« AnteriorContinuar »
last time in their society, and having instituted that commemoration of his death, which was to continue in the Christian church until the end of ages, he took a solemn and affectionate farewell of his friends, in the words of the text; I say unto you, that I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.
As these words were uttered by our Lord, in the prospect of his sufferings; when preparing himself for death, and looking forward to a future meeting with his friends in Heaven; let us, under this view, consider the sacrament, which he then instituted, as a preparation for all the sufferings of life, and, especially, a preparation for death. It is fit and proper, that such solemn prospects should enter into the service which we are this day to perform. We have no reason to imagine, that they will render it a gloomy service. A good and wise man is often disposed to look forward to the termination of life. The number of our days is determined by God; and certainly it will not tend to shorten their number, that we employ ourselves in preparing for death. On the contrary, while our days last, it will tend to make us pass them more comfortably, and more wisely. Let us now, then, as for the last time we were to partake of this sacrament, consider how it may serve to prepare us for the dying hour.
I. IT is a high exercise of all those dispositions and affections, in which a good man would wish to die. He would surely wish to leave this world, in the spirit of devotion towards God, and of fellowship and charity with all his brethren on earth. Now these are the very sentiments which the sacrament of the Lord's Supper inspires into the heart of every pious communicant. It includes the highest acts of devotion of which human nature is capable. It imports a lively sense of the infinite mercies of Heaven; of the gratitude we owe to that God who, by the death of his Son, hath restored the forfeited happiness and hopes of the human race. It imports the consecration of the soul to God; the entire resignation of ourselves, and all our concerns, into his hands; as to the God whom we serve and love; the guardian in whom we confide. To thee, Oh Lord, do I lift up my soul. I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy. I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy; and in thy fear I will worship towards thy holy temple.*
These devout affections towards God are, on this occasion, necessarily accompanied with benevolent dispositions towards Our communion is not only with God, but with one another. In this solemn service, the distinction of ranks is abolished. We assemble in common before our great Lord, professing
Psalm xliii. 4. v. 7.
ourselves to be all members of his family, and children of the same Father. No feud, nor strife, nor enmity is permitted to approach the sacred table. All within that hallowed space breathes peace, and concord, and love. If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. What can be more becoming men and Christians, than such sentiments of piety to the great Father of the universe; gratitude to the merciful Redeemer of mankind; and charity and forgiveness towards all our brethren? Is not this the temper in which a good man would wish to live; more especially is not this the frame of mind which will give both dignity and peace to his last moments? How discomposed and embittered will these important moments prove, if, with a mind soured by the remembrance of unforgiven injuries, with a breast rankled by enmity, with a heart alienated from God, and insensible to devotion, one be forced away from life?
CONTEMPLATE the manner in which our blessed Lord died; which the service of this day brings particularly into your view, You behold him, amidst the extremity of pain, calm and collected within himself; possessing his spirit with all the serenity which sublime devotion and exalted benevolence inspire. You hear him, first, lamenting the fate of his unhappy country; next, when he was fastened to the cross, addressing words of consolation to his afflicted parent; and, lastly, sending up prayers mix-. ed with compassionate apologies for those who were shedding his blood. After all those exercises of charity, you behold him, in an act of devout adoration and trust, resigning his breath: Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.-Can any death be pronounced unhappy, how distressful soever its circumstances may be, which is thus supported and dignified? What could we wish for more in our last moments, than with this peaceful frame of mind, this calm of all the affections, this exaltation of heart towards God, this diffusion of benevolence towards men, to bid adieu to the world?
If, in such a spirit as this, we would all wish to die, let us think that now is the time to perpare for it, by seasonably cultivating this spirit while we live; by imbibing, in particular, from the holy sacrament, those dispositions and affections which we would wish to possess at our latest period. It is altogether vain to imagine, that when the hour of death approaches, we shall be able to form ourselves into the frame of mind which is then most proper and decent. Amidst the struggles of nature, and under the load of sickness or pain, it is not time for unac
Matthew, v. 23, 24.
customed exertions to be made, or for new reformations to be begun. Sufficient, and more than sufficient, for that day is the evil thereof. It will be too late to assume then the hero, or the saint, if we have been totally unacquainted with the character before. The sentiments we would display, and the language we would utter, will be alien and strange to us. They will be forced and foreign to the heart. It is only in consequence of habits acquired in former and better days, that a temper of piety and charity can grow up into such strength as to confer peace and magnanimity on the concluding hours of life. Peculiarly favourable to the acquisition of such a temper, are the devotions of this day. In this view let us perform them; and study to be, at the table of the Lord, what we would wish to be when the summons of death shall come.
This view of our
II. THIS sacrament becomes a preparation for death, by laying a foundation for peace with God. What is important at the close of life, is not only the temper in which we leave the world, but the situation in which we stand with respect to that great Judge before whom we are about to appear. situation is apt to escape us during the ordinary course of life. Occupied with the affairs and concerns of this world; flattered by those illusive colours of innocence and virtue, in which selflove dresses up our character, apprehensions of guilt create litBut, on the approach of tle uneasiness to the multitude of men. death, their ideas change. As the inquisition of the Supreme Judge draws nigh, remembered transgressions crowd upon the mind. Guilt becomes strongly realized to the imagination; and alarms, before unknown, begin to arise. Hence that anxiety in the prospect of a future invisible world, which is so often seen to Hence these various methods which suattend the bed of death. perstition has devised for quieting this anxiety; the trembling mind eagerly grasping every feeble plank on which it can lay hold, and flying for protection to the most unavailing aid. The stoutest spirits have been then known to bend; the proudest hearts to be humbled. They who are now most thoughtless about their spiritual concerns, may, perhaps, be in this state before they die.
The dispensation of grace discovered in the Gospel, affords the only remedy against those terrors, by the promise of pardon, extended to the penitent, through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the very essence of this sacrament, to exhibit this promised grace to mankind; My body which was broken for you; my blood shed for many for the remission of sins. Here shines from above, the ray of hope. Divine justice, we are assured, is not inexorable. Divine mercy is accessible to all who believe and repent. The participation of this sacrament therefore, naturally imparts comfort to the worthy communicant; as
it supposes, on his part, a cordial compliance with those terms, on which pardon is offered by the Gospel to mankind.
I mean not to say, that the participation of this sacrament how pious and proper soever our dispositions at that time may be, is, of itself, sufficient to insure us of comfort at death. It were unwarrantable to flatter Christians with hopes to this extent. No single act of the most fervent devotion can afford assured hopes of peace with Heaven, until these hopes be confirmed by the succeeding tenor of a good life. But what may safely be asserted is, that communicating in a proper manner makes way for such hopes. It is an introduction to that state of reconciliation with God, which will give you peace in death. It is the beginning of a good course, which, if duly pursued, will make your latter end blessed. It is the entrance of the path of the just; the morning of that light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. For this holy sacrament is a professed renunciation of the vices and corruptions of the world. It is a professed dereliction of former evil habits; a solemn return, on our part, to God and virtue, under the firm trust that God will, through Jesus Christ, shew mercy to the frailties of the penitent. If you continue to support the character which you this day assume, the invisible world will no longer present to you a scene of terrors. You will be comforted with the view of goodness and compassion, as predominant in the administration of the universe. After having finished a virtuous course, you will be able to look up to that God whom you have worshipped, and to say, I know in whom I have trusted. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff shall comfort me.
III. THIS sacrament prepares us for a happy death, by strengthening the connection between Christians and Christ their Saviour. This is a connection which, in various ways, redounds to their benefit; and will be found particularly consolatory at the hour of death. The awful Majesty of Heaven is in danger of overwhelming the mind, in the feeble moment of departing life. The reverence it inspires is mingled with sensations of dread, which might be too strong for us then to bear. When we look up to it, through a Mediator and Intercessor, that Majesty assumes a milder aspect, and appears to invite our approach. Whatever, therefore, forms a connection with this great Mediator, this powerful friend and patron of the human race, must be most desirable to every one, especially to the dying man. Now, this sacrament unites us closely with him. It is the oath of our allegiance. It is the act of enlisting ourselves under the banner of this Divine Leader. Of course it strengthens our faith in him, as our guide through life, and our guardian and protector in death. It gives us a title to look up to
him under the confidence of that reciprocal engagement, which fidelity on the one hand is always understood to imply, of protection on the other.
His participation of our nature conveys a degree of encouragement, which we could derive from no being altogether celestial, how gracious or benign soever. In our utmost extremity, we can have recourse to his sympathizing aid, who had experience both of the distresses of life, and of the terrors of death.We behold in the text, with what firm tranquillity he looked forward to his approaching sufferings. Sincere attachment to our great Master, may be expected to infuse into us some degree of the same happy composition of mind. It is owing to our losing out of view this perfect model; to our following the crowd, and adopting the common spirit of the world, that we become mean spirited and base; servilely attached to life, and afraid to die. Did we, according to our engagements at the Lord's table, keep our eye fixed on our Divine Leader, and study to follow his steps, a portion of his spirit would descend upon us at the hour of death. It would be as the mantle of Elijah, falling on a chosen disciple; and would enable us, as it did Elisha of old, to smite and divide the waters - We believe our Saviour now to rule in the world of spirits. The grave, therefore, bars not his followers from access to him. In the grave, for our sake, he once lay down, that he might dispel the gloom which appears to us to cover that formidable mansion. In a short time, he rose from it, in order to assure us, that the dark and narrow house was not to confine his followers for ever. By his death, he conquered death, and him that had the power of it; and his voice to us is, Because I live, ye shall live also. Hence, as long as we *preserve that attachment to him which we this day profess, we are furnished with a variety, of considerations proper for supporting us in the prospect of our dissolution. This leads me to observe,
IV. THAT the sacrament of which we are to partake, prepares us for death, by confirming and enlivening our hope of immortality. In this sacrament, my friends, you act for both worlds. As inhabitants of the earth, you are on this day to look forward, with care to your future behaviour in it. For you are not, by any means, disengaging yourselves totally from this life and its concerns. On the contrary, you are forming, and even strengthening, those connections, which virtue requires you to maintain with your friends and fellow-creatures around you.At the same time, you are not to consider yourselves as citizens of earth only, but also as citizens of Heaven. You are to recognize, on this occasion, your relation to a higher and better country, with which you are connected by the most sacred ties; and from which you derive those comforts and hopes that will both