J. M. Frost - 1916
J. M. Frost. Western Recorder, Louisville, Ky., Dec. 2, 1815.
”They continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking- of bread, and in prayers.” - Acts 2:42.
”As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” - I Cor. 11:26.
”And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” - Acts 2:47.
THE subject of this article is worthy at least of consideration, whether one wishes to follow it or not - The Lord’s Supper in Revival Meetings as an evangelistic power. There is no reason for calling it Supper, except perhaps it holds in memory the sacred and almost tragic hour of its institution, - in the upper room at night forshadowing a darker day to follow. The name, however, has such a hold in Christian use and custom, that it can hardly be eliminated if we so desired, and fortunately, unlike some other names, it has no adverse significance.
The scriptures set as an undergirding for the subject, at least in an illustrative way, are collated here for concentration of sentiment and purpose. In a remarkable, almost startling way, this tragic ordinance came into immediate use, following the first baptismal triumph at Pentecost. It was not a product of that mighty occasion, but was ready at hand to serve with fitness and charm of pathos, in its appointed place and function. It shows in a striking way how thoroughly Christ had planned everything in advance when building his church and laying out its task and mission. It shows also how the two great ordinances, set side by side as companions in the gospel system, supplement each other, work out in wonderful fashion their respective purpose, and each essential in its sphere and function. We can readily see how the Lord’s Supper, brought into the services following Pentecost, greatly increased the evangelistic power and efficiency, made its contribution to the enrichment of the young church and augmented its spiritual power. Its message now as then is a message of the cross and its saving power.
The great statement from Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth shows the preaching power of the ordinance and is set right in the heart of the evangelistic movement which continued from Pentecost and added daily to the church such as God was saving; and though written many years afterwards, the words are not out of place in those stirring days of gospel power, but rather give additional light and fervor. ”As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come,” - a fitting message then, a fitting message now, put into the very middle of revival meetings, a message at once of the cross and of coming triumph. It bespeaks its meaning now as then, in any other similar place and condition of church life, doctrinal fellowship, and of evangelistic service, where God is present in power to save and give increase to the planting and watering, in preaching the gospel of his grace.
In all this, but with some misgiving, I am venturing a heart-to-heart talk with my brethren about the use of this ceremonial service in evangelistic meetings and also the manner of its observance in the regular or stated seasons in their churches. The Lord’s Supper had a deep hold on my heart from my boyhood, came early with me to a commanding place as the distinct memorial of our Lord’s death and a mighty promise of his return. I grew up, thinking of it in this way, with never a thought of its having some sort of mysterious magic or sacramental grace.
In the country church where I was brought up, it was observed with decorum and marked impressiveness, - the Cave Run Baptist church, near Lexington Ky., where my father was pastor for a full decade, and after an absence of ten years with other churches returned and served until his death, and where as a youth of thirteen years I made profession of religion, united with the church and was baptized in a near-by pool. It was all so stately, so dignified, and yet so full of heart power - this keeping of the Lord’s Supper in a country church as the regular season came round. And - may I tell it, - my father never appeared quite so lofty, really great, to my boyish pride and imagination, as when he stood at ”The Lord’s Table” and ministered in the ordinance of the sanctuary. He and my mother, as remembered from my boyhood, like Zacharias and Elizabeth, ”were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.”
Then, too, there was another factor which influenced my early thinking in the same general way. Near our country home there were great families and some of them noted men - Presbyterians of the best stamp, who greatly emphasized preparing for their quarterly communion season, also in a country church. Their talk in the social circle and at the family fireside of the coming service impressed my boyish heart with the greatness and sacredness of the holy ordinance. Those scenes are far away now in the receding years, but their memory lingers and even now brings a fresh sense of what the ordinance was to me then. I know now that my views of the memorial service were not too high in those early years, and in the main correct. And they have now come into intelligent conviction and govern my thinking concerning the great service. I shall never forget the feeling when I came the first time as pastor to minister in this ceremony, and that feeling has never left me, but comes back now in large measure, when I worship with my brethren and receive the elements at the hands of another. It is a distinct remembrance with me of my Lord, both of his death and his promise to return.
This all may be too personal for public print, but it can hardly be exceptional, and will awaken a chord with many others. It is a great loss how great, no one can tell - if pastors do not keep themselves and their people alive to the sentiment and meaning of this great ordinance as it comes around in the regular season - whether monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly. As this article contemplates special communion services, I would emphasize the stated seasons. These are not to be interfered with, should be counted of vital importance in church life, and nurtured as with the dew of heaven. It might be well-if I can venture the suggestion - to abridge the sermon; perhaps leave it off altogether, but surely by all means have it to fit and prepare for the memorial service. Even a good sermon may be the undoing of the occasion, - so also some slight or trivial affair.
The pastor is the man who sets the key in this high celebration. It is with him to see that repetition at regular intervals does not let the service down to the common place either with himself or his people - and happy the pastor who can hold the sacred service in thought and heart as it deserves and can make it minister to the spiritual refreshment and enrichment of his people. It calls for the best that is in us to hold this memorial in meaning and manner of observance, as it was set by our Lord himself when committing it to us with the appealing words: ”Do this in remembrance of me.”. ”Like priest like people,” here as in many other things, and the pastor will need to keep his own standard high in his thought and method of conducting the service.
But in addition to these stated services there may also be special observance of the ordinances in our revival meetings as occasion may offer or justify - but always with the greatest care and in the richness of its sentiment. In such service we will not get away from the New Testament standard and ideal, that the Lord’s Supper, though great and commanding in its nature and purpose, is yet a local church service. Among Baptists no other body, however large and important, would think of undertaking its observance. In this the local church stands alone, having the privilege and obligation within itself, as in the New Testament period with the church at Jerusalem and the church of God at Corinth. A great and sacred trust this is, and must be kept in its integrity and purity of purpose and spirit, for its larger ministry and vital usefulness will depend largely on the method of its observance. This puts great honor and responsibility upon the local church, magnifying its character and service, and setting the ordinance to its high and holy ministry.
Dr. John E. White, now of Anderson, S. C., tells of a special communion service which he held in the Second Baptist church, Atlanta, during his pastorate. A great evangelistic meeting was in progress, with the tide of interest running high. As they came to the close of the week the question was raised about Saturday night-should they hold services or close up for that night as is usually done? In the quandary, the suggestion was made and adopted that on Saturday night the church would meet in a special communion service. The experiment proved a delightful experience, and the pastor counted it one of the finest meetings of the whole series, both for the evangelistic service and in its practical effects on the church itself. This illustrates what I am venturing to set forth in this writing, and seems to indicate, from my viewpoint, the promise of making the Supper an immense evangelistic power in a way altogether out of the ordinary.
What would be the effect, for example, if the Evangelistic Force of the Home Board, when holding simultaneous meetings in the several Baptist churches of some city, should request all of the Baptist churches to hold, each a special communion service on Saturday night instead of closing their doors, as is the usual custom? Or, as for that matter, in a concerted movement, with the pastor in charge and at his best, for any other time during the week? It would surely be something new and out of the ordinary in modern evangelism, though not unknown in apostolic days. It would give tremendous emphasis to the church membership, would start an electric current of self-examination, would awaken a revival of church vows, and mark a line of separation between the unsaved and those professing salvation.
But much more than all that. It would bring into the evangelistic meeting with the emphasis of symbolic power, the very heart of the evangelistic message, namely, the atonement for sin through Christ’s death on the cross - would set up afresh in the midst of the people the cross with its tragedy in which the Prince of Glory died for our sin. ”This is my body-this is my blood shed for many for the remission of sins.” These are the wonderful symbolic words of the memorial and show with great emphasis the only hope of salvation. ”Ye do show the Lord’s death till he come” - this is its message and teaching power in figure and symbol, in speaking, as baptism also speaks, the historic word, the evangelistic word, the didactic word and the prophetic word.
These two ordinances of the gospel system are largely of one meaning, similar in character and purpose, but supplemental in their teaching power. Their value and efficiency as teaching ordinances have hardly been fully recognized, and certainly not used so much as was their original intention for speeding the good news of salvation. Together they give their one lesson in symbolic import concerning the believer’s experience of grace, - how he died to sin, was raised up again in Christ Jesus, and now has his union with Christ and lives his risen life in him - washed in the blood of the Lamb. In this lies, at least in part, the might of their appeal and may be seen their subjective value in ever awakening afresh the glad song of redeeming grace.
Together also baptism and the Supper, in their supplemental teaching, present to the eye, and through the eye to the heart, the resurrection of Jesus. Baptism tells of the burial and resurrection, while the Supper tells of the death which went before and the resurrection life which came after. Baptism in figure and symbol tells of the new tomb, the great stone with Roman seal and Roman guard, and then with sudden turn tells in exultant triumph of the stone rolled away and the tomb left empty; while the Supper on the other hand tells in tragic, way of the antecedent death which brought him to burial, and then has ’its message so clear and strong, of his victory in all that wonderful risen life with the empty sepulchre left behind, his ascension to glory and the promise of his return. ”This is my body and my blood shed,” is one voice heard in the Supper, but there is another equally strong and outspoken in every observance, ”I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forever more. Amen. And have the keys of hell and death.”
It is this wonderful meaning in symbol, that gives baptism and the Supper this evangelistic power, and entitles them to a place in our evangelistic services. The gospel in symbol is sometimes more powerful than the gospel in word. Symbols give no uncertain sound, never change in their form and meaning, and make their appeal to the eye; but the eye makes haste to tell the wonderful things which it has seen, and the story of the eye will often sweep the heart like the song of the angels. From this standpoint, the subject of this article is brought forward and offered to the brethren for such consideration as they may deem worthy. Christ appointed the ordinances, set them in their place and order, in part at least for their teaching power. It rests with us surely to give them their full sweep and swing in the evangelistic meeting, as elsewhere, for the fulfillment of their function and mission. For the past they are monumental and commemorative; for the present obligatory and didactic; for the future prophetic, and bear mighty testimony of mighty things to come - the very things most needed and with greatest emphasis in our evangelistic meetings.