Samuel Bolton by William Faithorne, print, published 1657
Samuel Bolton (1606-1654), in his work The Guard of the Tree of Life (Discourse on the Sacraments), presents compelling reasons for the diligent pursuit of spiritual discipline in our lives. Bolton, as many writers of his day, refers to it as our “duty” but it’s not the cold and unfeeling idea of duty, rather it is the call to embrace with our whole being the means of grace provided by our loving Father. In this book, Bolton focuses on the Lord’s Table as one of the regular disciplines of the Christian life. In the same way that we receive grace and spiritual strengthening from prayer, meditating on scripture, fellowship and loving service, we likewise receive the same from feeding upon our Savior’s body and blood through faith at the table. We should no more reject weekly attention to the supper than we would our daily prayer or time in God’s Word. It is a means of God’s gracious benefits flowing afresh into our lives. All neglect of spiritual discipline diminishes our progress in holiness. Bolton states:
“Neglect of duty breeds strangeness, strangeness distance, distance falling off. A good caveat in these days, when so many do cry down duty; shall we look on that as our burden which is our glory, our bondage which is our privilege? What is the happiness of a glorified saint, but only that he is always under the line of love, ever in the contemplation and converses with God? And shall that be thought our burden here, which is our glory hereafter?”
It is our glory, our privilege to come boldly before the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16) How do we come to the throne of grace? How do we access this grace and need? By the means appointed by our Father. Bolton lists 8 benefits of this sacred “duty”:
“By this, first, you come to see the face of God; secondly, you have conversations with him; thirdly, you get new quickening’s; fourthly, new encouragements; fifthly, fresh strength against sin; sixthly, new supplies against the temptations of Satan and the world; seventhly, fresh strength to walk with God; eighthly, armor against our lusts.”
Look at these again:
- See the face of God. (As John Owen said, the table of the Lord is God’s love on display)
- We have conversation with Him. (Just as prayer is a two-way street, so is communion.
- Quickenings. (We receive fresh power! “Be being filled with the Spirit…” Eph. 5:18)
- New encouragement. – We receive fresh motivation.
- Fresh strength against sin. We are pointed a new toward holiness, our armor is buffed, our weapons are reset.
- “New supplies.” – grace that makes the Lord more precious to us and makes Satan and his kingdom more odious to us.
- Fresh strength. – we mount up with wings as eagles.
- Armor. – most especially our helmet of salvation and our shield of faith. Here the cross is put before us, the price of our redemption is evident, our assurance is strengthened, our faith is brought between us and our lusts.
Why would we not receive these benefits week by week?
It is of interest to note that at the inauguration of the Old (Exod. 24:1-11) and New Covenants (Matt. 26:26-29) God was with his people, and eating occurred. There is also a prospect held out for us, an eschatological feast in the New Heavens and the New Earth (Matt. 26:29; Luke 14:15; Rev. 19:9). There will be eating and feasting at the consummation. All of this is due to the blood of the Lamb, slain for sinners, in order to bring us to God. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the past, blesses us in the present, and looks to future eating, future feasting with the Lamb in all his glory.
~ Richard Barcellos
Like many others, I had grown up with the idea that bread and wine, Communion, taken too frequently would grow old and become a mere ritual. But personal experience has proven just the opposite. I have found the Table, like the Word, to be a satisfying means of nourishment and spiritual growth. Far from becoming routine, it has become like an intimate relationship.
It is highly significant that the only regular ritual act instituted and commanded by Jesus sets forth supremely his death. It is his death, his body given and blood shed, which the bread and wine were intended to signify. In issuing the command to ‘do this in remembrance’ of him, he intended that his atoning death should be kept before every generation, indeed ‘placarded’ before their very eyes. This according to Paul is the function of preaching. It is one of the functions of communion also.
The ministry of both Word and sacrament makes Christ’s death contemporary, presenting it anew not to God (for the sacrifice itself was offered on the cross once for all) but to men (for its benefits are always freshly available).
It’s interesting to read Luther’s views on the Eucharist. This material comes from his Larger Catechism
Now, what is the Sacrament of the Altar?
Answer: It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in and under the bread and wine which we Christians are commanded by the Word of Christ to eat and to drink. And as we have said of Baptism that it is not simple water, so here also we say the Sacrament is bread and wine, but not mere bread and wine, such as are ordinarily served at the table, but bread and wine comprehended in, and connected with, the Word of God.
It is the Word (I say) which makes and distinguishes this Sacrament, so that it is not mere bread and wine, but is, and is called, the body and blood of Christ. For it is said: Accedat verbum ad elementum, et At sacramentum. If the Word be joined to the element it becomes a Sacrament. This saying of St. Augustine is so properly and so well put that he has scarcely said anything better. The Word must make a Sacrament of the element, else it remains a mere element. Now, it is not the word or ordinance of a prince or emperor, but of the sublime Majesty, at whose feet all creatures should fall, and affirm it is as He says, and accept it with all reverence fear, and humility.
The benefits [the Lord’s Supper] confers, are spiritual, not physical. Its effects must be looked for in our inward man. It was intended to remind us, by the visible, tangible emblems of bread and wine, that the offering of Christ’s body and blood for us on the cross, is the only atonement for sin, and the life of a believer’s soul. It was meant to help our poor weak faith to closer fellowship with our crucified Savior, and to assist us in spiritually feeding on Christ’s body and blood. It is an ordinance for redeemed sinners, and not for unfallen angels. By receiving it we publicly declare our sense of guilt, and need of a Savior – our trust in Jesus, and our love to Him – our desire to live upon Him, and our hope to live with Him. Using it in this spirit, we shall find our repentance deepened, our faith increased, our hope brightened, and our love enlarged – our besetting sins weakened, and our graces strengthened. It will draw us nearer to Christ.
Commentary, Matthew 26.
“In communion, our entire covenant community is brought closer to our God and subsequently, to each other because our Christ is our commonality, and the sacrament is our common sign. As all believers possess God’s Spirit, we are personally fed, repaired, and strengthened. But that communion is not a privatized, one-dimensional experience.
All of Christ’s Church enjoys the presence of the Holy Spirit, so we cannot experience true communion in isolation. The sacrament that is experienced is always done in plurality with other brothers and sisters… We are brought out of isolation into a community that rallies around an identity that is not consumed with melancholic introspection or shared backgrounds. Once defined by our sin, we are now defined by the person and work of another – Jesus. We are now defined by his righteousness, not our own. As we corporately approach the table, it is a group of righteous people who still sin, a group of righteous people who hate their sin, and a group of righteous people who long for the day when they will not sin.
What a relief to many that there are others who are disgusted with themselves. We are morally frustrated, and yet, also long for the perfection found in Christ’s work – not increased fervor or promises. The Table once again unites a fragmented people. Unified, we come. Sinners who have been made righteous attend this Table. We do not come through varying acts of goodness, but through One Person, applied to his people by One Spirit. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Table is, yet again, the cure for loneliness and isolation.”
– Tim Lien
This Is for You (The Means of Grace)
“So with the Lord’s Supper. My witness is, and I think I speak the mind of many of God’s people now present, that coming as some of us do, weekly, to the Lord’s table, we do not find the breaking of bread to have lost its significance—it is always fresh to us. I have often remarked on Lord’s-day evening, whatever the subject may have been, whether Sinai has thundered over our heads, or the plaintive notes of Calvary have pierced our hearts, it always seems equally appropriate to come to the breaking of bread. Shame on the Christian church that she should put it off to once a month, and mar the first day of the week by depriving it of its glory in the meeting together for fellowship and breaking of bread, and showing forth of the death of Christ till he come. They who once know the sweetness of each Lord’s-day celebrating his Supper, will not be content, I am sure, to put it off to less frequent seasons. Beloved, when the Holy Ghost is with us, ordinances are wells to the Christian, wells of rich comfort and of near communion.”
“Songs of Deliverance,” Sermon no. 763, July 28, 1867, preaching from Judges 5:11.
AA Hodge in his Evangelical Theology: Lectures on Doctrine, speaks of holy communion as the “visible mark or badge of Christian discipleship.” His words that follow are a stirring call both to a life of testimony and the essential nature of the sacrament.
It is true that a true believer, who for any reason is prevented from confessing Christ by wearing publicly his sacramental badge, may just as efficiently confess him by other significant words and deeds. And it is further true that if a communicant is indeed a true believer at heart he
will constantly confess Christ in other ways—indeed, in all conceivable ways—in all his life. Nevertheless, a loyal citizen cannot choose his own flag. The public and official signification of loyalty cannot be left to the accidental choice of individuals. Above all, in a state of active war no loyal soldier can for one moment fail to hold aloft the one battle-flag which his leader has in trusted to his care. He covers it with his body, he shields it with his life, he carries it aloft with streaming eyes and heaving breast at the head of the host. So do we with solemn joy, with reverent love and passion, carry in sacred pomp this sacramental flag of confession and of challenge high in the face of the world which crucified our Lord.
In his book on the Lord’s Supper, Puritan Thomas Watson warns of neglecting the sacrament:
Has Jesus Christ been at all this cost to make a feast? Then, surely, there must be guests. (Luke 22:19). It is not left to our choice whether we will come or not; it is a duty purely indispensable. “Let him eat of that bread” (1 Corinthians 11:28), which words are not only permissive, but authoritative. It is as if a king should say, “Let it be enacted.”
The neglect of the Sacrament runs men into a gospel penalty. It was infinite goodness in Christ to broach that blessed vessel of His body and let His sacred blood stream out. It is evil for us wilfully to omit such an ordinance wherein the trophy of mercy is so richly displayed and our salvation so nearly concerned. Well may Christ take this as an undervaluing of Him, and interpret it as no better than a bidding Him to keep His feast to Himself. He who did not observe the passover was to be cut off. (Numbers 9:13). How angry was Christ with those who stayed away from the supper! They thought to put it off with a compliment. But Christ knew how to construe their excuse for a refusal. “None of those men which were bidden shall taste of My supper,” (Luke 14:24). Rejecting gospel mercy is a sin of so deep a dye that God can do no less than punish it for a contempt. Some need a flaming sword to keep them from the Lord’s Table, and others need Christ’s whip of small cords to drive them to it.