Page images

"The breaking of bread," here spoken of, was the Lord's supper, which is often mentioned under this name in different parts of the New Testament. It appears to have been celebrated as a real supper, as a sort of Christian feast; which we may perceive from St. Paul's language to the Corinthians, where he charges them with profaning it, by not only making it like a common feast, but dishonouring it by actual riot and intemperance, such as would be sinful at even the commonest feast. But it is clear, from the very faults into which the early Christians fell with respect to the Lord's supper, that they were in the habit of celebrating it very often; and though in some cases, as at Corinth, it was celebrated very unworthily, yet we must not suppose that this was so always. Those Philippians and Thessalonians, of whom St. Paul speaks so highly, were likely to receive the communion of the Lord's supper not less often than the Corinthians; but in a very different manner, and with very different effects. To them, as to the first disciples at Jerusalem, mentioned in my text, it was a true remembrance of Christ's death; the bread which they brake, the cup which they drank, were a true partaking of Christ's body and blood. To

them, in short, the communion was a powerful means of grace, and helped, under God's blessing, to increase their faith.

May it be so to us also; and it will be, if the fault is not our own. It will be a means of grace: I beg attention to the words; for this is a point very necessary to be understood, in order to avoid a superstition as foolish. as it is mischievous. "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing:" that is, it is not the consecrated bread and wine that have any virtue in themselves, for that would be to make them like a charm; but it is the state of mind which the preparation for and partaking in this ordinance implies, and is so well fitted to produce, which is so highly to be desired, and which tends to strengthen and confirm our faith. When, therefore, persons who never or very seldom receive the communion in health, are anxious to partake of it before they die, I am afraid that this desire is very often a mere deceiving superstition. They do not go to it as a means of grace; but as a means of gaining them pardon without grace,—as a means by which they may be saved without having in their lives heartily turned to God. And this is to make the communion a gross superstition; it is in fact

to regard it as if it were a charm. In life and health it will assuredly make us better, if we habitually attend it; but who will dare to say that it can make us better on our death-beds, when we have neither the time nor the power of mind to complete so mighty a work as that of repentance, or a change of heart and desires from evil to good? The rain and the sunshine are the appointed means by which the fruits of the earth are ripened; but, in order to do their work, they must be sent in their proper season. They will make the seed spring up, they will encourage its growth, and ripen it for the harvest; but of what use are they where the seed has never been sown at all, or where the soil has been so light or so foul that it has never been able to spring up, or to reach its full growth? Even so, the communion of the Lord's supper is as useless as the rain and sunshine upon the desert or the sea, where there are no good principles within us which it may strengthen and increase, or where the time is so short that its power can never sufficiently develope itself.

But this is not the case with you: with you it is yet the spring time, not yet too late for the rain and warmth of heaven to produce

on the seed their full effect. You have yet the opportunity of using the means of grace to your great benefit, if you will but choose to avail yourselves of them. Begin now the habit of "continuing stedfast in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Begin it, if it be still to be begun go on with it, if you have been happy enough to have already entered upon it. Do I call the hard and the careless among you to come next Sunday to the Lord's table, and there with hearts at once ungodly and superstitious, at once unbelieving and foolishly believing, to receive a morsel of bread and a few drops of wine, which to them would be far less profitable than the commonest food on the commonest occasion of daily life? God forbid! It were a deceit of the most cruel kind to call such persons: it were most wicked to encourage them to receive as wholesome and strengthening food what to them would be a fatal poison. For, undoubtedly, the heart is not improved but injured by acts of superstition; the holiest things cannot be trifled with, but are a savour of death unto death, if they are not a savour of life unto life. And, therefore, I have not lately urged any of you in private to go to the communion, lest it

might be possible that you should go out of human respects, rather than from a real desire to benefit yourselves. In fact, one feels on this point a great difficulty; one knows not how to urge you personally and separately to come, nor how to leave every thing unsaid, as if it mattered not in our estimate whether you came or no. But when I saw the comparatively small number that did attend the last time when the sacrament was administered, I felt sure that we ought not to be silent altogether, nor rest contented with such a state of things, without trying at least to mend it. I wished that another opportunity might be offered you, that if it were from accident in a manner that so many of you had then turned away from the Lord's table, and if since that time any circumstances had led your minds to a better state, that the means of grace might be placed within your reach at an early period, in order to confirm the good impression. God alone can tell, when, and from what seemingly slight causes, feelings of repentance and faith may arise within us: and, therefore, that communion which is the best support of weakness, the best encouragement to our first endeavours after goodness, ought not to be long together

« PreviousContinue »