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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, in sundry of these familiar exercises, about communion with Jesus Christ in that great ordinance of the Lord’s supper, intending principally, if not solely, the instruction of those who have, it may be, been least exercised in such duties. I have spoke something of preparation for it; and on the last opportunity of this kind, I did insist upon these two things:— that there is a preparation required unto the due observance of every solemn ordinance; and I did manifest what in general was required to that preparation. I have nothing to do at present but to consider the application of those general rules to the special ordinance of the supper of the Lord; for the special preparation for an ordinance consists in the special respect which we have to that ordinance in our general preparation: and I shall speak to it plainly, so as that the weakest who are concerned may see their interest in it, and have some guidance to their practice.
And there are two things which may be considered to this purpose:— the time wherein this duty is to be performed; and the duty of preparation itself.
I. The time of the performance of the duty; for that, indeed, regards as well what hath been said concerning preparation in general as what shall now be farther added concerning preparation in particular, with respect to this ordinance.
Time hath a double respect unto the worship of God, as a part of it (so it is when it is separated by the appointment of God himself), and as a necessary adjunct of those actions whereby the worship of God is performed; for there is nothing can be done but it must be done in time, — the inseparable adjunct of all actions.
And therefore, having proved that a preparation is necessary, I shall prove that there is a time necessary; for there can be no duty performed but it must be performed, as I said, in some time.
For the right stating of that, therefore, I shall give you these rules:—
1. That there is a time antecedent to the celebration of this ordinance to be set apart for preparation unto it. The very nature of the duty, which we call preparation, doth inevitably include this, that the time for it must be antecedent to the great duty of observing the 555ordinance itself. So, Matt. xxvii. 62, the evening before the passover is called “The preparation of the passover,” — time set apart for the preparation of it.
2. The second rule is this, — That there is no particular, set time, neither as to the day or season of the day, as to the beginning or ending of it, that is determined for this duty in the Scripture; but the duty itself being commanded, the time is left unto our own prudence, to be regulated according to what duty doth require: so that you are not to expect that I should precisely determine this or that time, this or that day, this or that hour, so long or so short; for God hath left these things to our liberty, to be regulated by our own duty and necessity.
3. There are three things that will greatly guide a man in the determination of the time which is thus left unto his own judgment, according to the apprehension of his duty:—
(1.) That he choose a time wherein the preparation of it may probably influence his mind and spirit in and unto the ordinance itself. Persons may choose a time for preparation when there may be such an interposition of worldly thoughts and business between the preparation and the ordinance, that their minds may be no way influenced by it in the performance and observation of the duty. The time ought to be so fixed, that the duty may leave a savour upon the soul unto the time of the celebration of the ordinance itself. Whether it be the preceding day, or whether it be the same day, the work is lost unless a man endeavours to keep up a sense of those impressions which he received in that work.
(2.) Providential occurrences and intimations are great rules for the choosing of time and season for duties. Paul comes to Athens, Acts xvii., and in all probability he intended not to preach immediately upon his journey; — he intended to take some time for his refreshment. But observing the wickedness of the place, verse 16, “that they were wholly given to idolatry,” and observing their altar to “the unknown God,” verse 23, he laid hold of that hint of providence, that intimation given him by God’s providence from these things, and immediately fell upon his work; which God blessed with great success. There be a thousand ways, if I may so say, wherein an observing Christian may find God hinting and intimating duties unto him. The sins of other men, their graces, mercies, dangers, may be all unto us intimations of a season for duty. Were none of us ever sent to God by the outrageous wickedness of others? by the very observation of it? And it is a sign of a good spirit, to turn providential intimations into duties. The psalmist speaks to that purpose, Ps. xxxii. 8, 9, “I will guide thee with mine eye,” saith he. The next words are, “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have 556no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle.” God loves a pliable spirit, that upon every look of his eye will be guided to a duty. But those who are like horses and mules, that must be held with a strong rein, that will not be turned till God puts great strength to it, are possessed with such a frame of spirit as God approves not. You are left at liberty to choose a time; but observe any intimation of providence that may direct to that time.
(3.) Be sure to improve surprisals with gracious dispositions; I mean, in the approach of solemn ordinances. Sometimes the soul is surprised with a gracious disposition, as in Cant. vi. 12, “Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib.” “I knew it not,” saith the church, “I was not aware of it; but I found my soul in a special willing manner drawn forth to communion with Christ.” Is God pleased at any time to give us such gracious surprisals, with a holy disposition to be dealing with him? — it will be the best season; let it not be omitted.
These things will a little direct us in the determination of the time for preparation; which is left unto our own liberty.
4. Take care that the time designed and allotted does neither too much intrench upon the occasions of the outward man, nor upon the weakness of the inward man. If it doth, they will be too hard for us. I confess, in this general observation which professors are fallen into, and that custom which is in the observation of duties, there is little need to give this rule. But we are not to accommodate our rule unto our corruptions, but unto our duties: and so there is a double rule in Scripture fortifies this rule. The one is that great rule of our Saviour, that “God will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” Where these duties of observing sacrifices do sensibly intrench upon duties of mercy, God doth not require it; which hath a great regard even unto our outward occasions. And the other rule is this, — that bodily exercise profits little. When we assign so long a time as wearies out our spirits, and observe the time because of the time, it is bodily exercise, when the vigour of our spirits is gone; which is a sacrifice God delights not in. As Jacob told Esau, if the cattle were driven beyond their pace they would die; so we find by experience, that though with strong resolutions we may engage unto duties in such a manner as may intrench upon these outward occasions or those weaknesses, they will return, and be too hard for us, and instead of getting ground, they will drive us off from ours: so that there is prudence to be required therein.
5. Let not the time allotted be so short as to be unmeet for the going through with the duty effectually. Men may be ready to turn their private prayers into a few ejaculations, and going in or out of a room may serve them for preparation for the most solemn ordinance. This hath lost us the power, the glory, the beauty of our profession. 557Never was profession held up to more glory and beauty, than when persons were most exact in their preparation for the duties of their profession; nothing will serve their turn, but their souls having real and suitable converse with God as unto the duty that lies before them.
6. The time of preparation is to be extended and made more solemn upon extraordinary occasions. The intervention of extraordinary occasions must add a solemnity to the time of preparation, if we intend to walk with God in a due manner. These extraordinary occasions may be referred to three heads:— particular sins; particular mercies; particular duties:—
(1.) Is there an interveniency upon the conscience of any special sin, that either the soul hath been really overtaken with, or that God is pleased to set home afresh upon the spirit? — there is then an addition to be made unto the time of our preparation, to bring things to that issue between God and our souls that we may attend upon the ordinance, to hearken what God the Lord will now speak; and then he will speak peace. This is the first, principal, extraordinary interveniency that must make an addition to the time of preparation for this ordinance.
(2.) The interveniences of mercies. The ordinance hath the nature of a thank-offering, and is the great medium or means of our returning praise unto God that we can make use of in this world. And then are we truly thankful for a temporal mercy, when it engages our hearts to thank God for Christ, by whom all mercies are blessed to us. Hath God cast in any special mercy? — add unto the special preparation, that the heart may be fit to bless God for him who is the fountain and cause of all mercies.
(3.) Special duties require the like. For it being the solemn time of our renewing covenant with God, we stand in need of a renewal of strength from God, if we intend to perform special duties; and in our renewing covenant with God, we receive that especial strength for these special duties.
These rules I have offered you concerning the time of this great duty of preparation which I am speaking unto; and I shall add one more, without which you will easily grant that all the rest will fall to the ground, and with which God will teach you all the rest; and that is, be sure you set apart some time. I am greatly afraid of customariness in this matter. Persons complain that, in waiting upon God in that ordinance, they do not receive that entertainment at the hand of God, that refreshment, which they looked for. They have more reason to wonder that they were not cast out, as those who came without a “wedding garment.” That is not only required of us, that we come with our wedding garment, which every believer hath, but that we come decked with this garment. A man may have 558a garment that may fit very ill, very unhandsomely about him. The bride decks herself with her garments for the bridegroom. We are to do so for the meeting with Christ in this ordinance, — to stir up all the graces God hath bestowed upon us, that we may be decked for Christ. There lies the unprofitableness under that ordinance, — that though God has given us the wedding garment, we are not cast out, yet we take not care to deck ourselves, that God and Christ may give us refreshing entertainment when we come into his presence. Our failing herein evidently and apparently witnesses to the faces of most professors that this is the ground of their unprofitableness under that ordinance. So much for the time.
II. I shall now speak a little to the duty itself of preparation for that ordinance; remembering what I spake before of preparation in general unto all solemn ordinances, which must still be supposed.
Now, the duty may be reduced to these four heads:— meditation; examination; supplication; expectation. And, if I mistake not, they are all given us in one verse; and though not directly applied to this ordinance, yet to this, among other ways, of our intimate communion with Christ, Zech. xii. 10, “I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.” There is, — 1. Meditation: “They shall look upon him;” this is no otherwise to be performed but by the meditation of faith. Our looking upon Christ is by believing meditation. Looking argues the fixing of the sight; and meditation is the fixing of faith in its actings. Looking is a fixing of the eye; faith is the eye of the soul: and to look, is to fix faith in meditation. And there is, — 2. Examination; which produceth the mourning here mentioned. For though it is said, “They shall mourn for him,” it was not to mourn for his sufferings, for so he said, “Weep not for me,” — but to mourn upon the account of those things wherein they were concerned in his sufferings. It brings to repentance, which is the principal design of this examination. 3. There is supplication; for there, shall be poured out a spirit of grace and supplication. And, 4. There is expectation; which is included also in that of looking unto Christ.
1. The first part of this duty of preparation consists in meditation; and meditation is a duty that, by reason of the vanity of our own minds, and the variety of objects which they are apt to fix upon, even believers themselves do find as great a difficulty therein as any.
I shall only mention those special objects which our thoughts are to be fixed upon in this preparatory duty; and you may reduce them to the following heads:—
559(1.) The principal object of meditation, in our preparation for this ordinance, is the horrible guilt and provocation that is in sin. There is a representation of the guilt of sin made in the cross of Christ. There was a great representation of it in the punishment of angels; a great representation of it is made in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and both these are proposed unto us in a special manner, 2 Pet. ii. 4–6, to set forth the heinous nature of the guilt of sin: but they come very short, — nay, give me leave to say, that hell itself comes short, — of representing the guilt of sin, in comparison of the cross of Christ. And the Holy Ghost would have us mind it, where he saith, “He hath made him sin for us,” 2 Cor. v. 21. “See what comes of sin,” saith he, “what demerit, what provocation there is in it.” To see the Son of God praying, crying, trembling, bleeding, dying; God hiding his face from him; the earth trembling under him; darkness round about him; — how can the soul but cry out, “O Lord, is this the effect of sin? is all this in sin?” Here, then, take a view of sin. Others look on it in its pleasures and the advantages of it, and cry, “Is it not a little one?” as Lot of Zoar; but look on it in the cross of Christ, and there it appears in another hue. “All this is from my sin,” saith the contrite soul.
(2.) The purity, the holiness, and the severity of God, that would not pass by sin, when it was charged upon his Son. “He set him forth,” Rom. iii. 25, “to declare his righteousness.” As there was a representation of the guilt of sin, so there was an everlasting representation of the holiness and righteousness of God in the cross of Jesus Christ. “He spared him not.” And may [not] the soul say, “Is God thus holy in his nature, thus severe in the execution of his wrath, so to punish and so to revenge sin, when his Son undertook to answer for it? How dreadful is this God! How glorious! What a consuming fire!” It is that which will make sinners in Zion cry, “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” Isa. xxxiii. 14. Consider the holiness and the severity of God in the cross of Christ, and it will make the soul look about him, how to appear in the presence of that God.
(3.) Would you have another object of your meditation in this matter? — let it be the infinite wisdom and the infinite love of God, that found out this way of glorifying his holiness and justice, and dealing with sin according to its demerit. “God so loved the world,” John iii. 16, “that he gave his only begotten Son.” And, “Herein is love,” — love indeed! 1 John iv. 10, “that God sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And the apostle, Eph. iii. 10, lays it upon “the manifold wisdom of God.” Bring forth your faith; be your faith never so weak, never so little a reality, do but realize it, and do not let common thoughts and notions take up and possess your spirits. 560Here is a glorious object for it to work upon, — to consider the infinite wisdom and love that found out this way. It was out of love unsearchable. And now, what may not my poor, sinful soul expect from this love? what difficulties can I be entangled in, but this wisdom can disentangle me? and what distempers can I be under, but this love may heal and recover? “There is hope, then,” saith the soul, in preparation for these things.
(4.) Let the infinite love of Jesus Christ himself be also at such a season had in remembrance. Gal. ii. 20, “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Rev. i. 5, “Who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” Phil. ii. 6–8, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” 2 Cor. viii. 9, This was “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” The all-conquering and all-endearing love of Christ is a blessed preparative meditation for this great ordinance.
(5.) There is the end, what all this came to. This guilt of sin, this holiness of God, this wisdom of grace, this love of Christ; what did all this come to? Why, the apostle tells us, Col. i. 20, “He hath made peace through the blood of his cross.” The end of it all was to make peace between God and us: and this undertaking issued in his blood; that was able to do it, and nothing else, — yea, that hath done it. It is a very hard thing for a soul to believe that there is peace made with God for him and for his sin; but really trace it through these steps, and it will give a great deal of strength to faith. Derive it from the lowest, the deepest pit of the guilt of sin, carry it into the presence of the severity of God, and so bring it to the love of Christ; and the issue which the Scriptures testify of all these things was, — to make peace and reconciliation.
Some may say, that they would willingly meditate upon these things, but they cannot remember them, they cannot retain them, and it would be long work to go through and think of them all, and such as they have not strength and season for.
I answer, — First. My intention is not to burden your memory or your practice, but to help your faith. I do not prescribe these things, as all of them necessary to be gone through in every duty of preparation; but you all know they are such as may be used, every one of them, singly in the duty; though they that would go through them all again and again would be no losers by it, but will find something that will be food and refreshment for their souls. But, —
Secondly. Let your peculiar meditation be regulated by your peculiar present condition. Suppose, for instance, the soul is pressed with a sense of the guilt of any sin, or of many sins, let the preparative 561meditation be fixed upon the grace of God, and upon the love of Jesus Christ, that are suited to give relief unto the soul in such a condition. Is the soul burdened with senselessness of sin? doth it not find itself so sensible of sin as it would be, but rather, that it can entertain slight thoughts of sin? — let meditation be principally directed unto the great guilt of sin, as represented in the death and cross of Christ, and to the severity of God as there represented. Other things may lay hold upon our carnal affections, but if this lay not hold upon faith, nothing will.
I have one rule more in these meditations:— Doth any thing fall in that doth peculiarly affect your spirits, as to that regard which you have to God? — set it down. Most Christians are poor in experience, — they have no stock; they have not laid up any thing for a dear year or a hard time, — though they may have had many tokens for good, yet they have forgot them. When your hearts are raised by intercourse between God and yourselves in the performance of this duty, be at pains to set this down for your own use; if any thing do immediately affect your spirits, you will be no loser by it: it is as easy a way to grow rich in spiritual experiences as any I know. This is the first part of this duty of preparation; which, with the rules given, may be constantly so observed as to be no way burdensome nor wearisome to you, but very much to your advantage. The other duties I shall but name, and so have done.
2. There is examination. Examination is the word of my text, and that duty which most have commonly spoke unto, that have treated any thing about preparation for this ordinance. It respects principally two things, — namely, repentance and faith.
(1.) Our examination as to repentance, as far as it concerns preparation unto this duty, may be referred to three heads:—
[1.] To call ourselves to account whether indeed we have habitually that mourning frame of spirit upon us which is required in them who converse with God in the cross of Jesus Christ. “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and mourn.” There is an habitual mourning frame of spirit required in us; and we may do well to search ourselves about it, whether it is maintained and kept up or no, — whether worldly security and carnal joys do not devour it; for spiritual joys will not do it. Spiritual joys will take off nothing from spiritual mourning; but worldly security and carnal joy and pleasures will devour that frame of spirit.
[2.] Our examination as to repentance respects actual sins, especially as for those who have the privilege and advantage of frequent and ordinary participation of this ordinance. It respects the surprisals that have befallen us (as there is no man that doeth good, and sinneth not) since we received the last pledge of the love of God in the administration 562of that ordinance. Friends, let us not be afraid of calling ourselves to a strict account. We have to do with Him “that is greater than we, and knoweth all things.” Let us not be afraid to look into the book of conscience and conversation, to look over our surprisals, our neglects, our sinful failings and miscarriages. These things belong to this preparation, — to look over them, and mourn over them also. I would not be thought to myself or you to prescribe hard burden in this duty of preparation. It is nothing but what God expects from us, and what we must do if we intend any communion with him in this ordinance. I may add, —
[3.] Whether we have kept alive our last received pledges of the love of God. It may be, at an ordinance we have received some special intimations of the good-will of God. It is our duty to keep them alive in our spirits; and let us never be afraid we shall have no room for more. The keeping of them makes way for what farther is to come. Have we lost such sensible impressions? — there is then matter for repentance and humiliation.
(2.) Examination also concerns faith; and that in general and in particular. In general:— Is not my heart hypocritical? or do I really do what in this ordinance I profess? which is, placing all my faith and hope in Jesus Christ, for life, mercy, salvation, and for peace with God. And in particular:— Do I stir up and act faith to meet Christ in this ordinance? I shall not enlarge upon these things, that are commonly spoken unto.
3. The third part of our preparation is supplication; that is, adding prayer to this meditation and examination. Add prayer, which may inlay and digest all the rest in the soul. Pray over what we have thought on, what we have conceived, what we have apprehended, what we desire, and what we fear; gather all up into supplications to God.
4. There belongs unto this duty expectation also; that is, to expect that God will answer his promise, and meet us according to the desire of our hearts. We should look to meet God, because he hath promised to meet us there; and we go upon his promise of grace, expecting he will answer his word, and meet us: not going at all adventures, as not knowing whether we shall find him or not. God may, indeed, then surprise us; as he did Jacob, when he appeared unto him, and made him say, “God is in this place, and I knew it not,” — but we go where we know God is. He hath placed his name upon his ordinances, and there he is. Go to them with expectation, and rise from the rest of the duties with this expectation.
This is the substance of what might be of use to some in reference unto this duty of preparation for this great and solemn ordinance, which God hath graciously given unto any of you the privilege to be made partakers of.
563Have we failed in these things, or in things of a like nature? — let us admire the infinite patience of God, that hath borne with us all this while, — that he hath not cast us out of his house, — that he hath not deprived us of these enjoyments; which he might justly have done, when we have so undervalued them as far as lay in us, and despised them, — when we have had so little care to make entertainment for the receiving of the great God and our Lord Jesus Christ, who comes to visit us in this ordinance. We may be ready to complain of what outward concerns in and about the worship of God some have been deprived of; we have infinite more reason to admire that there is any thing left unto us, — any name, any place, any nail, any remembrance in the house of God, considering the regardlessness which hath been upon our spirits in our communion with him. “Go away, and sin no more, lest a worse thing befall us.” If there be in any that have not risen up in a due manner in this duty, any conviction of the necessity and usefulness of it, God forbid we should be found sinning against this conviction.
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