Profiting from The Lord’s Supper

An extract from Guilelmus Saldenus, Wilhelmus à Brakel, In Remembrance of Him: Profiting from the Lord’s Supper., 

ed. J. A. De Jong, transl. B. Elshout (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 18-24.

I will not address here the comfort of the soul and its sanctification in general, but only the Lord’s Supper’s efficacy in stimulating and increasing such comfort and sanctification of man as issue forth from and flourish as a fruit of the Lord’s Supper.

Proposition #1: It is a special fruit and consequence of the lawful partaking of the Lord’s Supper that it generates comfort and joy in the hearts of God’s children (Rom 4:11; 1 Cor 10:16–17; 1 Cor 5:7; SS 5:1; etc.).

This brings to the fore:

1. the misunderstanding of those who partake of the Lord’s Supper for no other reason than that they see others do likewise; or because they wish to pursue some temporary advantage, honor, and/or position; or because they wish to quiet their consciences, who perhaps are convinced that they no longer can be at peace in neglecting the same; or because of some other carnal motives, without there being anything memorable or delightful in it for them. Such people are generally satisfied if they have merely engaged in the outward act, even though they have never desired or perceived the least stirring of the soul. We will demonstrate, however, that this ought to be the special fruit of the Lord’s Supper. How wretched are those who are of such a disposition! Concerning such we fear that since they do not seek any spiritual joy in and by means of the Lord’s Supper (and if they do not change in that regard), this will be a certain indication of their ultimate end and eternal sorrow. Paul says concerning them that they eat and drink judgment to themselves, not discerning the Lord’s body (1 Cor 11:29).

2. that there are those who, though they are godly, fail to partake of the Lord’s Supper with the objective of stirring up in themselves, as they ought to, this spiritual joy; and if they persist in this, they will always remain mired (I know not due to what sort of grievous misunderstanding) in a despondent questioning, languishing, muddling, etc. I am not speaking of those who do their utmost in wrestling to overcome this, but rather, who, sad to say, frequently give in to such negative thought patterns. This is lamented in these words, “And there is none that … stirs up himself to take hold of you” (Isa 64:7)—as if God would be well served by petulant and disagreeable guests who are always sighing! We would rather not admonish such troubled and despondent souls. However, since they frequently give in too much to this despondency, we can therefore not refrain from addressing these errors, for thereby they greatly and grievously shortchange the kindness of God and the grace within them, causing their own heart as well as their spiritual vitality to dwindle and languish (Ps 77:10).

Proposition #2: This comforting joy of the Lord’s Supper must not be considered as something external or physical, but rather, as something internal and spiritual (Ps 4:8; Lk 1:47; Ps 22:27).

This joy essentially consists of these three components:

1. It consists of a clearer and more distinct apprehension of the magnitude and preciousness of the suffering of Jesus Christ. This is set before us in the Lord’s Supper not merely as is done and taught through the Word, nor is this embraced as being true by faith only. Rather, it is set before us as something that is seen, tasted, and felt through the administration of tangible and visible signs, and thus by taking, breaking, giving, pouring, eating, and drinking, etc., of the bread and wine.

2. It consists in a greater and more certain peace of heart proceeding from and by way of an assured fellowship with the all-sufficient merits of Jesus Christ. In the Lord’s Supper, by way of various ceremonial actions, all of this is displayed much more visibly and clearly, and it is bound upon the soul in a very personal way.

3. It consists of a fuller peace and inner satisfaction and of a determination to obey in return this perfectly obedient Christ, and if necessary to die, be broken, etc., for Him who died such a death, was broken, and whom one has eaten by faith (2 Cor 5:15).

All of these matters are to be found in a spiritual Christian prior to his partaking of the Lord’s Supper. However, in the Lord’s Supper he experiences this in a more lively and experiential manner. It is the latter that constitutes his spiritual joy.

This, in turn, exposes the lamentable error:

1. of those who always imagine something carnal and physical, and who even appear to be of the opinion that a good Lord’s Supper consists of a good meal and that this would be the true joy with which one would respond to this holy activity. Or, if they are not that foolish, they will at least enjoy a carnal security (assuming that the record of their sins is thereby abolished) and sit quietly at the Lord’s Table without any serious concern for the means of grace. Truly, such are carnal and natural men who do not have the Spirit (Jude 19). And since they neither have spiritual eyes nor spiritual hearts, they would like to conform everything, and especially this spiritual meal, to their own state; they would thus turn it into an entirely carnal event. How poor is such a soul who subjects this heavenly work to shame and ignominy, and leads herself to perdition!

A true partaker of the Lord’s Supper does not seek external joy. He neither feels nor displays it, except insomuch as perhaps it would be to the edification and inspiration of others. “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).

2. of those who are not looking for something external but nevertheless remain greatly ensnared by their feelings, believing that there is no other source of joy in the Lord’s Supper except that they feel and are aware of a sensible impression of such and such a matter. Or, to say it even more clearly, such a soul wants her affections to be touched, moved, stroked, and stimulated in a measure as she has seen at times and detected in herself or in others. It is true that the joy of which we are speaking can be so abundant that it often stirs up the affections. However, this should not be viewed as normative. Much less should it be concluded that where this is lacking there would also be no spiritual joy in the heart. The seat of this joy is not in the affections, etc., but rather, in the rational faculties of the soul, that is, in the intellect and the will. Such partakers will be filled with the greatest measure of joy even in the complete absence of all that is sensual. Peter speaks of this: “Though now you do not see him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Pet 1:8).

Proposition #3: None other than the truly converted can be partakers of this spiritual comfort and joy in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:28; 2 Chr 31:18; 2 Cor 6:14–15; 1 Cor 10:19–20; Ps 15:1–2; etc.).

This confirms the following:

1. What a grievous thing it is at times that many people are so rashly invited and admitted to the Lord’s Table, and then so readily attend! Often there is not the least evidence of true contrition and faith. Except for some lofty words, they often do not conduct themselves any differently than purely carnal and worldly people. That which is holy ought not to be given unto the dogs, neither should these pearls be cast before swine (1 Cor 11:28).

The Lord’s Supper is not a means to bestow grace upon someone, but rather to strengthen existing grace, which is assumed to be present in those who lawfully partake of the Lord’s Supper. To partake is indeed a duty incumbent upon all of Christianity, and believers are even commanded to do so. However, one can partake neither lawfully nor profitably unless conversion has truly occurred. It is therefore all the more surprising that, generally speaking, such carnal and smooth-speaking individuals are even more boastful than others about their spiritual joy and ecstasy, although there is no portion in it for them but only for the truly converted. “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart” (Ps 97:11).

2. However much the true sheep may go astray, such as are truly contrite and broken because of their sins and who by a true faith, however weak that faith may be, are grafted into Christ often dare not number themselves among those who know of such joy; this is due to the perception of their unworthiness and deficiencies. They are of the opinion that this is not for them, but rather only for those who in all things conduct themselves better than they do. How sad this is, as it proceeds from a serious misunderstanding. The fact is that this joy is the lawful portion of all who have humbled themselves and have repented; yes, as we have just stated, it is for none other but those (2 Cor 7:6). As imperfect as their conversion may be, it cannot take away the fact that such are partakers of such joy. This is their portion, not because of the perfection of their conversion, but rather for the sake of Christ’s merits. We may and must conclude from their conversion that all these benefits are theirs. “If you believe with all your heart, you may” (Acts 8:37). If they would not view themselves as unworthy, they would neither be able to desire nor obtain this joy in the right way. In so doing, they would remain focused on themselves and not seek Christ, who nevertheless is the eternal fountain of this joy (Ps 36:10).

Proposition #4: This spiritual joy derived from the Lord’s Supper will ordinarily only be experienced by those who have actively prepared themselves for it (2 Chr 30:18–20; 1 Cor 11:28; 2 Cor 9:6; 2 Chr 30:3).

1. When saying that this joy “will ordinarily only be experienced by those, etc.” we imply that God can at times grant this in an extraordinary manner. Though we cannot limit Him in that regard, we are not to consider this as normative.

2. We also maintain that those who experience this joy must indeed be prepared (1 Cor 11:28). Such habitual preparation is in essence no different from conversion itself, of which we have spoken earlier. To be prepared in very deed means that a believer, according to the measure of grace derived from Christ, has stirred up all these good virtues and dispositions such as knowledge, desire, faith, love, obedience, etc., that have been planted in him in conversion. He does so with immediate application and appropriation in regard to the special activity of the Lord’s Supper.

In regard to this, they deceive themselves

1. who partake of the Lord’s Supper unmoved and unfit, and thus without any premeditation as to what they are doing and how they are to conduct themselves. How grievously do such take hold of and trample upon that which is holy, doing so with unclean and unwashed hands and feet. Ought not many to be counted among such wretched souls, who, rather than receiving the Lord Jesus by way of the bread and wine, due to their willful lack of preparation, permit Satan with all his vile operations to penetrate the soul? Such may eat indeed, but they cannot be satisfied (Hos 4:10). And though they speak of joy, as they often do, it is nothing more than a satanic lullaby. Theirs is the portion of one whose hunger is counterfeit, who is dreaming that he is eating and being satisfied. Once he awakens, he will find his soul to be empty after all (Isa 29:8; Jn 13:27).

2. who are not as brazen as those whom we have just described, but who nevertheless engage in their preparation in a careless and carnal manner. They prepare themselves in a manner to which they are accustomed in the performance of all their religious duties, but their preparation lacks the dignity and solemnity that this special meal demands. Therefore, they ordinarily leave the table so void of fruit and joy.

God generally gives a measure of spiritual joy that is proportionate to the measure of our preparation, and if the latter is lacking, the first will ordinarily be withheld as well. He will spread His hands of blessing over us if we have examined our hearts extensively before Him regarding His work. However, that which is true for all other religious duties is applicable here as well: He at times will give nothing to one who has prepared himself most thoroughly so that one’s preparation will not be viewed as the meriting cause of His lovingkindness. However, if He gives nothing to the one who has neglected to prepare himself, then he must generally consider his lack of preparation as the cause of such spiritual leanness (Ps 81:11).

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