Richard Barcellos, a Reformed Baptist author and pastor in the States, posted his lecture given to an ARBCA meeting last year on the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace. I’ve linked them below because I think that they are quite instructive. Because they are his lecture notes, they are mostly point form. But he gives a good argument for understanding the “real presence” or “spiritual presence” in the Supper:
The Lord’s Supper As A Means of Grace 1
The Lord’s Supper As A Means of Grace 2
The Lord’s Supper As A Means of Grace 3
The Lord’s Supper As A Means of Grace 4
You can also watch an interview with Barcellos on the subject:
Q&A with Dr. Barcellos and John Divito | ARBCA GA from MCTS on Vimeo.
This is a quote from Bob Letham’s book The Lord’s Supper where he summarizes Calvin’s view of the spiritual presence of Christ in the elements of the bread and wine:
Christ does not come down to us in his body and blood. Instead, we are lifted up to him by the Holy Spirit. Christ, being the eternal Son of God, is of course, everywhere. Moreover, he has permanently united himself to the human nature assumed in the incarnation. In that sense, the person of Christ is present with us as we eat and drink. Yet, on earth, the Son of God was not restricted or confined to the humanity he assumed, but was simultaneously filling all things, directing the universe even as (according to the flesh) he walked the dusty roads of Palestine. So, at the right hand of God, the Son fills and directs the universe (Col. 1:15-20), now unbreakably united to his assumed humanity, while in terms of that same humanity he is limited and in one place. Yet that humanity is never separate or apart from the divinity, the eternal Son of God with whom and in whom it is one undivided person. Thus, in the sacrament the Holy Spirit unites the faithful to the person of Christ as they eat and drink the signs, the physical elements of bread and wine. There is an inseparable conjunction of sign and reality. As truly as we eat the bread and drink the wine, so we feed on Christ by faith.
Robert Letham, The Lord’s Supper: Eternal Word in Broken Bread (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2001), 28-29.
In Calvin’s own words from The Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.17.32:
Now if anyone should ask me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare. And, to speak more plainly, I rather experience than understand it. Therefore, I here embrace without controversy the truth of God in which I may safely rest. He declares his flesh the food of my soul, his blood its drink [John 6:53ff.]. I offer my soul to him to be fed with such food. In his Sacred Supper he bids me take, eat, and drink his body and blood under the symbols of bread and wine. I do not doubt that he himself truly presents them, and that I receive them.
Some of my more sacramentally oriented friends (i.e. Anglicans) think that we Baptists are mere Memorialists when it comes to the Lord’s Supper. But this ain’t so! Although most Baptists today are of the so-called “Zwinglian” variety (though Zwingli was no Zwinglian), this has not always been the case. Historically speaking, Baptists are inheritors of the Calvinian tradition, especially when it comes to the Eucharist. Therefore we take there to be a real, or spiritual presence of Christ in the elements of the bread and wine (not grape juice!); that we take spiritual nourishment from the Supper; and have true communion with Christ. Ours is not a “real absence” view.
For instance, the Second London Confession of Faith (1689) in Chapter 30.7 says,
Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible Elements in this Ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally, and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified (l) & all the benefits of his death: the Body and Blood of Christ, being then not corporally, or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of Believers, in that Ordinance, as the Elements themselves are to their outward senses.
l 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:23-26.
To cut the confusion: Mark Jones is doing his dissertation on the seventeenth century Puritan Thomas Goodwin. In light of this, Jones has a blog called Thomas Goodwin. So…at Thomas Goodwin he has a post on Thomas Goodwin on the Lord’s Supper. In it, he explains Goodwin’s view that the Supper should be administered every week, a position I adhere to. Here’s a block quote by Goodwin:
As good housekeepers have some constant provision of store, as corn, beef, and the like, beside all occasional dainties that, like fowl and fish, come in to their tables, so God hath laid up all spiritual provisions for us; and to be sure you have Christ himself for one standing dish continually served up to you … a dish that fills all, and serves all tastes … Many things in a sermon thou understandest not … but here to be sure (in the Lord’s Supper) thou mayest … Of sermons, some are for comfort, some to inform, and some to excite; but here in the sacrament is all thou canst expect.’