Herman Witsius (1636-1708)
Economy of the Covenants
4.17, §28-32, vol. 2, pp. 457-459.
Who are they on whom it is incumbent to observe these duties [of the Lord’s Supper] according to Christ’s command? Paul has briefly resolved this, 1 Cor. 11:28-29: “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup; for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” In which words he shows:
1st. That no person should approach the table of the Lord but he who, having a knowledge of the sacred mysteries, can discern the Lord’s body, and, in some measure at least, understands the analogy between the sacred symbols and the thing signified by them, and on that occasion can show the Lord’s death.
2dly. That there is also required in the communicant that experience of the ways of God about the elect as to be able to examine himself; whether, besides the external profession of faith, he hath also the genuine marks of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, or, which is the same thing, of a sincere and internal Christianity; such as the sorrow of a penitent heart, which is after a godly manner; a lively faith resting on Christ, as the alone author of life; in fine, an unfeigned love towards God and his neighbour, joined with an effectual purpose of reformation of life. Whoever upon a previous examination finds these things in himself, is not to account himself as an unacceptable guest to the Lord….
We may easily gather from what we have quoted from Paul what to think of the communion of infants. It appears to have been a custom in the ancient church to put the symbols of the holy supper into the mouths of infants just after baptism. A practice still observed by the Orientals. I will here subjoin the words of Metrophanes Critopulus Hieromonachus, confess. c. ix:
“But even infants themselves are partakers, beginning immediately upon their baptism, and afterwards as often as the parents will. And if any one should blame us for the communion of infants, we can easily stop his mouth. For, if he be an Anabaptist, we use this saying against him: ‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto me,’ Matt. 19:15. Also that other: ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you,’ John 6:53. But the prophetess Anna makes very much for us, who dedicated Samuel from his early infancy to God; who also requires the first-born of the Jews to be given up to him, from their very birth, though not yet endowed with a competent measure of understanding. But if our adversary be no Anabaptist, we will also use the very same arguments against him, which he uses for infants against the Anabaptists; that as they ought to be baptized, so also to be made partakers of the Lord’s Supper. And thus with the help of God we have got the better of our argument.”
Thus far Metrophanes.
But we are of a quite different opinion. For, all the words of our Lord’s command (with respect to this sacrament) are so expressed that they cannot belong to infants, who can neither receive the bread nor eat it, unless it be chewed for them or soaked. For “babes are fed with milk, and not with meat,” 1 Cor. 3:2, Heb. 5:12. Infants cannot examine themselves nor discern the Lord’s body, nor show his death, all which we have just heard the apostle requires of communicants.
The arguments of Metrophanes are very easily refuted.
1st. It does not follow because our Lord was willing that young children should come unto him, and declared that theirs was the kingdom of heaven, that they are to partake of the supper. Christ is there speaking of spiritual and mystical communion with himself, which does not imply any sacramental communion whatever; but that only, of which the subjects he is speaking of are capable.
2dly. The nature of baptism and of the supper is different. Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration and ingrafting in the church; in the administration of which, the person to be baptized is merely passive; to the receiving of that the Scripture does not so universally require self-examination and the showing the Lord’s death. And therefore it may be properly applied to young children. But the supper is the sacrament of nutrition by means of a solid food; to the partaking whereof, the communicants are required to perform certain actions both by the body and the soul, of which infants are incapable, and therefore it belongs to those who are come to the years of discretion, and not to little children.
3dly. Our Lord, John 6:53, is not treating of a sacramental but of a spiritual and mystical eating by faith. For neither was the Eucharist then instituted or known; nor will any one readily urge such an absolute necessity for the eucharist as that without it none can be saved; which yet our Lord asserts of that eating of his flesh.
4thly. The example of the prophetess Anna, who consecrated Samuel a little child to God, is not at all to the purpose. For nothing can be concluded from that, but that it is a part of the duty of parents to give up their children as early as possible to the obedience and service of God.
5thly. And what they pretend concerning the dedication of the first-born of the Jews to God, is still more impertinent. For that dedication of the first-born, previous to the setting apart the tribe of Levi, showed that they were God’s, and to be employed in his service; in them the other children were accounted to be consecrated, and even the whole family; and in a word, they were types of Christ, in whom, as the first-born among many brethren, all the families of the earth are blessed. All which has nothing to do with the participation of the eucharist.