We have here the institution of the great gospel ordinance of the Lord’s supper, which was received of the Lord. Observe,
I. The time when it was instituted—as they were eating. At the latter end of the passover-supper, before the table was drawn, because, as a feast upon a sacrifice, it was to come in the room of that ordinance. Christ is to us the Passover-sacrifice by which atonement is made (1 Cor. 5:7); Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. This ordinance is to us the passover-supper, by which application is made, and commemoration celebrated, of a much greater deliverance than that of Israel out of Egypt. All the legal sacrifices of propitiation being summed up in the death of Christ, and so abolished, all the legal feasts of rejoicing were summed up in this sacrament, and so abolished.
II. The institution itself. A sacrament must be instituted; it is no part of moral worship, nor is it dictated by natural light, but has both its being and significancy from the institution, from a divine institution; it is his prerogative who established the covenant, to appoint the seals of it. Hence the apostle (1 Cor. 11:23), in that discourse of his concerning this ordinance, all along calls Jesus Christ the Lord, because, as Lord, as Lord of the covenant, Lord of the church, he appointed this ordinance. In which,
1. The body of Christ is signified and represented by bread; he had said formerly (John 6:35), I am the bread of life, upon which metaphor this sacrament is built; as the life of the body is supported by bread, which is therefore put for all bodily nourishment (Matt. 4:4; 6:11), so the life of the soul is supported and maintained by Christ’s mediation.
(1.) He took bread, ton apton—the loaf; some loaf that lay ready to hand, fit for the purpose; it was, probably, unleavened bread; but, that circumstance not being taken notice of, we are not to bind ourselves to that, as some of the Greek churches do. His taking the bread was a solemn action, and was, probably, done in such a manner as to be observed by them that sat with him, that they might expect something more than ordinary to be done with it. Thus was the Lord Jesus set apart in the counsels of divine love for the working out of our redemption.
(2.) He blessed it; set it apart for this use by prayer and thanksgiving. We do not find any set form of words used by him upon this occasion; but what he said, no doubt, was accommodated to the business in hand, that new testament which by this ordinance was to be sealed and ratified. This was like God’s blessing the seventh day (Gen. 2:3), by which it was separated to God’s honour, and made to all that duly observe it, a blessed day: Christ could command the blessing, and we, in his name, are emboldened to beg the blessing.
(3.) He brake it; which denotes, [1.] The breaking of Christ’s body for us, that it might be fitted for our use; He was bruised for our iniquities, as bread-corn is bruised (Isa. 28:28); though a bone of him was not broken (for all his breaking did not weaken him), yet his flesh was broken with breach upon breach, and his wounds were multiplied (Job 9:17; 16:14), and that pained him. God complains that he is broken with the whorish heart of sinners (Ezek. 6:9); his law broken, our covenants with him broken; now justice requires breach for breach (Lev. 24:20), and Christ was broken, to satisfy that demand. [2.] The breaking of Christ’s body to us, as the father of the family breaks the bread to the children. The breaking of Christ to us, is to facilitate the application; every thing is made ready for us by the grants of God’s word and the operations of his grace.
(4.) He gave it to his disciples, as the Master of the family, and the Master of this feast; it is not said, He gave it to the apostles, though they were so, and had been often called so before this, but to the disciples, because all the disciples of Christ have a right to this ordinance; and those shall have the benefit of it who are his disciples indeed; yet he gave it to them as he did the multiplied loaves, by them to be handed to all his other followers.
(5.) He said, Take, eat; this is my body, Matt. 26:26. He here tells them,
[1.] What they should do with it; “Take, eat; accept of Christ as he is offered to you, receive the atonement, approve of it, consent to it, come up to the terms on which the benefit of it is proposed to you; submit to his grace and to his government.” Believing on Christ is expressed by receiving him (John 1:12), and feeding upon him, John 6:57, 58. Meat looked upon, or the dish ever so well garnished, will not nourish us; it must be fed upon: so must the doctrine of Christ.
[2.] What they should have with it; This is my body, not outos—this bread, but touto—this eating and drinking. Believing carries all the efficacy of Christ’s death to our souls. This is my body, spiritually and sacramentally; this signifies and represents my body. He employs sacramental language, like that, Exod. 12:11. It is the Lord’s passover. Upon a carnal and much—mistaken sense of these words, the church of Rome builds the monstrous doctrine of Transubstantiation, which makes the bread to be changed into the substance of Christ’s body, only the accidents of bread remaining; which affronts Christ, destroys the nature of a sacrament, and gives the lie to our senses. We partake of the sun, not by having the bulk and body of the sun put into our hands, but the beams of it darted down upon us; so we partake of Christ by partaking of his grace, and the blessed fruits of the breaking of his body.
2. The blood of Christ is signified and represented by the wine; to make it a complete feast, here is not only bread to strengthen, but wine to make glad the heart (Matt. 26:27, 28); He took the cup, the grace-cup, which was set ready to be drank, after thanks returned, according to the custom of the Jews at the passover; this Christ took, and made the sacramental-cup, and so altered the property. It was intended for a cup of blessing (so the Jews called it), and therefore St. Paul studiously distinguished between the cup of blessing which we bless, and that which they bless. He gave thanks, to teach us, not only in every ordinance, but in every part of the ordinance, to have our eyes up to God.
This cup he gave to the disciples,
(1.) With a command; Drink ye all of it. Thus he welcomes his guests to his table, obliges them all to drink of his cup. Why should he so expressly command them all to drink, and to see that none let it pass them, and press that more expressly in this than in the other part of the ordinance? Surely it was because he foresaw how in after-ages this ordinance would be dismembered by the prohibition of the cup to the laity, with an express non obstante—notwithstanding to the command.
(2.) With an explication; For this is my blood of the New Testament. Therefore drink it with appetite, delight, because it is so rich a cordial. Hitherto the blood of Christ had been represented by the blood of beasts, real blood: but, after it was actually shed, it was represented by the blood of grapes, metaphorical blood; so wine is called in an Old-Testament prophecy of Christ, Gen. 49:10, 11.
Now observe what Christ saith of his blood represented in the sacrament.
[1.] It is my blood of the New Testament. The Old Testament was confirmed by the blood of bulls and goats (Heb. 9:19, 20; Exod. 24:8); but the New Testament with the blood of Christ, which is here distinguished from that; It is my blood of the New Testament. The covenant God is pleased to make with us, and all the benefits and privileges of it, are owing to the merits of Christ’s death.
[2.] It is shed; it was not shed till next day, but it was now upon the point of being shed, it is as good as done. “Before you come to repeat this ordinance yourselves, it will be shed.” He was now ready to be offered, and his blood to be poured out, as the blood of the sacrifices which made atonement.
[3.] It is shed for many. Christ came to confirm a covenant with many (Dan. 9:27), and the intent of his death agreed. The blood of the Old Testament was shed for a few: it confirmed a covenant, which (saith Moses) the Lord has made with you, Exod. 24:8. The atonement was made only for the children of Israel (Lev. 16:34): but Jesus Christ is a propitiation for the sins of the whole world, 1 John 2:2.
[4.] It is shed for the remission of sins, that is, to purchase remission of sins for us. The redemption which we have through his blood, is the remission of sins, Eph. 1:7. The new covenant which is procured and ratified by the blood of Christ, is a charter of pardon, an act of indemnity, in order to a reconciliation between God and man; for sin was the only thing that made the quarrel, and without shedding of blood is no remission, Heb. 9:22. The pardon of sin is that great blessing which is, in the Lord’s supper, conferred upon all true believers; it is the foundation of all other blessings, and the spring of everlasting comfort, Matt. 9:2, 3. A farewell is now bidden to the fruit of the vine, Matt. 26:29. Christ and his disciples had now feasted together with a deal of comfort, in both an Old Testament and a New Testament festival, fibula utriusque Testamenti—the connecting tie of both Testaments. How amiable were these tabernacles! How good to be here! Never such a heaven upon earth as was at this table; but it was not intended for a perpetuity; he now told them (John 16:16), that yet a little while and they should not see him: and again a little while and they should see him, which explains this here.
First, He takes leave of such communion; I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, that is, now that I am no more in the world (John 17:11); I have had enough of it, and am glad to think of leaving it, glad to think that this is the last meal. Farewell this fruit of the vine, this passover-cup, this sacramental wine. Dying saints take their leave of sacraments, and the other ordinances of communion which they enjoy in this world, with comfort, for the joy and glory they enter into supersede them all; when the sun rises, farewell the candles.
Secondly, He assures them of a happy meeting again at last. It is a long, but not an everlasting, farewell; until that day when I drink it new with you. 1. Some understand it of the interviews he had with them after his resurrection, which was the first step of his exaltation into the kingdom of his Father; and though during those forty days he did not converse with them so constantly as he had done, yet he did eat and drink with them (Acts 10:41), which, as it confirmed their faith, so doubtless it greatly comforted their hearts, for they were overjoyed at it, Luke 24:41. 2. Others understand it of the joys and glories of the future state, which the saints shall partake of in everlasting communion with the Lord Jesus, represented here by the pleasures of a banquet of wine. That will be the kingdom of his Father, for unto him shall the kingdom be then delivered up; the wine of consolation (Jer. 16:7) will there be always new, never flat or sour, as wine with long keeping; never nauseous or unpleasant, as wine to those that have drank much; but ever fresh. Christ will himself partake of those pleasures; it was the joy set before him, which he had in his eye, and all his faithful friends and followers shall partake with him.
Lastly, Here is the close of the solemnity with a hymn (Matt. 26:30); They sang a hymn or psalm; whether the psalms which the Jews usually sang at the close of the passover-supper, which they called the great hallel, that is, Ps. 113 and the five that follow it, or whether some new hymn more closely adapted to the occasion, is uncertain; I rather think the former; had it been new, John would not have omitted to record it. Note, 1. Singing of psalms is a gospel-ordinance. Christ’s removing the hymn from the close of the passover to the close of the Lord’s supper, plainly intimates that he intended that ordinance should continue in his church, that, as it had not its birth with the ceremonial law, so it should not die with it. 2. It is very proper after the Lord’s supper, as an expression of our joy in God through Jesus Christ, and a thankful acknowledgment of that great love wherewith God has loved us in him. 3. It is not unseasonable, no, not in times of sorrow and suffering; the disciples were in sorrow, and Christ was entering upon his sufferings, and yet they could sing a hymn together. Our spiritual joy should not be interrupted by outward afflictions.
When this was done, they went out into the mount of Olives. He would not stay in the house to be apprehended, lest he should bring the master of the house into trouble; nor would he stay in the city, lest it should occasion an uproar; but he retired into the adjacent country, the mount of Olives, the same mount that David in his distress went up the ascent of, weeping, 2 Sam. 15:30. They had the benefit of moon-light for this walk, for the passover was always at the full moon. Note, After we have received the Lord’s supper, it is good for us to retire for prayer and meditation, and to be alone with God.