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“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” — 1 Cor. xi. 28.
I have been treating of that special communion which believers have with Christ, in the administration of the ordinance of the supper of the Lord; and thought I should have treated no more of that subject, having gone through all the particulars of it which were practical, such as might be reduced to present practice. But I remember 545I said nothing concerning preparation for it, which yet is a needful duty; and therefore I shall a little speak to that also, — not what may doctrinally be delivered upon it, but those things, or some of them at least, in which every soul will find a practical concern that intends to be a partaker of that ordinance to benefit and advantage, — and I have taken these words of the apostle for my groundwork: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”
There were many disorders fallen in this church at Corinth, and that various ways, — in schisms and divisions, in neglect of discipline, in false opinions, and particularly in a great abuse of the administration of this great ordinance of the supper of the Lord. And though I do not, I dare not, I ought not, to bless God for their sin, yet I bless God for his providence. Had it not been for their disorders, we had all of us been much in darkness as to all church way. The correction of their disorders contains the principal rule for church communion and the administration of this sacrament that we have in the whole Scripture; which might have been hid from us, but that God suffered them to fall into them on purpose that, through their fall, in them and by them he might instruct his church in all ages to the end of the world.
The apostle is here rectifying abuses about the administration of the Lord’s supper, which were many; and he applies particular directions to all their particular miscarriages, not now to be insisted on; and he gathers up all directions into this one general rule that I have here read, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat,” etc. Now, this self-examination extends itself unto the whole due preparation of the souls of men for the actual participation of this ordinance. And I shall endeavour, by plain instances out of the Scripture (which is my way in these familiar exercises), to manifest that there is a preparation necessary for the celebration or observance of all solemn ordinances; and I shall show you what that preparation is, and wherein it doth consist; and then I shall deduce from thence what is that particular preparation which is incumbent upon us, in reference unto this special ordinance, that is superadded unto the general preparation that is required unto all ordinances.
I. I shall manifest that there is a preparation necessary for the celebration of solemn worship. We have an early instance of it in Gen. xxxv. 1–5. In the 1st verse, “God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and make there an altar unto God.” It was a solemn ordinance Jacob was called unto, — to build an altar unto God, and to offer sacrifice. What course did he take? You may see, verses 2, 3, “Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and 546change your garments: and let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God.” “I will not engage,” saith he, “in this great duty without a preparation for it; and,” saith he, “the preparation shall be suitable.” Peculiar, special preparation (to observe that by the way) for any ordinance, consists in the removal of that from us which stands in peculiar opposition to that ordinance, whatever it be. “I am to build an altar unto God; put away the strange gods:” and accordingly he did so.
When God came to treat with the people in that great ordinance of giving the law, which was the foundation of all following ordinances, Exod. xix. 10, 11, “The Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to-day and to-morrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down upon mount Sinai.” I will not insist on these typical preparations, but only say, it sufficiently proves the general thesis, that there ought to be such a preparation for any meeting with God, in any of his ordinances. Saith he, “Sanctify yourselves,” etc., “and on the third day I will come.” God is a great God, with whom we have to do. It is not good to have carnal boldness in our accesses and approaches to him; and therefore he teaches us that there is a preparation due. And what weight God lays upon this, you may see, 2 Chron. xxx. 18–20. A multitude of people came to the sacrifice of the passover; but, saith he, “They had not cleansed themselves,” — there was not due preparation: but “Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary. And the Lord hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people.” Perhaps the people might have thought it enough that they had their personal qualification, — that they were believers, — that they had prepared their hearts to seek the Lord God of their fathers, — a thing most persons trust unto in this matter. No; saith the king, in praying for them, “They did prepare their hearts for the Lord God of their fathers; but they were not prepared according to the purification of the sanctuary.’’ There is an instituted preparation as well as a personal disposition; which, if not observed, God will smite them. God had smote the people, — given them some token of his displeasure: they come with great willingness and desire to be partakers of this holy ordinance; yet because they were not prepared according to the purification of the sanctuary, God smites them.
It was an ordinance of God that Paul had to perform, and we would have thought it a thing that he might easily have done without any great forethought; but it had that weight upon his spirit, Rom. xv. 30, 31, that, with all earnestness, he begs the prayers of 547others, that he might be carried through the performance of it: “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints.” He had a service to do at Jerusalem. He was gathering the contributions of the saints (an ordinance of God), to carry them up to the poor of Jerusalem; and it was upon his heart that this his service might find acceptance with them; therefore he begs with all his soul, “I beseech you, brethren,” etc.: so great weight did he lay upon the performance of an ordinance that one would think might be easily passed over without any great regard.
The caution we have, Eccles. v. 1, is to the same purpose: “Keep thy foot when thou goest into the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.” I shall not stand upon the particular exposition of any of these expressions; but it is a plain caution of diligent consideration of ourselves in all things we have to do in the house of God. A bold venturing upon an ordinance is but “the sacrifice of fools.” “Keep thy foot,” — look to thy affections; “be more ready to hear,” saith he, — that is, to attend unto the command, what God requires from thee, and the way and manner of it, — “than merely to run upon a sacrifice, or the performance of the duty itself.”
I will name one place more, Ps. xxvi. 6, “I will wash mine hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O Lord.”
I have a little confirmed this general proposition, that all take for granted; and I fear we content ourselves for the most part with the state and condition of those mentioned, who prepared their hearts to meet the Lord God of their fathers, not considering how they may be prepared “according to the purification of the sanctuary.” You will ask, “What is that preparation?”
This question brings me to, —
II. The second general head I propounded to speak unto: I answer, that the general preparation that respects all ordinances hath reference unto God, to ourselves, to the ordinance itself:—
1. It hath respect unto God. This is the first thing to be considered; for this he lays down as the great law of his ordinances, “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me,” Lev. x. 3. God is, in the first place, to be considered in all our drawings nigh unto him; as that is the general name of all ordinances, — a drawing nigh, an access unto God. “I will be sanctified,” etc. Now God is to be considered three ways, that he may be sanctified in any ordinance, — as the author, as the object, as the end of it. I shall speak only to those things that lie practically before us, and are indispensably required of us in waiting upon God in any and every ordinance:—
548(1.) Our preparation, in reference unto God, consists in due consideration of God as the author of any ordinance wherein we draw nigh unto him. For this is the foundation of all ordinances, Rom. xiv. 11, “As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” A practical sense of the authority of God in every ordinance, is that which is required in the very first place for our preparation. I know full well how that the mind of man is [apt] to be influenced by general convictions and particular customs. Particular usages, built upon general convictions, carry most people through their duties; but that is no preparation of heart. There is to be an immediate sense of the authority and command of God.
(2.) We are to consider God in Christ as the immediate object of that worship which in every ordinance we do perform. You will ask, “What special apprehensions concerning God are particularly necessary to this duty of preparation for communion with God in an ordinance?” I answer, Two are particularly necessary, that should be practically upon our thoughts in every ordinance, — the presence of God, and the holiness of God. As God is the object of our worship, these two properties of God are principally to be considered in all our preparations:—
[1.] The presence of God. When Elijah (1 Kings xviii. 27) derided the worshippers of Baal, the chief part of his derision was, “He is in a journey;” — “You have a god that is absent,” saith Elijah. And the end of all idolatry in the world, is to feign the presence of an absent Deity. All images and idols are set up for no other end but to feign the presence of what really is absent. Our God is present, and in all his ordinances. I beg of God I may have a double sense of his presence, —
1st. A special sense of his omnipresence. God requires that we should put in all ordinances a speciality of faith upon his general attributes. Gen. xxviii. 16, Jacob, when God appeared unto him, though but in a dream, awaked out of sleep, and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.” I would say so concerning every ordinance whereunto I go; — the Lord is in that place. I speak now only concerning his real presence; for if idolaters adorn all their places of worship with pictures, images, and idols, that they might feign the presence of a god, I ought to act faith particularly upon the real presence of the immense and omnipresent God. He bids us consider it in the business of his worship, Jer. xxiii. 23, “Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off?” — “Consider my glorious presence is everywhere.” As we ought always, wherever we are, and whatever we do, to carry a sense with us of the presence of God, to say, “God is here,” that we may not be 549surprised in our journeys, or in any thing that may befall us, — suppose a broken leg or a broken arm, then we may say, “God is in this place, and I knew it not;” — so, particularly, where we have to do in his ordinances, let there be an antecedent remembrance that God is in that place.
2dly. We are to remember the gracious presence of God. There was a twofold presence of God of old; — the one, temporary, by an extraordinary appearance; the other, standing, by a continued institution. Wherever God made an extraordinary appearance, there he required of his people to look upon him to have a special presence. It was but temporary when God appeared to Moses in the bush. “Draw not nigh hither,” saith God; “put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground,” because of God’s special appearance: but the next day, as far as I know, sheep fed upon that holy ground. It was no longer holy than God’s appearance made it so. So he said to Joshua, when he was by Jericho, “Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy,” Josh. v. 15. It was a temporary appearance of God; there was his special presence. It was so on the institution of the tabernacle and temple; God instituted them, and gave his special presence to them by virtue of his institution. Our Saviour tells us all this is departed under the gospel, John iv. 21, “You shall no longer worship God,” saith he, “neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem; but he that worshippeth God must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Is there no special presence of God remains, then? Yea, there is a special presence of God in all his ordinances and institutions. “In all places where I record my name” (as the name of God is upon all his institutions), “I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee,” saith God in Exod. xx. 24. Let us exercise our thoughts, then, to this especial promised presence of God in every ordinance and institution; it belongs greatly to our preparation for an ordinance. It was no hard thing for them, you may think, of old, where God had put his presence in a place, to go thither, and expect the presence of God. Things that are absent are hard; things that are present are not so. But it is no harder matter for us to go and expect God’s presence in his instituted ordinances now than for them to go to the temple; considering [that] God, as the object of our worship, is no less present with us.
[2.] The second property which is principally to be considered in God in his ordinances, as he is the object of them, is his holiness. This is the general rule that God gives in all ordinances, “Be ye holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” And Joshua, Josh. xxiv. 19 tells the people what they were principally to consider in serving the Lord. “We will serve the Lord,” say the people. Saith Joshua, 550“Ye cannot serve the Lord; for he is an holy God:” intimating that they were to have due apprehensions of his holiness; and without it there is no approaching unto him in his service. The apostle gives a great and plain rule to this purpose, Heb. xii. 28, 29, “Let us have grace,” saith he, “whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” What doth he propose, now, as the principal reason why he requires this preparation? “For,” saith he, “our God is a consuming fire.” What property of God is expressed by this word, “consuming fire?” It is the holiness of God, the purity of God’s nature, that can bear no corrupt nor defiled thing. It is set forth by that metaphorical expression, “a consuming fire.” “As fire is the most pure and unmixed element, and so powerful of itself as that it will consume and destroy every thing that is not perfectly of its own nature, so is God,” saith he, “ ‘a consuming fire;’ and in all your serving of him, and approaches unto him, labour to obtain a frame of spirit that becomes them who have to do with that God who is so pure and holy.”
I do but choose out these things, which, in the way of ordinances, I would say are (I may say, [I] desire should be) most upon my heart and spirit: I might easily enlarge it to other considerations; but let these two considerations dwell upon our minds, as our preparation for our access unto God, thoughts of his glorious and gracious presence, and of his holiness Ps. xciii. 5, “Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever.” That is the second thing with respect to God as the object of all the ordinances of our worship.
(3.) Our preparation respects God as he is the end of ordinances; and that to these three purposes, if I could insist upon them:— he is the end of them, as we aim in them to “give glory unto him;” he is the end of them, as we aim in them “to be accepted with him;” he is the end of them, as we aim in them “to be blessed by him.” These are the three things that are our end in all ordinances that we celebrate.
[1.] The first is, the general end of all that we do in this world; we are to do all to the glory of God: it is the immediate end of all our worship. “If I am a father,” saith he, “where is mine honour?” — “where is my glory?” Mal. i. 6. “Do you come to worship? you are to give me honour, as to a father; glory, as to a master, as to a lord.” We come to own him as our Father, acknowledge our dependence upon him as a Father, our submission to him as our Lord and Master; and thus give glory to him. He hath never taken one step to the preparing of his heart according to the preparation of the sanctuary, in the celebration of ordinances, who hath not designed in them to give glory unto God.
551[2.] Another end is, to be accepted with him; according to that great promise which you have, Ezek. xliii. 27, “You shall make your burnt-offerings upon the altar; and I will accept you, saith the Lord God.” It is a promise of gospel times; for it is in the description of the new glorious temple. We come to God to have our persons and offerings accepted, by Jesus Christ. And, —
[3.] To be blessed according to his promise, — that “God will bless us out of Zion.” What the particular blessings are we look for in particular ordinances, in due time, God assisting, I shall acquaint you with, when we come to the special and particular preparation for that ordinance we aim at; but this is necessary to all, and so to that.
2. This preparation respects ourselves. There are three things which I desire my heart may be prepared by, in reference to the ordinances of God:—
(1.) The first is indispensably necessary, laid down in that great rule, Ps. lxvi. 18, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me;” — that I bring a heart to ordinances without regard to any particular iniquity. We have the dreadful instance of Judas, who came to that great ordinance of the passover with regard to iniquity in his heart, — which particular iniquity was covetousness, — and went away with the devil in his whole mind and soul.
Ezek. xiv. 4 is another place to this purpose, “Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumbling-block of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the Lord will answer him that cometh, according to the multitude of his idols.” There is no more effectual course in the world to make poor souls incorrigible, than to come to ordinances, and to be able to digest under them a regard to iniquity in our hearts. If we have idols, God will answer us according to our idols. What is the answering of men according to their idols? Why, plainly, it is this, allotting them peace while they have their idols: “You shall have peace with regard to iniquity; you come for peace, take peace; — which is the saddest condition any soul can be left under: you shall have peace and your idols together.” Whenever we prepare ourselves, if this part of our preparation be wanting, — if we do not all of us cast out the idols of our hearts, and cease regarding of iniquity, — all is lost.
(2.) The second head of preparation on our own part is self-abasement, out of a deep sense of the infinite distance that is between God and us, whom we go to meet. “I have taken upon myself to speak to the great possessor of heaven and earth, who am but dust and ashes.” Nothing brings God and man so near together as a due sense of our 552infinite distance. Isa. lvii. 15, “Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit.”
(3.) A heart filled with love to ordinances is a great preparation for an ordinance. How doth David, in the 84th Psalm, pant and long and breathe after the ordinances of God! To love prayer, to love the word, is a great preparation for both. To love the presence of Christ in the supper, is a great preparation for it, — to keep an habitual frame of love in the heart for ordinances.
I would not load your memories with particulars. I mention plain practical things unto those for whose spiritual welfare I am more particularly concerned; that we may retain them for our use, and know them for ourselves: and they are such as I know, more or less (though, perhaps, not so distinctly), all our hearts work after: and in these things our souls do live.
3. Our preparation in reference unto any ordinance itself; which consists in two things:—
(1.) A satisfactory persuasion of the institution of the ordinance itself, that it is that which God hath appointed. If God should meet us, and say, “Who hath required these things at your hand?” and Christ should come and tell us, “Every plant that my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be plucked up;” or, “In vain do ye worship me; teaching for doctrines the commandments of men;” — how would such words fill the hearts of poor creatures with confusion, if engaged in such ways that God hath not required! We must be careful, then, that, for the substance of the duty, it be appointed of God.
(2.) That it be performed in a due manner. One failure herein, what a disturbance did it bring upon poor David! It is observed by many, that, search the whole course of David’s life, that which he was most eminent in, which God did so bless him for and own him in, was his love to the ordinances of God. And I cannot but think with what a full heart David went to bring home the ark; with what longings after God; with what rejoicings in him; with what promises to himself, what glorious things there would be after he had the ark of God to be with him; — and yet, when he went to do this, you know what a breach God made upon him, — dashed all his hopes and all the good frame in him. God made a breach upon Uzzah; and it is said the thing God did displeased David, — it quite unframed him, and threw a damp on his joy and delight for the present. But he afterward gathers it up, 1 Chron. xv. 12, 13, “He spake to the Levites: Sanctify yourselves, both ye and your brethren, that ye may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel unto the place that I have prepared for it. For because ye did it not at the first, the Lord our 553God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order.” We sought him, saith he, but “not after the due order.” And what that due order was he shows in the next verses, where he declares that the Levites carried the ark upon their own shoulders, with the staves thereon, as Moses commanded, according to the word of the Lord; whereas, before, they carried it in a cart, which was not for that service. It is a great thing to have the administration of an ordinance in the due order. God lays great weight upon it, and we ought to take care that the order be observed.
This is what we have to offer to you concerning the two general propositions:— that there is a preparation required of us for the observance of all solemn ordinances; and that this preparation consists in a due regard to God, to ourselves, and to the ordinance, whatever it be; — to God, as the author, as the object, and as the end of ordinances; to ourselves, to remove that which would hinder, — not to regard iniquity, — to be self-abased in our hearts with respect to the infinite distance that there is between God and us, and with a love unto ordinances; with respect unto the ordinance itself, that it be of God’s appointment for the matter and manner. These things may help us to a due consideration whether we have failed in any of them or not.
I have mentioned nothing but what is plain and evident from the Scripture, and what is practicable; nothing but what is really required of us; such things as we ought not to esteem a burden, but an advantage: and wherein soever we have been wanting, we should do well to labour to have our hearts affected with it; for it hath been one cause why so many of us have laboured in the fire under ordinances, and have had no profit nor benefit by them. As I said before, conviction is the foundation. Custom is the building of most in their observation of ordinances. Some grow weary of them; some wear them on their necks as a burden; some seek relief from them, and do not find it; — and is it any wonder if this great duty be wanting, having neither considered God nor ourselves in what we go about? And, above all things, take heed of that deceit I mentioned (which is certainly very apt to impose itself upon us), that where there is a disposition in the person there needs no preparation for the duty. There was a preparation in those whom God broke out upon because they were not prepared according to the preparation of the sanctuary; that is, in that way and manner of preparation, — they had not gone through those cleansings which were instituted under the law.
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