The Puritans on the Lord’s Supper (7)

The devil “will be with you at the sacrament to rob you of the comfort and hinder you from that joy that there you might be filled with.”

Reynolds said the Supper was ordained “to exhibit Christ” so as “to increase the mystical union of the church unto Christ their head.” Just as natural food strengthens our bodies by becoming part of them, so we receive “spiritual nourishment” from the Supper in “the vital Spirit of Christ” so that “Christ, being united unto us by these holy mysteries, doth comfort, refresh, strengthen, rule, and direct us in all our ways.” Sin battles against our spiritual health, but the sacrament is a means “to strengthen our faith” by linking us to Christ so that we grow spiritually.

 

Hindrances to & Benefits of the Lord’s Supper

While the Lord’s Supper was open to all believers, not all believers participated fully and regularly in it. There are several hindrances that prevented believers from receiving all the benefits of the sacrament.

The first hindrance is the devil. Doolittle said the devil “will be with you at the sacrament to rob you of the comfort and hinder you from that joy that there you might be filled with.”[1]Watson wrote, “Satan would hinder from the sacrament, as Saul did the people from the honey (1 Sam. 14:26).”[2]Careful observance of the Lord’s Supper opposes Satan’s work, however. Owen said, “In our celebration of the death of Christ, we do profess against Satan, that his power is broken, that he is conquered—tied to the chariot wheels of Christ, who has disarmed him.”[3]Matthew Henry went further, stating, “Christ having thus trodden Satan under our feet, he calls to us, as Joshua to the captains of Israel, ‘Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings.’”[4]

The second hindrance is forgetfulness. God’s children must battle spiritual amnesia in observing the Lord’s Supper (Ps. 103:2106:12–13). “None can be ignorant,” wrote Edmund Calamy (1600–1666), “of how apt our hearts are to turn aside like a deceitful bow, and to lose the sense of those things which ought continually to influence and govern us.”[5]Doolittle said, “What is most to be wondered at is that we are too prone to forget God our Savior, to forget Him who delivered us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us; who delivered us from the wrath of God by bearing it Himself; who delivered us from the sting of death by dying for us.”[6]Similarly, Matthew Henry wrote, “Remember him! Is there any danger of our forgetting him? If we were not wretchedly taken up with the world and the flesh, and strangely careless in the concerns of our souls, we could not forget him. But, in consideration of the treachery of our memories, this ordinance is appointed to remind us of Christ.”[7]Opposing forgetfulness is one of the main purposes of the Lord’s Supper, which constantly challenges us to “Remember me.”

The third hindrance is neglect. The Puritans stated several reasons for the neglect of the sacrament, ranging from a sense of personal unworthiness to a sense of personal pride. Either way, neglect is hypocrisy, the Puritans warned. Doolittle wrote of the dangers of neglect while suggesting the remedy. He said, “It is hypocrisy to complain of the hardness of your heart and yet not use the means to have it softened, to complain of the power of your sin and not use the means to have it weakened.”[8]Willison wrote, “Is not the frequent use of this ordinance, in the way Christ hath appointed, an excellent help, to soften our hearts, renew our repentance, strengthen our faith, inflame our love, increase our thankfulness, animate our resolutions against sin, and encourage us to holy duties, and shall we willingly neglect it?”[9]Against a repeated neglect of the Supper, Henry offered this warning: “Thou hast no desire to the wine of the love of God, but rather choosest the puddle water of sensual pleasures; but canst thou ‘drink of the wine of the wrath of God,’ which shall be poured out without mixture in the presence of the Lamb?”[10]

Perkins listed several benefits of the sacraments: (1) “for the better confirmation of our faith: for by it, as by certain pledges given, God of his great mercy, doth as it were, bind himself unto us.” (2) “That it might be a badge and note of that profession, by which the true church of God is distinguished from the other congregations.” (3) “That is might be a means to preserve and spread abroad the doctrine of the gospel.” (4) “It serveth to bind the faithful, that they do continue both loyal and grateful to their Lord God.” (5) “It is the bond of mutual amity [love] betwixt the faithful.”[11]Truly it is a sign and seal of the covenant bond.

Reynolds said the Supper was ordained “to exhibit Christ” so as “to increase the mystical union of the church unto Christ their head.”[12]Just as natural food strengthens our bodies by becoming part of them, so we receive “spiritual nourishment” from the Supper in “the vital Spirit of Christ” so that “Christ, being united unto us by these holy mysteries, doth comfort, refresh, strengthen, rule, and direct us in all our ways.”[13]Sin battles against our spiritual health, but the sacrament is a means “to strengthen our faith” by linking us to Christ so that we grow spiritually.[14]Reynolds also noted that the Supper increases the unity of the church, partly because eating together naturally knits men’s affections together.[15]

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