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Dr. Robert Hawker
Union and Communion with Christ
UNION WITH CHRIST, THE ONLY POSSIBLE
MEANS OF ENJOYING
COMMUNION WITH GOD
If there be any one plain matter of fact fully ascertained by scripture, and confirmed from the universal experience of mankind, it is the assurance, that man in the present state of existence, both by nature and by practice, is a fallen, guilty creature before God. And however the unawakened professor of Christianity, who amuses himself with trifling around the skirts of religion, may hesitate at the candid acknowledgment of this great truth, yet the serious communicant at the Lord’s table, is supposed by the very nature of the service, to have admitted the fact with full consent, unqualified with the smallest abatement. For what indeed is the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, but an implication of some known breach between God and man, in which the merciful Creator, having of his own free and unmerited bounty provided a means of reconciliation, hath, in testimony thereof, appointed this ordinance as a standing memorial of the same; to indicate his gracious design in the recovery of his fallen creature, and to convince the sinner of his disposition and readiness to pardon, and receive him again into favor, through the sole medium of reconciliation in the person and incommunicable salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ? In this light, and in this light only, can the holy Supper be considered; and as such becomes what may not improperly be called a visible gospel; because it is proposed to the eye; as the word preached is addressed to the ear; and both, corresponding to the accomplishment of one and the same purpose. And whoever hath not such views of this ordinance, is evidently a stranger to the very design of its institution; and can have no more occasion to partake of it, than a man without hunger hath for food, or the healthy for medicine. And indeed, should a person of this description partake of it, his participation must be wholly confined to the mere outward elements of the bread and wine only: for the inward apprehension of the body and blood of Christ be is as unconscious of, as the deaf of sound, or the blind of light. He may, I confess, have communion with the table, with the elements upon the table, and with the persons around the table; but he can have none with God in Christ; for this is peculiarly their privilege, who spiritually “eat the flesh, and drink the blood of the Son of man.”
Assuming this for a principle perfectly unquestionable, I advance one step higher, in the subject, and observe, that neither is it enough, as a suitable qualification for partaking of the Supper of the Lord, to have this proper conception of the nature and design of the service, unless there be added to it also the knowledge of a personal interest therein. The gospel indeed is proclaimed to the sinner’s ear; the table is spread to the eye of sense; but the enquiry of every awakened mind will be, Is it proclaimed and spread for me? Am I among those who feel truly interested in its saving invitations? It is in vain to all the important purposes of salvation, that mercy and grace are proclaimed, unless it be personally applied to every individual’s own ease and circumstances. The most plentiful table, however spread, will not satisfy the hungry, unless it be partaken of: neither can the most sovereign medicine prove efficacious, unless administered. And by a parity of reasoning, the rich mercies of the gospel cannot save the soul, unapplied to the heart by the gracious operations of the Holy Ghost. It is a glorious consideration, no doubt, that God hath given such a ransom as is made for sinners in the blood of Christ. But what is it to you or to me, personally considered, unless we have an interest therein? Though brought before us in the ordinances of the gospel, it is not enough, unless we are brought into it by the precious effects of a gracious application. And the question must everlastingly be recurring, and with increasing earnestness at every renewed view of the subject, by all truly serious minds, what interest have I personally in it? How am I convinced that it is for me? An unappropriated ransom becomes no ransom at all! An unapplied Saviour” is no Saviour!
Cautiously proceeding in my subject, that from laying down the plainest principles in the beginning, no reasonable objections to the consequences resulting from them may afterwards arise, I advance yet one step higher in the argument (and which indeed brings me into the very platform of the whole doctrine) and observe, that as a personal interest is indispensible, in order to a real participation in the blessings of the gospel; it will follow, that the only possible method by which this can be accomplished, must be that which the Redeemer himself hath insisted upon with so much earnestness in the whole of his gospel; namely, that by the regeneration of the soul, and its personal union with him, through the operations of the Holy Ghost, the great blessings of redemption are conveyed to the souls of his people: and that, in fact, so infinitely important is this great work in the whole scheme of the gospel, to the personal salvation of each believer, that it must actually take place in the instance of every individual, before that individual can be truly said to be in a state of grace, or capable of enjoying communion with God in any of the ordinances of worship.
The authority of the word of God on this point, is not only decisive and unanswerable, but happily for our argument, is capable of being explained on principles even of common sense and reason. Let any man make an experiment in his garden, and determine the matter for himself, and from his own observation. What possible benefit can result from the fatness and moisture of the most fruitful tree, to the withered, sapless branch, which is severed from the tree, and hath no connection with it? And what can the soul receive by way of communion in the gifts and grace of the Lord Jesus, while void of an union with his person, and remaining in the original state of a withered, fruitless nature, which is universally “dead in trespasses and sins?” 1 Or, to make the similitude yet somewhat nearer to the case in point: What advantage doth the prop derive from its situation near the side of some sweet flower, whose tender stalk it is placed purposely to support, and hath indeed no other object to which it ministers? And what are all the kind influences of the sun’s warmth, or the clouds’ fatness to its unconscious state? And such is the situation of that professor in religion who, unconnected by any vital union to the person of the Lord Jesus, stands in the church’s garden but as a stick, supporting indeed (if it can be called support) the tender plant of the gospel with his unmeaning hand, but himself all the while neither rooted nor grounded in Christ: and on whom all the dew and rain of the sweetest ordinances fall but in vain.
I use these similitudes not merely as being the best calculated to illustrate the vast importance of the doctrine I am anxious to establish; but also because I find metaphor and figure particularly made choice of by the sacred writers to explain the same. The scriptures indeed, with no less elegance than simplicity, have been pleased to adopt a great variety, by way of rendering the subject familiar; and, as if in accommodation to the feeble apprehension of the human mind, that what one figure might fall short in illustrating, might more fully be elucidated in another; and altogether so operate to the establishment of this infinitely interesting truth, that no misconception or mistake might arise.
Thus in one place, we find the great doctrine of the soul’s union with the Lord Jesus represented under the image and figure of a graft on a stock: in which the original, corrupt, and sinful state of man by nature, is compared to the branch of “the wild olive tree,” which is wild by nature, and incapable by any act of nature, of bringing forth good fruit. And in allusion to the sovereign, free, and unmerited grace of God, which alone can gather the soul: from the stock of corrupt nature, and unite it by grace to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, this branch is said to be “cut out of the olive tree, which is wild by nature, and grafted contrary to nature, into the good olive tree,” and then to partake of “the root and fatness of the tree.” A beautiful and highly-finished resemblance to the gracious doctrine it is designed to shadow out, and as far as spiritual things can be illustrated by natural, it corresponds in every particular. All men by nature, as to their barren, corrupt, and unprofitable state before God, are like the wild olive tree, and totally incapable, without converting grace, of producing fruit. But when once an act of sovereign mercy hath taken the soul from its original stock, and united it to the person of the Lord Jesus, then it may be truly said, (and with still greater reason, if possible, as corresponding the nearer to his nature, who is a Spirit), “in him,” spiritually as well as naturally, “to live, and move, and have our being.” For all spiritual life, apprehension, strength, moisture, and fruitfulness is derived from him. And all gracious souls, on whom the Lord hath wrought this saving change, are as sensible of the different effects, from their original state of nature to the happy change by grace, as the effects are visible by any process made by the graft on a stock in the vegetable kingdom. They know to whom they are united, from the blessed communion and refreshments of his grace. The Lord meets them in their prayers, meets them in their ordinary walks, and in a thousand instances manifests himself to them “otherwise than to the world.” And they meet him when in the discovery of any of his providences, in reproofs or mercies they trace his footsteps, or hear his. Voice, and are enabled to see that everything which concerns them is under his direction. Hence they undertake nothing but in his strength, and desire nothing so much as his glory; and thus continually finding all their springs to be in Him, they are deriving out of his fulness, as the branch from the vine, “grace to help in every time of need.”
The same doctrine is as beautifully set forth in another part of scripture, under the figure of the human body, in which the Lord Jesus is represented as the Head, and his people as the members; from whom it is said “that the whole body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, maketh increase unto the edifying of itself in love,” (Eph. 4:16). Here the metaphor varies from the former, but this is only intended by a pleasing variety to illustrate the same interesting truth somewhat more fully. And as in the human frame there is but one and the same vital principle pervades and runs through every part from their union: with each other: so where once a spirit of grace hath quickened, animated, and renewed the soul, which was before “dead in trespasses and sins,” and united it to the person of the Lord Jesus, the life of grace which originates in the Almighty Head is diffused through all the members of his mystical body, and preserves them in an union with him, and with each other. Hence that sympathy and affection which takes place between them; by which both in sorrow and in joy they feel alike, and weep or rejoice together. And this certainly forms, as well it may, every believer’s own personal experience, when from the Spirit’s teaching, he is enabled to discover his being gathered out of nature’s corruption, and can trace his affinity and connection with the Lord Jesus, from the uniformity of heart and mind between the Head and its members. I mean when one opinion; one sentiment, one desire manifests itself in both. If what the Head commands, the feet and hands obey: and what Jesus forbids the heart doth not desire. —Oh! it is a luxury known only to the truly regenerated believer, when he can discover a willing conformity to his spiritual Head in all things; and in the most trying dispensation is enabled to say, “It is well:” good is the will of the Lord.
And were it not for departing rather from the main object I have in view, I would stay one moment longer in this place just to observe, that this beautiful figure which so sweetly explains the affinity of Christ with his people, as plainly proves the nearness of relationship in the Lord’s people, and their regard for each other, for they are said to be “members one of another,” as well as “members of his body, his flesh, and his bones.” And though diversified as they are in this mystical body, according to his gracious appointment, who hath placed them where they are, yet that there should be no schism in the body, they are supposed to have the same care one for another; and if “one member suffer, all the members suffer with it.; and if one member be honored, all the members, rejoice with it.” A divine testimony of being passed from death unto life, when believers find their love drawn out to a member of Christ’s mystical body, because he is united to the person of the Lord Jesus, and when they minister all they have to minister, in the name of a disciple!
But to return.—The sacred writers, in order to follow up still more their illustrations of this affinity and union of believers with the person of the Lord Jesus, as if nothing was too much to illustrate and explain a doctrine so important in its consequences, adopt another metaphor, that of the married state, by way of representing the spiritual union between Christ and his people.
They show us that, as the Lord Jesus, when assuming our nature, for the general purposes of redemption, first married that nature to the person of the Godhead, and in that union wrought out redemption for his people; so by his gracious Spirit’s operation now on the soul of every believer brought to spiritual life by regeneration, he first unites that nature to himself for the special purpose of salvation, then renders that union effectual to such believer for his own personal assurance of it. The prophets, ages before the Lord Jesus became incarnate, declared, that this was among the express purposes of his mission. “I will betroth thee to me for ever: yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving kindness, and in mercy. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness, and thou shalt know the Lord,” (Hosea 2:19-20). And the Holy Ghost by Paul, when using the same figure, directly explains it in reference to the spiritual union between Christ and his people, when he says, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and his church,” (Eph. 5:32).
Neither are the experimental proofs of this doctrine which the sacred writers have thus frequently set forth, less manifested among true believers than under either of the former. For they whom the Lord Jesus hath quickened, and united to himself by the Holy Spirit’s work on the heart, are as sensible of this spiritual union from the unity of sentiment and affection, as the natural affections in common life testify the degree of attachment. When once a truly regenerated soul can echo to the language of the church, and say, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine:” when the interest of one becomes the interest of the other; and so intimately blended are their desires, their affections, their pursuits; that while Jesus is present the soul rejoices, when he is absent the soul mourns: as these are never the effect of natural causes, and those fragrant flowers of grace grow not in nature’s garden, the possession of them affords so charming a testimony of grace wrought in the heart, that there can be no possibility of mistake or delusion. It is delightful, indeed, to observe the mutual privilege there is in the property of each other by virtue of this union. The Lord Jesus hath made his people his, both by his Father’s gift, (John 17:2), by his own gift, (Eph. 6:25), by conquest, (Ps. 45:5), and by possession, (Hosea 2:19). And the soul puts in her humble claim to the person, and gifts, and graces of the Redeemer, as well in being given to Christ by the Father as by his own purchase, and by a voluntary surrender when “made willing in the day of his power.” Hence the tender language of Ruth to Naomi becomes the language of the heart to the Lord Jesus, in every truly united soul: “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee, for whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest I will die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me,” (Ruth 1:16-17).
And lastly, to mention no more, when the sacred writers, in order to represent the cement of an eternal union between the Lord Jesus and his people, adopt the bold and nervous metaphor of a temple: it cannot but strike the most ordinary reader, how great a stress is laid upon the doctrine itself, thus frequently set forth. “Ye are no more strangers and foreigners “saith one of the apostles, in allusion to the original stock of corrupt nature in its alienation and departure from God, “but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together, growth unto an holy temple in the Lord,” (Eph. 2:19-21). And to show the antiquity of the doctrine, and to demonstrate that this was the grand design of the gospel; the prophet Isaiah was directed to make proclamation in the holy mountain, under the same figure, that this was the purpose of the Messiah’s mission. “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation; and he that believeth, shall not make haste,” (Isa. 28:16). Jesus is both the foundation stone in the temple, for there is no other, and the key stone and corner stone of every arch. And when believing souls, by the Spirit’s work, are brought to make him their sure foundation, by which he bears the whole pressure and weight of their sins, and their sorrows; and they are enabled to cast all their burden upon the Lord, both spiritual, temporal, and eternal; how refreshing is the view, and how evident doth it manifest, upon all occasions, the intimacy of the union there must be subsisting between them! For as the foundation stone of a building bears the whole weight and pressure of the building; so the Holy Ghost gives witness to the Redeemer that “he bore our sins in his own body on the tree:” and as every part of an arch is intimately connected and linked together, and kept in beautiful symmetry and order by the key stone: so true believers in Christ are preserved by Him in their spiritual building, to Him and to each other, and it is impossible they can ever be separated, while He standeth sure. To use another expression of Christ; They shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of his Almighty hand. (John 10:28).
But though from the gracious condescension of the Holy Ghost, under whose inspiration the sacred writers have conveyed to us so much information, by way of metaphor on this great doctrine, we are indebted for the clearer apprehension of it; and in conformity to this authority (which it must ever be the highest wisdom of every man to copy after) I have humbly adopted the like use of figure in order to illustrate the same glorious truth; yet I beg it may be thoroughly understood at the same time, that it is not to figure and metaphor only, this grand and infinitely interesting doctrine is left for support. Blessed be the divine benignity, when consulting the weakness and prejudices of the human mind in its present fallen state on this point, the Lord graciously condescended to go further. The redeemer himself, upon many occasions, while on earth, was pleased to speak of this union with his people, in terms so plain, so full, and so perspicuous, that faith hath every testimony to lean upon which can be necessary for the clear assurance of a doctrine so consolatory and refreshing.
In that memorable conversation he held with the Jews, as recorded in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel, the union with his person is insisted upon so repeatedly as the only possible means of deriving advantages from him, that the Lord Jesus makes it the basis of the whole superstructure. Jesus said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread he shall live for ever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. And except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed,” (John 6:51, &c). Natural, unrenewed minds, like the Jews of old, unable to receive spiritual truths through the medium of carnal reasonings, will be ever questioning what they cannot understand, and asking in the same language as they did, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” But to those whose spiritual senses are awakened, and exercised “to discern both good and evil,” through the power of the Holy Ghost, and are enabled by him to compare “spiritual things with spiritual,” they will enter into the full meaning of our Lord’s expressions, and know in their own personal experience, that saying of Jesus, “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him:” for this union with his person answers every enquiry, and solves every doubt. The soul once awakened, and brought into action by the Spirit of God, hath its principles of life suited to its spiritual nature, as much as the body to its corporeal feelings. Hence we read in scripture, of its hungerings and thirstings, its pains and its pleasures, its desires and pursuits, its conflicts and its trials, with all the several passions by which the reality of existence can be ascertained; and at the same time, from the direction of certain of those passions to the person of the Lord Jesus, as the grand object of desire, it is as plain that the soul united to the Redeemer, lives upon his fulness, is made strong in his strength, draws its sole pleasure from his love, and suffers misery from his displeasure; is made happy under all its conflicts by his support; and in short, by living a life of faith on the Son of God, finds a suitable grace to help in every time of need. Souls under this influence discover a beauty and suitableness in those scriptures, which must forever be veiled from every carnal eye. “It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me,” (John 6:63, 57).
You will confess, I hope, that it is not to figure and metaphor alone the momentous doctrine is referred, when the Lord Jesus himself hath been so gracious to convey the full assurance of it in terms so plain and familiar. And as during the season of his ministry, he was pleased to afford such decisive testimony of this saving truth in his conversation, so we find in the close of it, in that delightful prayer of the recommendation of his people to the Father (as if to refresh the minds of his disciples with the recollection of a doctrine on which so much of their present comfort, as well as their eternal welfare, depends) Jesus made this the very argument for every blessing he prayed for: that as the Father had given his people to him, they were in union with him, and were one with him, as he is with the Father: “I in them (says Christ), and thou in me,” (John 17:23): most plainly proving, (if the plainest words can be admitted to prove any one matter of fact), that as there is a mysterious union of person in the essence of the Godhead between the Father and the Son: so in the manhood of the Lord Jesus there is an union between him and his people, by virtue of the Spirit’s operation in uniting souls to Christ, and by which “because he lives they must live also,” (John 14:29).
And indeed, were not the rich privileges of the gospel assured to believers by some such infallible testimony, I do not see by what clear and unequivocal marks the Lord’s people would be known. Neither would there be that analogy in scripture which there now is, between our loss and ruin in the first Adam, and our recovery and salvation in the second. For as, on the supposition that I myself had no union with the first Adam by nature, and was not descended by generation from him, I could not possibly be included in the condemnation of his fall, entailed upon all his race: so it must follow, that unless I have an union with the second Adam by grace, and am made his by regeneration, I am far from being interested in the blessings he hath entailed upon all his spiritual seed. For as the original sin of Adam would not have condemned my soul, but because originating from him I derive a nature prone like his to evil, and both by descent and disposition I clearly prove the stock from whence I sprung: so, by a parity of reasoning, the righteousness of the Lord Jesus, and the merits of his death, will not justify me before God, unless I am interested in it by right of inheritance also, and am proved to be his by adoption and grace. So that the whole efficacy of all gospel blessings, mercies, and privileges, which the Lord Jesus hath wrought out for poor sinners, must depend, as to their saving application to the instance of every individual, upon this previous union with his person. We must (according to our original figure) be first taken out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and grafted contrary to nature into the true olive tree, before that we can partake of the root and fatness thereof. We must first be married to the person of the Lord Jesus, before we can be instituted into all the privileges of that union. It is only from this gracious, and soul-enriching connection, that all those exceedingly great and precious promises result, which are peculiarly their inheritance, “who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” (John 1:13). By virtue of this, they have communion with the Lord Jesus in everything which belongs to his mediatorial character. Communion with his person, communion in his graces, communion in his merits, in his righteousness, death, resurrection, advocateship, and eternal glory. Hence one prophet was taught by the Holy Ghost, to call the Redeemer by that adorable name, “the Lord our righteousness:” (Jer. 23:6), and another was commissioned by the same power, to speak the language of every renewed heart in those words, “Surely shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength,” (Isa. 45:24). And what prophets proclaimed ages before the Redeemer’s incarnation, the apostles declared after his return to glory, to be the great end of his mission, “to be made sin for his people who knew no sin, that they might be made the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Neither are these all the effects of this soul-refreshing doctrine. It is a blessed addition to it, to consider that the Lord’s people, in consequence of this union with the person of the Redeemer, not only partake in his merits, but he graciously participates in their sufferings. The foot indeed, cannot be supposed to be crushed, but what the head must feel. And while believers find an interest in all that concerns the Redeemer’s kingdom, he takes part in all that belongs to their welfare. As “he hath borne their sins,” so he is said “to have carried their sorrows,” “and in all their afflictions he is afflicted.” How soothing and consolatory the recollection of such a tender participation in the hour of suffering hath proved, and must in all ages prove to the tried and distressed members of his mystical body, who shall take upon him to say?
But yet further—It were to leave unfinished the interesting view of the unspeakable mercies resulting from this gracious union of the Lord Jesus with his people, were it not to be subjoined, that to the same great cause not only the blessings which belong to the peace and comfort of this life must originate; but all the security of the eternal happiness of another will alone flow. It is a matter of solid assurance to the stability of our faith, (though seldom it is to be apprehended by what we behold in the conduct of real Christians, considered in this point of view) that all the grand events which are to take place after death, in the instance of true believers, rest upon this eternal basis, their union with the person of the Lord Jesus. Their resurrection, we are positively assured, is not to be effected like others, by an exertion of almighty power only, but it is secured to them by a nearer process. “For if the Spirit of him that raised up Christ from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you,” (Rom. 8:21). Observe, “by his Spirit that dwelleth in you:” then it should seem that death doth not destroy the union between Jesus and his people. His Spirit still dwelleth in them:—though the body be reduced to dust, it is still united to the Lord, and as a germ in the seed of the vegetable world, is the cause of their recreation; so the Spirit of the Lord Jesus becomes the source and cause of the resurrection at the last day. And as in the instance of the resurrection, so also in the event of the judgment which is to follow, their case is peculiarly secured from even the apprehension of condemnation, in consequence of their union with the Lord. For though “all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ that every one may receive according to the things done in the body;” yet to them it is to receive the reward of their Redeemer’s merits, not to be arraigned for their sins, or to await the issue of their trial. He that is their Judge hath been, and still is their Saviour, their husband, their brother, their head; and they, “members of his mystical body, his flesh, and his bones.” “There is therefore now no condemnation (the apostle says) to them that are in Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 8:1). That condemnation, blessed be God, with the sentence that followed, was fulfilled once for all his people on Him their Almighty Head, when he “witnessed a good confession before Pontius Pilate,” (1 Tim. 6:13), and when by virtue of it, “he bore their sins in his own body on the tree,” (1 Pet. 2:24). Then “he redeemed them from the curse of the law, being made a curse for them;” for he “suffered the just for the unjust, to bring them unto God.” And if he suffered for them, how shall they be again arraigned? If “he who knew no sin was made sin for them;” was it not that “they might be made the righteousness of God in him?” “who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justifieth, who is he that condemneth?” There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus. And if there be no possibility of condemnation, there can be no possibility of punishment. So blessed and consolatory is the view of that great day of God to all his people, who from their personal union with him in the Judge, look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ! And to sum up all: as in judgment, so in the glory which succeeds; this personal interest with the King of glory becomes the eternal security of reigning with him above, as they have been united to him below. For so run the words of the charter: “To him that overcometh (and they overcome by the blood of the Lamb) will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am sat down with my Father in his throne. I will make him a pillar in my temple, and he shall go no more out,” (Rev. 3:21, 12). Hence may every renewed soul, with whose spirit the Holy Ghost witnesseth that “they are made kings and priests to God and the Father,” exult in the same triumphant language as the apostle, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Neither’ death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Rom. 8:35, 38-39).
If I have not wandered so far by way of illustrating and explaining the doctrine itself, but the apprehension of my reader may be competent to connect in his mind the remembrance of what was before insisted upon, of the infinite importance of this principle, our union with the person of the Lord Jesus, as the sole foundation of any real interest in his great salvation; the result of all that I have said will be in correspondence to the title page of this little work, that “union with Christ can be the only possible means of enjoying communion with God.” All preparations short of this, are in fact no preparations at all. You may have in them indeed the form, but not the power of godliness. And were they multiplied by thousands, and followed up with ten thousand sacraments, ordinances, prayers, and the like; yet, void of this life-giving, soul-enriching principle, they only tend to carry the heart from God, instead of bringing it to him; because they prompt the mind to place religion in that which it is not; and could the unmeaning worshipper but have his senses spiritually exercised, he might hear a voice of expostulation from the holy place solemnly answering, while seeming only to enquire: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me, saith the Lord?” (Isa. 1:11). What a solemn proof indeed doth the word of God afford of this awful effect in the most diligent attendance to divine things, void of divine grace, in the character of the traitor disciple. Judas was as prompt in following the ministry of the Lord Jesus as any of the other apostles! Judas heard, as well as they, his divine discourses. Judas saw, with them his mighty miracles; and Judas sat with him at his table, and perhaps received the Holy Supper from his gracious hands. But all the while Judas had no part or lot in this matter.
My brother! pause one moment, and reflect on the infinite importance of what hath been said. I do not ask you what forms you observe; what preaching you attend; what sacraments you follow: for these are all outward things, frequently proceed from outward causes, consist in outward performances, and go no further than outward service. But I would very earnestly and affectionately desire you to get a decisive answer to your own heart; whether amidst all these, God the Holy Ghost hath been your Teacher? and whether he hath so taught you, that “Christ is formed in your heart the hope of glory?” Do you ask how this shall be known? The answer is direct—Wherever an union is formed in the soul with the person of the Lord Jesus, there the Spirit of the Lord Jesus dwells: and certain it is that he dwells in none but where that union is formed by his gracious operation. The language of an apostle to this point is at once plain, and his authority unquestionable: “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the spirit of Christ dwell in you. But if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (Rom. 8:9). Do you know whether he dwells in you? Yes! if as the glorifier of the Lord Jesus, which is his distinguishing character, he humbles you to lead to him, which is his uniform act. If he convinces you of your emptiness, and the Saviour’s fulness, and is bringing you daily, and sometimes hourly, in a way of barter, to resign your sins for his righteousness, your ignorance for his wisdom, your weakness for his strength, and in short, under every want to see that “all your fresh springs are in him:” these are precious proofs of an union with his person, and as such very clearly manifest in what the truest preparation, not only for the Supper of the Lord, but for every other ordinance and means of grace, must consist. For by this gracious process of divine teaching, the soul is made sensible of its poverty, its wants, and its misery, and by being continually brought to Christ for every supply, is kept humble and depending; the best state a soul can possibly be found in: and hence acceptance with God is looked for, not in the duty, not in the ordinance, not in repentings, and tears, and services, and prayers, and sacraments; but wholly in the Lord Jesus Christ. All these indeed, as so many gifts of the Holy Spirit, are plain effects of divine love, and evidences that a spirit of grace is wrought in the heart; but not in the smallest degree the cause of salvation: and to trust in them, or to seek healing from the use of them, instead of Christ alone, would ultimately prove the worst of all diseases.
I do not know whether I sufficiently explain myself by these terms to the apprehension of every reader. But I cannot be mistaken, I think, by the humblest capacity, when I observe, that as the express work of the Holy Ghost is in all things “to glorify the, Lord Jesus,” whatever hath a gracious tendency to this effect, must proceed from his teachings: and as the Saviour is certainly glorified most, when the sinner is most humbled, there cannot be a better evidence that this gracious effect is wrought in your heart, than that your duties make you more humble, that the righteousness of the Lord Jesus may be more exalted in your view; or to use the highly-finished experience of the apostle, when you can say as he did; “Most gladly will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me, for when I am weak (that is, helpless, hopeless, in myself) then am I strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” What saith the reader’s experience to these things? If I have been so highly favored, through the good hand of my God upon me, as to convince your understanding, that all ordinances void of this life-giving power, this spiritual union with the Lord Jesus, can never bring the heart to God; I shall have carried you, perhaps, much further than you originally intended, and have robbed you of what the unhumbled pride of our nature is ever too much attached to, to part with easily; I mean that something which we fancy we have in ourselves, and in our own preparations, to recommend us to the favor of God. This refuge of lies will at once be swept away. For if the only habitual state of every truly regenerated believer, must arise from an union with Christ, in being “rooted and grounded in him;” it will as necessarily and unavoidably follow, that the only actual preparation for every duty, or ordinance of worship in our approach to God, must originate in the gracious influences and teachings of the Holy Ghost. The going forth of the soul towards the Lord in a way of desire, or in the exercise of love, or hope, or joy, or faith, or repentance, or in short, any other Christian grace in the believer upon the person of the Lord Jesus, are particularly his gifts, and proceed from his operation. As He alone is the Interpreter of the mind, both of the Father and the Son to his people, so is he the Interpreter of their mind and desires to the whole Godhead; and it is his express work to glorify the Lord Jesus, in taking of the things of Christ to show unto his people. And if so, what a mass of weakness and folly (to speak the least offensively of it) must be that swarm of books, called Weekly Preparations, which human wisdom hath drawn up for the use of communicants, and without which so many formal professors of religion would not venture to go to the Lord’s Supper! That they are in direct opposition to what is taught in scripture is evident, for it is there said, and in the plainest words, that “the preparation of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, are both from the Lord,” (Prov. 16:1). “That the Spirit helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought,” (Rom. 8:26). And yet in defiance of these plain scriptures, forms of prayer are drawn up in these books for every day in the week, preparatory to the day on which the Lord’s Supper is to be administered, which are directed to be used whether the heart can pray or not, or whether the soul be in a state of joy or grief, of darkness or light, is bowed down with a sense of indwelling sin, or triumphing in the righteousness of the Saviour. If all the wisdom of man was concentrated and brought into one person, and that person should devote a whole life to draw up a form of devotion, which should answer all the wants; and express all the desires of an awakened believer for one single day of his life; he would still find a somewhat unsaid which the heart wished to say, and somewhat said which the heart could not at all times consistently express. And how it could ever enter into the mind of man, that a form could be composed to suit all the various wants and situations of the Lord’s tried family in their approaches to his Supper, is wonderful to conceive! Neither is this all. The very title of these books shows their fallacy. “A Week’s Preparation.” A week’s preparation! As if a week’s abstinence from business or pleasure, to which the heart is wedded all the while, could beget a divorce; or a week’s hurrying over, a few unfelt prayers, in which the heart is uninterested, could bring the soul nearer to God!—And yet to see how scrupulous some are in going regularly through these appointments, as if the whole merit of the service depended upon finishing the prescribed forms, before they presumed to eat the bread, or to drink the wine at the altar. How hath it grieved my heart upon those occasions to behold many (and some of them tottering with age and infirmities) whose long attendance on these forms one might have thought would have been sufficient to have learnt them all by rote, yet regularly spreading their books the moment they have taken the place at the table, and seemingly very anxious to have finished the prayers appointed before the minister approached to give them the elements! Alas! I have said to myself, if those spiritual crutches were taken away from those worshippers, what would they have to lean upon? It might truly be said by them, as Micah by his idols, “Ye have taken away my gods which I made: and what have I more?” (Judges 18:24). Had the apostles of our Lord in the institution of this holy Supper taken with them their Jewish ritual of prayers, and instead of making Him the sole object of their attention, had they been earnest in repeating their forms of worship; what intercourse and real communion would they have lost! And how in this case would the beloved disciple have leaned upon his Lord’s bosom?
But I expect a clamor to arise against me here, from among that class of communicants who are tenacious of their books. Perhaps while I am showing the fallacy of what is called a weekly preparation, I shall be misconstrued, as if I discountenanced all preparation whatever. But this is far from my design; and the man of candor and sincerity will not, I am persuaded, be under the influence of such an opinion. I do indeed desire to be understood, as very highly reprobating that preparation which is in man, because I learn from an authority not to be questioned, that “the preparation of the heart is from the Lord.” And hence, I earnestly desire to recommend to every sincere worshipper, to seek the Lord’s face, in the Lord’s strength. And let me ask; is it not taking the most effectual method, under divine grace, to accomplish this purpose, when, instead of resting on the forms and ceremonies of ordinances, as if the Lord was a Lord of ordinances, we use the ordinance itself but as the channel and median of drawing nigh unto God? If we attend the Lord’s table in the Lord’s preparation, and “go forth (as David says he did upon all occasions) in the strength of the Lord God, making mention of his righteousness, even his only,” (Ps. 71:16); this is a preparation indeed, and which I not only recommend, but earnestly contend for; in which there can be no deception, no mistake, no disappointment. And when God the Holy Ghost hath thus “breathed upon his garden,” the church, and the spices of grace are flowing, whether it be in prayer or praise; then, and not else, believers, which are as “trees of the Lord’s planting,” will sit under the shadow of ordinances “with great delight, and his fruit will be sweet to their taste.”
Suffer me, if it be only for example’s sake, to suppose that I am now speaking to some sincere soul, who hath at least the desire, if not the evidence in himself, of this habitual frame of preparation I have been insisting upon, in an union with Christ; and is waiting only now for that actual preparation of the heart, which is peculiarly the Spirit’s work to accomplish, either for attending the Lord’s table, or any other ordinance of worship. In circumstances like these, let the present frame of the mind be what it may, supposing my reader be “under heaviness through manifold temptations;” or walking in darkness from the hidings of the Divine countenance; or complaining of a cold, treacherous and deceitful heart; or bowed down with the weight of sin; or in short is in either of those trying situations well known to the people of God, which operate at times with peculiar heaviness through indwelling corruption, the trials of the world, or the persecutions of the enemy, and induce a state of mind unsuited for the purposes of communion. Now in all these instances, as well as numberless others of a similar nature, which are continually occurring; as both the means and cure are peculiarly among the operations of the Holy Ghost, so from him alone come those gracious and perfect gifts by which that cure can be accomplished. And the method by which he carries on his divine influences in the mind, in illuminating darkened souls; refreshing weary souls; quickening those which cleave to the dust; bringing pardon to those which are bowed down with the burden of sin; strengthening the weak; supporting the feeble minded; comforting the distressed; affording a seasonable relief, as the case may be, having a grace for every time of need: such a view of the gracious work of God the Holy Ghost opens so blessed and profitable a subject of contemplation, that while it affords the most satisfying conviction of the truth of the doctrine itself, in seeing with whom all preparation is lodged; it teaches the soul as humbly to await for those gracious gifts of the Holy Spirit, by which alone the soul can draw nigh profitably unto God. It would not come within the limits which I have proposed to myself in a work of this nature to follow up the subject, in exemplifying in all the cases with which it is capable of being explained: but a few of the more prominent: will be sufficient to illustrate the doctrine itself, and at the same time serve to show how, by a parity of reasoning, every sincere worshipper among “the praying seed of Jacob” may apply it to his own case and circumstances, according to the particular state in which he may be exercised.
I will first suppose the case of a state of darkness, in which the soul is complaining of being forsaken of God, under the hidings of his countenance, walking in darkness and having no light, and crying out in the language of Job: “Oh, that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me; when his candle shined upon me, and when by his light I walked through darkness!” (Job 29:2-3).
This frame of mind is not uncommon among the Lord’s tried ones; in which though the union with the person of the Lord Jesus is not destroyed; neither the Spirit’s indwelling residence removed, yet the sensible manifestations of his influences are for the present abated or withdrawn.
I stay not so much to enquire into the cause of this frame of mind; (though in our remission of duties, un-watchfulness, spiritual pride, self-confidence, and the like, it might easily be traced); but my present business is not so much with the cause of the evil, as with the means of the cure. And this can proceed from no source, but that preparation of the heart which is from the Lord: for as “no man hath quickened his own soul, so none can keep alive his own soul,” (Ps. 22:30). But the interesting question is, how is it induced? Not surely by our prayers, our repentings, tears, humiliations, preparations and the like! Alas a man may run through the whole of these in self-preparation and yet be wholly unprepared by the Lord.—For how excellent soever means of grace are in themselves, yet they are but means, the whole efficacy of which must be from God! But if you say, How then shall the soul know when it is the Spirit’s work, and not man’s? the answer is direct. The very state of the soul will readily distinguish the Lord’s absence from his presence. For if the Lord be absent, the heart is uninterested, unawakened, like Ephraim’s of old: though “strangers have devoured his strength, yet he knoweth it not,” (Hosea 7:9). He is neither properly affected with his sins, nor distressed with his temptations: the barren frame he is in is hardly felt by him, and still less lamented; and his very prayers if followed, are followed as a duty, and become, what they must ever in this case become, a burthen, not considered as a privilege. But when the Spirit returns (and well is it for sinners that he doth not wait for their first approaches to return) he comes with a quickening, illuminating, and reproving power. He quickens to a sense of their situation, shines in upon the darkness of the mind, gives them to see their misery, and reproves them in the cause of it; and thus opening a view of their wants, those wants awaken desire, and that desire begets a hatred of, sin, and a longing for the return of the light of the divine countenance. And thus, like Ephraim again, when brought back to the Lord; after they are turned they repent, as he did; and after they are instructed they smite upon their thigh: for they are brought with self-humbling, self-loathing, and self-abhorrence before the mercy-seat; and the blessed Spirit ultimately produces those effects in which David exults, when he says, “O send out thy light and thy truth, that they may lead me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: for I will yet praise him who is the health of my countenance, and my God,” (Ps. 43:3-5).
Not dissimilar to the instance of a darkened soul is the case of an offending soul, which while rendered insensible through “the deceitfulness of sin,” can find no freedom of approaching God in his ordinances. The book of God affords many melancholy proofs of such a state, in the testimony it gives of scripture saints that were far gone in transgression, and of some that remained long under its hardening influence. And the present experience of believers but too plainly proves that the same is not uncommon now. For indwelling corruption is the same in all. And there are no gifts, nor graces, nor attainments, nor experiences in the spiritual life, which are in themselves sufficient to keep from falling. But “they that are kept (as we are told by one whose own history afforded him matter of full conviction to certify the truth of it) are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation,” (1 Pet. 1:5).
And if you have not sufficient strength to keep from falling, it can hardly require scripture authority to prove that you cannot restore yourself when fallen. And where then is any man’s resource, but in the Spirit’s gracious work? David was made truly sensible of this in his recovery, and hath left it upon record for the instruction and comfort of others, when fallen: “he restoreth my soul.” And well was it for David, and so is it for thousands like David, that our recovery is not the effect of our prayers, but the predisposing grace and mercy of God in Christ. And among all the blessed manifestations of this grace, none can be sweeter, because none can be more affectionately recommended to our tenderest feelings, than the compassion which the Redeemer manifests in the recovery of his sheep straying from the fold: when, according to his own most gracious promise, “he seeks that which was lost, and brings again that which was driven away, and binds up that which was broken, and strengthens that which was sick. And as a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so doth the Lord seek out his sheep, and deliver them out of all places, where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day,” (Ezek. 34:16, 12). And what endears this compassion of the Saviour to his people still more, is the manner in which this mercy is shown in their recovery, which is all free, spontaneous, and in a sovereign way, suitable to the greatness of his character, and like himself. Not waiting the return of the backslider, not withholding his mercy until that mercy is implored, but bestowing it very frequently without application, without the smallest pretensions to his favor, and at a time when we have done nothing to merit his returns of love, but have done everything to deserve his severest displeasure.
How refreshing and consolatory to the heart is such a view of the Redeemer’s attachment to his people: that though they so frequently leave him, yet he leaves not them; and hateful as sin is to the purity of his nature, yet the person of the sinner is still the object of his favor. “Though his children break his statutes, and keep not his commandments, and he visits their transgression with the rod, and their iniquities with stripes:” still, there is a blessed nevertheless in the covenant, which will not permit “his loving-kindness to be taken from them, nor his faithfulness to fail,” (Ps. 89:34).
Do these lines appear before one of this description? Have you, my brother, wandered from the Lord, and do you now feel that self-loathing and abhorrence which ought to arise in the review of your own perfidy and ingratitude? Is the name, the person, the righteousness, the forbearance and compassion of the Lord Jesus, dear to you; and do you feel the rising desire, the awakening prayer opening in the soul, that Jesus would again “draw you with the cords of his love, that you might run after him?” Go then, my brother, go to the still waters, and the pastures of his ordinances, beside which Jesus “feedeth his flock, and maketh them rest at noon.” Depend upon it these feelings of yours are among the first intimations of his blessed Spirit’s work on the soul, in preparing for the renewed visits of his favor. He is coming with grace to pardon, and grace to sanctify, and (as he says himself) to be “as the dew unto Israel.” Every gracious movement you feel, is from his blessed Spirit, who turns the heart, and gives repentance to the soul, and carries with it that gracious language of mercy; “thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, yet return again unto me, saith the Lord,” (Jer. 3:1).
Let me add one instance more (and it shall be but one) of the Spirit’s work in the preparation of the heart, I mean when wanderings in times of prayer, the absence of affections, and a coldness and indisposition to divine things, plainly manifest that “it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps, but all our sufficiency must be from God.”
It is no uncommon thing with gracious minds; to discover in themselves a greater indisposition to religious duties, when they are actually engaged in those duties; and like the apostle of old, then, more especially, “when they would do good, evil is present with them,” (Rom. 7). And the reason is plain. Corruption in the heart is then most likely to breakout, when we are taking pains to suppress it. And as the swelling tide rages with more fury in proportion to the obstructions it meets with in its way: so the corruptions of our fallen nature will form a tide of a more furious current in our affections, when by drawing nigh to God we seek to throw up a fence to resist, and keep them under.
Neither, in those seasons, do gracious souls find more immediate resistance from the corruptions of their own nature, arising within only; for the temptations of the enemy from without also, as generally assail with most violence when they draw nigh the mercy-seat. He knows full well what effects are induced from the soul’s communion with God, to undermine his kingdom in the heart, and therefore as of old, the prophet was shown when “Joshua the high priest stood before the angel of the Lord, Satan was standing at his right hand to resist him,” (Zech. 3:1); even so it is now; when the Lord’s people in the righteousness and strength of their spiritual Joshua stand before the Lord, Satan still resists, by inducing wandering thoughts, calling off the affections, and harassing the mind with evil suggestions and unbelief, that their prayers may be hindered.
And if you ask, why the Lord permits these things under which his people go heavily from day to day? the answer is direct. It is to humble them before the mercy-seat: to make them more and more sensible of the plague of their own heart: to let them see that all preparation is from the Lord, so that self-confidence may be rooted out, and Christ alone rooted in. By this process of his grace the Lord overrules evil for good, in teaching most feelingly that our best services, our purest prayers, our most holy things, can only “be accepted in the Beloved:” for our very robes must be all washed, as those were which John saw of the saints in glory, “in the blood of the Lamb.” All this, I confess, is a humbling lesson to the sinner, but it blessedly tends to the exaltation of the Saviour, when we recollect at all times, that “he bears the iniquity of our most holy things;” as the high priest represented him of old, (Ex. 28:38). And it ought to be the most refreshing consideration to a poor bowed-down soul in the lour of prayer, when groaning under the united pressure of in-dwelling corruption and the attacks of Satan; to call to mind that though we are all sin, Jesus our advocate is all righteous; and while as in ourselves we cannot but appear full of evil before God; yet in him we are accepted, who, while he appears before God, appears purposely for his people.
In describing the incompetency of man to prepare himself for coming before the Lord, I have indirectly proved (what I am anxious to prove) the necessity of seeking it from God. And if you are among those who know enough of the plague of their own heart, to know its wanderings, its coldness, and frequent indisposition to divine things in seasons of devotion, you will be able to gather enough from hence, under the blessed Spirit’s teaching, to know that it is “his Spirit alone, who worketh in his people both to will and to do, of his good pleasure.” Beg of him, therefore, my brother, that he will give you that will, and that ability in your hallowed seasons of worship, in calling off the wandering thought, disposing the vacant mind, suppressing the rising corruption, and “when the enemy cometh in like a flood, to lift up; Christ Jesus as the standard against him.” Oh it is blessed to feel his gracious influences helping our infirmities, in our seasons of prayer. They are all ordinances of delight, when the Spirit breathes upon them; precious sacraments, precious prayer-days, precious sabbaths, while the Spirit goeth before in his quickening, life-giving power, as the Lord in the camp of Israel, guided their path by the pillar of the cloud; but we drag heavily as Pharaoh’s host in the Red Sea, when “the chariot wheels are taken off,” (Ex. 13:21; 14:25).
If I have said enough to explain the subject, in proving both the importance of a personal union with the Lord Jesus Christ, as forming an habitual preparation for the purpose of enjoying real communion with God; and that the actual preparation is in the blessed Spirit’s work also, in exciting grace in the heart, and calling forth the exercise of it in every single act of prayer, or praise, or faith, or repentance; I shall have answered the object I had in view in this little work, and have only to add an humble petition to the footstool of the mercy-seat, that both writer and reader may be brought under the rich anointings of that Holy Spirit, to know, by more than a hear-say knowledge, those precious truths of God. Might I presume to copy after so bright an example of a faithful minister of the Lord, as an apostle, I would beg to adopt his words, and to fold up my paper in his affectionate language: “For this cause (says he) I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might, by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen,” (Eph. 3:14-21).
Presuming that someone at least of my readers (if it be but one) hath received ample conviction, under the divine teaching, of the truth of the doctrine contended for in the foregoing pages: and is not only thoroughly satisfied in his mind that there must be an indwelling principle of life wrought in the soul by the Spirit of God, quickening and uniting it to the person of the Lord Jesus, before that there can, be any one act of a spiritual nature performed by the soul upon the person of the Lord Jesus, in a way of communion by the medium of ordinances, or in the exercise of faith, or repentance, or prayer, or praise, or, in short, any one grace of the blessed Spirit’s operation: presuming, I say, that the reader is not only perfectly satisfied of the absolute necessity of this habitual frame of mind being formed in the soul for the enjoyment of God in his ordinances; but presuming still further, that under this conviction he hath entered yet deeper into the subject, and having made it a matter of close examination in his own heart, and of prayer before God, to know whether he be the highly favored object of this grace, and hath obtained a full answer in a well-grounded assurance that “Christ is formed in his heart, the hope of glory:” to one of this description and character I conceive it may be further helpful to prosecute the subject yet a few pages more, in the enquiry, how that actual preparation in the awakening and going forth of the soul in seasons of worship, may be best promoted. For though (as hath been I hope already fully proved): every grace, as well in its own nature and principle, as when brought into exercise, is of the blessed Spirit’s gift, and cannot come but from his immediate influence; yet as in the way of ordinances we are commanded to seek those outpourings of the Holy Ghost, it may well engage our enquiry in what way are believers to be found waiting his gracious visits in an attendance on ordinances, and more especially that blessed ordinance of the Lord’s own appointment in the holy supper, (Ezek. 36:37).
In reply to this question, and in venturing to suggest a few leading directions which appear to me, I confess, most likely, under God’s blessing, to promote this desirable end, I shall suppose myself addressing one who is uniformly living in the habitual frame which I have before described, of a real believer in Christ; going in and out in the engagements of the various means by which a principle of grace is kept alive in the soul, whether in public or private; the closet, the family, or the church. I shall suppose my reader to be thus living “a life of faith on the Son of God:” not in the short and occasional trammels of a week’s preparation, but in the daily and sometimes hourly pursuit of the “one thing needful,” and seeking the Lord’s face in the Lord’s strength; and is now come to the house of prayer, and to the table of Jesus, under the humble hope of enjoying communion with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
Now in whatever frame of mind the heart may be, (and certainly in so late and tried a family as the Lord’s is, there will be a great variety in the several circumstances and frames of mind among the several characters of it), yet the approaches of the Lord’s household for the supply of their several wants will be one and the same. And the proclamation at the table is as gracious as it is extensive, and as pressing as it is promising: “Ho! everyone that thirsteth,” is the cry, “come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye buy and eat, yea, come buy wine and milk, without money and without price.” And while the invitation goeth forth “to the hungry and the heavy-laden, the poor and the maimed, the halt and the blind,” the only precedence shown at the table of Jesus is, that the most famished is the first to be supplied. And so very accommodating hath this gracious service, as a channel of conveying spiritual mercies, been found, that while to some it becomes a commemorating ordinance, to others it hath proved a quickening, or confirming, and others again have found it a communicating, strengthening, and refreshing, and not a few have experienced it to be a sealing ordinance. But “all these worketh that one and the self same spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.”
Impossible, however, as it may be, to speak on a subject so extensive in its nature as to suit the exact state of every believer’s experience, which not only differs in a thousand instances from each other, but is continually varying in our own circumstances also; I conceive that the short interval between the morning service of the church and the approach at the table, might be most advantageously employed by every believer, so as to invite the influences of the Holy Spirit, and prepare the soul for the more awakened approach to the table. And there are such an infinite variety of subjects to call up earnest prayer and meditation, on which the mind might ruminate in the many solemn circumstances of the moment, as is enough to engage the warmest affections of the soul. If, for example, I were to attend the house of God upon this occasion, during the interval in which the service is suspended after the morning preaching is ended, and while the servant who ministers at the table is preparing for the ordinance; I would endeavor to awaken my attention to that interesting service, by calling to my recollection the vast and essential difference in the privilege of those who approach to God in the ordinances now, compared to the Old Testament dispensation. The apostle hath beautifully represented it. “Ye are not come (says he) to the mount which burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest:” you are not drawing nigh in the old covenant of works; you are not set without the rail, which even to touch produced instant death; but you are come to Mount Sion, “the city of the living God; the heavenly Jerusalem; the general assembly and church of the first born; to God the Judge of all; and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.” Your Jesus, recollect, if so be that union is formed in the soul. You are brought “within the vail, and having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,” you are not only permitted, but even commanded “to draw nigh with full assurance of faith.” And such views of mercy and clemency will certainly tend to excite thankfulness and an holy confidence. For in my apprehension it forms one of the highest privileges of the believer, thus to draw nigh to the mercy seat: for it is this which makes ordinances sweet, when we approach with the freedom of children, and not with the spirit of bondage. And if you, my brother, in this interval of worship will call up your thoughts, examine the ground of your confidence, and lean by direct acts of faith upon the person and righteousness of the Mediator, you will find this to be the direct way to God, for the express purpose of enjoying communion with him, both in this and in every ordinance of devout worship.
But if you ask the question, what prayer would you recommend upon this occasion before the service begins? That prayer, and that prayer only, which grace shall awaken in the heart. To prescribe a form of prayer; to suppose that any form can possibly suit the various wants of the soul; or to suppose that the soul can be satisfied upon those occasions with even general expressions, which always imply a sad vacancy and a state of ignorance respecting its own wants and necessities; is to suppose a state of great deadness indeed! Can you, my brother, be satisfied with a situation like this? Have you no special request to make known unto God? What! are you come to the table, even the table of Jesus, and do you see him as it were with the eye of faith on his throne of grace, and behold him holding forth the scepter of his mercy, and asking in those endearing words: “What is thy petition, and what is thy request, and it shall be performed?” and have you no petition or request to give in? Alas prayer itself must ever be an heavy burthen and an irksome task, if the soul hath nothing particular to pray for, no grace to ask, no want to be supplied, no infirmity to deplore, nor temptation to be strengthened against, nor any lately received mercy to acknowledge. Do you say you know not how to express yourself in prayer? So said the apostle when he found confidence in the teaching of the Holy Ghost: “We know not (says he) what to pray for as we ought.” But “the Spirit helpeth our infirmities,” when our “groanings cannot be uttered.” So thought Hezekiah, when he offered up one of the sweetest, because one of the most successful prayers, we have upon sacred record. He tells us, he could only “mourn as a dove, and chatter like a swallow,” (Isa. 38:14). And when the soul can only mourn or sigh, or in broken sentences pour out its wants before God, nay; when it can do neither, the look of faith; as of the dying Israelites in the wilderness, will form the most expressive prayer: the promise is, “Before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear,” (Isa. 65:24). “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else: beside me there is no Saviour,” (Isa. 45:21-22).
I shall suppose that the soul is thus engaged in prayer and meditation during the interval of worship between the sermon and the ordinance, and that the mind is roused to attend to the immediate service of the table in the call of the minister, “Let your light so shine,” &c. From this period the whole attention ought to be taken up in a close regard to the interesting service of the table, that God the Holy Ghost, whose gracious work it is “to take of the things of Jesus to show to his people,” may mercifully make it the medium of divine blessings, in bringing the heart to God, and revealing God to the heart. To offer any observations by way of comment in explaining the several parts of the service, would in a great measure defeat its own purpose. The gracious promise of God is, “All thy children shall he taught of the Lord.” It is, therefore, an highly injurious attempt, in my esteem, to interrupt the mind in such seasons, by calling off the attention from waiting on divine teaching, to listen to what is human. And supposing (what we cannot but suppose) that the soul is under those suitable impressions which a conscious drawing near the Lord Jesus in his ordinance cannot but induce; while we desire to sit down at his feet, to offer him our hearts, and to “hear the gracious words which proceed out of his mouth,” such a frame of mind supersedes the necessity of all other instruction.
The only part of our communion service where any foreign aid, in my opinion, may be thrown in as helpful to keep up attention, is in that interval which is unoccupied during the season of others’ receiving. In large communions such as ours is, this interval includes by much the largest portion of time spent at the table; and for which no provision is made. But if I am right, it forms so precious a season, that I venture to think, if it were profitably employed, would exercise some of the best Christian graces, and afford the highest pleasures of devotion.
In respect to the particular time of receiving, whether among the communicants at the first, or last, or any intermediate table, I have nothing to recommend. For this I conceive should be regulated by every one’s own personal feeling. The plan I should observe myself, would be to go to the table in that moment when I found my heart most drawn towards it. So that if in the early season of administering, I found grace much in exercise, I should then desire to draw nigh. If on the contrary, a deadness or indisposition prevailed in the early part of the service, I should wait for another table, lying low in the mean time before the Lord for his quickening influences. And if several tables should have been dismissed before I found a freedom to approach, perhaps a nearer view of the table and the sight of others waiting round the cloisters of our Bethesda might awaken desire, and hence I should draw near. But if none of these things had effect upon the present coldness or darkness of my heart, I should still hope in the very moment of receiving, the Lord might manifest himself to the soul. That kind expression directed by the minister, and personally applied by the Holy Spirit; “the body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee;” hath been found to awaken desire, when every other hath failed, and prompted the soul to cry out under its influence, “Lord, how is it thou dost thus manifest thyself to me, and not unto the world?”
It never should be forgotten also, that at the table of Jesus we sit around it as children of one and the same family, and are intimately connected with the spiritual concerns of each other. So, that unless we enjoy what is called the communion of saints, as well as communion with the Lord, we lose part, and a very sweet part also, of our enjoyments. Hence, therefore, a soul truly alive to divine things enters with a warmth of affection into all the personal interests of every believer around him. He makes their wants his own; and their cases, as far as he knows them, or supposes what they are, the subject of his prayers. He knows the Lord’s family is a tried family, and therefore by praying with them, and praying for them; he feels that brotherly interest which is abundantly recompensed in the very engagement, and tends to unite the heart both to them and to the Lord. And let no one suppose that these employments form any parenthesis in our own devotions: if they did, indeed, they would still carry with them their own apology. But the truth is, they are so sweetly constituted, and overruled by the great Head of his family, that while we pray for them, we do indeed pray for ourselves.
I only throw out these few hints to show how very interesting a part of divine service it affords, and how advantageously every moment of that large interval which necessarily occurs during the administering to many tables might be employed this way. But whether the reader shall enter with me, or not, into the full opinion; one point respecting it I must contend for, and that is, that we preserve communion with the service, throughout every part at least, that our prayers are offered up for every table, both at their entrance and dismissing, that suitable blessings may be bestowed upon them according to their wants, and the fulness to supply which is in Christ Jesus.
I add no more, but the prayer of Hezekiah, “that the good Lord may pardon every one that draweth nigh to seek God, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.”
1I take occasion in this place, as a matter intimately connected with our subject, to correct the order in which the translators of our Testament have placed the words of the second verse of the 15th chapter of St. John’s Gospel; which certainly enervates the sense, and is indeed repugnant to the whole testimony of God’s word on this important doctrine. The original text they have very properly translated, but a subsequent verse might have taught them, that in the order of placing the words they have erred: pan klhma en mh jeron karpon &c., the literal translation of which is no doubt as they have rendered it— “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit,” &c. But when the Lord Jesus in a following verse declares, “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit;” they ought to have known that there could be no branch really in Christ but what must bring forth fruit. Had they therefore only transposed the words, (and which every critical reader of the original text cannot but know they might have done without the least violence to the rules of grammar,) and placed the pronoun emoi, with its preposition after the verb jeron, instead of putting it before it, the sense would have been clear and intelligible, and consonant to the uniform doctrine of scripture; for then it would have been “every branch that beareth not fruit in me;” obviously meaning, what all scripture asserts, and experience proves, that there can be no fruit but in, and from Christ. “Without him we can do nothing.” “From me (as he says by the prophet) is thy fruit found,” (Hosea 14:8).—“And every plant which the heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up,” (Matt. 15:13).
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