24.Having given thanks. Paul observes elsewhere, that every gift that we receive from the hand of God
is sanctified to us by the word and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:5.)
Accordingly, we nowhere read that the Lord tasted bread along with his disciples, but there is mention made of his giving thanks, (John 6:23,) by which example he has assuredly instructed us to do the like. This giving of thanks, however, has a reference to something higher, for Christ gives thanks to the Father for his mercy (674) towards the human race, and the inestimable benefit of redemption; and he invites us, by his example, to raise up our minds as often as we approach the sacred table, to an acknowledgment of the boundless love of God towards us, and to have our minds kindled up to true gratitude. (675)
Take, eat, this is my body As Paul designed here to instruct us in a few words as to the right use of the sacrament, it is our duty to consider attentively (676) what he sets before us, and allow nothing to pass unobserved, inasmuch as he says nothing but what is exceedingly necessary to be known, and worthy of the closest attention. In the first place, we must take notice, that Christ here distributes the bread among the Apostles, that all may partake of it in common, and thus every one may receive his portion, that there may be an equal participation among all. Accordingly, when there is not a table in common prepared for all the pious — where they are not invited to the breaking of bread in common, and where, in fine, believers do not mutually participate, it is to no purpose that the name of the Lord ’s Supper is laid claim to.
But for what purpose (677) are the people called to mass, unless it be that they may come away empty from an unmeaning show? (678) It has, therefore, nothing in unison with the supper. Hence, too, we infer that Christ’s promise is no more applicable to the mass than to the feast of the Salii; (679) for when Christ promises that he will give us his body, he at the same time commands us to take and eat of the bread Hence, unless we obey this command, it is to no purpose that we glory in his promise. To explain this more familiarly in other words — the promise is annexed to the commandment in a conditional way, as it were: hence it has its accomplishment only if the condition also is accomplished. For example, it is written, Call upon me; I will answer thee (Psalms 91:15.) It is our part to obey the command of God, that he may accomplish for us what he promises; otherwise we shut ourselves out from the accomplishment of it. (680)
What do Papists do? They neglect participation, and consecrate the bread for a totally different purpose, and in the meantime they boast that they have the Lord’s body. While, by a wicked divorce, they
put asunder those things which Christ has joined together,
it is manifest that their boasting is vain. Hence, whenever they bring forward the clause — This is my body, we must retort upon them the one that immediately precedes it — Take and eat For the meaning of the words is: “By participating in the breaking of bread, according to the order and observance which I have prescribed, you shall be participants also in my body.” Hence, when an individual eats of it by himself, the promise in that case goes for nothing. Besides, we are taught in these words what the Lord would have us do. Take, says he. Hence those that offer a sacrifice to God have some other than Christ as their authority, for we are not instructed in these words to perform a sacrifice.
But what do Papists say as to their mass? At first they were so impudent as to maintain, that it was truly and properly called a sacrifice. Now, however, they admit that it is indeed a commemorative sacrifice, but in such a way, that the benefit of redemption is, through means of their daily oblation, (681) applied to the living and the dead. However that may be, they present the appearance of a sacrifice. (682) In the first place, there is rashness in this, as being without any command from Christ; but there is a still more serious error involved in it — that, while Christ appointed the Supper for this purpose, that we might take and eat, they pervert it to a totally different use.
This is my body I shall not recount the unhappy contests that have tried the Church in our times as to the meaning of these words. Nay rather, would to God that we could bury the remembrance of them in perpetual oblivion! I shall state, first of all, sincerely and without disguise, and then farther, I shall state freely (as I am wont to do) what my views are. Christ calls the bread his body; for I set aside, without any disputation, that absurd contrivance, that our Lord did not exhibit the bread to the Apostles, but his body, which they beheld with their eyes, for it immediately follows — This cup is the New Testament in my blood Let us regard it then as beyond all controversy that Christ is here speaking of the bread. Now the question is — “In what sense?” That we may elicit the true meaning, we must hold that the expression is figurative; for, assuredly, to deny this is exceedingly dishonest. (683) Why then is the term body applied to the bread? All, I think, will allow that it is for the same reason that John calls the Holy Spirit a dove (John 1:32.) Thus far we are agreed. Now the reason why the Spirit was so called was this — that he had appeared in the form of a dove. Hence the name of the Spirit is transferred to the visible sign. Why should we not maintain that there is here a similar instance of metonymy, and that the term body is applied to the bread, as being the sign and symbol of it? If any are of a different opinion they will forgive me; but it appears to me to be an evidence of a contentious spirit, to dispute pertinaciously on this point. I lay it down, then, as a settled point, that there is here a sacramental form of expression, (684) in which the Lord gives to the sign the name of the thing signified.
We must now proceed farther, and inquire as to the reason of the metonymy. Here I reply, that the name of the thing signified is not applied to the sign simply as being a representation of it, but rather as being a symbol of it, (685) by which the reality is presented to us. For I do not allow the force of those comparisons which some borrow from profane or earthly things; for there is a material difference between them and the sacraments of our Lord. The statue of Hercules is called Hercules, but what have we there but a bare, empty representation? On the other hand the Spirit is called a dove, as being a sure pledge of the invisible presence of the Spirit. Hence the bread is Christ ’s body, because it assuredly testifies, that the body which it represents is held forth to us, or because the Lord, by holding out to us that symbol, gives us at the same time his own body; for Christ is not a deceiver, to mock us with empty representations. (686) Hence it is regarded by me as beyond all controversy, that the reality is here conjoined with the sign; or, in other words, that we do not less truly become participants in Christ’s body in respect of spiritual efficacy, than we partake of the bread.
We must now discuss the manner. Papists hold forth to us their system of transubstantiation: they allege that, when the act of consecration has been gone through, the substance of the bread no longer exists, and that nothing remains but the accidents. (687) To this contrivance we oppose — not merely the plain words of Scripture, but the very nature of the sacraments. For what is the meaning of the supper, if there is no correspondence between the visible sign and the spiritual reality? They would have the sign to be a false and delusive appearance of bread. What then will the thing signified be, but a mere imagination? Hence, if there must be a correspondence between the sign and its reality, it is necessary that the bread be real — not imaginary — to represent Christ’s real body. Besides, Christ’s body is here given us not simply, but as food. Now it is not by any means the color of the bread that nourishes us, but the substance. In fine, if we would have reality in the thing itself, there must be no deception in the sign.
Rejecting then the dream of Papists, let us see in what manner Christ’s body is given to us. Some explain, that it is given to us, when we are made partakers of all the blessings which Christ has procured for us in his body — when, I say, we by faith embrace Christ as crucified for us, and raised up from the dead, and in this way are effectually made partakers of all his benefits. As for those who are of this opinion, I have no objection to their holding such a view. As for myself, I acknowledge, that it is only when we obtain Christ himself, that we come to partake of Christ’s benefits. He is, however, obtained, I affirm, not only when we believe that he was made an offering for us, but when he dwells in us — when he is one with us — when we are members of his flesh, (Ephesians 5:30,) — when, in fine, we are incorporated with him (so to speak) into one life and substance. Besides, I attend to the import of the words, for Christ does not simply present to us the benefit of his death and resurrection, but the very body in which he suffered and rose again. I conclude, that Christ’s body is really, (as the common expression is,) — that is, truly given to us in the Supper, to be wholesome food for our souls. I use the common form of expression, but my meaning is, that our souls are nourished by the substance of the body, that we may truly be made one with him, or, what amounts to the same thing, that a life-giving virtue from Christ’s flesh is poured into us by the Spirit, though it is at a great distance from us, and is not mixed with us. (688)
There now remains but one difficulty — how is it possible that his body, which is in heaven, is given to us here upon earth? Some imagine that Christ’s body is infinite, and is not confined to any one space, but fills heaven and earth, (Jeremiah 23:24,) like his Divine essence. This fancy is too absurd to require refutation. The Schoolmen dispute with more refinement as to his glorious body. Their whole doctrine, however, reduces itself to this — that Christ is to be sought after in the bread, as if he were included in it. Hence it comes, that the minds of men behold the bread with wonderment, and adore it in place of Christ. Should any one ask them whether they adore the bread, or the appearance of it, they will confidently agree that they do not, but, in the mean time, when about to adore Christ, they turn to the bread. They turn, I say, not merely with their eyes, and their whole body, but even with the thoughts of the heart. Now what is this but unmixed idolatry? But that participation in the body of Christ, which, I affirm, is presented to us in the Supper, does not require a local presence, nor the descent of Christ, nor infinite extension, (689) nor anything of that nature, for the Supper being a heavenly action, there is no absurdity in saying, that Christ, while remaining in heaven, is received by us. For as to his communicating himself to us, that is effected through the secret virtue of his Holy Spirit, which can not merely bring together, but join in one, things that are separated by distance of place, and far remote.
But, in order that we may be capable of this participation, we must rise heavenward. Here, therefore, faith must be our resource, when all the bodily senses have failed. When I speak of faith, I do not mean any sort of opinion, resting on human contrivances, as many, boasting of faith on all occasions, run grievously wild on this point. What then? You see bread — nothing more — but you learn that it is a symbol (690) of Christ’s body. Do not doubt that the Lord accomplishes what his words intimate — that the body, which thou dost not at all behold, is given to thee, as a spiritual repast. It seems incredible, that we should be nourished by Christ’s flesh, which is at so great a distance from us. Let us bear in mind, that it is a secret and wonderful work of the Holy Spirit, which it were criminal to measure by the standard of our understanding. “In the meantime, however, drive away gross imaginations, which would keep thee from looking beyond the bread. Leave to Christ the true nature of flesh, and do not, by a mistaken apprehension, extend his body over heaven and earth: do not divide him into different parts by thy fancies, and do not adore him in this place and that, according to thy carnal apprehension. Allow him to remain in his heavenly glory, and aspire thou thither, (691) that he may thence communicate himself to thee.” These few things will satisfy those that are sound and modest. As for the curious, I would have them look somewhere else for the means of satisfying their appetite.
Which is broken for you Some explain this as referring to the distribution of the bread, because it was necessary that Christ’s body should remain entire, as it had been predicted, (Exodus 12:46,) A bone of him shall not be broken As for myself — while I acknowledge that Paul makes an allusion to the breaking of bread, yet I understand the word broken as used here for sacrificed — not, indeed, with strict propriety, but at the same time without any absurdity. For although no bone was broken, yet the body itself having been subjected, first of all, to so many tortures and inflictions, and afterwards to the punishment of death in the most cruel form, cannot be said to have been uninjured. This is what Paul means by its being broken This, however, is the second clause of the promise, which ought not to be passed over slightly. For the Lord does not present his body to us simply, and without any additional consideration, but as having been sacrificed for us. The first clause, then, intimates, that the body is presented to us: this second clause teaches us, what advantage we derive from it — that we are partakers of redemption, and the benefit of his sacrifice is applied to us. Hence the Supper is a mirror which represents to us Christ crucified, so that no one can profitably and advantageously receive the supper, but the man who embraces Christ crucified.
Do this in remembrance of me. Hence the Supper is a memorial, ( μνημόσυνον (692)) appointed as a help to our weakness; for if we were sufficiently mindful of the death of Christ, this help would be unnecessary. This is common to all sacraments, for they are helps to our weakness. What is the nature of that remembrance which Christ would have us cherish with regard to him, we shall hear presently. As to the inference, however, which some draw from this — that Christ is not present in the Supper, because a remembrance applies to something that is absent; the answer is easy — that Christ is absent from it in the sense in which the Supper is a commemoration. For Christ is not visibly present, and is not beheld with our eyes, as the symbols are which excite our remembrance by representing him. In short, in order that he may be present with us, he does not change his place, but communicates to us from heaven the virtue of his flesh, as though it were present. (693)