Reviewing & Clarifying the Lord’s Supper

The Reformed generally held to a real presence of Christ in the sacrament, or ordinance, of the Lord’s Supper and the Particular Baptists of the seventeenth century are no exception. The Second London says:

7. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses. ( 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26)[1]

There are three components to this paragraph which need defining.

Worthy Receivers

The first point broached by the confession is the notion of “worthy” receivers. In both Roman Catholic and Lutheran models of the eucharist, anyone––theoretically––could partake of the body and blood of Christ since in both models Christ is carnally present either in or with the elements. The sign and the thing signified are essentially mixed such that, to touch the bread and sniff the wine is to touch the body of the Lord and smell His blood.

However, on the Reformed view, the sign (bread and wine) parallels the thing signified (Christ’s body and blood) but is not substantially identified with it (transubstantiation) nor substantially accompanied by it (consubstantiation). The Lord’s Supper, for the Reformed, is suprasubstantial. That is, the thing signified is enjoyed by partakers on a spiritual or heavenly plane rather than a physical or carnal plane. The instrument by which this occurs is faith. Keith Mathison refers to faith as the “mouth of the soul.”[2]

If only faith, therefore, can “eat” the body and blood of Christ, it follows that only those with faith may partake of Christ in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

Spiritual Presence

John Calvin, in his discussion on the Lord’s Supper in his Institutes, carefully navigated a proper view of the Lord’s Supper by holding on to an orthodox doctrine of the incarnation on the one hand, and a meaningful Lord’s Supper on the other. According to the orthodox formulation of the incarnation, the Person of the Son is both God and man (cf. hypostatic union). In other words, God the Son is identical to the divine essence, but He has taken into union with Himself the fulness of a human nature. According to the divine nature, Christ does not have a body. For God does not have body, parts, or passions (2LBCF 2.1).

According to His human nature, He does have a body, a human body. Now, the incommunicable attributes, such as divine omnipresence, cannot be present in a corporeal body, such as the one Christ now has at the right hand of the Father. After all, Jesus rose bodily and ascended bodily. There came a time where the physically present Christ was no longer with the disciples because He ascended into heaven. He was in another place rather than with the apostles. So, if a body does not inhere in the divine nature, it must be Christ’s human nature that’s most relevant to the Lord’s Supper. And since Christ, in His human nature, is locally present in heaven, He cannot also be locally present in or with the elements at the Lord’s table.

Therefore, the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper must be understood spiritually. This is, first, not to say the divine essence is somehow present in the elements. That’s not what’s being said here. Rather, the partaking of Christ’s body and blood, rather than being physical (i.e. corporeal), is spiritual. Just as the Spirit unites us with Christ, and seats us with Him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6), He also makes us to feast on Christ in the eucharist.

The Sign and the Thing Signified

The elements (or the signs), are ineffably united to the things signified (the body and blood of Christ). The former is physical, the latter is spiritual. The elements demonstrate––outwardly––what is happening spiritually, according to faith. Thus, as the mouth of the body eats the bread and drinks the wine, the mouth of the soul (faith) eats the flesh and drinks the blood of Christ. Faith partaking of Christ’s body and blood occurs on a transcendent plane while the eating of the bread and drinking of the wine occurs on a physical plane.

Soli Deo Gloria.


[1] 2LBCF, 30.7.
[2] Keith Mathison, Given For You, 281.

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