The Divine Feast: Rediscovering the Sacramental Grace in The Lord’s Supper

In the private musings of Isaac Staveley, a humble London clerk from the 1770s, we uncover a perspective of devout passion that’s often overlooked in our modern age. The celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, reflecting Christ’s sacrifice, resonated as a cornerstone of Staveley’s spiritual life. His diary provides a lens into a time when the Lord’s Supper was seen not only as a religious rite but also as a divine encounter fostering communion with Christ and His community.

Staveley perceived the Lord’s Supper as a gathering around “the table of our dear dying Lord”, a sacred feast steeped in remembrance, spiritual nourishment, and renewed dedication to Christ and His church. However, today’s evangelicals may find Staveley’s deep reverence for the Lord’s Supper a bit puzzling, and perhaps, even alien.

Our spiritual heritage esteemed ordinances like the Lord’s Supper as conduits of divine grace. Yet over time, the intrusion of rationalistic thought has dulled the awe and mystique surrounding the Lord’s Supper. The 16th-century reformer, John Calvin, acknowledged the mystery of how bread and wine become spiritual vessels in the Lord’s Supper. Until the 19th century, most English-speaking evangelicals also embraced the mystery without seeking exhaustive explanations.

But how did this profound understanding of the Lord’s Supper become lost?

In the 19th century, church services increasingly became platforms for evangelism, and the Lord’s Supper was sidelined. Famed preachers like Alexander Maclaren saw the Lord’s Supper as less significant in the Christian life. Movements like the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church, which revived the doctrine of transubstantiation, pushed evangelicals further away from the importance of the Lord’s Supper. In addition, the revivalist nature of evangelical life, shaped by altar-call preachers, moved the emphasis away from the Lord’s Supper and more toward conversion experiences.

This shift in focus marked the decline of the Lord’s Supper as a significant part of spiritual life in many evangelical churches. Yet, in the cacophony of modern life, the need to find a tranquil space for communion with Christ is more pressing than ever.

The Second London Confession of Faith (1677/1688), a vital text from our evangelical past, offers valuable insights. According to this confession, the Lord’s Supper was instituted by Christ for five reasons: to remember and bear witness to Christ’s sacrificial death; to enable believers to grasp more firmly the benefits of His death; as a means of spiritual nourishment and growth; as a time for believers to recommit themselves to Christ; and finally, to affirm the unbreakable union between Christ and believers.

In line with the views of early Baptists like Benjamin Keach, one of the signatories of the Second London Confession, the Spirit uses the Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper to strengthen His people on their spiritual journey. In this sense, the Lord’s Supper is not merely a memorial but an efficacious means of grace.

By echoing the sentiments of this old confession, we may guide contemporary evangelicals to rediscover the richness of the Lord’s Supper. As we partake in the bread and wine, let us remember not only the sacrifice of Christ but also experience the nourishment, recommitment, and deep communion it offers, restoring the Lord’s Supper as a significant part of our spiritual life.