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sought him not after the due order.' He sought him, saith he, but not after the due order.' And what that due order was, he shews in the next verses, where he declares, that the Levites carried the ark upon their own shoulders, with the staves thereon, as Moses commanded, according to the word of the Lord; whereas before, they carried it in a cart, which was not for that service. It is a great thing to have the administration of an ordinance in the due order. God lays great weight upon it, and we ought to take care that the order be observed.
This is what we have to offer to you concerning the two general propositions: that there is a preparation required of us for the observance of all solemu ordinances; and that this preparation consists in a due regard to God, to ourselves, and to the ordinance, whatever it be. To God, as the author, as the object, and as the end of ordinances; to ourselves, to remove that which would hinder, not to regard iniquity; to be self-abased in our hearts with respect to the infinite distance that there is between God and us, and with a love unto ordinances: with respect unto the ordinance itself, that it be of God's appointment for the matter and manner. These things may help us to a due consideration, whether we have failed in any of them, or not.
I have mentioned nothing but what is plain and evident from the Scripture, and what is practicable; nothing but what is really required of us; such things as we ought not to esteem a burden, but an advantage: and whereinsoever we have been wanting we should do well to labour to have our hearts affected with it; for it hath been one cause why so many of us have laboured in the fire under ordinances, and have had no profit nor benefit by them. As I said before, conviction is the foundation, custom is the building of most in their observation of ordinances. Some grow weary of them; some wear them on their necks as a burden; some seek relief from them, and do not find it; and is it any wonder, if this great duty be wanting? having neither considered God, nor ourselves, in what we go about? And above all things take heed of that deceit I mentioned, which is certainly very apt to impose itself upon us; that where there is a disposition in the person there needs no preparation for the duty. There was a preparation in those whom God
broke out upon, because they were not prepared according to the preparation of the sanctuary; that is, in that way and manner of preparation; they had not gone through those cleansings which were instituted under the law,
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread,
I HAVE been treating in sundry of these familiar exercises about communion with Jesus Christ in that great ordinance of the Lord's supper, intending principally, if not solely, the instruction of those who have, it may be, been least exercised in such duties. I have spoke something of preparation for it, and on the last opportunity of this kind I did insist upon these two things, that there is a preparation required unto the due observance of every solemn ordinance; and I did manifest, what in general was required to that preparation. I have nothing to do at present, but to consider the application of those general rules to the special ordinance of the supper of the Lord. For the special preparation for an ordinance consists in the special respect which we have to that ordinance in our general preparation: and I shall speak to it plainly, so as that the weakest, who are concerned, may see their interest in it, and have some guidance to their practice.
And there are two things which may be considered to this purpose, The time wherein this duty is to be performed; and, The duty of preparation itself.
I. The time of the performance of the duty; for that indeed regards as well what hath been said concerning preparation in general, as what shall now be farther added concerning preparation in particular, with respect to this ordinance.
Time hath a double respect unto the worship of God, as a part of it; so it is when it is separated by the appointment * Delivered January 21, 1669-70.
of God himself; and as a necessary adjunct of those actions whereby the worship of God is performed; for there is nothing can be done, but it must be done in time, the inseparable adjunct of all actions.
And therefore having proved that a preparation is necessary, I shall prove that there is a time necessary, for there can be no duty performed, but it must be performed, as I said, in some time.
For the right stating of that therefore, I shall give you these rules:
1. That there is a time antecedent to the celebration of this ordinance to be set apart for preparation unto it. The very nature of the duty, which we call preparation, doth inevitably include this, that the time for it must be antecedent to the great duty of observing the ordinance itself. So Matt. xxvii. 62. the evening before the passover is called, The preparation of the passover,' time set apart for the preparation of it.
2. The second rule is this, That there is no particular set time, neither as to the day, or season of the day, as to the beginning or ending of it, that is determined for this duty, in the Scripture: but the duty itself being commanded, the time is left unto our own prudence, to be regulated according to what duty doth require; so that you are not to expect that I should precisely determine this or that time, this or that day, this or that hour, so long or so short; for God hath left these things to our liberty, to be regulated by our own duty and necessity.
3. There are three things that will greatly guide a man in the determination of the time, which is thus left unto his own judgment according to the apprehension of his duty.
(1.) That he choose a time wherein the preparation of it may probably influence his mind and spirit in and unto the ordinance itself. Persons may choose a time for preparation when there may be such an interposition of worldly thoughts and business, between the preparation and the ordinance, that their minds may be no way influenced by it in the performance and observation of the duty. The time ought to be so fixed, that the duty may leave a savour upon the soul unto the time of the celebration of the ordinance
itself, whether it be the preceding day, or whether it be the same day. The work is lost unless a man endeavours to keep up a sense of those impressions which he received in
(2.) Providential occurrences and intimations are great rules for the choosing of time and season for duties. Paul comes to Athens, Acts xvii. and in all probability he intended not to preach immediately upon his journey. He intended to take some time for his refreshment. But observing the wickedness of the place, ver. 16. that they were wholly given to idolatry,' and observing their altar to the unknown God;' ver. 32. He laid hold of that hint of providence, that intimation given him by God's providence from these things, and immediately fell upon his work, which God blessed with great success. There be a thousand ways, if I may so say, wherein an observing Christian may find God hinting and intimating duties unto him. The sins of other men, their graces, mercies, dangers, may be all unto us intimations of a season for duty. Were none of us ever sent to God by the outrageous wickedness of others? By the very observation of it? And it is a sign of a good spirit to turn providential intimations into duties. The psalmist speaks to that purpose, Psal. xxxii. 8, 9. I will guide thee by mine eye,' saith he. The next words are, Be not as the horse, or as the mule, which hath no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle.' God loves a pliable spirit, that upon every look of his eye will be guided to a duty. But those who are like horses and mules, that must be held with a strong rein, that will not be turned, till God puts great strength to it, are possessed with such a frame of spirit which God approves not. You are left at liberty to choose a time, but observe any intimation of providence that may direct to that time.
(3.) Be sure to improve surprisals with gracious dispositions, I mean, in the approach of solemn ordinances. Sometimes the soul is surprised with a gracious disposition, as in Canticles vi. 12. Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Ammi-nadib.' I knew it not, saith the church, I was not aware of it, but I found my soul in a special willing manner drawn forth to communion with Christ. Is God pleased at any time to give us such gracious
surprisals with a holy disposition to be dealing with him, it will be the best season; let it not be omitted.
These things will a little direct us in the determination of the time for preparation, which is left unto our own liberty.
4. Take care, that the time designed and allotted, does neither too much intrench upon the occasions of the outward man, nor upon the weakness of the inward man. If it doth, they will be too hard for us. I confess, in this general observation which professors are fallen into, and that custom which is in the observation of duties, there is little need to give this rule. But we are not to accommodate our rule unto our corruptions, but unto our duties; and so there is a double rule in Scripture fortifies this rule; the one is that great rule of our Saviour, That God will have mercy and not sacrifice.' Where these duties of observing sacrifices do sensibly intrench upon duties of mercy, God doth not require it; which hath a great regard even unto our outward occasions. And the other rule is this, That bodily exercise profits little. When we assign so long a time as wearies out our spirits, and observe the time because of the time, it is bodily exercise; when the vigour of our spirits is gone, which is a sacrifice God delights not in. As Jacob told Esau, If the cattle were driven beyond their pace they would die; so we find by experience, that though with strong resolutions we may engage unto duties in such a manner as may intrench upon these outward occasions, or those weaknesses; they will return, and be too hard for us, and instead of getting ground, they will drive us off of ours; so that there is prudence to be required therein.
5. Let not the time allotted be so short as to be unmeet for the going through with the duty effectually. Men may be ready to turn their private prayers into a few ejaculations, and going in or out of a room may serve them for preparation for the most solemn ordinance. This hath lost us the power, the glory, the beauty of our profession. Never was profession held up to more glory and beauty, than when persons were most exact in their preparation for the duties of their profession; nothing will serve their turn, but their souls having real and suitable converse with God, as unto the duty that lies before them.
6. The time of preparation is to be exercised and made