One key place that Christians in the past have regarded as being rich in spiritual nourishment is the Lord’s Table. This may come as a surprise to many modern-day Evangelicals, who do not appear to have seen participation at the Table as an important spiritual discipline. Any talk about the Lord’s Supper nourishing the soul they have tended to write off as Roman Catholic. But it was not always so as the following two samplings of eighteenth-century Particular Baptist reflections on the Lord’s Supper reveal.
Anne Dutton (1692–1765), a prolific Baptist author who corresponded with many of the leading Evangelical figures of the eighteenth century—including George Whitefield (1714–1770) and John Wesley (1703–1791)— was certain that in the Lord’s Supper “the King is pleas’d to sit with us, at his Table.” In fact, so highly does she prize this means of grace that she can state that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper “admits” believers “into the nearest approach to his [that is, Christ’s] glorious self … on the Earth, on this side the presence of his glory in heaven.” Other Reformed believers of this era might have seen this statement as erring a little on the side of exaggeration. She seems to say of the Table what they would have said of preaching. Nevertheless, they would have generally endorsed her view of the Table as a place where God’s people have rich fellowship with their Redeemer.
Similar sentiments can be found in Hymns In Commemoration Of the Sufferings Of Our Blessed Saviour Jesus Christ by Joseph Stennett I (1663–1713), the pastor of a Seventh-day Baptist Church that met in London (they worshipped on Saturdays rather than the Lord’s day, believing that there had been no change of the sabbath). Stennett can certainly describe the Church’s celebration at the Table as a “perpetual memorial” of Christ’s death, a death that is to be commemorated. And the bread and wine he calls “proper Symbols” and “Figures.” Yet, Stennett can also say of these symbols:
Thy Flesh is Meat indeed,
Thy Blood the richest wine;
How blest are they who often feed
On this Repast of thine!
Stennett does make it clear that the feeding involved at the Table is by faith, but still his language clearly indicates that for him the Lord’s Supper is a place of rich spiritual nourishment.
Here may our Faith still on Thee feed
The only Food Divine;
To Faith thy Flesh is Meat indeed,
Thy Blood the Noblest wine.
In recent days, a number of us have been heartily concerned about the recovery of a number of our Baptist riches of the past. This view of the Lord’s Supper has to be one of them.
Born in England of Irish and Kurdish parents, Michael A.G. Haykin serves as professor of church history & biblical spirituality. Haykin has a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto (1974), a Master of Religion from Wycliffe College, the University of Toronto (1977), and a Th.D. in Church History from Wycliffe College and the University of Toronto (1982). Haykin and his wife, Alison, have two grown children: Victoria and Nigel.
He is the author of a number of books, including The Spirit of God: The Exegesis of 1 and 2 Corinthians in the Pneumatomachian Controversy of the Fourth Century (E. J. Brill, 1994); One heart and one soul: John Sutcliff of Olney, his friends, and his times (Evangelical Press, 1994); Kiffin, Knollys and Keach: Rediscovering Our English Baptist Heritage (Reformation Today Trust, 1996); ‘At the Pure Fountain of Thy Word’: Andrew Fuller as an Apologist (Paternoster Press, 2004); Jonathan Edwards: The Holy Spirit in Revival (Evangelical Press, 2005); The God who draws near: An introduction to biblical spirituality (Evangelical Press, 2007).
Course taught for CBTS: Biblical Spirituality.