WHY do I take this clause of a verse and leave out the memorable words which precede it: "And He took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is My Body, Which is given for you?'" Is it, that I wish you not to think of those first words, because they have given rise to so much controversy? Is it, that I suppose them to be mysterious, and those, which I have chosen, to be practical?
Brethren, I have no hope that we shall escape from the pettinesses and the bitternesses, which our controversies respecting the Lord's Supper engender, except by meditating, more deeply than we have ever done, upon the nature of it, and upon the words which our Lord spoke, when He instituted it. Instead of wishing you to forget that He said them, I would desire that you and I might, in the most awful moments of our lives, have these words brought home to us; for those are the moments which, I believe, will interpret them to us, in their length, and breadth, and depth. It is because we do not ordinarily approach the consideration of them, when we are battling for existence,--when all things stand out, real and full, before us,--when there is no power of shrinking from God, and His clear light,--but when we are only half in earnest,--when we are trying to eke out our want of earnestness, with the passion and froth of the world,--when we are seeking materials for talk and argument, not principles and powers for action--it is therefore that the profoundest and most dreadful of all subjects has been a pretext for more frivolity than any other,--that the Sacrament of Peace has been the occasion of perpetual strifes and hatreds.
The words I have passed over are not less practical than those upon which I desire, with God's merciful help, to speak; they are not less mysterious than the others. But, I believe, if we begin from them, there is more hope of arriving at those lessons, which we, to whom this Sacrament is offered every Sunday, need for the work and the suffering of every day, than if we grappled at once with the language, out of which infinite party altercations nave sprung, and which, even in spite of ourselves, suggest them to us.
This method is justifiable, on another ground. Though the words, "This is my Body, Which is given for you," were the first that our Lord spoke after He took the bread, they were, assuredly, not the first that entered into the minds and hearts of His disciples. It was a long time before the light, which was in them, could dawn, even upon the most single and expectant eyes. For He was among them. His Body was actually before them. How had it been "given for them?" On the other hand, "Do this in remembrance of ME, might at once signify thus much: "Whenever, henceforth, you eat this Passover, it will recall to you the Master, with Whom you have walked, and to Whom you have listened. You will not think, merely, of Pharaoh and his hosts, or of the Israelites that went through the Red Sea, or of the destruction of the First-born, or of the Lamb's blood on the door-posts. You will think, first, of Him, Who desired with a great desire to eat this Supper with you before He suffered; Who did eat it with you; Who spoke to you, in the course of it, of one of you, who should betray Him. Henceforth, I shall have more to do with the Passover, than all the events which you have connected with it from your childhood." To speak thus, was to speak very boldly. It was like setting Himself above all the ordinances and commandments, which they had esteemed most sacred, above the mighty acts of deliverance, by which God had proved Israel to be His people. But yet, the disciples must have felt, even then, that the announcement was a true one. It could not be otherwise. They would recollect Him more, when they ate the unleavened bread, and drank the wine, than all which the Feast seemed directly to commemorate. That one night would overshadow, in their hearts, the traditions of 1400 years. They could never remember all they had read in the Book of Exodus, as they remembered Him.
At first, I apprehend, the words will not have sounded at all like a new commandment. "This do" was, do what you have always done, what you cannot fail to do, without abandoning your position as Jews, without showing yourselves unmindful of God's covenant. The remembrance, that was henceforth linked inseparably to the act, was what affected its nature. The Apostles, especially the Apostles of the Circumcision, as their knowledge of Christ grew deeper and wider, will have felt the meaning of the Passover, also, dilated. The remembrance of Him will have become the remembrance of the Lord and King and Deliverer of Israel. They will have kept the Feast with a love and a wonder, such as David and Hezekiah had not known, because they will have regarded it as having its full consummation in Him. St. James and St. Peter do not speak, in their Epistles, of separating the old Feast from the new. We cannot tell when they did it, or even be certain that they did it. One may have passed into the other as insensibly as twilight passes into morning. The Apostle of the Gentiles, who had need, for his work, to understand how every part of the old economy must give way before the Truth, to which it had been the index, had a special revelation on the subject. He was taught that the words, "This do," spoken on that wonderful night, broke down the barriers of the old world, while they were carrying out its divinest lessons. The Jewish Feast was translated, by them, into a human Feast. The Paschal Lamb, and all that belonged to it, was giving up its temporary signification, that it might set forth the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. The Bread and Wine, the common symbols to all the nations of the earth, were to survive all that was local, all that was pointing to an unmanifested Deliverer and Lord.
But while the command was thus acquiring another force, while it was coming forth as from the voice of Him, Who spake with authority while He was on earth, Who had spoken with authority in all ages before, the Apostles were also beginning to understand the remembering of Christ, as they had not understood it at first. Perhaps I ought not to say, as they had not understood it at first; for, when the words were spoken, He was sitting among them; they had evident proof of His presence. Afterwards, in the days between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection--and even in the days when they saw Him so rarely between His Resurrection and Ascension--they often may have made painful and difficult efforts to bring back past hours, to revive the form and features of an absent friend. But after, on the Mount of Galilee, He had said, "Lo, I am with you always," they will not have dared to connect a struggle so artificial, commonly so unsuccessful, with the precept, "Remember ME." They were heralds to the world, of an Emmanuel--a God with us. The great battle they had to fight with Jews and Gentiles, was for this proclamation. "He is not far from anyone of you. In Him you live, and move, and have your being;"--was their message to those who were wholly given to idolatry. They were taught, that wicked works, not distance, had separated them from God, and that now, by the Blood of Christ, they were made nigh; that the veil was torn asunder; that in the Mediator, they were once more brought into the Presence of the Holy One. They had need to recollect this. They required" that He, in Whom only they had life, should be brought continually to their minds, which were continually prone to forget Him, and to live as if He were away from them. But, whatever served this purpose, whatever put them in mind of Hun, must assure them of His Real Presence, could not by possibility signify that He was habitually absent, and only reappeared in those elements, or when they strove to bring His image before them. It was not necessary to reason against one or the other of these suppositions. The Gospel they were preaching, their whole theology, was one continued refutation of both.
"This do in remembrance of ME," must have imported to them, unless, in their ordinary language, they were deceiving their disciples and themselves,--" This do in remembrance of a Lord, a Friend, a Brother, Whom neither Life nor Death, nor height, nor depth, has been able to separate from you upon Earth, or from His Father in Heaven, Who is with you, as He is with Him; in Whom, sin has no dwelling-place; in Whom, Heaven and Earth, God and Man, are for ever atoned and reconciled." If the word ME could have a less embracing signification than this, they might have restrained the precept to their own circle. The Eleven, who remembered how He looked, when He stood upon the Mount, or when He walked upon the Sea, or when He bade Lazarus come forth, might have deemed that the Bread and Wine were merely tokens for them--symbols to awaken their thoughts of days long past, and so to sustain their sympathy with each other. But, because they carried the message to the ends of the earth, that there was One Who died for all, because all were dead, and had risen again for their justification, there was no possibility of drawing this line about themselves. All had the same bondage, all had the same Deliverer. There was nothing in the language, nothing in the simple signs, which they dared think of as referring more to them, than to any Jewish publican or Gentile slave. The Spirit, Who brought all things to their remembrance, whatsoever they had heard,--Who opened to them depths in their own hearts which they had never sounded,--Who revealed to them the Lord and Lifegiver of those hearts,--that same Spirit was telling men, in the most different latitudes, brought up in the most different religions, of the Son of Man, in Whom they had been created, by Whom they had been redeemed. How could they help saying to all,--"He bade us do this in remembrance of Him, because we are weak, sinful, men, who cannot live without Him? Do you think you can? Will not you also suffer Him to tell you, by this wonderful method of speech, that He is with you--that He is willing to come in and sup with you, in a fuller sense, with a more perfect fellowship, than He did with us, in the upper chamber, the night before He was crucified?"
Just what the words signified, my dear brethren, to those who heard them, in this way, from the Apostles' lips, they signify, I conceive, to us, at this day. I am not the least careful to enter into the question, how the command becomes binding upon us,--what relation it bears to other commands, that were uttered amidst thunders and lightnings, that have a penal character and sanction. I leave all these points to those, who think they can strengthen the force of our Lord's words by their arguments, who think they can persuade reluctant men to obey them, by dwelling on the fearful consequences of neglecting them. I have no such expectation; the experience of a great many centuries, our own experience in this day, seems to me to confute it. We have tried these methods, and, I am afraid, to very little purpose. I would rather leave the words just as they were first spoken. If once we believe, that He is just as much alive now, as He was when He ate the Passover with His disciples, His words, I believe, will come home to us with the same power as they did to them. Yes, and with greater power,--with a momentum of eighteen hundred years, with the power of His Death, and Resurrection, and Ascension, and of all the good, and of all the evil, that there has been in His Church, and in the world, since that hour. If we think of them as the words of a dead man, they will not move us; they cannot, however much we may try to galvanize them by our rhetoric. Therefore, let us leave off attempting to enforce the command, otherwise than by asking the consciences and the hearts of men, whether they are not wanting to hear such a command, and whether, when they do hear it, it does not come with quite a different force from any which we can give to it.
"Do this in remembrance of Me." You are in a world of business and bustle; every week, every day, the whirl becomes louder, more dizzying. Do you find it easy to remember anything, about an inner world? Do you find It easy to recollect, that you yourselves have any life, besides that which you complain that society, that work, that amusement, is robbing you of, every instant? The voice says, "Remember Me; remember that there is with you, and near you, One, Who can restore that life,--One, Who can recruit the energies within you,--One, Who can illumine that which is dark within you, can raise and support what is low,--One, Who is stronger, than all the influences around you, that tend to decay and destruction,--One, Who can convert those very influences into instruments of health and renovation. Poor worn-out man of business, who feelest that thy business, if it is the driest and most secular conceivable, is still appointed for thee, and cannot be lawfully exchanged for another,--who feelest, that if thy business is the most religious and sacred conceivable, it may. sink into such a miserable and dead routine, that it shall be a greater weight upon thy spirit, that it shall be felt more as a sin, than the most' merely mechanical work can be,--'Do this in remembrance of Me.' The dry secular pursuit may be informed with a new and divine Life. I, Who have ordained it, can endue you with a Life, which will enable you to perform it truly, heartily, devoutly. And I can convert the religious service into a godly service,--that which is done from a hard sense of propriety and duty, into a loving obedience to God, and a willing labour for His creatures,--that which is sustained by a miserable calculation of profit and loss, into the Apostles' thanksgiving, that they were counted worthy to do work and suffer shame for the Son of God."
But it is not only the weariness and unsatisfactoriness of work, that oppresses us in this world, that oppresses us even when we are the least willing to throw off the yoke, and are even forging fresh chains for ourselves. There is also the perpetual strife of factious, into which we enter with the keenest alacrity, which we justify to ourselves by a thousand reasonable excuses, which we cover with a thousand plausible and patriotic names, even while we admit, as an abstract proposition, that party-spirit is destroying our country, even while we feel too conscious that it is devouring the best and truest part of our own characters. Where shall we flee from it? We cannot endure compromises, we cannot be always standing aloof from our duties, lest we should quarrel with other men in the performance of theirs. "Do this in remembrance of Me." You have a sort of floating persuasion, that there is One, Who has a heart and sympathy that is wider than those parties,--Who does care for those who belong to them all,--Who did die for those who composed them, for those who would be ready to kill each other. You have heard these things in your childhood; you do not absolutely disbelieve them now; nay, it is possible that you would be very angry with any who said they disbelieved them: you would call them infidels and other hard names. But, after all, you do not remember much this Person, in Whom these jarring factions are reconciled; do you? You have not much sense of His being mightier than they are, of His being able to raise you above them, to give you a power of living, in the midst of them, as if you were not imprisoned by them? He gives you credit for this proneness to forget Him. "He knew what was in man." He said to the men, who were likely to be rending each other in pieces, for political and religious enmities, "'Do this in remembrance of Me.' You will want the recollection of Me; you will not be able to resist church feuds, or national feuds, or family feuds, or the feuds in your own hearts, if you have it not. Therefore, I give you this token to recollect Me by, to recollect, that I am with you always,--on week-days, as well as on Sundays,--when vanity, and anger, and bitterness, are tempting you most strongly,--in the public assembly,--in the home circle,--just as much as when you are kneeling at my altar."
But you have other friends, besides this One. Must they be forgotten, that He may be remembered? My brethren, let us speak honestly to one another upon this point. You wish to remember friends, those that are amongst you, and those that have departed from you. You wish that you could bring back the words that you have heard them speak, the tones of their voice, their looks, their kindnesses. But is it not often very hard to do so? Is not the world a very cruel tormentor, a very hard taskmaster, in this respect also? Does it not demand the giving up of precious memories? Does it not insist that the present shall be all in all to us? Oh! is there anything that one oftener curses it for, that one oftener hates oneself for, than this? But how is it to be avoided? There are no tricks of recollection, there is no technical memory, that can serve this purpose, that can bring back human beings to us, whom death has severed from us, as they may bring back names and dates. Here is the solution of the difficulty. Here is the art of memory, which God Himself hail invented for us, that we may require again the Past, as He requires it. "Do this in remembrance of Me." Let the one Living Centre of all the Family of heaven and earth be brought to your minds. Let Him, That was dead and is alive, and Who has the keys of death and hell, hold converse with you, not as a pale phantom of the past, but as the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. And then, by degrees, all, who have gone into the invisible world, where He is gone, will come forth, clothed with a portion of His Light,--no longer merely fleeting visionary forms, but clearer, more distinct, because more pure, than they were, when we held fellowship with them upon earth--all the mists, which obscured the best parts of them, then being scattered by the full noon-day of the Presence in which they are dwelling.
But there is a sadder feeling than this of inability to recover what has been, which haunts us when we are looking back upon our own history, and especially when we think whose lives have been closely intertwined with ours in the course of it. The death of the recollections which we wish to cherish, is often attended with a painful vivacity of thoughts, which we would banish. Dark passages of the past reappear when its bright images fade. The sinfulness and ingratitude of other years seem determined to avenge themselves. Awful voices whisper to us,--"That which is left undone, cannot be done; that which is done, cannot be undone;"--voices terrible beyond any, which mortal ears can listen to,--too terrible to bear, if there were not this other voice, '"Do this in remembrance of Me.' Take these tokens, that there is One, Who has borne sin, and Who has conquered sin. Receive these, as the sure pledges that the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world, the sin which has separated you from your brethren--which has separated them from you. It is not a bold snatching at blessings, which are not yours, to grasp that assurance. You have a command to do it, from your King and Judge. He, Who knows you, hates the evil which you are conscious of, more than you can hate it. He hates it, because it severs you from God, and from your brother,--because it h the Devil's poison, in His Universe and Kingdom. Therefore, He counted it worthy the sacrifice of Himself, to put it away. Reece member that Sacrifice; remember Him, and He will fill this deep inward hollow in you, with His own Life, His own Love."
I know well, that this mighty subject has a number of aspects, some of them perplexing, some of them appalling; all of which do present themselves to the hearts of men, and, therefore, all of which ought to be considered earnestly by those, who are appointed to help them. I do not wish to evade any of them, because I do not touch upon them this afternoon. All that has ever been said about the unworthy receiving of the Sacrament, all the highest language that has been used about the blessings of it, I believe, has not been exaggerated, though it may have been often miserably perverted by the bewildered conscience of the worshipper--by the ignorance, or ambition, or passions, of the priest. Let us ask God to teach us Himself what He means by the words, which seem too high or too dreadful for us. Let us remember, that He has promised we shall be taught of Him. Only, do not let, us hinder His teachings, which are so deep and inward, from reaching us, by our noisy rhetoric, and by our abuse of each other. Do not let us talk of this man bringing in a dangerous doctrine about a Real Presence, or of that man having a low notion about a Memorial Feast. God knows what either intends, by the language which we are in a hurry to condemn. Perhaps, He sees in them both a simplicity of heart--perhaps, they really feed upon His Sacrament, with an inward unity--which we want. It must be so, if we are judges, and they, amidst whatever intellectual confusion, receivers.
If this Feast means anything, it must mean more than those poor words and phrases of ours. They cannot measure the Infinite. Life and Death, Heaven and Hell, the Conscience of Man, the Fellowship with the World seen and unseen, the Sacrifice of Christ, the Name of the FATHER and the SON and the SPIRIT--before these mighty realities, how our petty formulas shrink and dwindle! Oh! let us receive this Sacrament of God's Mercy and Love, that we may be emptied of our conceits, that we may be instructed in our nothingness, that we may be delivered from the strifes, which prove that we do not remember Christ and His Cross. Let us receive it, recollecting the fearful words that were spoken at the First Supper of all, when the command was given: "One of you shall betray Me." And let every one silently ask of Him, Who knows each guest, and what are the treacheries to which he is most prone, and Who is willing to purify us from them all, "Lord, is it I?"
* Preached at Lincoln's Inn, 4th Sunday after Epiphany, Jan. 28, 1855.
R. CLAY, SONS, AND TAYLOR, PRINTERS, LONDON.