What is the Lord’s Supper? John Knox Gives Us a Summary

In the following I offer a modernized English version of John Knox’s “Summary, According to the Holy Scriptures, of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper,” which is contained in Volume 3 of The Works of John Knox, published by The Banner of Truth Trust. The editor assigns this piece to the year 1550.

Here is briefly declared in sum, according to the Holy Scriptures, what opinion we Christians have of the Lord’s Supper, called the sacrament of the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.

First, we confess that it is a holy action, ordained of God, in which the Lord Jesus, by earthly and visible things set before us, lifts us up unto heavenly and invisible things. And that when he had prepared his spiritual banquet, he witnesses that he himself was the living bread, with which our souls are fed unto everlasting life.

And therefore, in setting forth bread and wine to eat and drink, he confirms and seals up to us his promise and communion (that is, that we shall be partakers with him in his kingdom); and represents unto us, and makes plain to our senses, his heavenly gifts; and also gives unto us himself, to be received with faith, and not with the mouth, nor yet by transfusion of substance. But so through the virtue (i.e., the power) of the Holy Spirit, that we, being fed with his flesh, and refreshed with his blood, may be renewed both unto true godliness and to immortality.

And also that herewith the Lord Jesus gathers us unto a visible body, so that we are members of one another, and made altogether one body, whereof Jesus Christ is the only head. And finally that by the same Sacrament, the Lord calls us to remember his Death and Passion, to stir up our hearts to praise his most holy name.

Furthermore, we acknowledge that we ought to come unto this Sacrament reverently, considering that there is exhibited and given a testimony of the wonderful society and knitting together of the Lord Jesus and of the receivers; and also, that there is included and contained in this Sacrament, that he will preserve his Church. For herein we are commanded to show the Lord’s death until he comes.

Also, we believe that it is a Confession, wherein we show what kind of doctrine we profess; and what Congregation we join ourselves unto; and likewise, that it is a band of mutual love among us. And finally, we believe that all those who come unto this holy Supper must bring with them their conversion unto the Lord, by unfeigned repentance in Faith; and in this Sacrament receive the seals and confirmation of their faith; and yet must in no way think, that for this work’s sake their sins are forgiven.

And as concerning these words, Hoc est corpus meum, “This is my body,” on which the Papists depend so much, saying, That we must believe that the bread and wine are transubstantiated into Christ’s body and blood; We acknowledge that it is no article of our faith which can save us, nor which we are bound to believe upon pain of eternal destruction. For if we should believe that his very natural body, both flesh and blood, were naturally in the bread and wine, that should not save us, seeing many believe that, and yet receive it to their damnation. For it is not his presence in the bread that can save us, but his presence in our hearts through faith in his blood, which has washed our sins, and pacified his Father’s wrath toward us. And again, if we do not believe his bodily presence in the bread and wine, that shall not damn us, but the absence of our heart through unbelief shall damn us.

Now, if you would here object, that though it be truth, that the absence out of the bread could not damn us, yet we are bound to believe it because of God’s Word, saying, “This is my body,” which truth whoever does not believe as much as lies in him, makes God a liar: and therefore, of an obstinate mind not to believe his Word, may be our damnation. To this we answer, That we believe God’s Word, and confess that it is true, but not so to be understood as the Papists affirm. For in the Sacrament we receive Jesus Christ spiritually, as did the Fathers of the Old Testament, according to St. Paul’s saying. And if men would well weigh, how Christ, ordaining this Holy Sacrament of his body and blood, spoke these words Sacramentally, doubtless they would never so grossly and foolishly understand them, contrary to all the Scriptures, and to the expositions of St. Augustine, St. Jerome, Fulgentius, Vigilius, Origin, and many other godly writers.

Do you do your best to have a clear conscience before God and man?

I’ve been reading the Bible since I was a child. I’ve read it all the way through many times. Yet it is such a gloriously rich book (and perhaps my memory is so poor?) that frequently I come across a passage or phrase that will make me wonder, “Have I ever seen this before?”

That happened to me the other day while reading the book of Acts. I came to chapter 24, in which Paul is making his defense before Felix the governor. As a part of his response to the charges the Jews had levied against him, he admits “that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection both of the righteous and the wicked. In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before man” (24:14-16).

There’s a lot in these verses: that Christianity was identified as “the Way” – that Paul understood Christianity to be the culmination of what the Law and the Prophets had written – that the Christian’s hope (like that of many Jews in Paul’s day) was the hope of resurrection – that both the righteous and the wicked will be raised on the last day (see John 5:28-29). But what struck me as if I’d never seen it before was the last sentence – in view of the fact of a general resurrection of all mankind, Paul “took pains” (the ESV translation) to have a clear conscience in relation to God and to man. Two things stand out to me: 1) that the resurrection is that which motivated Paul to aim for a clear conscience; 2) that maintaining a clear conscience was a passionate pursuit of the apostle.

Does the reality of a future resurrection motivate us as it did Paul? Do we think on our future hope, and does it lead us to give greater concern for holiness? Do we have regard for our conscience? Do we take pains to keep a blameless and clear and good conscience, living according to the standard of God’s holy law that we have learned from God’s word? Do we desire to have our consciences informed by that standard, so that when we deviate from it, our consciences are pricked, and we are quick to confess our sin, believe the gospel and turn back to God, confessing and making restitution (as necessary) to those we have sinned against? Is our conscience sensitive like a radar that can pick up the motion of a mosquito, or is it seared and hardened like a steak left on the grill too long?

Do a study of the New Testament use of the word “conscience,” and you will see how important the conscience is to the Christian life, and how undervalued it is among modern Christians. Pray that the Lord would give you the same cognizance and concern for this moral faculty that the apostle had. Search your heart – is your conscience clear? If not, do you care? If you do care, do you know the way to a clear conscience (faith in Jesus and repentance toward God)? Will you, like David in I Samuel 24, allow your conscience to strike you when you have sinned against God or man? Or will you ignore and suppress the witness of God through your conscience (as David did in his sin against Uriah and Bathsheba)? May the God who will raise us from the dead give us a heart to do our best to keep always a clear conscience before him and our neighbor!

Mother to Son, by Langston Hughes

This poem by the African-American poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967) powerfully expresses the grit and endurance I desire for myself, for my family, and for the sheep I pastor. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). “Forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead…” (Philippians 3:13).
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

What is Really Real? A Spiritual Reality Check for 2017

My most recent post for the Ref21 blog came out yesterday. Members of Pear Orchard will recognize the content from my sermon last weekend on Romans 6:1-15. The truth of our union with Christ can never be meditated on too often, and I commend John Murray’s chapter on the topic in his book Redemption Accomplished and Applied, his commentary on Romans, as well as the articles on definitive sanctification in his collected writings.

John Milton’s “On His Blindness”

It’s been a long while since I last posted to this blog, but my son Daniel is memorizing a sonnet that well-deserves mention, attention, and meditation. Most probably aren’t aware this poem even exists, and those who do have perhaps forgotten its weightiness. It is one of the most famous sonnets of Milton, who lived from 1609-1674, and went completely blind by 1655. Most scholars believe this poem was composed at some point during that year.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

How important it is to remember that God does not need our work, or the gifts he has given us; that they who bear the yoke are the ones who “serve him best”; and that it is not only those who are active for the Lord who serve Him –  “they also serve who only stand and wait.”

What trial has he sent into your life, that seemingly has incapacitated you for the service you desire to render unto your heavenly King? Cease murmuring, and wait on Him; endure your hardship with patience and perseverance; don’t see yourself as useless to your Master, but as graciously given another use, another purpose on this earth. And even if it is only waiting on Him, seeking His face, never to serve actively again, do not forget these words: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”



Our Presbyterian, Calvinistic forefathers were ardent supporters of Christ’s worldwide missionary campaign…

From George Howe, one of the early professors of Columbia Theological Seminary: “A profession of religion is a formal profession of entire devotedness to Christ. “Henceforth,” you say, “I am his servant, to listen attentively to the voice of his word. My person, property, and time, are his.” Now the Christian religion was not designed simply to save you; but was intended to bless all nations. The Christian religion can flourish under any form of government, and in any clime. It was fitted for all people, and belongs to all. And the Christian church is formed, not simply to save you and the few brethren in Christ who are embraced within it now, nor simply to maintain the worship of God and transmit it to the next generation; but she was formed to spread out her arms like the sea, and embrace the continents, and cover them with the influence of truth. This is one great end of the visible church. And at the accomplishment of that end, should every generation of Christians aim, while they yet live. The church you have joined, is one division of the Redeemer’s host. Its ministers and elders are officers to lead it onward in aggressive warfare, and they with you, and you with them, are called upon to be valiant and enterprising soldiers.”

Unity in Christ across racial, class, cultural lines is a foundation of evangelistic power (Jn 17:20-21)

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one, even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that you sent Me.” (Jn 17:20-21)

What a rich passage!

  • Jesus prays for His elect throughout the centuries (those given to Him by the Father before the foundation of the world), and them alone (not the world, 17:9) – a clear proof that the doctrine of limited atonement is true. The priestly dying of Jesus is as limited as the priestly intercession of Jesus. Jesus died to secure the salvation of His sheep, not to make every person without exception savable. 
  • The elect come to saving faith through the apostolic word, written down and preached. The word of God is absolutely essential to missions.
  • Jesus’ prayer is that His scattered sheep from every background might be one. Unity – fellowship and communion with one another – is foremost in what He wants for His people.
  • That unity is grounded in the unity of the persons of the Trinity – He wants us to be one just like He and the Father are one. 
  • His prayer for our fellowship with one another is coupled with a prayer for for fellowship with the triune God.
  • The goal of all this unity and fellowship is that the world may believe that the Father sent the Son. Our unity in spite of everything that might separate us is one of Jesus’ primary means of bringing His elect to Himself.