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The Christian Life by Thomas Arnold

LECTURE XXX. 1 CORINTHIANS xi. 26.

1 CORINTHIANS xi.26.

For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come.

When I spoke last Sunday of the benefits yet to be derived from Christ's Church, I spoke of them, as being, for the most part, three in number -- our communion in prayer, our communion in reading the Scriptures, and our communion in the Lord's Supper; and, after having spoken of the first two of these, I proposed to leave the third for our consideration to-day.

The words of the text are enough to show how closely this subject is connected with that event which we celebrate to-day: |As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come.| The communion, then, with one another in the Lord's Supper is doing that which this day was also designed to do; it is showing forth, or declaring the Lord's death; it is declaring, in the face of all the world, that we partake of the Lord's Supper because we believe that Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us.

[Footnote 13: Good Friday.]

God might, no doubt, if it had so pleased him, have made all spiritual blessing come to us immediately from himself. Without ascending any higher with the idea, it is plain that Christianity might have been made a thing wholly between each individual man and Christ; all our worship might have been the secret worship of our own hearts; and in eating the bread, and drinking the cup, to show forth the Lord's death, each one of us might have done this singly, holding communion with Christ alone. I mean, that it is quite conceivable that we should have had Christianity, and a great number of Christians spread all over the world, but yet no Christian Church. But, although this is conceivable, and, in fact, is practically the case in some particular instances where individual Christians happen to be quite cut off from all other Christians, -- as has been known sometimes in foreign and remote countries; and although, through various evil causes, it has become, in many respects, too much the case with us all; for our religion is with all of us, I am inclined to think, too much a matter between God and ourselves alone; yet still it is not the design of Christ that it should be so: his people were not only to be good men, redeemed from sin and death and brought to know and love the truth, in which relation Christianity would appear like a divine philosophy only, working not only upon individuals, but through their individual minds, and as individuals; but they were to be the Christian Church, helping one another in things pertaining to God, and making their mutual brotherhood to one another an essential part of what are called peculiarly their acts of religion. So that the Church of England seems to have well borne in mind this character of Christianity, namely, that it presents us not each, but all together, before God; and therefore it is ordered that even in very small parishes, where |there are not more than twenty persons in the parish of discretion to receive the communion, yet there shall be no communion, except four, or three at the least, out of these twenty communicate together with the priest.| Nay, even in the Communion of the Sick, under circumstances which seem to make religion particularly an individual matter between Christ and our own single selves; when the expected approach of death seems to separate, in the most marked manner, according to human judgment, him who is going hence from his brethren still in the world; even then it is ordered that two other persons, at the least, shall communicate along with the sick man and the minister. Nor is this ever relaxed except in times of pestilence; when it is provided, that if no other person can be persuaded to join from their fear of infection, then, and then only upon special request of the diseased, the minister may alone communicate with them. So faithfully does our Church adhere to this true Christian notion, that at the Lord's Supper we are not to communicate with Christ alone, but with him in and together with our brethren; so that I was justified in regarding the Holy Communion as one of those helps and blessings which we still derive from the Christian Church -- from Christ's mystical body.

It is the natural process of all false and corrupt religions, on the contrary, to destroy this notion of Christ's Church, and to lead away our thoughts from our brethren in matters of religion, and to fix them merely upon God as known to us through a priest. The great evil in this is, (if there is any one evil greater than another in a system so wholly made up of falsehood, and so leading to all wickedness; but, at any rate, one great evil of it is,) that whereas the greatest part of all our lives is engaged in our relations towards our brethren, that there lie most of our temptations to evil, as well as of our opportunities of good, if our brethren do not form an essential part of our religions views, it follows, and always has followed, that our behaviour and feelings towards them are guided by views and principles not religious; and that by this fatal separation of what God has joined together, our worship and religious services become superstitious, while our life and actions become worldly, in the bad sense of the term, low principled, and profane.

If this is not so clear when put into a general form, it will be plain enough when I show it in that particular example which we are concerned with here. Nowhere, I believe, is the temptation stronger to lose sight of one another in our religious exercises, and especially in our Communion. Our serious thoughts in turning to God, turn away almost instinctively from our companions about us. Practically, as far as the heart is concerned, we are a great deal too apt to go to the Lord's table each alone. But consider how much we lose by this. We are necessarily in constant relations with one another; some of those relations are formal, others are trivial; we connect each other every day with a great many thoughts, I do not say of unkindness, but yet of that indifferent character which is no hindrance to any unkindness when the temptation to it happens to arise. This must always be the case in life; business, neighbourhood, pleasure, -- the occasions of most of our intercourse with one another, -- have in them nothing solemn or softening: they have in themselves but little tendency to lead us to the love of one another. Now, if this be so in the world, it is even more so here; your intercourse with one another is much closer and more constant than what can exist in after life with any but the members of your own family; and yet the various relations which this intercourse has to do with, are even less serious and less softening than those of ordinary life in manhood. The kindliness of feeling which is awakened in after years between two men, by the remembrance of having been at school together, even without any particular acquaintance with each other, is a very different thing from the feeling of being at school with each other now. I do not wonder, then, that any one of you, when he resolves to come to the Holy Communion, should rather try to turn away his thoughts from his companions, and to think of himself alone as being concerned in what he is going to do. I do not wonder at it; but, then, neither do I wonder that, when the Communion is over, and thoughts of his companions must return, they receive little or no colour from his religious act so lately performed; that they are as indifferent as they were before, as little furnishing a security against neglect, or positive unkindness, or encouragement of others to evil. Depend upon it, unless your common life is made a part of your religion, your religion will never sanctify your common life.

Now consider, on the one hand, what might be the effect of going to the Holy Communion with a direct feeling that, in that Communion, we, though many, were all brought together in Christ Jesus. And first, I will speak of our thoughts of those who are partakers of the Communion with us, then of those who are not. When others are gone out, and we who are to communicate are left alone with each other, then, if we perceive that there are many of us, the first natural feeling is one of joy, that we are so many; that our party, -- that only true and good party to which we may belong with all our hearts, -- that our party, -- that Christ's party, seems so considerable. Then there comes the thought, that we are all met together freely, willingly, not as a matter of form, to receive the pledges of Christ's love to us, to pledge ourselves to him in return. If we are serious, those around us may be supposed to be serious too; if we wish to have help from God to lead a holier life, they surely wish the same; if the thought of past sin is humbling us, the same shame is working in our brethren's bosoms; if we are secretly resolving, by God's grace, to serve him in earnest, the hearts around us are, no doubt, resolving the same. There is the consciousness, (when and where else can we enjoy it?) that we are in sympathy with all present; that, coloured merely by the lesser distinctions of individual character, one and the same current of feeling is working within us all. And, if feeling this of our sympathy with one another, how strongly is it heightened by the thought of what Christ has done for us all! We are all loving him, because he loved us all; we are going together to celebrate his death, because he died for us all; we are resolving all to serve him, because his Holy Spirit is given to us all, and we are all brought to drink of the same Spirit. Then let us boldly carry our thoughts a little forward to that time, only a short hour hence, when we shall again be meeting one another, in very different relations; even in those common indifferent relations of ordinary life which are connected so little with Christ. Is it impossible to think, that, although we shall meet without these walls in very different circumstances, yet that we have seen each other pledging ourselves to serve Christ together? if the recollection of this lives in us, why should it not live in our neighbour? If we are labouring to keep alive our good resolutions made at Christ's table, why should we think that others have forgotten them? We do not talk of them openly, yet still they exist within us. May not our neighbour's silence also conceal within his breast the same good purposes? At any rate, we may and ought to regard him as ranged on our side in the great struggle of life; and if outward circumstances do not so bring us together as to allow of our openly declaring our sympathy, yet we may presume that it still exists; and this consciousness may communicate to the ordinary relations of life that very softness which they need, in order to make them Christian.

Again, with regard to those who go out, and do not approach to the Lord's table. With some it is owing to their youth; with others to a mistaken notion of their youth; with others to some less excusable reason, perhaps, but yet to such as cannot yet exclude kindness and hope. But having once felt what it is to be only with those who are met really as Christians, our sense of what it is to want this feeling is proportionably raised. Is it sad to us to think that our neighbour does not look upon us as fellow Christians? is it something cold to feel that he regards us only in those common worldly relations which leave men in heart so far asunder? Then let us take heed that we do not ourselves feel so towards him. We have learnt to judge more truly, to feel more justly, of our relations to every one who bears Christ's name: if we forget this, we have no excuse; for we have been at Christ's table, and have been taught what Christians are to one another. And let our neighbour be ever so careless, yet we know that Christ cares for him; that his Spirit has not yet forsaken him, but is still striving with him. And if God vouchsafes so much to him, how can we look upon him as though he were no way connected with us? how can we be as careless of his welfare, as apt either to annoy him, or to lead him into evil, or to take no pains to rescue him from it, as if he were no more to us than the accidental inhabitant of the same place, who was going on his way as we may be on ours, neither having any concern with the other?

And, now, is it nothing to learn so to feel towards those around us; to have thus gained what will add kindness and interest to all our relations with others; and, in the case of many, will give an abiding sense of the truest sympathy, and consequently greater confidence and encouragement to ourselves? Be sure that this is not to profane the Lord's Supper, but to use it according to Christ's own ordinance. For though the thoughts of which I have been speaking, have, in one sense, man and not God for their object, yet as they do not begin in man but in Christ, and in his love to us all, so neither do they, properly speaking, rest in man as such, but convert him, as it were, into an image of Christ: so that their end, as well as their beginning, is with Him. I do earnestly desire that you would come to Christ's table, in order to learn a Christian's feelings towards one another. This is what you want every day; and the absence of which leads to more and worse faults than, perhaps, any other single cause. But, then, this Christian feeling towards one another, how is it to be gained but by a Christian feeling towards Christ? and where are we to learn brotherly love in all our common dealings, but from a grateful thought of that Divine love towards us all which is shown forth in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper; inasmuch as, so often as we eat that bread and drink that cup, we do show the Lord's death till He come.

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