Chapter V. Of Repentance, Preparatory to the Blessed Sacrament. Section II. The Necessity of Repentance in order to the Holy Sacrament.
1. THE holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper does not produce its intended effect upon an unprepared subject. He that gives his body to that which is against the spirit, and his spirit to the affections of the body,--cannot receive the body of Christ in a spiritual manner. He that receives Christ must in great truth be a servant of Christ. "It is not lawful," saith Justin Martyr, "for any one to receive the holy eucharistical bread, and to drink of the sacred chalice, but to him that believes, and to him that lives according to Christ's commandment." For as St. Paul argues of the infinite indecency of fornication, because it is a making the members of Christ to become the members of a harlot,--upon the same account, it is infinitely impossible, that any such polluted persons should become the members of Christ, to the intents of blessing and the spirit. How can Christ's body be communicated to them, who are one flesh with a harlot? and so it is in all other sins: "We cannot partake of the Lord's table, and the table of devils." A wicked person, and a communicant, are of contrary interests, of differing relations, designed to divers ends, fitted with other dispositions: they work not by the same principles, are not weighed in the same balance, nor meted by like measures; and, therefore, they that come, must be innocent, or return to innocence: that is, they must repent, or be such persons as need no repentance. And St. Ambrose gives this account of the practice of the church in this affair: "This is the order of this mystery, which is every where observed; that first, by the pardon of our sins our souls be healed, and the wounds cured with the medicine of repentance; and then that our souls be plentifully nourished by this holy sacrament." And to this purpose he expounds the parable of the prodigal son, saying, "That no man ought to come to this sacrament, unless he have the wedding-ring, and the wedding-garment;" unless he have received the seal of the Spirit, and is clothed with white garments, the righteousness and justification of the saints. And to the same purpose it is, that St. Cyprian complains of some in his church, who not having repented, not being put under discipline by the bishop and the clergy, yet had the sacrament ministered to them; against whom he presses the severe words of St. Paul, "He that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks damnation to himself;" that is, he that repents not of his sins, before he comes to the holy sacrament, comes before he is prepared, and therefore before he should. And St. Basils hath a whole chapter on purpose to prove, "that it is not safe for any man, that is not purged from all pollution of flesh and spirit, to eat the body of the Lord:" and that is the title of the chapter. The wicked think to appease God with rivers of oil and hecatombs of oxen, and with flocks of sheep: they think, by the ceremony and the gift, to make peace with God; to get pardon for their sin, and to make way for more: but they lose their labour (says the comedy) and throw away their cost, because God accepts no breakers of their vows; he loves no man's sacrifice, that docs not truly love his service?. What if you empty all the Maevanian valleys, and drive the fat lambs in flocks unto the altars? What if you sacrifice a herd of white bulls from Clitumnus? One sacrifice of a troubled spirit, one offering of a broken heart, is a better oblation, than all the wealth which the fields of the wicked can produce. "God, by the forms and rites of sacrifice, teaches us how to come to the altars, whether for prayer or eucharist; we must be sure to bring no evil passion, no spiritual disease along with us," saith Philo. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is the Christian sacrifice; and though the Lamb of God is represented in a pure oblation, yet we must bring something of our own: our lusts must be crucified, our passions brought in fetters, bound in chains, and laid down at the foot of the throne of God. We must use our sin, as the ass's first colt was to be used among the Jews; there is no redeeming of it, but only by the breaking of its neck; and when a sinner comes to God groaning under his load, carrying the dead body of his lusts, and laying them before the altar of God, saying, "This is my pride, that almost ruined me: here is the corpse of my lusts, they are now dead: and as carcases are more heavy than living bodies, so now my sin feels more ponderous, because it is mortified: I now feel the intolerable burden, and I cannot bear it." When a sinner makes this address to God, coming with a penitential soul, with a holy sorrow, and with holy purposes, then no oblation shall be more pleasing, no guest more welcome, no sacrifice more accepted. The sacrament is like the word of God; if you receive it worthily, it will do you good; if unworthily, it will be your death and your destruction. Here the penitent can be cleansed, and here the impenitent are consumed: here they that are justified, shall be justified still; and they that are unholy, become more unholy and accursed: here they that have, shall have more abundantly; and they that have not, shall lose what they have already; here the living are made strong and happy, and the dead do die again.
"He that giveth honour to a fool," saith Solomon, is like him, that bindeth a stone in a sling:" so we read it: but so, it is not easy to tell the meaning. The vulgar Latin reads it, "As he that throws a stone into the heap of Mercury, so is he that giveth honour to a fool;" and so the proverb is easy. For the Gentiles did of old worship Mercury, by throwing stones at him: now giving honour to a fool, is like throwing a stone at Mercury; that is, a strange and unreasonable act: for as the throwing of stones is against all natural and reasonable way of worship and religion, and is against the way of honour; so is a fool as strange and unfit a person to receive it. But when Rabbi Manasses threw stones at Mercury, in contempt and defiance of the image and the false god, he was questioned for idolatry, and paid his liberty in exchange for his outward worship of what he secretly hated; but by his external act he was brought to judgment, and condemned for his hypocrisy. This is the case of every one, that, in a state of sin, comes to the holy sacrament; he comes to receive the bread of God, and throws a stone at him; he pretends worship, and secretly hates him; and no man must come hither, but all that is within him, and all that is without, must be symbolical to the nature and holiness of the mysteries, to the designs and purposes of God. In short, the full sense of all this is expressed in the canon law, in a few words: "A sacrament is not to be given but to him that repents:" for there must no sinful habit, or impure affection, remain in that tabernacle, where God means to place his holy Spirit. It is like bringing of a swine into the propitiatory; such a presence cannot stand with the presence of the Lord. It is Dagon before the ark; the schechinah, the glory of the Lord, will depart from that unhallowed place.
But because the duty of repentance, as it is a particular grace, is limited and affirmative, and therefore is determinable by proper relations and accidents, and there is a special necessity of repentance before the receiving of the sacrament; we must inquire more particularly:
1. What actions or parts of repentance are necessary iii our preparation to the receiving these divine mysteries?
2. How far a penitent must be advanced in a good life, before he may come safely; and how far, before he may come with confidence?
3. What significations of repentance are to be accepted by the church?
4. Whether in case the duty be not performed, may every minister of the sacrament refuse to admit the wicked person, or the imperfect penitent that offers himself, and persists in the desire of it?