And as they did eat, Jesus took bread,' &c. Mark 14: 22.
Having spoken to the sacrament of baptism, I come now to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is the most spiritual and sweetest ordinance that ever was instituted. Here we have to do more immediately with the person of Christ. In prayer, we draw nigh to God; in the sacrament, we become one with him. In prayer, we look up to Christ; in the sacrament, by faith, we touch him. In the word preached, we hear Christ's voice; in the sacrament, we feed on him.
What names and titles in Scripture are given to the sacrament?
It is called, Mensa Domini, The Lord's table.' 1 Cor 10: 21. The Papists call it an altar, not a table. The reason is, because they turn the sacrament into a sacrifice, and pretend to offer up Christ corporally in the mass. It being the Lord's table, shows with what reverence and solemn devotion we should approach these holy mysteries. The Lord takes notice of the frame of our hearts when we come to his table. The king came in to see the guests.' Matt 22: 11. We dress ourselves when we come to the table of some great monarch; so, when we are going to the table of the Lord, we should dress ourselves by holy meditation and heart consideration. Many think it is enough to come to the sacrament, but mind not whether they come in due order.' 1 Chron 15: 13. Perhaps they had scarce a serious thought before where they were going: all their dressing was by the glass, not by the Bible. Chrysostom calls it, The dreadful table of the Lord:' and so it is to such as come unworthily. The sacrament is called Coena Domini, the Lord's supper -- to import, it is a spiritual feast.1 Cor 11: 20. It is a royal feast. God is in this cheer: Christ, in both natures, God and man, is the matter of this supper. It is called a communion.' The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?' 1 Cor 10: 16. The sacrament being called a communion, shows: --
(1) That this ordinance is for believers only, because none else can have communion with Christ in these holy mysteries. Communio fundatur in unione [Communion is based upon union]. Faith only gives us union with Christ, and by virtue of this we have communion with him in his body and blood. None but the spouse communicates with her husband; a stranger may drink of his cup, but she only has his heart, and communicates with him in a conjugal manner; so strangers may drink of the cup, but believers only drink of Christ's blood, and have communion with him.
(2) The sacrament being a communion, shows that it is symbolum amoris [a symbol of love], a bond of that unity and charity which should be among Christians. We being many are one body.' 1 Cor 10: 17. As many grains make one bread, so many Christians are one body. A sacrament is a love-feast. The primitive Christians, as Justin Martyr notes, had their holy salutations at the blessed supper, in token of that dearness of affection which they had to each other. It is a communion, therefore -- there must be love and union. The Israelites did eat the Passover with bitter herbs; so must we eat the sacrament with bitter herbs of repentance, but not with bitter hearts of wrath and malice. The hearts of the communicants should be knit together with the bond of love. Thou braggest of thy faith' says Augustine, but show me thy faith by thy love to the saints.' For, as in the sun, light and heat are inseparable, so faith and love are twisted together inseparably. Where there are divisions, the Lord's supper is not properly a communion but a disunion.
What is the Lord's supper?
It is a visible sermon, wherein Christ crucified is set before us; or, it is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein by receiving the holy elements of bread and wine, our communion with Christ is signified and sealed up to us; or it is a sacrament divinely instituted, wherein by giving and receiving bread and wine, Christ's death is showed forth, and the worthy receivers by faith are made partakers of his body and blood, and all the benefits flowing from thence.
For further explaining the nature of the Lord's supper, I shall refer to its institution.
Jesus took bread.' Here is the master of the feast, or the institutor of the sacrament. The Lord Jesus took bread. He only is fit to institute a sacrament who is able to give virtue and blessing to it.
He took bread.' His taking the bread was one part of his consecration of the elements, and setting them apart for a holy use. As Christ consecrated the elements, so we must labour to have our hearts consecrated before we receive these holy mysteries in the Lord's supper. How unseemly is it to see any come to these holy elements, having hearts leavened with pride, covetousness, or envy? These, with Judas, receive the devil in the sop, and are no better than crucifiers of the Lord of glory.
And blessed it.' This is another part of the consecration of the element. Christ blessed it. He blesseth and it shall be blessed. He looked up to heaven for a benediction upon this newly-founded ordinance.
And brake it.' The bread broken, and the wine poured out, signify to us the agony and ignominy of Christ's sufferings, the rending of Christ's body on the cross, and the effusion of blood which was distilled from his blessed side.
And gave it to them.' Christ's giving the bread, denotes giving himself and all his benefits to us freely. Though he was sold, yet he was given. Judas sold Christ, but Christ gave himself to us.
He gave it to them;' that is, to the disciples. This is children's bread. Christ does not cast these pearls before swine. Whether Judas was present at the supper is controverted. I incline to think he was not, for Christ said to the disciples, This is my blood, which is shed for you.' Luke 22: 20. He knew his blood was never shed effectually and intentionally for Judas. In eating the passover, he gave Judas a sop, which was a bit of unleavened bread dipped in a sauce made with bitter herbs; Judas having received the sop, went out immediately. John 13: 30. Suppose Judas was there, he received the elements, but not the blessing.
Take, eat.' This expression of eating denotes four things; (1) The near mystic union between Christ and his saints. As the meat which is eaten incorporates with the body, and becomes one with it, so, by eating Christ's flesh, and drinking his blood spiritually, we partake of his merits and graces, and are mystically one with them.' I in them.' John 17: 23. (2) Take, eat.' Eating shows the infinite delight the believing soul has in Christ. Eating is grateful and pleasing to the palate; so feeding on Christ by a lively faith is delicious. Nullus animae suavior cibus [The soul knows no sweeter food]. Lactantius. No such sweet feeding as on Christ crucified. This is a feast of fat things, and wines on the lees well refined.' (3) Take, eat.' Eating denotes nourishment. As meat is delicious to the palate, so it is nourishing to the body; so eating Christ's flesh and drinking his blood, is nutritive to the soul. The new creature is nourished at the table of the Lord to everlasting life. Whose eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, has eternal life.' John 6: 54. (4) Take, eat,' shows the wisdom of God, who restores us by the same means by which we fell. We fell by taking and eating the forbidden fruit, and we are recovering again by taking and eating Christ's flesh. We died by eating the tree of knowledge, and we live by eating the tree of life.
This is my body.' These words, Hoc est corpus meum, have been much controverted between us and the Papists. This is my body;' that is, by a metonymy; it is a sign and figure of my body. The Papists hold transsubstantiation -- that the bread, after consecration, is turned into the very substance of Christ's body. We say, we receive Christ's body spiritually; they say, they receive Christ's body carnally; which is contrary to Scripture. Scripture affirms, that the heavens must receive Christ's body until the times of the restitution of all things.' Acts 3: 21. Christ's body cannot be at the same time in heaven and in the host. Aquinas says, It is not possible by any miracle, that a body should be locally in two places at once.' Besides, it is absurd to imagine that the bread in the sacrament should be turned into Christ's flesh, and that his body which was hung before, should be made again of bread. So that, This is my body,' is, as if Christ had said, This is a sign and representation of my body.'
And he took the cup.' The cup is put by a metonymy of the subject for the adjunct, for the wine in the cup. It signifies the blood of Christ shed for our sins. The taking of the cup denotes the redundancy of merit in Christ, and the fulness of our redemption by him. He not only took the bread, but the cup.
And when he had given thanks.' Christ gave thanks that God had given these elements of bread and wine to be signs and seals of man's redemption by Christ. Christ's giving thanks shows his philanthropy, or love to mankind, who did so rejoice and bless God that lost man was now in a way of recovery, and that he should be raised higher in Christ than ever he was in innocence.
He gave the cup to them.' Why then dare any withhold the cup? This is to pollute and curtail the ordinance, and alter it from its primitive institution. Christ and his apostles administered the sacrament in both kinds, the bread and the cup.1 Cor 11: 24, 25. The cup was received in the ancient church for the space of 1400 years, as is confessed by two Popish councils. Christ says expressly, Drink ye all of this.' He does not say, Eat ye all of this;' but Drink ye all;' as foreseeing the sacrilegious impiety of the church of Rome, in keeping back the cup from the people. The Popish council of Constance speaks plainly but impudently, That although Christ instituted and administered the sacrament in both kinds, the bread and the wine, yet the authority of the holy canons, and the customs of the mother church, think good to deny the cup to the laity.' Thus, as the Popish priests make Christ but half a Saviour, so they administer to the people but half a sacrament. The sacrament is Christ's last will and testament This is my blood of the New Testament.' Now, to alter or take away any thing from a man's will and testament, is great impiety. What is it to alter and mangle Christ's last will and testament? Sure it is a high affront to Christ.
What are the ends of the Lord's supper?
(1) It is an ordinance appointed to confirm our faith. Except ye see signs ye will not believe.' John 4: 48. Christ sets the elements before us, that by these signs our faith may be strengthened. As faith comes by hearing, so it is confirmed by seeing Christ crucified. The sacrament is not only a sign to represent Christ, but a seal to confirm our interest in him.
But the Spirit confirms faith, therefore not the sacrament.
This is not good logic. The Spirit confirms faith, therefore not the sacrament, is, as if one should say, God feeds our bodies, therefore bread does not feed us;' whereas, God feeds us by bread, so the Spirit confirms our faith by the use of the sacrament.
(2) The end of the sacrament is to keep up the memory of Christ's death.' This do ye in remembrance of me.' 1 Cor 11: 25. If a friend gives us a ring at his death, we wear it to keep up the memory of our friend; much more ought we to keep the memorial of Christ's death in the sacrament. His death lays a foundation for all the magnificent blessings which we receive from him. The covenant of grace was agreed on in heaven, but sealed upon the cross. Christ has sealed all the articles of peace in his blood. Remission of sin flows from Christ's death. This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many, for the remission of sins.' Matt 26: 28. Consecration, or making us holy, is the fruit of Christ's death. How much more shall the blood of Christ purge your conscience?' Heb 9: 14. Christ's intercession is made available to us by virtue of his death. He could not have been admitted an advocate if he had not been first a sacrifice. Our entering into heaven is the fruit of his blood. Heb 10: 19. He could not have prepared mansions for us, if he had not first purchased them by his death: so that we have great cause to commemorate his death in the sacrament.
In what manner are we to remember the Lord's death in the sacrament?
It is not only an historical remembrance of Christ's death and passion. Judas remembered his death and betrayed him; and Pilate remembered his death and crucified him: but our remembering his death in the sacrament must be, A mournful remembrance. We should not be able to look on Christ crucified with dry eyes. They shall look on him whom they have pierced, and mourn over him.' Zech 12: 10. O Christian, when thou lookest on Christ in the sacrament, remember how often thou hast crucified him! The Jews did it but once, thou often. Every oath is a nail with which thou piercest his hands; every unjust sinful action is a spear with which thou woundest his heart. Oh, remember Christ with sorrow, to think thou shouldst make his wounds bleed afresh! It must be a joyful remembrance. Abraham rejoiced to see my day.' John 8: 56. When a Christian sees a sacrament-day approaching, he should rejoice. This ordinance of the supper is an earnest of heaven; it is the glass in which we see him whom our souls love, it is the chariot by which we are carried up to Christ. When Jacob saw the wagons and the chariots which were to carry him to his son Joseph, his spirit revived. Gen 45: 27. God has appointed the sacrament on purpose to cheer and revive a sad heart. When we look on our sins we have cause to mourn; but when we see Christ's blood shed for our sins we rejoice. In the sacrament our wants are supplied, our strength is renewed; there we meet with Christ, and does not this call for joy? A woman that has been long debarred from the society of her husband is glad of his presence. At the sacrament the believing spouse meets with Christ; he saith to her, All I have is thine; my love is thine, to pity thee; my mercy is thine, to save thee.' How can we think in the sacrament on Christ's blood shed, and not rejoice? Sanguis Christi clavis paradisi; Christ's blood is the key which opens heaven,' else we had been all shut out.
(3) The end of the sacrament is to work in us an endeared love to Christ. When Christ bleeds for us, well may we say, Behold how he loved us!' Who can see Christ die and not be sick of love?' That is a heart of stone which Christ's love will not melt.
(4) The end of the sacrament is the mortifying of corruption. To see Christ crucified for us is a means to crucify sin in us. His death, like the water of jealousy, makes the thigh of sin to rot. Numb 5: 27. How can a wife endure to see the spear which killed her husband? How can we endure those sins which made Christ veil his glory and lose his blood? When the people of Rome saw Caesar's bloody robe, they were incensed against them that slew him. Sin has rent the white robe of Christ's flesh and dyed it of a crimson colour. The thoughts of this should make us seek to be avenged on our sins.
(5) Another end is the augmentation and increase of all the graces, hope, zeal, and patience. The word preached begets grace, the Lord's supper nourishes it. The body by feeding increases strength, so the soul by feeding on Christ sacramentally. Cum defecerit virtus mea calicem salutarem accipiam. Bernard. When my spiritual strength begins to fail, I know a remedy,' says Bernard, I will go to the table of the Lord; there will I drink and recover my decayed strength.' There is a difference between dead stones and living plants. The wicked, who are stones, receive no spiritual increase; but the godly, who are plants of righteousness, being watered with Christ's blood, grow more fruitful in grace.
Why are we to receive this holy supper?
(1) Because it is an incumbent duty. Take, eat.' And observe, it is a command of love. If Christ had commanded us some great matter, would we not have done it? If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it?' 2 Kings 5: 13. If Christ had enjoined us to have given him thousands of rams, or to have parted with the fruit of our bodies, would we not have done it? Much more when he only says, Take,' and Eat.' Let my broken body feed you, let my blood poured out save you. Take,' and Eat.' This is a command of love, and shall we not readily obey?
(2) We are to celebrate the Lord's supper, because it is provoking Christ to stay away. Wisdom has furnished her table.' Prov 9: 2. So Christ has furnished his table, set bread and wine (representing his body and blood) before his guests, and when they wilfully turn their backs upon the ordinance, he looks upon it as slighting his love, and it makes the fury rise up in his face. For I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.' Luke 14: 24. I will shut them out of my kingdom, I will provide them a black banquet, where weeping shall be the first course, and gnashing of teeth the second.
Should the Lord's supper be often administered?
Yes. As often as ye eat this bread.' 1 Cor 11: 26. The ordinance is not to be celebrated once in a year, or once only in our lives, but often. A Christian's own necessities may make him come often hither. His corruptions are strong, therefore he had need come often hither for an antidote to expel the poison of sin. His graces are weak. Grace is like a lamp, which if it be not often fed with oil is apt to go out. Rev 3: 2. How then do they sin against God who come but very seldom to this ordinance! Can they thrive who for a long time forbear their food? Others there are who wholly forbear, which is a great contempt offered to Christ's ordinance. They tacitly say, Let Christ keep his feast to himself. What a cross-grained piece is a man! He will eat when he should not, and he will not eat when he should. When God says, Eat not of this forbidden fruit;' then he will be sure to eat: when God says, Eat of this bread, and drink of this cup;' then he refuses to eat.
Are all to come promiscuously to this holy ordinance?
No; for that were to make the Lord's table an ordinary. Christ forbids to cast pearls before swine.' Matt 7: 6. The sacramental bread is children's bread, and it is not to be cast to the profane. As, at the giving of the law God set bounds about the mount that none might touch it, so God's table should be guarded, that the profane should not come near. Exod 19: 12. In primitive times, after sermon was done, and the Lord's supper was about to be celebrated, an officer stood up and cried, Holy things for holy men;' and then several of the congregation departed. I would have my hand cut off,' says Chrysostom, rather than I would give Christ's body and blood to the profane.' The wicked do not eat Christ's flesh, but tear it; they do not drink his blood, but spill it. These holy mysteries in the sacraments are tremenda hysteria, mysteries that the soul is to tremble at. Sinners defile the holy things of God, they poison the sacramental cup. We read that the wicked are to be set at Christ's feet, not at his table. Psa 110: 1.
That we may receive the supper of the Lord worthily, and that it may become efficacious: --
I. We must solemnly prepare ourselves before we come. We must not rush upon the ordinance rudely and irreverently, but come in due order. There was a great deal of preparation for the passover, and the sacrament comes in the room of it.2 Chron 30: 18, 19. This solemn preparation for the ordinance consists: --
In examining ourselves. In dressing our souls before we come, which is by washing in the water of repentance and by exciting the habit of grace into exercise. In begging a blessing upon the ordinance.
Solemn preparation for the sacrament consists in self-examination. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat.' 1 Cor 11: 28. It is not only a counsel, but a charge: Let him examine himself. As if a king should say, Let it be enacted.' These elements in the supper having been consecrated by Jesus Christ to a high mystery, represent his body and blood; therefore there must be preparation; and if preparation, there must be first self-examination. Let us be serious in examining ourselves, as our salvation depends upon it. We are curious in examining other things; we will not take gold till we examine it by the touchstone; we will not take land before we examine the title; and shall we not be as exact and curious in examining the state of our souls?
What is required for this self-examination?
There must be a solemn retirement of the soul. We must set ourselves apart, and retire for some time from all secular employment, that we may be more serious in the work. There is no casting up accounts in a crowd; nor can we examine ourselves when we are in a crowd of worldly business. We read, that a man who was in a journey might not come to the Passover, because his mind was full of secular cares, and his thoughts were taken up about his journey. Num 9: 13. When we are upon self-examining work, we had not need to be in a hurry, or have any distracting thoughts, but to retire and lock ourselves up in our closets, that we may be more intent upon the work.
What is self-examination?
It is the setting up a court of conscience and keeping a register there that by a strict scrutiny a man may see how matters stand between Got and his soul. It is a spiritual inquisition, a heart-anatomy, whereby a man takes his heart in pieces, as a watch, and sees what is defective therein. It is a dialogue with one's self I commune with my own heart.' Psa 77: 6. David called himself to account, and put interrogatories to his own heart. Self-examination is a critical enquiry or search. As the woman in the parable lighted a candle and searched for her lost groat, so conscience is the candle of the Lord. Luke 15: 8. Search with this candle what thou can't find wrought by the Spirit in thee.
What is the rule by which we are to examine ourselves?
The rule or measure by which we must examine ourselves is the Holy Scripture. We must not make fancy, or the good opinion which others have of us, a rule to judge of ourselves. As the goldsmith brings his gold to the touchstone, so we must bring our hearts to a Scripture touchstone. To the law and to the testimony.' Isa 8: 20. What says the word? Are we divorced from sin? Are we renewed by the Spirit? Let the word decide whether we are fit communicants or not. We judge of colours by the sun, so we must judge of the state of our souls by the sunlight of Scripture.
What are the principal reasons for self-examination before we approach the Lord's supper?
(1) It is a duty imposed: Let him examine himself.' The passover was not to be eaten raw. Exod 12: 9. To come to such an ordinance slightly, without examination, is to come in an undue manner, and is like eating the passover raw.
(2) We must examine ourselves before we come, because it is not only a duty imposed, but opposed. There is nothing to which the heart is naturally more averse than self-examination. We may know that duty to be good which the heart opposes. But why does the heart so oppose it? Because it crosses the tide of corrupt nature, and is contrary to flesh and blood. The heart is guilty; and does a guilty person love to be examined? The heart opposes it; therefore the rather set upon it; for that duty is good which the heart opposes.
(3) Because self-examination is a needful work. Without it, a man can never tell how it is with him, whether he has grace or not; and this must needs be very uncomfortable. He knows not, if he should die presently what will become of him, to what coast he shall sail, whether to hell or heaven; as Socrates said, I am about to die, and the gods know whether I shall be happy or miserable.' How needful, therefore, is self-examination; that a man by search may know the true state of his soul, and how it will go with him to eternity!
Self-examination is needful, with respect to the excellence of the sacrament. Let him eat de illo pane, of that bread,' that excellent bread, that consecrated bread, that bread which is not only the bread of the Lord, but the bread the Lord.1 Cor 11: 28. Let him drink de illo poculo, of that cup;' that precious cup, which is perfumed and spiced with Christ's love; that cup which holds the blood of God sacramentally. Cleopatra put a jewel in a cup which contained the price of a kingdom: this sacred cup we are to drink of, enriched with the blood of God, is above the price of a kingdom; it is more worth than heaven. Therefore, coming to such a royal feast, having a whole Christ, both his divine and human nature to feed on, how should we examine ourselves beforehand, that we may be fit guests for such a magnificent banquet!
Self-examination is needful, because God will examine us. That was a sad question, Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding garment?' Matt 22: 12. Men are loath to ask themselves the question, O my soul! art thou a fit guest for the Lord's table?' Are there not some sins thou hast to bewail? Are there not some evidences for heaven that thou hast to get?' Now, when persons will not ask themselves the question, then God will bring the question to them, How came you in hither to my table, not prepared? How came you in hither, with an unbelieving or profane heart? Such a question will cause a heart-trembling. God will examine a man, as the chief captain would Paul, with scourging. Acts 22: 24. It is true that the best saint, if God should weigh him in the balance, would be found wanting: but, when a Christian has made an impartial search, and has laboured to deal uprightly between God and his own soul, Christ's merits will cast in some grains of allowance into the scales.
Self-examination is needful, because of secret corruption in the heart, which will not be found out without searching. There are in the heart plangendae tenebrae, Augustine, hidden pollutions.' It is with a Christian, as with Joseph's brethren, who, when the steward accused them of having the cup, were ready to swear they had it not; but upon search it was found in one of their sacks. Little does a Christian think what pride, atheism, uncleanness is in his heart till he searches it. If there be therefore such hidden wickedness, like a spring running under ground, we had need examine ourselves, that finding out our secret sin, we may be humbled and repent. Hidden sins, if not searched out, defile the soul. If corn lie long in the chaff, the chaff defiles the corn; so sins long hidden defile our duties. Needful therefore it is, before we come to the holy supper, to search out these hidden sins, as Israel searched for leaven before they came to the passover.
Self-examination is needful, because without it we may easily have a cheat put upon us. The heart is deceitful above all things.' Jer 17: 9. Many a man's heart will tell him he is fit for the Lord's table. As when Christ asked the sons of Zebedee, Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?' Matt 20: 22. Can ye drink such a bloody cup of suffering? They say unto him, We are able.' So the heart will suggest to a man, he is fit to drink of the sacramental cup, he has on the wedding-garment. Grande profundum est homo. Augustine. The heart is a grand impostor.' As a cheating tradesmen will put one off with bad wares, so the heart will put a man off with seeming grace, instead of saving. A tear or two shed is repentance, a few lazy desires are faith, just as blue and red flowers growing among corn, look like good flowers, but are beautiful weeds only. The foolish virgins' vessels looked as if they had oil in them, but they had none. Therefore, to prevent a cheat, that we may not take false grace instead of true, we had need make a thorough search of our hearts before we come to the Lord's table.
Self-examination is needful, because of the false fears which the godly are apt to nourish in their hearts, which make them go sad to the sacrament. As they who have no grace, for want of examining, presume, so they who have grace, for want of examining, are ready to despair. Many of God's children look upon themselves through the black spectacles of fear. They fear Christ is not formed in them, they fear they have no right to the promise; and these fears in the heart cause tears in the eye; whereas, would they but search and examine, they might find they had grace. Are not their hearts humbled for sin? What is this but the bruised reed? Do not they weep after the Lord? What are these tears but seeds of faith? Do they not thirst after Christ in an ordinance? What is this but the new creature crying for the breast? Here are, you see, seeds of grace; and, would Christians examine their hearts, they might see there is something of God in them, and so their false fears would be prevented, and they might approach with comfort to the holy mysteries in the Eucharist.
Self-examination is needful with respect to the danger of coming unworthily without it. He shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.' 1 Cor 11: 27. Par facit quasi Christum trucidaret [It is as if he were butchering Christ]. Grotius. God reckons with him as with a crucifier of the Lord Jesus. He does not drink Christ's blood, but sheds it; and so brings that curse upon him, as when the Jews said, His blood be upon us and our children.' Than the virtue of Christ's blood, nothing is more comfortable; than the guilt of it, nothing is more formidable.
(4) We must examine ourselves before the sacrament, on account of the difficulty of the work. Difficulty raises a noble spirit. Self-examination is difficult, because it is an inward work, it lies with the heart. External acts of devotion are easy; to lift up the eye, to bow the knee, to read over a few prayers, is as easy as for the Papists to tell over a few beads; but to examine a man's self, to take the heart in pieces, to make a Scripture-trial of our fitness for the Lord's supper, is not easy. Reflexive acts are hardest. The eye cannot see itself but by a glass; so we must have the glass of the word and conscience to see our own hearts. It is easy to spy the faults of others; but it is hard to find out our owns. Self-examination is difficult, with regard to self-love. As ignorance blinds, so self-love flatters. What Solomon says of love, Love covereth all sins,' is most true of self-love. Prov 10: 12. A man looking upon himself in the flattering glass of self-love, his virtues appear greater than they are, and his sins less. Self-love makes a man rather excuse himself, than examine himself; self-love makes one think the best of himself; and he who has a good opinion of himself, does not suspect himself; and not suspecting himself, he is not forward to examine himself. The work, therefore, of self-examination being so difficult, requires the more impartiality and industry. Difficulty should be a spur to diligence.
(5) We must examine ourselves before we come, because of the benefit of self-examination. The benefit is great whatever way it terminates. If, upon examination, we find that we have no grace in truth, the mistake is discovered, and the danger prevented; if we find that we have grace, we may take the comfort of it. He who, upon search, finds that he has the minimum quod sit, the least degree of grace, he is like one that has found his box of evidences; he is a happy man; he is a fit guest at the Lord's table; he is heir to all the promises; he is as sure to go to heaven as if he were in heaven already.
What must we examine?
(1) Our sins. Search if any dead fly spoils sweet ointment. When we come to the sacrament, as the Jews did before the passover, we should search for leaven, and having found it we should burn it. Let us search for the leaven of pride. This sours our holy things. Will a humble Christ be received into a proud heart? Pride keeps Christ out. Intus existens prohibet alienum [Its presence within blocks the entrance of any other]. To a proud man Christ's blood has no virtue; it is like a cordial put into a dead man's mouth, which loses its virtue. Let us search for the leaven of pride, and cast it away. Let us search for the leaven of avarice. The Lord's supper is a spiritual mystery, to represent Christ's body and blood; what should an earthly heart do here? The earth puts out the fire; so earthliness quencheth the fire of holy love. The earth is elementum gravissimum [the heaviest of the elements], it cannot ascend. A soul belimed with earth cannot ascend to heavenly cogitations. Covetousness, which is idolatry.' Col 3: 5. Will Christ come into the heart where there is an idol? Search for this leaven before you come to this ordinance. How can an earthly heart converse with that God which is a spirit? Can a clod of earth kiss the sun? Search for the leaven of hypocrisy. Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.' Luke 12: 1. Aquinas describes it as simulatio virtutis: hypocrisy is the counterfeiting of virtue.' The hypocrite is a living pageant, he only makes a show of religion; he gives God his knee, but no heart; and God gives him bread and wine in the sacrament, but no Christ. Oh, let us search for this leaven of hypocrisy and burn it!
(2) We must examine our graces. I shall instance one only -- our knowledge.
We are to examine whether we have knowledge, or we cannot give God a reasonable service. Rom 12: 1. Knowledge is a necessary requisite in a communicant; without it there can be no fitness for the sacrament. A person cannot be fit to come to the Lord's table who has no goodness; but without knowledge the mind is not good. Prov 19: 2. Some say they have good hearts, though they want knowledge; as if one should say, his eye is good, but it wants sight. Under the law, when the plague of leprosy was in a man's head, the priest was to pronounce him unclean. The ignorant person has the plague in his head, he is unclean; ignorance is the womb of lust.1 Pet 1: 14. Therefore it is requisite, before we come, to examine what knowledge we have in the main fundamentals of religion. Let it not be said of us, that unto this day the vail is upon their heart.' 2 Cor 3: 15. In this intelligent age, we cannot but have some insight into the mysteries of the gospel. I rather fear, we are like Rachel, who was fair and well-sighted, but barren: therefore,
Let us examine whether our knowledge be rightly qualified. Is it influential. Does our knowledge warm our heart? Claritas intellectu parit ardorem in effectu [Clearness in the understanding breeds zeal in the doing]. Saving knowledge not only directs but quickens; it is the light of life. John 8: 12. Is our knowledge practical? We hear much; do we love the truths we know? That is the right knowledge which not only adorns the mind, but reforms the life.
This solemn preparation for the sacrament consists in dressing our souls before we come. This soul-dress is in two things:
(1) Washing in the lever of repenting tears. To come to this ordinance with the guilt of any sin unrepented of makes way for further hardening of the heart, and gives Satan fuller possession of it. They shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him.' Zech 12: 10. The cloud of sorrow must drop into tears. We must grieve as for the pollution, so for the unkindness in every sin which is against Christ's love who died for us. When Peter thought of Christ's love in calling him out of his unregeneracy to make him an apostle, and to carry him up to the mount of transfiguration, where he saw the glory of heaven in a vision, and then of his denying Christ, it broke his heart: he wept bitterly.' Matt 26: 75. To think, before we come to a sacrament, of sins against the bowel-mercies of God the Father, the bleeding wounds of God the Son, the blessed inspirations of God the Holy Ghost, is enough to fill our eyes with tears, and put us into a holy agony of grief and compunction. We must be distressed for sin, be divorced from it. Before the serpent drinks it casts up its poison; in this we must be wise as serpents. Before we drink of the sacramental cup we must cast up the poison of sin by repentance. Ille vere plangit commissa, qui non committit plangenda. Augustine. He truly bewails the sins he has committed who does not commit the sins he has bewailed.'
(2) The soul-dress is the exciting and stirring up the habit of grace into a lively exercise. I put thee in remembrance, that thou stir up the gift of God which is in thee,' that is, the gifts and graces of the Spirit.2 Tim 1: 6. The Greek word to stir up, signifies to blow up grace into a flame. Grace is often like fire in the embers, which needs blowing up. It is possible that even a good man may not come so well disposed to this ordinance, because he has not before taken pains with his heart to come in due order, to stir up grace into vigorous exercise; and though he does not eat and drink damnation, yet he does not receive consolation in the sacrament.
A solemn preparation for the sacrament consists in begging a blessing upon the ordinance. The efficacy of the sacrament depends upon the co-operation of the Spirit, and a word of blessing. In the institution, Christ blessed the elements: Jesus took bread and blessed it.' The sacrament will do us good no farther than it is blessed to us. We ought, before we come, to pray for a blessing, that it may not only be a sign to represent, but a seal to conform, and an instrument to convey Christ and all his benefits to us. We are to pray that this great ordinance may be poison to our sins, and food to our graces. As with Jonathan, when he tasted the honeycomb, and his eyes were enlightened;' so by receiving this holy Eucharist, our eyes may be enlightened to discern the Lord's body.' 1 Sam 14: 27. Thus should we implore a blessing upon the ordinance before we come. The sacrament is like a tree hung full of fruit, but none of this fruit will fall unless shaken by the hand of prayer.
II. That the sacrament may be effectual to us, there must be a right participation of it, which consists in four things.
When we draw nigh to God's table in a humble sense of our unworthiness. We do not deserve one crumb of the bread of life; we are poor indigent creatures, who have lost our glory, and are like a vessel that is shipwrecked; we smite on our breasts, as the publican, God be merciful to us sinners.' This is partaking of the ordinance aright. It is part of our worthiness to see our unworthiness.
We rightly partake when at the Lord's table we are filled with breathing of soul and inflamed desires after Christ, which nothing can quench but his blood. Blessed are they which thirst.' Matt 5: 6. They are blessed not only when they are filled, but while they are thirsting.
A right participation of the supper is, when we receive it in faith. Without faith we get no good. What is said of the word preached, it did not profit them, not being mixed with faith,' is true of the sacrament. Heb 4: 2. Christ turned stones into bread: unbelief turns the bread into stones, that do not nourish. We partake aright when we come in faith. Faith has a twofold act, an adhering, and an applying. By the first we go over to Christ, by the second we bring Christ over to us. Gal 2: 20. This is the grace we must set to work. Acts 10: 43. Philo calls it, fides oculata [the eye of faith]: it is the eagle-eye that discerns the Lord's body; it causes a virtual contact, it touches Christ. Christ said to Mary, Touch me not,' &c. John 20: 17. She was not to touch him with the hands of her body; but he says to us, Touch me,' touch me with the hand of your faith. Faith makes Christ present to the soul. The believer has a real presence in the sacrament. The body of the sun is in the firmament, but the light of the sun is in the eye. Christ's essence is in heaven, but he is in a believer's heart by his light and influence. That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.' Eph 3: 17. Faith is the palate which tastes Christ.1 Pet 2: 3. It causes the bread of life to nourish. Crede et manducasti [Believe and thou hast fed]. Augustine. Faith makes us one with Christ. Eph 1: 23. Other graces make us like Christ, faith makes us members of Christ.
We partake aright of the sacrament when we receive it in love.
(1) Love to Christ. Who can see Christ pierced with a crown of thorns, sweating in his agony, bleeding on the cross, but his heart must needs be endeared in love to him? How can we but love him who has given his life a ransom for us? Love is the spiced wine and juice of the pomegranate which we must give to Christ. Cant 8: 2. Our love to this superior and blessed Jesus must exceed our love to other things; as the oil runs above the water. Though we cannot, with Mary, bring our body ointment to anoint his body, we do more than this, whence bring him our love, which is sweeter to him than all ointments and perfumes.
(2) Love to the saints. This is a love-feast. Though we must eat it with the bitter herbs of repentance, yet not with the bitter herbs of malice. Were it not sad if all the meat we eat should turn to bad humours? He who comes in malice to the Lord's table turns all he eats to his hurt. He eateth and drinketh damnation to himself.' 1 Cor 11: 29. Come in love.' It is with love as with fire which you keep all the day upon the hearth, but upon special occasions make larger. We must have love to all; but to the saints, who are our fellow-members here, we must draw out the fire of our love larger; and must show the largeness of our affections to them, by prizing their persons, by choosing their company, by doing all offices of love to them, by counselling them in their doubts, comforting them in their fears, and supplying them in their wants. Thus one Christian may be an Ebenezer to another, and as an angel of God to him. The sacrament cannot be effectual to him who does not receive it in love. If a man drinks poison and then takes a cordial, the cordial will do him little good, so he who has the poison of malice in his soul, the cordial of Christ's blood will do him no good; come therefore in love and charity.
Use one. From the whole doctrine of this sacrament learn how precious should a sacrament be to us. It is a sealed deed to make over the blessings of the new covenant to us. A small piece of wax put to a parchment is made the instrument to confirm a rich conveyance or lordship to another; so these elements in the sacrament of bread and wine, though in themselves of no great value, yet being consecrated to be seals to confirm the covenant of grace to us, are of more value than all the riches of the Indies.
Use two. The sacrament being such a holy mystery, let us come to it with holy hearts. There is no receiving a crucified Christ but into a consecrated heart. Christ in his conception lay in a pure virgin's womb, and, at his death, his body was wrapped in clean linen, and put into a new virgin tomb, never yet defiled. If Christ would not lie in an unclean grave, surely he will not be received into an unclean heart. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.' Isa 52: 11. If they who carried the vessels of the Lord were to be holy, they who are to be the vessels of the Lord, and are to hold Christ's blood and body, ought to be holy.
Use three. Christ's body and blood in the sacrament are a most sovereign elixir or comfort to a distressed soul. Having poured out his blood, God's justice is fully satisfied. There is in the death of Christ enough to answer all doubts. What if sin is the poison, the flesh of Christ is an antidote against it! What if sin be red as scarlet, is not Christ's blood of a deeper colour, and can wash away sin? If Satan strikes us with his darts of temptation, here is a precious balm out of Christ's wounds to heal us. Isa 53: 5. What though we feed upon the bread of affliction, so long as in the sacrament we feed upon the bread of life? Christ received aright sacramentally, is a universal medicine for healing, and a universal cordial for cheering our distressed souls.