Chapter IV. Of Charity, Preparatory to the Blessed Sacrament.
THE second great instrument of preparation to the blessed sacrament is charity: for though this be involved in faith, as in its cause and moral principle,--yet we are to consider it in the proper effects also of it, in its exercise and operations relative to the mysteries. For they that speak distinctly, and give proprieties of employment to the two sacraments, by that which is most signal and eminent in them both respectively, call baptism 'the sacrament of faith,' and the eucharist 'the sacrament of charity;' that is, faith in baptism enters upon the work of a good life; and, in the holy eucharist, it is actually productive of that charity, which, at first was designed and undertaken.
For charity is that fire from heaven, which unless it does enkindle the sacrifice, God will never accept it for an atonement. This God declared to us by the laws given to the sons of Israel and Aaron. The sacrifice that was God's portion, was to be eaten and consumed by himself, and, therefore, to be devoured by the holy fire that came down from heaven. And this was imitated by the Persians, who worshipped the fire, and thought what the fire devoured, their God had plainly eaten. So Maximus Tyrius tells of them, that bringing their sacrifices, they were wont to say, "O fire, our Lord, eat this meat." And Pindar, in his Olympiads, tells of the Rhodians, that when they brought a sacrifice to Jupiter, and had, by chance, forgotten to bring their fire, he, accepting of their good intentions, and pitying their forgetfulness, rained down upon them a golden shower from a yellow cloud; that is, a shower of fire came and consumed their sacrifice. Now, this is the great emblem of charity: the flame consumes the feaster's sacrifice, and makes it a divine nutriment; our charity, it purifies the oblation, and makes their prayers accepted.
The tables of the Lord, like the Delian altars must not be defiled with blood and death, with anger and revenge, with wrath and indignation: and this is to be, in all senses of duty and ministration, an unbloody sacrifice. The blood of the cross was the last that was to have been shed. The laws can shed more, but nothing else. For by remembering and representing the effusion of blood, not by shedding it, our expiation is now perfected and complete: but nothing hinders it more than the spirit of war d and death; not only by the emissions of the hand, or the apertures of a wound, but by the murder of the tongue, and the cruelties of the heart, or by an unpeaceable disposition.
It was love that first made societies, and love that must continue our communions: and God, who made all things by his power, does preserve them by his love, and by union and society of parts every creature, is preserved. When a little water is spilt from a full vessel, and falls into its enemy dust, it curls itself into a drop, and so stands equally armed in every point of the circle, so dividing the forces of the enemy, that by that little union it may stand as long as it can; but if it be dissolved into flatness, it is changed into the nature and possession of the dust. War is one of God's greatest plagues; and, therefore, when God, in this holy sacrament, pours forth the greatest effusion of his love, peace in all capacities, and in all dimensions, and to all purposes, he will not endure that they should come to these love-feasts who are unkind to their brethren, quarrelsome with their neighbours, implacable to their enemies, apt to contentions, hard to be reconciled, soon angry, scarcely appeased. These are 'dogs,' and must not come within the holy place, where God, who is the 'congregating Father?,' and Christ the great Minister of peace, and the Holy Spirit of love, are present in mysterious symbols and most gracious communications.
For although it be true, that God loves us first, yet he will not continue to love us, or proceed in the methods of his kindness, unless we become like unto him in love. For by our love and charity he will pardon us, and he will comfort us, and he will judge us, and he will save us; and it can never be well with us till love, that governs heaven itself, be the prince of all our actions and our passions. 'By this we know we are translated from death to life, by our love unto our brethren:' that is the testimonial of our comfort.--'I was hungry, and ye fed me: I was hungry, and ye fed me not:' these are the tables of our final judgment.--'If ye love me, keep my commandments:' that is the measure of our obedience.--'In that ye have done kindness to one of these little ones, ye have done it unto me:' that is the installing of the saints in their thrones of glory.--'If thou bringest a gift to the altar, leave it there; go and be reconciled to thy brother:' that is the great instrument of our being accepted.--'No man can love God, and hate his brother:' that is the rule of our examination in this particular.--'This is a new commandment, that ye love one another:' there is the great precept of the Gospel.--'This is an old commandment, that ye love one another:' there is the very law of nature,--And to sum up all, 'Love is the fulfilling of the law:' that is the excellency and perfection of a man;--and there is the expectation of all reward, and the doing all our duty, and the sanctification of every action, and the spirit of life: it is the heart, and the fire, and the salt of every sacrifice; it is the crown of every communion. And all this mysterious excellency is perfectly represented by that divine exhortation made by St. Paul, "Purge out, therefore, the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
Now, concerning this grace, if we will inquire after it, in order to a worthy receiving the holy communion, we must inquire after the effects and offices of charity; and, by the good we do, or are ready to do, take an account of ourselves in this particular. The offices and general duties are three: 1. Doing good; 2. Speaking good; and, 3. Forgiving evil.