Page images

case, which certainly he knows better than any man else;and that our degree of hope and confidence of being saved, when it is not presumption, but is prudent and reasonable, does increase in proportion to our having well used and improved God's grace, and enlarges itself by our proportions of mortification and spiritual life; and every man that is wise and prudent, abides in fears and uncertain thoughts, till he hath gotten a certain victory over all his sins; and though he dies in hope, yet not without trembling, till he finds that he is more than conqueror; therefore, in proportion to this address to death, must also be our address to the holy sacrament. For no man is fit to die, but he that can be united unto Christ; and he only that can be so, must be admitted to a participation of his body and his blood. It is the same case, in both we dwell with Christ; and the two states differ but in degrees; it is but a passing from altar to altar, from that where the minister of the church officiates, to that where the head of the church does intercede.

[ocr errors]

There is this only difference; there may be some proportions of haste to the sacrament, more than unto death, upon this account, because the reception of the sacrament, in worthy dispositions, does increase those excellencies, in which death ought to find us; and, therefore, we may desire to communicate, because we perceive a want of grace; and yet, for the same reason, we may at the same time be afraid to die, because after that we can receive no more; but, as that finds us, we shall abide for ever. But he that fears justly, may yet, in many cases, die safely; and he shall find, that his fears, when he was alive, were useful to the caution, and zeal, and hastiness of repentance; but were no certain indication, that God was not reconciled unto him. The best and severest persons do, in the greatest parts of their spiritual life, complain of their imperfect state; and feel the load of their sins, and apprehend with trembling the sad consequents of their sins, and every day contend against them; and forget all that is past of good actions done, and press forwards still to more grace, and are as hungry as if they had none at all. And those men, if they die, go to Christ, and shall reign with him for ever; and yet many of them go with a trembling heart, and though, considering the infinite obliquity of them, they cannot overvalue their sins; yet considering the

[ocr errors]

infinité goodness of God, and his readiness to accept it, they undervalue their repentance, and are safe in their humility, and in God's goodness, when, in many other regards, they think themselves very unsafe. Now, such men as these must not be as much afraid to communicate, as they are afraid to die but these, and all men else, must not communicate till they be in that condition, that if they did die, it would go well with them and the reason is plain; because every friend of God, dying so, is certainly saved; and he that is no friend of God, is unworthy to partake of the table of the Lord.


But, for the reducing the answer of this question to practice, and to particular considerations: I am to advise these things.

1. Because no man of an ordinary life, and a newly begun repentance, ought hastily to pronounce himself acquitted, and in the state of grace, and in the state of salvation, in this rule of proportion; we are only to take the judgment of charity, not of certainty; and what is usually by wise and good men supposed to be the certain, though the least measure of hopeful expectations in order to death,→ that we must suppose also to be our least measure of repentance preparatory to the blessed sacrament.

2. This measure must not be taken in the days of health and carelessness; but when we are either actually in apprehension, or at least in deep meditation of death; when it is dressed with all such terrors and material considerations, that it looks like the king of terrors, and at least makes our spirits full of fear and of sobriety.

3. This measure must be carefully taken without the allay of foolish principles, or a careless spirit, or extravagant confidences of personal predestination, or of being in any sect; but with the common measures which Christians take, when they weigh sadly their sins, and their fears of the divine displeasure; let them take such proportions, which considering men rely upon when they indeed come to die; for few sober men die upon such wild accounts as they rely upon in talk and interest, when they are alive. He that prepares himself to death, considers how deeply God hath been displeased, and what hath been done towards a reconciliation; and he that can probably hope, by the usual measures of the Gospel, that he is in probability of pardon, hath by

that learnt by what measures he must prepare himself to the 'holy sacrament.

4. Some persons are of a timorous conscience, and apt to irregular and unreasonable fears, and nothing but a single ray from heaven can give them any portions of comfort: and these men never trust to any thing they do, or any thing that is done for them; and fear by no other measures, but by consideration of the intolerable misery, which they should suffer, if they did miscarry. And because these men can speak nothing, and think nothing comfortable of themselves in that agony, or in that meditation, therefore they can make use of this rule by the proportions of that judgment of charity, which themselves make of others; and in what cases, and in what dispositions, they conclude others to die in the Lord; if they take those, or the like measures for themselves, and, accordingly, in those dispositions address themselves to the holy sacrament, they will make that use of this rule which is intended, and which may do them benefit.

5. As there are great varieties and degrees of fitness to death, so also to the holy sacrament: he that hath lived best, hath enough to deplore when he dies, and causes enough to beg for pardon of what is past, and for aids in the present need; and when he does communicate, he hath in some proportion the same too; he hath causes enough to come humbly, to come as did the publican, and to say, as did the centurion, Lord, I am not worthy.' But he that may die with most confidence, because he is in the best dispositions, he may also communicate with most comfort, because he does it with most holiness.

6. But the least measures of repentance, less than which cannot dispose us to the worthy reception of the holy mysteries, are these.

1. As soon as we are smitten with the terrors of an afflicted conscience, and apprehend the evil of sin, or fear the divine judgments; and upon that account resolve to leave our sin, we are not instantly worthy and fit to communicate. Attrition is not a competent disposition to the blessed sacrament; because although it may be the gate and entrance of a spiritual life, yet it can be no more unless there be love in it; unless it be contrition, it is not a state of favour and grace, but a disposition to it. He that does not



yet love God, cannot communicate with Christ; and he that resolves against sin out of fear only or temporal regards, hath given too great testimony that he loves the sin still, and will return to it, when that which hinders him, shall be removed. Faith working by charity is the wedding-garment; and he that comes hither not vested with this, shall be cast into outer darkness. But the words of St. Paul are express as to this particular; "In Christ Jesus, nothing can avail, but faith working by love;" and, therefore, without this the sacrament itself will do no good; and if it does no good, it cannot be but it will do harm. Our repentance, disposing us to this divine feast, must, at least, be contrition, or a sorrow for sins, and purposes to leave them, by reason of the love of God working in our hearts.


2. But because no man can tell, whether he hath the love of God in him, but by the proper effect of love, which is keeping the commandments; no man must approach to the holy sacrament upon the account of his mere resolution to leave sin until he hath broken the habit, until he hath cast away his fetters, until he be at liberty from sin, and hath shaken off its laws and dominion, so that he can see his love to God entering upon the ruins of sin, and perceive that God's Spirit hath advanced his sceptre, by the declension of the sin that dwelt within,-till then he may do well to stand in the outward courts, lest, by a too hasty entrance into the sanctuary, he carry along with him' the abominable thing,' and bring away from thence the intolerable sentence of condemnation. A man cannot rightly judge of his love to God, by his acts and transports of fancy, or the emanations of a warm passion, but by real events and changes of the heart. The reason is plain, because every man hath first loved sin, and obeyed it; and until that obedience be changed, that first love remains, and that is absolutely inconsistent with the love of God. An act of love, that is, a loving ejaculation, a short prayer affirming and professing love, is a very unsure warrant for any man to conclude, that his repentance is, indeed, contrition; for wicked persons may, in their good intervals, have such sudden fires; and all men that are taught to understand contrition to be a sorrow for sins, proceeding

[ocr errors]

a Gal. v. 6.

[ocr errors]

from the love of God, and that love of God to be sufficiently signified by single acts of loving prayer, can easily, by such forms and ready exercises, fancy and conclude themselves in a very good condition, at an easy rate. But contrition is therefore necessary, because attrition can be but the one half of repentance; it can turn us away from sin, but it cannot convert us unto God; that must be done by love; and that love, especially in this case, is manifestly nothing else but obedience and until that obedience be evident and discernible, we cannot pronounce any comfort concerning our state of love; without which, no man can see God, and no man can taste him or feel him without it.

3. A single act of obedience in the instance of any kind, where the scene of repentance lies, is not a sufficient preparation to the holy sacrament, nor demonstration of our contrition: unless it be in the case of repentance only for single acts of sin. In this case to oppose a good to an evil, an act of proportionable abstinence to a single act of intemperance, for which we are really sorrowful, and (as we suppose) heartily troubled, and confess it, and pray for pardon,-may be admitted as a competent testimonial, that this sorrow is real, and this repentance is contrition; because it does as much for virtue, as in the instance it did for vice; always provided, that whatsoever aggravations or accidental grandeurs were in the sin, as scandal, deliberation, malice, mischief, hardness, delight, or obstinacy, be also proportionably accounted-for in the reckonings of the repentance. But if the penitent return from a habit or state of sin, he will find it a harder work to quit all his old affection to sin, and to place it upon God entirely; and, therefore, he must stay for more arguments than one, or a few single acts, of grace; not only because a few may proceed from many causes accidentally, and not from the love of God; but also because his love and habitual desires of sin must be naturally extinguished by many contrary acts of virtue; and till these do enter, the old love does naturally abide. It is true, that sin is extinguished, not only by the natural force of the contrary actions of virtue, but by the Spirit of God, by aids from heaven, and powers, supernatural; and God's love hastens our pardon and acceptation; yet still, this is done by parts and methods of natural progression, after the manner of nature, though by

« PreviousContinue »