Thus we have briefly considered the first part that belongs to this sacrament. We shall now consider its virtue and utility, chiefly on account of which the Sacrament was instituted, and which are the most necessary qualities in it; that we may know what we should seek and obtain. Now, this is clear and easy to be understood, even from the words which we have mentioned: This is my body and blood, given and shed for you for the remission of sins. The import of these words is briefly this:– We approach the Sacrament in order to receive a treasure, through and in which we obtain the remission of sins. Why do we obtain this? Because the words are employed which give it to us; for he commands me to eat and to drink, in order that it may be mine and be beneficial to me, as a surer plefge and a sign: yea, to receive even this blessing which was set apart for me, against my sins, my death, and every evil.
It is, therefore, very appropriately called food for the soul, which nourishes and strengthens the new man; for through Baptism we are born anew, but beside this, the old vicious nature in the flesh and blood nevertheless adheres to man, in which there are so many impediments and obstacles, with which we are opposed as well by the devil as by the world, so that we often become weary and faint, and sometimes stumble.
This sacrament is, therefore, given as daily food and nourishment, by which faith may repair and recover its strength, so that it may not fall back in this contest, but increase in strength. For the new life must be so regulated as continually to increase and progress. On the other hand, it has much to endure; for the devil is an enemy so malignant, that if he perceives us opposing him and attacking the old man, if he cannot defeat us by force, he wearies us by lurking about on all sides, trying all his arts without ceasing, so that, either permitting our faith to decline, or our physical powers to fail, we become dull and impatient. This consolation then is given for this purpose, that when the heart feels these things becoming too oppressive for it, it can here obtain new strength and refreshment.
But our wise spirits, who cry out vociferously, "How can bread and wine forgive sins or strengthen faith?" pervert our meaning with their strange erudition and wisdom, when at the same time they hear and know that we do not say this bread and wine,– as bread in itself is bread,– but of such bread and wine as are the body and blood of Christ,* and such as are connected with the words: this and no other, I say, is the treasure indeed, through which this forgiveness of sins is obtained. Now it is indeed not otherwise applied and appropriated to us, than in these words, given and shed for you; for in these words it is said both that it is the body and blood of Christ, and that it is yours as a treasure and a gift. Now the body of Christ cannot be a fruitless, vain thing, accomplishing nothing and affording no benefit. As great, however, as the treasure is in itself, it must be embraced, and administered to us, in the word, otherwise we could never be able either to seek it, or to have any knowledge of it.
*See note on this subject, page 384.
[Page 384:] In pursuing this subject, in the twentieth vol. of his works published by Walch, page 1293, sec. 347, 348, 349, Dr. Luther says:– "In the fourth place, the Evangelists write that the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ in the form of a dove in Jordan, John 4, 32; again, that he came upon the disciples in the form of winds and fiery tongues on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2, 2; again, on mount Tabor, in the form of a cloud, Matt. 17, 5. Here Wickliff and the sophists may philosophize and assert that a dove was present, but not the Holy Spirit; or, that the Holy Spirit was there, and not a dove. We say in opposition to both propositions, that if we refer to the dove, we can truly and literally say, 'this is the Holy Spirit,' because, in this case, the two different essences– Spirit and dove– have become one essence in some manner, neither a natural nor personal, but rather a formal union, because the Holy Spirit wished to reveal himself in such form. And in reference to this the Scriptures declare positively, that whoever saw the dove, saw the Holy Spirit, as John 1, 33, says: 'Upopn whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him,' &c.
"Why then should we not much rather say in the Eucharist: this is my body, although bread and body are two distinct things, and the word this belongs to the bread? For here also has taken place a union of two distinct things: this I shall call a sacramental union, because bread and Christ's body are here given to us for a sacrament. It is not, indeed, a natural or personal union, as in Christ; it is perhaps a different union to that also which the dove has with the Holy Spirit, and the flame with the angel: nevertheless, it is truly a sacramental union.
"For this reason it is correctly said that, if we point to the bread, and say, 'this is the body of Christ,' whoever sees this bread, sees the body of Christ; precisely as John says, that he saw the Holy Spirit, when he saw the dove," &c. –TRANS.
Therefore their assertion is frivolous, when they say, "That the body and blood of Christ are not given and shed for us in the Eucharist, and that for this reason we cannot obtain the forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper." For, although this work was accomplished on the Cross, and the remission of sins obtained, yet they cannot be communicated to us otherwise than through the word; for how could we otherwise know that these things had been accomplished, or that they are presented to us, if they are not handed down to us through the Word? From what source do they know it, or how can they apprehend the remission of sins, and apply it to themselves, if they do not support themselves by, and believe in the Scripture and the Gospel? Now indeed the whole Gospel, and the article of the Creed,– I believe in a holy Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, &c.,– by virtue of the word, are embraced in this sacrament, and presented to us. Why then should we permit this treasure to be torn away from this sacrament, when at the same time they must acknowledge, that even these words are those which we hear every where in the Gospel? And in truth, as little can they affirm that these words in the Sacrament are of no benefit, as they dare to affirm that the whole Gospel or the Word of God, apart from the Sacrament, is of no benefit.