Chapter II. Of our General Preparation to the Worthy Reception of the Blessed Sacrament,
and the Participation of the Mysteries.
HE that desires to communicate worthily, must examine himself, whether there be not in him any affection to sin remaining.--This examination is not any part of repentance, but a trial of it; for of preparatory repentance, I shall give larger accounts in its own place; but now we are to try whether that duty be done, that, if it be, we may come; if not, we may be remanded, and go away till we have performed it; for he that comes, must have repented first: but now he is to be examined whether he have or no done that work so materially, that it is also prosperously, that is, whether he have done it, not only solemnly and ritually, but effectively, whether he have so washed, that he is indeed clean from any foul and polluting principle.
When the heathens offered a sacrifice to their false gods, they would make a severe search to see if there were any crookedness or spot, any uncleanness or deformity, in their sacrifice. The priest was wont to handle the liver, and search the throbbing heart; he inquires if the blood springs right, and if the lungs be sound; he thrusts his hand into the region of the lower belly, and looks if there be an ulcer, or a scirrhus, a stone, or a bed of gravel. Now the observation which Tertullian makes upon these sacrificial rites, is pertinent to this rule: "When your impure priests look after a pure sacrifice, why do they not rather inquire into their own heart, than into the lamb's appurtenance? Why do they not ask after the lust of the sacrificers, more than the little spot upon the bull's liver?"--The rites of sacrifices were but the monitions of duty; and the priest's inquiry into the purity of the beast was but a precept represented in ceremony and hieroglyphic, commanding us to take care that the man be not less pure and perfect than the beast. For if an unclean man brings a clean sacrifice, the sacrifice shall not cleanse the man, but the man will pollute the sacrifice; let them bring to God a soul pure and spotless, lest God espying a soul humbly lying before the altar, and finding it to be polluted with a remaining filthiness, or the reproaches of a sin, he turns away his head and hates the sacrifice. And God,--who taught the sons of Israel in figures and shadows, and required of the Levitical priests to come to God clean and whole, straight, and with perfect bodies,--meant to tell us, that this bodily precept, in a carnal law, does, in a spiritual religion, signify a spiritual purity. For God is never called the lover of bodies, but the great lover of souls; and he that comes to redeem our souls from sin and death, from shame and reproach, would have our souls brought to him as he loves them: an unclean soul is a deformity in the eyes of God; it is indeed spiritually discerned, but God hath no other eyes but what are spirits and flames of fire.
Here, therefore, it concerns us to examine ourselves strictly and severely, always remembering, that to examine ourselves (as is here intended) is not a duty completed by examining; for this carries us on to the sacrament, or returns us to the mortifications of repentance.
But sometimes our sins are so notorious, that they go before unto judgment and condemnation, and they need no examining; and whatsoever is not done against our wills, cannot be besides our knowledge, and so cannot need examination, but remembering only. And, therefore, I do not call upon the drunkard to examine himself concerning temperance, or the wanton concerning his uncleanness, or the oppressor concerning his cruel covetousness, or the customary swearer concerning his profaneness. No man needs much inquiry to know whether a man be alive or dead, when he hath lost a vital part.
But this caution is given to the returning sinner, to the repenting man, to him that weeps for his sins, and leaves what was the shame of his face, and the reproach of his heart. For we are quickly apt to think we are washed enough: and having remembered our shameful falls, we groan in method, and weep at certain times; we bid ourselves be sorrowful, and tune our heart-strings to the accent and key of the present solemnity; and as sorrow enters in a dress and imagery when we bid her, so she goes away when the scene is done. Here, here it is that we are to examine whether shows do make a real change; whether shadows can be substances, and whether to begin a good work splendidly can effect all the purposes of its designation. Have you wept for your sin, so that you were indeed sorrowful and afflicted in your spirit? Are you so sorrowful, that you hate it? Do you so hate it, that you have left it? And have you so left it, that you have left it all, and will you do so for ever? These are particulars worth the inquiring after. How then shall we know?
Signs by which we may examine and tell, whether our Affections to Sin remain.
1. Because, in examining ourselves concerning this, we can never be sure but by the event of things; and the heart being 'deceitful above all things,' we secretly love what we profess to hate, we deny our lovers, and desire they should still press us; we command away the sin from our presence, for which we die if it stays away. Therefore, while we are in this preparatory duty of examination, the best sign whereby we can reasonably suppose all affection to sin be gone away, is, if we really believe that we shall never any more commit that sin, to which we are most tempted, and most inclined, and by which we most frequently fall. Here is a copious matter for examination.
2. When thou dost examine thyself, thou canst not but remember how often thou hast sinned by wantonness, perhaps, or by intemperance; but now thou sayest thou wilt do so no more. If thou hadst never said so, and failed, it might have been likely enough; but the sun does not rise and set so often, as thou hast sinned and broken all thy holy vows; and thy resolution to put away thy sin is but like Amnon thrusting out his sister, after he had enjoyed her and was weary: sin looks ugly, after it hath been handled; and having lost thy innocence and thy peace for nothing but the exchange of shame and indignation, thou art vexed, peevish, and unsatisfied, and then thou resolvest thou wilt sin no more. But thou wilt find this to be no great matter, but a great deception; for thou only desirest it not, because for the present the appetite is gone; thou hast no fondness for it, because the pleasure is gone; and like him who having scratched the skin till the blood comes, to satisfy a disease of pleasure and uncleanness,--feeling the smart, thou resolvest to scratch no more.
3. But consider, I pray, and examine better; is the disease cured, because the skin is broken? will the appetite return no more, and canst not thou again be tempted? is it not likely that the sin will look prettily, and talk flattering words, and entice thee with softnesses and easy fallacies? and wilt not thou then lay thy foolish head upon the lap of the Philistine damsel, and sleep till thy locks be cut, and all thy strength is gone? wilt riot thou forget thy shame and thy repentance, thy sick stomach, and thy aching head, thy troubled conscience, and thy holy vows, when thy friend calls thee to go and sin with him, to walk aside with him in the regions of foolish mirth, and an unperceived death? Place thyself, by consideration and imaginative representment, in the circumstances of thy former temptation; and consider when thou canst be made to desire, and art invited to desire, and naturally dost desire, can thy resolution hold out against such a battery?
4. In order to this; examine whether there be in thee any good principle stronger than all the arguments and flatteries of thy sin: but above all things, examine whether there be not in thee this principle, that if thou dost sin again in great temptation, thou wilt and inayest repent again: take heed of that, for it is certain, no man lives in the regions of temptation, to whom sin can seem pleasant, but he will fall when the temptation comes strongly,--if he have this principle within him, that though he do commit that sin, he may and will repent. For then sin hath got a paranymph and a solicitor, a warrant and an advocate: if you think that you can so order it, that you shall be as sure of heaven, though you do this sin as though you do it not, you can have no security: your resolutions are but glass; they may look like diamonds to an undiscerning eye; but they will last no longer than till the next rude temptation falls upon them.
5. Examine yet further: is your case so, that yon have no reserves of cases, in which your sin shall prevail? you resolve to leave the partner of your follies, and you go from her lest you be tempted:--it is well, it is very well: but is not your heart false as water? and, if you should see her again, do not you perceive, that your resolution hath brought you to a little shame, because it will upbraid thy falsehood and inconstancy? You resolve against all intemperate anger, and you deny the importunity of many trifling occurrences: but consider, if you be provoked, and if you be despised, can your flesh and blood endure it then? It may be, Calphurnius and Tucca shall not persuade thee to go to the baths of Lucrinus; but if Mecaenas calls thee, or the consul desires thy company, thou canst resist no longer. Thou didst play the fool with poor Calerna, and thou art troubled at thy folly, and art ashamed when thou dost remember how often thou wentest into the Summoenium, and peeped into the titles of those unhappy women, whose bodies were the price of a Roman penny;--but art thou so severe and chaste, that thou wilt die rather than serve the imperious lust of Julia? or wilt thou never be scorched with the flames of Corinna's beauty? It is nothing to despise a cheap sin and a common temptation; but art thou strong enough to overcome the strongest argument that thy sin hath? Examine thyself here wisely and severely. It is not thy part, saying, 'I will sin no more,' He that hath new dined, can easily resolve to fast at night; but when thou art hungry and invited, and there is rare meat on the table, and thy company stays for thee, and importunes thee, canst thou then go on with thy fasting day? if thou canst, it is as it should be; but let not thy resolution be judged by short sayings, but first by great considerations, and then by proportionable events. If neither the biggest temptation, nor thy trifling hopes, nor thy foolish principles, nor weak propositions, can betray thee, then thou mayest with reason say, that you have no affection so strong as the love of God, no passion so great as thy repentance, no pleasure equal to that of a holy conscience; and then thou mayest reasonably believe that there is in thee 110 affection to gin remaining. But something more is to be added.
6. In the examination of this particular, take no accounts of yourself by the present circumstances, and by your thoughts and resolutions in the days of religion and solemnity; but examine how it is with you in the days of ordinary conversation, and in the circumstances of secular employments. For it is with us in our preparations to the holy communion, as it is with women that sit to have their pictures drawn, they make themselves brave and adorned, and put on circumstances of beauty to represent themselves to their friends and to their posterity with all the advantages of art and dressing. But he that loves his friend's picture, because it is like her, and desires to see in image what he had in daily conversation,--would willingly see her in picture as he sees her every day; and that is most like her, not which resembles her in extraordinary, and by the sophistry of dressing but as she looker! when she went about in the government of her family: so must we look upon ourselves in the dresses of every day in the week, and not take accounts of ourselves as we trick up our souls against a communion-day. For he that puts on fine clothes for one day or two, must not suppose himself to be that prince, which he only personates. We dress ourselves upon a day of religion, and then we cannot endure to think on sin; and if we do, we sigh; and when we sigh, we pray, and suppose that if we might die upon that day, it would be a good day's work, for we could not die in a better time. But let us not deceive ourselves. That is our picture that is like us every day in the week: and if you are as just in your buying and selling as you are, when you are saying your prayers; if you are as chaste in your conversation as you are in your religious retirement; if your temperance be the same every day, as it is in your thoughts, upon a fasting-day; if you wear the same habits of virtue every day in the week, as you put on upon a communion-day, you have more reason to think yourselves prepared, than by all the extempore piety and solemn religion, that rises at the sound of a bell, and keeps her time by the calendar of the church, more than by the laws of God.
This is not so to be understood, as if it were not fit, that, against a solemn time, and against a communion day, our souls should be more adorned, and our lamps better dressed, and our lights snuffed, and our religion more active, and the habits of grace should exercise more acts;--but this is meant only, that though the sets of virtue are not so frequent on ordinary days, yet there must be no act of vice upon them at all, and the habits of grace must be the same, and the inclinations regular, and the disposition ready, and the desires prest; and you shall better know the estate of your soul, by examining how you converse with your merchant, than by considering how cautiously you converse with your priest. He that talks to a prince, will talk as wisely as he can; but if you will know what the man is, inquire after him in his house, and how he is with all his relations. For no man stands upon his guard always, as he does sometimes. If, therefore, upon examining, you would understand what you are, examine yourself, not by your clothes, but by your body,--not by the extraordinaries of a solemn religion, but by the ordinaries of a daily conversation.
These are the best Signs I can tell of; but they are to be made use of with the following Cautions.
1. Although, in trying whether your resolutions are likely to hold, and your affections to sin are gone, you must not rely upon words, but place yourself in the scene and circumstances of your temptation, and try whether you be likely to hold out, when sin comes with all the offers of advantage.--yet be careful that this examination of your own strength against temptation, become not a temptation to you, and this is especially to be attended to in the matter of lust and fear.
For the very imaginations of a lustful object are of themselves a direct temptation; and lie that dresses his fancy with remembrances of this vanity, opens a door to let the sin in. Murenia's little boy, being afraid of the wolf at the door, opened the door to see if he were gone, and let the beast in; and since the fancy is the proper scene of lust, he that brings the temptation there, brings it where it can best prevail. Therefore, in our examination concerning this evil, and whether we be likely to stand in this war, we are to examine ourselves only, whether we are perfectly resolved to fly and not to fight: that is, whether we will secure ourselves by the proper arts of the spirit of prudence; for if any thing can make us come near this devil, we are lost without remedy.
The temptations in the matter of fear are something like it; if you will examine whether you love God so well that you would die for him, inquire as well and wisely as you can, but be not too particular. Satisfy yourself with a general answer, and rest in this, if you find that the apprehension of death is not so great as the apprehension of sin; if you pray against fear, and heap up arguments to confirm your courage and your hope; if you find that you despise those instances of persecution that you meet with;--for the rest, believe in God, who, it may be, will not give strengths before you need them: and, therefore, be satisfied with thus much, that your present strength is sufficient for any present trial; and when a greater comes, God hath promised to give you more strength, when you shall have need of more. But examine yourself by what is likely to fall upon you actually. It may be, you have cause to fear that you shall be made poor for a good conscience, or imprisoned for your duty, or banished for religion; consider if you love God so well that you are likely to suffer that, which is likely to happen to you, but do not dress your examination with rare contingencies and unlikely accidents, and impossible cases. Do not ask yourself whether you would endure the rack for God, or the application of burning basins to the eyes, or the torment of a slow fire, or whether you had rather go to hell than commit a sin; this is too fantastic a trial; and when God, it may he, knowing your weakness, will never put you to it really, do you not tempt yourself by fancy, and an afflictive representment.
Domitian was a cruel man, false and bloody; and to be near him was a perpetual danger, enough to try the constancy of the bravest Roman. But once, that he might be wanton in his cruelty, he invited the chiefest of the Patricii to supper; who, coming in obedience and fear enough, entered into a court all hanged with blacks, and from thence were conducted into dining rooms by the pollinctores, who used to dress the bodies unto funerals: the lights of heaven (we may suppose) were quite shut out by the approaching night and arts of obscurity; when they were in those charnel houses (for so they seemed), every one was placed in order, a black pillar or coffin set by him, and in it a dim taper besmeared with brimstone, that it might burn faint, and blue, and solemn: where when they had stood awhile, like designed sacrifices, or as if the prince were sending them on solemn embassy to his brother, the prince of darkness,--on a sudden entered so many naked blackamoors, or children besmeared with the horrid juice of the sepia, who, having danced a little in fantastic and devils' postures, retired awhile, and then returned serving up a banquet as at solemn funerals, and wine brought to them in urns instead of goblets; with deepest silence, now and then interrupted with fearful groans and shriekings. Here the senators, who possibly could have Struggled with the abstracted thoughts of death, seeing it dressed in all the fearful imagery and ceremonies of the grave,--had no powers of philosophy or Roman courage; but falling into a lipothymy, or deep swooning, made up this pageantry of death, with a representing of it unto the life. This scene of sorrows was overacted; and it was a witty cruelty to kill a wise man, by making him too imaginative and fantastical. It is not good to break a staff by too much trying the strength of it, or to undo a man's soul by a useless and so fantastic a temptation. For he that tries himself further than he hath need of, is like Palaemon's shepherd, who, fearing the foot-bridge was not strong enough,--to try it, loaded it so long, till, by his unequal trial, he broke that, which would have borne a bigger burden than he had to carry over it. Some things will better suffer a long usage, than an unequal trial.
2. When any man hath, by the former measures, examined himself, how his affections do stand to sin and folly,--by whatsoever signs he is usually made confident, let him be sure to make abatements of his confidence, if be have found that lie hath failed already in despite of all his arts, and all his purposes. If we have often fallen back from our resolutions, there is then no sign left for us, but the thing signified; nothing can tell us bow our affections are, but by observing what they do. For he that hath broken his word with me, when it was in his power to keep it, hath destroyed my confidence in him; but if he hath deceived me twice or thrice in the same thing, for shame' and prudence' sake I will venture no more, if I can be disobliged. If we therefore have failed of our promises to God for many times, that we can speak nothing reasonably of our proceedings, nor imagine what thoughts God hath concerning us, but the hardest and the worst;--though we have great reason to rejoice in God's long-suffering and infinite patience, yet, by any signs which can be given, we have no reason to trust ourselves.
For if we shall now examine, we can tell no more than we could do before; we were always deceived in our conjectures and pretences; and it is more likely now, because sin hath so long prevailed; and, by our frequent relapses, we must at least learn this truth,--that our hearts are false, and our promises are not to be trusted. In this case, no testimony is credible but an eye-witness. Therefore, let us leave all artificial examinations, and betake ourselves to the solid and material practices of a religious life. We must do something really, before we can, by inquiring, tell how it is with us. When we have resolved, and, in some measure, performed our resolution; when we have stood the shock of a temptation, and found our heart firm as in a day of religion; when we perceive sin to be weaker, and the kingdom of grace to grow in power; when we feel that all our holy vows are more than words, and that we are not the same easy fools, always giving God good words, but never performing them; but that now we have set foot upon the enemy, and are not infallibly carried away, when our temptation comes,--then we may inquire further, and look after the former signs and indications of spiritual life, and the just measures of preparation. Till then let us not trouble ourselves with the particulars of spiritual arts, and the artificial methods of religion; for things are not so well with us as we suppose.