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4. You excuse yourselves, perhaps, because you imagine you are not yet prepared for an ordinance so holy. This, I know, is the most customary, and, let me add, the most fallacious apology. If you are unprepared for this, believe me, you are unprepared for the worship of the sanctuary, in which we have now been uniting; you are unprepared to enter your closet, and offer up your secret devotions; you are unprepared to present your children at the baptismal font ; and, what is more than all, you are unprepared to leave this busy world, and enter on those unknown scenes, which, even while you are hesitating, may burst upon your vision. Can you, in such a state of things, say carelessly and coolly, that you are unfit to come to the communion, especially when the ordinance is perpetuated for the very purpose of promoting your spiritual preparation for the communion of Jesus and the saints in heaven?
But where do you gather the opinion, that a precise degree of preparation, which I know not how you are to ascertain, is necessary to the cummunicant? You surely do not collect it from the circumstances, in which the supper was instituted. To the twelve disciples, who were the first communicants, the ceremony was utterly unexpected. It was suddenly in. stituted in the midst of a common meal; and the apostles had no time to deliberate about those necessary qualifications, on which succeeding ages have so unadvisedly and unhappily insisted. If our dispositions and habits are such, as to disqualify us to join with mortals, like ourselves, in commemorating the death of our common benefactor, alarming indeed is our condition. My friends, it is time to pause : it is time to look about us. If we cannot, without guilt or hypocrisy, celebrate the memory of Jesus, when departed, think you that such disaffection will be admitted to his presence ?
Perhaps you flatter yourselves, that there is less danger in utterly neglecting this duty, than in undertaking to perform it, without having ascertained the worthiness of your preparation. But, my friends, the obligation of the duty is certain; the degree of preparation is not. If your intention to perform the will of your master is sincere, you are not to delay, till every difficulty vanishes, and every scruple is satisfied, especially in a case like this, where, if you leave the words of scripture, your only criterion will be some inexplicable and, perhaps, delusive feeling, which may come and depart in a day. If you have no serious desire and no real intention to conform to this request, it is idle to talk about degrees of preparation. This state of your inclinations is your sin, and not your excuse.
Lastly, I am disposed to believe, that many abstain from the communion, from a suspicion, that it will impose upon them some new obligations, which they fear they shall be unable to fulfil. This excuse sometimes results from a tenderness of conscience, which deserves to be fortified and enlightened, rather than indulged. If you believe in the authority of Christ, and profess, though not formally and publicly, to receive his religion, your obligations continue the same, whether you come to the communion, or whether you forbear. The mere commemoration of the death of Christ, cannot impose any new duties, or alter the extent of christian obligations. The observance of one command can neither enlarge, nor contract the circle of the others. It is true, in consequence of an open profession, the eyes of the world will be turned more directly upon you; and, together with the necessity of greater circumspection, you will feel, also, the influence of new motives and aids to obedience. But, as you cannot be too holy, why should you shun an additional inducement to purity and watchfulness. The bonds, which bind you to your religion, cannot be too numerous, or too strong; and it becomes you seriously to consider, whether you do not more essentially injure the interests of the gospel by openly neglecting one of its positive commands, than you would by making a profession, which you might, sometimes, indeed, be tempted to dishonour, but which God may give you the grace to adorn. This timidity is at least a weakness ; be careful, that it does not grow into a crime.
The time will not permit us to proceed further. These are only hints, which might be copiously illustrated, and thrown into a more argumentative form.
May God grant, that we, who, from a sense of obligation, I hope, assemble round this table, may be more and more constrained by the love of Christ, since he died for all, that they which live should henceforth not live unto themselves, but unto him, who died for them, and rose again.
SERMON XIV. ,
LUKE viii. 18.
TAKE HEED HOW YE HEAR.
It appears, at first view, astonishing, that so little effect should be perceptibly produced in society by a long established system of public instruction on topics the most important to mankind. It would seem incredible to one, who, for the first time, was made acquainted with our institutions of religion, that such a provision for weekly worship, teaching, admonition and consolation, should long exist without a more sensible and eminent effect on the minds and manners of the community. He would conclude, that, without some serious incompetency in the teacher, or blame in his audience, the facts and precepts contained in the gospel, which relate to the everlasting well-being of mankind, could not be heard with. out greater effect. That the inefficiency of public instruction is, in some degree, to be attributed to the incompetency, infirmities, or mistakes of preachers I am not disposed to deny. Let us take it for: granted in the outset, for to discuss it at length, would be unprofitable to you, and false humility in the preacher.
From these remarks, however, let it not be inferred, that we are disposed to deny the utility of preaching. There is, undoubtedly, a secret and permanent influence flowing from our public institutions of religion, which can be thoroughly understood and fairly estimated only if God, in his displeasure, should call us to witness the consequences of the complete abolition of them.
The efficacy of preaching appears more inconsid. erable, than it really is, from this circumstance, that, of those who regularly attend upon it, few are guilty of habitual enormities and open vices. The sins, against which we find it most necessary to preach, are those hidden biasses of the heart, that worldly spirit, that habitual selfishness, and that religious torpour, which are not, if I may so speak, limbs, which may be cut off, but slow diseases, which are to be cured, and cured not by a single application, but by a long course of moral regimen and exercise. Hence, to pursue the allusion, the influence of the christian ministry is not to be seen in the leaping of the lame, the recovery of sight to the blind, the raising of the dead, or in the conversion of thousands from one religion and course of life to another, as in a day of Pentecost; but rather in strengthening the weak organs, in guarding the careless against infection, and in gradually improving, as far as may be, the tone of the religious system, and the health of the religious community.
These general remarks may serve to show, that public instruction among us is not so inefficacious as it might at first appear to be, and that, if no other good effects could be stated to flow from it, yet the evil secretly prevented, and the melioration secretly induced, are more than a recompense for the labours of those, who are engaged in supporting these institutions. The object of the present discourse, however, is not so much to account for the inadequate