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The Ancient Church by William Dool Killen


Baptism and the Lord's Supper may be regarded as a typical or pictorial summary of the great salvation. In Baptism the gospel is exhibited subjectively -- renewing the heart and cleansing from all iniquity: in the Lord's Supper it is exhibited objectively -- providing a mighty Mediator, and a perfect atonement. Regeneration and Propitiation are central truths towards which all the other doctrines of Christianity converge, and in marking them out by corresponding symbols, the Head of the Church has been graciously pleased to signalize their importance.

The Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation and thoroughly furnished unto all good works; but we are not at liberty to adulterate these records either by addition or subtraction. If they should be preserved exactly as they issued from the pen of inspiration, it is clear that the visible ordinances in which they are epitomized should also be maintained in their integrity. He who tampers with a divinely-instituted symbol is obviously to some extent obnoxious to the malediction [483:1] pronounced upon the man who adds to, or takes away from, the words of the book of God's prophecy.

Had the original form of administering the Lord's Supper been rigidly maintained, the Church might have avoided a multitude of errors; but very soon the spirit of innovation began to disfigure this institute. The mode in which it was observed, and the views which were entertained respecting it by the Christians of Rome, about the middle of the second century, are minutely described by Justin Martyr. |There is brought,| says he, |to that one of the brethren who is president, bread and a cup of wine mixed with water. And he, having received them, gives praise and glory to the Father of all things.... And when he has finished his praises and thanksgiving, all the people who are present express their assent saying Amen, which in the Hebrew tongue signifies so be it. The president having given thanks, and the people having expressed their assent, those whom we call deacons give to each of those who are present a portion of the bread which has been blessed, and of the wine mixed with water; and carry away some for those who are absent. And this food is called by us the Eucharist, of which no one may partake unless he believes that which we teach is true, and is baptized, ... and lives in such a manner as Christ commanded. For we receive not these elements as common bread or common drink. But even as Jesus Christ our Saviour ... had both flesh and blood for our salvation, even so we are taught that the food which is blessed ... by the digestion of which our blood and flesh are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles in the memoirs composed by them, which are called gospels, have related that Jesus thus commanded them, that having taken bread and given thanks He said -- 'Do this in remembrance of me, this is my body;' and that, in like manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, 'This is my blood;' and that He distributed them to these alone.| [484:1]

The writer does not here mention the posture of the disciples when communicating, but it is highly probable that they still continued to sit [485:1] in accordance with the primitive pattern. As they received the ordinance in the same attitude as that in which they partook of their common meals, the story that their religious assemblies were the scenes of unnatural feasting, may have thus originated. [485:2] For the first three centuries, kneeling at the Lord's Supper was unknown; and it is not until about a hundred years after the death of the Apostle John, that we read of the communicants standing. [485:3] Throughout the whole of the third century, this appears to have been the position in which they partook of the elements. [485:4]

The bread and wine of the Eucharist were now supplied by the worshippers, who made |oblations| according to their ability, [485:5] as well for the support of the ministers of the Church, as for the celebration of its ordinances. There is no reason to believe that the bread, used at this period in the holy Supper, was unfermented; for, though our Lord distributed a loaf, or cake, of that quality when the rite was instituted, the early Christians seem to have considered the circumstance accidental; as unleavened bread was in ordinary use among the Jews at the time of the Passover. The disciples appear to have had less reason for mixing the wine with water, and they could have produced no good evidence that such was the beverage used by Christ when He appointed this commemoration. In the third century superstition already recognized a mystery in the mixture. |We see,| says Cyprian, |that in the water the people are represented, but that in the wine is exhibited the blood of Christ. When, however, in the cup water is mingled with wine, the people are united to Christ, and the multitude of the faithful are coupled and conjoined to Him on whom they believe.| [486:1] The bread was not put into the mouth of the communicant by the administrator, but was handed to him by a deacon; and it is said that, the better to shew forth the unity of the Church, all partook of one loaf made of a size sufficient to supply the whole congregation. [486:2] The wine was administered separately, and was drunk out of a cup or chalice. As early as the third century an idea began to be entertained that the Eucharist was necessary to salvation, and it was, in consequence, given to infants. [486:3] None were now suffered to be present at its celebration but those who were communicants; [486:4] for even the catechumens, or candidates for baptism, were obliged to withdraw before the elements were consecrated.

The Passover was kept only once a year, but the Eucharist, which was the corresponding ordinance of the Christian dispensation, was observed much more frequently. Justin intimates that it was administered every Lord's day, and other fathers of this period bear similar testimony. Cyprian speaks even of its daily celebration. [486:5] The New Testament has promulgated no precise law upon the subject, and it is probable that only the more zealous disciples communicated weekly. On the Paschal week it was observed with peculiar solemnity, and by the greatest concourse of worshippers.

The term sacrament was now applied to both Baptism and the Lord's Supper; but it was not confined to these two symbolic ordinances. [487:1] The word transubstantiation was not introduced until upwards of a thousand years after the death of our Saviour; [487:2] and the doctrine which it indicates was not known to any of the fathers of the first three centuries. They all concur in describing the elements, after consecration, as bread and wine; they all represent them as passing through the usual process of digestion; and they all speak of them as symbols of the body and blood of Christ. In this strain Justin Martyr discourses of |that bread which our Christ has commanded us to offer in remembrance of His being made flesh, ... and of that cup which He
commanded those that celebrate the Eucharist to offer in remembrance of His blood.| [487:3] According to Clement of Alexandria the Scripture designates wine |a mystic symbol of the holy blood.| [487:4] Origen, as if anticipating the darkness which was to overspread the Church, expresses himself very much in the style of a zealous Protestant. He denounces as |simpletons| [487:5] those who attributed a supernatural power to the Eucharistic elements, and repeatedly affirms that the words used at the institution of the Lord's Supper are to be interpreted spiritually. |The meat,| says he, |which is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, as it is material, goes into the stomach, ... but, by reason of prayer made over it, it is profitable according to the proportion of faith, and is the cause that the understanding is enlightened and attentive to what is profitable; and it is not the substance of bread, but the word pronounced upon it, which is profitable to him who eats it in a way not unworthy of the Lord.| [488:1] Cyprian uses language scarcely less equivocal, for he speaks of |that wine whereby the blood of Christ is set forth,| [488:2] and asserts that it |was wine which He called His blood.| [488:3]

Christ has said -- |Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them;| [488:4] and, true to His promises, He is really present with His people in every act of devotion. Even when they draw near to Him in secret, or when they read His word, or when they meditate on His mercy, as well as when they listen to His gospel preached in the great congregation, He manifests Himself to them not as He does unto the world. But in the Eucharist He reveals His character more significantly than in any of His other ordinances; for He here addresses Himself to all the senses, as well as to the soul. In the words of institution they |hear His voice;| when the elements are presented to them, they perceive as it were |the smell of His garments;| with their hands they |handle of the Word of Life;| and they |taste and see that the Lord is good.| But some of the early Christian writers were by no means satisfied with such representations. They appear to have entertained an idea that Christ was in the Eucharist, not only in richer manifestations of His grace, but also in a way altogether different from that in which He vouchsafes His presence in prayer, or praise, or any other divine observance. They conceived that, as the soul of man is united to his body, the Logos, or Divine nature of Christ, pervades the consecrated bread and wine, so that they may be called His flesh and blood; and they imagined that, in consequence, the sacred elements imparted to the material frame of the believer the germ of immortality. [489:1] Irenaeus declares that |our bodies, receiving the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possessed of the hope of eternal life.| [489:2] This misconception of the ordinance was the fruitful source of superstition. The mere elements began to be regarded with awful reverence; the loss of a particle of the bread, or of a drop of the wine, was considered a tremendous desecration; and it was probably the growth of such feelings which initiated the custom of standing at the time of participation. But still there were fathers who were not carried away with the delusion, and who knew that the disposition of the worshipper was of far more consequence than the care with which he handled the holy symbols. |You who frequent our sacred mysteries,| says Origen, |know that when you receive the body of the Lord, you take care with all due caution and veneration, that not even the smallest particle of the consecrated gift shall fall to the ground and be wasted. [489:3] If, through inattention, any part thus falls, you justly account yourselves guilty. If then, with good reason, you use so much caution in preserving His body, how can you esteem it a lighter sin to slight the Word of God than to neglect His body?| [489:4]

|The words of the Lord are pure words, as silver tried in a furnace of earth purified seven times.| [489:5] The history of Baptism and the Lord's Supper demonstrates that, when speaking of the ordinances of religion, it is exceedingly dangerous to depart, even from the phraseology, which the Holy Spirit has dictated. In the second century Baptism was called |regeneration| and the Eucharistic bread was known by the compendious designation of |the Lord's body.| Such language, if typically understood, could create no perplexity; but all by whom it was used could scarcely be expected to give it a right interpretation, and thus many misconceptions were speedily generated. In a short time names, for which there is no warrant in the Word of God, were applied to the Lord's Supper; and false doctrines were eventually deduced from these ill-chosen and unauthorised designations. Thus, before the close of the second century, it was called an offering, and a sacrifice, [490:1] and the table at which it was administered was styled the altar. [490:2] Though these terms were now used rhetorically, in after-ages they were literally interpreted; and in this way the most astounding errors gradually gained currency. Meanwhile other topics led to keen discussion; but there was a growing disposition to shroud the Eucharist in mystery; and hence, for many centuries, the question as to the manner of Christ's presence in the ordinance awakened no controversy.

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