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In plain terms, the disciples, disappointed by the death of their Master, invented the Gospel narrative in order to harmonize the known facts of His life and end with His claims to the Messiahship. They wove together this extraordinary story, and then persuaded their countrymen to accept it.
Why the disciples should continue to believe in One who had so absolutely disappointed every Messianic hope, we are not told. What conceivable reason can they have had for assuming the attitude they did assume towards the Mosaic Law? Why they should have thrown off all the prejudices and in. fluences of their early life by the abandonment of the sacrificial ritual—why they should have received and celebrated and promulgated a rite, which would perpetually recall the disappointment they had experienced—and how they were able to produce, not only in their own country, but also in other lands, so powerful an effect, by the story of their Master's life and death, upon the heathen sacrificial ritual, that a form of worship once universal throughout the world has been obliterated in many nations—all these, and a hundred difficulties besides, are raised by this extraordinary theory, and make it a matter of astonishment that any have ever seriously attempted to find rest in such an explanation.
Leaving such conjectures as these, then, let us pass under brief review the account which the Gospel narratives give of the nature and significance of the Lord's Supper, and see whether we find in that account any consistent and satisfactory explanation of the fact—that the sacrificial customs of the ancient world have to so large an extent given place to the observance of this simple rite--accepted and observed wherever Christianity is known.
1. The first thing which strikes us when we turn to the Gospel narrative of the institution of the Lord's Supper is, that it connects that institution most clearly and satisfactorily with the ancient system of sacrifice.
And, certainly, no explanation of the historical fact of the cessation of the sacrificial system wherever this rite was introduced, can be either clear or satisfactory which does not present some reasonable account of the relation between the two-the bearing of the one upon the other. For it is utterly impossible to suppose that a rite of the character of that before us, could so uniformly and completely displace the sacrificial system-a system so profound in its significance, so thoroughly incorporated with the life and thought and feeling of men, appealing so powerfully and universally to their consciousness, and expressing in such a striking manner the deepest yearnings of their hearts, unless a close and vital connexion existed between the two.
Even the most cursory examination of the Gospel narrative points us at once to such a connexion. The words which, as the Evangelists tell us, were used by the Lord Jesus at the institution of this rite, describe in the most solemn and touching manner its true significance : “Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament (or covenant), which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”
Surely no words could more distinctly set forth the idea that this feast was instituted by the Saviour, not simply as a memorial of His death, but of His death in a particular character, viz., as an offering for sin. The rite was to be a visible sign and memento of a sacrifice which had sealed the formation of a "new covenant.” The minds of those men of Jewish birth and education, who were assembled with our Lord at the time when He spoke these words, could not but revert to the ancient sacrificial system with which the ratification of “the old covenant" was connected. They had been trained in a school of religious thought, which, from generation to generation, and under the sanction of the highest authority, had been accustomed never to conceive of the remission of sins otherwise than through the mediation of sacrifice. And when their Master spoke to them of His death as being endured for the remission of sins, and commanded them to observe this rite as a memorial of it, what conclusion could they come to but that He meant them to understand that His death was to be sacrificial in its character—that it was to be something much more than a martyrdom for the truth. And if this were not the Saviour's meaning we cannot understand how He could, under such circumstances, have used without qualification or explanation, language the terms of which were so certain to be misunderstood.
Moreover, on comparing the words used by Jesus Christ, at the institution of this rite, with the general tenor of His teaching concerning Himself, we find a perfect harmony. From the beginning to the end of His career, and not in consequence of any after thought, or change of plan, the idea of the Saviour's death is ever set forth as a sacrifice for sin. So that in the institution of the Lord's Supper, and in the terms used upon that occasion, we simply find the culmination of all previous revelations on the subject.
And accordingly, in calm anticipation of a death, so bitter in its shame and sorrow outwardly, but endured with a purpose so surpassing in sublimity and compassion, the master bids His followers observe this rite as a perpetual memorial of it. And ever afterwards we find the foremost of those followers everywhere enjoining the same observance, and declaring with reiterated urgency that “ Christ died for all,” and that henceforth the old sacrificial system was to be regarded as away
" and “ fulfilled.” When we thus find, from the New Testament account, that the death commemorated in the rite of the Lord's Supper is represented as a propitiatory sacrifice offered on behalf of mankind, and that through this sacrifice is realised to men, in a far higher and more efficacious degree than even the Jew had ever known before, that pardon of sin, and that restoration to the Divine favour, which the Hebrew people had ever believed to be in some mysterious way secured to them by the offering of the ancient sacrifices; we see in this representation of the matter, to say the least, a reasonable account of the connexion between the sacrificial system and the rite of the Lord's Supper, and on the basis of the truth of this account we can understand how the former should be superseded by the latter.
2. A second characteristic of the Gospel narrative, in relation to the question before us, is that it alleges the strongest possible evidence to prote that He who instituted this rite was every way worthy of confidence and regard; evidence
in fact, which proves that the representation which Christ gave of the sacrificial nature of His death cannot but be true, and which at the same time attests the efficacy and the sufficiency of that death as a sacrifice.
We feel the absolute necessity for such evidence when we reflect upon the character and circumstances of the disciples, and, indeed, upon the nature of the entire case. Here is a body of men, rising out of the very centre of Judaism, at a time when neither philosophy nor civilization had eradicated or simplified the sacrificial system, a system which in no instance exercised so powerful an influence as in the case of the Jewish people; and these men not only abandon the most august recollections, the most sacred institutions, the most revered practices of their own nation, and declare that the entire sacrificial system has been done away by the death of One who had been crucified as an impostor, but they endure every kind of persecution and ignominy without wavering in their testimony; and not only so, but they persuade men of many different nations of the truth of their doctrine, and they ultimately succeed in banishing into oblivion the 10,000 sacrifices of those nations, and in substituting the observance of this rite in place of a ritual hallowed by the memories of ages, and accepted by the common and deepest instincts of the human race.
Does the Gospel narrative give such an account of the matter as is consistent with these facts; or, in stating some of them, does it show that the evidence afforded to the disciples in support of the doctrine they proclaimed was sufficiently strong to account for the bold course they took, and for the extraordinary result ?
We affirm that such is the case. The Gospel narrative states that the LORD JESUS CHRIST ROSE FROM THE DEAD. And it explains the course adopted by the first teachers of Christianity, and the wonderful success of Christianity itself by the fact of this resurrection. It thus accounts for the most marvellous religious revolution in the history of mankind, by alleging as the reason of it the occurrence of the most stupendous event in the history of the world.
Our argument, then, is simply this, -That the Gospel narrative alone supplies a sufficient and consistent explanation of the great facts of history, with respect to the cessation of the practice of sacrifice, and the introduction and observance of the rite of the Lord's Supper. And, moreover, that when the Resurrection is admitted to be true, the rite of the Lord's Supper, and the cessation of the sacrificial system are both inexplicable, except by the acknowledgment of the sacrificial nature of the Saviour's death.
We can find no more fitting words with which to conclude, than those of the able and eloquent writer, to whom we have already acknowledged our indebtedness, and to whom we would offer our thanks. “Once grant,” he says, “that He, whose marvellous life the Gospel records, was, as He claimed to be, as He is there represented, and as He has been acknowledged by multitudes of all nations and tongues, of all classes and conditions, perfect man and perfect God; grant that gathering up again the human race in Himself, as the true Paschal Lamb He put away the sin of the world, that He rose again on the third day, and ascended up on high as the true Priest of our redeemed humanity, and we can understand how, in spite of the shame of the cross, the old sacrificial language concentrated round His person and work; we can understand how the ancient sacrificial ritual which prevailed so universally down to the period of His death, then as universally began to disappear; we can understand how the first observers of the Eucharist were assured of the acceptance of the sacrifice therein symbolised and shown forth; . . . . and, lastly, we can discern causes powerful enough to have produced the most wonderful revolution in the religious history of mankind that the world has seen, and which has subsisted to the present day.”
NOTE.—The argument of this paper is more elaborately worked out in a valuable little book by the Rev. G. F. Maclear, M.A., entitled “ The Witness of the Eucharist; or, The Institution and Early Celebration of the Lord's Supper considered as an Evidence of the Historical Truth of the Gospel Narrative and of the Atonement." (Macmillan and Co., 1864.) We have, to some extent, availed ourselves of Mr. Maclear's own words in this article, and take the opportunity of giving his book our hearty recommen. dation.
IS THE INTRODUCTION OF A LITURGY DESIRABLE ?
By the Reb. 8. M. Statham, It is desirable at the commencement, bilities if we did not seek in every not only for the sake of clearness of possible way-whilst true to our trathought, but for the sake of personal ditions on the one hand—to be true consistency of opinion, that we dis- also to the claims which a possible integrate some involved questions! extension of the Redeemer's kingdom, Is the introduction of a Liturgy de- through our instrumentality, may have sirable, with or without free prayer? upon us on the other! It may not --that is, in the main, the question. be amiss, therefore, to glance first at Desirable! What, however, is meant our past history-and Independency by that?
Desirable for the ease and has a history. Upon the roll of her comfort of ministers ? or desirable for ministers are inscribed many illusthe life and prosperity of Churches ? trious names, which will shine as the
can have little doubt that brightness of the firmament and as this latter is the question, then this the stars for ever and ever, whilst the consideration arises—do we deem it great body of them have been a praise desirable as we review some defects in and glory in the earth. And if we our past history ?-or, rather, as we look to the Societies which have been look forward to any future possible originated, and the type of Christian relationship to society at large? We character which has been created by cannot shut our eyes to the fact that Congregational Independency, we can the elasticity of our ecclesiastical but believe that in the breadth of our system very wonderfully adapts it to operations and the blessedness of our the growing freedom manifest in the work, the Holy Spirit of God has spirit of the age ! and we should be given abundant signs of blessing. worse than faithless to our responsi- To my mind it is most clear that
the spiritual power of our Churches to the State, sometimes it has been has not been the outcome only of a side-thrust at some offender; someearnest, educated and effective times it has been grotesquely humorpreaching, though we have been
ous, as referring to incidental matters behind no denomination in this res- of minute domestic history; somepect—indeed, if we may be pardoned times it has been one long monotonous for so speaking of our own body, crying cadence,—of all kinds of extemCongregational preaching has been
pore prayer, perhaps the worst, which characterised by more varied elements begins with contorting its face into of power, than, perhaps, any other, an excruciating ugliness, and leaves having been for the most part thought the impression, not of a child asking, ful, devout, and doctrinal, as well as but of a beggar, whose chances are emotional! But to our free prayer small, making his manner a kind of we must attribute, I think,
much “miserabile.” We could all draw of our spiritual power and success. It up a far heavier bill of indictment has not fallen to my lot to hear many than this! Our danger is not in prayers, such as I have heard criticised confessing this, but in cloaking it. with severity, sometimes for their For when you have said all, I defy monotonous and whining cadence, you to prove that these are common and sometimes for their declamatory faults, or that they often co-exist in style. I am quite willing to admit that one person, or that they can live with free prayer may become a more lifeless a high amount of mental culture, or exercise than the stereotyped utter- that they are at all characteristic of ances of a Liturgy, but the may-be and the Congregational Church life of the the needs-be are two different things. age! I cannot speak for others, but
I can admit some defects, seriatim, I have had large enjoyment of our if you please, for free prayer has had Free Church prayer. It has often its manifold failures--we admit them been tender; often interpreted great all
. It has been sometimes grandilo- spirit wants; often hinted at sins quent; sometimes irreverently familiar; which lie beneath the surface confessometimes wearisomely long; some- sion of things; often taken the soul times most desperately unreal; some- into very great closeness 'to God; times full of morbid introspection- often made the heart more thankful, rather an uttered analysis of feeling more restful, more dependent, more than the crying out for God, the patient, more pitiful, more devout! living God. Sometimes it has been Have you never felt that even without fulsome and flattering, mentioning- a sermon the gate of heaven had been "this great and important institution;" opened to your soul ? What we need
our dear brother whom thou hast is to remember who have touched us been pleased to make so useful in the in these devotions-not glib, fluent, pulpit and the press;” sometimes it has pompous men-but the thoughtful been strangely provocative of curiosity and natural! Yes, natural! Our free -as to who is it?--who's ill ? --who's
prayer has its vitality in its truthfulhad an accident ? Sometimes it has ness to the heart. Nothing tells the been contemptibly small—as when tale of sincerity or insincerity sooner thanking God, we are not in bondage than free prayer !