Overview of John Wesley’s Theology of the Lord’s Supper

Wesleyan theology of the Lord’s Supper, more commonly known today as Communion, relies heavily on work of Dr. Daniel Brevint, the 1673 writing The Christian Sacrament and Sacrifice,  which John Wesley extracted in his preface to the hymn book published in 1745 in Bristol, England.  The Wesley book contains hymns written by John and Charles Wesley, brothers who desired to revive the Eucharistic life of the church of England, of which John was a clergy.

Brevint’s identified the Lord’s Supper in three ways considering the act:

1) As a sacrament to past suffering – a memorial
2) It is a way to convey the ‘first fruits’ of that suffering – grace
3) Communion expresses an assurance of glory to come – a pledge

For John Wesley, the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism were outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace given, as a gift, by God for the redemption of our souls.  The elements of the Lord’s Supper, the bread and the wine (juice is used in contemporary times) become the body and blood of Jesus, as an atonement for our sins.

The atonement, made possible through Christ’s life, death and sacrifice, is essential in redemption.

  • God’s own justice demands satisfaction and is the principal cause of Christ’s death and suffering, although human sins are the deserving cause.
  • Christ, by offering himself as the satisfaction to God for our sin appeases God’s wrath.
  • He gives himself as ransom and fulfills God’s law

Wesley’s understanding of the process included three parts:

1) God elects to redeem humans.  2) We accept God’s grace and a new life of faith.  3) The inter-relationship of these two is a dynamic phenomenon.

John Wesley, following Brevint’s form, considered the Lord’s Supper as three acts:

Borgen book cover

1) As a sign of memorial to the sacrifice
2) It is an effective means of God’s grace
3) It is a pledge of glory to come

(Ole Borgen, John Wesley on the Sacraments)

The hymns of Charles and John Wesley contain imagery and wording that can be used for meditation during communion.  The concepts of the bruised and cut corn being baked to create the bread is a metaphor for Christ’s body bruised and cut down, yet resurrected in a new life which gives sustenance to all who believe in him.

The cup of wine is the presence of Christ’s blood, the life flow that poured from his own body for the forgiveness of sin.  In the Gospels where Jesus serves his disciples the bread and after supper the cup, he institutes this ritual with the words “this is my body” and “this is my blood of the new covenant”.

We read in Wesleyan hymns the theological basis for this holy mystery where Christ gives his life in atonement for our’s.  Please open the posts under the category “Wesley Eucharistic Hymns” on the right side panel to read specific Eucharistic hymns of John and Charles Wesley.

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