By Lewis Bayly
That a Christian ought necessarily to prepare himself before he presume to be a partaker of the holy communion, may evidently appear by five reasons:-
First, Because it is God's commandment; for if he commanded, under the pain of death, that none uncircumcised should eat the paschal lamb (Exod. xii. 48), nor any circumcised under four days preparation, how much greater preparation does he require of him that comes to receive the sacrament of his body and blood? which, as it succeeds, so doth it exceed by many degrees the sacrament of the passover.
Secondly, Because the example of Christ teaches us so much; for he washed his disciples' feet before he admitted them to eat of this supper; signifying how thou shouldst lay aside all impureness of heart, and uncleanness of life, and be furnished with humility and charity, before thou presumest to taste of this holy supper (John xiii. 5.)
Thirdly, Because it is the counsel of the Holy Ghost: "Let every man examine himself and so let him eat," &c. (1 Cor. xi. 28.) And if a man, when he is to eat with an earthly prince, must consider diligently what is before him, and put a knife to his throat, rather than commit any rudeness (Prov. xxiii. 1, 2), how much more oughtest thou to prepare thy soul, that thou mayest behave thyself with all fear and reverence when thou art to feast at the holy table of the Prince of princes.
Fourthly, Because it has been ever the practice of all God's saints, to use holy preparation before they would meddle with divine mysteries. David would not go near to God's altar, till he had first washed his hands in innocency (Psal. xxvi. 6;) much less shouldst thou, without due preparation, approach the Lord's table. Abimelech would not give, nor David and his men would not eat the shew-bread, but on condition that they were pure from all defilement (1 Sam. xxi. 4;) how much less shouldst thou presume to eat the Lord's bread, or rather the bread which is the Lord, unless thy heart be first cleansed by repentance? And if the Lord required Joshua, as he had done Moses before, to put off his shoes, in reverence of his holiness (Exod. iii. 5; Josh. v. 14), who was present in that place, where he appeared with a sword in his hand, for the destruction of his enemies; how much rather shouldst thou put off all the affections of thine earthly conversation, when thou comest near that place, where Christ appeareth to the eye of thy faith, with wounds in his hands and side, for the redemption of his friends? And for this cause it is said, that the Lamb's wife hath made herself ready for the marriage (Rev. xix. 7.) Prepare therefore thyself, if thou wilt in this life he betrothed unto Christ by sacramental grace, or in heaven married unto him by eternal glory.
Fifthly, Because God hath ever smitten with fearful judgments those who have presumed to use his holy ordinances without due fear and preparation. God set a flaming sword in a cherubim's hand to smite our first parents, being defiled with sin, if they should attempt to go into paradise to eat the sacrament of the tree of life (Gen. iii. 24.) Fear thou, therefore, to be smitten with the sword of God's vengeance, if thou presumest to go to the church with an impenitent heart, to eat the sacrament of the Lord of life. God smote 50,000 of the Bethshemites for looking irreverently into his ark, and killed Uzza with sudden death, for but rashly touching the ark, and smote Uzziah with a leprosy for meddling with the priest's office, which pertained not to him (1 Sam. vi. 19; 1 Chron. xiii. 9, &c.; 2 Chron. xxvi. 19.) The fear of such a stroke made Hezekiah so earnestly pray to God that he would not smite the people that wanted time to prepare themselves as they should, to eat the passover: and it is said, that the Lord heard Hezekiah, and healed the people; intimating, that had it not been for Hezekiah's prayer, the Lord had smitten the people for their want of due preparation. And the man who came to the marriage-feast without his wedding garment, or examining himself, was examined by another; and thereupon bound hand and foot, and cast into utter darkness (Matt. xxii. 12.) And St. Paul tells the Corinthians, that for want of this preparation in examining and judging themselves, before they did eat the Lord's Supper, God had sent that fearful sickness among them, of which some were then sick, others weak, and many fallen asleep, that is, taken away by temporal death; insomuch that the apostle saith, that every unworthy receiver eats his own judgment,-temporal, if he repents; eternal, if he repents not; and that in so heinous a measure, as if he were guilty of the very body and blood of the Lord, whereof this sacrament is a holy sign and seal (1 Cor. xi. 27, 30.) And princes punish the indignity offered to their great seal, in as deep a measure as that which is done to their own persons, whom it represents. And how heinous the guiltiness of Christ's blood is, may appear by the misery of the Jews ever since they wished his blood to be on them and their children (Matt. xxvii. 25.) But then thou wilt say, it were safer to abstain from coming at all to the holy communion: not so, for God has threatened to punish the wilful neglect of his sacraments with eternal damnation both of body and soul (Numb. ix. 13; Heb. ii. 3; Matt. xxvi. 26; 1 Cor. xi. 24.) And it is the commandment of Christ, "Take, eat; do this in remembrance of me;" and he will have his commandment, under the penalty of this curse, obeyed. And seeing that this sacrament was the greatest token of Christ's love, which he left at his end to his friends whom he loved to the end (John xiii. 1), therefore the neglect and contempt of this sacrament must argue the contempt and neglect of his love and blood shedding (Heb. x. 29;) than which no sin in God's account can seem more heinous. Nothing hinders why thou mayest not come freely to the Lord's table; but because thou hadst rather want the love of God, than leave thy filthy sins. O come, but come a guest prepared for the Lord's table; seeing they are blessed who are called to the Lamb's supper (Rev. xix. 9.) O come, but come prepared, because the efficacy of the sacrament is received according to the proportion of the faith of the receiver.
This preparation consists in the serious consideration of three things: First, Of the worthiness of the sacrament, which is termed, to discern the Lord's body; Secondly, Of thine own unworthiness, which is, to judge thyself; Thirdly, Of the means whereby thou mayest become a worthy receiver, called communion of the Lord's body.