Qualifications for Admission to the Lord’s Supper
Given the awesome potential of communion with Christ within the Supper, the Puritans took the matter of right participation seriously. The awakened conscience cannot consider partaking of such a sacred meal without asking, “What does God require of me?” Participation in the sacraments was not optional, though Perkins said sacraments were not “absolutely necessary” for salvation, but were only “a prop or stay for faith to lean on.” Those unable to participate because of an untimely death or geographic isolation were not condemned. Nevertheless, “contempt” for a sacrament by willful and unrepentant neglect did bring God’s condemnation upon the offender. God’s people were urged to partake of the Lord’s Supper, and were not to avoid the question of how to “communicate worthily.”
Puritan writers paid close attention to the qualifications for admission to the Lord’s Supper. Most Puritans followed Calvin’s teaching that “if the Spirit be lacking, the sacraments can accomplish nothing more in our minds than the splendor of the sun shining upon blind eyes, or a voice sounding in deaf ears.” Charnock wrote, “It is a sad thing to be Christians at a supper, heathens in our shops, and devils in our closets.” Jonathan Edwards viewed the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament reserved for believers, celebrating the unity that they have in Christ. He wrote in a sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:17, “The Lord’s Supper was instituted as a solemn representation and seal of the holy and spiritual union Christ’s people have with ... one another.”
Other Puritans, notably Solomon Stoddard (1643–1729) and William Prynne (1600–1669), did view the Lord’s Supper as a “converting ordinance.” This minority said the sacrament was also intended for unbelievers who had a basic knowledge of Christian beliefs as a means of their eventual conversion by “evoking their internal assent to the Gospel.” This minority view was refuted by George Gillespie (1613–1648) and Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661). Holifield summarizes,
Neither Rutherford nor Gillespie intended to rob the sacrament of efficacy. The Lord’s Supper was still “the nourishment of those in whom Christ liveth,” increasing “the conversion which was before” by adding “a new degree of faith.” Like Calvin, they linked sacramental efficacy with the doctrine of sanctification, which described the Christian’s growth in faith and holiness. Moreover, the sacrament sealed God’s promises to the elect. Since the seal applied to the worthy communicant “in particular, the very promise that in general is made to him,” he could leave the table with assurance of God’s mercy.
The emphasis on conversion as a qualification for communicants implied that young children should not participate in the Lord’s Supper. The Westminster Larger Catechism fenced the Table against the “ignorant” (Q. 173), saying that one difference between baptism and the Lord’s Supper is that baptism should be administered “even to infants,” but the Lord’s Supper is to be administered “only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves” (Q. 177).
Perkins said that to be qualified to receive the Supper, one must have a knowledge of God, the fall of man, and the promise of salvation by Christ, plus true faith in Christ and repentance from sin, with faith and repentance being renewed daily. If a person with these qualifications hesitates at the Table because he feels he has “a corrupt and rebellious heart,” Perkins said, “thou art well disposed to the Lord’s Table, when thou art lively touched with a sense of thy crooked disposition.” Medicine is for the diseased. That does not say that believers may come unrepentant over known sins, for “the Corinthians had both faith and repentance; yet because they failed in this point, of the renovation of their faith and repentance, they are said many of them to be unworthy receivers, and to eat judgment to themselves.”
The Puritans did not require a believer to have full assurance to partake of the Supper. Assurance was desirable but not necessary. Edward Taylor (c. 1642–1729) wrote, “It [assurance] is not that which anyone is to wait for in order to his coming to the Lord’s Supper.” “It’s not the faith of assurance that is necessary to this ordinance,” Taylor said, “but of affiance and trust.” Neither was moral perfection required. Edwards wrote: “Your sins need to be no hindrance. Christ procured those benefits for such. He gave Himself for such.” Doolittle went further, saying a person may come to the Lord’s Table “if a man cannot say he loves God, and cannot say he has faith, but yet finds he hungers and thirsts for Christ.” Thomas Watson (c. 1620–1686) summarized this thinking in stating, “A weak faith can lay hold on a strong Christ. A palsied hand may tie the knot in marriage.” Henry made this practical appeal: “If thou doubt, therefore, whether Christ be thine, put the matter out of doubt by a present consent to him: I take Christ to be mine, wholly, only, and forever mine.”
 Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:72.
 Larger Catechism, Q. 170.
 Calvin, Institutes, 4.14.9.
 Charnock, “The End of the Lord’s Supper,” in Works, 4:400.
 Edwards, Sermons on the Lord’s Supper, 70, emphasis added.
 William Prynne, Lord’s Supper briefly vindicated, and clearly demonstrated to be a Grace-begetting, Soul-converting (not a meer confirming) Ordinance (London: Edward Thomas, 1657); Solomon Stoddard, An Appeal to the Learned, Being a Vindication of the Right of the Visible Saints to the Lords Supper, Though they be destitute of a Saving Work of God’s Spirit on their Hearts (Boston: B. Green for Samuel Phillips, 1709); Edward Taylor vs. Solomon Stoddard: The Nature of the Lord’s Supper, eds. Thomas M. and Virginia L. Davis (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981).
 Holifield, The Covenant Sealed, 109–110.
 Holifield, The Covenant Sealed, 115. He cites, respectively, Samuel Rutherford, The Divine Right of Church-Government and Excommunication (London: Printed by John Field for Christopher Meredith, 1646), 340, 523; George Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod Blossoming (Harrisonburg, Va.: Sprinkle Publications, 1985), 500; and Rutherford, Divine Right, 253.
 Cornelis P. Venema, Children at the Lord’s Table?: Assessing the Case for Paedocommunion (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books), 22–26.
 Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:76.
 Perkins, “Of Divine or Religious Worship,” in Works, 1:713.
 Holifield, The Covenant Sealed, 56.
 Edward Taylor’s Treatise Concerning the Lord’s Supper (Boston: Twain Publisher, 1988), 121.
 Taylor, Treatise Concerning the Lord’s Supper, 189.
 Edwards, Sermons on the Lord’s Supper, 156.
 Doolittle, A Treatise Concerning the Lord’s Supper, 137. Cf. Edwards’s sermon “The Lord’s Supper Ought to Be Kept Up and Attended in Remembrance of Christ,” in Sermons on the Lord’s Supper, 54–69.
 Watson, The Lord’s Supper, 73.
 Henry, The Communicant’s Companion, 73. Henry writes, “You think you are not serious enough, nor devout enough, nor regular enough, in your conversations, to come to the sacrament; and perhaps you are not: but why are you not? What hinders you? Is any more required to fit you for the sacrament, than is necessary to fit you for heaven?” (ibid., 70).
Previous Posts in this Series
Biblical Simplicity in the Lord’s Supper
If the material principle of the Reformation was justification by faith alone, the formal principle was that Scripture alone is the rule of faith and obedience. The Puritans viewed this truth as nothing less than the enthronement of Christ as King among His people. Willison said a true sacrament must be instituted by Christ “to show that Christ is the sole king and head of the church, who alone hath the power to appoint her ordinances.” The Puritans earnestly applied the principle of sola scriptura to worship. Owen wrote in question-and-answer format:
Q: What doth God require of us in our dependence on him, that he may be glorified in us, and we accepted with him?
A: That we worship him in and by the ways of his own appointment….
Q: How then are these ways and means of the worship of God made known to us?
A: In and by the written word only, which contains a full and perfect revelation of the will of God as to his whole worship and all the concernments of it....
Q: What is principally to be attended unto by us in the manner of the celebration of the worship of God, and observation of the institutions and ordinances of the gospel?
A: That we observe and do all whatsoever the Lord Christ hath commanded us to observe, in the way that he hath prescribed; and that we add nothing unto or in the observation [observance] of them that is of man’s invention or appointment.
The Puritans also applied the principle of sola scriptura to the Lord’s Supper. Perkins wrote, “The right manner of using the Lord’s Supper … is the observing of the institution, without addition, detraction, or change.” For this reason, the Puritans preferred to call the sacrament “the Lord’s Supper” rather than “Holy Communion” or “the Eucharist,” thus rooting it in the words of Scripture (1 Cor. 11:20). For the Puritans, the sacrament revolved around the Word, especially Christ’s words of institution (Matt. 26:26–28, 1 Cor. 11:23-26). Perkins said, “Therefore this word in the administration of the sacrament ought to be pronounced distinctly and aloud, yea, and as occasion serveth, explained also.” He wrote, “All the efficacy and worthiness” of a sacrament depends on Christ’s words of institution. Indeed, the elements of the sacrament are “visible words,” “the signs representing to the eyes what which the word doth to the ears.”
Each action of the Supper has spiritual significance. Perkins said the minister in his sacramental acts represents God: (1) by taking the bread and wine as a sign of the Father electing His Son to the office of Mediator; (2) by blessing it through the words of institution for sacred use as a seal of God sending His Son in the fullness of time to do His work; (3) by breaking the bread and pouring the wine as a seal of the death of Christ for our transgressions; (4) by distributing the bread and wine to the communicants as a seal of God offering Christ to all, but giving Christ only to the faithful to increase their faith and repentance.
According to Perkins, the actions of the person who receives the Supper also symbolize spiritual events: (1) taking the bread and wine into his hands is a seal of apprehending Christ by faith, (2) while eating the bread and drinking the wine is a seal of applying Christ to himself by faith to increase his union and communion with Christ. More than a century later, Willison attributed the same meanings to these sacramental actions of the minister and communicant, showing the continuity of the Puritan tradition.
The simplicity of the form of the Supper was determined by biblical authority. The Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God (1645) instructed ministers to celebrate the Supper “frequently” as “most convenient,” especially after the morning sermon and prayers. The Presbyterian form for the Supper included the following parts: (1) a short exhortation on the blessings of the Supper and necessity of faith, repentance, love, and spiritual hunger; (2) a warning that the “ignorant, scandalous, profane, or those that live in any sin or offence” not partake, but that broken-hearted penitents should come; (3) the reading of the words of institution from a Gospel or 1 Corinthians 11:23–27 with explanation and application; (4) a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for the redemption of sinners by Christ, and petition for God’s blessing on the ordinance, “that we may receive by faith the body and blood of Jesus Christ, crucified for us, and so to feed upon him, that he may be one with us, and we one with him”; (5) introductory words spoken by the minister to account for the actions performed: institution, command, and example of Christ—“According to the holy institution, command, and example of our blessed Saviour Jesus Christ, I take this bread, and, having given thanks, break it and give it unto you…”; (6) breaking the bread and distributing it, and the cup with the words of Christ, “Take ye, eat,” etc.; (7) an exhortation to walk worthy of the grace of Christ held forth in the sacrament; (8) a prayer of thanksgiving; and (9) a collection for the poor. The Puritans concluded the Lord’s Supper service with the singing of a Psalm, following the example of Christ (Matt. 26:30).
Since some aspects of the Supper’s manner of administration are not given in Scripture, Puritan practice varied. The ceremonial details of the Lord’s Supper were hotly debated at the Westminster Assembly; three weeks alone were spent on whether to seat communicants at a table. In general, the English Independents celebrated the Supper every Lord’s Day, the Baptists once a month, and the Presbyterians four times a year. The Baptists at times preferred to celebrate the Supper in the evening, following scriptural examples (Mark 14:17; 1 Cor. 11:23). But Willison, a Presbyterian, argued, “The circumstances of time, place and company, in the first administration, not being essential to the ordinance, were not intended for our imitation. We are no more required to receive it at night, than to do it in an upper room, with but twelve in company. Moreover, the time was occasioned by the Passover, that was always eaten at night, and in private families.” The Scottish Presbyterians seated communicants at a table, while Independents carried the elements to people in the pews. Within each group there were variations.
Regardless of the specifics of the Lord’s Supper, they were to be ordered for what Reynolds called the sacrament’s “most express end,” namely, “to celebrate the memory of Christ’s death and passion.” This was not just a “historical memory” but what Reynolds called a “practical memory,” that is, the memory of faith, thankfulness, obedience, and prayer. This leads us to the manner of spiritually partaking the Supper, as the Puritans understood it.
 Willison, “A Sacramental Catechism,” in Works, 2:42.
 Owen, “A Brief Instruction in the Worship of God,” in Works, 15:447, 449–50, 462. See also William Ames, A Fresh Svit against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship (1633); George Gillespie, A Dispute against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded on the Church of Scotland (1637; repr., Dallas, Tx.: Naphtali Press, 1993).
 Perkins, “Of Divine or Religious Worship,” in Works, 1:713.
 Horton Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans (Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1997), 204. It should be pointed out, however, that the terms communion and thanksgiving (eucharisteia) are associated with the holy supper in Scripture in 1 Corinthians 10:16. Euchariasteia or giving of thanks, is part of the sacrament, as instituted by Christ (1 Cor. 11:24).
 Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:71.
 Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:72; Perkins, “A Reformed Catholicke,” in Works, 1:611.
 Perkins, “A Reformed Catholicke,” in Works, 1:610.
 Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:75.
 Perkins, “A Golden Chaine,” in Works, 1:75.
 Willison, “A Sacramental Catechism,” in Works, 2:74–78.
 “The Directory for the Publick Worship of God,” in Westminster Confession of Faith, 384–86.
 Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans, 216.
 Mayor, The Lord’s Supper in Early English Dissent, 76.
 Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans, 205–208, 213.
 Willison, “A Sacramental Catechism,” in Works, 2:68.
 Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans, 214.
 Reynolds, “Meditations on the Holy Sacrament,” in Works, 3:87.
 Reynolds, “Meditations on the Holy Sacrament,” in Works, 3:104, 107, 108, 110.
Previous Posts in this Series
XXV—Of The SacramentsSacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.
These things before rehearsed are sufficient to prove, that the eating of Christ’s flesh and drinking of his blood, is not to be understood simply and plainly, as the words do properly signify, that we do eat and drink him with our mouths; but it is a figurative speech spiritually to be understand, that we must deeply print and fruitfully believe in our hearts, that his flesh was crucified and his blood shed, for our redemption. And this our belief in him, is to eat his flesh and to drink his blood, although they be not present here with us, but be ascended into heaven [Cranmer, Works, 115-116].
If the divine essence or Godhead is and can be but one, and the Father is God, and the Son God, and Holy Ghost God [e.g. Deut 6:4; Isa 44:6; 1 Cor 8:6; John 1:1,3; Acts 5:3,4], and the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost be three distinct subsistents or persons; then there are three distinct subsistents or persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the same single divine essence or Godhead.
For previous posts in this series, see:
In his discussion on the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Thomas Watson notes that God does not lead anyone into temptation in the sense that he doesn’t tempt anyone to sin (James 1:13). God doesn’t entice or encourage his creatures to sin. As Watson says, “He permits sin, but does not promote it…What king will tempt his subjects to break laws which he himself established?”
Christian, seek not yet repose,Cast thy dreams of ease away;Thou art in the midst of foes:Watch and pray.Principalities and powers,Mustering their unseen array,Wait for thy unguarded hours:Watch and pray.Gird thy heavenly armor on,Wear it ever, night and day;Ambushed lies the evil one:Watch and pray.Hear the victors who o’ercame;Still they mark each warrior’s way;All with one sweet voice exclaim,“Watch and pray.”Hear, above all, hear Thy Lord,Him thou lovest to obey;Hide within thy heart His word,“Watch and pray.”
“So that by all this which hath been delivered, we may give repentance those just and true bounds, which Gods Word doth assign to it, and yet not give more then Gods Word doth. Nei∣ther may we think it a nicety or subtilty to make a difference between a qualification, and a cause; for if we do not, we take off the due glory that belongs to Christ and his merits, and give it to the works we do, and we do make Christ and his sufferings imperfect and insufficient…”