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ON THE NATURE AND DESIGN OF THE LORD'S SUPPER.
DELIVERED 28th MARCH 1813, PREVIOUS TO THE FIRST CELEBRATION
OF THE ORDINANCE IN THE NEW CHURCH.
LUKE, Xxii. 19.
This do in remembrance of me.
As the time is at hand, when, agreeably to the constitutional rules of this religious society, we are to celebrate the Lord's Supper, and as it is probable that several now are, and will then be present, to whom our sentiments on that important branch of Christian duty may not be fully known, I have thought it right to embrace this early opportunity of introducing the subject, that leisure may be afforded to those who are so disposed, to turn it in their minds, and to determine, after due deliberation, what line of conduct they will pursue on that occasion; and I shall think myself happy, if, by placing this ordinance in what appears to me a truly evangelical, and therefore rational point of view, any of those fears, doubts, and prejudices, which prevent a general attendance upon it, may be, ere long, if not, im
mediately, removed, and so our light, as a Christian church, both as to doctrine and practice, may shine with distinguished lustre, to the glory of our Father who is in heaven.
As it is a maxim with us, from which I hope we shall never depart, to take aur ideas of Christian truth immediately from the scriptures, I cannot do better, at this time, than direct your attention to that concise and energetic expression, by which our Lord undoubtedly meant to declare what his design was in the institution of the Supper. Whatever were the act itself whatever the expressions with which it was introduced, this was the point to which they were directed-The remembrance of himself," words, few indeed in number, but in meaning very comprehensive, and by which we cannot with any reason suppose it to be intended, that the disciples should barely recollect that such a person had lived and conversed with them, or the comparatively little space of time that the Lord Jesus had gone in and out among them. They were to call to mind the testimony the Father had given to the divinity of his mission by the voice from heaven-his transfiguration on the holy mount-the miracles he had performed-the doctrines and instructions he had delivered
his friendship and affection for them-the prayers he had offered on their behalf-his predictions and promises, and their exact accomplishment. Yet that his death, and all its affecting and amazing circumstances, should have a principal place in their regards, as the last and strongest proof of his love, there can be no doubt (greater love, said he, hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends), since the breaking of the bread, and the
pouring forth of the wine, were to be considered as apt representations of the sufferings with which it was attended, and as an allusion made to the ratification of a new covenant, whereby many, (that is, others besides the Jews) should receive remission of sins, and be placed in the same state of favour, as a chosen people, that had hitherto been peculiar to Israel by the blood of the sacrifices enjoined by the law. Our Lord, upon this occasion, made a most admirable use of that faculty, inherent in the human mind, of associating ideas. It is an use we ourselves often make of it, when, on parting with dear and highly valued friends, we try to live in their remembrance and esteem by leaving with them some token of our affection. Should we ourselves be the objects of such a gift, we call to mind whenever we look upon it, with the most tender emotions, not only the act of giving, but all the excellences of the character of the donor, and the happy moments we have passed in his society; and it has a peculiarly powerful effect if what he has thus bestowed have any appropriate reference to the circumstances in which he was placed at the moment of separation. But it may be said “However just and proper all this may appear, the apostles only were the persons thus addressed, and it is not clear, on the face of the narrative, as given by the evangelists, that any others were expected to perform the action with a similar application.' It is a sufficient answer to such an objection, that Paul informed the Corinthians, that he had received an account of this transaction, by revelation from the Lord, and had in consequence delivered it to them for their observance, in terms which appear to be adequately correspondent to what is re
corded in three of the gospels. But his additional remark, that by eating of that bread, and drinking of that cup, they showed the Lord's death till he should come, has been supposed to limit the time of celebrating the rite to the interval preceding the destruction of Jerusalem, to which the phrase, coming of the Lord, did certainly refer. But, in the first place, it is no less certain that it did also refer to the coming of Christ to the resurrection and final judgment. Secondly-If it be allowed that there was any propriety in observing this rite with reference to an event which was near at hand, and which Christ had foretold should happen while that generation existed, not less apparent was the necessity for the strengthening of faith in that still more important catastrophe which was not to take place till many ages had elapsed. Thirdly-The command to remember Christ is not limited to the commemoration of his death alone, but generally to remember him as I have already endeavoured to show; and as our interest in the purposes and benefits of his mission is not less personal and important than that of the primitive believers, we are equally bound to express our obligations to the author of them. Fourthly-If any stress be laid upon Paul's direct application of the matter to the Corinthians, viz. ye do show forth the Lord's death, &c. it is replied, that it is perfectly fair to understand him as speaking of future bodies of Christians, because he uses similar language where he is unequivocally speaking of the great consummation of all things. In this same epistle he says, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be
raised," &c. And to the Thessalonians, "We which are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord," &c. It may be added, though on this I lay no peculiar stress, that the earliest accounts we have of Christianity, and all subsequent history, bear testimony that in some form or other (often indeed foreign to its original purpose) this rite has subsisted, and been considered as obligatory by the generality of Christians.
Such simplicity was there in the original institution of the Lord's Supper-so directly was it calculated to excite, and to keep in constant activity, the best affections of the human heart-thanksgiving to God for his unspeakable gift-gratitude to Christ as the voluntary agent under him in the great business of salvation, and mutual love among his disciples, as associates in one common calling, as fellow-heirs of one glorious inheritance. Alas! how soon did it begin to be perverted into an engine of mischief, malevolence, oppression, deception; and to be made subservient to the gratifying of every bad passion that degrades the nature of man! It had been said in the earlier days of the gospel, "See how these Christians love one another!" How justly, in later times, might an observation diametrically opposite have been made! When the civil power took one party, professing a particular mode of faith, under its patronage, immediately it assumed the lofty highsounding title of the Catholic or Universal Church, resolved to tolerate no doctrines differing from its own, and to employ against its opponents every weapon of carnal and spiritual warfare. Among these, excommunication was one of the most formidable and powerful; involving in its consequences the