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2. Others fear, that "the society of christians, to which they would join themselves, may be unwilling to admit them into such a relation."
Now I must own, that if this objection be made by persons who have been notorious on account of their immoralities, and who are but lately recovered to a sense of divine things, it will not admit of an immediate answer; nor can I invite such to this sacred ordinance, till they give evidence of the reality of a change in their hearts, by an apparent reformation of life, and some steady and prevalent resolution in a religious course. In the mean time, a regard to the honour of christian society may oblige the church to be a little reserved towards such persons; and such a reserve is consistent with the greatest tenderness towards them, and the most affectionate concern, that they may not Break the bruised reed, or quench the smoaking flax*.
But as for such young persons, or others, who have been preserved from such irregularities, whose conduct has been fair and honourable, and who have not only arrived at a competent knowledge of the great truths of christianity, but have for some time been impressed with them so that they have formed a determinate resolution for the service of God, and, it may be, for some years made trial of his ways; far be it from us, my brethren, to say one word to discourage your approach. On the contrary, we would rather invite it; for we know it is most evidently reasonable, that when The Spirit appears to say, comet, the bride, i. e. the church, should echo back the call. We know, my friends, that we are not the master of this holy feast: We know, that it is not for us to set bounds of our own about this sacred table, and say, "Thus low must you bow to us, before you take your seats there." This is a conduct which we not only abhor, as inhumanity to you, but dread, as an insolent usurpation on the rights of our common Lord. If you have indeed tasted, that the Lord is gracious, you will not sure be unwilling, with meekness and modesty, to Give some reason of the hope that is in you; and blessed be God, we have not so learned Christ§; as to make our own phrases, or forms, or any thing singular in our own experiences, or the customs of our own society, the standard by which we judge either of the faith, or the piety of our brethren.
Mat. xii. 20. + Rev. xxii. 17.
1 Pet. iii. 15.
Eph. iv. 20.
3. You may, perhaps, farther plead, That "you fear, lest, if you should enter into the church, you should dishonour it by an unsuitable behaviour, which might bring a reproach on religion, and its blessed Author."
But give me leave to say, that this very fear argues such a tenderness, and such a humility of soul, as may in a great measure answer itself. I hope you Go forth in the strength of the Lord, as well as making mention of his righteousness alone* ; and you must know, that if a bare possibility of falling into sin were to exclude from this ordinance, the most confirmed christian upon earth could not dare to approach it. But while you see your own weakness, and maintain, on the one hand, such a jealousy over yourselves, and, on the other, such a zeal for the honour of religion, it is a certain evidence, that you are not yet left of God, and a most comfortable sign, that he will never forsake you. Nay, I will add, that I know none more likely to prove the ornaments of a society, than those who have such humble apprehensions, lest they should prove its reproach.
4. Others may be ready to excuse their absenting themselves from this ordinance," because it is so commonly neglected by professing christians."
Now as for this, I bless God, it is far from being a singular thing amongst us, to see the table of the Lord furnished with guests, and young christians taking their places there. I speak it with great pleasure and thankfulness. But suppose it were otherwise; what if the neglect of this institution were much more common, both amongst the aged and the young, than it is in most worshipping assemblies; could you have the heart to draw an argument from thence? "My dearest friend, my most gracious benefactor, is generally neglected; his dying command, his dying love, is in a great measure forgotten; and therefore I will forget him, and I will neglect him." Say, christians, could a generous mind reconcile itself to such a thought? Could a pious soul draw such a consequence as this? Methinks the argument lies quite the contrary way: "Therefore, Oh my compassionate Saviour, will I attend with the greater solicitude, that I may, if possible, shame others out of their neglect; or at least, may in part supply their lack of service, and bear my own testimony against an ungrateful generation, who call themselves thy disciples, and neglect this distinguishing badge of their profession, this gracious memorial of thy dying love."
5. Others may plead the "apprehensions of aggravated guilt, and ruin, if after sacramental engagements, they should apostatize from God."
To this I answer; that I hope you, my friends, are not so unacquainted with the nature of this ordinance, and the constitution of the gospel, as to imagine that it consigns us over to certain damnation, if in any instance we afterwards deviate from the paths of our duty; for if it were so, who could be saved? But it is probable, your fears refer to total apostacy. If so, I readily own, that, should this be the case, it would in a dreadful degree inflame your guilt, and aggravate your misery, that you had not only known The way of righteousness†, but that you had Eaten and drunk in the presence of the Lord. But have you any thoughts of drawing back from him, that you are thus cautious to avoid an instituted ordinance, merely because, in that case, it would aggravate your ruin? So would every prayer you offer, and every sermon you hear; but should that thought prevent your coming to the throne of grace, or drive you from the house of God?
Nay, to strike home, I will add, that with regard to you, my friends, the caution comes too late. I speak of those, who have not only Tasted of the good word of God, and of the powers of the world to come§, but have made trial of the ways of wis dom and piety, and have had some experience in them; and as for you, I must plainly and faithfully declare, that it is not for you, of all people in the world, to think of gentle flames, and tolerable damnation. No, my brethren, that hope, wretched as it is, if you shall fall away, is unavoidably cut off from you; and all your schemes must be for nothing less than certain salvation, and exalted glory. And to your comfort let me tell you, that though it is always the duty of Him, that thinketh, he standeth, to take heed lest he fall, yet you have all imaginable reason to trust the promises of an everlasting covenant, and to rely upon the great Redeemer, who hath declared, that he will Give unto his sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of his hand¶, or be able to Separate them from his love**. If then you fear the dreadful consequences of apostacy, apostacy, which would, indeed, be dreadful beyond all your fears, keep near to him as the great Shepherd; and let those very fears rather engage you to an early and diligent
Mat. xix. 25. || 1 Cor. x. 12.
+ 2 Pet. ii. 21.
Luke xiii. 26.
§ Heb. vi. 5.
attendance on this, and every other appointed method of approach, than drive you away from it. It is most reasonable to say, "Since there are so many professors, that Draw back even to perdition*, I will Wait upon the Lord, that I may renew my strength, and so be enabled to endure to the end, that I may Receive the end of my faith in the salvation of my souls." If your fears operate thus, they may be a means of preventing the evil, of which you are so apprehensive.
On the whole, I hope, that when you weigh all I have been saying, and compare it with whatever can be objected against it, you will be convinced of your duty, and engaged to an immediate compliance with it. I have enlarged so copiously on these things, that, in the last place,
III. I can only mention two or three inferences, which will naturally arise from what I have been laying before you.
From hence we might infer, that great care ought to be taken to instruct youth in the principles of religion; that they may not be destitute of such an acquaintance with them, as is one necessary part of preparation for this ordinance, though far from being alone sufficient.
We may also infer, that more aged christians ought carefully to cultivate serious impressions, which may be made on the minds of their children, servants, and others of the rising generation, that they may be engaged to an early compliance with their duty; while, on the other hand, great care ought surely to be taken, that there be nothing rigorous and severe in the terms of admission, which may bear hard upon that modesty and tenderness of spirit, which is generally to be found in young christians, and most eminently in those of the most hopeful and amiable characters.
As for those of a more advanced age, who have lived in the continual neglect of this great and excellent institution, I hope they have long before this inferred the guilt and folly of their omission, which so evidently appears from all I have been saying, and it is attended with many other aggravations, which my time will not now permit me to mention.
I shall therefore conclude with observing, that those young persons, who, through grace, have been convinced of their duty in this instance, and brought to an early compliance with it, have abundant reason to reflect upon it with pleasure and thankfulness. I think it is one of the most important blessings
of my life, that there are many such in the church here; many who, through the divine goodness, have lately been added to it. It would not be easy for me, my dear brethren and friends, to say how great pleasure your presence and society adds to my sacrament-days; or what a delightful prospect it gives me, not only as to the comfort of my own more advanced age, but as to the support of religion here, when I am no longer amongst you. I, and our more aged friends, have reason to rejoice on this occasion; but surely you yourselves have much greater reason. Permit me to remind you, that it will be a most proper expression of your thankfulness, to labour with the utmost care to engage other young persons, your brethren and companions, to come and share with you in this feast. I hope your own experience of the pleasure and advantage which attends it, may be added to the other arguments I have been pleading. As for your own conduct, let me most affectionately intreat, and most solemnly charge you, not only by all other arguments, but by your sacramental vows; by the eyes of God, and of man, that are upon you; by all our expectations from you, and all your engagements to us; that As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so you would walk in him*. And may almighty grace strengthen, and quicken you in your progress; and crown that fair morning, which is opening upon us in so hopeful, in so delightful a manner, with a long, a bright, and a prosperous day! Amen.
Col. ü. 6.