In discoursing of this great and solemn ordinance, which every serious Christian looks upon with a peculiar regard and veneration, I purpose, as God shall enable me, to open the doctrine as well as the duty of it; it will, therefore, be proper enough, and I hope profitable, to take some notice of the several names by which it is known.
I. We call it the sacrament.—This is the name we commonly give it, but improperly, because it does not distinguish it from the ordinance of baptism, which is as much a sacrament as this; a sacrament which we have all received, by which we are all bound, and are concerned to improve, and live up to: but, when we call this ordinance, "the sacrament," we ought to remind ourselves that it is a sacrament; that is, it is a sign, and it is an oath.
1. It is a sign, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace; for such sacraments are designed to be.—It is a parable to the eye; and in it God uses similitudes, as he did of old by his servants the prophets. In it Christ tells us earthly things, that thereby we may come to be more familiarly acquainted, and more warmly affected, with spiritual and heavenly things. In it Christ speaks to us in our own language, and accommodates himself to the capacities of our present state. Man consists of body and soul, and the soul admits impressions, and exerts its power, by the body; here is an ordinance, therefore, which consists of body and soul too, wherein Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are, in the instituted elements of bread and wine, set before us, and offered to us. We live in a world of sense, not yet in the world of spirits; and, because we therefore find it hard to look above the things that are seen, we are directed, in a sacrament, to look through them, to those things not seen, which are represented by them. That things merely sensible, may not improve the advantage they have from our present state wholly to engross our thoughts and cares, in compassion to our infirmity, spiritual things are in this ordinance made in a manner sensible.
Let us, therefore, rest contented with this sign which Christ hath appointed, in which he is "evidently set forth crucified among us," and not think it can be any honour to him, or advantage to ourselves, but, on the contrary, a dishonour to him, and an injury to ourselves, to represent, by images and pictures, the same things of which this ordinance was designed to be the representation. If infinite wisdom thought this sign sufficient, and most proper to affect the heart, and excite devotion, and stamp it accordingly with an institution, let us acquiesce in it.
Yet let us not rest contented with the sign only, but converse by faith with the things signified, else we receive the grace of God in this appointment in vain; and sacraments will be to us, what parables were to them that were wilfully blind, blinding them the more. What will it avail us to have the shadow without the substance, the letter without the spirit?
"As the body without the soul is dead," so our seeing and receiving bread and wine, if therein we see and receive not Christ crucified, is dead also.
2. It is an oath.—That is the ancient signification of the word sacrament. The Romans called the oath which soldiers took to be true to their general, Sacramentum militare; and our law still uses it in this sense: dicunt super sacramentum suum, "they say upon their oath;" so that to take the sacrament is to take an oath, a solemn oath, by which we bind our souls with a bond unto the Lord. It is an oath of allegiance to the Lord Jesus, by which we engage ourselves to be his dutiful and loyal subjects, acknowledging him to be our rightful Lord and Sovereign It is as a freeman's oath, by which we enter ourselves members of Christ's mystical body, and oblige ourselves to observe the laws, and seek the good of that Jerusalem which is from above, that we may enjoy the privileges of that great charter by which it is incorporated. An oath is an appeal to God's knowledge of our sincerity and truth in what we assert or promise; and in this ordinance we make such an appeal as Peter did: "Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee." An oath is an imprecation of God's wrath upon ourselves, if we deal falsely, and wilfully prevaricate; and something of that also there is in this sacrament; for if we continue in league with sin, while we pretend to covenant with God, "we eat and drink judgment to ourselves."
Let us, therefore, according to the character of a virtuous man, fear this oath; not fear to take it, for it is our duty, with all possible solemnity, to oblige ourselves to the Lord; but fear to break it, for oaths are not to be jested with. God hath said it, and hath sworn it by himself: "Unto me every tongue shall swear." But he hath also said, that we must swear to him "in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness;" and having sworn, we must perform it. If we come to this sacrament carelessly, and inconsiderately, we incur the guilt of rash swearing; if we go away from the sacrament, and walk contrary to the engagements of it, we incur the guilt of false swearing. Even natural religion teaches men to make conscience of an oath; much more does the Christian religion teach us to make conscience of this oath, to which God is not only a witness, but a party.
II. We call it the Lord's Supper, and very properly, for so the Scripture calls it, (1 Cor. 11:20,) where the Apostle, reproving the irregularities that were among the Corinthians in the administration of this ordinance, tells them, "This is not to eat the Lord's Supper."
1. It is a supper.—A supper is a stated meal for the body; this is so for the soul, which stands in as much need of its daily bread as the body does. Supper was then accounted the principal meal; this ordinance is so among Christ's friends, and in his family it is the most solemn entertainment. It is called a supper, because it was first instituted in the evening, and at the close of the passover-supper; which, though it tie not us always to administer it about that time, because it Would be inconvenient for religious assemblies; yet it signifies, 1st, That Christ now, in the end of the world, in the declining part of its day, as the great evening sacrifice, "hath appeared to put away sin." This glorious discovery was reserved for us, "upon whom the ends of the world are come." 2d. That comfort in Christ is intended for those only that dwell in God's house, and for those only that have done the work of the day in its day, according as the duty of every day required. They only that work with Christ, shall eat with him. 3d. That the chief blessings of the new covenant are reserved for the evening of the day of our life. The evening feast is a supper designed for us, when we have "accomplished as a hireling our day," and come home at night.
2. It is the Lord's Supper, the Lord Christ's Supper.—The apostle, in his discourse concerning this ordinance, (1 Cor. 11:23, &c.) all along calls Christ the Lord, and seems to lay an emphasis upon it; for as the ordaining of this sacrament was an act of his dominion, and as lord of his church, he appointed it; so, in receiving this sacrament we own his dominion, and acknowledge him to be our lord. This also puts an honour upon the ordinance, and makes it look truly great; however, to a carnal eye it hath no form nor comeliness, that it is the Supper of the Lord. The sanction of this ordinance, is the authority of Christ; the substance of this ordinance, is the grace of Christ. It is celebrated in obedience to him, in remembrance of him, and for his praise. Justly is it called the Lord's Supper; for it is the Lord Jesus that sends the invitation, makes the provision, gives the entertainment. In it we feed upon Christ, for he is the bread of life; we feed with Christ, for he is our beloved and our friend, and he it is that bids us welcome to his table. In it "Christ sups with us, and we with him;" he doth us the honour to sup with us, though he must bring his own entertainment along with him; he gives us the happiness of supping with him upon the dainties of heaven.
Let our eye, therefore, be to the Lord, to the Lord Christ, and to the remembrance of his name, in this ordinance. We see nothing here, if we see not the beauty of Christ; we taste nothing here, if we taste not the love of Christ. The Lord must be looked upon as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and all in all in this solemnity. If we receive not Christ Jesus the Lord here, we have the supper, but not the Lord's Supper.
III. We call it the Communion, the holy communion, and fitly do we call it so: for,
1. In this ordinance we have communion with Christ, our Head.—"Truly our fellowship is with him." He here manifests himself to us, and gives out to us his graces and comforts; we here set ourselves before him, and tender him the grateful returns of love and duty. A kind correspondence between Christ and our souls is kept up in this ordinance, such as our present state will admit. Christ, by his word and spirit, abides in us: we by faith and love abide in him: here, therefore, where Christ seals his word, and offers his Spirit, and where we exercise our faith, and have our love inflamed, there is communion between us and Christ.
This communion supposes union; this fellowship supposes friendship; for, "can two walk together except they be agreed?" We must, therefore, in the bond of an everlasting covenant, join ourselves to the Lord, and combine our interest with his; and then, pursuant thereto, concern him in all the concerns of our happiness; and concern ourselves in all the concerns of his glory.
2. In this ordinance we have communion with the universal church, "even with all that in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours."—Hereby we profess, testify, and declare, that "we, being many, are one bread and one body," by virtue of our common relation to our Lord Jesus Christ; "for we are all partakers of that one bread, Christ, the bread of life," signified and communicated in this sacramental bread. All true Christians, though they are many, yet they are one; and we express our consent to, and complacency in that union, by partaking of the Lord's Supper. I say, though they are many, that is, though they are numerous, yet, as a vast number of creatures make one world, governed by one providence, so a vast number of Christians make one church, animated by one Spirit, the soul of that great body. Though they are various, far distant from each other in place, of distinct societies, different attainments, and divers apprehensions in lesser things; yet, all meeting in Christ, they are one. They are all incorporated in one and the same church, all interested in one and the same covenant, all stamped with one and the same image, partakers of the same new and divine nature, and all entitled to one and the same inheritance. In the Lord's Supper we are "made to drink into one Spirit." And therefore, in attending on that ordinance, we are concerned not only to preserve, but to cultivate and improve Christian love and charity; for what will this badge of union avail us without the unity of the Spirit?
IV. We call it the Eucharist; so the Greek church called it, and we from them. It signifies a thanksgiving, and it is so called,
1. Because Christ in the institution of it gave thanks.—It should seem that Christ frequently offered up his prayers in the form of thanksgivings, as, "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me;" and so he blessed the bread and the cup, by giving thanks over them; as the true Melchizedek, who, when he "brought forth bread and wine to Abraham, blessed the most high God." Though our Saviour, when he instituted the sacrament, had a full prospect of his approaching sufferings, with all their aggravations, yet he was not thereby indisposed for thanksgiving; for praising God is a work that is never out of season. Though the Captain of our salvation was now but girding on the harness, yet he gives thanks as though he had put it off, being confident of a glorious victory: in the prospect of which, even before he took the field, he did in this ordinance divide the spoil among his followers, and "gave gifts unto men."
2. Because we, in the participation of it, must give thanks likewise.—It is an ordinance of thanksgiving appointed for the joyful celebrating of the Redeemer's praises. This sacrifice of atonement Christ himself offered once for all, and it must not, it cannot be repeated; but sacrifices of acknowledgment Christians must offer daily, that is, "the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name." The cup of salvation must be a cup of blessing, with which, and for which, we must bless God, as the Jews were wont to do very solemnly at the close of the passover supper; at which time Christ chose to institute this sacrament, because he intended it for a perpetual thanksgiving, till we come to the world of praise.
Come, therefore, and let us sing unto the Lord in this ordinance; let the high praises of our Redeemer be in our mouths and in our hearts; would we have the comfort, let him have the praise of the great things he has done for us; let us remember that thanksgiving is the business of the ordinance, and let that turn our complaints into praises; for, whatever matter of complaint we find in ourselves, in Christ we find abundant matter for praise, and that is the pleasant subject upon which, in this ordinance, we should dwell.
V. We call it the feast, the Christian feast.—Christ "our passover being sacrificed for us," in this ordinance we keep the feast, (1 Cor. 5:8.) They that communicate, are said to feast with us. This name, though not commonly used, yet is very significant; for it is such a supper as is a feast. Gospel preparations are frequently compared to a feast: "And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees; of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined." The guests are many, the invitation solemn, and the provision rich and plentiful, and therefore fitly is called a feast of souls. "A feast is made for laughter," so is this for spiritual joy; the wine here designed to make glad the heart. A feast is made for free conversation, so is this for communion between heaven and earth; in this banquet of wine the golden sceptre is held out to us, and this fair proposal made, "What is thy petition, and it shall be granted thee?"
Let us see what kind of a feast it is.
1. It is a royal feast; "a feast like the feast of a king," that is, a magnificent feast. It is a feast like that of king Ahasuerus; "a feast for all his servants," and designed, as that was, not only to show his good will to those whom he had feasted, but to "show the riches of his glorious kingdom, and the honour of his excellent majesty." The treasures hid in Christ, even his unsearchable riches, are here set open, and the glories of the Redeemer illustriously displayed. He who is King of kings, and Lord of lords, here issues out the same order that we find him giving: "Come gather yourselves together to the supper of the great God;" and that must needs be a great supper. The wisest of kings introduces Wisdom herself as a queen or princess making this feast: "Wisdom hath killed her beasts, and mingled her wine." At a royal feast, the provision, we may be sure, is rich and noble, such as becomes a king to give, though not such beggars as we are to expect; the welcome also we may be sure is free and generous; Christ gives like a king.
Let us remember, that in this ordinance we sit to eat with a Ruler, with a Ruler of rulers, and therefore "must consider diligently what is before us," and observe a decorum. He is a King that comes in to see the guests, and therefore we are concerned to behave ourselves well.
2. It is a marriage-feast; it is a feast made by a King, at the marriage of his Son: so our Saviour represents it, not only to speak exceeding rich and sumptuous, and celebrated with extraordinary expressions of joy and rejoicing, but because the covenant here sealed between Christ and his church is a marriage-covenant, such a covenant as makes two one; a covenant founded in the dearest love, founding the nearest relation, and designed to be perpetual. In this ordinance, 1st, We celebrate the memorial of the virtual espousals of the church of Christ when he died upon the cross, to "sanctify and cleanse it, that he might present it to himself." "That was the day of his espousals, the day of the gladness of his heart." 2d, The actual espousals of believing souls to Christ, are here solemnized, and that agreement ratified: "My beloved is mine, and I am his." The soul that renounces all other lovers that stand in competition with the Lord Jesus, and joins itself by faith and love to him only, is in this ordinance "presented as a chaste virgin to him." 3d, A pledge and earnest of the public and complete espousals of the church of Christ at his second coming, is here given; "then the marriage of the Lamb comes," and we, according to his promise, hereby declare that we look for it.
If we come to a marriage-feast, we must not come without a wedding garment, that is, a frame of heart, and a disposition of soul agreeable to the solemnity, conformable to the nature, and answering the intentions of the gospel, as it is exhibited to us in this ordinance. "Holy garments, and garments of praise," are the wedding garments: "Put on Christ, put on the new man," these are the wedding garments. In these we must, with our lamps in our hands, as the wise virgins, go forth, with all due observance, to attend the royal bridegroom.
3. It is a feast of memorial, like the feast of the passover, of which it is said, "This day shall be unto you for a memorial, and you shall keep it a feast to the Lord,—a feast by an ordinance for ever." The deliverance of Israel out of Egypt was a work of wonder never to be forgotten; the feast of unleavened bread was therefore instituted to be annually observed throughout all the ages of the Jewish church, as a solemn memorial of that deliverance, that the truth of it being confirmed by this traditional evidence, might never be questioned; and that the remembrance of it, being frequently revived by this service, might never be lost. Our redemption by Christ from sin and hell, is a greater work of wonder than that was, more worthy to be remembered, and yet (the benefits that flow from it being spiritual) more apt to be forgotten; this ordinance was therefore instituted, and instituted, in the close of the passover supper, (as coming in the room of it,) to be a standing memorial in the church, of the glorious achievements of the Redeemer's cross; the victories obtained by it over the powers of darkness, and the salvation wrought by it for the children of light. "Thus the Lord hath made his wonderful works to be remembered."
4. It is a feast of dedication.—Solomon made such a feast for all Israel, when he dedicated the temple, as his father David had done, when he brought the ark into the tabernacle. Even the children of the captivity "kept the dedication of the house of God with joy." In the ordinance of the Lord's Supper, we dedicate ourselves to God as living temples; tempies of the Holy Ghost, separated from every thing that is common and profane, and entirely devoted to the service and honour of God in Christ. To show that we do this with cheerfulness and satisfaction, and that it may be done with an agreeable solemnity, this feast is appointed for the doing of it, that we may, like the people of Israel, when Solomon dismissed them from his feast of dedication, "Go to your tents joyful, and glad of heart, for all the goodness that the Lord hath done for David his servant, and for Israel his people."
5. It is a feast upon a sacrifice.—This, methinks, is as proper a notion of it as any other. It was the law and custom of sacrifices, both among the Jews, and in other nations, that when the beast offered was slain, the blood sprinkled, the fat, and some select parts of it burnt upon the altar, and the priest had his share out of it, then the remainder was given back to the offerer; on which he and his family and friends feasted with joy. Hence we read of Israel after the flesh, eating the sacrifices, and so partaking of the altar: "Behold Israel after the flesh. Are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?" That is, in token of their partaking of the benefit of the sacrifice, and their joy therein. And this eating of the sacrifice was a religious rite, expressive of their communion with God in and by the sacrifice.
(1.) Jesus Christ is the great and only sacrifice, who, by being "once offered, perfected for ever them which are sanctified;" and this offering need never be repeated; that once was sufficient.
(2.) The Lord's Supper is a feast upon this sacrifice, m which we receive the atonement, as the expression is: "And not only so, but we also joy in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement." That is, we give consent to, and take complacency in the method which infinite wisdom has taken of justifying and saving us by the merit and mediation of the Son of God incarnate. In feasting upon the sacrifice, we apply the benefit of it to ourselves, and ascribe the praise of it to God with joy and thankfulness.
6. It is a feast upon a covenant.—The covenant between Isaac and Abimelech was made with a feast. So was that between Laban and Jacob, and their feasting upon the sacrifices was a federal rite, in token of peace and communion between God and his people. In the Lord's Supper we are admitted to feast with God, in token of reconciliation between us and him through Christ. Though we have provoked God, and been enemies to him in our minds by wicked works, yet he thus graciously provides for us, to show that now "he hath reconciled us to himself. His enemies hungering, he thus feeds them; thirsting, he thus gives them drink; which if, like coals of fire heaped upon their heads', it melts them into a compliance with the terms of his covenant, they shall henceforth, as his own familiar friends, eat bread at his table continually, till they come to sit down with him at his table in his kingdom.
—Communicant's Companion, The