The Meat of the New Man
Fourth “Verily, Verily”
The Meat of the New Man
Having thus been shown the Home of the New Man, then the door of entrance into it by a New Birth, and then his distinctive Law or way, with the results which always accompany it, we are now led on to the support or Meat of this New Man. The Fourth “Verily, Verily,” tells us that he lives upon the “bread of God.” This is that which the hidden manna (Exod. 16:33; Rev. 2:17) and the shewbread of old prefigured, and like them can be fully seen only by those who walk in the light of the golden candlestick (Exod. 26:35, and 40:22-25) in the sanctuary of God. We need therefore the Spirit’s sevenfold light to look at these things. Without it we shall not rightly handle this bread. For this reason perhaps it is that our Lord speaks as He does here respecting this mystery.
For the witness of our Lord upon this point is marked by unusual reiteration. Four times does He here repeat “Amen, Amen,” showing the mysterious nature of the subject, which requires for its elucidation no less than four distinct, though closely connected statements. The first (John 6:26, 27) declares that the New Man’s meat “endureth unto everlasting life.” The second (John 6:32, 33) tells us that “the Father giveth us this true bread,” which is “bread from heaven,” even “the bread of God.” The third (John 6:47, 48) says, “I am the bread of life. My flesh is meat and my blood is drink, indeed.” The fourth (John 6:53-57) declares that, if we would live by it, this bread must be fed on or received; for “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you: whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life, and dwelleth in me and I in him.” Each of these different parts of the one great truth, as to the Meat of the New Man, are prefaced by the reiterated Amen, which is not added here without reason.
It is interesting to observe how this truth comes in. It comes, like the preceding “Amen, Amen,” as the explanation of an act done by the Lord, showing Him to be the true fulfillment of all that the Jewish dispensation typified. For the words as to the Law of the New Man (John 5:17-30) were spoken on the sabbath, in justification of healing upon that day. That sabbath or rest of the first creation through the sin of man had become no sabbath, for there was sickness and misery on this day, and neither God nor man can rest in this. Therefore our Lord, as the New Man, not doing His own works, (“for the Son does nothing from self,”) nor finding His own pleasure, nor speaking His own words (Isa. 58:13, 14), only by doing what the Father did, being Himself at rest with God, show out in deed what was the true sabbath. The words we are now to consider, as to the Meat of the New Man, were spoken at the feast of the Passover, when, as God’s elect redeemed from bondage, Israel ought everywhere to have been feasting on the lamb whose blood was sprinkled on their doorposts. But at this holy season, when they should have been full, a great company even of God’s people, spite of the typical Passover, were wanting bread. (John 6:4,5). Then the Son of Man, having first met their outward wants, by multiplying the five barley loaves and two small fishes in His disciples’ hands, makes this an occasion of bearing witness to still better bread, even of the true Paschal feast, which is now prepared for all, as the pledge of man’s redemption, and the means to sustain him to everlasting life.
- First He declares that this meat is not bread obtained by our own work, or which, like earthly bread, corrupts or perishes, but it is bread which is given freely by the Son of Man, and endureth to everlasting life. So He says, “Labour not for the meat with perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man shall give you, for Him hath God the Father sealed” (John 6:27). Even the priests of old in the holy shewbread had only perishable bread, which required to be changed and removed from week to week (Lev. 24:5-9; and I Sam. 21:6); and when in the three great feasts of the Lord, at the feast of Unleavened Bread, at the feast of Weeks, and the feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering, God’s elect were gathered to wait on Him, their meat was the bread which He brought forth out of the earth, and which was only the shadow of that which was to come (Deut. 16:16).
But that better bread had now appeared. Therefore “the bread which perisheth,” good as it is, and needed in its place, shrinks into insignificance as compared with that which Christ here speaks of. The meat the new man needs if “that which the Son of Man shall give, for Him hath God the Father sealed.” He does not here yet distinctly say that this meat must be “His flesh”–that comes later on,–but even in this first word on the subject He implies it, in saying, “Him hath God the Father sealed.” The allusion is to the well-known practice in the Jewish sacrifices, which could not be offered even in the old carnal service unless they were according to their proper nature without blemish; in which therefore every dove or lamb or ox brought to be offered had first to be examined by the priest, and if without blemish to be sealed with the temple seal, which witnessed that the creature was perfect, and therefore fit for God’s altar (Footnote: The Rev. Herman Douglas, a converted Israelite, tells me that the Mishna, Shekalia. 1. 5, ___ Rabbi Johanan Ben-l’nchas, Al Hachotbmoth, i.e. On the Seals, refers to this custom. See too J. Disraeli’s Genius of Judaism, p. 154, as to the sealing of meat, which is thereby declared to be legally clean.) So Jesus was sealed by God Himself, when coming to Jordan the Holy Ghost like a dove came down and rested on Him. The bread which the new man needs is this unblemished meat, which the Son of Man shall given, for Him hath God the Father sealed; thus bearing witness that He is spotless in the eye of God, and therefore fit, even upon His altar, to be the bread of God.
But all this is brought out more fully in the next statement respecting the meat of the new man, which is the bread of God Himself: “Verily, Verily, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven, but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven; for the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (John 6:32). Every word here is pregnant. The Meat of the New Man is the “bread of God.” In giving it to us He gives us that which satisfies Himself, and which He has ever before Him on His table. For the altar was His table (Mal. 1:7, 12), where His fire consumed that which was a sweet-savour to Him (Lev. 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, 9, etc.); and this unblemished offering, fit even to meet His searching eye, He shares with us, that we may eat “His bread” (Lev. 21:6, 8, 17, 21). And surely if when the Queen of Sheba saw the meat of Solomon’s table, and the sitting of his servants, and their apparel, and his cupbearers, no spirit was left in her, and she said, “It was a true report that I heard in my land, but, behold, the half was not told me” (I Kings 10:5, 7), much more may we, for whom God not only prepares a table in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23:5), but whom He calls to enter into His sanctuary, and come near to His most holy feast (Lev. 23:2), rejoice and bless Him for such rich provision, who giveth to His people of His own unblemished bread, that they may eat and drink with Him.
I need not dwell here on the fact that this is God’s free gift, for the words, “My Father giveth you the true bread,” require little comment. And yet with our poor pride, which often makes it so hard to accept all, it is well, if only in passing, to remember that this meat is children’s meat, not bought, or earned, or paid for, but freely given by a Father. It may be more needful to mark that it is not of earth, but “cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” It “cometh down from heaven.” Seven times in this discourse does our Lord repeat these words (John 6:32, 33, 38, 41, 50, 51, 58). Then whatever is not from heaven is not this bread. Whatever is earthly and of this present world is not the true bread. The real meat of the new man ” cometh from heaven” and is “of heaven.” It is spiritual, answering to the spiritual nature which it is given to sustain. Just as to live on earth we must eat the things which come out of the earth, so to support the heavenly life we must have heavenly food. And the heavenly life longs and hungers for the things of its own world, and by an innate instinct knows them, even as the earthly life in us hungers for and instinctively recognises the bread of this world. The spirit is only fed by that which is spirit.
So our Lord adds, “It is the spirit which quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing: the words which I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). This is the bread which “giveth life unto the world.” For even for the world is this bread prepared, that they too may eat and live. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:16, 17). Therefore He immediately adds, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out; for I came down from Heaven not to do my own will, but the will of Him that sent me; and this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that as to the all which He hath given me, I should lose nothing of it, but should raise it up again at the last day; and this is the will of Him that sent me, that every one that seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day (Verses 38-40). Blessed for ever be God, for “the bread of God, which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.”
Having thus declared that the new man’s meat is “heavenly bread,” the Lord goes on to tell us more exactly what it is, that it is no other than Himself, even His flesh and blood. This is our Lord’s third statement on this subject: “Verily, Verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness and died. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (Verses 47-51).
Such are Christ’s words. How were they received by those to whom they were addressed? Not only did “the Jews strive among themselves, saying, How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” (Verse 52), but “many also of His disciples, when they heard this, said, This is a hard saying: Who can hear it?” (Verse 60). So it is yet. Christ still walks with men, who are only the carnal seed of the man of faith, who therefore, like Paul in his young days, are yet only “in the Jews’ religion” (Gal 1:13, 14), worshiping the one true God, and grafted in to partake of the root and fatness of the olive-tree (Rom 11:17), to whom therefore pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the law, and the service of God, and the promises (Rom. 9:3, 4); who nevertheless, like the Jews of old, do not know a present Saviour; who therefore through fear of death are all their lifetime subject to bondage (Heb. 2:13); though sons walking as servants (Gal. 4: 1-3); still in holy places made with hands, more than in that worship of the Father which is in spirit and in truth (John 4:23, and Heb. 9:24).
God knows how many in His church are yet in this “Jews religion,” and such now, as the Jews of old, because they lack Christ’s mind, will always “strive” and “stumble” at His words. There are others, even nearer to the Lord, “disciples,” having heard His call, and taken some steps at least to learn of Him, but who, instead of waiting to understand what He here says, are offended that He says what they do not understand, to whom therefore this word as to “His flesh” is still “a hard saying.” Why should we not believe that He knows better what He is saying than we can know it, and that if He uses words which at first seem dark to us, it is never without a reason. But the self-confidence, which judges all things by our present light, and which, if there is anything we cannot understand, proceeds at once to pare it down to some narrow meaning, which is on a level with our present apprehension, is so innate within us all, that few escape the snare. Of course in our understanding of His words, our first apprehensions are, and must be, always more or less imperfect. A partial view may be all that we can take at first of Christ’s meaning. Only let us not insist on making Christ’s thoughts no greater than our own. Fuller light invariably shows that no words could so exactly have expressed His mind as those He actually used, and that, though for a season they may be above us, they are all instinct with life and light.
Let us then again turn to His words, for “never man spoke like this Man,” and ask, what did He mean here, when He said, “The bread that I will give is my flesh”; and again, “My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood drink indeed.”
Two answers are generally current. First it is said, Christ’s “flesh” and “blood” here only mean the sacramental bread. Others contend that the words are only figurative, (whatever this may mean,) and are fulfilled in our believing in Christ and in His sacrifice as that which meets our need. Both of these interpretations seem to me defective. Christ’s flesh and blood must be His flesh and blood. We only need to see what this really is, that we may understand how literally and exactly our Lord has here spoken. We are by nature so fallen that anything spiritual seems to us unreal and unsubstantial. A “spiritual body” (I Cor. 15:44) takes us into a region of which we know nothing. What the senses see and feel, that is substantial enough. What they cannot perceive seems mere imagination. And yet Holy Scripture speaks of what is seen as but a “shadow” (Col. 2:17), and of the spiritual and unseen as the real and the true. This is the one and only difficulty in the words before us. Our Lord is speaking of the life and substance of the spiritual world, and as long as we know nothing of such a substance, we cannot but feel His words to be mysterious. And yet, even whilst shut up in this present body of corruption, we are ourselves witnesses, that what is unseen or spiritual in us is true substance, or that which stands under (“Substance” simply means “that which stands under.”), and supports the rest, this outward body being but a tabernacle in which we sojourn for awhile, and the inner man the true and real person.
What Holy Scripture declares is that this inward man by disobedience lost the life of God; that that life, once lost, has been re-formed and restored in Christ Jesus; and that to support this new and heavenly life we need the self-same substance as that which formed and sustained the Lord, when in Himself for us He formed the “new creature” (II Cor. 5:17). Thank God, as the babe in nature takes in its mother’s flesh and blood, and grows thereby, without in the least knowing or understanding either what it takes in, or how this nourishment is communicated, so is it with us who are quickened with Christ’s life and born of Him. We live by Him, while yet we understand little or nothing of that on which we live, or how we are sustained by it. But it is Christ’s flesh that feeds or supports us; it is something of His very nature that we take in, through a real receiving and appropriating of His substance.
This flesh or substance is distinctively the “flesh of the Son of Man” (John 6:53). I have already had occasion to call attention to the import of this name. It speaks of man according to God’s mind as he came forth from God, before that division entered, which is met and overcome by the glories pledged both to the Woman’s and to Abraham’s Seed. But great as are these glories, both these titles speak of division and a fall. The flesh we need to eat is not the divided flesh, either of the Woman’s or of Abraham’s Seed,–these could not give eternal life, though in this flesh Christ died to make atonement,–but rather the flesh of the Son of Man, that is of man as he came forth from God, before any separation had marred the work of God. This and nothing less is the flesh He gives, that so eating this flesh we may be built up again in the undivided image of the Son of Man. We shall see more fully what is here taught when we come to the Divine Nature of the Son of Man (In the Sixth, “Verily, Verily). Seen or unseen, the flesh we are to eat is that of the “Son of Man, who is in heaven,” who here says plainly, though it stumbles some, “What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before.”
Do any say, “This is a hard saying”? It may seem hard, and therefore have required our Lord’s reiterated “Amen”; but the fact remains that a new man is quickened in us, who is no mere figure of speech, but a reality, more true and enduring than the seen and outward old man; and that this new man needs and has his proper food, and can no more live without it than we can live here without the meat and drink of this world; his meat being the flesh and blood of the Son of Man, which must as actually be taken in as outward food is actually received and fed on by the outward body. This holy flesh or substance of our Lord is as necessary to form a spiritual, immortal, and incorruptible body, or temple, for God abidingly to dwell in, as the blood of the woman under the law, or the flesh we daily eat, is necessary to form and sustain this present outward body. To say that we cannot describe or define what this substance is, does not alter the fact that it is a reality, given to us of God, and that if we receive it we may daily grow thereby. We do not know what matter is; yet, if we take it in, it feeds our outward man. So we may not understand the exact nature of the flesh and blood of Christ, which we receive. But we are sure that it cannot be less, but far more, real than any seen thing, because the seen is but the shadow, and He the substance of all things. “In Him all things consist” (Col. 1:17). And He, the living Word, says, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” Him therefore we receive, and in so receiving become “bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh” (Eph. 5:20), being so made part of that “greater and more perfect tabernacle, which,” the Apostle tells us, “is not of this creation” (Heb. 9:11; four Greek words).
And His blood is the “blood of God” (Acts 20:28), that is His life, for “the blood is the life” (Deut. 12:23), which we must partake of, if we are to live and dwell in Him. Therefore while He yet sat with His disciples at the table our Lord could truly say, “This is my blood which is being poured out for you” (Greek word; Matt. 26:28); for He was even then giving for them His heavenly life, though not a drop of His outward blood had as yet been shed upon the cross. It is this “blood of God” which we are called to drink; for only by receiving Him and His nature do we acquire the substance out of which a body of the same nature as His can be built up. Well therefore did a martyr say, that “the blood of Christ is love” (Footnote: Ignatius, of Antioch, in his Epistle to the Romans, chap. 7. The passage is interesting, not only as giving this martyr’s view as to the “blood,” but as showing that he took the “flesh of the Son of Man” to mean the eternal substance of the Word: for he says that “the heavenly bread is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the see of David and Abraham”.
The whole passage is as follows: “I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.”), for love is the very life of God, and we must drink in that very life if we would live with Him. This blood is first communicated through the “incorruptible seed” (I Pet. 1:23), which is the word of God; for seed, whether corruptible or incorruptible, is the very essence of the blood. Then when we are babes, it comes as “milk” (I Cor. 3:2, and I Pet. 2:2); until as we grow up in Christ it becomes “strong meat,” and “flesh and blood” (Heb. 5:13, 14), daily increasing our strength and growth, as we can bear it. (Footnote: So Clement of Alexandria says: “The very same Word is fluid and mild as milk, or solid and compact as meat . Thus in many ways the Word is figuratively described as meat, and flesh, and food, and bread, and blood, and milk. The Lord is all these, to give enjoyment to us who have believed on Him.”–Padagog. Lib. I. cap. vi.).
But there is still more in this “outpoured blood,” which I almost hesitate to touch, lest in attempting to bring out more of its fulness, I should perplex or lay a burden on any of my brethren. And yet whenever Christ multiplies the bread in His disciples’ hands, whether for the first or second time, more is ministered than can be taken in; though at the second multiplying of the bread, when more is given and fewer partake, less remains which has not been received. But be it much or little that remains, twelve baskets full, or only seven, disciples, if obedient, will take up and keep what they cannot take in (Footnote: At the first multiplying of bread there were but “five loaves and two fishes,” and “five thousand men” to feed, and “twelve baskets full remained. At the second multiplying there were “seven loaves and a few small fishes,” and but “four thousand men,” and only “seven baskets full” were left. Cf. Matt. 14:17-21, and 15:34-35.). I say, therefore, that, in the outpouring and receiving of Christ’s blood, there is what, for want of better words for spiritual workings, may be called a double action. For in the drinking of the outpoured blood there is a reception both of life and death. Just as the reception of the false word of the serpent not only quickened the devilish life, but at the same time poisoned and slew in man the life of God and heaven; so the reception of the flesh and blood or life-giving substance of the true Word, not only restores God’s life, but brings to an end and swallows up the fallen life also: so that in and by the one ministry of Christ’s blood, even as in the one ministry of the false word by the old serpent, a double work is performed, the work of one being exactly opposite to that accomplished by the other. The serpent’s lie swallowed up one life and bred another. So Christ’s flesh and blood destroys the old life while it sustains the new.
For by being clothed upon with the heavenly flesh “mortality is swallowed up of life” (II Cor. 5:4). And therefore the drinking of Christ’s blood, while it speaks first of the reception of the heavenly life, speaks also of the bringing to an end of that divided life, which His coming into our nature consumes and swallows up. With our present blindness it is hard to speak aright of this, though it is being enacted in us everyday, if we receive the Word (Footnote: Clement of Alexandria thus speaks of this double action of the blood of Christ: “And the blood of the Lord is twofold; for there is the blood of His flesh, by which we are redeemed from corruption, and the spiritual blood, even that by which we are anointed.” (Padagog. Lib. ii cap. _.) The “anointing” or “Christing” comes from what Clement here calls the “spiritual blood.” The “redeeming” from bondage comes, as a result of the reception of the life of God, through the pouring out of that divided life, which, as long as we continue in it, holds us in bondage. Even our Lord therefore could say, “How am I straitened,” until this baptism was accomplished. Compare Rom. 5:10.).
- This brings us to the fourth statement touching this meat of the new man, namely, that this bread must be taken in, because the spiritual, even as the natural, life, is only sustained by food received and assimilated. So our Lord adds here, “Verily, Verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you” (Footnote: More exactly, “Ye have not life in yourselves: Greek words. Compare this with the words in John 5:26.) Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me” (John 6:53-57). Thus here as elsewhere nature shows us how the new life is sustained. Every creature, vegetable, animal, or spiritual, can only live by eating, that is taking in, something of the substance out of which it has been formed; for no creature is or can be self-subsistent. The earthly body lives on earth, by taking in that which is of the earth; and if it lacks this natural support, its life will first be faint, and then go out, simply for want of the substance which it requires to sustain and feed it here. So with the inward man. While it is dead to God,–though it lives to sin and to the world,–it has no desire for the bread of God, because that life that needs that bread has not as yet begun to live and move within it. But as soon as life is quickened, hunger comes with it; the soul opens its desire, which is the one mouth for heavenly gifts; and that hunger is only appeased by the things of its own proper world, received first as “milk,” and then as “strong meat.”
Then if we would grown, that which is taken in must be assimilated. Only so, by the food becoming actually part of us, does it nourish or build us up. Till it is so received, we do not really take it in. It only feeds us, as it becomes our flesh and blood. But as by the fire of this outward life, in these present bodies of corruption, the food we eat is changed by the wonderful chemistry of what we call nature, first into our blood, and thence into our flesh and bone and sinews; so by the divine fire working through our inward man does that new man assimilate, and thus make part of itself, the heavenly bread or substance of the Word, which it receives by faith. It is not enough that it is in our memory, which, like the stomach, first receives what we take in. It must become part of our life, that is our very blood, for “the blood is the life.” Until it does so become part of us, it does not strengthen, but, like undigested food, may even hurt us. “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord;” that is, shall be subject to the penalty which ever follows, where food is eaten, but is not digested; “for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning,” that is, not absorbing or assimilating, “the Lord’s body” (I Cor. 11: 27, 29). Nature should teach us here.
If a man eats or drinks what he cannot assimilate, it not only does him no good, but he receives positive harm, and is actually punished by the food when he does not digest it. And this is equally true of the results which follow from receiving the Lord’s words unworthily, or from crude apprehensions of the book of nature; for all is sacramental. But when the Word or living bread is so received as to become part of our blood or life, it not only nourishes but cleanses our whole body. For pure blood, formed from pure food, flowing through every artery and vein, carries away diseased and effete matter, and renews the whole body. Thus “Christ has washed us in His blood” (Rev. 1:5); for “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin” (I John 1:7); not by any mere outward application, but by circulating freely through every part of our renewed being. Therefore our Lord says here, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.” That blood, or life, which was in Christ, must actually be appropriated, and assimilated, and circulate all through us, if we are to be conformed to Him.
And indeed our Lord’s own words here, as to the way in which He lives Himself, put this matter in the clearest light, and show how our life, even as His, is to be supported. He says, “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me” (John 6:57). He is the vine, and we the branches (John 15:5), and both in the self-same way grow upon the same one root. For the head or root of Christ is God (I Cor 11:3). And as the vine feeds upon the root, and grows out of and lives by it, so does the Son feed upon the nature of the Father, which is love, and lives by Him; and as the branch lives by the vine, so does the Christian live by Christ. As the tree lives, so does every part of it. Therefore our Lord in effect says here, “The branch which eats my substance, and drinks in my sap, dwelleth in me, and I in it, because it is joined to me by a common nature, and therefore my sap, which is my life-blood, dwells in it. As the living Root hath sent me forth, and I live by the Root, so the branch that feeds on me shall live by me.” This is only another way of saying, “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father, even so he that eateth me shall live by me”; or, as He says in another place, “In that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). It is all the self-same truth; for the type of all that is in Scripture is in God’s older book of nature, that book having been created for no other purpose than to be itself a word of God.
But how can we receive this living “flesh” and “blood”? Is there any possible point of conscious contact between us and the Lord so long as He continues only what He is in Himself, a spiritual being, and we remain as we are by nature, carnal? Can we at first receive Him as He is; or must He, to reach us, come to us in such a form as fallen creatures can apprehend? The Word God, the Eternal Son, by whom and in whom all things consist, is and must be much nearer to all men than any outward man or creature. Yet such is our fall out of the spirit-world, into the things of sense, that to reach us that living Word has now to approach us at first from without and through the senses. Spiritual creatures may receive directly spiritual communications. To reach the carnal some outward voice or sign must come. And He stoops to this, to “come in the flesh” (Footnote: Not without a deep and wondrous reason does the Hebrew word ____ mean not only Gospel but Flesh; for there is the closest connexion between the two: by the one as by the other the captive creature is reached and quickened. [Ed note: I have yet to confirm the existence of a Hebrew word that means both gospel and flesh – email me any of you Hebrew scholars who may be able to enlighten me on this.]), and knock at the door of the senses of our outward man, either by the “voice of words” (Heb. 12:19), appealing to the sense of hearing, or by some rite or “outward sign” (Heb. 9:10), appealing to the sense of sight; in either case stooping to reach us form without, because we are so deaf and dead within.
“For,” as Augustine says, “if the Beginning had remained with the Father in His original nature, and not taken the form of a servant, how could men have believed in Him? Would their weakly minds have taken in the spiritual Word, without the medium of some sound or sight addressed to the sense?” (Tractat. in Johan. xxxviii. § 11.) But He loves us. And therefore as we address our infants, not with words only, but with smiles and nods, and communicate with the deaf and dumb with signs, because the word merely spoken would not be understood, so, more than any of His most loving servants, God has come, making Himself all things to all men, that by all means He might save some. This was the reason for the forms of old, such as lambs and shewbread and the like, every one of which said something to men, respecting themselves or God. This is the reason for Scriptures and for Christ’s coming in the flesh. This is the reason for the sacramental water and the bread and the wine, and for all outward preaching and testimony. In all these the Word has come, first appealing to men’s senses from without, that even thus He might enter in, and quicken, and possess, and in due time transform our whole being.
And He yet comes in the self-same way, for He is “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,” calling to men not only by His voice within, for though the Word is very night them, yet, being what they are, “How shall they hear without a preacher”? (Rom. 10:8, 14) but speaking also, as He spoke of old, both to men’s ears and to their eyes, so as to be “made known to them in breaking of bread” (Luke 24:35); in both ways telling us something of our need, and of the provision which we have in Christ Jesus. For either by preaching or by signs we may receive Christ’s flesh and blood; by the spoken word or by the bread and wine. Therefore in every celebration of the Lord’s supper there is not the bread and wine alone, but the Holy Scripture also, in and by both of which the self-same flesh and blood of Christ are ministered to us. (Footnote: Dean Comber, whose name has been dear to the Church for the last two hundred years, in his well-known book A Companion to the Temple, (vol. iii. pp. 57, 65) says: “The gospel hath such affinity to Christ that it is properly the Word of God, and bears the name of our Lord. (Heb. 4:12; I Cor. 1:23.) To receive Christ, and to entertain His word with faith, is all one. Finally to believe the gospel is called ‘eating His flesh and drinking His blood,’ (John 6), and is a kind of spiritual communion; wherefore it is read before the sacrament, and at the altar, even when there is no celebration; because we must hearken to it with like reverence, receive it with the good, and retain it with like gratitude, as if Jesus Himself was sacramentally and visibly present.
For thus Greek Liturgy orders; and the ancients used to say before the Gospel, ‘Glory be to thee, O Lord,’ and afterwards, ‘Thanks be to God for His holy gospel,’ [tanquam Christo present], as if Christ was then before their eyes.’ To the same effect Archdeacon Freeman, in his Principles of Divine Service, (vol. i. p. 318,) says: “I have only to point out, lastly, that the hearing of the Lessons is from the Eucharistic point of view a most true and real reception of Christ, closely akin to that which takes place in the Holy Communion. Eucharistic celebration accordingly has ever had its Lessons of Holy Scripture, in early times very full and large, as we have seen. And the daily Lessons are but the prolongation of these. The Eastern recognition of Christ as the ‘Wisdom of the Father’, and enshrined in a manner in the Scripture, the Gospels especially, will be remembered. As ‘Wisdom’ He waits continually to enter into the soul in the public hearing of Scripture, illuminating, conforming, assimilating it to His over divine manhood.” So too Augustine says, “Believe and thou hast eaten,” (Tract. in Joh. xxv. § 12,) and again, “To believe on Him, this is to eat the living bread: he that believeth eateth.” (Tract. in Joh. xxvi. § 1.) The well-known Rubric in the Prayer Book, I in the Communion of the Sick,) is to the same effect:
“But if a man, either by reason of extremity of sickness, or by any other just impediment, do not receive the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, the Curate shall instruct him, that if he do truly repent him for his sins, and steadfastly believe that Jesus Christ hath suffered death upon the cross for him, and shed His blood for his redemption, earnestly remembering the benefit he hath thereby, and giving Him hearty thanks therefor, he doth eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his soul’s health, although he do not receive the sacrament with his mouth.” The fact that this Rubric is taken substantially from the Sarum Manual (De Extrem. Unct.) shows that it is no novelty, but the old Catholic doctrine upon this subject. A whole Catena of Catholic authority could, if necessary, be produced to prove this.) To some the outward act and sacramental sign come as a living word from God, to others the spoken word seems clearer than the sacramental sign. All nature speaks to some. It is all dumb to others, or rather they are deaf to the “many voices in the world” (I Cor. 14:10), by which in all creatures God is speaking, whether we understand or not. To those to whom the heavens say nothing, and to whom day unto day utters no speech, bread and wine and water may say very little, even though consecrated by the Lord Himself. Such may need the spoken word to interpret what the Lord is saying to His creatures. And in His mercy He gives both. For He will stoop to the lowest to reach and rescue all. In either case the outward form, whether of words or signs, may be only outwardly received, and so fail to touch and help the inward man. Even Christ himself in the days of His flesh was often thus received. But wherever and whenever we meekly and lovingly receive the form in which He comes, we receive Him to our soul’s profit, even when, if we try to explain what we have received or what He is, our explanation may show how little we understand, nay, even how much we misunderstand, what God has given us. For in receiving Christ we receive all that He is, though at the time we may only see something which is the least part of His glory.
How many, for instance, have obtained peace through the reception of the words, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin,” who, if questioned, would give explanations, not imperfect only, but even erroneous, of the words which nevertheless have been the means of real blessing to them? Ask them, what blood has cleansed them? Is it blood which the eye can see? How has such blood ever touched them? Or how can such blood be taken into heaven, as the Apostle says, to cleanse the heavenly place? (Heb. 9:22, 24). What answers will even cleansed souls return to such questions? And yet not only have the words as to “the blood of Jesus Christ” given them peace, but the very blood itself, though their explanation of it is all wrong, has truly entered into, and cleansed, and given them spiritual life. And so with the outward sign, the baptismal water and the eucharistic bread.
Ask those, who rightly tell you that through these they have received Christ, to explain what the blessing is, what water washes the soul, and what the flesh and blood is which feeds their inward man, and the answer even of those who are truly blessed will often reveal how far the blessing transcends their understanding. The fact is that both the preached gospel and the outward sign, and the one as much as the other, like Christ Himself, are sacramental; and they who receive either, though both may be received in vain, receive through them far more than they are aware. If we do but touch the hem of His garment, virtue goes forth from Him (Matt. 9:20). If we do but faithfully and lovingly receive what He has ordained, we receive Him, for He has said, “This is my body.” Blessed be His name, who has thus stooped to reach us in our fall, and to give us Himself, even when we little know what He is giving.
The result of this receiving is that we “abide in Christ.” So He says here, “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him” (John 6:56); or, as he says elsewhere, “If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). Thus only, “eating His flesh” or “keeping His words,” can we abide in Him and He in us (Footnote: It is worth noticing that four times in this passage [John 6:54, 56, 57, 58] the word Greek occurs in our Lords words, instead of Greek, which we find in the words uttered by the Jews, in verse 52. First Greek word, is the word especially used of the feeding of herbivorous and ruminating animals (See Lidelle & Scott in verb.) It points to that chewing the cud or meditation which is necessary if we would feed aright on Christ.) If any one abides not in Christ, he neither eats His flesh nor drinks His blood. For as Augustine says, “This is to eat that meat, and drink that drink: even for a man to dwell in Christ, and to have Christ dwelling in him. And therefore whoso dwelleth not in Christ, and in whom Christ dwelleth not, without doubt doth neither eat His flesh nor drink His blood” (In Johan. Tractat. xxvi. § 18. p. 412, Oxford Translation). “The sign which shows that one hath eaten and drunk is this, that he inhabiteth and is inhabited; that he cleaveth to the Head so that he is not abandoned.” (In. Tract. xxvii. § 1. p. 416, Oxford Translation). If therefore any are cast forth as fruitless branches, and are withered, and cast into the fire, so that they are burnt, such things show that these do not abide in Christ, and have not truly fed upon His flesh or drunk His blood. They who receive of His fulness cannot bring forth fruit, because they abide in the Vine.
This is the Meat of the New Man; and if at times, through the weakness of our flesh, this “unleavened bread” be to us a “bread of affliction” (Deut. 16:3), or a “bread of tears” (Psa. 80:5), if, like the roll given to the prophets to eat, the word, though sweet in our mouth at first, is afterwards for a season bitter in our belly” (Ezek. 3:8 and Rev. 10:9),–let us not reject, but with joy receive it; for though it slay our outward man, by it the inward man is renewed day by day. Blessed are they, who, instead of “feeding on ashes,” or “on wind,” (Isa. 44:20 and Hos. 12:1), or even in their soul hunger feeding on themselves (Isa. 9:20), can say with saints, “How sweet are thy words unto my taste, yea sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psa. 119:103). “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart” (Jer. 15:16). Such know what it is to have found the Bread of Life, who says, “He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.