[By Alexander Campbell, with emphasis added in bold by Scott Shifferd Jr.]
WE have proposed to make still farther apparent that the primary intention of the meeting of the disciples on the first day of the week, was to break bread. We concluded our last essay on this topic with a notice of Acts 20:7. “And on the first day of the week when the disciples assembled to break bread.” The design of this meeting, it is evident, was to break bread. But that this was the design of all their meetings for worship and edification, or that it was the primary object of the meetings of the disciples, is rendered very certain from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11. The apostle applauds and censures the church at Corinth with respect to their observance of the order he instituted among them. In the second verse he praises them for retaining the ordinances he delivered them, and in the conclusion of this chapter he censures them in strong terms for not keeping the ordinance of breaking bread as he delivered it to them. They retained in their meetings the ordinance, but did abuse it. He specifies their abuses of it, and denounces their practice as worthy of chastisement. But in doing this, he incidentally informs us that it was for the purpose of breaking bread they assembled in one place. And the manner to which he does this is equivalent to an express command to assemble for the purpose. Indeed there is no form of speech more determinate in its meaning or more energetic in its force than that which he uses, verse 20. It is precisely the same as the two following examples. A man assembles laborers in his vineyard to cultivate it. He goes out and finds them either idle or destroying his vines. He reproves and commands them to business by addressing them thus–“Men, ye did not assemble to cultivate my vineyard.” By the use of this negative he makes his command more imperative and their guilt more apparent. A teacher assembles his pupils to learn–he comes in and finds them idle or quarrelling. He addresses them thus–“Boys, ye did not assemble to learn.” In this forcible style, he declares the object of their meeting was to learn, and thus commands and reproves them in the same words. So Paul addresses the disciples in Corinth–“When ye assemble, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper;” or (Macknight,) “But your coming together into one place, is not to eat the Lord’s supper,” plainly and forcibly intimating that this was the design of their meeting or assembling in one place, commanding them to order, and reproving them for disorder. Now it must be admitted that Paul’s style in this passage is exactly similar to the two examples given, and that the examples given mean what we have said of their import; consequently, by the same rule, Paul reminds the Corinthians, and informs all who ever read the epistle, that when the disciples assembled, or came together into one place, it was primarily for the purpose of breaking bread, and in effect most positively commands the practice. To this it has been objected that the 26th verse allows the liberty of dispensing with this ordinance as often as we please. In the improved translation of Macknight it reads thus: “Wherefore, as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you openly publish the death of the Lord till the time he come?’ Either these words, or those in the preceding verse, (“This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me,”) are said to give us the liberty of determining when we may break bread. If so, then the Lord’s supper is an anomaly in revelation. It is an ordinance which maybe kept once in seven months, or seven years, just as we please, for, reader, remember, “where there is no law there is no transgression.” But this application of the words is absurd, and perfectly similar to the papists’ inference from these words; for they infer hence that “the cup may sometimes be omitted, and under this pretence have refused it altogether to the laity.” And certainly if the phrase, “as often as you drink it,” means that it may be omitted when any one pleases, it is good logic for the papists to argue that it may be omitted altogether by the laity, provided the priests please to drink it.
But neither the design of the apostle nor his words in this passage have respect to the frequency, but to the manner of observing the institution. If this is evident, that interpretation falls to the ground; and that it is evident, requires only to ask the question, What was the apostle’s design in these words? Most certainly it was to reprove the Corinthians, not for the frequency nor unfrequency of their attending to it, but for the manner in which they did it. Now as this was the design, and as every writer’s or speaker’s words are to be interpreted according to his design, we are constrained to admit that the apostle meant no more than that Christians should always, in observing this institution, observe it in the manner and for the reasons he assigns.
And last of all, on this passage, let it be remembered, that if the phrase, “as oft as,” gives us liberty to observe it seldom, it also gives us liberty to observe it every day if we please.–And if it be a privilege, we are not straitened in the Lord, but in ourselves.
But, say some, “it will become too common and lose its solemnity.” Well, then, the seldomer the better. If we observe it only once in twenty years, it will be the more uncommon and solemn. And, on the same principle, the seldomer we pray the better. We shall pray with more solemnity if we pray once in twenty years!
But “It is too expensive.” How? Wherein? Is not the “earth the Lord’s and the fullness thereof?” It costs us nothing. It is the Lord’s property. He gives us his goods that we may enjoy ourselves. We never saw or read of a church so poor that could not, without a sacrifice, furnish the Lord’s table. To make one “sacrament,” requires more than to furnish the Lord’s table three months. I hate this objection most cordially.–It is antichristian–it is mean–it is base.
“It is unfashionable.” So it is to speak truth, and fulfill contracts. So it is to obey God rather than man. And if you love the fashion, be consistent–don’t associate with the Nazarenes–hold up the skirts of the high priest, and go to the temple. But all objections are as light as straws and as volatile as a feather.
To recapitulate the items adduced in favor of the ancient order of breaking bread, it was shown, as we apprehend—
1. That there is a divinely instituted order of Christian worship, in Christian assemblies.
2. That this order of worship is uniformly the same.
3. That the nature and design of the breaking of bread are such as to make it an essential part of Christian worship in Christian assemblies.
4. That the first church set in order in Jerusalem, continued as steadfastly in breaking of bread, as in any other act of social worship or edification.
5. That the disciples statedly met on the first day of the week, primarily and emphatically for this purpose.
6. That the apostle declared it was the design or the primary object of the church to assemble in one place for this purpose, and so commanded it to the churches he had set in order.
7. That there is no law, rule, reason, or authority for the present manner of observing this institute quarterly, semi-annually, or at any other time than weekly.
8. We have considered some of the more prominent objections against the ancient practice, and are ready to hear any new ones that can be offered. Upon the whole, it may be said that we have express precedent and an express command to assemble in one place on the first day of the week to break bread. We shall reserve other evidences and considerations until some objections are offered by any correspondent who complies with our conditions.