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when the second class, far more numerous than this, content themselves with receiving once or twice a year; and when the remainder, which makes a greater body, than both the other put together, are hardly ever prevailed on to receive at all? Hath this the air of gratitude, of piety, of Christianity? No, the true Christian, and the constant communicant, ever were, and still are, but one and the same thing.
But farther, since not to receive this holy sacrament is excommunication, let us ask ourselves, whether it is worse to be excommunicated by the church, which may be mistaken in its censures; or by the deadness of our own hearts, and the clamorous guilt of our consciences, where there is not the same room for an erroneous sentence? Whosoever refuses to receive, be the excuses he makes what they will, is certainly self-condemned of ingratitude towards his Saviour, or of infidelity, or of some secret enormities unreformed, or of rancour in regard to his neighbour; perhaps of all; and therefore self-excommunicated. As to his receiving once or twice a year, or, it may be, but once in several years, it can only serve to rise in judgment against his infamous neglect at other times ; for why should not the same reasons that brought him once to the Lord's table, bring him on all other occasions when it is spread for him ? If he can receive at a great festival, why not at another time? Do his acknowledgments depend on the calendar? Is he only annually a Christian? Or are the fits of his devotion periodical, like those of an old ague? A covenant, so seldom remembered, can by no means preserve the peace between God and his soul. Accounts, so seldom examined and cleared, must lie in the utmost confusion, and swell, in time, beyond a possibility of being settled or balanced. So long a fast from spiritual food must starve the vital principle in the soul, and, in all probability, reduce it to an incapacity of being revived.
Such are the reasons, to which many more might be added, for frequency of communion. But I cannot conclude, nor dismiss the subject of this sacrament, without a remark, that, if I mistake not, does more honour both to the institution itself, and the wisdom of its author, than any other, and may serve at the same time briefly to remind you of all that hath been said.
Although the sacrament of the Lord's supper hath its own peculiar ends, such as the commemoration of Christ's death, communion with the head and members of the church, ratification of the covenant, participation of grace, and the like; yet none of these is the ultimate end of this institution, which, like all other parts of our religion, pursues, through its own immediate ends, the grand, the common end of Christianity, to wit, the glory of God in the salvation of souls. And this it does in a way altogether worthy of that infinite wisdom, to which it owes its appointment; for while, on the one side, it is no less than death to the soul to neglect it, on the other, it is damnation to receive it unworthily, that is, without faith, reformation of manners, and charity both towards God and man. Thus it fences our way to happiness on each hand; and, inasmuch as it is continually to be attended, keeps the articles of our covenant, the death of Christ, the necessity of a good life, the mercies and judgments of God, heaven, hell, and, in a word, every principle, every motive, of Christianity, always strongly in view. Besides this, it maintains a constant intercourse between God, and the soul of each regular communicant, by the grace, mercy, and peace, which God confers on it; and by the self-examination, vigilance, and devotion, which the worthy receiver, without intermission, exercises in order to a right attendance on this important solemnity. Considered in this light, it abridges and braces on the conscience all the means of salvation ; it concentres all the instruments, ends, and purposes, of Almighty God towards man, contained in our holy religion. Considered in any lower light, in that particularly, wherein a late writer hath endeavoured to represent it, to the eye of common sense it dwindles into an empty ceremony, as little capable of doing honour to the wisdom of its author, as of promoting the piety and virtue of mankind.
Let us therefore, to conclude, give a close attention to this most useful and awful institution; let us constantly attend it, and on all occasions, with deep and ardent devotions, apply it to the blessed purposes, for which it was ordained; ever carefully recollecting, that we cannot neglect it, without danger of death to our souls ; nor unworthily receive it, without danger of damnation.
And may its blessed founder be graciously pleased to assist our endeavours herein with his Holy Spirit, and to accept of them, for the sake of those merits, on which our hopes of eternal peace and life are grounded. Now, to the ever-blessed and glorious Trinity, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, from henceforward for evermore. Amen.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
When we consider how infinitely different the things above, and the things on earth, here spoken of, are; how sensible and gross the one, how spiritual and pure the other; it may seem a little surprising, that the same affections should be capable of a relish for both; or rather, as we have them from the fleshly part of our nature, that they should have any inclination at all to objects purely spiritual. But we find they really have, when such objects are proposed to the understanding, as infinitely better than the proper objects of sense, and recommended through that to our affections under the shadow and figure of such sensible enjoyments, as impart to the soul the most pure and exalted kind of pleasure. Our Maker, having intended us for a progress through both worlds, hath fitted us to either. In this respect, as well as in the make and carriage of our bodies, although our feet are placed on earth, our heads are erected towards the heavens.
Whether, however, our chief attention ought to look upward, or downward, reason is to determine, according to the lights and prospects afforded it from either quarter. God intended we should be moved by our affections, but guided by our understandings. Yet the affections, though blind, will not always suffer themselves to be led. The judgment
indeed interposes on most occasions, and asserts its right of dictating to the will; yet unless it is seconded by the heart, it is overruled, or but half obeyed; whereas affection, with. out, or even against reason, can often produce very earnest pursuits, and vigorous actions. When the affections most in the conduct of any man, he is, for the time, no better than a brute. His very nature is inverted; and reason in him is of no other use, than to make him a little more ingeniously foolish, more regularly mad and wicked.
If it is asked, how a rational creature should ever act against reason; experience readily answers, man cannot help pursuing his own supposed happiness, and flying from that which he thinks will make him miserable. Now, it is through his affections chiefly that he enjoys, or suffers; and therefore it is no wonder, if they assume a very extraordinary sway within him. Besides, their motions from one object, and to another, are generally so sudden and violent, that reason hath not time to interfere, till they are become too strong to be controlled. They give pleasure, and we follow; or they give pain, and we fly; before it is well considered, whether we should do either; for all is not good, that pleases; nor all evil, that disgusts. Hence it is manifest, that judgment is necessary to turn the affections away from that which is really evil, and to point them towards that which is really good. With the heat and vehemence that is natural to them, whether they are directed or not, they always move swiftly, and tend strongly, after the present appearance, whereon they are fixed. If in any man right reason, duly enlightened, hath the guidance and government of the affections, he must be happy ; because he must be good: but if his affections are left to themselves, he must be wicked; and he who is wicked, must be miserable. If they are chained down to earthly things, and pent in to fleshly objects, they turn his heart into a fiery furnace, resembling the place of the damned, inhabited only by that which is foul and miserable; but, if they aspire towards things above, they blaze forth in kindly heat, and beautiful light; which refine as they ascend, till they mix with their kindred element in God.
All mankind are in pursuit of either real or mistaken happiness, and flying from such appearances of evil, as present themselves to their affections and passions. All our labours of body, and anxieties of mind, all our arts and schemes, all the risks we run on sea, or in battle, the profuseness of one, and the frugality of another, the activity of this, and the indolence of that, the honesty or knavery, the commerce, and the policy; in short, the whole importance, and struggle, and bustle of the world, is in order to one or other of these two great ends; to obtain some good, or avoid some evil; and proceeds altogether from our affections.
In the midst of all this hurry, and an infinite variety of solicitation made to our senses and desires by the things here below, religion steps in, and bids us set our affections on certain things above, which it proposes to be first examined by our understandings, and, if approved of, to be closed with on the part of our desires. These things are God and heaven, in the enjoyment of which to all eternity consists the chief, if not the only, happiness of man. Give me leave to propose this to you as the subject of the present Discourse.
A subject so copious and important can never be exhausted, can never be brought too often under consideration. Besides, as it is of all others infinitely the most delightful, no frequency of meditation can render it disagreeable or insipid to a mind that either aspires to great things, or has any taste of true pleasure.
As the proposal is made us by God himself, and founded on our own nature, I shall single out the several notions by which it is represented and conveyed to us in his holy Scriptures; and, one by one, illustrate and enforce them as well as I can.
The first representation of our happiness after death, I shall take notice of, is, that of rest. In the fourteenth of St. John's Revelation it is said by a voice from heaven, and by the Spirit of God, that the dead, which die in the Lord, are blessed ;' and that they rest from their labours.' In the fourth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, the apostle, having formed an allegory between the promise of a temporal rest given to the Israelites, and of a spiritual given to Christians, says, “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God;' and let us therefore labour to enter into that rest.' Christ, in the eleventh of St. Matthew, calls this