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Union and Communion with Christ
The lease of my life, according to scripture tenure, (Ps. 90:10) being nearly run out; and unable, from increasing years and increasing infirmities, to hope much longer the going in and out, as I have done, for nearly half a century. with the Lord’s people in the Ordinance of the Holy Supper; I have thought, to gather up the Fragments which have been used upon those occasions, might not be unacceptable, neither unprofitable, under the Lord’s blessing, to supply in the best manner I am now able that deficiency. Peradventure, (I have said to myself, as I ruminated on the subject,) from the good hand of my God upon me, those small love-tokens to the Church may speak when I am silent, and find their way also into places where I have never been. And, in this sense, my very inability may be rendered subservient to greater usefulness. The thought warmed my heart in the moment as it entered. And under the impression I could not help saying,—should the thing be of the Lord; should that sovereignty of grace, which is not limited in its operations to great or slender means, condescend to make this little work minister, under his Almighty power, to any of his chosen ones, to afford comfort upon those interesting occasions; the Lord will be glorified, and his people made happy, when the hand which now writes shall have long molded in the dust.
Let it not be supposed, however, from what I have now said, as if lamented an inability, the natural consequence of age, and the gracious ordination of unerring wisdom. Not so: I dare not regret that my life is nearly over, and that my labors are nearly finished. Indeed, indeed, I rejoice in the prospect. Through the tender mercy of my Lord, I have had my day; and a long day of mercies from the Lord it hath been. And, as one well fed and nourished at his Lord’s table, whenever the bountiful Lord of the feast shall command the cloth to be removed, sure I am, through his grace enabling me, I shall arise, return thanks, and depart.
In relation to what is here affectionately presented to the Church of our most glorious Christ, I shall not anticipate, by an enumeration of Contents, the several subjects only to observe that they are Sacramental. The ordinance of the Holy Supper is in itself, when spiritually received, a most sweet, and costly, and refreshing service of the Lord. It will be my mercy, and the Reader’s also, if an unction from the Lord be upon the perusal; that with the Apostle we may be able to say, “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ; and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.”
Plymouth, Charles Vicarage.
I. MELCHIZEDEIC, PRIEST OF THE MOST HIGH GOD, BRINGING FORTH BREAD AND WINE.
“And Melchizedek king of Salem, brought forth
bread and wine and
he was the Priest of the Most High God. And he blessed him and said: Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth. And blessed be the Most High God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thine hand.” Genesis 14:18-20
It is always blessed and always profitable, when, under the teaching of God the Holy Ghost, the redeemed, and regenerated child of God, is enabled to trace his mercies to the fountain head of mercy and to run up the whole, into the great source of love, in the discovery of Jehovah, in his Trinity of Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, coming forth and making himself known to his church in the Person of our most glorious Christ. God, in the essence and nature of his Being, is incomprehensible. And although He hath, in infinite condescension, been pleased to make known his perfections, by distinct acts of grace, to the church in Christ; as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in One and the same glorious God: yet it is the Son of God only, Who by assuming into union with himself our nature, becomes the visible Jehovah, to whom it belongs to unfold, and accomplish, all the divine purposes, in all the departments of nature, providence, grace, and glory.
And it forms one of the sweetest, and most interesting of all subjects, when we can, and do, behold the tendencies of the Lord Jesus, in the discoveries he is at any time pleased to make of himself to his people, by way of proof of his love, and that his whole heart is with his people. Hence we read, that “his delights were with the sons of men, before the mountains were brought forth, and when there were no fountains abounding with water,” (Prov. 8:24-31). Hence, after creation work had called the church into being, immediately sacramental symbols were formed; and on the fall, ordinances were also appointed, to lead the mind of the Lord’s people into endearing apprehensions of the Person and grace of Christ. And these shadowy representations which had their substance all in one, and the same glorious object, however diversified, as best suited the different ages of the church, all pointed to one and the same centre, and had their completion in Him. Before the tabernacling of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh, and even after when he had tabernacled and finished redemption work, and returned to glory; until the Holy Ghost came down, in a more open display of himself, in the efficiency of his ministry, in “taking of the things of Christ, and showing to his people;” neither the person of Christ, nor the vast object of salvation in Christ, were so plainly discovered, as since the Lord’s ascension, they are now revealed by the Spirit. Nevertheless, when taught by Him, and “the gospel is preached, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven,” the church of our most glorious Christ doth now very plainly discover, that there were sacramental symbols, which from the first did set forth the great and leading features of our must holy faith, even in the garden of Eden. And the Patriarchs in successive ages, taught of God, as plainly saw “the day of Christ afar off, rejoiced and were glad;” as the apostles beheld the Son of God, substantially and bodily in flesh, when “their eyes looked upon him, and their hands handled of the word of life.”
My text hath a relation to a striking example in proof; and which I venture to consider a plain and palpable illustration of it, now we are enabled to read the solemn transactions there recorded, through the medium of the gospel.
I must not allow myself to take up more of your attention than is absolutely necessary, upon this occasion; but I would beg it might be observed, that at the time the text records, when the King of Salem brought forth bread, and wine, to meet the Patriarch Abram, he was returning from the slaughter of the kings. This is the first war, the first battle, ever fought upon earth. And it is worthy notice, in relation to our subject, that the Holy Ghost hath thought proper to bring the church acquainted with it: is if to introduce more pointedly Melchizedek in his priestly office. And it very fully illustrates the truth of that doctrine; I mean of the universal corruption of our nature in the Adam fall transgression, which renders the priesthood necessary. The Holy Ghost, by James, hath shown the fall to be the origin of the one; while this act of Melchizedek sets forth the necessity of the other. “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” (Jam. 4:1). And as the evil of sin is thus traced to its source in the fall of man; so here is shadowed out the priesthood of Christ for the recovery. And that this was the main point intended, by the King of Salem bringing forth bread and wine, is evident; because had it been for the refreshment of the body only after the toils of war; wherefore was it so particularly mentioned of Melchizedek, that “he was the priest of the Most High God?” And when we add to these views, that the Son of God is said “to have been a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek;” and who alone, and no other, in after ages, brought forth bread and wine in that holy Supper, which was made a standing memorial of his death; it should seem, as a most clear and established point, that this service of Melchizedek was purely sacramental.
It will form a very interesting subject for our present meditation, preparatory to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, if, under the teaching of the Holy Ghost, we make further enquiry on those grounds, into what may be supposed to have been the leading abject and design of it. And it will be our mercy, if we are enabled to have a spiritual and scriptural apprehension therein, that “we may know the things which are freely given to us of God; not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual,” (1 Cor. 2:12-13).
The plan by which I propose to consider the subject is, in the first place, to enquire into the nature of the blessing itself, pronounced by Melchizedek, when in the name of the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth, he blessed Abram; and blessed the Most High God for Abram, in having delivered his enemies into his hand. I shall then proceed, secondly, to enquire, whether, as the priest of the Most High God, the bringing forth bread and wine was not sacramental, and symbolical of higher things, than the mere refreshment of the body. And if the Lord be pleased to accompany our researches into this subject, and shall give us some spiritual apprehensions, to behold the connection of the one with the other; the priesthood of Melchizedek, in bringing forth bread and wine, to refresh the great father of the faithful, being symbolical of the everlasting priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ; I shall hope, “the savour of His Name” will be meditation, as “ointment poured forth.”
I begin as was proposed, with the first branch of discourse, namely, an enquiry concerning the nature of, the blessing itself pronounced by Melchizedek on Abram, in the Name of the God. And happily for our purpose, our inquiry is answered at the very entrance. There can be no doubt, or hesitation, to whom it refers, and who is intended by it. The uniform tenor of scripture is express to this purpose, to show that it is thst One, glorious, and comprehensive blessing, which Jehovah in his Trinity of Persons, hath given to the church and is folded up in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. The whole charter of grace is contained those words: “Men shall be blessed in Him,” (Ps. 72:17). For strictly and properly speaking, there can be no blessing out of Christ; and he is essential to make every other blessing, be it what it may, a real blessing. Where Christ is not, there is no blessing, be the other circumstances of life what they may. And where Christ is, there can be no real evil, how unpromising soever things may appear. His presence and favor sanctifies and sweetens all, (as it is expressed in one of the Psalms): “because thy loving kindness is better than life,” (Ps. 63:3).
And what endears it to the affections of the Lord’s people, in a most gracious and sovereign manner, is this; namely, that all the Persons in the Godhead are alike revealed in this eternal purpose, concerning our most glorious Christ; for in Him, Jehovah, in his Trinity of Persons, hath made himself known, and is engaged by covenant engagements to his people. And I pray you to observe, by way of confirmation, (for it could not have been without design, yea, and an abundant design and signification too), that the glorious incommunicable name of the (El Olyon) Most High God, is thrice mentioned in this short scripture of the text. Melchizedek was the priest of the Most High God. Blessed be Abram, of the Most High God. Blessed be the Most High God. And the blessing itself thus given to Abram, and to every individual in the Covenant, who is the object and subject of the same sovereign grace, in Christ with Abram, is marked through the whole Bible, as coming from the joint love and favor of Jehovah, in his Trinity of Persons Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
It is delightful to observe with what emphasis the blessing itself is expressed by the Holy Ghost, through the whole body of the inspired writings. It is called, The blessing of Abram; because first made to him. For thus it is worded: “Now the Lord had said to Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation: and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee: and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed,” (Gen. 12:1-3). But, that the church of God might not overlook the glorious Person here so blessedly spoken of, and forget Christ, in what was here said to Abram, the Holy Ghost would not leave it to the comment of any man to explain, but graciously was pleased to do it himself. For thus we read. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not; and to seeds as of many; but as of one; and to thy seed which is Christ,” (Gal. 3:16). Hereby decidedly settling the whole doctrine-on its own proper basis, and showing, that the blessing, in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed, was not Abraham, but our most glorious Christ
And I would very earnestly and affectionately, before you go further, desire you to pause, and to observe, how very graciously the Holy Ghost hath stamped his almighty seal on this grand truth, in every part of his divine word. It runs, like a golden thread, through all the Bible. It links together in one the whole church of God, and all in Christ. Hence we find Isaac, the immediate successor of Abram, blessing Jacob in those striking words: “God Almighty bless thee, and give thee the blessing of Abraham,” (Gen. 28:3-4). Hence, Jacob also, when a dying, blessed his children, and with a particular eye to Joseph, spake of this blessing, as “the God of his father who would help him, and the Almighty who would bless him, to the utmost bounds of the everlasting hills,” (Gen. 49:25). Hence Moses also, before his death, under the same gracious influence, blessed the Lord’s people, with whom was deposited the promise. His words are as striking: as the former: “And this is the blessing wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel, before his death,” (Deut. 33:1). And thus in like manner, down to gospel times, the blessing ran in the same form of words, and all pointing to Christ. The persons interested in it were all included in this one comprehensive character: “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise,” (Gal. 3:29). And the promise itself, comprehended in it union with Christ, and all the consequent blessings from Christ. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,” (Eph. 1:3).
I must not dismiss this branch of our subject, until that I have first made a request that the blessing, wherewith Melchizedek blessed Abram, be considered, and duly considered, in the high and infinite importance in which it is spoken of in scripture, as one special, peculiar, and personal blessing, perfectly distinguishable from every other; and therefore as such, emphatically called, the blessing! For in fact it is, Christ himself; in whom, are all temporal, spiritual, and eternal blessings. There are a thousand, and ten thousand blessings, so called in life; and such indeed they are, in the common circumstances of mankind, contrasted to the miseries of our fallen nature. But Christ is the blessing of blessings; the mercy of mercies: without the possession of whom, though a man had the whole world at his command, and his cup running over, yet would he be miserable in the midst of all. Hence, the profane Esau, whose dwelling was “the fatness of the earth, and the dew of heaven from above;” that is, he had a fulness of all carnal joys; was miserable in the midst of all; and in the bitterness of heart exclaimed, “hast thou but one blessing, my Father?” (Gen. 27:34-40). Ah! no; there is but one Lord Jesus Christ, the only blessing, the only portion of his people, and a portion indeed enough to live upon to all eternity! For, as it is said in scripture, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12).
I proceed now, as was proposed, under the second branch of our discourse to enquire whether Melchizedek, as priest of the Most High God, when bringing forth bread and wine to Abram, did not do it, in this high office; and whether there was not a sacramental and symbolical signification in it, of higher things than the refreshment of the body.
I begin the subject on this part of it with observing, that there is nothing novel, in relation to this sacramental observance in the days of Abraham for in Eden we have several corresponding circumstances, and especially when explained by subsequent scriptures, in confirmation of the doctrine; Surely the “tree of life in the midst of the garden,” was highly symbolical of Christ. For as the first paradise had this tree of life in it, so in the final representation of the same, John saw in vision, “the Tree of Life in the midst of the street; and on either side the river,” (Rev. 22:2). And that Christ is meant by both is hardly necessary to mention, much less insist upon, for Christ in the midst of his church is the sole life of his church, in relation to natural, spiritual, and eternal life. And that it became sacramental to the church, is evident from hence, in that, not like ordinances of sacrifice, in which somewhat typical was offered by the believer; here, in this sacramental service, nothing was to be done but received.
Secondly. We have seen, in what hath before been mentioned, with what a world of tenderness the patriarch Abram was brought into a knowledge of the Lord, when the Lord invested him with the blessing of the covenant; that in him, and his seed, meaning (as hath been shown) Christ, should “all the families of the earth be blessed.” But without an eye to some outward testimony, as symbolical of this inward grace, there was at that time no, ordinance, no rite, no service, no, nor scripture, to keep alive in the mind the remembrance of this incalculable blessing. For let it be here observed, (and it is an highly important observation too, on the subject,) that the rite of circumcision did not begin until many years after, (certainly not less than twenty) when Ishmael had arrived at the age of thirteen, (Gen. 17:25). So that it follows, unless we consider this act of Melchizedek bringing forth bread and wine, and blessing the patriarch, was intended sacramentally, there was no ordinance in the church of the Most High God, under the patriarchal dispensation, neither for years after the Lord had thus blessed Abram by Melchizedek’s priesthood. Noah, when coming forth from the Ark, offered a sacrifice immediately on his deliverance from the deluge, and with an eye to Christ, whom the ark prefigured: And it is very blessedly said upon that occasion, that “the Lord smelled a sweet savor of rest,” (Gen 8:20-21; Eph. 5:2). And when this priest of the Most High God went forth with bread and wine to bless Abram, it was, when the patriarch had returned from the slaughter of the kings, in the first war which sin had introduced to desolate, (as the deluge had done before,) in the after ages of the world, mankind. And were not both punishments the effect of sin? And in the deliverance of the Lord’s people from both, is it not wholly from salvation by Christ? And as in the one, why not in the other, might it not be supposed to have been set forth by a shadowy representation?
Moreover, in the third place, it will be difficult to explain, upon any principles whatever, why the priesthood of Melchizedek is mentioned, in bringing forth bread and wine; unless he acted in this high character in so doing; or wherefore he is called a priest at all. For we never read of any other act of Melchizedek’s priesthood; neither was there any other ordinance at that time; or even a church to perform the office in. And although the Holy Ghost hath been pleased to throw a veil over the person of Melchizedek; whether, as some have thought, it was Christ himself, or, as others, he was but a type of Christ; yet, as a priest of the Most High God, it cannot be supposed that he sustained a character of such dignity without any ministry. And when is added to this view, what the Holy Ghost hath said of him, in the epistle to the Hebrews, we may well suppose the introduction of Melchizedek at this interview with Abram, had somewhat in it of vast importance. (See Hebrews 7 throughout). I have said so much on the person of Melchizedek in my Poor Man’s Commentary on that chapter that I think it unnecessary in this place to enlarge. I would therefore, only now, just observe, that he, whose priesthood is said to have been forever; and who is declared to have been greater than Abram; and whose descent was “without father, without mother, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life;” we may safely conclude, on scripture grounds, would not have been here described as the priest of the Most High God, and neither before, nor afterwards, noticed, had not this act, of bringing forth bread and wine, been of an higher nature than the mere refreshment of the body.
And lastly, to mention no more: If we pass on to the time of the church during her wilderness state, after leaving Egypt, and observe what is there said in relation to a similar transaction, I venture to think, this subject respecting Melchizedek’s priesthood, in the days of Abram, in bringing forth bread and wine in a sacramental way, receives a more striking confirmation. The Holy Ghost himself hath explained the subject, and shown that the ordinances in the wilderness were like to this of the patriarch, having bread and wine, and were purely sacramental. For thus we read, by the ministry of Paul: “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud, and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ,” (1 Cor. 10:1-4). Here we see both the ordinances, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord, set forth. For it is not only said that the people were baptized, but that they spiritually fed on Christ. For as the manna from heaven set forth Christ, (John 6:48-51,) so the water from the rock is said to have been Christ himself. And that both were considered sacramental, and alluding to the ordinances which Christ in after ages instituted, seems likely from Paul’s connecting both together. “I speak (said he) as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:15-16). And let it not be forgotten that the Holy Ghost, by Paul, in this scripture, makes no mention of circumcision, or the Passover; (and which were both standing ordinances in the church, during the wilderness state, and afterwards); for there was nothing sacramental in either; being wholly typical of Christ himself, and not referring to any act of his people. So that there was no sacramental service but this: and this of breaking of bread was daily observed after the church was formed, on the coming of the Holy Ghost, (See Acts 2:46). Hence, upon the whole, therefore, I cannot but conclude that upon the presumption that this, which the Holy Ghost, by Paul, calls “eating the same spiritual meat, and drinking the same spiritual drink,” was meant by the Lord the Spirit to denote sacramental: we behold the whole three distinct and distant ages of the church from each other, enjoying their high privileges in our most glorious Christ, spiritually and sacramentally. Under the patriarchal age in the bread and wine brought forth to Abram, by Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God. Under the Mosaic dispensation, in the spiritual meat and spiritual drink in the wilderness. And as appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, at the table of the Lord, where, by the outward signs of bread and wine, every redeemed and regenerated child of God spiritually receives and lives upon the body and blood of Christ.
If I have been happy enough to explain this subject upon true scriptural ground, the priestly office of this king of Salem, will appear, in a sacramental point of view, highly interesting in the present hour, to the church of our most glorious Christ. What a subject of infinite importance to the divine mind must have been the salvation by Christ, which, from the first dawn of revelation, and from age to age, hath been set forth by every shadow, type, and figure, spiritual and sacramental, in the church and among the Lord’s people. “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” at once proclaims and confirms, as with the broad seal of heaven that the whole of redemption is solely in and by the person and work, of the Lord Jesus Christ. So that his person is the great object of faith and his salvation the great subject of all confidence and joy. All the Persons in the Godhead have concurred in the appointment of the vast design; and the whole is accomplished and completed by the Lord Jesus Christ. And these glorious events being thus ratified and confirmed to the church, in the blood of Christ, all that remains for the redeemed and regenerated child of God, is, to receive sacramentally the outward symbols, which the Lord himself hath appointed for the refreshment of the soul by faith; as Abram was refreshed, after the slaughter of the kings, by the bread and wine.
It is the mercy also of the Lord’s people, at the holy Supper, to receive those outward tokens of the Lord’s inward manifestations, from the Lord himself, as Abram did from the hands of Melchizedek. He was the priest of the Most High God, and he only qualified to do it them. And Christ is he alone who can do it now. And it is a thought, always to be cherished, and never lost sight of, at the Lord’s table, that his perpetual and everlasting ministry was confirmed by oath: “the Lord hath sworn and will not repent, thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek,” (Ps. 110:4).
One word more. Let it not be forgotten, to whom this priest of the Most High God brought forth bread and wine. It was to Abram. Yes! to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. It is the same even to the regenerated church of the Most High God: the ordinance of the holy Supper is brought forth in bread and wine. The blessing of Abram is one to Abram’s seed. There can be no sacramental, no spiritual participation by any other. A dead body might as easily be supposed to receive sustenance from food; as a sinner, dead in trespasses and sins, and unregenerated to a new and spiritual life, to receive benefit from the Lord’s Supper. There may be indeed, (and who shall say how often there is)? a partaking in the outward sign of the bread and the wine, where there is no spiritual communion with the body and blood of Christ. It is possible, in the army of Abram, some were there who were refreshed in body by the bread and wine, and yet had no part nor lot in the matter sacramentally. For all were not Israel, which were of Israel; neither because sprung from Abram after the flesh, were they children of promise. (Rom. 9:6-8). Outward things are nothing. “For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? or what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14).
The Lord, our most glorious King of Salem, and our Melchizedek be with us, on the approaching celebration of the Supper, and bring forth the true spiritual bread and wine of his own body and blood. And may he say to us his redeemed ones, as to his, spouse of old, “Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.” (Song 5:1).
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