Some time ago I became convicted, by the Spirit I trust, that I did not regard the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with sufficient significance or gravity. I felt that I did not sufficiently sanctify this celebration through lack of preparation and lack of focus when actually taking the bread and the wine. Over the past four days I have been making my way through Gospel Worship by Jeremiah Burroughs, a Puritan who lived and ministered in the early seventeenth century. In one chapter of this great book he addresses the question of “What is Required in Receiving the Sacrament?” While the book is filled, from cover to cover with godly wisdom, this one section spoke straight to my soul. Burroughs provides requirements for “the sanctifying of the name of God in this holy sacrament.” I’d like to share these with you today in the hope that they challenge you as they’ve challenged me.
Knowledge is Required – A person must know what the Lord’s Supper signifies and must be able to provide an account of what it is (and is not). We must also have knowledge of other aspects of the Christian faith, “for we can never come to understand the nature of this sacrament without knowing God and knowing ourselves, knowing in what estate we were by nature, knowing our fall, knowing the way of redemption, knowing what Jesus Christ was and what He has done in making an atonement, the necessity of Jesus Christ and what the way of the covenant is that God has appointed to bring men’s souls to eternal life by.” This must not be mere habitual knowledge, but knowledge that is stirred up by meditation.
A Suitable Disposition – Because the Lord’s Supper remembers the Lord’s broken body and shed blood, “a suitable disposition is brokenness of heart, a sense of our sin, of that dreadful breach that sin has made between God and the soul.” Our sin should be upon our hearts, but only in such a way that we understand it through the application of the blood of Christ. We must behold Christ broken and behold the ugliness of our sin in the red of the glass of the blood of Jesus Christ. “There is more in this sacrament to break the heart for sin” than any other sight we could behold, even a memorial or picture of Christ hanging on the cross. “You do not find that God set that [seeing a representation of Christ on the cross] apart as an ordinance, an institution appointed to the end that they should come to look upon that for the breaking of their hearts.” So when you see the bread broken and see the redness of the wine, allow your heart to be broken with your sin.
Purging and Cleansing the Heart of Sin – At Passover the Jews were to cast out all leaven from within their homes. They first made diligent search for leaven, even lighting candles to search for leaven in every corner. They then cast it out of their homes. Finally, they cursed themselves if they should willingly keep any leaven in the house. That signifies the soul-searching we should undertake before we approach the Lord’s table. We should “make a diligent search to see whether there is not some leaven, some evil in your heart; and whatever sin you shall come to find in your heart, there must be a casting out of it.”
Burroughs provides this moving metaphor for how we are to regard our sin as we approach the Lord’s Supper. “If you saw the knife that cut the throat of your dearest child, would not your heart rise against that knife? Suppose you came to a table and there is a knife laid at your plate, and it was told to you that this is the knife that cut the throat of your child. Fathers, if you could still use that knife like any other knife, would not someone say, ‘There was but little love to your child?’ So when there is a temptation come to any sin, this is the knife that cut the throat of Christ, that pierced his sides, that was the cause of all his suffering, that made Christ to be a curse. Now will you not look upon that as a cursed thing that made Christ to be a curse? Oh, with what detestation would a man or woman fling away such a knife! And with the like detestation it is required that you should renounce sin, for that was the cause of the death of Christ.”
The Hungering and Thirsting of the Soul after Jesus Christ – God expects that all who come to this feast should come with a hungering and longing for Jesus Christ. “Oh, that I might have more of Christ, that I might meet with Christ, that I might have some further manifestation of Jesus Christ, that I might have my soul further united to the Lord Christ, and so have further influence of Christ to my soul.” The reason we do not hunger after Christ like this is that we too often come with stomachs filled with the trash of the world. “So it is with men of the world. They fill their hearts with the trash of this world, with sensual delights; and hence it is that when they come to such a great ordinance to enjoy communion with Jesus Christ, they feel no want at all of Christ. They only come and take a little piece of bread and draught of wine, but for any strong, pausing desires to meet with Jesus Christ there in the ordinance, to come so as they know not how to live with Christ, even as a man who is hungry cannot live without his meat and drink, and so for the soul to have such a disposition after Christ is a rare thing.”
An Exercise of Faith – “Faith is both the hand and the mouth for taking this spiritual meat and spiritual drink.” Faith allows us to see in the bread and wine Jesus’ flesh and blood. “You know by this whether you have come with faith to the sacrament or not, whether you have seen the most glorious sight that ever your eyes beheld, alas, with our natural eyes.” And then, “as you reach out your hand to take the bread and wine, so there must be an actual reaching out of the soul by faith, putting forth an act of faith to receive Jesus Christ into the soul, to apply the Lord Jesus Christ to your soul with all His merits and good things that He has purchased.” And finally the mouth: “You have a bodily mouth to take in bread and wine, but know that without faith your soul cannot take in Christ. Faith is, as it were, the mouth. That is, by the act of faith the soul opens itself for Jesus Christ, and not only opens itself, but takes in Christ to the soul and makes Christ and the soul as one.”
Spiritual Joy – Despite the broken-heartedness of this feast, joy must be exercised. We rejoice with trembling. “This is a great mystery of godliness, that there should be at the same time the sight of Christ crucified and a spiritual cheerfulness in the assurance of the love of God in Jesus Christ.”
Thankfulness – We are to give thanks to God for every mercy. “When you come here and understand what you are doing, here you cannot but see matter for the enlargement of your heart, and wish that you had ten thousand times more strength to express the praises of the Lord. Here is a thing that must be the subject of the ‘Hallelujahs’ and ‘Doxologies’ that angels and saints must forever sound out in the highest heavens.” For in this act the Lord signifies that He has given us something far better than if He were to give us ten thousand worlds.
A Willingness to Renew Your Covenant – There must be a renewing of the covenant with God. “I come to receive this bread and this wine, and this is to be as the seal of the covenant on God’s part. Now this will be implied in the nature of the thing that, if I take the seals of the covenant, I must be willing to set my seal on it too, to renew the covenant that God calls me to.” We come to renew our faith and repentance.
A Renewing of Love – We come to renew our love not only to God but also to our brethren. “For it is a feast of the Lord, and it is an act of communion; communion not only with Christ, but with His churches, with His saints… The Lord requires that His children should not fall out who come to His table, but that there should be love and peace. There’s a mighty bond when you come to the sacrament, and therefore, first all heart-burnings and heart-grudges must be laid aside.”
Burroughs concludes with a warning:
“If we do not sanctify God’s name, it will turn quite to the contrary. It is the proper end of the sacrament to seal up our salvation, but if we do not sanctify God’s name it will seal up our condemnation. If it has not been your endeavour to sanctify the name of God, as many times as you have received the sacrament, so many seals have you upon you for the sealing up of your condemnation. Many men’s or women’s condemnations are sealed with three or four hundred seals, as it may be.” For God’s name will be sanctified in us, either through grace and mercy or through justice.