Is Christ really, truly, personally present with us in the sacrament? Do we therein covenant and commune with him in person, touch to touch, immediately and really; or is this only a show, a symbol of something absent and different from what it seems?
The gross perversions of the Romanists and Ritualists, who have made it altogether a question of the local presence of Christ’s flesh and blood, have occasioned much confusion of thought and many prejudices on the subject. Nevertheless, as a matter of fact, every believer knows that Christ is present in the sacrament – that he has, as a matter of fact, experienced his presence. If he is not present really and truly, then the sacrament can have no interest or real value to us. It does not do to say that this presence is only spiritual, because that phrase is ambiguous. If it means that the presence of Christ is not something objective to us, but simply a mental apprehension or idea of him subjectively present to our consciousness, then the phrase is false. Christ as an objective fact is as really present and active in the sacrament as are the bread and wine, or the minister or our fellow-communicants by our side. If it means that Christ is present only as he is represented by the Holy Ghost, it is not wholly true, because Christ is one person and the Holy Ghost another, and it is Christ who is personally present. The Holy Ghost doubtless is coactive in that presence and in all Christ’s mediatorial work, but this leads into depths beyond our possible understanding. It does not do to say that the divinity of Christ is present while his humanity is absent, because it is the entire indivisible divine-human Person of Christ which is present.
When Christ promises to his disciples, ‘LO, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world-age,’ and, ‘Where two or three are met together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,’ he means, of course, that he, the Godman Mediator they loved, trusted, and obeyed, would be with them. His humanity is just as essential as his divinity, otherwise his incarnation would not have been a necessity. His sympathy, his love, his special helpful tenderness are human. He is able to be our perfect High Priest, ‘being touched with the feeling of our infirmities,’ because he ‘was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin’ (Heb. 4:15).
But what do we mean by ‘presence’ ? It is a great mistake to confuse the idea of ‘presence’ with that of nearness in space. This may be a condition of presence, or it may not, but it is never ‘presence’ itself. If you walk abroad at noonday in the tropics, the most overwhelmingly present thing to you in the universe is the intolerable sun, although it is ninety-three millions of miles distance. If another person is only one foot distant, but separated from you by a wall which cuts off sight and sound, he is as absent as if in the center of a distant star. But if the same person, a hundred feet from you in an audience-room, sees you face to face, and hears every vibration of your voice, he is as truly present as if he touched you at every point. When Whitefield’s preaching was fully heard and its power felt across the Delaware River, he was present really and truly wherever was heard and his matchless eloquence felt. ‘Presence,’ therefore, is not a question of space; it is a relation. Personal presence is such a relation of persons that they are conscious of each other as immediate objects of perception and sources of influence. We know nothing as to the ultimate nature of the union our souls and bodies, yet we are no less certain of the fact. So we need not speculate how it is that Christ, the whole God-man, body, soul, and divinity, is present in the sacrament, but we are absolutely certain of the fact. He has promised it. We have hundreds of times experienced it. We can neither see his face, nor hear his voice with our bodily senses; nevertheless, when we exercise faith, he, the whole Christ, speaks to us, and we hear him; we speak to him, and he hears us; he takes all we give him, he gives us and we receive all of himself. This is real, because he is present. And this is not confined to the sacrament. He makes manifest to our faith the reality of his presence with us, and communicates the same grace to us, on many other occasions and at other times, here and now and in this breaking of bread we have a personal appointment to meet our Lord. And he never disappoints those who thus seek him with faith and love.