Monday, June 14, 2010

The Inseparability of Covenant-Renewal with Covenant-Ratification

When the Word of God (Law and Gospel) is preached during the weekly Sabbath assembly, it is actually a declaration of the terms and stipulations of the Covenant of Grace. We hear of the demands of God in the Law, and we also hear of Christ as having fulfilled all the requirements of the Law on our behalf, which is the Gospel. God's pledge of faithfulness to this covenant is brought to the fore and we are comforted and motivated to grateful obedience.

However, if it ended there, the "covenant formula," if I may so speak, would be incomplete. Where is the ratification of this renewing of the covenant between God and His redeemed? In the Old Covenant, this would take the form of the blood sacrifice of bulls and goats, but in the New, Christ paid the price of His blood for our redemption from the curse of the Old Covenant, therefore, no blood sacrifice is left nor required. What the Lord Himself left us is the sacrament of Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper. In the Supper is the visible, material, and tangible sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace—the physical Gospel. Through it, the Spirit affords us the assurance that God is faithful, that we are justified in His sight through Christ's atoning sacrifice, and that Christ's righteousness is imputed to us—then our faith is invigorated. As Article 35 of the Belgic Confession affirms:

To represent to us this spiritual and heavenly bread Christ has instituted an earthly and visible bread as the sacrament of his body and wine as the sacrament of his blood. He did this to testify to us that just as truly as we take and hold the sacraments in our hands and eat and drink it in our mouths, by which our life is then sustained, so truly we receive into our souls, for our spiritual life, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Savior. We receive these by faith, which is the hand and mouth of our souls.

Now it is certain that Jesus Christ did not prescribe his sacraments for us in vain, since he works in us all he represents by these holy signs, although the manner in which he does it goes beyond our understanding and is uncomprehensible to us, just as the operation of God's Spirit is hidden and incomprehensible.

Yet we do not go wrong when we say that what is eaten is Christ's own natural body and what is drunk is his own blood—but the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth but by the Spirit, through faith.

So the case is made that the preaching of the Word, as it is the renewing of the Covenant of Grace, must always have with it the administration of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, as it is the ratification, the sign, and the seal of the just renewed covenant.

The following are Calvin's thoughts on the frequency of the Lord's Supper:

"What we have hitherto said of the sacrament, abundantly shows that it was not instituted to be received once a-year and that perfunctorily (as is now commonly the custom); but that all Christians might have it in frequent use, and frequently call to mind the sufferings of Christ, thereby sustaining and confirming their faith: stirring themselves up to sing the praises of God, and proclaim his goodness; cherishing and testifying towards each other that mutual charity, the bond of which they see in the unity of the body of Christ. As often as we communicate in the symbol of our Saviour’s body, as if a pledge were given and received, we mutually bind ourselves to all the offices of love, that none of us may do anything to offend his brother, or omit anything by which he can assist him when necessity demands, and opportunity occurs. That such was the practice of the Apostolic Church, we are informed by Luke in the Acts, when he says, that 'they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers' (Acts 2:42). Thus we ought always to provide that no meeting of the Church is held without the word, prayer, the dispensation of the Supper, and [offerings]. We may gather from Paul that this was the order observed by the Corinthians, and it is certain that this was the practice many ages after. Hence, by the ancient canons, which are attributed to Anacletus and Calixtus, after the consecration was made, all were to communicate who did not wish to be without the pale of the Church. And in those ancient canons, which bear the name of Apostolical, it is said that those who continue not to the end, and partake not of the sacred communion, are to be corrected, as causing disquiet to the Church. In the Council of Antioch it was decreed, that those who enter the Church, hear the Scriptures, and abstain from communion, are to be removed from the Church until they amend their fault. And although, in the first Council of Tholouse, this was mitigated, or at least stated in milder terms, yet there also it was decreed, that those who after hearing the sermon, never communicated, were to be admonished, and if they still abstained after admonition, were to be excluded" (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (IV, xvii, 44); translated by Henry Beveridge).

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