« PreviousContinue »
his will, is hereby conveyed to us : It is the sovereign remedy against all temptations, by mortifying our passions, and by spiritualizing our affections : In a word, it is the likeliest method to make our bodies the temples of the Holy Ghost, and to prepare our souls for the enjoyment of God to all eternity.
And if at any time, through ignorance, surprise, or the violence of any other temptation, we should fall into those very sins which we have repented of, and vowed against when we were at the last sacrament, yet these relapses should not make us afraid of coming again, since we have always the benefit of repentance allowed us : If after a relapse we repent, and renew our resolutions with a hearty grief and contrition of spirit, we are made whole as before. If the wicked, saith God, will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, all his transgressions that he hath committed, they shail not be mentioned unto him, Ezek. xviii. 21, 22. Sin no more, says our Saviour to the woman taken in adultery, and I will not condemn thee, John viïi. 11. It is not the commission of this or that great sin that will utterly exclude us from God's mercy and forgiveness; for then, indeed, no person could escape damnation, because there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not, Eccles. vii. 20. But it is our living and dying without repentance and amendment, that brings God's wrath and vengeance upon us. His mercies are not limited; and he will not only pardon us once or twice, but always upon our repentance and return to him. No time, no age or season, does he except against ; but whenever the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive, Ezek. xviii. 27.
Some people, I remember, have been very much concerned and discomposed at their devotions, upon the repetition of some few expressions, contained in the last exhortation to the communion; namely, “Of being guilty of the body and blood of Christ our Saviour, Of eating and drinking our own damnation, not considering the Lord's Body,--Kindling God's wrath against us, Provoking him to plague us with divers diseases, and sundry kinds of death." But such persons should bear in mind, that these dangers are all avoided and escaped by coming worthily, that is, with faith and repentance: Therefore, let not these terrible expressions trouble you, or detain you from the holy communion. Repent and believe, and you are safe and secure from falling into any of those dangers which these sentences may seem to threaten you with. So that the want of preparation, as some men have alleged, and in the sense they generally take it, can never be a sufficient plea or pretence for their not coming to the holy communion ; because, after our best and strictest endeavours to prepare ourselves, we profess, before God and the congregation, “ That we do not come to this heavenly table trusting in our own righteousness, but in his manifold and great mercies.” By these we are invited to come; and to the mercy of God, through Christ, all of us must flee and take sanctuary in; who has promised that he will in no wise cast out those who come unto him, John vi. 37. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise, Psalm li. 17. There is nothing dreadful in this sacrament, but to the wilful, impenitent, and persevering sinner, whose condition is dreadful, and every page in Scripture is terrible against such, whether they come or not; but to the penitent and humble soul, nothing is dismal or affrighting in this holy feast; for there are none condemned for unworthily receiving, but such as deserve it for continuing in their iniquities; and this impenitence renders even their prayers “ an abomination to the Lord.” Though they never partake of the body and blood of Christ, they are in equal danger with those who eat and drink unworthily; nay, I might say in greater, because the latter use the means in obedience to our Saviour's command, and the former wilfully neglect" that which would prevent their damnation, if rightly considered and timely applied to. The surest way, I say, to prevent their damnation, is, to receive the sacrament more frequently than men usually do; that by a constant participation of this spiritual food of the living bread which comes down from heaven, their souls may be nourished in all goodness, and new supplies of God's grace and holy Spirit may be continually derived to them for the purifying of their hearts, and to enable them to run the ways of
God's commandments with more constancy and delight than they did before. So that the true consequence of eating and drinking unworthily, should rather excite our care and diligence in this duty, than delude us with false reasonings, to such a neglect as will certainly increase our damnation; it being certain that God will never cast any man into eternal flarnes for striving to do his duty as well as he can. If there be first a willing mind, saith the Apostle, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not, 2 Cor. viii. 12. Neither ought we to think so unworthily of the Son of God, who came into the world to save sinners, that he would institute this ordinance to be a snare to entangle our souls with. It was not ordained for angels, or for glorified saints, but for humble and penitent sinners to bring them home to God, it being a seal of their pardon, and a refreshing declaration of our heavenly Father's readiness to forgive the chiefest of sinners for Jesus' sake, who graciously calls upon all who are wearied and oppressed with the guilt and burthen of their sins, to come to him, and he will refresh them, Matt. xi. 28. Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance, Matt. ix. 13. And consequently such as account themselves most unworthy, are those very persons whom Christ doth here call and invite to this sacrament, when deeply sensible of their unworthiness. Were we not sinners, were we not conceived and born in sin, we should not need such means and instruments of grace as sacraments are; but, “ being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath, we are hereby made the children of grace, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.” They that are whole, saith Christ, have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. This being the case of all mankind with respect to their spiritual life, there is no other way to free ourselves from this death of sin, but by speedily applying ourselves to our heavenly Physician, who came into the world to seek and to save those who are lost, and ready to perish; and the very sense of our own unworthiness is, of all other arguments, the best qualification to recommend us to God's favour and mercy, since we know that he resisteth the proud and
vour to the humble and meek. As often then as we come to the holy communion with such an honest and true heart, as to exercise our “ repentance towards God," our faith and hope of his mercy, through Christ, for the forgiveness of our sins, and our love and charity for all mankind; such a temper and resolution of mind as this will, doubtless, render us worthy partakers of these holy. mysteries, and prevent us “ eating and drinking damnation to ourselves.” Nay, I further add, that any person thus disposed or qualified, may come (if it should be required) at an hour's warning, as safely as he may come to Church and say his prayers, or hear a sermon. The dueness of preparation doth not so much depend upon our setting aside so many extraordinary days for the forcing ourselves into a religious posture of mind, as upon the plain, natural frame and disposition of our souls, as they constantly stand inclined to virtue and goodness through the general course of our lives. From whence I infer, that a multitude of business, or a man's being deeply engaged in the public affairs of this world, cannot be any just plea or pretence for his not coming to the holy communion, because all business is consistent with the duties of religion, provided we govern our affairs by Christian principles : For though such men have not leisure for so much actual preparation, yet they may have that habitual preparation, upon which the great stress ought to be laid in this matter : Nay, even the conscientious discharge of a man's duty in his business, may be one of the best qualifications to recommend him to God, since every man serves God when he follows his calling with diligence, and observes justice and honesty in all his dealings; and consequently the greater danger and temptation he is exposed to through the multiplicity of business, the more need hath he of God's grace and assistance, which are abundantly communicated to us in this holy ordinance : So that men of business, if they have any serious thoughts of another world, ought more especially to lay hold on such opportunities which secure the salvation of their souls; for as they who have leisure ought to receive constantly, as the best improvement of their time; so they that are engaged in many worldly
affairs, ought to come the oftener to the holy communion, and learn how to sanctify their employments. But to proceed :
The other branch of a communicant's duty is, to “ examine whether he have a lively faith in God's mercy through Christ.” Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith, 2 Cor. xiii. 5.; this sacrament of the Lord's Supper being only appointed for such believers as own their baptism, and profess the faith of Christ crucified, and understand the fundamental articles of the Christian religion contained in the Apostles' creed, and also the end and design of this holy institution. The benefit of our Saviour's death and passion in this sacrament are indeed freely offered unto all, but only effectually to believers. As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the Sons of God, even to them that believe in his name, John i. 12. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent, John xvii. 3. All that Christ hath done and suffered for us men and our salvation, can never profit us, unless we have faith to believe it : That which must render the benefits and blessings of the Gospel effectual to our salvation is our faith in Christ. Verily I say unto you, saith our Saviour, he that heareth my words, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life, John v. 24. The ancient Churches accounted those only faithful that had received the Lord's Supper; nor does our own Church allow that any of us should come to this Christian sacrifice without the shield of faith.” “ Draw near with faith,” says the priest, "and take this holy sacrament to your comfort." And this faith hath God's mercy, through Christ, for its object, as the fountain and foundation of all those infinite blessings and comforts which we gain by his manifestation in the flesh; and if we enquire into the cause and reason of so much mercy and goodness to mankind, no other can be given, but the riches of his mercy, Eph. ii. 4. And if we further enquire how this mercy becomes ours, the answer is plain-it was through Christ, by whom all the blessings of this life, and those of a better, are purchased for us, and must be obtained through the merits and intercession of the holy