« PreviousContinue »
temporal, and aiming, as far as it could reach, at the eternal ruin of its object; and this, not for immorality of conduct, but for opinions, adjudged to be heretical and damnable, upon subjects wherein both the contending parties were equally wide of the truth.Would to God that these baneful effects had altogether ceased at the æra when many of the grosser corruptions of that antichristian church were successfully exposed, resisted, and put away! Yet not only do we still see the imposture of transubstantiation retaining its dominion over the understandings and senses of a great part of the Christian world, but even among Protestants, an undue authority maintained and exercised, in consequence of setting the Lord's Supper at a distance from, and ascribing to it a high preeminence above, the other solemnities of social worship. By some of them it has been held to be a mystery, a life-giving, dreadful, tremendous, holy, unpolluted, divine, and heavenly mystery, so awful as to be unapproachable, except by a favoured and distinguished few. Scarcely has any new sect arisen, around which it has not been drawn as a sacred inclosure, and within which none were admitted but such as could pronounce the Shibboleth, whereby it might be known that they were of the number of the elect; so that instead of the Lord's, it became emphatically their supper. Can we doubt that wherever such an unauthorised tribunal has been erected, honest, but timid and modest minds, have not had resolution to pass through the required ordeal, or that this is a principal cause why the ordinance is not more generally attended?
But nothing has more contributed to an unwarrantable assumption of power on the one hand, or to
a servile subjection and unfounded apprehension and terror on the other, than the unhappy misconstruction and mistranslation of that passage in Paul's epistle to the Corinthians, wherein he speaks of the consequences of eating the bread, and drinking the cup of the Lord, unworthily. His words are- He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." But instead of judgment, the word has been translated (and I fear from very unwarrantable motives) damnation. It was not for the interest of any ecclesiastical body, pretending to have jurisdiction in cases of this nature, to point out the impropriety; it has therefore continued unaltered in the received translation to the present day. But is it to be wondered at that the Lord's table should have been deserted, when hung round with such gloom and horror! that this feast of love should have lost almost all its attractions! Let us, however, approach without apprehension, and draw aside the veil. By comparing the passage in question with others, it will appear that this judgment related to some bodily sufferings which the apostles, by virtue of their extraordinary powers, were authorised to inflict, and which might be attended with as salutary effects, in those early days of the church, as the sudden deaths of Ananias and Saphira. So in the verses immediately following- For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep; for if we would judge ourselves we should not be judged; but when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” The incestuous person, whom they were directed to separate from their communion, was thus punished:
"In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such an one to Satan, for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." We learn, subsequently, that the punishment had its intended effect; and thus it appears that the judgment here spoken of, was so far from being utter damnation, that it was, although a severe, yet a salutary, chastisement to produce reformation; and, all miraculous powers having long since ceased in the church, the case is, so far, inapplicable to any thing that can occur in the present day; and it would only expose to ridicule and contempt any religious society who should now take upon them to deliver an offending member to Satan, or pronounce upon him sentence of damnation, however enormous his crime might be. That unworthy partaking, which made a man "guilty of the body and blood of the Lord," may be explained in a manner equally satisfactory. It had, like the case already spoken of, a local and temporary reference. When "every one took before another his own supper, when one was hungry and another was drunken," and such scandalous irregularities prevailed as ought not to have been tolerated even at a common meal-this was trampling under foot the blood of the covenant and counting it an unholy thing"-it was "crucifying the Son of God afresh, and putting him to open shame." Of these excesses and disorders I trust we are in no danger.
Far am I, however, from thinking that lawful and necessary cause of exclusion from the Lord's table may not occur. Let us consider, for a moment, the nature of the transaction.-It certainly is something
more than a common act of worship, at which last every person has full liberty to be present; and whether he be Jew, Mahometan, or Indian, as long as he maintains external decency of behaviour, the society have nothing to do with his religion or his character. But when a man places himself at the Lord's table, with an intention to partake, he declares, as explicitly as if he did it in words" I profess myself a Christian." Now to name the name of Christ in this decided, unequivocal manner, what is it but an implied resolution, in the presence of God and of the world, to depart from all iniquity? If, notwithstanding, it be notorious that a person who comes to this service is in such an habitual practice of any vice that it cannot be reasonably believed he is a penitent, there ought to be a solemn protest against his farther attendance; and if we should be ashamed to be seen in his company on any common occasion, much more so on this, where his admission would give such just occasion for scandal and reproach. A measure of this kind, I think, would be clearly authorised by the advice of Paul to the Corinthians to put away from among themselves that wicked person who lived openly in the commission of what was not so much as named among the Gentiles-nor to keep company, or even to eat with any one who was called a brother, and yet was guilty of any flagrant breach of morality, that the "feast might be kept, not with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Of any previous examination on the part of the church, we however read nothing. It was sufficient for his first admission if he professed himself a Christian, and if he had before been wicked, that he was a
penitent. The only rule we find laid down on that head is- Let a man examine himself." Still less authority is there for, and still more strenuously would I deprecate the establishment of, any doctrinal test, as a qualification for admission to the communion. While I know nothing against a man's moral character, it ought to be sufficient for my receiving him as a brother, on such an occasion, that he ostensibly professes himself a believer in Christ. And shall I, when sitting down with him to eat and drink in remembrance of our common Lord and Master, bethink myself of any trifling difference in the detail of our sentiments or opinions, or behold him with a frown, because he cannot square his faith in every minute particular with my own? Shall I thus commend myself and judge him whom the Lord may approve? Far from me-far from any religious society of which I am a member, be such a contracted, censorious, and uncharitable spirit! At the table to be spread in this place the next Lord's day, allɣin whatever church they are accustomed to worship, are welcome to a place. Nor let the unworthy suspicion intrude itself, that by this apparently candid and liberal conduct we are laying a snare for the unwary to induce them to become members of our body. So cautiously have we avoided every thing that should have the appearance of making the Lord's Supper a test, that our constitution does not require an attendance upon it as a qualification for membership; and while we are heartily disposed to look upon an occasional participation as a proof of good-will and Christian charity, we enquire no farther, nor take any exceptions if it be not repeated.