Chapter II. Of our General Preparation to the Worthy Reception of the Blessed Sacrament,
and the Participation of the Mysteries.
HE that comes to the holy communion, must examine himself concerning his passions; whether that which usually transports him to indecency and shame, to sin and folly, be brought under the dominion of grace, under the command of reason, under the empire of the Spirit. For the passions of the soul are the violences and storms of reason; neither reason nor grace can be heard to speak when they are loud; and in vain it is that you tell a passionate person of the interests of wisdom and religion. We see it in fools, who have no allay of reason; their anger is rage, their jealousy is madness, their desires are ravenous, their loves are troublesome and unseasonable, their hopes are groundless but ever confident, their fears are by chance but always without measure: and a fool, when his belly is full, may as soon be persuaded into temperate discourses, as he that is passionate, to be obedient to God and to the rules of his own felicity.
A great fear and a constant virtue are seldom found in one man; and a coward is virtuous by chance, and so long as he is let alone; but unless the fear of God be greater than the fear of man, it is in the power of his enemy, whether that man shall be happy or wise. And so it is in a great or easy anger; every man and every thing can put a peevish person out of his religion. It cannot in these and all the like cases be well, unless by examining we find that our spirit is more meek, our passion easier overcome, and the paroxysms or fits return less frequently, and the symptoms be less malignant. In this instance we must be quick and severe; and begin betimes to take a course with these vermin and vipers of the soul. Suetonius tells, that when the witty flatterers of Caesar had observed, that no frogs did breed in his grandfather's villa, which was in the suburbs of Rome, they set themselves to invent a reason which should flatter the prince, and boldly told abroad, that when young Octavius was a child, he once in sport forbade them to make a noise, and for ever after they were silent and left their pools; ever since Octavius began to speak, they left off to make their noises and their dwellings there. If we suppress our passions that make inarticulate noises in the soul, if betimes and in their infancy we make them silent, we shall find peace in all our days. But an old passion, an inveterate peevishness, an habitual impotency of lust and vile desires, are like an old lion; he will by no means be made tame, and taught to eat the meat of peace and gentleness.
If thy passion be lasting and violent, thou art in a state of evil: if it be sudden and frequent, transient and volatile, thou wilt often fall into sin; and though every passion be not a sin, yet every excess of passion is a diminution of reason and religion; and when the acts are so frequent that none can number them, what effects they leave behind, and how much they disorder the state of grace, none can tell. Either, therefore, suffer no passion to transport and govern you, or no examination can signify any thing. For no man can say, that a very passionate man is a very good man; or how much he is beloved of God, who plays the fool so frequently; nor how long God will love him, who is at the mercy of his imperious passion, which gives him laws, and can every day change his state from good to bad. It was well said of one, 'If you give the reins to grief, every thing that crosses thee, can produce the biggest grief;' and the causes of passions, are as they are made within. He that checks at every word, and is jealous of every look, and disturbed at every accident, and takes all things by the wrong handle, and reflects upon all disturbances, switches and spurs his passion, and strives to overtake sin, and to be tied unto infelicity; but nothing can secure our religion, but binding our passions in chains, and doubling our guards upon them, lest like mad folks they break their locks and bolts, and do all the mischief, of which they can have instruments and opportunity.
Concerning some sort of passionate persons, it may be truly said, that they are very unfit to communicate;--but that they are fit, it can be confidently said of none.
Here, therefore, let us thus examine ourselves.
Are your desires unreasonable, passionate, impotent, and transporting? If God refuses to give you what you desire, can you lay your head softly down upon the lap of providence, and rest content without it? Do you thankfully receive what he gives,--and, when he gives you not what you covet, can you still confess his goodness, and glorify his will and wisdom, without any amazement, dissatisfaction, or secret murmurs? Can you be at peace within, when your purposes are defeated, and at peace abroad with him that stands in the way between you and your desires? And how is it with you in your anger? Does it last so long, or return so frequently as before? Have you the same malice, or have you the same peevishness? For one long anger, and twenty short ones, have no very great difference, save only, that in short and sudden angers we are surprised, and not so in the other: but it is an intolerable thing always to be surprised, and a thousand times to say, 'I was not aware,' or 'I was mistaken.' But let us without excuses examine ourselves in this matter, for this is the great magazine of virtue or vice; here dwells obedience or licentiousness, a close knot, or an open liberty, little pleasures and great disturbances, loss of time, and breach of vows. But if, that we may come to Christ, we have stopped so many avenues of sin, and fountains of temptation, it may be very well; but, without it, it can never.
2. He that comes to the holy communion, must examine himself whether his lusts be mortified, or whether they be only changed. For, many times, we have seeming peace, when our open enemies are changed into false friends: and we think ourselves holy persons, because we are quit of carnal crimes, and yet, in exchange for them, we are dying with spiritual. It is an easy thing to reprove a murderer, and to chide a foolish drunkard, to make a liar blush, and a thief to run away. But you may be secretly proud, when no man shall dare tell you so; and have a secret envy, and yet keep company with the best and most religious persons. A little examination will serve your turn to know, whether you have committed adultery, or be a swearer; but to know whether your intentions be holy, whether you love the praise of men more than the praise of God, whether religious or secular interest be the dearer, whether there be any hypocrisy or secret malice in your heart,--hath something of more secret consideration. Do not you, sometimes, secretly rejoice in the diminution or disparagement of your brother? Do not you tell his sad and shameful story with some pleasure? Are you not quick in telling it, and willing enough it should be believed? Would you not fain have him less than yourself; not so eminent, not so well esteemed;--and, therefore, do not you love to tell a true story of him, that is not so very much for his commendation?
These things must be examined, not that it can be thought that a man must be without fault when he comes, but that he must cherish none,--he must leave none unexamined, he must discover as much as he can, and crucify all that he can discover. He that hath mortified his carnal appetite, and is proud of his conquest; or prays often, and reproaches him that does not; and gives alms, and secretly undervalues him that cannot; or is of a right opinion, but curses him that is of the wrong; or leaves his ambitious pursuits and vain-glorious purposes, but sits at home and is idle;--is like a man who stands by a fire in a wide and a cold room; he scorches on one side, and freezes on the other; whereas the habits of virtue are like a gr eat mantle, and the man is warm and well all over. But it is an ill cure for the ague to fall into a fever, or to be eased of sore eyes by a diversion of the rheum upon the lungs. And that soul that turns her back upon one sin, and her face to another, is, it may be, weary of the instance, but not of the iniquity; and, rolling upon an uneasy bed of thorns, chooses only to be tormented in another part: but finding the same sense there, because the part is informed by the same spirit, and no difference between the thorn in the side, and the thorn in the hand, perceives herself miserable and encircled with calamity. But when from carnal crimes, which bring shame, a man falls into spiritual crimes, which most men let alone; from those sins which every thing can reprove, to a secret venom and an undiscerned ulcer; a man may come to the communion, and the holy man that ministers, cannot reject him:--but he causes no joy before the angels; and because he does not examine wisely and judge severely, he is discerned by God, and shall be judged, when to be 'judged,' means all one with 'being condemned.'
3. When we examine ourselves in order to receiving of the blessed sacrament, we must be careful, that we do not limit our examination; and confine it to the time since our last receiving. For some persons who think themselves spiritual, usually examine how they have comported themselves since the last communion only, and accordingly make judgment upon themselves. And these men possibly may do well enough, if they be of the number of them, of whom our blessed Saviour affirms, that 'they need no repentance,' that is, no change of life, no inquiry but into the measures of progression: but there are but few who live at that rate; and they that do, it may be, have not that confidence. But to them, and all men else, it were safe advice,--that the inquiry how they have lived since the last communion, should be but one part of their examination.
1. Because they who so limit their inquiries, must needs suppose, that till then all was well, and that then they communicated worthily; and consequently, that all the whole work and economy of salvation was then performed; every one of which supposals hath an uncertain truth, but a very certain danger.
2. They who so limit their examination, suppose, that, at every communion, they begin the world anew: whereas our future life is to be a progression upon the old stock, and judgment is to be made of this that comes after, by that which went before; and, therefore, these limited examinations must needs be of less use and purpose. True it is, that, at every communion, we are to begin a new life; and so we ought every day: that is, we ought to be as zealous, and as penitent, as resolute and affectionate, as if we never had begun before:--we ought so to suspect the imperfection of what is past, that we are to look upon ourselves but as new beginners; that, by apprehending the same necessity, we may have the same passion, the same fervour and holy fires. But, in this matter of examining, we must consider how much hath been pardoned, that we may examine how thankful we have been, and what returns we have made: we must observe all our usual failings, that we may now set our guards accordingly: we must remember in what weak part we are smitten, that we may still pray against it; and we must renew our sad remembrances, that we may continue our sad repentances; and we must look upon our whole life, that we may be truly humbled. He that only examines, how it is with him since the last communion, will think too well of himself, if he spies his bills of accusation to be small: but every man will find cause enough to hide his face in the dust, and to come with fear and trembling, when he views the sum total of his life, which certainly will appear to be full of shame and of dishonour.
3. We are not to limit our examination to the interval since the last communion, because much of our present duty is relative to the first parts of our life. For all the former vows of obedience, though we have broken them a thousand times, yet have still an obliging power; and there are many contingencies of our life which require peculiar usages and treatments of ourselves, and there are many follies which we leave by degrees, and many obligations which are of continual duty. And it may be that our passion did once carry us to so extreme, so intolerable a violence,--perhaps twenty years ago,--that we are still to keep our fears and tremblings about us, lest the same principle produce the same evil event. When Horatius Cocles had won that glorious victory over the three Sabine brothers, and, entering gloriously into Kome, he espied his sister wetting his laurel with her unseasonable tears, for the death of one of them whom she loved with the honour of a wife, and the passion of a lover: and being mad with rage and pride, because her sorrow allayed his joys and glory, he killed her with that sword, by which her servant died. Sometimes passion makes a prodigious excursion, and passes on to the greatest violence, and the most prodigious follies: and though it be usually so restrained by reason and religion, that such transvolutions are not frequent, yet one such act is an eternal testimony how weak we are, and how mischievous a passion can be. It is a miracle of Providence that, in the midst of all the rudenesses and accidents of the world, a man preserves his eyes, which every thing can extinguish and put out: and it is no less a miracle of grace, that, in the midst of so many dishonourable loves, there are no more horrid tragedies: and so many brutish angers do not produce more cruel sudden murders; and that so much envy does not oftener break out into open hostilities. It is indeed a mighty grace, that pares the nails of these wild beasts, and makes them more innocent in their effects, than they are in their nature: but still the principle remains; there is in us the same evil nature, and the same unruly passion: and, therefore, as there ought to be continual guards upon them, so there must be continual inquiries made concerning them; and every thing is to be examined, lest all be lost upon a sudden.
4. We must not limit our examination to the interval to the last communion, because our first repentances must still proceed, and must never be at an end. For no man was so pardoned at the last communion, but that he is still obliged to beg pardon for those sins, he then repented of. He must always repent, and always pray, and never be at peace with the first sins of his youth: and the sorrows of the first day must be the duty of every day; and that examination must come into this account; and when we inquire after our own state, we must not view the little finger, but the whole man. For, in all the forest, the ape is the handsomest beast, so long as he shows nothing but his hand; but when the inquiring and envious beasts looked round about them, they quickly espied a foul deformity.
There are in the state of a man's soul, some good proportions, and some well days, and some fortunate periods; but he that is contented with beholding them alone, cares more to please himself than to please God, and thinks him to be happy whom man, not whom God approves. By this way twenty deceptions and impostures may abuse a man. See, therefore, what you are from head to foot, from the beginning to the end, from the first entry to your last progression: and although it be not necessary that we always actually consider all; yet it will be necessary that we always truly know it all, that our relative duties, and our imperfect actions, and our collateral obligations, and the direct measures of the increase of grace, may be justly discerned and understood.
5. He that examines himself and would make right judgment of his state and of his duty, must not do it by single actions, but by states of life and habits of religion. If we can say truly that neither prosperity nor adversity, neither cross nor crown, employment nor retirement, public offices nor household cares, do disorder us in our duty to God and our relations, that is, if we safely and wisely passed through, or converse in, any one of these states of life,--it is very likely that things are well with us. But the consideration of single actions will do but little. Some acts of charity and many prayers, and the doing one noble action, or being once or twice very bountiful, or the struggling with one danger, and the speaking for God in one contestation; these are excellent things, and good significations of life, but not always of health and strength, not of a state of grace. Now because, in the holy communion, we are growing up to the measures of the fulness of Christ, we can no otherwise be fitted to it, but by the progressions and increase of a man, that is, by habits of grace and states and permanencies of religion; and therefore our examinations must be accordingly.