1. Hitherto we have considered this holy Sacrament, first, as a standing memorial of that passion wherein Christ Jesus once offered himself up to God as a Sacrifice; and, secondly, as a sign of that nutritive and corroborative grace (the true efflux of that Sacrifice), by which sign He daily offers Himself to us under the notion of meat. For his flesh is meat indeed, and his blood is drink indeed. (John vi. 55.) And I ingenuously confess, that the most general use of the blessed Communion runs upon these two notions, and that these two main resemblances between the bread and Christ's body, which qualify the consecrated bread (and the consecrated wine in the same manner) to bear the character of a Sacrament, do likewise sufficiently qualify it to bear another honour which it enjoys, of being called the Lord's body. However, it is most certain, that when the fathers call it so (which Christ Himself taught them to do), they justify both his and their speech upon the account of resemblance, and of this commerce (most usual between representations and objects represented) of interchanging their own names. (Read the 23d Epistle of St. Austin. ad Bonif.)
2. So, for example, in the prophetic visions and dreams, which most commonly were nothing else than extemporary Sacraments of things then revealed by God; those are most constantly said to be these: The seven ears of corn are seven years, by the interpretation of Joseph. (Genesis xli. 26.) The seven stars are seven angels, in the Revelation of St. John, i. 20. The sower is the Son of Man, the tares are the wicked, the harvest is the end of the world, in the parable of Jesus Christ. (Matt. xiii. 3739.) If, by chance, we meet with pictures that represent the tabernacle or the ornaments of Aaron; we usually say, pointing at some of these figures, "This is the outward court, this is the sanctuary, here is the brazen altar, and there you see the plate of pure gold that none was allowed to wear except the High Priest of Israel;" just as, walking in the palaces and galleries of great persons, we 'say, without thinking to speak improperly, that we have seen the twelve Sibyls, the twelve Caesars, the Temple of Ephesus, &c.; that is, the representations of all these. Now it is certain, that no visions nor images have ever been more intended for this end of representing than the true Sacraments have been; therefore it were most unreasonable to think that these sacred images should want that privilege which all other (although casual and profane) are allowed to have, viz. to take the name of their objects. Nay, since the paschal lamb, the circumcision, and the baptism, have it, (for ore is called the passover, the other the covenant, and the other the burial of Christ,) why should the holy Communion be without it? Besides, it is not conceivable that Christ, who had yet in his hands that paschal bread which was called by the Jews the bread of affliction which their fathers did eat in Egypt, because it was the memorial of it, may not be understood after the same manner, when, a moment after, he calls it his body.
3. Nevertheless, although the literal and immediate sense of these words, this is my body, comes to no more, as Tertullian and St. Augustin, with many more, have in express terms declared it, and as all ancient liturgies must needs understand it,--whensoever they call the Eucharist type, image, or figure, for the proper and immediate use of images is to represent things.--If they chance also to have them in themselves, or to convey them over to others, it is upon another account, as being vessels or utensils, &c. which office is extrinsical to Sacraments;--nevertheless, I say, the end of the blessed Communion, the exigency and pious desire of communicants, and the strength of other places of Scripture, require a great deal more in the Eucharist than a mere memorial or representation.
4.--1. The proper end of the holy Communion,--which is to make us partakers of Christ in another manner and degree, when with faith and repentance we take and taste those holy mysteries, than when with the like dispositions we do hear the holy Gospel. 2. The exigency and honest desire of communicants,--who seek no more for a bare representation or remembrance of Christ crucified at this holy table, than Mary and other devout women did for winding--sheets or napkins about his grave. I want and seek my Saviour Himself, and I watch for all the opportunities of coming to his Sacrament, for the same purpose that once made St. Peter and St. John run so fast to his sepulchre,--because I hope to find Him there. 3. Lastly, the full sense and importance of other places in Scripture,--which allow the holy Communion a much greater virtue than is that of representing only. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the Communion of the blood of Christ? (1 Cor. x. 16.) For whether the word which we render Communion, be taken in an active sense, as it is often for communication,--the holy Eucharist is a means of communicating the blood of Christ; or though we take it but in a neuter and intransitive sense, yet the holy Eucharist will be still a mystery, wherein, one way or other, true Christians shall find, not a commemoration or representation only, but a communion also with the blood so represented and remembered.
5. The real efficacy which the holy Communion hath to convey grace and blessing on the true Christian receiver, is evidently demonstrated by the opposite efficacy it hath to convey a curse and destruction on the profane. Whosoever (says St. Paul) eats of this bread unworthily, eats damnation to himself. Now certainly this would be as much to think unworthily as to eat unworthily of this holy bread, to think it might be really pernicious when it is abused, but not really blissful and saving in its right use; and that this bread which we eat of should be an effectual communion to procure death, but merely Sacramental only to shew, and not to procure salvation. St. Paul sets out the character of the unworthy communicant, by not discerning the Lord's body, and thereby declares him guilty of the very body and blood of Christ. That is to say, that whosoever offers to abuse this Sacrament plunges himself into their crime who have abused Christ Himself; and that that villain goes hand in hand with Judas, with Pilate, with both Jews and Romans, who murdered him. What, therefore, can be thought of those good souls who approach to this Sacrament with faith, humility, and a trembling reverence, but that they will return home as much justified and full of grace after their devout, as the other shall full loaded with damnation after their impious usage; and that God will be as merciful in reckoning those among the righteous Mary, Joseph, Nicodemus, as He is just against these, when upon this account He shuts up their souls with the sinners, that in very deed crucified Him. And God forbid that the body of Christ, who came to save, not destroy, should not diffuse as much of its savour of life for the life and salvation of devout souls, as it doth of its savour of death for the death of the impious. (2 Cor. ii. 16.)
6. The manner of this real communication and conveyance is the great unfathomable mystery which the holy fathers have ever admired, and which, therefore, we neither need nor do take upon us to explain. The shepherds think themselves happy with the message brought to them by an angel. This day is born to you a Saviour (Luke ii. 11), though they know nothing of the way of his most miraculous birth; and the honest Israelites ought not to receive manna less thankfully (as they do not less effectually) though they know neither of what matter nor by what means, the heavens, the air, or the clouds, can thus every morning shed about their tents this strange meat. I must not wonder if the ways of the Lord be unknown to me in his miracles, since they are so very often in his most ordinary works; and if David, though a prophet, cannot think upon that natural virtue which makes bones and veins every day out of that seed that is apparently nothing like to all these parts of man's body, but he cries out, I am fearfully and wonderfully made! (Psalm cxxxix. 14),--who am I, to pretend to a clear understanding of that hidden and incomprehensible wisdom wherewith God is pleased to make out of water, or wine, or bread (in themselves weak elements), strong and supernatural organs for men's souls and salvation?
7. It is true indeed, that bread, wine, and water, can, without much ado, come up so high as to become a Sacrament to signify, since the act of signifying depends merely on institution. Yet this institution, such as may make a Sacrament, must needs proceed both from a divine and almighty origin. Divine, I say, to give a sacred character; and almighty withal, to justify and maintain it. For example,--after the flood, no man or angel had authority to make of the rainbow a mystery that should signify the world's preservation from drowning; and if either men or angels had taken on them that liberty, none of them had the power to make it true; that is, to make it a standing infallible evidence that the world shall never perish by water. So, in the Church, neither apostles nor bishops have any more right to confer, either upon the water of baptism, or upon the bread and wine of the holy Communion, a Sacramental or representative office, than they have power to make good their representation by conferring the blessings promised by it. And it is specially to this purpose that most of the expressions and epiphonemas of the holy doctors are to be understood, when they stand sometimes amazed at the infinite power of God, either in the institution or the use of these mysteries: God alone being able to raise water or blood, or any thing else, to the order of Sacraments. But to raise them a step higher, that is, to the dignity of standing for true means and instruments, which may convey to us those graces, which by their proper institution, they represent; there is the finger of God indeed, and there is a fitter matter for men's admiration than men's knowledge.
8. Here, then, I come to God's altar with a full persuasion that these words, This is my body, promise me more than a figure; that this holy banquet is not a representation made of outward shows without substance; and that it is not so dangerous a mystery, but that the religious use of it may convey to me, (at the least) as many, and as great blessings, as the profane abuse of it may throw on the abuser, plagues and curses. But how these mysteries become in my behalf the supernatural instruments of such blessings, it is enough for me to admire. One thing I know (as said the blind man after he had received his sight, St. John ix. 15), He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed and do see. He hath blessed and given me this bread, and my soul received comfort. I verily believe that clay hath nothing in itself that could have wrought such a miracle as Israel never saw the like; and I know as much of this bread, that it is not such a jewel as may contain in its substance, or impart from itself to others, grace, holiness, and salvation, which is the juice and the substance of Christ's body. Only I am perfectly satisfied, that it is the constant way of God to produce his greatest works at the presence (though not by the virtue) of the most useless instruments. At the very stroke of a rod, He parted once in two the Red Sea. At the blowing some trumpets, He tumbled down massy, strong walls. At some few washings in Jordan, He cured Naaman of a plague which naturally was incurable; and as soon as but a shadow did pass by, or some oil was dropped down, or some clothes were touched, presently virtue went out, not of rods, or trumpets, or shade, or clothes, but of Himself. Virtue, says He, is gone out of me,--and thus he cured the sick, &c. Since, then, He hath instituted and adopted unto Himself the Sacraments of the Gospel as the representatives of his sacred body and blood: why may he not take the same course for the dispensing of his mercies at the use of his ordinances? and why should not his very body pour out effusions of life, as well when we take in his Sacraments, as when others did touch his clothes, which surely had less privilege ?
9. Under the Law, the right hand of the Lord had the pre-eminence, the right hand of the Lord brought these mighty things to pass, either when the Red Sea opened a way for Israel, or when the rock of Horeb poured rivers to refresh them. Now under the Gospel, it is Christ Himself, with his body and blood once offered to God upon the cross, and ever since standing before Him in heaven as the Lamb slain (Rev. v. 6), who fills his Church continually with the propitiations and perfumes of his Sacrifice, when, after the receiving of the holy Sacrament, faithful communicants return home richer than they came, with the first fruits of salvation. For baptismal water, and consecrated bread and wine, can contribute no more to it than the rod of Moses or the oil of the apostles did, which was no more than their motion and their presence. But yet, since these simple motions and inconsiderable presences are so closely attended by Christ's institution and working, that He is pleased to attribute to them the blessing wrought out by Himself, [1 Peter iii. 21. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us.] (1 Peter iii. 21); O my God, whensoever thou wilt bid me go and wash in Jordan, or be baptised and wash away my sins, I will doubt no more to be made clean, either of my leprosy or of my sins, than if I had been bathed in thy blood; and whensoever thou wilt be pleased to say unto me, go, take and eat this bread which I have blessed, and which now I have given thee, I will doubt no more of being fed with the true bread of life, than if I were eating thy very flesh.
10. In this manner, faithful communicants eat as effectually of the body of Jesus Christ by receiving its strength and virtue, as the saints eat of the tree of life (Rev. xxii. 2), because they eat the fruit of that tree; or Israel did drink of the rock (1 Cor. x. 4), because they did drink of the stream that flowed from it. Once my Saviour could say, that somebody had touched him, though they had touched but his clothes, because a woman had reached both her faith and her hand so near as to be healed by the divine warmth and virtue that proceeded then out of him, as if she had touched his very flesh. The truth is, we really touch, have, or enjoy, the thing itself, when we are within that distance where we may enjoy its virtue. So the Church was clothed with the sun (Revelation xii. 1), because she had all about her its brightness; and by the holy baptism we are said to put on Christ (Galat. iii. 27), because we then receive the robes of his righteousness, and that which was typified by that garment which God made of skins (which implies the death of victims) to cover Adam's nakedness.
11. This victim having been offered up both in the fulness of time and in the midst of the habitable world, which properly is Christ's great temple, and thence being carried up to heaven, which is his proper sanctuary, thence He spreads all about us salvation, as the burnt-offering did its smoke, as the golden altar did its perfumes, and as the burning candlestick its lights. And thus Christ's body and blood have every where, but especially at the holy Communion, a most true and real presence. When He offered himself upon earth, the vapour of his atonement went up and darkened the very sun; and by rending the great veil, it clearly shewed He had made a way into heaven. Now since He is gone up to heaven, thence He sends down on earth the graces that spring continually both from his everlasting Sacrifice, and from the continual intercessions which attend it. So that it is in vain to say, who will go up into heaven? since, without either ascending or descending, this sacred body of Jesus fills with atonement and blessing the remotest parts of this temple.
12. Of these blessings, Christ from above is pleased to dispense sometimes more, sometimes less, into these inferior courts of the people, either according to the several degrees of their faith, or according to the several ways and times which He hath appointed to them for presenting themselves nearer to Him. All worshippers do not come to Him with the same faith, nor have all seasons and ways (though approved and appointed by Him) the same or equal privilege; and his ordinances in the Church, as well as his stars in heaven, differ in glory one from another. Fasting, prayer, hearing of the word, public and private services, and all like holy duties, are all very good vessels to draw water from this well of salvation; but yet they are not all equal. The blessed Communion must exceed as much in blessings when well used, as it exceeds in danger of a curse when it is not. In all places, says God, where I record my name, I will come to thee and bless thee. (Exod: xx. 24.) But in those places and ordinances which He hath in an especial manner set out to record his passion, and to renew the sacrifice of his body, He will certainly come with such a fulness of blessings as attend this sacred body, which is the proper seat of blessings; the bread which we do break being the Communion of his body, just as the eating of the unleavened loaves was (out of Jerusalem) the Communion to the Passover, which was the type of Christ crucified:--Christ our Passover, says the apostle, is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast, &c.--(1 Cor. v. 7, 8.)
13. Our life in general is the time of this festival, and the blessed Communion is the bread and wine of the banquet. Therefore, as they of Israel, who, for some lawful impediment, could not eat the lamb in Jerusalem, nor durst, because of the Law, sacrifice and eat it at home, had nevertheless the benefit both of the Passover and other holy things of the Temple, by virtue of private feastings, which they were allowed to keep with unleavened bread and bitter herbs in the country; our eucharistical eating supplies now this very office, and derives on worthy communicants, as far as their salvation is concerned, the virtue of Christ's Sacrifice, in as large and saving a manner as if they were present at his altar, and at the hour of his passion. The Lord bless thee out of his holy seat. For then it was the kindness of the Lord towards his first people (as certainly He hath no less mercy for the second) virtually to diffuse the propitiation and strength of holy things from his palace into their tents, and to bless them both inherently with all the graces, and imputatively with all the right, which could be conferred on them, whose fault it is not if they cannot either eat the Passover nearer the Temple, or wait upon Christ at his cross.
14. Thus this great and holy mystery extends and communicates the death of the Lord, both as offering Himself to God, and as giving Himself to men. As He offered himself to God, it enters me both into that mysterial body which is reputed as dead with Christ, and into their society, privilege, and communion, for whom He was pleased to die; it sets me among the precious stones of Aaron's ephod (Exod. xxviii.), close to the breast, and on the very shoulders of that eternal Priest, whilst He offers up Himself and intercedes for his spiritual Israel; and by this means it conveys to me the communion of his sufferings, (Philip. iii. 10), whence will infallibly proceed another communion in all his graces and glories. Under the second notion, as He offers Himself to men, the holy Eucharist is, after the Sacrifice for sin, the true festival and Sacrifice of peace-offerings, and the table purposely set up to receive those mercies that are sent down from the altar. Take and eat; this is my body which was broken for you; and this is the blood which was shed for you.
15. Here then I wait at the Lord's table, that both shews me what an apostle, who had heaven for his school, had the greatest mind to see and learn, and offers me the richest gift that a saint can receive on earth--the Lord Jesus crucified.
Amen, Jesu, my Lord and my God, give me all this which thou shewest, and grant withal that I may both devoutly take and faithfully keep what thou art pleased to give. Bless this thine own ordinance, and make it, of a true sign, an effectual means of thy grace; then bless and sanctify my heart also, and make it a fit temple for thy mercies. Certainly thou wilt deal with me in these thy mysteries, O God of truth, according to thy faithfulness; but dispose also my heart so towards the right using of them, that I may safely wish it may be done according to my faith. O Father which art in heaven, here I offer up to thee my soul, and thou offerest to me thy Son. The oblation which I make is, alas! an unclean habitation to receive the Holy One of Israel; and a tent infected with leprosy, therein to lodge the saint of the Lord. Come in, nevertheless--come in, high and eternal Priest, but wash thy house at thy coming. Let no ill savour of the grave, no more than that of Lazarus, keep thee so far from the sepulchre, and from the vile condition. wherein I lie, but that thy power with thy voice, and thy blood with thy Sacrament, may reach to me to raise me up; and let none of those uncleannesses that, after the law of Moses, did defile them who came too near, keep off the great saint of the Lord from touching and healing me. Evil spirits enter sometimes into swept houses, to make them foul; [Matt. iii. 43, 44, 45.] but, O holy and hallowing Spirit of God, draw nigh unto my soul, which of itself is foul already, to make it clean. I am a poor sinful, and, unless thou help, a lost person; but yet, such as I am, sinful and lost, I wait for thy salvation. Come in, O Lord, with thy salvation to a dying man, to make him whole; to a sinner tied hand and foot with the bonds of iniquity, to release him; to one who confesses his sins, to absolve him. Finally, come in my Saviour, as thou didst to the publican, both to make me better, and to save me. O let this day salvation come to this house! Amen.