Chapter I. Of the Nature, Excellencies, Uses and Intention of the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Section I. Of the several Apprehensions of Men concerning it.
WHEN our blessed Lord was to nail the hand-writing of ordinances to his cross, he was pleased to retain two ceremonies, baptism and the holy supper; that Christians may first wash, and then eat; first be made clean, and then eat of the supper of the Lamb: and it cannot be imagined but that this so signal and peculiar retention of two ceremonies is of great purpose and remarkable virtues. The matter is evident in the instance of baptism: and as the mystery is of the foundation of religion, so the virtue of it is inserted into our creed, and we all "believe one baptism for the remission of our sins;" and yet the action is external, the very mystery is by a ceremony, the allusion is bodily, the element is water, the minister a sinful man, and the effect is produced out of the sacrament in many persons and in many instances, as well as in it: and yet that it is effected also by it and with it, in the conjunction with due dispositions of him that is to be baptized, we are plainly taught by Christ's apostles, and the symbols of the church. [Acts ii. 38.]
But concerning the other sacrament, there are more divisions and thoughts of heart. For it is never expressly joined a word of promise: and where mention is made of it in the Gospels, it is named only as a duty and a commandment, and not as a grace or treasure of holy blessings; we are bidden to do it, but promised nothing for a reward; it is commanded to us, but we are not invited to obedience by consideration of any consequent blessing; and when we do it, so many holy things are required of us, which as they are fit to be done, even when we do not receive the blessed sacrament,--so they effect salvation to us by virtue of their proper and proportioned promises in the virtue of Christ's death, however apprehended and understood.
Upon this account, some say, that we receive nothing in the blessed eucharist, but we commemorate many blessed things, which we have received; that it is affirmed in no Scripture, that in this mystery we are to call to mind the death of Christ; but because we have it already in our mind, we must also have it in our hearts, and publish it in our confessions and sacramental representment, and therefore it is not the memory, but the commemoration of Christ's death: that as the anniversary sacrifices in the law were "a commemoration of sins every year," not a calling them to mind, but a confession of their guilt, and of our deserved punishment; so this sacrament is a representation of Christ's death by such symbolical actions as himself graciously hath appointed: but then, excepting that to do too is an act of obedience, it exercises no other virtue, it is an act of no other grace, it is the instrument of no other good: it is neither virtue nor gain, grace nor profit. And whereas it is said to confirm our faith, this also is said to be unreasonable; for this being our own work, cannot be the means of a divine grace: not naturally, because it is not of the same kind, and faith is no more the natural effect of this obedience, than chastity can be the product of Christian fortitude: not by divine appointment, because we find no such order, no promise, no intimation of any such event; and although the thing itself, indeed, shall have what reward God please to apportion to it as it is obedience, yet of itself it hath no other worthiness; it is not so much as an argument of persuasion; for the pouring forth of wine can no more prove or make faith that Christ's blood was poured forth for us, than the drinking the wine can effect this persuasion in us, that we naturally, though under a veil, drink the natural blood of Christ; which the angels gathered as it run into golden phials, and Christ multiplied to a miracle, like the loaves and fishes in the Gospel. But because nothing that naturally remains the same in all things as it was before, can do any thing that it could not do before; the bread and wine, which have np natural change, can effect none: and therefore we are not to look for an egg, where there is nothing but order,--and a blessing where is nothing but an action,--and a real effect where there is nothing but an analogy, a sacrament, a mystical representment, and something fit to signify, and many things past, but nothing that is to come. This is the sense and discourse of some persons that call for an express word, or a manifest reason, to the contrary, or else resolve that their belief shall be as unactive as the Scriptures are silent in the effects of this mystery. Only these men will allow the sacraments to be "marks of Christianity; symbols of mutual charity; testimonies of a thankful mind to God; allegorical admonitions of Christian mortification, and spiritual alimony; symbols of grace conferred before the sacrament, and rites instituted to stir up faith by way of object and representation; "that is, occasionally and morally, but neither by any divine or physical, by natural or supernatural power, by the work done, or by the divine institution. This, indeed, is something, but very much too little.
But others go as far on the other hand, and affirm, that in the blessed sacrament we receive the body and blood of Christ; we chew his flesh, we drink his blood; "For his flesh is meat indeed, his blood is drink indeed; "and this is the manna which came down from heaven; our bodies are nourished, our souls united to Christ: and the sacrament is the infallible instrument of pardon to all persons, that do not maliciously hinder it: and it produces all its effects by virtue of the sacrament itself so appointed, and that the dispositions of the communicants are only for removing obstacles and impediments, but effect nothing; the sumption of the mysteries does all in a capable subject, as in infants who do nothing, in penitents who take away what can hinder: for it is nothing but Christ himself: the body that died upon the cross, is broken in the hand of him that ministers, and by the teeth of him that communicates: and when God gives us his Son in this divine and glorious manner, with heaps of miracles to verify heaps of blessings, how shall not he with him give us all things else? They who teach this doctrine, call the holy sacrament, "The host; the unbloody sacrifice; the flesh of God; the body of Christ; God himself; the mass; the sacrament of the altar." I cannot say that this is too much, but that these things are not true; and although all that is here said, that is of any material benefit and real blessing, is true, yet the blessing is not so conferred, it is not so produced.
A third sort of Christians speak indefinitely and gloriously of this divine mystery; they speak enough, but they cannot tell what: they publish great and glorious effects, but such which they gather by similitude and analogy, such which they desire, but cannot prove; which indeed they feel, but know not whence they do derive them: they are blessings which come in company of the sacraments, but are not always to be imputed to them; they confound spiritual senses with mystical expressions, and expound mysteries to natural significations; that is, they mean well, but do not always understand that part of Christian philosophy, which explicates the secret nature of this divine sacrament. And the effect of it is this, that they sometimes put too great confidence in the mystery; and look for impresses which they find not; and are sometimes troubled that their experience does not answer to their sermons, and meet with scruples instead of comforts, and doubts instead of rest, and anxiety of mind in the place of a serene and peaceful conscience. But these men, both in their right and in their wrong, enumerate many glories of the holy sacrament, which they usually signify in these excellent appellatives, calling it, "The supper of the Lord; the bread of elect souls, and the wine of angels; the Lord's body; the new testament, and the chalice of benediction; spiritual food; the great supper; the divinest and archisymbolical feast; the banquet of the church; the celestial dinner; the spiritual, the sacred, the mystical, the formidable, the rational table; the supersubstantial bread; the bread of God; the bread of life; the Lord's mystery; the great mystery of salvation; the Lord's sacrament; the sacrament of piety; the sign of unity; the contesseration of the Christian communion; the divine grace; the divine making grace; the holy thing; the desirable; the communication of good; the perfection and consummation of a Christian; the holy particles; the gracious symbols; the holy gifts; the sacrifice of commemoration; the intellectual and mystical good; the hereditary donative of the new testament; the sacrament of the Lord's body; the sacrament of the chalice; the paschal oblation; the Christian passport; the mystery of perfection; the great oblation; the worship of God; the life of souls; the sacrament of our price and our redemption: "and some few others much to the same purposes: all which are of great and useful signification; and if the explications and consequent: "propositions were as justifiable, as the titles themselves are sober and useful, they would be apt only for edification, and to minister to the spirit of devotion. That, therefore, is to be the design of the present meditations, to represent the true, and proper, and mysterious nature of this divine nutriment of our souls; to account what are the blessings God reacheth forth to us in the mysteries, and what returns of duty he expects from all to whom he gives his most holy Son.
I shall only here add the names and appellatives which the Scripture gives to these mysteries, and place it as a part of the foundation of the following doctrines: it is, by the Spirit of God, called, "The bread that is broken; the cup of blessing; the breaking of bread; the body and blood of the Lord; the communication of his body; and the communication of his blood; the feast of charity or love; the Lord's table, and the supper of the Lord." Whatsoever is consequent to these titles we can safely own, and our faith may dwell securely,--and our devotion, like a pure flame, with these may feed, as with the spices and gums upon the altar of incense.