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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; 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. Be 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 repre sented 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 thriftiness, in my case and in my circumstances, is covetousness?' Here as we must be gentle
* 1 Pet. iii. 7.
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.
SECTION III. .
Of an actual Supply to be made of such Actions and Degrees of Good, as are wanting against a Communion Day.
1. If, on a communion-day, we need very much examination, we can make but little supply of those many defects, which it is likely a diligent inquiry will discover: and, therefore, it is highly advisable, that as we ought to repent every day, and not put it all off till the day of our communion or our death; so we should, every day, examine ourselves, at the shutting in of the day, or at our going to bed: for so St.
Basil, St. Chrysostom, St. Anthony, and St. Austin, St. Ephraim, and St. Dorotheus, do advise. Others advise that it be done twice every day: and, indeed, the oftener we recollect ourselves; 1. the more weaknesses we shall observe; and 2. the more faults correct; and 3. watch the better; and 4. repent the more perfectly; and 5. offend less; and 6. be more prepared for death; and 7. be more humble; and 8. with ease prevent the contracting of evil habits; and 9. interrupt the union of little sins into a chain of death; and 10. more readily prevail upon our passions; and 11. better understand ourselves; and 12. more frequently converse with God; and 13. oftener pray; and 14. have a more heavenly conversation; and, in fine, 15. be more fitted for a frequent and a holy communion.
2. The end of examination is, 1. That we grieve for all our sins: 2. That we resolve to amend all: 3. That we actually watch and pray against all.Therefore, it is necessary, that, when we have examined against a communion-day; 1. We always do actions of contrition for every thing we have observed to be amiss; 2. That we renew our resolutions of better obedience; 3. And that we pray for particular strength against our failings.
3. He that would communicate with fruit, must so have ordered his examinations, that he must not always be in the same method. He must not always be walking with a candle in his hands, and prying into corners; but they must be swept and garnished, and be kept clean and adorned. His examinations must be made full and thoroughly, and be productive of inferior resolutions, and must pass on to rules and exercises of caution. That is, 1. We must consider where we fail oftenest: 2. From what principle this default comes: 3. What are the best remedies: 4. We must pass on to the real and vigorous use of them; and when the case is thus stated and drawn into rules and resolutions of acting them, we are only to take care we do so, and, every day, examine whether we have or no. But we must not at all dwell in this relative and preparatory and ministering duty. But if we find that we have reason to do so, let us be sure that
Serm. 1. de instit. Monach. Serm. de pœnit. in illud Psalmi In CubiJibus vestris compupgimini.” lib. 1. homil. 44.
something is amiss: we have played the hypocrites, and done the work of the Lord negligently or falsely.
4. If any passion be the daily exercise or temptation of our life, let us be careful to put the greatest distress upon that, and, therefore, against a communion-day, do something in defiance and diminution of that; chastise it, if it hath prevailed; reinforce thy resolutions against it; examine all thy aids, see what hath been prosperous, and pursue that point, and if thou hast not at all prevailed, then know, all is not well; for he communicates without fruit, who makes no progressions in his mortifications and conquest over his passions. It may be, we shall be long exercised with the remains of the Canaanites: for it is in the matter of passions as Seneca said of vices; "We fight against them, not to conquer them entirely, but that they may not conquer us;" not to kill them, but to bring them under command; and unless we do that, we cannot be sure that we are in the state of grace, and, therefore, cannot tell if we do, or do not, worthily communicate. For, by all the exterior actions of our life, we cannot so well tell how it is with us, as by the observation of our affections and passions, our wills and our desires. For I can command my foot, and it must obey; and my hand, and it cannot resist; but when I bid my appetite obey, or my anger be still, or my will not to desire, I find it very often to rebel against my word, and against God's word." Therefore, let us be sure to take some effective course with the appetite, and place our guards upon the inward man; and, upon our preparation-days, do some violence to our lusts and secret desires, by holy resolutions, and severe purposes, and rules of caution, and by designing a course of spiritual arts and exercises, for the reducing them to reason and obedience: something that may be remembered; and something that will be done. But to this, let this caution be added; that of all things in the world, we be careful of relapses into our old follies or infirmities: for if things do not succeed well afterwards, they were not well ordered at first.
5. Upon our communion-days, and days of preparation,
▾ Pugnamus, non ut penitus vincamus, sed ne vincamur.