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possibility he should sink into sleep at the communion table, the fact, if it were known, would be the theme of general conversation. A man may enter church with a cheerful, and even smiling countenance, and it would probably draw forth no observations; but if he were to come thus to the Lord's supper, he would be thought to be impious or insane.
I descend to these instances, because I wish to show how very broad is the distinction commonly made, between the ordinary worship of the church, and its occasional ordinances.
And now I will undertake to show, that there is no ground for this distinction.
If there is, let it be made to appear. The burden of proof is on those who maintain that there is. Let, then, the passage of Scripture be brought forward which teaches us, that some institutions of God's worship are more holy than others. I am sure that it cannot be discovered.
But I say more. The want of this proof constitutes the strongest possible argument for my doctrine. Who shall dare to make a distinction among God's appointments, when he himself has made none? For, observe, these appointments rest upon his command, and upon nothing else. If he has commanded us to celebrate the Lord's supper, so has he commanded us to pay him the offering of social worship. If you regard baptism as an ordinance of God, so do you probably regard the Sabbath. And who has taught you to make any difference? If there is any, we might expect to find it pointed out in the original injunction of the rites of baptism and the Lord's supper. We might expect it to be said, 'these are for the more devout; while prayer, and the Sabbath, and meditation, and instruction are for the less devout; or, some must be celebrated with a pious mind, and others may be celebrated with an unholy mind.' But surely nothing of this appears. The same seal of divine authority is upon every institution of God. Nor are any severer threatenings annexed to the abuse of the Lord's supper, than to the abuse of any other institution of divine authority.
This seems to me to be the simple, rational, scriptural view of the subject. We have a revelation instructing us in our duties. It commands us to do certain things, without a hint that some are more obligatory, or solemn, or exclusive than others. It is a presumption in us therefore to make any such difference.
But although these views are so apparently obvious, they will be thought, nevertheless, to be liable to objections. To these, then, let me apply myself.
1. There is a peculiar feeling about rites or ordinances,— in other words, about the use of symbols, as distinguished from words and actions, which is to be noticed in the first place. Indeed, I am inclined to think, that the main part of all the objection there is, is founded on this feeling. 1 shall, therefore, endeavour to describe and explain it. It is a feeling, then, in the first place, of unaccustomedness and awkwardness in the use of visible and material symbols. They are not natural to us. We make little or no use of them in the common affairs of life, and we do not find it easy to familiarize ourselves with them in sacred concerns. We use ceremonies, it is true;—we use words and actions to convey our thoughts; but very seldom do we use symbols or material signs of thought. Hence it is not easy for our minds to communicate with these signs. If a teacher would instruct or impress us, and adopts words and gestures for this purpose, it is all very intelligible, natural, and easy. But if he should produce and hold up before us certain material symbols, if, instead of saying, be pure in heart, he should hold up water, and say, be like this,— or instead of saying, be strong in faith, he should present a piece of iron, and say be like this,—we should, and he would, probably, feel a sense of constraint and awkwardness.
This feeling is peculiar to civilized people, and more especially to us of the West. The language of signs is addressed to the imagination, and was created in part, by the necessities of a rude and barren speech. Among the Eastern nations imagination prevailed much more than it does among us. From the East, too, the nations of the world originally sprung. There, knowledge, refinement, and language had their infancy. It is not strange, therefore, that in that quarter of the world, symbols should have most extensively prevailed. In fact, they became among the Orientals, a part of their language and life,—a part of their daily and hourly communications. The case is obviously very different among us.
But there is something more than a feeling of awkwardness about symbols, in general; there is, in the next place, a feeling of awe about the christian symbols in particular. This has resulted from the superstitious perversions of earlier times.
When the Lord's supper degenerated from a simple and cheerful rite, expressive of reverence and love for Jesus Christ, to an awful mystery; when the trinity was introduced, and the death of him who was declared to be 'very God' was celebrated; when, moreover, the consecrated bread was regarded, not as a symbol of Jesus Christ, but as the very Christ, as the divine and Almighty Saviour himself;—then, indeed, it is not straDge that in approaching this sacrament, men's minds should be overwhelmed with preternatural awe. The wonder is, indeed, that they could, with these views, approach it at all. And whoever thinks that the superstitions of former times has extended no influence to the present, knows neither himself, nor the age in which he lives.
From these feelings of awkwardness and superstitious awe, then, has arisen that peculiar reverence for the ordinances, above the other services of our worship, which prevails among us. These feelings, I have thought, create a kind of indefinable, but strong objection to the doctrine which I maintain,— viz. that the rites of Christianity are no more sacred than any of its institutions. And the objection is fully met, by explaining the feelings on which it is founded. For surely it is enough to say, that superstition is no warrant for our views; and unaccustomedness instead of entitling any ordinance to special reverence, should put us on our guard against it.
We may add to this answer, however, that in ancient times, when symbols of worship were appointed, and for a long period after, they were not exalted to that distinction from all the other acts of worship, which they have since obtained. Among the ancient Jews, sacred symbols, such as feasts, sacrifices, gifts, were placed on a level with other acts of worship. The rites as well as the forms of worship were ordained for the benefit of the whole people, and none were excluded from the use of them. The mind of a Jew never entertained the notion, that it was more solemn to celebrate God's worship in a feast, than to celebrate his worship in the prayers of the temple.
If we turn to the times of the new dispensation, we find that the Lord's supper was engrafted upon the Passover, without any intimation that it possessed any peculiar sanctity above that or any other sacred rite. It was a feast,—in the ordinary form of a Jewish feast,—marked with the freedom, the ease, and the colloquial character of such an occasion. The invocations which were used,—the blessing the bread and the wine,—were, as we know, the customary formalities of a Jewish feast, and of the common meal among the Jews. There was nothing to impress peculiar awe on this occasion. One disciple leaned on his master's bosom; and there was conversation among them all. It is true that their feelings were tried at this interview. Our Saviour talked with them of his departure, warned them of persecutions, and exhorted them to constancy and cheerfulness. But this he had often done before; and whatever emotions such conversation might awaken, were peculiar to themselves. At the same time, this rite was proposed to all,—though one of them was a wicked traitor. And in the same manner, the Apostles afterwards permitted it to be used by all who professed their belief in Christianity, and joined themselves to the christian assemblies; not even forbidding the licentious Corinthians, who surely gave as little evidence as any people could of being Christians. And thus was this rite used for the benefit of all who bore the christian name,—for the benefit of all the christian assemblies and congregations at large ;—it was thus used, I say, in the early centuries, and down to the time of the Reformation.
The Reformers introduced a new rule. They limited the communion to a few, who gave credible evidence of piety, still enjoining upon the multitude the use of the Sabbath, of the temple, of prayer, &tc. I do not now pronounce any judgment on their conduct. I do not touch the question of expediency. It certainly was very natural, that they should act as they did. They felt, and justly, that Christianity was dreadfully corrupted, that its rites were profaned; and they were anxious to rescue one or two rites, which their Romish prejudices had led them to regard as peculiarly sacred, from that profanation. They therefore consigned them to the keeping and care of a select few.
Now without deciding at all, whether this was expedient then, or still is, we may conclude with safety, that there is no intrinsic reason, for this distinction of the institutions of Christianity, if there is for the separation of the classes of men. And the peculiar feeling and veneration for some of these institutions is brought into fault, instead of being vindicated by their strangeness to our habits, or the hold on our superstition, which such institutions have; and the feeling, moreover, fails of all justification, in the history of religious rites and symbols.
Let me now advert to two or three other difficulties, that may still remain in the way of my doctrine.
2. It may be asked in the second place, then, if we are not required to celebrate the communion, as Christians. I answer that undoubtedly we are. But so are we required to perform every act of worship as Christians; nay, to do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving God thanks.
3. But, again, it may be said, that in celebrating the Lord's Supper, we profess religion. Be it so. We profess religion, too, in every act of worship. The act means this, or it means nothing. It is a profession of religion, or it is mockery. For what is this profession, but the avowal of certain religious convictions, feelings,and purposes? And does not the posture of meditation, and listening to instruction, and the singing of praises, and the solemn attitude of prayer imply an avowal of religious affections and desires? What less does a man say, or can he say, when he puts himself in the posture of prayer, than this ?—' I am a needy, dependent creature—I desire God's blessing and forgiveness—I implore his influence and his mercy to guide and save me.' And what less is here, than a profession of humility and repentance, and a purpose to obey God?
There is a difference, indeed, between the simple act of prayer, abstractly considered, and attendance upon the communion. Celebrating the Lord's Supper is a profession of the christian religion in particular, while prayer, abstractly considered, is not necessarily so,—since Mahometans and Pagans pray, and many of them, no doubt, sincerely. Still, prayer is a profession of religion in general—a profession of devout sentiments. And prayer in a christian sanctuary is generally considered as equivalent to an avowal of belief in the christian religion, in particular. It is in form a profession, not only of worship but christian worship.
'You do, therefore,'—we may say to every attendant on public worship—' you do profess religion, as often as you retire on the Sabbath from your worldly pursuits, and enter the sanctuary and engage in its solemnities. Your consistency is just as really pledged as though you had stood up in the presence of the people, and declared aloud your purpose, and vow, and covenant with God. The prejudices of the community may not hold it in this light; but it is so; it is so, at least, in the sight of God, and it ought to be so in the sight of men. It