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the way with him that he takes with his own, and it may be a good additional evidence. See the rule, Psal x. 17. "Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear." And the example in the case of Jacob, Gen. xxxii. See also 2 Cor. i. 8, 9.
3. Use and improve the sacrament of the Lord's supper for this end, because it is appointed, that the Lord's people may be assured that Christ is theirs and with him all things. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" In it Jesus Christ condescends to preach his love and good-will to the very eyes of poor doubting Christians, who, sensible of their own vileness and unworthiness, though they desire Christ above all, yet cannot think his desire is towards them. Therefore, that they may not wrong his love any more, by thinking that it can never pitch upon the despicable object, that has nothing with which to hire it, he goes farther with them in the sacrament, than in the word preached. The word brings the report of his love to their ears, the sacrament brings it to their eyes, and what we see affects us more than what we hear. The word speaks only in the general, the sacrament points at every communicant whose soul opens to receive Christ and his love, and says to every one, broken for you. It is the profanity among those of the common rabble, and the want of soul exercise among professors, that makes so few communicants while there are so many spectators. A deep sense of personal vileness, and an ardent desire of evidence of the Lord's love, would lay their jay-feathers, that for the faults of others, real or pretended, keep them from the communion table, where the institution of Christ is observed and the sacrament dispensed by ministers sent in his
Question. How may I improve the sacrament for evidence? Answer, I have already directed you to self-examination, forget not that in the first place. That being done, Then,
Before you come to the Lord's table, renew your covenant with God and closing with Christ as solemnly, particularly, and diligently, as you are capable; and take the stones of the place (if you please) where you do it, witnesses to the transaction. And when you are at the table, remember that you receive and close with Christ anew, that you may be the more capable to perceive the real bargain which the sacrament is to seal.
Having thus closed with Christ, look on the bread and wine as seals of the covenant; and do Christ the honour, when he speaks by his sacramental word, This is my body broken for you, to believe him.
-That is, believe Christ is indeed yours, and that his body was really broken for you; and look on that bread and wine as God's seal to it, which he will not deny his own institution, and administered in his name by his messengers called for that effect. If you have no mind to believe it, why will you sit down at that table? If you have, then see you do it. This will honour Christ, and advance your evidence and sanctification. And keep up the belief of it afterwards, and recal to mind the sealed bargain when doubts arise. Lastly, Pray for the testimony of the Spirit. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God." This is that which may quite raze all doubts and fears. He attests the truth of the scriptures and the truth of grace in the heart. Of the one he says, this is my word; of the other, this is my work. And so lets the soul see without hesitation its title to heaven.
To conclude, This is the way to prepare you for the sacrament, to help you to a holy life, to a safe and comfortable death, and to glorify God and edify others in your death, being capable to give a reason of the hope that is in you. Remember you are warned, stirred up, and directed to this so much neglected, though most necessary duty. Cast not the counsels of God behind your back in your life, lest you hear of it bitterly in your death. "But if you know these things, happy are you if you do them." Amen.
Penpont Communion, May 24, 1716.
THE BLESSEDNESS OF NOT BEING OFFENDED IN CHRIST.
MATTHEW Xi. 6.
And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.
THESE words are the conclusion of our Lord's answer to the question upon which John's disciples came to him. John himself had no doubt of Christ's being the Messiah, for he was his forerunner to point him out to the world; he had baptized him, seen the Spirit descending, and had given testimony to him as the Lamb of God, John i. 29-35. But it seems his disciples were not so firm in the faith, and therefore he sends them to Christ to be from himself fully satisfied in that grand point. And indeed, nothing less than a di
vine power can silence the clamours of unbelief going about to raze foundations.
Our Lord gives them answer by referring them to his works compared with the word, Isa. xxxv. 4-6. and lxi. 1-3. The things which were prophesied concerning the Messiah, they heard and saw to be fulfilled in him, and therefore behoved to conclude him to be the Messiah. Divine power can cast such a beam of light over the works and word of God, as will stare the strongest unbelief out of countenance, and make that raging lust fall down unable to create more trouble.
But because his outward mean appearance was a vail, through which most of the world could not see, he declares them happy whose faith carries them over those things in him over which the graceless world, the despisers of the gospel, stumble and fall to their own utter destruction. "And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me." In which words, there is,
1. A fatal stumble in the way to happiness, which many of the hearers of the gospel make. They are offended in Christ. They stumble at him. Observe here, the object of their offence, Jesus Christ. It is at him the world is offended. The God that made and guides the world, the Saviour that redeemed them, does not please the world. What wonder then that others cannot do it. There is something in the mystery of Christ, with which the unbeliever will always be finding fault. The Jews were offended at the meanness of his life, and in this the disciples of John seem to have joined them. The Gentiles were offended at the ignominy of his death. Some at one thing, some at another, and every unbeliever at something in him. This is surely a great mistake in them. Jesus Christ is holy, and there is nothing in him to give offence. The world is unholy, and takes offence at him. He is the brightness of his Father's glory and they like owls and bats are blinded at the shining sun, and therefore carefully keep at a distance from him. They are offended. In the Greek, scandalized. The word scandal, in a natural sense, signifies, 1. Some obstacle in one's way, by which he is stopped in his passage; particularly a sharp stake, which soldiers put in the field in time of war, to wound the feet and legs of the enemy that were to follow them that way. 2. A stone or block in the way, over which men are apt to fall. A trap or snare to catch beasts. This shews what a dreadful sin, and soul destroying evil, an offence given is; and withal, what a soul ruining the taking offence is, and the stumbling over real stumbling blocks.
Now the blind world by reason of their own corruption, are thus offended or scandalized in Christ. "And he shall be for a sanctu
ary; but for a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, to both the houses of Israel; for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken." He is the way to the Father, but they see something in him which they cannot digest, and therefore, they stop, or go off the way. They stumble at him, looking for matters in him, according to their carnal wish, they are disappointed, and they cannot get over that. Thus eventually, he is a trap and a snare to them, by which their ruin is more secured than ever. Their disease gathers strength from the remedy abused.
2. In the text there is the happiness of those who escape this fatal stumble. He that is not offended in Christ, who sees nothing in Christ that offends him, nothing in him to turn him away from him, nor to stop his going forward to him, and to the Father through him; he is a happy man, blessed here and shall be blessed hereafter. The party is described negatively, to shew us that there can be no neutrality among the hearers of the gospel. He that is not offended in Christ is one that is well pleased with him, with every thing in him, or about him; and he that is not so is offended in him.
Doctrine. Stumbling at some one thing or another in Christ abounds so much in the world that they are happy persons who are preserved from falling along with the rest. In prosecuting this subject, I shall shew,
I. What it is to stumble at Christ and be offended in him. II. That stumbling at Christ abounds very much in the world. III. That they are happy indeed who are kept from being offended in him. And then add some improvement.
I. To shew what it is to stumble at Christ, and be offended in him.
This is a very awful matter. For a man to die of his disease, when he might have been cured, is sad; but it is a double death for one to destroy himself by the abuse of a remedy prescribed that would have cured him infallibly. It has reference to four things in the general.
1. To the grand device of salvation through Jesus Christ, laid in the infinite wisdom of God, and fixed by the divine counsel. This is the foundation on which the Father has laid the weight of the elect's salvation, and on which he requires all to lay their weight for eternity. And at this the unbelieving world ever stumbles, and their hearts can never fall in with it. We preach, says the apostle, Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.
There he is offered
2. To the offer of Christ made in the gospel. to sinners, to be the Captain of their salvation. To be the sinner's head, Lord, and husband. To be their Prophet, Priest, and King, their all and instead of all. But sinners love not the offer, they stumble at his offices; there is something in them at which they perpetually stand, and so they cannot come forward. Ye will not,
says he, come unto me that ye might have life.
3. To the making use of Christ for all the purposes for which the Father has given him. Here they stand again. They are obstinate patients that will not receive the remedy, though they should die of their disease. If their own way will do with them, good and well; but as for the Lord's way they are offended at it, and cannot fall in with it. "But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law, for they stumbled at that stumbling stone."
4. To the practical understanding of sinners. They ever form a wrong judgment of Christ, and nothing less than overpowering grace will rectify their apprehensions of him. They still say what is thy beloved more than another beloved, O thou fairest among women? What is thy beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so charge us? It is true they may please themselves and others, with fine speculations about Christ. If they be Ministers they may preach him, or professors may talk of him and recommend him to others. But in this they are like the mountebank, who recommends his drugs to others, yet perhaps in the meantime he himself abhors them and makes no use of them. I find no fault in him, says Pilate, yet he condemned him. So the unrenewed world constantly stumble in their views of Christ with respect to practice. "If they knew the gift of God, and who Christ is, they would ask of him and he would give them living water." They that know thy name will put their trust in thee; for thou Lord hast not forsaken them that seek thee." This stumbling at Christ, lies in these four things,
1. The blind soul ever finds some fault in the mystery of Christ. There is always something in or about Christ, that disgusts the sinner, is quite disagreeable and shocking to him. The Son of God is not a match suitable to those, whose minds are not savingly enlightened. "To them he hath no form nor comeliness, and when they see him, there is no beauty that they should desire him." Though his Father is well pleased with him, and he hath the hearts and praises of all the saints, yet they are not pleased with him. If they would speak their minds, they would tell you, they see not how they could be happy in him for all.