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The doctrine of preparation for the holy solemnity of the communion is certainly of great importance; and ought to be better understood, than it appears to be, even by the body of professors.
The disposition to cleave to self-righteousness, and depend on our own goodness, is natural to us all; and displays itself, in no instance, perhaps, more fully than in relation to the ordinance of which we are speaking. We wish to discover our right to the table of the Lord in ourselves, instead of finding it in Christ! and we look to our own doings, instead of depending on his righteousness, to secure to us a gracious reception at the sacred feast.
This is all wrong-entirely wrong; and directly contrary to the genius of the gospel. The gospel offers heaven itself "without money, and without price;" and surely it does not require us to purchase, by our personal merits, a place at the Redeemer's table. The gospel proposes every thing to the sinner, through the mediation of the Lord Jesus and considers no title to any favour or blessing valid, unless derived from Christ. An interest in the merits of the Son of God, delivers us from condemnation; secures to us the approbation of heaven; confers on us a valid title to the glories of eternity And this, and this alone, can give us a right to the ordinance of the supper.
To be acceptable guests at the marriage-supper; we must appear there in the righteousness of Christ, as our wedding-garment ;* and prove ourselves to be
* Mat. xxii. 11, 12
the "true circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh."*
The remark of Calvint is excellent: "Needy, and destitute of every good, defiled with the pollution of sin, and half dead, how could we worthily eat the Lord's body? We shall rather consider, that we come as paupers to the liberal Benefactor, as patients to the Physician-as sinners to the Author of righteousness-as persons dead to the Fountain of life That the worthiness which is required of God, consists principally in faith, which attributes every thing to Christ, and places no dependence on ourselves; and, secondly, in charity, even that charity which it is enough for us to present to God in an imperfect state, that he may increase and improve it; for we cannot produce it in a state of perfection."
Union to the Lord Jesus Christ, interesting us in his righteousness and grace, is the grand qualification for an acceptable, and profitable approach to the table of the Lord. An examination into our prevailing dispositions and practice is necessary, not to find in them our right to the ordinance; but to discover in them evidence of the fact, that we belong to Christ-that we are the adopted children of God; and therefore have a right to the children's bread.
The points, on which we are particularly to examine ourselves, in order to judge correctly of our
*Phil. iii. 3.
Inst. vol. iii. p. 448.
qualifications for the ordinance under consideration, we conceive to be the following; viz.
1. We are to examine ourselves on the subject of Christian knowledge, whether our minds have been enlightened by the word and Spirit of God. Such as are grossly ignorant, either in consequence of natural imbecility of mind, or a wilful neglect of the means of instruction, are certainly not prepared to take a seat at the Redeemer's table: They are utterly unable to "discern the Lord's body;" and by partaking become "guilty of the body and blood of the Lord."
Knowledge is necessary to the exercise of every grace, and the right performance of every duty. We must serve God with the understanding, as well as with the heart. And to approach the table of the Lord acceptably, we must be acquainted, in some good degree, with ourselves, our guilt, our impotence, our wants, and our misery; with the covenant of grace, its free and ample provisions, its precious promises, and its unalterable stability, ordered in all things, and sure;*-with the person, offices, and work of the Mediator of the Covenant, who is, in one person, very God, and very man; who is the Prophet, Priest, and King of the Church; and who having, by his obedience unto death, made atonement for the sins of his people, now reigns for their benefit, and in fulfilment of eternal stipulations, demands their salvation :f-with the nature, use, and design of the sacrament of the supper, so as to be able to * 2 Sam. xxiii.5.
Jo. xvii. 24.
discern the Lord's body" in that holy ordinance And finally, with the interest, which faith humbly claims in God, as the God of the covenant, and all the abundance of that goodness which Christ has purchased for his people; as well as the unreserved consecration which faith makes at the Redeemer's table, to be the Lord's entirely and forever.
2. The second qualification we mention is faith, precious faith. "Without faith," the Scriptures tell us," it is impossible to please God."* The direction of the Apostle is, "Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith."+ The unbeliever cannot acceptably approach the table of communion; he has not an interest in the righteousness of Christ, which alone can constitute us welcome guests Neither can the ordinance prove profitable to such an one; because he is utterly unable, in the act of communicating, to pass through the elements, and feed upon the crucified body and shed blood of the Redeemer, for the nourishment of his soul.
It is this grace, which gives the soul a holy liberty, and an indescribable delight, in the commemoration of the Saviour's death. In its proper exercise, it receives the Redeemer in all the discoveries made of him in his word, and feeds upon all that fulness of spiritual good exhibited in the promises: And in its appropriating act, it exclaims, with holy triumph, "My beloved is mine, and I am his !" "Who loved me, aud gave himself for me!"}
*Heb. xi. 6.
2 Cor. xiii. 5.
Cant. ii. 10
8. A third qualification we mention is sincere and genuine repentance. Faith and repentance are inseparably connected; and, as an old writer beautifully observes, "the tear, which repentance sheds, drops from the eye of faith." "They shall look on him whom they have pierced, and mourn as for an only son, and be in, bitterness as for a first-born."*
Nothing more effectually softens the heart-nothing more completely fills it with ingenuous sorrow for sin than believing views of the Lord Jesus. Christ, and the method of salvation through him. And this is a very proper exercise when we come to seal our interest in his righteousness, and to tell the church, and the world, that he is our Saviour!
Yes, brethren; a knowledge of our sins, in their evil nature-in their aggravating circumstances, and their awful demerit-together with that sincere contrition, with which such knowledge is calculated to fill the soul—is a very necessary qualification in our approaches to the Redeemer's table. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."+
That very sense of unworthiness, which many plead as an excuse for their neglect of this sacred institution, we consider a necessary preparation. "We are never more fit (says Willison‡) for this holy table, than when we are most humbled, and most ashamed of ourselves, because of our unfitness. for this solemn approach; and we are never less, fit than when we think ourselves most fit and prepared * Zech. xii. 10.
+ Ps. li. 17.
Intro. to Sac, Med, p. 5.