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SET FORTH IN
PREACHED AT WESTMINSTER ABBEY,
APRIL 8, 1688,
BEING PALM SUNDAY.
And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding-garment?
THE whole scheme of these words is figurative, as being a parabolical description of God’s vouchsafing to the world the invaluable blessing of the gospel, by the similitude of a king, with great magnificence, solemnizing his son’s marriage, and with equal bounty bidding and inviting all about him to that royal solemnity; together with his severe animadversion, both upon those who would not come, and upon one who did come in a very unbeseeming manner.
For the better understanding of which words, we must observe, that in all parables, two things are to be considered.
First, The scope and design of the parable; and, Secondly, The circumstantial passages, serving only to complete and make up the narration.81
Accordingly, in our application of any parable to the thing designed and set forth by it, we must not look for an absolute and exact correspondence of all the circumstantial or subservient passages of the metaphorical part of it, with just so many of the same, or the like passages in the thing intended by it; but it is sufficient, that there be a certain analogy, or agreement between them, as to the principal scope and design of both.
As for the design of this parable, it is, no doubt, to set forth the free offer of the gospel, with all its rich privileges, to the Jewish church and nation, in the first place; and upon their refusal of it, and God’s rejection of them for that refusal, to declare the calling of the gentiles in their room, by a free, unlimited tender of the gospel to all nations whatsoever; adding withal a very dreadful and severe sentence upon those, who, being so freely invited, and so generously admitted, to such high and undeserved privileges, should nevertheless abuse and despise them by an unworthy, wicked, and ungrateful deportment under them.
For men must not think that the gospel is all made up of privilege and promise, but that there is something of duty to be performed, as well as of privilege to be enjoyed. No welcome to a wedding supper without a wedding garment; and no coming by a wedding garment for nothing. In all the trans actions between God and the souls of men, some thing is expected on both sides; there being a fixed, indissoluble, and (in the language of the parable) a kind of marriage-tie between duty and privilege, which renders them inseparable.
Now, though I question not but that this parable 82of the wedding supper comprehends in it the whole complex of all the blessings and privileges exhibited by the gospel; yet, I conceive, that there is one principal privilege amongst all the rest, that it seems more peculiarly to aim at, or at least may more appositely and emphatically be applied to, than to any other whatsoever: and that is the blessed sacrament of the eucharist, by which all the benefits of the gospel are in an higher, fuller, and more divine manner conveyed to the faithful, than by any other duty or privilege belonging to our excellent religion. And for this, I shall offer these three following reasons.
1 . Because the foundation of all parables is, as we have shewn, some analogy or similitude between the tropical or allusive part of the parable, and the thing couched under it, and intended by it. But now, of all the benefits, privileges, or ordinances of the gospel, which of them is there that carries so natural a resemblance to a wedding supper as that, which every one of a very ordinary, discerning faculty may observe in the sacrament of the eucharist? For, surely, neither the preaching of the word, nor yet the sacrament of baptism, bears any such resemblance or affinity to it. But, on the other side, this sacrament of the eucharist so lively resembles, and so happily falls in with it, that it is indeed itself a supper, and is called a supper, and that by a genuine, proper, as well as a common and received appellation.
2t. This sacrament is not only with great propriety of speech called a supper; but moreover, as it is the grand and prime means of the nearest and most intimate union and conjunction of the soul with Christ, it may, with a peculiar significancy, be called also a 83wedding supper. And, as Christ frequently in scripture owns himself related to the church, as an husband to a spouse; so, if these nuptial endearments, by which Christ gives himself to the soul, and the soul mutually gives itself to Christ, pass between Christ and believers in any ordinance of the gospel, doubtless it is most eminently and effectually in this: which is another pregnant instance of the notable resemblance between this divine sacrament and the wedding supper in the parable; and consequently, a further argument of the elegant and expressive signification of one by the other.
3dly and lastly, The very manner of celebrating this sacrament, which is by the breaking of bread, was the way and manner of transacting marriages in some of the eastern countries. Thus Q. Curtius reports, that when Alexander the Great married the Persian Roxana, the ceremony they used was no other but this; panem gladio divisum uterque libabat; he divided a piece of bread with his sword, of which each of them took a part, and so thereby the nuptial rites were performed. Besides, that this ceremony of feasting belongs most properly both to marriage and to the eucharist, as both of them have the nature of a covenant. And all covenants were, in old times, solemnized and accompanied with festival eating and drinking; the persons newly confederate always thereupon feasting together in token of their full and perfect accord, both as to interest and affection.
And now these three considerations together, so exactly suiting the parable of the wedding supper to this spiritual, divine banquet of the gospel, if it does not primarily, and in its first design, intend it; yet, 84certainly it may with greater advantage of resemblance be applied to it, than to any other duty or privilege belonging to Christianity.
Upon the warrant of which so very particular and extraordinary a cognation between them, I shall, at present, treat of the words wholly with reference to this sacred and divine solemnity, observing and gathering from them, as they lie in coherence with the foregoing and following parts of the parable, these two propositions.
1. That to a worthy participation of the holy mysteries and great privileges of the gospel, and particularly that of the Lord’s supper, there is indispensably required a suitable preparation.
2. That God is a strict observer of, and a severe animadverter upon, such as presume to partake of those mysteries, without such a preparation.
And first, for the first of these; viz. That to a worthy participation of the holy mysteries, &c. Now this proposition imports in it two things:
1. That to a right discharge of this duty, a preparation is necessary.
2. That every preparation is not sufficient. And first, for the
First of these: That a preparation is necessary. And this, I confess, is a subject which I am heartily sorry that any preacher should find it needful to speak so much as one word upon. For would any man in his wits venture to die without preparation? And if not, let me tell you, that nothing less than that which will fit a man for death, can fit him for the sacrament. The truth is, there is nothing great or considerable in the world, which ought to be done, or ventured upon, without preparation: but, 85above all, how dangerous, sottish, and irrational is it, to engage in any thing or action extempore, where the concern is eternity!
None but the careless and the confident (and few are confident, but what are first careless) would rush rudely into the presence of a great man: and shall we, in our applications to the great God, take that to be religion, which the common reason of mankind will not allow to be manners? The very rules of worldly civility might instruct men how to order their addresses to God. For who, that is to appear before his prince or patron, would not view and review himself over and over, with all imaginable care and solicitude, that there be nothing justly offensive in his habit, language, or behaviour? But especially, if he be vouchsafed the honour of his table, it would be infinitely more absurd and shameful to appear foul and sordid there; and in the dress of the kitchen, receive the entertainments of the parlour.
What previous cleansings and consecrations, and what peculiar vestments were the priests, under the law, enjoined to use, when they were to appear before God in the sanctuary! And all this upon no less a penalty than death. This and this they were to do, lest they died, lest God should strike them dead upon the spot; as we read in Levit. viii. 35. and in many other places in the books of Moses. And so exact were the Jews in their preparations for the solemn times of God’s worship, that every σάββατον had its προσάββατον or παρασκενὴ, that is, a part of the sixth day, from the hour of six in the evening, to fit them for the duties of the seventh day: nor was this all; but they had also a προπαρασκενὴ, beginning about three in the afternoon, 86to prepare them for that: and indeed, the whole day was,, in a manner, but preparative to the next; several works being disallowed and forborne amongst them on that day, which were not so upon any of the foregoing five: so careful, even to scrupulosity, were they to keep their sabbath with due reverence and devotion, that they must not only have a time to prepare them for that, but a further time also to prepare them for their very preparations.
Nay, and the heathens, (many of them at least,) when they were to sacrifice to their greatest and most revered deities, used, on the evening before, to have a certain preparative rite or ceremony, called by them coena pura; that is, a supper, consisting of some peculiar meats, in which they imagined a kind of holiness: and, by eating of which, they thought themselves sanctified, and fitted to officiate about the mysteries of the ensuing festival. And what were all their lustrations, but so many solemn purifyings, to render both themselves and their sacrifices acceptable to their gods?
So that we see here a concurrence both of the Jews and heathens in this practice, before Christianity ever appeared: which to me is a kind of demonstration, that the necessity of men’s preparing themselves for the sacred offices of religion was a lesson which the mere light and dictates of common reason, without the help of revelation, taught all the knowing and intelligent part of the world.
I will wash my hands in innocency, says David, and so will I compass thine altar, Psalm xxvi. 6. And as the apostle told the Hebrews, Heb. xiii. 10. We also, we Christians, have an altar as well as 87they; an altar as sacred, an altar to be approached with as much awe and reverence; and though there be no fire upon it, yet there is a dreadful one that follows it. A fire, that does not indeed consume the offering, but such an one as will be sure to seize and prey upon the unworthy offerer. I will be sanctified, says God, in them that come nigh me, Levit. x. 3. And God then accounts himself sanctified in such persons, when they sanctify themselves. Nadab and Abihu were a dreadful exposition of this text.
And for what concerns ourselves; he that shall throughly consider what the heart of man is, what sin and the world is, and what it is to approve one’s self to an all-searching eye, in so sublime a duty as the sacrament, must acknowledge that a man may as well go about it without a soul, as without preparation.
For the holiest man living, by conversing with the world, insensibly draws something of soil and taint from it: the very air and mien, the way and business of the world, still, as it were, rubbing some thing upon the soul, which must be fetched off again, before it can be able heartily to converse with God. Many secret indispositions, coldnesses, and aversions to duty, will undiscernibly steal upon it; and it will require both time and close application of mind, to recover it to such a frame as shall dispose and fit it for the spiritualities of religion.
And such as have made trial, find it neither so easy nor so ready a passage from the noise, the din, and hurry of business, to the retirements of devotion, from the exchange to the closet, and from the freedoms of conversation, to the recollections and disciplines of the spirit.88
The Jews, as soon as they came from markets, or any other such promiscuous resorts, would be sure to use accurate, and more than ordinary washings. And had their washings soaked through the body into the soul, and had not their inside reproached their outside, I see nothing in this custom, but what was allowable enough, and (in a people which needed washing so much) very commendable. Nevertheless, whatsoever it might have in it peculiar to the genius of that nation, the spiritual use and improvement of it, I am sure, may very well reach the best of us. So that if the Jews thought this practice requisite before they sat down to their own tables, let us Christians think it absolutely necessary, when we come to God’s table, not to eat till we have washed. And when I have said so, I suppose I need not add, that our washing is to be like our eating, both of them spiritual; that we are to carry it from the hand to the heart, to improve a ceremonial nicety into a substantial duty, and the modes of civility into the realities of religion.
And thus much for the first thing, that a preparation in general is necessary. But then, 2dly, the other thing imported in the proposition is, That every preparation is not sufficient. It must be a suitable preparation; none but a wedding garment will serve the turn; a garment, as much fitted to the solemnity, as to the body itself that wears it.
Now all fitness lies in a particular commensuration, or proportion of one thing to another; and that such an one as is founded in the very nature of things themselves, and not in the opinions of men concerning them. And for this cause it is, that the soul, no less than the body, must have its several 89distinct postures and dispositions, fitting it for several distinct offices and performances. And as no man comes with folded arms to fight or wrestle, nor prepares himself for the battle as he would compose himself to sleep; so, upon a true estimate of things, it will be found every whit as absurd and irrational, for a man to discharge the most extraordinary duty of his religion, at the rate of an ordinary devotion. For this is really a paradox in practice, and men may sometimes do, as well as speak, contradictions.
There is a great festival now drawing on; a festival, designed chiefly for the acts of a joyful piety, but generally made only an occasion of bravery. I shall say no more of it at present, but this; that God expects from men something more than ordinary at such times, and that it were much to be wished, for the credit of their religion, as well as the satisfaction of their consciences, that their Easter devotions would, in some measure, come up to their Easter dress.
Now that our preparation may answer the important work and duty which we are to engage in, these two conditions, or qualifications, are required in it.
1. That it be habitual.
2. That it be also actual.
For it is certain, that there may both be acts which proceed not from any preexisting habits; and, on the other side, habits which lie for a time dormant, and do not at all exert themselves in action. But in the case now before us, there must be a conjunction of both; and one without the other can never be effectual for that purpose, for which both together are but sufficient. And,90
First, For habitual preparation. This consists in a standing, permanent habit, or principle of holiness, wrought chiefly by God’s Spirit, and instrumentally by his word, in the heart or soul of man: such a principle as is called, both by our Saviour and his apostles, the new birth, the new man, the immortal seed, and the like; and by which a man is so universally changed and transformed in the whole frame and temper of his soul, as to have a new judgment and sense of things, new desires, new appetites and inclinations.
And this is first produced in him by that mighty spiritual change which we call conversion: which, being so rarely and seldom found in the hearts of men, (even where it is most pretended to,) is but too full and sad a demonstration of the truth of that terrible saying; That few are chosen; and consequently, but few saved. For who almost is there, of whom we can with any rational assurance, or perhaps so much as likelihood, affirm. Here is a man, whose nature is renewed, whose heart is changed, and the stream of whose appetites is so turned, that he does with as high and quick a relish taste the ways of duty, holiness, and strict living, as others, or as he himself before this, grasped at the most enamouring proposals of sin; who almost, I say, is there, who can reach and verify the height of this character? and yet, without which, the scripture absolutely affirms, that a man cannot see the kingdom of God, John iii. 3. For, let preachers say and suggest what they will, men will do as they use to do; and custom generally is too hard for conscience, in spite of all its convictions. Possibly sometimes in hearing or reading the word, the 91conscience may be alarmed, the affections warmed, good desires begin to kindle, and to form themselves into some degrees of resolution; but the heart remaining all the time unchanged, as soon as men slide into the common course and converse of the world, all those resolutions and convictions quickly cool and languish, and after a few days are dismissed as troublesome companions. But assuredly no man was ever made a true convert, or a new creature, at so easy a rate; sin was never dispossessed, nor holiness introduced, by such feeble, vanishing impressions. Nothing under a total, through change will suffice; neither tears, nor trouble of mind, neither good desires nor intentions, nor yet the relinquishment of some sins, nor the performance of some good works will avail any thing, but a new creature: a word, that comprehends more in it than words can well express; and perhaps, after all that can be said of it, never throughly to be understood by what a man hears from others, but by what he must feel within himself.
And now, that this is required as the ground work of all our preparations for the sacrament, is evident from hence; because this sacrament is not first designed to make us holy, but rather supposes us to be so; it is not a converting, but a confirming ordinance: it is properly our spiritual food. And, as all food presupposes a principle of life in him who receives it, which life is, by this means, to be continued and supported; so the sacrament of the Lord’s supper is originally intended to preserve and maintain that spiritual life, which we do or should receive in baptism, or at least by a through conversion after it. Upon which account, according to the 92true nature and intent of this sacrament, men should not expect life, but growth from it: and see that there be something to be fed, before they seek out for provision. For the truth is, for any one who is not passed from death to life, and has not in him that new living principle, which we have been hitherto speaking of, to come to this spiritual repast, is upon the matter as absurd and preposterous, as if he who makes a feast should send to the graves and the churchyards for guests, or entertain and treat a corpse at a banquet.
Let men therefore consider, before they come hither, whether they have any thing besides the name they received in baptism to prove their Christianity by. Let them consider, whether, as by their baptism, they formerly washed away their original guilt, so they have not since, by their actual sins, washed away their baptism. And, if so, whether the converting grace of God has set them upon their legs again, by forming in them a new nature. And that, such an one, as exerts and shews itself by the sure, infallible effects of a good life: such an one, as enables them to reject and trample upon all the al luring offers of the world, the flesh, and the devil, so as not to be conquered or enslaved by them; and to choose the hard and rugged paths of duty, rather than the easy and voluptuous ways of sin: which every Christian, by the very nature of his religion, as well as by his baptismal vow, is strictly obliged to do: and if, upon an impartial survey of themselves, men find that no such change has passed upon them, either let them prove that they may be Christians upon easier terms, or have a care how they intrude upon so great and holy an ordinance, 93in which God is so seldom mocked, but it is to the mocker’s confusion. And thus much for habitual preparation. But,
2dly, Over and above this, there is required also an actual preparation; which is, as it were, the furbishing or rubbing up of the former habitual principle.
We have both of them excellently described in Matt. xxv. in the parable of the ten virgins; of which, the five wise are said to have had oil in their lamps; yet, notwithstanding that, midnight and weariness was too hard for them, and they all slumbered and slept, and their lamps cast but a dim and a feeble light till the bridegroom’s approach; but then, upon the first alarm of that, they quickly rose, and trimmed their lamps, and without either trimming or painting themselves, (being as much too wise, as some should be too old for such follies,) they presently put themselves into a readiness to receive their surprising guest. Where, by their having oil in their lamps, no doubt, must be understood a principle of grace infused into their hearts, or the new nature formed within them; and, by their trimming their lamps, must be meant their actual exercise and improvement of that standing principle, in the particular instances of duty, suitable and appropriate to the grand solemnity of the bridegroom’s reception. In like manner, when a man comes to this sacrament, it is not enough that he has an habitual stock of grace, that he has the immortal seed of a living faith sown in his heart. This indeed is necessary, but not sufficient; his faith must be, not only living, but lively too; it must be brightened and stirred up, and, as it were, put into a posture 94by a particular exercise of those several virtues, that are specifically requisite to a due performance of this duty: habitual grace is the life, and actual grace the beauty and ornament of the soul; and therefore, let people in this high and great concern be but so just to their souls, as, in one much less, they never fail to be to their bodies; in which the greatest advantages of natural beauty make none think the further advantage of a decent dress superfluous.
Nor is it at all strange, if we look into the reason of things, that a man habitually good and pious, should, at some certain turns and times of his life, be at a loss how to exert the highest acts of that habitual principle. For no creature is perfect and pure act; especially a creature so compounded of soul and body, that body seems much the stronger part in the composition.
Common experience shews that the wisest of men are not always fit and disposed to act wisely, nor the most admired speakers to speak eloquently and exactly. They have indeed an acquired, standing ability of wisdom and eloquence within them, which gives them an habitual sufficiency for such performances. But, for all that, if the deepest statesman should presume to go to council immediately from his cups, or the ablest preacher think himself fitted to preach, only by stepping up to the pulpit; not withstanding the policy of the one, and the eloquence of the other, they may chance to get the just character of bold fools for venturing, whatsoever good for tune may bring them off.
And therefore the most active powers and faculties of the mind require something besides themselves, 95to raise them to the full height of their natural activity; something to excite and quicken, and draw them forth into immediate action. And this holds proportionably in all things, animate or inanimate, in the world. The bare nature and essential form of fire will enable it to burn; but there must be an enlivening breath of air besides, to make it flame. A man has the same strength, sleeping and waking; but while he sleeps, it fits him no more for business than if he had none. Nor is it the having of wheels and springs, though never so curiously wrought and artificially set, but the winding of them up, that must give motion to the watch. And it would be endless to illustrate this subject by all the various instances that art and nature could supply us with.
But the case is much the same in spirituals: for grace in the soul, while the soul is in the body, will always have the ill neighbourhood of some remainders of corruption; which, though they do not conquer and extinguish, yet will be sure to slacken and allay the vigour and briskness of the renewed principle; so that when this principle is to engage in any great duty, it will need the actual intention, the particular stress and application of the whole soul, to disencumber and set it free, to scour off its rust, and remove those hinderances which would otherwise clog and check the freedom of its operations.
And thus having shewn, that to fit us for a due access to the holy sacrament, we must add actual preparation to habitual, I shall now endeavour to shew the several parts or ingredients, of which this actual preparation must consist.
And here I shall not pretend to give an account 96of every particular duty that may be useful for this purpose, but shall only mention some of the principal, and such as may most peculiarly contribute towards it: as,
First, Let a man apply himself to the great and difficult work of self-examination by a strict scrutiny into, and survey of, the whole estate of his soul, according to that known and excellent rule of the apostle, in the very case now before us; 1 Cor. xi. 28. Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, &c. If a man would have such a wedding garment as may fit him exactly, let self-examination take the measure. A duty of so mighty an influence upon all that concerns the soul, that it is indeed the very root and groundwork of all true repentance, and the necessary antecedent, if not also the direct cause of a sinner’s return to God.
For, as there are some sins which require a particular and distinct repentance by themselves, and cannot be accounted for in the general heap of sins known and unknown; so, how is it possible for a man to repent rightly of such sins, unless, by a thorough search into the nature, number, and distinguishing circumstances of them, he comes to see how, and in what degree, they are to be repented of?
But the sovereign excellency and necessity of this duty needs no other nor greater proof of it, than this one consideration, That nothing in nature can be more grievous and offensive to a sinner, than to look into himself; and generally what grace requires, nature is most averse to. It is indeed as offensive as to rake into a dunghill; as grievous, as for one to read over his debts, when he is not able to pay 97them; or for a bankrupt to examine and look into his accounts, which at the same time that they acquaint, must needs also upbraid him with his condition.
But as irksome as the work is, it is absolutely necessary. Nothing can well be imagined more painful, than to probe and search a purulent old sore to the bottom; but for all that, the pain must be endured, or no cure expected. And men certainly have sunk their reason to very gross, low, and absurd conceptions of God, when in the matter of sin they can make such false and short reckonings with him and their own hearts; for can they imagine, that God has therefore forgot their sins, because they are not willing to remember them? or will they measure his pardon by their own oblivion? What pitiful fig-leaves, what senseless and ridiculous shifts are these, not able to silence, and much less satisfy, an accusing conscience!
But now for the better management of this examination of our past lives, we must throughly canvass them with these and the like questions.
As for instance; let a man inquire what sins he has committed, and what breaches he has made upon those two great standing rules of duty, the decalogue, and our Saviour’s divine sermon upon the mount. Let him inquire also what particular aggravations lie upon his sins; as, whether they have not been committed against strong reluctancy and light of conscience? after many winning calls of mercy to reclaim, and many terrible warnings of judgment to affright him? Whether resolutions, vows, and protestations have not been made against them? Whether they have not been repeated frequently, 98and persisted in obstinately? And lastly, whether the same appetites to sin have not remained as active and unmortified after sacraments, as ever they had been before?
How important these considerations and heads of inquiry are, all who understand any thing will easily perceive. For this we must know, that the very same sin, as to the nature of it, stamped with any one of these aggravations, is, in effect, not the same. And he who has sinned the same great sin, after several times receiving the sacrament, must not think that God will accept him under ten times greater repentance and contrition for it, than he brought with him to that duty formerly. Whether God, by his grace, will enable him to rise up to such a pitch, or no, is uncertain; but most certain, that both his work is harder, and his danger greater, than it was or could be at the first.
Secondly, When a man has, by such a close and rigorous examination of himself, found out the accursed thing, and discovered his sin; the next thing in order must be, to work up his heart to the utmost hatred of it, and the bitterest sorrow and remorse for it. For self-examination having first presented it to the thoughts, these naturally transmit and hand it over to the passions. And this introduces the next ingredient of our sacramental preparations, to wit, repentance. Which arduous work I will suppose not now to begin, but to be renewed; and that with special reference to sins not repented of before; and yet more especially to those new scores which we still run ourselves upon, since the last preceding sacrament. Which method, faithfully and constantly observed, must needs have an admirable and mighty 99effect upon the conscience, and keep a man from breaking, or running behindhand in his spiritual estate, which, without frequent accountings, he will hardly be able to prevent.
But, because this is a duty of such high consequence, I would by all means warn men of one very common, and yet very dangerous mistake about it; and that is, the taking of mere sorrow for sin for repentance. It is indeed a good introduction to it; but the porch, though never so fair and spacious, is not the house itself. Nothing passes in the accounts of God for repentance, but change of life: ceasing to do evil, and doing good, are the two great integral parts that complete this duty. For not to do evil is much better than the sharpest sorrow for having done it; and to do good is better and more valuable than both.
When a man has found out sin in his actions, let him resolutely arrest it there; but let him also pursue it home to his inclinations, and dislodge it thence; otherwise it will be all to little purpose; for the root being still left behind, it is odds but in time it will shoot out again.
Men befool themselves infinitely, when, by venting a few sighs or groans, putting the finger in the eye, and whimpering out a few melancholy words; and lastly, concluding all with, “I wish I had never done so, and I am resolved never to do so more;” they will needs persuade themselves that they have repented; though perhaps in this very thing their heart all the while deceives them, and they neither really wish the one, nor resolve the other.
But whether they do or no, all true penitential sorrow will and must proceed much further. It must 100force and make its way into the very inmost corners and recesses of the soul; it must shake all the powers of sin, producing in the heart strong and lasting aversions to evil, and equal dispositions to good, which, I must confess, are great things; but if the sorrow which we have been speaking of carry us not so far, let it express itself never so loudly and passionately, and discharge itself in never so many showers of tears and volleys of sighs, yet by all this it will no more purge a man’s heart, than the washing of his hands can cleanse the rottenness of his bones. But,
Thirdly, When self-examination has both shewn us our sin, and repentance has disowned and cast it out, the next thing naturally consequent upon this is, with the highest importunity to supplicate God’s pardon for the guilt, and his grace against the power of it. And this brings in prayer as the third preparative for the sacrament: a duty, upon which all the blessings of both worlds are entailed; a duty, ap pointed by God himself as the great conduit and noble instrument of commerce between heaven and earth; a duty, founded on man’s essential dependence upon God; and so, in the ground and reason of it, perpetual, and consequently, in the practice of it, indispensable.
But I shall speak of it now only with reference to the sacrament. And so, whatsoever other graces may furnish us with a wedding garment, it is certain that prayer must put it on. Prayer is that by which a man engages all the auxiliaries of omnipotence it self against his sin; and is so utterly contrary to, and inconsistent with it, that the same heart cannot long hold them both, but one must soon quit possession of 101it to the other; and either praying make a man leave off sinning, or sinning force him to give over praying,
Every real act of hatred of sin is, in the very nature of the thing, a partial mortification of it; and it is hardly possible for a man to pray heartily against his sin, but he must at the same time hate it too. I know a man may think that he hates his sin, when indeed he does not; but then it is also as true, that he does not sincerely pray against it, whatsoever he may imagine.
Besides, since the very life and spirit of prayer consists in an ardent, vehement desire of the thing prayed for; and since the nature of the soul is such, that it strangely symbolizes with the thing it mightily desires, it is evident, that if a man would have a devout, humble, sin-abhorring, self-denying frame of spirit, he cannot take a more efficacious course to attain it, than by praying himself into it. And so close a connection has this duty with the sacrament, that whatsoever we receive in the sacrament is properly in answer to our prayers. And consequently we may with great assurance conclude, that he who is not frequently upon his knees before he comes to that holy table, kneels to very little purpose when he is there. But then,
Fourthly, Because prayer is not only one of the highest and hardest duties in itself, but ought to be more than ordinarily fervent and vigorous before the sacrament; let the body be also called in as an assistant to the soul, and abstinence and fasting added to promote and heighten her devotions. Prayer is a kind of wrestling with God; and he who would win 102the prize at that exercise, must be severely dieted for that purpose.
The truth is, fasting was ever acknowledged by the church, in all ages, as a singular instrument of religion, and a particular preparative to the sacrament. And hardly was there ever any thing great or heroic either done or attempted in religion without it. Thus, when Moses received the law from God, it was with fasting, Deut. ix. 9. When Christ entered upon the great office of his mediatorship, it was with fasting, Matt. iv. 2. And when Paul and Barnabas were separated to that high and difficult charge of preaching to the gentiles, Acts xiii. 2. still it was managed with fasting. And we know, the rubric of our own church always, almost, enjoins a fast to prepare us for a festival.
Bodily abstinence is certainly a great help to the spirit; and the experience of all wise and good men has ever found it so. The ways of nature and the methods of grace are vastly different. Good men themselves are never so surprised, as in the midst of their jollities; nor so fatally overtaken and caught, as when their table is made the snare. Even our first parents ate themselves out of paradise; and Job’s children junketed and feasted together often, but the reckoning cost them dear at last. The heart of the wise, says Solomon, is in the house of mourning; and the house of fasting adjoins to it.
In a word, fasting is the diet of angels, the food and refection of souls, and the richest and highest aliment of grace. And he who fasts for the sake of religion, hungers and thirsts after righteousness, without a metaphor.103
Fifthly, Since every devout prayer is designed to ascend and fly up to heaven; as fasting (according to St. Austin’s allusion) has given it one wing, so let almsgiving to the poor supply it with another. And both these together will not only carry it up triumphant to heaven, but, if need require, bring heaven itself down to the devout person who sends it thither; as, while Cornelius was fasting and praying, (to which he still joined giving alms,) an angel from heaven was despatched to him with this happy message, Acts x. 4. Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And nothing certainly can give a greater efficacy to prayer, and a more peculiar fitness for the sacrament, than an hearty and conscientious practice of this duty; without which all that has been mentioned hitherto is nothing but wind and air, pageantry and hypocrisy: for if there be any truer measure of a man, than by what he does, it must be by what he gives. He who is truly pious, will account it a wedding supper to feed the hungry, and a wedding garment to clothe the naked. And God and man will find it a very unfit garment for such a purpose, which has not in it a purse or pocket for the poor.
But so far are some from considering the poor before the sacrament, that they have been observed to give nothing to the poor, even at the sacrament: and those such, that if rich clothes might pass for a wed ding garment, none could appear better fitted for such a solemnity than themselves; yet some such, I say, I myself have seen at a communion, drop nothing into the poor’s bason.
But, good God! what is the heart of such world lings made of, and what a mind do they bring with 104them to so holy an ordinance! an ordinance in which none can be qualified to receive, whose heart does not serve them also to give.
From such indeed as have nothing, God expects nothing; but where God has given, as I may say, with both hands, and men return with none, such must know, that the poor have an action of debt against them, and that God himself will undertake and prosecute their suit for them: and if he does, since they could not find in their hearts to proportion their charity to their estates; nothing can be more just, than for God to proportion their estates to their charity; and by so doing, he cannot well give them a shrewder and a shorter cut.
In the mean time, let such know further, that whosoever dares, upon so sacred and solemn an occasion, approach the altar with bowels so shut up, as to leave nothing behind him there for the poor, shall be sure to carry something away with him from thence, which will do him but little good.
Sixthly, Since the charity of the hand signifies but little, unless it springs from the heart, and flows through the mouth, let the pious communicant, both in heart and tongue, thoughts and speech, put on a charitable, friendly, Christian temper of mind and carriage towards all. Wrath and envy, malice and backbiting, and the like, are direct contradictions to the very spirit of Christianity, and fit a man for the sacrament, just as much as a stomach overflowed with gall would help him to digest his meat. St. Paul often rebukes and schools such disturbers of the world very sharply, correcting a base humour by a very generous rule, Phil. ii. 3. Let each, says he, esteem others better than themselves. No man, 105doubtless, shall ever be condemned of God for not judging his brother: for, be thy brother or neighbour never so wicked and ungodly, satisfy thyself with this, that another’s wickedness shall never damn thee; but thy own bitterness and rancour may, and, continued in, certainly will: rather let his want of grace give thee occasion to exercise thine, if thou hast any, in thinking and speaking better of him than he deserves: and, if thy charity proves mistaken, assure thyself that God will accept the charity, and overlook the mistake. But if in judging him whom thou hast nothing to do with, thou chancest to judge one way, and God and truth to judge another, take heed of that dreadful tribunal, where it will not be enough to say, that “I thought this,” or “I heard that;” and, where no man’s mistake will be able to warrant an unjust surmise, and much less justify a false censure. Such would find it much better for them to retreat inwards, and view themselves in the law of God and their own consciences; and that will tell them their own impartially, that will fetch off all their paint, and shew them a foul face in a true glass. Let them read over their catechism, and lay aside spite and virulence, gossipping and meddling, calumny and detraction; and let not all about them be villains and reprobates, because they themselves are envious and forlorn, idle and malicious: such vermin are to be looked upon by all sober Christians as the very cankers of society, and the shame of any religion; and so far from being fit to come to the sacrament, that really they are not fit to come to church; and would much better become the house of correction than the house of prayer.
Nevertheless, as custom in sin makes people 106blind, and blindness makes them bold, none come more confidently to the sacrament than such wretches. But when I consider the pure and blessed body of our Saviour, passing through the open sepulchres of such throats, into the noisome receptacles of their boiling, fermenting breasts, it seems to me a lively, but sad representation of Christ’s being first buried, and then descending into hell. Let this diabolical leaven therefore be purged out; and while such pretend to be so busy in cleansing their hearts, let them not forget to wash their mouths too.
Seventhly and lastly; As it is to be supposed that the pious communicant has all along carried on, so let him likewise in the issue close his preparatory work with reading and meditation. Of which, since the time will not serve me to speak more now, I shall only remark this, that they are duties of so near an import to the well-being of the soul, that the proper office of reading is, to take in its spiritual food, and of meditation, to digest it.
And now, I hope, that whosoever shall in the sincerity of his heart acquit himself as to all the foregoing duties, and thereby prepare and adorn himself to meet and converse with his Saviour at this divine feast, shall never be accosted with the thunder of that dreadful increpation from him, Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding garment?
But because I am very sensible that all the particular instances of duty, which may one way or other contribute to the fitting of men for this great one, can hardly be assigned, and much less equally and universally applied, where the conditions of men are so very different, I shall gather them all into 107this one plain, full, and comprehensive rule; namely, That all those duties which common Christianity always obliges a Christian to, ought most eminently, and with an higher and more exalted pitch of devotion, to be performed by him before the sacrament; and convertibly, whatsoever duties divines prescribe to be observed by him with a peculiar fervour and application of mind upon this occasion, ought, in their proportion, to be practised by him through the whole course of his Christian conversation.
And this is a solid and sure rule; a rule that will never deceive or lurch the sincere communicant; a rule, that by adding discretion to devotion, will both keep him from being humoursome, singular, and phantastic in his preparations before the sacrament, and (which is worse, and must fatally unravel all again) from being, as most are, loose and remiss after it; and thinking, that as soon as the sacrament is over, their great business is done, whereas indeed it is but begun.
And now I fear, that as I have been too long upon the whole, so I have been but too brief upon so many, and those such weighty particulars. But I hope you will supply this defect, by enlarging upon them in your practice; and make up the omissions of the pulpit, by the meditations of the closet. And God direct and assist us all in so concerning a work.
To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.108
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