Chapter I. Of the Nature, Excellencies, Uses and Intention of the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Section II. What it is, which we received in the Holy Sacrament.
It is strange, that Christians should pertinaciously insist upon carnal significations and natural effects in sacraments and mysteries, when our blessed Lord hath given us a sufficient light to conduct and secure us from such misapprehensions.--"The flesh profiteth nothing: the words which I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life; "that is, the flesh is corruption, and its senses are ministers of death: and this one word alone was perpetually sufficient for Christ's disciples.--For when, upon occasion of the gross understanding of their Master's words by the men of Capernaum, they had been once clearly taught, that the meaning of all these words was wholly spiritual; they rested there, and inquired no further: insomuch that when Christ, at the institution of the supper, affirmed of the bread and wine, 'That they were his body and his blood,' they were not at all offended, as being sufficiently before instructed in the nature of that mystery. And besides this, they saw enough to tell them, what they eat was not the natural body of their Lord: this was the body which himself did or might eat with his body: one body did eat, and the other was eaten; both of them were his body, but after a diverse manner. For the case is briefly this:
We have two lives, a natural and a spiritual; and both must have bread for their support and maintenance in proportion to their needs, and to their capacities: and as it would be an intolerable charity to give nothing but spiritual nutriment to a hungry body, and pour diagrams and wise propositions into an empty stomach; so it would be as useless and impertinent to feed the soul with wheat, or flesh, unless that were the conveyance of a spiritual delicacy.
In the holy sacrament of the eucharist, the body of Christ according to the proper signification of a human body is not at all, but in a sense differing from the proper and natural body; that is, in a sense more agreeing to sacraments; so St. Jerome expressly, "Of this sacrifice, which is wonderfully done in the commemoration of Christ, we may eat; but of that sacrifice which Christ offered on the altar, the cross,--by itself, or in its own nature, no man may eat." [In Levit. et habetur de consecrat. dist. 2. secundum se.]--"For it is his flesh, which is under the form of bread,--and his blood, which is in the form and taste of wine: for the flesh is the sacrament of flesh, and blood is the sacrament of blood: for by flesh and blood that is invisible, spiritual, intelligible,--the visible and tangible body of our Lord Jesus Christ is consigned, full of the grace of all virtues, and of divine majesty;" so St. Austin. [Habet. de Consecrat. dist. 2. Epist. ad Iren.] "For, therefore, ye are not to eat that body which you see, nor to drink that blood which my crucifiers shall pour out: it is the same, and not the same; the same invisibly, but not the same visibly. For until the world be finished, the Lord is above, it but the truth of the Lord is with us. The body in which he rose again, must be in one place, but the truth of it is every where diffused." For there is one truth of the body in the mystery, and another truth simply and without mystery. It is truly Christ's body both in the sacrament, and out of it; but in the sacrament it is not the natural truth, but the spiritual and the mystical. [Vide eund. in Johan. tract. 50.]
"And therefore it was that our blessed Saviour, to them who apprehended him to promise his natural body and blood for our meat and drink, spake of his ascension into heaven, that we might learn to look from heaven to receive the food of our souls, heavenly and spiritual nourishment;" said St. Athanasius. [In Tract. verb. Quicunque dixerit verbum in filium hominis.]--"For this is the letter, which, in the New Testament, kills him who understands not spiritually what is spoken to him, under the signification of meat and flesh, and blood and drink;" so Origen. [In Levit. c. x. hom. 7.]--"For this bread does not go into the body, (for to how many might his body suffice for meat?) but the bread of eternal life supports the substance of our spirit; and, therefore, it is not touched by the body, nor seen the eyes, but by faith it is seen and touched;" so St. Chrysostom.--"And all this whole mystery hath in it neither carnal sense nor carnal consequence;" saith St. Chrysostom.--"But to believe in Christ is to eat the bread; and, therefore, why do you prepare your teeth and stomach? Believe and you have eaten him:" they are the words of St Austin. For faith is that 'intellectual mouth,' as St. Basil calls it, which is within the man, by which he takes in nourishment.
But what need we to draw this water from the lesser cisterns? We see this truth reflected from the spring itself, the fountains of our blessed Saviour: "I am the bread of life; he that cometh unto me shall not hunger, and he that believeth on me shall not thirst:" and again, "He that eats my flesh, hath life abiding in him, and I will raise him up at the last day1." The plain consequent of which words is this, That, therefore, this eating and drinking of Christ's flesh and blood, can only be done by the ministries of life and of the Spirit, which is opposed to nature, and flesh, and death. And when we consider, that he who is not a spiritual and a holy person, does not feed upon Christ, who brings life eternal to them that feed on him,--it is apparent that our manducation must be spiritual, and, therefore, so must the food; and, consequently, it cannot be natural flesh, however altered in circumstances and visibilities, and impossible or incredible changes. For it is not in this spiritual food, as it was in manna, of which our fathers did eat, and died; but whosoever eats this divine nutriment, shall never die. The sacraments, indeed, and symbols, the exterior part and ministries, may be taken unto condemnation, but the food itself never. For an unworthy person cannot feed on this food, because here to eat Christ's flesh is to do our duty, and to be established in our title to the possession of the eternal promises. For so "Christ disposed the way of salvation, not by flesh, but by the Spirit," saith Tertullian; that is, according to his own exposition. Christ is to be desired for life, and to be devoured by hearing, to be chewed by the understanding, and to be digested by faith; and all this is the method and economy of heaven, which whosoever uses and abides in it, hath life abiding in him. He that in this world does any other way look for Christ, shall never find him; and, therefore, "if men say, Lo, here is Christ, or lo, there he is in the desert, or he is en tameioiV, in the cupboards [or pantries where bread or flesh is laid,] believe it not:" Christ's body is in heaven, and it is not upon earth: "The heavens must contain him till the time of restitution of all things;" and "so long as we are present in the body, we are absent from the Lord."
In the mean time, we can taste and see that the Lord is gracious, that he is sweet: but Christ is so to be tasted as he is to be seen, and no otherwise; but here we walk by faith, and not by sight; and here also we live by faith, and not by mere or only bread, but from that word which proceedeth out from God; that as meat is to the body, so is Christ to the soul, the food of the soul, by which the souls of the just do live. He is the bread which came down from heaven; the bread which was born at Bethlehem: the house of bread was given to us to be the food of our souls for ever.
The meaning of which mysterious and sacramental expressions, when they are reduced to easy and intelligible significations, is plainly this: By Christ we live and move, and have our spiritual being in the life of grace, and in the hopes of glory. He took our life that we might partake of his; he gave his life for us, that he might give life to us: he is the author and finisher of our faith, the beginning and perfection of our spiritual life. Every good thought we think, we have it from him; every good word we speak, we speak it by his Spirit; "for no man can say that 'Jesus is the Lord,' but by the Holy Ghost:" and all our prayers are by the aids and communications of the Spirit of Christ, 'who helpeth our infirmities,' and 'by unutterable groans,' and inexpressible representment of most passionate desires, 'maketh intercession for us.' In fine, all the principles and parts, all the actions and progressions of our spiritual life, are derivations from the Son of God, by whom we are born and nourished up to life eternal.
2. Christ being the food of our souls, he is pleased to signify this food to us by such symbols and similitudes as his present state could furnish us withal. He had nothing about him but flesh and blood, which are like to meat and drink; and, therefore, what he calls himself, saying, "I am the bread of life," he afterwards calls "his flesh and his blood," saying, "My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed;" that is, that you may perceive me to be indeed the food of your souls, see, here is meat and drink for you, my flesh and my blood; so to represent himself in a way that was nearest to our capacity, and in a more intelligible manner, not further from a mystery, but nearer to our manner of understanding; and yet so involved in figure, that it is never to be drawn nearer than a mystery, till it comes to experience, and spiritual relish and perception. But because we are not in darkness, but within the fringes and circles of a bright cloud, l«t us search as far into it as we are guided by the light of God, and where we are forbidden by the thicker part of the cloud, step back and worship.
3. For we have yet one farther degree of charity and manifestation of this mystery. The flesh of Christ is his word; the blood of Christ is his Spirit; and by believing in his word, and being assisted and conducted by his Spirit, we are nourished up to life; and so Christ is our food, so he becomes life unto our souls.
Thus St. Clemens of Alexandria and Tertullian affirm the church, in their days, to have understood this mystery, saying, "The word of God is called flesh and blood:" for so the eternal wisdom of the Father calls "to every simple soul that wanteth understanding, Come, eat of the bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled:" and that we may know what is this bread and wine, he adds, "forsake the foolish and live, and go in the way of understanding." Our life is wisdom; our food is understanding. The rabbins have an observation, that whenever mention is made in the book of the Proverbs of eating and drinking, there is meant nothing but wisdom and the law; and when the doctors, using the words of Scripture, say, "Come and eat flesh, in which there is much fatness," they would be understood to say, "Come and hear wisdom, and learn the fear of God, in which there is great nourishment and advantage to our souls." Thus 'wisdom' is called 'water,' and 'understanding' 'bread,' by the Son of Sirach; "With the bread of understanding shall she feed him, and give him the water of wisdom to drink." It is by the prophet Isaiah called "water and wine; "and the desires of righteousness are called "hunger and thirst" by our blessed Saviour, in his sermon on the mount. And in pursuance of this mysterious truth, we find that God, in his anger, threatens a "famine of hearing the words of the Lord:" when we want God's word, we die with hunger, we want that bread on which our souls do feed. It was an excellent commentary which the Jewish doctors make upon those words of the prophet, "With joy shall ye draw waters from the wells of salvation; "that is, "from the choicest or wisest of the just men," saith Rabbi Jonathan; from the chief ministers of religion, the heads of the people, and the rulers of the congregation; because they preach the word of God; they open the wells of salvation, from the fountains of our Saviour, giving drink and refreshment to all the people. Thus the prophet Jeremiah b expresses his spiritual joy, and the sense of this mystery: "Thy words were found and I did eat them, and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts: "the same with that of our blessed Saviour, "My words are spirit, and they are life, "they give life and comfort, they relish our souls, and feed them up to immortality.
As the body or flesh of Christ is his word, so the blood of Christ is his spirit in real effect and signification. For as the body without blood is a dead and lifeless trunk, so is the word of God without the Spirit, a dead and ineffective letter: and this mystery we are taught in that incomparable epistle to the Hebrews: for 'by the blood of Christ' we are sanctified; and yet that which sanctifies us in the Spirit of grace, and both these are one: for so saith the apostle; "the blood of Christ was offered up for us, for the purification of our consciences from dead works;" but this offering was made 'through the eternal Spirit;' and, therefore, lie is equally guilty, and does the same impiety, he who does "despite to the Spirit of grace, and he who accounts the blood of the covenant an unholy thing d;" for by this Spirit and by this blood we are sanctified; by 'this Spirit,' and by the 'blood of the everlasting covenant,' Jesus Christ does perfect him in every good work, so that these are the same ministry of salvation, and but one and the same economy of God. Thus St. Peter affirms, that by the 'precious blood of Christ,' we are redeemed from our vain conversation, and it is everywhere affirmed, that we are 'purified and cleansed by the blood of Christ,' and yet these are the express effects of his Spirit: for 'by the Spirit we mortify the deeds of the body,' and we 'are justified and sanctified in the name of our Lord Jesus by the Spirit of our God.' By which expressions we are taught to distinguish the natural blood of Christ from the spiritual; the blood that he gave for us, from the blood which he gives to us: that was indeed by the Spirit; but was not the same thing, but this is the Spirit of grace, and the Spirit of wisdom. And, therefore, 'as our fathers were made to drink in one spirit, when they drank of the water of the rock,' so we also partake of the Spirit when we drink of Christ's blood, which came from the spiritual rock when it was smitten: for thus according to the doctrine of St. John, 'the water, and the blood, and the Spirit, are one and the same glorious purposes.
As it was with our fathers in the beginning, so it is now with us, and so it ever shall be, world without end: for they fed upon Christ, that is, they believed in Christ, they expected his day, they lived upon his promises, they lived by faith in him: and the same meat and drink is set upon our tables: and more than all this, as Christ is the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world, so he shall be the food of our souls in heaven, where they "who are accounted worthy, shall sit down and be feasted in the eternal supper of the Lamb;" concerning which blessedness, our blessed Saviour saith, "Blessed is he that eateth bread in the kingdom of God:" for he hath appointed to his chosen ones, 'to eat and drink at his table in his kingdom:' plainly teaching us, that by eating and drinking Christ, is meant in this world to live the life of the Spirit, and in the other world it is to live the life of glory: here we feed upon duty, and there we feed upon reward: our wine is here mingled with water and with myrrh, there it is mere and unmixed: but still it is called meat and drink, and still is meant grace and glory, the fruits of the Spirit and the joy of the Spirit; that is, by Christ we here live a spiritual life, and hereafter shall live a life eternal.
Thus are sensible things the sacrament and representation of the spiritual and eternal, and spiritual things are the fulfillings of the sensible. But the consequent of these things is this: that since Christ always was, is, and shall be, the food of the faithful, and is that bread which came down from heaven: since we eat him here and shall eat him there, our eating both here mid there is spiritual: only the word of teaching shall be changed into the word of glorification, and our faith into charity, and, all the way, our souls live a new life by Christ, of which eating and drinking is the symbol and the sacrament. And tin's is not done to make this mystery obscure, but intelligible and easy. For so the pains of hell are expressed by fire, which to our flesh is most painful,--and the joys of God by that which brings us greatest pleasure, by meat and drink,--and the growth in grace, by the natural instruments of nutrition,--and the work of the soul, by the ministries of the body,--and the graces of God, by the blessings of nature: for these we know, and we know nothing else; and but by fantasms and ideas of what we see and feel, we understand nothing at all.
Now this is so far from being a diminution of the glorious mystery of our communion, that the changing all into spirituality is the greatest increase of blessing in the world: and when he gives us his body and his blood, he does not fill our stomachs with good things: for of whatsoever goes in thither, it is affirmed by the apostle, that "God will destroy both it and them," but our hearts are to be replenished, and by receiving his Spirit we receive the best thing that God gives: not his lifeless body, but his flesh with life in it; that is, his doctrine and his Spirit to imprint it, so to beget a living faith, and a lively hope, that we may live, and live for ever.
4. St. John, having thus explicated this mystery in general of our eating the flesh, and drinking the blood of Christ, added nothing in particular concerning any sacraments, these being but particular instances of the general mystery and communion with Christ. But what is the advantage we receive by the sacraments, besides that which we get by the other and distinct ministries of faith, I thus account in general.
The word and the Spirit are the flesh and the blood of Christ, that is the ground of all. Now, because there are two great sermons of the Gospel, which are the sum total and abbreviature of the whole word of God, the great messages of the word incarnate, Christ was pleased to invest these two words with two sacraments, and assist those two sacraments, as he did the whole word of God, with the presence of his Spirit, that in them we might do more signally and solemnly what was in the ordinary ministrations done plainly and without extraordinary regards.
"Believe and repent," is the word in baptism, and there solemnly consigned: and here it is that by faith we feed on Christ: for faith, as it is opposed to works, that is the new covenant of faith as it is opposed to the old covenant of works, is the covenant of repentance: repentance is expressly included in the new covenant, but was not in the old: but by faith in Christ we are admitted to the pardon of our sins, if we repent and forsake them utterly. Now this is the word of faith; and this is that which is called the flesh or body of Christ, for this is that which the soul feeds on, this is that by which the just do live: and when, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, the waters are reformed to a divine nature or efficacy, the baptized are made clean, they are sanctified and presented pure and spotless unto God. This mystery, St. Austin rightly understood when he affirmed, that "We are made partakers of the body and blood of Christ, when we are in baptism incorporated into his body;" "we are baptized in the passion of our Lord:" so Tertullian, to the same sense with that of St. Paul, "we are buried with him by baptism into his death:" that is, by baptism are conveyed to us all the effects of Christ's death; the flesh and blood of Christ crucified are, in baptism, reached to us by the hand of God, by his holy Spirit, and received by the hand of man, the ministry of a holy faith. So that it can, without difficulty, be understood that as in receiving the word, and the Spirit illuminating us in our first conversion, we do truly feed on the flesh and drink the blood of Christ, who is the bread that came down from heaven; so we do it also, and do it much more in baptism, because in this, besides all that was before, there was superadded a rite of God's appointment. The difference is only this, that out of the sacrament, the Spirit operates with the word in the ministry of man: in baptism the Spirit operates with the word in the ministry of God. For here God is the preacher, the sacrament is God's sign, and by it he ministers life to us by the flesh and blood of his Son, that is by the death of Christ into which we are baptized.
And in the same divine method the word and the Spirit are ministered to us in the sacrament of the Lord's supper. For as in baptism, so here also there is a word proper to the ministry. "So often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye declare the Lord's death till he come." This, indeed, is a word of comfort. 'Christ died for our sins;' that is, our repentance which was consigned in baptism, shall be to purpose; we shall be washed white and clean in the blood of the sacrificed Lamb ''. This is 'verbum visibile,' the same word read to the eye and to the ear. Here the word of God is made our food, in a manner so near to our understanding, that our tongues and palates feel the metaphor and the sacramental signification: here faith is in triumph and exaltation: but as in all the other ministries evangelical, we eat Christ by faith, here we have faith also by eating Christ: thus eating and drinking is faith; it is faith in mystery, and faith in ceremony: it is faith in act, and faith in habit: it is exercised, and it is advanced: and, therefore, it is certain that here we eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ, with much eminency and advantage.
The sum is this. Christ's body, his flesh and his blood, are, therefore, called our meat and our drink, because by his incarnation and manifestation in the flesh he became life unto us: so that it is mysterious, indeed, in the expression, but very proper and intelligible in the event, to say that we eat his flesh and drink his blood, since by these it is that we have and preserve life. But because what Christ began in his incarnation, he finished in his body on the cross, and all the whole progression of mysteries in his body, was still an operatory of life and spiritual being to us,--the sacrament of the Lord's supper being a commemoration and exhibition of this death, which was the consummation of our redemption by his body and blood, does contain in it a visible word, the word in symbol and visibility, and special manifestation. Consonant to which doctrine, the fathers, by an elegant expression, call the blessed sacrament, 'the extension of the incarnation.'
So that here are two things highly to be remarked.
1. That by whatsoever way Christ is taken out of the sacrament, by the same he is taken in the sacrament: and by some ways here, more than there.
2. That the eating and drinking the consecrated symbols is but the body and lesser part of the sacrament: the life and the spirit is believing greatly, and doing all the actions of that believing, direct and consequent. So that there are in this two manducations, the sacramental, and the spiritual: that does but declare and exercise this; and of the sacramental manducation,--as it is alone, as it is a ceremony, as it: does only consign or express the internal,--it is true to affirm, that it is only an act of obedience; but all the blessings and conjugations of joy, which come to a worthy communicant, proceed from that spiritual eating of Christ, which, as it is done out of the sacrament very well, so in it and with it, much better. For here being, as in baptism, a double significatory of the spirit, a word, and a sign of his own appointment, it is certain he will join in this ministration. Here we have bread and drink, flesh and blood, the word and the spirit, Christ in all his effects, and most gracious communications.
This is the general account of the nature and purpose of this great mystery. Christians are spiritual men, faith is their mouth, and wisdom is their food, and believing is manducation, and Christ is their life, and truth is the air they breathe, and their bread is the word of God, and God's Spirit is their drink, and righteousness is their robe, and God's laws are their light, and the apostles are their salt, and Christ is to them all in all, for we must put on Christ, and we must eat Christ, and we must drink Christ: we must have him within us, and we must be in him: he is our vine, and we are his branches: he is a door, and by him we must enter: he is our shepherd, and we his sheep: 'Deus meus et omnia:' 'he is our God, and he is all things to us:' that is, plainly, he is our Redeemer, and he is our Lord: he is our Saviour and our teacher: by his word and by his Spirit he brings us to God, and to felicities eternal, and that is the sum of all. For greater things than these we can neither receive nor expect: but these things are not consequent to the reception of the natural body of Christ, which is now in heaven; but of his word and of his Spirit, which are, therefore, indeed his body and his blood, because by these we feed on him to life eternal. Now these are, indeed, conveyed to us by the several ministries of the Gospel, but especially in the sacraments, where the word is preached and consigned, and the Spirit is the teacher, and the feeder, and makes the table full, and the cup to overflow with blessing.