The Feast of Blessing, and
the Grace of the Comforter
George Everard, 1874
It is of great importance for Christians ever to bear in mind that in every part of the Christian life, the Holy Spirit is the great agent and worker in the soul. It is the office of the Spirit . . .
to convince of sin,
to awake sleeping, careless ones,
to enlighten the eyes of the understanding,
to see the glory of Christ,
to renew, to teach, to sanctify and to perfect believers in the likeness of the Son of God. And this is true with respect to all ordinances. Divine worship in the sanctuary, baptism, the Lord's Supper — all are profitable in proportion to the grace of the Holy Spirit, granted in answer to fervent and believing prayer.
The ordinances of Christ are golden pitchers, but without the living water they bring no refreshment to the soul. Let us think of this with reference to that ordinance which Christ appointed on the eve of His death for the comfort and strengthening of His people in all ages.
We must remember that all due preparation for partaking of the Lord's Supper is the fruit of the operation of the Divine Spirit. There may be a formal preparation for a few days previously, by repetition of certain prayers — but unless the Holy Spirit touches the heart, there can be no real profit.
Three things are especially needful — repentance, faith, and love. But whence comes this threefold cord of Christian grace?
Whence, but from the Holy Spirit, comes the spirit of true PENITENCE, the broken heart, the humbling sense of our unworthiness and our deficiencies, the godly sorrow that mourns for having crucified the Lord. Yes, it is His work to break up the fallow ground of our hard and strong hearts, to bring us in lowliness and contrition to His footstool, there to confess our manifold iniquities.
Whence, too, but from the same Spirit comes the FAITH, the trust, that looks up for mercy and salvation to our crucified and risen Savior?
Whence also comes that heaven-born LOVE that seeks not her own, that envies not, that bears all things, believes all things, endures all things?
Surely all these are wrought by this one and self-same Spirit, whose fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.
Dear reader, carry this thought with you as a practical suggestion, before next you draw near to the Lord's table. Plead with God in Christ's name, for the Comforter very especially to prepare your heart. Look for the Spirit to awaken within you self-renunciation, lowly trust, and true love.
But let us pass on to the work of the Holy Spirit, making the Lord's Supper effectual for the purpose of its institution. Perhaps if we look at it in three lights, each advancing a step beyond the former, we may see the blessings which Christ purposed, and in each of them the need we have for the grace of the Spirit.
We are to regard this Sacrament as appointed to awaken REMEMBRANCE of Jesus and His atoning sacrifice. It was given that we should always remember the exceeding great love of our Master and only Savior Jesus Christ thus dying for us, and the innumerable benefits which by His precious blood-shedding He has obtained for us.
The remembrance of past events may be of two kinds. It may be such as to awaken no emotion, no joy, no sorrow, nor even to cause any lively interest. Such is the storing up in the memory certain facts or dates in our school-days, which may be useful as landmarks in the study of history or science.
But remembrance may be of a very different character. It may stir the soul to its depths. It may awaken the feeling of anger or remorse, of revenge or of grief. Such was the case when an Eastern Monarch bade a servant stand behind his chair and say, "Sire, remember the Athenians!" desiring thus to kindle afresh his determination to avenge the wrong they had done him. Such is the feeling of many a Frenchman in looking back to the conflict between his country and Germany. Such was the remembrance of Peter as he thought of his sin in denying his Lord.
On the other hand, the remembrance may arouse the intensest feeling of joy, or gratitude, or hope, or love. You may remember some act of self-sacrifice on the part of a friend, which saved your life or averted some great calamity. You may think of a parent now lying at rest in a quiet grave; and perchance the recollection of a mother's hand placed on your head, or of her prayers or kindness, may have been a stay in many an hour of sorrow or temptation.
Now of this latter kind, awakening the very deepest feeling, is the remembrance which Christ would have us nourish of Himself and His dying love. It is not a mere recollection — something cold as starlight or moonlight, something passing through the chambers of the memory and leaving no impression behind — but a remembrance . . .
that has an effectual operation,
that stirs up deep and lasting emotion,
that kindles sorrow for sin, repentance, lively gratitude and hope and confidence,
that leads to active effort in Christ's service.
Now whence can arise such lively remembrance as this? How can such be kindled afresh within us as we draw near to the Table of our Lord? How can we avoid the inroads of that insidious formalism, which, like the dead flies which spoil the precious ointment — is apt to creep in and spoil our holiest services?
Surely it must be the presence of the Holy Spirit. He who appointed this feast to be the great act of remembrance — also promised the Comforter as the Remembrancer of His Church. (John 14:26.) "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you."
It is thus the Spirit of truth which testifies of Jesus to the soul, bringing back to the soul, in living, effectual remembrance, all the mercy and love of the Redeemer; all that He has said and all that He has done for us, and especially the marvelous loving-kindness of the cross, and all the benefits which thus He has purchased for us. This lively remembrance of Christ is very beautifully expressed in a hymn written by the first Hindu convert in Burmah, and translated into English:
O you, my soul, forget no more
The Friend who all your sorrows bore.
Let every idol be forgot,
But Him, my soul, forget you not!
Renounce your works and ways with grief,
And fly to this Divine relief,
Nor Him forget who left His throne
And for your life gave up His own.
Eternal truth and mercy shine
In Him, and He Himself is thine:
And can you then, with sin beset,
Such charms, such matchless charms forget?
Oh no! Until life itself depart,
His name shall cheer and warm my heart;
And lisping this, from earth I'll rise,
And join the chorus of the skies!
But we take another step. The Lord's Supper is not only a remembrance of Christ and His precious death — but it is SUPPING with Christ. Remembrance is of one absent — but we sit down to sup with one who is present, near at hand, and making himself known to us by word and deed.
We recall the scene at Emmaus. The two disciples meet with the Lord, though at first unknown to them. He converses with them. At their request He goes in and sits down with them at their evening meal. And so their hearts burn within them as they hearken to His loving words.
It is thus with Christ and His people now. Though in His glorified body He is exalted to the right hand of the glory of God — yet spiritually, He is very near to His own. "The world sees Me no more, but you see Me." "If any man keeps my sayings ... I will manifest myself to him."
In Jewish families, I have read that at certain ordinances a chair is placed for the Prophet Elijah. They believe, that though invisible, he is present with them.
This is really true of Christ. A young friend was speaking of her joy in Christ, and said that she could rest happily at night "because she felt Jesus was close by." I was struck with the expression, because it is so true. He is "close by" every one of His redeemed people. This is very especially true at such an ordinance as we refer to. It is indeed a Holy Communion — a Holy Communion between Christ and His people, and also between Christians one with the other.
But how can this fellowship and communion with Christ be realized? It is not to be obtained by any mere general considerations that the Lord is everywhere present — nor is it by palming upon our minds strange theories of some miraculous presence through the consecrating words of the priest.
Nay, it is in the fellowship of the Spirit that we can realize fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit making that a reality to the soul, which would otherwise be a truth held only by mere intellectual conviction. It is when the Comforter dwells in us, that we can rejoice in the fufilment of the promise, that the Father and Son come to us and make their abode with us.
And then, as we draw near and kneel down together at that solemn hour, if we have sought the special aid of the Spirit, we may look for it that He will enable us to see and feel a Savior in our hearts, revealing His everlasting love and filling the heart with sweet and holy joy.
But we go one step further. Not only is there a remembrance of Christ, but supping with Christ. Not only a supping with Christ, but a FEEDING on Christ.
In an ordinary feast we sit down with a friend and partake of the refreshment provided. But in this feast, not only do we sit down with Christ — but He gives Himself to be our spiritual food and sustenance in that Holy Sacrament. The inward part or thing signified in the Lord's Supper is the body and blood of Christ — which are truly and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lord's Supper.
But we inquire how is this? What is this partaking of the body and blood of Christ? In the Romish Church we are taught that it is by the elements being changed by the word of the priest. In a letter I once had from a priest of that Church, he wrote: "I receive Christ on my tongue, in my mouth, and thus into my breast."
The teaching of our Church is the very opposite to this. The change of elements cannot be proved by holy writ — it overthrows the nature of a sacrament and has given occasion to many superstitions.
Yet the benefit is great, if with a true penitent heart and lively faith we receive that Holy Sacrament, for then we spiritually eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood.
But what is meant by spiritually eating Christ's flesh? Does it mean that in some spiritual, supernatural way, the bread conveys with it the flesh of Christ to my soul? Or does it mean that all true feeding on Christ is in the region of the inner spirit?
Again, I ask this question of our Church. I go to the words with which the bread is given to each communicant. "May the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you, preserve your body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on Him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving."
Look carefully at this language. "The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you." The body of Christ, which preserves the soul, is the body which more than eighteen centuries ago was given for us, to suffer on the cross. Then it is said, "Take and eat this in remembrance of that crucified body" — this bread is to put you in mind of the body which was nailed to the cross for you. "And feed on Him" — not feed on this bread, but "feed on Him" who died. "In your heart" — not by your mouth. "By faith" — not by any bodily reception — "by faith with thanksgiving."
Whereas many now endeavor to confound the body which was crucified, with the bread which is eaten; and the faith which really receives Christ, with the partaking of the elements — it is scarcely possible to find any language which more distinctly shows the difference between them, than these words in our service.
But where is there the least shadow of foundation in Holy Scripture for teaching that the bread and wine is in any way changed, except in its use and purpose? It is said that our Lord's words, "This is my body," "This is my blood," settle the question, and that we must simply take them as they stand, and then leave it.
But words are only the signs of the inward meaning of the person who utters them; and must we not endeavor to lay hold on this, rather than rest in the words themselves? Is it not a fact that our Lord's teaching, from first to last, was ever by figure and parable, an earthly type or shadow, thus leading on His disciples to inquiry and thought? Did not those who took the simple, surface meaning of such parabolic expressions, always err? If you take any other portion of the New Testament, and treat such like sayings in the same way, do you not reduce them to a palpable absurdity? Why then take Christ's word in this instance and interpret it in a wholly different way? Look how men erred by taking Christ's words literally. "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up;" "You must be born again;" "Our friend Lazarus sleeps;" "Beware of the leaven of Herod;" "I have meat to eat that you know not of;" "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst again ;" "He who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one;" "Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you have no life in you." Everyone of these expressions was taken in its literal meaning, and it proved to be a mistaken view of our Lord's intention in uttering it.
Look again at numbers more of similar expressions, which must be taken figuratively, or with considerable variations from their surface meaning:
"Let the dead bury their dead;"
"I will make you fishers of men;"
"If your eye offends you pluck it out;"
"If any man come after Me, and hates not father," etc.;
"The good seed are the children of the kingdom;"
"The tares are the children of the wicked one,"
"The King shall set the sheep on the right hand and the goats on the left."
Such expressions abound everywhere in the Gospel, and can only be understood by looking underneath for the thought which explains them. Study the whole of the New Testament. See how the elements of figure and emblem and parable abound in every page. And then, I believe, you will have no doubt whatever as to the meaning of our Lord's words. They will shine out as clear as sunlight.
The Savior, on the night before His sufferings, takes into His hand the bread, and breaks it, and gives it to each one, saying, "Take, eat: this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." As if He would say, "See here, in type and figure, my sacred body. Now, you see it whole, active, living — but as I break this bread before your eyes, so shall you shortly see this body of mine, bruised, wounded, torn, broken. The nails shall tears these hands and feet; the cruel scourge shall lacerate this form; the spear shall pierce this side. And it is all for you. Others may give you other gifts, but I give you myself, my body, to bleed and die for your salvation. And whenever you eat this bread, think of my dying love, and nourish your souls by the remembrance of all that I have suffered for you."
So too was it when our Lord gave the cup: "This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins." As if He would say, "You know how in olden times the blood was perpetually shed. Moses took the blood of beasts and sprinkled both the book and the people. Aaron went into the holy place every year with the blood of others. But all this could never save you, for the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. But now I make a new covenant with you. I make a covenant of gifts and promises. I offer you complete and free forgiveness. And this cup, this wine, tells you of that precious blood which seals that covenant, and which tomorrow shall be shed for the remission of sins — and shall henceforth be a stream of salvation for the cleansing of all believing souls."
Such, I believe, was the lesson Christ intended to teach. He desired them to see, as before their eyes, that great work which would bring salvation to His Church. And then He would have them again and again remember it for their everlasting comfort.
We see, then, that it is by no change in the elements that we feed on Christ. It is only by the heart partaking in faith of Christ and all the benefits of His death. The soul can only feed on truth, and it is the truth as it is in Jesus that really strengthens and nourishes.
Ignorance is the soul's famine.
Error is the soul's poison.
Truth is the soul's true food and support.
Hence we see again how it is the work of the Spirit which brings the true comfort and profit of this sacrament. Our Lord has said: "My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." And again, "As the Father has sent Me, and I live by the Father, even so he who eats Me, he shall live by Me."
This spiritual feeding on Christ crucified, through the knowledge of His truth, brings unspeakable benefit. There is a . . .
refreshment to the weary and heavy laden;
strengthening of the weak;
satisfaction of the longing soul which nothing else can give.
But it is all the work of the Holy Spirit. We may partake of the bread physically — but it is the Spirit that enables us to feed on Christ by faith. We may drink of the wine — but it is the Spirit alone that satisfies the thirsty spirit with a real rest of conscience in the blood of the cross.
It is the Spirit who gives a lasting consolation in those views of Christ's death which uphold and strengthen the Christian pilgrim both in life and in death. It is thus we see the fathomless well of love in His heart; for "greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." It is thus we see the high dignity to which those rise who are washed in that blood; for He has loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and our Father!
It is thus we are upheld in daily toil and suffering in His service; for we are "strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man," as we learn yet more and more "of the height and depth and breadth and length of the love of Christ" in His atoning death.
It is thus we can face without fear the last enemy; for the Spirit bears witness to the soul that Christ is near, and His presence is everlasting life.
Dear Christian, I would ask you to carry away TWO LESSONS from our consideration of this subject.
1. Never disregard our Lord's command, and refuse His loving invitation to draw near to His table. Remember that in doing so, you dishonor the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
You dishonor Christ — for you disobey His command, and turn away from an ordinance which He has appointed for your spiritual welfare. If it was not needful for you, He would not have appointed it — but He who knows all your temptations and infirmities, has given it as an hour of sweet and holy retirement, and has promised there to meet with you and bless you with His presence and love. Surely it is the part of obedience, as well as of true affection, to value so precious a means of grace.
But in refusing to come, you dishonor the Father also; for he who honors not the Son, "honors not the Father who has sent Him."
And so likewise you grieve and dishonor the Spirit of God; for He delights to testify of Jesus, and He waits to sanctify this feast of remembrance by His own grace and power. He is ready there . . .
to call to your remembrance the Savior's love,
to quicken your apprehension of His nearness to you,
to nourish your soul with believing views of His work.
Let it therefore be reckoned your high privilege, as well as your bounden duty, thus to manifest your love to your Divine Master. Never turn away from His table when you can avoid it; neither come in a cold and formal spirit. Draw near with an earnest longing . . .
for clearer light,
for more fervent love, and
for more entire devotedness to Christ and His work.
2. Then, one other lesson. Be sure there can be no feeding on Christ except in the heart; none in the heart but by faith; and no exercise of living, soul-reviving, soul-strengthening faith, but by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Hence let us draw near in the power of the Spirit.
Let us humbly ask and earnestly expect the Spirit to be with us whenever we thus meet and desire to remember Christ.
Let us turn our thoughts from the elements of which we partake, to those great realities to which they point us.
Let us look back to Christ as crucified on the cross for us.
Let us look upward to Him as now exalted to the right hand of God, and believe that He is indeed present in the midst of us to bless.
Let us look forward to His glorious appearing, when all true Christians shall meet at His marriage feast!
And let us look, meanwhile, for His Spirit to bring Him to us yet nearer and closer day by day, and thus to enable us to rejoice in Him with joy unspeakable and full of glory!