World Wide Study Bible


a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Select a resource above

Hitherto he has been exposing the abuse; 667667     “Qu’ils commettoyent en la Cene;” — “Which they had fallen into as to the Supper.” now he proceeds to show what is the proper method of rectifying it. For the institution of Christ is a sure rule, so that if you turn aside from it but a very little, you are out of the right course. Hence, as the Corinthians had deviated from this rule, he calls them back to it. It is a passage that ought to be carefully observed, as showing that there is no remedy for correcting and purging out abuses, short of a return to God’s pure institution. Thus the Lord himself — when he was discoursing respecting marriage, (Matthew 19:3,) and the Scribes brought forward custom, and also the permission given by Moses — simply brings forward his Father’s institution, as being an inviolable law. When we do this at the present day, the Papists cry out, that we are leaving nothing untouched. 668668     “Que nous gastons tout, et ne laissons rien en son entier;” — “That we are destroying everything, and are leaving nothing entire.” We openly demonstrate, that it is not in one point merely that they have degenerated from our Lord’s first institution, but that they have corrupted it in a thousand ways. Nothing is more manifest than that their Mass is diametrically opposed to the sacred Supper of our Lord. I go farther — we show in the plainest manner, that it is full of wicked abominations: hence there is need of reformation. We demand — what it appears Paul had recourse to — that our Lord’s institution be the common rule, to which we agree on both sides to make our appeal. This they oppose with all their might. Mark then the nature of the controversy at this day in reference to the Lord’s Supper.

23 I received from the Lord. In these words he intimates, that there is no authority that is of any avail in the Church, but that of the Lord alone. “I have not delivered to you an invention of my own: I had not, when I came to you, contrived a new kind of Supper, according to my own humor, but have Christ as my authority, from whom I received what I have delivered unto you, in the way of handing it over.” 669669     Our Author seems to allude here to what he had said previously, when commenting on 1 Corinthians 4:1, as to the duty devolving on stewards of the mysteries of God. — Ed. Return, then, to the original source. Thus, bidding adieu to human laws, the authority of Christ will be maintained in its stability.

That night in which he was betrayed. This circumstance as to time instructs us as to the design of the sacrament — that the benefit of Christ’s death may be ratified in us. For the Lord might have some time previously committed to the Apostles this covenant-seal, 670670     “Car le Seigneur pouuoit bien quelque temps deuant ordonner a ses Apostres l’obseruation de ce Sacrement;” — “For the Lord might have on some previous occasion appointed to his Apostles the observance of this Sacrament.” but he waited until the time of his oblation, that the Apostles might see soon after accomplished in reality in his body, what he had represented to them in the bread and the wine Should any one infer from this, that the Supper ought, therefore, to be celebrated at night and after a bodily repast, I answer, that, in what our Lord did, we must consider what there is that he would have to be done by us. It is certain, that he did not mean to institute a kind of nightly festival, like that in honor of Ceres, 671671     “Vne ceremonie, qui ne peust faire que de nuit, comme les Payens auoyent la feste de Ceres;” — “A ceremony which could only be observed at night, as the heathens held the festival of Ceres.” The time when the festival was held, was in accordance with the peculiar secrecy with which its rites were observed. — Ed. and farther, that it was not his design to invite his people to come to this spiritual banquet with a well-filled stomach. Such actions of Christ as are not intended for our imitation, should not be reckoned as belonging to his institution. 672672     “Pour partie, ou de la substance de son institution;” — “As a part of his institution, or of the essence of it.” In this way, there is no difficulty in setting aside that subtilty of Papists, by which they shift off 673673     “Ils se mocquent;” — “They deride.” what I have already stated as to the duty of maintaining and preserving Christ’s institution in its simplicity. “We will, therefore,” say they, “not receive the Lord’s Supper except at night, and we will therefore take it — not when fasting, but after having dined.” All this, I say, is mere trifling; for it is easy to distinguish what our Lord did, in order that we might imitate it, or rather what he did with the view of commanding us to do the like.

24. Having given thanks. Paul observes elsewhere, that every gift that we receive from the hand of God

is sanctified to us by the word and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:5.)

Accordingly, we nowhere read that the Lord tasted bread along with his disciples, but there is mention made of his giving thanks, (John 6:23,) by which example he has assuredly instructed us to do the like. This giving of thanks, however, has a reference to something higher, for Christ gives thanks to the Father for his mercy 674674    Sa misericorde infinie;” — “His infinite mercy.” towards the human race, and the inestimable benefit of redemption; and he invites us, by his example, to raise up our minds as often as we approach the sacred table, to an acknowledgment of the boundless love of God towards us, and to have our minds kindled up to true gratitude. 675675     “Et n’en soyons enuers luy ingrats, mats soyons enflambez a vne vraye recognoissance;” — “And may not be ungrateful towards him, but may be kindled up to a true acknowledgment.”

Take, eat, this is my body As Paul designed here to instruct us in a few words as to the right use of the sacrament, it is our duty to consider attentively 676676     “Et bien poiser;” — “And ponder well.” what he sets before us, and allow nothing to pass unobserved, inasmuch as he says nothing but what is exceedingly necessary to be known, and worthy of the closest attention. In the first place, we must take notice, that Christ here distributes the bread among the Apostles, that all may partake of it in common, and thus every one may receive his portion, that there may be an equal participation among all. Accordingly, when there is not a table in common prepared for all the pious — where they are not invited to the breaking of bread in common, and where, in fine, believers do not mutually participate, it is to no purpose that the name of the Lords Supper is laid claim to.

But for what purpose 677677     “Mais ie vous prie, a quel propos;” — “But for what purpose, I pray you.” are the people called to mass, unless it be that they may come away empty from an unmeaning show? 678678     “Comme s’il retournoit de voir vne bastelerie inutile et sotte;” — “As if they were returning from seeing a useless and foolish mountebank scene.” It has, therefore, nothing in unison with the supper. Hence, too, we infer that Christ’s promise is no more applicable to the mass than to the feast of the Salii; 679679     “Vn banquet de la confrairie des Sacrificateurs de Mars, lesquels les Romains nommoyent Salii;” — “To the banquet of the fraternity of the priests of Mars, whom the Romans called Salii.” They received this name from their going through the city leaping and dancing. The feast which they partook of, after finishing their procession, was exceedingly sumptuous. Hence the expression — “Epulari Saliarem in modum“ — “to feast sumptuously.” Cic. Att. 5. 9. — Ed. for when Christ promises that he will give us his body, he at the same time commands us to take and eat of the bread Hence, unless we obey this command, it is to no purpose that we glory in his promise. To explain this more familiarly in other words — the promise is annexed to the commandment in a conditional way, as it were: hence it has its accomplishment only if the condition also is accomplished. For example, it is written, Call upon me; I will answer thee (Psalm 91:15.) It is our part to obey the command of God, that he may accomplish for us what he promises; otherwise we shut ourselves out from the accomplishment of it. 680680     “Nous reiettons l’effet, et luy fermons la porte;” — “We reject its accomplishment, and shut the door against it.”

What do Papists do? They neglect participation, and consecrate the bread for a totally different purpose, and in the meantime they boast that they have the Lord’s body. While, by a wicked divorce, they

put asunder those things which Christ has joined together,
(Matthew 19:6,)

it is manifest that their boasting is vain. Hence, whenever they bring forward the clause — This is my body, we must retort upon them the one that immediately precedes it — Take and eat For the meaning of the words is: “By participating in the breaking of bread, according to the order and observance which I have prescribed, you shall be participants also in my body.” Hence, when an individual eats of it by himself, the promise in that case goes for nothing. Besides, we are taught in these words what the Lord would have us do. Take, says he. Hence those that offer a sacrifice to God have some other than Christ as their authority, for we are not instructed in these words to perform a sacrifice.

But what do Papists say as to their mass? At first they were so impudent as to maintain, that it was truly and properly called a sacrifice. Now, however, they admit that it is indeed a commemorative sacrifice, but in such a way, that the benefit of redemption is, through means of their daily oblation, 681681     “Par leur belle oblation qu’ils font tousles iours;” — “By their admirable oblation, which they make every day.” applied to the living and the dead. However that may be, they present the appearance of a sacrifice. 682682     “Vne apparence et representation de sacrifice;” — “An appearance and representation of a sacrifice.” In the first place, there is rashness in this, as being without any command from Christ; but there is a still more serious error involved in it — that, while Christ appointed the Supper for this purpose, that we might take and eat, they pervert it to a totally different use.

This is my body I shall not recount the unhappy contests that have tried the Church in our times as to the meaning of these words. Nay rather, would to God that we could bury the remembrance of them in perpetual oblivion! I shall state, first of all, sincerely and without disguise, and then farther, I shall state freely (as I am wont to do) what my views are. Christ calls the bread his body; for I set aside, without any disputation, that absurd contrivance, that our Lord did not exhibit the bread to the Apostles, but his body, which they beheld with their eyes, for it immediately follows — This cup is the New Testament in my blood Let us regard it then as beyond all controversy that Christ is here speaking of the bread. Now the question is — “In what sense?” That we may elicit the true meaning, we must hold that the expression is figurative; for, assuredly, to deny this is exceedingly dishonest. 683683     “Ce seroit vne impudence et opinionastrete trop grande;” — “This were excessive impudence and obstinacy.” Why then is the term body applied to the bread? All, I think, will allow that it is for the same reason that John calls the Holy Spirit a dove (John 1:32.) Thus far we are agreed. Now the reason why the Spirit was so called was this — that he had appeared in the form of a dove. Hence the name of the Spirit is transferred to the visible sign. Why should we not maintain that there is here a similar instance of metonymy, and that the term body is applied to the bread, as being the sign and symbol of it? If any are of a different opinion they will forgive me; but it appears to me to be an evidence of a contentious spirit, to dispute pertinaciously on this point. I lay it down, then, as a settled point, that there is here a sacramental form of expression, 684684     “C’est a dire, qui est ordinaire en matiere des Sacremens;” — “That is to say, what is usual in connection with Sacraments.” in which the Lord gives to the sign the name of the thing signified.

We must now proceed farther, and inquire as to the reason of the metonymy. Here I reply, that the name of the thing signified is not applied to the sign simply as being a representation of it, but rather as being a symbol of it, 685685     “Vn gage et tesmoignage externe;” — “An outward token and evidence.” by which the reality is presented to us. For I do not allow the force of those comparisons which some borrow from profane or earthly things; for there is a material difference between them and the sacraments of our Lord. The statue of Hercules is called Hercules, but what have we there but a bare, empty representation? On the other hand the Spirit is called a dove, as being a sure pledge of the invisible presence of the Spirit. Hence the bread is Christs body, because it assuredly testifies, that the body which it represents is held forth to us, or because the Lord, by holding out to us that symbol, gives us at the same time his own body; for Christ is not a deceiver, to mock us with empty representations. 686686     “Pour penser qu’il nous repaisse d’ombres et vaines figures;” — “To think that he would feed us with shadows and empty representations.” Hence it is regarded by me as beyond all controversy, that the reality is here conjoined with the sign; or, in other words, that we do not less truly become participants in Christ’s body in respect of spiritual efficacy, than we partake of the bread.

We must now discuss the manner. Papists hold forth to us their system of transubstantiation: they allege that, when the act of consecration has been gone through, the substance of the bread no longer exists, and that nothing remains but the accidents. 687687     By the accidents of the bread are meant its color, taste, smell, and shape. — Ed. To this contrivance we oppose — not merely the plain words of Scripture, but the very nature of the sacraments. For what is the meaning of the supper, if there is no correspondence between the visible sign and the spiritual reality? They would have the sign to be a false and delusive appearance of bread. What then will the thing signified be, but a mere imagination? Hence, if there must be a correspondence between the sign and its reality, it is necessary that the bread be real — not imaginary — to represent Christ’s real body. Besides, Christ’s body is here given us not simply, but as food. Now it is not by any means the color of the bread that nourishes us, but the substance. In fine, if we would have reality in the thing itself, there must be no deception in the sign.

Rejecting then the dream of Papists, let us see in what manner Christ’s body is given to us. Some explain, that it is given to us, when we are made partakers of all the blessings which Christ has procured for us in his body — when, I say, we by faith embrace Christ as crucified for us, and raised up from the dead, and in this way are effectually made partakers of all his benefits. As for those who are of this opinion, I have no objection to their holding such a view. As for myself, I acknowledge, that it is only when we obtain Christ himself, that we come to partake of Christ’s benefits. He is, however, obtained, I affirm, not only when we believe that he was made an offering for us, but when he dwells in us — when he is one with us — when we are members of his flesh, (Ephesians 5:30,) — when, in fine, we are incorporated with him (so to speak) into one life and substance. Besides, I attend to the import of the words, for Christ does not simply present to us the benefit of his death and resurrection, but the very body in which he suffered and rose again. I conclude, that Christ’s body is really, (as the common expression is,) — that is, truly given to us in the Supper, to be wholesome food for our souls. I use the common form of expression, but my meaning is, that our souls are nourished by the substance of the body, that we may truly be made one with him, or, what amounts to the same thing, that a life-giving virtue from Christ’s flesh is poured into us by the Spirit, though it is at a great distance from us, and is not mixed with us. 688688     In this passage, as, also, in some other parts of his writings, Calvin seems to affirm the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, in some mysterious manner, while he was, as is well known, opposed to consubstantiation, as well as to transubstantiation. The late venerable Dr. Dick of Glasgow, while treating of the Lord’s Supper — while he makes mention of Calvin in terms of the highest respect, as “one of the brightest ornaments of the Reformation,” who, “in learning, genius, and zeal, had few equals, and no superior,” — animadverts on some expressions made use of in the Institutes, which seem not altogether in harmony with his general system of views in reference to the presence of Christ in the sacrament of the Supper. Dick’s Lectures on Theology, volume 4. — Ed.

There now remains but one difficulty — how is it possible that his body, which is in heaven, is given to us here upon earth? Some imagine that Christ’s body is infinite, and is not confined to any one space, but fills heaven and earth, (Jeremiah 23:24,) like his Divine essence. This fancy is too absurd to require refutation. The Schoolmen dispute with more refinement as to his glorious body. Their whole doctrine, however, reduces itself to this — that Christ is to be sought after in the bread, as if he were included in it. Hence it comes, that the minds of men behold the bread with wonderment, and adore it in place of Christ. Should any one ask them whether they adore the bread, or the appearance of it, they will confidently agree that they do not, but, in the mean time, when about to adore Christ, they turn to the bread. They turn, I say, not merely with their eyes, and their whole body, but even with the thoughts of the heart. Now what is this but unmixed idolatry? But that participation in the body of Christ, which, I affirm, is presented to us in the Supper, does not require a local presence, nor the descent of Christ, nor infinite extension, 689689     “Vne estendue de son corps infinie;” — “An infinite extension of his body.” nor anything of that nature, for the Supper being a heavenly action, there is no absurdity in saying, that Christ, while remaining in heaven, is received by us. For as to his communicating himself to us, that is effected through the secret virtue of his Holy Spirit, which can not merely bring together, but join in one, things that are separated by distance of place, and far remote.

But, in order that we may be capable of this participation, we must rise heavenward. Here, therefore, faith must be our resource, when all the bodily senses have failed. When I speak of faith, I do not mean any sort of opinion, resting on human contrivances, as many, boasting of faith on all occasions, run grievously wild on this point. What then? You see bread — nothing more — but you learn that it is a symbol 690690     “Vn signe et tesmoignage;” — “A sign and evidence.” of Christ’s body. Do not doubt that the Lord accomplishes what his words intimate — that the body, which thou dost not at all behold, is given to thee, as a spiritual repast. It seems incredible, that we should be nourished by Christ’s flesh, which is at so great a distance from us. Let us bear in mind, that it is a secret and wonderful work of the Holy Spirit, which it were criminal to measure by the standard of our understanding. “In the meantime, however, drive away gross imaginations, which would keep thee from looking beyond the bread. Leave to Christ the true nature of flesh, and do not, by a mistaken apprehension, extend his body over heaven and earth: do not divide him into different parts by thy fancies, and do not adore him in this place and that, according to thy carnal apprehension. Allow him to remain in his heavenly glory, and aspire thou thither, 691691     “Esleve ton esprit et ton coeur jusques la;” — “Raise thy mind and heart thither.” that he may thence communicate himself to thee.” These few things will satisfy those that are sound and modest. As for the curious, I would have them look somewhere else for the means of satisfying their appetite.

Which is broken for you Some explain this as referring to the distribution of the bread, because it was necessary that Christ’s body should remain entire, as it had been predicted, (Exodus 12:46,) A bone of him shall not be broken As for myself — while I acknowledge that Paul makes an allusion to the breaking of bread, yet I understand the word broken as used here for sacrificed — not, indeed, with strict propriety, but at the same time without any absurdity. For although no bone was broken, yet the body itself having been subjected, first of all, to so many tortures and inflictions, and afterwards to the punishment of death in the most cruel form, cannot be said to have been uninjured. This is what Paul means by its being broken This, however, is the second clause of the promise, which ought not to be passed over slightly. For the Lord does not present his body to us simply, and without any additional consideration, but as having been sacrificed for us. The first clause, then, intimates, that the body is presented to us: this second clause teaches us, what advantage we derive from it — that we are partakers of redemption, and the benefit of his sacrifice is applied to us. Hence the Supper is a mirror which represents to us Christ crucified, so that no one can profitably and advantageously receive the supper, but the man who embraces Christ crucified.

Do this in remembrance of me. Hence the Supper is a memorial, (μνημόσυνον 692692     It is worthy of notice, that our Author has made use of the same Greek term (when commenting on 1 Corinthians 5:8) in reference to the Passover, which was intended partly as a memorial (μνημόσυνον). The term is of frequent occurrence in the same sense in Herodious, and occasionally in other Classical authors. — Ed ) appointed as a help to our weakness; for if we were sufficiently mindful of the death of Christ, this help would be unnecessary. This is common to all sacraments, for they are helps to our weakness. What is the nature of that remembrance which Christ would have us cherish with regard to him, we shall hear presently. As to the inference, however, which some draw from this — that Christ is not present in the Supper, because a remembrance applies to something that is absent; the answer is easy — that Christ is absent from it in the sense in which the Supper is a commemoration. For Christ is not visibly present, and is not beheld with our eyes, as the symbols are which excite our remembrance by representing him. In short, in order that he may be present with us, he does not change his place, but communicates to us from heaven the virtue of his flesh, as though it were present. 693693     “Du ciel il fait descouler sur nous la vertu de sa chair presentement et vrayement;” — “He makes the virtue of his flesh pour down upon us from heaven presently and truly.”

25. The cup, when he had supped The Apostle seems to intimate, that there was some interval of time between the distribution of the bread and that of the cup, and it does not quite appear from the Evangelists whether the whole of the transaction was continuous. 694694     “Continuel et sans interualle;” — “Continuous, and without an interval.” This, however, is of no great moment, for it may be that the Lord delivered in the meantime some address, after distributing the bread, and before giving the cup. As, however, he did or said nothing that was not in harmony with the sacrament, we need not say that the administration of it was disturbed or interrupted. I would not, however, render it as Erasmus does — supper, being ended, for, in a matter of so great importance, ambiguity ought to be avoided.

This cup is the New Testament What is affirmed as to the cup, is applicable also to the bread; and thus, by this form of expression, he intimates what he had before stated more briefly — that the bread is the body. For it is so to us, that it may be a testament in his body, that is, a covenant, which has been once confirmed by the offering up of his body, and is now confirmed by eating, when believers feast upon that sacrifice. Accordingly, while Paul and Luke use the wordstestament in the blood, Matthew and Mark employ the expressionblood of the testament, which amounts to the same thing. For the blood was poured out to reconcile us to God, and now we drink of it in a spiritual sense, that we may be partakers of reconciliation. Hence, in the Supper, we have both a covenant, and a confirmatory pledge of the covenant.

I shall speak in the Epistle to the Hebrews, if the Lord shall allow me opportunity, as to the word testament It is well known, however, that sacraments receive that name, from being testimonies to us of the divine will, to confirm 695695     “Confermer et seeller;” — “Confirm and seal.” it in our minds. For as a covenant is entered into among men with solemn rites, so it is in the same manner that the Lord deals with us. Nor is it without strict propriety that this term is employed; for in consequence of the connection between the word and the sign, the covenant of the Lord is really included in the sacraments, and the term covenant has a reference or relation to us. This will be of no small importance for understanding the nature of the sacraments; for if they are covenants, then they contain promises, by which consciences may be roused up to an assurance of salvation. Hence it follows, that they are not merely outward signs of profession before men, but are inwardly, too, helps to faith.

This do, as often as ye drink Christ, then, has appointed a two-fold sign in the Supper.

What God hath joined together let not man put asunder.
(Matthew 19:6.)

To distribute, therefore, the bread without the cup, is to man Christ’s institution. 696696     “L’institution du Fils de Dieu;” — “The institution of the Son of God.” For we hear Christ’s words. As he commands us to eat of the bread, so he commands us to drink of the cup To obey the one half of the command and neglect the other half — what is this but to make sport of his commandment? And to keep back the people from that cup, which Christ sets before all, after first drinking of it, as is done under the tyranny of the Pope — who can deny that this is diabolical presumption? As to the cavil that they bring forward — that Christ spoke merely to the Apostles, and not to the common people — it is exceedingly childish, and is easily refuted from this passage — for Paul here addresses himself to men and women indiscriminately, and to the whole body of the Church. He declares that he

had delivered this to them agreeably to the commandment
of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 11:23.)

By what spirit will those pretend to be actuated, who have dared to set aside this ordinance? Yet even at this day this gross abuse is obstinately defended; and what occasion is there for wonder, if they endeavor impudently to excuse, by words and writings, what they so cruelly maintain by fire and sword?

26. For as often as ye shall eat. Paul now adds what kind of remembrance ought to be cherished — that is, with thanksgiving; not that the remembrance consists wholly in confession with the mouth; for the chief thing is, that the efficacy of Christ’s death be sealed in our consciences; but this knowledge should stir us up to a confession in respect of praise, so as to declare before men what we feel inwardly before God. The Supper then is (so to speak) a kind of memorial, which must always remain in the Church, until the last coming of Christ; and it has been appointed for this purpose, that Christ may put us in mind of the benefit of his death, and that we may recognize it 697697     “Que de nostre part le recognoissions;” — “That we, on our part, may recognise it.” before men. Hence it has the name of the Eucharist. 698698     From, εὐχαριστήσας, (having given thanks,) which is made use of by Paul, and also by the Evangelists, (see Harmony, vol. 3, p. 205, n. 1,) in their account of the original appointment of the Supper. The term is at the same time expressive of the spirit of the institution, in respect of thanksgiving. — Ed If, therefore, you would celebrate the Supper aright, you must bear in mind, that a profession of your faith is required from you. Hence we see how shamelessly those mock God, who boast that they have in the mass something of the nature of the Supper. For what is the mass? They confess (for I am not speaking of Papists, but of the pretended followers of Nicodemus) that it is full of abominable superstitions. By outward gesture they give a pretended approval of them. What kind of showing forth of the death of Christ is this? Do they not rather renounce it?

Until he come As we always need a help of this kind, so long as we are in this world, Paul intimates that this commemoration has been given us in charge, until Christ come to judgment. For as he is not present with us in a visible form, it is necessary for us to have some symbol of his presence, by which our minds may exercise themselves.