« VorigeDoorgaan »
tertainment, or behave at it in that unseemly manner that the Corinthians did.
The next point I undertook to show was, that the damnation denounced in the text did not mean final perdition in the world to come, which is what the word commonly signifies, but only judgments and punishments upon them in this world. It should have been rendered condemnation; eateth and drinketh condemnation to himself; for the word in the original means any sort of punishment, either temporal or eternal; so that from the expression itself, it would have been dubious which the apostle meant, had he not, in the verse following, added an explanation of the matter, which clears it up sufficiently.
. For this cause,' that is, for their misbehaviour and unworthy receiving, 'many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.' That is, many are visited by weaknesses and infirmities, and many are cut off by death ; which are all, you observe, worldly judgments; and these immediately following the mention of damnation or condemnation, show that worldly punishment and visitations were what St Paul meant by it.
I allege, therefore, that no Christian at this day has any thing to fear from this text. I do not mean, but that men may come to the sacrament with such a thoughtlessness and levity, as entirely destroys the good effect of it, though I hope and believe that is not much or often the case ; but I mean that none of us, the least and worst prepared even, incur the crime against which St Paul denounced the sentence. And if we do not incur the crime, we have no occasion to fear that the sentence will be applied to us.
Others, again, are kept away from the sacrament by the fear that, after they have received it, they should relapse into their former sins, and so only aggravate their guilt and punishment. To such I shall answer, that all we can do, and even all that is required of us to do, at the sacrament, is to be sincere in our resolutions at the time. Whether these resolutions take effect or not, is another question, although a most serious one. But if they be hearty and sincere at the time, I see no reason to doubt but that a man is a worthy communicant, and will be accepted as such. And our resolutions failing once or twice, or oftener, is no reason why we should not renew them again ; nay, it must be by dint of these resolutions at last that we are to get rid of our evil courses, if at all; unless we mean to give ourselves up to vice absolutely, and without any resistance, or endeavours to break through it, which is the worst of all possible conditions.
Others again come away discouraged and disappointed, if they do not feel in themselves that elevation of spirit, that glow and warmth of devotion, that sort of rapture and ecstasy which they expected ; and look upon themselves as forsaken of God, and not favored with that share and influence of his spirit which other Christians are.
Now such people cannot do better than turn to the scriptures, and expect no more than what is there promised. They will not find it there promised, either that any extraordinary effusions of the Holy Ghost are communicated by the sacrament, or that those effusions show themselves in any great transports, in any visible and extraordinary agitation of the spirits. The truth is, these emotions are in a great measure constitutional. Those who feel them ought not to be elated by them; those who feel them not, have no reason to be cast down and made uneasy on that account. If they find religion operating upon their lives, they may always rely upon that test, and be at peace.
But lastly; the sacrament, it is to be feared, is not seldom abused to the purposes of licentiousness. Men consider it as a sort of expiating, or wiping away their former sins and errors; and themselves as being at liberty to begin, as it were, again, upon a new account. As I said before, the best and sincerest resolutions will sometimes fail; yet, if they are sincere, they make us worthy partakers of the communion. But when we at the very time either expressly intend to begin again our evil practices, when the former ones are, as we suppose, cancelled; or allow such a secret thought to find place without rebuke in our minds, it then becomes a very different case. when we relapse, complain that our resolutions fail us. The truth is, we never made any; any, I mean, that were sincere and hearty, which are the only ones to be accounted of. There was duplicity and insincerity at the time, a voluntary deceiving of ourselves, and an attempt, if one may so speak, to deceive God. This is mockery and profanation, not devotion; and let men either discard all such hollow reservations, or come not to that holy table.
But I hope and believe that is seldom the case. I hope and believe that those who frequent the holy communion are sincere. But the danger is, the thing to be provided against, the thing to be warned of, is, that we do not take advantage of any scruples or appearances, either of doubt or difficulty, for the purpose of indulging our disinclination to religious exercises, for the sake
of having a pretence for avoiding that which in our hearts we have no real concern or desire to perform.
Scruples that proceed from a good conscience, however weak or groundless, will meet, I doubt not, with indulgence from the Father of Mercies; but when notions are taken up to flatter our vices, to amuse or lay asleep the conscience, or reconcile it to the practice which we will not quit, such must not expect to come off as so many speculative errors ; for these are errors which no one could have fallen into had it not been for the pernicious influence of vicious habits, and for the sake of that ease to our minds, and encouragement to those sins which they seem to allow.
HEBREWS X. 15.
Forsake not the assembling yourselves together, as the manner of some is.
The first thing recorded of the disciples of Christ after their Lord's ascension, was their uniting with one accord in prayer and supplication ; and being with one accord in one place; continuing steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship; continuing daily with one accord in the Temple ; and breaking bread, that is, celebrating the holy communion, from house to house ; lifting up the voice with one accord; their coming together the first day of the week to break bread; coming together in the church into one place to celebrate the Lord's supper; meeting and keeping silence in the church ; the whole church being gathered together in prayer, and coming into one place, a rich man and a poor man entering the assembly; and lastly, not forsaking the assembling of themselves together. So that the practice of assembling together at stated times for the purpose of joint devotion, religious exercises, and religious instruction, stands upon the highest and earliest authority by which the practice can come recommended to us, the united example of the apostles and immediate followers of Jesus Christ. These persons acted under the instructions which themselves had received from Christ's own mouth, and under the extraordinary influence of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, an institution founded on the common consent and practice of such persons, so circumstanced, is to be deemed a divine institution; not to mention the words of Christ, as recorded in St Matthew's gospel, which contain the strongest invitation to joint worship and prayer; Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Agreeably herewith, all members and sects of Christianity, let them differ ever so much in the articles of faith or rules of practice, have concurred in this ; the appointing stated times and hours for public devotion, in complying with what they find to have been the usage and institution of the apostles and immediate preachers of Christ's religion, whose authority they all acknowledge. This may be clearly traced up to the very ascension of Jesus Christ; especially when coupled with plain words, as above stated, in evidence of a divine command; and upon this command our obligation to attend upon public worship primarily and principally rests. For when we have once good reason to believe that a thing is the command and will of God, there is an end of all other consideration about it; however, all other considerations are to be introduced only as auxiliary and subordinate to that. It is to no purpose to say that coming to church is only a ceremony or a custom. Were that true, however, which it is not, it would be sufficient to reply, that it is what God is pleased to require. It is his pleasure which ultimately makes any thing a duty; and where that pleasure is declared or known, it is presumptuous in us to distinguish or to say that one thing must be observed, and another dispensed with; one institution is of a moral, another of a scriptural nature. They are all instituted by Him who has complete right and authority to direct When we add to this, what I believe will not often be found to fail, that one known deviation from the command of God introduces insensibly, yet inevitably, all deviations from duty, we shall see the force of the preceding obligation in its true light.
Having thus stated the first and principal ground of our duty to attend upon public worship, namely, the command and will of God, signified in the concurrent usage and judgment of those with whom God was pleased to carry on a communication of his will, and by whom he imparted it to the rest of mankind, I shall proceed to fortify the argument, by showing the propriety and expediency of the thing itself.
And first of all, the propriety of joint devotion appears, as it respects the object of all devotion, the supreme God himself. His nature is so glorious, so infinitely exalted above ours, that we are not worthy, as it is truly said, to offer him any sacrifice. The only approach we can make towards him, in my mind, at all suited to his transcendent dignity, is by joining our hearts and voices, by rendering earnest and united adoration to the author of the universe.
We read that God is worshipped in heaven by the joint praises of hosts and myriads of blessed saints. It is not each solitary angel offering its own thanksgivings to its Creator ; but the collection of beings presenting themselves together before the throne, and ascribing glory and honor, and power to their great Father and Governor, with united and never ceasing acclamations. Now, the only way in which we can imitate them, or produce the smallest resemblance of celestial devotion, is by coming into one place, with hearts glowing with piety to God, and with charity to one another; and with decency of outward behaviour and expression, accompanied with inward sensations of humble but ardent devotion, falling down before him who is the Parent, the Preserver, the Saviour, and Benefactor, and Guide, and Guardian of the whole human race. A king is pleased by the united addresses of faithful subjects, a parent is moved by the joint supplications of dutiful children. For the same reason that we see a prince or a parent affected by the unanimous praise, humble demeanour, and united voice of their subjects or children, may we conceive the Divine Being to accept with complacency the public worship of a devout and serious congregation.
Public worship, as it respects the great object of all worship, is the best and nearest advance which creatures like ourselves are capable of making towards a homage in anywise adequate to the glory and dignity of the being whom we address; imperfect at best ; if perfect, unworthy of him, but still our all, and our utmost; still it is attempting to hallow the name of God on earth as it is in heaven; that is, by a social and united act of prayer and thanksgiving.
The propriety may relate to the Supreme Being; the expediency must relate to ourselves. And this becomes the next subject of consideration.
The plain way of computing the utility of an institution is to calculate what would be the effect if the institution was altogether laid aside. Now it appears to me not too much to say, that if public worship was discontinued in a country, the very