THE book of Revelation sets forth a picture as well of the Church as of the world. Its picture of the world waits till time shall lift the curtain which conceals it. But its view of the Church is neither obscure nor transitory; we see there Christ our Lord exhibited as the never-ending object of Christian worship. Though angels, and saints, and the whole hierarchy of unseen realities were included in the reach of the Apostle's vision, yet to them we hear no prayers addressed, whereas "every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever."
And this worship is not paid to Christ merely as the Eternal Word, but as the Word Incarnate. He appears before us as "the Lamb that was slain." His human nature is partaker of the honour.
Now hence we may pass to another consideration, that as Christ, regarded as the Incarnate Word, is directly worshipped, so with the same fulness of meaning is God worshipped through Christ. All the service which man owes to God, is presented through Him who is partaker of man's nature. "Thou hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood," did St. John hear as the voice of all Christian people, "and hast made us unto our God kings and priests." And this is the especial point to which your attention is invited to-day; let me beg your thoughts to be fixed upon it. By virtue of His humanity is Christ the perpetual intercessor for His people. Two important truths are implied in these words: 1. as to the parties for whom Christ intercedes; and 2. as to the principle of His intercession. He intercedes for His people; and their acceptance is by reason of that sacrifice which through His man's nature He wrought once upon the cross. For though this sacrifice was offered at once, yet is it pleaded for ever. "He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." If He is a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek, so is He for ever the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. He has not in anywise laid aside His man's nature, and through it does He intercede for His brethren.
Now these two things, i. e. the principle of our Lord's intercession, and the parties who profit by it, are intimately bound together by this circumstance, that as Christ's humanity is the only means of intercession, so it is a means which avails to none, save those who through the same humanity are united to Himself. For it is the very description of Christian people, that they are members of Christ's body, of His flesh, and of His bones. And this union with Christ's nature is of course brought about through His humanity; for He took our nature before we could take His. And "both He that sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified, are all of one; for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren." But when we speak of Christians as Christ's body, we speak of that body mystical which is made up of all His faithful followers in earth and heaven; whereas, when Christ's intercession is alluded to, we refer to that exalted office which He discharges at God's right hand by virtue of that very body which suffered on the cross. And hence a mysterious relation between Christ as He is in Himself, and Christ as He is manifest in His servants. For the sake of that natural body which died on the cross, is His mystical body, the Church, accepted of the Father. Through the virtue of His body which was slain, does He plead for His body which is sanctified. And not only so, but all the obedience and worship of all Christian people, their prayers and tears, their efforts and aspirations, whatsoever from the hidden fervency of a contrite heart, in public rite or private service, they address to God; it is by union only with Christ's one oblation, that all can be accepted. ""We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus." "The whole estate of the redeemed," writes St. Austin, "is presented to God as an universal sacrifice by its great High Priest, who offered Himself for us in His passion, that so we might be portions of His body."
Nay, we may go farther, and say that as He mercifully associates Himself to our acts, so does He allow us to associate ourselves in His. For if we be truly members of Christ, what is there to which we are not intimately bound? Even that most exalted office which He discharges at His Father's right hand, has He not appointed a means whereby we on earth may be almost said to share in it? For is not His intercession the perpetual pleading of His death? Is He not always the Lamb which was slain? And does not the Church teach us that the Holy Communion was instituted for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ, as well as of the benefits which we receive thereby? And do not we read therefore in St. Paul, that "as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come?"
Here, then, we may pause for a moment to observe how much that system of truth, which the Church received from the inspired Apostles, transcends the carnal philosophy of the age. It is a common feeling, that since Christ has died for man's sake, therefore the mere use of His name is a sure passport to heaven: men look on it like the seven sons of Sceva, as a sort of charm, which may be laid hold of and used at will by those who are not members of His family. Whereas, the Church of Christ has ever taught that it is impossible to call effectually upon the name of Christ, unless we are united to Him. We are "called to the peace of God in one body." What Christ our Lord suffered in His flesh, He suffered for the sake of all His members; if we would partake, therefore, in the benefits of His death, we must be truly members of His body; we must be united to it, not by a figurative, but by a real union; as real as our union with the first man Adam, must be our union with Christ the second. We must actually "be found in Him;" and unless we are so, we have no part in that one sacrifice of His crucified humanity, which He is now pleading for His elect before the throne of God.
How unhappy they, who, though calling themselves Christians, are yet untaught in this great mystery of Christ's intercession! How much worse their state than that of the blind man, to whom the earthly magnificence of God's ancient temple was an idle splendour! For is Christ at the right hand of God, continually presenting His people's offerings; is the whole congregation of the elect His mystic body; is their worship one worship (though in different tongues and among different nations); is there one Lord, one faith, one baptism; do they make up the temple of the living God; and can there be worse blindness than to be insensible to this glorious spectacle? But how, then, are we to partake in this worship of the collective Church? how must we join in this great sacrifice? How do we become parts, i.e. in the one mystical body of Christ our Lord, for which He is perpetually pleading at His Father's right hand? Now this, St. Paul teaches us, is effected through sacraments: "We, being many, are one bread and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread." And again, the Church teaches us to render thanks to God, who "doth thereby assure us that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of Christ." This consequence is brought about in the Holy Communion; because by it the purified humanity of the Son of God becomes the source of grace to the defiled humanity of His creatures. Through this ordinance our souls are "strengthened and refreshed by the body and blood of Christ, as our bodies are by the bread and wine." We obtain that inward and spiritual thing, "the body and blood of Christ, which are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lord's Supper." For "then," according to our Church's interpretation of the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel, do "we spiritually eat the flesh of Christ, and drink His blood." [Communion Service.] Now the benefits of the Holy Communion divide themselves naturally into two parts. On the one hand, the Church reminds us that it is to be regarded as "our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving;" while on the other it is "the sacrament of the Lord's Supper." Yet, whether we view it as a sacrifice or a sacrament, Christ is still the actor; whether He gives Himself sacramentally for His people's support, or makes intercession for them sacrificially at His Father's right hand. I. Let us first, then, review shortly the gift which Christ bestows on us in that Holy Sacrament. Now to estimate this gift we must observe, that by virtue of His humanity does Christ become a new head to man's race. For "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." It is a most mysterious, and yet most certain truth, that with our first father Adam all mankind are united. He is truly in us by fleshly form, by spiritual disposition, by the tempers, talents, affections, and concupiscence of our body and mind. The same portions of matter, indeed, which were in him, are not, that we know, in his descendants; but by some miraculous law of sameness, the very nature which was in him has passed to all his progeny. This is the law of natural descent. Now what St. Paul tells us plainly is, that we have an exact counterpart in the law of spiritual generation. At the head of the one race stands the man Adam; at the head of the other, the man Jesus Christ. The one is transmitted by birth, and sustained by nourishment; the second is born in the one sacrament, and fed by the other. For God supports life natural by earthly meat; but life supernatural by that true manna which comes down from heaven. "The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." And herein lies the mystery of the Holy Communion; that by it this quickening principle is dispensed to devout souls. For therein it is, according to our Prayer Book, that we "eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood." By it, says St. Paul, "we are one body." "This is the bread that cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die."
Now all this, let it be observed, is perfectly consistent with the truth so plainly stated by our Church, that "the natural body and blood of Christ are in heaven," and likewise that the bread and wine, which are the means to us of this holy feast, "remain still in their very natural substances." There is no removal of the portions of matter which lie on God's board before us; there is no substitution of other particles for those of bread and wine: such alteration, whether men call it by the term Transubstantiation, or by any other word, does our Church reject as a novel and unscriptural explanation of a work which is unknown and mysterious. No: Christ our Lord is present indeed, and present by the power of His humanity; but His presence, to use the words of Hooker, is one of "grace and efficacy." He is present in and through the consecrated elements, as the cause of their being what they truly are. And such presence is surely sufficiently wonderful. "Is not the miracle great," exclaimed Bishop Ridley, "when bread, which is wont to sustain the body, becometh food to the soul?" By this means, then, does Christ bestow Himself among all generations of mankind: thus may the progeny of the new Adam be as multiplied as the descendants of the old one: as wide as is the race of man may the family of the elect be extended: as Adam's race is infinite, so likewise is Christ's. But how vast the contrast! The one the parent of sin, misery, and ruin; the other blessing men by the infinite stores of grace. The seed of the first continually degenerating, as temptation multiplies, sin strengthens, opportunities increase; the seed of the second returning back towards that Divine original, from which Adam by transgression fell. For the first man is of the earth, earthy; but the second man is the Lord from heaven.
Now, upon the reality of the Holy Communion as a sacrament, is built its significance as a sacrifice. By a sacrifice is meant any offering, either material or immaterial, which is presented, either to obtain favour or testify thanks, from man to God. "Let my prayer be set forth in Thy sight as the incense; and let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice." But such sacrifices are of small account, unless what is presented be of real value. Now, strictly speaking, there is but one sacrifice of real intrinsic value, which ever was, or can be, presented to God,--that great sacrifice upon the cross, which is continually pleaded before the throne of God in the intercession of Christ. This is the only sacrifice of independent substantive value; for since all things are God's before, we can contribute nothing to the unlimited relations of His infinite perfection. For "all things come of Thee; and of Thine own have we given Thee." Even the best affections and desires of men and angels can be precious only because borrowing from the source of all: for the heavens are not pure in His sight, and He chargeth His angels with folly. It was only, therefore, when God became man,--when what was human was raised to infinite value, by being united to what was Divine, that an earthly sacrifice could possess real cost,---that the presents of man could have intrinsic and positive acceptance. "Wherefore, when He cometh into the world, He saith, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not; but a body hast Thou prepared Me." If this, then, be the only real sacrifice, which was offered once upon the cross, and is now pleaded by our Lord in heaven, there can be no real significance in the Holy Communion, considered sacrificially, except so far as it is a means of participating in that one meritorious act, and of sharing on earth in that which Christ performs in heaven. And the reason why the Holy Communion, as its name of Eucharist imports, has ever been regarded as the great Christian sacrifice, is, because this is exactly what it does,--because by it we really partake in Christ's offering, and lay the hand of faith on that heavenly victim.
Thus is "the sacrifice of the death of Christ," remembered and recalled. For, first, the Church teaches us to bring to God an oblation of His own elementary gifts, which the Priest who ministers shall place upon His table. These elements are further exhibited to God in their sacramental character, when the Priest, standing before them, employs those words "of consecration" which are sanctified by the institution of Christ. And finally, the whole mystical body of Christ our Lord is presented by the Minister before God, as that which, being in this service truly united to Christ, the real victim, has now especial privilege of acceptance. Wherein it may be observed, that the prayers which follow the Lord's Prayer in our Post-Communion, express those acts of faith, which, during the distribution, should be made in secret by each individual worshipper. At such a season, while Christ is bestowing His mystic gifts on His devout people, should each man strive to associate himself in feeling to that sacrifice, which, if he comes worthily, he really partakes. For when, if not at that moment, can he participate in the offering of that actual body which suffered on the cross, and which is now pleaded for him in the heaven of heavens? When can he so effectually bring himself and all his sins, those he loves and all their necessities, wherever they may be, and however unknown their wants,--the whole Church of Christ in its widest signification, and set them before God as the object of his prayers? When so fitting, as while we thus present our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, to implore "that we and all Christ's whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of His passion?" For are we not reminded, that by that very act which is then transacting, those "who duly receive" Christ's "holy mysteries," are "very members incorporate" in His mystic body? Is it not by sacraments that the humanity of Christ is communicated to all His members? and therefore, is it not in sacraments that all His members partake of that offering which by virtue of His human nature He still presents? Does not the connexion which ties these things together give us right by privilege in His acts, as it leads Him in mercy to take interest in ours? Can He be one with us, without our being one with Him? And therefore, is not the sacrament of our incorporation, of necessity a real association in the sacrifice of our Lord? Not, of course, as though we might suppose, that while He offered on high His ten thousand talents, we might present our hundred pence as a separate and individual offering. Our service were worthless, were it looked upon as a separate sacrifice; its value is that in this act we really take part in His oblation,--we have share in that which is done above; through that sacramental presence which He truly bestows, our act is part of His act, and we profit by the countless value of His everlasting sacrifice. The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, which is pleaded for the whole Church before the throne of God, is pleaded for our individual benefit. All sacrifice or offering, whether in ancient or later day, what was done in type as what is done in memory, has been effectual only as it has been embraced and impregnated by this true offering; and what renders the Holy Communion a real sacrifice is, that by it the great work of Christ is effectually applied.
And now, brethren, if the topics handled appear to. any a hard subject, too obscure to be useful for ordinary life, remember, that if they touch on things that are deep and mysterious, yet they lead to a most practical result. Christ's presence in His sacraments is that side of the great doctrine of the Incarnation, which is designed to keep it habitually before the contemplation of mankind. Neither are the sacraments involved in any difficulties, by which that cardinal doctrine of our faith is not affected. By their daily use do men maintain belief in their incarnate God. And the unfailing testimony of history declares, that by no other means can they maintain it. By no subtilty of wit, by no exactness of expressions, by no attachment to great names, by no display of hatred against errors, can men supply the place of that actual union with the body of Christ, which testifies as well to His Deity as His manhood.
Let me shortly recall the matter to your thoughts:--The incarnate God makes intercession for us in heaven: only through union with His humanity can there be acceptance for ours: this union is bestowed in sacraments: and because it takes place especially in the Holy Communion, therefore in that sacrament we share in the perpetual offering of Christ before the throne of God. And if this be so, what error can be so great, or what loss so ruinous, as that this holy ordinance should be either profaned or neglected? What so fearful as that men should come carelessly and without preparation, with their sins unconfessed and unrepented,--that they should deem this a mere common act, and not discern the Lord's body? Yet, on the other hand, what can be so fearful as that men should stay away? Were not this to cut themselves off from grace, to renounce the Church's general blessings, to abandon their baptismal claim, to give up their part in the intercession of the Lamb? Even the infrequent use of this holy ordinance is a fearful diminution of men's blessings. For therein* the Church's sacrifice is left unfrequented, her office is feebly and lifelessly discharged, faith languishes, and love grows cold. Yet unless the real nature and mysterious import of this sacrament be duly felt, what wonder if its use is neglected? Were it only an acted sermon to the feelings of mankind, it were fitly reserved to rare and peculiar occasions. The Church's command, that in Cathedral and Collegiate Churches and Colleges, where there are many Priests and Deacons, they shall all receive the Communion every Sunday at the least, contemplates a different use of it. That use we may sum up in the fervid words of Bishop Taylor, "What Christ does in heaven, He hath commanded us to do on earth; that is, to represent His death,--to commemorate His sacrifice by humble prayer and thankful mind, and by faithful manifestation and joyful eucharist to lay it before the eyes of our heavenly Father; the Church being the image of heaven, the Priest the minister of Christ; the holy table being a copy of the celestial altar, and the eternal sacrifice of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world being always the same." [Worthy Communicant, vol. xv. p. 437.]