Project Canterbury

Duty and privilege of Holy Communion.

A sermon preached at the temporary church of St Lawrence, Sydney,
on Sunday, 2nd October, 1842; by the Minister of that parish.
[The Rev'd William Horatio Walsh]

[Published at the request of many who heard it.]

transcribed by Joseph Waugh
AD 2003


For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.--1 Cor x 17.

The Apostle is speaking "concerning Christ and His Church," and of that which is both a sign and a means of the Church's oneness; of the bread which being many grains, yet is one loaf, and of the body which having many members, maintains its oneness in Christ by means of the one bread whereof all partake. So the scripture mentions other like signs and means of this unity of the Church; for instance, "by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, and have all been made to drink into one Spirit." There are other passages illustrating as forcibly the character of unity that the Church has. In the verse before that just quoted is written, "as the body is one and hath many members, and all the members of that one body being many are one body, so also is Christ." Again, "ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular;" and "Christ is the head of the body;" and "Christ is the Saviour of the body;" "and as two by matrimony are made one flesh, and the husband is the head of the wife," in this way also is "Christ the head of the body, who gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word."

As there is none other name under heaven given to man whereby we may be saved but only the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, so is there none other way given whereby we may join ourselves to Christ, but only by being of that which is His body. And for means of so uniting ourselves, there are set forth to us those already mentioned; Baptism, which brings us into the body,--that "washing of water" whereby we are cleansed of Christ: and, the "spiritual meat" and "spiritual drink," whereby we are sustained of Christ;--the bread and wine which are the "communion," the partaking by all the members in common, of the body and blood of Christ, these again declared to be the means of spiritual "life." Herein are the chief, the leading, and seemingly essential means of uniting ourselves, and of continuing our union with that body which is Christ's, and therefore with Christ Himself. Connected with them as means of unity, is the one faith "once delivered to the saints;" and inseparably alike from the "one Lord, one baptism, one bread, and one faith," is the one ministry that Christ "hath set" in the Church; in whom Christ being present "always" according to His promise, doth by "them perfect the saints" and edify or build up the body; still, with reference to that one principle of unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God," "that we may grow up into Him in all things which is the Head even Christ."

From these very plain declarations of holy scripture, above which none surely can pretend to set themselves, it is clear that they who profess and call themselves Christians need, if they mean any thing by that profession, to "hold the Head" by all those means of union which Christ hath appointed; because scripture abundantly testifies that mere professing does nothing, for "the kingdom of God is not in word but in power;" and a religion of mere professing is no more than a body without spirit. And as the spirit which God gives to the natural body must be sustained by our stretching forth our hands and using our faculties for getting the food and exercise and rest which are necessary to the existence of natural life; so is it with the soul, which having first received the Holy Spirit of God in Baptism, by which it was "born into the kingdom of God," must likewise depend for the continuance of that divine life upon the use of those means which God hath appointed, and which he has given us the faculties and perceptions to use aright.

The very use which the apostle makes of the figure of the "bread" in order to represent the Church's unity, shows how essential the partaking of the bread was accounted as a means of communion with Christ. He speaks of it as a thing of course, "we are all partakers of that one bread;" just as he says in another place, "we are by one spirit baptized into one body, and have been all made to drink into one spirit," referring to baptism by the spirit and drinking into one spirit as the ordinary means of communion with Christ for the one body, and as for the one body so for every several one of the members of that body.

This therefore I would hope to make some of you reflect upon; if so it be-and who shall deny it without contradicting the scripture? Are they safe; are they, that is, sustaining as they ought the spiritual life which is "eternal life" to them; are they sustaining, as they ought, the union with Christ which they profess to hold, and which they believe death of body shall not dissolve, who never partake of that one bread and drink into that one spirit, whereof cometh closest union and only perfect union with Christ? Is not their fellowship with Christ rather slackening? Is not one of the great bonds which hold them to the body of Christ wanting? Is not the sap of life going out of them? Is not their leaf withering and their fruit blighting, and though they adhere by the tenure of outward profession to the stem whereinto they were at the first grafted, will not their branch be one day cast forth as dried up and withered, and therefore fit only for the burning?

True it is, fearfully true, we are in these latter days not all partakers of that one bread. The gospel net hath enclosed good and bad: an enemy hath sown tares amongst the wheat: but what of this? Is truth less truth because some do not receive it? Is salvation less precious because some put it from them? Is damnation and its eternal torments less terrible because some, even though they be many, dread it not? Take heed to your own selves, my brethren. "Ye are the body of Christ and members in particular;" ye are so now, shall you be Christ's at His coming? Surely not, unless you strive to continue so now. And this not by choosing your own mode of continuing so, but by doing all things as you are taught, "whatsoever Christ hath commanded."

I would speak to you then, brethren, of this His command, His dying command, which St Paul's mention of "the one bread" brings to mind; I would moreover speak of it in St Paul's own words, who delivers, as he declares, that which, of course by special revelation, he received of the Lord. "That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks He brake it, and said, take eat; this is my body which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, saying, this cup is the New Testament in my blood; this do ye as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me." Here you find the command is express; and so, one would think, was the obligation, that is, if the dying command of a friend had any weight, and if that friend were our Lord and only Saviour so dying, as we read He died a ransom for us sinners. But besides the command, observe, I pray you, the promise, "this is my body;" "this is my blood." "The bread which we break is it not the communion of the body of Christ? the cup of blessing which we bless is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?" O! glorious privilege! Christ crucified brought within us! "the bread which came down from heaven" made our meat, the stream of "living water" become our drink! Shall we not all eat of that spiritual meat and drink of that spiritual drink? For, behold, "as oft as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we do shew the Lord's death, till He come," We do it, that is, "in remembrance of Him," as an act of thankful homage and acknowledgment of His love; nay more, as an act of special benefit to ourselves; we do shew that His death to our souls, we do make Christ crucified everything to us; glorying in His cross; presenting as it were before God the body and blood of the Lamb that was slain, laying upon the sacrifice of Himself our iniquities, healing us with His stripes, purging us of our uncleanness of heart, sealing to us His covenant of mercy, his testament of love. This we do as oft as we eat this bread and drink this cup. Such is the command and such is the promise of benefit. Had ever command more need to be obeyed than this? Could ever benefit be devised more adapted to the wants and infirmities of poor helpless sinners such as we find ourselves to be?

These two considerations therefore, on the one hand, the duty of obedience to the command of Christ, and on the other, the positive necessity, as concerns our salvation, of receiving the offered benefit, I would more particularly press upon you, brethren; because, I confess, I do not see how they who feel any doubt and difficulty on the subject of approach to the holy sacrament of the Lord's supper can escape from either of them. It was said by Christ, "whosoever shall break one of the least of these my commandments and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven," and this is not a "least" nor a lesser commandment, but a very great and touching and solemn commandment. Neither is it a commandment merely of general import, but a particular and pressing injunction and ordinance, as its terms shew us: "Take, eat, this is my body," "drink ye all of this, for this is my blood," "this do as oft as ye drink it in remembrance of me." Nay it would seem to be a very badge of his interest in the love of Christ, a token and pledge of the part he claims in all the benefits of that love;--yea, so much so, that the very unity of the Christian body may be defined by our all partaking of that one bread, that our common fellowship with each other may be illustrated by our being all partakers of that one bread; so surely may Christians be known by use of this distinguishing mark of their being Christ's. And it was even thus in the early Church, when "all continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship and in breaking of bread and in prayers."

Now surely the thought must come naturally to all, that Christ gave not a command only that it should be disobeyed; and on the other hand that he devised not a benefit, which should be only a snare to men's souls. This any commonly candid mind must at once feel: and therefore it is evidently worth while seeking how to escape the sin of manifest disobedience, and also how not to lose a benefit, which we dare not say we need not; for who dares say he needs not with the other members of the body to partake of that bread? Can our natural life be sustained by eating and not by drinking; by eating and drinking without exercise; by exercise without rest? Can we choose our means of sustaining it, and not be obliged to follow the order that God hath set? As little have we right to choose in what concerns our spiritual life; for that too, as I have shewn you, has its appointed modes of sustenance: so that he does not well for his soul's health who chooses to hear and read God's word and not to pray; or to pray and not to read the Bible; or to pray only in private without meeting in fellowship with the congregation; or to worship in the Christian assemblies without going to break bread at the supper of the Lord; or who rests satisfied to have been baptised by one spirit into the body of Christ, and not to drink into one spirit of the cup of salvation with all the members of the body. The Scripture has abundant warnings against this very sort of partial service, foreseeing the mind that would be in men to hear the commandment and not to do it, to use their liberty (of conscience, as it is now adays called) as a cloke for licentiousness.

Of all that has been said this, then, brethren, would seem to be the sum; and I beseech you heed it well; that whatever grace may have come down upon us in baptism, whatever success may have seemed to attend our Christian efforts since; whatever may have been the perseveringness of our prayers, our diligence in the reading of God's word, the regularity of our attendance upon the ordinary service of the congregation; if we have done all this and more, and still have failed to join ourselves to Christ by this one great means of maintaining union with Him, there is no certainty of our having any solid effectual fellowship with the Saviour, any enduring part in his love. For, "except we eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, we have no life in us." So, on the other hand, was the promise of the Saviour: "If a man love me he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him;" and of this particular act of obedience or keeping of Christ's word it is said, "he that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him," the effect of this mystical union being shewn further in these words, "he that abideth in me and I in him the same bringeth forth much fruit, for "without me," that is, separate from me, "ye can do nothing: if a man abide not in me he is cast forth as a branch and is withered."

God doubtless has His ways of providing for those whom uncontrollable circumstances and position may have cut off from access to the great means of grace, and who desire, but have not the power and the opportunity to use them; just as He sustained Moses during his forty days' sojourn in Mount Sinai, or Elijah, when in the strength of God's meat he went forty days to Horeb the Mount of God. But there is nevertheless evident danger, serious danger, to those who are continually putting from them the offered blessing; who makes excuse when God invites, who turn away when Christ entreats, who disobey when their Lord commands, who grieve by indifference the Holy Spirit as He utters His still small warnings within.

I speak not thus--for I should speak in other language to those who care not to shew or know themselves to be more than in name Christians; who care not either for what they are or what they shall be as respects their eternal salvation, because they are in the position of choosing separation from God and their Saviour Jesus Christ. But to those of you I do speak--and could I see your hearts I should doubtless find many who have a sense of responsibility, a sense of fleshly infirmity, an interest in the blessings of the gospel, a perception of the Redeemer's love, a looking forward anxious and fearful to immortality, a hope of glory, an awful consciousness of sin and imperfection, a certain earnestness and seriousness of inquiry into the things that belong unto their everlasting peace;--to such as these I speak, hopeful or not speaking in vain; and I am thus hopeful of success, not merely because I believe them capable of receiving impressions from what they hear, but rather because I know that to them there can be but one thing lacking, one great want must suggest itself; I mean the assurance confident and comfortable--not that based upon any searching or testing of their own emotions, not that discernible from any fancied impulses or longings of their own corrupt hearts--but that most comfortable assurance that having to the best of their power done what God hath commanded, they have received what God hath promised as the reward and result of obedience; that having to the letter and in the spirit kept the Saviour's words, they have earned and won the Saviour's love; that full of sin they have found pardon; that full of infirmity they have found strength; that Christ, their all in all is their Saviour; that of a truth they abide in Him and He in them. And whither shall we invite such that they may be so assured; whither shall we ministers of Christ, ambassadors for Him, as stewards of God's mysteries, bring them that they shall find life?--whither but to this most blessed and holy of mysteries, to this heavenly feast, to a partaking of these tokens and means of the Saviour's sure presence with them and in them?

Yet how shall I assure them that they eat and drink not unworthily, and so to their own damnation? Even still by divine rule and divine promise. For "let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup;" and since it is his privilege by Christian right to come, let it in this way be his care to come aright. Hath he weariness of sin? beareth ill his soul its heavy burden, and seeketh he ease and rest? even let him freely come, for Christ hath for such an one a special bidding. "Hungereth and thirsteth he after righteousness" greater than through infirmity of flesh he hath yet attained to? even let him come, "for he shall be filled," and his repentance shall be not to be repented of. Discerneth he the Lord's body in this holy sacrament? Yea, for what comes he to eat of that bread and drink of that cup if not to partake of that "flesh which is meat indeed, and that blood which is drink indeed," and which shall nourish him unto everlasting life. For what comes he but to shew the Lord's death, to set forth Christ crucified to his diseased soul, that it may be made clean by His body, and washed through His most precious blood; that it may be presented with Christ's body an accepted sacrifice to God. Hath he thankful love like His "that first loved us?" yea doth he not even come to do an act of thankfulness in remembrance of Christ, doth he not on this occasion specially remember, and that with thankfulness, Him by whose precious bloodshedding he is seeking pardon of sin? Hath he perfect charity towards all men; hath he nought of malice or bitterness, of wrath or hatred or evil speaking in his heart? Then may "the love of God dwell in him," and "God who is love" find a place in him.

So then "let a man examine himself:" not to the troubling himself with vain scruples; not to the seeking how little but how much he lacks of righteousness; not to the fearing lest damnation should come of his unworthy partaking, but of disobedience of his dying Lord's command, and lest he should suffer the loss of a neglected privilege. "Let a man examine himself," yet not to the waiting till he becomes a better man, but with a view to seek that strength, that sustaining grace which shall make him a better man; not waiting till he can withdraw himself from the troubles and harass of a worldly life, but seeking so to unite himself with Christ, that the world, the flesh, and the devil may not harm him; that he may have peace amidst the storms of a restless world, comfort in the midst of discouragement, firmness in his hour of trial, in the hour of death hope, and in the day of judgment acceptance.

Even let so come the poor and unlearned according to their simple knowledge. Pride of reason, of learning, or of worldly station helps not a man's qualifying himself, indeed too often is found to hinder it. Simplicity and singleness of heart and purpose are what the Lord looketh on. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart God will not despise." The simple faith which believes on the Lord Jesus Christ as "the way, the truth, and the life;" which craves His pardon, and depends on and desires His helping strengthening grace; the "perfect love" toward all men, "which casteth out fear;" and the thankful remembrance of Him that gave His life a ransom for many; these preparations of the heart all men can bring with them to this holy sacrament; with this wedding garment all may clothe themselves for presence at this heavenly feast. Wherefore then should they make excuse? Do they plead the awfulness of the act?--is not every act of homage to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords awful? I pray heartily they might thus think of every act of homage to Him, and demean themselves accordingly; but have they tried and found it awful? Nay rather this I promise them, the more they practice it the more they will understand it, the greater benefit and comfort will they derive from it, and the more highly will they esteem it, both as a solemnity and as a privilege: and I assert this not on the ground of mere human experience, as might be urged; but on the faith of that divine promise which saith "he that hath shall have more abundantly;" the more abundantly will Christ manifest Himself unto him.

A Christian's course is one of constant progress, because it goes on under a constant sense of infirmity and deficiency; he is to be "growing up into Him who is the Head, even Christ;" to be growing in grace and knowledge, to be striving to "perfect holiness" to be attaining to and aiming at the "measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ," his only pattern of completeness.

One word more: it is to those who hesitating to obey time after time through difficulty or scruple, yet never take steps, as the Church bids them, to have their difficulties removed and their scruples allayed. If to partake unworthily is dangerous, to disobey Christ's command is dangerous also; and therefore in either case there being danger, the course of duty is manifestly to seek as far as in you lies a means of escape. [I would particularly counsel the doubtful and wavering to read carefully and attentively the three exhortations in the Prayer Book which follow the prayer for the church militant in the communion office, in order that they may both see how earnestly the Church presses upon them alike the duty of coming frequently to holy communion, and the nature and method of the self-inquiry and instruction necessary to due preparation for a worthy partaking of the sacrament; and also at the same time testify to the care she has shown that all scruples should be allayed and all hindrances be removed.] Why should you not come and unburden your hearts to your clergyman? Why should you go on satisfied to hear him again and again, month after month, calling on his Lord's behalf, and you refuse to answer? Why, if you are in anywise in earnest about religion, do you so plainly neglect this most essential duty? Why, if you are uninformed or unlearned, do you not seek to be instructed? Why do you stand in that position of manifest inconsistency, the hearing and not doing, and not make an effort to escape from it?

The open and notorious evil liver, or he that hath done any wilful wrong to his neighbour by word or deed, the Church debars from the privilege of holy communion until assured of his having come to repentance, and made all needful restitution; and to this she admonishes him with all earnestness and solemnity. All else, however, being sinners, yet not so as to be excommunicate, are freely invited, as needing pardon and striving for repentance; all else she would instruct in the way to prepare themselves for coming rightly and profitably to this holy and comfortable sacrament, and then is content to leave the rest to God. What more could be done for you?

Hear, however, in conclusion, a passage from God's word, which on this subject speaks, I think, very plainly to you a reproof and a reproach for the neglect of this great Christian privilege:--"My well beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill; and he fenced it and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a wine press therein. And now judge I pray you 'twixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?" May God grant that the threatened curse which follows this striking passage of Scripture may not be ours, and that in chastisement upon the many careless and disobedient and lifeless members, the whole body be not "minished and brought low." May God of His mercy grant us "grace to eschew those things that are contrary to our profession, and to follow all such things as are agreeable to the same." May He grant that as "we are knit together in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord," and "being many are one bread and one body," we may be all partakers of that one bread and all drink into one spirit, and by that heavenly food may grow up into Him in all things which is the Head, even Christ. To Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit, eternal Three in One, be all glory and honor and power and dominion throughout all ages.--Amen.

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