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5. Consider the Lord's Supper, Secondly, as a mercy from God to man. As God, whose mercy is over all his works, and particularly over the children of men, knew there was but one way for man to be happy like himself; namely, by being like him in holiness: as he knew we could do nothing towards this of ourselves, he has given us certain means of obtaining his help. One of these is the Lord's Supper, which, of his infinite mercy, he hath given for this very end, that through this means we may be assisted to attain those blessings which he hath prepared for us; that we may obtain holiness on earth, and everlasting glory in heaven.
I ask, then, Why do you not accept of his mercy as often as ever you can? God now offers you his blessing: why do you refuse it? You have now an opportunity of receiving his mercy: why do you not receive it? You are weak: why do not you seize every opportunity of increasing your strength? In a word, considering this as a command of God, he that does not communicate as often as he can, has no piety: considering it as a mercy, he that does not communicate as often as he can, has no wisdom.
6. These two considerations will yield a full answer to all the common objections which have been made against constant communion indeed to all that ever were or can be made. In truth, nothing can be objected against it, but upon supposition, that this particular time, either the communion will be no mercy, or I am not commanded to receive it. Nay, should we grant it would be no mercy, that is not enough: for still the other reason would hold whether it does you any good or none, you are to obey the command of God.
7. However, let us see the particular excuses which men commonly make for not obeying it. The most common is, "I am unworthy; and he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself. Therefore I dare not communicate, lest I should eat and drink my own damnation."
The case is this. God offers you one of the greatest mercies on this side heaven, and commands you to accept it. Why do not you accept this mercy, in obedience to his command? You say, “I am unworthy to receive it." And what then? You are unworthy to receive any mercy from God. But is that a reason for refusing all mercy? God offers you a pardon for all your sins. You are unworthy of it, it is sure, and he knows it but since he is pleased to offer it nevertheless, will not you accept of it? He offers to deliver your soul from death. You are unworthy to live. But will you therefore refuse life? He offers to endue your soul with new strength: because you are unworthy of it, will you deny to take it? What can God himself do for us farther, if we refuse his mercy, because we are unworthy of it?
8. But suppose this were no mercy to us, (to suppose which is indeed giving God the lie; saying, That is not good for man, which he purposely ordered for his good :) still I ask, Why do not you obey God's command? He says "Do this." Why do you not?
You answer, "I am unworthy to do it." What! Unworthy to obey God? Unworthy to do what God bids you do? Unworthy to obey God's command? What do you mean by this? That those who are unworthy to obey God, ought not to obey him? Who told you so? If he were even "an angel from heaven, let him be accursed." If you think God himself has told you by St. Paul, let us hear his words. They are these, "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself."
Why this is quite another thing. Here is not a word said of being unworthy to eat and drink. Indeed he does speak of eating and drinking unworthily: but that is quite a different thing: so he has told us himself. In this very chapter we are told that by eating and drinking unworthily, is meant, Taking the holy sacrament in such a rude and disorderly way, that one was hungry, and another drunken. But what is that to you? Is there any danger of your doing so? Of your eating and drinking thus unworthily? However unworthy you are to communicate, there is no fear of your communicating thus. Therefore, whatever the punishment is of doing it thus unworthily, it does not concern you. You have no more reason from this text to disobey God, than if there was no such text in the Bible. If you speak of "eating and drinking unworthily" in the sense St. Paul uses the words, you may as well say, "I dare not communicate for fear the Church should fall," as for fear I should eat and drink unworthily.
9. If then you fear bringing damnation on yourself by this, you fear where no fear is. Fear it not, for eating and drinking unworthily; for that, in St. Paul's sense, ye cannot do. But I will tell you for what you shall fear damnation: for not eating and drinking at all: for not obeying your Maker and Redeemer: for disobeying his plain command: for thus setting at naught both his mercy and authority. Fear ye this: For hear what his Apostle saith, "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all.” James ii. 10.
10. We see then how weak the objection is, "I dare not receive,* because I am unworthy." Nor is it any stronger, though the reason why you think yourself unworthy is, that you have lately fallen into sin. It is true, our Church forbids those "who have done any grievous crime," to recove it without repentance. But all that follows from this, is, That we should repent before we come; not that we should neglect to come at all.
To say therefore, that "a man may turn his back upon the Altar; because he has lately fallen into sin; that he may impose this penance upon himself," is talking without any warrant from Scripture. For where does the Bible teach, to atone for breaking one commandment of God, by breaking another? What advice is this, "commit a new act of disboedience, and God will more easily forgive the past!"
*The Lord's Supper.
11. Others there are, who, to excuse their disobedience, plead, that they are unworthy in another sense that they "cannot live up to it they cannot pretend to lead so holy a life, as constantly communicating would oblige them to do." Put this into plain words. I ask, why do not you accept the mercy which God commands you to accept? You answer, "Because I cannot live up to the profession I must make when I receive it." Then it is plain you ought never to receive it at all. For it is no more lawful to promise once what you know you cannot perform, than to promise it a thousand times. You know too, that it is one and the same promise, whether you make it every year or every day. You promise to do just as much, whether you promise ever so often or ever so seldom.
If therefore you cannot live up to the profession they make who communicate once a week, neither can you come up to the profession you make, who communicate once a year. But cannot you indeed? Then it had been good for you that you had never been born. For all that you profess at the Lord's-table, you must both profess and keep, or you cannot be saved. For you profess nothing there but this, That you will diligently keep his commandments. And cannot you keep up to this profession? Then you cannot enter into life.
12. Think then what you say, before you say, "You cannot live up to what is required of constant communicants.' This is no more than is required of any communicants, yea, of every one that has a soul to be saved. So that to say, "You cannot live up to this," is neither better nor worse than renouncing Christianity. It is, in effect, renouncing your baptism, wherein you solen nly promised to keep all his commandments. You now fly from that profession. You wilfully break one of his commandments, and then to excuse yourself, say you cannot keep his commandments! Then you cannot expect to receive the promises, which are made only to those that keep them.
13. What has been said on this pretence against constant communion, is applicable to those who say the same thing in other words, "We dare not do it because it requires so perfect an obedience afterwards, as we cannot promise to perform." Nay, it requires aeither more nor less perfect obedience, than you promised in your baptism. You then undertook to keep the commandments of God by his help and you promise no more when you communicate.
14. A second objection which is often made against constant communion, is, the having so much business, as will not allow time for such a preparation as is necessary thereto. I answer, All the preparation that is absolutely necessary, is contained in those words, "Repent you truly of your sins past; have faith in Christ our Saviour." (And observe, that word is not taken in its highest sense,) "Amend your lives, and be in charity with all men: so shall ye be meet partakers of these holy mysteries." All who are thus prepared, may draw near without fear, and receive the sacrament to their comfort. Now what business can hinder you from being thus prepared?
From repenting of your past sins? From believing that Christ died to save sinners? From mending your lives, and being in charity with all men? No business can hinder you from this, unless it be such as hinders you from being in a state of salvation. If you resolve and design to follow Christ, you are fit to approach the Lord'stable. If you do not design this, you are only fit for the table and company of devils.
15. No business, therefore, can hinder any man from having that preparation which alone is necessary, unless it be such as unprepares him for heaven, as puts him out of a state of salvation. Indeed every prudent man will, when he has time, examine himself, before he receives the Lord's Supper; whether he repents truly of his former sins; whether he believes the promises of God; whether he fully designs to walk in his ways, and be in charity with all men? In this, and in private prayer, he will doubtless spend all the time he conveniently can. But what is this to you who have not time? What excuse is this, for not obeying God? He commands you to come, and prepare yourself by prayer, if you have time; if you have not, however come. Make not reverence to God's command, a pretence for breaking it. Do not rebel against him, for fear of offending him. Whatever you do, or leave undone besides, be sure to do what God bids you do. Examining yourself, and using private prayer, especially before the Lord's Supper, is good. But, behold! To obey is better than self-examination, and to hearken, than the prayer of an angel.
16. A third objection against constant communion is, That it abates our reverence for the sacrament. Suppose it did, what then? Will you thence conclude, that you are not to receive it constantly? This does not follow. God commands you, "Do this." You may do it now, but will not: and to excuse yourself say, "If I do it so often, it will abate the reverence with which I do it now." Suppose it did; has God ever told you, that when the obeying his command abates your reverence to it, then you may disobey it? If he has, you are guiltless; if not, what you say is just nothing to the purpose. The law is clear. Either show that the Lawgiver makes this exception, or you are guilty before him.
17. Reverence for the sacrament may be of two sorts; either such as is owing purely to the newness of the thing, such as men naturally have for any thing they are not used to: or such as is owing to our faith, or to the love or fear of God. Now the former of these is not properly a religious reverence, but purely natural. And this sort of reverence for the Lord's Supper, the constantly receiving of it must lessen. But it will not lessen the true religious reverence, but rather confirm and increase it.
18. A fourth objection is, "I have communicated constantly so long; but I have not found the benefit I expected." This has been the case with many well-meaning persons, and therefore deserves to be particularly considered. And consider this first. Whatever. God commands us to do, we are to do, because he commands,
whether we feel any benefit thereby or not. Now God commands,
Do this in remembrance of me." This, therefore, we are to do, because he commands, whether we find present benefit thereby or not. But undoubtedly we shall find benefit sooner or later, though perhaps insensibly. We shall be insensibly strengthened, made more fit for the service of God, and more constant in it. At least, we are kept from falling back, and preserved from many sins and temptations; and surely this should be enough to make us receive this food as often as we can; though we do not presently feel the happy effects of it, as some have done, and we ourselves may, when God sees best.
19. But suppose a man has often been at the sacrament, and yet received no benefit. Was it not his own fault? Either he was not rightly prepared, willing to obey all the commands, and to receive all the promises of God; or he did not receive it aright, trusting in God. Only see that you are duly prepared for it, and the oftener you come to the Lord's-table, the greater benefit you will find there.
20. A fifth objection which some have made against constant communion is, That "the Church enjoins it only three times a year." The words of the Church are; "Note that every Parishioner shall communicate at least three times a year." To this I answer, first, What if the Church had not enjoined it at all, is it not enough that God enjoins it? We obey the Church only for God's sake. And shall we not obey God himself? If then, you receive three times a year because the Church commands it, receive every time you can, because God commands it. Else your doing the one will be so far from excusing you for not doing the other, that your own practice will prove your folly and sin, and leave you without excuse.
But, Secondly, We cannot conclude from these words that the Church excuses him who receives only thrice a year. The plain sense of them is, That he who does not receive thrice at least, shall be cast out of the Church: but they by no means excuse him, who communicates no oftener. This never was the judgment of our Church on the contrary, she takes all possible care, that the Saerament be duly administered, wherever the Common Prayer is read, every Sunday and holyday in the year.
The Church gives a particular direction with regard to those that are in holy orders. "In all Cathedral and Collegiate Churches and Colleges, where there are many Priests and Deacons, they shall alt receive the communion with the Priest, every Sunday at the least."
21. It has been shown, first, That if we consider the Lord's Supper as a command of Christ, no man can have any pretence to Christian piety, who does not receive it, (not once a month, but) as often as he can Secondly, That if we consider the institution of it, as a mercy to ourselves, no man who does not receive it as often as he can, has any pretence to Christian prudence: Thirdly, that none of the objections usually made, can be any excuse for that man who does not, at every opportunity, obey this command and accept this mercy.
22. It has been particularly shown, first, That unworthiness