raised expectations

For one reason or another I was recently revisiting Matthew Henry’s little book, The Communicant’s Companion. Talking about expecting a blessing from the Lord’s supper, Matthew Henry says this:

“Let us come to this ordinance with raised expectations. … The maker of the feast is God himself, who doth nothing little, nothing mean, but is able to do exceeding abundantly above what we are able to ask or think. When he gives, he gives like himself, gives like a king, gives like a God, all things richly to enjoy – considering not what it becomes such ungrateful wretches as we are to receive, but what it becomes such a bountiful benefactor as he is to give.”

The Lord’s Supper is a place where individual sin and unworthiness is brought into particular focus along with the undeserved mercy of the Lord: ungrateful and displeasing wretches receiving all sorts of riches of mercy.

But Henry’s line of argument can be extended to other areas of life too. If we only considered the messy horrible situations that exist all over the place – thinking particularly at the moment of the church itself, although it also applies to society at large and our individual circumstances – there would be nothing left apart from total depression and despair. But there is still help available, as long as we don’t expect it on account of the absence of problems on our side.

There’s no reason, in other words, to expect blessings for the church when it has all sorts of disasters and blots in its record. But other people have been in similar situations in the past, and they resorted to just this argument. “O my God, incline thine ear, and hear … for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercy.” Dan 9:18.

Keep your expectations low, incidentally, about how much activity you’ll see from me over the next several days. I’ll be parted from my laptop for even more extended periods than normal – E-Prime issues; be grateful if that doesn’t mean anything to you – and it’s going to be a busy week anyway.

25 thoughts on “raised expectations

  1. One can always count on Matthew Henry (1662-1714) to express a large truth in a pithy manner. Did you know that his famous commentary is not based on sermons he preached, but rather on his Bible readings before the sermons?


  2. Richard Z – that does ring a bell, i don’t think i thought it came from his sermons. Was it family worship? for some reason that’s at the back of my mind, not so much his personal readings before preaching but i could have that all wrong

    Book itself came from these good people,
    http://reynoldsbooks.blog.com/ – to my shame until i saw it advertised i never knew MH wrote anything other than his commentary … but when i saw it i just had to have it! :)


  3. Oh.

    “… a pelican, a mystic emblem of Christ – succouring her young with blood taken from her own breast ..”

    am i the only one who didn’t know this?

    Just serendipitously discovered this evening – skimming something about Mary Slessor – apparently there’s a memorial window for her which includes this detail.


  4. “The Medieval Bestiaries speak of the mother Pelican feeding her chicks with blood from her breast. It is became a popular image of Christ feeding the faithful in the Holy Eucharist …”

    It’s not a scriptural figure is it? (in case there’s some major OT pelican typology i’m also not aware of …)

    v happy to say that believers receive Christ himself in this sacrament, feed on his body and blood and all his benefits, to their nourishment and growth in grace … he is really and truly there … but spiritually, not in a corporal manner


    • fr Euan Marley, OP, says “in a very real sense? Aye, that’s whit they all say when they mean “not really”. He was thinking of Anglicans and folk of that mindset, but it came irresistibly to mind upon re-reading this :-)

      cyber-British-hug. Am off to bed.


  5. Ah, yes. “It depends what you mean by ‘is’.” :-)

    I wasn’t starting anything, I am a devoted reader of Fr Ray’s blog, and when a pelican came up, I thought of you :-)


  6. Imagine if you could just mean “is”. This is Cath, this is Berenike, this is Jesus. And when the six-year-old asked “really?” you could say “yes, really”. Much cooler, no?


  7. “Yes, really,” I would say to the six-year-old … given that spiritual realities are no less real than corporeal realities …

    What does “is” mean in: this is your life, toys r us, I am the Door? In context, “This is my body” can’t even mean “is” for you, it has to mean “will be”, right?

    “… the body and blood of Christ … are spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements themselves are to their outward senses …” westminster larger catechism

    (goodnight & hope the puppy appreciates it :) )


  8. Nope, it means “is” in context too.

    Thing is, you’d have to explain to the kid about your spiritual reality – it’s not what he was wondering when he said “What, really?!”. At least, it wasn’t when I was a teenager. I meant “really” as in “wot, like that’s you and this is me?”. To which it seems to me you can only answer “no, not like that”. And therefore to the question “what, really?” as asked by figurative child, which question was asking “is that Jesus like that is you and this is me?”, your only unqualified answer could be “no”.

    Does that make any sense? I’m not making an argument, just “sharing” (gor, I’m so caring and fluffy) something I think about on many evenings.


  9. aw naw, i thought i’d buy me some thinking time by posting after you’d gone to bed.

    Don’t you explain to your kids about God himself. Is he here? Yes, really! Your soul’s not like your body, etc. Quite happy to point to bread and wine and say that is not Jesus like this is you and me, but he is present truly, spiritually, really to the faith of believers. Believers at the Lord’s table are feeding on the body and blood of Christ just as really, though spiritually, as they are corporally eating bread and drinking wine – that’s explained to the congregation at large as the differnece between what believers and unbelievers are doing at the Lord’s supper (and what believers are doing at the Lord’s table as opposed to non-participating onlookers)

    In any of the gospels, when Christ speaks the words that institute the Lord’s Supper, he can’t in the context mean “is” in the same way that that was Peter and that was John.

    Fluffy is understood of course!


  10. “quite happy to point to bread and wine and say that is not Jesus like this is you and me, but …” Me too.

    That’s what I keep thinking – you only have, by your own account, bread and wine (in the sense of the stuff that is there), which are in some Very Really Sense Jesus, only spiritually, and not “like that”. So to my teenage question “did Jesus really mean it?” when He said “This is my body”, you couldn’t say “yes” unqualifiedly without misleading me as to what you mean. Whereas He did mean “is” in the same way that that was Peter and that was John (though you don’t think so, obviously).

    Mon reflections.


  11. On account of who He is, I think that we should receive all of the Saviour’s words as being as well meant and clear as anything in the universe. If this sometimes causes the exercising of the inner teenage mind on some point or another (my inner teenager is about 12), then I think we would do well to have a look at the Westminster Confession or the larger catechism (there is more in it than in the shorter).

    The bread to be broken is in remembrance as a sacrament and remains bread, I’m quite sure. It is a commemoration.

    ‘And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me…..(Luke 22.19)’

    Whether this all has anything to do with what you are talking about, I’m not entirely sure, my teenagerish mind would rather go and play frisbee than discuss extremely important things, and so is a bit of a hindrance to my concentration. And so I realise that I’m probably not tuned into the correct pitch of this conversation, sorry.

    How’s the dug now?


  12. Quite right sir.

    You’ll notice i’m pretty dependent on Westminster too.

    The bread and wine remain bread and wine, but Christ is spiritually present to the faith of believers. The bread and wine are signs which (just like the water in baptism) represent, signify, and seal to believers Christ and the benefits of the new covenant.

    LC170: The body and blood of Christ are not corporally or carnally present in, with, or under the bread and wine, and yet are spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements themselves are to their outward senses.

    That was Peter, and that was John, and that was Jesus, and that was bread and wine. It would be more than a teenager who would have trouble understanding (if this is the measure we’re invoking) if it could equally be said This is Jesus and This is Jesus where “is” means the same thing and the two “is”s apply simultaneously to Jesus and to bread and wine.


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