Why this article? Readers who are fortunate enough to have been left undisturbed to enjoy the remembrance of the Lord in simplicity will hardly credit the determined attempts which are being made in some quarters to hedge around the Lord’s Supper with all kinds of rules and regulations. If they question the usefulness of going so fully into the question, we ask them to believe that this examination of the subject will be welcomed by many Christians, who are sorely perplexed by efforts to restrict their liberty and regiment their worship, under the plea of closer conformity to the scriptures. Even those who are happily unfamiliar with such efforts, would do well, by careful consideration of what is here discussed, to fortify themselves against possible infiltrations of these devitalizing ideas.

(The accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper should be read, preferably in the Revised Version, Matt. 26. 26-28; Mark 14. 22-24; Luke 22. 19-20; 1 Cor. 11. 23-25.)

Considerable perplexity is created in the minds of Christians by the differing attitudes to the Lord’s Supper which exist not only in Christendom but even amongst assemblies of the Lord’s people. Apart from the wider extremes of refusal to celebrate it at all on the one hand and of making of it a dramatic ritual and a sacrifice on the other, one aspect of truth emphasized at the expense of another produces distortion. The wisdom of the law of Deuteronomy 31 verses 9-13, which calls for periodical restatement, is evident. Uniformity is undesirable, but fresh examination of the circumstances and associations of the institution of the Lord’s Supper are profitable from time to time.

The Passover and the Lord’s Supper

There is a tendency to confuse the Passover with the Lord’s Supper. It was at the Passover meal that the Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper, and that altogether unexpectedly. He took the ordinary bread and the ordinary cup of that meal and adapted them to a new use. Yet, careful distinction between the two is established in our records.

Matthew and Mark distinguish between the use of the loaf for the Lord’s Supper and its use for the Passover by eulogeo, an element in the meaning of which implies consecration. At the same time the idea of consecration must not be exaggerated, because Luke and Paul in parallel accounts say simply that the Lord gave thanks, as He did whenever food was taken, Mark 8. 6; Matt. 15. 36; John. 6. 11, 23, or as any devout person would, Acts 27. 35. What is implied occurs when an ordinary loaf is taken for use at the Lord’s Supper. Luke distinguishes by showing that it was after the Passover Supper and after the Lord said He would not drink of the fruit of the vine that the Lord’s Supper was instituted. No less than five chapters fall between reference to the Passover and the Lord’s Supper in Corinthians, see 5. 7-8; 11. 23. The feast in chapter 5 is the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread and its spiritual counterpart now in a life unleavened with evil.

This distinction emphasizes the replacement of the Passover Supper by the Lord’s Supper, rather than any perpetuation of it in a modified form. The Passover was prospective, and was superseded by that which is retrospective and distinct in both form and object.

The Lord’s Supper and the new covenant

The association between the Lord’s Supper and the New Covenant is one which, though patent in scripture, is largely missed. Indeed, some go so far as to deny that present-day believers are in covenant relation with God. Christ’s words ‘this is my blood of the covenant’ recalled for the eleven men who sat at that last Passover (Judas probably left before the meal ended, John 13. 31), and who knew the Old Testament scriptures, the words of Moses at the institution of the Sinai Covenant, see Exod. 24. 8 and Heb. 9. 20. Consequently, the Lord’s Supper indicates primarily a new legal bond which binds Christians to the Lord and Him to them. Such a bond was originally made in the body and blood of a sacrifice, see Gen. 15. 8-10, 17-18, hence the Hebrew idiom ‘to cut a covenant’. The Lord’s Supper symbolizes the fact that it was in the very body and blood of Christ that this covenant was cut.

Paul’s statement that he and his fellow-servants were ministers of a new covenant is final in evidence that believers now are in covenant relationship with God, see 2 Cor. 3, esp. vv. 5-6. It is this covenant which, as to its better character, 7. 22, its surety, 7. 22, its mediator, 9. 15, its newness, 9. 15, its terms, 8. 10-12, and its everlastingness, 13. 20, is treated of in Hebrews.

This association with this covenant is especially precious and not without its moral effect. Those who celebrate the Lord’s Supper simply and regularly, find that it serves to develop a consciousness of the assurance of salvation. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that where it is not observed, or is corrupted, the ‘falling away’ and other hurtful doctrines obtain. That all four accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper connect it with the New Covenant demonstrates that it is pre-eminently ‘the supper of the covenant’.

The significance of the blood of the covenant

A tendency to limit the range of contemplation at the Lord’s Supper exists and manifests itself in different ways. Some forbid anything but contemplation of Christ in His devotedness to God, the Burnt Offering aspect of His Person and work. Others forbid anything but contemplation of Christ’s perfect character evidenced in His life of purity and grace, the Meal Offering aspect of His Person and work. But the many contrasts between the blood of the Old Covenant and that of the New Covenant show that these restrictions are unwarranted.

The Sinai Covenant was instituted in the blood of Burnt Offerings and Peace Offerings, Exod. 24. 5, but Christ stated that His blood of this covenant was shed for many for the remission of sins, Matt. 26. 28. It was Trespass Offering blood, see Lev. 5. 14 to 6. 7, and note that this sacrifice was connected to the removal of sins. And the shortened account of Christ’s words in Mark with the omission of ‘unto remission of sins’ and the consequent reading ‘for many’, Mark 14. 24, which heightens the idea of persons, shows that the blood of the covenant is Sin Offering blood, see Lev. 4. 1-35, and observe that this sacrifice was that by which forgiveness of persons was secured.

The blood of this New Covenant, therefore, is not only that of Christ in contrast to that of beasts, but it is Trespass Offering and Sin Offering blood in contrast to the blood of the Old Covenant. To prohibit contemplation of Christ’s sufferings for sins during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is opposed to the very words of Christ.

Profound contemplation of Christ’s suffering for sins will produce not only thankfulness for their removal and forgiveness, but will surely develop that love for righteousness and hatred of iniquity which is characteristic of Himself, Ps. 45. 7.

Students of the Offerings will observe that priests were to eat Sin and Trespass Offerings in the Holy Place, Lev. 7. 6. It is noteworthy that failure to do so was one of the first recorded of priests, Lev. 10. 16-20.

Progress of doctrine in the accounts of the Supper

That it would be as wrong to limit thoughts at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper to the Trespass and Sin Offering aspects of Christ’s Person and work, on the one hand, as to the Burnt and Meal Offering aspects on the other, will be seen from the progress of doctrine which is evident in the four accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

The accounts in Matthew and Mark stress the establishment of a covenant and emphasize the foundation thereof in atonement. That in Luke stresses the character and the beneficence of that covenant. He transposes the words blood and covenant, putting the covenant first and adding the adjective ‘new’. Thus he heightens the idea of the covenant itself and the newness of its character. By omitting mention of sins and bringing in the word ‘you’, with its more personal touch than the word ‘many’ of the former accounts, acceptance is suggested. The distinctive feature of the Pauline account is remembrance. This is not mentioned in Matthew or Mark; and in Luke it is of the cup only, but in the Pauline passage of both loaf and cup. The development of ideas appears to be:

Matthew – the covenant and the Trespass Offering;

Mark – the covenant and the Sin Offering;

Luke – the newness of the covenant and its blessings;

Corinthians – the new covenant and the Lord Himself.

Early celebrations of the Lord’s Supper

There is profit in reviewing the early celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. These were less formal and less ecclesiastical than latterly. It was celebrated in Jerusalem in a household way, Acts 2. 46. When partaking of an ordinary household meal, in the same way as the Lord Himself did, they took an ordinary loaf and ordinary cup to remember their Lord in the sweetness of their first love and under the unction of the Holy Spirit freshly imparted by the exalted Christ.

As the new era developed, the celebration seems to pass from the household to the churches. It appears, as Acts 20. 6-12 describes, that a weekly gathering took place, and, whilst this served primarily for the breaking of bread, vv. 7 and 11, it did so also for preaching and for conversation, dialego, v. 7 and homileo, v. 11. Evidence that there were meetings for the breaking of bread exclusively, others for prayer exclusively, and yet others for preaching exclusively, hardly seems apparent in our records. The impression that a fresh unbiased reading of 1 Corinthians 11 to 14 creates is that the same meeting is in mind throughout. It must not be supposed, therefore, that Spirit-led attention to the scriptures on subjects appropriate to the Lord’s Supper is out of place.

The meal at which the Supper was celebrated seems to have been transferred to the churches also, see 1 Cor. 11. 21, 22; Jude 12. Undisciplined behaviour thereat violated the sanctity of the Lord’s Supper. Restraint as to eating, drinking, 11. 21, speaking in tongues, 14. 23, teaching, prophesying, singing, 14. 26, and the proper conduct of women, 14. 34-35 was cast off at Corinth. This section of the epistle, 1 Cor. 11 to 14, was written to regulate these matters, and the regulation of them seems to amount to a prohibition of the meal, 1 Cor. 11. 22, thus making the Lord’s Supper a sacred and central feature of church gathering. The emphasis upon the Lordship of Christ in this passage is very considerable and should be allowed its solemnizing effect.

Subsequent ideas of celebration

From the coarse encroachments upon the Lord’s Supper the pendulum swung over to ecclesiasticism. The mingled formality and meticulousness of Ephesus indicates a tendency, Rev. 2. 2-4, which developed into prescriptions of form and order in the second century. Soon the spirit of sacerdotalism resulted in the theory of transubstantiation, which claims that the bread and wine when consecrated become the actual body and blood of Christ. It also claims that in the act of dissolving the bread in the mouth of the communicant death takes place. Thus the Supper is changed to a sacrifice and, instead of proclaiming the Lord’s death, 1 Cor. 11. 26 RV, parodies its once-for-all character by professing to repeat it interminably.

The priesthood of believers and the Lord’s Supper

It is sometimes said that it is distinctively as priests or as a priesthood, that believers celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This statement should be offset by the fact that the epistles which deal with priesthood, 1 Peter and Hebrews, do not deal with church order, and the epistles which deal with church order especially, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, do not directly mention priesthood. It should also be remembered that gospel service, Rom. 15. 16 RV, the aggregate activities of a Christian community, Phil. 2. 17, the sharing of goods, Heb. 13. 16; Phil. 4. 18, and the offering of praise, Heb. 13. 16, are shown to be spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. It is therefore hardly with propriety that the priesthood of believers is limited to celebration of the Lord supper. Rather is it that because Christian priesthood embraces all else of genuine Christian life it also embraces the Lord’s Supper. Though it appears from 1 Peter 5. 1-6 that organized church life was contemplated by Peter when he wrote, it was not to churches as such that he addressed himself. It was to believers scattered throughout an area at least as large as Great Britain. The one priesthood that he contemplates as functioning must therefore have been, as he says, a spiritual house.

Sometimes the word ‘coming’ is given an ecclesiastical sense, but its use in Hebrews indicates a wider idea and hardly countenances this narrowed sense, see Heb. 7. 25; 10. 1; 11. 6.

A very real difficulty exists in attempting to envisage the functioning of the royal priesthood, 1 Pet. 2. 9, which is the same priesthood in another aspect, in a way in which its members are associated with one another tangibly. The same difficulty appears when attempt is made to envisage believers throughout five Roman provinces meeting together tangibly as a holy priesthood. But when the conception is allowed to be an abstract idea rather than a concrete one the difficulty melts, as it does when it is seen that members of a nation (one of Peter’s co-extensive figures of Christians) can exercise the privileges of citizenship though as far apart as Land’s End and John o’ Groats.

Of the priesthood of believers it has rightly been written:
Tho’ sundered far, by faith they meet,
Around one common mercy-seat.

Although believers in each locality should meet in tangible fashion to break bread and enjoy the privileges of Christian fellowship and priesthood, yet it is not by so meeting that they become a priesthood nor that then only are they a priesthood. They are a priesthood then simply because they are always a priesthood. It follows therefore also that neither is it only those who so meet that form part of this holy and royal priesthood. To exclude genuine believers from the spiritual house and holy priesthood involves denial that they are the people of God.

Modes of address at the Lord’s Supper

As a development of the association of priesthood with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, it is sometimes maintained that priesthood has to do with God as God, and that it is therefore wrong to address Him as the Father. It must be remembered that priesthood could not in the Old Testament be associated with the Father, because He is not revealed therein as such. Nor could it, in the very nature of the case, be in the Epistle to the Hebrews, because those to whom it was written had not yet realized that this present era is distinctively the era of the revelation of the Father. However, the book of Revelation shows unmistakably that all those loosed from their sins are made priests to His ‘God and his Father’, see 1. 6 RV and New Translation. Indeed, since the advent of the Son, worship is characteristically worship of the Father. It is as such that He seeks worshippers. Consequently, address to God as Father may not be forbidden without direct collision with the words of Christ, John. 4. 21-24.

Another development of this conception of priesthood is that address to the Lord Jesus Himself is discountenanced. Although it must be remembered that one aspect of truth is that our approach to God is by the meditorial offices of Christ, it must also be remembered that, at the close of the three greatest writings of John, the Lord Jesus Himself is given significant prominence. When believers were together in a meeting with the Lord in their midst, He was worshipped personally. The record of this fact is intended to be instructive, John. 20. 26-28. Almost the last words of the Bible are addressed to Him, Rev. 22. 20. The close of the First Epistle of John speaks of the Son as the ‘true God and eternal life’. Moreover, the oneness of the Father and the Son excludes setting aside the Father when the Son is addressed. To see the Son is to see the Father, John. 14. 9. And it seems implied also that to honour the Son is to honour the Father, John. 5. 20-23. Furthermore, it is clear that believers will be priests of Christ in the future, Rev. 20. 6. The approach of the saints to the Lord is so sacred that legal prohibitions and regulations of address seem profane. Piety and acquaintance with the scriptures will cultivate spiritual taste and lead to becoming modes of address, as occasion requires.



Introducing a series of studies entitled ‘The assembly as presented in Scripture’.

The Holy Scriptures are written ‘not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth’, 1 Cor. 2. 13. Therefore it is of vital importance in our reading of the scriptures that we weigh well the value of every word.

The term ‘church of God’, is always used in the New Testament to designate a local company of saints gathered together according to the mind of God, and acting in local responsibility to the Lord. We are accustomed to hear the term as if it designated the church of the dispensation but that the Holy Spirit never so uses the expression is certain. The truth of this statement can be very easily tested since the term is used twelve times in the New Testament, and three in its plural form. The fact that we read of the ‘churches of God’ ought to make an end of all controversy as to this, for it is very evident that the term used to speak of the church of the dispensation could not be used in a plural form.

‘The church which is his body’, Eph.1. 22, 23, is inclusive of every true believer in Christ of the whole dispensation since the day of Pentecost, Acts 2, until the coming to the air of the Lord Jesus and the translation to heaven of all the saved. By the baptism in the Spirit, 1 Cor. 12. 12, 13, every believer has been brought into a unity of life eternal in the risen, ascended Lord, enthroned at the right Hand of God. That church is one. Therefore we never read of ‘the churches which are His bodies’. The term ‘church of God’, is used in a plural form, the Holy Spirit thus designating the local companies of the saints.

The constitution of the local assembly

It has been observed that in the Old Testament there was no suggestion of a dwelling of God among men, until there was the type of redemption. As soon as redemption was accomplished for Israel, we read, ‘The Lord is my strength and song … he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation’, Exod. 15. 2. The answer of their Redeemer God to the expressed longing of His redeemed to enjoy His presence among them was, ‘Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them’, Exod. 25. 8.

The same thing is found in the New Testament, but in a more blessed way. In the Epistle to the Romans – the ‘Gospel of God’ epistle of the New Testament – redemption is shown to be accomplished in fact, 3. 24, bringing us into the good of all that has been thus secured for us by our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Epistle to the Corinthians – the ‘Church of God’ epistle of the New Testament – God has found a dwelling among His people. The church of God is constituted of ‘them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus’, 1 Cor. 1. 2. It is still God’s thought for His people, that all His redeemed be gathered together in holy, happy fellowship, acting collectively in local responsibility to the Lord, doing His will according to His word. A careful reading of this epistle will make two things clear:

  1. There were true believers who were not gathered together in the fellowship of the saints designated ‘church of God';
  2. That fact did not make the local company of the saints any less ‘church of God’.

To establish this, let us think of two passages. In chapter 5 the apostle exhorts the saints to excommunicate, because of wicked conduct, one whom he supposes to be truly saved, v. 5. If saved, then he was a member of ‘the church which is his body’, from which he never could be excommunicated. As disciplined for evil behaviour, he was outside ‘the church of God’.

In chapter 14 there is a passage of a different kind. ‘If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all’, vv. 23, 24. It is certain that ‘the unlearned’ of the passage are truly saved persons, but untaught in divine things, and therefore have not taken their place in assembly fellowship with ‘the whole church’. ‘The apostle confirms his argument by the effect that would be produced on strangers who might come into the assembly, or on unenlightened Christians, if they heard languages spoken which no one understood’, JND Synopsis.

The word translated ‘unlearned’, 1 Cor. 14. 16, 23, 24, is used ‘of those who have no knowledge of the facts relating to the testimony borne in and by a local church’, W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary. With such judgement few will be disposed to disagree.

But it still is God’s thought for His people, that all be together, gathered around the Lord, to give expression to His will, in ready obedience to His word, seeking His glory, serving His pleasure. So shall the presence of God among us be manifested in power and grace, and it will be reported of us, ‘God is in you of a truth’.



That Jesus of Nazareth, while being fully Man, was and remains at the same time truly God, is a dogma set forth in classical terms in the great Christian Creeds and Confessions. But on what are these historic formularies founded? We remember the wise words of R. C. Moberley, written fifty years ago in Lux Mundi, ‘Councils, we admit, and creeds, can never go behind, but must wholly rest upon, the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ’. How far, then, are those supreme claims, that Christendom has made on behalf of her Lord, justified by His own authority?

Our space allows us to pick only a few pointers out of many. Take the Sermon on the Mount, for example. Those who heard it were astonished at the authority with which this great Teacher spoke, Matt. 7. 28, 29. So well they might for this was an authority which claimed to set aside what had been said, ‘by them of old time’ and to present a new interpretation of the eternal divine will which should be valid for ever. The scribes based their findings on precedent; the inspired prophets never spoke in their own name, but prefaced their oracles with ‘Thus saith the Lord’; but who is this who simply says, ‘I say unto you'?

More than that, as the great discourse draws to an end, our Lord claims without apology that His teaching is the only stable foundation for human life. ‘Reject My way’, He says in effect, ‘and utter disaster will follow’.

It is our bounden duty to forgive those who sin against us. But how can we forgive people for sins committed against others or against God? Yet this was what Christ did. ‘Son, thy sins be forgiven thee’, He said to the paralysed man; and the bystanders gasped, ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?‘Yes, they were right had they but gone on to draw the necessary inference.

Or, look at His majestic portrayal of the judgement of the nations, Matt. 25. 31-46. Who is this who sits to execute judgement? It is He who bears the title ‘Son of Man’, the title by which He loved to designate Himself. And what is the criterion of judgement? ‘Inasmuch as ye did – or did it not – unto me’! Their personal attitude to Him determines their eternal destiny. What a commentary on His own words reported by John, ‘The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son; that all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father’, John 5. 22, 23. It is God the Father’s purpose, He asserts, that the Son should receive equal honour with Himself. What is this but a claim to divine equality? No wonder that those who heard His words said, ‘Thou, being a man, makest thyself God’, John 10. 33. It was language such as this, extracted from Him under oath at His trial before the Sanhedrim that moved the High Priest to pronounce Him guilty of blasphemy and sentence Him to death. And, by Jewish law, the High Priest acted rightly – unless the claim of the Prisoner at the bar were true. But the possibility of its being true was not considered. His judges considered it untrue, and condemned Him to the cross; God knew that it was true, and raised Him from the dead.

No, whatever we moderns may think, our Saviour’s opponents had no doubt that He claimed equality with God. And they were right in that. But what of His friends and followers? What impression did He make on them? Why, they could find no language too exalted to express His dignity. They went as far as they could go in ascribing divine honours to Him, assured that in doing so they were doing what the Father Himself had done. Was it not written in Isaiah, ‘I am Jehovah, that is my Name and my glory will I not give to another’, Isa. 42. 8? Yet God had raised up Christ to share His throne. And no more striking proof of the apostles’ ascription of deity to Christ can be found than this, that they took passages from the Old Testament which spoke of Jehovah and applied them to Christ. How could these men, orthodox Jews by upbringing, men who confessed daily, ‘Jehovah our God, Jehovah is One’ – how could they possibly transfer Jehovah’s honours to another? Because they knew that He was not really another. So, when Isaiah says, ‘Jehovah of hosts, Him shall ye sanctify’, Isa. 8. 13, Peter by the Spirit, changes the wording slightly and says, ‘Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord’, 1 Pet. 3. 15, and when he says ‘Lord’, he means Jehovah. Or Paul, adapting the words of Jehovah in Isaiah 45 verse 23, says, ‘that in the name (not of Jehovah, but) of Jesus every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord’, Phil 2. 10-11. God says ‘I am Jehovah’ but Paul says, in effect, ‘Jesus Christ is Jehovah’. Is he dethroning the God of the Old Testament? No, for when men thus bow the knee in Jesus’ name and confess that He is Lord, they do so ‘to the glory of God the Father’. When God the Son is thus exalted, God the Father is glorified. For none can so highly exalt the Son as the Father Himself has done..


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