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The observance of the Lord's Supper has fallen into so much neglect in some portions of the Church, and is regarded with so much indifference by many calling themselves followers of the Saviour, — its constraining influences and hallowing power are so rarely sought, in many quarters, by those in opening youth, — that to every thoughtful soul the question must again and again press itself home with painful solicitude, - Why is this? Why this disregard of the last, most tender, most affectionate request of the suffering Redeemer? Why this unwillingness openly to express the true conviction of the soul, and to acknowledge the Saviour, joyfully and truly, as its only Master? Why do we witness, month after month, the sad, strange spectacle, — when the free invitation is given to all who desire to commemorate their Saviour's death, and to remember him in his feast of love," — of the greater part of the congregation at once turning away and leaving the sanctuary, while the few who remain gather around the altar, as if to them alone Christ had said, “ This do in remembrance of me”?
We have sometimes felt as if we could not remain, as if it were presuming in us to enjoy this holy privilege, when those we have loved have treated it so indifferently. Nay, would not some of us feel as if isolated from the quickening sympathy of others, were it not for the holy “ cloud of witnesses,” who then, if ever, gather around us, mingling their ascriptions of praise and gratitude with ours, and uniting their voices in the glad chorus, “ Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing”?
The causes of this neglect and indifference are many and various; too many for us to attempt to enumerate them here, and varying with individual habits, feelings, and modes of thought. To such as regard the rite as of no importance, and as possessing no obligation over the Christian heart, who are willing to worship year after year in churches where it is seldom observed, or, if observed, simply as a sort of necessary deference to the older part of the congregation, embodying an antique but useless ceremony, — where the pastor feels no obligation to unite in holy communion with those of his charge, and the few who cherish these outward forms of memorial must seek elsewhere than at their own altar to partake of the emblematic bread and cup of blessing, – to such our words will be of little avail. But if we are not mistaken, much of the indifference to this service arises from false views of its nature, meaning, and obligation, especially among the young; for it is not to be denied, that in our Sunday schools the subject is often wholly ignored by the teacher, or referred to only occasionally, in an indistinct, careless, or unsatisfying manner, as a mere matter of past history, or belonging only to the mature in age; for unless the teacher feels personally its sacred obligation, how can he speak with convincing force or power to his pupils ? Unless he be himself a member of the Body of Christ, how can he expect to lead others to desire that sacred union ?
We propose, therefore, to consider briefly the history of this observance, showing its consonance with the deep cravings and warm affections of the soul, to speak of the meaning of the “ Church,” and to answer the oft-mooted question, by whom this rite should be observed. .
According to the narratives of the Evangelists, the Lord's Supper was instituted at the close of the Paschal supper. In sadness and mournful anticipation, the disciples for the last time gathered around their Master, in the large upper room, while he, with words of sublime self-forgetfulness and of immortal love, sought to raise their thoughts above the trials and sufferings of the hour, teaching them of the many mansions in the Father's house, and bestowing as his parting benediction the divine gift of his own peace, - that peace which the world gives not, and which — blessed be God! the world cannot take away. In full and clear anticipation of his rapidily approaching sufferings, — with the thought of his chosen few left to encounter the fearful scenes of the coming day without his words of tender sympathy and guardian love, - with a prophetic on-looking through the coming ages of the great multitude of those who should believe on him through their word, — of their sufferings, toils, temptations, triumphs, and inward and outward martyrdoms, with the purest and strongest of human affections and sympathies, united with the depths of divine love, and holy compassion,-knowing that in a few brief hours he should be utterly forsaken of man, and yet not alone, because the Father was with him, - in perfect calmness, uttering a few brief, emphatic words, he took the remainder of the bread and wine supplied by the Paschal feast, and ordained a simple memorial of himself, bidding them, as they met together from time to time, to “do this in remembrance of him.” No set form, no special test of discipleship, was enjoined; but having partaken of the sacred elements, consecrated for ever as emblems of his broken body, and blood shed for the remission of sins, the little band united in one more sacred hymn, in which the Saviour's voice doubtless mingled, with
its deep, spiritual cadence; and then, in the simple words of the Evangelist," they went to the Mount of Olives.” *
After the resurrection and ascension of the Saviour, in imitation of this precedent, the Lord's Supper was observed, not at any set time or place, or at the close of a public religious service ; but the disciples, who were drawn together by a common faith, met on the Lord's day, and sometimes on every day, partook in company of their evening meal, to which, in many cases, each contributed his portion according to his means or in his turn; after which the remainder of the viands was consecrated as a commemorative festival, in imitation of the Paschal feast, in which the Saviour united with his Apostles.
After a time, however, these “ love-feasts,” as they were termed, lost their simple and fraternal character. As the wealthy became converts to the Christian faith, and united in the holy festival, they took the occasion often of converting them into sumptuous and showy entertainments, from which the poorer disciples were often excluded, and, with reason, felt themselves neglected. But worse than this. In churches but recently reclaimed from idolatry, these feasts often became thd occasion of sensual indulgence, causing those gross abuses which Paul so emphatically and so utterly condemns in his epistle to the church at Corinth. There seems to have been nothing, in itself, unsuitable in the earlier manner of celebrat
ing these love-feasts; for, in the newness of faith, and in the - entire change of life and mode of thought enjoined by Christianity, united to the almost certain sufferings and persecutions endured by those who became the followers of the Crucified, none but those truly sincere, from the very heart acknowledging him as the only Master of the soul, would have united themselves to the little band of disciples; and the rite, wherever and however observed, was always regarded
* This article is not designed to meet the objections of those who regard the Lord's Supper as binding only upon the primitive Christians.