Chapter VI. Of our Actual and Ornamental Preparation to the Reception of the Blessed Sacrament. Section II. Rules for Examination of our Consciences against the Day of our Communion.
How we are to examine ourselves concerning such states of life and conjugations of duty, as are properly relative to the great and essential preparation and worthiness to communicate, I have already largely considered". Now I shall add such practical advices, which may, with advantage, minister to the actual reception,--such, which concern the immediate preparatory and ornamental address; that we may reduce the former doctrine to action and exercise against that time: and this will serve as an appendix, and for the completing the former measures.
1. In the days of your address, consider the greatness of the work you go about, that it is the highest mystery of the whole religion you handle; that it is no less than Christ himself in sacrament that you take; that as sure as any Christian does ever receive the Spirit of God, so sure every good man receives Christ in the sacrament; that to receive Christ in sacrament, is not a diminution or lessening of the blessing; it is a real communion with him, to all material events of blessing and holiness; that now every communicant does an act, that will contribute very much to a happy or an unhappy eternity; that, by this act and its appendages, a man may live or die for ever; that a man cannot at all be supposed in any state, that this thing will be indifferent to him in that state, but will set him forward to some very great event; that this is the greatest thing that God gives us in this world, and if we do it well, it is the greatest thing we can do in the world; and, therefore, when we have considered these things in general, let us examine whether we be persons in any sense fitted to such glorious communications, and prepared by such dispositions, which the greatness of the mystery may, in its appearance, seem to require. Some may perceive their disproportion at the first sight, and need to examine no further. It is, as if a Jew, in Rome, with his basket and bottle of hay, should be advised to stand candidate for the consulship: you mock him, if you speak of it; and, therefore, if you find your case like this, start back and come not near. It is to qeion, there is divinity in it; and to the wicked it brings brimstone and fire.
2. Next to this general consideration, examine yourself concerning those things, in which you are, or may be, offensive to others; for although every man is to begin at home, yet that which is first to be changed, is that which is not only evil in itself, but afflictive to others; that which is sin and shame, that which offends God and my neighbour too; that is, it is criminal, and it is scandalous. Examine, therefore, thyself about injuriousness, robbery, detraction, obloquy, scolding, much prating, peevish conversation, ungentle nature, aptness to quarrel, and the like. For thus if, like Zachary and Elizabeth, we walk unblamably, and unreprovable before all the world, certain it is, the church will not reject us from the communion; and we have purchased a good degree in the faith, and shall think our condition worth preserving, and worth improving.
3. Examine thyself concerning all intercourses in the matter of men, whether any unhandsome contract was made, any fraudulent bargain, any surprise or out-writing of the weaker, thy confident or unwary brother; and whatever you do, place that right: for money is a snare; and, in contracts, we are, of all things, soonest deceived, and are very often wrong, and yet never think so; and we do every thing before we part with this. But when every thing is set right here, we may better hope of other things; for either they are right, or will, with less difficulty, be made so.
4. Like to this, for the matter of the inquiry, is that we examine ourselves in the matter of our debts, whether we detain them otherwise than in justice we are obliged? Here we must examine, whether we be able .to pay them: if so, whether presently or afterwards: by what we are disabled; whether we can, or ought to, alter the state of our expenses; what probability we have to pay them at all; how we can secure that they shall be paid; and if they cannot, how much can we do towards it: and what amends can we make to our creditors; and how we mean to end that intercourse; for this ought to be so far at least stated, that we may be sure we do no injustice, and do no injury that we can avoid. This is a material consideration, and of great effect unto the peace of conscience, and of a worthy disposition to the holy communion.
5. Let us examine ourselves how we spend our time. Is it employed in an honest calling, in worthy studies, in useful business, in affairs of government, in something that is charitable, in any thing that is useful? But if we throw away great portions of it, of which we can give no sober account, although the laws chastise us not, and appoint no guardians to conduct our estates, as it does to fools and madmen; yet we are like to fall into severer hands; and God will be angry. But they are very unfit to entertain Christ, who, when they have received his sacrament, resolve to dwell in idleness and foolish divertisements, and have no business but recreation. At the best, it is but a suspicious state of life, that can give no wise account to God and the commonwealth.
6. Examine thyself in the particulars of thy relation; especially where thou governest and takest accounts of others, and exactest their faults, and are not so obnoxious to them as they to thee. Princes, and generals, and parents, and husbands, and masters, think more things are lawful to them towards their inferiors, than indeed there are; and as they may easily transgress in discipline and reproof, so they very often fail in making provisions for the souls and bodies of their inferiors, and proceed with more confidence, and to greater progressions in evil, because they pass without animadversion, or the notice of laws. These persons are not often responsible to their subordinates, but always for them; and, therefore, it were good that we took great notice of it ourselves, because few else do.
7. Let us examine ourselves concerning the great and little accidents of our private intercourse and conversation in our family; especially between man and wife in the little quarrellings and accidental unkindnesses, wherein both think themselves innocent, and, it may be, both are to blame. If the matter be disputable, then do thou dispute it with thyself, or rather condemn thyself; for if it be fit to be questioned, it is certainly, in some measure, fit to be repented of. For either in the thing itself, or in the misapprehension of the thing, or in the not expounding it well, or in the not suffering it, or in the not concealing it, or in the not turning it into virtue, or in the not forgiving it, or not conducting it prudently, it is great odds but thou art to blame. These little rencontres between man and wife are great hinderances to prayer, as St. Peter intimates; [1 Pet. iii. 7.] and, by consequence, do infinitely indispose us to the greatest solemnity of prayer, the holy sacrament; and, therefore, ought to be strictly surveyed, and the principles rescinded, and the beginnings stopped, or, else, we shall communicate without fruit.
8. Re sure, against a day of communion, to examine thyself in those things, which no law condemns, but yet are of ill report,--such as are sumptuous and expensive clothing, great feasts,"gaudy dressings, going often to taverns, fantastic following of fashions, inordinate merriments, living beyond our means: in these and the like, we must take our measures by a proportion to the prudence and severity of Christian religion, and by observation of the customs and usages of the best and wisest persons in every condition of men and women. For that we do "things which are of good report," is a precept of the apostle: and as by little illness in the body, so by the smallest indispositions in the soul, if they be proceeded in, we may finish the method of an eternal death. And these things, although when they are argued, may, in many particulars, by witty men, be represented in themselves as innocent,--yet they proceed from an evil and unsafe principle, and not from a spirit fitted to dwell with Christ, and live upon sacraments and secret participations.
9. Let us, with curiosity, examine our souls in such actions, which are condemned by the laws of God and man respectively, but are not defined, and the guilty person cannot, in many cases, be argued and convinced; such as our pride and covetousness. For when external actions can proceed from many principles, as a haughty gait from pride, or an ill habit of body, or imitation, or carelessness, or humour; it will be hard for any man to say, 'I am proud, because I lift up my feet too high;' and who can say that 'a degree of care and thrifriness, in my case and in my circumstances, is covetousness?' Here as we must be gentle to others, so we must be severe to ourselves; and not only condemn the very first entries of an infant-sin, but suspect his approaches, and acknowledge a fault, before it be certain and evident.
In these things, we must the rather examine ourselves; because we can be the most certain accusers of ourselves: and the inquiries are of great concernment, because they are that curiosity of piety and security of condition, which becomes persons of growth in grace, and such as are properly fitted to the Communion. And, indeed, they are, of things, most commonly neglected; men usually live at that rate, that if they be not scandalous, they suppose themselves to be saints, and fitted for the nearest intercourse with Christ.
These instances of examination do suppose, that we have already examined ourselves concerning all habits of sin, and laid aside every discernible weight, and repented of every observed criminal action, and broken every custom of lesser irregularities, and are reformed by the measures of laws and express commandments, and are changed from death to life; and that we are persons so far advanced, that we need not to regard what is behind, but to press forwards towards the state of a perfect man in Christ Jesus. For he that is in that state of things, that he is to examine how many actions of uncleanness, or intemperance, or slander, he hath committed since the last communion, is not fit to come to another; but must change his life, and repent greatly before he comes hither.