1. The blessed Communion opens such a treasure of blessings on the two sides which look towards the past or present time, (as I have considered it) as it may very well take up both all the eyes of cherubims in beholding the mysteries, and all the hands of the numerous Israelites in gathering up all the manna that it contains: yet it hath one other side or prospect more, which goes beyond the two former as much as the future blessings exceed the present, and as the glory which we hope for exceeds the small degree of grace which we possess. The blessed Communion,--which is a special instrument ordained of Christ, both to present anew (as to our use) his passion, and to convey on us the present graces which flow out of this passion,--doth therewithal assure us likewise of all the happiness to come, whereof the received graces are a hopeful earnest, and this Sacrament under this third notion, is a certain pledge.
2. Now, though what is given beforehand for earnest, and what is engaged by way of pledge, come all to one, in point of validity and obligingness; yet they quite differ many times both in their use and in their intrinsical value. Whence it comes to pass, that earnests may be allowed upon account for part of the payment which is promised; whereas pledges are recalled and taken back, as the seal and staff of Judah once were. (Gen. xxxviii.) Thus, for example, zeal, charity, and these degrees of holiness which God bestows at the use of Holy Sacraments, will remain still ours in heaven, and there make part of our happiness; whereas the Sacraments themselves shall be kept back, and shall not appear more in heaven than did the cloudy pillar in Canaan, or do now the shadows of the Law under the time of the Gospel. Certainly we shall have no need either of these sacred images of Christ, when we shall see Him face to face, or of these pledges to assure us of that glory which is to be revealed, when we shall actually possess it. But till that day, the holy Communion hath this third use, namely, of being a pledge and an assurance from the Lord, that in His good time he will crown us with everlasting happiness.
3. Our blessed Saviour pointed at it when He said to his disciples, the holy cup being in his hand, that He would drink no more of that fruit till He should drink it new in the kingdom of his Father. (Luke xxii. 18.) In the real purpose of God, his Church and Heaven go both together: that being the way that leads to this, as the Holy place to the Holiest; and both Holy place and Holiest come to this one thing, which Christ calls the kingdom of God. Let them not whom He hath invited to eat and drink at Abraham's table trouble themselves about the room where our blessed Saviour will feed them; for though it were but in this inferior part of the kingdom where this patriarch was faithful, it is a sufficient assurance that in time He will also make them sit in that other palace where this holy man is now happy; and whosoever are admitted to the dinner of the Lamb slain, (Matt. xxii. 4,) unless they be wanting to themselves, must not doubt of being ad-mitted to that wedding supper of the same Lamb, who once was dead, but now is living for ever. (Luke xiv. 16; Rev. xix. 9.)
4. The consequence and connexion that these two festivals have one with the other was most sweetly alluded to by our Saviour when He asked the disciples, who talked of sitting at his right hand in his glory, whether they could pass to it through the same baptism and the same cup, (Mark x. 37, 38); and St. Paul meant as much when he said, that by the holy Eucharist we set forth the Lord's death till he come. (1 Cor. xi. 26.) Both referring and continuing this holy mystery to the second coming of Christ, not only as to the end, where it must cease, but chiefly as to the scope that it looks to,--and to that happiness at his coming, where it must be fulfilled. And truly, since our Saviour scarce ever speaks of his own death but as a forerunner and preparative to his resurrection, and often joins in one clause, and delivers as it were with one breath, both his crucifixion and his glory, (Mark x. 34,) it is very fit, unless we put asunder these two things which Christ commonly did put together, that the Sacrament which He instituted purposely to represent the one which is already accomplished, should, at the least, cast an eye towards the other which we look for.
5. Nay, it must look and lead that way upon another and much stronger necessity. Our Saviour hath given us three kinds of life by his passion; and He promises to nourish and maintain us in every one of them, by these tokens of bread and wine, which He hath made his Sacrament. This Sacrament affords help and improvement for two, as it is said before; but there is a third more that we are not yet come to: this is that eternal life, for which this present world is too vile an element, and we ourselves as yet too vile vessels. Till we acquire by grace and pious endeavours a greater perfection, and till we grow to that stature as may fit us to bear up that weight of eternal glory, we, are neither of age to enjoy our inheritance, nor of ability to manage well that great estate, and wear those noble ornaments, that attend it: and therefore it lies hidden from us with Christ in God, and as it were under his custody. I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. (2 Tim. i. 12.) That is, by faith we deposit this great treasure in the hands of God to keep; and God, by this Sacrament, assures us and engages Himself that He will both keep it safe for us, and restore it to us whensoever we are fit for it.
6. This third use is the crown and the accomplishment of the two other; and though the Sacrament hath three faces, and looks three several ways--the past, the present, and the future; yet, as to the main end, these three aim at one and the same glory. The first use of this Sacrament is, to set out as new and fresh the great and holy sufferings which have purchased our title to everlasting happiness; the second is, both to represent the quality, and to afford us the help, of all necessary graces, (true effluxes of these sufferings,) to capacitate us towards it; and the third is to assure us, that when we are capacitated by these graces, God and His Christ will faithfully surrender to us the purchase itself, that is, eternal happiness. And these three parts put together make up the proper and true sense of these words, Take and eat, this is my body; for the consecrated bread is not said to be the Lord's body only because it represents the Lord's body, but because also, as to our present use on earth, it doth as good as exhibit it: and as to our happiness in heaven, bought with the price of this body, it is the most solemn instrument to assure our title to it.
7. Thus, the consecrated elements are no more the body and blood of Christ in that sense that pictures and maps set about rooms are commonly called kings and countries, only because they represent them; but as patents also granted by kings, or other deeds and evidences left in our houses by our ancestors, are called lands, estates, and manors, because they convey over to us most really both the title and possession of all the goods which they mention. Represent to your mind Jacob dividing among his children every parcel of his estate, and withal surrendering the titles that belong to each division;--take thou this, Joseph, this is the field which my grandfather Abraham bought of Hephron; and you, Manasseh, come you hither, this is the land which I got from the Amorite. It is most certain, that the surrendering such instruments, (although in themselves but papers or parchments,) is in very deed nothing less than giving away the very lands: and deeds and lands may very well go together under one name, since by giving, whether deeds or lands, whether patents or privileges, fathers and other benefactors do both intend and effect the same thing. If it happen sometimes among men, that right and possession take not one way; that our best titles are laid aside; and that we cannot enjoy those estates whereof either our kings or our fathers have left us most clear evidences, this falls out so by unhappy rencounters of either weakness, or injustice, or ignorance, which are not to be found in Christ. Here, then, Christ our blessed Saviour being desirous before his death, as by a deed of his last will, to settle upon his true disciples both such a measure of his grace in this life as might in part make them holy, and after this life such a fulness of all blessings as might make them eternally Happy--he delivers into their hands, by way of instrument and conveyance, the blessed Sacrament of his body and blood, (the true root and stem of all blessings,) in the same manner as to his intention, but in a surer way as to the event and effect, as kings use to bestow dignities by the bestowing of a staff or sword, and fathers pass as much as they please of their estates on their children, by giving them some few writings.
8. The true reason of all this is, because the giver is not able to transfer into his friend's hands houses and lands, because they are of an immovable nature; and therefore this must be supplied by substituting, instead of lands, some ceremonies, forms, or tokens, which may visibly pass from hand to hand, and shew, to all ends and purposes, both the intention that the one hath to pass away, and the power which the other hath to take and enjoy what is given him. Now Christ and his estate, his happiness and his glory, his eternity and his heaven, are not things that may be moved more easily than the mountains or the earth; and therefore not to be disposed of in any other real manner than great immovable estates are. Therefore the kingdom of Israel was once conferred upon David with some drops of that sacred oil which Samuel poured on his head. (1 Sam. xvi. 13.) The body and blood of Jesus Christ is, in full value, and heaven with all its fulness is, in sure title, instated on true Christians by those small portions which they receive at the blessed Communion: the minister of Christ having, as to this effect, as much power from his Master for what he acts, as any prophet or any angel ever had for what they did.
9. Hence it appears what crime it is not to discern the Lord's body. It is to do worse than Esau did, who sold his birthright for a trifle; it is to value at the same rate the anointing of a prophet and the composition of a perfumer; it is to take the Lord's body for a despicable morsel of bread; in a word, it is to perform the action of a beast, that devours but the gross and earthy matter of this Sacrament, and have nothing of a Christian or rational creature, who elevates his soul to that body which, by Christ's institution, it represents, and to the price of that body which it promises. For, since the proper essence of sacred signs or Sacraments consists not in what they are in their nature, but in what they signify by divine institution; hence it happens infallibly, that when the Sacraments are abused, the injury must needs light, not upon them in their own natural being--bread, wine, and water, which upon this account are not at all considerable,--but upon the holy mysteries, the body and blood of Christ Himself, who is the main object of their formal being, that is, their signification. And there-fore the apostle speaks most exactly when he says, that whosoever eats of this bread unworthily, doth not discern, or doth not sanctify, but uses as a common and profane thing, the very body of Jesus Christ.
10. In this profane want of discerning, it is hard to say whether the sin or the punishment be the greater. For the sin is abominable, since not the bread, but Christ himself, suffers the wrong; the bread being not here concerned at all, nor more abused by the villain that abuses the Sacrament, than is the earth, the water, or any other common matter of human bodies, by the murderer that kills a man; or than are brass and marble by the rebels who pull down their princes' statues; or than parchment, paper, and ink, by that unnatural son who tears and tramples upon the deeds and the last will of his father. Only there is this difference, that in these last instances the outrage proceeds but from the earth, the brass, the marble, the paper, and other such common matter, to the man, king, or father's persons, who should have been considered, and who alone suffer the wrong; whereas, in abusing the blessed Sacraments, the sin flies a great deal higher, namely, to the very face of Jesus Christ, for whose body and blood they stand. So that, as the Holy Communion is not exposed in the Church under the notion of bread and wine, the faithful communicants do appear there to receive Christ, and the faithless to abuse him.
11. But if this attempt is impious, the punishment that attends it is most dreadful. It is a very sad mischance when dogs or apes tear, like loose paper, all to tatters the titles and assurances of a good estate; and who would not pity that wretch who, in his mad passion, had thrown into the sea the very keys which were given him to justify the propriety of vast treasures in such houses as these keys might open? Blind villains! you cannot discern, either among these papers the original deeds of your estate; or among all these instruments the keys that might both assure and give you admittance to immense riches. Whensoever you eat of this bread and drink of this cup thus unworthily, unhappy men! you do not discern the pledges of your salvation; nay, most impious as you are, you neither discern nor will honour the body and blood of your Saviour, which would bring salvation to you. At once both impious and unhappy, men you despise and cast away from you both the Salvation and the Saviour!
Lord Jesu! who hast ordained this mystery for a Communion of thy body, for a means of advancement and proficiency in holiness, and for an infallible pledge of eternal salvation, which thou hast purchased by thy body, and which thou preparest thy people to receive by this proficiency in holiness,--now, Lord, in mercy look on me, help my unbelief, increase my faith, and order the soul of thy servant who is to take these holy things. Then, since thou thyself originally givest them, (though not immediately, but by the ministry of thy disciples [John iv. 1, 2.]) in giving them, bless them also, and bless them whilst I receive them, that they may be efficacious to settle me in the Communion of thy sufferings, which they exhibit and shew forth, to feed me with that living bread which they present, and to sanctify me for that eternal happiness which they promise. O Lord! thou knowest my simpleness, my groaning is not hid from thee; look on a poor sinner at thy table, as thou didst on him who hung by thy cross. O Lord my God! remember, me now, when thou art come into thy kingdom. [Luke xxiii. 42.] Amen.
Eternal Priest, who art gone up on high, there to receive gifts for men, fill my heart, I beseech thee, with blessings out of thy holy seat, as now thou fillest my mouth with the holy things of thy Church; and so dispose me by thy grace to eat, both spiritually and really, the flesh of that Sacrifice which thou didst offer without the gate, and which this Sacrament sets before me here in thy courts, that thence I may be admitted into that holiest sanctuary which thy Sacrifice hath opened, and which this Sacrament invites me to. This is the bread which the Lord hath prepared for his children, and which he sends me now by the hand of one of his angels. O that, in the strength of this meat, I may walk, as Elijah did, my forty days, or as Israel, any forty years, and come at last to that holy mountain, where, without the help of any bread, or the ministry of any angels, I shall see my God face to face. Eternal, and blessed, and blessing Spirit of God! bless me now, and help me to drink so worthily of this fruit of the vine, that I may drink it new in the kingdom of my Father. Amen.