Chapter I. Of the Nature, Excellencies, Uses and Intention of the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Section V. Practical Conclusions from the preceding Discourses
THE first I represent in the words of St. Austin, who reduces this whole doctrine to practice in these excellent words: "Let this whole affair thus far prevail with us, that we may cat the flesh, and drink the blood of Christ, not only in the sacrament, which many evil persons do,--but let us eat and drink unto the participation of the Spirit; that, as members, we may abide in the Lord's body; that we may be quickened by his Spirit; and let us not be scandalized, because many do temporally eat and drink with us, who yet, in the end, shall find eternal torments:" that is, let us remember, that the exterior ministry is the least part of it; and externally and alone it hath in it nothing excellent, as being destitute of the sanctity that God requires, and the grace that he does promise, and it is common to wicked men and good. But when the signs and the thing signified, when the prayers of the church and the Spirit of God, the word and the meaning, the sacrament and the grace, do concur; then it is pollhV gemou dunamewV, "it is a venerable cup, and full of power," and more honourable than all our possessions; "it is a holy thing," saith Origen, "and appointed for our sanctification." For Christ in the sacrament is Christ under a veil: as without the hand of faith, we cannot take Christ, so we must be sure to look here with an eye of faith; and whatsoever glorious thing is said of the holy sacrament, it must be understood of the whole sacrament, body and spirit, that is, the sacramental and the spiritual communion.
2. Let no man be less confident in his holy faith and persuasion concerning the great blessings and glorious effects, which God designs to every faithful and obedient soul in the communication of these divine mysteries, by reason of any difference of judgment, which is in the several schools of Christians concerning the effects and consequent blessings of this sacrament. For all men speak honourable things of it, except wicked persons and the scorners of religion: and though of several persons, like the beholders of a dove walking in the sun, as they stand in several aspects and distances, some see red, and others purple, and yet some perceive nothing but green, but all allow and love the beauties: so do the several forms of Christians, according as they are instructed by their first teachers, or their own experience, conducted by their fancy and proper principles, look upon these glorious mysteries, some as virtually containing the reward of obedience, some as solemnities of thanksgiving and records of blessings, some as the objective increases of faith, others as the sacramental participations of Christ, others as the acts and instruments of natural union; yet all affirm some great things or other of it, and, by their differences, confess the immensity and the glory. For thus manna represented to every man the taste that himself did like: but it had in its own potentiality all those tastes and dispositions eminently; and altogether, those feasters could speak of great and many excellencies, and all confessed it to be enough, and to be the food of angels: so it is here, it is that to every man's faith, which his faith wisely apprehends; and though there are some who are of little faith, and such receive but a less proportion of nourishment, yet by the very use of this sacrament, the appetite will increase, and the apprehensions grow greater, and the faith will be more confident and instructed; and then we shall see more, and feel more. For this holy nutriment is not only food, but physic too; and although to him who believes great things of his physician and of his medicine, it is apt to do the more advantage; yet it will do its main work, even when we understand it not, and nothing can hinder it, but direct infidelity, or some of its foul and deformed ministers.
3. They who receive the blessed sacrament, must not suppose that the blessings of it are effected as health is by physic, or warmth by the contact and neighbourhood of fire; hut as music one way affects the soul, and witty discourses another, and joyful tidings a way differing from both the former,--so the operations of the sacrament are produced by an energy of a nature entirely differing from all things else. But however it is done, the thing that is done, is this; no grace is there improved, but what we bring along with us; no increases but what we exercise. We must bring faith along with us, and God will increase our faith; we must come with charity, and we shall go away with more; we must come with truly penitential hearts; and to him that hath, shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly: he shall be a better penitent, when he hath eaten the sacrifice that was slain for our sins,--and died in the body, that we might live in the spirit and die no more. For he is the bread from heaven; he is "the grain of wheat, which falling into the earth, unless it dies it remains alone,--but if it dies, it brings forth fruit, and brings it forth abundantly.
4. Although the words, the names, and sayings concerning the blessed sacrament, are mysterious and inexplicable, yet they do, nay, therefore we are sure, they signify, some great things; they are in the very expression beyond our understandings, and, therefore, much more are the things themselves too high for us: but, therefore, we are taught three things. 1. To walk humbly with our God; that is, in all intercourses with him to acknowledge the infinite distance between his immensity and our nothing, his wisdom and our ignorance, his secrets and our apprehensions: he does more for us than we can understand. It was an excellent saying of Aristotle, which Seneca d reports of him, "Nunquam nos verecundiores esse debere, quam quum de Diis agitur;" "we ought never to be more bashful and recollect, than when we are to speak any thing of God." "Timide de potestate deorum, et pauca dicenda sunt," said Cicero; "We must speak of his power and glory timorously and sparingly," with joyfulness and singleness,' or simplicity 'of heart:' so the first Christians ate their bread, their eucharist; so we understand the words of St. Luke.--2. To walk charitably with our disagreeing brother, that this may be indeed a sacrament of charity, and not to wonder if he be mistaken in his discourses of that, which neither he nor you can understand. 3. Though it be hard to be understood, yet we must be careful, that with simplicity we admire the secret, and accept the mystery,--but at no hand, by pride or ignorance, by interest or vanity, to wrest this mystery to ignoble senses, or to evil events, or to dangerous propositions, or to our own damnation.
5. Whatever propositions any man shall entertain in his manner of discoursing of these mysteries, let him be sure to take into his notice and memory, those great appellatives, with which the purest ages of the church, the most ancient liturgies, and the most eminent saints of God, use to adorn and invest this great mysteriousness. In the Greek liturgy attributed to St. James, the sacramental symbols are called "sanctified, honourable, precious, celestial, unspeakable, incorruptible, glorious, fearful, formidable, divine." In the use of which epithets, as we have the warranty and consent of all the Greek churches, since they ever had a liturgy,--so we are taught only to have reverend usages and religious apprehensions of the divine mysteries; but if, by any appellative, we can learn a duty, it is one of the best ways of entering into the secret. To which purpose the ages primitive and apostolical did use the word 'eucharist;' the name and the use we learn from Origen g; "the bread, which is called the eucharist, is the symbol of our thanksgiving towards God." But it is the great and most usual appellative for the holy supper; o artoV eucaristiaV, and arton eucaristhqenta, we find in Ignatius, St. Clemens, Justin Martyr, the Syrian paraphrast, Origen, and ever after amongst the Greeks, and afterwards amongst the Latins. By him we understand that then we receive great blessings, since the very mystery itself obliges us to great thankfulness. I have instanced in this, as an example to the use of the other epithets and appellatives, which from antiquity I have enumerated.
6. He that desires to enter furthest into the secrets of this mystery, and to understand more than others, can better learn by love than by inquiry'. "He that keepeth the law of the Lord, getteth the understanding thereof," saith the wise Bensirach; if he will prepare himself diligently, and carefully observe the dispensations of the Spirit, and receive it humbly, and treat it with great reverence, and dwell in the communion of saints, and pass through the mystery with great devotion and purest simplicity, and converse with the purities of the sacrament frequently, and with holy intention,--this man shall understand more by his experience, than the greatest clerks can by all their subtilties, the commentaries of the doctors, and the glosses of inquisitive men; "Obey and ye shall understand," said the prophet: and our blessed Saviour assured us', "that if we continue in his word, then we shall know the truth; and if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God or no."--"For we have not turned from our iniquities, that we might understand the truth," said Daniel:--"For the love of the Lord," saith the wise man", "passeth all things for illumination."
7. Let no man advance the preaching of the word of God, to the disparagement, or to occasion the neglect, of the sacraments. For though it be true that 'faith comes by hearing,' yet it is not intended, that, by hearing alone, faith is engendered; for the faith of the apostles came by seeing; and St. Paul's faith did not come by hearing, but by intuition and revelation; and 'hearing,' in those words of St. Paul, does not signify the manner of ministration, but the whole economy of the word of God, the whole office of preaching; which is done most usually to babes and strangers by sermon or homily, but more gloriously and illustriously to men by sacraments. But however, be it so or otherwise, yet one ordinance ought not to exclude the other, much less to disparage the other, and least of all to undervalue that which is the most eminent: but rather let every Christian man and woman think, that if the word ministered by the Spirit is so mighty, it must be more, when the word and the Spirit join with the sacrament, which is their proper significatory. He that is zealous for the word of God does well; but let him remember, that the word of God is a goodly ring, and leads us into the circles of a blessed eternity; but because the sacrament is not without the word, they are a jewel enchased in gold when they are together. The ministries of the Gospel are all of a piece; they, though in several manners, work the same salvation by the conduct of the same Spirit.
8. Let no man, in the reception of the sacrament, and in his expectation of blessings and events from it, limit his hopes and belief to any one particular; for that will occasion a littleness of faith, and may make it curious, scrupulous, and fantastical:--rather let us adore the secret of God, and with simple expectations receive it; disposing ourselves to all the effects that may come, rather with fear and indefinite apprehensions, than with dogmatical and confident limitations; for this may beget scruples and diminution of value; but that hinders nothing, but advances the reverential treatments and opinion.
9. He that guesses at the excellency and power of the sacrament, by the events that himself feels, must be sure to look for no other than what are eminently or virtually contained in it; that is, he must not expect that the sacrament will make him rich, or discover to him stolen goods, or cure the toothach, or countercharm witches, or appease a tempest, if it be thrown into the sea. These are such events that God hath not made the effects of religion, but are the hopes and expectations of vain and superstitious people. Arid I remember that pope Alexander III., in the council of Lateran, wrote to the bishop of St. Agatha for advice how to treat a woman who took the holy sacrament into her mouth, and ran with it to kiss her husband, hoping, by that means, to procure her husband's more intense affection. But the story tells, that she was chastised by a miracle, and was not cured but by a long and severe repentance.
10. He that watches for the effects and blessings of the sacrament, must look for them in no other manner than what is agreeable to the usual dispensation. We must not look for them by measures of nature and usual expectation: not that as soon as we have received the symbols, we shall have our doubts answered; or be comforted in our spirit, as soon as we have given thanks for the holy blood, or be satisfied in the inquiries of faith, as soon as the prayers of consecration and the whole ministry is ended; or prevail in our most passionate desires, as soon as we rise from our knees; for we enter into the blessings of the sacrament by prayer, and the exercise of proper graces; both which, being spiritual instruments of virtues, work after the manner of spiritual things; that is, not by any measure we have, but as God pleases; only that in the last event of things, and when they are necessary, we shall find them there: God's time is best, but we must not judge his manner by our measures, nor measure eternity by time, or the issues of the Spirit by a measuring line. The effects of the sacrament are to be expected as the effect of prayers: not one prayer, or one solemn meeting, but persevering and passionate, fervent and lasting prayers; and continual desire, and a daily address, is the way of prevailing. "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand, for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they shall be both alike good."
11. He that looks for the effects and blessings told of to be appendant to the sacrament, must expect them upon no other terms, but such as are the conditions of a worthy communion. If thou dost find thy faith as dead after the reception as it was before,--it may be, it is because thy faith was not only little, but reprovable; or thou didst not pray vehemently, or thou art indisposed by some secret disadvantage, or thou hast not done thy duty; and he shall imprudently accuse that physic for useless and unfit, that is not suffered to work by the incapacity, the ill diet, the weak stomach, or some evil accident of the patient.
12. Let no man judge of himself, or of the blessings and efficacy of the sacrament itself, or of the prosperity and acceptation of his service in this ministry,--by any sensible relish, by the gust and deliciousness, which he sometimes perceives, and other times does not perceive. For these are fine accidents, and given to some persons often,--to others, very seldom,--to all, irregularly,--as God pleases; and sometimes are the effects of natural and accidental dispositions, and sometimes are illusions. But that no man may fall into inconvenience for want of them, we are to consider, that the want of them proceeds from divers causes. 1. It may be, the palate of the soul is indisposed by listless-ness or sorrow, anxiety or weariness. 2. It may be, we are too much immerged in secular affairs and earthly affections. 3. Or we have been unthankful to God, when we have received some of these spiritual pleasures, and he, therefore, withdraws those pleasant entertainments. 4. Or, it may be, we are therefore without relish and gust, because the sacrament is too great for our weakness,--like the bright sun to a mortal eye, the object is too big for our perceptions, and our little faculties. 5. Sometimes God takes them away, lest we be lifted up and made vain. 6. Sometimes for the confirmation and exercise of our faith; that we may live by faith and not by sense. 7. Or, it may be, that by this dryness of spirit God intends to make us the more fervent and resigned in our direct and solemn devotions, by the perceiving of our wants and weakness, and in the infinite inability, and insufficiency of ourselves. 8. Or else it happens to us irremediably and inevitably, that we may perceive these accidents are not the fruits of our labour, but gifts of God, dispensed wholly by the measures of his own choice. 9. The want of just and severe dispositions to the holy sacrament may, possibly, occasion this uncomfortableness. 10. Or we do not relish the divine nutriment now, so as at other times, for want of spiritual mastication; that is, because we have not considered deeply, and meditated wisely and holily. 11. Or there is in us too much self-love, and delight in, arid adherence to, the comforts we find in other objects.
12. Or we are careless of little sins, and give too much way to the daily incursions of the smaller irregularities of our lives. If, upon the occasion of the want of these sensible comforts and delightful relishes, we examine the causes of the want, and suspect ourselves in these things, where our own faults may be the causes, and there make amends,--or if we submit ourselves in those particulars, where the causes may relate to God,--we shall do well, and receive profit. But unless our own sin be the cause of it, we are not to make any evil judgment of ourselves, by reason of any such defect; much less diminish our great value of the blessings consequent to a worthy communion.
13. But because the pardon of sins is intended to be the great effect of a worthy communion, and of this men are more solicitous, and for this they pray passionately, and labour earnestly, and almost all their lives, and it may be, in the day of their death, have uncertain souls: and, therefore, of this, men are most desirous to be satisfied, if they apprehend themselves in danger; that is, if they be convinced of their sin, and be truly penitent, although this effect seems to be least discernible, and to be a secret reserved for the publication and trumpet of the archangel at the day of doom; yet in this we can best be satisfied. For because when our sins are unpardoned, we are under the wrath of God, to be expressed as he pleases, and in the method of eternal death;--now if God intends not to pardon us, he will not bless the means of pardon; if we shall not return to his final pardon, if we shall not pass through the intermedial, if he will never give us glory, he will never give us the increase of grace. If, therefore, we repent of our sins, and pray for pardon; if we confess them and forsake them; if we fear God and love him; if we find that our desires to please him do increase, that we are more watchful against sin, and hate it more; that we are thirsty after righteousness; if we find that we increase in duty;--then we may look upon the tradition of the holy sacramental symbols as a direct consignation of pardon. Not that it is then completed; for it is a work of time; it is as long in doing as repentance is in perfecting; it is the effect of that, depending on its cause in a perpetual operation, but it is then working; and if we go on in duty, God will proceed to finish methods of his grace, and snatch us from eternal death, which we have deserved, and bring us unto glory. And this he is pleased by the sacrament, all .the way to consign: God speaks not more articulately in any voice from heaven, than in such real indications of his love and favour.
14. Lastly; Since the sacrament is the great solemnity of prayer, and imitation of Christ's intercession in heaven; let us here be both charitable and religious in our prayers; interceding for all states of men and women in the Christian church, and representing to God all the needs of ourselves and of our relatives. For then we pray with all the advantages of the Spirit, when we pray in the faith of Christ crucified, in the love of God and of our neighbour, in the advantages of solemn piety, in the communion of saints, in the imitation of Christ's intercession, and in the union with Christ himself, spiritual and sacramental; and to such prayers as these nothing can be added, but that which will certainly come,--that is, a blessed hearing, and a gracious answer.