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Circular Letter, 1868
By Rev. G. W. Folwell
      To the Churches composing the Philadelphia Baptist Association:

      DEAR BRETHREN: - The Lord's Supper is designed to commemorate a certain fact. That fact is the Death of Christ. As the fact is absolute and hence indestructible and unchangeable, it must ever remain the historical basis of Christianity; and this memorial ordinance must be perpetuated to the end of the present dispensation.

      Our Savior's words at the institution of the Supper, “Take, eat,” “Drink ye all of it,” express a positive duty as well as a privilege. When He says, “This do in remembrance of me,” there is no room left for equivocation. This enjoins the observance as a duty upon all His people in all time. And yet, some of the members of our churches absent themselves from communion with impunity, and virtually say, “the table of the Lord is contemptible.”

      This fact has led us to select as the subject of this letter, NEGLECT of THE LORD'S SUPPER.

      It is our purpose first, to expose the evil of this neglect, and secondly, to seek to remedy the evil by discovering its causes.


      Its design is in part Commemorative. The fact to be commemorated is the Death of Christ as the procuring cause of human Redemption. Yet it is not a memorial simply of death, but of “death conquered by life,” a memorial of His Resurrection as the seal of the efficacy of His Death.

      The Lord's Supper is the Christian Passover. It occupies a place in the New Economy similar to that occupied by the Passover in the Old. It is the antitype and substance of that type and shadow. Therefore its commemorative design may be learned from the typical signification of the Jewish Passover. As often as the Jew ate the Passover he would remember the Egyptian bondage and the deliverance therefrom. Nor could he but associate therewith the thought of the Angel of Death passing over the houses of the Hebrews. At the same time his mind's eye would see the blood sprinkled on the door posts of those houses; and he would think of the Paschal Lamb which not only supplied that blood, but also served to nourish the bodies of that redeemed people for the journey upon which they were about to enter. So as often as the Christian eats the Lord's Supper he is to remember Christ: to remember, not His person, but His work; His work of Redemption: Redemption as

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comprehending both our bondage to sin and our deliverance therefrom. But how can we think of Redemption and not think of its procuring cause - the Death of Christ?

      It was not by might nor by power that the Israelites were delivered; but by the Angel of God who held back their enemies. Neither was it by our own strength that we escaped the bondage of sin; but by the Spirit of God who broke its yoke and restrained its power. The Angel of Death passed over only those houses whose door posts were sprinkled with the blood of the Paschal Lamb: so only those who by faith have applied the blood of Christ to their souls are the spared monuments of Divine grace and the special subjects of the Holy Spirit's saving work. As the Israelites ate the flesh of their Paschal Lambs to derive sustenance for their journey, so the Christian is to feed on Christ who said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you:” “For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” Hence we conclude that the Lord's Supper is designed to commemorate the Death of Christ as the procuring cause of human Redemption.

      But in as much as spiritual deliverance is superior to physical, in so much is the Lord's Supper more significant than the Jewish Passover. It commemorates not only his death, but also His Resurrection - His triumph over death: for if He were held of death, then would His followers be, and Redemption would be a myth. A dead Christ could not give life to, nor be the life of His people. “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” Indeed we might add, then is the Lord's Supper meaningless. “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.” “As often,” therefore, “as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come.”

      This points to the fact that the design of the Lord's Supper is Prophetic as well as Commemorative. While it looks back to Christ's death as the centre and significance of the world's history, it also points prophetically to His Second Coming, as the Jewish Passover did to His first. Thus it is a witness not only of His Death and Resurrection, but also of His consummate work of Redemption: and it shall continue at once the Memorial and the Prophecy of that entire work, till He take His ransomed people home, where we shall not see through a glass, darkly, but face to face; and where that which is in part shall be done away, because that which is perfect shall have come: where, without any symbols, we shall see Him as He is and love Him as we ought.

      We see then, dear Brethren, that in its Prophetic design the Lord's Supper is intended to feed our faith and to inspire our hope. But it is not merely a Memorial of what Christ has done and a Prophecy of what He will do - not a conveyance from His Death to His Second Coming - leaving a wide chasm, an empty void, between; it is also a Communion, a present enjoyment of Christ, and an abiding pledge of His presence - His living, communing presence, with His people. It is designed to impress us with the idea of continual communication between Him and our souls, because of the sympathy, ay, even the unity of believers with Him, our living Head. If united in Him, we must have fellowship with each other; not merely association, but oneness of heart and mind: and hence this Ordinance is designed to express our communion with each other through our communion with Christ. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”

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We conclude that the Lord's Supper is a symbolic expression and profession of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity: that every disciple of Christ is required to observe it, and to thus bear witness to these doctrines: and hence, neglect of the Lord's Supper by His disciples is culpable. By such neglect we withhold our testimony from the Truth, injure our own souls, do injustice to our Brethren, and incur the Divine displeasure.

      II. WHAT NOW IS THE REMEDY FOR THIS EVIL? How shall our Brethren be recovered from this neglect? The first, and probably the only thing required by conscientious Christians is to discover the Causes of the neglect.

      1. What are the Causes assigned by these delinquents themselves? If we can show these to be frivolous and hence inadequate, no sincere Christian will longer offer them as a justification of his neglect; but must, if he would be consistent, return at once to the humble, faithful and proper observance of this Ordinance.

      (1.) One excuse, and by far the most common, that these delinquents offer is, that they cannot fellowship certain members of the Church. Now we have seen that this communion of saints is not out of, but in, Christ; so that we do not commune with each other, in the sense of this Ordinance, unless we commune with Christ. Hence disaffection toward any Brother is no excuse for your neglect of the Lord's Supper: for unless he communes with Christ, he does not commune with you while you are communing with the Lord. Moreover, in Christ all differences disappear.

      Further: it is the duty of every Brother “to be slow to take offence, but always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the rules of our Savior to secure it without delay.” One of these rules is, “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy Brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy Brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Another of these rules is, “if thy Brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy Brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church: but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen and a publican.”

      These two rules cover our entire duty in the case. If you have not observed them, you have not done your duty; your excuse is frivolous and your neglect culpable, rendering you liable to the discipline and censure of the Church.

      2. Another excuse offered by these delinquents is, that they are not good enough to come to the Lord's Table. Might they not with equal propriety say they were not good enough to be baptized, that they are not good enough to pray, or good enough to be saved? This is an entire misapprehension of the ground of their worthiness, as also of the design of the Lord's Supper. No Christian would presume to hope for salvation in his own merits, neither to offer his prayers in his own name, nor to be baptized because he is absolutely worthy to walk in the footsteps of his Lord and Savior. Why then should any offer their unworthiness as an excuse for neglecting the Lord's Supper. Some may suppose this a mark of humility; but is it not at best a mock humility As there is no posture and no spirit so befitting a humble Christian as those of prayer, so is there no place and no observance in which a Christian can better manifest his humility and sense of absolute dependence than at the Lord's Table, showing forth His Death as the procuring cause of all spiritual blessings.

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      But again: if you are not good enough to come to the Lord's Table, you are not good enough to be a member of the Church. Either you have not done your duty to the Church, or the Church has not done its duty to you. If you are not regenerate, then of course you ought not to be in the Church; you do right in not coming to the Lord's Table, for none except those who are of right in the Church are to be allowed access thereto. But do not, we beseech you, longer continue in this anomalous position. Play the hypocrite no longer, for while you remain in the Church you profess to be, or are regarded as, a regenerate person, a child of God. Let the duty of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ be attended to by you at once . If, however, you believe you are a disciple of Jesus, though following Him afar off, you should either forsake your backslidings and return unto the Lord, or expect to be disciplined by the Church.

      Thus this excuse of not being good enough appears frivolous and falls to the ground.

      There are other excuses offered for this neglect; but, as they are as trifling, and also fall under the same rules, as the two already considered, we deem what has been said sufficient on this point, and pass to consider

      2. The True Causes of this culpable neglect of the Lord's Supper.

      (1.) The first cause is, Ignorance of the end proposed by Him who instituted it. If, as we have seen, the end designed in the Lord's Supper is to express and to profess the essential doctrines of Christianity; if it is designed to be both a Memorial and a Prophecy, to inspire our love, to increase our faith, and to encourage our hope; what, except ignorance of this most important design, could induce any sincere disciple of Christ to this neglect? Is there one who loves his Savior, who does not wish to love him more? one who, by faith, has experienced the joy of His salvation, who does not almost instinctively pray, “Lord, increase my faith!” Is there one whose soul, amid the surges of life, has been anchored by hope, who does not desire to have his hope confirmed and strengthened? If now a proper observance of the Lord's Supper will secure these most desirable attainments, and if this is indeed one of the objects proposed in its institution, then, in the judgment of charity, neglect of this Ordinance must be attributed to Ignorance: otherwise, to something worse.

      (2.) The second real cause is Lack of Moral Courage. In this Ordinance we have “the symbols of a sacred union with Deity:” and hence the observance of it imposes certain moral obligations. He who partakes of the Lord's Supper professes to have a spiritual appetite, which presupposes spiritual life, and that Christ is the Bread that satisfies his appetite and sustains his life. He therefore professes to have passed from death into life; to be dead to sin and alive unto God through Jesus Christ, by whose cross the world is crucified to him, and he to the world. Moreover, he professes to be a new creature to whom old things have passed away, and all things have become new; that he has new principles, purposes, motives, aims and habits of life. Hence he engages to come out from the world and be separate; to make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof, but to perfect holiness in the fear of God.

      When, therefore, these neglecters of the Lord's Supper excuse themselves by saying they cannot fellowship certain members of the Church, or that they are not good enough, they should rather say that they lack moral courage to assume and to discharge the duties of Christian discipleship. But they should have sat down and counted the cost before making a profession of religion: for

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in their baptism they professed to have died to sin and to have risen to a new life. These solemn vows of consecration are upon them already, and the culpable neglect must be attributed either to their ignorance, or to their lack of moral courage, or to both of these causes.

      3. The third and last real cause of this neglect that we shall mention is, Want of Proper Feelings. Admiration, gratitude, obedience, humility, and brotherly love are proper and essential feelings of a sincere Christian. “If ye love me,” says Jesus, “keep my commandments: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: “If a man love me he will keep my words.” Among all his commandments there is not one that more directly and persuasively appeals to our hearts than the one given at the institution of the Supper, viz.: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Nor yet is there one, in the proper observance of which, we can give more positive proof of our love for Him. The love of Christ must constrain us, else onr acts of obedience will be servile; but more frequently our devotions and duties will be neglected.

      At the Lord's Table, humbly partaking of the symbols of His body and blood, we express our gratitude for God’s “unspeakable gift:” here is the centre of all Divine benedictions: and here we may most successfully seek to comprehend “what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.”

      Who are they who neglect the Lord's Supper? Are they the most pious and devoted, the most heavenly minded? Are they those who manifest most love for Jesus and attachment to His word and to His people? What answer do the facts indicate?

      Immediately after the first celebration of the Supper, our blessed Lord said, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.” And then, to enforce it, He subjoined this most pathetic and powerful argument, “As I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” And, as a still further inducement to duty, He assures us that this shall be the badge, the decisive proof of our discipleship, saying, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” “To all this we might add, that brotherly love is made, in the Scriptures, a decisive proof to ourselves, as well as to others, that we are the disciples of Christ. “We know,” says the beloved John, “that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the Brethren.” “One is your Master, even Christ,” said Jesus, “and all ye are Brethren.” Where is there a more sublime recognition of this Christian Brotherhood and brotherly love than at the Lord's Table?

      Is it possible for any who are constrained by the love of Christ and are attached to His people to voluntarily absent themselves from the Lord's Table? Must we not, therefore, attribute such neglect to the want of proper feelings both toward Jesus and toward His people? If such be the Memorial and Prophetic design of the Lord's Supper, if the excuses offered for neglect of it are frivolous and inadequate, and if the true causes are so seriously detrimental to the interests of the Churches and to the spirituality of individuals, what sincere Christian will indulge this neglect, and thus deny the Lord who bought him: Let such an one weigh well the words of our crucified Redeemer: - "Do this in remembrance of me!”

           George A. Peltz, Moderator – Horatio Gates Jones, Clerk


[From Minutes of the Philadelphia Association, 1868, pp. 30-34. From a University of Chicago digital internet copy. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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