THE CHRISTIAN SACRIFICE
"As they were eating, JESUS took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my Body."--S. Matt. xxvi. 26.
THIS day, though coming in the midst of so sad a week, has always been thought different in its sorrow from the other days. Therefore, in old times, it was the custom that on the morning of Maundy Thursday the bells should ring merrily, and the churches should be arrayed in their gayest, because it was on this day that the greatest gift was given to man which he ever received. For, as you all know, it was on this night, and about this very hour, that our LORD JESUS gave for the first time His Body to be our food, and His Blood to be our drink. So man did eat Angels food: for He sent them meat enough.
Now let me try and explain this great Sacrament as clearly as I am able; that we may be the more ready, with full assurance of faith, to receive it on this Easter Day, which is drawing nigh. I say on Easter Day, for Good Friday is not the proper day on which to celebrate it, except in case of necessity.
We must always remember that the Holy Communion is made up of two parts. It is something which we offer to GOD, and it is something which GOD gives to us. That is, it is a sacrifice, and it is a feast.
Let us now see what the word "sacrifice" means. A sacrifice is anything offered to God, which has the power of turning away His anger from us. Now, in one sense, there never was, and there never can be, but one true Sacrifice, namely, the death of our LORD JESUS CHRIST. That was the only thing which, in and by itself, has the power of removing GOD'S anger from us. But it has pleased GOD, both before and since that great Sacrifice, to appoint certain offerings, which, because of that offering, and getting all their virtue from it, have the power of making Him well pleased, and are therefore real sacrifices.
What these sacrifices generally were among the Jews, you know. Bullocks, and goats, and lambs, and doves, and pigeons, were thus offered. But what I want you more particularly to notice now is, that bread and wine were sometimes, under the law of the Jews, also sacrificed.
And this was the case before the Law. We read that when Abraham was returning from the slaughter of the four kings, he was met by Melchisedec, king of Salem. And it is said, Melchisedec brought forth bread and wine; and he was the Priest of the Most High GOD. Now this shows for what purpose he brought them forth; namely, to sacrifice them; else why should it have been added, that he was a Priest?
Let us see an example or two from the books of Moses. This is the offering which Aaron and his sons shall offer unto the LORD on the day wherein he is anointed: the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour. An ephah was something more than seven gallons of our dry measure; and the tenth part of this was so to be sacrificed. In a pan, we further read, it shall be made with oil, and when it is thus baken, thou shalt bring it in.
Now, next I will read you about offerings which any person might make at any time. The first of these was simply of fine flour, with oil and frankincense poured thereon. The second was the same, baked in a pan. And the third differed only by being baked in a frying-pan.
Now, these things may serve to show you how great a mistake it is to think that there can be no sacrifice except those of living creatures; none except bloody sacrifices. You see that, in Jewish times, flour, cakes, and bread were as true sacrifices as bullocks or goats. In other places, we find green ears of corn sacrificed; and in another, leavened bread; that is, such bread as the Jews ate every day. And in like manner--and this I wish you to notice very particularly--wine was sacrificed.
There is another mistake into which people are apt to fall--that a thing cannot be sacrificed unless it is burnt, or in some other way destroyed. Now, the greater part of the Jewish sacrifices were partly burnt, partly eaten. But some were not burnt at all: what is called in the Bible a wave-offering, was not burnt. The Priest took the shoulder of the slaughtered animal, and waved it before the LORD; it was sacrificed by being waved; and then it was eaten. The scape-goat was neither eaten nor destroyed. This was a goat brought to the door of the Temple, on the great day of atonement. The High Priest confessed over it all the transgressions of the children of Israel, laying his hands on the head of the goat, and then it was sent away into the wilderness. And, again, the shew-bread consisted of certain cakes offered to GOD, by lying a week in the Tabernacle, and then eaten.
You see, therefore, these two things,--a sacrifice may be just as well of bread as of anything else; it may be offered to GOD only by being laid before Him; and it may be altogether eaten.
Now, that is just what our sacrifice is. The Priest takes bread and wine, and offers them to GOD, by laying them on the Altar. This he does in the prayer for the Church-Militant, when he says,--"We beseech Thee to accept our alms and oblations," that is, sacrifice--namely, this sacrifice of bread and wine. And this bread and wine, you will notice, is, at that time, only bread and wine--nothing more and nothing less. So that, if we stopped there, our sacrifice would be as good as the Jews', but no better. They offered bread and wine in faith of the SAVIOUR, Who was to come: we offer bread and wine in faith of the SAVIOUR, Who has come.
But we go on. This bread and wine still lies on the Altar, while the Priest proceeds. And you all know that, when the Priest pronounces those words, This is My Body, This is My Blood, then truly and really and properly the bread is changed into our LORD'S Flesh, and the wine into His life-giving Blood. We know not, and do not venture to ask how, this is done. It is sufficient for us that our LORD, as at this very time, told us it was so, and should be so; and therefore, unless we choose to make Him a liar we must believe that it is so.
And this we offer to GOD in that prayer, "We beseech Thee to accept our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving." We are not to think--nobody, I hope, does think--that our LORD'S Sacrifice on the Cross was not full and perfect,--that He has left anything to us to do to make it more perfect. No. We offer to GOD this Sacrifice in dependence upon that, just as the Jews did: but ours is better than theirs, by how much our LORD'S Flesh and Blood are more precious than the blood of bulls and of goats. This is as plain an explanation as I can make of the manner in which the Holy Communion is a Sacrifice. And therefore it is that the Church of GOD has always most earnestly prayed at the time of the Communion for all sorts and conditions of men, remembering that it is written, He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
Now, I will give you an example of this. I will read you part of a prayer made by S. James, the LORD'S brother, for the time of Communion; or, if not made by him, made by those who had lived with him, and remembered the words he used to employ, The prayer is this:--
"We, then, miserable sinners, remembering the sufferings of JESUS CHRIST, His Cross, His Death, His Resurrection on the third day, His Ascension into Heaven, His sitting down at the right hand of Thee, His GOD and FATHER, His glorious and terrible coming again, when He shall come with glory to judge the quick and the dead, and to render to every man according to his works, we offer to Thee, LORD, this unbloody sacrifice,"--that is, this sacrifice in which no blood is shed, as it was in those of the Jews,--"beseeching Thee not to visit us after our sins, nor reward us according to our iniquities, but according to Thy gentleness and mercy, to give us those heavenly and eternal gifts of Thine, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive." So far, you see, they pray for themselves. But they go on to pray for others also.
"Remember, LORD, our fathers and brethren, the bishops and clergy that are in the whole world, who rightly divide the Word of Truth. Remember, LORD, all Christians who are travelling by land or by water, who are in strange lands, who are in bonds, and prisons, and bitter slavery." You see how beautifully particular they are in mentioning all cases. "Remember, LORD, those that are in sickness and in sorrow, that they may quickly be healed and saved. Remember, LORD, to give us fair weather, gentle showers, abundance of fruits, for the eyes of all wait upon Thee, O GOD, and Thou givest them their meat in due season." And so the prayer goes on, showing us how and for what we should pray. And at last, thinking not only of those who are still living with us in the flesh, but of those who are gone before us, it ends: "Remember, O GOD, of the spirits of all flesh, those whom we have mentioned, and those whom we have not mentioned, from righteous Abel until this day: give them rest in the land of the living, in Thy kingdom, in the delight of Paradise, in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; whence sorrow and sighing shall flee away, where the light of Thy Countenance always shines; and let the end of our own life be Christian and without sin, when Thou wilt and as Thou wilt, only without shame and offence."
So, you see, they used to pray of old time; and so should we pray now, whenever the great Christian Sacrifice is offered up to GOD. But I said that Holy Communion was a feast as well as a sacrifice, and of that I must still say a few words.
I have not occasion to warn you of the danger of turning away from it, for you all, I believe, know how grievous dishonour that is to GOD, and how fearfully dangerous to your own souls. But it is very necessary to warn you how to receive it, how dreadful it is to take it, if there is any one thing which you know to be a sin, and which yet you are not determined to give up; if you have any hatred or malice in your hearts; if you are not determined that, whatever you may have been doing in times past, now, at least, by GOD'S help, you will act as His true servants, as those whom He has redeemed by His most precious Blood. Consider, it is almost certain that this will be the last Easter Communion which some one among you--it may be more than one--will ever receive. How should you feel on your death-bed, in the remembrance that the last time this great Festival came round to you, instead of using it as the means of increasing your salvation, you had, as far as in you lay, increased your condemnation?
On the other hand, remember that, if you come now to receive the LORD'S Body and Blood as He would have you come--as being indeed wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked, but looking to receive from Him comfort, and joy, and riches, and light, and covering; taking this as the medicine for all the sicknesses of your souls, as the strength for all the remaining days of your pilgrimage, as that gift than which you can receive nothing greater, nay, even than which GOD can give nothing greater,--coming in faith, and love, and hope: then indeed this will have been a blessed Easter for you.
So God grant it may be; and His peace, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds, through JESUS CHRIST. Amen.