The Fundamental Significance Of The Lord’s Supper (pt 3)

Further than is obviously implied in this, it seems also a necessary for us just now to inquire into the precise meaning of a sacrificial feast. Its general law is laid down by the apostle Paul in the tenth chapter of First Corinthians: and despite some difficulties that hang over the exact exposition of some of his phrases, certain broad outlines are plain enough. Assuredly, for example, the sacrificial feast is not a repetition of the sacrifice; and equally certainly it is something more than a mere commemoration of the sacrifice: it is specifically a part of the sacrifice, and more particularly this part—the application of it. Everyone who partook of the sacrificial feast, had “communion with the altar.” All that may be implied in this we do not stop now to discuss: this much is allowed on all hands to imply—those who ate of the sacrificed victim became thereby participants in the benefits attained by the sacrifice. Only one or two of the household, perchance, bore the Paschal Lamb to the Temple and were engaged in its sacrificial slaying: all those who partook of the feast, however, were like the offerers of the sacrifice and its beneficiaries. This is the fundamental law of the sacrificial feast—perfectly understood by our Lord’s first disciples, who had been bred under a sacrificial dispensation and instinctively felt its implications, but needing to be kept with some effort carefully in mind by us to whom these things are strange and without natural significance.

Precisely what our Lord did, therefore, when at the last Passover he changed the symbols by which he was represented—he is the true Passover, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world—was to establish a perpetual sacrificial feast, under universal forms, capable of observation everywhere and at all times, and to command it to be celebrated as a proclamation of his death “till he came.” All who partake of this bread and wine, the appointed symbols of his body and blood, therefore, are symbolically partaking of the victim offered on the altar of the cross, and are by this act professing themselves offerers of the sacrifice and seeking to become beneficiaries of it. That is the fundamental significance of the Lord’s Supper. Whenever the Lord’s Supper is spread before us, we are invited to take our place at the sacrificial feast, the substance of which is the flesh and blood of the victim which has been sacrificed once for all at Calvary; and as we eat these in their symbols, we are—certainly not repeating his sacrifice, nor yet prolonging it—but continuing that solemn festival upon it instituted by Christ, by which we testify our “participation in the altar” and claim our part in the benefits right by the offering immolated on it. The sacrificial feast is not the sacrifice, in the sense of the act of offering: it is, however, the sacrifice, in the sense of the thing offered, that is eaten in it: and therefore it is presuppositive of the sacrifice as an act of offering and it implies that this act has already been performed once for all.

We shall not, however, attempt to develop the conception in its details. Even at a glance it can scarcely escape us that this historical method of conceiving the Lord’s Supper approves itself in manifold ways by the light it throws on the problems which have perplexed men in their efforts to understand the Supper. Three of the services it thus renders are worthy of special mention. It throws a bright illumination upon our Lord’s words of institution, and makes all the dark places in them light. It offers a ready explanation of the corruptions which have crept into the idea and practice of the Supper in the course of Christian history: as the memory of a sacrificial system died out in the course of generations of men born Christian, the significance of a sacrificial feast was lost and the attempts that were made to find some other meaning for phrases growing out of it necessarily have led to error. And its supplies an adequate interpretation of the Supper itself as it is commended by the apostolic writers, and gives it its place in the body of Christian institutions. A simple historical suggestion which performs such services to thought thereby powerfully commends itself as fundamental to a right conception of the institution.

Part 2. Original source: “The Fundamental Significance of the Lord’s Supper” in The Bible Student, v. iii, 1901, pp. 77–83 (HT: Harrison Perkins).


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Posted by B. B. Warfield | Friday, June 17, 2022 | Categorized Lord’s Supper | Tagged , , Bookmark the permalink.

About B. B. Warfield

B. B. Warfield (1851–1921) was a scholar of the New Testament, textual criticism, historical theology, and systematic theology. He studied at what would become Princeton University and abroad, taught at Western Theological Seminary for nine years, and then at Princeton Theological Seminary. He was one of the most important exponents of Reformed theology in American history.


  1. Thank you for posting this.

    In the last paragraph are two (what I assume to be OCR) errors:

    (1) “which of crept” should be “which have crept” and (2) “other meeting for” should be “other meaning for”

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