The Real Presence—What
by J. C. Ryle
"If Your Presence does not go with us—do not send
us up from here!" Exodus 33:15
There is a word in the text which heads this page which
demands the attention of all English Christians in this day. That word is
"presence." There is a religious subject bound up with that word, on which
it is most important to have clear, distinct, and scriptural views. That
subject is the "presence of God," and specially the "presence of our Lord
Jesus Christ" with Christian people. What is that presence? Where is that
presence? What is the nature of that presence? To these questions I propose
to supply answers.
I. I shall consider, firstly—the general doctrine of
God's presence in the world.
II. I shall consider, secondly—the special doctrine of
Christ's real spiritual presence.
III. I shall consider, thirdly—the special doctrine of
Christ's real bodily presence.
The whole subject deserves serious thoughts. If we
suppose that this is a mere question of controversy, which only concerns
theological partisans, we have yet much to learn. It is a subject which lies
at the very roots of saving religion. It is a subject which is inseparably
tied up with one of the most precious articles of the Christian faith. It is
a subject about which it is most dangerous to be wrong. An error here may
first lead a man to the Church of Rome, and then land him finally in
the gulf of infidelity. Surely it is worth while to examine carefully
the doctrine of the "presence" of God and of His Christ.
I. The first subject we have to consider is the general
doctrine of GOD'S presence in the world. The teaching of the
Bible on this point is clear, plain, and unmistakable. God is everywhere!
There is no place in heaven or earth, where He is not. There is no place
in air or land or sea, no place above ground or under ground, no place in
town or country, no place in Europe, Asia, Africa, or America—where God is
not always present. Enter into your closet and lock the door—God is there.
Climb to the top of the highest mountain, where not even an insect moves—God
is there. Sail to the most remote island in the Pacific Ocean, where the
foot of man never trod—God is there. He is always near us—seeing, hearing,
observing; knowing every action, and deed, and word, and whisper, and look,
and thought, and motive, and secret of everyone of us—wherever we are.
What says the Scripture? It is written in Job, "His eyes
watch over a man’s ways, and He observes all his steps. There is no
darkness, no deep darkness, where evildoers can hide themselves!" (Job
34:21, 22). It is written in Proverbs, "The eyes of the Lord are in every
place, beholding the evil and the good!" (Proverbs 15:3). It is written in
Jeremiah, "Great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are
open to all the ways of men; you reward everyone according to his conduct
and as his deeds deserve!" (Jer. 32:19).
It is written in the Psalms, "O Lord, you have searched
me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive
my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my
lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word
is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. Such knowledge is too
wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain! Where can I go from your
Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens—you
are there; if I make my bed in the depths—you are there. If I rise on the
wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea—even there your
hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the
darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the
darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for
darkness is as light to you!" (Psalm 139:1-12).
Such language as this, confounds and overwhelms us. The
doctrine before us is one which we cannot fully understand. Precisely so.
David said the same thing about it almost three thousand years ago. "Such
knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain!" (Psalm
139:6). But it does not follow that the doctrine is not true—because we
cannot understand it. It is the weakness of our poor minds and intellects
which we must blame—and not the doctrine. There are scores of things in the
world around us, which few can understand or explain—yet no sensible man
refuses to believe. How this earth is ever rolling round the sun with
enormous swiftness, while we feel no motion—how the moon affects the tides,
and makes them rise and fall twice every twenty-four hours—how millions of
perfectly organized living creatures exist in every drop of pond-water,
which our naked eye cannot see—all these are things well known to men of
science, while most of us could not explain them for our lives. And shall
we, in the face of such facts, presume to doubt that God is everywhere
present, for no better reason than this—that we cannot understand it? Let us
never dare to say so again.
How many things there are about God Himself which we
cannot possibly understand, and yet we must believe them, unless we are so
senseless as to be atheists! Who can explain the eternity of God, the
infinite power and wisdom of God, or the works of God in
creation and providence? Who can comprehend a Being who is a
Spirit, without body, parts, or passions? How can a material creature,
who can only be in one place at one time, take in the idea of an
immaterial Being, who existed before creation, who formed this world by
His word out of nothing—and who can be everywhere and see everything at one
and the same time! Where, in a word, is there a single attribute of God,
which mortal man can thoroughly comprehend?
Where, then, is the common sense or wisdom of refusing to
believe the doctrine of God being present everywhere, merely because our
minds cannot take it in? Well says the Book of Job, "Can you fathom the
mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They
are higher than the heavens--what can you do? They are deeper than the
depths of hell--what can you know?"(Job 11:7, 8). Let us have high and
honorable thoughts of the God with whom we have to do while we live, and
before whose bar we must stand when we die. Let us seek to have just notions
of His power, His wisdom, His eternity, His holiness, His perfect knowledge,
His "presence" everywhere.
One half the sin committed by mankind, arises from wrong
views of their Maker and Judge. Men are reckless and wicked, because they do
not think that God sees them. They do things they would never do—if they
really believed they were under the eyes of the Almighty God! It is written,
"You thought that I was altogether such an one as yourself" (Psalm 1:21). It
is written again, "They say, 'The Lord doesn't see it! The God of Jacob
doesn't pay attention!' Is the one who made your ears deaf? Is the one who
formed your eyes blind? He punishes the nations—won't he also punish you? He
knows everything—doesn't he also know what you are doing?" (Psalm 94:7-10).
No wonder that holy Job said in his best moments, "When I
consider, I am afraid of Him" (Job 23:15). "What is your God like? "said a
sneering infidel one day to a poor Christian. "What is this God of yours
like—this God about whom you make such ado? Is He great or is He small?" "My
God," was the wise reply, "is a great and a small God at the same time—so
great that the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him—and yet so small that He
can dwell in the heart of a poor sinner like me."
"Where is your God, my boy?" said an infidel to a child
whom he saw coming out of a church. "Where is your God about whom you have
been reading? Show Him to me, and I will give you a treat." "Show me where
He is not," was the answer, "and I will give you two! My God is everywhere!"
Well is it said that, "God has chosen the weak things of the world to
confound the things that are mighty." "Out of the mouth of babes and
sucklings You have perfected praise" (1 Cor.1:27; Matt. 2116).
However hard it is to comprehend this doctrine—it is one
which is most useful and wholesome for our souls. To keep continually in
mind—that God is always present with us; to live always as in God's sight;
to act and speak and think as always under His eye—all this is eminently
calculated to have a good effect upon our souls. Wide, and deep, and
searching, and piercing is the influence of that one thought, "You are the
God who sees me!" (Genesis 16:13)
(a) The thought of God's presence—is a loud call to
humility. How much which is evil and defective must the
all-seeing eye—see in everyone of us! How small a part of our character
is really known by man! "Man looks on the outward appearance—but the Lord
looks on the heart!" (1 Sam. 16:7). Man does not always see us—but the Lord
is always looking at us—morning, noon, and night! Who has not need to say,
"God be merciful to me a sinner!"
(b) The thought of God's presence—is a crushing proof of
our need of Jesus Christ. What hope of salvation could we have if
there was not a Mediator between God and man? Before the eye of the
ever-present God—our best righteousness is filthy rags—and our best doings
are full of imperfection! Where would we be—if there was not a fountain open
for all sin—even the blood of Christ! Without Christ—the prospect of death,
judgment, and eternity would drive us to despair!
(c) The thought of God's presence—teaches the folly of
hypocrisy in religion. What can be more silly and
childish—than to wear a mere cloak of Christianity, while we inwardly cleave
to sin, when God is ever looking at us and sees us through and through? It
is easy to deceive ministers and fellow- Christians, because they often see
us only upon Sundays. But God sees us morning, noon, and night, and cannot
be deceived. Oh, whatever we are in religion—let us be real and true!
(d) The thought of God's presence—is a check and curb on
the inclination to sin. The recollection that there is One who is
always near us and observing us, who will one day have a reckoning with all
mankind—may well keep us back from evil! Happy are those sons and daughters
who, when they leave the family home, and launch forth into the world, carry
with them the abiding remembrance of God's eye. "My father and mother do not
see me—but God does!" This was the feeling which preserved Joseph when
tempted in a foreign land: "How can I do this great wickedness—and sin
against God!" (Gen. 39:9).
(e) The thought of God's presence—is a spur to the
pursuit of true holiness. The highest standard of sanctification
is to "walk with God" as Enoch did, and to "walk before God"
as Abraham did. Where is the man who would not strive to live so as to
please God—if he realized that God was always standing at his elbow! To get
away from God—is the secret aim of the sinner. To get nearer
to God—is the longing desire of the saint. The real servants of the Lord are
"a people near unto Him" (Psalm 148:14).
(f) The thought of God's presence—is a comfort in time of
public calamity. When war and famine and
pestilence break in upon a land, when the nations are torn by inward
divisions, and all order seems in peril—it is cheering to reflect that God
sees and knows and is close at hand—that the King of kings is near, and is
not asleep. He who saw the Spanish Armada sail to invade England, and
scattered it with the breath of His mouth! He who looked on when the
schemers of the Gunpowder Plot were planning the destruction of Parliament;
this God is not changed.
(g) The thought of God's presence—is a strong consolation
in private trial. We may be driven from home and native land—and
placed at the other side of the world; we may be bereaved of wife and
children and friends—and left alone in our family, like the last tree in a
forest. But we can never go to any place where God is not; and under no
circumstances can we be left entirely alone.
Such thoughts as these, are useful and profitable for us
all. That man must be in a poor state of soul, who does not feel them to be
so. Let it be a settled principle in our religion—never to forget that in
every condition and place—that we are under the eye of God! It need not
frighten us—if we are true believers. The sins of all believers are
cast behind God's back—and even the all-seeing God sees no spot in them! It
ought to cheer us—if our Christianity is genuine and sincere. We can
then appeal to God with confidence, like David, and say, "Search me, O God,
and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me
that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life!"(Psalm
139:23, 24). Great is the mystery of God's presence everywhere; but
the true man of God can look at it without fear.
In considering this branch of
our subject, we must carefully remember that we are speaking of One who is
both God and man in one Person. We are speaking of One who in infinite love
to our souls—took man's nature, and was born of the Virgin Mary, was
crucified, dead, and buried—to be a sacrifice for sins, and yet never ceased
for a moment to be fully God. The peculiar "presence" of this blessed
Person, our Lord Jesus Christ, with His Church, is the point which I want to
unfold in this part of my paper. I want to show that He is really and truly
present with His believing people, spiritually—and that His presence is one
of the grand privileges of a true Christian. What then is the real spiritual
"presence" of Christ, and wherein does it consist? Let us see!
II. The second thing which I propose to consider—is the real SPIRITUAL
presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(a) There is a real spiritual presence of Christ with
that CHURCH which is His mystical body—the blessed company of all faithful
people. This is the meaning of that parting saying of our Lord to
His Apostles, "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matt.
27:20). To the visible Church of Christ—that saying did not
strictly belong. Torn by divisions, defiled by heresies, disgraced by
superstitions and corruptions, the visible Church has often given mournful
proof that Christ does not always dwell in it! Many of its branches in the
course of years, like the Churches of Asia, have decayed and passed away!
Christ's special presence, is with the universal,
invisible Church, composed of God's elect—the Church of which every
member is truly sanctified, the Church of believing and penitent men and
women—this is the Church to which alone, strictly speaking, the promise
belongs! This is the Church in which there is always a real spiritual
"presence" of Christ.
There is not a visible Church on earth, however
ancient and well ordered—which is secure against falling away. Scripture and
history alike testify that, like the Jewish Church—it may become corrupt,
and depart from the faith—and departing from the faith, it may die. And why
is this? Simply because Christ has never promised to any visible
Church that He will be with it always, even unto the end of the world. The
word that He inspired Paul to write to the Roman Church—is the same word
that He sends to every visible Church throughout the world, whether
Episcopal, Presbyterian, or Congregational: "Be not high-minded, but fear!
Continue in God's goodness, otherwise you also shall be cut off!" (Romans
On the other hand, the perpetual presence of Christ with
that universal, invisible Church, which is His body—is the
great secret of its continuance and security! It lives on, and cannot die,
because Jesus Christ is in the midst of it! It is a ship tossed with storm
and tempest—but it cannot sink, because Christ is on board! Its members may
be persecuted, oppressed, imprisoned, robbed, beaten, beheaded, or
burned—but His true Church is never extinguished. It lives on through fire
and flood! When crushed in one land—it springs up in another. The Pharaohs,
the Herods, the Neros, the Julians, the bloody Marys, have labored in
vain to destroy this Church. They slay their thousands—and then they go to
their own eternal destiny! The true Church outlives them all. It is a bush
which is often burning, and yet is never consumed. And what is the reason of
all this? It is the perpetual "presence "of Jesus Christ with His people!
(b) There is a real spiritual "presence" of Christ in
the heart of every true believer. This is what Paul meant,
when he speaks of "Christ dwelling in the heart by faith" (Ephes. 3:17).
This is what our Lord meant when He says of the man who loves Him and keeps
His Word, that "We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him" (John
14:23). In every believer, whether high or low, or rich or poor, or young or
old, or feeble or strong—the Lord Jesus dwells, and keeps up His work of
grace by the power of the Holy Spirit. As He dwells in the whole Church,
which is His body—keeping, guarding, preserving, and sanctifying
it—so does He continually dwell in every member of that body—in the
least as well as in the greatest.
This "presence" is the secret of all that peace, and
hope, and joy, and comfort, which believers feel. All spring from their
having a Divine tenant within their hearts. This "presence "is the
secret of their continuance in the faith, and perseverance unto the end. In
themselves, they are weak and unstable as water. But they have within them,
One who is "able to save to the uttermost," and will not allow His work to
be overthrown. Not one bone of Christ's mystical body shall ever be broken!
Not one Lamb of Christ's flock shall ever be plucked out of His hand! The
heart in which Christ is pleased to dwell, though it is but very weak--is
one which the devil shall never break into and make his own!
(c) There is a real spiritual "presence" of Christ
wherever His believing people meet together in His name. This
is the plain meaning of His famous saying, "Wherever two or three are
gathered together in My name—there I am in the midst of them!" (Matt.
18:20). The smallest gathering of true Christians for the purposes of
prayer or praise, or holy conference, or reading God's Word—is sanctified by
the best of company! The great or rich or noble may
not be there—but the King of kings Himself is present—and angels look
on with reverence!
The grandest buildings that men have reared for religious
uses, are often no better than whitened sepulchers—destitute of any holy
influence—because they are given up to superstitious ceremonies, and filled
to no purpose with crowds of formal worshipers, who come unfeeling,
and go unfeeling away. No worship is of any use to souls—at which Christ
is not present! Incense, banners, pictures, flowers, crucifixes, and
long processions of richly dressed ecclesiastics—are a poor substitute for
the great High Priest Himself!
The poorest room where a few penitent believers assemble
in the name of Jesus—is a consecrated and most holy place in the sight of
God! Those who worship God in spirit and truth—never draw near to Him in
vain. Often they go home from such meetings warmed, cheered, established,
strengthened, comforted, and refreshed. And what is the secret of
their feelings? They have had with them the great Master of
assemblies—Jesus Christ Himself!
(d) There is a real spiritual "presence" of Christ with
the hearts of all true-hearted communicants in the Lord's Supper.
Rejecting as I do, with all my heart, the baseless notion of any
bodily presence of Christ in the Lord's table, I can never doubt that the
great ordinance appointed by Christ has a special and peculiar blessing
attached to it. That blessing, I believe, consists in a special and
peculiar presence of Christ, given to the heart of every believing
communicant. That truth appears to me to lie under those wonderful words of
institution, "Take and eat it—for this is My body." "Drink from it, all of
you—for this is My blood." Those words were never meant to teach that the
bread in the Lord's Supper was literally Christ's body, or the wine
literally Christ's blood. But our Lord did mean to teach that every
right-hearted believer, who ate that bread and drank that wine in
remembrance of Christ, would in so doing—find a special presence of Christ
in his heart, and a special revelation of Christ's sacrifice of His own body
and blood to his soul.
In a word, there is a special spiritual "presence" of
Christ in the Lord's supper, which they only know—who are faithful
communicants, and which those who are not communicants, miss altogether.
After all, the experience of all the best servants of Christ is the best
proof that there is a special blessing attached to the Lord's Supper. You
will rarely find a true believer, who will not say that he reckons this
ordinance to be one of his greatest helps and highest privileges. He will
tell you that if he was deprived of it, he would find the loss of it a great
drawback to his soul. He will tell you that in eating that bread, and
drinking that cup, he realizes something of Christ dwelling in him;
and finds his repentance deepened, his faith increased, his knowledge
enlarged, his graces strengthened.
Eating the bread with faith—he feels closer communion
with the body of Christ. Drinking the wine with faith—he feels closer
communion with the blood of Christ. He sees more clearly what Christ is
to him—and what he is to Christ. He understands more thoroughly what it
is—to be one with Christ and Christ in him. He feels the roots of his
spiritual life insensibly watered, and the work of grace within him
insensibly built up and carried forward. He cannot explain or define it. It
is a matter of experience, which no one knows but he who feels it. And the
true explanation of the whole matter is this—there is a special and
spiritual "presence" of Christ in the ordinance of the Lord's Supper. Jesus
meets those who draw near to His table with a true heart—in a special and
(e) Last—but not least, there is a real spiritual
"presence" of Christ, given to believers in special times of trouble and
difficulty. This is the presence of which Paul received assurance
on more than one occasion. At Corinth, for instance, it is written, "Then
the Lord said to Paul in a night vision—Don't be afraid, but keep on
speaking and don’t be silent. For I am with you, and no one will lay
a hand on you to hurt you, because I have many people in this city!" (Acts
18:9, 10). At Jerusalem, again, when the Apostle was in danger of his life,
it is written, "The following night, the Lord stood by him and said—Have
courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also
testify in Rome!" (Acts 23:11). Again, in the last epistle Paul wrote, we
find him saying, "At my first defense, no one came to my assistance, but
everyone deserted me. May it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood
with me and strengthened me. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth!" (2
Tim. 4:16, 17).
This special presence of Christ with His people—is
the reason for the singular and miraculous courage which many of God's
children have occasionally shown under circumstances of unusual trial, in
every age of the Church. When the three Hebrew children were cast into the
fiery furnace, and preferred to die, rather than commit idolatry, we are
told that Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, "Look! I see four men, not tied,
walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a Son of
God!" (Dan. 3:25). When Stephen was beset by bloody-minded enemies on the
very point of stoning him, we read that he said, "Behold, I see the heavens
opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God!" (Acts 7:56).
Nor ought we to doubt that this special presence
was the secret of the fearlessness with which many early Christian martyrs
met their deaths, and of the marvelous courage which the Marian martyrs,
such as Bradford, Latimer, and Rogers, displayed at the stake. A peculiar
sense of Christ being with them, is the right explanation of all these
cases. These men died as they did—because Christ was with them. Nor ought
any believer to fear that the same helping presence will be with
him—whenever his own time of special need arrives.
Many believers are overly anxious about what they
shall do in their last sickness, and on the bed of death. Many disquiet
themselves with anxious thoughts—as to what they would do if husband or wife
died, or if they were suddenly turned out of house and home. Let us believe
that when the need comes—the help will come also. Let us not carry
our crosses—before they are laid upon us! He who said to Moses,
"Certainly I will be with you!" will never fail any believer who cries
to Him. When the hour of special storm comes, the Lord who walks upon
the waters will come and say, "Peace! Be still." There are thousands of
doubting saints continually crossing the river of death, who go down
to the water in fear and trembling, and yet are able at last to say with
David, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear
no evil—for You are with me!" (Psalm 23:4).
This branch of our subject deserves to be pondered well.
This spiritual presence of Christ is a real and true thing, though a thing
which the children of this world neither know—nor understand. It is
precisely one of those matters of which Paul writes, "The natural man
receives not the things of the Spirit of God—for they are foolishness unto
him" (1 Cor. 2:14). But for all that, I repeat emphatically, that the
spiritual presence of Christ—His presence with the hearts and spirits of His
own people—is a real and true thing. Let us not doubt it. Let us hold it
fast. Let us seek to feel it more and more. The man who feels nothing
whatever of it in his own heart's experience, may depend on it that he is
not yet in a right state of soul.
Where is it? What ought we to think
about it? What ought we to reject, and what ought we to hold fast? This is a
branch of my subject on which it is most important to have clear and
well-defined views. There are rocks around it on which many are making
shipwreck. No doubt there are deep things and difficulties connected with
it. But this must not prevent our examining it as far as possible by the
light of Scripture. Whatever the Bible teaches plainly about Christ's bodily
presence—it is our duty to hold and believe. To shrink from holding
it—because we cannot reconcile it with some human tradition, some minister's
teaching, or some early prejudice imbibed in youth—is presumption, and not
humility. To the law and to the testimony! What do the Scriptures say about
Christ's bodily presence? Let us examine the matter step by step.
III. The last point which I propose to consider is the real BODILY presence
of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(a) There was a bodily presence of our Lord Jesus Christ
during the time when He was upon EARTH at His first advent. For
thirty-three years, between His birth and His ascension, He was present in a
body in this world. In infinite mercy to our souls, the eternal Son of God
was pleased to take our nature on Him, and to be miraculously born of a
woman, with a body just like our own. He was made like unto us in all
things, sin only excepted. Like us He grew from infancy to boyhood, and from
boyhood to youth, and from youth to manhood. Like us He ate, and drank, and
slept, and hungered, and thirsted, and wept, and felt fatigue and pain. He
had a body which was subject to all the conditions of a material body.
While, as God, He was in heaven and earth at the same time; as man, His body
was only in one place at one time. When He was in Galilee He was not in
Judea, and when He was in Capernaum He was not in Jerusalem. In a real, true
human body He lived; in a real, true human body He kept the law, and
fulfilled all righteousness; and in a real, true human body He bore our sins
on the cross, and made satisfaction for us by His atoning blood. He who died
for us on Calvary was perfect man, while at the same time He was perfect
This was the first real bodily presence of Jesus Christ.
The truth before us is full of unspeakable comfort to all who have an
awakened conscience, and know the value of their souls. It is a
heart-cheering thought that the "one Mediator between God and man is the man
Jesus Christ." He was real man—and so able to be touched with the
feeling of our infirmities. He was Almighty God—and so able to save
to the uttermost, all who come to the Father by Him. The Savior in whom the
laboring and heavy-leaden are invited to trust, is One who had a real body
when He was working out our redemption on earth. It was no angel, nor
spirit, that stood in our place and became our Substitute, that finished the
work of redemption, and did what Adam failed to do. No! it was one who was
real man! "By man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead"
(1 Cor. 15:21).
The battle was fought for us, and the victory was won by
the eternal Word made flesh—by the real bodily presence among us of Jesus
Christ. Forever let us praise God that Christ did not remain in heaven—but
came into the world and was made flesh to save sinners; that in the body, He
was born for us, lived for us, died for us, and rose again. Whether men know
it or not, our whole hope of eternal life hinges on the simple fact, that
nineteen hundred years ago there was a real bodily presence of the Son of
God for us on the earth. Let us now go a step further.
(b) There is a real bodily presence of Jesus Christ in
HEAVEN at the right hand of God. This is a deep and mysterious
subject, beyond question. What God the Father is, and where He dwells, what
the nature of His dwelling-place who is a Spirit—these are high things which
we have no comprehension to take in. But where the Bible speaks plainly—it
is our duty and our wisdom to believe. When our Lord rose again from the
dead, He rose with a real human body—a body which could not be in two places
at once—a body of which the angels said, "He is not here—but is risen" (Luke
24:6). In that body, having finished His redeeming work on earth, He
ascended visibly into heaven. He took His body with Him, and did not leave
it behind, like Elijah's mantle. It was not laid in the grave at last, and
did not become dust and ashes in some Syrian village, like the bodies of
saints and martyrs. The same body which walked in the streets of Capernaum,
and sat in the house of Mary and Martha, and was crucified on Golgotha, and
was laid in Joseph's tomb—that same body—after the resurrection glorified
undoubtedly—but still real and material—was taken up into heaven, and is
there at this very moment.
To use the inspired words of the Acts, "While they
beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight" (Acts
1:9). To use the words of Luke's Gospel, "While He blessed them, He was
parted from them, and carried up into heaven" (Luke 24:51). To use the words
of Mark, "After the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into
heaven, and sat on the right hand of God" (Mark 16:19). The fourth Article
of the Church of England states the whole matter fully and accurately:
"Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again His body, with
flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature
wherewith He ascended into heaven, and there sits, until He return to judge
all men at the last day." And thus, to come round to the point with which we
started—there is in heaven a real bodily presence of Jesus Christ.
The doctrine before us is singularly rich in comfort and
consolation to all true Christians. That Divine Savior in heaven, on whom
the Gospel tells us to cast the burden of our sinful souls, is not a Being
who is Spirit only—but a Being who is man—as well as God.
He is One who has taken up to heaven a body like our own; and in that body
sits at the right hand of God, to be our Priest and our Advocate, our
Representative and our Friend. He can be touched with the feeling of our
infirmities, because He has suffered Himself in the body being tempted. He
knows by experience all that the body is liable to—from pain, and weariness,
and hunger, and thirst, and work; and has taken to heaven that very body
which endured the contradiction of sinners and was nailed to the tree!
Who can doubt that that body in heaven is a continual
plea for believers, and renders them ever acceptable in the Father's sight?
It is a perpetual remembrance of the perfect atoning sacrifice made for us
upon the cross. God will not forget that our debts are paid for, so long as
the body which paid for them with life-blood is in heaven before His eyes.
Who can doubt that when we pour out our petitions and prayers before the
throne of grace, we put them in the hand of One whose sympathy passes
knowledge? None can feel for poor believers wrestling here in the body—like
Him who in the body sits pleading for them in heaven. Forever let us bless
God that there is a real bodily presence of Christ in heaven. Let us now go
a step further.
(c) There is NO real bodily presence of Christ in the
Lord's Supper, or in the consecrated elements of bread and wine.
This is a point which it is peculiarly painful to discuss, because it has
long divided Christians into two parties, and defiled a very solemn subject
with sharp controversy. Nevertheless, it is one which cannot possibly be
avoided in handling the question we are considering. Moreover, it is a point
of vast importance, and demands very plain speaking.
Those amiable and well-meaning people who imagine that it
signifies little, what opinion people hold about Christ's presence in the
Lord's Supper—that it is a matter of indifference, and that it all comes to
the same thing at last—are totally and entirely mistaken. They have yet to
learn that an unscriptural view of the subject may land them at length in a
very dangerous heresy. Let us search and see.
My reason for saying that there is no bodily presence of
Christ in the Lord's Supper, or in the consecrated bread and wine, is simply
this: there is no such presence taught anywhere in Holy Scripture. It is a
presence that can never be honestly and fairly gotten out of the Bible. Let
the three accounts of the institution of the Lord's Supper, in the Gospels
of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and the one given by Paul to the Corinthians, be
weighed and examined impartially, and I have no doubt as to the result. They
teach that the Lord Jesus, in the same night that He was betrayed, took
bread, and gave it to His disciples, saying, "Take and eat it; this is My
body;" and also took the cup of wine, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink
from it, all of you. For this is My blood ."
But there is nothing in the simple narrative, or in the
verses which follow it, which shows that the disciples thought their
Master's body and blood were really present in the bread and wine which they
received. There is not a word in the epistles to show that after our Lord's
ascension into heaven, that the Christians believed that His body and blood
were present in an ordinance celebrated on earth; or that the bread in the
Lord's Supper, after consecration, was not truly and literally bread, and
the wine truly and literally wine.
Some people, I am aware, suppose that such texts as "This
is My body," and "This is My blood," are proofs that Christ's body and
blood, in some mysterious manner, are locally present in the bread and wine
at the Lord's Supper, after their consecration. But a man must be easily
satisfied if such texts content him. The quotation of a single isolated
phrase is a mode of arguing which would establish Arianism or Socinianism.
The context of these famous expressions shows
clearly, that those who heard the words used, and were accustomed to our
Lord's mode of speaking, understood them to mean "This represents My
body," and "This represents my blood." The comparison of other places
proves that there is nothing unfair in this interpretation. It is certain
that the words "is" and "are" frequently mean represent in Scripture. The
disciples, no doubt, remembered their Master saying such things as "The
field is the world, the good seed are the children of the
kingdom" (Matt. 13:38). Paul, in writing on the Sacrament, confirms this
interpretation by expressly calling the consecrated bread, "bread," and not
the body of Christ, no less than three times (1 Cor. 11:26-28).
Some people, again, regard the sixth chapter of John,
where our Lord speaks of "eating His flesh and drinking His blood," as a
proof that there is a literal bodily presence of Christ in the bread and
wine at the Lord's Supper. But there is an utter absence of conclusive proof
that this chapter refers to the Lord's Supper at all! The Lord's Supper had
not been instituted, and did not exist, until at least a year after these
words were spoken. Enough to say, that the great majority of Protestant
commentators altogether deny that the chapter refers to the Lord's Supper,
and that even some Romish commentators on this point agree with them. The
eating and drinking here spoken of are the eating and drinking of faith—and
not a bodily action.
Some people fancy that Paul's words to the Corinthians,
"The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?"
(1 Cor. 10:16), are enough to prove a bodily presence of Christ in the
Lord's Supper. But unfortunately for their argument, Paul does not say, "The
bread is the body," but the "communion of the body." And the obvious sense
of the words is this: "The bread that a worthy communicant eats in the
Lord's Supper is a means whereby his soul holds communion with the body of
Christ." Nor do I believe that more than this can be got out of the words.
Above all, there remains the unanswerable argument, that if our Lord was
actually holding His own body in His hands, when He said of the bread, "This
is My body," His body must have been a different body to that of ordinary
men. Of course if His body was not a body like ours, His real and proper
"humanity" is at an end. At this rate the blessed and comfortable doctrine
of Christ's entire sympathy with His people, arising from the fact that He
is really and truly man, would be completely overthrown and fall to the
Finally, if the body with which our blessed Lord ascended
up into heaven can be in heaven, and on earth, and on ten thousand
communion-tables at one and the same time—it cannot be a real human body at
all. Yet that He did ascend with a real human body, although a glorified
body, is one of the prime articles of the Christian faith, and one that we
ought never to let go! Once admit that a body can be present in two places
at once, and you cannot prove that it is a body at all. Once admit that
Christ's body can be present at God's right hand and on the communion-table
at the same moment, and it cannot be the body which was born of the Virgin
Mary and crucified upon the cross. From such a conclusion we may well draw
back with horror and dismay!
Well says the Prayer-book of the Church of England: "The
sacramental bread and wine remain still in their very natural substances,
and therefore may not be adored (for that is idolatry, to be abhorred
by all faithful Christians); and the natural body and blood of our Savior
Christ are in heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ's
natural body to be at one time in more places than one." This is sound
speech that cannot be condemned. Well would it be for the Church of England
if all Churchmen would read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest what the
Prayer-book teaches about Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper. If we love
our souls and desire their prosperity, let us be very jealous over our
doctrine about the Lord's Supper. Let us stand fast on the simple teaching
of Scripture, and let no one drive us from it, under the pretense of
increased reverence for the ordinance of Christ.
Let us take heed, lest under confused and mystical
notions of some inexplicable presence of Christ's body and blood under the
form of bread and wine, we find ourselves unawares heretics about Christ's
human nature. Next to the doctrine that Christ is not God—but only man,
there is nothing more dangerous than the doctrine that Christ is not man—but
only God. If we would not fall into that pit, we must hold firmly that there
can be no literal presence of Christ's body in the Lord's Supper; because
His body is in heaven, and not on earth, though as God He is everywhere. Let
us now go one step further, and bring our whole subject to a conclusion.
(d) There will be a real bodily presence of Christ when
He COMES AGAIN the second time to judge the world. This is a
point about which the Bible speaks so plainly, that there is no room left
for dispute or doubt. When our Lord had ascended up before the eyes of His
disciples, the angels said to them, "This same Jesus, who is taken up from
you into heaven—shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into
heaven" (Acts 1:11).
There can be no mistake about the meaning of these words.
Visibly and bodily our Lord left the world, and visibly and bodily He will
return in the day which is emphatically called the day of "His appearing" (1
Peter 1:7). The world is not yet done with Christ. Myriads talk and think of
Him as of One who did His work in the world and passed on to His own place,
like some statesman or philosopher, leaving nothing but His memory behind
Him. The world will be fearfully undeceived one day. That same Jesus who
came nineteen centuries ago in lowliness and poverty, to be despised and
crucified—shall come again one day in power and glory, to raise the dead and
change the living, and to reward every man according to his works!
The wicked shall see that Savior whom they
despised—but too late, and shall call on the rocks to fall on them and hide
them from the face of the Lamb! Those solemn words which Jesus addressed to
the High Priest the night before His crucifixion shall at length be
fulfilled: "You shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power,
and coming in the clouds of heaven" (Matt. 26:64).
The godly shall see the Savior whom they have read
of, heard of, and believed, and find, like the Queen of Sheba—that the half
of His goodness had not been known! They shall find that sight is far
better than faith, and that in Christ's actual presence is fullness
of joy. This is the real bodily presence of Christ, for which every
true-hearted Christian ought daily to long and pray.
Happy are those who make it an article of their faith,
and live in the constant expectation of a second personal advent of Christ.
Then, and then only—will the devil be bound, the curse be taken off the
earth, the world be restored to its original purity, sickness and death be
taken away, tears be wiped from all eyes, and the redemption of the saint,
in body as well as soul, be completed. "It does not yet appear what we shall
be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we
shall see Him as He is!" (1 John 3:2). The highest style of Christian is the
man who desires the real presence of his Master, and "loves His appearing"
(2 Tim. 4:8).
I have now unfolded, as far as I can in a short paper,
the truth about the presence of God and His Christ. I have shown:
(1) the general doctrine of God's presence
(2) the Scriptural doctrine of Christ's real,
(3) the Scriptural doctrine of Christ's real, bodily
I now leave the whole subject with a parting word of
APPLICATION, and commend it to serious
attention. In an age of hurry and bustle about secular things, in an age of
wretched strife and controversy about religion—I entreat men not to neglect
the great truths which these pages contain.
(1) What do we know of Christ, for ourselves?
We have heard of Him thousands of times. We call ourselves Christians. But
what do we know of Christ experimentally, as our own personal Savior,
our own Priest, our own Friend, the Healer of our
conscience, the Comforter of our heart, the Pardoner of our
sins, the Foundation of our hope, the confidence of our souls?
How is it?
(2) Let us not rest until we feel Christ "present" in our
own hearts, and know what it is to be one with Christ and Christ in us.
This is real religion. To live in the habit of looking backward
to Christ on the cross, upward to Christ at God's right hand, and
forward to Christ coming again—this is the only Christianity which
gives comfort in life, and good hope in death. Let us remember this.
(3) Let us beware of holding erroneous views about the
Lord's Supper, and especially about the real nature of Christ's
"presence" in it. Let us not so mistake that blessed ordinance, which was
meant to be our soul's food—as to turn it into our soul's poison! There is
no sacrifice in the Lord's Supper, no sacrificing priest, no altar, no
bodily "presence" of Christ in the bread and wine. These things are not in
the Bible, and are dangerous inventions of man, leading on to superstition!
Let us take care.
(4) Let us keep continually before our minds, the second
advent of Christ, and that real "presence "which is yet to come.
Let our loins be girded, and our lamps burning, and ourselves like men daily
waiting for their Master's return. Then, and then only, shall we have all
the desires of our souls satisfied. Until then the less we expect from this
world the better. Let our daily cry be, "Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!"