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ther is the profanation of the sacrament a crime which the goodness of God cannot forgive, if it be succeeded by true devotion. The whole life of man is a state of probation; he is always in danger, and may be always in hope. As no short fervours of piety, nor particular acts of beneficence, however exalted, can secure him from the possibility of sinking into wickedness; so no neglect of devotion, nor the commission of any crimes, can preclude the means of grace, or the hope of glory. He that has eaten and drunk unworthily may enter into salvation, by repentance and amendment; as he that has eaten and drunk worthily, may, by negligence or presumption, perish everlastingly.
This account of the guilt of unworthy reception makes it necessary to inquire, whether by the original word in the text be meant, as it is translated, damnation, the eternal punishments of a future state; or, as it is more frequently interpreted, condemnation, temporary judgments, or worldly afflictions. For, from either sense, the enormity of the crime, and the anger of God enkindled by it, is sufficiently apparent. Every act of wickedness that is punished with immediate vengeance, will, if it be aggravated by repetitions, or not expiated by repentance, incur final condemnation ; for temporal punishments are the merciful admonitions of God, to avoid, by a timely change of conduct, that state in which there is no repentance, and those pains which can have no end. So that the confident and presumptuous, though it should be allowed that only temporal punishments are threatened in the text, are to remember, that, without reformation, they will be only aggravations of the crime, and that, at the last day, those who could not be awakened to a just reverence of this divine institution, will be deprived of the benefits of that death, of which it was established as a perpetual commemoration. And those who are depressed by unnecessary terrors, may repel any temptations to despondency, by considering, that the crime of unworthy communication is, like all others, only unpardoned, where it is unrepented.
Having thus shewn the danger incurred by an unworthy
reception of the sacrament, it is necessary to inquire how it may be avoided ; and to consider,
First, what it is to eat and drink unworthily.
Secondly, by what means a man may become a worthy partaker of the Lord's Supper.
First, I am to consider what it is to eat and drink unworthily.
The unworthiness with which the Corinthians are upbraided by the apostle was, in part, such as the present regulated establishment of Christianity, and the assistance which religion receives from the civil power, make it unnecessary to censure, since it is not now committed even by the most presumptuous, negligent, or profane. It was a practice amongst them to assemble at the holy table in a tumultuous manner, and to celebrate the eucharist with indecency and riot. But though such open profanation of this sacred ordinance is not now to be apprehended, and therefore no man needs to be cautioned against it, yet the cause which produced it is such, as we cannot too anxiously fear, or too diligently avoid; for its influences are various and extensive, and often weaken the efficacy of the sacrament, though they produce no apparent disorders in the celebration of it.
The Corinthians fell into this enormous sin, says the apostle, not discerning the Lord's body, for want of discerning the importance and sanctity of the institution, and of distinguishing the Lord's body, from the common elements of bread and wine exhibited on common occasions of festive jollity. It is therefore the first duty of every Christian to discern the Lord's body, or to impress upon his mind a just idea of this act of commemoration, of the commands by which it is enforced, of the great sacrifice which it represents, and of the benefits which it produces. Without these reflections, often repeated, and made habitual by long and fervent meditation, every one will be in danger of eating and drinking unworthily, of receiving the sacrament without sufficient veneration, without that ardent gratitude for the death of Christ, and that steady confi
dence in his merits, by which the sacrament is made efficacious to his salvation ; for of what use can it be to commemorate the death of the Redeemer of mankind without faith, and without thankfulness ? Such a celebration of the sacrament is nothing less than a mockery of God, an act by which we approach him with our lips, when our hearts are far from him; and as such insincerity and negligence cannot but be, in a very high degree, criminal, as he that eateth and drinketh thus unworthily cannot but promote his own damnation, it is necessary to inquire,
Secondly, by what means a man may become a worthy partaker of the Lord's Supper.
The method by which we are directed by the apostle to prepare ourselves for the sacrament, is that of self-examination, which implies a careful regulation of our lives by the rules of the gospel; for to what purpose is our conduct to be examined, but that it may be amended, where it appears erroneous and defective ? The duty of examination therefore is only mentioned, and repentance and reformation are supposed, with great reason, inseparable from it; for nothing is more evident than that we are to inquire into the state of our souls, as into affairs of less importance, with a view to avoid danger, or to secure happiness. When we inquire with regard to our faith, whether it be sufficiently vigorous or powerful, whether it regularly influences our conduct, restrains our passions, and moderates our desires, what is intended by this duty, but that if we find ourselves Christians only in name, if we discover that the example of our divine Master has little force upon our constant conversation, and that God is seldom in our thoughts, except in the solemn acts of stated worship, we must then endeavour to invigorate our faith by returning frequently to meditate upon the object of it, our creation, our redemption, the means of grace, and the hope of glory, and to enlighten our understandings, and awaken our affections, by the perusal of writings of piety, and, above all, of the Holy Scriptures.
If any man, in his examination of his life, discovers that he has been guilty of fraud, extortion, or injury to his
neighbour, he is to make reparation to his utmost power. If he finds malice or hatred lurking in his mind, he must expel them by a strong resolution never to comply with their motions, or suffer them to break out in any real act of revenge. If he observes that he is often betrayed, by passions or appetites, into unlawful methods of gratifying them, he must resolve to restrain them for the future, by watching and fasting, by a steady temperance and perpetual vigilance.
But let him beware of vain confidence in his own firmness, and implore, by fervent and sincere prayer, the cooperation of God's grace with his endeavours; for by grace alone can we hope to resist the numberless temptations that perpetually surround us; by grace only can we reject the solicitations of pleasure, repress the motions of anger, and turn away from the allurements of ambition. And this grace, when sincerely implored, is always granted in a degree sufficient for our salvation; and it ought, therefore, to be one of the first parts of our preparations for the sacrament, to press for that grace without which our examination itself will be useless, because without it no pious resolution can be formed, nor any virtue be practised.
As, therefore, it is only by an habitual and unrepented unworthiness that damnation is incurred, let no man be harassed with despondency for any past irreverence or coldness! As the sacrament was instituted for one of the means of grace, let no one, who sincerely desires the salvation of his own soul, neglect to receive it; and as eternal punishment is denounced by the apostle against all those who receive it unworthily, let no man approach the table of the Lord, without repentance of his former sins, steadfast purposes of a new life, and full confidence in His merits, whose death is represented by it.
WRITTEN BY DR. JOHNSON FOR THE FUNERAL
OF HIS WIFE.
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life;
he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yett shall
he live. And whosoever liveth, and believeth in me, shall never
die.—John, xi 25, 26. (former part.) To afford adequate consolations to the last hour, to cheer the gloomy passage through the valley of the shadow of death, and to ease that anxiety to which beings prescient of their own dissolution, and conscious of their own danger, must be necessarily exposed, is the privilege only of revealed religion. All those to whom the supernatural right of heavenly doctrine has never been imparted, however formidable for power, or illustrious for wisdom, have wanted that knowledge of their future state, which alone can give comfort to misery, or security to enjoyment; and have been forced to rush forwards to the grave, through the darkness of ignorance; or, if they happened to be more refined and inquisitive, to solace their passage with the fallacious and uncertain glimmer of philosophy.
There were doubtless, at all times, as there are now, many who lived with very little thought concerning their end; many whose time was wholly filled up by publick or domestick business, by the pursuits of ambition, or the desire of riches; many who dissolved themselves in luxurious enjoyment, and, when they could lull their minds by any present pleasure, had no regard to distant events, but withheld their imagination from sallying out into futurity, or catching any terrour that might interrupt their quiet; and there were many who rose so little above animal life that they were completely engrossed by the objects about them, and had their views extended no farther than to the next hour; in whom the ray of reason was half extinct,