1. Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein He was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper, to be observed in His Church, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death; the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body (1 Cor. 11:23–26; 10:16–17, 21; 12:13).
The Lord Jesus established this sacrament the night He was betrayed, and the sacrament is very rich in meaning. It is to be commemorated in the Church until the end of the world. For most evangelicals, the meaning of the Supper is limited to the first one mentioned here—and while the understanding is accurate, as far as it goes, it does not go very far. But the import of the Supper goes far beyond a mere memorial. It means:
1. A memorial of Christ’s self-sacrifice;
2. A sealing of all the benefits of Christ’s death unto true believers;
3. A spiritual nourishment of all true believers who partake;
4. A covenant renewal on the part of those who partake;
5. A bond from Him of the fact that He is our God and we are His people;
6. A communion with our fellow believers, fellow members of the body of Christ.
2. In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; nor any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead (Heb. 9:22, 25–26, 28); but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same (1 Cor. 11:24–26; Matt. 26:26–27): so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect (Heb. 7:23–24, 27; 10:11–12, 14, 18).
As far as the issue of sacrifice is concerned, the Supper is no real sacrifice, but only a commemoration of a sacrament. But to say it is a commemoration sacrificially does not mean that it is only a commemoration in other respects. Christ is not sacrificed to the Father in the Supper. The Supper does involve “all possible praise” for the sacrifice Christ offered, but this is not the same as a sacrifice. The doctrine of the perpetual sacrifice in the Mass is therefore injurious and insulting to the once for all death of Christ on the cross for sins. So the Table is not a sacrifice proper, but it is an sealing “proper,” nourishment “proper,” covenant renewal “proper,” a bond or pact “proper, and a communion with all other saints “proper.” In other words it is a false inference to say that because the Supper is not “really” a sacrifice, then it is not “really” anything.
3. The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed His ministers to declare His word of institution to the people; to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants (Matt. 26:26–28; Mark 14:22–24; Luke 22:19–20; 1 Cor. 11:23–26); but to none who are not then present in the congregation (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20).
What are the constituent elements of the Supper? What does it take for the Supper to be held?
1. The minister needs to declare the words of institution, showing his authorization to hold the Supper;
2. He should pray;
3. He should bless the bread and wine so that they are sanctified, set apart for this use;
4. He should break the bread;
5. He should take the cup;
6. He should distribute both to the communicants;
7. And his distribution should be limited to those who are present.
4. Private masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest, or any other, alone (1 Cor. 10:6); as likewise, the denial of the cup to the people (Mark 14:23; 1 Cor. 11:25–29), worshipping the elements, the lifting them up, or carrying them about, for adoration, and the reserving them for any pretended religious use; are all contrary to the nature of this sacrament, and to the institution of Christ (Matt. 15:9).
Distortions of the Supper include these features: private communion, denial of the cup, worshipping the elements, acting in such a way as to provoke such worship, and setting them aside for other religious use.
5. The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to Him crucified, as that, truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ (Matt. 26:26–28); albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before (1 Cor. 11:26–28; Matt. 26:29).
The outward elements are not transformed in their nature by any act of consecration. They truly become the body and blood of Christ sacramentally, not physically. The elements remain bread and wine.
6. That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthroweth the nature of the sacrament, and hath been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yea, of gross idolatries (Acts 3:21; 1 Cor 11:24–26; Luke 24:6, 39).
The doctrine of transubstantiation is contrary to Scripture. Not only so, but it is also contrary to common sense and reason. It maketh no sense. The error is not a trivial one, because it overthrows the sacrament, and provokes the people into superstition and idolatry.
7. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament (1 Cor. 11:28), do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses (1 Cor. 10:16).
Those who partake of the sacrament really feed upon Christ. But in order to truly feed upon Christ, it is not necessary for the bread and wine to be changed. We feed upon Christ by faith (which is not the same as saying we pretend to feed upon Him). We feed spiritually through the bread and wine presented to our outward senses. Christ is presented to us in the sacrament. We see Him there by faith, and not by sight. Christ presents Himself to the faith of believers in the same manner that the physical elements present themselves to our hands and mouths.
8. Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament; yet, they receive not the thing signified thereby; but, by their unworthy coming thereunto, are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation. Wherefore, all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with Him, so are they unworthy of the Lord’s table; and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries (1 Cor. 11:27–29; 2 Cor. 6:14–16), or be admitted thereunto (1 Cor. 5:6–7, 13; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14–15; Matt. 7:6).
According to the Confession, two types of men should be kept from the Supper—the ignorant and the wicked. When they partake, they do not receive what is signified. If this means that they do not receive the blessing promised to any right use of the Supper, then this is correct. But if it means that the wicked do not partake of Christ in any respect when they partake of the Supper, then I think this is wrong. The curses of the covenant fall upon wicked and ignorant partakers precisely because they defile the body and blood of the Lord. The reason they are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord is because they came to it in an unworthy way. When this happens, they eat and drink to their own damnation. They cannot defile what they did not receive. The contrast at the Table is blessings and curses, not blessings and no blessings.
With regard to the “ignorant,” we also want to be careful how we fence the Table here. There are types and degrees of ignorance. For example, there are ignorant people who ought not to be, and so they should be excluded from the Table because their ignorance is culpable. But a five-year-old is necessarily ignorant, and to some extent, so is a mature Christian. We are all ignorati, but the Supper is given to nourish and strengthen us (see above). Consequently, we do not want to be maneuvered into saying that Christians should grow big and strong, and then we will give them some food. This aspect of the Confession has to be carefully considered when discussing the issue of child communion, although I do not believe it excludes child communion necessarily. It seems clear that the ignorance addressed by these words is a culpable and stiff-necked ignorance, and not the ignorance which every worthy partaker of the Supper confesses daily.