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warrantable, in the tenderest part. He declares to us, that he stands in no need of our worship, and of our homage; that, exalted to the height of felicity and glory, he can derive no advantage from our obedience and submission; that his laws are the fruit of love, and that the virtue which he prescribes to us, is the only path that can conduct us to the sovereign good. The priests belied this notion of religion.
daughter of a strange god." They were par- the very beginning of the book of this prophecy: takers of the table of the Lord, at the very "I have loved you, saith the Lord: yet we say, time when they were practising criminal wherein hast thou loved us?" This was offerdivorces, and indulging themselves in senti-ing an insult to Deity, if the expression be ments the most barbarous and inhuman, towards persons whom the laws of marriage ought to have rendered dear and respectable to them. With this they are reproached in the 13th verse of the same chapter: "This have ye done again, covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand. Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously; yet she is thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant." They were partakers of the table of the Lord, while they impiously dared to accuse him, not only of tolerating vice, but of loving and approving it. With this, too, they are reproached, in the 17th verse of that chapter: "Ye have wearied the Lord with your words: yet ye say, wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, every one that doth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them: or, where is the God of judgment?"
Want of virtue: a second point of comparison between the priests who said, "the table of the Lord is contemptible," and professors who, to this day, profane the holy ordinance of the supper. Can any among you discern your own likeness under this character? Are you going to vow unto the Lord an inviolable fidelity; or, while you are partaking of his grace, have you a secret reservation disrespectful to his laws? Is it your determination to put in practice the great, the essential virtues of the Christian life: or do you mean to satisfy yourselves with discharging the petty duties of morality, and with attending to the formal and less important obligations of religion? Are you going to declare war against every thing which opposes the empire of righteousness in your heart, or are you reserving the indulgence of some favourite passion, some Delilah, some Drusilla? Are you disposed to prescribe to your progress in grace a fixed point, beyond which it is needless to aim; or is it your fixed resolution, through grace, to be continually advancing towards perfection? Are you going to satisfy yourselves with vague designs; or are your projects to be supported by just measures and sage precautions?
3. Finally, the priests of Malachi's days profaned the table of the Lord, from their being destitute of a just sense of the inestimable value of the blessings communicated. It seemed to them, as if God put a price too high on the benefits which he proffered: and that, every thing weighed and adjusted, it was better to go without them, than to purchase them at the rate of such sacrifices as the possession of them demanded. This injurious mode of computation is reproved in very concise, but very energetic terms, chap. i. 13. "Ye said, what a weariness is it!" and, in another place, chap. iii. 14. "Ye have said it is vain to serve God: and what profit is it, that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?" and at
Want of feeling: a third article of comparison, between the profanation of the table of the Lord, of which those detestable wretches rendered themselves guilty, and the guilt of Christian professors who profane the holy table of the Lord's Supper. A Christian who partakes of this sacred ordinance, ought to approach it with a heart penetrated by the unspeakable greatness of the blessings there tendered to our acceptance. He ought to view that sacred table as the centre, in which all the benedictions bestowed by the Creator meet. He ought to be making unremitting efforts to measure the boundless dimensions of the love of God, to implore the aid of the Spirit, that he may be enabled to view it in all its extent, and to "comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of that love," Eph. iii. 18. He ought to be contemplating that chain of blessings which are there displayed in intimate and inseparable union: "Whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate, to be conformed to the image of his Son .
moreover whom he did predestinate them he also called: and whom he called them he also justified: and whom he justified them he also glorified," Rom. viii. 29, 30. Under a sense of favours so numerous, and so distinguishing, he ought to cry out with the psalmist: "How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures," Ps. xxxvi. 7, 8. He ought to exclaim, with a soul absorbed in the immensity of the divine goodness: 'my soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness," Ps. lxiii. 5. He ought, above all, to be struck with the incomprehensible disproportion there is between what God does for us, and what he requires of us. He ought to make the same estimate of things which St. Paul did; "I reckon, that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us," Rom. viii. 18, every thing fairly considered, I reckon that the trouble which the study of his religion demands, the sacrifices exacted of God, the constraint to which I am subjected in immolating to him my sinful passions, in resisting a torrent of corruption, in struggling against the influence of bad example, in straining to rise above flesh and blood, above selflove and nature: every thing fairly considered, I reckon that whatever is demanded of us by God, when we come to his table, is not once to be compared with the favours which he there dispenses, with the grand objects which
he there displays, with the pardon which he | year we partake of the holy sacrament of the there pronounces, with the peace of conscience supper; four times a year, consequently, which he there bestows, with the eternal glory church ought to assume a new appearance; which he there promises. To be destitute of four times a year we ought to see multitudes such feelings as these, when we partake of the of new converts. But do we see them of a Lord's Supper, is to profane it. Examine truth? Ah! I dare not dive to the bottom of yourselves once more by this standard. Want this mortifying subject. The evil is but too of feeling, this was the third head of com- apparent; we have but too good reason to alparison between profane Jews, and profane lege, that there is much unworthy communiChristian professors: "Ye offer polluted bread cating in the midst of us. upon mine altar; ye say the table of the Lord is contemptible."
Let each of us examine himself by an application of the truths now delivered. I shall address myself,
It is with you, unhappy professors of the Christian name, with you I must begin the application of this discourse: with you who have so often found out the fatal secret of drawing a mortal poison from that sacred table: with you, who are, by and by, going once more perhaps to derive a curse from the very bosom of benediction, and death from the fountain of life.
Do not deceive yourselves; seek not a disguise from your own wretchedness; think not of extenuating the apprehension of your danger; listen, O listen to the fearful threatenings denounced by the prophet, against God's ancient people, after he had addressed them in the words of the text: "Cursed be the deceiver which . . . . voweth and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing. if ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the Lord of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. . . . I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts," chap. i. 14; ii. 2, 3.
1. To those who, on reviewing their former communion services, see cause to consider themselves as chargeable with the guilt which God imputed to the Jews who lived in the days of Malachi. And would to God that this topic of discourse might have no reference to any one in this assembly! Would to God that no one of you might be justly ranked in any of the odious classes which we have enumerated! But only employ a moment's reflection, on the shortness of the time usually devoted to preparation for partaking of the Lord's Supper. It is evident, as I think, from all we have said, that the preparation necessary to a worthy receiving of it, is a work, nay, a work which calls for both attention and exertion. But do we, of a truth, set apart much of our time to this work? I do not mean to examine all the cases in which a man may communicate unworthily; I confine myself to a single point, and only repeat this one reflection: Prepara- But on the other hand, infuse not poison tion for the Lord's table is a work which re-into your wounds, aggravate not the image of quires time, attention, exertion. That is enough; that proves too much against us all. For we are constrained to acknowledge, that it is by no means customary among us to retire for meditation, to fast, to engage in peculiar acts of devotion, on the days which precede a communion solemnity. It is no unusual thing to see, on those days, at many of our houses, parties formed, social festivity going on: in these we see the same games, the same amusements, the same dissipation, as at other times. I have reason to believe that in other protestant countries, though the same corruptions but too universally prevail, I believe, nevertheless, that such days are there distinguished by the suspension of parties of pleasure, by discontinuance of certain practices, perhaps abundantly innocent in themselves, but, at the same time, too foreign to the design of the holy communion, to engage our attention, when we have an immediate prospect of partaking of it. But in these provinces, we are so far from coming up to the spirit and the truth of Christianity, the exterior order and decency of it are hardly observed.
But if this reflection be insufficient to convince you of a truth so mortifying, as that there is much unworthy communicating in the midst of us; think, I beseech you, on the slightness of the changes which these solemnities produce. Here is the touchstone; this is the infallible standard by which to determine the interesting question under discussion. Four times a year we almost all of us come to the table of the Lord Jesus Christ; four times a
your wretchedness, but attend to the comforta-
You must have recourse to that same Jesus
But, above all, resolutions sincere, determinate, efficacious, followed up by execution
from the moment you retire from this place | Hast thou exerted thyself to the uttermost, to must supply the want of preparation, and the communicating of this day must make up the defects of all that preceded it. And if God has not in mercy granted you such dispositions as these, may he inspire you, at least, with a resolution not to approach his table, for fear of arming his right hand with hotter thunderbolts to crush and destroy you! or rather, may God grant you those happy dispositions, and graciously accept them when bestowed! may it please God to be disarmed by your repentance, to gather up your tears, to regard with an eye of favour your efforts, your feeble efforts! May God grant your absolution, your salvation, to the earnest prayers of these his faithful servants, or rather, to the all-powerful intercession of the Redeemer, unprotected by which the most eminent of saints durst not lift up their eyes to heaven, and approach the throne of the divine Majesty.
2. I now turn to you, my dearly beloved brethren, who, while you reflect on communion seasons past, can enjoy the testimony of conscience, that you drew nigh to God in some state of preparation, and that you have reason to hope for a repetition of the same felicity. This ceremony is so august; the mysteries which it unfolds, are so awful; the punishment denounced against those who profane it, is so tremendous, that it is impossible to escape every emotion of fear, when engaged in the celebration of it. Study to be sensible of your own weakness. Say, in the language of repentance the most lively and sincere, and of humility the most profound, "If thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities: O Lord, who shall stand?" Ps. cxxx. 3. O Lord God, I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth which thou hast showed unto thy servant," Gen. xxxii. 10. Stand in awe of the presence of the majesty of God Almighty; cry out with Jacob, "How dreadful is this place! this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven," Gen. xxvii. 17.
take all the immeasurable dimensions of the love of God? Hast thou reflected profoundly, on a God who was made flesh, who rescues thee from everlasting misery, who covers thy person with his own, that the arrows of divine wrath may pierce him only, without reaching thee? Hast thou seriously considered, that if God had hurried thee out of the world in a state of unrepented guilt; if he had not plucked thee, by a miracle of grace, out of the vortex of human things, instead of being surrounded, as now, with these thy fellow-believers in Christ Jesus, thou mightest have been doomed to the society of demons; instead of those songs of praise to which thy voice is now attuned, thou mightest this day have been mingling thy howlings with those of the victims, whom the wrath of God is immolating in the regions of despair. Let the blessedness which God is accumulating upon us, support us under all the ills which we are called to endure. Our life is not yet concluded; our warfare is not yet accomplished.
We are about to return into the world; we have still difficulties and dangers to encounter, bitter potions to swallow, afflictions to suffer; especially in this age of fire and of blood so fatal to the Christian name. But, supported by this grace of God, we shall be able to resist and to overcome the most violent assaults.
We are going to return into the world, amidst the snares of the wicked one; he will still aim many a blow at our souls; this flesh is not yet entirely mortified; the old man has not yet received his death's wound; evil concupiscence is not yet completely extinguished; we shall fall into sin again. Humiliating reflection to a soul which this day places all its delight in being united unto God! But, supported by this peace of God, we shall find the means of remedying the weakness with which we may be still overtaken, as it has furnished the means of deliverance from those into which we had already fallen.
But while you render unto God, the homage We are going to return into the world, it is of holy fear, honour him likewise with that of high time to think of our departure out of it. holy confidence. Think not that he loves to We are conversant with the living; we must be always viewed as "the great, the mighty, think of being speedily mingled with the dead. and the terrible God," Neh. ix. 32, the God We yet live; we must die. We must be lookwho "is a consuming fire," Heb. xii. 29. He ing forward to those mortal agonies which are draws nigh to you in this ordinance, not with preparing; to that bed of languishing which is awful manifestations of vengeance; but with already spread; to that funeral procession all the attractions of his grace, with all the gifts which is marshalling for us. But, supported of his Spirit, with all the demonstrations of his by this peace of God, we shall be more than love. Bow down over the mystical ark, to- conquerors in all these conflicts: with "the gether with the celestial intelligences, and ad- Spirit of him who hath raised up Christ from mire the wonders which it contains, and be- the dead," we shall bid defiance to all the holding with them "the glory" of your Re- powers of "the king of terrors." Jesus, who deemer, with them cry out, "Holy, holy, holy" hath destroyed him who had the power of is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory," Isa. vi. 3.
Study to know and to feel the whole extent of your felicity, and let a sense of the benefits with which God hath loaded thee, kindle the hallowed flame of gratitude in your hearts. "Hast thou ever, O my soul, been made sensible of the unbounded nature of thy happiness?
death," will deliver us from his dominion. Through that gloomy night which is fast approaching, and which is already covering our eyes with its awful shade, we shall behold the rays of "the Son of righteousness," and their divine light shall dissipate to us all the horrors of" the valley of the shadow of death." Amen. To God be honour and glory for ever. Amen.
THE RAPTURE OF ST. PAUL
2 COR. xii. 2-4.
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter."
We propose in the following discourse, my brethren, to attempt a solution of the difficulty which arises from this silence of the apostle. We propose to discuss this singular, but interesting question; Wherefore is the celestial felicity "unspeakable?" Wherefore should it be unlawful for a man to utter it? We shall begin with some elucidation of the expressions of our text, inquiring, 1. Into the era to which reference is here made; "I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago." 2. By considering what is said respecting the manner of this rapture; "Whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body I cannot tell: God knoweth." 3. What we are to understand by paradise, and the third heaven. 4. Finally, What ideas we are to affix to those unspeakable words to which our apostle alludes in the text; and these will constitute the first general division of our subject.
If there be a passage in the whole Bible capable of inflaming, and at the same time of baffling human curiosity, it is that which I have just now read. I do not mean a vain and presumptuous curiosity, but a curiosity apparently founded on reason and justice. One of the principal causes of our want of ardour in the pursuit of heavenly blessings, is our having no experienced witness, who, after having himself tasted the sweetness of them, conveyed to us clear and distinct ideas on the sub-pally in view, we shall examine the point alject. It is a difficult matter to love that of which we have no knowledge.
But in the second, which we have princi
ready indicated, by inquiring, whether the silence of Scripture respecting a state of future happiness, suggests any thing tending to cool our ardour in the pursuit of it: we shall endeavour to make you sensible, that nothing is so much calculated to convey lofty ideas of the paradise of God, as that very veil which conceals it from our eyes. If you fully enter into the great aim and end of this discourse, it will produce on your minds those effects to which all our exhortations, all our importunities are adapted, namely, to kindle in your hearts an ardent desire to go to God; to put into your mouths that exclamation of the psalmist: "How great is thy goodness, O God, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee!" Ps. xxxi. 19; to place you in the very situation of our apostle, who after having been caught up to the third heaven," could no longer endure to live upon the earth, had his eyes opened to every path that, led to death, could talk no more of any thing but of dying, "but of finishing his course," 2 Tim. iv. 7, but of being "absent from the body," 2 Cor. v. 8, but of departing, but of "being with Christ, which was to him far better," Phil. i. 23.
St. Paul seems to have been reserved of God to supply this defect, and to fill up, if I may use the expression, this void in religion. By a supernatural dispensation of grace, he passes into the other world before death; and he returns thence before the general resurrection. The whole church, awakened to eager atten.tion, calls upon him for a detail of the wonders of the world unknown. And as the Israelites, after having despatched spies into the land of promise, burned with ardent desire to see and hear them, in order that they might obtain information respecting the country, whether it merited the exertions necessary to acquire possession: in like manner, the Christian world seems to flock round our apostle, in earnest expectation of being informed what that felicity" is, into which they are invited to enter by a gate so strait. They seem with one accord to ask him: What did you hear? What did you see? in the view of determining, upon his report, this all important question, whether they should still persevere in their exertions, to surmount the obstacles which they have to encounter in the way of salvation, or whether they should relinquish the pursuit.
But St. Paul fulfils not this expectation: he maintains a profound silence respecting the objects which had been presented to his mind: he speaks of his rapture, only in the view of confounding those false teachers who took upon them to set at nought his ministry: and all the description he gives of paradise, amounts to no more than a declaration of his own utter inability to describe what he had seen and heard. "I knew a man in Christ: a man in Christ," that is to say, a Christian, and by this denomination the apostle is characterizing himself, "I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell: or whether out of the body, I
I. We begin with some elucidation of the expressions of the text, and of these,
1. The first refers to the era of St. Paul's rapture, I knew a man in Christ "above fourteen years ago." But were we to enter into a complete discussion of this question, it would occupy much more time than is allotted for the whole of our present exercise. Never had preacher a fairer opportunity of wasting an hour to his hearers, in useless investigation, and impertinent quotations. We could easily supply you with an ample list of the opinions of interpreters, and of the reasons adduced by each, in support of his own. We could tell you, first, how it is alleged by some that these fourteen years denote the time elapsed from the conversion of St. Paul; and that his rapture
THE RAPTURE OF ST. PAUL.
took place during those three days in which "he was without sight, and did neither eat nor drink," Acts ix. 9., and to this purpose we could quote Capel, Lira, Cave, Tostat, and many other authors, unknown to the greater part of my audience.
We might add, that some other commentators refer this epoch to the eighth year after St. Paul's conversion to Christianity, the fortyfourth of Jesus Christ, and the twelfth after his death.
We could show you how others insist, with a greater air of probability, that the apostle enjoyed this heavenly vision, when, after his contention with Barnabas, humiliating instance of the infirmity of the greatest saints, he prosecuted his ministry in a different track. Those who adopt this opinion, allege, in support of it, the words of St. Paul in chap. xxii. of the Acts, ver. 17. "It came to pass, that when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance." But disquisitions of this sort are unworthy of the place which I now have the honour to fill. I have matters of much higher importance to propose to you.
2. The manner of St. Paul's rapture stands
Let it only be remarked, that God was pleas-
He was pleased at other times, to reveal
He sometimes manifested himself in visions to persons awake. Thus he presented to Moses in Horeb a bush burning with fire yet unconsumed, Exod. iii. 4: to Balaam, an angel with his sword drawn in his hand, Num. xxii. 32; to Joshua, the captain of the Lord's host, Josh.
He sometimes communicated himself to men through the medium of inspiration, accompanied with emotions which constrained them to speak out. This was the case with Jeremiah, as we read, chap. xx. 8, 9, "The word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing."
But of all those miraculous dispensations, the most noble and exalted was that of rapture or ecstacy. By the term ecstacy we mean that powerful conflict, that concentration of thought, VOL. II.-26
that profound intenseness of mental applica-
Rapture is perhaps a degree superior to ecstacy. Sometimes it affects the mind. This is the case when God, in virtue of that sovereign power cites in it the same ideas, causes it to perceive which he possesses over the soul of man, exthe same objects, with which it would be struck, were the body, to which it is united, really in a place from whence it is extremely remote. It is thus that we must explain the rapture of the prophet Ezekiel, chap. viii. 3; and that of which St. John speaks in the book of Revelation, chap. i. 10.
It sometimes affects the body. This was the
3. The third heaven, paradise: another subject of elucidation. The third heaven is the habitation of the blessed; that in which God displays the most splendid and glorious tokens But the other expression employed by St. Paul, of his presence: this is disputed by no one."
caught up into paradise," has furnished matter for controversy among the learned. It has long been made a question whether paradise place. Certain modern interpreters have mainand the third heaven denote one and the same tained the negative, with excessive warmth. A great number of the ancient fathers had adopted the same opinion. They considered paradise as a mansion in which the soul resided till the resurrection, and they distinguished it Tryphon, condemns, as equally erroneous, the from heaven. Justin Martyr, disputing with denying of the doctrine of the resurrection, and the opinion which supposes that the souls of men go to God immediately after death. In this they follow the prejudices of the Jews.Many of them believe that the souls of good people are translated to the garden of Eden, to wait for the day of the resurrection: they May his soul be received into accordingly employ this form of prayer for dying persons: paradise; may he repose, and sleep in peace till the garden of Eden; may he have his part in the coming of the Comforter, who shall speak peace to the fathers. O ye to whom the treasures of paradise are committed, open now its gates that he may enter in."