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Union and Communion with Christ
VII. THE SPIRITUAL PARTICIPATION IN THE EMBLEMS AT THE LORD’S TABLE, A DECISIVE TESTIMONY OF A PERSONAL INTEREST IN THE SACRIFICE ITSELF.
“Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of
the sacrifices, partakers of the altar?” 1 Corinthians 10:18
Ordinances, especially those of sacrifices, which were appointed of the Lord under the Jewish dispensation, are shadowy representations of the scripture blessings under the gospel, and of a spiritual nature. They are outward tokens of an inward effect. And the Lord’s Supper in the emblems of bread and wine hath its design in setting forth thereby, the body and blood of Christ. Hence it may be considered a visible gospel, proposed to the eye, as the preaching of the gospel is to the ear, both meaning one and the same, even Christ. He is the substance; they are all shadows. Hence Paul, when writing to the church of the Galatians, reproves the people for their dullness in not apprehending divine things. “O foolish Galatians, (said he) who hath bewitched you that ye should not obey the truth? before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you,” (Gal. 3:1). It is more than probable that not a Galatian had been at Jerusalem, when Christ was crucified; but in the preaching of Christ and him crucified, as was Paul’s way and manner, the Lord of life and glory had been so blessedly set forth in the dignity of his person, and in the completeness and fullness of his salvation, as if they had visibly been present at the cross. And the same is everlastingly done, in all ages of the church; and when God the Holy Ghost gives grace to his servants to preach Christ, and accompanies that preaching by his divine unction, the person and work of Christ are realized to the spiritual view, and Christ “formed in the heart the hope of glory.”
And it is very blessed when, by regeneration, the, spiritual faculties are awakened, and brought forth into spiritual life, to the apprehension and enjoyment of divine things. Not only then the eye is spiritually enlightened to such views of Christ, and the ‘ear unstopped to know the joyful sound; but the mouth is opened to receive and relish the sweet savor of Christ, as is the smell to the fragrance of Christ’s “ointment poured forth.” Hence the Psalmist, having enjoyed those rich things, calls upon the church to partake: “O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him,” (Ps. 34:8). And the prophet exults in the same: “Thy words (said he) were found, and I did eat them, and thy word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of Hosts!” (Jer. 15:16). And the spouse in the Canticles sung her love song to the same; when, in the rapture of her soul’s enjoyment, she said, “I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste,” (Song 2:3). But all these spiritual things presuppose spiritual life and health; for neither can the eye see, nor the ear hear, nor the mouth taste what is divine and spiritual, with natural faculties. The uniform language of scripture on this subject decidedly determines that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, (it is hot said that he will not, but that he cannot) because they are spiritually discerned:” for being in a state of un-renewed nature, he hath no spiritual faculties to discern and receive them by, (1 Cor. 2:14). Until, therefore, by regeneration, or the new birth, we are quickened into a new and spiritual life; though we hear the gospel preached, or behold the Lord’s Supper administered, yea, and partake of the outward signs of the bread and the wine, we have no real spiritual knowledge or enjoyment in the inward effect.
The Lord hath left upon record a striking representation of this, in the strong expostulation made with the church: “Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, when ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me? And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?” (Zech. 7:5-6). The people had no communion with the Lord in these mere forms of worship: “Thou art near in their mouth, (said the prophet,) and far from their reins,” (Jer. 12:2). And, to the same amount are those solemn declarations of our Lord: “Many will say to use in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them I never knew you: depart from me ye that work iniquity,” (Matt: 7:22-23). And yet, if possible, in stronger terms the Lord, in another part of his gospel, thus spake of such men: “Then shall ye begin to say, we have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets; but he shall say, I tell you I know you not whence ye are; depart from me all ye workers of iniquity,” (Luke 13:26-27).
We are awfully taught from those and the like scriptures, that the mere attendance on ordinances and means of grace, by persons un-awakened, un-regenerated, un-renewed in the spirit of their mind, all are nothing. And perhaps it is of all others the most portentous sign of the present day, when men under the specious name of evangelical profession, are earnest to the form, while unconscious of the power of godliness. Such are content with the name to live among men; but while unregenerate they are dead before God: they rest satisfied with the shadow and know nothing of the substance: they take the shell, but never taste the fruit. Judas was like one of those, concerning whom the Lord spake in the scriptures I just now referred to; he had both heard Christ preach, and had eaten and drunk in Christ’s presence; yea, he had gone forth himself to preach, and in common with the other disciples had done many wonderful works: for had he not, the discovery would have been made of the defect, waxen the disciples returned to the Lord Jesus with joy at their success in his name, (Luke 10:17). Nay more-than these, the Lord had washed the feet of Judas, as we read, (John 13) for it was not until this service was over, and the Lord Jesus had taken his garments, and was sat down again, that he first brake the: awful intelligence unto them, that “one of them should betray him,” (ver. 21). Still further, when the Lord Jesus celebrated for the last time the Passover, Judas was a partaker; for we read that “when the hour was come, Jesus sat down and the twelve apostles with him,” consequently Judas was in the number, (Luke 22:14). And as the holy Supper immediately followed the Passover, Judas here also partook; for the Lord Jesus, after having distributed the .sacred elements among them, added, “But behold the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table,” (vv. 17-21). But in the midst of all these things Judas was still Judas, and, as our Lord called him, a devil: “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (John 6:70). And though this example is indeed in the highest and most finished degree of awfulness, yet there is nothing singular in the hypocrisy of the thing itself; it Math been such in all ages from the first, and will continue to the last. We read that “when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, Satan came also among them,” (Job 1:6; Zech. 3:1). And, what have the true spiritual church of Christ to do with this? Did the presence of Judas mar the divine efficacy of the holy Supper to the faithful apostles at the institution? So neither can men nor devils hurt the sweet manifestation of Jesus in the celebration of it now. The conscious presence of the Lord in the Supper, and the spiritual enjoyment of the Lord in those hallowed seasons, will raise the child of God above himself, as well as above sin and Satan, and all the enemies of his salvation. “We are (saith Paul) in all these things more than conquerors, through him that loveth,” (Rom. 8:37).
With these objects in view let us attend to the more immediate portion of the text, and observe what instruction, under the Lord’s teaching, is to be gathered from it. The apostle calls upon the spiritual church of Christ to learn a very gracious lesson, even from the natural un-renewed Israelite, in his attending and eating of the sacrifices offered on the Jewish altar. “Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices, partakers of the altar?” Most unquestionably they are; for they have all that their carnal appetites desire. And shall not then the spiritual partakers of the feast on the sacrifice of the Lord’s Supper, be interested, and take part in all the blissful effects arising out of their union with Christ, their New Testament Altar?
To illustrate this doctrine yet more fully, the apostle had, in the opening of the chapter, stated a very beautiful account of the spiritual church of Christ, distinguished from Israel after the flesh, in shelving- that the people of God, when brought out of Egypt, 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.” But did not the whole body of the children of Israel follow the cloud, and pass through the sea? Yes. And were they not all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea? Yes. But here lay the vast difference, while to “the true Israel of God “the ordinances of baptism, and the spiritual meat and water of the rock became spiritual, and they truly did eye Christ in both; “Israel after the flesh” had no further enjoyment than in the carnal things themselves; and hence the apostle at the close of the statement adds, that “with many of them God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness:” and this is recorded, (Num. 26:64-65; Heb. 3:17).
Here, then, is the picture of the spiritual church of Christ in the wilderness, drawn under the direction of the Holy Ghost, by the pencil of the apostle Paul; in which you see that then, as now, carnal, un-renewed worshippers were mingled. They had the ordinances as we have, in which both professor and profane joined; but while to the spiritual seed of Abraham they became “the savour of life unto life,” to the Israel of the flesh they became “the savour of death unto death.” And in another scripture the Holy Ghost by the same apostle explains the cause: “For they are not all Israel which are of Israel; neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children; but in Isaac shall thy seed be called,” (Rom. 9:6-7). All this is plain and clear in relation to the election of grace. Abraham had his Ishmael, and the sons of Keturah, as well as Isaac; and Isaac had an Esau, as well as Jacob; and no doubt the children all engaged alike in the sacrifices of the household. The sons of Eli also, in an after age of the church, whom the Holy Ghost calls “sons of Belial,” ministered in divine things; for they made themselves fat with the sacrifices: “wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord,” (1 Sam. 2:12-17). To what age of the church shall we look for an exemption of such awful things?
One very interesting point I would beg to call to your attention on this subject, concerning these ordinances of being baptized, and eating, and drinking of spiritual food; namely, that Israel had similar ordinances in those things to ours; for is it not now, the same in the gospel church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper? If it had not been so designed, bow comes it to pass that circumcision and the Passover bad not been pointed at? Circumcision was the most ancient of all rites in the Jewish church; and the Passover was the first ordinance appointed when the church was about to be formed in the Exodus, or coming forth from Egypt and yet neither of these are mentioned. Moreover, Paul tells us, under the teaching of the Holy Ghost, that the church then had the gospel preached unto them, as well as unto us now, (Heb. 4:2). But how was it preached in ordinances, except by baptism, and the eating of the spiritual meat, and drinking of the spiritual drink? And let me further observe in confirmation, that Christ is more than in any other service preached here in the wilderness in this service; for it is not said that, the rock, and the water issuing from the rock, was merely to shadow forth Christ; but that it was Christ himself: for “they drank of that rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.” Now we frequently meet with scriptures which speak of the word of Christ, and the spirit of Christ; but this is stronger than either; for here the rock is said to be Christ himself, and the subject is rendered infinitely more striking thereby: for the mingling of the different characters in ordinances, only tends to discriminate “the precious from the vile.” The whole body of Israel ate of the same spiritual meat, and drank of the same spiritual drink; yea, the very cattle of Israel, no doubt, drank of the water of the rock; but what of that? And what was there more than that in the participation of Israel after the flesh? The Holy Ghost by his servant Jude hath stated this, when speaking of the ungodly, “in the use of those things which they know not, but what they know naturally as brute beasts,” (Jude 10). It is a solemn thing for men un-regenerated, and in a state of nature, to be found in the use of means, and then live and die in the’ vanity of their minds; but here is no injury hereby to the true Israel of God. To use the words of the text, if Israel after the flesh partook of the sacrifices in eating bodily of the things offered on the altar; shall not the members of Christ’s mystical body as truly feed spiritually on Christ by faith? And is it not a direct acknowledgment by such acts, at every renewed celebration of the Lord’s Supper that they consider themselves as truly interested in all the efficacy of that all-sufficient sacrifice of their glorious Head, as if they themselves had offered it?
This then is the subject of our present sacramental meditation. In which I propose as the Lord shall be pleased to enable me, to consider, in the first place, the ground on which the holy Supper is founded, in the glorious person and finished salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ. And when I have performed this service, I shall hope that from an unction from the Holy Ghost, the spiritual church of Christ will then be led to see, and by faith enjoy, such a personal apprehension of right and inheritance, in this incommunicable. salvation of Christ, as to enter into the full participation; that as Israel after the flesh, by eating of the sacrifice, became a partaker of the altar, much more as the Lord Jesus himself hath said, “He that eateth me, even he shall live by me,” (John 6:57).
The subject in this point of view must be confessed to be abundantly precious and important. For on the presumption, that the regenerated child of God, in contemplating Christ, beholds him as his substituted surety and sacrifice; by virtue of this right from an union and oneness with Christ, he is to all intents and purposes implicated in all the benefits of his divine offering: and in the act of receiving, the communicant is considered as saying as much, in the service of the holy Supper.
And what endears this, yet the more is, that as the substitution of Christ for his body the church, is no act of the church, but the sole appointment of God himself in his trinity of persons; so the right of participation, in all the benefits of it, is no less resulting from the free gift of God. There are no provisions, no preparations, no worth, no merit, on the part of man; the Lord that provides the mercy prepares the heart for the mercy. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above!” The receivers are simply receivers, and no more. In themselves they are wholly passive. Salvation, as the light of heaven, or as the air we breathe, are wholly given. It is our mercy to receive the one, and live by the other. The Lord the Holy Ghost be so mercifully gracious with both speaker and hearer on this occasion, that we may “know the things which are freely given to us of God.”
I begin with the first branch of my subject, namely, the ground on which the holy Supper is founded. Now the very substitution of Christ in sacrifice for his people, implies a former breach between God and man; and which this glorious person’ became, as the prophet called him, “the repairer of the breach; the restorer of paths to dwell in,” (Isa. 58:12). This breach arising from sin was wholly on the part of man; for by the Adam-fall transgression, such a desperate state of enmity took place against God in the human heart, as never on man’s part could be healed. The love of God to the persons of his people had no abatement, being an everlasting love, (Jer. 31:3). But to their sins God’s displeasure was manifested, by an intermission of communion. Now all the Holy Three in the Godhead took equal part in the reconciling of the people to the Lord: but one of the divine persons by assuming into union with himself that holy portion of our nature, became the great Surety; and by his obedience and death, accomplished the mighty work, and thereby restored perfect order among the works of God.
I stay not, on the present occasion, to show how, and by what mysterious means, the Lord of life and glory wrought out man’s deliverance: such a subject is too extensive to come within the limits that I must now observe. Let it suffice to say, that by assuming our nature, taking the names and persons of his people, standing in our law room and stead, fulfilling all righteousness, and dying “the just for the unjust, to bring his people to God;” he manifested that he, and he alone, was competent to the mighty work; and fully answered to all the prophecies concerning “the most Holy, who should sell up the vision of prophecy, finish the transgression, make an end of sin, make reconciliation for iniquity, and bring in an everlasting righteousness,” (Dan. 9:24).
Now these sublime truths, with all the other gracious and glorious transactions in the gospel, furnished out the foundation on which the holy Supper of the Lord was instituted, and by the Lord himself. And most certain it is, that to all the redeemed and regenerated people of the Lord, who by divine teaching are enabled to realize these things in their souls; and to behold the substitution of Christ as the church’s surety; to live upon Christ’s person and Christ’s righteousness as the efficient means of salvation, the whole of redemption is confirmed. And from being received into the soul and lived upon, the church is enabled to behold Christ, as the statement of scripture brings him home, for personal enjoyment made of God to the church, “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, that he that glorieth may glory in the Lord,” (1 Cor. 1:30-31).
From this short but plain testimony of the ground on which the holy Supper is founded, it will be easy, under the same divine teaching to discover, in what the spiritual participation of that sacred service consists; namely, in realizing our own personal interest in this substitution of Christ in all that he wrought, and which is set forth in that divine Supper.
For the better apprehension of the subject, allow me to state it somewhat personally. I will, for the sake of illustration, suppose, that under the Lord’s teaching I had received those impressions in my own mind; which I have just stated to you; namely, that the Supper of the Lord is founded on the complete and finished salvation, which the Lord Jesus Christ hath, in his own Almighty person, wrought out for his church and people: and that all the great events included in that high administration, are more or less set forth in that sweet and costly Supper. I call the service both sweet and costly; for as his name is most sweet, so are his divine works; and well may the ordinance which sets it forth be considered costly, since the “precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot,” is therein represented.
I will suppose myself attending this sacred service, full of those ideas. I behold him there set forth as the complete substitution for his people. All my iniquities, and all my transgressions, and all my sins, having been laid upon him; I consider myself as so wholly and completely delivered from them, as though I had never been born in sin, neither committed a single transgression; but the whole charged on him as the mighty burden-bearer of all. I behold him also, completely “putting away sin by the sacrifice of himself,” (Heb. 9:26): and “by that one offering of himself once offered, perfecting for ever them that are sanctified,” (Heb. 10:14).
But this is not all. As my sins, both original and actual, had justly subjected me to eternal death; I behold Christ in the sacred Supper, as having fathomed all the depths of pain, and suffering for those sins: taken out the sting of sin in the first death, and drunk up all the dregs of misery in the second; and by being “made both sin and a curse “for his people, hath redeemed them from the whole by the substitution of himself, and “forever delivered them from the wrath to come!”
Neither are these all the soul comforting views which I see and participate in at the holy Supper. I go further by divine illumination into the discovery of the blessings which so graciously are set forth at the Lord’s Table. For as sin had made such a deadly breach by the natural enmity of my heart against God, and “my iniquities,” as the Lord saith, “had separated me from my God,” (Isa. 59:2); here I behold my God and Saviour bringing me nigh by his blood, “even the blood of his cross,” and restoring peace to my soul in being himself my peace, whom though he “knew no sin was made sin for me, that I might be made the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Cor. 5:21).
And lastly, to crown all: I behold myself by the salvation of Christ set forth at his table, not only delivered from sin and all its tremendous consequences, but by regeneration I am brought into the privileges of my adoption character, and sit down among the followers of God as dear children. I take my place at the Lord’s Table as one of the family; and enjoy that holy familiarity of going in and out at my Father’s house, and find pasture: the Spirit “witnessing with my spirit that I am a child of God. These are among the distinguishing characters of what is implied in a true spiritual enjoyment of the Lord’s people at the Lord’s Table. And as Israel after the flesh, by eating of the sacrifices, partook of all that belonged to their carnal apprehensions; how sure is it, that to all spiritual partakers of the Lord’s Supper, they are receivers of all that the Lord Jesus intended for them, by this gracious institution. Such may well say, and indeed ought to 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. 10:16).
I must not trespass. Indeed I need not upon the present occasion go further. The death of Christ which is set forth at the Lord’s Table proclaims in terms not to be mistaken, the state of sin which made that death necessary. And the infinite value and efficacy of that death, as fully proclaims the fullness and completeness of salvation, accomplished thereby in the sole person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every partaker of these holy mysteries, however short and defective in his own view of a suited frame for receiving, here finds alike preparation with all; namely, a deep sense of sin, and as deep a sense of the suitableness and all-sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for redemption. With these impressions wrought by sovereign grace on the soul, there can be no prevention to the right use of the ordinance: and without them, there can be no real enjoyment. A soul unconvinced of sin, can have no more to do with the Lord’s Supper, than a dead man hath with food, the deaf with sound, or the blind with colors.
I only add a prayer for the whole spiritual church of Christ; as Hezekiah besought the like blessing for the church in his day, saying: “The good Lord pardon everyone that prepared his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.”
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