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 2: Means & Directions 

I will now set before you the means and directions that not only will enable you to partake of the Lord’s Supper with some fruit, but also, and especially, with joy and comfort. In this regard, some things are to be avoided and others to be practiced.

Regarding that which is to be avoided, we counsel you,

First, not to focus too much on the external aspects of the Lord’s Supper, such as, for instance, the bread, the wine, the breaking of the bread, the act of eating and drinking, etc., or whatever else one is accustomed to do at that occasion. You might then be inclined to consider them to be the primary causes from which you would expect and anticipate your spiritual joy. You may, however, use them as means to that end. And you should focus all your attention and senses on them, without letting your eyes flit back and forth as some very foolishly do; but when you do, you are to do so without ending or resting in them. Rather, you should look to God by means of them, supplicating for and expecting your joy from Him alone who is the sole fountain of joy. Otherwise, if you do not look beyond the outward things, you will become either popish in considering a little piece of bread and a sip of wine to be your God, or will become Lutheran by seeking Christ, the consolation of Israel, where He is not to be found. Or you may degenerate to another form of shameful idolatry, wanting to ascribe to mere creatures a work that can only be ascribed to the God of heaven, and thereby you will bypass the fountain of living waters, hewing out “cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jer 2:13). You are thus to set aside any notion that you will obtain this joy in a manner that you may have imagined. In fact, if you were thus able to derive joy from the Lord’s Supper, it would follow irrefutably that all, including yourself, who use the external signs would experience this joy as much as you would, even if they were but dogs and swine. Then they would in reality become partakers of this joy as much as you would.

Second, you are not to trust in and rest upon the quality and worthiness of your preparation. Many err grievously in this regard. They view their preparation not only as a means whereby their souls are rendered more fit to experience this spiritual joy, but also as a basis for and reason why God should bestow this joy upon them in a more abundant and sure manner. For this reason, God will often not give them a greater measure of this joy (Lk 18:12–13). He rather denies and withholds it because He perceives that as a result of such inclinations they will no longer consider His sovereign love as the root of this joy, but rather look for this joy to some extent within themselves. This explains why it frequently happens that many troubled souls who have prepared themselves but little and who yet look entirely outside of themselves and expect it from Christ alone derive more comfort from the Lord’s Supper than many who assume they have prepared themselves well and are therefore fit to receive this joy. Having said this, however, we do not wish to dissuade Christians from preparing themselves for the Lord’s Supper as well as they possibly may be able. Rather, I wish to admonish them not to put their trust in their preparation, as the flesh often does so in a most subtle manner. They thereby defile their preparation, persuading themselves that joy will follow upon their actions, and they fail to be greatly ashamed about their brazenness. No preparation will achieve anything with God for its own sake, but it is only in the name of Christ that our preparation can be presented before God.

Third, if you are very despondent and leaning toward melancholy, and you proceed to partake of the Lord’s Supper, see to it that you do not dwell on the disturbing and unsettling thoughts regarding your sins and failures. To you who are in a state of despondency, we say that we do not wish to apply this rule categorically, as if they who partake of the Lord’s Supper should refrain from reflecting upon their sins. On the contrary! We believe that if someone comes to the Lord’s Table in a somewhat sluggish and dull frame of mind, he must make a special effort to cause his dull heart to be broken so that the balm of grace may be all the more effective (Mt 12:20). Nevertheless, concerning you who are of a melancholy and weak disposition, we believe that now, namely, the time of preparation for the Lord’s Supper, is not the time to prune and carve even more, but rather that you should solely pursue the healing and refreshing of your soul. The reason why you so frequently leave the Lord’s Table without fruit and joy is because you have been wrongly engaged, having focused more on your sins and abominations than on the grace of Jesus Christ. Such melancholy reflections will so oppress you and engulf your heart that the sunshine of God’s comfort cannot penetrate. The best way for you and all that are of a similar disposition is but to cast your souls, as wounded and broken as they may be, before the cross of Christ, longing and craving for the sweet efficacy of His healing blood. Do so before you inflict new wounds in your soul.

You may say, “This would all be true if first I would have been sufficiently contrite and brokenhearted.”

My reply is that it is not easy to determine the appropriate measure of such brokenheartedness. However, it is deep enough to be considered upright if

1. it is unrestricted, that is, if it has such an effect on your heart that you will never be able to conclude it is in proportion to your sins.

2. it truly humbles you and thus drives you outside of yourself to Christ.

3. it absolutely and unconditionally causes you to acknowledge your sins as being the cause of all this and if with your whole heart you desire to refrain from and to flee from them (2 Cor 7:10).

Fourth, you are not to think lightly of this spiritual joy. Even among healthy believers there are those who have but little understanding of this. They repeatedly speak of nothing other than mortification, self-denial, the practice of various virtues, or about sanctifying grace in general. They would be inclined almost to sacrifice body and soul for it and to do very little to obtain this comforting grace. Often it does not matter much to them if they never would experience this joy as long as they may have these other graces. They appear to be well-intentioned; that is, they desire more and more to pursue that by which they can glorify God rather than something that would yield them peace and joy. However, unknowingly they make a serious error, an error that is often very subtle. Since, however, this affects even the best among the godly, we cannot pass it by silently. The soul’s objective ought not only be that she esteems and seeks this spiritual joy, but also that she should stimulate it to the highest degree. This joy is an eminently blessed means to increase and stir up sanctifying grace (Neh 8:10). And indeed, what fruit can you extract from underrating such a worthy and heavenly matter, other than that you thereby grieve the Holy Spirit, whose name and office encompass both comfort and sanctification? This will make you so vulnerable to grievous temptations to which joyless souls are more prone than joyful souls. God, who will not be disregarded, will then have cause at the Lord’s Supper and other religious exercises to shut off His fountain of comfort and to make you suffer from this most when you can least afford it. You will undoubtedly have experienced that such a disregard for the joy of the Lord’s Supper will generally cause your other related spiritual exercises, such as longing, exercising faith, supplicating, etc., also to decline and wilt.

These are the things you ought to avoid. The things you ought to practice, however, are the following:

First, learn to take careful notice of the excellence and preeminence of the Lord’s Supper. A lack of knowledge regarding a matter prevents us from having a desire for it, and such a lack of desire for it will result in a lack of joy regarding it. To partake of the Lord’s Supper is not, as the world views it, a work of little value, but rather in multiple ways it is an excellent work—and yes, even divine. It is the communion of the body and blood of Christ; it is the table of the Lord; and it is a vivid and divine portrayal of the Savior’s suffering, dying, being broken, and being eaten and drunk for those who were His murderers. It is a display of the incomprehensible God whom the heavens and the earth cannot contain but who resides in the humble abode of the human heart; it is the king of kings being present among beggars; it is a prominent master being in the presence of insignificant slaves; and yes, it is the light of lights dwelling among those who are by nature nothing but darkness. And then there are other innumerable matters of excellence, regarding some of which we will subsequently say a bit more. Diligently commit your heart to this and you will experience that it will be filled with much comfort and sweetness. “Oh how great is your goodness, which you have laid up for them that fear you; which you have prepared for them that trust in you before the sons of men!” (Ps 31:19).

Second, when seated at the table, engage your faith in a lively and vigorous manner. Christ is the essence of this spiritual joy, and the ability to experience its delight proceeds from Christ. Such joy must therefore be extracted from Him by faith, for as we believe, we will rejoice with joy unspeakable (1 Pet 1:8). The comfort that is to be obtained in this way is spiritual, and one must therefore feed upon it with a spiritual mouth; and this mouth is faith alone.

Question: How shall I initiate the exercise of my faith in this regard?

Answer: Assure yourself

1. that not only is the Lord’s Supper God’s ordinance, but that at the appointed time you are also using it lawfully and according to His ordinance.

2. that in the way of His own ordinance, He will manifest Himself efficaciously to your heart so that it will yield the desired spiritual comfort and joy or such other fruits as He deems to be in your best interest at the time.

3. that whatever the minister does and says at the table is not merely him acting and speaking, but that it truly is the Lord Jesus Himself who through him presents and distributes His blessed body for spiritual consumption; and he adds this glorious promise, “Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me, etc.” (1 Cor 11:24–25).

4. that you are to cast your soul upon this divine promise alone and let your faith take this to be its one and only resting place. And let this not be contingent upon the degree of worthiness and fitness you find within yourself. “Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17); “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isa 55:1).

5. that not only are you to consider the partaking of a particular Lord’s Supper in general as a sign and seal of the forgiveness of all your sins, but also specifically of those sins and failures that perhaps at the moment of your partaking (albeit against your will) may have troubled and ensnared you: dullness of heart, lack of reverence, fearfulness, wandering thoughts, etc. Experience teaches that if the exercise of faith focuses not specifically on them, but rather only on sin in general, some souls will not only partake of the Lord’s Supper with a sense of condemnation—I know not why, but it will affect many other spiritual exercises as well! The result will be that they engage in them not only without joy, but also entirely without fruit.

Third, try as much as possible to deny and to set aside your own pleasure in the partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Do this not only in regard to a certain measure of joy, of which we have spoken in the preceding, but also in regard to all that transpires at the Lord’s Table.

Also in this regard, it is true that many souls obstinately insist upon a given measure of humility, spirituality, faith, attentiveness, etc., having determined themselves that they would partake of a given Lord’s Supper in such a frame (Acts 21:14). If this fails to materialize for them, they often leave the Lord’s Table dissatisfied and perplexed (Mt 26:39). Nevertheless, we hereby maintain that one should wholeheartedly desire to partake of the Lord’s Supper in a good spiritual frame and strive for this to the utmost of his ability. It should indeed be your concern that it be so (1 Sam 3:18). However, if God the Lord would be pleased to let things turn out differently after you have done your part, you are then to be somewhat more flexible and indifferent; yes, be content with that which the Lord is pleased to give you and to approve of it at that particular moment. In all things, it is a steadfast rule that the more willing we are to suffer for the Lord’s sake, the more inclined He will be to give us our desire. If, therefore, it is your desire to derive comfort and joy from the Lord’s Supper, then use the appointed means to this end and allow the Lord to do as He pleases. You are to learn from this that if He is pleased not to give this to you, then you are to strive to find your delight even in the fact that you are missing it. It will then be all the more likely that you will receive it.

Question: Is it possible to be satisfied when I must deal with insensitivity, lack of reverence, drowsiness, etc.? And am I not often overcome by all these deficiencies when I am seated at the table?

Answer: Not at all, but you are to wrestle and struggle against these deficiencies with all your might. At the same time, however, you are to be satisfied and submissive under the all-wise government of God whereby He purposes that precisely at such a moment you should be of such a disposition. You are, however, not to be resigned to your deficiencies, for they are sinful and cannot be the foundation of any true satisfaction. Though such a disposition in and of itself is sinful and evil and consequently gives you grief, it is overruled by His government. This providential arrangement as such is therefore always good and holy and a sufficient ground to oblige you to submit. Such a measure of self-denial is great indeed, and yet needful. This is particularly true since failure to have it will often grievously deprive the most eminent of souls of all their comfort regarding the Lord’s Supper.

Fourth, whatever the motions of your heart might be during the Lord’s Supper, let them be what they are and learn to focus on something good and beneficial for your soul. The reason why you often depart uncomforted from the Lord’s Supper is that you consider these stirrings of your corrupt flesh, of which you perhaps become aware contrary to your intentions, only as to their external effect and without being able to detect any fruit for yourself. This is an error, for God can so order it that even as you engage in spiritual activity, that which is most evil and may even occur unexpectedly can yield exceptional benefit for you.

Often you think, “I have indeed attended the Lord’s Supper. However, I was so carnal, hard-hearted, inattentive, etc. What comfort can I derive from it?” Your deficiencies as such can yield none. But there will be some insofar as the Lord causes it to be to your advantage. For this ill frame of heart, though in and of itself it can yield no satisfaction to you, can nevertheless, insofar as it is seen and experienced by you, cause you to humble yourself more, cause you to forsake yourself, and cause you to take refuge in Christ. It will thus prompt you to be more careful and spiritual in your preparation.

What do you think? Is this not applicable to all of us? Furthermore, is this not in some measure enough (even if there was nothing else) to stir up and ignite in you some measure of holy joy? This is all the more evident when considering that these effects of your deficiencies can simultaneously be indications that you truly are a partaker of Christ. It is He who is the preeminent and essential substance of all genuine spiritual joy.

Fifth, learn to value and esteem even the external use of the Lord’s Supper, even though at that moment you do so without tasting any sweetness. It is not good if we exclusively focus on the externals, but it is also not good to consider them to be of no value. You may often be of the opinion that by having partaken of the bread and wine, you have done nothing else but to have eaten and drunk damnation to yourself, since you did it in such an external and fleshly manner and did so without detecting any desire or sweetness. This, in turn, is the cause that at such occasions you will often feel more distraught and sorrowful than joyful. This is all due to your own lack of understanding and erroneous thinking. Although we do not wish in any way either to justify or excuse your lack of desire regarding such important exercises, and although we heartily lament your case if the Lord is pleased to lead you in such a way, you must for that reason alone not abandon your hope of experiencing joy at the Lord’s Supper. One can nevertheless partake in a manner pleasing to God and thus also profitably, even though it is often done without any spiritual desire, as long as that is present of which I will speak shortly.

People who suffer from a cold derive a great deal of benefit from their food that they generally consume without having any smell or taste. And thus, though for a season you may lack any sensible sweetness in your holy exercises, we are certain that you nevertheless concur wholeheartedly in this: that such spiritual exercises are worthy of being engaged in with the greatest desire and delight in the world. This will be true if you truly fear the Lord! This will happen when you are wholeheartedly sighing and wishing that you might perform them in that fashion. That, in and of itself, qualifies as delight and desire. Even if the feeling of it is absent, it is there in principle and as to the root of the matter.

We must here, of necessity, add the following: to partake of the Lord’s Supper, aside from it being God’s institution, is also a matter of duty and holy obedience, and is to be observed in spite of your sorrow over the deficiencies that accompany your partaking. You therefore know that although you could not partake with delight and desire, you may not think lightly of your partaking. In fact, the performance of a duty is truly most glorious when it is divorced from the personal delight of the one who practices it and when he continues to do so exclusively for its own sake and for the glory of the one who commands it. If you were perhaps to taste such sweetness and delight in the Lord’s Supper as you would desire, you would readily desire it more for its sensual delight than in response to God’s command. You would consequently use it perhaps more out of love for yourself rather than focusing upon the duty.

If, therefore, you feel yourself to be so desireless, it is perhaps God’s intent thereby to test you as to what you are willing to do and take in hand when prompted by His command alone. He may be prompting you apart from and even contrary to your own desire and profit. If, then, you do not sense anything during the Lord’s Supper, you ought nevertheless to rejoice (therefore, do so!) in the fact that you have at least received this of the Lord: that you have been able and willing to observe His ordinance without any joy for yourself. Such obedience, which is very spiritual and pure, will by no means lose its reward. In fact, there is even the clear promise of obtaining this spiritual joy: “He that has my commandments and keeps them, he it is that loves me; and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him” (Jn 14:21).

Sixth, we must learn not to seek this spiritual joy in the Lord’s Supper for its own sake. Rather, we must learn that this joy may be a means to bring forth more holiness and bring us nearer to God. Otherwise you may have some counterfeit peace; but this renders to God little or no honor. You know, however, that it is for the sake of His glory that He bestows all blessings upon His children. “I will run the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart” (Ps 119:32). If this joy does not sanctify you, it will puff you up and make you careless. It will leave as its residue nothing but harm and grief for you, and it will cause God to be put to shame and be dishonored.

Therefore, see to it that you do not pursue spiritual joy in the wrong way, for not all seekers shall here become finders. Only they will become finders who, as in all other matters, seek least for themselves and most for Christ. It would undoubtedly be nothing but a sort of spiritual sensuality in you if you were to elevate your own pleasure as essential for spiritual strengthening—as if that were to be the preeminent purpose of your partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

Solomon says that they who eat in due season will eat for strength and not for drunkenness (Ecc 10:17). We will soon address this more extensively.

… to be continued