Page images

heartily, that puts it off longer than the day of its extreme, or the day of its positive, necessity. Let us not deceive ourselves : of all the things in the world, the holy sacrament was never intended to give countenance to sinners, or palliation to a sin; warranty or colour, excuse, or perpetuity. There is a hard expression in the prophet d, “ They have filled the land with violence; and have returned to provoke me to anger, and lo they put the branch to their nose, and behold they are as mockers;" so the seventy é read it; but make no mention of putting the branch to their nose. Theodotian f puts them both together : “ they hold out the branch like mockers ;"_and to this Symmachus & gives yet a little more light, “ They lifted up the branch, making a noise like them that mock with their noses.” But this interpretation is something hard; there is yet an easier, and that which makes these words pertinent to our present duty, and a severe reproof to them who come to this holy service of God, not with the love of sons, and the duty of servants, but with the disaffection of enemies. The carrying of branches, in the superstition of the Gentiles, and the custom of the Jews, was a sign of honour. Thus they carried the pine-tree before the shepherds' god: they gave the cypress to Sylvanus, and the apricot-tree to Isis : and the branches of palms the Jews did carry before our blessed Saviour; and this is it that God complains of ; • They carried branches, as if they did him honour; but they held them to their noses like mockers : that is, they mocked him secretly when they worshipped him publicly; they came with fair pretences and foul hearts; their ceremony was religious all over, but their lives were not answerable. The difficulty came from the homonymy of the Hebrew word h, which signified, a branch,' and

• noise;' and it will be as difficult to distinguish a hypocrite from a communicant, unless we really purpose to live better, and do so; unless we leave the next occasions to sin, and do justice and judgment, and cease to do evil, and cause that my brother shall no longer feel the evils of my injustice, and of my foolish crimes.

a а


Qui tarde vult, diu noluit. d Ezek. viii. 17. • Και ιδού αυτοι ως μυκτηρίζοντες. f Και ιδού αυτοι εκτείνουσι το κλήμα, ως μυκτηρίζοντες. * Και εισιν ώς αφιέντες ήχον, ώς άσθμα διά των μυκτήρων εαυτών.

זמרת h


How far we must have proceeded in our general Repentance,

and Emendation of our Lives, before we communicate.

To this I answer, that no man is fit to communicate, but he that is fit to die ;' that is, he must be in the state of grace, and he must have trimmed his lamp; he must stand readily prepared by a state of repentance; and against a solemn time, he must make that state more actual, and his graces operative.

Now, in order to this, it is to be considered, that preparation to death hath great latitude: and not only he is fit to die, who hath attained to the fulness of the stature of Christ, to a perfect man in Christ Jesus, but every one who hath renounced his sin with heartiness and sincerity, and hath begun to mortify it. But, in these cases of beginning, or of infancy in Christ, though it be certain that every one who is a new creature, though but newly become so, is born of God, and hath life abiding in him, and, therefore, shall not pass into condemnation,-yet concerning such persons, the rulers of souls, and ministers of sacraments, have nothing but a judgment of charity, and the sentences of hope relating to the persons; the state is so little, and so allayed, and so near to the late state of death from which they are recovering, that God only knows how things are with them; yet, because we know that there is a beginning, in which new converts are truly reconciled, there is a first period of life; and as we cannot say

many cases that this is it, so in many we cannot say, - this is not;' therefore the church hopes well of persons, that die in their early progressions of piety; and, consequently, refuses not to give to them these divine mysteries. Whoever are reconciled to God, may be reconciled to the church, whose office it is only to declare the divine sentence, and to administer it, and to help towards the verification of it.

But because the church cannot be surer of any person that his sins are pardoned, that he is reconciled to God, that he is in the state of grace, that if he then dies he shall be saved, than a man himself can be of himself, and in his own


case, which certainly he knows better than any man else;and that our degree of hope and confidence of being saved, when it is not presumption, but is prudent and reasonable, does increase in proportion to our having well used and improved God's grace, and enlarges itself by our proportions of modification and spiritual life; and every man that is wise and prudent, abides in fears and uncertain thoughts, till he hath gotten a certain victory over all his sins; and though he dies in hope, yet not without trembling, till he finds that he is more than conqueror ;-therefore, in proportion to this address to death, must also be our address to the holy sacrament. For no man is fit to die, but he that can be united unto Christ; and he only that can be so, must be admitted to a participation of his body and his blood. It is the same ease ; in both we dwell with Christ; and the two states differ but in degrees; it is but a passing from altar to altar, from that where the minister of the church officiates, to that where the head of the church does intercede.

There is this only difference; there may be some proportions of haste to the sacrament, more than unto death, upon this account --because the reception of the sacrament, in worthy dispositions, does increase those excellencies in which death ought to find us : and, therefore, we may desire to communicate, because we perceive a want of grace : and yet, for the same reason, we may at the same time be afraid to die, because after that we can receive no more; but, as that finds us, we shall abide for ever. But he that fears justly, may yet, in many cases, dié safely; and he shall find, that his fears, when he was alive, were useful to the caution, and zeal, and hastiness of repentance; but were no certain indication, that God was not reconciled unto him. The best and severest persons do, in the greatest parts of their spiritual life, complain of their imperfect state, and feel the load of their sins, and apprehend with trembling the sad consequents of their sins, and every day contend against them; and forget all that is past of good actions done, and press forwards still to more grace, and are as hungry as if they had 'none at all. And those men, if they die, go to Christ, and shall reign with him for ever; and yet many of them go with a trembling heart,--and though, considering the infinite obliquity of them, they cannot overvalue their sins; yet considering the infinite goodness of God, and his readiness to accept it, they undervalue their repentance, and are safe in their humility, and in God's goodness, when, in many other regards, they think themselves very unsafe. Now, such men as these must not be as much afraid to communicate, as they are afraid to die; but these, and all men else, must not communicate till they be in that condition, that if they did die, it would go well with them : and the reason is plain, because every

friend of God, dying so, is certainly saved; and he that is no friend of God, is unworthy to partake of the table of the Lord.

But, for the reducing the answer of this question to practice, anıl to particular considerations: I am to advise these things :

1. Because no man of an ordinary life, and a newly begun repentance, ought hastily to pronounce himself acquitted, and in the state of grace, and in the state of salvation, in this rule of proportion; we are only to take the judgment of charity, not of certainty; and what is usually by wise and good men supposed to be the certain, though the least measure of hopeful expectations in order to death, that we must


also to be our least measure of repentance preparatory to the blessed sacrament.

2. This measure must not be taken in the days of health and carelessness; but when we are either actually in apprehension, or, at least in deep meditation of death ; when it is dressed with all such terrors and material considerations, that it looks like the king of terrors, and at least makes our spirits full of fear and of sobriety.

3. This measure must be carefully taken without the allay of foolish principles, or a careless spirit, or extravagant confidences of personal predestination, or of being in any sect; but with the common measures which Christians take, when they weigh sadly their sins, and their fears of the divine displeasure; let them take such proportions, which considering men rely upon when they indeed come to die; for few sober men die upon such -wild accounts as they rely upon in talk and interest, when they are alive. He that pares himself to death, considers how deeply God hath been displeased, and what hath been done towards a reconciliation; and he that can probably hope, by the usual measures of the Gospel, that he is in probability of pardon, hath by

He that pre

that learnt by what measures he must prepare himself to the holy sacrament.

4. Some persons are of a timorous conscience, and apt to irregular and unreasonable fears, and nothing but a single ray from heaven can give them any portions of comfort: and these men never trust to any thing they do, or any thing that is done for them ; and fear by no other measures, but by consideration of the intolerable misery, which they should suffer, if they did miscarry. And because these men can speak nothing, and think nothing comfortable of themselves in that agony, or in that meditation, therefore they can make use of this rule by the proportions of that judgment of charity, which themselves make of others; and in what cases, and in what dispositions, they conclude others to die in the Lord; if they take those, or the like measures for themselves, and, accordingly, in those dispositions address themselves to the holy sacrament, they will make that use of this rule which is intended, and which may do them benefit.

5. As there are great varieties and degrees of fitness to death, so also to the holy sacrament: he that hath lived best, hath enough to deplore when he dies, and causes enough to beg for pardon of what is past, and for aids in the present need; and when he does communicate, he hath in some proportion the same too; he hath causes enough to come humbly, to come as did the publican, and to say, as did the centurion, · Lord, I am not worthy.' But he that may die with most confidence, because he is in the best dispositions, he may also communicate with most comfort, because he does it with most holiness.

6. But the least measures of repentance, less than which cannot dispose us to the worthy reception of the holy mysteries, are these.

1. As soon as we are smitten with the terrors of an afflicted conscience, and apprehend the evil of sin, or fear the divine judgments; and upon that account resolve to leave our sin, we are not instantly worthy and fit to communicate. Attrition is not a competent disposition to the blessed sacrament; because although it may be the gate and entrance of a spiritual life, yet it can be no more unless there be love in it; unless it be contrition, it is not a state of favour and grace, but a disposition to it. He that does not

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »