Page images
PDF
EPUB

vants of God, who will obey him only at his own time; for such presumption is, in some degree, a mockery of God; and we are to consider, secondly, how certain it is, that God is not mocked.

God is not mocked in any sense. He will not be mocked with counterfeit piety, he will not be mocked with idle resolutions; but the sense in which the text declares, that God is not mocked, seems to be, that God will not suffer his decrees to be invalidated; he will not leave his promises unfulfilled, nor his threats unexecuted. And this will easily appear, if we consider, that promises and threats can only become ineffectual by change of mind, or want of power. God cannot change his will; he is not a man that he should repent ; what he has spoken will surely come to pass. Neither can he want power to execute his purposes ; he who spoke, and the world was made, can speak again, and it will perish. God's arm is not shortened, that he cannot save ; neither is it shortened, that he cannot punish; and that he will do to every man according to his works, will be shewn, when we have considered,

Thirdly, in what sense it is to be understood, that whatsoever a man sows, that shall he reap.

To sow and to reap are figurative terms. To sow, signifies to act; and to reap, is to receive the product of our actions. As no man can sow one sort of grain, and reap another, in the ordinary process of nature; as no man gathers grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles, or when he scatters tares in the furrows, gathers wheat into his

garners; so, in the final dispensations of Providence, the same correspondence shall be found in the moral system; every action shall at last be followed by its due consequences; we shall be treated according to our obedience or transgressions; the good shall not miss their reward, nor the wicked escape their punishment; but when men shall give account of their own works, they that have done good shall pass into everlasting life, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

Let us therefore, at this and at all times, most heartily

and fervently beseech Almighty God to give us faithful and sincere repentance, to pardon and forgive us all our sins, to endue us with the grace of his Holy Spirit, and to amend our lives according to his holy will and commandments.

SERMON XXII.

He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh

damnation to himself.—1 Cor. xi. 29. The celebration of the sacrament is generally acknowledged, by the Christian church, to be the highest act of devotion, and the most solemn part of positive religion; and has therefore most engaged the attention of those who either profess to teach the way to happiness, or endeavour to learn it, and, like all other subjects, frequently discussed by men of various interests, dispositions, and capacities, has given rise to various opinions, widely different from each other.

Such is the weakness of mankind, that one errour, whether admitted or detected, is very often the cause of another. Those who reject any opinion, however justly, are commonly incited by their zeal to condemn every position, in which they discover any affinity with the tenets which they oppose, of which they have been long accustomed to shew the falsehood and the danger, and therefore imagine themselves nearer to truth and safety, in proportion as they recede from them. For this reason it sometimes happens, that in passionate contests, and disputations long con-tinued, each controvertist succeeds in the confutation of his adversary's positions, and each fails in the establishment of his own.

In this manner have writers of different persuasions treated on the worthiness required of those who partake of the Lord's Supper; a quality, not only necessary to procure

[ocr errors]

the favour of God, and to give efficacy to the institution, but so strictly enjoined in the words of the text, that to approach the holy table without it, is to pervert the means of salvation, and to turn prayer into sin.

The ardour and vehemence with which those are condemned, who eat and drink unworthily, have filled the melancholy, the timorous, and the humble, with unnecessary terrors; which have been sometimes so much increased by the injudicious zeal of writers, erroneously pious, that they have conceived the danger of attempting to obey this precept of our Saviour more formidable than that of

neglecting it, and have spent the greatest part of their lives in the omission of a duty of the highest importance; or, being equally terrified on either hand, have lived in an anguish and perplexity, under a constant sense of the necessity of doing what they cannot, in their opinion, do in an acceptable manner, and which of course they shall either do, or omit, at the utmost hazard of eternal happiness.

Such exalted piety, such unshaken virtue, such an uniform ardour of divine affections, and such a constant practice of religious duties, have been represented as so indispensably necessary to a worthy reception of this sacrament, as few men have been able to discover in those whom they most esteem for their purity of life, and which no man's conscience will perhaps suffer him to find in himself; and therefore those who know themselves not to have arrived at such elevated excellence, who struggle with passions which they cannot wholly conquer, and bewail infirmities which yet they perceive to adhere to them, are frighted from an act of devotion, of which they have been taught to believe, that it is so scarcely to be performed worthily by an embodied spirit, that it requires the holiness of angels, and the uncontaminated raptures of Paradise.

Thus it appeared, that, instead of being excited to ardent desires of perfection, and unwearied endeavours after the utmost height of sanctity, not only the sensual and the

profligate were hardened in their wickedness, by conceiving a life of piety too hard to be borne, but the diffident and

scrupulous were terrified into despair, considered vigilance and caution as unavailing fatigues, remitted their ardour, relaxed their diligence, and ceased to pursue what they could no longer hope to attain.

To remove these doubts, and disperse these apprehensions, doctrines of very different tendency have been industriously promoted; lower degrees of piety have been declared sufficient, and the dangers of reception have been extenuated; nor have any arts of interpretation been untried, or any conjecture, which sagacity or learning could produce, been forgotten, to assign to the words of the text a sense less to be dreaded by the unworthy communicant. But by these opinions, imprudently inculcated, many have been misled to consider the sacrament as little more than a cursory act of devotion; the exhortations of the apostle have lost their efficacy; and the terrors of the Lord, with which he enforces them, have no longer repressed the licentiousness of the profligate, or disturbed the indolence of the supine; religion has sunk into ceremony; God has, without fear, been approached with the lips, when the heart has been far from him; and the Supper of the Lord has been frequented by those, of whom it could not be

perceived that they were very solicitous to avoid the guilt of unworthy communication.

Thus have different interpretations of the same text produced errours equally dangerous, and which might have been equally obviated, by a careful attention to the nature and institution of the sacrament, an unprejudiced examination of the position of the apostle, and the comparison of this passage

with other comminations ; methods of inquiry which, in the explication of doubtful texts of scripture, ought always to be observed, and by which it may be proved, to the comfort of the depressed, and the confirmation of the doubtful, that the sin of unworthy reception, though great, is yet to be pardoned; and to the restraint of the presumptuous, and confusion of the profane, that the preparation required is strict, though practicable, and the

denunciation such as ought to terrify the negligent, though not discourage the pious.

When eternal punishments are denounced against any crime, it is always evidently the intention of the writer to declare and enforce to those that are yet innocent, the duty of avoiding them; and to those who have already committed them, the necessity of repentance, reformation, and future caution. For it is not the will of God that any should perish, but that all should repent, and be saved. It is not by one act of wickedness that infinite mercy will be kindled to everlasting anger, and the beneficent Father of the universe for ever alienated from his creatures; but by a long course of crimes, deliberately committed against the convictions of conscience, and the admonitions of grace; by a life spent in guilt, and concluded without repentance. No drunkard or extortioner, says the apostle, shall inherit eternal life. Yet shall no man be excluded from future happiness by a single instance, or even by long habits, of

intemperance or extortion. Repentance and new life will J = efface his crimes, reinstate him in the favour of his Judge,

restore him to those promises which he has forfeited, and open

the paths to eternal happiness. Such is the crime of unworthy reception of the holy sacrament, by which he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself; to which no man can come unprepared, or partake of, if he is divested of the intentions suitable to so solemn a part of divine worship, without adding to the number of his sins, and, by a necessary consequence, to the danger of his soul. But though the soul is, by such an act of wickedness, endangered, it is not necessarily destroyed, or irreversibly condemned. He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, contributes indeed, by eating and drinking, to his own damnation, as he that engages in fraudulent or unlawful commerce may be said, with great propriety, to traffick for damnation, or to set his soul to sale ; yet as it is certain, that fraud is not unpardonable, if it shall afterwards give way to justice, so nei

« PreviousContinue »