Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ

By John Owen, minimally edited from Works (BOT, 1965), 9.529-38

"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? 

The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:16)

There is, in the ordinance of the Lord’s supper, an especial and peculiar communion with Christ, in his body and blood, to be obtained. One reason why we so little value the ordinance, and profit so little by it, may be, because we understand so little of the nature of that special communion with Christ which we have therein.

Object of Faith

We have this special communion upon the account of the special object that faith is exercised upon in this ordinance, and the special acts that it puts forth in reference to that or those objects: for the acts follow the special nature of their objects, Now, —

1. The special object of faith, as acted in this ordinance, is not theobject of faith, as faith; that is, the most general object of it, which is the divine veracity: "He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true" (Jn 3:33).

The divine veracity, or the truth of God, that is the formal object of faith, as faith; and makes our faith to be divine faith. But now this is not the special object of faith in this ordinance, but something that doth suppose that.

2. The special object of faith, as justifying, is not the special object of faith in this ordinance. The special object of faith, as justifying, is the promise, and Christ in the promise, in general, as "the Saviour of sinners:" so when the apostle called men "to repent and believe," he tells them, "The promise is unto you" (Acts 2:39). And I suppose I need not insist upon the proof of this, that the promise, and Christ in the promise as Saviour and Redeemer, is the object of faith, as it is justifying. But this also is supposed in the actings of faith in this ordinance; which is peculiar, and gives us peculiar communion with Christ. Therefore, —

3. The special and peculiar object of faith, the immediate object of it in this ordinance, in its largest extent is, —

a. The human nature of Christ, as the subject wherein mediation and redemption was wrought.

Christ is considered to come as a sacrifice; that is laid down as the foundation of it,—"A body hast thou prepared me" (Heb 10:5; cf. Ps 40:6),—which is synecdochically taken for the whole human nature. Faith, when it would lead itself unto the sacrifice of Christ, which is here represented, doth in an especial manner consider the human 
nature of Christ; that God prepared him a body for that end. This we are to have peculiar regard unto when we come to the administration or participation of this ordinance. For that end we now celebrate it. Nay, —

b. Faith goes farther, and doth not consider merely the human nature of Christ, but considers it as distinguished into its integral parts, — into body and blood; both which have a price, value, and virtue given unto them by their union with his human soul: for both the body of Christ and the blood of Christ, upon which the work of our redemption is put in Scripture, have their value and worth from their relation unto his soul; as soul and body, making the human nature, had its value and worth from its relation unto the Son of God: otherwise, he saith of his body, "Handle it, it is but flesh and bones." But where the body of Christ is mentioned, and the blood of Christ is mentioned, there is a distribution of the human nature into its integral parts, each part, retaining its relation to his soul; and from thence is its value and excellency.

This is the second peculiar in the object of faith in this ordinance.

c. There is more than this: they are not only considered asdistinguished, but as separate also; — the blood separate from the body, the body left without the blood. This truth our apostle, in this chapter and the next, doth most signally insist upon; namely, the distinct parts of this ordinance, — one to represent the body, and the other to represent the blood, — that faith may consider them as separate.

The Papists, we know, do sacrilegiously take away the cup from the people; they will give them the bread, but they will not give them the cup: and as it always falls out that one error must be covered with another, or else it will keep no man dry under it, they have invented the doctrine of concomitance, — that there is a concomitance; that is, whole Christ is in every kind, — in the bread, and in the wine, — the one doth accompany the other: which is directly to overthrow the ordinance upon another account, — as it is to represent Christ’s body and blood as separated one from the other. Our Lord Jesus blessed the bread and the cup, and said, "This is my body;" "This is my blood;" — which cannot be spoken distinctly, unless supposed to be separate.

Here, then, is a threefold limitation of the act of faith, even in this ordinance, in a peculiar manner restraining it to a special communion with God in Christ: — that it hath a special regard to the human nature of Christ; to his human nature as consisting of body and blood; and as it respects them as separated, body and blood. Yea, —

d. It respects them as separate in that manner. You all along know that I do not intend these objects of faith as the ultimate object, — for it is the person of Christ that faith rests in, — but those immediate objects that faith is exercised about, to bring it to rest in God. It is exercised about the manner of this separation; that is, the blood of Christ comes to be distinct by being shed, and the body of Christ comes to be separate by being bruised and broken. All the instituted sacrifices of old did signify this, — a violent separation of body and blood: the blood was let out with the hand of violence, and so separated; and then sprinkled upon the altar, and then towards the holy place; and then the body was burned distinct by itself.

So, the apostle tells us, it is "the cup which we bless, and the bread which we break;" the cup is poured out, as well as the bread broken, to remind faith of the violent separation of the body and blood of Christ.

Causes of Separation

From this last consideration, of faith acting itself upon the separation of the body and blood of Christ by way of violence, it is led to a peculiar acting of itself upon all the causes of it, — whence it was that this body and this blood of Christ were represented thus separate: and by inquiring into the causes of it, it finds a moving cause, a procuringcause, an efficient cause, and a final cause; which it ought to exercise itself peculiarly upon always in this ordinance:

(1) A moving cause; and that is, the eternal love of God in giving Christ in this manner, to have his body bruised, and his blood shed. The apostle, going to express the love of God towards us, tells you it was in this, that "he spared not his own Son" (Rom 8:32).

One would have thought that the love of God might have wrought in sending his Son into the world; but it also wrought in not sparing of him. Thus faith is called in this ordinance to exercise itself upon that love which gives out Christ not to be spared.

(2) It reflects upon the procuring cause:— whence it is, or what it is, that hath procured it, that there should be this representation of the separated body and blood of Christ; and this is even our own sin. "He was delivered for our offenses," — given for our transgressions, — died to make reconciliation and atonement for our sins: they were the procuring cause of it, upon such considerations of union and covenant which I shall not now insist upon. It leads faith, I say, upon a special respect to sin, as the procuring cause of the death of Christ. A natural conscience, on the breach of the law, leads the soul to the consideration of sin, as that which exposes itself alone to the wrath of God and eternal damnation, but in this ordinance we consider sin as that which exposed Christ to death: which is a peculiar consideration of the nature of sin.

(3) There is the efficient cause; — whence it was that the body and blood of Christ were thus separated; and that is threefold: — principal, instrumental, and adjuvant.

What is the principal efficient cause of the sufferings of Christ? Why, the justice and righteousness of God: "God hath set him forth to be a propitiation, to declare his righteousness" (Rom 3:25). Whence it is said, "He spared him not." He caused all our sins to meet upon him: "The chastisement of our peace was upon him."

Again, there is the instrumental cause; and that is the law of God. Whence did that separation, which is here represented unto us, ensue and flow? It came from the sentence of the law, whereby he was hanged upon the tree.

Moreover, the adjuvant cause was those outward instruments, the wrath and malice of men:

"For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together" (Acts 4:27).

Faith considers the cause whence it was that Christ was thus given up, the eternal love of God; the procuring cause was our own sins: and if once faith takes a view of sin as that which hath nailed Christ to the cross, it will have a blessed effect on the soul.

(4) Faith considers in this matter the end of this separation of the body and blood of Christ which is thus represented; and that is, ultimately and absolutely, the glory of God. He set him forth "to declare his 

righteousness" (Rom 3:25, cf. Eph 1:6). God aimed at the glorifying of himself. I could easily manifest unto you how all the glorious properties of his nature are advanced, exalted, and will be so to eternity, in this suffering of Christ. The subordinate ends are two; I mean the subordinate ends of this very peculiar act of separation of the body and blood: —

First, it was to confirm the covenant. Every covenant of old was to be ratified and confirmed by sacrifice; and in confirming the covenant by sacrifice, they divided the sacrifice into two parts, and passed between them before they were offered; and then took it upon themselves that they would stand to the covenant which was so confirmed. Jesus Christ being to confirm the covenant (cf. Heb 9:16), the body and blood of Christ, this sacrifice, was to be parted, that this covenant might be confirmed.

And, secondly, a special end of it was, for the confirming and strengthening of our faith. God gives out unto us the object of our faith in parcels. We are not able to take this great mysterious fruit of God’s love in gross, in the lump; and therefore he gives it out, I say, in parcels. We shall have the body broken to be considered; and the blood shed is likewise to be considered.

This is the peculiar communion which we have with Christ in this ordinance; because there are peculiar objects for faith to act itself upon in this ordinance above others.

Nature of the Ordinance

The very nature of the ordinance itself gives us a peculiar communion; and there are four things that attend the nature of this ordinance that are peculiar:— It is commemorative, professional, eucharistical, andfederal:—

1. The ordinance is commemorative: "Do this in remembrance of me." And there is no greater joy to the heart of sinners, and a man knows not how to give greater glory to God, than to call the atonement of sin unto remembrance. It is observed in the offering for jealousy (cf. Num 5:15). If a man was jealous, and caused an offering to be brought to God, God allowed neither oil nor frankincense; and the reason is, because it was to bring sin to remembrance. But how sweet is that offering that brings to our remembrance the atonement made for all our sins! That is pleasing and acceptable unto God, and sweet unto the souls of sinners.

2. It has a peculiar profession attending it. Saith the apostle, "Doing this, ‘ye show forth the Lord’s death till he come;’ you make a profession and manifestation of it." And, give me leave to say it, they that look towards Christ, and do not put themselves in a way of partaking of this ordinance, they refuse the principal part of that profession which God calls them unto in this world. The truth is, we have been apt to content ourselves with a profession of moral obedience; but it is a profession of Christ’s institution by which alone we glorify him in this world. "I will have my death shown forth," saith Christ, "and not only remembered." The use of this ordinance is to show forth the death of Christ. As Christ requires of us to show forth his death, so, surely, he hath deserved it by his death.

3. It is peculiarly eucharistical. There is a peculiar thanksgiving that ought to attend this ordinance. It is called "The cup of blessing,’’ or "The cup of thanksgiving;" — the word eujlogiva is used promiscuously for "blessing" and "thanksgiving." It is called "The cup of blessing," because of the institution, and prayer for the blessing of God upon it; and it is called "The cup of thanksgiving," because we do in a peculiar manner give thanks to God for Christ, and for his love in him.

4. It is a federal ordinance, wherein God confirms the covenant unto us, and wherein he calls us to make a recognition of the covenant unto God. The covenant is once made; but we know that we stand in need that it should be often transacted in our souls, — that God should often testify his covenant unto us, and that we should often actually renew our covenant engagements unto him. God never fails nor breaks his promises; so that he hath no need to renew them, but testify them anew: we break and fail in ours; so that we have need actually to renew them. And that is it which we are called unto in this ordinance; which is the ordinance of the great seal of the covenant in the blood of Christ.

Conclusion & Uses

Upon all these accounts have we special communion with Christ in this ordinance. There is none of them but I might easily enlarge upon, but I name these heads: and my design is, to help my own faith and yours from roving in the administration of this ordinance, or from a general acting of itself, — to fix it to that which is its particular duty; that we may find no weariness nor heaviness in the administration. Here in these things is there enough to entertain us for ever, and to make them new and fresh to us. But while we come with uncertain thoughts, and know not what to direct our faith to act particularly upon, we lose the benefit of the ordinance.

For the use, it is, —

1. To bless God for his institution of his church; which is the seat of the administration of this ordinance, wherein we have such peculiar and intimate communion with Christ. There is not one instance of those which I have named, but, if God would help us to act faith upon Christ in a peculiar manner through it, would give new strength and life to our souls.

Now, in the church we have all this treasure. We lose it, I confess, by our unbelief and disesteem of it; but it will be found to be an inestimable treasure to those that use it, and improve it in a due manner.

2. Doth God give us this favour and privilege, that we should be invited to this special communion with Christ in this ordinance? Let us prepare our hearts for it in the authority of its institution; let us lay our souls and consciences in subjection to the authority of Christ, who hath commanded these things, and who did it in a signal manner the same night wherein he was betrayed: so that there is a special command of Christ lies upon us; and if we will yield obedience to any of the commands of Christ, then let us yield obedience to this. Prepare your souls for special communion with him, then, by subjugating them thoroughly to the authority of Christ in this ordinance.

3. It will be good for us all to be in a gradual exercising of our faith unto these special things, wherein we have communion with

Christ. You have heard sundry particulars: here is an object of your faith, that is given to be represented unto you in this ordinance, — that God hath prepared Christ a body, that he might be a sacrifice for you; and that this body was afterward distinguished into his body, strictly so taken, and his blood separated from it; and this in a design of love from God, as procuring the pardon of our sins, as tending to the glory of God, and the establishing of the covenant. Train up a young faith in the way it should go, and it will not depart from it when old. And new things will be found herein every day to strengthen your faith, and you will find much sweetness in the ordinance itself.