THE gift of Eternal Life is the mystery, which lies beneath the history of the modern world and interprets it; just as the expectation of this gift, the longing for a manifestation of God, is the mystery, which lies beneath the history of the ancient world and interprets it. One is embodied in the ordinances of the Christian Church, as the other was embodied in the ordinances of the Jewish Nation.
The graciousness and fulness of this gift are commensurate with its awfulness. How can it be otherwise than awful, that God Himself should be with us; should be offering to come to us, and hold converse with us? How can it be otherwise than the very blessedness, which a. spiritual creature asks for, and cannot bear to want? Is it not perilous to shut the door of the heart to such a visitant? Is it not perilous to seem to spurn it, and to forget whom we are receiving?
But are we investing bread and wine with some magical properties? Are we supposing that they admit us into a Presence, which but for them would be far from us? Do they not rather bear witness, by their simplicity, by their universality, that it is always near to us, near to every one? Do they not say, "Will you live, move, have your being, in God, and yet be practically at a distance from Him, because you will not let Him approach you, enter into converse with you, subdue you?" Shall all this Love be about us day by day, and shall we he living, shut out from its power and influence, in a region of ice?
Do you answer, "But may not many have enjoyed this Presence, may not many enjoy it now, who do not taste the elements?"
Believe, and give thanks, that it is so. Acknowledge with hearty delight every fruit of God's Spirit, which you see in any person, who rejects every Christian ordinance. Canvass it not, try not to make out that it is unreal, lest you blaspheme the Holy Ghost. Prize this Sacrament as the witness, the deepest, truest, simplest witness, that God is with men, that all good things are from Him, that nothing can be true in us but what is the reflection of His Truth. Do not you discard it, because it is so childlike, because it carries such a whisper of Love to each individual heart,--because it puts you on a level with hundreds, who, you fancy, may know less and feel less, may know nothing and feel nothing. Oh! think of God's Love, and not of your neighbour's sins, or of your own advancement. The Church invites you to come with the most profound confession of sins, which can be put into language. Let no one persuade you that your heavier sins are those, which you share with the general congregation,--that, being communicants, you have only venial sins to cast off and be delivered from. May God put this horrible and accursed pride far from us!
The communicant should feel the exceeding sinfulness of sin as none other does. He should feel sin, not as that which may bring a punishment after it, but as that which is itself the intolerable burden, He should regard it, not as something to be weighed in human scales, but as the contradiction of God s own nature, the resistance to His Love. The nearer his contact with the perfect Light, the greater must be the sense of the darkness which will not comprehend it, the more certain must he be that this darkness is in himself. If we suffer the Church to lead our hearts in these confessions, we shall apprehend what infinite Mercy is about us and the whole universe; we shall be appalled by the selfishness, by which we have kept that Love at a distance; we shall tremble, as we consider what our state must be, if that selfishness should become fixed, triumphant, unresisted; we shall cast ourselves and all upon that Love, which is a deep below all other deeps; in lowliness of heart we shall ask that the Eternal Life, of which we have counted ourselves unworthy, may be granted us for His worthiness, Who went through death, the grave, and hell, that He might obtain it for ns.--On the Prayer Book, Serm. XVI.