The Ancient Faith
EVIDENCE FOR THE WEEKLY OBSERVANCE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
Evidence 1. The first Christian congregation which met in Jerusalem, and which was constituted by the twelve Apostles, did as statedly attend upon the breaking of the loaf in their public meetings, as they did upon any other part of the Christian worship. So Luke records, Acts 2:42 ‘They continued steadfast in the Apostles’ doctrine, in the fellowship, in the breaking of the loaf, and in the prayers.’ Ought we not, then, to continue as steadfast in the breaking of the loaf, as in the teaching of the Apostles, as in the fellowship, as in the prayers commanded by the Apostles?
Evidence 2. The Apostles taught the churches to do all the Lord commanded. Whatever, then, the churches did by the appointment or concurrence of the Apostles, they did by the commandment of Jesus Christ. Whatever acts of religious worship the Apostles taught and sanctioned in one Christian congregation, they taught and sanctioned in all Christian congregations (1 Co.4:17), because all under the same government of one and the same King. But the church in Troas met upon the first day of the week, consequently all the churches met upon the first day of the week for religious purposes.
Among the acts of worship, or the institutions of the Lord, to which the disciples attended in these meetings, the breaking of the loaf was so conspicuous and so important, that the churches are said to meet on the first day of the week for this purpose. We are expressly told that the disciples at Troas met for this purpose; and what one church did by the authority of the Lord, as a part of his instituted worship, they all did. That the disciples in Troas met for this purpose is not to be inferred; for Luke says positively,
Acts 20:7 “’And on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together for the breaking of the loaf, Paul, being about to depart on the morrow, discoursed with them, and lengthened out his discourse till midnight.”
From the manner in which this meeting of the disciples at Troas is mentioned by the historian, two things are very obvious–1st. That it was an established custom or rule for the disciples to meet on the first day of the week. 2d. That the primary object of their meeting was to break the loaf. They who object to breaking the loaf on the first day of every week when the disciples are assembled, usually preface their objections by telling us, that Luke does not say they broke the loaf every first day; and yet they contend against the Sabbatarians, that they ought to observe every first day to the Lord in commemoration of his resurrection. The Sabbatarians raise the same objection to this passage, when adduced by all professors of Christianity to authorize the weekly observance of the first day. They say that Luke does not tell us, that they met for any religious purpose on every first day. How inconsistent, then, are they who make this sentence an express precedent for observing every first day, when arguing against the Sabbatarians, and then turn round and tell us, that it will not prove that they broke the loaf every first day! If it does not prove the one, it is most obvious it will not prove the other; for the weekly observance of this day, as a day of the meeting of the disciples, and the weekly breaking of the loaf in those meetings, stand or fall together. Hear it again: ‘And on the first day of the week, when the disciples assembled to break the loaf.’ Now all must confess, who regard the meaning of words, that the meeting of the disciples and the breaking of the loaf, as far as these words are concerned, are expressed in the same terms as respects the frequency. If the one was fifty-two times in a year, or only once; so was the other. If they met every first day, they broke the loaf every first day; and if they did not break the loaf every first day, they did not meet every first day. But we argue from the style of Luke, or from his manner of narrating the fact, that they did both. If he had said that on a first day the disciples assembled to break the loaf, then I would admit that both the Sabbatarians, and the semiannual or septennial communicants, might find some way of explaining this evidence away.
The definite article is, in the Greek and in the English tongue, prefixed to stated fixed times, and its appearance here is not merely definitive of one day, but expressive of a stated or fixed day. This is so in all languages which have a definite article. Let us illustrate this by a very parallel and plain case. Suppose some 500 or 1000 years hence the annual observance of the 4th of July should have ceased for several centuries, and that some person or persons devoted to the primitive institutions of this mighty Republic, were desirous of seeing the 4th of every July observed as did the fathers and founders of the Republic during the hale and undegenerate days of primitive republican simplicity. Suppose that none of the records of the first century of this Republic had expressly stated, that it was a regular and fixed custom for a certain class of citizens to pay a particular regard to the 4th day of every July; but that a few incidental expressions in the biography of the leading men in the Republic spoke of it as Luke has done of the meeting at Troas. How would it be managed? For instance, in the life of John Quincy Adams it is written, A. D. 1823, “And on the 4th of July, when the republicans of the city of Washington met to dine, John Q. Adams delivered an oration to them.” Would not an American, a thousand years hence, in circumstances such as have been stated, find in these words one evidence that it was an established usage, during the first century of this Republic, to regard the 4th of July as aforesaid. He would tell his opponents to mark, that it was not said that on a fourth of July, as if it were a particular occurrence; but it was, in the fixed meaning of the English language expressive of a fixed and stated day of peculiar observance. At all events, he could not fail in convincing the most stupid, that the primary intention of that meeting was to dine. Whatever might be the frequency or the intention of that dinner, it must be confessed, from the words above cited, that they met to dine.
Another circumstance that must somewhat confound the Sabbatarians, and the lawless observers of the breaking of the loaf, may be easily gathered from Luke’s narrative. Paul and his company arrived at Troas either on the evening of the first day, or on Monday morning at an early hour; for he departed on Monday morning, as we term it, at an early hour; and we are positively told that he tarried just seven days at Troas. Now, had the disciples been Sabbatarians, or observed the seventh day as a Sabbath, and broke the loaf on it as the Sabbatarians do, they would not have deferred their meeting till the first day, and kept Paul and his company waiting, as he was evidently in a great haste at this time. But his tarrying seven days, and his early departure on Monday morning, corroborates the evidence adduced in proof, that the first day of the week was the fixed and stated day, for the disciples to meet for this purpose (C. B. pp. 211-212)
From the second chapter of Acts then, we learn that the breaking of the loaf, was a stated part of the worship of the disciples in their meetings; and from the 20th we learn, that the first day of the week was the stated time for those meetings; and above all, we ought to notice that the most prominent object of their meeting was to break the loaf. Other corroborating evidences of the stated meeting of the disciples on the first day for religious purposes, are found in the fact, that Paul says he had given order to all the congregations in Galatia, as well as that in Corinth, to attend to the fellowship, or the laying up of contributions for the poor saints on the first day of every week. ‘On the first day of every week let each of you lay somewhat by itself, according as he may have prospered, putting it into the treasury, that when I come there may be no collections’ (1 Cor. 16: 2) for the saints. Kata mian Sabbaton Macknight justly renders, ‘the first day of every week;‘ for every linguist will admit that kata polin means every city; kata menan, every month; kata ecclesian, every church; and, therefore, in the same usage, kata mian Sabbaton means the first day of every week.
Now this prepares the way for asserting not only, that the disciples in Troas assembled on the first day of every week for ‘the breaking of the loaf,’ but also for adducing a third argument:
Evidence 3. The congregation in Corinth met every first day, or the first day of every week, for showing forth the Lord’s death. Let the reader bear in mind that he has just heard that Paul commanded the church in Corinth, or every saint in Corinth, to contribute according to his ability, by putting into the treasury every first day his contributions to avoid collections when Paul came. This is agreed on all hands to prove the weekly meeting of the saints. Now, with this concession in mind, we have only to notice what is said, 2 Co.11:20 ‘When you come together in one place, that is, every week at least, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.‘ To act thus is unworthy of the object of your meeting. To act thus is not to eat the Lord’s supper. It is not to show forth the Lord’s death, thereby declaring that this is the chief object of meeting. When a teacher reproves his pupils for wasting time, he cannot remind them more forcibly of the object of coming to school, nor reprove them with more point, than to say, ‘When you act thus, this is not to assemble to learn.’ This is the exact import of the Apostle’s address, ‘When you assemble thus, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper.’ We have seen, then, that the saints met every first day in Corinth; and when they assembled in one place it was to eat the Lord’s supper, a declaration of the practice of the primitive congregations as explicit as could incidentally be given, differing only from a direct command in the form in which it is expressed. But it is agreed on all hands, that whatsoever the congregations did with the approbation of the Apostles, they did by their authority. For the Apostles gave them all the Christian institutions. Now as the Apostle Paul approbated their meeting every week, and their coming together into one place to show forth the Lord’s death;–and only censured their departure from the meaning of the institution, it is as high authority as we could require for the practice of the weekly meeting of the disciples.
But when Acts ii. 42. and xx. and 7. 1 Cor. xi. 20 and chap. xvi. 1 & 2, are compared and added together, it appears that we act under the influence of apostolic teaching and precedent, when we meet every Lord’s day for the breaking of the loaf. But this is still farther demonstrated by a fourth argument drawn from the following fact:–
Evidence 4. No example can be adduced from the New Testament of any Christian congregation assembling on the first day of the week, unless for the breaking of the loaf. Let an example be adduced by those who teach that Christians ought to meet on the first day of the week not to break the loaf, and then, but not till then, can they impugn the above fact. Till this is done, a denial of it must appear futile in the extreme. The argument, then, is, Christians have no authority, nor are under any obligations to meet on the Lord’s day, from anything which the Apostles said or practised, unless it be to show forth the Lord’s death, and to attend to those means of edification and comfort connected with it.
Evidence 5. If it be not the duty and privilege of every Christian congregation to assemble on the first day of every week to show forth the Lord’s death, it will be difficult, if not impossible, from either scripture or reason, to show that it is their duty or privilege to meet monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, annually, or indeed, at all, for this purpose. For from what premises can any person show that it is a duty or privilege to assemble monthly, which will not prove that it is obligatory to meet weekly? We challenge investigation here, and affirm that no man can produce a single reason, why it should or could be a duty or a privilege for a congregation to meet monthly, quarterly, or annually, which will not prove that it is its duty and privilege to assemble every first day for this purpose.
Evidence 6. Spiritual health, as well as corporeal health, is dependent on food. It is requisite for corporeal health, that the food not only be salutary in its nature, and sufficient in its quantity, but that it be received at proper intervals, and these regular and fixed. Is it otherwise with moral health? Is there no analogy between the bread which perishes, and the bread of life Is there no analogy between natural and moral life–between natural and moral health? and, if there be, does it not follow, that if the primitive disciples only enjoyed good moral health, when they assembled weekly to show forth the Lord’s death, that they cannot enjoy good moral health who only meet quarterly or semi-annually for this purpose?
Evidence 7. But in the last place, what commemorative institution, in any age, under any religious economy, was ordained by divine authority, which had not a fixed time for its observance? Was it the commemoration of the finishing of creation signified in the weekly Sabbath? Was it the Passover, the Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles? Was it the Feast of Purim either? What other significant usage was it, the times or occasion of whose observance were not fixed. How often was circumcision to be administered to the same subject? How often Christian immersion? Is there a single institution commemorative of anything, the meaning, or frequency, of the observance of which, is not distinctly, either by precept or example, laid down in the Holy Scriptures? Not one of a social character, and scarcely one of an individual character. The commemoration of the Lord’s death must, then, be a weekly institution–an institution in all the meetings of the disciples for Christian worship; or it must be an anomaly–a thing sui generis–an institution like no other of divine origin. And can anyone tell why Christians should celebrate the Lord’s resurrection fifty-two times in a year, and his death only once, twice, or twelve times? He that can do this will not be lacking in a lively imagination, however defection he may be in judgment, or in an acquaintance with the New Testament.
[Excerpts from The Christian System, 2d. ed. (1839) by Alexander Campbell]
CONSIDERATION OF OBJECTIONS
Having written so much on this subject formerly, I shall now introduce a few persons out of the many men of renown who, since the Reformation, have pled this cause. We shall not only introduce them to our readers, but we shall let them speak to them.–
John Brown, of Haddington, author of the Dictionary of the Bible, and teacher of theology for that branch of the Presbyterian church called the “Secession,” has written a treatise on this subject. We shall give him the task of stating and removing the objections to this apostolic institution. The reader will perceive that there are many impurities in his style; and although his speech betrays that he has been in Ashdod, still his arguments are weighty and powerful.
He offers various arguments for the weekly observance of this institution, and states and refutes nine objections to the practice. A few of the strongest we shall quote:–
“All the arguments I ever knew advanced in support of the unfrequent administration of the Lord’s supper, appear to me altogether destitute of force. The following are the principal:–
“Objection 1. The frequent administration of this ordinance, in the apostolic and primitive ages of Christianity, was commendable and necessary, because the continual persecutions that then raged, gave them ground to fear that every Sabbath might be their last; whereas now we are not in such danger, and therefore need not so frequent use of this ordinance.
“Answer. Ought we not still to live as if every Sabbath were to be our last? Have we now a lease on our life more than these had? Did not many Christians in these times live to as great an age as we do now? Indeed, is it not evident, from the best historians, that the church was generally under no persecution above one-third of the time, that weekly communion was practised? But, say they had been constantly exposed to the cruelest persecution, the objection becomes still more absurd. If they attended this ordinance weekly at the peril of their lives does it follow that now, when God gives us greater and better opportunity for it, we ought to omit it? Does God require the greatest work at his people’s hands, when he gives least opportunity? Or does he require least work, when he gives the greatest opportunity for i? What kind of a master must God be, if this were the case? Besides, do not men need this ordinance to preserve them from the influence of the world’s smiles as much as of its frowns?–“Let us invert this objection, and try if it has more force. It would then run thus: The primitive Christians received the Lord’s supper weekly, as their souls were in greater danger from the smiles and allurements of the world, which are usually found more hurtful to men’s spiritual concerns than its frowns; and as they had greater opportunity for doing so by their enjoying peace and liberty; yet this frequency of administering and partaking is not requisite now, as we, being under the world’s frowns, are in less hazard as to our spiritual concerns; and especially, as we cannot attend upon it but at the peril of our lives, God having expressly declared that he loves mercy better than sacrifice.
“Objection 2. The primitive and reforming times were seasons of great spiritual liveliness, and of large communications of divine influences to the souls of believers; whereas it is quite otherwise now. Therefore, though frequent administration was then commendable; yet, in our languishing decayed state, it is unnecessary.
“Answer. Ought we to repair seldom to the wells of salvation, because we can bring but little water at once from them? Ought we seldom to endeavor to to fill out pitchers at the fountain of living waters, because they are small? Is not this ordinance a cordial for restoring the languishing, strengthening the weak, recovering the sick, and reviving the dying believer? How reasonable, then, is it to argue that languishing, weak, sick, and dying believers, must not have it often administered to them, just because they are not in perfect health?”–“Would not the objection inverted read better? The primitive Christians had this ordinance frequently administered to them, because, being decayed and withered, weak and sickly, and receiving only scanty communications of divine influence at once, it was necessary for them to be often taking new meals: whereas, we being now strong and lively Christians, and receiving on these occasion such large supplies of grace, as are sufficient to enable us to walk many days under this powerful influence, have no occasion for so frequently attending on that ordinance, which is especially calculated for strengthening languishing, weak, sickly believers.
“Objection 3. If the Lord’s supper were frequently administered, it would become less solemn, and, in time, quite contemptible, as we see is the case with baptism, through the frequency of the administration of that ordinance.
“Answer. Is this means of keeping up the credit of the Lord’s supper, of God’s devising or not? If it is, where is that part of his word that warrants it? The contrary I have already proved from Scripture. Since, then, it is only of man’s invention, what ground is there to hope it will really maintain the credit and solemnity of the ordinance? Did not the Papists of old, pretend to maintain and advance its solemnity, by reduction of the frequency of administration? Did they not take away the cup from the people, which Calvin says was the native consequence of the former? Did they not annex the administration of this ordinance to those seasons which superstition had aggrandized; namely, Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas? Did they not annex a world of ceremonies to it? Did they not pretend that it was a real sacrifice, and that the elements were changed by consecration, into the real body and blood of Christ? And, did all this tend to the support of the proper credit of this ordinance? On the contrary, did it not destroy it? Though the doctrine of transubstantiation procured a kind of reverence for it, yet, was this reverence divine? or, was it not rather devilish, in worshipping the elements? Now, how are we sure that our infrequent administration of this ordinance will more effectually support its solemnity? Is it not strange that we should have so much encouragement from the practice of the Apostles, the primitive Christians, and the whole of the reformed churches, to profane this solemn ordinance; while the most ignorant and abandoned Papists are our original pattern, for the course that tends to support its proper honor and credit? What a strange case this must be, if, in order to support the credit of God’s ordinance, we must forsake the footsteps of the flock, and walk in the paths originally chalked out by the most ignorant and wicked antichristians?
“Besides, if our unfrequent administration of this ordinance render it solemn, would it not become much more so, if administered only once in seven, ten, twenty, thirty, sixty, or a hundred years?”–“Shall we not then find, that those who pray once a month or hear a sermon once-a-year, have their minds far more religiously impressed with solemn views of God, than those who pray seven times a day, and hear a hundred sermons within the year?
“Let us invert this objection, and see how it stands. All human devices to render God’s ordinances more solemn, are impeachments of his wisdom, and have always tended to bring the ordinances into contempt. But unfrequent administration of the supper is a human device, first invented by the worst Papists, and therefore it tends to bring contempt on this ordinance, as we see sadly verified in the practice of those who voluntarily communicate seldom.”
The means by which the weekly observance of the supper was set aside, Mr. Brown states in the following words:–
“The means by which the unfrequent administration of this ordinance appears to me to have been introduced into the church, do not savor of the God of truth. The causes that occasioned its introduction appear to have been pride, superstition, covetousness, and carnal complaisance. The eastern hermits, retiring from the society of men, had taken up their residence in deserts and mountains, and, being far removed from the places of its administration, seldom attended. This, though really the effect of their sloth and distance, they pretend to arise from their regard and reverence for this most solemn ordinance. It being easy to imitate them in this imaginary holiness, which lay in neglecting the ordinance of God, many of the eastern Christians left off to communicate, except at such times as superstition had rendered solemn, as at pasch; and contented themselves with being spectators on other occasions. On account of this practice, we find the great and eloquent Chrysostom, once and again, bitterly exclaiming against them as guilty of the highest contempt of God and Christ; and calls their practice a most wicked custom.”
An objection not formally stated by Mr. Brown, which I have frequently heard, is drawn from the words, ‘as often as you do this, do it in remembrance of me.’ From these words, it is pled that we are without law in regard to the time how often; and consequently cannot be condemned for a partial or total neglect: for ‘where there is no law, there is no transgression.’ ‘As often‘ is used not to license the frequency, but to denote the manner. ‘Always do it in remembrance of me.’ The connexion in which these words occur regarding the manner or design of the observance, and not how often it may, or may not be celebrated, it is a violation of every rule of interpretation to infer another matter from them, which was not in the eye of the Apostle. Besides, if the words ‘as oft’ leave it discretionary with any society how often, they are blameless if they never once, or more than once in all their lives, show forth the Saviour’s death. This interpretation makes an observance without reason, without law, without precedent, and consequently without obligation.
Next to Mr. Brown, we shall introduce a few extracts from William King, Archbishop of Dublin. The Editors of the Christian Examiner presented a very valuable extract from Mr. King, in their 7th of May number of the first volume, from which I quote the following, pp. 163, 165, 166, 167:–
“The following remarks on this institution of our Saviour, are copies from a ‘Discourse concerning the Inventions of Men in the Worship of God,‘ by William King, of Ireland. He was born at Antrim, 1650; educated at Trinity College, Dublin; and held successively the dignities of Dean of St. Patrick’s, Bishop of Derry, and Archbishop of Dublin. He died in 1729. His method, in this discourse is to examine and compare the worship of God, as taught in the Scriptures, with the practice of the different religious sects of the day:–
‘Christ’s positive command to do this in remembrance of him, &c., must oblige us in some times and in some places; and there can be no better way of determining when we are obliged to do it than by observing when God in his goodness gives us opportunity; for either we are then obliged to do it, or else we may choose whether we will ever do it or no; there being no better means of determining the frequency, than this of God’s giving us the opportunity. And the same rule holding in all other general positive commands, such as those that oblige us to charity, we may be sure it holds likewise in this. Therefore, whoever slights or neglects any opportunity of receiving which God afford him, does sin, as certainly as he, who, being enabled by God to perform an act of charity, and invited by a fit object, neglects to relieve him, or shuts up his bowels of compassion against him, concerning whom the Scriptures assure us that the love of God dwells not in him. And the arrangement is rather stronger against him who neglects this holy ordinance; for how can it be supposed that man has a true love for his Saviour, or a due sense of his sufferings, who refuses or neglects to remember the greatest of all benefits, in the easiest manner, though commanded to do it by his Redeemer, and invited by a fair opportunity of God’s own offering.
“It is manifest that if it be not our own fault, we may have an opportunity every Lord’s day when we meet together; and therefore that church is guilty of laying aside the command, whose order and worship doth not require and provide for this practice. Christ’s command seems to lead us directly to it: for, ‘Do this in remembrance of me,’ implies that Christ was to leave them, that they were to meet together after he was gone, and that he required them to remember him at their meetings whilst he was absent. The very design of our public meetings on the Lord’s day, and not on the Jewish Sabbath, is, to remember and keep in our minds a sense of what Christ did and suffered for us till he come again; and this we are obliged to do, not in such a manner as our own inventions suggest, but by such means as Christ himself has prescribed to us, that is, by celebrating this holy ordinance.
‘It seems then probable, from the very institution of this ordinance, that our Saviour designed it should be a part of God’s service in all the solemn assemblies of Christians, as the passover was in the assemblies of the Jews. To know, therefore, how often Christ requires us to celebrate this feast, we have no more to do, but to inquire how often Christ requires us to meet together; that is, at least every Lord’s day.'”
Next we shall introduce an American Rabbi of very great celebrity, Dr. John Mason, of New York. The passages which I quote are found in a note attached to page 188th of the New York Edition of Fuller’s Strictures on Sandemanianism.
“Mr. Fuller does not deny that the Lord’s Supper was observed by the first Christians every Lord’s day, (nor will this be denied by any man who has candidly investigated the subject,) but he seems to think that Acts xx. 7. does not prove that it was so; others, eminent for piety and depth of research, have considered this passage as affording a complete proof of the weekly observance of the Lord’s supper. Dr. Scott, in his valuable Commentary, observes on this passage, ‘Breaking of bread, or commemorating the death of Christ in the eucharist, was one chief end of their assembling; this ordinance seems to have been constantly administered every Lord’s day, and probably no professed Christians absented themselves from it, after they had been admitted into the church; unless they lay under some censure, or had some real hindrance.’
“Dr. Mason, of this city, in his Letters on Frequent Communion, speaks on this subject with still greater decision. ‘It is notorious, that during the first three centuries of the Christian era, communions were held with the frequency of which, among us, we have neither example nor resemblance. It is also notorious, that the original frequency of communions declined as carnality and corruption gained ground. And it is no less notorious, that it has been urged as a weighty duty by the best of men, and the best churches, in the best of times.’
“Weekly communion did not die with the Apostles and their contemporaries. There is a cloud of witnesses to testify that they were kept up by succeeding Christians, with great care and tenderness, for above two centuries. It is not necessary to swell these pages with quotations. The fact is indisputable.
“Communion every Lord’s day, was universal, and was preserved in the Greek church till the seventh century; and such as neglected three weeks together were excommunicated.
“In this manner did the spirit of ancient piety cherish the memory of the Saviour’s love. There was no need of reproof, remonstrance, or entreaty. No trifling excuses for neglect were ever heard from the lips of a Christian; for such a neglect had not yet degraded the Christian’s name. He carried in his own bosom sufficient inducements to obey, without reluctance, the precepts of his Lord. It was his choice, his consolation, his joy. These were days of life and glory; but days of dishonor and death were shortly to succeed; nor was there a more ominous symptom of their approach, than the decline of frequent communicating. For as the power of religion appears in a solicitude to magnify the Lord Jesus continually, so the decay of it is first detected by the encroachments of indifference. It was in the fourth century, that the church began very discernibly to forsake her first love.
“The excellent Calvin complains that in this day, professors, conceiting that they had fully discharged their duty by a single communion, resigned themselves for the rest of the year, to supineness and sloth. ‘It ought to have been,’ says he, ‘far otherwise. Every week, at least, the table of the Lord should have been spread for Christian assemblies; and the promises declared, by which, partaking of it, we might be spiritually fed.'”16
We shall now hear the celebrated John Wesley. After fifty five years’ reflection upon the subject, he decides that Christians should show forth the Lord’s death every Lord’s day. He prefaces 106th Sermon, Luke xxii. 19, with this remark:–
“This discourse was written above fifty and five years ago, for the use of my pupils at Oxford. I have added very little, but retrenched much; as I then used more words than I now do. But I thank God, I have not yet seen cause to alter my sentiments in any point which is therein delivered.”
The Sermon is titled “The Duty of Constant Communion,” concerning which the Reformer says–
“It is no wonder that men who have no fear of God, should never think of doing this. But it is strange that it should be neglected by any that do fear God, and desire to save their souls; and yet nothing is more common. One reason why many neglect it it, they are so much afraid of eating and drinking unworthily, that they never think how much greater the danger is, when they do not eat or drink at all.”
In speaking of constantly receiving the supper, Mr. Wesley says–
“I say constantly receiving. For as to the phrase frequent communion, it is absurd to the last degree. If it means any thing else but constant, it means more than can be proved to be the duty of any man. For if we are not obliged to communicate constantly, by what argument can it be proved that we are obliged to communicate frequently? yea, more than once a year? or once in seven years? or once before we die? Every argument brought for this, either proves that we ought to do it constantly, or proves nothing at all. Therefore that undeterminate unmeaning way of speaking, ought to be laid aside by all by all men of understanding. Our power is the only rule of our duty. Whatever we can do, that we ought. With respect either to this, or any other command, he that, when he may obey if he will, does not, will have no place in the kingdom of heaven.”
Though we may have some objections to the style in which John Wesley speaks of the meaning of this institution, as we have indeed to that of all the others from whom we have quoted, yet we would recommend to the whole Methodistic community the close perusal of the above Sermon. It will be found in vol. 3, pp. 171-179.
The Elders among the Methodists, with whom John Wesley is such high authority, we would remind of his advice, found in his Letters to America, 1784, lately quoted in the Gospel Herald, Lexington, Kentucky. “I ALSO ADVISE THE ELDERS TO ADMINISTER THE SUPPER OF THE LORD ON EVERY LORD’S DAY.”
So much for John Brown, John Mason, and John Wesley, and the authorities which they quoted. While quoting the sayings of the Johns, I am reminded of something said by the great John Milton, the “immortal bard” of England. In his posthumous works, he says; “The Lord’s supper (which the doctrine of transubstantiation, or rather anthropophagy, has well nigh converted into a banquet of cannibals,) is essential to be observed, and may be administered by any one with propriety, as well as by an appointed minister. There is no order of men which can claim to itself either the right of distribution, or the power of withholding the sacred elements, seeing that in the church we are all alike priests.” “The master of a family, or any one appointed by him, is at liberty to celebrate the Lord’s supper from house to house, as was done in the dispensation of the passover”–“all Christians are a royal priesthood: therefore any believer is competent to act as an ordinary minister according as convenience may require, provided only he be endowed with the necessary gifts, these gifts constituting his commission.” Thus did the famous John Milton make way for the weekly observance of the supper, by divesting it of the priestly appendages and penances of the dark ages.
A cloud of witnesses to the plainness and evidence of the New Testament on the subject of the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, might be adduced. But this we think unnecessary; and as we would avoid prolixity and tediousness, we shall only add a few extracts from the third volume of the Christian Baptist, 2d edt. p. 254, in proof of the assertion–all antiquity is on the side of the disciples meeting every first day to break the loaf.—
All antiquity concurs in evincing that, for the three first centuries, all the churches broke bread once a week. Pliny, in his Epistles, Book x. Justin Martyr, in his Second Apology for the Christians, and Tertullian, De Ora. page 135, testify that it was the universal practice in all the weekly assemblies of the brethren, after they had prayed and sung praises–‘Then bread and wine being brought to the chief brother, he taketh it and offereth praise and thanksgiving to the Father, in the name of the Son and Holy Spirit. After prayer and thanksgiving, the whole assembly saith, Amen! When thanksgiving is ended by the chief guide, and the consent of the whole people, the deacons (as we call them) give to every one present part of the bread and wine, over which thanks are given.’
“The weekly communion was prepared in the Greek church till the seventh century; and, by one of their canons, ‘such as neglected three weeks together, were excommunicated.’17
“In the fourth century, when all things began to be changed by baptized Pagans, the practice began to decline. Some of the councils in the western part of the Roman Empire, by their canons, strove to keep it up. The council held at Illiberis in Spain, A. D. 324, decreed that ‘no offerings should be received from such as did not receive the Lord’s Supper.’18
“The council at Antioch, A. D. 341, decreed that ‘all who came to church, and heard the Scriptures read, but afterwards joined not in prayer, and receiving the sacrament, should be cast out of the church, till such time as they gave public proof of their repentance.’19
“All these canons were unable to keep the carnal crowd of professors in a practice for which they had no spiritual taste; and, indeed, it was likely to get out of use altogether. To prevent this, the Council of Agatha, in Languedoc, A. D. 506, decreed that ‘none should be esteemed good Christians who did not communicate at least three times a year–at Christmas, Easter, and Whitsunday.’20 This soon became the standard of a good Christian, and it was judged presumptuous to commune oftener.
“Things went on in this way for more than 600 years, until they got tired of even three communications in one year; and the infamous Council of Lateran, which decreed auricular confession and transubstantiation, decreed that ‘an annual communion at Easter was sufficient.’ This association of the ‘sacrament’ with Easter, and the mechanical devotion of the ignorant at this season, greatly contributed to the worship of the Host.21 Thus the breaking of bread in simplicity and godly sincerity once-a-week, degenerated into a pompous sacrament once-a-year at Easter.
“At the Reformation this subject was but slightly investigated by the reformers. Some of them, however, paid some attention to it. Even Calvin, in his Institutes, lib. 4. chap. xvii. sect. 46, says, ‘And truly this custom, which enjoins communicating once-a-year, is a most evident contrivance of the Devil, by whose instrumentality soever it may have been determined.’
“And again (Inst. lib. 6, chap. xviii. sect. 56,) he says, ‘It ought to have been far otherwise. Every week, at least, the table of the Lord should have been spread for Christian assemblies, and the promises declared by which, in partaking of it, we might be spiritually fed.’
“Martin Chemnitz, Witsius, Calderwood, and others of the reformers and controversialists, concur with Calvin; and, indeed, almost every commentator on the New Testament concurs with the Presbyterian Henry in the remarks on Acts xx. 7. ‘In the primitive times it was the custom of many churches to receive the Lord’s supper every Lord’s day.’
“The Belgic reformed church, in 1851, appointed the supper to be received every other month. The reformed churches of France, after saying that they had been too remiss in observing the supper but four times a year, advise a greater frequency. The church of Scotland began with four sacraments in a year; but some of her ministers got up to twelve times. Thus things stood till the close of the last century.
“Since the commencement of the present century, many congregations in England, Scotland, Ireland, and some in the United States and Canada, both Independents and Baptists, have attended upon the supper every Lord’s day, and the practice is every day gaining ground.
“These historical notices may be of some use to those who are ever and anon crying out Innovation! Innovation! But we advocate the principle and the practice on apostolic grounds alone. Blessed is the servant, who, knowing his Master’s will, doeth it with expedition and delight!
“Those who would wish to see an able refutation of the Presbyterian mode of observing the sacrament, and a defence of weekly communion, would do well to read Dr. John Mason’s Letters on Frequent Communion, who is himself a high toned Presbyterian, and consequently his remarks will be more regarded by his brethren than mine.”
Thus our seventh proposition is sustained by the explicit declarations of the New Testament, by the reasonableness of the thing itself when suggested by the Apostles, by analogy, by the conclusions of the most eminent reformers, and by the concurrent voice of all Christian antiquity. But on the plain sayings of the Lord and his Apostles, we rely for authority and instruction upon this and every other Christian institution.
It does, indeed, appear somewhat incongruous, that arguments should have to be submitted to urge Christians to convene weekly around the Lord’s table. Much more in accordance with the genius of our religion would it be, to see them over solicitous to be honored with a seat at the King’s table, and asking with intense interest, might they be permitted so often to eat in his presence, and in honor of his love. To have to withstand their daily convocations for this purpose, would not be a task so unnatural and so unreasonable, as to have to reason and expostulate with them, to urge them to assemble for weekly communion.
But as the want of appetite for our animal sustenance is a symptom of ill health, or approaching disease; so a want of relish for spiritual food is indicative of a want to spiritual health, or of the presence of a moral disease, which, if not healed, must issue in apostacy from the Living Head. Hence among the most equivocal prognosis of a spiritual decline, the most decisive is a want to appetite for the nourishment, which the Good Physician prepared and prescribed for his family. A healthy and vigorous Christian, excluded from the use and enjoyment of all the provisions of the Lord’s house cannot be found.
But much depends upon the manner of celebrating the supper, as well as upon the frequency. The simplicity of the Christian institution runs through every part of it. While there is the form of doing every thing, there is all attention to the thing signified. But there is the form as well as the substance, and every thing that is done, must be done in some manner. The well bred Christian is like the well bred gentleman–his manners are graceful, easy, artless, and simple. All stiffness and forced formality are as graceless in the Christian as in the gentleman. A courteous and polite family differs exceedingly from a soldier’s mess mates or a ship’s crew, in all the ceremonies of the table. There is a Christian decency and a Christian order, as well as political courtesy and complaisance.
Nothing is more disgusting than mimicry. It is hypocrisy in manners, which, like hypocrisy in religion, is more odious than apathy or vulgarity. There is a saintishness in demeanor and appearance, which differs as much from sanctity, as foppery from politeness. The appearance of sanctimoniousness is as much to be avoided as actual licentiousness of morals. An austere and rigid pharisaism sits as awkwardly upon a Christian, as a mourning habit upon a bride. Cheerfulness is not mirth–solemnity is not pharisaism–joy is not noise–nor eating, festivity.
But to act right in any thing we must feel right. If we would show love, we must first possess it. If a person would walk humbly, he must be humble: and if one would act the Christian on any occasion, he must always live the Christian. Persons who daily converse with God, and who constantly meditate upon his salvation, will not need to be told how they should demean themselves at the Lord’s table.
The following extract from my Memorandum Book furnishes the nighest approach to the model, which we have in our eye, of good order and Christian decency in celebrating this institution. Indeed, the whole order of that congregation was comely:–
“The church in ——– consisted of about fifty members. Not having any person whom they regarded as filling Paul’s outlines of a Bishop, they had appointed two senior members, of a very grave deportment, to preside in their meetings. These persons were not competent to labor in the word and teaching; but they were qualified to rule well, and to preside with Christian dignity. One of them presided at each meeting. After they had assembled in the morning, which was at eleven o’clock, (for they had agreed to meet at eleven and to adjourn at two o’clock during the Winter season,) and after they had saluted one another in a very familiar and cordial manner, as brethren are wont to do who meet for social purposes; the president for the day arose and said: ‘Brethren, being assembled in the name and by the authority of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, on this day of his resurrection, let us unite in celebrating his praise.’ He then repeated the following stanza:–
“Christ the Lord is risen to-day!
“The congregation arose and sang this psalm in animating strains. He then called upon a brother, who was a very distinct and emphatic reader, to read a section of the evangelical history. He arose and read, in a very audible voice, the history of the crucifixion of the Messiah. After a pause of a few moments, the president called upon a brother to pray in the name of the congregation. His prayer abounded with thanksgivings to the Father of Mercies, and with supplications for such blessings on themselves and for all men as were promised to those who ask, or for which men were commanded to pray. The language was very appropriate; no unmeaning repetitions, no labor of words, no effort to say any thing and every thing that came into his mind; but to express slowly, distinctly, and emphatically, the desires of the heart. The prayer was comparatively short; and the whole congregation, brethren and sisters, pronounced aloud the final Amen.
“After prayer a passage in one of the Epistles was read by the president himself, and a song was called for. A brother arose, and after naming the page, repeated–
“‘Twas on that night when doom’d to know
“He then sat down, and the congregation sang with much feeling.
“I observed that the table was furnished before the disciples met in the morning, and that the disciples occupied a few benches on each side of it, while the strangers sat off on seats more remote. The president arose and said that our Lord had a table for his friends, and that he invited his disciples to sup with him. ‘In memory of his death, this monumental table,’ said he, ‘was instituted; and as the Lord ever lives in heaven, so he ever lives in the hearts of his people. As the first disciples, taught by the Apostles in person, came together into one place to eat the Lord’s supper, and as they selected the first day of the week in honor of his resurrection, for this purpose; so we, having the same Lord, the same faith, the same hope with them, have vowed to do as they did. We owe as much to the Lord as they; and ought to love, honor, and obey him as they.’ Thus having spoken, he took a small loaf from the table, and in one or two periods gave thanks for it. After thanksgiving, he raised it in his hand, and significantly brake it, and handed it to the disciples on each side of him, who passed the broken loaf from one to another, until they all partook of it. There was no stiffness, no formality, no pageantry; all was easy, familiar, solemn, cheerful. He then took the cup in a similar manner, and returned thanks for it, and handed it to the disciples sitting next to him, who passed it round; each one waiting upon his brother, until all were served. The thanksgiving before the breaking of the loaf, and the disturbing of the cup, were as brief and pertinent to the occasion, as the thanks usually presented at a common table for the ordinary blessing of God’s bounty. They then arose, and with one consent sang–
“To him that lov’d the sons of men,
“The president of the meeting called upon a brother to remember the poor, and those ignorant of the way of life, before the Lord. He kneeled down and the brethren all united with him in supplicating the Father of Mercies in behalf of all the sons and daughters of affliction; the poor and the destitute, and in behalf of the conversion of the world. After this prayer the fellowship, or contribution, was attended to; and the whole church proved the sincerity of their desires, by the cheerfulness and liberality which they seemed to evince, in putting into the treasury as the Lord had prospered them.
“A general invitation was tendered to all the brotherhood if they had any thing to propose or inquire, tending to the edification of the body. Several brethren arose in succession, and read several passages in the Old and New Testaments, relative to some matters which had been subjects of former investigation and inquiry. Sundry remarks were made; and after singing several spiritual songs selected by the brethren, the president, on motion of a brother who signified that the hour of adjournment had arrived, concluded the meeting by pronouncing the apostolic benediction.
“I understand that all these items were attended to in all their meetings; yet the order of attendance was not invariably the same. On all the occasions on which I was present with them, no person arose of speak without invitation, or without asking permission of the president, and no person finally left the meeting before the hour of adjournment, without special leave. Nothing appeared to be done in a formal or ceremonious manner. Every thing exhibited the power of godliness as well as the form; and no person could attend to all that passed without being edified and convinced that the Spirit of God was there. The joy, the affection, and the reverence which appeared in this little assembly, was the strongest argument in favor of their order, and the best comment on the excellency of the Christian institution.”