The Efficacy of the Lord’s Supper
by Guilelmus Saldenus

Extracted from Guilelmus Saldenus & Wilhelmus à Brakel,  In Remembrance of Him: Profiting from the Lord’s Supper, trans. J. A. De Jong; ed., B. Elshout (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012).

Chapter 1


All religious duties have two objectives, the primary being God’s honour and the secondary being the spiritual profit of man. Therefore, in all that he does, a Christian must have these two objectives in view, though there must be a distinction between them. Without having these two in view, he will be incapable of doing any good. He must either deny his obligatory love toward God or his love for himself, and it is entirely fitting and essential that the first objective have the preeminence. Thus, when contrasted, this second objective should yield and be subordinate to the first. Yes, if one of the two would have to be the lesser, that is, if the choice would be between God’s honour and man’s spiritual well-being, man should rather yield and minimize that which is his rather than having God not receive His worthy due. This does not mean, however, that he should either ignore or neglect his own interest. Rather, in all humility he should do his utmost not only to strive for God’s honour in all that he does, but also seek to attain the greatest joy and benefit for himself. He may do so not only when prayerfully reading, hearing, and meditating upon God’s Word, but especially when partaking of the Holy Supper of the Lord.

This Christian duty, more so than is true for all other duties, has been ordained and instituted by God for man’s spiritual joy and strengthening. Therefore, we believe it to be most appropriate to posit that though the honour of God must always have the preeminence, we must also seek to secure that which is to our benefit and to lay out before you the sure and spiritual way in which we may obtain it. We are prompted to do this since many are accustomed to lament the lack of fruit in connection with the Lord’s Supper.

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.

Regarding both matters, we will proceed as follows:

I.        We will present several general propositions regarding these spiritual fruits, and then expose each error made in that regard.

II.      We will prescribe directions and means, so that such spiritual fruits may be derived from the Lord’s Supper.

III.    We will respond to several objections regarding this.

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; Song 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, honour, 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 short-change 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 wilful 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).

Proposition #5: This spiritual joy, derived from the Lord’s Supper, will ordinarily not be experienced as generously by the person who finds himself in a troubled and confused state as by those whose condition is stable and tranquil (Eph 1:10; Ps 40:13).

It is therefore a fault:

1. of some that exert themselves so little to foster and preserve a good spiritual disposition. How few pay attention to this matter! Are we not commonly very much engaged in having everything in our homes, yards, and bedrooms arranged in an orderly fashion, but not in regard to our soul? And thus, that which is most precious (our soul) we permit to be most neglected and unkept. This is frequently the cause why one does not derive as much joy or comfort from the Lord’s Supper as he ought. It is true for all meals that when confusion and disorder prevail, joy and satisfaction will decrease proportionately. Such as pay little attention to this will rob themselves of a great advantage. They, so to speak, chase God completely from their souls. This is contrary to what is generally true, namely, something that the apostle at a special occasion says regarding Him: “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33).

2. of others whose souls for a long time have been assaulted and troubled, and who are wondering so much why they have attended the Lord’s Supper so frequently, and yet always without any enjoyment and delight. Often the cause is to be found in their disconcerted and troubled condition. As stated earlier, this spiritual joy consists primarily in a clear perception of the mystery of Christ’s suffering and our personal interest in it. However, the spiritual eyes of those who are so greatly troubled are as it were closed, and therefore they lack the ability to grasp matters as they ought. Should it then be a surprise that they do not experience this joy? David says, “My iniquities have taken hold of me, so that I am not able to look up” (Ps 40:12). It is not good that such are overly concerned about this. No, no! Let them take courage! And as soon as their condition has become more stable, this darkness will lift and their light will break forth as the sun. And indeed, the Lord did ultimately answer Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38:1).

Proposition #6: All Christians will not derive the same measure of this spiritual joy from the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 12:6; 1 Cor 15:31; 2 Cor 12:2, 3).

From this it follows that they are very much in error who:

1. frequently, due to a lesser measure of this spiritual joy, question the genuineness of such joy. “For,” so they say, “the measure of my joy is not as others experience it, and therefore what I have must be discounted.” To draw such a conclusion is like saying, “I do not have as much money as either Croesus or Solomon, and thus my money is worthless.” Who in their right mind would draw such a conclusion? Such reasoning is like putting the cart before the horse. The Lord does not consider something good because of its measure, but because He values the smallest good thing as great when it is done in uprightness. Who would then despise the day of small things (Zec 4:10)? God in His wisdom gives more to one than to another, in each case in a measure suitable to the person, and therefore we must leave that matter in His hands (1 Cor 12:7).

2. make their satisfaction generally too dependent on a specific measure of this spiritual comfort. This often results in grumbling and complaining when their measure of joy is not what they desire it to be. Experience teaches that even healthy believers do not learn all that much in this regard. However, in so doing they also are guilty of challenging God’s absolute wisdom and of attempting in various ways to compel Him to conform to their wishes. God is a wise dispenser of His gifts, and He may therefore, as He once said, “do what I will with my own” (Mt 20:15). When one seeks to limit Him, He will generally withdraw His hand from such people as would establish their own standards. If, however, He is yet pleased to grant some measure of joy, then their displeasure regarding the measure of joy they have received will result in the substance of it being either quenched or extinguished.

Proposition #7: This joy proceeding from the Lord’s Supper is not limited to the time when one either partakes or has partaken of this Supper. Rather, it can also be first felt or noticed long thereafter (Jn 10:41; 2 Sam 10:1, 6, 9).

It can therefore be observed that it is a serious error:

1. when many so readily conclude that there is no comfort for them in the Lord’s Supper because, either when or after partaking, they were not aware or did not become aware of such joy. As if God the Lord is limited to any precise moment! It is true, however, that He most commonly works this contemporaneously with the use of the means in order thereby to recommend and validate their use all the more. Yet, He has not bound Himself to them in such an absolute sense as if He never could or would follow a different course (Mt 16:10; Acts 16:14). Frequently, during the Lord’s Supper—or when we are engaged in prayer, or during our reading and hearing of His Word, or when we are engaged in some other profitable exercises—He may act even to the contrary. Often the true fruit upon the use of these means is not enjoyed until long after their use (Jn 5:41). “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles” (Isa 40:31). Coming from the Lord’s Table, you may say what you have not received, but not that you shall never receive. As someone has said, it is fitting that the giver rather than the receiver will determine the time when He is pleased to bestow His gifts.

2. when, not perceiving any immediate joy upon partaking of the Lord’s Supper, some postpone any reflection upon the same and permit it to fade from memory, thereby permitting all their sacramental zeal and disposition to remain inside the church doors. This is a common error, proceeding from ignorance of what we have previously addressed. If only it were understood that the Lord can render the Lord’s Supper fruitful to our soul after its administration, one would not be so inclined to forget about it so quickly. However, having begun this spiritual work during the time of preparation, and having continued therein even before being fully engaged, the soul by way of reflection should then be all the more active to extract a measure of joy from this spiritual work. If one medication does not immediately yield results, the physician often supplements it with another, and in the end the benefit is obtained. Often a spice will not immediately give forth its scent when we take it into our hands, but it will ultimately yield its refreshing aroma if we repeatedly touch it. We must do likewise in regard to the Lord’s Supper, and although there are no immediate results, we are to persevere and trust God’s promise that our labor will not always be in vain in the Lord (1 Cor 15:58).

Proposition #8: It is possible that a true Christian can sometimes be completely bereft of any spiritual joy proceeding from the Lord’s Supper, and yet he receives and enjoys this Supper with genuine fruit.

The reason for this is that this joy is neither an essential component of one’s partaking of the Lord’s Supper, nor is such joy promised in an absolute sense but rather as a conditional promise.

Another reason is that in addition to such joy, the Lord’s Supper yields many other fruits. In many cases it can yield more rather than less fruit to the soul, fruits such as humility, love, zeal, and others. We will subsequently speak of these fruits.

It can therefore be concluded once more how grievous an error it is:

1. that some judge all Lord’s Supper celebrations in which they did not enjoy comfort or joy as being useless and fruitless. They did attend, they confess, entirely without profit, using the argument that they attended as stocks and blocks, and were barren and dull as they partook; they also confess that they departed from the table in that condition. It can nevertheless be that a lawful partaking of the Lord’s Supper was not accompanied with such joy, and yet the soul will greatly benefit from such partaking even though she feels herself deprived at that moment from such sensible enjoyment. Though it is indeed true that all other fruitful stirrings of the heart constitute a large measure of the soul’s taste and sweetness of this joy during the Lord’s Supper, it does not mean that it loses its efficacy entirely, although for a season this delight is not experienced.

2. considering that there are others who not only render a particular attendance at the Lord’s Supper suspect but who occasionally view their entire spiritual state as being suspect. Such ones frequently view themselves as entirely void of grace, because they generally partake of the Lord’s Supper with such a lack of feeling and joy; this is something that has already gone on for quite a length of time. This would suggest that comfort rather than sanctifying grace constitutes conversion and that the Lord’s Supper yields no other fruitfulness than only this spiritual joy. We have, however, already proven and concluded the contrary. Though it is true that consistent barrenness regarding such powerful and lively exercises cannot be reconciled with the new birth, such a conclusion is sometimes made too quickly. The fact is that both can very well co-exist. This is especially true when such barrenness is particularly defined as an absence of comfort and delight in regard to the Lord’s Supper (as can be observed here and there), and not as a general lack of all holy and sanctifying motions regarding all spiritual exercises. Yes, we would even dare to add, believing it to be truly founded upon God’s Word, that one who is truly born again can for a considerable period of time not only use and observe the Lord’s Supper without tasting or perceiving any delight and sweetness in the same, but this can also be true for all other spiritual exercises—all the while retaining a painful sense of one’s insensibility (Isa 63:17; 64:5, 7; Ps 119:25; Song 5:3, 6).

          … to be continued