Today, we celebrate Martin Chemnitz’s life. Our devotional reading is adapted from his writing on the Lord’s Supper in Chemnitz’s Works, Volume 5.
The true question at issue in the controversy concerning the presence, distribution, and reception of the body and blood of the Lord in the Supper.
In this controversy, the various questions are so completely intermingled that the minds of the readers are confused by arguments, some relevant and others irrelevant; thus they are kept from a true understanding of the real issues under dispute. Therefore it is useful to establish the true and proper question at issue in the controversy on the basis of the words of institution and to keep this always in view in the whole controversy as a kind of guideline. Further, it will be most helpful if we first separate the relevant points from those which are irrelevant.
The question does not have to do with transubstantiation or a change of the elements, or with an absolute and unchanging presence in the elements outside of their use, or with the reservation, carrying about, offering, or adoration of the elements; both parties reject and disapprove of these practices on the basis of Scripture.
Nor is it a question of the local enclosing of the body of Christ in the bread, or of a crass physical commingling of the body of Christ with the elements, or of a Capernaitic chewing, swallowing, and guzzling of the body and blood of Christ, or of a crass physical mixing of the substances such as takes place in the case of other kinds of bodily food which go into the stomach. All these ideas we reject and disapprove.
Nor is it a controversy about the spiritual indwelling of Christ in us through His Word, through faith and the Spirit.
Nor this there any argument over whether we deny the spiritual eating of Christ’s body and blood in the Supper through faith, as described in John 6. For we clearly teach and expressly affirm that those who in the Lord’s Supper eat and drink the body and blood of Christ only sacramentally and not also spiritually eat to their own judgment and render themselves guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
Now when these points have been separated in this way from the present controversy, then we must see how we can establish the true question at issue in the controversy.
There are two points in the words of institution which should be dealt with one at a time and distinctly. The first has to do with the essence or substance of the Lord’s Supper, namely: What is present in the Lord’s Supper, distributed and received orally by the communicants? This subject is dealt with in the words of institution: “He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is given for you.’ ... Likewise He also took the cup, and when He had given thanks, gave it to them saying, ‘This is My blood.’...” (1 Corinthians 11:23)
The second point is this: For what purpose and use did Christ in His Supper distribute these elements to be received by the communicants and what is the salutary use or what is the spiritual benefit of those things we receive in the Supper from Christ, who distributes them? This point is treated in these words of the institution: “This do in remembrance of Me,” that is, remember that My body which you are receiving was given for you, and the blood which you are drinking was shed for you for the remission of sins; and also in these words: “This cup is the New Testament in My blood.” These words do not speak of some historical, cold, or idle memory, but of true faith, which lays hold of and applies to itself Christ with all His merits and benefits for reconciliation, salvation, and eternal life. This is the spiritual eating of Christ or the benefits of Christ.
It is clear from these words that something is present in the Lord’s Supper, that by an external distribution it is given or offered, and that the Son of God has commanded that we receive it. When He says: “Eat, drink,” He is prescribing the mode of reception, namely, that we receive orally what is present and distributed in the Lord’s Supper. For we have to understand that the words “eating and drinking” apply to this kind of reception, and no one can deny it unless at the same time he is presumptuous enough to abolish and destroy the entire external action of the Lord’s Supper.
Now right here is the heart of the whole controversy: What is it which is present in the Lord’s Supper which is distributed to those who eat, which we are commanded to take and receive, not just in the way it seems best to each individual, but by eating and drinking? That is: What is it which we are commanded to receive into our mouths in the Lord’s Supper? The evangelists in the words of institution teach us that Christ took bread and that in the cup was the fruit of the vine. And even after the blessing or the giving of thanks Paul affirms that there was bread (1 Corinthians 10 and 11). But the question is: What is present in the Lord’s Supper, what is distributed to those who eat, what do we receive into our mouths? Is it only common bread or has it been sanctified? Likewise, regarding the fruit of the vine.
The real truth of the matter is that Christ gave His last will and testament in these words by which He instituted this Supper and by which He gave to the church till the end of time the correct faith concerning this dogma. For in regard to what is present in the Lord’s Supper, what is distributed, what those who eat receive orally, He has pronounced and affirmed: “This is My body, which is given for you. This is My blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins.”
These words of the last will and testament of the Son of God must be taken as they read, in that true and simple understanding of them which the natural, sure, and common understanding of Scripture reflects and demonstrates. For it is sure that in the Lord’s Supper not only bread and wine are present, distributed, and received orally by the communicants but at the same time also the body of Christ, which is given for us, and His blood, which is shed for us.