EXHORTATION AFTER THE COMMUNION.
At the close of the solemn service in which it has been
your privilege at this time to engage, permit me, my friends, to address to you
a few exhortations, suited to the circumstances in which you are placed. And
first, let me observe, that if there be any in this assembly who have not only
withheld themselves from the Lord's table on the present. occasion, but are
habitually chargeable with such neglect, they are surely the objects of deep
commiseration. I speak not of those who are kept back by conscientious motives
- who really desire to engage in the work of solemn communion, but abstain from
it because they are, in their own considerate judgment, undeserving of such a
high privilege. To persons of this description I would feel, and exercise, all
manner of Christian forbearance and kindness. I approve of their delicacy of
conscience and their humility of spirit. I would, at the same time, direct them
to cherish more engaging views of their Saviour's love; and not to consider the
lowliest convictions of their own unworthiness as, in any measure, inconsistent
with the liveliest dependence upon his merits. I would encourage them to regard
the ordinance as intended for weak and timid babes, as much as for
perfect men in Christ Jesus. I would hope that, by persevering in
prayer, and by following on to know the Lord, and by setting themselves to
acquire more correct and scriptural views both of the nature of the institution
and of the character of its Author, they will ere, long feel themselves at
liberty to observe it without any slavish dread of offending God, or of sinning
against their own souls. And I would only caution them against yielding to
those groundless and superstitious scruples, that sometimes tempt the a
believing and the good, to shrink from a service in which they are called to
honour their Redeemer; to partake of the richest blessings of the gospel, and
to advance the interests of pure and undefiled religion in the world.
At present, however, I allude to those who have no cordial wish to be cornmunicants - who do not think of aspiring to the duties and the privileges of that character - who allow every successive opportunity of going to the Lord's table to pass away from them unimproved and unheeded - and who continue in this negligence from year to year, through indifference, or contempt, or worldly-mindedness, or practical infidelity. It is of these that I now speak; and every real Christian will unite with me in saying, that they are objects of deep commiseration. They are living in obstinate disobedience to the express and dying commandment of him, who has all power in heaven and on earth. They are callous to the impressions of that ineffable love which he manifested in dying for their eternal redemption. They reject with disdain the means which divine wisdom has appointed for supporting the life, and promoting the nourishment and comfort, of his church. They proclaim their want of those principles and dispositions to which the promises of glory are annexed, and their hostility to that system of grace by which alone they can be delivered from the wrath to come. And, if there be any truth in Christianity, they are yet in their sins - "without God and without hope."
0 ye to whom this melancholy description applies, blame us not when we declare, that you are the objects of our pity. It is not from any sentiment of proud scorn, or of haughty superiority, that we say this. We feel compassion for your state, because we see you despising the great salvation - far from the kingdom of heaven - and walking in the broad way that leadeth to destruction. We would pray for you - that the Spirit of all grace may enlighten your mind, and subdue the perversity of your will, and bring you under subjection, to the righteousness and the law of Christ. We would beseech you to stop short in your career of thoughtlessness and folly - to reflect seriously on what is past, and to think solemnly of what is to come - and to mind the things which belong to your peace, before they be for ever hid from your eyes. And we would hold up to view the ordinance you have been disregarding, as exhibiting, in the death and mediation of Christ, the only way by which you can return to God, and obtain eternal life; and as denouncing, at the same time, through the sorrows and ignominies of the cross, that awful retribution which awaits those who reject the salvation of the gospel, and will not have Christ to rule over them.
But we fear that, even to some who have been at the Lord's table, we must speak the language of warning and rebuke. It is refreshing, indeed, to see such a goodly number, as we have seen this day, setting at defiance the scorn of unbelieving men, and keeping in remembrance the death and the cross of their Redeemer. Yet we know that all are not Israel who are of Israeh - that the profession of Christianity and Christianity itself are far from being inseparably connected - that not every one who says unto Jesus, however publicly and however solemnly, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. I would therefore speak to you in the spirit and in the language of a whole some and affectionate jealousy. I would ask you from what motives, and in what manner, you have; engaged in the work of sacred communion? Have you done it, in mere compliance with the wishes of your friends, or from mere conformity to the custom of the place? Have you done it that you might acquire, or that you might support, a good reputation in the world? Have you done it in order to conceal from the eye of suspicion and observation some defect or some sin that you wish not to be known? Or have you done it with the unscriptural view of atoning for your past wickedness, and laying up a stock of merit for the time to come? Have you made no preparation for the solemnity in which you have been engaged? Have you entered into no previous examination of your heart, and your character, and your spiritual state? Have you come to the Lord's table with thoughtlessness and indifference? Have you sat down in ignorance of the nature and purposes of the institution? Have you showed forth the death of Christ, without any lively faith in his merits - without any cordial hatred of sin, which caused his sufferings - without any decided resolution to forsake the iniquities from which they were endured to redeem you - without any conscious love to your God and Saviour - without any kind and forgiving affection towards your fellow-men - without any purpose of devoting yourselves to the service and glory of him who has done so much for your salvation? Have your imaginations been allowed to wander on the mountains of vanity, and your affections to settle on the pursuits and pleasures of the world, when they should have been raised to the heaven, and stretched forward to the immortality, to which the doctrine of a communion-service naturally taught you to aspire?
Are these the motives which have influenced you, and is this the manner in which you have acted on the present occasion? Then you have not partaken of the Lord's Supper. in a true and spiritual sense. You have been eating and drinking unworthily. You have profaned the body and the blood of Christ. And though God may not inflict upon you visible judgments, as he did on the Corinthian church, yet, as the God of ordinances, and as a jealous God, he will not permit you to be thus hypocritical or profane with impunity, and he will assuredly punish you for it, except you repent. Repent, therefore, and be converted, that this your great sin may be blotted out." Apply for pardon, through faith in that sacrifice, which you have treated with so much levity and contempt. Beseech God to cleanse you from every carnal view, and to give you all the graces of his spirit. And be resolved that, henceforth, every returning communion, which you may be permitted to see, shall find you ready to partake of it with clean hands, and pure hearts, and earnest desires to be found of God in peace, without spot and blameless.
On the other hand, does your conscience tell you that your motives have been good - that you have come to the Lord's table from regard to the commandment of Christ - from gratitude and love to Him as your Redeemer - from a desire to promote the honour of his name and the interests of his gospel - and from a becoming wish to advance your own spiritual comfort and improvement? Did youe examine yourselves as to your fitness for the communion service? and did you find that you were possessed, in some good measure, of those qualifications which the nature of the ordinance and the word of God prescribe? And when engaged in the work of commemoration, were your hearts affected by a sense of its importance and solemnity? Did you hold communion with the Father, and fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ? Were you in the exercise of lively faith - of pious affection - of brotherly love - of holy desires and resolutions ? And was it your earnest prayer, and your earnest endeavour, that you might glorify him whom you were remembering, and that the homage and devotion of your souls might be accepted, and thave you might .give yourselves away to God in a covenant never to be broken, and never to be forgotten? - I do not ask you, my friends, if, in all those respects, you have done nothing amiss - if you can say that your way has been perfect - if you can look~ back, with unalloyed complacency and satisfaction upon every part of your conduct and experience as communicants?
No, my friends; the best of us must be conscious that imperfection and sin have tarnished the purity of our offering. And we all need to humble ourselves before the holy God whom we have been serving, and to apply for the pardoning efficacy and the sanctifying influences of the blood of Christ. And, may the good Lord pardon every one who has prepared his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he has not been cleansed according to the preparation of the sanctuary. But have you been sincere in your desires to do this in remembrance of Christ? Have you been really anxious to keep the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth ? Have you set yourselves to act from suitable motives, and in a becoming manner? And are you conscious that, with regard to the particulars I have mentioned, you were qualified, in some good measure, to partake of the ordinance, and that, in some good measure, your participation of it has come up to the standard of Christian feeling and of Christian attainment? Then, be grateful to God who has not only admitted you to the privilege of holy communion, but has enabled you cheerfully to embrace, and rightly to enjoy it. Be grateful that, instead of keeping away, like many others, under the influence of mistaken views, or of dislike to spiritual exercises, he has put it into your hearts to give this public testimony to the truth, and the power, and the excellence of the gospel. Be grateful that amidst the trials and the sorrows of life, you have been allowed to draw, from a believing contemplation of the memorials of your Redeemer's death, that support and consolation which it is so well calculated to afford. Be grateful that, through the grace given you, you have been strengthened to discharge an important duty, and encouraged to employ an instituted means of edification; and that in the fidelity with which you have acted, and in the comfort which. you have experienced, you have a gratifying token of your present acceptance with God, and of your future progress in the divine life.
But do not rest satisfied with mere emotions, or with the mere expressions of thanksgiving. You must show your gratitude in your conduct; and maintain a life and conversation suitable to the profession you have made, and the privileges you have enjoyed It is not ordinary decency of behaviour nor ordinary acquirements in religion that will answer time purpose. The obligations laid upon you by your appearance at the Lord's table, dictate a deportment distinguished by its purity, and its excellence. And, if you obey them in any tolerable degree, we shall see you adorned with all the graces and virtues of Christianity, abounding in godliness and good works, and advancing with steady and progressive steps in the path of righteousness.
After having seen such a lively representation of the evil of sin, will not sin be more than ever the object of your aversion, and will not you more than ever strive to keep yourselves from its pollutions? After having admired the greatness of your Saviour's compassion in giving his life a ransom for your souls, will not you feel yourselves peculiarly and powerfully constrained to glorify him in. your bodies and in your spirits which are his; and will not you think every act of obedience which you can render, but an inadequate return for that wondrous love which made him die for you upon the cross? After perceiving that it was one great purpose of those sufferings of his,. which you have been commemorating, to deliver you from iniquity, and to call you to holiness, will not you cheerfully surrender yourselves to the design which they had in view, by denying all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and by living soberly, righteously, and godly, in the world?
After having professed, with so much solemnity, that you are his disciples, will not you be careful to justify this profession, by devotedness to him in every department of his gospel - by steadily adhering to his doctrine - by confessing him openly before men - by relying without disguise on the merits of his cross - by a conscientious submission to his will - and by a faithful imitation of his example? And after having dedared that you are expectants of heaven, and that you look, with hope and joy, for the second coming of your Lord, will not you be anxious to cultivate the character which such anticipations demand, by rising superior to the pleasures and allurements of this present evil world, by renouncing all the pursuits which are inconsistent with your eternal prospects, and by acquiring and cherishing these holy habits, both of mind and conduct, which are requisite to fit you for the bliss of immortality?
0 my friends, you can never be too scrupulous in abstaining from sinful indulgence; you can never be too diligent in the performance of duty; you can never be too much devoted to that work, which consists in obedience to the law of God, and in preparation for the glories of his presence. Be persuaded, then to give yourselves wholly to these things. Reduce your principles uniformly into practice. And shew that you have been with Jesus, by your unreserved conformity to his will, and by carrying your Christian principles into all the various scenes, and circumstances, and relations, of life. This is necessary for your own personal welfare; and it is also necessary for promoting the interests of pure and undefiled religion among your fellow-men. Your character is not complete, it is radically defective, unless you be holy in all manner of conversation.
And, if you are seen forgetting your communion vows, and violating the precepts of the gospel, and conforming to the practices and the maxims of ungodly men, you not only expose yourselves to just derision and contempt, but you bring dishonour on the cross of Christ; you prove a stumbling-block to the young and the wavering; you mislead many by your cxample, whom your instructions can never reach; and you tempt them that are without to blaspheme that holy name by which you have been called. And, if your conduct be thus wanting in itself, and thus pernicious in its effects, 0 how will you answer for it, on the great day of the Lord!
Let me conjure you, then, to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called. Let it be the object of your constant ambition, and let it be the subject of your daily prayer, that you may be kept from the paths of iniquity, that you may set God continually before you, and that you may stand perfect and complete in all his holy will. And let me especially press this exhortation upon those who have for the first time presented themselves before the Lord at a communion table. I congratulate you, my young friends, on your taking this step, so important to yourselves, and so interesting to all who love your souls. I am glad that you have thus openly enlisted under the banner of the cross - that you have renounced, in this public manner, the devil, the world, and the flesh - that you have been seen taking up the pilgrim's staff, and setting your faces Zion-ward. And I trust that you have done all this in the sincerity of your hearts - that you are not acting an inconsiderate or a hypocritical part that the good confession which you have witnessed before many witnesses has come from an approving mind - and that you are indeed desirous and determined to be all that your outward service has promised. It remains for you to.vindicate your own sincerity, and to maintain your own consistency, by the tenor of your future deportment. Never forget, then, the engagements which you have so solemnly contracted, but study to fulfil them with the utmost fidelity and care. Be not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of the who believe to the saving of the soul. The evil propensities of your own wayward hearts - the allurements and vanities of a thoughtless, corrupted world the sinful insinuations and wicked example of unchristian people - and the arts and influence, of your spiritual enemies, who operate upon your minds, though unseen - all these will attempt to draw you.away from the allegiance you have sworn, and from the resolutions you have formed. But in the strength of God you must resist them all; and, whatever sacrifices it may cost you, and with whatever difficulties it may be attended, you must keep your confidence in Jesus steadfast unto the end - you must hold fast your integrity, and never let it go - you must persevere, with unshaken constancy,~ in the path of duty and obedience. Recollect, at every step you take in life, that you are not your own - that you have given yourselves up to God - and that you are bound, by the strongest and most endearing ties, to glorify him in your bodies and spirits, which are his.
Read his blessed word, that you may grow in saving knowledge. Remember his sabbaths to keep them holy. Never forsake the assembling of yourselves together in his sacred courts. Pray to him with all prayer and supplication in the spirit. Avoid the company of such as trample on his authority and despise his ordinances; and associate with those who fear his name and keep: his commandments. When the allurements of the world solicit your affections or your conformity, cast a believing recollection back upon the cross of Christ, and an eye of hope forward to the joys of heaven, and scorn the pleasures which would frustrate the purposes of your Saviour's death, or darken your anticipations of future glory. And when any peculiar temptation occurs, or when the impetuosity of youthful passion begins to break forth, or when the ridicule of unbelieving or ungodly men is threatening to conquer your holy purposes, then lift up your soul to the God of all grace, and cry for the help of his almighty arm: call to remembrance the vows and resolutions, the faith and the comforts, of a communion table; and forget not that death is fast approaching, and may come when you are not aware, to deliver you from the trials which now distress you, and to conduct you to that land of uprightness and of rest, where no sin is committed and where no sorrow is felt, and where there is fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore.
Yes, my friends, death is approaching to all of us. And it becomes all of us to watch and to be ready. Before another communion arrive, some of us, it is probable, shall have bidden an everlasting adieu to this land of ordinances and of probation. Which of us it is to whom the summons shall, be sent, we cannot tell. It may be the youngest, and the stoutest, and the most thoughtless, of us all. 0 then, how deeply should our minds be impressed with the shortness and uncertainty of time; and with what diligence should we apply ourselves to the work that is given us to do! Let none of us be idle or unconcerned. Let none of us delay or trifle with preparation for eternity. Let none of us be so foolish as to put our immortal interests to the hazard of an unexpected call. Rather let us active, and faithful, and unremitting, in the service of him to whom we are to render an account. And when we leave the house and table of the Lord, let our first step be the beginning of a more holy and heavenly, course than that which we have hitherto pursued; so that, living always by faith in the Son of God, and abounding always in the duties of our Christian vocation, - at whatever day or at whatever hour our Master call us away, we may receive from him this gladdening sentence, "Well done, good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of your Lord."
Addressed to the congregation of St. George's Church, Edinburgh, after the celebratjon of the Lord's Supper, month May 1829
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