, and the great importance attached to them, cause the mind to be diverted from, and fall short of the blessed reality.
WE readily admit that Christ broke bread with his disciples, and that after He left them, they where accustomed to do so among themselves; that “the breaking of bread” was, indeed, a prevalent practice with them, and that the injunction, “do this in remembrance of me,” might apply to the “Passover Supper,” which he was then keeping, or to the practice of» breaking bread” or to both; and that those early Christians had their public repasts, of which the rich and poor partook together, their “love feasts” in which they did “ show forth the Lord’s death.” But to “show forth the Lord’ death,” and to partake of “the flesh and blood of Christ,” are, it is obvious, two different things. WE do not believe that our Lord instituted any outward observances as of permanent obligation on his church; or that the practice of the early members thereof rendered it so, any more than did their having all things common, their abstinence from things strangled, their washing one another’s feet, or their anointing the sick with oil make similar practices incumbent upon us. It is very worthy of remark, that whilst our Lord laid down for his church no such observances, He continually raised the thoughts of those around Him from the things of the earth to the higher truths of his kingdom. Thus did He take occasion, when drinking water at the well of Samaria, to tell the woman and ourselves of the Living water which He gives, and which He is. But He did not thereby establish any special connection between the truth and Jacobs well. So when the Jews followed Him, because they “did eat of the loaves, and where filled,” He told them of” that meat which endureth unto everlasting life;” and of “the bread that cometh down from heaven.” And so again, when He was at supper with his disciples, He uses the bread and wine as figures of the body which should be broken, and the blood that should be shed for the remission of sins; and teaches them, that as their bodies are feed and nourished by the outward food, so might their souls feed on him whose “flesh is meat indeed,” and whose “blood is drink indeed,” ‘This,” said He, ‘ is that bread which came down from heaven; not as your fathers did it manna and are dead; he that eateth of this bread, shall live forever.”
Therefore we believe there is no necessary relation between the external ceremony, and the spiritual eat8ing and drinking. But rather in any and every time and place, without the use of elements, yea, as often as they meet together, the true children of God, they who live by faith in the Son of God, may be favored to eat together, in a spiritual sense, on the body and blood of Christ, and experience the true communion with their Holy Head, and one with another in Him.
Great stress is laid, by those who regard the outward supper as san ordinance of Christ, on the words, » Do this in remembrance of me.” But Matthew, who gives a very minute description of our Lords supper with his disciples, - and it should not be overlooked that in eating this supper, our Lord was keeping the Passover with his disciples-Matthew, who wrote at a much earlier date than either of the other evangelists, who was himself present, says nothing of those words upon which alone could be supposed new ordinance have been founded. Mark, the companion of Peter, whose narrative is believed to have been written under his superintendence, if not from his dictation, which is throughout characterized by the exactness of its details, makes no reference to them. Neither does the other eye witness, the beloved John, who “was leaning on Jesus’ bosom;” of the four evangelists, these words are given by Luke only. But from this we do not conclude that they where not spoken; on the contrary, from the testimony of Luke, and from their repetition by Paul, we fully accept them as part of the discourse. But we do conclude there from, that the estimation of the apostles, who themselves were present, but did not record them, that there was no thought on behalf of our Lord, to base thereon a continuance of the then present, or a establishment of a new ordinance in his church’
The expression,” Do this in remembrance of me,” recorded in the gospels only by Luke, the companion of Paul, while there is nothing in the incident, as regards the bread, necessarily binding it upon the future church, is seen in regard to the cup, to be but a detached sentence from the words of our Lord, which Paul himself quotes more completely as follows: “This do ye, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” The supply of the clause which is missing in Luke, more clearly changes the aspect of the command to a command for a remembrance rather than for a rite. They where not commanded to drink it as a standing ordinance for the future church; but were told, whenever they should drink it, to do so in remembrance of Him; whereas heretofore they had done it in remembrance of the Passover deliverance under Moses.
While it is thus assumed by the Lord,-who said He had many things to say to them hereafter by his Spirit, but they could not bear then,-that they would be likely to go on with a custom which under Judaism had become binding upon their consciences, just as disciples continued for a time to practice the rite of circumcision, of divers washing,., we see in Jesus words to them, or in their own practices, no command to future generations, save in that spiritual sense in which they where commanded much more explicitly, in the same interview, to wash one another’s feet.
It has been said that we should not overlook that this was the Passover Supper, instituted in remembrance of Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt. Buxtorf and other writers inform us that» at the celebration of the Passover, it was then custom among the Jews, for the master of the family to take bread, and bless and break it, and give it unto the rest; likewise to take the cup, and give thanks and distribute it;» so that the very actions performed by Christ were “paschal actions;» and He tells them at that feast of unleavened bread, instituted in remembrance of their deliverance out of Egypt. Henceforth, as often as they eat it, to do it in remembrance of Him, their souls Savior and Deliverer out of spiritual Egypt. Hence the apostolic exhortation,”Purge out, therefore, the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth...”
But whilst on the solemn occasion of which we have been speaking, our Lord gave no commandment respecting the supper, He did another act, in very positive terms, and “He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments, and took a towel and girded himself. After that He pourith water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded. » So after He had washed their feet, and had taken His garments, and was sat down again, He said unto them, Know ye what I have done unto you? Ye call me Master and Lord; and you say well; for so I amid I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done unto you.” Here are the accompaniments equally striking and the words much more explicit than those respecting the bread and wine. It is at once seen, that the washing of feet does not become a standing ordinance in the church. The command is positive and limited, not moral and universal; having reference to the peculiar habits of the persons addressed, and binding only on them. What we have to learn from it , is a lesson of brotherly love and humility, a willingness to wash one another’s feet, in the sense in which we are elsewhere enjoined, to “to give unto one of those little ones a cup of cold water.” And we can see no reason why a different mode of interpretation is to be adopted with regard to the bread and wine.
We cannot but esteem any departure from the truth and simplicity spirituality of the gospel, either in doctrine or practice, but as objectionable. If we review, and we can do so but most imperfectly, the history of this subject, from the day that our Lord, “did eat the Passover with his disciples» to the present time, we shall see that the making it an outward ordinance or sacrament, contrary to its truly spiritual character, has been, and yet is, the pro-life source of exaggerated and false notions, of contentions and heresies, beyond, perhaps any other subject, far beyond the power of words to express, or the human mind adequately to conceive. Yet, to quote Barclay: “If any now at this day, from a true tenderness of spirit, and with real conscience towards God, did practice this ceremony in the same way, method and manner, as did the primitive Christians recorded in Scripture I should not doubt to affirm but they might be indulged in it, and the Lord might regard them, and for a season appear to them in the use of those things, as many of us have known Him to do to us in the time of our ignorance; providing, always, they did not seek to obtrude them upon others, nor judge such as found themselves delivered from them, or that they do not pertinaciously adhere to them.
For we certainly know that the day has dawned in which God has arisen, and has dismissed all those ceremonies and rites, and is only to be worshipped in spirit, and that He appears to those who wait upon Him; and that to seek God in those things is, with Mary at the sepulcher, to seek the living among the dead: for we know that He is risen, and revealed in Spirit, leading His children out of these rudiments, that they may walk with Him in his light, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
The righteous in all ages have, at times, refreshingly felt a heavenly communion between the soul and its Maker; a spiritual intercourse in the silence of all flesh and in the absence of all thought or words, as it is unspeakable, and deeper than human language can express. The same living, incomprehensible Word that spoke to Moses, the man of God, on Horeb, was manifested in the transfiguration of Christ on the mount, Saying: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.” And how do we hear Him? Not in the thundering of Sinai, but in silent communion with Him through the “still, small voice,” in the soul, which speaks as never man was heard to speak. And it is thus that we become refreshed as with” the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore.”
The more we walk in the light of Him who is the light of the world, the more we shall increase in fellowship with Him, and the more frequent and refreshing and strengthening our communion will be. And thus we shall grow in grace and in one degree of experience to a higher, even by the Spirit of the Lord; and we shall witness the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse us from all sin.