Project Canterbury

The Whole Works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, D.D.
Lord Bishop of Down, Connor, and Dromore.

The Worthy Communicant;
Or, a Discourse of the Nature, Effects, and Blessings consequent to the Worthy Receiving of the Lord's Supper,
And of all the Duties required in Order to a Worthy Preparation:
Together with the Cases of Conscience occurring in the Duty of Him that Ministers, and of Him that Communicates;
As also Devotions Fitted to Every Part of the Ministration.

Edited by the Right. Rev. Reginald Heber, D.D.
Late Lord Bishop of Calcutta.

London: Printed for C. and J. Rivington, 1828.

The Introduction

WHEN St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin-Mother had, for a time, lost their most holy Son, they sought him in the villages and the highways, in the retinues of their kindred, and the caravans of the Galilean pilgrims; but there they found him not. At last, almost despairing, faint and sick with travel and fear, with desires and tedious expectations, they came into the temple to pray to God for conduct and success; knowing and believing assuredly, that if they could find God, they should not long miss to find the holy Jesus; and their faith deceived them not: for they sought God; and found him, that was God and man, in the midst and circle of the doctors. But being surprised with trouble and wonder, they began a little to expostulate with the divine child, why he would be absent so long, and leave them, (as it must needs be when he is absent from us) in sorrow and uncertain thoughts? This question brought forth an answer, which will be for ever useful to all, that shall inquire after this holy child: for as they complained of his absence, so he reproved their ignorance: "How is it that ye have so fondly looked for me, as if I were used to wander in unknown paths without skill, and without a guide? why did ye inquire after me in highways and village-fields? Ye never knew me wander, or lose my way, or abide but where I ought; why, therefore, did ye not come hither to look for We? Did ye not know that I ought to be in my Father's house?" [1] that is, there where God is worshipped, where he loves to dwell, where lie communicates his blessing and holy influences: there, and there only, we are sure to meet our dearest Lord. .

For this reason, the place of our address to God and holy conversation with him, he is pleased to call 'his house,' that with, confidence we may expect to meet him there, when we go to worship; and when the solemnities of religion were confined to the tabernacle, he therefore made it to be like a house of use and dwelling, that in that figure he might tell us where his delight and his abode would be; and, therefore, God furnished the tabernacle with the utensils of a prophet's room at least, a table and a candlestick; and the table must have dishes and spoons, bowls and covers, belonging to it; the candlesticks must have lamps, and the lamps must be continually burning. And besides this, the house of God must have in it a continual fire, the fire must not go out by night nor day; and to this the prophet alludes: "God hath his fire in Sion, and his hearth, or furnace, in Jerusalem:" and after all, there must be meat in his house too. And as this was done by the sacrifices of old, so, by the Lord's Supper, in the New Testament. So that now it is easy to understand the place and the reason of Christ's abode; even in his Father's house, there where his Father dwells; and loves to meet his servants; there we are sure to find the Lord. For as God descended and came into the tabernacle invested with a cloud, so Christ comes to meet us, clothed with a mystery: he hath a house below as well as above; [2] here is his dwelling, and here are his provisions; here is his fire, and here his meat; hither God sends his Son, and here his Son manifests himself; the church and the holy table of the Lord, the assemblies of saints, and the devotions of his people; the word and the sacrament, the oblation of bread and wine, and the offering of ourselves, the consecration and the communion, are the things of God, and of Jesus Christ; and he that is employed in these, is there where God loves to be, and where Christ is to be found; in the employments in which God delights, in the ministries of his own choice, in the work of the Gospel, and the methods of grace, in the economy of heaven, and the dispensations of eternal happiness.

And now, that we may know where to find him, we must be sure to look after him; he hath told us where he would be, behind what pillar, and under what cloud, and covered with what veil, and conveyed by what ministry, and present in what sacrament; and we must not look for him in the highways of ambition and pride, of wealth and sensual pleasures; these things are not found in the house of his Father, neither may they come near his dwelling. But if we seek for Christ, we shall find him in the methods of virtue, and the paths of God's commandments; in the houses of prayer, and the offices of religion; in the persons of the poor, and the retirements of an afflicted soul: we shall find in holy reading and pious meditation, in our penitential sorrows, and in the time of trouble, in pulpits, and upon altars, in the word, and in the sacraments: if we come hither as we ought, we are sure to find our Beloved, him whom our soul longeth after.

Sure enough Christ is here; but he is not here in every manner, and, therefore, is not to be found by every inquirer, nor touched by every hand, nor received by all comers, nor entertained by every guest. He that means to take the air, must not use his fingers, but his mouth; and he that receives Christ, must have a proper, that is, a spiritual instrument, a purified heart, consecrated lips, and a hallowed mouth, a tongue that speaks no evil, and a hand that ministers to no injustice, and to no uncleanness: for a disproportionate instrument is an indecency, and makes the effect impossible both in nature and morality. Can a man bind a thought With chains, or carry imaginations in the palm of his hand? Can the beauty of the peacock's train, or the ostrich-plume, be delicious to the palate and the throat? Does the hand intermeddle with the joys of the heart? Or darkness that hides the naked, make him warm? Does the body live as does the spirit? Or can the body of Christ be like to common food? Indeed the sun shines upon the good and bad and the vines give wine to the drunkard as well as to the sober man: pirates have fair winds and a calm sea, at the same time when the just and peaceful merchantman hath them. But although the things of this world are common to good and bad, yet sacraments and spiritual joys, the food of the soul, and the blessing of Christ, are the peculiar right of saints; and the rites of our religion are to be handled by the measures of religion, and the things of God by the rules of the Spirit: and the sacraments are mysteries, and to be handled by mystic persons, and to be received by saints; and, therefore, whoever will partake of God's secrets, must first look into his own; he must pare off whatsoever is amiss, and not without holiness approach to the holiest of all holies, nor eat of this sacrifice with a defiled head, nor come to this feast without a nuptial garment, nor take this remedy without a just preparative. For though, in the first motions of our spiritual life, Christ comes alone and offers his grace, and enlivens us by his Spirit, and makes us begin to live, because he is good, not because we are,--yet this great mysterious feast, and magazine of grace and glorious mercies, is for those only that are worthy; for such only, who, by their co-operation with the grace of God, are fellow-workers with God in the laboratories of salvation. The wrestler that Clemens c of Alexandria tells us of, addressing himself to his contention, and espying the statue of Jupiter Pisaeus, prayed aloud: "If all things, O Jupiter, are rightly prepared on my part, if I have done all that I could do,--then do me justice, and give me the victory." And this is a breviate of our case: "He that runneth in races," saith the apostle, "he that contends for mastery, is temperate in all things;" and this at least must he be, that comes to find Christ in these mysteries; he must be prepared by the rules and method of the sanctuary: there is very much to be done on his part; there is a heap of duties, there is a state of excellency, there are preparations solemn and less solemn, ordinary and extraordinary, which must be premised before we can receive the mysterious blessings, which are here not only consigned, but collated and promoted, confirmed and perfected.

The holy communion, or supper of the Lord, is the most sacred, mysterious, and useful conjugation of secret and holy things and duties in the religion. It is not easy to be understood; it is not lightly to be received: it is not much opened in the writings of the New Testament, but still left in its mysterious nature: it is too much untwisted and nicely handled by the writings of the doctors, and by them made more mysterious: and like a doctrine of Philosophy, made intricate by explications, and difficult by the aperture and dissolution of distinctions. So we sometimes espy a bright cloud formed into an irregular figure; when it is observed by unskilful and fantastic travellers, it looks like a centaur to some, and as a castle to others: some tell that they saw an army with banners, and it signifies war; but another, wiser than this fellow, says, it looks for all the world like a flock of sheep, and foretels plenty; and all the while it is nothing but a shining cloud, by its own mobility and the activity of a wind cast into a contingent and inartificial shape. So it is in this great mystery of our religion, in which some espy strange things which God intended not, and others see not what God hath plainly told: some call that part of it a mystery which is none: and others think all of it nothing but a mere ceremony and a sign: some say it signifies, and some say it effects: some say it is a sacrifice, and others call it a sacrament: some schools of learning make it the instrument of grace in the hand of God: others say that it is God himself in that instrument of grace: some call it venerable, and others say, as the vain men in the prophet, that "the table of the Lord is contemptible:" some come to it with their sins on their head, and others with their sins in their mouth: some come to be cured, some to be quickened: some to be nourished, and others to be made alive: some, out of fear and reverence, take it but seldom; others, out of devotion, take it frequently: some receive it as a means to procure great graces and blessings, others as an eucharist, and an office of thanksgiving for what they have received; some call it an act of obedience merely, others account it an excellent devotion, and the exercising of the virtue of religion: some take it to strengthen their faith, others to beget it, and yet many affirm that it does neither, but supposes faith before-hand as a disposition; faith in all its degrees, according to the degree of grace whither the communicant is arrived: some affirm the elements are to be blessed by prayers of the bishop or other minister; others say, it is only by the mystical words, the words of institution: and when it is blessed, some believe it to be the natural body of Christ: others, to be nothing of that, but the blessings of Christ, his word and his Spirit, his passion in representment, and his grace in real exhibition: and all these men have something of reason for what they pretend; and yet the words of Scripture from whence they pretend, are not so many as are the several pretensions.

My purpose is not to dispute, but to persuade; not to confute any one, but to instruct those that need; not to make a noise, but to excite devotion; not to enter into curious, but material inquiries, and to gather together into a union all those several portions of truth, and differing apprehensions of mysteriousness, and various methods and rules of preparation, and seemingly opposed doctrines, by which even good men stand at distance, and are afraid of each other. For since all societies of Christians pretend to the greatest esteem of this, above all the rites or external parts and ministries of religion, it cannot be otherwise but that they will all speak honourable things of it, and suppose holy things to be in it, and great blessings, one way or other, to come by it; and it is contemptible only among the profane and the atheistical. All the innumerable differences which are in the discourses and consequent practices relating to it, proceed from some common truths, and universal notions, and mysterious or inexplicable words, and tend all to reverential thoughts, and pious treatment of these rites and holy offices: and therefore, it will not be impossible to find honey or wholesome dews upon all this variety of plants; and the differing opinions, and several understandings of this mystery, which (it may be) no human understanding can comprehend, will serve to excellent purposes of the Spirit; if, like men of differing interest, they can be reconciled in one communion, at least the ends and designs of them all can be conjoined in. the design and ligatures of the same reverence, and piety, and devotion.

My purpose, therefore, is to discourse of the nature, excellencies, uses and intention of the holy sacrament of the Lord's supper, the blessings and fruits of the sacrament, all the advantages of a worthy communion, the public and the private, the personal and the ecclesiastical, that we may understand what it is that we go about, and how it is to be treated. I shall account also concerning all the duties of preparation, ordinary and extraordinary, more and less solemn; of the rules and manners of deportment in the receiving; the gesture and the offering, the measures and instances of our duty, our comport and conversation in and after it; together with the cases of conscience that shall occur under these titles respectively, relating to the particular matters.

It matters not where we begin; for if I describe the excellencies of this sacrament, I find it engages us upon matters of duty, and inquiries practical: if I describe our duty, it plainly signifies the greatness and excellency of the mystery: the very, notion is practical, and the practice is information: we cannot discourse of the secret, but by describing our duty: and we cannot draw all the lines of duty, but so much duty must needs open a cabinet of mysteries. If we understand what we are about, we cannot choose but be invested with fear and reverence; and if we look in with fear and reverence, it cannot be but we shall understand many secrets. But because the natural .order of theology is by faith to build up good life, by a rectified understanding to regulate the will and the affections, I shall use no other method, but first discourse of the excellent mystery, and then of the duty of the communicant, direct and collateral.

[1] So the Syriac interpreter renders the Greek en toiV tou patroV mou 'in the places of my Father:' 'In iis quae Patris mei sunt,'--so the Arabic version. "In negotiis Patris mei,' 'in my Father's business,'--so Castalio, Piscator, and our English Bibles. But the second reddition is more agreeable with the words of the Greek, and the first is more consonant to the use of that phrase in the New Testament. So John, xix. 27. St. John received the mother of our Lord, eiV ta idia, 'recepit eam in domum suam;' so Beza and our English translation: 'he took her to his own house.' And thus St. Chrysostom uses the same phrase, Serm. 52, in Genes. 'Whither do you drive the just man? Do you not know, that wherever he sets his foot, he is within his Father's house or territory?'

[2] O Tarpeie Pater, qui templa secundam Incolis a coelo sedem.

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