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The Duty of Constant Communion

Sermon 101 – 1787

This sermon represents Wesley’s fullest and most explicit statement of his eucharistic doctrine and praxis as well as his untroubled reliance upon a classic expression of the ‘catholic tradition’ in current Anglican doctrine at that time.

In 1732, Wesley wrote an extract of The Great Duty of Frequenting the Christian Sacrifice (1707) by Robert Nelson, the most celebrated Anglican liturgist of the day.  Wesley designed to use the treatise primarily with his own students and friends at Oxford.  In his extract, Wesley actually rewrote a good deal of Nelson’s text, incorporated a few portions from other authors such as William Beveridge, and added some original material of his own.  The shift of emphasis from Nelson’s ‘frequenting the Christian sacrifice’ to Wesley’s ‘constant communion’ seems to have been suggested by a tract of Arthur Bury’s, the controversial rector of Exeter College, Oxford, entitled The Constant Communion (1681), which was also read by the Oxford Methodists.

Fifty-five years later, Wesley proceeded to abridge the earlier extract and to revise it still further.  He then presented the result as an ‘original sermon’ in the Arminian Magazine (1787), with the postscript, ‘Oxon., Feb. 19, 1732’.  It has no title but has a heading ‘To the Reader’, claiming the text as Wesley’s own.  This assertion, however, raises a nice question, since there is too much of Nelson here for it to be acknowledged as truly ‘original’ and too much of Wesley for it to be labeled as wholly ‘borrowed’.  When Wesley decided to include the Magazine revision of his earlier revision of Nelson in volume eight of his collected Sermons, he gave it its present title and repeated the earlier heading, ‘To the Reader’:

The following discourse was written above five and fifty years ago, for the use of my pupils at Oxford.  I have added very little, but retrenched much; as I then used more words than I do now.  But I thank God I have not yet seen cause to alter my sentiments in any point which is therein delivered.

It is no wonder that men who have no fear of God should never think of doing this.  But it is strange that it should be neglected by any that do fear God, and desire to save their souls.  And yet nothing is more common.  One reason why any neglect it is, they are so much afraid of ‘eating and drinking unworthily’ that they never think how much greater the danger is when they do not eat or drink at all.  That I may do what I can to bring these well-meaning men to a more just way of thinking, I shall.

First, show that it is the duty of every Christian to receive the Lord’s Supper as often as he can; and secondly, answer some objections.


I am to show that it is the duty of every Christian to receive the Lord’s Supper as often as he can.

The first reason why it is the duty of every Christian so to do is because it is a plain command of Christ.  That this is his command appears from the words of the text, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’: by which, as the Apostles were obliged to bless, break, and give the bread to all that joined with them in those holy things, so were all Christians obliged to receive those signs of Christ’s body and blood.  Here therefore the bread and wine are commanded to be received, in remembrance of his death, to the end of the world.  Observe, too, that this command was given by our Lord when he was just laying down his life for our sakes.  They are therefore, as it were, his dying words to all his followers.

A second reason why every Christian should do this as often as he can is because the benefits of doing it are so great to all that do it in obedience to him; namely, the forgiveness of our past sins and the present strengthening and refreshing of our souls.  In this world we are never free from temptations.  Whatever way of life we are in, whatever our condition be, whether we are sick or well, in trouble or at ease, the enemies of our souls are watching to lead us into sin.  And too often they prevail over us.  Now when we are convinced of having sinned against God, what surer way have we of procuring pardon from him than the ‘showing forth the Lord’s death,’ and beseeching him, for the sake of his Son’s sufferings, to blot out all our sins?

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The grace of God given herein confirms to us the pardon of our sins by enabling us to leave them.  As our bodies are strengthened by bread and wine, so are our souls by these tokens of the body and blood of Christ.  This is the food of our souls: this gives strength to perform our duty, and leads us on to perfection.  If therefore we have any regard for the plain command of Christ, if we desire the pardon of our sins, if we wish for strength to believe, to love and obey God, then we should neglect no opportunity of receiving the Lord’s Supper.  Then we must never turn our backs on the feast which our Lord has prepared for us.  We must neglect no occasion which the good providence of God affords us for this purpose.  This is the true rule – so often are we to receive as God gives us opportunity.  Whoever therefore does not receive, but goes from the holy table when all things are prepared, either does not understand his duty or does not care for the dying command of his Savior, the forgiveness of his sins, the strengthening of his soul, and the refreshing it with the hope of glory.

Let everyone therefore who has either any desire to please God, or any love of his own soul, obey God and consult the good of his own soul by communicating every time he can; like the first Christians, with whom the Christian sacrifice was a constant part of the Lord’s day’s service.  And for several centuries they received it almost every day.  Four times a week always, and every saint’s day beside.  Accordingly those that joined in the prayers of the faithful never failed to partake of the blessed sacrament.  What opinion they had of any who turned his back upon it we may learn from that ancient canon, ‘If any believer join in the prayers of the faithful, and go away without receiving the Lord’s Supper, let him be excommunicated, as bringing confusion into the church of God.’

In order to understand the nature of the Lord’s Supper, it would be useful carefully to read over those passages in the Gospel and in the first Epistle to the Corinthians which speak of the institution of it.  Hence we learn that the design of this sacrament is the continual remembrance of the death of Christ, by eating bread and drinking wine, which are the outward signs of the inward grace, the body and blood of Christ.

It is highly expedient for those who purpose to receive this, whenever their time will permit, to prepare themselves for this solemn ordinance by self-examination and prayer.  But this is not absolutely necessary.  And when we have not time for it, we should see that we have the habitual preparation which is absolutely necessary, and can never be dispensed with on any account or any occasion whatsoever.  This is, first, a full purpose of heart to keep all the commandments of God.  And secondly, a sincere desire to receive all his promises.


  I am, in the second place, to answer the common objections against constantly receiving the Lord’s Supper.

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