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WHAT qualifications and dispositions are required of them who come to the Lord's Supper, the Scripture hath not particularly expressed; for they are easily collected from the nature of this ordinance. But our Catechism, in its fifth and last answer concerning it, hath reduced them very justly to three; repentance, faith, and charity.
1. "That we repent us truly of our former sins, "stedfastly purposing to lead a new life." For as we are by nature prone to sin; and the youngest and best amongst us have in more instances than a few been guilty of it, the less the better; so in Christianity, repentance is the foundation of every thing. Now the sorrow that we ought to feel for the least sin, must be a very serious one; and for greater offences in proportion deeper. But the vehemence and passionateness of grief will, on every occasion, and particularly on this, be extremely different in different persons. And therefore all that God expects is a sincere, though it may be a calm, concern for every past fault, of which we are conscious; and for the multitudes, which we have either not observed, or forgotten.
And this concern must proceed from a sense of duty, and produce the good effects of an humble confession to him in all cases, and to our fellowcreatures, in all cases needful; of restitution for the injuries that we have done, so far as it is pos sible; and of a settled resolution to amend our hearts and lives, wherever it is wanting. More than this we cannot do; and less than this God cannot accept. For it would be giving us a li
cence to disobey him, if he allowed us to come to his table and profess to "have fellowship with "him," while we walked in darkness." Mere infirmities indeed, and undesigned frailties, provided we strive against them with any good degree of honest care, and humble ourselves in the divine presence for them, so far as we are sensible of them, will not provoke God to reject us as unworthy receivers, though in strictness we are all unworthy. For if such failures as these made persons unfit, nobody could be fit. And therefore they will be no excuse for omitting what Christ hath commanded; nor can be any reason why we should not do it with comfort.
But whoever lives in any wilful sin, cannot safely come to the holy Sacrament; nor, which I beg you to observe, can he safely stay away. For, as the hypocrisy of professing amendment falsely at God's table is a great sin; so the profaneness of turning our backs upon it, because we will not amend, is to the full as great a one; and it is the meerest folly in the world to chuse either as the safer way; for a wicked person can be safe no way. But let him resolve to quit his wickedness, and when he is thoroughly sure, so far as he can judge from a competent experience, that he hath resolved upon it effectually, then he may as safely receive as he can say his prayers. And such one should come, not with servile fear as to a hard master; but with willing duty, as to a merciful Father. Nay, should he afterwards break his resolutions, though doubtless it would be the justest cause of heavy grief, yet it would not prove that he received unworthily, but only that he hath behaved unworthily since he receive And the thing for him to do is, to lament his fault with deeper contrition, renew his good purposes more firmly, pray for help from above with
(1) 1 John i. 6.
more earnestness, watch over himself with more prudent care; then go again to God's altar, thankfully commemorate his pardoning love, and claim anew the benefit of his gracious covenant. Following this course honestly, he will assuredly gain ground. And therefore such as do not gain ground, do not follow it honestly; but allow themselves to go round in a circle of sinning, then repenting, as they call it, and communicating, then sinning again; as if every communion did of course wipe off the old score, and so they might begin a new one without scruple; which is the absurdest, the most irreligious, the most fatal imagination that can be.
II. The next thing required of them who come to the Lord's Supper, "is a lively faith in God's mercy through Christ, with a thankful remem"brance of his death." And the faith necessary is, a settled persuasion, that, for the sake of the meritorious obedience and sufferings of our blessed Redeemer, God will pardon true penitents'; together with a comfortable trust that we, as such, have an interest in his merits. But here again you must observe, that different persons may have very different degrees of this persuasion or trust. Some may be" weak in faith;" 2 may have cause to say with him in the Gospel of St. Mark, "Lord "I believe, help thou mine unbelief;" and yet their prayers, like his, may be graciously heard. Others may be "strong," and "increase," 5 till they "abound in faith."6 And such have great reason to be thankful to God for themselves; but surely they ought not to judge hardly of their brethren, who have not advanced so far. The rule of judging, both in the Catechism and the Scripture, is not by the positiveness, but the liveliness, of your faith; that is, the fruits of a
(4) Rom. iv, 20. (6) Col. ii. 7.
Christian life, which it produces; for "faith "without works is dead."7 If we cannot show the evidence of these, the highest confidence will do us no good; and if we can, we need have no doubts concerning our spiritual condition; and though we have ever so many, provided we perceive no sufficient reason for them, we may celebrate this holy ordinance very safely. For such weaknesses in our natural temper and spirits are no way inconsistent with having, in our fixed and deliberate judgment, that " full trust in God's
mercy," which the Communion-service requires ; and we cannot take a more lively method, either to perfect our repentance or to strengthen our faith, than receiving the Sacrament frequently. ·
Our Catechism teaches further, that our faith in Christ must be accompanied with a thankful "remembrance of his death." And surely if we believe that he died to save us, we must be thankful for it. But then the measure of our thankfulness must be taken from the goodness and constancy of its effects, not from the sensible warmth and fervency, which we cannot, ordinarily speaking, feel so strongly in spiritual things as in temporal; and of which bad persons may at times have very much, and good persons little. For that is the true thankfulness, which produces love. And this is the love of God, that we keep his "commandments." 8
But there is one commandment, as I have shown you, peculiarly connected with this ordinance. And therefore our Catechism specifies it separately, and in express terms, by requiring,
III. That " we be in charity with all men." For we can have no share in the love of our Creator, our Redeemer, and Sanctifier, unless, in imitation of it, we love one another; and, as the goodness of God is universal, so must ours be too.
(7) Jam. ii. 17.
(8) 1 John v. 3.
Receiving the holy Communion was indeed intended to increase the degree of it; but the reality we must have, before we are worthy to receive. And we must show it is real, by "forgiving them "who trespass against us;" by assisting as far as can be reasonably expected, those who need assistance in any kind; by our hearty prayers for those, whom we can help no other way; by faithfully performing the duties of our several stations and relations in life; and by condescension, mildness, and humanity towards every person, as occasion offers; all which duties, and particularly that of forgiveness, have been explained to you in their proper places.
These then being the dispositions requisite for receiving the holy Sacrament, as indeed they are for obtaining eternal happiness; we are all greatly concerned to examine ourselves, whether we have them or not; and should have been concerned to do it, though this ordinance had never been appointed. But we are now more especially bound to it with a view to this ordinance; both from the nature of it, and from St. Paul's positive injunc tion: "Let a man examine himself, and so let "him eat of that bread and drink of that cup." 9
The principal subjects of our examinations are comprehended under the three heads just now mentioned. But as to any particular method to be taken, or time to be spent in it, or in any further preparation, we have no command; it is left to every one's prudence and voluntary piety. They who live in a constant practice of religion and virtue, are always fit for the Sacrament; and may, if the call be sudden, by reflecting for a few moments, sufficiently know that they are fit. Persons, who live in any sin, may as easily and quickly know that they are not. And it is only in doubtful cases, that any length of consideration
(9) 1 Cor. xi. 28.