Anglican Thomas Watson’s Prayer (2)
September 23, 2016
We’ve resumed our reading of the Puritan Paperback, Sermons of the Great Ejection and continue in the second part of three pieces (part 1) in the book by Anglican Thomas Watson. “The Great Ejection” was the explusion of nearly 20% of Anglican ministers from their "cures" (pastorates) in the 1662 Act of Uniformity.
We learned last time that Watson’s prayer and the sermon that follows were set in a service of the Lord’s Supper where “…this blessed sacrament [will] be a poison to our lust and nourishment for our grace.” Watson clearly had a high view of the sacrament. Such a high view may come as a surprise to most Anglicans who have not studied their English Reformed forbears in the Church of England on the Eucharist. It is a prejudice to suggest that Anglicans had to wait for the nineteenth century divines for its rediscovery.
We can discover more of Watson’s sacramental theology in a devotional he published in 1665 after the Ejection entitled, The Holy Eucharist, or the Mystery of the Lord’s Supper Briefly Explained. Its purpose was to help the Christian prepare for their reception of the consecrated bread and wine.
Watson’s devotional begins with a quote from John Chrysostom, “The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is the commemoration of the greatest blessing that ever the world enjoyed.” To Watson, the Lord’s Supper was a mirror in which to behold the suffering and the death of Christ, and was, in certain respects, a more excellent means of grace than the preaching of the Word: “A sacrament is a visible sermon. And herein the sacrament excels the Word preached. The Word is a trumpet to proclaim Christ. The sacrament is a glass to represent him…The Word brings us to Christ; the Sacrament builds us up in him…Lord condescends to our weakness.” Watson echoes Article 25 of the Thirty-Nine Articles in making the Supper is an effectual means of sanctifying, not justifying grace: “The Word is for the engrafting; the Sacraments are for the confirming of faith” (pp. 1-2). Article 25 says: “Through them he works invisibly within us, both bringing to life and also strengthening and confirming our faith in him.”
Watson believed that the sacrament was a priceless gift of the Savior to the church, in the right use of which the faith of the people of God would be confirmed and strengthened, and their souls receive great benefits. He regularly affirms that Supper has an intrinsic efficacy for the believer who receives by faith: “Why is the Lord's Supper called the communion of the body of Christ, 1 Corinthians 10:16, but because, in the right celebration of it, we have sweet communion with Christ?” (p. 18-19) The two extremes of transubstantiation and memorialism were to be avoided.
Many Anglicans will know the wording of the Prayer of Humble Access, perhaps stumbling over the vividness found in: “Grant us, therefore (gracious Lord) so to eat the flesh of they dear son Jesus Christ and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood…” Knowing that Anglicans do not hold to the real and corporal presence of Christ in the elements, what did Cranmer mean when he wrote this? Watson is a help here. He writes lengthy exhortations on both the efficacy of the body and blood for the believer who receives by faith the bread and the wine. There is an experiential vividness throughout: “Let us prize Christ’s body. Every crumb of this bread is life precious…So Christ, the Sacramental Manna, is sweet to the believer’s soul” “Christ’s blood is a cooling blood. It cools the heat of sin…When the heart burns, and is in agony, Christ’s blood is like water to the fire” (p. 36).
More Anglicans would do well to ponder more fully when Article 28 of the Thirty-Nine affirms, “The means whereby the body of Chrst is received and eaten in the Supper is faith,” as Watson and the Third Exhortation do. Both assert how being lovingly called by Christ Himself, the Supper was a time in which to partake of the benefits of Christ’s death by faith, to be fed and cherished by the Lord in his own banqueting house, and to obtain a foretaste of the glory which will be fully realized only in heaven: “As Christ's beauty, so His bounty should make Him loved by us. He has given us His blood as the price and His Spirit as the witness of our pardon. In the Sacrament, Christ bestows all good things. He both imputes His righteousness and imparts His lovingkindness. He gives a foretaste of that supper which shall be celebrated in the paradise of God. To sum up all, in the blessed supper, Christ gives Himself to believers, and what can He give more?” (p. 26) “Because faith is the most receptive grace. It is the receiving of gold which enriches. So faith, receiving Christ's merits and filling the soul with all the fulness of God, must be an enriching grace…It is a discredit to this ordinance if we get no increase of grace. Shall leanness enter into our souls at a feast of fat things?” (p. 49)
Again echoing the Second Prayerbook Exhortation, said at times when a minister notices people being negligent to come to the Supper, Watson writes that a deliberate absence from the Lord’s Supper is treason on the part of the believer: “It is not left to our choice whether we will come or not; it is a duty purely indispensable. "Let him eat of that bread," 1 Corinthians 11: 28, which words are not only permissive, but authoritative. It is as if a king should say, "Let it be enacted." The neglect of the Sacrament runs men into a Gospel Praemunire” (p.19). A praemunire was a writ issued against a subject who had petitioned a foreign (usually papal) court for redress over an English one – a treasonable offence.
Many more examples could be given. If you were to place Watson’s devotional open alongside the three Exhortations, the Prayer Humble Access, and post-Communion Prayers of Oblation in the Book of Common Prayer 1552/1662, you will see a close correlation between them all. I have read how Watson’s view of the Supper is said to be built upon the teaching of John Calvin, but I would suggest that there is a source that he would have known since boyhood thay lay much closer at hand and had preserved Reformed sacramental theology. Watson’s theology of the Lord’s Supper is the same as The Book of Common Prayer.