“The Reformed Episcopalian at the Lord’s Table” is the third in a series of eight sermons that the Right Rev. Charles Edward Cheney preached on the beliefs of the Reformed Episcopal Church at Christ Church, Chicago. Cheney was the Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church’s Synod of Chicago and was one of the founders of the Reformed Episcopal Church. He was consecrated Bishop by George David Cummins on December 14, 1873. Cheney would succeed Cummins as the Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church upon Cummins’ untimely death in 1876 and would serve in that capacity from 1876-1877 and 1877-1889. The Reformed Episcopal Publications Society would publish the sermon series in book form with the title What Do Reformed Episcopalians Believe? Eight Sermons preached in Christ Church, Chicago in 1888. The sermon series provides insight into what the founders of the Reformed Episcopal Church believed and taught, as opposed to what the Reformed Episcopal Church’s present day leaders believe and teach.
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed 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, which is shed for many for the remission
of sins.” St. Matt, xxvi : 26-28.
No visible institution of Christianity, so impresses the mind and the imagination, as the supper of the Lord. Its hoary age makes it venerable. It antedates the Christian Church itself.
“Soldiers," cried Napoleon, to his army in Egypt, “behold the Pyramids! Forty centuries are looking down upon you.”
Yet the passover, out of which the communion sprang, the passover which prefigured the sacrifice of Jesus, as the supper of the Lord recalls it to memory, belongs to the age when the Pyramids were built. The communicant is looked down upon by the witness of four thousand years. And when the Pyramids shall crumble, the Lord's supper shall remain. For, “as oft as ye do eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show forth the Lord's death until He come.”
Little wonder if superstition has seized upon so venerable an ordinance, and used it as a potent weapon to subvert the freedom of God's children. It is the duty of every Reformed Episcopalian, as of every Christian, to know the exact nature of so conspicuous and solemn an institution of Christ. Let us attempt that duty to-day, with prayer for the Spirit's guidance.
I. What is the Scriptural and Evangelical View of the Holy Communion?
It would seem as if the New Testament had left us without excuse if we blunder as to the true answer to this inquiry. For doubt and controversy generally arise in regard to things concerning whose early origin history has left us in the dark.
The windowless “round towers” upon the rocky coast of Ireland, have given rise to whole volumes of controversial literature. Antiquarians and scholars have debated with each other whether they were places of religious' worship, or fortresses for defence. But the discussion carried on for centuries, is not ended yet. For history contains no line or word to tell the story of their erection.
But the record of the institution of the Lord's supper has been given in the Bible so fully, so clearly, and with such repetition, that error would seem impossible and debate unnecessary. We have four distinct and separate accounts, differing from each other in regard to no material fact. Three out of the four evangelists, viz., St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, have told the story nearly in the same words. It would seem as though these three accounts were sufficient. But when the apostle Paul finds the Church at Corinth perverting this sacrament from its holy purpose, he gives to that Christian community a fourth narrative of the first origin of the Lord's Supper, which he declares he had received by direct inspiration from the Lord Himself. 1 Cor. xi: 23.
Now the first thing which attracts the attention of the Reformed Episcopalian who studies this fourfold record, is the simplicity of the Lord's supper.
Our foreign dispatches tell us that it is not an unlikely event, that the imperial crown of Germany may at any time be set upon the head of a child but five years old. How strangely out of place, upon such an infant — just as simple and childlike by nature as the little one in your home — will be the imperial robes, the glittering orders, the pompous splendors, and the artificial dignity which surrounds a monarch!
Equally unnatural, in the light of the New Testament accounts of the Lord's supper, seem to the Protestant Christian, the pomp and ceremony with which the communion is sometimes celebrated. If the Lord Jesus had tried to choose a method of establishing an institution in his Church, which should be singularly plain, simple, and unencumbered by ritual, He could hardly have selected a different way. That simplicity appears in the place selected for the last supper. No splendid temple, no gorgeous sanctuary, no decorated shrine, witnessed the first eucharist. It was the bare upper chamber of some Jewish house borrowed for the occasion.
The same simplicity is revealed in the total want of any ritual details. Christ wrote out no rubrics of direction how the Church was to perpetuate this feast. The shelves of our ecclesiastical libraries are crowded with “manuals of devotion,” for the use of communicants. They descend to minute directions as to postures, and even how the bread should be taken in the hand, and the chalice lifted to the lips. But Christ did not depart from the simplicity of the sweet yet solemn rite, by even an allusion to these minor matters. Christians have quarrelled whether their attitude around the Lord's table should be standing, as in the Greek Church; sitting, as is the practice of Presbyterians; or kneeling, as with Episcopalians. Yet no one of these postures is that of the apostles, for they reclined on couches, as the old Oriental fashion was at feasts. “The simplicity which is in Christ,” forbade attention to such details. The Reformed Episcopalian kneels, simply because the whole question of attitude is plainly a matter of indifference, in which every Church may exercise its choice.
Observe, too, how this simple and natural idea of the communion is preserved in the symbols employed. Jesus might have chosen some striking, unique, unprecedented emblems of His dying love. Instead of that, He takes the bread and the wine — both of which the Jews used in keeping the passover, and which were therefore right before Him.
He seemed to say, “I make the simplest and most natural act of your daily life a blessed and sacred thing. I hallow with the remembrance of My love to you, even your partaking of food and drink.” It was anticipating St. Paul's language: “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” When St. Paul rebukes the Corinthian Church for its failure to discern the real purpose of this sacrament, he says, “Wherefore brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.” How clear it makes it that the Lord's supper was a simple meal in memory of Christ. Not a word even to indicate that the presence of a minister was necessary to the due celebration of the rite!
The fourfold history of the institution of this sacrament, leads the Reformed Episcopalian, in perfect accord with other evangelical believers, to regard the Lord's supper as a special memorial of Christ's atoning death.
In one of our public parks a statue stands, to keep in memory for all generations a great statesman whom it represents in marble. That commemoration is the one central idea with which it was erected. It doubtless serves other purposes as well. The great pleasure ground is ornamented by its presence. It bears witness to the liberality of the rich, and the self-denying patriotism of the poor. It forms a bond of union between the multitude of contributors to its erection. But these do not constitute the one great end which its erection had in view. If these subsidiary purposes be crowded to the front, and so kept before the public mind that the remembrance of the dead hero shall be lost sight of, better that the sculptor never touched chisel to the stone! A doctrine of the Lord's supper which belittles this memorial feature, has lost the primal end for which the communion was instituted.
Our Lord used language in His gift of this ordinance to His disciples, which can be only reasonably and consistently explained on the basis of its being primarily a memorial rite. He broke the bread, and gave it to them, with the words, “Take, eat, this is My body.” Now, setting aside for the present, the Roman Catholic theory of a miraculous change by which the bread was altered in its substance into the literal body of Christ, what could He have meant by words like these? Precisely what a father would mean, who, when about to cross the sea, gives his picture to his children, and says, “This is myself.” He does not mean that the portrait is actually his own personal being, but that it represents it And the only value of such a representation is that it helps the memory to recall him. So, too, He speaks of the wine, “He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He said, This is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” The moment that you fall short of the Popish theory of a transubstantiation of the wine, you must of necessity understand Christ to mean that the wine was a representation of that blood which He was to shed for sinners. It was ever afterward to appeal to the memory of the believer.
Nor need we depend on a mere interpretation of His words in giving the emblems. St, Luke distinctly states that Jesus told the disciples what was the purpose of these symbols, and of the Christian's partaking of them. “This do,” He said, “in remembrance of Me.” Besides, when St. Paul received from Christ Himself the account which he gives in his first epistle to the Corinthian believers, he also declares that the very words of Christ were those which St. Luke has recorded. And as if to make it clear that it was a ceremony to be perpetuated in the Church mainly as a memorial rite, St. Paul tells us that Jesus followed the giving of the cup with this still more explicit expression of His will, “This do ye, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
Observe, too, the appropriateness of the emblems to bring out in conspicuous relief, the memory of Christ's sacrifice. The bread of which they partook had been before that hour employed by Christ as a type of His body. St. John vi: 35-58. But now it is broken. Each account mentions with particularity this fact of the bread being thus treated in His hands. As if Christ would have the fact of His blessed body being bruised and pierced, the one prominent idea in the recollection of His people. In the City of Boston, thousands daily pass a statue of Abraham Lincoln. But it represents him in the act of taking the fetters from the limbs of a slave. It clearly seems to say that those who put that striking figure there, were not merely anxious to have posterity remember the great president, but remember him in that particular act of his eventful life. So do the broken bread and the flowing wine touch the memory of the Christian with the recollection of a Saviour in the act of giving His life for sinners.
Thus, the Reformed Episcopalian finds no incomprehensible “mystery” in the communion as a means of grace. He does not approach the Lord's table with the feeling that it is some magic charm in which he is to find spiritual help, as the Romanist expects to find it in touching a relic of the saints, or the wood of “the true cross.” Its philosophy is as clear as the noonday.
For what can rekindle in the heart the glow of love, like the stirring of the memory? In days of war, your voluntary substitute took your place in the ranks, and died upon the field of battle. Can you bring out from the place in which you treasure it, the memento which he sent you when he lay dying, and which is stained with his heart's blood, and yet feel no stirring of your soul's deepest love?
But the Reformed Episcopalian does not forget that together with this memorial idea of the communion, another great truth is coupled.
The Lord's supper is a visible Gospel. We cannot see these emblems of the death of Jesus without their preaching to us eloquently and powerfully the doctrine of His atonement. Why, then, do we not satisfy all that this sacrament demands, when we have looked upon the consecrated symbols of His dying love ? Why eat the bread ? Why drink the wine? Will not our love be wakened by the sight of this pictorial representation of His suffering for us ? We have no hesitation in answering. Our bodily life is itself an emblem of our spiritual life. Precisely as we sustain our bodily existence, by partaking of food and drink, so BY FAITH do we feed upon Christ. The Old Testament had foreshadowed it, when the prophet, turning from the rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic Law, cried from his watchtower of vision, “The just shall live by faith.” Habak. ii: 4. Christ Himself echoed the same great truth, when long before the night in which he was betrayed. He solemnly declared, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.”
That He did not refer to the communion in these strongly figurative words, is plain. He uttered them at least a year before He instituted the Lord's supper. He spoke to an assemblage of Jews, who could by no possibility know anything of this ordinance to be established in the future. Moreover, when He discovered that they only saw in them a gross and earthly meaning, and wondered how they were to eat His flesh and drink His blood, He corrected their blunder. He told them that in His body He was to ascend to heaven, and that under the figure of His body and blood, He had spoken of His Spirit. “What and if ye shall behold the Son of man ascend up where He was before? It is the Spirit which quickeneth. The flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit and they are life.” “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life." John vi: 62, 63.
If any words could express more clearly than these, that simple trust in Christ and His word, sustains the spiritual life, as eating and drinking sustain the bodily life, it is difficult to imagine what those words could be. What follows? Evidently enough, that when the Saviour established the Lord's supper. He ordained this eating of the bread, this drinking of the wine, to be a symbol of the faith by which we must receive Him into our souls, and live spiritually upon Him.
It maybe added that the Reformed Episcopalian sees one other great truth brought clearly before him in this symbolic rite. In thus entering into fellowship with his suffering Lord, he also becomes a member of the vast brotherhood, whatever be the name they bear, who partake of Christ by faith, “the blessed company of all faithful people.” By trust in Christ, they " all eat the same spiritual meat, and drink the same spiritual drink." They symbolize and picture forth that loving fellowship by this visible gathering around the same table, and exhibit their common love and common interest in each other, by calling their memorial feast, “the communion.”
No wonder that basing his view of the Lord's supper upon the teaching of the word of God alone, the Reformed Episcopalian opens wide his arms to welcome to this sweet and precious feast, all who love his “Divine Lord in sincerity and truth.”
II. What has the Reformed Episcopalian Done to Rescue the Lord’s Supper from Unscriptural Perversion?
William of Orange, the leader of Protestant faith and civil liberty, against the Church of Rome and the tyranny of Spain, once placed his young son as a hostage in the hands of Philip II, the Spanish king. When at last restored to his father, the youth had been transformed. He had become a Spaniard in national spirit, a tyrant in political principle, and a bigoted Romanist in religion. Where lay the secret of so vast and complete a change? Simply here. The Spanish teachers began early. The Reformed Episcopalian who reads the history of the visible Church of Christ, discovers a like amazing transformation in the sacrament of the Lord's supper. He sees the simple, natural, logical truth that was embodied in a sacred meal, taken in common by believers, to commemorate the death of Christ, changed into an appalling mystery and gorgeous ceremonial. He sees the bread no longer broken, but in the form of a wafer. He sees the wine, in bold violation of the Saviour's last command, taken from the laity and reserved for the clergy alone. He sees the table which bore witness to the primitive principle of the communion as a solemn, commemorative feast, replaced by a altar, on which a priest offers the consecrated elements as a sacrifice to God. He sees the wafer lifted up like an idol, and the people bowing in prostrate adoration as before God Himself. He sees the universal Church accepting for a thousand years the doctrine that the priest by his consecrating act has transmuted the bread and wine into the literal and actual body and blood of the Redeemer. How came to pass so amazing a revolution? The answer is that the enemy began early. There is no trace of such a ceremony or such a doctrine in the New Testament. We read of “the breaking of bread, and prayer” in apostolic history, and the epistles to the apostolic churches. We see the Christians gather at the simple meal which calls to their memory their suffering Lord. But that is all.
Yet, no sooner do we leave inspired teaching, and open the pages of the writers known as the “early fathers,” than the perversion of the Lord's supper begins to appear. The good seed sown by the Son of Man was not yet grown, when the tares sprang up also.
No heresy of the Roman Church so directly led to the Reformation, as that of transubstantiation — the doctrine that what had been up to their consecration, bread and wine, became by miraculous change the actual flesh and blood of the Redeemer. Yet, so deeply rooted was this monstrous theory, that even Luther could not fully rid his own mind of its remnants. Rejecting transubstantiation, he tried to reconcile bis loyalty to God's word with what he called “consubstantiation” — the notion that while the bread and wine did not lose their nature, and were still bread and wine after consecration, yet in union with them was the body and blood of Christ.
But the reformers of the Church of England, on this point gave no uncertain sound. They may have entertained false theories in regard to baptism, but they did not find on that field the battle which they were to fight. The whole struggle of the English reformation raged about the supper of the Lord. And here they drew broad and unmistakable the Scripture line between Christ's truth and Rome's perversion. Let it ever be remembered that of the many hundreds who died amidst the flames of martyrdom, which Bloody Mary lighted, not one who did not give his life rather than accept a false doctrine concerning the communion. From Cranmer, the primate and archbishop, down to the humblest peasant and artisan, the English witnesses for Christ, were witnesses even unto death, against every form of perverting the simplicity of the Lord's supper. (Blakeney's Hist. Prayer Book, pp. 528, 529.)
It would be natural to conclude, that whatever error might find place in the Church of England and her daughter in America, it would be impossible that they should wander from the truth concerning the communion. Here, surely, the principles for which Cranmer and Latimer, Ridley and Hooper died, will be guarded as men guard their homes and the lives of their children.
But the weed of a false doctrine of the eucharist is one which has tough roots, and readily sprouts again. From Reformation days there were those in the English Church who shrank from the strong, clear views of Cranmer, and his companions in martyrdom. They gained the ear of Elizabeth, eager to reconcile her Popish subjects to a Protestant liturgy. They led her to revise the communion service, so as to abolish a rubric denying the so-called “real presence.” (Blakeney's Hist. Prayer Book, p. 449.) The same class of religious teachers still further corrupted the service when the prayer book was revised in the days of that worthless king, Charles II. (Proctor's Hist. Prayer Book, chap. v.) The germs of a doctrine which the reformers died at the stake rather than accept, were sown in' the soil of the service. They sprang up here and there in the Church, but only reached their baleful harvest time when fifty years ago the Oxford Tracts appeared. From that hour no Canada thistles ever spread more rapidly. To-day, the doctrine of the “real presence” pervades our mother Church, and is taught directly or indirectly by the vast majority of her clergy. What is that doctrine? Briefly, it is that while there is no change of substance in the bread and wine, Christ is spiritually present IN THEM after the consecration. Mark the language. Every Protestant believes with Archbishop Cranmer, that Christ is really present in the Lord's supper in the hearts of “all them that worthily receive the same.” (Cranmer's Answer to Gardiner.) But the advocates of the notion of the real presence, mean such presence in the bread and in the wine. The officiating priest by consecration has imparted to the elements themselves the spiritual presence of Jesus Christ. Do not think that I exaggerate. Listen to this language from an accepted advocate of the doctrine: “The body and blood of Christ are sacramentally united to the bread and wine, so that Cbrist is truly given to the faithful.” “His flesh, together with the bread; and His blood, together with the wine.” (Tracts for the Times, N. Y. Edition, 1839, Vol. 1, p. 199.) “The nature of this mystery is such that when we receive the bread and wine, we also together with them, receive the body and blood of Christ.” (Ibid, p. 214.) Dr. Pusey declares in his letter to the Bishop of Oxford, “There is a true, real and spiritual presence of Christ at the holy supper * * * * independently of our faith.”
Dr. Pusey writes of the Lord's supper, “It is truly flesh and blood, and these received into us cause that we are in Christ, and Christ in us.”
Dr. Dix's Trinity Church Catechism says, “The bread and wine become Christ's body and bloody yet remaining true bread and wine.” (p. 51).
Dr. James DeKoven writes, “Believing in the presence of the body and blood of the Lord in the consecrated elements, I believe that presence to be in no sense material or corporal, but spiritual, though none the less real and true.” (Letter to certain Wisconsin clergymen, 1874.)
In Pusey's “Eirenicon,” a work written to prove how slight are the differences between the Church of England and the Church of Rome, he refers to “Palmer on the Church,” as a book “framed word for word on our formularies, which received the sanction of two archbishops, and which used to be recommended to candidates for holy orders.” From the work referred to he quotes these remarkable words: “She (the Church of England) believes that the eucharist is not the sign of an absent body, and that those who partake of it receive not merely the figure, or shadow, or sign of an absent body, but the reality itself. And as Christ's Divine and human natures are inseparably united, so she believes that we receive in the eucharist, not only, the flesh and blood of Christ, but Christ Himself, both God and man.” (Eirenicon, p. 31.)
Now, observe the exact idea which these quotations give. It is that the real presence of Christ in the holy communion, is not a presence in the hearts of believers. It is “independent of their faith.” But it is in the bread and in the wine. In one word, the Spirit of God is placed, through a man's consecration of the elements, in a piece of bread, and in a cup of wine! Is the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation any more degrading to the Spirit of God than this? Or is it strange that other perversions of the truth should have followed in its train?
If the consecrated bread and wine upon the Lord's table are really the body and blood of Christ, then it logically follows that the table ceases to be such. It has become an “altar,” on which is offered anew the body and blood of Jesus as an oblation to the Father. “It is not,” says Dr. Dis, “a sacrifice by way of a new death, but by way of a standing memorial of His death. It pleads to the Eternal Father, sets forth before the world, and applies to our souls the one sacrifice of Christ.”
Then, too, as we shall see in a later sermon of this course, the minister becomes a sacrificing “priest,” who offers, like the sons of Aaron, the sacrifice of Christ's body and blood. Hence it is that in the old Church, the word “minister” has come to be superseded by that of “priest.” We no longer hear of a faithful parish minister, but a “parish priest.” Yet we have only to turn to the Epistle to the Hebrews to learn that every trace of a sacrificing priesthood like that of Aaron passed away when Jesus offered His “one sacrifice for sins forever,” and “sat down at the right hand of God.” Christ is the only priest of the Christian, except that every true believer, minister or layman, is one of “a royal priesthood.”
But, above all, the whole system known as "ritualism," by which the public worship of the Church once so dear to us, has been completely disguised, is based on this false theory of the Lord's supper. The vestments which have superseded the simple robes worn formerly by ministers of the Protestant Episcopal Church, are imitations of those which are supposed to have been worn by priests who offered sacrifices. A leader of the Church of England ritualists, in answer to the question, “What meaning do you attach to the vestments?” replied, “I take them to be a distinctive dress of a priest at the time of celebrating the holy communion.” (Principles at Stake, p. 142.)
In the earlier days of the Church out of which our own sprang, it was sometimes customary to bow the head at the name of Jesus in the Creed, to signify belief in His Divinity. To-day, a far more profound obeisance is made at multiplied points of the service, but — mark it well — always toward the table. Why? Because that table is now “the altar,” with super-altar upon it, and crucifix crowning it. And if this theory of the “real presence,'' and a sacrifice in the Lord's supper, is true, they are right who bow. For, if the awful presence of the Son of God is on that table, then, surely, I cannot prostrate myself in an adoration too profound. But if it be an unscriptural and idolatrous doctrine, then this bowing toward the so-called altar, is as offensive to God as prostration before a Chinese image or an African gree-gree.
Back to the word of God the Reformed Episcopalian has gone. Our Church has planted its feet upon the rock, in restoring the Lord's supper to its primitive simplicity. Open your Book of Common Prayer, and in its fore-front you find a “Declaration of Principles.” In the name of the Reformed Episcopal Church, it condemns as “erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's word,” the theory “that a Christian minister is a priest in any other sense than that in which all believers are a royal priesthood; that the Lord's table is an altar on which the oblation of the body and blood of Christ is offered anew to the Father; and that the presence of Christ in the Lord's supper is a presence in the elements of bread and wine.”
We framed our whole liturgy on the principles laid down in this declaration. From cover to cover, you will nowhere find a minister of the Gospel called a “priest.” We blotted out the dangerous expression which styled the elements of bread and wine, “these holy mysteries.” We saw in them no mysterious nature, but only simple and appropriate emblems. We went back to the reformers of the Church of England, and found that Cranmer and his fellow- martyrs had dropped out from the communion service, as it was first prepared, a Romish prayer, entitled the “oblation.” The influence of the high church Bishop Seabury had prevailed to have it inserted in the American prayer book. We removed it once more, and restored the service for communion to the Protestant form in which the reformers had bequeathed it. We required that the minister in delivering the bread to the communicant, should call it “bread,” and when delivering the cup should call it “wine” — that thus the Church should bear perpetual witness to the fact that no change had taken place in these emblems through the prayer of consecration.
We found that the Protestant Episcopal Church had omitted, under the same inspiration of Bishop Seabury, the rubric of the Church of England positively declaring that the consecration prayer does not change the nature of the elements, and that no worship of those elements is intended by kneeling at the communion. We put it back where Cranmer once had written it.
Then, to crown the work, we graved it upon the very constitution of this Church, that no altar should ever be permitted in any edifice in which Reformed Episcopalians should worship.
In an evil hour Archbishop Cranmer yielded to the Bloody Mary's threats, and signed a paper recanting his own protest against the doctrine of the real presence in the bread and wine of the communion. Bitterly did he repent his cowardly act, and when the flames leaped up around him in the hour of his martyrdom, he thrust his right hand, which had written his recantation, into the hottest fire. “Unworthy hand! unworthy hand!” cried the penitent martyr.