Christ Alone Defines the Sacramental Elements

Christ Alone Defines the Sacramental Elements

William Attersoll
Badges of Christianity
Book 3, ch. 5, pp. 350-352

Christ delivered his Last Supper in bread and wine, then these signs may not be altered, but must be retained for the perpetual use and comfort of the Church. And howsoever it be left to the choice and liberty of the Church, what bread or what wine they will use: yet that it ought necessarily (as I take it) to be bread and the fruit of the vine, may appear by diverse good considerations. I will propound the reasons that draw me to this opinion, let the Church judge of them, seeing the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 

First, the institution of the Supper and the example of Christ himself, whom the Church is to imitate and follow, who said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” He said not, do the like, or do what pleaseth you, and swerve from my example where you will, but do this which ye have seen me do. Whosoever therefore change either the bread or wine, do not that which Christ commands, but another thing than he appointeth. 

Again, no other signs are so significant and effectual as these are for this purpose, to strengthen and to comfort them that are in trouble, and almost in the present estate of death, as Psal. 104. “He bringeth forth bread out of the earth, and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make the face to shine, and bread that strengthens man’s heart.” Likewise the wise man saith Prov. 31. “Give ye strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine to them that have grief of heart.” So that we are hereby effectually and significantly put in mind, to have a most sweet feeling of Christ, to seek strength in him, and that it is he which aboundantly cheers our hearts. 

Thirdly, the matter and form of every thing, are holden to be of the nature of it, and to constitute the essence: so it is in the Sacraments, where the signs are the matter, and the words of institution are the form. True it is, circumstances may vary and be changed, as time, place, sitting, standing, kneeling, and such like: but the essential parts may not be changed. If then, both of them be of the essence of the Sacrament, such as take either of them away, destroy the Sacrament, and bring in a nullity thereof. Wherefore, if the signs, which are the matter, might be changed: then the words also of institution which are the form might be altered, and a new word brought into the Church: but a new word cannot be brought in, therefore no new outward sign or matter. 

Fourthly, if the bread and wine in the Supper might be changed, and yet the Sacrament in substance remain: then in like manner, water in baptism might be changed, and yet be baptism; for of things that are like, there is a like respect, and like conclusion to be inferred. But this cannot be, as we have shewed before in Book 2, Chap. 5 where we have proved that the minister cannot baptize with any other liquor or element, than with water, as the matter of that Sacrament. Neither let any object the case of necessity: for no necessity can make that lawful which simply and in it self is unlawful. 

Fifthly, if we admit and grant a change in the signs at the pleasure of men: why may we not also change other parts of the Sacrament? Why may we not instead of the minister appointed of God and called by the Church, admit private persons, and receive other alterations enforced upon the Church by the papists? Do we not hereby open a gap for them, to bring in all their trash and trumpery besides the written and revealed word of God?

Sixthly, we have shewed before that Nadab and Abihu the two sons of Aaron were smitten by the immediate hand of God for offering the oblation with strange fire. But all signs brought into the Sacraments beside the Scripture, are strange signs and consequently procure strange judgements. And we see how the prophet Joel threatening from God a dearth of corn, and wine, and of oil, declareth also that the offerings shall cease, where he saith, “The field is wasted, the corn is destroyed, the oil is decayed,  the new wine is dried up, the meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the Lord, the priests the Lord’s ministers shall mourn:” shewing hereby, that they were restrained from changing the outward signs. If any pretend greater freedom and liberty in the time of the gospel: let them shew their character, and we will believe them. 

Lastly, it is confessed on all sides, that without consecration and sanctification, there can be no Sacrament: for without this hallowing, the matter in baptism is bare water, the bread in the Supper is bare bread, the wine is common wine. Now every creature is sanctified by the word of God and by prayer, as the Apostle teacheth (1 Tim. 4) and therefore we cannot assure our hearts, that God will bless any other creatures, as fish or flesh in stead of bread, water or beer in stead of wine, seeing the word hath not sanctified these elements for this purpose. They are sanctified by the word for the ordinary nourishment of our bodies, but they are not by any special word sanctified for the use of the Sacraments. If then it be simply unlawful, to change any thing in the matter of the Sacraments, no pretense or necessity can ever make it lawful. And as when a lawful Minister is wanting, a private person may not be taken: so when the matter appointed for the administration of this Sacrament is missing, an other may not be assumed. For as well may we change the minster of the Sacrament into a private man, as the bread and wine (being the signs) into another matter. If the Sacraments cannot be had according to the precise and pure institution of Christ, they may lawfully be deferred or omitted: for the danger standeth not in the want (as we have declared before) so long as we are free from the contempt of them.

One thought on “Christ Alone Defines the Sacramental Elements

  1. I agree with the general sentiment of the passage here, but I just don’t see where the Bible speaks about only “lawful minister”s administering the sacrament. Many a good congregation has suffered needlessly without the Supper. Then again, most people don’t feel the need to observe it weekly, so I suppose people don’t feel the absence of the Supper as acutely as those of us who have observed it weekly for the majority of our lives.


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