If someone wrote a hymn on the Lord’s Supper, you might think, “Wow, the Lord’s Supper is really important to them.” If they wrote a dozen hymns on the Supper, you might wonder if it was something of a preoccupation. In 1745, the Wesley brothers published an entire hymnal on the Lord’s Supper: 166 hymns intended for use at the Table.
In 1745, the Wesley brothers published an entire hymnal on the Lord’s Supper: 166 hymns intended for use at the Table.
The centrality of the Lord’s Supper in the Wesleys’ ministry is difficult to overstate. In the preface to his Sunday Service for the Methodists in North America, Wesley mentions the Supper three times in six paragraphs. A central justification for ordaining elders in America, Wesley says, is that “for some hundred miles there is none either to baptize or to administer the Lord’s Supper.” He names several whom he has appointed “to act as Elders among them, by baptizing and administering the Lord’s Supper.” For Wesley, administering the sacraments was what distinguished the pastoral office. Wesley then instructs the elders “to administer the supper of the Lord on every Lord’s day.” Wesley himself communed almost every day (see his sermon on the Duty of Constant Communion and my article on “How Often Should We Receive the Lord’s Supper?“). Having a variety of hymns on the Supper provided freshness to the liturgy which Wesley provided in the Sunday Service.
The centrality of the Lord’s Supper in the Wesleys’ ministry is difficult to overstate
The Hymns on the Lord’s Supper is prefaced with an excerpt from The Christian Sacrament and Sacrifice (1673) by Daniel Brevint. The 166 hymns are organized according to the six points of theological focus which are highlighted in the excerpt:
- As it is a Memorial of the Sufferings and Death of Christ
- As it is a Sign and a Means of Grace
- The Sacrament a Pledge of Heaven
- The Holy Eucharist as it Implies a Sacrifice
- Concerning the Sacrifice of Our Persons
- After the Sacrament
The hymns are filled with rich theology, drawing from a wide range of OT types and NT images. For example, Hymn 46 draws on a sacramental interpretation to Genesis 14:18, where “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine”:
How richly is the table stored
Of Jesus our redeeming Lord!
Melchizedek and Aaron join
To furnish out the feast divine.
Aaron for us the blood hath shed,
Melchizedek bestows the bread,
To nourish this, and that t’ atone;
And both the priests in Christ are one.
Hymn 29 recognizes sacramental significance to Luke 24:35, where Christ’s disciples at Emmaus do not recognize him until “he was known to them in the breaking of the bread”:
O thou who this mysterious bread
Didst in Emmaus break,
Return herewith our souls to feed
And to thy followers speak.
There is a strong emphasis on Christ’s real spiritual presence in the Supper, nourishing his people through the spiritual food and spiritual drink of the Eucharist. Hymn 30 is one of my favorites:
Jesu, at whose supreme command
We thus approach to God,
Before us in thy vesture stand,
Thy vesture dipped in blood.
Obedient to thy gracious word
We break the hallowed bread,
Commemorate thee, our dying Lord,
And trust on thee to feed.
Now, Saviour, now thyself reveal,
And make thy nature known,
Affix the sacramental seal,
And stamp us for thine own.
The tokens of thy dying love,
O let us all receive,
And feel the quick’ning Spirit move,
And sensibly believe.
The cup of blessing blest by thee,
Let it thy blood impart;
The bread thy mystic body be,
And cheer each languid heart.
The grace which sure salvation brings
Let us herewith receive;
Satiate the hungry with good things,
The hidden manna give.
The living bread sent down from heaven
In us vouchsafe to be;
Thy flesh for all the world is given,
And all may live by thee.
Now, Lord, on us thy flesh bestow,
And let us drink thy blood,
Till all our souls are filled below
With all the life of God.
The other hymns can be read here: Hymns on the Lord’s Supper (1745).