Brethren, beloved in Christ,
THE title has informed you, that my design is to address you on the subject of frequent Communion in the Holy Eucharist, or Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, commonly called, The Lord's-Supper. The subject is an important one, and claims your serious attention: And the great neglect of the duty requires plainness of speech, and freedom of admonition on my part. I have, therefore, to request, that you will carefully read and consider what is here addressed to you: and bear patiently that plain dealing which proceeds only from a desire to stir you up to the practice of a duty which I suppose an indispensable one, and in the neglect of which you live in a constant state of sin against your God.
"Sin" said the apostle, "is the transgression of the law." The will of God, when made known to us, is His law to us, and binds us in all cases whatsoever. Nothing is sinful any further than it is contrary to God's will; and everything is sinful in the same degree that it is contrary to His will: For to contradict the will of God constitutes the nature and essence of sin.
The will of God is made known to us by Revelation, and is declared in the Holy Bible, which is intended by God to be the standard of our faith and practice, that we may know at all times what He requires us to believe and do.
Some of God's commands are prohibitory, i. e. they forbid us to do certain things because they are contrary to His will: And they are contrary to His will, because, as far as we can judge, they are destructive of our own happiness, and of the happiness of others. Other commands are positive, requiring us to do certain things in obedience to God. In many instances we can perceive that what God commands is conducive to our welfare, and to the welfare of others, and reason will teach us to believe, all God's commands proceed from the same benevolent principle,--a desire of doing us good--though our blindness may not perceive it.
However, The essence of all sin consisting in acting contrary to the will of God, there must be the same sin and danger in neglecting to do what God commands, as in doing what He forbids. In either case we transgress the will or law of God, and commit sin: And, whether it be by wilfully doing what God has forbidden, or wilfully omitting what He has commanded, we equally transgress His law, and are equally guilty in His sight.
That Christ declared the will of God, and that whatever He commanded is the command or law of God, must be owned by all who acknowledge His Divinity--indeed by all who acknowledge He acted by divine authority. Now, He gave no command more positive than the one relating to the Holy Ordinance of which I am treating. The institution is as solemn as it possibly can be, and was made at the commencement of the most solemn period of His ministry on earth. The injunction on His Apostles to do as He had done, and thereby keep up the memorial He appointed, is as absolute as any command that ever was given.
From the account the Holy Evangelists have left us, the universal and perpetual obligation of this command is very apparent. It is true, it does not appear there were any persons present at the institution, besides the Apostles, but this will furnish no argument against the universal obligation all Christians are under to comply with it. They are all as much interested in it as the Apostles were. Christ died equally for us, and for all Christians, as He did for the Apostles. We, therefore, and all Christians are as much obliged to regard the institution as the Apostles were. Nothing in the institution peculiarly related to them, except the power of administration. By the command, "Do this in remembrance of Me;" they were empowered and obliged to administer the Holy Ordinance: And consequently Christians were obliged to receive it; for unless they did receive it, the Apostles could not administer it.
That the Apostles were, by our Saviour's command, obliged to this administration, appears from the institution compared with the command. For the command, "This do in remembrance of Me," relates not barely to eating bread & drinking wine in remembrance of Christ, as the Socinians teach, and some ill-informed Christians suppose, but to the whole transaction. By it the Apostles were enjoined, when they administered the Holy Communion, to do as Christ then did--take bread and break it, and offer it up to God, by thanksgiving and prayer, consecrating it to be His mystical Body --the memorial or representative of that Body which Christ in the institution willingly offered up and devoted to God, a sacrifice and propitiation for the sin of the world; and which, in consequence of His offering, was soon after slain upon the cross for our redemption--the Body of Christ in virtue and efficacy. They were then to distribute it to the Christians who attended the Holy solemnity, as Christ distributed it to them. Likewise they were to take the cup, and offer it up to God, by prayer, thanksgiving, and blessing, consecrating it to be the sacramental Blood of Christ--the representative, or memorial of His Blood which Christ devoted to God to be shed for sin--the Blood of Christ in virtue and efficacy to all worthy receivers. They were then to give it to all the Christians present to drink of it in remembrance, or for a memorial of Christ. So that all they who received the sacramental Body and Blood--i. e. the bread and wine thus blessed and consecrated by Christ's authorized minister--with true penitence and faith, might, at the same time, receive, in a spiritual and mysterious manner, the life-giving Body and Blood of Christ, i. e. all the benefits of His passion, death, and resurrection.
This memorial, I say, the Apostles were obliged to make in obedience to their Lord's command. And the Christians of their time were of course obliged to communicate with them, or their Lord's command could not be fulfilled.
As it appears that the very institution of the Holy Eucharist laid an obligation upon the Apostles to administer, and upon all Christians of their time to communicate with them in the celebration of it; so a little reflection will convince us, that the same obligation lay upon their successors, the Bishops of the Christian Church, and upon all duly authorized by them, and upon all Christians of every period, from their days to ours, to make the same holy memorial of His blessed Body and Blood which Christ commanded. The command of Christ, " This do in remembrance of Me," has no limit of time annexed to it. It must therefore continue in force till He who gave shall repeal it. We are as much interested in the sacrifice of Christ's death, and therefore as much obliged to commemorate it as the first Christians were. We need the benefits of His redemption as much as they did. It must, therefore, be as much our duty to commemorate His sacrifice for sin, in the way He appointed, as it was theirs--that receiving His blessed Body and Blood in the Holy Communion, we may be made partakers of all the benefits of His death. Was there any doubt of this matter the authority of St. Paul would fully remove it.--" As oft as ye eat this Bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till He come."--Ye do represent, set forth, exhibit the Lord's death till He come at the end of the world to judge the quick and the dead--according to His most true promise to His Apostles--"If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself."
In this sense the early Christians understood their Lord's command. And so strong a sense had they of their duty to commemorate their Redeemer's love in dying for them, that they never assembled for divine worship but the Holy Eucharist made a principal part of the solemnity: Nor was it till the love of Christians abated, and their faith declined, that the memorial of Christ's death came to be celebrated only on particular occasions.
Consider these things, and let your own consciences determine, whether your neglect of the Holy Communion can be justified on any principles of Christianity or reason? Whenever you compare your conduct with Christ's command, sure I am, your own hearts must condemn you: Remember then, "God is greater than your heart, and knoweth all things." It is not so much with me, as with your God, you have this matter to settle; and did you attend to it, you would make no more excuses, but immediately prepare yourselves to become worthy guests at God's Table.
It is to be feared there are some who never think enough of the subject to make excuses about it. To these I have nothing to say at present. Till they come to a better mind, they will give no attention, and till they do, no reason or persuasion can take any hold of them. I flatter myself there are few, I hope none, among you in so hopeless a condition. Most people intend to consider the subject of religion some time or other, and to make up for all deficiencies by their after diligence. The misfortune is, this some time or other is long in coming; and there is danger lest it never come at all. Negligence, and indisposition to reflection, and attachment to the world, and the lust of sensual pleasure, by continuance, grow stronger, and death closes the scene, before any resolutions of the future amendment are carried into effect.
The great excuse for not coming to the Communion, and to which all others, where there is any hope of doing good, may be referred, is that of unworthiness. And it is probable, a sense of their deficiencies, and a strong apprehension of the sin of unworthy receiving, keep more well disposed people from the Communion than any other reason. Let such well disposed people consider the danger of disobeying God, as well as the danger of unworthy receiving. By refusing to communicate, they sin against God's positive law; but by communicating, it is not certain they would incur the guilt of unworthy receiving--for with some tender consciences, there is more of apprehension than reality in the case. And why should any one keep himself in such a state as that he must sin against God, either by disobeying His positive law, or by unworthy attendance upon His ordinance? Why does he not rather repent of his unworthiness, and amend his life? God is ready to bless his efforts if they be sincere, and to accept his penitence.
It is to be regretted that the word damnation is used by our Translators in rendering a passage of St. Paul to the Corinthians--for that seems to be the occasion of the great terror of unworthy receiving. The literal meaning of the word is judgment, and it is so rendered in the margin of our Bible; and had it been in the text--"He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself," it would have prevented much uneasiness to many pious people. That St. Paul used the word here to express temporal judgments and not eternal damnation appears from the next verse--"For this cause"--on account of this unworthy receiving--"many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep"--are dead. He then observes, that the way to avoid these judgments was, to judge ourselves and amend our lives, and then "we should not be judged"--the judgments of God, sickness and premature death, would not be inflicted on us. But he says not a word of giving up the thoughts of receiving the Communion, lest by their unworthiness they should bring God's judgments on them. The obligation to communicate he supposed still remained, and exhorts them to repentance and amendment, that they might communicate worthily. He makes another observation, viz. That those judgments were the chastisements of the Lord, sent to reclaim them, and bring them to repentance and a better mind, that they might "not be condemned with the world."
It is, however, certain, there was some great unworthiness among the Corinthians which St. Paul condemned, and on account of which God's judgments were inflicted on them: And he seems to have pretty clearly pointed it out.
The first converts to Christianity being Jews, and having a strong attachment to their own religious customs, they carried some of them into the Christian Church. On many occasions it was their custom, and their law required it, to have a feast upon the sacrifice, and all who ate of it were supposed to have an interest in its efficacy. Their annual Passover particularly was a feast of this kind--And as our Saviour had instituted the Holy Communion at the conclusion of this feast, consecrating the paschal bread and the cup of blessing as it was called, to be the memorials of His Body and Blood, the Apostles and first Christians carried the custom into the Christian Church of accompanying the Christian sacrifice of bread and wine with a feast. This feast was called, The Feast of Love: To it the rich and the poor brought their provisions, and ate them together at a common table, in token of their mutual goodwill and affection, of their fellowship, and unity in Christ's religion, and of their belief that the benefits of Christ's death were not restrained by any consideration of bond or free, high or low, rich or poor.
However well calculated these love-feasts which accompanied the Lord's-Supper were, to promote and secure Christian charity and unity, at Corinth they were perverted. The rich despised the poor--the powerful those beneath them. They waited not till the brethren were come together, but they who came first ate their own supper by themselves. The rich, who could provide plenty of delicate food, ate and drank to excess; while the poor, who could bring little or nothing, not being permitted to partake with the rich, went away hungry from a feast of charity.--At such disorderly feasts the Holy Supper was celebrated among them.
This is the conduct which St. Paul so frequently censures, as anyone may satisfy himself by reading carefully his discourse upon the subject He affirms, that such disorderly celebration of. the Communion was not to eat the Lord's Supper but to prophane it; and directs them who were hungry to eat at home, and not make the Church a scene of disorder and riot by their excess, nor their love-feasts an occasion of pride and insolence, by despising and putting to shame the poor, unprovided members of the congregation, whose hunger ought, at least at their love-feasts, to be relieved by the rich. To convince them of the impropriety of their conduct, and reclaim them to a decent and worthy behaviour, he then sets before them the solemn institution of the Holy Ordinance, as he had received it by revelation, from Christ Himself. And the force of the Apostle's argument seems to be--that Christ distributed the sacramental elements equally to all the Apostles, in token that He devoted Himself to death equally for them all, and directed them to eat of it at one table in remembrance of, and as a memorial before God, of his love to them all, and in token of their mutual love and union. For the Corinthians, therefore, to exclude the poor for whom Christ equally died, to whom the sacred symbols of His Body and Blood were equally distributed, from a due share in their feast of love, without supplying their hunger with necessary bread--was so far from worthily eating the Lord's Supper, that it was not even to discern the Lord's Body, i. e. It put no difference, made no distinction, between the Lord's Supper, & a common meal--at least did not sanctify the Lord's Body--treat it as a holy, but common thing.--This was the unworthiness which the Apostle censured in the Corinthians, and this, the not discerning the Lord's Body, which, he says caused the judgments of God, sickness and death, to come upon them.
I have been the more particular in this matter to convince you, that in the Church to which we belong, all opportunity of incurring that unworthiness which the Apostle censured in the Corinthians is precluded.
It may, I know, be said, and said justly, that tho' all opportunity of incurring that unworthiness which St. Paul condemned in the Corinthians be cut off, by the abolition of the love-feasts, yet there may be people in such a state as makes them really unworthy to partake in the Holy Communion. I readily own too, that a person who approaches the Holy Table without due reverence and devotion, without considering the dignity of the Holy Mystery, and the difference between receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord, and eating and drinking common bread and wine, does not receive the Lord's Body, is guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ, and is in danger of bringing God's judgments upon him by his unworthy receiving. But I repeat it; there is no reason why he should continue in this evil state but what comes from himself. Let him judge himself by the rule of God's commandments, and see wherein he has done amiss. Let him compare his sentiments of the Holy Communion with our Saviour's institution, and with the doctrines of the Catholic Church, and correct his unworthy notions. Let him be instant in prayer to God for the gift of His grace and Holy Spirit. Let him deny his evil propensities, and mortify his vicious appetites; and in this way prepare himself to do honour to God by obeying His command.
But to treat of this subject of general unworthiness a little more particularly. The qualifications requisite to make a worthy Communicant, and to make an adult a worthy subject of Baptism, as far as I can see are the same. They who have kept their Baptism undefiled are undoubtedly always fit to approach the Christian Altar--More knowledge may be requisite to the Communion than to Baptism; In other respects the qualifications are the same.
That habits, and gross acts of sin, render a person unworthy to communicate, there can be no doubt. There is as little doubt, that the same state renders him unfit to pray, or do any act of religion, acceptably to' God. I will go further, and say, that it would be a profanation of the Holy Communion for him, while in this state, to come to it.--And it would be so far from doing him good, that it would do him hurt, by hardening the heart in impenitency. And is not this as true of prayer as of the Holy Communion? Is it not a profanation of God's name to pray to Him, while we wilfully live in the habits, or practice of known sin, without any design or desire of becoming better? In this state every prayer is an act of hypocrisy, and hardens the heart against the impressions of God's Spirit. Therefore it is, that "the sacrifice of the wicked," and the "prayer" of him that turneth away his ear from hearing the law"--that refuseth to obey the commandments of God--"are an abomination to the Lord."
But should such a person have any desire to become better--any wish to get rid of the slavery and guilt of sin;--as such a desire and wish must come from God, so the only effectual means of bringing them to good effect is, constant and earnest prayer to God for the support of His Holy Spirit, carefully to do his duty according to his best knowledge and ability, and steadily to avoid all occasions of sin. In this way his good desires would be encouraged, his resolutions of amendment strengthened, his love of God increased, habits of virtue and holiness formed and confirmed--while those of sin and vice would decline and die away. His prayers would no longer be an abomination, but highly acceptable to God. And he would then too become a worthy guest at the Lord's Table, where receiving the outward elements with true penitence and faith, he would also receive the precious Body and Blood of Christ, " to his great and endless comfort." For the Holy Communion is, at least, as great an instrument of holy living as prayer, and the efficacy of both, on our part, rests on the same circumstances--penitence and faith: The former denoting our conversion or departure from sin, the latter our reliance upon God, and trust in His mercy and goodness. Should I go further, and say that prayers offered up at the Altar have more efficacy with God than other prayers have, it would be saying no more than the Catholic Church has always said and taught.
But though sinful habits, and single acts of gross sin, render us unworthy to approach God's Table, till repentance reconcile us to Him, yet sins, as they are called, of infirmity, ignorance, surprise, are not attended with that malignity. Our present state subjects us to them. They proceed from that lust of the flesh, or original corruption of nature, which, according to the gth Article of our Church, remains even in the regenerate. And though they have in them the nature of sin, being contrary to the holiness and purity of God, yet by the merciful terms of the Christian covenant, they shall not finally condemn us, provided we do not willingly live in them, but watch and strive against them, humble ourselves before God under the sense of them, pray earnestly to Him to be delivered from their power by the might of His Spirit, and trust to His mercy through the Redeemer that He will not impute them to us.
To people who have a lively sense of their imperfections and failings of this kind--who conscientiously refrain from the Holy Communion, because they fear they are not good enough to come to it, and who do not make the excuse merely for excuse sake, without any intention of ever complying with their duty of frequenting the Holy Table, I would propose the following considerations.
i. That if they stay till they are worthy, in the sense in which they seem to understand it, before they will venture to partake of the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood, they will never partake of it at all, but will live all their life, and die at last in the neglect of Christ's command. For however they may wish it, they never will be free from the unworthiness of coming short. of their duty, from mere weakness of nature. Every created being must be imperfect in this sense. And did those lapses which proceed from infirmity and imperfection render us unworthy to partake in the Christian Sacrifice, no mortal could approach the Altar without sin. Upon this supposition, Apostles and Martyrs, and the best Christians that ever lived, have offended in commemorating their Saviour, and have sinned even by obeying Him. They were all men of like passions with us, and felt the weaknesses of nature as we feel them.--Conscious of their extreme inability to do any good thing without some degree of alloy or mixture of sin, they most humbly acknowledged their unworthiness to perform any of those services which God required of them; but their sense of duty, and fear of disobeying God, made them cheerfully do whatever His law required of them, knowing that God accepteth of what a man hath, and requireth not that which he is unable to give.-- The Angels themselves, high and holy as they are in their nature, seem to have some deficiencies of this kind, for God, saith Job, charged even them with folly.
2. That the Holy Communion is not only a commemoration of Christ's death, but a memorial or representation of His sufferings and death made before the Almighty Father, to put Him in mind of the meritorious sacrifice of His blessed Son on our behalf.
Christ's offering Himself up to death, and yielding His life for us upon the cross is certainly the most astonishing event that ever happened. And when we consider the benefits thereby procured for us--the pardon of past sin upon our repentance--the gift of the Holy Spirit--and the assurance of a heavenly inheritance to all who believe in and obey Him--we must feel that His sacrifice deserves our grateful remembrance above all other events. But to suppose that the whole duty and benefit of the Holy Eucharist rests here is a mistake. As we are to commemorate and confess Christ before men, and gratefully to acknowledge the wonderful works of love and mercy He has done for us; so we are to make a commemoration or memorial of His precious death and sacrifice before the Almighty Father, and plead before Him the merits of His dearly beloved Son dying for the sin of the world: Not that God will forget, unless we refresh His memory; but because, in so doing, we use the means that Christ has appointed to convey to us the benefits of that sacrifice which He offered for sin. To refuse, or neglect the Holy Ordinance of the Eucharist looks as though we had no grateful sense of Christ's love in dying for us; or that we did not fully trust to His merits for pardon of our sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life in the kingdom of God.
3. That the Holy Eucharist is a covenanting rite, and by it we keep up communion with God.
By Baptism we enter into covenant with God: Being born of Water and of the Spirit we are born into Christ's Church, and become members of His Body. By the Holy Eucharist the new life begun in Baptism is nourished, and fed, and strengthened. This undoubtedly is the case with those happy persons who keep their Baptism undefiled. But a broken covenant is of no force: And when it is our unhappiness to break our baptismal covenant, and forfeit our right to God's promises, by our sins and misdoings--how gracious is God, to permit us, upon our repentance, again to renew it at His Holy Table! again to repeat our vows of obedience, and regain our title to His heavenly promises! It has ever been the doctrine of the Catholic Church, that as when we worthily receive Baptism, we obtain through Christ remission of all past sins," so when we worthily communicate at God's Altar we obtain remission of all the sins committed since Baptism. And that it is so, fully appears from the Holy Eucharist's being an act of communion with God. For when God's Priest offers up the elements of bread and wine upon the Holy Altar, they are thereby made God's property; and being blessed and sanctified by prayer and thanksgiving, they become, through the operation of the Holy Ghost, the Body and Blood of Christ in power and effect. They are then returned by the hand of God's minister, and distributed among the Communicants as a feast upon the sacrifice: And all who partake of them with true faith and repentance are fed with God's food, and eat at God's Table; and are thereby assured of His favour and goodness towards them; and consequently must obtain remission of all past sin, otherwise they could not be in favour with God. Accordingly, when our Saviour gave the first intimation of this Holy institution, He expressed Himself in terms that imply not only remission of sins, but all other benefits of His passion, "Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. Behold the Christian's privilege! and consider what injury ye do to God, what injustice to yourselves, by your wilful neglect of the heavenly feast.
4. That the Holy Eucharist is one of the instituted means of grace and holy living--the appointed instrument of conveying the Holy Spirit to us. That this is the doctrine of the Church appears from her Catechism and Office of Communion. In answer to the question, "What are the benefits whereof we are partakers thereby?"--by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist--she answers, "The strengthening and refreshing of our souls by the Body and Blood of Christ, as our bodies are by the bread and wine." And in one of the exhortations to the Communion she speaks of Christ's being given, "not only to die for us, but also to be our spiritual food and sustenance in that Holy Sacrament."
If then you seriously wish to become better Christians and more worthy to communicate with God at His Holy Altar, the most effectual method is, to prepare yourselves for the solemn office by careful examination of your past lives --by settled resolutions to forsake your sins and live better for the time to come--by mortifying your unruly appetites and passions by fasting and self-denial--by earnest prayer to God that He would give you true repentance, and His Holy Spirit, to enable you to bring your good resolutions to a happy issue--and then to go to the Holy Altar--humbly and firmly trusting that God will accept you and bless you, and seal to you the remission of your sins--that He will impart to you the inestimable blessing of His Holy Spirit, and make you partakers of all the benefits of Christ's redemption.
To me it is, and to all good Christians it must be, an afflicting circumstance, in congregations who seem to have a serious sense of religion, and of their duty to frequent the worship of God, and who apparently join with devotion in the common service of the Church, to see so few who act as though they really believed the religion they profess. For when people turn from the highest act of Christian worship, and refuse to commemorate the love of their Saviour in dying for them by communicating at the Holy Table in the unity of His Church, How is it to be known that they are Christians, beyond the mere profession?
Most of you, I trust, would undergo great uneasiness should your children, through your fault, die without Baptism. But to receive Baptism is not a more express command of Christ than to receive the Holy Communion; and why there should be more solicitude about the one than the other, I cannot conceive.-- It is just as necessary that the new life we receive in Baptism should be continued, as that it should be begun. Now all life must be continued by the use of such food as is proper to it--the natural life by natural food--the spiritual life by that which is spiritual. God has provided and ordained the food of this world for the support of our natural life; and He has provided and ordained food in His Church for the support of our spiritual life. If we refuse this food held out to us in the Holy Communion, we deprive ourselves of our spiritual sustenance, and leave the soul to famish, just as the body would famish without the nourishment of bodily food. To complain, therefore, of your weakness and unworthiness, while you neglect the means God has appointed to increase your spiritual strength, and all holy and Christian tempers and graces, is as unfair and uncandid, as for a man to complain of a weak and sickly habit of body, while he wilfully refuses the food that is necessary to his bodily health.
What account can you give to God for the abuse or neglect of the means of grace and holy living which He has appointed and required you to use? You must not plead weakness, for you refuse tq be strengthened--nor unworthiness, for you reject the most powerful means of becoming better. In any thing but religion, the absurdity of such a conduct would not escape your censure. And why it should not be condemned in religious matters as much as in any other, I see not. Religion is of more importance to you than any worldly business can be, and ought more sensibly to affect you.
The sick man, who complains of his aches and pains, and who laments his misfortune in being obliged to bear such a load of misery and disease as must shortly put a period to his life, and yet obstinately refuses all the remedies which can alleviate his distress and restore him to health, because they are bitter, or not exactly suited to his taste, becomes the object of our compassion--we pity his unreasonable and foolish conduct. Is then his conduct more reasonable, who complains of his spiritual maladies, confesses " there is no health in him," laments his unworthiness and weakness, and bemoans his deficiencies in Christian virtue, and yet refuses the means God has directed to cure the diseases of the soul, to strengthen the weakness of nature, and make him partaker of the worthiness of His own beloved Son, because the process is disagreeable to his sensual nature?
Could you flatter yourselves with the opinion that you are as good as you need be--as good and pious, and holy as God requires you to be --it would be unreasonable in me to wish any alteration in your conduct. But when I compare your behaviour in respect to the Holy Communion with Christ's positive command, " This do in remembrance of Me," and see you live in the open violation of it, I cannot but be anxious for you--and anxious for myself too, lest my remissness should encourage you in a conduct so irreconcilable with the Word of God, and the directions of His Church. And as nothing but a regard to my duty, and an earnest desire to do you good in your most essential interest, could have drawn these free expostulations from me; so I beg you will receive this address as the effort of a heart disposed to do you every service--that wishes to lead you to the embraces of the God of love, to the arms of the blessed Redeemer, and to the consolations of the Holy Spirit of peace.
If what I have said be agreeable to the truth and nature of our Holy religion, your own good sense will enable you to see how indispensably necessary your attendance at the Holy Altar is, to keep up your union with Christ, and through Him with the Father. For how can you be living members of Christ's Body, without partaking of that nourishment by which the whole Body is fed and kept alive? And you will at the same time see the necessity of your communicating frequently--even as frequently as God shall bless you with the opportunity. The cravings of natural hunger make you impatient till it is appeased with food; and the health of the body requires that this food be supplied several times in a day. Faith is the hunger-- the earnest desire of the soul. They who are blessed with it will hunger and thirst after righteousness, i. e. obedience to God. They need no exhortation: For they will bless God for, and gladly embrace, every opportunity of testifying their ready obedience to a command from which they receive such large supplies of grace and consolation.
The Church of England requires that all her members "shall communicate at the least three times in the year, of which Easter to be one." This regulation evidently proceeded from necessity, and was occasioned by the backwardness of the people to communicate frequently. For in Cathedral and Collegiate Churches all the Clergy are directed to communicate every Sunday at the least, except they have a reasonable cause to the contrary. And in the Communion-office she directs the Proper Prefaces to be used for several days together--upon Christmas-day, and seven days after--upon Easter-day, and seven days after--upon Ascension-day, and seven days after--and upon Whitsunday, and six days after. It is evident it was her intention that the Communion should be administered on all these days, and I believe it is done in all the Cathedral and Collegiate Churches.
The general practice in this country is to have monthly Communions, and I bless God the Holy Ordinance is so often administered. Yet when I consider its importance, both on account of the positive command of Christ, and of the many and great benefits we receive from it, I cannot but regret that it does not make a part of every Sunday's solemnity. That it was the principal part of the daily worship of the primitive Christians, all the early accounts inform us. And it seems probable from the Acts of the Apostles, that the Christians came together in their religious meetings chiefly for its celebration. And the antient writers generally interpret the petition in our Lord's prayer, "Give us this day," or day by day, "our daily bread," of the spiritual food in the Holy Eucharist. Why daily nourishment should not be as necessary to our souls as to our bodies, no good reason can be given.
If the Holy Communion was steadily administered whenever there is an Epistle and Gospel appointed, which seems to have been the original intention--or was it on every Sunday--I cannot help thinking that it would revive the esteem and reverence Christians once had for it, and would shew its good effects in their lives and conversations. I hope the time will come when this pious and Christian practice may be renewed. And whenever it shall please God to inspire the hearts of the Communicants of any congregation with a wish to have it renewed, I flatter myself, they will find a ready disposition in their minister to forward their pious desire.
In the mean time, let me beseech you to make good use of the opportunities you have; and let nothing but real necessity keep you from the heavenly banquet when you have it in your power to partake of it.
May the consideration of this subject have its proper effect upon every one of you! And the God of peace be with you--" make you perfect in every good work to do His will"-- keep you in the unity of His Church, and in the bond of peace, and in all righteousness of life--guide you by His Spirit through this world, and receive you to glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
All glory to God.