Book 4 - Chapter 17: Of the Lord’s Supper - by Herman Witsius

The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Herman Witsius

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Herman Witsius (1636-1708)

Arguably known for the best work on Covenant Theology in print (at least in the top 5).

Herman Witsius (1636-1708) was Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Franeker, Utrecht, and Leyden. A brilliant and devout student, he was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew by the age of fifteen, when he entered the University of Utrecht. He was ordained at twenty-one and served in several pastorates, filling both the pulpit and the academic chair over the course of his life.

This, his magnum opus, is a reflection of some of the most fruitful and mature thinking on federal theology during the seventeenth century, and still holds a preeminent place in our own day.

Chapter XVII: Of the Lord’s Supper

I. THE other sacrament of the New Testament is the Holy Supper of the Lord; which the Lord Jesus instituted immediately after his last passover, because it was to succeed the Passover, from which he transferred also to this most of the rites and phrases used by the ancient Jews in their passover. As this has long ago been observed by the learned, so it will appear from the brief explication, we are now to give of this sacred symbol.

II. This sacrament is called ΔΕΙΠΝΟΝ the supper, 1 Cor. 11:20, not because its celebration is necessarily confined to the evening or night. For though in the ancient church this was frequently done; yet that was owing not so much to the religion of Christians, as to the cruelty of persecutors, who by their tyranny obliged believers to meet together privately, and in the night time, but because the Lord instituted this feast after the passover, which was to be slain between the two evenings, and eaten in the night. It was likewise instituted in the very night in which he was betrayed, 1 Cor. 11:23, and which was the last before his death; hence this most sacred feast was constantly called the Supper. Besides most sumptuous entertainments among the ancients, especially in the Jewish nation, at least their nuptial feasts were generally in the evening, as appears from the parable of the ten virgins, Matt. 25. And therefore it was proper, that that feast, which represents the unspeakable dainties of heaven, and is an earnest of the Marriage-Supper of the Lamb, Rev. 19:9, should be held forth to us under the name and emblem of a supper. Nor is it for nothing, that Paul observes, that Christ gave the supper to the church, in that night in which he was betrayed. For, besides that we have in this an illustrious display of Christ’s infinite love to men, in that he should vouchsafe to have such an anxious concern for us, especially at that time, when his mind was otherwise so much taken up, and distressed with the horror of his approaching sufferings; but what above all ought to make it sacred to us, and very highly valuable, is, that it was instituted by our Lord, just as he was preparing himself to die.

III. Again, it is called ΚΥΡΙΑΚΟΝ δεῖπνον the Lord’s Supper, 1 Cor. 11:20, both because the Lord was the author of it, and because the whole of it agrees to the Lord, and to the remembrance of him; so that the Lord himself, in the right use of it, is exhibited to believers; and lastly, because it ought to be celebrated by us, according to the will and prescription of the Lord.

IV. But the Lord’s Supper, to pass on from the name to the thing, is the sacrament of education, or nourishment, in the New Testament church, wherein, by the symbols of bread broken, and wine poured out, the dreadful sufferings of Christ are represented to believers; and the promises of the New Testament and enlivening communion with Christ, made perfect by sufferings both in grace and glory, are signified and sealed unto them.

V. For the illustration of this description it will be useful we first distinctly consider the external signs, then the things signified by them. The signs are either the symbols* themselves, or certain actions about the symbols. The symbol is twofold; bread and wine: and both of them are joined together, to signify the superabundant fulness we have in Christ. Here we are to adore the divine providence, which hath given to his church things so simple and easily obtained, as pledges of things heavenly, and several reasons may be assigned. 1st. That this sacrament might in all places, even to the end of the world, be in perpetual use among the faithful, it was suitable such symbols should be instituted, as might, in all places and at all times, be ready at hand for the church’s use. 2dly. It is more consistent with the spiritual economy of the New Testament, to be led by some plain and ordinary symbol, which should neither detain the eye nor the mind, presently to behold, meditate on and receive the thing signified, than to be so dazzled by some illustrious and miraculous sign, like what was granted to the Israelites in the wilderness, as to be made to give less attention to the mystical signification. 3dly. And then, the danger of superstition, which can scarcely be altogether avoided in the case of bread and wine, would have been far greater in that of a more illustrious sign. 4thly. Nor is it from the purpose, that Christ has not again given us the flesh of slain animals, nor bloody meals, such as the fathers formerly eat in their sacred feasts; but has furnished out his table with plain bread and wine, for Christ’s blood by which all our debts are cancelled, and the fire of divine wrath is quenched, being once shed, it became a crime any longer to shed any blood in the sacred rites of Christians.

VI. Common and ordinary bread is to be made use of, as Christ used that which lay before him, Matt. 26:26. But it was an old subject of debate between the Greek and Latin churches, whether it ought to be leavened or unleavened, both of them appealing to the example of our Lord. The Latins insist, that Christ used unleavened bread, because immediately after the paschal feast he instituted the supper; at which time it was altogether unlawful for any leaven to be seen among the Israelites. The Greeks, on the other hand, contend, that Christ eat the paschal lamb the day before the Jews celebrated their passover; from which they infer, that the days of unleavened bread were not yet come, when our Lord celebrated the first supper, and therefore it is most probable, that our Lord used leavened bread, which before the days of unleavened bread came, was most commonly made use of. And indeed, as to Christ’s example, we make no manner of doubt, but the Latins have the better of the Greeks in this argument. For, whether our Lord celebrated the passover on the same or on a different day from the other Jews; what was the day of the passover to him, was also to him the day of unleavened bread; which the evangelists expressly affirm, Matt. 26:17, Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7. Nor is it certain, that Christ celebrated the passover before the Jews, as Gerard Vossius imagines with the Greeks. The disputes of the celebrated John Cloppenburg and Lud. Capellus have already laid before the learned world what probably may be said on both sides of the question. Nay, the opposite opinion seems to be much better founded, as Bochart, whom we have already so often quoted, has made out by cogent arguments, who seems to have taken off all the difficulty of this question, Hierozoic. lib. ii. c. 1. However, we agree not with the Latins, who would have the example of Christ, in so slender a circumstance, to retain the force of a perpetual law. For as this is no part of the essence of the sacrament, so the use of either sort of bread at this sacred feast, as occasion shall offer, is indifferent and arbitrary; since Christ, without any decision of this question on either side, used that bread which was then at hand. Wherefore it is a matter both of astonishment and grief, that the Greek and Latin churches should have disputed, with so much eagerness and warmth, now for above five hundred years about such a trifling matter. Du Plessis de Eucharistia, lib. ii. c. 5, may be consulted on this subject.

VII. But we can by no means approve of the small round things, made of meal, commonly called hosts or wafers, such as now the Romish church is pleased to make use of. 1st. Because they are most disagreeable to the institution and practice of Christ. For it is very probable, that Christ used such an unleavened cake, as the master of the family, in whose house he kept the passover, laid before him, according to the custom of the Jews. But these cakes were something large, in order to be distributed in pieces among the guests at the table: they were also thin and broad, but yet of a moderate thickness like our sweet and round cakes, that they might be adapted for the nourishment of the body. As to their matter, form, and preparation, see Buxtorf’s Synagoga Judacia, c. xii. 2dly. Because in that case, there is either no analogy, or an obscure one, between the sign and thing signified. Neither is there that serviceableness for supporting life, nor that nourishing quality, nor sweetness of flavour in those wafers, as in common bread; by which both the serviceableness, and nourishing efficacy and grateful sweetness of the grace of Christ are represented. 3dly. Because they were unknown in the church for near a thousand years. Vossius in his Theses de S. cœnæ Dominicæ Symbolis has laid open their origin from Honorius Augustodunensis. His words are these. “It is said that formerly the priests received from every house or family, a quantity of meal, which custom at this day the Greeks still observe, and of that made the Lord’s bread, which they offered for the people, and after consecration, distributed among them. But after the church really increased in numbers, but abated in holiness, it was decreed, on account of the carnal, that such as could, should communicate every Lord’s-day, or every third Lord’s-day, or on the high festivals, or thrice a year. And because the people did not communicate, there was no occasion to make so large a cake, it was decreed to make it in the form of a penny.” This is the true reason why the host has the form of a penny: but afterwards men of subtlety sought, as is usual in such cases, for a ministry where there was none, whence he immediately subjoins; “and that the people, instead of offering meal, should offer a penny, as an acquittance for receiving the Lord.” Durandus in Rationali, lib. iv. c. 14, has words also to the same purpose. “It is prepared in the form of a penny, both because the bread of life was betrayed for pennies, and because a penny was given as wages to the labourers in the vineyard.” These are foolish conceits, and foreign to the august mystery of the holy supper.

VIII. The other symbol is wine: which the evangelists call γεννημα τηςʼ. ἀμπελου, the fruit of the wine, in conformity to the Hebrew phraseology, פרי הנפן Matt. 26:29: Mark 14:25, Luke 22:18. But it does not certainly appear, whether it was red or white. The Jews ordered the best and most generous wine to be purchased for celebrating the passover. But in that country the red was generally accounted such, Prov. 23:31, Isa. 27:3. Hence in the Jerusalem Talmud, Tractat. de Sabbato, fol. 11, it is commanded, that red wine be used for that purpose. But if it appeared that the white was better than the red, the preference was given to that. It is therefore probable, and only probable, that Christ used red wine. And it seems we should not altogether overlook the similitude there is between the blood of the grape, by which name red wine is chiefly intended, and the blood of Christ.

IX. And with no greater certainty can we determine, whether Christ used pure neat wines, or wine mixt with water. Those speak too freely, who affirm, that it was the custom of that country, in order to moderate the strength of their wine, to mix it with water that all might drink of it. For that this was left to the discretion of the Jews, as a matter of indifferency, on the very solemnity of the passover, appears from Sepher Mitzvoth Haggadol, fol. 118, col. 1. “The measure of the cup is a quart of wine either new or old; either neat or diluted.” On the other hand, the argument of those is also weak who contend, that Christ used pure wine, because it is called the fruit of the vine; but the vine produces wine not water. We have shown above, that Christ speaks after the manner of his country. But the Jews called the wine, even that mixed with water, in their solemn blessings over it, פרי הנפן, the fruit of the wine, having regard to the greater and better part of it. Thus the Jewish masters expressly write in Talmud. Babylon. Tit. Berachot, fol. 50. col. 2. “They pronounce not the blessing on the wine, in which no water is mixed, saying, Blessed be he who created the fruit of the vine-tree, but, Blessed be he who created the fruit of the tree.”

X. Nothing, therefore, can here with any certainty be affirmed concerning Christ’s practice. Yet it has been the prevailing custom of the ancients, as well the western as eastern church, if we except the Armenian, to mix the wine with the water; because, after the supper, they kept their Agapæ or love-feasts with the same wine, not choosing to give any handle to the Gentiles, as if they used pure wine to excess. They add a threefold mystery in this, in framing which they have given too much scope to their own fancy: 1st, That by the wine and water might be held forth the blood and water, which flowed from the pierced side of Christ. 2dly, That by that mixture the union of the two natures in Christ might be represented. 3dly, That since, in the revelation of St. John, the people are called water, the union of the same faithful people with Christ the head is exhibited by that mixture. And as it is the way of human nature to be fond of its own fancies, the Greeks put not only water, but also boiling water into the wine, and lest it should on any account cool before they receive it, they do not pour it in till after the elevation; to signify, say they, that from the side of our Lord on the cross, flowed hot blood and water, as quickening things from a quickening body: or even (adds Cabasilas in Exposit. Liturg. c. 37), “to sanctify the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the church, who is otherwise compared to fire.” Nor did the rashness of their determining and allegorizing stop here. In the synod of Tribur, under the emperor Arnalphus, in the year 895, or according to others, 899, it was provided that “none should perform the holy mysteries without mixing wine and water; but that two parts should be wine, because the majesty of the blood of Christ is greater than the weakness of the people.”

XI. Our judgment is this: it does not appear whether Christ mixed the wine or drank it pure. Yet we grant the former to be probable, because it was a more frequent practice among the Jews on account of the generousness of their wines; hence, in the rubric of the festivals, when they speak of the wine, they always use the phrase, “they mix him a cup.” There are also those who forbid pronouncing a blessing over the cup before the wine is mixed with water. It is probable Christ did what seemed to be most suitable to the rules of sobriety. However, we imagine it cannot thence be proved that Christ would prescribe any thing by this his example, especially to those people whose wines are not so generous as to require mixing in common use. For every thing that Christ did, according to the custom of his nation, and on occasion of the passover, does not belong to the essence of the sacrament, nor has a mystical signification, nor in all its circumstances obtains the force of a perpetual law. The allegorical interpretations of the ancients appear somewhat insipid, and without any foundation in the sacred writings. Nor is the practice of the ancient church to be too much insisted upon in this case; for as the thing is indifferent, the modern church has the same right that the ancient had. In such things the liberty which Christ hath left his people ought to remain inviolable: we are to look on nothing as binding and necessary, but his word only. Nay, after the rite of mixing began to be accounted necessary, it was prudently done in the reformed churches for the preservation of liberty to prefer pure wine. Just as if ever the necessity of pure wine should begin to be established, it would be, perhaps, better to return to the practice of mixing it. Certainly those plainly show that they put a greater value on their own imaginations than on the very institution of Christ, who have thought it superfluous to use wine in the holy supper, which, by the command and prescription of our Lord, is a necessary part; but on the contrary, have judged water necessary, which is of human appointment, as if we were left to our own liberty by the divine institution.

XII. But as it is possible, nay, frequently happens that in some countries neither bread nor wine are used, as in America and other parts of the world, where, instead of bread, they have a food prepared of pulse, or herbs, or of the fruits or even the barks of trees; and instead of wine, their drink is made of honey, or sugar, or other aromatics, or even the juice of the cocoa-tree. It is justly queried whether, in those countries, they are wholly to abstain from the Lord’s Supper, or whether, instead of bread and wine, it may be lawful to use that food in the supper which answers the purposes of bread and wine, and is adapted for strengthening the body and cheering the heart. Indeed, we think that no rash innovations should be made in the use of the sacraments; but then necessity has no law. And it seems very hard should any one take upon him to order that the natives and the foreigners in those spacious countries of the world should be deprived of the Lord’s Supper, and their christianity maimed without the sacramental food. Especially as the principal thing in the analogy is retained, when that food and drink is made use of by which the body may be properly nourished, and the heart made glad. Thus much for the symbols or elements.

XIII. Let us now consider the actions with respect to the symbols. And they are either those of Christ, to be performed, after his example by his ministers, or of the disciples, to be imitated by the guests or communicants. The actions of Christ are either words or deeds and both these again either about the bread, or about the wine.

XIV. With respect to bread, there are four things mentioned which Christ did. 1st, He took the bread, namely, into his hand. For it was provided, by an express canon of the Jewish law, that the master was not to pronounce the blessing till he took the bread into his hand that all might see over what he pronounced the blessing.

XV. 2dly, He blessed it. This action is in the Evangelists called ευλογια, blessing, Matt. 26:26, Mark 14:22; at other times ευκαριστια, giving of thanks, Luke 22:19. It is a fine saying of the Jews, mentioned by Buxtorf on this occasion, “Man is forbid to enjoy any thing in this world without a blessing.” But the usual form of blessing pronounced over the bread was this: “Blessed be thou, O Lord our God, king of the world, who producest bread out of the earth.” Yet it is more probable Christ used a peculiar form, and one adapted to the present case, whereby he consecrated the bread to be a sacred symbol of his body. For as in other respects Christ sanctified, by blessing and giving of thanks, bread and other food for natural use, Matt. 14:19, Luke 9:16; so by this blessing and giving of thanks he dedicated the bread as he did afterwards also the wine, set them apart from their natural use to be sacraments of his body and blood.

XVI. 3dly, He broke the bread. And this also after the manner of the Jews. For thus the Talmud. tit. Berachot, fol. xxxxi. col. 22; “he (the master of the family) blesses and afterwards breaks.” This the apostles also carefully observed; hence, 1 Cor. 10:16, “the bread which we break.” And therefore this is a mystical rite, and, as it were, essential to the holy supper; at least so necessary to the purity and completeness of it, that this whole feast is therefore called the “breaking of bread,” Acts 2:42, and Acts 20:7. Nor do they sufficiently clear themselves of a violation of the Lord’s institution, who keeping their bread (if it may deserve that name) whole, maintain, that they have fulfilled its purport, because with them the lump is divided into many small wafers. For that breaking of the lump is culinary, not mystical, being performed in the kitchen, not in the church, and done before the sacrament, not at the administration of it. It is to no purpose objected that breaking among the Jews is sometimes equivalent to distributing, as Isa. 58:7, “deal (break) thy bread to the hungry,” and Lam. 4:4, “the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh unto them.” For to break is there a metalepsis taken for that distribution, which is made after the breaking. But that none should feign any such metalepsis in the words of the supper, these two actions of Christ are distinctly mentioned, he broke and he gave.

XVII. 4thly, The bread broken “he gave to the disciples,” Matt. 26:26. And this also was according to the ancient custom of the Jews, of whom there is an express canon on this head in Maimonides: “Breaking it, he sets a piece before each, and the other (to whom it is given) takes it up in his hand; nor is it allowed to put it into the hand of the eater, unless he is mourning.” If therefore it was not a Jewish custom to put the piece broken off into the hand of the eater, but to lay it before him that he might take it up with his own hand; how much less probable is it that Christ put that morsel into the mouths of his disciples! They who at this day observe that custom depart both from the practice of Christ and from the purer antiquity. For believers were formerly wont “to reach out their hands to take the sacred food,” as Dionysius Alexandrinus speaks in Eusebius, lib. vii. c. 8. But the other custom of putting the bread into the mouth seems to have begun about the year 600; and was owing to nothing but a superstitious veneration for the signs, which at length degnerated into Artolatry or bread worship. See Vossius de S. Cœn. Symbol. Disput. iii. §. 4, 5.

XVIII. These then are the actions of Christ about the bread. Let us now consider his words. And they are twofold; either. preceptive or explicatory. The preceptive either simply enjoin some acts, or at the same time point out the end of those acts. The former are contained in these words: take, namely, that which is broken, and set before you on the table: eat, exactly as in the paschal solemnity: “Whoever is hungry let him come and eat of this bread of affliction.” The latter, in which the end is set forth, are these: “Do this in remembrance of me.” To do, does not here signify to make the body of Christ or to sacrifice, as in Virgil, cum faciam vitula, as some ridiculously contend for; but is to be referred, partly to what our Lord did; the like to which was to be done by the apostles in the discharge of their office; partly to what he commanded the disciples as communicants to do; and regards both the dispensing and the receiving. And this command ought to be compared with that concerning the passover. Exod. 12:24: “And ye shall observe this thing for an ordinance to thee and to thy sons for ever.” Moreover, what he recommends concerning the remembrance of himself is also borrowed from the paschal ceremonies. For the whole passover was celebrated for a memorial of their miraculous deliverance out of Egypt, Exod. 12:14. And almost every circumstance, even what the later Jews added to the divine institution, had its peculiar memorial. But how the supper is a memorial of our Lord shall be afterwards explained.

XIX. The explicatory words, in which the mystery of the sacrament is explained, are these: “This is my body,” Matt. 26:26, Mark 14:22: “which is given for you,” Luke 22:19, and “broken for you,” 1 Cor. 11:24. And these things are also borrowed from the Jewish antiquities and the paschal phrases. For when the Israelites did eat their paschal bread, they were wont to say, “This is that bread of affliction which your fathers did eat in the land of Egypt.” And what seems to come nearer the purpose, they called the roasted lamb, which was served up in the paschal supper, “the body of the passover.” But no one understood, or even could understand it otherwise, but that the bread, which they yearly eat on the festival day, was a symbol and memorial of that bread which their ancestors were formerly fed with in Egypt. In the same sense, therefore, the bread of the holy supper is called the body of Christ. Hitherto they had slain and eat the body of the paschal lamb, which was a type of the body of Christ, afterwards to be delivered up to death for them; at present, Christ, instead of the paschal lamb, gave them bread for a symbol of his body; in the partaking of which holy bread, they were to have, for the future, not a kind of type of things to come, or a memorial of a typical deliverance, but the body of Christ, Col. 2:14, the very substance, as it were, of things already done, and of a solid and eternal deliverance. It is therefore evident that they have wandered a great distance from the scope of our Lord’s words, who would infer from them a change of the substance of the bread into the body of Christ; because as this is most contrary to all reason, so also to the nature of sacraments and sacramental language. Thus much concerning the actions and words of Christ with respect to the bread.

XX. Now follows what he both did and said with respect to the cup. There are three things Christ did with respect to this: 1st, He took the cup as the master of the family usually did among the Jews, taking it in both his hands before he pronounced the blessing over it.

XXI. 2dly, He gave thanks: separately over the cup. For though blessing the bread consecrates all other kinds of food and liquors, without any further consecration, yet, according to the doctors of the Jewish law, that does not serve for the wine; but a peculiar blessing is appointed for it on account of its singular excellency. The ordinary form of blessing was thus: “Blessed be thou, O Lord our God, king of the world, who createst the fruit of the vine.” But we are here to maintain what we asserted concerning blessing the bread, that it is consistent with truth that Christ, at this time, made use of a peculiar form of consecration. On account of this blessing Paul calls it the “cup of blessing,” 1 Cor. 10:16, probably in imitation of that cup which the Jews called the “cup of blessing the table,” or of thanksgiving, with which the feast was closed. And this cup Christ also took “after supper,” 1 Cor. 11:25.

XXII. 3dly, He gave it to them; namely, his disciples. For it was the custom of the Jews that all the guests, after the master of the family had tasted it, should drink some of it. Hence it is probable that Christ, after blessing, first drank of the cup; which those words seem to intimate, which we have in Matt. 26:29: “I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine,” then distributed it among his disciples.

XXIII. We might here inquire why nothing is said of pouring out the wine, which, in other respects, answers to breaking the bread. But Buxtorf in Exercitat. de primæ cœnæ ritibus, et forma, by which I gratefully own I have profited very much on this subject, learnedly assigns the reason of that, namely, that the Jews, in their ordinary entertainments, observed no peculiar rite about pouring out the wine. This was done promiscuously by a servant, or any other person, as occasion offered. But in the feast of the passover, they order that, if by any means it can be done, the master of the family do not pour it out himself, but endeavour to get it done by another; because every thing at this feast ought to be done with an air of magnificence, to denote their liberty from Egyptian bondage to which they were restored. And therefore it is very probable that neither our Lord himself, nor his apostles, but some servant attending at the feast, belonging to the family of him who gave the furnished room to Christ, poured out the wine at the command of our Lord. Whence it appears that our churches also in this respect come nearest to antiquity, in which the Elders or Deacons perform that office.

XXIV. Christ’s words with respect to the cup, correspond with those he had spoken about the bread, and they are, first, simply perceptive, “drink ye all of it,” Matt. 26:27, where that universal particle has its peculiar emphasis: then he shows the end, “this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me,” 1 Cor. 11:25; all which is clear from what was aforesaid. The explicatory words are, “this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins,” Matt. 26:28. That is, the wine contained in this cup is the symbol of blood, not the typical blood, as was that of the paschal lamb, but of my blood; by which is ratified, not that same Old Testament, which the blood of the lamb they had now eaten did ratify and confirm; but a new and a better testament, which brings not a typical but a real remission; conjoined, not with the rigorous demands of the handwriting, but with the giving a discharge in virtue of my blood, very soon to be shed, not to a few among the Israelites, but to very many nations all over the world. Thus much concerning the actions of Christ about the symbols.

XXV. Next follow the actions of the disciples, and consequently of the other guests. And these, according to Christ’s appointment, are three: first, to receive both the bread and the cup; but each separately, for so Christ distributed them: in this manner he commanded his people to take them; thus the body of Christ, as broken for us; his blood as poured out of his body, are more distinctly represented; and in fine, as a complete entertainment requires both meat and drink, so this most complete spiritual repast which we have in Christ, is thus most excellently represented. And therefore we cannot so well approve of that custom which prevailed in Cyprian’s time, to give a piece of bread dipt in wine to infants and the sick; which was the practice in some places, about the year of Christ 340, in the public and ordinary celebration of the sacrament. The same judgment we are to pass on the custom of the Greeks, who crumble the consecrated bread into the wine, and take it out with a spoon.

XXVI. The other action of the guests is to eat the bread taken; for this is the immediate end of its being distributed and taken. Whence it follows, that those destroy the end of the sacrament who take the bread, or host, as they call it, that they may keep it honourably in a pyx or box. This is altogether contrary both to the institution of Christ and the custom of the ancient church. For Christ has expressly commanded they should directly eat. And indeed, as the ancient Christians under heathen emperors, by reason of the danger of persecution, could not at all times have priests, they ate part publicly, and part they carried home; yet they by no means kept it in a religious manner, in order to adore, but to eat it on the next occasion. To this purpose is the decree of the council of Saragosa, which was held in the year 381, canon 3: “If any person is convinced that he has not used the received grace of the Eucharist, let him be Anathema for ever.” For that purpose also the Eucharist was publicly kept by the priest, to be carried out of the ordinary course to the sick, not to be adored, but eaten. But in the earliest times, as the sacrament was celebrated every day, it was to no purpose to lay by the Eucharist; but when the supper was publicly administered, it might be sent by the hands of the deacon to the sick, or to those who were absent on some other account. Which Justin. Apolog. Secunda, mentions, was often done in his time. But what was left of the supper, or not made use of, was either thrown into the fire or given to the school-boys to eat; as Vossius has proved from the second council of Mascon, from Hesychius and Evagrius Scholasticus, Disput. 3, de S. cœnæ Domin. Symbol, § 8.

XXVII. The third action of the guests is, to drink the consecrated wine out of the cup. It is remarkable that our Lord said concerning the cup, not only “take this, and divide it among yourselves,” Luke 22:17, but likewise added a mark of universality, “drink ye all of it,” Matt. 26:27. And we are told how they complied with this command, Mark 14:24, “and they all drank of it.” As if the Lord Jesus purposely intended to obviate the sacrilegious boldness of those men who deprive the Laics, as they call the common people, of the consecrated cup. It is an insipid exception, that the all ought to be restricted to the apostles, to whom our Lord is there only speaking. For the apostles in that case represented the whole church. And unless the papists will own this, whence will they ever prove that the eating of the bread belongs to the laity or common people; especially as no universal particle is added to that command. We add the authority of the apostle Paul, who dissuades the whole church of Corinth by this topic from the worship of idols; because, says he, “ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils,” 1 Cor. 10:21; and again, writing to the whole church, “as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death,” &c. Where he all along joins the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup, as actions to be alike performed by the same persons. 1 Cor. 11:26–29.

XXVIII. But who are they on whom it is incumbent to observe these duties according to Christ’s command. Paul has briefly resolved this, 1 Cor. 11:28, 29: “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup; for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” In which words he shows, 1st. That no person should approach the table of the Lord but he who, having a knowledge of the sacred mysteries, can discern the Lord’s body, and, in some measure at least, understands the analogy between the sacred symbols and the thing signified by them, and on that occasion can show the Lord’s death. 2dly. That there is also required in the communicant that experience of the ways of God about the elect as to be able to examine himself; whether, besides the external profession of faith, he hath also the genuine marks of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, or, which is the same thing, of a sincere and internal christianity; such as the sorrow of a penitent heart, which is after a godly manner; a lively faith resting on Christ, as the alone author of life; in fine, an unfeigned love towards God and his neighbour, joined with an effectual purpose of reformation of life. Whoever upon a previous examination finds these things in himself, is not to account himself as an unacceptable guest to the Lord.

XXIX. These things were carefully observed in the ancient church while zeal was fervent, and discipline in its vigour. How diligent they were in instructing the Catechumens, with what circumspection they acted in admitting them to the holy sacrament, cannot be unknown to those who have but just looked into the writings of the fathers. And that none but the worthy might come to the communion, the deacon called out with a loud voice to all, before the administration, Sancta sanctis, holy things to the holy; and the priest, Sursum corda, to heaven with your hearts. To which words the faithful answered, Habemus ad Dominum, we have raised them to the Lord. In Clement also Constit. lib. ii. c. 61, the deacon duly, at the beginning of the communion, says to the people, Let none have a grudge against another, none be in a state of hypocrisy. And the custom of the Greeks at his day differs not from this; among whom they who are to communicate, turn themselves to every side of the church, and on bended knees address those around them, Forgive us, brethren, we have sinned both in word and deed. To which they who were present answered in this manner, Brethren, God will forgive us. Moreover, just when the communicant was to partake of the sacred feast, he addresses himself to Christ in these words, “I will not kiss thee as Judas did, but after the example of the thief, I confess to thee: Lord, remember me, when thou comest into thy kingdom.” These things we have in Christophorus Angelus, de Statu hodiernorum Græcorum, c. 23.

XXX. We may easily gather from what we have quoted from Paul what to think of the communion of infants. It appears to have been a custom in the ancient church to put the symbols of the holy supper into the mouths of infants just after baptism. A practice still observed by the Orientals. I will here subjoin the words of Metrophanes Critopulus Hieromonachus, confess. c. ix: “But even infants themselves are partakers, beginning immediately upon their baptism, and afterwards as often as the parents will. And if any one should blame us for the communion of infants, we can easily stop his mouth. For, if he be an Anabaptist, we use this saying against him: ‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto me,’ Matt. 19:15. Also that other: ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you,’ John 6:53. But the prophetess Anna makes very much for us, who dedicated Samuel from his early infancy to God; who also requires the first-born of the Jews to be given up to him, from their very birth, though not yet endowed with a competent measure of understanding. But if our adversary be no Anabaptist, we will also use the very same arguments against him, which he uses for infants against the Anabaptists; that as they ought to be baptized, so also to be made partakers of the Lord’s Supper. And thus with the help of God we have got the better of our argument.” Thus far Metrophanes.

XXXI. But we are of a quite different opinion. For, all the words of our Lord’s command (with respect to this sacrament) are so expressed that they cannot belong to infants, who can neither receive the bread nor eat it, unless it be chewed for them or soaked. For “babes are fed with milk, and not with meat,” 1 Cor. 3:2, Heb. 5:12. Infants cannot examine themselves nor discern the Lord’s body, nor show his death, all which we have just heard the apostle requires of communicants.

XXXII. The arguments of Metrophanes are very easily refuted. For, 1st. It does not follow because our Lord was willing that young children should come unto him, and declared that theirs was the kingdom of heaven, that they are to partake of the supper. Christ is there speaking of spiritual and mystical communion with himself, which does not imply any sacramental communion whatever; but that only, of which the subjects he is speaking of are capable. 2dly. The nature of baptism and of the supper is different. Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration and ingrafting in the church; in the administration of which, the person to be baptized is merely passive; to the receiving of that the Scripture does not so universally require self-examination and the showing the Lord’s death. And therefore it may be properly applied to young children. But the supper is the sacrament of nutrition by means of a solid food; to the partaking whereof, the communicants are required to perform certain actions both by the body and the soul, of which infants are incapable, and therefore it belongs to those who are come to the years of discretion, and not to little children. 3dly. Our Lord, John 6:53, is not treating of a sacramental but of a spiritual and mystical eating by faith. For neither was the Eucharist then instituted or known; nor will any one readily urge such an absolute necessity for the eucharist as that without it none can be saved; which yet our Lord asserts of that eating of his flesh. 4thly. The example of the prophetess Anna, who consecrated Samuel a little child to God, is not at all to the purpose. For nothing can be concluded from that, but that it is a part of the duty of parents to give up their children as early as possible to the obedience and service of God. 5thly. And what they pretend concerning the dedication of the first-born of the Jews to God, is still more impertinent. For that dedication of the first-born, previous to the setting apart the tribe of Levi, showed that they were God’s, and to be employed in his service; in them the other children were accounted to be consecrated, and even the whole family; and in a word, they were types of Christ, in whom, as the first-born among many brethren, all the families of the earth are blessed. All which has nothing to do with the participation of the eucharist.

XXXIII. In the ancient church, the communion of the Lord’s Supper was far more frequently celebrated than it is at this day. It is the advice of Basil to Cæsaria Patricia, epist. 289: “Certainly to communicate every day, and to partake of the holy body and blood of Christ, is a good and useful practice.” Thus also Augustine relates in his former epistle to Januarius, that some “communicated every day.” And to this sense some people wrested the “daily bread” mentioned in the Lord’s prayer, as Fortunatus: “But the asking our daily bread, seems to insinuate, that we should every day, if possible, reverently take the communion of his body.” Afterwards the church increasing in numbers, but abating in zeal, the clergy communicated daily with the priest, while the people thought they had done their duty if they communicated every Lord’s day. But neither did they stop here, for the people knowing no measure to their neglect, it was decreed in several synods, that whoever did not communicate every third Lord’s day at lead, should be cut off from the church. At last matters came to that pass, that the people scarce communicated on any other days than the most solemn festivals, especially on the Easter holydays. Compare what we have already quoted, sect. vii, from Honorius Augustodunensis. This neglect of the common people was frequently reprimanded with severity by the holy men of God. But that custom, which enjoins the communicating once a year, was so displeasing to Calvin, that he did not scruple to call it a “most certain device of the devil;” and thinks, we are by all means so to order matters, “as that no meeting of the church be without the word, prayers, and partaking of the supper;” gathering from Acts 2:42, that such was the practice of the apostolical church, where Luke says, that the “faithful continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” He at least imagines, the supper may be most decently administered, if each week at least it be set before the church. See Institut. lib. iv. c. xvii. § 43–47. Alas! what a departure is there at this day from the sanctity and zeal of the ancients! yet, as our Lord has determined nothing as to the time, and in general only recommended frequent communion by that word “as oft,” 1 Cor. 11:25, 26, a certain medium, especially amidst such a corruption of manners should seem to be observed; lest, either by the too frequent use of this sacred food should be disesteemed, or we should slight or neglect that august table of the Lord.

XXXIV. Let us now come to the mystical signification of the supper, and introduce the beloved spouse of Christ into the inner bedchamber, where she may delight herself, not with any outward appearance or figure, but exult and melt away in the most desirable embraces of her husband, and in the pleasures of the purest love; and forgetting the world, forgetting herself, but full of Christ, she may dissolve away in reciprocal returns of mutual fondness. For this purpose the holy supper is to be considered. I. As a sign, teaching us by the institution of Christ. II. As a seal, ratifying the promises of the New Testament. III. As a stipulation, or solemn engagement, binding on us every duty of piety and love.

XXXV. If we consider the supper as a sign given us for instruction, it exhibits a remembrance of Christ, and a lively representation of most of φρικτῶν της εύσεβειας ἡμῶν μυστηρὶων, the awful mysteries of our religion, as the Greek fathers often speak. The bread signifies the body of Christ. For, as “bread strengtheneth man’s heart,” Psa. 104:15, so the flesh of Christ, and the spiritual blessings and graces purchased for us by Christ when he was incarnate, are the food of our soul, supporting and strengthening it in the spiritual life, into the hope of life eternal. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world,” John 6:51. Again, as corn from which bread is prepared, is ground to meal, kneaded to dough, and baked in the oven, before it can be agreeable and wholesome food for man; so in like manner, the captain of our salvation was made perfect through various sufferings, Heb. 2:10, and scorched both in the fire of the divine wrath kindled against our sins, and in the flames of his own love.

XXXVI. The wine signifies the blood of Christ. For as wine allays the thirst, revives the animal spirits, cheers the heart, Psa. 104:15; Prov. 31:6, 7, and makes the maids cheerful (eloquent), Zech. 9:17; so in like manner, the grace purchased by the blood of Christ, allays the thirst of our soul, abundantly satisfying all our holy longings, John 4:14, to a kind of a holy and mystical ebriety, Psa. 36:8; Canticl. 5:1; it supports and sustains the soul when sick of love, Canticl. 2:5; and “puts gladness into the heart, more than in the time that the corn and wine of worldly men are increased,” Psa. 4:7; in fine, “causes the lips of those that are asleep to speak,” Canticl. 7:9, and to become eloquent in the praises of God and of his Christ. And hence it is, that the Lord compares the participation of his grace to 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,” Isa. 25:6. And we must not omit, that as wine is squeezed with much force from the grapes when trodden in the wine-press; so in like manner, the Lord Jesus “was straitened,” Luke 12:50, and oppressed with much anguish, that the blood might flow to us from his blessed body, and his spiritual grace with his blood.

XXXVII. When the dispenser of the mysteries of God, takes the bread and the cup of blessing into his hands before the eyes of the faithful, that seems to intimate, that Christ was thus constituted and taken to be mediator, and “set forth” to believers, “to be a propitiation through faith in his blood,” Rom. 3:25. The blessing and thanksgiving pronounced over the bread and wine, teach us that Christ is that blessed seed of Abraham, “in whom God hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places,” Eph. 1:3, and the greatest gift of divine bounty, for which to all eternity we shall not be able to render suitable thanks; nor are we to set about this sacred feast otherwise than by devout prayers, and a grateful acknowledgement of that infinite mercy, which the Lord vouchsafes to us who are so unworthy. The breaking of the bread represents the breaking of Christ’s body, especially that by death; for the soul is the band by which all the parts of the body are preserved united. But on its departure, the carcase is nothing but a heap of dusty particles, which are soon to be separated upon its putrefaction. Which would also have been the case with the dead body of Christ, had not a speedy resurrection prevented that holy one of the Lord from seeing corruption. The pouring out of the wine represents the shedding of Christ’s blood, that especially which was done on the cross, for the confirmation of the New Testament. And thus in the holy supper, there is a commemoration of the death of Christ, not in words only, but also by those mystical rites. The distribution of these sacred pledges is a figure or emblem of that gratuitous offer, by which the Lord Jesus, with all his saving benefits, is presented to the elect, with the most alluring invitations to accept of him; nor offered only, but actually reached out and freely given to believers for their eternal salvation. In the preaching of the Gospel, there is also a certain but a more general offer of Christ made to all who seriously long after his grace. But in the distribution of the sacrament, a much more particular offer and communication of spiritual grace is given to every believing communicant.

XXXVIII. But when believers receive the bread and wine, they declare by that action, that they receive by a true faith Christ himself and all he is, that they may have a right to become the sons of God, John 1:12. But the eating the bread and drinking the wine signify something more. And first, they really set forth the devote and lively employment of the soul, engaged in holy meditations on Christ, who is all its desire that it may derive from him every thing it knows to be needful for its spiritual life. For, what feeding is to the body, that meditation is to the soul; whereby, from the things the thoughts are employed about, it sucks a suitable aliment, as the body is nourished by eating. Again, these actions also signify that intimate union which subsists between Christ and believers; as meat and drink, when put into the mouth are not only received into the stomach, but also converted into the very substance of the person. This union the Scripture calls an abode, John 14:23; “a joining,” 1 Cor. 6:17; “the same body,” Eph. 3:6. Lastly, they represent that sweetest delight which the hungry and thirsty soul enjoys from the fruition of Christ and his grace; not only believing, but seeing and tasting that the Lord is good, Psa. 34:9; 1 Peter. 2:3. And as all are partakers of one bread and of one wine, this is a figure of that amicable unity, whereby they who partake of the same sacred feast, are united together as domestics of the same Lord: “For we being many are one bread and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread,” 1 Cor. 10:17.

XXXIX. But in the holy supper, we have something more than an instructing sign. It is likewise a seal ratifying to us the promises and grace of God. And first it really seals all the promises of the covenant of grace, which were formerly sealed to believers by the passover, and all those other sacrifical feasts to which they were admitted. Again, more especially the promises of the New Testament, better than those of the Old, which the fathers were obliged to be satisfied with. And in this respect the supper of the Christians greatly excels the passover. “This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins,” Matt. 26:28; in order to a real and not a typical expiation of sin, blotting out the hand-writing, quenching our thirst, and enjoying a fulness of delight in a perfect liberty. In fine, it most especially seals some saving blessings, both of this life and of that to come.

XL. The blessings of this life, which are sealed to us by the supper, are principally three. 1st. Intimate union and communion with Christ, as made perfect by sufferings. Had it pleased our Lord to give to his disciples a piece cut off from his body for them to eat, or some drops of his blood to drink, even that of itself would not be sufficient to salvation, nor have accomplished a saving communion with Christ, which is not a carnal, but a spiritual thing: yet the disciples would thereby have had a very effectual sign of the mystical union. But now he substitutes bread in place of his body, wine in place of his blood, when he says, “this is my body; this is my blood:” and bids us be no less assured by that pledge of his mystical communion, than if we took his very body and blood into our hands and mouth. 2dly. The conservation and nourishment, the strength and increase of spiritual life, which flow from communion with Christ. As, by the use of bread and wine, he who communicates experiences his bodily strength renewed; so, at the same time, it is intimated to the believing soul that he shall not want that grace of Christ, which “giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might increaseth strength,” Isa. 40:29. 3dly. A satisfying fulness of every desirable good, which neither the world could bestow upon any, nor the beggarly elements of the world, separated from Christ, furnish the ancient Jews with: while the Lord Jesus, presenting these symbols, calls out to believer, “Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness,” Isa. 55:1, 2.

XLI. The blessing of the life to come, an earnest of which Christ gives us in the supper, is that most abundant satisfactory fulness of glory, both in soul and body, which the psalmist has described, Psa. 16:11, and Psa. 17:15: and which is frequently represented under the similitude of a marriage-feast.

XLII. Last of all, with respect to us, the holy supper is a kind of solemn engagement, strongly binding us to every duty of piety and love, both to Christ and to our neighbour. It binds us to Christ in several respects. 1. In general, on receiving this earnest of the covenant of grace, in which Christ joins himself to us in a marriage covenant, we, by that very thing, promise and openly declare, and avow, by an oath, that we will fulfil every duty of a chaste, faithful, and loving spouse towards him. Every one of the communicants, by this public and solemn feast, which is appointed for confirming this mystical marriage, makes an open profession of that before God, angels and the whole church. Whoever partakes of the bread broken, and wine poured out, says to Christ, if not in plain words, and an explicit meditation on the thing, yet in the implicit meaning of his act; as, “I desire, Lord, to be a partaker of thy body broken, and blood shed for my salvation; so I declare that I deserve to have my body, no less than this bread, broken or torn in pieces, to have my blood, no less than this wine, poured out, if, in the renewal of this covenant, I shall, with an evil and perfidious heart, break my word to thee.” 2dly. Besides, as in the communion of the holy supper, the greatest and an almost incredible instance of the love of the Lord Jesus towards us is held forth not only before our eyes, but exhibited to our taste; in like manner it is proper that the flames of our love towards him be, in the participation of that feast, kindled up, and the love of him beyond all other love kept inviolate, and become the object of our admiring thoughts. In the same breath, that the spouse was setting forth the love of her beloved to be better than wine, and infinitely preferring the kisses of his mouth to all other things, the most desirable in other respects, she also adds, Cant. 1:2, 3, “therefore do the virigins love him.” 3dly. As the holy supper is especially instituted in remembrance of our Lord, and in commemoration of his death, believers, in the use of it, are bound to have always fresh in their memory the Lord Christ, and the dreadful sufferings he underwent, which are the most solid foundation of our hope, and the only matter of our consolation; and to esteem Christ crucified, as “a bundle of myrrh, lying all night betwixt our breasts,” Cant. 1:13. 4thly, and lastly. As a greater mark of familiarity, our Lord desires a mutual supper, “I will sup with him and he with me,” Rev. 3:20. It is therefore proper that they, who are entertained by our Lord with so magnificent a feast, should be careful to give him a becoming entertainment in return: invite him to “come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits,” Cant. 4:16; and give him to “drink of spiced wine, and of the juice of their pomegranate,” Cant. 8:2. That is, they should give him delight by the sincere practice of internal Christianity; than which neither spices, nor the honeycomb, nor milk, nor wine, can be sweeter to him.

XLIII. To conclude, by the use of the supper we are also bound to the practice of brotherly concord, and the sincerest love towards our brethren and sisters, partakers with us of the same table: that in the hearing, and with the applause of angels, may be sung in the church of God, with one mouth and one heart, “Behold! how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity,” Psa. 133:1. Thus the apostolic church both set us an example for our imitation: “and they continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,” Acts 2:46. To this purpose was the holy kiss, by which they, on all occasions, kept up a mutual peace, of which frequent mention is made in Scripture, and of which, especially in these rites of the supper, the innocent use was for some time continued among Christians. God grant we may in such a manner solemnize this mystical supper on earth, that we may eternally feast with Christ in heaven. AMEN.

Bible Verse:

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless,” (Gen. 17:1).

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