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the 21st and 22d verses, which two verses are the key, indeed, to the whole chapter. "In eating, every one taketh before other his own supper, and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What! have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the church of God and those that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not."
The fact was, then, the Corinthians had perverted the Lord's supper into a common feast, or, at least, accompanied it with a common feast; in which, forgetting entirely the nature and design of this institution, they indulged themselves without moderation in eating and drinking, so as, in some degree, to come away from it surfeited and drunken : "One is hungry, and another is drunken: one goes to indulge in eating, and another in drinking."
It appears, I dare say, to you unaccountable how any people could fall into such a mistake and misbehaviour as this-so gross an abuse of a religious institution; but it appears from St. Paul's words that, in fact, they did so; and one way of accounting for it may be this. These Corinthians, you are to consider, were not like us, bred up to Christianity from their infancy. They had been heathens, and a great part of them were converted to Christianity. Now it had been a practice among them before their conversion, as it was with all the heathens, to make feasts to their gods, in which all sorts of intemperance were practised and allowed of. It is possible, and
probably was the case, that when they became Christians, some of them mistook the Lord's Supper for one of these sorts of feasts which they had been accustomed to hold to their gods, and celebrated it accordingly with the same licentious festivity and intemperance. But whatever was the reason of it, such, in fact, was their mistake and misbehaviour. It is certain, however, that the misbehaviour was that unworthy eating and drinking which St. Paul mentioned, and which he condemned in such severe terms. The fault, which St. Paul reproves, was the fault which the people he writes to had been guilty of. That is very plain. The fault they had been guilty of was, the indulging themselves to excess in eating and drinking at the time of celebrating this sacrament. That is equally plain, from Saint Paul's account of them: "The one is hungry and another drunken. What! have ye not houses to eat and drink in ?" (to make, that is, your entertainments and hold your feasts in?) which shows that they made a common feast and entertainment of the holy communion.
St. Paul proceeds to state to them the history of the institution of the sacrament, which certainly was the proper preservative against the gross abuse of it; and he adds, in order to put an end to so strange proceedings, "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily," that is, in this unworthy manner which ye have done," eateth and drinketh damnation to himself”—“ not discerning the Lord's body." That is,
not distinguishing it from a common feast-not at all reflecting that it was a commemoration of the Lord's body.
I am now, therefore, authorized to say, that the unworthy receiving, intended by St. Paul, is what none of us can almost possibly be guilty of; as none of us, I trust, can ever so far forget ourselves as to mistake this institution for a worldly entertainment, or behave at it in that unseemly manner that the Corinthians did.
The next point I undertook to show was, that the damnation denounced in the text did not mean final perdition in the world to come; which is what the word commonly signifies, but only judgements and punishments upon them in this world. It should have been rendered condemnation-eateth and drinketh condemnation to himself; for the word in the original means any sort of punishment, either temporal or eternal; so that from the expression itself, it would have been dubious which the apostle meant, had he not, in the verse following, added an explanation of the matter, which clears it up sufficiently. "For this cause," (that is, for their misbehaviour and unworthy receiving), “many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep." That is, many are visited by weaknesses and infirmities, and many are cut off by death: which are all, you observe, worldly judgements; and these immediately following the mention of damnation or condemnation, show that worldly punishment and visitations were what St. Paul meant by it.
I allege, therefore, that no Christian at this day has any thing to fear from this text. I do not mean, but that men may come to the sacrament with such a thoughtlessness and levity, as entirely destroys the good effect of it; though I hope and believe that is not much or often the case; but I mean that none of us, the least and worst prepared even, incur the crime against which St. Paul denounced the sentence. And if we do not incur the crime, we have no occasion to fear that the sentence will be applied to us.
Others, again, are kept away from the sacrament by the fear that, after they have received it, they should relapse into their former sins, and so only aggravate their guilt and punishment. To such I shall answer, that all we can do, and even all that is required of us to do, at the sacrament, is to be sincere in our resolutions at the time. Whether these resolutions take effect or not is another question, although a most serious one.
But if they be hearty and sincere at the time, I see no reason to doubt but that a man is a worthy communicant, and will be accepted as such. And our resolutions failing once or twice, or oftener, is no reason why we should not renew them again; nay, that it must be by dint of these resolutions at last, that we are to get rid of our evil courses, if at all: unless we mean to give ourselves up to vice absolutely, and without any resistance, or endeavours to break through it; which is the worst of all possible conditions.
Others again come away discouraged and disappointed, if they do not feel in themselves that elevation of spirit, that glow and warmth of devotion, that sort of rapture and ecstasy which they expected; and look upon themselves as forsaken of God, and not favoured with that share and influence of his spirit which other Christians are.
Now such people cannot do better than turn to the Scriptures, and expect no more than what is there promised. They will not find it there promisedeither that any extraordinary effusions of the Holy Ghost are communicated by the sacrament, or that those effusions show themselves in any great transports, in any visible and extraordinary agitation of the spirits. The truth is, these emotions are in a great measure constitutional. Those who feel them ought not to be elated by them-those who feel them not have no reason to be cast down and made uneasy on that account. If they find religion operating upon their lives, they may always rely upon that test, and be at peace.
But lastly; the sacrament, it is to be feared, is not seldom abused to the purposes of licentiousness. Men consider it as a sort of expiating, or wiping away their former sins and errors; and as being at liberty to begin, as it were, again, upon a new account. As I said before, the best and sincerest will sometimes fail; yet, if they are sincere, they make us worthy partakers of the communion. But when