Project Canterbury

A Letter of Advice

(published by permission) given primarily as a Preparation for First Communion, but useful for Communicants generally.


the Reverend Edward Bouverie Pusey, D.D.

Printed in Preparation for Holy Communion, edited by H.S. Holland

(London: Walter Smith, 1883)

The great gift in the Holy Communion is that by eating His Flesh, and drinking His Blood, "He dwelleth in us, and we in Him, He is one with us, and we with Him," but then we must love Him and long to be with Him. If we love Him coldly at other times, we shall be cold then, and receive little, and perhaps hinder ourselves from receiving so much afterwards; God is ready to give Himself to us, but it is in proportion to our longings. When a person is once a Communicant, generally speaking, it is a good thing for them to communicate whenever they can, i.e. if they are trying to please God, and to serve Him, and not to be distracted by things of this world; but beginning to communicate is always an anxious thing, lest a person, by not being of a tone of mind sufficiently raised, should not have all the blessing they might have had, had it been delayed until they were more prepared, and by obtaining admission thus early to Holy Communion, they would be obtaining what for them was too great a thing as they then were, which, by deferring It for a time, It might be a greater blessing for them.

You must think what an inconceivably great thing it is, that our Lord, who is God, should come and dwell in us: that we should be the Temples of the Holy Ghost; that He should dwell in us spiritually; that we should not be what we seem, body only, or even soul, but that Christ should dwell in us, that in us, in some way, God should dwell; that within these, our poor frail decayed bodies, God should be, Who cannot be bounded by space, nor contained by any thing, nor approached, still that He should be in us; that we should actually have Christ’s Body and Blood in us, have the Holy Spirit within us, as much as we are in this room. For Holy Scripture says, "dwell in us," that we should be his dwelling-place, as this room is ours; as we are actually within it, so He should be within us, and much more, for we are in this room, as not belonging to it, nor it a part of us, but they who are "members of Christ" are part of Christ, as the members are part of the body; and they are "one with Christ, and Christ with them." His Spirit is joined with their spirit, and theirs penetrated by His, and the very body itself is hallowed; the very bodies in which He dwells are made "temples of God," sanctified by His Presence, and having immortality again imparted to them, so that though they still seem to decay, and part of them to fall off and turn to corruption, and all shall seem "dust," yet it is "dust" full of life, ready to be raised again and made a glorious body, like His glorious Body, because He dwells in it.

These are very aweful thoughts, because they are so very, exceeding, great; and thence we should bear ourselves, our souls, and bodies in reverence; take care what we do with them, what thoughts we allow to come into our minds, where He has entered in; be more watchful that we do not let thoughts of pride, or self, or anger, or envy, or jealousy, or any other wrong feeling come in, where He has entered, Who is our Lord and our God. Thenceforth we are much more mysterious beings; we must not be elated by it, nor speak without deep reverence of it; that were pride: rather, we should become the more abased, as the Centurion said, "Lord, I am not worthy, that Thou shouldest come under my roof," or St. Peter said in awe, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." Not that we should wish Him to depart, for that were death to your soul, but that we should feel utterly abased that He should dwell in us, and confounded at ourselves, that we, in whom He so dwells, do not love Him more, and yet, with cheerful hope, because He is so gracious to us beyond and against our deserts. Yet we become such beings at whom the Blessed Angels may well wonder, that God should indeed come and dwell in us. Then also as to sufferings which we may have to undergo, we should seek to be less fretted at them, for it is not fitting that they who have what is highest—their very Lord Himself, God of God—should be fretted by the same little troubles, crosses, discomforts, contradictions, with which they are fretted who have nothing of these high things. If we realise that we have the Lord of heaven and earth, Who will be ours, and we His for ever, how should we be fretted by any things which happen to us from his creatures, for the few days that we are here upon this earth?

Since then this Gift is so inconceivably great, what should be begun in you before you are admitted to It are:

1. "Putting away childish things," since you are to be admitted to the privileges of a full-grown Christian. Gradually, try to raise your mind more above common things, and to occupy it with higher things, so as not to be so much taken up with commonplace things which you see around you: so that amid things which you see, to raise up your mind more to Him Who is unseen, not be so much filled and taken up with all which passes by you; that by this means you may be more drawn to God.

2. Patiently suffer little disappointments, little inconveniences. The best way is to try to think of God and of Christ Who suffered for you; ask Him to give you a patient heart, to sanctify any sorrow He may send in his Love for you, by His Sufferings, and try to be content to be sorrowful until He make you again cheerful. To those who do this, He often gives a calm in sorrow, which is better than any joy.

And this is another class of habits which should be commenced in you.

1. A greater love for spiritual things.

The Holy Communion ought not, and (as I have said) cannot, stand alone in your spiritual life. As you are in the rest of your spiritual life, such you will be there, and such will It be to you then. As you are capable of, or take pleasure in, spiritual things at other times, so will it be with you then; as you love your Saviour at other times, of such sort will your love for Him be then; as you can raise your thoughts at other times to God, so could you then; as God is habitually present to your mind now, in that degree would be the lasting benefits of the Holy Communion then.

In too many there is but a faint commencement of the spiritual life. They seem to do things mechanically, as a duty, not for the pleasure they find in them. Thus, they read the Psalms and Lessons because they have been taught to do so, and this is right; but sometimes the Psalms are read so fast so as evidently not to give time to dwell upon them. People do not seem to think upon them, or dwell on any verse, or make them their own words to God, or listen to Him speaking to them, or apply their meaning to themselves as one who had pleasure in them or took interest in what he was reading. Then the portion of the Bible which is read is not taken up again, as a book that is loved; not because there are other duties to do (which may often be the case) but because there is no wish to read it. All this implies a want of realising spiritual things. In fact, it may be the consequence of what a person owns to be wrong in himself, the preferring of other things to the reading of such portions of their Bible as they did read; for if we prefer other things to God’s Word, we cannot expect that He will give us pleasure in reading it, when we do come to it.

2. Then some have little or no pleasure, I fear, in thinking upon God. This is, in part, that they do not like thinking at all. This is very natural. It is an effort, and costs trouble. It is an effort to think upon Him Who is unseen, it is an effort to think at all, much more upon Him.

The question now is, about privileges which are not those of children, but of those full-grown, and how you may best be qualified for them. Your difficulties in thinking upon God, in part may arise from the evil tempers and sins to which you gave way formerly.

I will give you a simple instance, whereby you may attain a greater pleasure in spiritual things, namely, when you are not dressed in time for Family Prayers, that you should try to use them for yourself, and feel that you have undergone a loss in missing them, and losing so much prayer, and not simply be content, because they are over, to think no more about them. Try to take an extra time for the prayers you have missed.

3. Then do not let your self-examination be done as a task, so as to give you as little trouble as you can help, not with any strong desire of finding out the real state of your soul.

I would give you some rules.

1. Never prefer anything to reading God’s Word, nor read it quickly because you wish to go to other things. (This would be disrespectful of it and of God.) If you feel yourself inclined to read faster than usual, force yourself to go back to what you have read.

2. Say some little prayer, before you begin reading, (such as the Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent), and try to recollect yourself, Whose book you are taking in hand, that they are God’s words to you, things which the Angels desire to look into, and about your own Eternal life.

3. In reading, read as if you were listening to God speaking to your soul: and use the Psalms when they are either prayer or praise, as your own prayer or praise to God, not as reading the Psalms only.

4. Try to keep God in your thoughts through the day, recalling from time to time that you are in His Sight, wishing to receive things, pleasant or painful, as being from Him, to do things for Him. Even in such a little thing as taking medicine, pray when you take it that it may do you good: so as to the fresh air, you should receive it, as God’s gift refreshing you; when you say grace at your meals, you should try while taking them, to recollect that the food is His gift to you, and to take it from His Hands: and so as to sleep. So when anything happens, which you especially like, try to unite with your first feeling of joy, an act of thanksgiving to God for it. On the other hand, take anything unpleasant, as His doing, and so patiently, looking to Him. When you are engaged in your daily duties, try not only to do them well, but so as to please Him; in a word, try to put in practice, "I have set God always before me," and then that other part will be fulfilled too, "He is on my right hand, therefore I shall not fall."

5. Lift up your thoughts to God at intervals. The Hours will help you to this. You should try to use one first, as best suits; then when you find that you habitually recollect this, another; the prayers need not be long, only try to fix on your mind, what did make that sacred, as the Descent of the Holy Ghost at 9; the Crucifixion at 12; His Death at 3; so as not only to use a prayer then, but to meditate on your Lord and Saviour.

Then, also, the text which you select from your morning Psalms will also be a help, if you use it several times in the day thinking upon God, steadfastly for the time you use it. People use too short ejaculations, i.e. prayers which are, as it were, darted up to God, such of those in the Liturgy, "Lord, have mercy upon us," or if you are under temptation, "O God, make speed to save me," or in beginning any duty or work, "Lord help me," only, however short it is, try to lift up your thoughts earnestly to your Blessed Saviour at God’s Right Hand.

6. Then during the times you are alone, try to meditate for a time upon God. Thus, when you are out of doors, you can generally see the blue sky, and you have heard many things of it connected with God:—how our Lord has ascended thither to prepare a place for us; how God’s mercy encompasses all his Works, as the sky does the earth: how holy Angels and the spirits of the just dwell there: how its purity is an emblem of God’s Holiness, or again, of the brightness of faith.

And so on, as to other things, everything may recall to you the things of God; the dust when driving, how the wicked are driven before the Presence of God; or as it lies, that we must all return to it; only do not let these be mere matters of amusement, but rather pray that you may not be cast out from that Holy Presence, that when you return to the dust, God will have mercy on your soul. So the sea may remind you how God stilleth its raging, and our Lord said, "Peace, be still," and how He will so say to us in our troubles, if we pray Him.

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