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of self-examination, is to watch over our thoughts, and the moment we perceive any bad trains of thinking beginning to form in our imagination, to break them off forthwith, by refusing to entertain themby avoiding such objects as are likely to foment them, and, above all other rules, to occupy our thoughts closely some other way; for, assure yourselves, criminal thoughts sooner or later break out into pernicious and extravagant actions.
The watching of our habits is what I would lay out as the business of self-examination-not perhaps the sole business, but the most important business, because most conducive to a good life.
The last point to be considered is the seasons for this duty. Those of leisure and reflection, of a serious and contemplative turn, may possibly want no directions or no certain occasions for this duty. Their thoughts of themselves naturally and frequently turn to such subjects. But they who are engaged in business, or who mix with the bustle of the world, young persons in high health and spirits, poor persons taken up with daily labours, rich persons occupied in rounds of diversion and companythese all must form to themselves stated seasons for this duty, or they will not perform it at all. It is to be hoped we have many of us our reasons for private prayer. Self-examination will properly accompany our private devotions, if not always, at least sometimes, and at some stated times. Sunday is with all of us a day of cessation from business and from
our ordinary diversions: public worship takes up only
a part of the day-there is always time enough to
spare for this important concern.
The return of the sacrament is a fit opportunity for such an exercise.
I have only to add, that the business of self-examination, like every business of importance, should be gone about when the mind and spirits are calm, firm, and cheerful. There is great uncertainty in what is done under the impression of some fright, or state of affliction; when the thoughts are hurried and disturbed, and the spirits sunk and overwhelmed,
Self-examination is a serious, but not a melancholy business. No one need let his spirits sink under it, or enter upon it with terror and dejection; because, let a man's spiritual condition turn out upon inquiry ever so bad, he has it always in his power to mend it; and because when the amendment is begun and goes on, every examination of himself affords fresh matter of comfort, hope, and satisfaction.
1 COR. XI. 26.
As oft as ye eat of this bread and drink of this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come.
THERE are some opinions, concerning the Sacrament of the Lord's supper, which are very deserving of consideration, as they are the means either of deterring Christians from coming to it, or making them uneasy in their minds after it; or, lastly, as they sometimes lead men to abuse this institution to the purposes of vice and profligacy, which is by far the worst of all.
There are many errors in religion, which having no bad effect upon a man's life or conduct, it is not necessary to be solicitous in correcting. A man may live in such like errors as these without prejudice, we humbly hope, to his happiness or salvation. But when errors in opinion lead to errors in practice, when our notions affect our behaviour, it then becomes the duty of every Christian, and especially of every teacher of Christianity, to set these notions right, as far as it is in his power.
Many persons entertain a scruple about coming to the sacrament, on account of what they read in the 11th chapter of St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, concerning the unworthy receiving of it. "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to himself;" surely, they say, it is better to keep away from the Lord's supper altogether than to incur the risk of so terrible a senAnd who, they will ask, can know that he is safe from it? Who will be bold enough to say that he eats and drinks worthily-who, however, that is conscious of many defects and imperfectionswho that has made so imperfect preparation for itand what is worse, who is so liable to forget it all, and relapse again into his former course of life? Now there are two sorts of persons who profess this scruple. There are your heartless, indifferent Christians, who are glad of any reason to get rid of their duty, and who, because this seems a sort of excuse from coming to the sacrament, take up with it without farther inquiry, or any sincere concern, indeed, about the matter.
Besides these, there are also many serious and wellmeaning Christians who have been much and really affected by this text; and who have been either kept away, as I said before, from the Communion, or much disturbed and distressed in their minds about it. Now none but sincere and pious people have these scruples, and therefore the utmost tenderness and indulgence are due to them; even where there is less
foundation for them than there appears to be in the present case. For the ease, therefore, and satisfaction of all such, I will endeavour, in this discourse, to make out two points. 1st. That the unworthy eating and drinking, meant by St. Paul, is what we, at this time of day, can scarcely possibly be guilty of. 2d. That the damnation here spoken of means worldly punishment; or, as we say, judgement upon the offender in this world; and not everlasting perdition in the world to come, as the term damnation commonly signifies in our mouths.
First; I maintain that the eating and drinking, meant by St. Paul, is what we, at this time of day, can hardly be guilty of.
St. Paul, you observe, is not writing to all Christians in general, but to the Corinthians-to the Christian converts in that city. Now these converts, it should seem, had been guilty of some disorderly behaviour in the receiving of the Lord's supper, or, at least, at the time of receiving it. "Now in this that I declare unto you I praise ye not; that ye come together, not for the better but for the worse." (x. 17.) The coming together in this verse means the coming to the sacrament, because in the 20th verse he says, "When ye come together into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper." So then they had incurred St. Paul's censure for some misbehaviour about the sacrament; and 'the next question will be, what that misbehaviour was? And this we find out from what St. Paul says of them, in