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1 CoRINTHIANs XI. 26.
As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come.
THERE are some opinions, concerning the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, which are very deserving of consideration, as they are the means either of deterring Christians from coming to it, or making them uneasy in their minds after it; or, lastly, as they sometimes lead men to abuse this institution to the purposes of vice and profligacy, which is by far the worst of all. There are many errors in religion, which having no bad effect upon a man’s life or conduct, it is not necessary to be solicitous in correcting. A man may live in such like errors as these without prejudice, we humbly hope, to his happiness or salvation. But when errors in opinion lead to errors in practice, when our notions affect our behaviour, it then becomes the duty of every Christian, and especially of every teacher of Christianity, to set these motions right, as far as it is in his power. Many persons entertain a scruple about coming to the sacrament, on account of what they read in-the eleventh chapter of St Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, concerning the unworthy receiving of it. “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself;’ surely, they say, it is better to keep away from the Lord's Supper altogether than to incur the risk of so terrible a sentence. And who, they will ask, can know that he is safe from it? Who will be bold enough to say that he eats and drinks worthily? who, however, that is conscious of many defects and imperfections, who that has made so imperfect preparation for it, and what is Worse, who is so liable to forget it all, and relapse again into his former course of life 2 Now there are two sorts of persons who profess this scruple. There are your heartless, indifferent Christians, who are glad of any reason to get rid of their duty, and who, because this seems a sort of excuse from coming to the sacrament, take up with it without farther inquiry, or any sincere concern, indeed, about the matter.
Besides these, there are also many serious and well meaning Christians who have been much and really affected by this text; and who have been either kept away, as I said before, from the communion, or much disturbed and distressed in their minds about it. Now mone but sincere and pious people have these scruples, and therefore the utmost tenderness and indulgence are due to them ; even where there is less foundation for them than there appears to be in the present case. For the ease, therefore, and satisfaction of all such, I will endeavour, in this discourse, to make out two points. First, that the unworthy eating and drinking, meant by St Paul, is what we, at this time of day, can scarcely possibly be guilty of ; second, that the damnation here spoken of means worldly punishment; or, as we say, judgment upon the offender in this world, and not everlasting perdition in the world to come, as the term damnation commonly signifies in our mouths.
First ; I maintain that the eating and drinking, meant by St
Paul, is what we, at this time of day, can hardly be guilty of.
St Paul, you observe, is not writing to all Christians in general, but to the Corinthians, to the christian converts in that city. Now these converts, it should seem, had been guilty of some disorderly behaviour in the receiving of the Lord’s supper, or at least, at the time of receiving it. “Now in this that I declare unto you I praise ye not; that ye come together, not for the better but for the worse.’ x. 17. The coming together in this verse, means the coming to the sacrament, because in the twentieth verse he says, “When ye come together into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper.” So then they had incurred St Paul’s censure for some misbehaviour about the Sacrament; and the next question will be what that misbehaviour was 2 And this we find out from what St Paul says of them, in the twentyfirst and twentysecond verses, which two verses are the key, indeed, to the whole chapter. “In eating, every one taketh before other his own supper, and one is hungry and another is drunken. What! have ye not houses to eat and to drink in 2 Or despise ye the church of God and those that have not What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this 2 I praise you not.’
The fact was, then, the Corinthians had perverted the Lord's Supper into a common feast, or, at least accompanied it with a common feast; in which, forgetting entirely the nature and design of this institution, they indulged themselves without moderation in eating and drinking, so as, in some degree, to come away from it surfeited and drunken; ‘One is hungry,
and another is drunken;’ one goes to indulge in eating, and another in drinking. It appears, I dare say, to you, unaccountable how any people could fall into such a mistake and misbehaviour as this, so gross an abuse of a religious institution; but it appears from St Paul’s words that, in fact, they did so ; and one way of accounting for it may be this. These Corinthians, you are to consider, were not like us, bred up to Christianity from their infancy. They had been heathens, and a great part of them were converted to Christianity. Now it had been a practice among them before their conversion, as it was with all the heathens, to make feasts to their gods, in which all sorts of intemperance were practised and allowed of. It is possible, and probably was the case, that when they became Christians, some of them mistook the Lord’s supper for one of these sorts of feasts which they had been accustomed to hold to their gods, and celebrated it accordingly with the same licentious festivity and intemperance. But whatever was the reason of it, such, in fact, was their mistake and misbehaviour. It is certain, however, that the misbehaviour was that unworthy eating and drinking which St Paul mentioned, and which he condemned in such severe terms. The fault which St Paul reproves, was the fault which the people he writes to had been guilty of. That is very plain. The fault they had been guilty of was, the indulging themselves to excess in eating and drinking at the time of celebrating this sacrament. That is equally plain, from St Paul’s account of them; ‘The one is hungry and another drunken. What have ye not houses to eat and drink in P’ to make, that is, your entertainments and hold your feasts in P which shows that they made a common feast and entertainment of the holy communion. St Paul proceeds to state to them the history of the institution of the sacrament, which certainly was the proper preservative against the gross abuse of it; and he adds, in order to put an end to so strange proceedings, “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily,’ that is, in this unworthy manner which ye have done, “eateth and drinketh damnation to himself,’ ‘not discerning the Lord’s body;” that is, not distinguishing it from a common feast, not at all reflecting that it was a commemoration of the Lord’s body. I am now, therefore, authorized to say, that the unworthy receiving, intended by St Paul, is what none of us can almost possibly be guilty of; as none of us, I trust, can ever so far forget ourselves as to mistake this institution for a worldly entertainment, or behave at it in that unseemly manner that the Corinthians did.
The next point I undertook to show was, that the damnation denounced in the text did not mean final perdition in the world to come, which is what the word commonly signifies, but only judgments and punishments upon them in this world. It should have been rendered condemnation ; eateth and drinketh condemnation to himself; for the word in the original means any sort of punishment, either temporal or eternal; so that from the expression itself, it would have been dubious which the apostle meant, had he not, in the verse following, added an explanation of the matter, which clears it up sufficiently. ‘For this cause,” that is, for their misbehaviour and unworthy receiving, “many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” That is, many are visited by weaknesses and infirmities, and many are cut off by death; which are all, you observe, worldly judgments; and these immediately following the mention of damnation or condemnation, show that worldly punishment and visitations were what St Paul meant by it.
I allege, therefore, that no Christian at this day has any thing to fear from this text. I do not mean, but that men may come to the sacrament with such a thoughtlessness and levity, as entirely destroys the good effect of it, though I hope and believe that is not much or often the case ; but I mean that none of us, the least and worst prepared even, incur the crime against which St Paul denounced the sentence. And if we do not incur the crime, we have no occasion to fear that the sentence will be applied to us.
Others, again, are kept away from the sacrament by the fear that, after they have received it, they should relapse into their former sins, and so only aggravate their guilt and punishment. To such I shall answer, that all we can do, and even all that is required of us to do, at the sacrament, is to be sincere in our resolutions at the time. Whether these resolutions take effect or not, is another question, although a most serious one. But if they be hearty and sincere at the time, I see no reason to doubt but that a man is a worthy communicant, and will be accepted as such. And our resolutions failing once or twice, or oftener, is no reason why we should not renew them again; nay, it must be by dint of these resolutions at last that we are to get rid of our evil courses, if at all; unless we mean to give ourselves up to vice absolutely, and without any resistance, or endeavours to break through it, which is the worst of all possible conditions. 4.
Others again come away discouraged and disappointed, if they do not feel in themselves that elevation of spirit, that glow and warmth of devotion, that sort of rapture and ecstasy which they expected; and look upon themselves as forsaken of God, and not favored with that share and influence of his spirit which other Christians are. Now such people cannot do better than turn to the scriptures, and expect no more than what is there promised. They will not find it there promised, either that any extraordinary effusions of the Holy Ghost are communicated by the sacrament, or that those effusions show themselves in any great transports, in any visible and extraordinary agitation of the spirits. The truth is, these emotions are in a great measure constitutional. Those who feel them ought not to be elated by them; those who feel them not, have no reason to be cast down and made uneasy on that account. If they find religion operating upon their lives, they may always rely upon that test, and be at peace. +: But lastly ; the Sacrament, it is to be feared, is not seldom abused to the purposes of licentiousness. Men consider it as a sort of expiating, or wiping away their former sins and errors; and themselves as being at liberty to begin, as it were, again, upon a new account. As I said before, the best and sincerest resolutions will sometimes fail; yet, if they are sincere, they make us worthy partakers of the communion. But when we at the very time either expressly intend to begin again our evil practices, when the former ones are, as we suppose, cancelled; or allow such a secret thought to find place without rebuke in our minds, it then becomes a very different case. We cannot, when we relapse, complain that our resolutions fail us. The truth is, we never made any; any, I mean, that were sincere and hearty, which are the only ones to be accounted of. There was duplicity and insincerity at the time, a voluntary deceiving of ourselves, and an attempt, if one may so speak, to deceive God. This is mockery and profanation, not devotion; and let men either discard all such hollow reservations, or come not to that holy table. But I hope and believe that is seldom the case. I hope and believe that those who frequent the holy communion are sincere. But the danger is, the thing to be provided against, the thing to be warned of, is, that we do not take advantage of any scruples or appearances, either of doubt or difficulty, for the purpose of indulging our disinclination to religious exercises, for the sake