Chapter I. Of the Nature, Excellencies, Uses and Intention of the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Section IV. The Blessings and Graces of the Holy Sacrament enumerated and proved particularly
IN the reception of the blessed sacrament, there are many blessings, which proceed from our own actions,--the conjugations of moral duties, the offices of preparation and reception, the reverence and the devotion; of which I shall give an account in the following chapters: here I am to enumerate those graces, which are intended to descend upon us from the Spirit of God in the use of the sacrament itself precisely.
But, first; I consider, that it must be infinitely certain, that great spiritual blessings are consequent to the worthy receiving of this divine sacrament: because it is not at all received but by a spiritual hand: for it is either to be understood in a carnal sense that Christ's body is there eaten, or in a spiritual sense: if in a carnal, it profits nothing; if in a spiritual lie be eaten, let the meaning of that be considered, and it will convince us that innumerable blessings are in the very reception and communion. Now what the meaning of this spiritual eating' is, I have already declared in this chapter, and shall yet more fully explicate in the sequel '. In the sacrament we do not receive Christ carnally; but we receive him spiritually: and that of itself is a conjugation of blessings and spiritual graces. The very understanding what we do, tells us also what we receive. But I descend to particulars.
1. And, first; I reckon that the sacrament is intended to increase our faith: for although it is with us in the holy sacrament, as it was with Abraham in the sacrament of circumcision:--he had the grace of faith before he was circumcised; and received the sacrament after he had the purpose and the grace; and we are to believe, before we receive these symbols of Christ's death;--yet, as by loving we love more, and by the acts of patience we increase in the spirit of mortification,--so by believing we believe more; and by publication!) of our confession we are made confident, and, by seeing the signs of what we believe, our very senses are incorporated into the article: 'and he that hath, shall have more.' And when we concorporate the sign with the signification, we conjoin the word and the spirit; and faith passes on from believing to an imaginary seeing, and from thence to a greater earnestness of believing, and we shall believe more abundantly: this increase of faith not being only a natural and proper production of the exercise of its own acts, but a blessing and an effect of the grace of God in that sacrament: it being certain, that the sacrament, being of divine institution, could not be to no purpose [for "in spiritualibus sacramentis ubi praecepit virtus, servit effectus:" "where the commandment comes from him that hath all power, the action cannot be destitute of an excellent event"]: and, therefore, that the representing of the death of Christ,--being an act of faith, and commanded by God, must needs, in the hands of God, be more effectual than it is in its own nature; that faith shall then increase not only by the way of nature, but by God blessing his own instruments, can never be denied but by them, that neither have faith nor experience. For this is the proper sense and the very exaltation of faith: the Latin church, for a long time, into the very words of consecration of the chalice, hath put words relating to this purpose: "For this is the cup of my blood of the New and Eternal Testament, the mystery of faith, which for you, and for many, shall be shed for the remission of sins." And if by faith we eat the flesh of Christ, as it is confessed by all the schools of Christians,--then it is certain, that when so manifestly and solemnly, according to the divine appointment, we publish this great confession of the death of Christ, we do, in all senses of spiritual blessing, eat the flesh, and drink the blood of Christ. And let that be expounded how we list, we are not in this world capable of, and we do not need, a greater blessing; and God may say in the words of Isaac to his son Esau, "with corn and wine have I sustained thee; and what is there left, that I can do unto thee, my son?" To eat the flesh, and to drink the blood of Christ sacramentally, is an act of faith; and every act of faith, joined with the sacrament, does grow by the nature of grace, and the measures of a blessing; and, therefore, is eating of Christ spiritually; and this reflection of acts, like circles of a glorious and eternal fire, passes on in the univocal production of its own parts, till it pass from grace to glory.
2. Of the same consideration it is, that all the graces, which we do exercise by the nature of the sacrament requiring them, or by the necessity of the commandment of preparation,--do here receive increase upon the account of the same reason; but I instance only in that of charity, of which this is, signally and by an especial remark, the sacrament; and, therefore, these holy conventions are called by St. Jude, "feasts of charity," which were Christian festivals, in which also they had the sacrament adjoined. But whether that doth effect this persuasion or no, yet the thing itself is dogmatically affirmed in St. Paul's explication of that mystery, "we are one body, because we partake of one bread;" that is, plainly, Christ is our head, and we the members of his body, and are united in this mystical union by the holy sacrament; not only because it symbolically does teach our duty, and promotes the grace of charity by a real signature, and a sensible sermon; nor yet only because it calls upon Christians by the public sermons of the Gospel, and the duties of preparation, and the usual expectations of conscience and religion; but even by the blessing of God, and the operation of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament, which (as appears plainly by the words of the apostle) is designed to this very end, to be a reconciler and an atonement in the hand of God; a band of charity, and the instrument of Christian communion: that we may be one body, because we partake of one bread; that is, we may be mystically united by the sacramental participation; and, therefore, it was not without mystery, that the congregation of all Christ's servants, his church, and this sacramental bread, are both, in Scripture, called by the same name. This bread is the body of Christ, and the church is Christ's body too; for, by the communion of this bread, all faithful people are confederated into one body, the body of our Lord. Now it is to be observed, that, although the expression is tropical f and figurative, that 'we are made one body,' because it is meant in a spiritual sense,--yet that spiritual sense means the most real event in the world: we are really joined to one common divine principle, Jesus Christ our Lord; and from him we do communicate in all the blessings of his grace, and the fruits of his passion; and we shall, if we abide in this union, be all one body of a spiritual church in heaven, there to reign with Christ for ever. Now, unless we think nothing good but what goes in at our eyes or mouth; if we think there is any thing good beyond what our senses perceive, we must conceive this to be a real and eminent benefit; and yet whatever it be, it is therefore effected upon us by this sacrament, 'because we eat of one bread.' The very repeating the words of St. Paul is a satisfaction in this inquiry; they are plain and easy; and whatever interpretation can be put upon them, it can only vary the manner of effecting the blessing, and the way of the sacramental efficacy; but it cannot evacuate the blessing, or confute the thing. Only it is to be observed in this, as in all other instances of the like nature, that the grace of God in the sacrament usually is a blessing upon our endeavours; for spiritual graces, and the blessings of sanctification, do not grow like grass, but like corn; not whether we do any husbandry or no, but if we cultivate the ground, then, by God's blessing, the fruits will spring and make the farmer rich; if we be disposed to receive the sacrament worthily, we shall receive this fruit also. Which fruit is thus expressed, saying, "This sacrament is therefore given unto us, that the body of the church of Christ in the earth may be joined, or united with our head which is in the heavens."
3. The blessed sacrament is of great efficacy for the remission of sins; not that it hath any formal efficacy, or any inherent virtue to procure pardon, but that it is the ministry of the death of Christ, and the application of his blood, which blood was shed for the remission of sins, and is the great means of impetration, and, as the schools use to speak, is the meritorious cause of it. For there are but two ways of applying the death of Christ, an internal grace, and an external ministry. Faith is the inward applicatory; and if there be any outward at all, it must be the sacraments; and both of them are of remarkable virtue in this particular; for by baptism we are baptized into the death of Christ, and the Lord's Supper is an appointed enunciation and declaration of Christ's death, and it is a sacramental participation of it. Now to partake of it sacramentally, is by a sacrament to receive it; that is, so to apply it to us, as that can be applied; it brings it to our spirit; it propounds it to our faith; it represents it as the matter of eucharist; it gives it as meat and drink to our souls; and rejoices in it, in that very formality in which it does receive it, viz. as broken for, as shed for, the remission of our sins. Now, then, what can any man suppose a sacrament to be, and what can be meant by sacramental participation? for unless the sacraments do communicate what they relate to, they are no communion or communication at all. For it is true, that our mouth eats the material signs; but, at the same time, faith eats too, and therefore must eat, that is, must partake of the thing signified; faith is not maintained by ceremonies: the body receives the body of the mystery; we eat and drink the symbols with our mouths, but faith is not corporeal, but feeds upon the mystery itself; it entertains the grace, and enters into that secret, which the Spirit of God conveys under that signature. Now, since the mystery is perfectly and openly expressed to be the remission of sins,--if the soul does the work of the soul, as the body the work of the body,--the soul receives remission of sins, as the body does the symbols of it and the sacrament.
3. (2.) But we must be infinitely careful to remember, that even the death of Christ brings no pardon to the impenitent persevering sinner, but to him that repents truly: and so does the sacrament of Christ's death; this can do no more than that: and, therefore, let no man come with his guilt about him, and in the heat, and in the affections of his sin, and hope to find his pardon by this ministry. He that thinks so, will but deceive, will but ruin himself. They are excellent, but very severe, words which God spake to the Jews, and which are a prophetical reproof of all unworthy communicants in these divine mysteries: "What hath my beloved to do in my house, seeing she hath wrought lewdness with many? The holy flesh hath passed from thee, when thou dost evil;" that is, this holy sacrifice, the flesh and blood of thy Lord, shall slip from thee without doing thee any good, if thou hast not ceased from doing evil.' But the vulgar Latin reads these words much more emphatically to our purpose: "Shall the holy flesh take from thee thy wickedness, in which thou rejoicest?" Deceive not thyself, thou hast no part nor portion in this matter. For the holy sacrament operates indeed, and consigns our pardon, but not alone; but in conjunction with all that Christ requires as conditions of pardon. But when the conditions are present, the sacrament ministers pardon, as pardon is ministered in this world, that is, by parts, and in order to several purposes, and with power of revocation, by suspending the divine wrath, by procuring more graces, by obtaining time of repentance, and powers and possibilities of working out our salvation, and by setting forward the method and economy of our salvation. For, in the usual methods of God, pardon of sins is proportionable to our repentance; which because it is all that state of piety we have in this whole life after our first sin,--pardon of sins is all that effect of grace, which is consequent to that repentance; and the worthy receiving of the holy communion is but one conjugation of holy actions and parts of repentance, but indeed it is the best and the noblest, and such in which man does but best co-operate towards pardon, and the grace of God does the most illustriously consign it. But of these particulars I shall give full account, when I shall discourse of the preparations of repentance.
4. It is the greatest solemnity of prayer, the most powerful liturgy and means of impetration, in this world. For when Christ' was consecrated on the cross, and became our high priest, having reconciled us to God by the death of the cross, he became infinitely gracious in the eyes of God, and was admitted to the celestial and eternal priesthood in heaven; where, in the virtue of the cross, he intercedes for us, and represents an eternal sacrifice in the heavens on our behalf. That he is a priest in heaven, appears in the large discourses and direct affirmatives of St. Paul. That there is no other sacrifice to be offered, but that on the cross, it is evident, because "he hath but once appeared in the end of the world to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself;" and, therefore, since it is necessary, that he hath something to offer so long as he is a priest, and there is no other sacrifice but that of himself offered upon the cross,--it follows, that Christ, in heaven, perpetually offers and represents that sacrifice to his heavenly Father, and, in virtue of that, obtains all good things for his church.
4. (2.) Now what Christ does in heaven, he hath commanded us to do on earth; that is, to represent his death, to commemorate this sacrifice, by humble prayer, and thankful record; and, by faithful manifestation and joyful eucharist, to lay it before the eyes of our heavenly Father, so ministering in his priesthood, and doing according to his commandment and his example; the church being the image of heaven; the priest, the minister of Christ; the holy table being a copy of the celestial altar; and the eternal sacrifice of the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world, being always the same; it bleeds no more after the finishing of it on the cross; but it is wonderfully represented in heaven, and graciously represented here; by Christ's action there, by his commandment here. And the event of it is plainly this,--that as Christ, in virtue of his sacrifice on the cross, intercedes for us with his Father,--so does the minister of Christ's priesthood here; that the virtue of the eternal sacrifice may be salutary and effectual to all the needs of the church, both for things temporal and eternal. And, therefore, it was not without great mystery and clear signification, that our blessed Lord was pleased to command the representation of his death and sacrifice on the cross should be made by breaking bread, and effusion of wine; to signify to us the nature and sacredness of the liturgy we are about, and that we minister in the priesthood of Christ, who is a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec; that is, we are ministers in that unchangeable priesthood, imitating, in the external ministry, the prototype Melchisedec: of whom it was said, "He brought forth bread and wine, and was the priest of the most high God;" and, in the internal, imitating the antitype, or the substance, Christ himself; who offered up his body and blood for atonement for us,--and, by the sacraments of bread and wine, and the prayers of oblation and intercession, commands us to officiate in his priesthood, in the external ministering like Melchisedec, in the internal, after the manner of Christ himself.
4. (3.) This is a great and a mysterious truth, which as it is plainly manifested in the Epistle to the Hebrews, so it is understood by the ancient and holy doctors of the church. So St. Ambrose: "Now Christ is offered, but he is offered as a man, as if he received his passion, but he offers himself as a priest, that he may pardon our sins; here, in image or representation,--there, in truth, as an advocate interceding with his Father for us."--So St. Chrysostom: "In Christ once the sacrifice was offered, which is powerful to our eternal salvation; but what then do we? do not we offer every day? what we daily offer is at the memorial of his death,--and the sacrifice is one, not many; because Christ was once offered, but this sacrifice is the example or representation of that."--And another: "Christ is not impiously slain by us, but piously sacrificed; and by this means we 'declare the Lord's death till he come;' for here through him we humbly do in earth, which he, as a Son, who is heard according to his reverence, does powerfully for us in heaven: where, as an advocate, he intercedes with his Father, whose office or work it is; for us to exhibit and interpose his flesh which he took of us, and for us,--and, as it were, to press it upon his Father." To the same sense is the meditation of St. Austin: "By this he is the priest and the oblation, the sacrament of which he would have the daily sacrifice of the church to be: which because it is the body of that head, she learns from him to offer herself to God by him, who offered himself to God for her." And, therefore, this whole office is called by St. Basil, euch proskomidhV 'the prayer of oblation,' the great Christian sacrifice and oblation in which we present our prayers and the needs of ourselves and of our brethren unto God, in virtue of the great sacrifice, Christ upon the cross,--whose memorial we then celebrate in a divine manner, by divine appointment.
4. (4.) The effect of this I represent in the words of Lyra: "That which does purge and cleanse our sins, must be celestial and spiritual; and that which is such, hath a perpetual efficacy, and needs not to be done again: but that which is daily offered in the church, is a daily commemoration of that one sacrifice, which was offered on the cross, according to the command of Christ, "Do this in commemoration of me."
4. (5.) Now this holy ministry and sacrament of this death, being according to Christ's commandment, and, in our manner, a representation of that eternal sacrifice,--an imitation of Christ's intercession in heaven in virtue of that sacrifice, must be after the pattern in the Mount: it must be as that is, 'pura prece,' as Tertullian's phrase is, 'by pure prayer;' it is an intercession for the whole church, present and absent, in the virtue of that sacrifice. I need add no more, but leave it to the meditation, to the joy and admiration of all Christian people to think and to enumerate the blessings of this sacrament, which is so excellent a representation of Christ's death, by Christ's commandment; and so glorious an imitation of that intercession, which Christ makes in heaven for us all; it is all but the representation of his death, in the way of prayer and interpellation; Christ as head, and we as members; he as High Priest, and we as servants, his ministers. And, therefore, I shall stop here, and leave the rest for wonder and eucharist: we may pray here with all the solemnity and advantages imaginable; we may, with hope and comfort, use the words of David1, "I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord." We are here very likely to prevail for all blessings, for this is, by way of eminency, glory, and singularity, 'calix benedictionis,' 'the cup of blessing,' which we bless, and by which God will bless us; and for which he is to be blessed for evermore.
5. By the means of this sacrament, our bodies are made capable of the resurrection to life and eternal glory. For when we are externally and symbolically in the sacrament, and by faith and the Spirit of God internally united to Christ, and made partakers of his body and blood, we are joined and made one with him, who did rise again; and when the head is risen, the members shall not see corruption for ever, but rise again after the pattern of our Lord. If, by the sacrament, we are really united and made one with Christ, then it shall be to us in our proportion as it was to him: we shall rise again, and we shall enter into glory. But it is certain we are united to Christ by it; we eat his body and drink his blood sacramentally by our mouths, and, therefore, really and spiritually by our spirits and by spiritual actions co-operating. For what good will it do us to partake of his body, if we do not also partake of his spirit? but certain it is, if we do one, we do both: "cum naturalis per sacramentum proprietas perfectae sacramentum sit unitatis," as St. Hilary's expression is: "the natural propriety," viz. the outward elements "by the sacrament," that is, by the institution and blessing of God, "becomes the sacrament of a perfect unity:"--which, beside all the premises, is distinctly affirmed in the words of the apostle; "we which are sanctified, and he which sanctifies, are all of one;" and again, "the bread which we break, is it not the communication of the body of Christ? and the cup which we drink, is it not the communication of the blood of Christ?" plainly saying, that, by this holy ministry, we are joined and partake of Christ's body and blood, and then we become spiritually one body, and, therefore, shall receive in our bodies all the effects of that spiritual union; the chief of which, in relation to our bodies, is resurrection from the grave. And this is expressly taught by the ancient church. So St. Irenaeus teaches us: "As the bread which grows from the earth, receiving the calling of God, that is, blessed by prayer and the word of God, is not now common bread, but the eucharist, consisting of two things, an earthly, and a heavenly; so also our bodies receiving the eucharist, are not now corruptible, but have the hope of resurrection."--And again: "When the mingled chalice and the made bread receives the word of God, viz. is consecrated and blessed,--it is made the eucharist of the body and blood of Christ out of those things, by which our body is nourished, and our substance does consist: and how shall any one deny that the flesh is capable of the gift of God, which is eternal life, which is nourished by the body and blood of Christ?" And St. Ignatius calls the blessed eucharist, aqanasiaV farmakon, 'the medicine of immortality:' for the drink is his blood, who is agaph afrartoV kai aennaoV, "incorruptible love and eternal life;"--symbola thV hmeteraV, so the fathers of the Nicene council, "the symbols of our resurrection;"--"the meat nourishing to immortality and eternal life," so St. Cyril of Alexandria;--"for this is to drink the blood of Jesus, to be partakers of the Lord's incorruptibility," said St. Clement.--"For bread is food, and blood is life, but we drink the blood of Christ,--himself commanding us, that, together with him, we may, by him, be partakers of eternal life;" so St. Cyprian.
6. Because this is a ministry of grace by bodily ceremonies, and conveys spiritual blessings by temporal ministrations,--there is something also of temporal regard directly provided for our bodies by the holy sacrament. It sometimes is a means in the hand of God for the restoring and preserving respectively of our bodily health, and secular advantages. I will not insist upon that of St. Gorgonia, who, being oppressed with a violent headach, threw herself down before the holy table, where the sacrament was placed, and prayed with passion and pertinacy, till she obtained relief and ease in that very place: nor that of St. Ambrose, who, having trod upon a gentleman's foot afflicted with the gout, in the time of ministration, gave him the holy symbols, and told him it was good for his sickness also, and that he presently found his cure. I myself knew a person of great sanctity, who was afflicted to death's door with a vomiting, and preparing herself to death by her 'viaticum,' the holy sacrament, to which she always bore a great reverence; she was infinitely desirous, and yet equally fearful, to receive it, lest by her infirmity she should reject that, which, in her spirit, she passionately longed for: but her desire was the greater passion, and prevailed; she received it, and swallowed it; and, after great and earnest reluctancy, being forced to cast it up,--in zeal, and with a new passion, took it in again, and then retained it, and from that instant speedily recovered, against the hope of her physician, and the expectation of all her friends.--God does miracles every day; and he who, with spittle and clay, cured the blind man's eyes, may well be supposed to glorify himself by the extraordinary contingencies and sacramental contacts of his own body. But that which is most famous and remarked, is, that the Austrian family do attribute the rise of their house to the present grandeur, to William, Earl of Hapsburgh, and do acknowledge it to be a reward of his piety in the venerable treatment and usage of these divine mysteries. It were easier to heap together many rare contingencies, and miraculous effects of the holy sacrament, than to find faith to believe them now-a-days; and, therefore, for this whole affair I rely upon the words of St. Paul b, affirming that 'God sent sicknesses, and sundry kinds of death, to punish the Corinthian irreverent treatment of the blessed sacrament; and, therefore, it is not to be deemed, but that life and health will be the consequent of our holy usages of it: for if by our fault it is a savour of death,--it is certain, by the blessing and intention of God, a savour of life. But of these things in particular we have no promise; and, therefore, such events as these cannot, upon this account of faith and certain expectations, be designed by us in our communions. If God please to send any of them, as sometimes he hath done, it is to promote his own glory, and our value of the blessed sacrament, the great ministry of salvation.
7. The sum of all I represent in these few words of St. Hilary. "These holy mysteries, being taken, cause that Christ shall be in us, and we in Christ." And if this be more than words, we need no farther inquiry into the particulars of blessing consequent to a worthy communion; for "if God hath given his son unto us, how shall not he, with him, give us all things else?" "Nay, all things that we need, are effected by this," said St. Clement of Alexandria, one of the most ancient fathers of the church of Christ: "Eucharistiae qui per fidem sunt participes, sanctificantur et corpore et anima." "They, who by faith are partakers of the eucharist, are sanctified both in body and in soul."
Fonte renascentes, membris et sanguine Christi
Vescimur, atque ideo templum Deitatis habemur.--.Sedul.
"How great, therefore, and how illustrious benefits" (it is the meditation of St. Eusebius Emissenus) "does the power of the divine blessing produce! you ought not to esteem it strange and impossible; for how earthly and mortal things are converted into the substance of Christ, ask thyself, who art regenerated in Christ.--Not long since, thou wast a stranger from life, a pilgrim and a wanderer from mercy, and, being inwardly dead, thou wert banished from the way of life. On a sudden, being initiated into the laws of Christ, and renewed by the ministries of salvation, thou didst pass suddenly into the body of the church, not by seeing, but by believing; and, from a son of perdition, thou hast obtained to be adopted a son of God, by a secret purity; remaining in a visible measure, thou art invisibly made greater than thyself, without any increase of quantity; thou art the same thou wert, and yet very much another person in the progression of faith; to the outward nothing is added, but the inward is wholly changed; and so a man is made the son of Christ, and Christ is formed in the mind of a man. As therefore suddenly, without any bodily perception, the former vileness being laid down, on the sudden thou hast put on a new dignity,--and this that God hath done, that he hath cured thy wounds, washed off thy stains, wiped away thy spots, is trusted to thy discerning, not thy eyes; So when thou ascendest the reverend altar to be satisfied with spiritual food,--by faith regard, honour, admire the holy body of God; touch it with thy mind; take it with the hand of thy heart, even with the draught of the whole inward man."