Chapter II. Of our General Preparation to the Worthy Reception of the Blessed Sacrament,
and the Participation of the Mysteries.
EVERY one that comes to the holy sacrament, must have earnest affections and desires towards God and religion, and particularly towards these divine mysteries; and, therefore, he must examine accordingly, whether or no he be willing and passionately desirous to do all his duty. His saying that he is so, I do not suppose to be a sufficient satisfaction to a serious inquiry, unless he really feels himself to be so. For we find that all men pretend that they have earnest desires to be saved; and very many, espying the beauties of wisdom, the brightness of chastity, the health of temperance, the peace of meek persons, and the reputation and joy of the charitable,--wish that they were such excellent persons. But they consider not, that it is the splendour, not the virtue; the reputation, not the usefulness; the reward, and not the duty,--that they are in love withal. Our desires of holiness are too often like our desires of being cut of the stone, or suffering caustics or cupping-glasses, an unwilling willingness, a hard and a fatal necessity, and, therefore, something of a consequent choice; since it can be no better, it must be no worse. But this can never make our duty pleasant; we can never be heartily reconciled for the things of God as long as we feel smart and pain in the ministries of religion: we suffer religion, and endure the laws of God; but we love them not. He that comes to God, whether lie will or no, confesses the greatness of God and the demonstrations of religion, but sees no amability and comeliness in it; and shall find as little of the reward.
It is true that force and fear may bring us in to God; and "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;" and Christ said, "Compel them to enter; "and our natural deeds, or our superinduced calamities, may force us to run to God, and affright us into religion as into a sanctuary. But then if we enter at this door, we must examine whether we be taken with the beauties of the interior house: does fear make us look, and does looking make us like? If holy desires and love be not in the beginning or the progression, we shall do the work of grace pitifully, and our preparations coldly, and our attentions distractedly, and receive the sacraments without effect.
Now concerning our desires, we shall best judge of them by the proper effects and significations of desire.
Signs and Indications of the Sincerity and Heartiness of our Desires.
Are his affections warm and earnest, inquisitive and longing, interested and concerned in the things of God? I do not say it is necessary that he find those passions and degrees of fierceness, which passionate persons find in sensual objects: but yet it is very fit that we inquire concerning those degrees and excesses of desire. Not that he is unfit, who finds them not; but that they who have them, can also receive comfort in their inquiry, and become examples to others, and invite them forwards by the argument of amability which they feel.
But our passions and desires are so to be inquired of, that we find no rest in our souls concerning this question, unless we do, indeed, set a high value upon these mysteries; and love to partake of them, and desire them reasonably, and, without very great cause, not to admit the opportunities which the church gives and requires us to use, and to exceed the lowest measure of the law; for he that only communicates when he is commanded, communicates in obedience, but not in love. For though obedience to God is love, yet our obedience to man is most commonly fear; at least we cannot so well be sure that we are passionate enough, and have love enough to these mysteries, when the law of men, that is, when something 'without,' is our measure. For ecclesiastical laws have necessity most commonly for their limit; and that is the least of all holy measures, less than their determination we cannot go and be innocent. But if \ve will make judgment concerning our love and our desires, we must frequent these holy mysteries by the measures and suggestion of something that is within: if it be love, it will have no measures but itself; and nothing can give it limits but the circumstances of things themselves, and the possibilities of our persons and affairs.
2. Besides this coming upon necessity, our desires are very much to be suspected, if compliance and custom or reputation be the ingredients, and prevail above any better motive that can be observed. As force makes hypocrites, so favour and secular advantages make flatterers in religion; and when a prince or ruler, a master of a family, or any one that hath power to oblige, is heartily religious, religion will quickly be in fashion. Those persons which come upon such inducements, are, by our blessed Saviour, signified by the parable of the corn, that fell by the highway; they presently receive it with joy; and it springs quickly if the sun shines: but when persecution comes, they hang the head, and slack their pace, and appear seldom, and show that they had no depth of root. These men serve God, when religion is rich and prosperous; they come to Christ for the loaves, but care but little for the mystery. As long as the religion stays at this port, it is good for nothing; and the very entry itself is suspicious. Fear is better than this; bvit if it pass on to create an effective and material love, it will be well at last.
3. They that are easily diverted from communicating, and apt to be excused from the solemnity,--these men have just cause to suspect their desires to be too cold to kindle the fires upon this altar, and to consume this sacrifice; they have not love, and come against their will. Some men are hindered by every thing; if a stranger come to the house,--if they be indisposed with a little hcadach,--if they have an affair of the world,--if a neighbour be angry with them,--if a merry meeting be appointed the day before;--this is a suspicious indifferency and lukewarmness. They that are not desirous to use all opportunities and to take all advantages, and long for all the benefits,--want very much of that 'hunger and thirst after the righteousness' of God, which is fulfilled in those mysteries, and to which Christ hath promised such ample satisfaction. I do not say, that every man is bound to communicate every time that he can hare it,--and that it is lukewarmness not to desire it so often as it is in our power;--but he that refuses it, when it is in his opportunity, when his circumstances are fitted, when, by the measures of piety and religion, it is decent and useful to him to doit (of which I shall afterwards give an account),--that man is guilty of a criminal indifference; and when he does come, may fear that he hath not spiritual hunger enough for so divine a banquet.
4. They that, in their preparation, take the least measures that are practised or allowed, and rest there and increase not,--have neither value for the sacrament, nor desires of the blessing, nor expectations of any fruit; and, therefore, cannot have this holy appetite in due proportion, because they see no sufficient moving cause, and they look for little, and find less, and, therefore, can never be true desirers.--For he that thinks there is no great matter in it, will have no great stomach for it; and he that will do no great matter for it, certainly expects no great excellency in it; and such are all they that take the least, measures of preparation; who, therefore, shall find the least measures of blessing, and, in spiritual things, that which is called positively the least, is just none at all; he that 'shall be called least in the kingdom,' shall be quite shut out. This is an indifferency, both in the cause and in the effect; they feel no great blessings consequent to their reception; and, therefore, their affections are cold: and because they are so. they shall for ever be without the blessing.
5. They only can be confident, that their desires are right, who feel sharpnesses and zeal in their acts of love. For, in spiritual things, every abatement is by the mixture of the contrary, and, therefore, when things are indifferent, we cannot tell which shall be accepted or accounted of. And when there is as much evil as good, the evil is only abated, but the good destroyed, and is not accepted; and, therefore, till the victory be clear and evident, we cannot have much comfort; but the strong desire is only certain and comfortable to the spirit. Great desires are a great pain: and the spouse, in the Canticles, complains that she is 'sick of love,' and then calls upon Christ to 'comfort her with flagons' of wine. Less desires than the greatest, if they be real and effective of the work, are fit for such persons as are not the greatest in religion. But iu all spiritual progressions we are sure that our desires shall never cease growing, till they be full of God, and are swelled up to immensity; and till they come to some greatness, that they are like hunger and thirst, or like the breasts of a fruitful nurse, full and in pain till they be eased, we cannot be so confident that things are well with us in this particular. Are we in trouble, till we converse with our Lord in all the ways of spiritual intercourse? Do we rejoice, when a communion-day conies? And is our joy fixed upon consideration of that holy necessity of doing good works at that time especially, and receiving the aids of grace, and the helps of the sacrament liberally. When it is thus, it is well; that we can be sure of: all measures of desire which are so little, that we can compare them to no natural similitude of earnestness and appetite, we can only say that they are yet very uncomfortable; and if we come often and pray that we may have lively relish and appetite to the mysteries, it may be well in time; but as yet, we cannot be sure that it is so.
There is only in this case one help to our examination and our confidence:--he that comes because God commands him, in a direct and certain obedience to the words of Christ, or in a deep sorrow for his sins, coming either in hopes of remedy, or in a great apprehension of his infirmity, addressing himself either for support and strength; this man, although he feels no sensual punctures and natural sharpnesses of desire, yet he comes well, and upon a right principle. For St. Austin, reckoning what predisposition is necessary by way of preparation to the holy sacrament, reckons "hunger and the sense of our sins and our infirmities;" but if he wants the pleasure of these passionate indications, he must be careful that he be sure in the intellectual and religious choice; for that is the thing which is intended to be signified by all the exterior passions. But when he hath no sign, he must be the more careful he have the thing signified, and then all is right again.
But happy is that soul, which comes to these spring's of salvation, as 'the hart to the water-brooks,' panting and thirsty, longing and passionate, weary of sin, and hating vanity, and reaching out the heart and hands to Christ. And this we are taught by the same mystery represented under other sacraments; the waters of the spiritual rock of which our fathers drank in the wilderness; the rock was Christ, and those waters were his blood in the sacrament: and with the same appetite they drank those sacramental waters withal, we are to receive these divine mysteries evangelical.
Now let us, by the aids of memory and fancy, consider the children of Israel in the wilderness, in a barren and dry land where no water was, marching in dust and fire, not wet with the dew of heaven, wholly without moisture, save only what dropped from their own brows: the air was fire, and the vermin was fire: the flying serpents were of the same cognation with the firmament,---their sting was a flame, their venom was a fever, and the fever a calenture: and their whole state of abode and travel was a little image of the day of judgment, when the elements shall melt with fervent heat. These men, like salamanders, walking in fire, dry with heat, and scorched with thirst, and mode yet more thirsty by calling upon God for water; suppose, I say, these thirsty souls hearing Moses to promise that he will smite the rock, and that a river should break forth from thence, observe how presently they ran to the foot of the springing stone, thrusting forth their heads and tongues to meet the water, impatient of delay, crying out that 'the water did not move like light, all at once:'--and then suppose the pleasure of their drink, the unsatiableness of their desire, the immensity of their appetite; they took in as much as they could, and they desired much more. This was their sacrament of the same mystery, and this was their manner of receiving it; and this teaches us to come to the same Christ with the same desires. For if that water was a type of our sacrament, or a sacrament of the same secret blessing, then that thirst is a signification of our duty, that we come to receive Christ in all the ways of reception with longing appetites, preferring him before all the interests of the world; as birds do corn above jewels,--or hungry men, meat before long orations.
For it is worth observing, that, there being in the Old Testament thirteen types and umbrages of this holy sacrament, eleven of them are of meat and drink: such are, 1. The tree of life in the midst of Paradise; 2. The bread and wine of Melchisedec; 3. The fine meal that Sarah kneaded for the angels' entertainment; 4. The manna; 5. The roasted paschal lamb; 6. The springing- rock; 7. The bread of proposition to be eaten by the priests; 8. The barley-cake in the host of Midian; 9. Samson's father's oblation upon the rock; 10. The honey-comb that opened the eyes of Jonathan; 11. And the bread which the angel brought to Elijah, in the strength of which he was to live forty days. All this is to show, that the sacrament is the life of the spiritual man, and the food of his soul, the light of his eyes, and the strength of his heart; and not only all this, and very much more of this nature, but to represent our duty also, and the great principle of preparation: meat is the object, and hunger is the address. The wine is the wine of angels; but if you desire it not, what should you do with it? for the wine that is not to satisfy your need, can do nothing but first minister to vanity, and then to vice; first to wantonness, and then to drunkenness.
St. Austin, expressing the affections of his mother Monicha, to the blessed sacrament, says, "That her soul was, by the ligatures of faith, united so firmly to the sacrifice, which is dispensed in the Lord's Supper, that a lion or a dragon could not drag her away from thence;" and it was said of St. Catharine, "That she went to the sacraments as a sucking infant to his mother's breasts;" and this similitude St. Chrysostom expresses elegantly; "See you not with what pretty earnestness and alacrity infants snatch their nurse's breast? How they thrust their lips into the flesh, like the sting of a bee. Let ns approach to this table with no less desire, and, with no less, suck the nipple of the holy chalice; yet with greater desire let us suck the grace of the Holy Spirit." And it is reported that our blessed Lord taught St. Mechtildis, "When you are to receive the holy communion, desire and wish to the praise of my name to have all desire and all love, that ever was kindled in any heart towards me, and so come to me; for so will I inflame, and so will I accept thy love, not as it is, but as thou desirest it should be in thee."
"Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden," saith Christ; that is, they that groan under the burden of their sins, and feel the load of their infirmities, and desire pardon .and remedy; they that love the instruments of graces as they are channels of salvation; they that come to the sacrament out of earnest desires to receive the blessings of Christ's death, and of his intercession;--these are the welcome guests; for so saith God, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it:" for "he hath filled the hungry with good things," said the holy virgin mother; for Christ is food and refreshment to none else: for 'the full he hath sent empty away.'
If, therefore, you understand your danger, and deeply resent the evil of your infirmities and sinful state; if you confess yourselves miserable, and have all corresponding apprehensions; if you long for remedy, and would have it upon any terms; if you be hungry at your very heart, and would fain have food and physic, health and spiritual advantages; if you understand what you need, and desire what you understand; if these desires be as great as they are reasonable, and as lasting as they are great; if they be as inquisitive as they are lasting, and as operative as they are inquisitive; that is, if they be just and reasonable pursuances of the means of grace; if they carry you by fresh and active appetites to the communion, and, that this may be to purpose, if they fix you upon such methods as will make the communion effect that, which God designed, and which we need,--then we shall perceive the blessings and fruits of our holy desires; according to those words of David (as it is rendered in the vulgar Latin), "The Lord hath heard the desire of the poor; and his ear hath hearkened to the preparation of their heart." An earnest desire is a good preparation, and God will attend unto it. Concerning this, therefore, we are first to examine ourselves. Upon the account of our earnest desires, it is seasonable to inquire whether to communicate frequently, be an instance of that holy desire, which we ought to iiave to these sacred mysteries? and whether all men be bound to communicate frequently, and what measure is the safest and best in this inquiry? But because the answer to this depends upon some other propositions of differing matter, I reserve it to its proper placell, where it will be a consequent of those propositions.