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fare against the enemies of the soul, here on earth : that all the members of it may not only have the spirit, the fervent desire, of truth, unity and concord, but may actually agree in the truth of God's holy word, and live in unity and Godly love. Then we petition more especially for those, whose stations, as kings, magistrates and clergy, or whose sufferings of any kind, require it most: and give thanks for those, who are got beyond the reach of sufferings; begging, that we may follow their example, as far as it was a good one, and share in their happiness.
The two exhortations, ordered to be used, one or other of them, when warning of the Communion is given, are seldom used, where it returns too frequently and statedly to need warning. However, they have a great deal in them, that ought to be seriously weighed; but nothing, that wants to be explained at present: unless it be the direction laid down, that they, who cannot quiet their own consciences, as to their spiritual state, and fitness for the sacrament, should open their grief to some discreet and learned minister of God's word, that they may receive the benefit of absolution, if they appear intitled to it, together with ghostly, that is, spiritual, counsel. Now here, you see, this private absolution is not affirmed to be, as it is by the Papists, necessary for all persons; but only adviseable for some. It therefore is only a declaration of the minister's judgment, a fallible one indeed, but the proper appointed one, that if the person's case be truly represented, he is pardoned and absolved by our heavenly Father, who alone can forgive sins. And such credit only is due to this declaration, as in other affairs we allow to authorized professors and practitioners of skill and probity: whose opinions we often think it prudent
to ask, and happy to have in our favour: and God forbid, that we should not give you ours, when we are asked it, with as much fidelity and as much secresy, as any ministers of any Church whatever!
There is the less occasion that I should enlarge on this office, because I have explained in my Lectures on the Church Catechism, the principal points relating to the Lord's Supper. I have shewn you in particular, that the expression of eating and drinking damnation to ourselves, (which is used by St. Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians *, and from thence taken into the exhortation at the communion,) means only bringing upon ourselves a condemnation to some punishment from God, without determining of what kind. For the verses immediately following, (which I shall presently repeat to you,) very clearly show that the word in the original, which is here translated damnation, ought to have been rendered in this place, as it is in several others, judgment. Now judgment is a general term that signifies any degree of correction or punishment in this life, or the next. That which had been incurred by those unworthy receivers to whom the Apostle wrote, was only correction in the present life. For undoubtedly he told them the worst of their danger, and he tells them of nothing else. The very next words are : For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep, are dead. Then follows, what entirely clears up the matter : 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 punishment therefore of receiving unworthily will either be extended to another world or confined to this according to the degree of the fault:
* Ch. xi. 29.
and if we repent sincerely and in time, it will be forgiven in both. When in the same exhortation we are required to judge ourselves then, this by no means implies, that we need not do it before, but that we should take care it be now perfected. And when it is said, that we must above all things give thanks to God, the meaning is not, that faith and repentance are less necessary, but that these being supposed to precede, the principal point in the act of communicating is a thankful remembrance of God's
disposing us to lay hold of it.
From this last exhortation we proceed immediately to the first thing recommended in it, a penitent confession of our sins : which the ancient Church made also on the same occasion. When in this we say, that the burthen of them is intolerable, we mean not always, that the sorrow, which we that instant feel for them, is extreme; for though very sincere, it may be
; imperfect in its degree; or though as perfect, as the natural constitution of our mind and body admits, it may not be very passionate and afflicting; or though it were once so, it may now be moderated by a joyful sense of God's mercy to us : but we mean, that the weight, with which our guilt, if not removed, will finally sit heavy on our souls, is unspeakably greater, than we shall be able to bear.
After this confession, the minister, himself one of the sinners, who hath joined in it, agreeably to the duty of his office, assures the people, that God hath promised forgiveness to all, that turn to him as they ought; and earnestly prays, that they may obtain it :
; adding express authorities of Scripture to confirm their faith and hope.
Then he exhorts them, thus comforted, to lift up their hearts and give thanks to God: which words,
with the answers, and the substance of all that follows constantly, as far as, glory be to thee, O Lord most high, appear to have been used in the Communion service 1500 years ago : and might probably descend from the Apostolic times. Even the custom of appropriating particular prefaces to the more considerable festivals, is 1200 years old, if not more.
And now approaching nearer to the act of receiving, we again solemnly acknowledge our own unworthiness, as all the old liturgies did, though not so fully : and pray, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by Christ's body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood: which expressions have been censured, as if they implied, that each of these, at least the latter of them, (his blood,) had some peculiar efficacy, of which the other was destitute. But this cannot be intended : because very soon after, the preservation of our bodies and souls also unto everlasting life, is ascribed separately, both to his body and to his blood, as it is in Scripture also * Therefore the distinction made here, was only meant for some kind of elegance in speech : and it much resembles what St. Clement the Roman, whom St. Paul intitles his fellow-labourer †, hath said in his Epistle to the Corinthians, that Christ gave his flesh for our flesh, and his soul for our souls I.
After this follows the Prayer of Consecration, or setting apart the bread and wine to the sacred
purpose, in which they are about to be employed. A prayer hath been used for that end, at least 1600 years. And the mention, which ours makes of the institution of the Lord's Supper, from the words, who in the same night that he was betrayed, to the conclusion, is in every old liturgy in the world. The Roman
+ Phil. iv. 3. I Sect. 49.
* Heb. x. 10. 19.
ists, have put into their prayer of consecration, names of saints, and commemorations of the dead, which we have thrown out. And indeed we have left nothing, that so much as needs explaining: unless it may be useful to observe to you, that our Saviour's one oblation of himself is opposed to the various kinds of oblations under the law; and, once offered, to the continual repetition of them : though probably a further view was, to intimate, that he is not, as the Papists pretend, really sacrificed anew in this holy ordinance.
The first part of the words, which the minister speaks at delivering the elements, is very ancient :
, the rest is added by our Church; and the whole is unexceptionable. The posture of kneeling, which we use, when we receive, is a very proper one. Some indeed think, that the Apostles received in the posture which they used at meals, and that we ought to imitate them in this. Now if so; to imitate them strictly, we must not sit, (as these persons do,) but lie all along : for so did the Apostles at table. But indeed we may rather suppose, that when our Saviour blessed the bread and wine, this being an address to God, both he and they were in some posture of adoration : and that they changed it before receiving, is not likely, considering how different that was from a common meal. Nor does it appear, that any
a part of the Christian Church till of late years, ever used any
other posture than that of kneeling or standing ; by each of which they meant to signify worship. We use the former: but with an express declaration inserted in all our prayer books, that no adoration is hereby intended or ought to be done, either to the sacramental bread and wine ; ( for that were idolatry to be abhorred of all Christians;) or to any corporal pre