Thursday, March 06, 2008

What is Communicating Unworthily?

An excerpt from a sermon by Thomas Boston

The way that many mar this duty: they do it unworthily, that is unsuitably, unmeetly; they mar it in the making, not going about it in the right way and manner. They are guests, but not meet guests, for the holy table. They come to the marriage-feast, but not with wedding-garments. 

What comes of it. The consequences are dreadful. They eat and drink damnation [Greek: judgment] to themselves. This judgment to some is temporal, to others eternal. This they are said to eat and drink to themselves; it becomes poison to them, and so they take their death with their own hands. While the meat is in their mouth, wrath goes down with it, as the devil did with Judas’ sop. 

A particular sin lying on them, which provokes God so to treat them: they do not discern the body of the Lord Christ; they do not duly consider the relation betwixt the elements and Christ, and so they rush in upon these creatures of bread and wine, that are of so deep a sanctification as to be the symbols of the body and blood of the Son of God; they sit down at that table, as to their ordinary meals, without that reverence and devotion that ought to be in those who sit down at such a holy table.  

1. People communicate unworthily when they have not an honourable respect for, and a due reverence to, this ordinance, when they partake of it, Mal. 1:6, 7. If it bear the stamp of divine authority, is it meet that persons should despise it, and not be touched with reverence of it? When the angel of the covenant appeared to Moses in the bush, he said to him, “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet; for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground,” Exod. 3:5. But, behold in this sacrament there are bread and wine of deeper sanctification than that holy ground, they being the symbols of Christ’s body and blood. 

2. When people do not go about it out of respect to the command of Christ, may he not justly astonish such at his table with that question, “If I be a master, where is my fear?” Mal. 1:6. Is it meet that people should communicate out of custom, vain-glory, &c.? If the sense of his command do not bring thee there, thou canst not expect the sense of his love, but rather to feel the weight of his hand, when there. As we must believe the truth because God has said it, otherwise our assent is not divine faith; so we must do our duty because God has commanded it, otherwise our obedience is not acceptable to him. 

3. When people look to any other quarter than to Christ for the good of the sacrament. Some look no farther than the elements. This is to put them in Christ’s stead: but be not deceived, bread and wine cannot nourish thy soul. Some are apt to look to ministers: and if such a one as they affect, serve the table they are at, they think they are sure of advantage. If they knew your hearts so led aside, they would, with a sad heart and angry countenance, say to you, as Jacob did to Rachel, “Am I in God’s stead?” Gen. 30:2. The spouse went a little further than the watchmen before she found her beloved, Cant. 3:4. Many smart by this respecting particular ministers, and overlooking the Master of this ordinance. Secondly, Consider the time of the institution: “The same night in which he was betrayed by Judas, when the hour and power of darkness was approaching.” If so, then it appears that this sacrament was left us as a token by our dying friend. He was now to go out of the world to the Father; but before he goes, he will leave his people a feast and token of love. Did he not know what was abiding him? Yea, verily he knew all. O! then, might not the prospect of the agony and bloody drops in the garden, the racking of his body, and the load of wrath under which his soul was to wrestle, have made him mind himself and forget us? Nay, in the night in which he was betrayed, he instituted this sacrament. Surely then it is most suitable, (1.) That we prize it highly as the love-token of a dying friend. (2.) That we be at pains to prepare to keep the tryst which he was so concerned to set. (3.) That at such a time we avenge the treachery upon our lusts.

So they partake unworthily, 

1. Who partake of this ordinance without a due valuing of it as the love-token of a dying Lord. A token from a friend, though it be small in itself, yet ought to be prized; a token from a dying friend more; but a token from a friend dying for us most of all; and he would be reckoned a monster of men, that would not highly value it. Not to value this ordinance highly, and so desire and delight in it, as many communicants do – who, if they could get their credit kept, could well live without it, and in their unconcernedness of heart for it and about it, say practically, The table of the Lord is contemptible – is to trample upon our dying Lord’s love-token, and to say in effect, He should have been otherwise taken up that night in which he was betrayed. 

2. Those communicants who are not at pains to prepare to keep the tryst our Lord set at that time. I may say, he forgot to eat his own bread, that he might provide for us. He did not so mind the cup of wrath which he was to get himself, as to forget the sacramental cup for our comfort. When he was on the cross, he trysts to meet the believing thief in heaven; and when the clouds of wrath were gathering, and ready to pour down upon him, he trysts to meet believers on earth. And shall we forget the tryst set in that remarkable night? But, ah! how many are there that will not be at pains to prepare for this ordinance, to examine themselves as to their state, frame, &c. They have built up mountains and walls of separation betwixt Christ and them, but are at no pains to remove them, nor to employ Christ to level them. Do not these communicate unworthily? 

3. Who do not avenge the treachery. How came Judas to betray him? Was it not the sins of his own people that were the spring of the unhappy action? Your sins were the chief traitors. Then surely Christ instituting this sacrament at this time, says in effect concerning our lusts, as Ps. 137:7, 8, 9, “Remember, 0 Lord, the children of Edom, in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed: happy shall he be that rewardeth thee, as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.” Can a worthy communicant partake of this ordinance, and mind the treachery his Lord met with, and not break his covenant with his lusts, and renounce his old master? No, surely. They communicate unworthily who come to this ordinance at peace with any lust; they react Judas’ sin-kiss of Christ, and betray him. Thirdly, Consider what is represented by the sacred symbols in this ordinance. The broken bread and wine represents Christ’s broken body, and his shed blood, Christ suffering for sinners. He is sacramentally crucified before our eyes in that ordinance. Now, if the bread and wine represents to us Christ’s body broken for us, and his blood shed for us, it is meet that, in communicating, (1.) We meditate believingly on these sufferings. (2.) That our hearts be inflamed with love to him. (3.) That they be filled with sorrow for and hatred of sin. Then, 1. They communicate unworthily, who do not in their partaking meditate believingly on the sufferings of Christ. Christ will ask that question at communicants, Matt. 16:15, “Whom say ye that I am?” And I would ask beforehand, Do ye believe that Jesus the Son of Mary, who was crucified betwixt two thieves without the gates of Jerusalem, was the Son of God, the only Saviour of the world, and that Christ? Do ye believe that Christ suffered? If ye do indeed believe it aright, I say, as Matt. 16:17, “Blessed art thou: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but Christ’s Father which is in heaven.” And sure I am, if ye do believe, ye cannot shun to meditate on it at the sacrament. This wonderful sight will dazzle your eyes; a sight of God suffering will blind your eyes as to other objects, and make you retire into yourself, to see and wonder, and with admiration to think on this terrible sight. Do they not act most unworthily here, who are not thus taken up? What would ye have said of Moses, had he not turned aside to see that great sight, the bush burning, yet not consumed? Exod. 3. Had ye been on Mount Calvary, within hearing of Christ’s dying groans, within sight of his pierced, mangled, and racked body, and had unconcernedly turned your back, and passed all without notice, would ye not say, he had been just had he turned you off that place quick into hell? Here ye have the same sight; and if ye behold it unconcernedly, ye act a most unworthy part, and oppose yourselves to the most direful effects of his vengeance. 2. Who communicate without love to Christ in exercise. He is represented a king’s son in love with a beggar, loving her, and dying for her. O miserable miscreant! does not this affect thy heart, who art this beggar? Can there be greater love? John 15:13. What hellish cold has frozen thy affections, that this fire cannot warm, nay, melt them! What a heart of a devil hast thou, that Christ, in his glorious apparel, his red garments, cannot captivate? Be astonished, O heavens, be horribly afraid; tremble, O earth; rend, O rocks; be struck blind, O glorious sun in the firmament, when ye see the communicants sitting without love to Christ, when he is sacramentally lying before them, broken, wounded, and pierced with the envenomed arrows of God’s curse, and all for them? 3. Who communicate impenitently. Have ye pierced him? How unworthy will ye be, if ye do not “look upon him whom ye have pierced, and mourn for him, as one mourneth for an only son, and be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first born,” Zech. 12:10. Will ye come to the table without the tear in your eye? O! unworthy communicants, what has petrified your hearts, turned you into stones harder than the adamant, which the blood of the goat will dissolve? Christ’s dying groans rent the rocks, and raised and alarmed the dead; and wilt thou sit stupid? Where sorrow for sin and hatred of it is wanting at a communion-table, there is eating and drinking judgment, which, when it begins to work within you, will make you mourn bitterly, either here or in hell. 

Fourthly, Consider the bread and the wine is offered and given to you at the table of the Lord, in token of Christ’s offering himself to you, with all his benefits, 1 Cor. 10:16; and your taking both, eating and drinking, declares your acceptance of the offer and application of Christ to your souls. Surely, then, it is meet, (1.) That ye believe that Christ is willing to be yours. (2.) That ye do sincerely and cordially accept of the offer. 

1. They are unworthy communicants who partake doubting of Christ’s willingness to be theirs, with all his saving benefits. Will ye not believe him when he gives you a sealed declaration of his mind? To doubt of this, is to say he is but mocking and solemnly cheating you; so that no wonder we say, “He that doubteth is damned if he eat.” What though ye be most unworthy? he stands not on that. Though your sins be many, the sea of his blood can drain them all, Isa. 1:18; Micah 7:18. If the devil get in thus far on you, it will be an error in the first concoction; and till ye get over it, it is impossible to communicate aright, or get good of the sacrament. 

2. Who taking the elements, yet do not take Christ by faith. Then it may be said, as John 1:11, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” Is the bread or cup offered to you, then by that Christ says, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in,” Ps. 24:7. Therefore, we ought to set our hearts wide open, clasp him in the arms of faith, embrace and welcome him into our souls. To take the bread in your mouths, and yet to hold Christ out of your hearts, is to put a solemn cheat upon the King of glory, which will bring upon you the curse of the deceiver, Mal. 1:14, “Which hath in his flock a male, and voweth and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing;” and the cheat will be discovered, if ye repent not, before the whole assembled world at the great day, to your everlasting confusion. This is to betray Christ, with a witness. Either, then, meddle not with these sacramental symbols, or take him by faith. And if ye take him, ye must let your lusts go. 

Fifthly, Consider this ordinance is a seal of the new covenant, 1 Cor. 11:25, “This cup is the new testament in my blood.” Christ has covenanted and left, in his testament to his people, all things necessary for them. His word in itself is sufficient security; but guilt is a fountain of fears; and we are guilty, and therefore fearful souls. And therefore, that it may be more sure to us, he has appended this seal. It is meet, then, (1.) That they be in the covenant who partake. (2.) That we take the sacrament as a seal of God’s covenant to us. (3.) That we believe more firmly. 1. They are unworthy communicants who are not in covenant with God, and yet come to his table. It is a profaning of God’s seal to set it to a blank. It is a feast for friends, not for enemies, Cant. 5:1; and if ye come in a state of enmity, ye can expect no kind entertainment; “For can two walk together except they be agreed?” Amos 3:3; yea, ye will get a sad welcome, such as the man got who wanted the wedding-garment, Matt. 22:11, 12. If there be not a mutual consent, it is no marriage: and if there be no marriage, ye have nothing ado with the marriage-feast. 2. They that use it as a seal of their covenant with God, and not of God’s covenant with them. Surely the sacrament is an obligatory ordinance to obedience; but this is not the principal end of it, but rather to be a seal of God’s covenant with us. The reason why so many afterwards appear to have been unworthy communicants, is, that they go to that ordinance rather to oblige themselves to obedience, than to get a full covenant sealed to them for obedience. All our strength lies in Christ; and worthy communicants go to Christ in the sacrament to get influences of grace secured to them under his own seal, that they may in time of need afterwards know what quarter to betake themselves to for supply. 3. They whose faith of the benefits of the covenant is not more confirmed. This is to sit down at the table, but not to taste of the meat that is set thereon. Why does the Lord give us such encouragement, and yet we grow never a whit stronger in faith; and though he give us new confirmations, yet we have never a whit more confidence in him? Would not a man think himself affronted to be thus treated? Sixthly, Consider this ordinance is appointed for strengthening our souls, for the nourishing of the Lord’s people, and their growth in grace. It is a supper, a feast where Christ is both maker and matter, whose flesh is meat indeed, and whose blood is drink indeed. The Lord’s people must needs have food to nourish the new man, and grace will decay unless it be recruited. If this be so, then it is meet, (1.) That communicants be spiritually alive. (2.) That they actually feed spiritually at this holy table. 1. Graceless souls must needs communicate unworthily. Where there is no grace there can be no strengthening of it. There can be no communion betwixt a holy God and an unholy sinner, Prov. 15:8. God will not make Nebuchadnezzar’s image of mystical Christ. We must be born from above ere we can be capable to feed on Heaven’s dainties. It was the custom of Egypt, not of Canaan, to bring dead men to feasts. They are rather to be buried out of God’s sight. An unregenerate soul at the Lord’s table is a monster that hath not a hand to take his meat, nor a mouth to eat it, 

II. The next general head is to show, what judgments unworthy communicating exposes people to. It exposes them, 1. To bodily strokes, as the Corinthians felt, 1 Cor. 11:30, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. One falls into a decay of strength, another takes sickness after a communion, another slips off the stage. Some give one reason for it, and some another. But, O! unworthy communicating is often the procuring cause of all. What a dreadful distemper seized Belshazzar when he was abusing the vessels of the temple! Dan. 5; but the sin of unworthy communicating is more dreadful. 2. To spiritual strokes; strokes upon the soul, blindness of mind, hardness of heart, searedness of conscience, &c. The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain; he will let guilt lie on him. Hence some after communions are let fall into scandalous sins; some meet with greater darkness and deadness than ever before, and some with sharp desertions. 3. To eternal strokes. As to such as are out of Christ, unworthy communicating will damn them, as well as gross sins in the life and outward conversation, and no doubt will make a hotter hell than that of Pagans. Murder is a crying sin, but the murder of the Son of God is most dreadful, and the Mediator’s vengeance is most terrible. And they are said to eat and drink judgment to themselves; which I conceive, imports, 1. That the hurt which comes by unworthy communicating comes upon the person himself, not on Christ, whose body and blood he is guilty of; for themselves has a relation not to others, but to Christ. They may eat judgment to ministers and fellow communicants, if they have a sinful hand in bringing them to the table. Only, though the slight is given to Christ, yet it rebounds upon the man himself, and lies heavy on him with its consequences. They do interpretatively murder Christ, in so far as they abuse the symbols of his broken body and shed blood; but they can do him no harm; they kick against the pricks, which run into their bodies and souls. 2. That they themselves are the authors of their own ruin. They take their death with their own hand, like a man that wilfully drinks of a cup of poison, and so murder their own souls. And O, what a dreadful thing is this for a man to perish by his own hands! 3. That they shall be as sure of judgment upon them for their sin, if repentance prevent it not, and cut the thread, as they are of the sacramental bread they eat, and the wine they drink. Death is in the cup to them, and it will go down with the elements into their bowels.