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ERRORS AND OBJECTIONS.
ST. LUKE. xiv. 18.
"I pray thee have me EXCUSED."
THERE is no subject, however plainly laid down in scripture, that has entirely escaped the misinterpretation of man. We have, on the one hand, the mystical enthusiast to elevate and spiritualize every simple direction of practise; we have on the other hand the literal interpreter of the word of God, to level and bring down to his own practical capacity, the spiritual mysteries of the most High. What wonder, then, that in the sacrament of the Eucharist, various objections, endless errors in opinion, as to its utility, its necessity, the frequency of its reception, the degree of fitness requisite, and the sin of receiving it in an unworthy
manner, should abound in the hearts as well as in the mouths of men. To these erroneous opinions, by which so many of good intention, and, generally speaking, sincere lovers of the word of God, are deterred from presenting themselves at the altar; and through which SO many holding them forth upon pretence and worldliness of motive, are glad to escape the solemn obligations of their religion, we will now, with God's blessing, direct our attention.
I. The first and most conspicuous in the list, as well as the most prevalent in every rank of life, is this, the idea of absolute perfection being necessary in him who communicates. This is so well put, in the words of a most pious Christian, as well as one of our best and most learned writers, Samuel Johnson, that I cannot do better than give it in his words:
"Such exalted piety, such unshaken virtue, such an uniform ardour of divine affections, and such a constant practise of religious duties have been represented as so indispensably necessary to a worthy reception of this sacrament, as few men have been able to discover in those whom they most esteem for their purity of life; and which no man's conscience will perhaps suffer him to find in himself; and therefore those who know themselves not to have arrived at such ele
vated excellence, who struggle with passions which they cannot wholly conquer, and bewail infirmities which yet they perceive to adhere to them, are frighted from an act of devotion of which they have been taught to believe that it is so scarcely to be performed worthily by an embodied spirit, that it requires the holiness of angels, and the uncontaminated raptures of paradise."* Now it stands, upon the first view of the question, against common sense, that any service should be demanded of man, of which the requisite should be unattainable perfection; and it stands against all assertions of scripture, that any sin committed against God, (one only excepted, blasphemy against the Holy Ghost,) should, without hope of recovery, incur condemnation of these two propositions we may be perfectly certain, from the acknowledged attributes of Almighty God, from his justice, mercy, love of mankind, and above all, the sacrifice which he made for human redemption. If God were to require a service in which all the sinfulness of the human heart should be expected to be set aside, and yet know, as of course he must, that that sinfulness was so part and parcel of our nature as to be unavoidably inherent in every human being, his attribute of justice would be
* Johnson's Sermons, Serm. xxii.
questionable. If he were to inflict punishment, without hope of pardon, upon every attempt at obedience, because that attempt, though sincere, could not be successful, his attribute of mercy would be questionable : If he were to exact the performance of a ceremony typical of his extraordinary love of mankind, so extraordinary as to involve the death of God himself incarnate, and yet should punish, when his creatures approached in humble endeavour to fulfil his directions, his attribute of love would be questionable: the sacrifice which Jesus made upon the cross would be more than questionable useless ; and the command that he gives in scripture to record that sacrifice, worse than a mockery, because it would be a mere aggravation of the wretchedness of man, which it professed to comfort, and an extension of his condemnation, which it professed to redeem. Hence, then, from our first and barest conception of what God is, that he should demand a state of sinless perfection in the performance of any duty, would be contrary to our expectation.
In our other dealings with Him, we never dream of perfection; on the contrary, the
whole sum of our communication with him arises from our imperfection. It is because we are imperfect that we approach him in prayer. It is because we are sinful that we are baptized.
It is because we are frail, weak, and impotent in the control and regulation of our passions, that we approach him in confession. It is because we are under a sense of his wrath, and the burden of our natural and daily sins, that we require and receive from the hands of his ministers the promise of absolution, that we hear continually repeated in his holy scriptures the assurance of pardon, the help of the Spirit to prevent, to strengthen, and to guide. Extend the same feeling to that more solemn communication with him in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and you will see the same form for its acknowledgment, and the same vent for the holy aspirations of a sinful, yet contrite heart. In that sacrament there is the express confession of sinfulness. There is the promise of absolution. There is the prayer for help; but wherefore all these, if the communicant is to be perfect? Nay, wherefore the sacrament at all? Wherefore that of which it is the representative and recorder, the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of Godbut because of sin, not because of perfection? wherefore do we need the memorial, in any shape, but that we are sinners, but that we grievously offend God night and day, but that we confess and allow, by our very presence at the altar, our utter and never-ceasing need of atonement for that imperfection, some other to bear the burden of our sins, which would otherwise be intolerable; some other by