THE SPIRIT ESTABLISHING THE CHURCH
The present dispensation of the grace of God stands in greatest contrast to all that ever went before it. The blessed Son of God having come, having by Himself accomplished the mighty work of redemption by the sacrifice of Himself, having been raised by the glory of the Father, having ascended as Man in bodily form to the right hand of God, having sent forth the Spirit of God to dwell in the Church of God, &emdash; all this has laid a foundation marvelously precious and pure, the only basis for true, practical Christianity.
The previous dispensation of law was introduced with the establishment of a ruler, Moses; of a high priest, Aaron, together with his sons as a select priesthood; of a carnal worship and ritual, many animal sacrifices, the tabernacle service and greatly detailed laws and ordinances.
On the contrary, when our adorable Lord had finished His work, had ascended back to Heaven and sent forth the Spirit of God, which marked the beginning of the history of the Church on earth, there is in the book of Acts nothing like the beginning of Israel's history as a nation. No one is anointed ruler or high priest. Apostles who had companied with the Lord Jesus were present, but none given any special place of authority, all intended rather to affirm or confirm the authority of the Lord Jesus among His people and the liberty of the Spirit of God to lead according to the will of God. The New Testament not having been written, the apostles were specially laid hold of by the Spirit of God to communicate God's Word for the time. When the New Testament was complete, they all passed from the scene, leaving clearly no authority but the Word of God by which to be guided. This is precious beyond expression, for it is written in language that appeals to the new nature in the believer and which awakens living exercise in his soul, exercise to learn and to obey the Word of God with willing devotion. This is no bondage of legal commandments, but the true liberty of the Spirit of God.
THE SPIRIT'S ABIDING PRESENCE
The Spirit of God remains in the Church through all her history on earth, no matter how sadly we have failed to give Him His proper place, no matter how feebly we have responded to His leading, no matter how we have (perhaps unintentionally) hindered His liberty.
That liberty should be evident in all our personal life and character, in our personal communion and worship, our service and ministry, and certainly it should be evident in assembly life and character, in prayer and ministry, and highest of all in assembly communion and worship. If in this last the Spirit of God is not given full liberty, then it is not likely to be so in other assembly life.
The breaking of bread is the expression of this unity in communion (1 Cor. 10:16-17), and is to be observed in remembrance of the Lord Jesus. Precious communion! Precious remembrance indeed! The most vital matter here is the glory of His own blessed Person and the infinite value and perfection of His work. Let us never lose sight of this through our occupation with any details connected with this feast, for it is "the Lord's supper." It is most striking that the Spirit of God, in each account He gives of the Lord's supper, makes no mention of Himself. Certainly this is not because He is not active in this, but rather because His activity is to focus every eye and heart upon the Person and work of the Lord Jesus, in order to produce a spontaneous, loving response from the hearts of His beloved saints.
Again, the leading of the Spirit would not be haphazard as to the time of breaking bread. Luke 22:14 tells us, "When the hour was come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him." We are not told it should be at a certain hour of the day, but whatever the hour, it should be known beforehand, and of course the purpose explicit for which the saints come together. An expression in Acts 20:14 is to be considered here: "Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread." No mere law is to be made of this, for scripture says, "As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do announce the Lord's death until He come" (1 Cor. 11:26). If the assembly is in such a state as to desire to break bread every day, there is no prohibition of this, though evidently the first day of the week became the most convenient time for this service. However, whenever it is done, the time should be previously known, and the purpose.
THE SPIRIT'S LEADING AS TO DETAILS
Some have insisted that since the first Lord's supper took place in an upper room then we must do likewise. Certainly there is no objection to using an upper room, but to make a law of this would be going beyond scripture, which does not tell us where the remembrance must be. Indeed, in certain places it would be impossible to find an upper room, and as to the place, the Lord says, "Where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt. 18:20). In fact, the upper room signifies a level above the world, in other words implying that our true worship is not on earth, but in the sanctuary, the presence of God, where all speaks of His glory. This spiritual significance is the vital matter, not the physical location of the meeting.
Some too have urged that since leaven was to be put away from the houses at the feast of the Passover, therefore the Lord must have used unleavened bread, and therefore we must do so. However, in each case where we read of the Lord's taking bread to institute His supper, the word for bread is not "azumos," the Greek word for unleavened bread, but "artos," the common word for bread, which infers bread of any kind. The emphasis is not at all on the kind of bread, and therefore to make a regulation of this is mere legality.
Similarly, some stress their opposition to the use of wine at the Lord's supper, or at any time. This would again be a mere human regulation, for Timothy is told to use a little wine for his stomach's sake (1 Tim. 5:23). The Lord Himself made "good wine" (Jn. 2:7-11) and manifestly drank wine (Mt. 11:19), though certainly not to excess, as some would accuse Him. But He makes no law as to what the cup should or should not contain, and we must not make such rules. Let us remember that the bread speaks of the body of Christ and the cup, of His blood, and not be sidetracked by men's legal thoughts.
THE SIMPLICITY OF THE REMEMBRANCE
Leaving the above negative thoughts aside, let us deeply value the positive simplicity of what it means to break bread. Thanksgiving, praise and worship are surely becoming at such a feast, and again the Spirit of God is to have liberty in leading every spiritual activity. The Lord Himself prayed a prayer of thanksgiving before He broke the bread, and another prayer before giving them the cup. Before their leaving, they sang a hymn (Mk. 14:22,23,26). As to the order, it is not laid down, nor suggested that this should be rigidly followed: it is not said at what point in the meeting the bread should be broken, nor what should go before nor what should follow. But it is to be done in remembrance of the Lord Jesus.
Does not all this most solemnly teach us that in these matters we should confidingly and fully depend on the leading of God by His Spirit? It is totally contrary to the carnal, formal worship of Israel under law. It will require, not rigid observance of rules, but exercise of willing, devoted faith that seeks not a formal pattern, but the constant sweetness of the presence of the Lord, and His guidance by the Spirit.
Let us have this settled intention and dependent spirit, and we may be sure of the gracious guiding of the Spirit of God in each gathering of His beloved saints. Surely then we may expect Him to lead in any order He sees fit.
But it is good that we always keep freshly in mind the word of the Lord Jesus in originating the supper, "This do for a remembrance of Me." He does not ask them for thanksgiving, praise or worship. For if we come together with the object of attempting to worship, then we are in danger of attempting to force this from ourselves without the freshness of spontaneous liberty of the Spirit. If it is truly in remembrance of the Lord Jesus that we are there, then certainly, as we think of Him, worship will be spontaneous, praise will ascend from hearts rightly affected, thanksgiving will be voluntary and wholehearted. This will be worship "in spirit and in truth," and expression given to it in thanksgiving and praise, willingly, in the liberty of the Spirit. The simplicity of all this is wonderful.
THE SPIRIT'S VARIOUS THOUGHTS OF CHRIST
Because of the greatness of the Person of Christ, the Spirit of God has much indeed to bring to our attention concerning Him that will draw out our willing adoration. In remembering Him we may go back to His eternal fellowship with the Father before the world was, to the Father's sending Him as the expression of all the glory of God, His marvelous incarnation, the blessed union of God and Man in one Person, His spotless life of devoted obedience to God and of kindness toward man, His faithful ministry of grace and truth, His bearing patiently the persecution of men. Then the great and precious sacrifice of Himself, when alone He bore the anguish, not only of the hateful abuse of His creatures, but of being forsaken by God as the true sin offering accursed for our sakes. For it is not only that we remember His death: we remember Him, and announce His death. We remember Him then in all these circumstances through which He has passed, all leading to the great focal point of His wondrous sacrifice.
The offerings of Leviticus speak of all this. The burnt offering (Lev. 1) emphasizes the personal worth and preciousness of the Lord Jesus as He who offered up Himself in entire devotion to His God and Father, as John's Gospel teaches. All goes up to God as a sweet savor, greatly delighting His heart. Certainly, in this precious aspect, we are privileged at the breaking of bread, to present the Lord Jesus as the theme of our adoration, to God.
The meal offering speaks of Him in the fragrant beauty of His Humanity, every particle of the fine flour indicating some precious virtue of His Manhood, all of which is an offering to be presented to God by hearts affected in thankful adoration of His Person. The Spirit of God surely delights to bring Christ to our attention in this way, and the Father no less delights in our thus presenting Christ to Him.
The peace offering was that which was shared by the offerer, the priest and God; each having his portion and each thus sharing in communion the value of the sacrifice of Christ, as is so sweetly taught in Luke's Gospel. In this case, Christ is presented to God as the offering by whom peace and concord are established between God and believers, and certainly in this way too saints are privileged to present the Lord Jesus to God, by the power of the Spirit.
The sin offering aspect of Christ's sacrifice is that of His bearing, in dreadful anguish the unalleviated judgment of God against sin, the root principle of all evil which has so affected creation and which nothing else but His own sacrifice could bear away. Without this, we could have no part in Him or with Him. Mark's Gospel gives us this viewpoint of the offering of Christ, and we too, in remembering the Lord, are thus found presenting Him to God in this sin offering character, by whom alone sin is judged and we made fit for His presence.
The trespass offering is that viewpoint of the sacrifice of Christ that is the most elementary, yet deeply precious too, for it speaks of that which was necessary for the remission of sins, &emdash; not the root principle of sin, but the acts of wrong-doing. Can we not also present the Lord Jesus to God as the One whom we thank and praise and adore for His having saved us from our sins by the blessed sacrifice of Himself? Matthew presents this aspect of the offering of Christ and it is in this Gospel that our Lord says when introducing the Lord's supper, "This is my blood, of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Mt. 26:28).
In the Old Testament the very act of offering the sacrifice was "carnal worship." In the breaking of bread however, believers are told to do this in remembrance of the Lord Jesus. Then surely as they remember Him in any or all of the above characters, their hearts will be drawn out in spiritual worship (not carnal, or fleshly), to present this blessed One to God as the one offering that delights the Father's heart. If, in other words, the remembrance of Him is a real thing with us, then quiet, unspoken worship will be spontaneous, worship in spirit and in truth. Such worship will issue in audible thanksgiving and praise. It may be expressed in prayer, in a hymn or in suitable scriptures read, in whatever order it may be that the Spirit of God may lead. He also will guide as to the time in each case when the bread should be broken.
THE SPIRIT LEADING THOSE WHO PARTICIPATE
Let each brother cultivate a spirit of willingness, ready to be used by God in any reading of scripture, prayer or announcing a hymn, as he may be moved by the Spirit of God. There is no reason why every brother should not be in readiness before the Lord to give thanks for the bread and the cup, as the Lord leads by His Spirit. Never should we become so accustomed to leaving this to two or three brethren that we forget to be concerned about this. The Lord is certainly just as willing to use a younger brother in this as He is an older brother. While we do not approve any unseemly forwardness, yet holding back when the Lord is leading is an unseemly matter too. Let us be given to much study of the scripture and a good measure of acquaintance with our hymnals, and be often in meditation upon the blessed Person and work of the Lord Jesus, so that we shall have a full basket from which to draw in honoring His name.
Sisters too, though taking no audible part, are of vital importance in maintaining a lowly spirit of quiet adoration and worship, which have a great effect in what is audibly expressed by brethren taking part. For worship is not audible at all: it is simply the heart's adoration of the living God. A beautiful picture of this is in the anointing of the feet of the Lord Jesus by Mary of Bethany, and her wiping His feet with her hair. Her expensive ointment was totally spent on Him personally, not on His work, but on Himself. She needed not to say a word. So today, the Spirit of God may so speak to a sister that her very attitude of worship will have precious effect in drawing out praise from the lips of brethren.
Praise is vocal, "the fruit of our lips, confessing His name" (Heb. 13:15). Praise can be for the Person or for His work. "Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted" (Ps. 148:13). This is the praise of His name, that which He is. "Praise Him for His mighty acts" (Ps. 159:2) is of course praise for what He has done. Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is for something received. "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift" (2 Cor. 9:15). This gift is no doubt Christ Himself. All of these have their place in the breaking of bread, at least if we then do remember the Lord.
NO MERE REPETITION BY THE SPIRIT
It is to be insisted that in the breaking of bread we announce the Lord's death. Yet we remember Him as not only having died, but as having been raised from the dead and seated at the Father's right hand. Indeed, we know Him as the risen One, and as in the midst of His gathered saints. In resurrection He says, "In the midst of the Church will I sing praise unto Thee" (Heb. 2:12). The sense of this should be deeply within our hearts as we are privileged to gather "to His name." He Himself is in our midst to present in perfect form to His God and Father the praises of His redeemed saints. Just as Christ has "given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savor (Eph. 5:2), so it is by Him that every offering of His saints in remembrance of Him and His sacrifice, goes up as a precious delight to the Father's heart. At such a time too, how good to remember that, just as Abraham and Isaac "went both of them together" to the scene of the offering of Isaac (Gen. 22:6-8), the heart of Abraham so deeply involved in this; so the sacrifice of our God and Father was as great in the giving of His Son as was the sacrifice of the Son in giving Himself. How right and good it is that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all have their place in this precious remembrance.
It may be that on one occasion the orderly way in which the Spirit leads so impresses us that we want to repeat such an order, and in some cases even to adopt it as a constant practice. But this is only a sad evidence of our natural tendency to appropriate to ourselves what we like the best, and to secure for ourselves what we would like to think is the highest or best form of worship. In this we forget the living reality and power of the Spirit of God and His liberty to use another order than that which pleases us. Let us seriously guard against this danger, for it is in measure returning to formal worship, little as we may suspect it.
There are many ways in which this type of thing may creep in among the saints of God, and often imperceptibly we tend to settle into some formal pattern. At least, let us never justify this, nor teach it as though it were scriptural. The longer such a pattern is accepted, the greater is our natural tendency to consider it the proper thing. May the Lord give us instead the real exercise of heart to be cast dependently upon the true leading of the Spirit rather than to become practically bound by human tradition, so contrary to the liberty of the Spirit.
For there is an unlimited abundance of material in scripture that the Spirit of God can use in the remembrance of the Lord. He may at one time lead wonderfully in dwelling upon some special aspect of the glory of the Person and work of Christ; and it is well that we are exercised to discern this and be ready to enter into this special theme. Another time the emphasis may be totally different yet just as precious. Let us be pliable in the hands of the Spirit of God, and concerned to contribute in true affection and unity whatever He may put in our hearts, and of course in the time of His leading. Through this exercise and that also of considering one another, the Spirit of God sees fit to lead in genuine liberty.
But we can never expect to rise higher than our actual state. If spiritual weakness is evident in our remembrance of the Lord, it will not be improved by adopting any pleasing form or pattern. Let us seek individually a wholehearted communion with the Lord that delights in Himself and in His Word. It is this that will encourage a spontaneous response to the precious leading of the Spirit when we gather. There is no substitute for this, for God is rightly jealous for His own glory and of our affections. Let every brother be fully free before God to express in thankful praise what is in his heart as the Spirit leads him, and let us all carefully guard against any spirit of criticism at such a time while encouraging all that is true adoration toward the Father and the Son. If in truth we depend on the gracious working of the Spirit of God, He will unfailingly lead His beloved saints in liberty and unity.