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Discourses Illustrative of the Office and Work of the Holy Spirit
by the Reverend Samuel Seabury.

New York: 1874.


A Discourse delivered at the Church of the Annunciation, in 1840.


I. N. D. P. F. et S. S. Amen.

"We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle." --HEBREWS xiii. 10.

IN the preceding verse, the author of this epistle has cautioned those whom he addressed against being "carried about" with Jewish observances that could profit them nothing. The heart, he says, must be established with grace, and "not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.'' The meats referred to are the Jewish sacrifices, and the author of the epistle had before largely proved, that they were shadows of better things to come, and that their utility and obligation had ceased. But what, the Christian is supposed to say--have we no altar, no priest, no sacrifice? If the Jewish types and sacrifices are abolished, have Christians no divine appointment in the place of that which is now abrogated? Not so, says the apostle, for, "we have an altar whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle?" we have an altar, and on our altar is offered a sacrifice of a higher kind than the Jewish; of this sacrifice it is our right and privilege to eat, but of this sacrifice they who serve the tabernacle, i. e., the Levitical priests, have no right to eat. Here we have an express declaration that Christians have an altar under the Gospel dispensation. "We have an altar." A sacrifice there may be without an altar, but an altar always contemplates a sacrifice, and hence a sacrifice, as well as an altar, is part of the Christian worship. Besides, when the apostle adds that the Levitical priests, being unbelievers, have no right to eat of the Christian altar, he evidently implies that a sacrifice which may be eaten is offered on the Christian altar, and that Christians, who have the right to do so, do eat of the same.

Some there are who consider these as figurative expressions, so that by altar shall be understood Christ, and by eating, believing. It is a confessed rule of criticism, however, that the literal meaning shall be received if it can stand, and a figurative meaning allowed only when imperatively demanded. In the present case, the figure is so far from being necessary, that it really destroys the sense; for, by admitting it, we make the apostle say, that the Levitical priests and, by consequence, the Jewish people, have no right to believe in Christ. For if we suppose the passage to be figurative, and substitute the literal in place of the figurative terms, it will then read thus: For we have Christ (for our sacrifice), and in Him they who serve the tabernacle have no right to believe.

So, also, our Lord plainly recognizes the existence of an altar as a constituent of Christian worship. "Wherefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." And this passage, it should be observed, occurs in our Lord's sermon on the Mount, the whole of which has respect to Christian duties. It is not meant for the instruction of the Jews in the old, but for the instruction of Christians in the new dispensation. And it plainly supposes that in the new or Christian worship there should be an altar at which Christians were to offer their gifts and oblations. The acceptance of these oblations by God, supposes us to be in a state of favor with Him; but this we are not, can not be, so long as we are, through any fault of our own, at enmity with our brother; and hence our Lord teaches us, that if we be so unhappy as to have given just cause of offense to our brother, we are to seek a reconciliation with him, before we offer our oblation on the Christian altar.

Both these passages, therefore, plainly suppose that we Christians have an altar and sacrifice. And if we inquire into the nature and original of this sacrifice, we find that our Lord appointed it in commemoration of the redemption which He procured for us; that He made it to consist of bread and wine, as the symbols of that body and blood wherewith the redemption was effected, and that He commissioned and empowered the apostles to offer it in His name, and in imitation of Him. For so we read, that having taken the bread and afterward the cup and blessed them, and given thanks to the Father, He gave the same to His disciples, and said: "Do this as oft as ye shall drink it in remembrance of me;" not drink, etc., but do, etc; "offer this with thanksgiving to the Father, as oft as ye shall partake of it, in remembrance of me, or for a memorial of the sacrifice which I have offered."

Hence it is, that in our communion service, having set apart a portion of the bread and wine, to be the symbols of the body and blood of Christ, we make a solemn oblation of them to the Almighty Father, and in so doing commemorate before Him, with devoutest thanksgiving, the blessed passion and precious death, the mighty resurrection and glorious ascension of His Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Under the Jewish economy, sacrifices took their name from the end for which they were offered. A sacrifice offered to expiate sin was called a sin; one offered for peace was called a peace, and one offered for thanks or praise was called a thanks or praise. When these words occur in the Hebrew or Greek, and signify sacrifices, our translators have generally, though not always, added the word offering. Thus we read of the sin offering, the peace offering, the thank offering, and the like, where in the original we have nothing expressed to correspond to the word offering. Sometimes they have failed to supply the word offering, and thus given a harsh translation, as when they say that God hath made Christ to be sin for us, which would be more intelligibly rendered a sin offering.

Hence it is, that the Christian sacrifice, being instituted chiefly as a means of expressing our thanks to God for the redemption of mankind, came to be called the Eucharist; in other words, the thanks or thanksgiving. For, as the Jews gave the name of thanks or praise to the bullock, or other living creature which was offered for benefits received, so the early Christians naturally gave the name of Eucharist or thanksgiving to the bread and wine which they offered on the Christian altar, as the representatives of Christ's body and blood.

Not that the Eucharist was exclusively a sacrifice of thanksgiving, but only that it was chiefly so, and took the name from one, and that the principal, part of its design. For this holy oblation has ever been, and is still offered, as a means of obtaining remission of sins, and all other benefits of the passion and death of Christ. Hence in our communion service, having offered to our merciful Father His gifts and creatures of bread and wine, as the memorials of Christ's death, we pray Him to vouchsafe to bless them, that we, receiving them, i. e., eating and drinking them, according to Christ's holy institution', and in remembrance of His death and passion, may be partakers of His body and blood. And then we proceed earnestly to desire His fatherly goodness, to accept this, our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, most humbly beseeching Him to grant, that, by the merits and death of His Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in His blood, "we may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of His passion." So that, though the sacrifice is chiefly Eucharistical, and is therefore called the Eucharist, or the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, yet it is also impetratory; i. e., a means of obtaining the pardon of our sins, and the other benefits of Christ's passion.

Indeed, as all the Jewish sacrifices prefigured the sacrifice which was consummated on the cross, and, as the Eucharist alone is instituted to commemorate it, it is obvious that this last, under the new dispensation, concentrates in itself the whole meaning of all the various sacrifices under the old dispensation. If some of their sacrifices expressed one virtue, and some another of the sacrifice on the cross, ours expresses all these virtues in one. The law foreshadowed the great sacrifice in many types; the Gospel commemorates it in one figure only; and this figure, therefore, must express the whole. For this reason, the Holy Eucharist is called a representative sacrifice, because it is a representation or figure of that which Christ made for our redemption.

Prom what has been said, it appears that the sacrifice referred to in our text is the bread and wine, which, according to Christ's institution, we separate and offer to the Father as a representation and memorial of the death of Christ. Our praise and thanks accompany the sacrifice, but they are not, in a proper sense, the sacrifice itself; and the sacrifice is called the Eucharist, and a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, because the expression of thanks for the redemption of mankind is the principal end of its appointment.

The same remark is applicable when the Eucharist is called a spiritual sacrifice. We are not to suppose that by this is meant that it consists wholly in mental aspirations and prayer, for this is really to deny that it is a proper sacrifice, and to give it that name only in the way of metaphor. When we say that the Eucharist is a spiritual sacrifice, we still mean that the sacred symbols of Christ's body and blood are a sacrifice, and we call them a spiritual sacrifice, with reference to the effects which are wrought on them, and which they work in us by the power of the Holy Ghost. For after the bread and wine are set apart, to be the symbols of Christ's body and blood, and after we have solemnly offered them to God, we then proceed to invoke on them the descent of the Holy Ghost, to sanctify them, and to make them, not indeed in substance, but in power and efficacy, the body and blood of Christ. And it is in virtue of the spiritual power and efficacy thus imparted to the sacred elements, that they are called a spiritual sacrifice.

To see the force of this, it should be observed, that under the law, the sacrifice was burnt on the altar. The burning, however, was not considered to be the action of the priests who offered the sacrifice, but of God who accepted it. For, when the tabernacle and the temple were first erected, the fire of the altar came down from heaven, and this fire was always preserved alive to show that the sacrifices consumed by it were graciously accepted by God.

Now, as under the former dispensation, sacrifices were burnt by a fire from heaven, to show God's gracious acceptance, so under the new dispensation, God accepts our sacrifice, by shedding upon it the rays of His Holy Spirit, not in order to consume it, but to give it the highest degree of sanctity and benediction; and this view throws light upon a part of our Lord's discourse in the 6th chapter of St. John. For, having promised that He would give us His flesh to eat. and His blood to drink, by which I understand the sacramental body and blood conveyed in the Eucharist, He adds: "It is the spirit that quickeneth;" it is the spirit that giveth life and power to the sacrament. The flesh, or sacramental body of itself profiteth nothing; the words which I speak and the promises which I pronounce are not only material, visible things, but they are spirit and they are life. The outward signs are full of inward grace. To this the apostle seems to refer, when having said that we are all baptized into one body, he adds, "and have been all made to drink into one spirit." And it is plainly in this belief that the Primitive Church and our own, in accordance with it, having blessed the bread and wine, and made a solemn oblation of these gifts and creatures to the Father, next invokes on them the descent of the Holy Spirit (Vouchsafe to bless and sanctify with thy word and Holy Spirit these Thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine); by which descent the consecration of the elements is completed, and they are made in virtue and efficacy, and to all religious intents and purposes, the, body and blood of Christ. And it is owing to the spiritual efficacy thus communicated to them that they are called a spiritual sacrifice.

That our Church regards the invocation of the Holy Ghost on the elements as necessary to their consecration, may be inferred not only from the invocation being contained in the prayer for consecration, but also from the rubric, which directs that if the consecrated bread and wine be spent before all have communicated, the priest is to consecrate more, by using that part of the consecration prayer which includes the invocation.

A spiritual sacrifice the Eucharist is confessed to be by all Christians. The Romanists call it a spiritual sacrifice, because the bread and wine, as they suppose, ceasing to exist, the body of Christ is present under their appearances, not after a bodily but after a spiritual manner; and most Protestants call it a spiritual sacrifice, using the word sacrifice, however, in a figurative sense, to mean praise and prayer, and thus denying it to be a true and proper sacrifice. But the view which is here taken of it is, that it is a true and proper sacrifice; that the material part of it is bread and wine, made, by Christ's appointment, to represent His body and blood, and that it is called a spiritual sacrifice because spiritual properties are imparted to it, and spiritual effects are wrought by it, and because, also, its true nature is only spiritually discerned.

And the Eucharist being a proper sacrifice, will explain the reason why a priest or presbyter is necessary to its celebration. Our ordinal declares that there have been, from the apostle's time, these three orders, bishops, priests and deacons. Each order has its peculiar and proper function; and the proper and peculiar function of the Christian priest is to offer and celebrate the Christian sacrifice. The deacon is authorized to administer the sacrament of baptism, and if the Holy Eucharist were only a sacrament, no good reason could be given why he should not also be permitted to celebrate it. But the Eucharist is not only a sacrament; it is also a sacrifice, ordained, as our catechism teaches, for the continual remembrance before God "of the sacrifice of the death of Christ;" and hence it is, that the deacon is excluded from its celebration. The deacon, as a commissioned servant of Christ, is the minister of a sacrament; he administers baptism, and because the Eucharist is a sacrament, and so far as it is a sacrament, he administers the Eucharist, i. e., he presents and gives it to the people after it has been consecrated and offered by the priest. But the deacon may not consecrate the Eucharist, or make the oblation, this being the proper and peculiar function of the priest --an arrangement which would be unmeaning were it not that the Lord's Supper is a true and proper sacrifice as well as a sacrament.

The dignity of this sacrifice consists in its setting before us on earth, in a mystery or representation, that which our great High Priest does in His natural substance in heaven. He ever maketh intercession for us in the true Holy of Holies, in virtue of the one sacrifice which He made on earth for our redemption. Thus He is a Priest forever; He is the one and original Priest, and the offering of His humanity is the one and original sacrifice. He alone offered, He alone could offer the original sacrifice of His own body and blood for the expiation of the sins of the world, and He alone presents this meritorious sacrifice before the Almighty Father in the highest heavens. This priesthood He so far delegated to His apostles, that they might offer on earth the memorial of the sacrifice, in the same symbols in which He offered the original, providing, also, that the delegated priesthood and the memorial should be perpetuated on earth through all generations. Hence, while we make the memorial on earth in the symbols which He has appointed, He enforces the same in heaven, by exhibiting, in His own person, the great original sacrifice of His body and blood, by which He is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by Him.

"Great, then, is the love of our Divine Master, and only Saviour Jesus Christ, who when about to die for our redemption, instituted and left us in legacy this memorial sacrifice to present to the Father; that lie might look upon it, and, for the sake of His well-beloved Son's death and passion, commemorated and represented by it, look propitiously upon us, and extend to us His mercy and grace." [Bishop Jolly, "Christian Sacrifice," 187,188.]

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