In our first paper, we considered the breaking of bread in relation to spiritual priorities in the activity of a local assembly. We examined the scriptural authority for the practice of breaking bread, and also discussed the dual name “breaking of bread” and “the Lord’s supper”. Finally we dealt with the timing, showing that the “evening” and the “night” correspond more particularly to the dark moral conditions on the outside while the Lord’s people enjoy the light of Christ within.
Consider the following two verses: “when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him”, Luke 22. 14; “when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve”, Matt. 26. 20. The difference - they sat down where He was, and He sat down where they were - is not coincidental or irrelevant. In the Old Testament, the approach to God was of a physical nature - this answers to Luke 22. 14, in which the Old Testament economy was terminated by this last Passover feast. For example, Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was, Exod. 20. 21; Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, 19. 17; all who sought the Lord went out to the tabernacle that Moses had placed outside the camp, 33. 7; “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord”, Psa. 122. 1. In the New Testament, the wise men. Matt. 2. 11. and the shepherds, Luke 2. 15-16, likewise came to the place where the Lord was. But in readiness for the time when the Lord would be back in heaven and when there would be no open vision, He introduced faith to replace sight. Hence Luke 22. 14 is altered in Matthew 26. 20 so as to be suitable for the meeting for the breaking of bread. Now we see Him not, and He comes where His people are gathered, in keeping with the scriptures: “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”, Matt 18 20; “when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled … came Jesus and stood in the midst”, John 20. 19, 26; “we will come unto him, and make our abode with him”, 14. 23; “when … they were all with one accord in one place” the Holy Spirit came upon them, Acts 2. 1. When His own are gathered in His Name apart from the world, then He in grace and love comes in unseen amongst them. Hence, are we gathered reverently without haste and awaiting the blessed sense of His presence, or do some rush in at the last minute as if inviting the Lord to have to enter quickly after them as a brother is giving out the opening hymn? “My brethren, these things ought not so to be”, James 3. 10.
It may appear that what we have been stressing is reversed again in the Epistle to the Hebrews. But this is not really so, for this Epistle still uses the types of the Old Testament, which must then be properly interpreted in the light of New Testament conditions. We may quote, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace”, Heb. 4. 16; “boldness to enter… let us draw near”, 10. 19, 22.
Scripture has given us but one pattern in this matter. If we believe that Acts 2. 42, “they continued stedfastly … in breaking of bread”, provides us with this pattern, then we must also believe that the participants are also found in that immediate context, namely they had repented, believed, had been baptized and added, accepting the apostles’ teaching and continuing in fellowship with those likeminded and who had also passed through the same experiences, These men had both faith and light; faith without light was not contemplated. Confusion in practice and dissipation into denominational groupings have arisen over the centuries, having blinded the minds of many believers to the true pattern. If the door is open to faith only, then there may enter those with many an unworthy motive, such as convenience, curiosity, communion-tasting and experimentation, manifested by some who are wandering stars of no settled abode or orbit. If the stress is instead placed upon light, then there may quickly develop what is commonly known as exclusivism. Clearly it is not one or the other; rather Acts 2 shows that both are to be taken together. We admit that the judgment of responsible brethren in different localities tends to differ; the balance between faith and light may be held in different degrees. In any given case, the honour of the Lord must primarily be considered, together with the spirituality of the local assembly; there must be weighed the state of the intending participant, whether he views all aspects of Acts 2. 42 to be important. Of course, no action must be taken that would stumble a weak brother, else he may be lost as far as concerns knowing the way of God more perfectly.
Firstly and prominently we come to remember the Lord Jesus and to show forth His death, Luke 22. 19, 1 Cor. 11. 24-26. Thus we do not come together to remember our own sins or worthlessness; we should have examined and judged ourselves prior to our coming together, 1 Cor. 11. 28-31. We do not consider our own salvation or blessings in a personal or selfish way. We do not engage in preaching or exposition or exhortation prior to breaking the bread, though Scripture readings and comments directly connected with worship and the Lord’s Person and work are not out of place. We are not present to discuss why we are present; if a believer is present not knowing why he is there, then that shows a great spiritual poverty in “the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship”. Neither are we there to sing hymns after having thumbed through the hymnbook for a favourite hymn on a particular topic. Neither are we there to display our own personal idiosyncracies which distract the saints, for we are there to speak with the mouth of the assembly in the sense that we “may with one mind and one mouth glorify God”, Rom. 15. 6. Thus if an assembly consistently uses the pronoun “Thou” in addressing Deity, it hardly seems consistent with the one mouth for a brother to go against the exercises of the assembly by using the plural form “You”. Neither is it fair for a brother to mumble his words, knowing that elsewhere in the hall there are elderly believers hard of hearing. No, instead of all these practices, ideas and oddities, spiritual liberty under the control of the Holy Spirit will lead us to Christ Himself and to His death. The symbols take our hearts to this; so should our words. Thus in contemplating His body, we think of “a body … prepared”, Heb. 10. 5; of “the temple of his body”, John 2. 21; of Himself bearing “our sins in his own body on the tree”, 1 Pet, 2. 24; of that body that was offered, Heb. 10. 10; of His body glorified, Phil. 3. 21.
The actual act of breaking the bread and partaking of the cup does not take long, so the hour in which we tarry in His presence can be occupied with exercises that are completely consistent with our objective. That is why worship is properly associated so closely with the breaking of bread. For in worship we contemplate the Person of the Lord. In the Old Testament the act of worship was the offering of the burnt offering, but from David’s time there also developed the cognate exercise of “the songs of the Lord”, 1 Chron. 25. 6-8. In other words, there was an act of the hands coupled with something from the heart. So much so that in the days of Hezekiah, “when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also”, 2 Chron. 29. 27. The antitype is, of course, not identical with the type, and the song today does not embrace only the vocal singing of hymns, but every expression silently and openly of worship in voice and heart, namely, “the sacrifice of praise to God … the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name”, Heb. 13. 15
It was night when they sung a hymn or psalm and went into the mount of Olives, Matt. 26. 30. Morally, the utmost conditions of darkness abounded on the outside as the Lord and His disciples stepped out of the upper room. The psalmist said, “in the night his song shall be will me”. Psa. 42 8, while he went with the multitudes to the house of God, v. 4 Asaph said, “I call to remembrance my song in the night”, confessing that God’s way was in the sanctuary, Psa. 77. 6, 13. The Lord’s servants stood by night in the house of the Lord as they lifted up their hands in the sanctuary to bless God, Psa. 134. 1-2. While finally, it was during the night that the shepherds heard the heavenly praise concerning the Christ who had just been born, and they went into the stable in Bethlehem to see the Child, thereby turning it into the house of God while the heavenly Babe was there, Luke 2. 8-20. In verses such as these we see our own position as those who worship in the light of the inner sanctuary, while night conditions fill the hearts of men on the outside.
We break the bread, showing “the Lord’s death till he come”, 1 Cor. 11. 26. In other words, the physical symbols are employed only until the coming of the Lord Jesus. We partake, therefore, in the conscious realization that the Lord will terminate the sojourn of His people on earth, introducing us into His presence when we shall see Him face to face. (Note, we serve until He comes, Luke 19. 13; we remain faithful till He come, Rev. 2. 25; we have constant anticipation in following Him till He come, John 21. 22.)
Activity in the light of His return is also connected with the other features in Acts 2. 42, as the reader can search out in the Scriptures.
The heart-occupation with the coming of the Lord, and with the glorious changes that this coming will bring, are often stressed. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy (singing, marg.) cometh in the morning”, Psa. 30. 5, is an anticipation as the saints sing unto the Lord, giving thanks at the remembrance of His holiness, v. 4. Mourning turns into dancing, and sackcloth into gladness at that day, v. 11. This anticipation takes the heart to the time when “the day break, and the shadows flee away”. Song 2. 17, namely when “the bright and morning star” appears to His people, Rev. 22. 16.
Morally, we are not of the night nor of darkness, 1 Thess. 5. 5; “The night is far spent, the day is at hand”, so we cast off the works of darkness, putting on the “armour of light”, Rom. 13. 12. Such conditions while we break the bread, and throughout our lives, prepare us for that time above when “there shall be no night there”. Rev. 21. 25.
It is not out of place to conclude these articles by reference to the sadder side, since Paul devotes a lengthy section to this in 1 Corinthians 11. 17-34. Originally, he had given them what he had “received of the Lord”, v 23. Yet in his subsequent absence, they had changed the character of the gathering so much, that what they were doing was no longer “to eat the Lord’s supper”, v. 20. It had become an immoral social gathering, for the Corinthians were thinking of themselves, using the occasion as an ordinary meal to satisfy their hunger, and using the wine for the purpose of becoming drunk. This avaricious character can be seen in Judas, John 12. 6; Luke 22. 5. Both Judas and the Corinthians were guilty of the body and blood of Christ in different senses Compare Hophni and Phinehas, whose lust for roast meat caused them to steal the sin offering (which had to be boiled) so as to roast it to satisfy their own taste and appetite, 1 Sam. 2. 12-17. In other words, they manipulated the offerings of God to their own end, as did the Corinthians, and as has been done by Christendom throughout the centuries of the church age. Such violence against the will of God brought about His swift judgment, “not discerning the Lord’s body”, 1 Cor. 11. 29. How necessary, then, that Paul should have set these things in order, v. 34, but alas, so few have taken heed to his corrective ministry who. with faith and light, break the bread in remembrance of the Lord until He come.