« PreviousContinue »
the general rules of preparation. The second inquiry will consider the more particular.
Of the Examination of our Desires. Every one that comes to the holy sacrament, must have earnest affections and desires towards God and religion, and particularly towards these divine mysteries; and, therefore, he must examine accordingly, whether or no he be willing and passionately desirous to do all his duty. His saying that he is so, I do not suppose to be a sufficient satisfaction to a serious inquiry, unless he really feels himself to be so. For we find that all men pretend that they have earnest desires to be saved; and very many, espying the beauties of wisdom, the brightness of chastity, the health of temperance, the peace of meek persons, and the reputation and joy of the charitable - wish that they were such excellent persons. But they consider not, that it is the splendour, not the virtue; the reputation, not the usefulness; the reward, and not the duty,--that they are in love withal. Our desires of holiness are too often like our desires of being cut of the stone, or suffering caustics or cupping-glasses, an unwilling willingness, a hard and a fatal necessity, and, therefore, something of a consequent choice; since it can be no better, it' must be no worse. But this can never make our duty pleasant; we can never be heartily reconciled for the things of God as long as we feel smart and pain in the ministries of religion : we suffer religion, and endure the laws of God; but we love them not. He that comes to God, whether he will or no, confesses the greatness of God and the demonstrations of religion, but sees no amability and comeliness in it; and shall find as little of the reward.
It is true that force and fear may bring us in to God; and “ the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom ;" and Christ said, “Compel them to enter;" and our natural needs, or our superinduced calamities, may force us to run to God, and affright us into religion as into a sanctuary. But then if we enter at this door, we must examine whether we be
taken with the beauties of the interior house : does fear make us look, and does looking make us like? If holy desires and love be not in the beginning or the progression, we shall do the work of grace pitifully, and our preparations coldly, and our attentions distractedly, and receive the sacraments without effect.
Now concerning our desires, we shall best judge of them by the proper effects and significations of desire.
Signs and Indications of the Sincerity and Heartiness of our
Desires. Are his affections warm and earnest, inquisitive and longing, interested and concerned in the things of God? I do not say it is necessary that he find those passions and degrees of fierceness, which passionate persons find in sensual objects : but yet it is very fit that we inquire concerning those degrees and excesses of desire. Not that he is unfit, who finds them not; but that they who have them, can also receive comfort in their inquiry, and become examples to others, and invite them forwards by the argument of amability which they feel.
But our passions and desires are so to be inquired of, that we find no rest in our souls concerning this question, unless we do, indeed, set a high value upon these mysteries; and love to partake of them., and desire them reasonably, and, without very great cause, not to admit the opportunities which the church gives and requires us to use, and to exceed the lowest measure of the law; for he that only communicates when he is commanded, communicates in obedience, but not in love. For though obedience to God is love, yet our ebedience to man is most commonly fear; at least we cannot so well be sure that we are passionate enough, and have love enough to these mysteries, when the law of men, that is, when something without,' is our measure. For ecclesiastical laws have necessity most commonly for their limit; and
· Ut perdunt propriam mortalia corpora vitam,
Si nequeunt escas sumere corporcas ;
Dum verbi æterni pane carent, perennt.
Cum se ipso refugit niens saturare Deo?
that is the least of all holy measures, less than their determination we cannot go and be innocent. But if we will make judgment concerning our love and our desires, we must frequent these holy mysteries by the measures and suggestion of something that is within : if it be love, it will have no measures but itself; and nothing can give it limits but the circumstances of things themselves and the possibilities of our persons and affairs.
2. Besides this coming upon necessity, our desires are very much to be suspected, if compliance and custom or reputation be the ingredients, and prevail above any better motive that can be observed. As force makes hypocrites, so favour and secular advantages make flatterers in religion; and when a prince or ruler, a master of a family, or any one that hath power to oblige, is heartily religious, religion will quickly be in fashion. Those persons which come upon such inducements, are, by our blessed Saviour, signified by the parable of the corn, that fell by the highway; they presently receive it with joy; and it springs quickly if the sun shines : but when persecution comes, they hang the head, and slack their pace, and appear seldom, and show that they had no depth of root. These men serve God, when religion is rich and prosperous ; they come to Christ for the loaves, but care but little for the mystery. As long as the religion stays at this port, it is good for nothing; and the very entry itself is suspicious. Fear is better than this; but if it pass on to create an effective and material love, it will be well at last.
3. They that are easily diverted from communicating, and apt to be excused from the solemnity,—these men have just cause to suspect their desires to be too cold to kindle the fires upon this altar, and to consume this sacrifice; they have not love, and come against their will. Some men are hindered by every thing; if a stranger come to the house, if they be indisposed with a little headach, if they have an affair of the world, — if a neighbour be angry with them, if a merry meeting be appointed the day before ;—this is a suspicious indifferency and lukewarmness. They that are not desirous to use all opportunities and to take all advantages, and long for all the benefits,- want very much of that • hunger and thirst after the righteousness' of God, which is
fulfilled in those mysteries, and to which Christ hath promised such ample satisfaction. I do not say, that every man is bound to communicate every time that he can have it,-and that it is lukewarmness not to desire it so often as it is in our power;— but he that refuses it, when it is in his opportunity, when his circumstances are fitted, when, by the measures of piety and religion, it is decent and useful to him to do it (of which I shall afterwards give an account),—that man is guilty of a criminal indifference; and when he does come, may fear that he hath not spiritual hunger enough for so divine a banquet.
4. They that, in their preparation, take the least measures that are practised or allowed, and rest there and increase not,- have neither value for the sacrament, nor desires of the blessing, nor expectations of any fruit; and, therefore, cannot have this holy appetite in due proportion, because they see no sufficient moving cause, and they look for little, and find less, and, therefore, can never be true desirers.For he that thinks there is no great matter in it, will have no great stomach for it; and he that will do no great matter for it, certainly expects no great excellency in it; and such are all they that take the least measures of preparation; who, therefore, shall find the least measures of blessing, and, in spiritual things, that which is called positively the least, is just none at all; he that 'shall be called least in the kingdom,' shall be quite shut out. This is an indifferency, both in the cause and in the effect: they feel no great blessings consequent to their reception; and, therefore, their affections are cold : and because they are so, they shall for ever be without the blessing.
5. They only can be confident, that their desires are right, who feel sharpnesses and zeal in their acts of love. For, in spiritual things, every abatement is by the mixture of the contrary, and, therefore, when things are indifferent, we cannot tell which shall be accepted or accounted of. And when there is as much evil as good, the evil is only abated, but the good destroyed, and is not accepted; and, therefore, till the victory be clear and evident, we cannot have much comfort; but the strong desire is only certain and comfortable to the spirit. Great desires are a great pain : and the spouse, in the Canticles, complains that she is sick of love,
and then calls upon Christ to comfort her with flagons' of wine. Less desires than the greatest, if they be real and effective of the work, are fit for such persons as are not the greatest in religion. But in all spiritual progressions we are sure that our desires shall never cease growing, till they be full of God, and are swelled up to immensity; and till they come to some greatness, that they are like hunger and thirst, or like the breasts of a fruitful nurse, full and in pain till they be eased, we cannot be so confident that things are well with us in this particular. Are we in trouble, till we converse with our Lord in all the ways of spiritual intercourse? Do we rejoice, when a communion-day comes? And is our joy fixed upon consideration of that holy necessity of doing good works at that time especially, and receiving the aids of grace, and the helps of the sacrament liberally. When it is thus, it
that we can be sure of: all measures of desire which are so little, that we can compare them to no natural similitude of earnestness and appetite, we can only say that they are yet very uncomfortable; and if we come often and pray that we may have lively relish and appetite to the mysteries, it may be well in time; but as yet we cannot be sure that it
There is only in this case one help to our examination and our confidence:-- he that comes because God commands him, in a direct and certain obedience to the words of Christ, or in a deep sorrow for his sins, coming either in hopes of remedy, or in a great apprehension of his infirmity, addressing himself either for support and strength; this man, although he feels no sensual punctures and natural sharpnesses of desire, yet he comes well, and upon a right principle. For St. Austin, reckoning what predisposition is necessary by way of preparation to the holy sacrament, reckons “ hunget and the sense of our sins and our infirmities;" but if he wants the pleasure of these passionate indications, he must be careful that he be sure in the intellectual and religious choice; for that is the thing which is intended to be signified by all the exterior passions. But when he hath no sign, he must be the more careful he have the thing signified, and then all is right again.
But happy is that soul, which comes to these springs of salvation, as the hart to the water-brooks, panting and