Vol. 21 New Series June, 1959 No. 3
COVENANT AND THE LORDLY SUPPER

In view of the excellent papers by my colleague on the Lordly Supper, I think it would not be out of place if I were to add some comments on my own account. One of the great joys of true Christian fellowship is the wonderful way each can contribute something to every study. God has made us all to be individuals, each with separate aptitudes, with his own distinctive cast of mind and point of view. I could never write Mr. Thomson's papers just as he does, he could never write mine likewise; so when we see such a matter as this in some degree of harmony of mind, we can use our different standpoints to view it in the round, so to speak, and, I hope, to help others to view it thus. I trust, therefore, that the following observations will have some value towards that end.

As a case in point; I think I have said somewhere that the Gentiles have no part in any of Israel's covenants. Mr. Thomson has questioned this idea on p. 262 of our December, 1958 issue, and rightly. What I have all along meant, even if I have failed sometimes to express my meaning, is that the Gentiles are not parties to any of God's covenants (leaving aside, as always, the universal Rainbow Covenant). All these covenants are Israel's; even the covenant with Abraham the Gentile; for even that was a covenant concerning what was to become Israel. This is not in any sense a quibble; because absolutely strictly speaking, where there is no Israel there are no Gentiles; for the whole of the practical significance of the term "Gentiles" lies in its contrast with Israel. As the old Gilbert and Sullivan song puts it so neatly, "When everybody's somebody, then no-one's any body." The fact that God is dealing only with Gentiles now gets its significance from the fact that He is not now dealing with Israel. Apart from that, important though it is in its own context, what matters is that at present God is saving sinners who have no covenant rights, not channelling His saving-work through a Covenant People.

In case anyone may think this a little far-fetched, I would draw attention to the use of goi in the Hebrew Scriptures. Gentiles are mentioned quite early, and the first occurrence of "Israel" is in Gen. 32:28, but we can look in vain through out this book for any sort of antagonism between Israel and the other nations. Nor is there any in Exodus until 34:24. The idea of Gentiles as unprivileged non-Jews did not arise until the idea of Israel as a privileged and set-apart nation became established.

Another significant point is that though Paul speaks of Israel, only once does he draw special attention to Israel;and then he deliberately adds "according to flesh" (1. Cor. 10:18. Literally, "Observe the according-to-flesh Israel"). Is it not, then, perfectly correct to say that, at present, no other Israel exists?

Paul never administered any actual covenant to the Gentiles. The seeming conflict between this assertion and 2. Cor. 3:6 is due to the use by translators of the Indefinite Article. As Greek does not possess one, we should invariably avoid it in translation if we possibly can. Yet nearly everyone writes here of "a new covenant." This is, I am convinced, a serious mistake; and anything based on such usage is bound to be fallacious.
We should read somewhat as follows:

What is in view is a new sort of dispensing, the same sort of dispensing that the actual New Covenant will be. For us it is all in spirit; for the houses of Israel and Judah it will be in flesh as well.

The truth is that, taken literally, Rom. 9:1-5 absolutely prohibits any covenant for us in the same sense as Israel had or will have a covenant. The two exceptions in the passage reinforce the point; for huiosthesia, sonship, would also be prohibited for us were it not expressly allowed to us in Gal. 4:5 and Eph. 1:5. Sonship comes about for us from what God's Son did for His People Israel. Although these things were done primarily for Israel and with a view to the fulfilment of God's promises to them; nevertheless, they were too great and too universal in character to be confined to them. In consequence, we can reasonably expect that for every covenant blessing, spiritual in character, promised to Israel, there should be a non-covenant spiritual blessing for our-selves. Such a benefit would be uncovenanted, for so must be every blessing for us. Yet it would be a covenant blessing in the sense of a blessing linked to covenant; since if there were no covenant blessings prepared for Israel, there could be no corresponding blessings for ourselves either. They are blessings OF covenant, not necessarily IN covenant. "The glory" also is an item which we know from other contexts is not confined to Israel, although primarily theirs. (See 2. Cor. 3:7-18 and several other passages). It is plainly stated that though the sonship and the glory are Israel's, both have been :allotted to us as well; yet nowhere is it said that we are in any sense under covenant. Indeed, the fact that our blessings come in uncircumcision, the antithesis of covenant, prohibits the idea.

We have to keep in mind, too, that our ineligibility for any covenant relationship is very far from being a liability. We are in the wonderfully fortunate position of being able to "have it both ways"; of having all the spiritual blessings of covenant without any of the liabilities involved in covenant. All that is lost by this is the blessing according to flesh which is not ours anyhow. And over and above this we have the, greater spiritual blessings for which covenant standing would render us positively ineligible. The blessings of the Secret of Eph. 3:6-12 are granted explicitly to, "the Gentiles." That is to say, no person who does not come into the Evangel, at the very start, as one of the Gentiles can have any part or lot in the Secret. This is a fact that cannot be gainsaid; and at one stroke it makes utter nonsense of the talk, still far too common among us, of Israel or a "circumcision body" joining with the "Gentile body" to become "a joint-body." Not a scrap of this idea is scriptural; not one of the three items put in inverted commas is to be found in the Greek Scriptures, nor anything corresponding to them; and it is the, plain duty of all of us to recognize in word and in deed that those who insist on using these terms when they know better, have put themselves, outside the company of true and faithful believers of God's holy Word. To take this matter lightly is a very wrong thing. It is serious, desperately serious. I am not suggesting that everyone has to assent with his mind to this truth; but I do assert positively that anyone who, presumes to come to the Lord Jesus in this, era trusting to covenant standing, or a supposed righteousness deriving from law-works, is none of His. And those who know better and yet presume to talk as though people could so come, are committing a grievous sin.

In this present period, speaking of "a Christian Jew" or "a circumcision believer" is not simply a contradiction in terms; it is a plain and deliberate contradiction of God's Word, and particularly of Galatians. This epistle is a standing contradiction of those two expressions in inverted commas so long as the conditions dealt with in Paul's Epistles continue to be in force on earth.
In Christ (Gal. 3:28):

Not only so, but Paul tells us (5:6): And in Gal. 6:15: So we must keep in mind, also, that to speak of "an uncircumcision body" or "a Gentile body" is also unscriptural. To come into the church which is Christ's body, it is necessary to eschew circumcision and to be or become one of the Gentiles; but once in it, both circumcision and uncircumcision become irrelevant, for there is new creation in which neither of these distinctions of the flesh has any meaning or standing at all.

I must apologize for going into this again, and at such length; but the point is vital and not to be shirked if we wish to follow Paul's Evangel.

By their insistence that they have taken the place of Israel, that all Israel's promises and prophecies are now theirs and have been fulfilled in them, the so-called Catholic churches have effectually cut themselves off from the whole of the blessings of Paul's Evangel. This is not to declare that individuals from them do not have the true faith of the Lord Jesus and are not members of the body of Christ; for some do have that faith and membership in spite of the false teaching forced on them. But it does mean that these institutions as a whole have cut themselves off from true faith, and that true Christians among them are so in spite of their membership. In attempting to be "Israel" and to steal Israel's blessings, all these sects can get is Israel's guilt. For boasting in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14) they have taken to themselves by claiming to be Israel's successors the curse on those who crucify the Lord of glory. For righteousness out of faith they try to substitute law-works. Since even Israel could not so attain righteousness, they in turn fail even more dismally. They have forgotten that the Lordly Supper is "until He should be coming," that it is for the period of His real absence; so they have wrecked it for themselves by cultivating a fictitious "Real Presence." It is a pathetic exhibition of human pride and folly. One soon finds with people whose thoughts run along these lines that the idea of any future return of the Lord Jesus has become for them very shadowy, so much diluted that it remains little more than a form of words. without links with reality and involved somehow with the idea of "the end of the world," also an unscriptural term and so vague a notion with them as to be of no practical significance at all, but an embarrassment.

In this connection, the question of the coming of the Lord in 1. Cor. 4:5 also arises; for it has been suggested that this. refers to the "parousia" of the Lord in 1. Thess. 4:13-17. That idea is, I am certain, a mistaken one; for this latter "parousia" has nothing to do with judging anything or with any "season" but, rather, is altogether cut off from any such notion. There is not even anything to indicate or suggest that our manifestation before the dais of Christ (2. Cor. 5:10) is to take place at the time when we are caught away or immediately, or even soon, thereafter. On the contrary, the reference to "man's day" suggests that 1. Cor. 4:3-5 refers to the general clarification of earth's affairs which will be made at the actual bodily return of the Lord Jesus to Mount Olivet  is it not on the face of it most reasonable to suppose that the general judgment of wrongs and assessment of rewards, so far as earthly service is concerned, will take place together? But I would not press any speculative point such as this. What does concern us is that all thought of judging or setting right is excluded, so far as possible, from our expectation; even the extent of judging involved in 2. Cor. 5:10, which in any case appears to be a private matter between Himself and ourselves. From the practical point of view, what it come to is that it is not for us to judge others in any way at all; but we still ought to be unsparing judges of ourselves, to the end that, when the settlement does come, there will remain little or nothing to be set right.

I suggest that these considerations throw some light on our universal experience that, as things are, false teachers and their false doctrines to a large extent prevail at present. However hard any of us may struggle in God's cause, little headway is made, because this is man's day. The setting right of all this on earth is not something to be accomplished when we are caught away, but in the period that follows and especially at the consummation of that period, the coming of the Lord Jesus to earth again. Indeed, it may turn out that up to that period we shall be resting in the glory of the Lord's presence, in preparation for that clarification which will crown on earth, also, that work for His sake that we have accomplished on earth. It is not easy to see how we can receive the good that we have put in practice through the body, that is to say, the good we did in our earthly lives, until God has struck the balance down here on earth. Our homeland is among the celestials, but our present spiritual warfare is down here-so why should not our reward be made manifest down here too, even though our crown is up above? Our public vindication on earth, even though we take no part in it at all, would be a most fitting rounding-off of our triumphant vindication among the celestials.

The exponents of the "Acts 28:28 frontier" all appear to claim that the Lordly Supper is in abeyance at the present time. That it is "connected with the Jewish Feast of the Passover" ("Dispensational Truth" p. 257) is undeniable, but whether it too has ceased with the cessation of the celebration of the Passover is quite another matter.
We are told that (ibid p. 261):

But it should not be necessary by this time to point out that the Kingdom never became in abeyance. Neither should we have to point out that the words "till He should be coming" still stand. He has not yet come, so we should continue to show forth the Lord's death. No amount of argument can touch this fact.

What these men fail to appreciate is that the Lordly Supper belongs to all the Lord's disciples till He should be coming. In so far as we are His disciples, it belongs to us; but it is ours only in a secondary way. In Matt. 26:26-30 .and Mark 14:22-26 it clearly looks forward to the future Kingdom of the Father. Luke 14:14-20 refers to the Kingdom of God, but still the point of view is that of the Twelve Disciples. It was primarily concerned with them and therefore with Israel's promises. In 1. Cor. 11:23-26 it comes over to the church which is Christ's body only as a very special supplementary gift specially handed over to Paul ("For I myself accepted from the Lord. . .") And moreover, the "coming" in v. 26 is nowhere associated in any way with the parousia of the Lord or with any context of that word. So the Lordly Supper is not concerned with our catching away, and must continue after it. It belongs primarily to Israel's affairs, not ours, and we are permitted to come into it only by special favour. The efforts of Christendom throughout the centuries to monopolize it, shared by most of even the most enlightened saints, are no more than a manifestation of humanity's usual self-centredness.

We should observe that the coming of the Lord Jesus is referred to only three times in Paul's Epistles: 1. Cor. 4:5; 11:26, discussed above, and 2. Thess. 1:10. This circumstance should suffice once and for all to do away with the notion that His coming is in any special way our hope. It is, not. It concerns us at all only in so far as it involves the setting-right of the wrongs of man's day. False Christianity sets great store by "the Real Presence." We should set equally great store by the key truth of "the Real Absence."

In "The Word of Truth," Vol. 11, p.6, Mr. Sellers says that many Christians have lost sight of "His coming" and substituted" their going "in its place. But this accusation is really against Paul, and against us only in so far as we have followed his lead. There are only two ways far people to get into the presence (parousia) of the Lord: either He goes to them or they go to Him. In 1. Thess. 4:13-17 it is the latter. In Matt. 24:30; Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7 it is the former. To mix these up is simply to make nonsense of Scripture.

Mr. Sellers' remark should have been written somewhat
as follows:
        "For His coming the Lord Jesus substituted our going."

This wording would have spoilt it as a neat, though rather sarcastic, epigram; but at any rate it would have summed-up the truth of the matter accurately. I suspect that in making it his mind was influenced by the idea, still clung to by some, that in 1. Thess. 4:13-17 we return to earth with the Lord. This strange notion was disposed of on p. 272 of our Vol. 20 (1958). However, instead of it he puts up this very curious
argument to support his remark:

Yet surely it is obvious that if the prophecy is ever to be fulfilled at all; the longer it is delayed, the greater humanly speaking, is the likelihood of its fulfilment? Mr. Sellers' objection to it being fulfilled in the immediate future is equally cogent against it ever being fulfilled at all. Perhaps he does not think that it will? I do not know; but I do know that neither he nor anyone else can fit it without discord into anything outside Paul's Epistles; and I do not doubt that this is the reason for their evident subconscious dislike of it. If this suggestion is unfair, why do they persistently refrain from fitting 1. Thess. 4:13-17 into its (supposed) proper place in Matthew 24 and the Apocalypse? By "fit" I mean "fit," and not just assert that it occurs at some point of time in these prophecies without regard to whether it introduces violent discord. Meanwhile, I can face Mr. Sellers' censures of this sort with calm confidence.

R. B. WITHERS Last updated 5.3.2006