"Therefore let us keep the feast."—1 Cor. 5:8
These words (which are selected more as a motto than a text), I desire, with the utmost simplicity of thought and language, to take as the theme of appropriate meditation on this Sacramental Sunday morning. Our subject is—the solemn and imperative obligation resting on Christians to keep the sacred Feast of Communion.
There are not a few, regularly and devoutly worshiping God in His Sanctuary—"not forsaking the assembling of themselves together, as the manner of some is," who yet leave their places vacant on the recurrence of the Holy Ordinance of the Supper. As the professing servants and followers of a great and good Master, I would desire to bring home to all here present who have arrived at a mature age, the privilege and duty of making this avowal of their faith in Christ and of consecration to His service. Let me proceed to state one or two reasons, why the Communion Service ought to be devoutly observed, by every one who bears the Savior's name.
I.The Lord's Supper is to be observed, because its obligation rests on the Redeemer's dying command. An injunction is always rendered more binding and imperative if it has these two, among other considerations, to enforce it—
(1.) When it comes from the lips of One we love, and who has shown a deep interest in our welfare. We naturally pay a respectful deference to the request of a neighbor or acquaintance; but what is this, in comparison with the command of a parent? How supremely obligatory to every right-thinking child is the wish emanating from a father or mother, and with what joyful alacrity is it obeyed! The son going to a distant land has a Bible put into his hands, as the last gift of doating love, with the sacred promise exacted and given, that night by night in the adopted home he will never fail to use it. The request might be sacred for other reasons; but doubly so would it be, when he regards it as that of his dearest earthly friend.
When, in the desert wasteland, or in solitude, memory travels back to the parental hearth, and remembers the devotion which so often and so willingly submitted to self-sacrifice—the hands which smoothed the pillow of sickness, and the voice which solaced in the hour of sorrow—if he ever proved traitor to his trust—if that hallowed souvenir should be ever left to gather dust on the neglected leaves, we know whose image would be the first to give the upbraiding look of injured love, and lead him with remorseful tears to unclasp it once more.
The observance of the Lord's Supper is the solemn injunction of One, who has proved Himself to be infinitely more than the best and fondest on earth. Even a mother's love—noblest type and ideal of supreme human affection—pales before His. All our tenderest and most endearing relationships, individually and combined, form but a feeble image and emblem of the devotion of this Parent of parents—this Brother of brothers—this Friend of friends—"He that does the will of my Father in Heaven, the same is my mother and sister and brother." It is from the lips of such peerless LOVE the command is addressed, to "keep the Feast!"
(2.) Another consideration which makes such a request specially obligatory, is, if it is conveyed at some exceptionally solemn or momentous season. Surely if there be a time in the history of any human being more sacred or impressive than another, it is at the hour of death. How sacred must have been the dying adjuration of the last of the Patriarchs, when he "made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave commandment concerning his bones!" How filially and loyally was this injunction obeyed—all the more so, just because it was a dying one. The bones of Joseph were not allowed to repose in Egyptian sarcophagus or under Egyptian pyramid. They were religiously guarded and kept unburied by his children's children, until, borne in the longest funeral procession the world ever saw, they were laid, in obedience to his last injunction, in the mausoleum at Sychar.
Take a New Testament illustration. Timothy would feel at all times imperative the wishes of his great spiritual father. But when the latter was "such an one as Paul the aged," "ready to be offered," sinking under the weight of years and suffering in his dungeon home, how devoutly would the younger disciple respond to his injunction, even to the request about his winter cloak and parchment writings left in Troas! And, when the noble champion of the faith was gathered to the Church triumphant, how specially would every dying word listened to in that Mamertine prison, remain engraved indelibly on the survivor's heart.
What shall we say of the circumstances in which the parting command—the great farewell injunction—was given, of a Greater than the greatest of Apostles, that of the Divine Savior of the world? "Do this in remembrance of Me" has, as we well know, the special significance and impressiveness attached to it, of being uttered the night before death. It was, as much as the "Peace I leave with you," His dying legacy. He left on it the impress of His dying lips; yes, too, when His agony and bloody sweat, His Cross and Passion, and all their fearful accompaniments, were vividly portrayed to His omniscient eye. If John felt that the hallowed bequest of his Lord had a double obligation, because uttered by the faint lips of the Crucified in the supreme moment of suffering love—"Son, behold your mother—Mother, behold your son,"—if, just because it was spoken with dimming eye and paling countenance, that disciple regarded the direction and trust all the more sacred, from that hour to take the bereft mourner to his own home—with what profound reverence ought not we to accept and ratify the valedictory command of Jesus, to show forth His death in His own appointed Ordinance?
Yes! If I love the Savior; and so loving Him, if there be preeminently sacred music in His dying words; then surely no evasion of what is alike a duty and a privilege can be pleaded regarding our solemn Feast day. "If you love Me," says He, "keep my commandments." You are my friends if you do whatever I command you." Blessed Redeemer! to Whom we look for every hope for time and for eternity—in the great crisis-hour of Your work and sacrifice, You did not only institute this precious Memorial, but did lay upon Your Church the solemn injunction to perpetuate it for all ages—"Therefore, let us keep the Feast."
II.I would observe, under our second general head, that an obligation rests upon us to celebrate the New Testament Ordinance, because it is a befitting public declaration of our Christian profession.
Beautiful must have been the spectacle of that ancient mountain gathering, when the tribes of Israel assembled to give public testimony of their allegiance to their fathers' God, on the slopes of Ebal and Gerizim. More solemn and interesting still, what we have on other occasions referred to in connection with our Sacramental seasons—when, year by year, the valleys and highways of Palestine were vocal with the songs of Pilgrims, as they went in company to celebrate the appointed feasts. Jehovah required them thus, year by year, to make mention of His name in the City of Solemnities. It was not enough for Jewish parents, by oral instruction, to impart His will and unfold His testimonies to their children, "talking to them when sitting in the house and when walking in the way—when lying down or rising up"—thus faithfully inculcating in the homestead the observance of private and domestic religion. "The Lord loves the Gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob." Jerusalem was the place where He recorded His Name, and where He promised especially to meet His chosen people. Hence every true and warm-hearted Israelite, when he came of age, considered it alike a duty and delight to take part in the holy convocation, and "subscribe himself by the name of Jacob." "Jerusalem is built as a city that is compact together, where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord."
Brethren, "let us keep the Feast"—our New Testament Passover—as a blessed opportunity of testifying, in presence of our fellow-Christians and before the world, our obligations to the Savior, and that we are not ashamed of Him and His gospel. Observe, the Psalmist (himself a devout worshiper) puts special emphasis in paying his vows "in the presence of all God's people." "In the courts of the Lord's House, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem" (Ps. 116:14, 19). Let none of us be guilty of false shame, shrinking from an open declaration of the infinite debt of gratitude we owe to Redeeming Love. Even the soldiers of pagan Rome were not ashamed to pay their religious vows along with their comrades. They gloried in ascending the steps of the Capitol to the Temple of Victory, with their votive offerings, swearing by the gods of Olympus allegiance to their Imperial Master. And shall we, Christians, be found cowards to the true Jehovah and His Christ, when the heathen did public fealty to mute idols?
If such unworthy feeling be deterring any from approaching that Holy Table, let them remember the righteous upbraiding which will meet them at the Great Day, "Whoever is ashamed of Me and my words, of Him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of His Father and of the holy angels." No, no; may this rather be the avowal that rises spontaneously to our lips, "We will rejoice in Your salvation, and in the Name of our God we will set up our banners." God helping us, we shall not, like the recreant children of Ephraim, "carrying bows, turn back in the day of battle." The servant may desert his master—the beggar may refuse to recognize his benefactor—the restored may pass unacknowledged the physician that cured him—the soldier may absent himself from the ranks, or basely disown his brave and trusted leader—but God forbid that we should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. "You have given a banner unto those who fear You, that it may be displayed because of Your truth." "Therefore, let us keep the Feast!"
III.We are under an obligation to keep this feast, because by not keeping it, we incur spiritual loss. We never can be careful enough in discarding the false and unscriptural idea, that there is any peculiar grace or virtue in the Sacrament—any mystic charm to pacify conscience—or that the mere act of communicating earns some claim or title to God's favor—in some mysterious way condones transgression, and cancels bygone guilt. We can entertain no such modification of the Roman Catholic dogma. As little could the mere act of communicating have power to take away sin, under the new dispensation, as had the blood of bulls and of goats under the old. All grace and mercy, pardon and acceptance, flow, not from the sacrament, but from Christ. This Ordinance is no more than one of "the golden pipes" spoken of by Zechariah in his beautiful and instructive vision, as conveying the golden oil from the Heavenly reservoir (Zech. 4:12).
But neither, on the other hand, must we undervalue the Ordinance, as a mean of grace. It is doubtless one of the Divine channels for the conveyance of spiritual good—one of the aforesaid golden pipes which transmit needed and promised grace to the soul. God could have fed His Temple-lamps miraculously, without aid or intervention. He could have nourished them by some mysterious supernatural process. But in this, as in other things, He works by instrumentalities; and if we neglect those of His own express appointment, we cannot expect otherwise than to suffer spiritually.
Would the Pilgrim host of Israel have sustained no deprivation if they had omitted to quench their thirst and fill their leathern bottles at the wells of Elim? Would Elijah have suffered no loss if he had rejected the offered food, in whose strength he braved the barren desert for forty days and nights? And how can we expect otherwise than to incur loss and detriment if we pass by this Well of Living Water dug for us in the Valley, without partaking of its refreshment?
We would confidently appeal to many who, in obedience to their Lord's command, have come again and again (using the expressive word of an old writer), to this gracious "Trysting-place" and surrounded His Table. Have you not found it a precious means of advancing the work of grace, and of fostering spiritual growth in your hearts? Can you not, as you look back to these "Delectable mountains," with their hallowed memories, exclaim, "It was good for me to be there"—"I will remember You from the land of Jordan and of the Hermonites, from the Hill Mizar"? How many have there received some unexpected tokens of blessing—gracious revelations of the Savior's character and work—new unfoldings of the Savior's love—some more intense and quickened longings after divine fellowship—some more realizing and energizing views of the unseen and eternal?
Ask such, if they regard this Day of Solemnity as an empty form—a mere periodical accordance with a conventional religious custom, from which they expect no fresh and stimulating impulse to faith, and love, and holiness? They will tell you far otherwise. "I have food to eat which the world knows not of." "His Flesh is food indeed, and His Blood is drink indeed." "You have put gladness in my heart more than in the time that their harvests and their wine increased." We take no undue or exaggerated estimate of His ordinance when we say, that it is the choicest and most strengthening meal provided by the Master for His spiritual Israel, in the House of their pilgrimage—"Lord, evermore give us this Bread!"
These remarks may appropriately be closed by a simple reference, and no more, to a DIFFICULTY. This difficulty is occasionally felt and expressed as twofold, on the part of those who remain away from the Lord's Table, and forfeit a personal share in the blessing of which we have spoken.
(1.) 'We are not warranted to approach the Table of Communion,because we are not prepared for it.' My answer is—The same reason which makes you unfit for the Communion, is equally valid, equally pertinent, in rendering you unfit and unready for Death. Unfit for the Communion Table in the Church below, can you be fit to sit down at the Supper-table of the Church above? Unworthy! Oh, is it not because we are sinners, and unworthy, that we are invited to come to the Feast, and there to celebrate the infinite worthiness of "the Lamb that was slain?"
(2.) It is further and not infrequently urged—'We cannot go to the Sacrament of Communionbecause we know that some venture who have no right to be there.' 'Hypocrites,' say they, 'frequent this hallowed ground—those living in known sin and spending disreputable lives. We shall not, we cannot go, where the cup of fellowship is mixed with the cup of devils—to talk of it as a "Communion" would be a brand and stigma on the name.' I reply—Your duty of obedience to your Lord's command is independent of any such intruders. You are not responsible for the sin and presumption of others. If hypocrites there be, to the Lord they thus mock, and defy, and crucify afresh—not to you—are they answerable. It is a disputed question, whether the betrayer himself dared to partake of the consecrated elements on the night of Institution. If he did, John and Peter and James were assuredly not responsible for the sacrilege—the defiant crime of the Apostate putting his lips to that sacred cup. And of every Judas who ventures with unhallowed footstep among disciples still, we can only say—"To his own Master he stands or falls."
Jesus bids all His lowly followers welcome. "Blessed are
those who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be
filled." "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Why stand
excluded from the gracious privilege by the intervention of any needless
barriers and impediments unrecognized by the Master? If in any degree
conscious of love to Him who first loved, and so loved you,
and cherishing a humble yet earnest desire for its increase—do not delay
this public manifesto of your allegiance. Rather, in response to His
invitation, "Come, for all things are ready,"—be it yours to say, even while
deeply feeling your unworthiness and infirmity—
We cannot more appropriately close, than by simply repeating our text, and the words of the immediate context—"Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast!"