Finally, inasmuch as we now have the right sense and true doctrine of this sacrament, an admonition and exhortation are also highly necessary, lest we should neglect this great treasure which is daily administered and distributed among Christians; that is, that those who wish to be Christians, should accustom themselves to receive this highly venerable sacrament frequently. For we see that persons are careless and dilatory about this matter; and the greater portion of those who hear the Gospel,– since the frivolous opinions of the Pope are removed, in consequence of which we are liberated from his constraint and authority,– pass indeed a year or two, or even longer, without the Sacrament, as if they were Christians so strong as not to need it; and some allow themselves to be prevented and deterred from it, because we have taught that no one should approach, unless feeling a hunger and thirst which urge him. Others maintain that it is free and unnecessary, and that it is sufficient if they believe in other respects; and thus the greater part lose all devotion and affection for the Sacrament, becoming entirely rude, and finally hold in contempt both the Sacrament and the Word of God.
Now it is true, as we have said, that no one should by any means be forced or compelled to approach the Sacrament, lest we should again establish a new inquisition. Yet it should, however, be known that those persons who keep away and abstain from the Sacrament so long a time, are not to be held as Christians; for Christ did not institute it to be used as a mere spectacle, but he commanded his Christians to eat and to drink it, remembering him through it.
And in truth those who are true Christians, and hold this sacrament dear and precious, should really force themselves to it; yet, for the purpose of inducing the inexperienced and the weak, who also wish to be Christians, the more to consider the reasons and necessities which should urge them to receive the Sacrament, we shall make a few remarks on the subject. For, as in other matters touching faith, love, and patience, it is not enough to teach and to instruct only, but also to admonish daily; and so here it is necessary to continue preaching, so that we may not become careless and averse to this matter, since we know and feel how the devil always strives against this and every Christian exercise, and, as far as he is able, drives and forces away from it as many as he can.
And in the first place, we have an expressive text in the words of Christ, Do this in remembrance of me. These are the words of a command, by which it is enjoined on those who wish to be Christians to partake of this sacrament. For this reason, whoever wishes to be a disciple of Christ, to whom he here speaks, let him reflect, and adhere to the requirement of these words, not through constraint, as being forced by men, but through obedience and to the honor of Christ. But perhaps you may say, these words As oft as ye do it, stand here in connection; here he forces no one, but leaves it to the freedom of his choice. Reply:– This is true, but they do not say, that we should never do it. Yes, since he declares even these words: As oft as ye do it, it is implied that it is to be done often; and more than this, he wishes the Sacrament to be free,– not confined to a particular time like the Jewish Passover, which they were compelled to eat but once each year, invariably on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first full moon,– as if he would say, I institute for you a paschal festival, or a supper, which you shall enjoy, not only on the anniversary of this evening, but often, when and where you wish, according to the opportunity and necessity of each one, confined to no particular place or fixed time. And yet the Pope afterwards perverted it, and made out of it a Jewish festival.
Thus you perceive, that there is not such an extent of liberty left as to allow us to contemn the Sacrament. For if a person, having nothing to prevent him, still never desires and always neglects to receive the Sacrament, this I regard as contemning it. If you wish to have this liberty, then assume even so much as not to be a Christian, and you need neither believe nor pray; for the one is equally as well the injunction of Christ as the other. But if you wish to be a Christian, you must at least occasionally act up to the requirements of this command, and be obedient to it; for this command should, indeed, move you to examine yourself, and to ask: "Behold, what kind of a Christian am I? If I were a Christian, I would endeavor to do that which my Lord has commanded me to do."
And in truth, since we conduct ourselves so strangely in reference to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, it is easy to perceive what kind of Christians we were under the Papacy, as these approached it through the fear and constraint of human commands, without love and desire, and had no respect for the command of Christ; but we neither force nor violently compel any one to approach, nor should any do it for our gratification. This fact itself, that Christ requires it and that it is pleasing to him, should, however, induce and urge you to it. We should not allow ourselves to be forced either to faith, or to good works of any kind, by men. We do nothing more than tell you and admonish you of what you should do, not for our sake, but for your own. Christ calls you, and encourages you; if you will reject this call with contempt, then answer for it yourself.
The first thing necessary then, especially for those who are cold and negligent, is for them to reflect seriously and to awake. For this is undoubtedly true,– as I have indeed experienced in myself, and as every one will discover in himself,–that if we thus separate ourselves from the enjoyment of the Sacrament, we daily become the more careless and cold, and finally neglect it altogether. But if the Eucharist is more frequently used, we may examine our hearts and our consciences, and conduct ourselves as persons who sincerely desire to be in favor with God: yes, the more frequently we enjoy it the more the heart is warmed and animated, so that it may not grow entirely cold.
But if you ask,– What then, if I feel that I am unfit to receive the Sacrament? Answer:– This feeling troubles me too, resulting especially from the old impression made by the teachings of the Pope, under whom we tormented ourselves to a very great degree, in order that we might become entirely pure, and that God might not discover the slightest imperfection in us; in consequence of which we felt so intimidated, that every one immediately became alarmed, and said: "O, alas! I am unworthy." For human nature and reason begin to estimate our worthiness in comparison with this great and precious blessing: here they find themselves as an obscure lantern compared with the meridian sun, or as dust with precious stone; and because they feel this, they are unwilling to approach the Sacrament, deferring it until they become fit, to such a length of time, that one week brings on another, and one half year another. But if you wish to take into consideration your piety and purity, and to strive after these, so that nothing may disturb you, you can never approach the Sacrament.
Therefore we should make a distinction here between persons. For those who are intractable and obstinate, we should advise to abstain from the Sacrament; for they are not prepared to receive the remission of sins, having no desire for it, and not wishing to be pious. But others who are not so rude and dissolute and who earnestly desire that they might be pious, should not be absent from the Lord's Supper, even if they are otherwise weak and defective, even as St. Hilary has said: "If a sin is not committed in such a way that the perpetrator can be justly excluded from the congregation, and regarded as a heathen, he should not stay away from the Sacrament, so that he may not deprive himself of life." For no one will arrive at such a degree of perfection, as not to have daily defects in his flesh and blood.
For this reason, such persons should learn that the greatest wisdom is to know that the Sacrament does not depend on our worthiness; for we do not permit ourselves to be baptized, as being meritorious and holy; nor do we confess our sins, as being pure and sinless; but on the contrary, we confess as being poor and miserable, and even because we are undeserving; yet, if any one should neither desire grace nor absolution, nor think of amending his ways, he is unworthy to approach the Sacrament. But whoever desires to have grace and consolation, should urge himself, allowing no one to deter him from it; and he should say: "I would truly desire to be worthy, but I approach, not upon the merit of any worthiness, but upon the authority of thy word,– because thou hast commanded it,– as one who desires to be thy disciple, let my worthiness remain where it can." But this is a difficult and a grave resolution; for the fact that we look more upon ourselves than upon the word and voice of Christ, continually lies in our way, and impedes us. For human nature ardently wishes so to act that it may firmly rely and depend on itself; if frustrated in this attempt, it will not approach. Let this suffice in reference to the first part.