« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
this great interest, it is natural certainly to ask, whether they might not do something by uniting and expressing, even in a formal manner, their sense of its value.
Let us refer, for our guidance, to some kindred examples. Let us suppose that we lived in a community where the grossest dishonesty was prevalent, where the most enormous frauds were daily, openly, and boldly committed. Suppose that we felt the want of some equally open, and, at the same time, combined and concentrated testimony against them. Would it be an unnatural thing for us to join with others in publicly disclaiming such practices, and in avowing openly our purpose at every risk to abstain from them? Suppose, again, that our country were suffering under the oppressions of an arbitrary government, and that a patriotic band were formed to work out its deliverance. Would it not seem very proper that they should commence that enterprise with a solemn declaration of their intentions, and with mutual pledges of fidelity to the cause? We do not desire to stretch these comparisons to an unreasonable extent. But we do conceive that the irreligion of the world is so great, as to make it desirable that some express and solemn and formal testimony should be lifted up against it. We do conceive, that the cause of human nature, the cause not of earthly, but of divine freedom, is borne down with such a tremendous power of prevailing hostility and evil example, that some visible stand should be taken for it, that there should be somewhere a rallying point for what is good against what is evil.
We do not say that the ordinance of the Lord's Supper is a rallying point for all the good there is in the world. know that many virtuous and pious men have difficulties of various kinds with regard to it. But we think it might be made the ground of a solemn pledge to religion, and of a sacred union in its cause.
Must it needs be thought that there would be more zeal than modesty, in taking this ground? We are persuaded, there might be both; and both in a form, which could offend no reasonable, and at the same time religious mind. A man might say on this subject, and would it not be the language of sobriety and humility? would it not be a language that ought to command universal respect?- he might say, 'I am conscious that I am not decidedly enough what I ought to be; I am impressed with the transcendent value and happiness of 27
VOL. XI. N. S. VOL. VI. NO. II.
a religious life. It is the life above all others that I would lead. But I have reason to fear that I shall waver from the strict virtue, sobriety, and godliness which are my chief interest; and I am willing to come under any pledges that will help to secure me. It is not pride, I trust, but humility, that brings me to lay my hand on the altar of God, and to pay my vows to him. Why should I hesitate,' might he continue to say, 'why should I hesitate for any slight or ordinary causes, from any over-refined delicacy, from any sensitiveness to the world's opinion or to the world's estimate of the act, about giving this weighty_testimony? Why should I hesitate?' might he repeat. Earth, with all its vanities, is soon to pass away. Heaven and eternity will soon be all to me. I have thoughts within me, that visit that eternity, and make me feel unutterably how poor are the objects that the great world is seeking after. I have thoughts within me, that visit that eternity; and I would erect some altars to them, on this shore of time. I care nothing so much for this passing world, as I care to leave these testimonies in it. The altar of communion is not the only altar of testimony, I know; but this is already builded, and I will lay my offering upon it. I will lay it there, with faith in that blood, which first sprinkled and consecrated it. Thousands there are to bring their offerings to every shrine of honor, wealth, and pleasure. Thousands there are, to pay homage to the great and powerful. Multitudes gather to the civic feast, in honor of the glorious dead. I would celebrate the memory of a being more glorious than any that ever has appeared on the earth. I would do this in remembrance of my Saviour, because it is a remembrance which is so commonly lost and left out of sight amidst worldly pretensions and vanities. I am the more willing to do this by an unusual action; I am willing to do that which may appear to our customs, strange and extraordinary, for the sake of giving a more marked testimony of my reverence for this great Being. It is a testimony, in which I have cause to glory, more than in all the honors of the world. I will not offer it in secret. I will not offer it merely in the secret truth and sincerity of my own heart. It is a good profession, and I will profess it before many witnesses.'
Be it so, that there are difficulties about this ordinance. We admit that there are many, which have accumulated upon us from times of early superstition, and times of later exclusive
The ordinance is generally shut up within the pale of
examinations and votes, and professions of faith, as, we think, it ought not to be. All this is of the later growth. But there is an old superstition about it, which creates still more difficulty. There is, in fact, a state of feeling about this rite, which goes far, it seems to us, towards disqualifying many persons from the useful observance of it. We are willing to say so much, not, in the issue, to discourage any, but to lead them, if our opinion may have any weight, to examine their own misgivings about the ordinance. Christian superstition seems to have its last strong-hold in the mysteries of the communion. We venture to doubt, if they will pardon the presumption, whether the body of any of our Christian congregations has yet advanced far enough to make the entirely simple, natural, and just use of it; whether the body of any of our congregations is prepared to approach this rite, with feelings as free and unembarrassed, as those of the primitive. Christians.
If there were this preparation of mind, we should feel that most of the difficulties were removed, which now lie in our way to urging the observance; and we believe that most of the difficulties that hinder serious minds from approaching it, would be removed by the same means. And therefore, to obviate objections in this case, the proper course seems to be, to rectify misapprehensions. Let our people be induced, as the first thing, to take a calm and liberal view of this ceremony. What is it, and what is its purpose? It is nothing more than an emblematic representation of Jesus Christ in the most affecting era of his history, in the most sublime manifestation of his virtues, in that closing scene, which visibly consummated his great redeeming work. It is a 'showing forth' of that scene of agony and death, which was designed to save us from death, from the death of the soul, from the curse and woe and death of sin. And the purpose of this celebration on our part is nothing more than to express our reverence and affection for this great and glorious Benefactor, and to declare our intention of being governed by his spirit and religion. Is it not meet that we should feel such sentiments? And if they are felt by us, is it not meet that we should express them? If it were proposed to celebrate the virtues and services of any more ordinary benefactor,-to honor, for instance, the memory of Washington, in a feast, and thus to pledge ourselves to the cultivation of his lofty spirit
of patriotism, there would be no difficulty to our minds in the way of such an observance. It will be said, perhaps, that the communion is more spiritual and solemn. But is this an objection in the view of beings, whose spiritual welfare-the very object of Christ's mission - is commended to them as a most momentous and solemn trust, and a trust for eternity? Surely the observance need be none the less interesting for being solemn; and it may, in perfect consistency with that sentiment, be cheering, elevating, and gratifying to all the noblest sentiments of the mind. It was thus that the ancients were wont to cherish the remembrance of their departed friends and benefactors. Nor has that affecting custom gone into entire disuse in modern times. We may have frequently seen a similar homage rendered to departed associates in the festivals of various literary societies among us; and it is not easy to witness that reverent posture, that silence, and that solemn and sad emotion, in the throng of the joyous feast, without being touched and elevated by the spectacle.
It is true, indeed, that the communion is not now, as it was originally, a feast. In this respect it has lost a portion of its natural, primitive character. It is now only the emblem of a feast; it is doubly symbolical, representing a feast, as well as the great facts and truths originally signified by it. But it is probably more safe, as well as more suitable to the growing refinement of the world, as an emblem, than if it were a feast. It is true too, that homages of this kind to the dead, are not so common in our days, as they were among the ancients. But although there is something more unusual to our feelings in this ceremony, and more difficult to communicate with, and more liable, therefore, to the perversions of superstitions, can it require any thing more than a resolute effort at just thinking, to overcome these obstacles?
If they cannot be overcome by any of those who are invited to this form of religious observance, if the communion cannot, by any reasonable endeavour, be made interesting or useful to them; if men can be drawn to it only by a compulsory sense of duty, without any consciousness of advantage; if there can be no voluntary and happy approach to this, such as there is to other ordinances of devotion; if churches, in fact, can be built up and sustained only by officiousness and importunity on the part of the minister, in persuading this and that man, that he is a suitable person and had better
come to this ordinance ; -if all this be so, and so unavoidably, we are disposed to say that the rite of the Lord's Supper were better neglected, than abused in this manner. But we submit it to the reflection of our readers, whether this is necessary, and we desire no hasty answer. We ask whether there may not be a rational, just, and useful participation in an occasion so interesting on many accounts to all devout Christians? We ask them to consider, whether, if all among us, who feel an interest in religion, should come forward and thus publicly avow it, whether, we say, it would not be attended with the happiest effects upon themselves, and upon society? If they think that it would be; if they think that it would quicken and strengthen the sentiments of virtue and devotion among us; if they think that so vast and transcendent an interest, that chiefly for which life ought to be dear,might be thus promoted, then we ask again, whether any slight difficulties, real or imaginary, shall prevent Christian men from giving the aid of their example and testimony to a cause, for which our blessed Saviour thought it not too much to give up his life?
We have said that this testimony is the only public recognition, which we can make of our religious obligations. It is the only public form of avowal, which our religious institutions provide for us; and this consideration, it seems to us, even if we had objections to the mode, is one of great force. Attendance at church is not any express avowal of religious feeling. It does not amount, in fact, to a declaration of belief in Christianity. The only public, formal, and authorized expression, now understood as such, of belief in Christianity, and that connected with a serious purpose to obey its precepts, is to be found in the sacramental vows of the communion table. Is it not desirable that there should be such an expression, public, formal, and unquestionable? Is it not proper and expedient that the great interest of life and of being should be thus openly and solemnly recognised, thus acknowledged in the presence of each other, thus avowed before heaven and earth? Heaven and earth shall 6 pass away; and this great purpose and profession of the soul shall then stand, as the only thing sacred from the universal wreck; the only thing intrinsically great, momentous, and sublime. If that stupendous consummation, fortold in prophecy, were about to break upon us now, would it not be