- Sermon I. the Rising Generation Exhorted to Adopt the Religion of Their Christian Forefathers.
- Sermon II. Hope In God.
- Sermon III. On the Means and the Importance of Grace.
- Sermon IV. Corruption of Heart the Source of Irreligion and Immorality.
- Sermon V. Against Despair and Suicide.
- Sermon VI. On the Folly and Danger of Thoughtlessness.
- Sermon VII. Perseverance In the Religious Principles Taught In Youth, and Particularly In Faith and Hope, Recommended.
- Sermon VIII. Good Intentions the Least Fallible Security For Good Conduct.
- Sermon IX. Religion the Chief Concern of Life.
- Sermon X. On Conformity to Fashion and the Customs of the World
- Sermon XI. On Seeking a Remedy For Sorrow, In Vice and Dissipation.
- Sermon XII. Christian Politeness
- Sermon XIII. On the Duty of Preventing Evil, By Actual Coercion, As Well As By Advice and Remonstrance.
- Sermon XIV. On Pursuing Visionary Schemes of Happiness, Without Attending to Scripture, and Revealed Religion
- Sermon XV. the Pride of Human Learning and False Philosophy, a Great Obstacle to the Reception of Christianity.
- Sermon XVI. On the Duty of Servants.
- Sermon XVII. On the Wickedness and Misery of Envy and Contention.
- Sermon XVIII. the Cunning Oe the Wicked Inconsistent With Wisdom.
- Sermon XIX. On the Snares of the Devil, and Means of Escaping Them.
- Sermon XX. Moderation Necessary to All Solid and Durable Enjoyment.
- Sermon XXI. Happiness to Be Found Rather In the Enjoyment of Health and Innocence, Than In the Successful Pursuits of Avarice and Ambition.
- Sermon XXII. On the Duties of the Preacher and the Hearer.
- Sermon XXIII. * On the Benefits to Be Derived From the Sight of a Funeral.
- Sermon XXIV. a Preparatory Persuasive to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
- Sermon XXV. the Prospect of Perpetual and Universal Peace to Be Established On the Principles of Christian Philanthropy.
- Sermon XXVI. On the Necessity of Increasing the Places of Public Worship On the Establishment; and On the Duty of Supporting the Objects of the Philanthropic Society.
- Sermon XXVII. the Support of the Magdalen Hospital Recommended.
- Sermon XXVIII. the Education of the Poor Recommended.
a preparatory persuasive to the sacrament of the lord's supper.
[Preached at the Close of the Year.]
2 Chron, xxx. part of the 18th and 19th verses.—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.
For the particular occasion of these words, I must refer you to the chapter in the sacred history from which they were selected. I have chosen them merely as introductory to the subject on which we are assembled to meditate, the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or the Christian's Sacrifice.
Whoever takes a comprehensive view of mankind as described either in history, or in the voyages of circumnavigators, will be struck with the universality of sacrificial rites, and the shedding of the blood of brutes, to atone for human transgression. Wonderful, yet uniform persuasion, that the slaughter of animals should contribute to appease the wrath of an offended Deity∗ an opinion, at which common sense revolts, and philosophy is disgusted: yet we see it prevailing at early periods in all nations; not only in the barbarous and rude, but in the polished, the lettered, the humane. We trace its vestiges from the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, even to-the natives of the newly discovered islands in the Pacific Ocean. Reason alone, with all her penetrating sagacity, cannot explain this astonishing phenomenon, and relinquishes her researches in despair. Profane learning is foiled in her investigation of it, science acknowledges herself perplexed at it, logic denies its rationality, metaphysics are wrapt in tenfold darkness when they attempt to explain it; but religion draws aside the veil, and truth instantly advances in her native lustre. Religion humbly seeks, and joyfully finds, the cause of this and other inexplicable appearances, whether in the world of grace, the world of morals, or the world of nature, in the great first cause.
After all that has been argued on the subject, it is certain that the sacrifice of animals as a propitiation of the Deity, is of divine institution. Every believer in the Scriptures must acknowledge with reverence, that it is the ordinance of God. At the promulgation of the Law, and in the twenty-fourth verse of the twentieth chapter of Exodus, God himself condescended to give particular directions concerning the altar and the sacrifices. An altar of earth, says he, thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings and thy peace offerings, thy sheep and thy oxen. And his message to Pharaoh by Moses was, Let my people go, that they may sacrifice to the Lord, their God.
Since then this institution originated in the command of the all-wise and beneficent God, we may rest assured that it was not without its use, even if we could not discover it. It comes from God, it is therefore wise. But we may venture to conjecture its beneficial purpose.
The sacrifice of animals, according to the opinion of learned and judicious divines, was designed to answer these three ends: First, to represent to man, in a most forcible manner, the forfeiture of life which he had incurred: secondly, to signify God's gracious condescension in accepting a substitute: and thirdly, to prefigure that great and availing Substitute, which in the fulness of time was to be offered, even Jesus Christ.
In this great sacrifice all men were deeply interested; and sacrifices therefore became a part of the universal religion. In some mode, or at some period, all nations have adopted them. Previously to the existence or the diffusion of books, religion was preserved in the world by rites, ceremonies, types, signs, and hieroglyphics; and the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ the righteous, was shadowed out by the sacrifice of the innoxious beasts of the field, the playful goat from the mountain, the spotless lamb from the shepherd's fold, and the placid bullock from the green pasture. But when men began to forget the true and only God, the reason of the institution was forgotten also; though the external rite, the outward, visible, ceremonious part of it, the slaughter, and the offering of animals on the altar, remained, from age to age, A ceremony, the palpable object of the senses, was easily retained, long after the doctrine or intention of it, an object of the understanding too refined for the intellect of Barbarians, and soon disregarded by Polytheists and Idolaters, was lost in total oblivion; and the unenlightened inhabitant of the South Sea isles continues to this day shedding the blood of his harmless quadruped, and sometimes even of his fellow-creature, in compliance with a traditionary opinion, to appease the rudely sculptured block which he worships, though he knows nothing of the cause, the design, and the original institution of-animal sacrifices. Poor child of nature∗ the day spring from on high has not yet visited thee; and thou continuest shedding blood, emblematic of the death of Jesus Christ, whose cross, it is to be hoped, will one day be fixed on thy shores—a more glorious standard than the banner, stained with blood, that waves in heathenish triumph over thy sequestered isle. Child of nature∗ may'st thou soon become the child of grace, enlightened by Christian knowledge, warmed with Christian charity, and an aspirant to a happy resurrection∗
On our island, blessed be God, the day spring from on high has long beamed with glorious lustre. We know that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, has been sacrificed for us. No longer is it necessary among us to slaughter animals, to shed the blood of bulls and goats, prefigurative of that mysterious dispensation. “We know that our Redeemer, after having been sacrificed for the sins of the world, liveth to make intercession for us at the right hand of God. Sacrifice of sheep and oxen is therefore abolished, as no longer necessary.
But there yet remains a Sacrifice, differing from the other only as the morning and the evening shadow, as the type and the antitype. Though a prefigurative rite, a prophetic or typical sacrifice, be no longer required of us, yet a commemorative and emblematic one is ordained by Jesus Christ, in perpetual remembrance of himself; a bloodless rite, an oblation of piety and charity, the Sacrament of the Lord's supper.
To this happy commemoration, this feast of love, we are now invited; therefore will we keep the feast; therefore will we wash our hands in innocency, and so will we go to the altar.
In innocence, said I? Alas∗ if perfect innocence be necessary, who among us shall presume to join in the Sacrifice? Yet the command is absolute. This do, says the Author and Finisher of our faith; this do, in remembrance of me. Then must we, with all humility, have recourse to the text, and say, 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.
But since the receiving of the Sacrament appears to be attended with danger, is it not prudent (a cautious man may ask) to avoid the Lord's table entirely? Whither then, poor mortal, with all thy caution, whither wouldst thou fly, to escape danger? A state of sin is always a state of danger, and likely to become much more so, to those who avoid the means of grace. That a sinner should avoid what is expressly commanded by Heaven, as the best means of escaping the sin and danger that besets him, is no more reasonable, than to refuse liberty, because we are prisoners; to avoid medicine, because we are sick; to reject a donation, because we are poor. The Sacrament is instituted, because we are sinners; and for that reason shall we refuse to partake of it? “We wish to be cleansed from our leprosy, yet, like Naaman, shall we refuse to wash in the waters of Israel?
One of the prophets, predicting the happy time of the Gospel, says, “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.” That fountain flows in copious and pellucid streams from the foot of the altar. Wash, therefore, sinners, and be clean; if ye were immaculate and pure before, you would now have no occasion for the divine lustration. But who is pure in the sight of God? He charges his angels with folly; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight.
Absolute purity is certainly not compatible with the present state of human nature. All are ready to acknowledge their infirmity, though not equally inclined to seek support where alone it is to be found. There is indeed something of humility, and something of pious fear, in this reluctance or delay to come to the altar, which entitles it to tenderness. But let it be remembered, that to desire purity, to endeavour to promote it, to aim at Christian perfection, though we should never attain unto it, is alone a sufficient preparation. Purity improved, as far as our natural infirmity will admit, by grace, is the effect of going to the altar, not the previous and necessary qualification. That high and extraordinary degree of goodness, which some men rigidly require of themselves to fit them for the Sacrament, is not to be obtained, if obtained at all, but as the happy consequence of it. It may, by the blessing of God, follow, but it is not indispensably necessary to precede. It is the end to be pursued, and cannot therefore be the means.
The great question which concerns us all is simply this: Whether the partaking of the body and blood of Christ is necessary to salvation, absolutely necessary, so certainly necessary that without it we cannot entertain rational hopes of being saved? Every man, high or low, rich or poor, is more deeply interested in this question, than in all those cares which agitate the busy world in the tumultuous pursuits of avarice or ambition.
Such is the question, and let him who instituted the Sacrament answer it. Hear him, all ye people. Consider his words, and form your own conclusions: “Except,” says he, “ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”
Such the question, and such the answer. Pause and ponder them. They require no comment. The question is plain, and the answer peremptory. Can any one pretend to be a Christian, who, after hearing these words of our Saviour, continues in a wilful, constant, presumptuous neglect of the Lord's Supper? If you believe not what our Saviour himself says of the Sacrament, you are not a Christian; for you have not faith in Christ. If, on the other hand, you believe his words, the unavoidable inference is, that you must of necessity obey them. You will not dare to disregard a positive command at the hazard of your immortal soul. Hear the voice of the Redeemer once more; If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever. He that eateth me, shall live by me. Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life. Can any words be more clearly and strongly declaratory? Though plain and brief, they are yet more convincing than the laboured persuasives of the most eloquent instructor. You must unavoidably infer from them, that to receive the Sacrament is generally necessary to salvation. What favourable exceptions God in his mercy may make, it is not ours to determine. But such, I believe, is the sound doctrine; and 1 have plainly laid it before you. It is not supported by my words, but the words of Jesus Christ. Consider them deliberately at home, meditate on their importance as you repose on your pillow, in the silent hour of night, when the world is shut out, and you commune, uninterrupted by its distractions, with your God and your conscience.
And surely it is an easy service. What does the Lord require of thee, but to unite in a communion of charity with your fellow-creatures, and of spiritual intercourse with your Maker, your Judge, and your Redeemer? What then remains, but that they who have hitherto proceeded from year to year, in the neglect of this ordinance, lay aside their careless security, dismiss their scruples, and prepare to receive at the first opportunity? Always remembering, that as our animal food, our daily meals, would not nourish our bodies without a vital energy in the internal parts, without life and warmth in the organs of the stomach; so neither will this sacramental food produce spiritual growth, health, and immortal life, without a quickening spirit within, an assimilating power in the heart; that is, without faith, hope, charity, and repentance.
But you are afraid of being an unworthy receiver. You love God and man; you aspire to all goodness; but in the delicacy of your apprehensions, you are afraid of being an unworthy partaker of these holy mysteries. Your timidity is respectable. It shows that you are feelingly alive to the impulses of conscience. But be persuaded, that nothing can render us entirely unworthy of coming to the Sacrament, but a resolution to continue unworthy. A sense of un-worthiness after our best exertions to become worthy, instead of deterring, should lead us to the altar. Conscious demerit, with a sincere desire of improvement in all Christian graces; a thankful remembrance of the death of Christ, love and charity for all mankind, I firmly believe, but humbly assert, are sufficient qualifications for receiving the holy Sacrament. The sacrifice of the wicked is, indeed, abomination to the Lord; but wickedness, remember, is as odious to God in the porch as in the chancel, in the pew as at the altar, at your fire-side as in the sanctuary; and if you are truly and indeed unqualified to come to the Sacrament, you are at the same time unqualified to come to divine service, and, it is to be feared, are not in a state of salvation.
But since to receive the Sacrament is evidently necessary, and the qualifications attainable, consisting in honest intentions, virtuous purposes, pious sentiments, kind affections, and beneficent actions, how happens it, that few, in comparison with the great numbers of neglectful professors of Christianity, accustom themselves to come at the periodical and stated times to the Supper of the Lord? Many, I know, are careless of all that concerns their spiritual state; engrossed by worldly pursuits; eagerly chasing bubbles coloured by fancy, and neglecting substantial good; and for such no apology, I fear, will be received as a sufficient excuse. Others are willing, indeed, to go, but that there is a lion in the way. Their wishes are virtuous, but their hearts are appalled by those frightful words, the danger of eating and drinking our own damnation; words improperly translated, and commonly misunderstood; words, in their genuine sense, applicable to the Corinthians only, who sat down to the Lord's table as to the common feast, to indulge in luxury, gluttony, and every kind of intemperance. No reverence did they preserve, no religious awe, no humility, no purity, and, it is to be feared, little charity. Riot, debauchery, and unchristian broils, were the probable consequences of such a banquet, on an occasion, when every thing that is pure and peaceable ought to have given the best relish, and to have hallowed the feast of love.
But the decency of sacramental rites in modern times precludes among us the possibility of such offences as rendered the banquet of the Corinthians poisonous to the partakers of it, and offensive to him whose favour it was designed to propitiate. Silence, devotion, and decorum, preside at our sacred table. Under such circumstances we cannot offend as the Corinthians offended; and therefore need not apply to ourselves the formidable words which were addressed solely to them, and are now scarcely applicable to any serious professors throughout Christendom. Let us not imagine that we are invited by our gracious Father in Heaven to his Holy Supper, like the wretch recorded in history, who sat down to a tyrant's banquet with a sword over his head, suspended by a single hair.
No; the good God will pardon every one who with sincerity prepareth his heart to seek him at the Sacrament, though he should not be perfectly cleansed. If the heart is rightly disposed by Faith and Charity, God will accept the oblation of it, notwithstanding all its former imperfections. He will not be extreme to mark what has been done amiss, if the sinner feels sorrow for what is past, and forms purposes of amendment in future. Though his sins have been red as scarlet, yet shall they be white as wool, when washed with the tears of penitence, and cleansed in the fountain of mercy that flows from the altar.
Let me then prevail on all those who have hitherto neglected this holy and salutary ordinance, of whom there is perhaps, a majority in most parishes, (either through carelessness, or too great apprehension of danger,) let me prevail on them to lay aside their error, and to take this holy Sacrament to their comfort at every convenient opportunity; it will preserve their spiritual health unimpaired; it will renew their piety when decayed by worldly cares and habits of inattention; it will give them a pure and exalted pleasure; it will enrich them with grace in this life, and ultimately crown them with immortality.
The necessity of receiving you must allow, as we have already seen, if you believe in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. It must be important to your happiness, or he would not have made it necessary. Evident as this conclusion is to all, yet many preserve a regular behaviour in all other religious duties, and are negligent of this alone; continually postponing the Communion to some more convenient season; a season which, considering the instability of human affairs, may never come, may come too late, or be entirely prevented by a sudden and unexpected dissolution.
Permit me to ask, what season move convenient for doing what we are convinced we ought to do, than the present, or the first occasion that occurs? Permit me to ask you, why you came to church this day? Nay, rather ask your own hearts, and speak the truth to yourselves, as in the presence of God, who knoweth the secrets of all hearts. Did you come from a principle of duty and the dictates of conscience? Did you come to confess your dependence on God, your belief of his promises, your faith and trust in the merits of a crucified Saviour? Did you come to obtain the pardon of your sins, and the grace of God to assist you in the hour of your distress, and the struggle of temptation? Were these the reasons of your coming to church this day? I trust they were the reasons. They were good reasons; and as they qualify you to join in the prayers of the church, they at the same time qualify you to receive the Sacrament, to communicate with your neighbours in Christian love, and with your God in unaffected piety. If you have joined this day sincerely in the prayers, while you knelt in your pew, you may safely advance to the altar, as fit and as worthy as man, weak, imperfect man, can be, in this his sublunary state. The poor Publican in the Gospel, sinner as he was, came better qualified to pray than the proud and puritanical Pharisee.
But on the other hand if, during the divine service of this very day, you have not been sincere, if you have not resolved to amend your lives, if you are not sensible of Your failings, and have not a firm faith in the merits of our Saviour's sufferings and death; if you are not truly thankful for his mercies, if you are not in charity with all men—then, pardon me, when I ask you, how have you been employed during the last hour? Your lips have professed these things; and after all, have you mocked God, insulted your Saviour, deceived your neighbour, and, which is worse, deceived yourselves? Then, indeed, you cannot come to the altar, with safety. Then, you must postpone it till the arrival of a more convenient season. But let that season be, if it is possible, the earliest opportunity afforded; for your soul is sick, and it is dangerous to delay the medicine.
Give me leave to remind you, that a solemn, though a festive season is at hand. A new year is approaching. Let us duly consider it, and prepare to celebrate its commencement as Christians. Many such seasons we may not live to see. We may never see another. How many of them whom we knew, has the grave swallowed up in the year that is just elapsed. Let us seize the moment as it passes, while we have health, sense, and life. There can be no danger in communicating, if we communicate with sincerity, and there may be the greatest benefit. Who would neglect so easy a service, when he knows that under these circumstances it can do him no evil; but may smooth the bed of death, and contribute to secure everlasting felicity?
Let all those who have hitherto neglected the Holy Sacrament, as a matter which may concern the neighbours, but which does not concern them, go home pensively, and examine the Gospel faithfully, and consider fairly whether it is not true, as I have already shown, that Christ himself has made it necessary to salvation. If so, and so they will indeed find it to be, let them be alarmed. If there is truth in Christ Jesus, they have reason to be alarmed. The danger is great. Awake thou that sleepest, let each say to his conscience, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. Be it their first concern to prepare for the very next celebration of the Lord's Supper. This is the one thing needful; and let them lay it to heart more than all the concerns of their farm or of their merchandise.
But I am sensible I take up too much of your time, especially as your own good dispositions, may render exhortation superfluous. I conclude therefore with a short prayer, suggested by my text, in which, I doubt not, you will join with cordial fervour:
“The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not perfectly cleansed according to the strictest purification. The Lord look mercifully on those who approach his table, laden, indeed, with infirmities, and stained with sin; but sensible of their burden and sorry for their pollution. The Lord shower down his grace into their hearts that they may rise from their knees full of comfort, and return to the duties and employments of life with the cheerfulness resulting from a good conscience, with confirmed piety to Thee, O God, and with enlarged charity to their neighbour; forgiving all that have injured or offended them, as they hope to be forgiven by Thee.”