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in us, till it be completed in glory. There is nothing that we have, either in hand or hope, but what will afford matter for the exercise of this grace; and more particularly, our hearts ought to be excited hereunto from the consideration of the benefits that are signified in this ordinance; especially if we are enabled to receive them by faith.
(8.) We are, at the Lord's supper, to renew our covenant with God. That this may be rightly understood, we must consider what it is for a believer to enter into covenant with God, which he is supposed to have done before this; and that consists not in our promising that we will do these things that are out of our power, or, that we will exercise those graces, which none but God, who works in his people, both to will and to do, can enable us to put forth; but it consists in our making a surrender of ourselves to Christ, and depending on him for the supply of all our spiritual wants, humbly hoping and trusting that he will enable us to adhere stedfastly to him, working in us all that grace which he requires of us; which blessing if he is pleased to grant us, we shall be enabled to perform all the duties that are incumbent on us, how difficult soever they may be. This is an unexceptionable way of entering into covenant with God, as it contains an acknowledgement of our own inability to do that which is good without him, and desire to give the glory of all to him; on whom we stedfastly rely, that we may obtain mercy from him to be faithful.
Moreover, to renew our covenant, is to declare, that through his grace, we are inclined stedfastly to adhere to our solemn dedication to him, not, in the least, repenting of what we did therein; and, that we have as much reason to depend on his assistance now, as we had at first, since grace is carried on, as well as begun by him alone; and accordingly, while we express our earnest desire to be stedfast in his covenant, we depend on his promise that he will never fail us, nor forsake us: And we take this occasion, more especially, to renew our dedication to him, as it is very agreeable to the nature of this ordinance, in which we have the external symbols of his love to us, which lays us under the highest obligation thereunto.
(9.) We are, in this ordinance, to shew our readiness to exercise a Christian love to all saints; which consists, more especially, in our earnest desire that all grace and peace may abound in them, as in our own souls; that hereby we may have occasion to glorify God together, and shew our mutual concern for the spiritual welfare of each other. We are to bless God for the grace they are enabled to exercise, though, it may be, we cannot exercise it in the same degree ourselves: And, as for others, we are to sympathize with them in their
weaknesses, grieve for their falls and miscarriages; and be very ready to make abatements for those frailties and infirmities that we behold in them, which we ourselves are sometimes liable to, especially if they are not inconsistent with grace, in which case we should cast a mantle of love over them, not knowing but we may be exposed to, and fall by the same temptations.
This love is to be expressed, more especially in this ordinance; inasmuch as we are to consider all saints as members of Christ's mystical body, children of the same God and Father, partakers of the same grace with us, fellow travellers to the same heavenly country, where we hope to meet with them at last, though now they are liable to the same difficulties with ourselves, and exposed to those assaults and temptations that we often meet with from our spiritual enemies. This expression of our love, though it be more immediately and directly extended to the same society, that joins in communion with us; yet it is not to be confined within such narrow limits, but includes in it the highest esteem for all who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, though their place of abode be remote from, and they are not known to us in the flesh.
II. We are now to consider the duty of Christians after they have received the sacrament of the Lord's supper; and that consists in enquiring, how they have behaved themselves therein? and, whether they have any ground to conclude, that they have been favoured with the special presence of God in this ordinance, whereby it has been made a means of grace to them?
As to the former of these enquiries relating to the frame of our spirits, while engaging in this solemn duty, we shall sometimes find, that it has been such as affords matter for deep humiliation and self-abasement, in the sight of God, when we reflect upon it; particularly,
1. When our minds and affections have been conversant about those things, which are altogether unsuitable to the work we have been engaged in, and, instead of conversing with Christ in this ordinance, we have had our thoughts and meditations most taken up with worldly matters; or, if they have, indeed, been conversant about religious affairs, yet we may, in some measure, see reason to blame ourselves, if these have been altogether foreign to the great end and design of the ordinance we have been engaged in. There are many portions of scripture, or heads of divinity founded upon it, which we may employ our thoughts about at other times, with great advantage; yet they may not be altogether suitable, or adapted to our receiving spiritual advantage by, or making a right
improvement of Christ crucified, as the nature of this ordi nance requires.
2. They behave themselves unbecomingly, in this ordinance, who meditate on the thing signified therein, to wit, the dying love of Jesus Christ, as though they were unconcerned spectators, having only an historical faith, and content themselves with the bare knowledge of what relates to the life and death of Christ, without considering the end and design thereof, viz. that he might make atonement for sin, or their particular concern herein, so as to improve it, as an expedient for the taking away the guilt and power thereof in their own souls.
3. We may reflect on our behaviour in this ordinance, when we have given way to deadness and stupidity, without using those endeavours that are necessary for the exciting our affections; when a subject so affecting as Christ's pouring out his soul unto death, being wounded for our transgressions, despised and rejected of men, bleeding and dying on the cross, and, in the midst of his sufferings, crying out, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me, has not had an efficacy to raise our affections, any more than if it were a common subject?
4. We have reason to blame our behaviour in this ordinance, when we have attended on it with a resolution to continue in any known sin, without being earnest with God to mortify it, or desiring strength and grace from Christ, in order thereunto, aud improving his death for that end. Thus we have reason, sometimes, to reflect on our behaviour at the Lord's supper, with grief, and sorrow of heart, as what has been disagreeable to the nature of the ordinance we have been engaged in.
But, on the other hand, we may, sometimes, in taking a view of our behaviour therein, find matter of encouragement, when, abating for human frailties, and the imperfection of grace, that inseparably attends this present state, we can say, to the glory of God, that we have, in some measure, behaved ourselves as we ought to do. Thus when we have found, that our hearts have been duly affected with the love of Christ, and we have had the exercise of those graces that are suita. ble thereunto; and if we can say, that we have had some communion with him, and have not been altogether destitute of his quickening and comforting presence, and the witness of his Spirit with ours, that we are the children of God; then we may conclude, that we have engaged in this ordinance in a right manner. And if we have found that it has been thus with us, we are to bless God for it, as considering that he alone can excite grace in us, who wrought it at first. And
we are farther to consider, that such-like acts of grace will be a good evidence of the truth and sincerity thereof; whereby our comforts may be more established, and we enabled to walk more closely and thankfully with God, by the communication of those graces that he is pleased to bestow upon us in this ordinance.
Moreover, if we have had experience of the presence of God therein, and have been brought into a good frame, we ought to beg the continuance thereof. The best frame of spirit will be no longer abiding, than it pleases God to keep up the lively exercise of faith and other graces; and this, being so valuable a blessing, is to be sought for by fervent prayer and supplication, that our good frames may not be like the morning cloud, or early dew, that soon passes away: This will discover, that we set a value upon them, and glorify God as the author of them; and it is the best expedient for our walking with God at other times, as well as when engaged in holy ordinances.
Again, it is farther observed, that they, who have been quickened and comforted, when partaking of the Lord's supper, ought to watch against relapses into those sins, that formerly they have been overtaken with, but now see reason to abhor. This we ought to do, because, though we are sometimes brought into a good frame, yet still we have deceitful hearts, that, before we are aware, may betray us into the commission of those sins which have occasioned great distress to us in times past; and, to this we may add, the endeavours of Satan to ensnare us by his wiles; so, that when we think ourselves the safest, we may be exposed to the greatest dangers. When we have been least apprehensive of our return to our former sins, and, it may be, have been too secure in our opinion, while confiding too much to our own strength, we have lost those good frames, and our troubles have been renewed thereby: Therefore, it is our duty to watch against the secret workings of corrupt nature, and the first motions of sin in our hearts, while we earnestly implore help from God, that we may be kept from our own iniquities; namely, those sins that we have formerly committed, or that more easily beset us than any other.
The next duty incumbent on us, after we have received the Lord's supper, is, to fulfil our vows: This will be better unstood, if compared with what was before observed concerning sacramental vows or covenants: which ought not to contain in them a making promises, especially in our own strength, that we will be found in the exercise of those graces which are the special gift and effects of God's almighty power. Therefore, I always, when occasionally mentioning making religious vows,
consider them principally as containing an express declaration, that we are under an indispensable obligation to perform those duties, and put forth those acts of grace which are incumbent on us, as those who desire to approve ourselves Christ's faithful servants, whom he has taken into a covenant-relation with himself. We also declare, that without help from God we can do nothing: This help we implore from him, at the same time when we devote, or give up ourselves to him; so that we do this, hoping and trusting that he will bestow upon us that grace which is out of our own power; which, if he will be pleased to do, we determine that he shall have all the glory that arises from it. This is most agreeable to the sense of the Latin word *; from whence the word vow is derived; and, I think, it is much rather to be acquiesced in, than that general description which some give of it, when they exhort those who are engaged in this ordinance, first to confess those sins which they have committed since they were last at the Lord's table, so far as they occur to their memories; and, as a means of their obtaining forgiveness, to make a solemn vow, or promise, that they will abstain from them for the future, and walk more agreeably to the engagements which they are laid under: This they do without an humble sense of the treachery of their own hearts, or their need of strength from God, to perform any thing that is good; and afterwards, they are as little inclined to fulfil their own promises, as they were before forward to make them, with too much reliance on their own strength; and, by this means, they bring themselves into the greatest perplexities, and go on, as it were, in a round of making solemn vows and resolutions, and then breaking them, and afterwards renewing them again: Whereas, when we intend nothing by our vowing, but a confessing that what others promise in their own strength, we see ourselves obliged to do; and, at the same time, depend on Christ for strength to enable us to perform it, and give up ourselves to him, as his covenant-people, in hope thereof; this is the safest way of vowing, inasmuch as it redounds most to the honour of God, and contains every thing in it that may put us upon using our utmost endeavours to perform the duties that are incumbent on us, and, at the same time, we express our unfeigned desire to glorify him as the God and Author of that grace, which is necessary thereunto. And, in this sense I would understand what we are exhorted to in the answers we are explaining, when it is said, in one of them, that while we are receiving the Lord's supper, we ought to renew our covenant with God; and after we have received it, we are to fulfil our vows, as it is expressed in the other; as the former includes in it such a dedication to God as has been but