The Reformed Faith

An Exposition of the

Westminster Confession of Faith

Robert Shaw

Chapter XXIX. Of the Lord's Supper

Section I.–Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein he was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of his body and blood, called the Lord's Supper, to be observed in his Church unto the end of the world; for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of himself in his death, the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other, as members of his mystical body.


This chapter treats of the Lord's supper; and the present section declares–1. The author of this sacrament; 2. The time of its institution; 3. Its permanent continuance in the Church; 4. The uses and ends for which it is designed.

I. The author of this sacrament is the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the prerogative of Christ, as king and head of the Church, to institute religious ordinances; and we are not at liberty to add to, or to diminish from, his appointments. The institution of this ordinance by our Saviour is recorded by the three first Evangelists (Matt. xxvi. 26 - 28; Mark xiv. 22-24; Luke xxii. 19, 20), and by the Apostle Paul, who declares that he "had received of the Lord that which he delivered" to the Church.–1 Cor. xi. 23-26.

II. This sacrament was instituted by our Lord Jesus "the same night in which he was betrayed." It was when Jesus was eating the Passover with his disciples that he instituted this sacred ordinance; from which circumstance we infer that the one was changed into the other, and that the latter was henceforth to supply the place of the former. This also accounts for the designation usually given to this sacrament. Being instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ, and being appointed by him immediately after eating the Passover, which was always celebrated in the evening, it is with the utmost propriety called the Lord's supper. When we reflect on the time of the institution of this ordinance, we have a striking view of the fortitude with which Jesus met his unparalleled sufferings, and of the singular love which he cherished towards his people; and we ought to feel the sacred obligation laid upon us to keep this feast. On that night the Jewish rulers and the chief priests were met in close cabal, to concert measures for apprehending Jesus, and bringing him to an ignominious death. In that night he was to be perfidiously betrayed by one of his own disciples, denied by another, and abandoned by them all to the rage of his malicious foes. He was to be smitten by the sword of Justice, and forsaken of his God–to be cruelly mocked and scourged–to be led away to a cross, and there to pour out his soul unto death. Of all this Jesus was fully apprised; yet in the immediate view of the dreadful sufferings he was about to undergo, such was the calm serenity of his mind, such his matchless love to his people, and such his concern for their spiritual benefit, that he instituted this ordinance for their encouragement and consolation in all succeeding ages. Did he remember them in such affecting circumstances?–and shall not this engage them to remember him?–shall they undervalue, by a wilful neglect, an ordinance which he settled immediately before his death, and disregard the dying command of that friend who laid down his life for them?

III. The sacrament of the Lord's supper is to be observed in the Church to the end of the world. This is plainly implied in the words of the Apostle Paul: "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come."–1 Cor. xi. 26. So universally has it been understood that the observance of this ordinance is obligatory upon all Christians to the end of the world, that, with the exception only of the Quakers, it has been observed in the Christian Church from the earliest times to the present day.

IV. The ends and uses of this sacrament are various. 1. It was instituted to be a memorial of the death of Christ. That it is a commemorative ordinance, appears from the Saviours words: "This do in remembrance of me;" and that it is especially a memorial of his death, is evident from his words in distributing the elements. While he gave the bread to his disciples, he said: "This is my body, which is broken for you;" and of the cup he said: "This cup is the New Testament in my blood." The ordinance is eminently fitted to bring to our remembrance the reality and the painful nature of the death of Christ–to remind us of the vicarious nature of his death, of its acceptableness to God as a satisfaction for our sins, and of its present and perpetual efficacy. And we should remember his death with a lively and appropriating faith; with ardent love to him who first loved us; with deep contrition for our sins, the procuring cause of his death; with holy joy in God; and with the warmest gratitude to Christ, who gave himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. 2. This sacrament seals the benefits of Christ's death unto true believers. It seals not the truth of Christ's' death, nor the truth of their faith; but it seals the right and interest of faith, as the seal affixed to a deed seals the right and interest of the person in the property conveyed by that deed. 3. It promotes the spiritual nourishment and growth of believers. A devout participation of this ordinance is fitted to confirm and invigorate their faith, to inflame their love, to deepen their godly sorrow, to enliven their joy, and to enlarge and strengthen their hopes of the Saviour's second coming, and of the glory then to be revealed. 4. It is a sign and pledge of the believers' communion with Christ. This is evident from the words of Paul (1 Cor. x. 16): "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?" These words certainly import that, in the holy supper, believers have communion with Christ in the fruits of his sufferings and death. 5. It is an emblem of the saints' communion with each other. All true saints are members of one body, and in the holy supper they have communion, not merely with those who sit along with them at the same table, but "with all that in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ," their common Lord. "We being many," says Paul, "are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread." - 1 Cor. x. 17. This ordinance is very expressive of the communion of saints, and has a powerful tendency to cherish it. They meet together at the same table, as brethren and children of the same family, to partake of the same spiritual feast. 6. In this ordinance believers engage themselves to all the duties which they owe to Christ. They acknowledge him as their master, and engage to do whatsoever he has commanded them. Persons may come under engagements by performing certain significant actions, as well as by express words. Submission to the ordinance of circumcision, under the former dispensation, made a man "a debtor to do the whole law." Baptism, in like manner, under the Christian dispensation, involves an engagement to be the Lord's; and Christians, in partaking of the Lord's supper, renew this engagement. They acknowledge that they are not their own, but are bought with a price, and bind themselves to glorify God with their bodies and spirits which are his.

Section II.–In this sacrament Christ is not offered up to his Father, nor any real sacrifice made at all for remission of sins of the quick or dead, but only a commemoration of that one offering up of himself, by himself, upon the cross, once and for all, and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God for the same; so that the so-called sacrifice of the mass is most abominably injurious to Christ's one only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of the elect.

Section III.–The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed his ministers to declare his word of institution to the people, to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to a holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants; but to none who are not then present in the congregation.

Section IV.–Private masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest, or any other alone; as likewise the denial of the cup to the people; worshipping the elements, the lifting them up, or carrying them about for adoration, and the reserving them for any pretended religious use; are all contrary to the nature of this sacrament, and to the institution of Christ.

Section V.–The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to him crucified, as that truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.

Section VI.–That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of Christ's body and blood (commonly called Transubstantiation), by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense and reason; overthroweth the nature of the sacrament; and hath been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions, yea, of gross idolatries.


In these sections certain dangerous errors and superstitious practices of the Church of Rome are condemned; and we have placed all these sections together, that we may include the leading error, called transubstantiation, which has given rise to the absurd doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass, and the various other tenets and practices here rejected.

I. The Church of Rome holds that the words, "This is my body," and, "This is my blood," are to be understood in their most literal sense; and that the priest, by pronouncing these words, with a good intention, changes the substance of the bread and wine into the real body and blood of Jesus Christ; which change is known by the name of transubstantiation. This doctrine receives no support from Scripture, but is founded on a gross perversion of its language. The words, "This is my body," and, "This is my blood", were manifestly used by our Saviour in a figurative sense; and must have been so understood by the apostles, to whom they were immediately addressed. Such figurative expressions are of frequent occurrence in Scripture. No one supposes that, when our Lord said, "I am the vine," "I am the way," "I am the door," he meant us to understand that he is literally a vine, a way, and a door; and no satisfactory reason can be assigned for understanding the words of institution in a literal sense. Our Saviour plainly meant that the bread and wine signify or represent his body and blood; and nothing is more common in Scripture than to affix to a type or symbol the name of the thing signified by it; thus circumcision is called God's covenant (Gen. xvii. 10); the paschal lamb, the Passover (Exod. xii. 11); and the smitten rock, Christ.–1 Cor. x. 4. But, not only is the doctrine of transubstantiation destitute of any support from the inspired writings, it is repugnant to Scripture; for the Apostle Paul gives to the elements after blessing the very same names they had before it; which certainly intimates that there is no change of their substance.–1 Cor. xi. 26, 28. It is also contradicted by our senses; for we see and taste that the bread and wine after blessing, and when we actually receive them, still continue to be bread and wine, without any change or alteration whatever. It is equally repugnant to reason; for this tells us that Christ's body cannot be both in heaven and on earth at the same time; but according to the Popish doctrine of transubstantiation, though the body of Christ remains in heaven, it is also present, not in one place on earth only, but in a thousand places–wherever the priest has, with a good intention, pronounced the words of institution. This doctrine likewise overthrows the nature of the sacrament. Two things are necessary to a sacrament–a sign and a thing signified–an object presented to our senses, and some promised blessing which is represented and sealed by it. But by transubstantiation the sign is annihilated, and the thing signified is put in its place.

Transubstantiation is not only contrary to Scripture, and reason, and common sense, but it has been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions, yea, of gross idolatries. In the fourth section, several of these superstitious and idolatrous practices are specified. Conceiving that the bread and wine are changed into the real body and blood of Christ, Papists reserve part of the consecrated wafers, for the purpose of giving them to the sick, or other absent persons, at some future time. In direct opposition to the command of Christ, "Drink ye all of it," they deny the cup to the people; on the pretence that, as the bread is changed into the body of Christ, they partake, by concomitance, of the blood together with the body. When the priest is supposed to have changed the bread into the body of Christ, he adores it with bonded knee, and rising, lifts it up, that it may be seen and adored by the people which is called the elevation of the host; it is also carried about in solemn procession, that it may receive the homage of all who meet it; and, in short, it is worshipped as if it were Christ himself. All these practices are declared by our Confession to be "contrary to the nature of this sacrament, and to the institution of Christ." They were unknown in the primitive ages of the Church, and have evidently originated in the absurd doctrine of transubstantiation.

II. In the Church of Rome, the priest being supposed to have charged the bread and wine into the very body and blood of Christ, it is also conceived that, in laying upon the altar what has been thus transubstantiated, he offers to God a sacrifice which, although it be distinguished from all others by being without the shedding of blood, is a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead. This is called the sacrifice of the mass. As this is founded upon the doctrine of transubstantiation, if the one be unscriptural so must the other. But we may adduce a few of those pointed declarations of Scripture, by which this particular doctrine is refuted. "Once in the end of the world hath he appeared, to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." "Christ was once offered, to bear the sins of many." "We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." "By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." - Heb. ix. 26, 28; x. 10,14. These texts, and they might easily be greatly multiplied, clearly prove that the one sacrifice of Christ, once offered by himself, is sufficient and perfect; and we are expressly told that "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins."–Heb. x. 26. In the language of our Confession, therefore, "the Popish sacrifice of the mass is most abominably injurious to Christ's one only sacrifice - the alone propitiation for all the sins of the elect."

III. The right manner of dispensing the sacrament of the supper is here declared.

1. The minister is to read the word of institution to the people, to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to a holy use. In instituting this sacrament, according to the evangelist Matthew, "Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it." - Matt. xxvi. 26. Some have observed, that it is not necessary for us to understand this as signifying that Jesus blessed the bread, for the pronoun it is a supplement; and as the word rendered blessed sometimes means to give thanks, thanks, especially as the evangelist Luke employs the phrase, "he gave thanks," they conclude that the two expressions are in this case synonymous; and that we are to understand that Jesus blessed, not the bread, but God, or gave thanks to his Father. We are of opinion, however, that the pronoun it has been very properly introduced by our translators after the word bread, as it is unquestionably repeated with the utmost propriety after the word brake; and we conceive that the order of the words requires us to understand that Jesus blessed the bread. Nor is there any more difficulty in apprehending how Jesus blessed the bread, than in apprehending how God blessed the seventh or the Sabbath-day.–Gen. ii. 3, Exod. xx. 11. Indeed, the two cases are exactly analogous;–God blessed the seventh day by setting it apart to a holy use, or appointing it to be a day of sacred rest; Christ blessed the bread, by setting, it apart from a common to a holy use, or appointing it to be the visible symbol of his body. And while it belonged exclusively to Christ, as the Head of the Church, to appoint bread and wine to be the symbols of his body and blood, yet we are persuaded that the servants of Christ, in administering the Lord's supper, are warranted, according to the institution and example of Christ, to set apart by solemn prayer so much of the elements as shall be used from a common to a holy use. That there is a sense in, which the servants of Christ may be said to bless the elements, seems plain from 1 Cor. x. 16, where Paul denominates the sacramental cup "The cup of blessing which we bless." It is not pretended that any real change is thereby made upon the elements, but only a relative change, so that they are not to be looked upon an common bread and wine, but as the sacred symbols of Christ's body and blood.

2. The minister is also to take and break the bread. The breaking of the bread is an essential part of the ordinance, and, when it is wanting, the sacrament is not celebrated according to the original institution. It is, indeed, so essential, that the Lord's supper is sometimes designated from it alone, the whole being denominated from a part. The "breaking of bread" is mentioned among the institutions of the gospel (Acts ii. 42); and in Acts xx. 7, we are told that, "upon the first day of the week, the disciples came together to break bread:" in both of which passages the celebration of the Lord's supper is doubtless meant by the "breaking of bread." The rite is significant, and we are left in no doubt about the meaning of the action. Our Saviour himself explained it when he said, "This is my body, which is broken for you;" intimating that the broken bread is a figure of his body as wounded, bruised, and crucified, to make atonement for our sins. As an unbroken Christ could not profit sinners, so unbroken bread cannot fully represent to faith the food of the soul. Wherefore, to divide the bread into small pieces called wafers, and put a wafer into the mouth of each of the communicants, as is done in the Church of Rome, is grossly to corrupt this ordinance, for it takes away the significant action of breaking the bread.

3. The minister is further to take the cup, and give both the elements to the communicants. The cup, as well as the bread, is an essential element in this ordinance–the one representing the blood, and the other representing the body of Christ. To give both the elements to all the communicants, was the universal practice of the Church of God for about 1400 years; but the Church of Rome then departed from the primitive institution, and the practice of the ancient Church, by withholding the cup from the laity. The Council of Constance decreed, "that though Christ did administer this venerable sacrament to his disciples under both the kinds of bread and wine, yet notwithstanding this, the custom of communicating under one kind only is now to be taken for a law." And, "Though, in the primitive Church, this sacrament was received by the faithful under both kinds, yet, notwithstanding this, the custom that is introduced of communicating under one kind only for the laity is now to be taken for a law." The Council of Trent also declared, "That the laity, and the clergy not officiating, are not bound by any divine precept, to receive the sacrament of the eucharist under both kinds." "And further declares, that although our Redeemer in the last supper instituted this sacrament in two kinds, and so delivered it to the apostles, yet under one kind only, whole, and entire Christ and the true sacrament are taken; and that, therefore, those who receive only one kind are deprived of no grace necessary to salvation." The Church of Rome, it will be remarked, acknowledges both kinds, the bread and the wine, to have been instituted by Christ, and the ordinance to have been thus celebrated in primitive times; she is, therefore, guilty of an avowed opposition to the authority of Christ, has sacrilegiously mutilated this holy sacrament, and infringed the privileges of the Christian people. The command of Christ to drink the wine is as express as the command to eat the bread; nay, as foreseeing how, in after ages, this ordinance would be dismembered by the prohibition of the cup to the laity, he is even more explicit in his injunction concerning the cup than the bread. Of the bread, be simply said, "Take, eat;" but when he gave the cup, he said, "Drink ye all of it."–Matt. xxvi. 26, 27. According to the divine institution, therefore, both the elements are to be given to all the communicants. And as really as the bread and wine are given to the communicants, so Christ gives himself, with all his benefits, to the worthy receivers; and in taking these elements–in eating the bread and drinking the wine they profess to receive Christ by faith, and to rest their hope of pardon and salvation solely upon his death.

Section VII.–Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death: the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.

Section VIII.–Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament, yet they receive not the thing signified thereby; but by their unworthy coming thereunto are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation. Wherefore all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with him, so are they unworthy of the Lord's table, and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto.


In the preceding sections we have a strong condemnation of the Popish doctrine respecting the sacrament of the Lord's supper, and here we have an explicit condemnation of the Lutheran doctrine. The Lutherans hold, that although the bread and wine are not changed into the body and blood of Christ, yet that his real body and blood are received by the communicants along with the symbols. This is called consubstantiation, to signify that the substance of the body and blood of Christ is present in, with, or under the substance of the elements. "This opinion, although free from some of the absurdities of transubstantiation, appears to us to labour under so many palpable difficulties, that we are disposed to wonder at its being held by men of a philosophical mind. It is fair, however, to mention, that the doctrine of the real presence is, in the Lutheran Church, merely a speculative opinion, having no influence upon the practice of those by whom it is adopted. It appears to them that this opinion furnishes the best method of explaining a Scripture expression; but they do not consider the presence of the body and blood of Christ with the bread and wine as imparting to the sacrament any physical virtue, by which the benefit derived from it is independent of the disposition of him by whom it is received; or as giving it the nature of a sacrifice; or as rendering the bread and wine an object of adoration to Christians. And their doctrine being thus separated from the three great practical errors of the Church of Rome, receives, even from those who account it false and irrational, a kind of indulgence very different from that which is shown to the doctrine of transubstantiation."

While our Confession rejects the doctrine of the Papists and of the Lutherans, respecting the Lord's supper, it teaches that "the body and blood of Christ are as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses." Christ is not present in body at his table; and, therefore, we cannot see him there after the flesh; but he is present spiritually, and may be discerned by faith. From this it follows that the participation of Christ's body and blood, in the holy supper, is spiritual. There is an external representation and confirmation of it, in participating of the sacred and instituted elements, which symbolise the broken body and shed blood of Christ. And while the worthy receivers outwardly partake of the visible elements in this sacrament, they inwardly, by faith, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and the benefits of his death.

From the nature and ends of this sacrament, it is manifest that the ignorant and ungodly are unfit for partaking of it. They may receive the outward elements; but they receive not the thing signified thereby. As they are unfit for communion with Christ, so they are unworthy of occupying a seat at his table. They cannot venture to approach to it without contracting a great sin, and exposing themselves to the judgments of God. The Scripture declares, that "whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord;" and that such "eat and drink damnation to themselves."–1 Cor. xi. 27, 29. Not that all unworthy communicants must necessarily perish eternally. The word in our version unhappily rendered "damnation," properly signifies judgment; and the judgment intended must be determined by the context. That the judgments inflicted on the Corinthians were chiefly of a temporal nature is evident from the words that are immediately added: "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep." Temporal judgments may be still inflicted for the profanation of this ordinance, but those of a spiritual nature are chiefly to be dreaded; and this sin, if unrepented, must, like other sins, expose to eternal punishment. This being the case, it must be the duty of the office-bearers of the Church to be careful in excluding the ignorant and ungodly from this ordinance. All were not permitted to eat of the Passover; neither ought there to be a promiscuous admission of all to the Lord's table. To admit the immoral and scandalous, is to profane the ordinance, and to corrupt the communion of the Church. But those who have a right to this ordinance in the judgment of the office-bearers of the Church, who can only judge of their knowledge and external conduct, may have no right to it in the sight of God. Every one, therefore, ought impartially and faithfully to examine himself as to his state before God, and his consequent right to partake of that feast which he has prepared for his children. The injunction of the apostle is express, and he enjoins self-examination as a means of preventing the sin of unworthy communicating: "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup."–1 Cor. xi. 28.

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