The New Zealand Evangelist
Math. xxvi, 36, 28,—This is my body,—This is my blood.
The following remarks are slightly abridged from “Horne's Introduction to the critical Study of the Scriptures.”
The following are rules of interpretation that ought constantly to be kept in mind.—An obscure, doubtful, or figurative text must never be interpreted in such a sense as to make it contradict a plain one. The literal meaning of words is to be given up, if that meaning involve an impossibility, or be repugnant to natural reason. Whatever is repugnant to natural reason cannot be the true meaning of the Scriptures; for God is the original of natural truth as well as of that which comes by particular revelation. No proposition therefore, which is repugnant to the fundamental principles of reason, can be the sense of any part of the word of God; hence the words of Christ,—This is my body, and This is my blood, are not to be understood in that sense, which makes for the doctrine of transubstantiation, or, of page 81 the conversion of the bread and wine, in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, into the actual body and blood of Christ; because it is impossible that contradictions should be true, and we cannot be more certain that any thing is true, than we are that that doctrine is false. Yet it is upon a forced and literal construction of our Lord's declaration, that the Romish Church has, ever since the thirteenth century, erected and maintained the doctrine of transubstantiation:—a doctrine which is manifestly “repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.” Their sense cannot be the true one; because it is contrary to the express declaration of the New Testament history, from which it is evident that our Lord is ascended into heaven, where he is to continue “till the time of the restitution of all things;”—that is, till his second coming to judgment. How then can his body be in ten thousand several places on earth at the same time? If this doctrine be true, it will follow that our Saviour, when he instituted the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, did actually eat his own flesh and drink his own blood; a conclusion this, so obviously contradictory both to reason and Scripture, that it is astonishing how any sensible and religious man can credit such a tenet. In fact, if the words—This is my body—must be literally understood, why are not other words of a similar import also to be taken literally?. In which case Jesus Christ must be a vine, a door, and a rock; for so he is expressly termed, John x, 9, xv, 1, and 1 Cor. x, 4. And in the other part of the sacrament, the cup must be transubstantianted, not into the blood of Christ, but into the New Testament; for he said,—This cup is the New Testament, or Covenant, (Luke xxii, 20,) that is, the representation or memorial of it. Further, as the words—This is my body, and This is my blood—were spoken BEFORE Christ's body was broken upon the cross, and BEFORE his blood was shed, he could not pronounce them with the page 82 intention that they should be taken and interpreted literally by his disciples. He could not take his body in his hands, nor offer them his blood in the cup, for it had not yet been shed. If the bread which he broke had been changed, he would have had two bodies, one of which would have been instrumental in presenting the other to the apostles. Of such a transformation they do not appear to have had the slightest idea; and if it did not take place in this first sacrament, what reason can we have to believe that it took place in any other? Hence it is clear that the doctrine of transubstantiation has no foundation in the words of Christ, which must necessarily be understood, not literally and properly, but figuratively, agreeably to the well known metonymy, common in all languages, but peculiar to the Hebrew, (the impression of which the Greek here naturally takes,) in which the sign is put for the thing signified. The Hebrews, having no particular word denoting to represent, supply its place by the verb to be. Thus in Gen. xl, 12, the three branches are three days, and in v, 19, the three baskets are three days; in xli, 26, the seven good kine are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; and in Ezek. xxxvii, 11, the dry bones are the whole house of Israel. The same metonymy exists in the service for the celebration of the Passover among the modern Jews, in which the master of the family and all the guests take hold of the dish containing the unleavened bread, which he had previously broken, and say,—“Lo! this is the bread of affliction, which all our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.” The same phraseology is of frequent occurrence in the New Testament. Thus, in Math, xiii, 38, 39, The field IS [represents] the world; the good seed IS [represents] the children of the Kingdom; the tares ARE [represent] the children of the wicked one; the enemy IS [represents] the devil; the harvest IS [represents] the end of the world; the reapers ARE [represent] the angels. And in 1 Cor., x, 4, the rock WAS [represented] Christ. Similar expressions occur page 83 elsewhere. It is evident, therefore, from the context, from biblical usage, and from the scope of the passage, that the literal interpretation of the expression—This is my body, &c.—must be abandoned, and with it necessarily falls the modern Romish tenet of transubstantiation.