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parts of worship; as praise, thanksgiving, covenanting with God, prayer, &c. because that all these other parts are here comprised and performed. But doubtless, God must also be sanctified in all his other worship, and his name must not be taken in vain. And when this sacrament was received every Lord's day, and often in the week besides, Christians were supposed to live continually in a state of general preparation, and not to be so far from a due particular preparation, as many poor Christians think they are.
Quest. II. 'How often should the sacrament be now administered, that it neither grow into contempt or strangeness?'
Answ. Ordinarily in well disciplined churches it should be still every Lord's day for 1. We have no reason to prove, that the apostles' example and appointment in this case, was proper to those times, any more than that praise and thanksgiving daily is proper to them: and we may as well deny the obligation of other institutions, or apostolical orders as that. 2. It is a part of the settled order for the Lord's day worship; and omitting it, maimeth and altereth the worship of the day; and occasioneth the omission of the thanksgiving and praise, and lively commemorations of Christ which should be then most performed: and so Christians by use, grow habituated to sadness, and a mourning, melancholy religion, and grow unacquainted with much of the worship and spirit of the gospel. 3. Hereby the Papists' lamentable corruptions of this ordinance have grown up, even by an excess of reverence and fear, which seldom receiving doth increase, till they are come to worship bread as their God. 4. By seldom communicating, men are seduced to think all proper communion of churches lieth in that sacrament, and to be more profanely bold in abusing many other parts of worship. 5. There are better means (by teaching and discipline) to keep the sacrament from contempt, than the omitting or displacing of it. 6. Every Lord's day is no oftener than Christians need it. 7. The frequency will teach them to live prepared, and not only to make much ado once a month or quarter, when the same work is neglected all the year besides; even as one that liveth in continual expectation of death, will live in continual preparation : when he that expecteth it but in some grie
vous sickness, will then be frightened into some seeming preparations, which are not the habit of his soul, but laid by again when the disease is over.
2. But yet I must add, that in some undisciplined churches, and upon some occasions it may be longer omitted or seldomer used; no duty is a duty at all times: and therefore extraordinary cases, may raise such impediments, as may hinder us a long time from this, and many other privileges. But the ordinary faultiness of our imperfect hearts, that are apt to grow customary and dull, is no good reason why it should be seldom; any more than why other special duties of worship and church-communion should be seldom. Read well the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, and you will find that they were then as bad as the true Christians are now, and that even in this sacrament they were very culpable; and yet Paul seeketh not to cure them by their seldomer communicating.
Quest. III. Are all the members of the visible church to be admitted to this sacrament, or communicate?'
Answ. All are not to seek it, or to take it, because many may know their own unfitness, when the church or pastors know it not: but all that come to seek it, are to be admitted by the pastors, except such children, idiots, ignorant persons, or heretics, as know not what they are to receive and do, and such as are notoriously wicked or scandalous, and have not manifested their repentance. But then it is presupposed, that none should be numbered with the adult members of the church, but those that have personally owned their baptismal covenant, by a credible profession of true Christianity.
Quest. IV. May a man that hath knowledge, and civility, and common gifts, come and take this sacrament, if he know that he is yet void of true repentance, and other saving grace?'
Answ. No; for he then knoweth himself to be one that is incapable of it in his present state.
Quest. v. May an ungodly man receive this sacrament, who knoweth not himself to be ungodly?'
Answ. No; for he ought to know it, and his sinful ignorance of his own condition, will not make his sin to be his duty; nor excuse his other faults before God.
Quest. VI. Must a sincere Christian receive, that is uncertain of his sincerity, and in continual doubting?'
Answ. Two preparations are necessary to this sacrament; the general preparation, which is a state of grace, and this the doubting Christian hath; and the particular preparation, which consisteth in his present actual fitness: and all the question is of this. And to know this, you must further distinguish, between immediate duty and more remote, and between the degrees of doubtfulness in Christians. 1. The nearest immediate duty of the doubting Christian is, to use the means to have his doubts resolved, till he know his case, and then his next duty is, to receive the sacrament; and both these still remain his duty, to be performed in this order: and if he say, 'I cannot be resolved, when I have done my best ;' yet certainly it is some sin of his own that keepeth him in the dark, and hindereth his assurance; and therefore duty ceaseth not to be duty. The law of Christ still obligeth him, both to get assurance, and to receive and the want both of the knowledge of his state, and of receiving the sacrament, are his continual sin, if he lie in it never so long through these scruples, though it be an infirmity that God will not condemn him for. (For he is supposed to be in a state of grace.) But you will say, What if still he cannot be resolved whether he have true faith and repentance, or not? what should he do while he is in doubt?' I answer, it is one thing to ask, what is his duty in this case; and another thing to ask, which is the smaller or less dangerous sin? Still his duty is both to get the knowledge of his heart, and to communicate: but while he sinneth (through infirmity) in failing of the first, were he better also omit the other or not? To be well resolved of that, you must discern, 1. Whether his judgment of himself, do rather incline to think and hope that he is sincere in his repentance and faith, or that he is not. 2. And whether the consequents are like to be good or bad to him. If his hopes that he is sincere, be as great or greater than his fears of the contrary, then there is no such ill consequent to be feared as may hinder his communicating; but it is his best way to do it, and wait on God in the use of his ordinance. But if the persuasion of his gracelessness be greater than the hopes of his sincerity, then he must observe how
he is like to be affected, if he do communicate. If he find that it is like to clear up his mind, and increase his hopes by the actuating of his grace, he is yet best to go: but if he find that his heart is like to be overwhelmed with horror, and sunk into despair, by running into the supposed guilt of unworthy receiving, then it will be worse to do it, than to omit it. Many such fearful Christians I have known, that are fain many years to absent themselves from the sacrament; because if they should receive it while they are persuaded of their utter unworthiness, they would be swallowed up of desperation, and think that they had taken their own damnation, (as the twenty-fifth Article of the church of England saith, the unworthy receivers do.) So that the chief sin of such a doubting receiver, is not that he receiveth, though he doubt; for doubting will not excuse us for the sinful omission of a duty (no more of this than of prayer or thanksgiving): but only prudence requireth such a one to forbear that, which through his own distemper would be a means of his despair or ruin: as that physic or food, how good soever, is not to be taken, which would kill the taker: God's ordinances are not appointed for our destruction, but for our edification; and so must be used as tendeth thereunto. Yet to those Christians, who are in this case, and dare not communicate, I must put this question, How dare you so long refuse it? He that consenteth to the covenant, may boldly come and signify his consent, and receive the sealed covenant of God; for consent is your preparation, or the necessary condition of your right: if you consent not, you refuse all the mercy of the covenant. And dare And dare you live in such a state? Suppose a pardon be offered to a condemned thief, but so, that if he after cast it in the dirt, or turn traitor, he shall die a sorer death; will he rather choose to die than take it, and say, I am afraid I shall abuse it? To refuse God's covenant is certain death; but to consent is your preparation and your life.
Quest. VII. But what if superiors compel such a Christian to communicate, or else they will excommunicate and imprison him: what then should he choose?'
Answ. If he could do it without his own soul's hurt, he should obey them (supposing that it is nothing but that
which in itself is good that they command him"). But they have their power to edification, and not to destruction, and he must value his soul above his body; and therefore it is past question, that it is a smaller hurt to be excommunicated, and lie and die in prison, than to cast his soul into despair, by doing that which he thinketh is a grievous sin, and would be his damnation. But all means must be used to cure the mistake of his own understanding.
Quest. VIII. Is not the case of an hypocrite that knoweth not himself to be an hypocrite, and of a sincere Christian that knoweth not himself to be sincere, all one as to communicating: when both are equally in doubt?'
Answ. No: for being and seeing are things that must be distinguished. The one hath The one hath grace in being, though he see it not; and therefore hath a right to the blessings of the covenant; and therefore at once remaineth obliged both to discern his title, and to come and take it; and therefore if he come doubtingly, his sin is not that he receiveth, but in the manner of receiving, that he doth it doubtingly; and therefore it will be a greater sin not to receive at all, unless in the last mentioned case, wherein the consequents are like to be worse to him. But the other hath no true repentance or faith, or love in being; and therefore hath no right to the blessings of the covenant; and therefore, at present, is obliged to discern that he is graceless, and to repent of it: and it is not his sin that he doubteth of his title, but that he demandeth and taketh what he hath no title to; and therefore it is a greater sin in him to take it, than to delay in order to his recovery and preparation. Yea, even in point of comfort, there is some disparity: for though the true Christian hath far greater terrors than hypocrites, when he taketh himself to be an unworthy receiver (as being more sensible and regardful of the weight of the matter), yet usually in the midst of all his fears, there are some secret testimonies in his heart of the love of God, which are a cordial of hope that keep him from sinking into despair, and have more life and power in them, than all the hypocrites' false persuasions of his own sincerity.
Quest. Ix. 'Wherein lieth the sin of an hypocrite, and ungodly person, if he do receive?'
h2 Cor. xiii. 10. Matt. x. 28.