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Be thou a worthy guest of Christ in His Holy Supper

Johann Gerhard

(Translated by Rev. C. W. Heisler, A.M.)

THIS Holy Supper is no common meal, nor is it the banquet of an earthly king; but here we have placed before us the holy mystery of the body and blood of Christ, in which we are to participate. Certainly then a worthy preparation is needful, that we may not, unworthily eating of it, find death instead of life, and receive judgment instead of mercy.

How the holy Patriarch trembles, how he fears, although so remarkable for the strength of his faith, when the Son of God in human form appears to him, and announces the impending destruction of Sodom (Gen. xviii. 2). But here the Lamb of God is set forth before us, and that not to be curiously gazed upon, but to be tasted and eaten. When Uzziah rashly and inconsiderately drew near to the Ark of the Covenant, the Lord immediately smote him with leprosy (2 Chron. xxvi. 16); what wonder that he who eateth of this bread and drinketh of this wine unworthily, should eat and drink to his condemnation? For here is the true ark of the covenant, of which the old was only a type.

The apostle tells us in one word what constitutes true preparation; “Let a man examine himself,” he says, “and so let him eat of that bread” (1 Cor. xi. 28). But as every holy examination must be made according to the rule of Holy Scripture, so it is in the case of this which Paul requires. Let us consider then, first of all, our human weakness and imperfection. What is man? Naught but dust and ashes (Gen. xviii. 27); of the earth we are born, from the earth we derive our sustenance, to the earth we shall return again. What is man? A foul seed, a mass of corruption, and by and by to be the food of worms. Man is born to labor, not to honor; “man that is born of a woman,” and on that account with guilt, “is of few days” (Job xiv. 1); his life is passed in fear, filled as it is with many miseries, and hence with weeping; truly with many miseries, because both his body and his soul are so sorely afflicted. Man is ignorant alike of his origin and of his end. Our life is like a summer plant, soon withered, and yet this brief life is filled with labors and pains that are by no means brief.

Let us consider in the second place, our unworthiness. Every creature, indeed, compared with the Creator is a shadow, a sleep, a nothing (Ps. xxxix. 7), and no less so is man. But man is unworthy in very many and more grievous ways, for by his sins he has offended his Creator. God is by nature and essence just; hence in His nature and essence He is righteously offended at sin. And what are we but a stubble for this consuming fire? How can our abominable wickedness stand in His sight? How can our iniquities, which Thou hast set before Thee (Ps. xc. 8), and our errors, which Thou hast set in the light of Thy countenance, endure the blaze of Thy holiness? God is infinite and always acts consistently with His own character; His justice and His holy wrath against sin are alike infinite; and if He is great and truly marvelous in all His works, certainly is He also in wrath, in justice, in vengeance. Will He who spared not His own Son, spare the work of His hands? Will He who spared not His most holy Son, spare a worthless and insignificant servant? So utterly hateful is sin to God that He punishes it even in those most dear to Him, as is manifest in the case of Lucifer, the chief of the fallen angels.

And in our preparation for this Holy Supper, let us not simply examine ourselves, but let us also consider this blessed bread, which is the communion of the body of Christ, and then will it appear to us as a true fountain of God’s grace, and an inexhaustible spring of divine mercy. Truly the Lord could not turn away His face from us, whom He hath graciously made partakers of His own flesh, for who ever yet hated his own flesh (Eph. v. 29)? Thus this Holy Supper will transform our souls; this most divine sacrament will make us divine men, until finally we shall enter upon the fullness of the blessedness that is to come, filled with all the fullness of God, and wholly like Him. What we have here only by faith and in a mystery, there we shall enjoy in reality and openly. These bodies of ours which are now the temples of the Holy Spirit, and are sanctified and quickened by the body and blood of Christ dwelling in them, shall be crowned with this glory that in them we shall see God face to face (1 Cor. xiii. 12). This holy remedy heals all the gaping wounds that sin hath made; this life-giving body of the Son of God overcomes every deadly sin; this is the sacred seal of the divine promises, which by God’s grace we may exhibit at the great judgment; in the sure and sufficient pledge of eternal life thus given to us do we glory. If the body and blood of Christ are thus communicated to us, certainly we shall enjoy all the blessings acquired through that most holy body and that blessed blood. How will He who hath given us the greater blessings deny us the lesser? He that spared not His own Son, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things (Rom. viii. 32)?

Rejoice thou, O my soul, thou espoused bride of Christ, for the time is fast drawing near that thou shall be called to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. xix. 7); put on thy precious robes; take thou the wedding garment provided for thee, lest when He come in He find thee unprepared to receive Him. That robe is the righteousness of thy spouse, Jesus Christ, which we put on in holy baptism; our own righteousness is so far from being the wedding garment that it is nothing less than filthy rags before God (Is. lxiv. 6). O let us greatly fear to come to that solemn marriage supper of the Lamb clad in the miserable and filthy garments of our own works; but clothe Thou us, O Lord, lest in that day we be found naked (2 Cor. v. 3).

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