1. The blessed Communion was chiefly instituted by the Son of God, for a Sacrament in the Church; but when it is received by the Christian people, if this receiving of their's be right, it must needs be attended with the addition of such other performances as will make it also a Sacrifice. As it is a Sacrament, this great mystery shews three faces, looking directly towards three times, and offering to all worthy receivers three sorts of incomparable blessings,--that of representing the true efficacy of Christ's sufferings, which are past, whereof it is a memorial; that of exhibiting the first fruits of these sufferings in real and present graces, whereof it is a moral conveyance and communication; and that of assuring men of all other graces and glories to come, whereof it is an infallible pledge.
2. As this Sacrament looks back, it is an authentic memorial, which our Saviour hath left in his Church, of what he was pleased to suffer for her. For though these sufferings of his were both so dreadful and holy as to make the heavens mourn, the earth quake, and all men tremble; yet, because great objects, how terrible and magnificent soever they be whilst they last, are, not less than the smallest things, apt to be forgotten when they are gone,--and so there was small likelihood that the passion of Jesus Christ, which was not seen upon the cross above the space of some few hours, could be well preserved in the memory of men throughout all ages,--therefore our Saviour was pleased at his last supper to ordain this Sacrament as a holy memorial, representation, and image, of what he was about to suffer for that short time, to save his dear Church for ever. So that when Christian posterity, which had not seen the crucifixion of their Saviour, like the young Israelites that had not seen the killing of the first Passover, should come to ask after the signification of those things, this bread, this wine,--the breaking of the one, the pouring out of the other, and the participation of both, this sacred mystery might expose to faithful beholders, as a present and constant object, both the martyrdom and the Sacrifice of this crucified Saviour, giving up his flesh, shedding his blood, and pouring out his very soul, for the expiation of their sins.
3. Therefore, as in the feasts of the Passover, the late Jews could say, This is the Lamb, these are the herbs, and this is the bread of affliction, which our fathers did eat in Egypt; because their latter feasts did so effectually represent the former, that the people who did partake of those had ground enough both to act and to speak as if they had been present at this. So at our holy Communion, which succeeds the Passover, and is undoubtedly no less a blessed and powerful Sacrament to set before our eyes Christ our Passover,, who is sacrificed for us. (1 Cor. v. 7.) Our Saviour, says St. Augustin, doubted not to say, this is my body, when he gave to his disciples the figure of his body; because, especially, besides the commemoration, this Sacrament, duly given and faithfully received, makes the thing which it represents as really present for our use, and as really powerful in order to our salvation, as if the thing, itself were newly done, or in doing, Eating this bread, and drinking of this cup, you set forth the death of the Lord. (1 Cor. xi. 26.)
4. For certainly, not to mistake the meaning of Christ, nor to injure his mystery, whensoever, with the primitive Church, we call it a memorial, or a figure, great care must be taken lest we confound these venerable representatations, which God himself hath set up in his Church, and for his Church, with those empty figures and marks which either some old tradition or some private fancy may by chance have put in our way. Men of ordinary understanding do not regard with the same eye the arms and images of princes, which public authority hath set up in a public eminent place, and which a painter, to please his fancy, hath fixed in a private room. Without all doubt, a wise traveller would be much more moved at the sight of the salt pillar, (if it did stand yet where it did,) which God hath set up purposely, where Lot's wife looked towards Sodom, than at some prints of her feet, (if they were to be seen yet,) when she turned some other way. And if we credit the history, that cross which the first Christian emperor is reported once to have seen in the air, (which, undoubtedly, the hand of God, or an angel, had made appear, with some design,) could not but cause a greater respect than that ordinary sign of the cross which Christians have used on common occasions. Add, what nobody can deny, that all sorts of signs and monuments become more or less venerable according to the greater or lesser worth of the objects which they are made to represent. It had been hard for Abraham, or for any devout patriarch, not to feel some motions of reverence and holy fear when they did chance to pass again by Mamre or by Morijah, or such other remarkable places where God had appeared to them; and who doubts but the very sight of Bethlehem, of the Mount of Olives, of Calvary, &c., which Christ honoured with his presence when He was born, when He suffered, and when He went up to heaven, did heat the primitive Christians with considerable flames of zeal, besides that usual faith and knowledge which they had got by their reading? But when these signs and monuments, besides their ordinary use, bear withal, as it were, on their face the glorious character of their institution from above, and with this institution the most express design that God hath thereby to revive, in a manner, and to expose as full to all our senses, his passion and sufferings, as if they had still their true being (as they have still the same virtue,)--a discreet and pious beholder must needs look on these ordinances with these three degrees of devotion.
5. The first is, when he considers those great and dreadful passages which this Sacrament sets before him. I do observe on this altar somewhat very like the Sacrifice and passion of my Saviour. For thus the bread of life was broken, thus the Lamb of God was slain, thus his most precious blood was shed. And when I look upon the minister, who, by special order from God his master, distributes this bread and this wine, I conceive that thus verily God Himself hath both given once his Son to die, and gives still the virtue of his death to bless and to save every soul that comes unfeignedly to Him.
6. The second is an act of adoration and reverence, when he looks upon that good hand that hath consecrated for the use of the Church the memorial of these great things. I cannot, without some degree of devotion, look on any object that in any wise puts me in mind of the sufferings of my Saviour; and if I did perceive but any cloud somewhat like them, although it were but casual, I would not neglect the accident that had caused that resemblance. But since the good hand of my God hath purposely contrived it thus, to set before me what I see; and since, by his special appointment, these representatives are brought in hither for this Church, and, among all the rest, for me, I must mind what Israel did when the cloud filled the Tabernacle,--I will not fail to worship God, as soon as I perceive these Sacraments and Gospel clouds appearing in the Sanctuary. Here I worship neither Sacrament nor Tabernacle, but I will observe the manner that Moses, David, and all Israel, have taught me to receive poor elements with, after the, institution of God hath once raised them to the estate of great mysteries. Neither the Ark nor any clouds were ever adored in Israel, though some brutish heathens sometimes thought so: but sure it is, the Ark was considered quite otherwise than a chest, and the cloud than a vapour, as soon as God had hallowed them both to be the signs of his presence. Therefore, as the former people did never see the Temple or the cloud, but that presently at that sight they used to throw themselves on their faces,--I will never behold these better and surer Sacraments of the glorious mercies of God, but as soon as I see them used in the Church to that holy purpose that Christ hath consecrated them to, I will not fail both to remember my Saviour who consecrated these Sacraments, and to worship also my Saviour whom these Sacraments do represent. And God forbid that when I am able, I should not receive them, as my Saviour Himself was pleased to receive his own baptism, with devotion and prayer. (Luke iii. 21.)
7. The third, which is the crown and the completing of the two others, is such a vigorous and intense act of faith as may correspond to the great end which our Saviour aimed at when He instituted this Sacrament. The main intention of Christ was not here to propose a bare image of his passion once suffered, in order to a bare remembrance; but, over and above, to enrich this memorial with such an effectual and real presence of continuing atonement and strength, as may both evidently set forth Christ Himself crucified before our eyes, (Gal. iii. 1,) and invite us to his sacrifice, not as done and gone many years since, but, as to expiating grace and mercy, still lasting, still new, still the same that it was when it was first offered for us.
8. All those Sacrifices under the Law, which had both their use and their strength limited, some to a year, some to a month, some to a day, were not less powerful at the last than they were at the first moment of their proper duration; and they who lived or died within the twelfth month of the year, after the, feast of propitiations, had as much benefit from that anniversary Sacrifice as they who were upon the place, and at the very day when the High Priest did offer it. Upon the like, but infinitely better reason, the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ being appointed by God the Father for a propitiation that should continue throughout all ages, to the world's end; and withal being everlasting by the privilege of its own order--which is an unchangeable priesthood, (Heb. vii. 24,) and by his worth who offered it--that is the blessed Son of God, and by the power of the Spirit by whom it was offered--which is the Eternal Spirit, (Heb. ix. 14); all kinds of eternity thus concurring together to the Sacrifice upon the cross, it must in all respects stand everlasting and eternal, and the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. (Heb. xiii. 8.)
9. Therefore, this Sacrifice being such, the holy Communion is ordained of Christ to set it out to us as such, that is, as effectual now, at this holy table, as it was then at the very cross: and by the same proportion, the act of worthy receivers (besides remembrance and worship) must needs be this; first, to elevate their faith, and stretch their very souls up to the Mount, with the blessed Virgin, who stood nearest the Sacrifice, or, at the least, with the disciples, who looked on it at some distance; and then look up to the victim, to Jesus, the everlasting Mediator of the everlasting covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaks yet, and craves for better things (pardon and blessing) than Abel's did. (Heb. xii. 24.) Here, faith must be as true a subsistence of those things past, which we believe, as it is of those other things yet to come, which we hope for. (Heb..xi. 1.)
10. At the approach, therefore, of this great mystery, and by the help of this strong faith, the worthy Communicant being prostrated at the Lord's table, as at the very foot of his cross, shall, with earnest sorrow, confess and lament all his sins, which were the nails and spears that pierced our Saviour. We ourselves most chiefly, not Pilate, nor the Jews, (for he would not have died for such alone), we have crucified that Just One. Men and brethren, what shall we do? (Acts ii. 37.) He shall fall amazed at that stroke of Divine Justice, that, being offended but by men, could not be satisfied nor appeased but by the sufferings and death of God. How dreadful is this place! how deep and holy is this mystery!--Then he will fall again to worshipping, not less amazed at, than thankful for, those inconceivable mercies of God the Father, who, so gave up his only Son, and for the mercies of God the Son, who thus gave Himself up for us.
11. My Lord and my God! I behold here in this bread, made of a substance that was cut down, beaten, ground, and bruised by men, all the heavy blows, and plagues and pains, which my Saviour did suffer from the hands of his murderers; I behold in this bread, dried up, and baked, and burnt at the fire, the fiery wrath also which he suffered for me from above, and from the hand of his own Father. My God, my God, why hast thou thus forsaken Him? the violence of wicked men first hath made Him a martyr; then the fire of heaven hath made Him a burnt Sacrifice; and under both these sufferings, lo, He is become to me the bread of life!
Let us then go, to take and eat it. For though the instruments that bruised Him be broken to pieces, and the direful flames that burned Him be quite put out, yet this bread, which is the body of the Lord, continues new. The spears and swords that slew, and the burnings that completed the Sacrifice, are, many years since, scattered and spent; but the strength and sweet smell of the oblation is still fragrant, the blood still warm, the wounds still fresh, and the Lamb still standing as slain. [Rev. v. 6.] Any other bread by duration will alter, and any other Sacrifice will lose its strength; but thou, most eternal victim, offered up to God through the Eternal Spirit, by an everlasting Priest; and by an order which can never be changed, thou remainest always the same: and as thy years shall never fail, they shall never lose nor abate any thing of thy saving strength and mercy; help, O help me also, that they abate nothing of my faith! Help me to grieve for the sense of my sins, and for that of thy pains, as those good souls did who saw thee suffer. [Luke xxiii. 27.] Let not my heart burn with less zeal to follow and serve thee now, when this bread is broken at this table, than did the hearts of thy disciples, when thou didst break it in Emmaus. [Luke xxiv. 32.] O Rock of Israel! Rock of Salvation, Rock struck and cleft for me, let those two streams of blood and water which once gushed out of thy side, [John xix. 34.] when the curse of the Law and the rod of Moses had opened it, bring down with them salvation and holiness into my soul, though far distant from the mountain where thou dielst receive that deadly blow. And let not my soul less thirst after them at this distance, than if I stood upon Horeb, whence sprung this water, and near the very cleft of that rock, the very wounds of my Saviour, whence gushed out this sacred blood. All the distance of times and countries, how great soever, which is between Adam and me, doth not keep his sin or his punishment any more from pursuing and reaching me, than if I had been born in his house: and notwithstanding this distance, we sin and die after his image, as if we were immediately sprung from his loins. Second Adam, Adam descended powerfully from above, let thy blood reach as far, and come as freely both to save and to sanctify, as the blood of my first father did both to destroy and defile me.--Blessed Jesu, who revivest by this Sacrament the memory of thy Sacrifice, quicken and strengthen my faith also, dispose my mind, prepare my heart, and then bless this thine ordinance. If I but touch (in that manner I ought to do) the hem of his garment, the garment of his passion, virtue will proceed out of him; it shall be done according to my faith, and my poor soul shall be made whole. Amen.