Page images

importance of sin, and enmity with God, on the one side, and of peace with him on the other, makes all this necessary, that we may not be tempted to presume on too easy terms of forgiveness. We may repent, we may be pardoned, we may be received again into peace, and be reunited to God, by a participation of that cup, which is the communion of the blood of Christ, and of that bread, which is the communion of the body of Christ; but not without a renewal of that covenant and vow, which alone can give us peace with God, and which we have transgressed.

Hence it appears, that all we can hope for, as Christians, depends absolutely on our baptismal covenant; that, after transgressing this covenant, all our hopes depend on a renewal of it in the sacrament of our Lord's supper; that no such renewal can be made without the renunciation of God's enemies, without the faith and repentance promised in the covenant itself; and that, if we presume to approach the table of the Lord, before we have thoroughly examined whether we can bring these requisite conditions with us, we do not come to make peace with, but war on, God, by an insult as formal and solemn, as the humility and devotion expected of us on that great occasion. To this horrible crime the Spirit of God, speaking by St. Paul, threatens damnation: • Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of this bread, and drink of this cup; for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself not discerning the Lord's body;' and if he repents not, must surely perish. The best man stands in continual need of this examination, because, let his life be ever so free from sin, he is not to look on himself as absolutely safe. He is therefore by no means to venture on small sins, in hopes to check and stop himself, before he proceeds to greater. There are certain occasions, wherein even a good man may as well hope to restrain the winds and storms, as his passions, once they are let loose. The enormity of great sins keeps recollection always awake in a conscientious mind. But small offences, which the tempter makes use of as steps to the greatest crimes, are too easily overlooked, and lost in our account. Here therefore a daily examination becomes necessary. Now such examinations ought to be quickened with this alarming consideration, that he who tolerates in himself the committal of small sins, hath reason to fear lest God should desert him, as one who presumptuously sets up his own strength, and gives himself a dispensation in things forbidden by God.

Having now seen how much depends on our examining ourselves by the articles of our covenant; how often and how solemnly we are called to this necessary work of selfinspection; and that in case we neglect it, we either give up our covenant with God, or attempt to renew it by a crime as provoking in his sight, as any other that can make a renewal requisite; need I farther press you to the duty? If this is not sufficient, what can the wit of man, or even the word of God, say more to move you

? I cannot, however, proceed, without making one remark on the present general inattention to the Christian covenant, at which, I fear, few ears in this congregation will not have reason to tingle. If infinite numbers, professing Christianity in words, do flatly deny it in their actions ; if they give God only the service of their lips, while all they think, or do, demonstrates a close league between them and his enemy, we must conclude, their covenant with God is utterly dissolved, and wrath, fourfold wrath, renewed. God is not a man, that he should be deceived by mere appearances; nor will his infinite majesty suffer itself to be mocked with the empty formality of a covenant, with the sprinkling of water, and the swallowing of bread and wine, which are but the outward signs and shadows of the sacraments : no, his sacraments are inward things, spiritual instruments, whereby the heart must be purified, and the affections exalted, and placed on things above, the manners reformed, and the whole man consecrated, in the ardours of a rational and lively devotion to the service of God. On whom hath the covenant this effect? In whom is it a motive of the smallest consequence to a good life? Who remembers that heaven and hell depend on his contract with God; that he cannot transgress it without treachery, rebellion, and perjury; or that if he does, he is again where his degenerate nature placed him, that is, in a state of enmity with an Almighty Being? Of all things it is most absolutely necessary to every Christian, that he should fix his attention strongly and constantly on the awful covenant between God and him. Here he must look for both the rules and motives of his duty. Here he must look for the laws by which he is to be judged. On the observation of this should he build all his hopes; and from the transgression of it, derive all his fears. It should therefore be written, not on the lintels and posts of his door, but on his heart, that it may be ready on all occasions to unmask his enemies, and their arts; that it may rise with every passion and affection; that it may present itself to his apprehensions with every temptation. Instead of this, (how can we speak of it without horror ?) this sacred covenant, this solemn vow, this blessed peace, purchased with the blood of our Redeemer, and enriched with the glorious inheritance of heaven, is either never thought of, or thought of as an empty ceremony. Hence all the wickedness of the Christian world, and the loss of all those souls that carry the name of Christ, and yet travel downward on the broad way to destruction. But enough of this shocking subject.

Having said what I thought necessary on the duty of self-examination, and the great danger of unworthily receiving the sacrament of the Lord's supper, in order to prevent that sin; it is now time to say something concerning the sin and danger of neglecting to receive that sacrament.

But here it will be proper to observe, that the duty of receiving is founded on an express commandment of Christ; and is therefore bound on our consciences, not only by the divine authority of the Lawgiver, but by the force of our baptismal vow, which obliges us to keep all the commandments of God. Now, although the Scriptures have no where told us, how often in our lives, or in each particular year we are to receive this sacrament, perhaps because it is an act of gratitude, and therefore, so far, best left to our own discretion and voluntary acknowledgments; yet we may easily gather, both from the nature of the thing, and from the word of God, that we ought to receive as often as we have an opportunity, that is, as often as it is administered in the place where we live.

This must undoubtedly be our duty, if the sacrament of the Lord's supper is considered as a repetition and renewal

of our covenant with God; because we daily transgress the covenant more or less, and thereby proportionably revive the natural enmity between God and us; from whence it will follow, that if he is pleased, in his infinite compassion for our infirmities, to indulge us, by any means, the recovery of peace and favour with him, we must be extremely wanting, both in our duty to him and ourselves, if we do not fly to those means, as often as they are afforded. To decline this is, for the time, either to slight the covenant with its privileges, or to neglect the safety of our own souls; it is to declare for our sins, and against God; it is to renew the peace with them, and the war with him. It is true, there is no man hardy enough to mean all this by his not receiving ; but every one, who is guilty of this sin, knows full well the heinousness and danger of it, as here set forth ; and all the excuse to be made for him is, that he does not think it worth his while to trouble himself much about either; that is, it is a matter of no great consequence to him, whether he is at peace or war with God; but in the mean time, of the two, he prefers the latter, because otherwise he cannot enjoy the pleasures of sin; he cannot pursue his lusts, his resentments, his fraudulent schemes. Well, but he does not take the thing in this light; he is inattentive and thoughtless on on the subject. Thoughtless! what, about his vow! about peace with the God of vengeance! How can he be thoughtless, when heaven and hell are at stake! How dare he be thoughtless, when God is concerned! Does he shew himself so stupid about worldly affairs ? How often did he lose a shilling, or a bottle of wine, merely for want of thought ? When did he lose the friendship of a superior by failing to dine with him on the day of invitation ? Men may talk lightly, and think more lightly than they talk, on a subject of this kind ; but it is impossible they should ever do so, without a strong tincture of practical Atheism at the bottom ; for where there is but a very low degree of faith, such points, although ever so faintly believed, are of a nature too interesting, and too alarming, to be trifled with in such a manner. He, then, who makes a practice of absenting himself from the Lord's table, is a covenant-breaker, is not at peace with God, is cut off from Christ; and whether he fortifies himself, for the present, against compunction, in want of thought, or in a wrong way of thinking, he will one day find, that God is not to be trifled with ; and that despair itself had been better, than his present senseless calm of mind. While he wilfully absents himself from the Lord's table, he loses sight of himself, and of the covenant; and which way he is going, whether upward or downward, he neither can possibly know, nor does he care: all he can know is, that he is not in his duty to God, or his soul : but on this glimpse of knowledge he will not dwell, lest it should give him a view of his danger, and disturb him in his course of sin. Imagination cannot conceive a mind in a more shocking situation than this, wherein the whole of religion hath lost its hold on the conscience; and conscience its influence over the conduct of the man.

The next thing, which should make us constant communicants, is, the consideration, that this sacrament is the food of the soul. The soul as well as the body, hath its proper health and life, which depend on sustenance peculiar to it. Its health consists in piety and virtue ; its life in peace with God. The food, necessary to keep it in a healthful state, is the grace of God, communicated to it through the covenant, by his word and in his ordinances ; particularly this sacrament, which our Saviour assures us, 'is meat indeed, and drink indeed,' for the soul. By self-examination we know when we want, and when we are fit to receive, this food; by meditation we digest it; and by the discharge of our duty in all its branches, of faith and obedience towards God, of charity and justice towards men, and of vigilence and purity in ourselves, we exercise the principles and powers that are fed by the spiritual nourishment.

Now he, who knows any thing of his own mind, must be sensible, his piety and virtue cannot long subsist on one meal, no more than the health and strength of his body. If vigilence and self-examination are, for a considerable time omitted, temptations will steal in, and repeated sins swell the account against him. Hence bad habits, like weeds, will spring up, and choke the good seed sown in his heart. In the mean time his devotions cool, his resolutions flag, and the portion of grace he had received, insensibly dies away for want of new recruits. Hence also an habitual distaste and disrelish of every thing that is good arises, and throws the soul

« PreviousContinue »