Presbyterians of the Past

Be Thankful, John Witherspoon on the Lord’s Supper

I was looking for a sermon to express gratefulness to God as Thanksgiving approaches. This sermon is by John Witherspoon and is titled, “The Believer Going to God as His Exceeding Joy,” using the text, Psalm 43:4. The occasion of the sermon is a service including the Lord’s Supper and his content addresses the sacrament, which he calls an ordinance. There are many quotations from Scripture and a few sections are chains of Bible passages enforcing his point. It was likely preached while he was a pastor for eleven years in Paisley, Scotland. After reading the sermon I decided that one thing to be thankful for is the Lord’s Supper. God condescended to provide the tangible bread and wine to remind partakers of the cost of redemption as they grow in grace and realize the continued blessing of sins forgiven.

The sermon is transcribed as published except for a few modernizations. After attempting to resolve the outline enumeration of his sermon, it was given up because there are either too many points and subpoints or there are not enough. The sermon is taken from vol. 2 of the three volume edition, The Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon, D.D., LL. D., Late President of the College at Princeton, New Jersey, to Which is Prefixed An Account of the Author’s Life, in a Sermon occasioned by his Death, by the Rev. Dr. John Rodgers, of New York, Philadelphia: Printed and Published by William W. Woodward, No. 17, Chestnut near Front Street, 1800, pages 149-68; I found out, the hard way, that the pages in the copy on Internet Archive from Princeton Seminary are not collated correctly, so the copy from the John Adams Library is the better choice. A few insertions in brackets [ ] are included for clarification.

For further information about Witherspoon on this site see: “John Witherspoon, 1723-1794,” “The Federal City, John Witherspoon,” “John Witherspoon, On the Purity of the Heart, Proverbs 30:7-9,” and “Religious Education, John Witherspoon.” An article including a tribute to Witherspoon by William S. Plumer provides a balanced perspective, “John Witherspoon, Lecture Life and Works.” Finally, the post, “John Rodgers, 1727-1811,” is a biography of the man that provided the funeral oration for Witherspoon. Please note that there are two men named John Witherspoon on this site; the second one was his grandson whose biography is posted, “John Witherspoon, 1791-1853.”

The header showing Paisley, Scotland is dated 1850 by the New York Public Library and is available from the online Emmet Collection of Manuscripts Etc. Relating to American History. One of the steeples may be Witherspoon’s church.

Barry Waugh





Psalm 43:4

Then will I go to the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy.

It is of great moment to attend to the proper mixture of reverence and love which ought to possess our hearts in the worship of the living God. If they arise from proper principles, they will not destroy or weaken, but strengthen one another. A believer can never lie too low in the dust before the most holy God; he can never be too sensible either of his distance as a creature, or his guilt and unworthiness as a sinner; but, at the same time, he can never be too deeply penetrated with a sense of divine love, or have too strong and ardent desires for communion and fellowship with God. The truth is, the lower we are in our own sight, it does but the more illustrate and magnify all the grace that is shown to us in the gospel; and the more joyfully we contemplate the fullness of our portion in an infinite God, it will but the more bring back this reflection, and constrain us to confess, that we are less than the least of all his mercies.

In several passages of the Psalms of David, we have very warm and fervent expressions of the delight which the man after God’s own heart had in the worship of his sanctuary. There are few of these more beautiful and forcible than the passage of which my text is a part, “O send out thy light and thy truth; let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy.” That which seems to have brought the Psalmist to this striking and beautiful thought was his being under the pressure of heavy affliction; and, particularly, in a state of distance and banishment from the temple service. This led him to flee for refuge to God, his almighty friend and unchangeable portion. Did the Psalmist then go to God as his consolation in distress? What reason is there for every Christian to go to him as his Father and his God, not only for support under the various trials of this mortal state, but for happiness and peace after he hath seen and felt the inherent vanity of every created enjoyment?

All I shall further add upon the words is, that what David is here praying for, is to be brought to the temple of God, to have access to his courts, and communion with him there. This he plainly looks upon as a source of exceeding joy; and, surely to those who are duly disposed for it, there is not, there cannot be, in this world, a more delightful employment than the joint celebration of our Creator and Redeemer’s praise, than the united voice of his servants in his temple. It is the nearest approach we can make to the employment of heaven, and the most sensible foretaste we can have of its happiness in this foreign land.

But, my brethren, I must limit the subject to what is the particular and distinguishing employment of this day—the holy ordinance of the Lord’s supper, commemorating our Redeemer’s dying love. This was called by the ancients the Eucharist or Sacrifice of Praise. And, indeed, no disposition is more proper or necessary, in attending upon it, than a joyful and thankful frame of spirit. This will be like a precious perfume, which will fill the house with its fragrance, and will greatly strengthen every other gracious disposition; and, therefore, my intention is, through the assistance of divine grace,

[1] then, I am to show you what matter of joy and satisfaction there is to every sincere Christian, in what is represented to our view in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper; or, for what reasons we ought, in this solemn service in a particular manner, to go to God as our exceeding joy.

Having done so, I shall make some practical improvement of the subject for our instruction and direction.

In the first place, then, I am to show you what matter of joy and satisfaction there is to every sincere Christian, in what is represented to our view in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper; or for what reasons we ought, in this solemn service, in a particular manner, go to God as our exceeding joy. I am deeply sensible, my brethren, that I have entered on a talk to which 1 am very unequal, to raise your minds to that sublime temper of joy in God, and to disclose that fountain of joy there is to every believer, in what his Redeemer has done, and is still doing for him. It is so great a subject, that we ourselves may see how unfit a mortal tongue is to speak of it and therefore, I shall, in the entry, pray that God may shed abroad his love in our hearts; that he may send forth his light and his truth, that they may be guides to us; and accompany the word spoken with the powerful energy of the spirit of consolation. But a little of that real communion with God which is the work of his Spirit, and which he sometimes vouchsafes to his people, will give them such a lively sense of his love and joy in him, as they themselves know may be felt, but cannot be expressed; and I cannot forbear already showing you, that the meanest real Christian shall, one day, in the higher house, have such a fulness of joy, and such conceptions of God and his Redeemer’s love, that he shall look down, with wonder, at the weak and imperfect stretches of our imagination after it now. But so long as we are here, let us patiently content ourselves with what is given us as necessary to support our weary steps in this desolate wilderness; with what this ordinance, instituted for enlivening our faith, supplies us for our comfort and joy.

For this purpose, let me beg your attention to the following considerations.

[1] You ought to go to God, in this ordinance, as your exceeding joy, because, in it, you have the fullest assurance and the clearest evidence of the forgiveness of your sins and peace with your offended Maker. This is the preliminary mercy which, with respect to fallen creatures, must open the way to every other blessing. Nothing so much dampens our joy in God, and lessens our satisfaction in addressing him, as consciousness of guilt. This it is that makes religion so unpleasant to the carnal worldling; even the secure sinner, who seems to walk without fear, yet is deterred by natural conscience from drawing near to God. He does all in his power to rid his mind of the thoughts of God’s ordinary and constant presence with him in every place. A horror of his Maker possesses his mind at all times; he cannot love him as a gracious Father, because he hates him as an enemy, and fears him as a righteous judge. Nay, the same thing it is that makes us all feel so frequently an aversion at the duties of religion. The cold hand of a spirit of bondage freezes up the affections. Trembling and fear taketh hold upon us. An inward dread and jealousy of our own state throws a gloom and darkness, as it were, through the temple of God. And, with whatever strength or beauty the promises or privileges of the saints may be set forth, there is a secret restraint upon us and as a voice discharging us from touching them, as forbidden fruit. Were we but as pure, and free from guilt, we should, with as much joy and satisfaction, draw nigh to God, as the angels do in Heaven.

I have been the more full in opening this to you, that you may see the foundation there is in nature, and in fact, for the leading doctrine of the gospel, “Christ Jesus set forth as a propitiation for sins, through faith in his blood.”

His blessed body was broken, and his precious blood was spilled for the remission of sins. Are you to commemorate this? Are you to receive the visible signs and the appointed seals of it? Does not this assure you, that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake? Are your sins very great? Are they many in number and heinous in their aggravations? Consider the infinite value of this sacred blood. It was no less than that of the eternal Son of God, who cheerfully undertook our cause: “and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). O unsearchable mystery! O the infinite holiness of God! O the tremendous justice of God! How well may the exhortation of Isaiah 1:18 be pressed, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool.” Well may we say with the apostle Paul, 1 Tim. 1:15, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world, to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” Are you afraid of the condemning sentence of the law, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). Are you ashamed to appear before God in your own undeserving character, hear, and comply with your Saviour’s own counsel, Rev. 3:18, “1 counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich, and white raiment that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.” In the spotless robes of your Redeemer’s righteousness, you shall be adorned for the courts of your God, and dwell in his presence. Are you afraid to apply all this to yourselves? This is the express purpose of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, to confirm and close the covenant of peace with every partaker. Do you doubt the sincerity of the offer upon God’s part? See him dispensing the healing medicine, “This is my body, which was broken for you; this do in remembrance of me. As often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” Hear him saying Mat. 11:28, “Come unto me, all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Hear him saying further John 6:37, “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” Then also, “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, 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” (Isa. 55:1). “And the Spirit and the bride say, come; and let him that heareth say, come; and let him that is athirst, come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). All who have truly groaned under a sense of guilt may here see their pardon sealed, and may and ought to rejoice in it, as theirs; and unless they doubt the faithfulness of God’s word, or the efficacy of their Saviour’s merit, may triumph in both, and set at defiance the thunders of the law, the reproaches of conscience, and the accusations of the devil. They may say with the apostle Paul’s words in Rom. 8:33,34. “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies: who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intersession for us.”

[2] You ought to go to God, in this ordinance, as your exceeding joy as it affords the strongest and most illustrious proof of divine love. This, my brethren, is the immediate subject of our contemplation in the Lord’s supper; and I choose to confider it as an argument by itself, separately from its fruits, because nothing serves more to heighten our affection to, and delight in God, than a firm persuasion of his love to us. Is it a comfortable thing to have the pardon of our sins? It is also unspeakably refreshing, and even ravishing, to view, in faith, the wonderful means by which it is accomplished. We may consider, shortly here, the riches of redeeming grace, as extending to the sinners of Adam’s race in general; and then, what it is for every believer to consider himself as the determinate object of divine regard in the councils of peace. The whole perfections of an infinite God shine with united luster in the work of redemption. His power, wisdom, holiness, and justice are severally and jointly illustrated in it. His unsearchable wisdom is mentioned, Rom. 11:33, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” Consider his mighty power, Eph. 1:19, ”And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward, who believe, according to the working, of his mighty power.” The righteousness of his government, Rom. 3:26, “To declare, I say, at this time, his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” But love is most conspicuous of all, and is therefore most frequently insisted on, John 3:16, ”God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Then also Rom. 5:8, “God commendeth his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Eph. 3:17-19, “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.” And indeed, my brethren, it passeth the power of man to open fully the greatness of the love of God to sinners in Christ Jesus. It is a subject which we are so far from being able now to exhaust, that it shall afford matter for adoring inquiry to all eternity, which the everlasting God lives and reigns with his saints, and unfolds to them, age after age, more ample views of his goodness and greatness. By what shall we measure the love of a friend, but by the greatness of his gifts? What sentiment then shall we entertain of the love of God for his unspeakable gift? He has given us his only begotten Son, “who was from eternity in the bosom of the Father; the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person”; the best and greatest of created beings, nay, the whole creation itself, had been nothing compared to it.

The truth is, 1 am ready to think that there seems to be something like divine contrivance, and infinite design, in this particular circumstance. All created things are in themselves equal and alike easy [accomplishments] for the power of God, being but the effects of his simple will. For this reason, there could be no comparative greatness in any such gifts. There was, therefore, but this one way left to express an uncommon degree of love, that he who was one and equal with the Father, should himself be employed in the message, and “bear our sins in his own body, on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). Nothing else could have made man an expensive purchase. Nothing else that God could bestow would have had any appearance of doing violence to himself, or could give meaning and beauty to that expression, Rom. 8:32, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” The Lord of the vineyard in the parable, is represented as in suspense, as to how to find a method to break the stubbornness of the husbandmen. In Luke 20:13, “Then said the Lord of the vineyard, what shall I do? I will send my beloved Son, it may be they will reverence him when they see him.” Let us paraphrase and apply it. God, who bears the person of the master of the vineyard, may be supposed to say, what shall reclaim these obstinate children of mercy that are in rebellion? Nothing but the invincible force of superior love. But wherein shall the love of the eternal God appear to advantage? In nothing but an eternal gift; they shall not be cheaply purchased, they shall be bought with blood, with that sacred blood, which shall be the surprise of angels, and the wonder of heaven. These reflections I would make with reverence, on this elevated and delightful but awful and tremendous theme. One thing appears clearly from them that is not only obscuring the luster and weakening the force, but destroying the very being of redeeming love, to deny the proper and eternal Godhead of Christ, the Mediator. But, Oh! my brethren, what an improvement is it, to the contemplation of the love of God for each of us to consider himself as having been from eternity the object of it. While I taste the streams of his bounty, may I thus trace it back to its source! Did he love me from the foundation of the world! Did he pity me, when in unprovoked rebellion against him! Did he make so gracious provision for my recovery and salvation! Did he make atonement for my guilt, by the blood of his own Son, and conquer my heart by the power of his sovereign grace! What returns of praise and gratitude are his due? With what joy ought I to remember my Redeemer—his death at his table, in the hope of sharing with him his crown and his throne, in a higher state?

[3] You ought to go to God in this ordinance, as your exceeding joy, as you have in it the clearest and fullest assurance of receiving from him all that is necessary for your comfort and happiness, while you continue here. There are, in a strict sense, but two ends of going to God in his worship and ordinances, to express our sense of and thankfulness for favors received, and as beggars for more. Now, my brethren, in this ordinance you are not only called to celebrate the love of a gracious and reconciled God, but to trust in the fulness of an all-sufficient God. That we may view this the more distinctly there are these two kinds of blessings we stand in need of, those that relate to our spiritual life, and those that relate to our temporal comfort.

[1st] Those that relate to the spiritual life. What is the great desire of every real servant of God in this house? Is it not to have your hearts more inflamed with the love of God and more devoted to his fear? Is not sin your greatest burden, and its remaining influence your greatest grief? Now, where can you have a more reasonable hope of getting your gracious dispositions strengthened, or your sins mortified, than at a communion table? Is it not expressly designed for your spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace? And as the institution of these sensible signs is a remarkable proof of divine condescension, so I can hardly conceive any thing more wisely and happily calculated for this excellent end. What can strengthen your faith in a dying Saviour more than being allowed to look upon the signs of his broken body, and his blood poured out? What can speak greater peace to the conscience, than your being allowed and invited to receive him explicitly? “This is my body, broken for you.” What can more happily serve to kindle and inflame your love to God, than the immediate contemplation of his infinite love for you? Where can you take such a hateful view of sin, as a detested object, as at the Lord’s table, where you see it in your Saviour’s sufferings? Where and how can you lay such a bond upon the conscience, as by receiving the seals of this sacred engagement? How can you give such a deadly wound to your strongest lusts as by nailing and affixing them to your Redeemer’s cross? What motive of future obedience equal to bearing about in your bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus? See what the Apostle says, 2 Cor. 5:14, “For the love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.” Again, Gal. 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” What remedy can you find for your own weakness like the all-sufficiency of Christ? In Col. 2:.9, “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Then, 1 Cor. 1:30, “Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” I will not so widely handle the subject as to cite to you all the passages which show that the spirit of sanctification is a part of the purchase of your Redeemer, and one of his gifts to those who humbly implore it. Is it not well known, and do not believers at his table, sensible of their own weakness, and confident of their Saviour’s power, get their feet upon the necks of their enemies, and say, “I can do all things through Christ strengthening me” (Phi. 4:13).

[2nd] They have here all things necessary for their temporal comfort. They have a complete remedy for their cares, as well as their sins. As at the Lord’s table you lay hold of the covenant of peace, so there, if any where you may see, that it is ordered in all things, and certain; your food and raiment, and all necessary provision, is contained in it; and Christ’s body is the pledge. How gracious the promise that your heavenly Father knows that you have need of these things. Consider Psa. 34: 8-10, “O taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man that trusts in him. O fear the Lord, ye his saints! For there is no want to them that fear him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger; but they that seek the Lord, shall not want any good thing.” Also, Isa. 33:16, “He shall dwell on high; his place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks; bread shall be given him, his water shall be sure.” Deliverance from suffering is contained in it, Psalm 34:19, ”Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out them all.” Strength and grace to suffer with patience is contained in it, Isaiah 43:2, “When thou passest through the waters, 1 will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” The sanctified use and improvement of suffering is contained in it, Rom. 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” Then, 2 Cor. 4:16, “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man is in peril, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” Consider, especially, that at the Lord’s table you have an immediate view of the great foundation of reliance on divine Providence, Rom. 8:32, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things.” That God, who was so lavish of his love, as not to spare even his own Son, but gave him up to be despised, buffeted, and crucified for you, will not be so inconsistently hard as to refuse the small gift in comparison of a little earthly good. He whose soul was redeemed by the blood of Christ shall not lose his body for a little bread.

I cannot help observing, here, of what universal use and benefit the doctrine of Christ crucified is, and how high a place it ought to hold in our esteem. It is not only useful for assuring us of the pardon of sin, but makes us superior to all those sufferings, of every kind, which took their rise from sin. The path of a Christian is sometimes thorny and difficult, and many of the weaker order of saints have even a greater sensibility of the inconveniences of life than some thoughtless sinners. These last maintain a sort of bustle and contest for worldly pleasure, and, with a sturdy self-sufficiency, can, if I may speak so, return the blows and buffets of adverse fortune while the feeble of Christ’s flock become sunk and heartless under a frowning Providence. But is not the Lord’s table a place of refuge? Is it not a matter of experience, that they have found consolation there? Whatever their complaints have been, whether of sickness, or poverty, or loss of relations, or the slanders of their enemies, they have adored the sovereign will of God in them all; they have been brought to a placid submission to his providence in them all; nay, they have happily seen and confessed his wise and merciful purpose in them all. It was not without a view to his trials, that the Psalmist, in our text, desires to go unto the altar of God, unto God his exceeding joy. And you may see how he express himself in the following verse, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul! and why art thou disquieted within me! Hope in God; for I shall praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God!”

[4th] I come, now, in the last place, to observe, that this ordinance is a source of joy, as it is a pledge and earnest of heaven; a foretaste of that eternal happiness which God hath prepared in the world to come for his faithful servants. This, my brethren, ought never to be out of our view while we sojourn in this valley of tears.

This eternal joy is what our Redeemer has given us for the fullest assurance. It is he who hath drawn aside the curtain, and opened to us a joyful prospect into the holy of holies, into the blessed mansions of perfection, purity, and happiness within the veil. In one of the Lord’s last discourses to his disciples, when he was about to leave them, he tells them, it was to be but a short separation for he would come again, and carry them with him; and that they should never more be divided. He said, John 14:2, “In my father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you: I go to prepare a place for you;” and not only hath he left the promise of his return, but hath instituted this ordinance, on the one hand, to keep up the memory of his former appearance; and, on the other, to keep up our hopes of his second coming, and what he will then bestow. The ordinance reminds, 1 Cor. 11:23, “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” It is intended to support the languishing faith of his people, and make them tread, with constancy, in his strength, the same paths of virtue and self-denial that he did, in hopes of shortly sharing his crown and reward. As Heb. 12:1, 2, says, “And let us run with patience the race that is set before us; looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” And how highly proper is this institution for pointing us to the glorious issue of our Christian conflict? In it, we have, at once, a proof of the certainty—of the excellence—and even some perception of the nature of heavenly glory.

How certain and infallible is that happiness to the saints, which our exalted Redeemer, the Amen and faithful Witness hath his word for, and gone before, in our name, to take possession of? Heb 6:19, 20, “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast and which entereth into that within the vail, whither the forerunner is for us entered.” Then to 1 Cor. 15:23, “But every man in his own order, Christ, the first fruits, afterward they that are Christ’s, at his coming.” However high an hope it may seem, forasmuch as we are to aspire to a station so near the throne of God, to his presence and fellowship; yet it is not too much, after what is already bestowed upon us; after what Christ hath done, it can present no surprise, that this should be the conclusion of it; after he hath borne our sins in his own body, and with his own blood washed away our guilt; after he hath sanctified and cleaned us by his holy Spirit, made us his children, and imprinted the image of his Father upon our hearts after he hath kindled in our souls a flame of divine love, and made us content with nothing but himself, and with no place where he is not. Surely he will not leave us comfortless; he can have no other design than to carry us to live with him, and reign with him for ever and ever.

Does not this representation also serve to show the excellency of the heavenly glory? It is called in scripture “the purchased possession.” And, Oh! my dear brethren, how great, beyond expression, must that inheritance by which was so dearly bought, for which every price, but the blood of the eternal Son of God was rejected! See his body broken, and his blood shed; and there see what heaven has cost; and this it cost to him, who had dwelt there from eternity, and could not be deceived in its worth. It was no unnecessary expense, idly thrown away, but what alone was equal to the glorious purchase. Had we nothing else, by which to guess at that, which eye hath not seen, this, of itself, ought to be sufficient to raise our hopes to the highest, and give us the most exalted conceptions of its infinite glory.

And may I also add, upon this head, my brethren, that the Lord’s Supper is, to many, an earnest: and foretaste, as well as an assurance, of the happiness of heaven. Is it not the sensible communion with God, which some of his saints even here enjoy, a resemblance, though faint, of that full and perfect communion which they shall enjoy with their Creator and Redeemer in the world above. In John 14:23, “If a man loves me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him; and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” What is here then, but to be free from sin; to contemplate the glory of an infinite God; to be filled with a sense of his love; and to be beyond the reach of temptation to offend him anymore. Now, when the believer sees his pardon sealed with his Redeemer’s blood; when he is filled with a hatred of all sin, and a humble confidence of being delivered from its power; when his very complaints are put to silence, and the frailties of a dying body are left behind, or swallowed up by the hope of a blessed resurrection; what is this, but, the very dawn of heaven in the soul! What is this, but the shout of victory, and an earnest of that day of complete triumph, when all his enemies shall be brought under his feet!

I am sensible that the mindset of many communicants will be but a bad emblem of heaven; and, if they measure it by that standard, it will give them but low and sorry notions of it. This, however, is not the case with all; and there are few real Christians that in some parts of their lives have felt such inward joy in God, that they have been ready to say, with the disciples on the mount of transfiguration, “It is good for us to be here” (Mat. 17:4). Neither is there any place where it may be more reasonably expected than at a communion table; every pious soul should breathe out this prayer of the Psalmist, Psa. 113:1-4, “O God! thou art my God! Early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee! My flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory, as I have seen thee in the sanctuary; because thy loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus, will I bless thee, while I live! I will lift up my hands in thy name!”

And now, my brethren, what reason is there for every sincere communicant to go to God in this ordinance, as their exceeding joy? It points us forward to that blessed time when we shall indeed be satisfied with that fulness of joy, and these rivers of pleasures that are at his right hand. We are glad now indeed, to help our conceptions with symbols and figures. But then shall our eyes see the glorious Saviour standing at the right hand of God, surrounded by ten thousand of his saints, who have been redeemed by his blood. This life is but a scene of misery and sorrow, where wretchedness is often to be seen, and lamentations heard, even in the dwellings of the righteous; but then all tears shall be wiped away from their eyes, and these songs of praise begin which shall never end. Now we are borne down with prevailing corruption, which, as a dead weight, depresses our spirits; but then shall we be perfectly freed from all impurity, and serve our God and Redeemer with the same spirit and joy as the angels do in heaven. Now we are but as young inexperienced birds, which in learning to fly can but flutter a little and immediately take refuge in the earth. But we shall soon soar above it, rising with unwearied wings and never-failing strength.

Let us forget for a little the weakness of mortality, and turn our thoughts to the general assembly of the church of the firstborn, where no suspicion of our false heart being admitted shall remain, when all the wide congregation shall join in celebrating the praises of Almighty God, and of the Lamb; and there shall not be one jarring or one discordant note in the universal harmony. Thus, I have laid before you what a source of joy there is to the believer in the holy ordinance which you now have opportunity to partake of.

In the last place, some practical improvement [applications] of the subject.

[1]. May I not, in a few words, observe how great is the goodness ot God, in providing so rich an entertainment for us in our present state. This life has been expressly designed, in Providence, as a scene of difficulties and trials. We are here in exile from our Father’s house; yet doth he not leave us altogether desolate, but hath given us this ordinance as a token and pledge of his love, before the full manifestation of it. Here is food to give us vigor for our journey, in this valley of tears; strength to embolden us against our enemies, that we may hold on our course steadily, without wearying. Will it be a matter of eternal surprise, that the only begotten Son of God should do honor to our world, by taking up his abode in it, and dignify human nature by wearing it himself, and uniting it to his own? Is it not a continued proof of the same condescension as well as evidence of divine wisdom that he should leave to every age this standing memorial of himself, his appearance, and work, that sense itself might partner with faith in rejoicing over his goodness? If his hearers were blessed with his heavenly voice, and wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth during his personal ministry, let us with admiration and joy, look upon the symbols of his sufferings and death; let us survey the picture of his agony drawn by himself, and let us remember what it promises, and what he is now gone to prepare for his faithful followers.

[2] Let us by way of improvement, consider a little for whom this joy is provided; does not this need explanation? And are not many of you saying within yourselves, surely obstinacy itself cannot deny, that here is great causc of joy to some, but who are they? Is it not a joy with which a stranger cannot intermeddle, that pertains only to a privileged few? This inquiry is highly needful, as the great spring of joyless communions is the want of a personal application of the blessings of our Redeemer’s purchase. That I may neither unwarrantably discourage any, nor prostitute this precious privilege to the unworthy, I shall observe, that this joy is truly applicable to all to whom it is desirable; to all whom it may be useful, but in different lights, according to their different characters.

[1st] All those who have not only laid hold on Christ for salvation, but have some degree of humble confidence in the divine mercy, on whom the Lord has lifted up the light of his reconciled countenance. If there are any such among us, as God forbid but there were, they ought; but why do I say they ought; for, no doubt, they certainly will go to God as their exceeding joy. To you, my brethren, it belongs, with wonder and gratitude, to survey these blessings to which you have your title, and to join in that heavenly anthem, Rev. 1:5, 6, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God, and his father, to him be glory, and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” To which is added Rev. 7:12, “Blessing and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.” Let your faith follow your risen Redeemer to his Father’s throne, and look forward to what he is doing and preparing for you, as well as backward to what he hath already done. If Satan be under your feet; if sin be crucified on your Saviour’s cross; and cares and sorrows kept at a distance; I hope it will help you to some conception of the felicity of that state, “where there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God, and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall serve him.”

[2ndly] In this ordinance there is matter of joy and consolation to the fearful and doubting Christian, not without desires after God, and the remembrance of his name, yet is full of solicitude and anxiety, and does not positively affirm his own interest in the Saviour. What is set before us in this ordinance, particularly what I have this day opened about the subject, will show how well it is fitted for strengthening the weak, and comforting the feeble-minded. But, to explain this propriety a little, let me ask you, do you doubt God’s willingness to receive returning sinners? ‘For this doubt the Lord’s supper is a full resolution; this table spread by his appointment, is an express stipulation, on his part, of pardon and peace, to all who are willing to accept of them on the terms of the gospel. Well, but what are the terms of the gospel? Infinitely free and gracious, on the one hand, and exceeding strict and severe on the other; full forgiveness to the chief of sinners, without any merit or qualification on their part; complete deliverance from the power of corruption and sanctification by the Holy Spirit of grace. What then are the severe terms? Truly to accept of them as fully and freely as they are offered; to receive forgiveness as mere mercy, which we have not deserved, and desire deliverance from every sin without exception; and to expect to obtain it, not from ourselves, but by the strength that is in Christ; the true self-denial of the gospel is the hardest sacrifice to human pride. Men may cry of morality, and boast of it, and trust in it and never practice it; but heartily approve of the whole law of God, and breathe after conformity to it, as the purchase of Christ’s death, and the effect of our union with him, and giving the honor of it only to him, this, if I mistake not, is the obedience of faith. Now, do you doubt whether you have accepted Christ on these terms—This is not doubting, but refusing; and I have no consolation for you. But if you are willing that Christ should be all, and you should be nothing, and sincerely grieve for the sin and impurity that still cleaves to you, and even for our unbelief, and the hardness of your hearts, come to this table, and “my God shall supply all your wants from his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phi. 4:19).

[3rdly] That I may, if possible, yet further illustrate and commend the divine grace, here is a matter of joy to all without exception “Behold, I bring you glad tiding of great joy, that God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself!” You have cause to be thankful, that, for your former contempt of mercy, you have not been cut off from the land of the living, and condemned for ever to the flames. Oh that you were sensible what grace and patience is exercised towards you in your daily preservation! That your past refusals have not been accepted as your final choice, and your fate determined beyond redemption! I do, now, upon this solemn occasion, when the body and blood of Christ, as broken and shed for sinners, is to be set before you, by his warrant and authority, beseech you, by the mercies of God, and pray you to be reconciled unto him. Shall I be obliged, on this season of joy, amidst so bright a display of divine love, to unsheathe the sword of almighty vengeance, and denounce the terrors of the Lord? No, my brethren, I rather choose, now, to beseech than to command, to invite than to threaten; to show you the wrath of God falling upon your Saviour rather than upon yourselves; and shall not his love constrain you, shall not his mercy persuade you, not to reject the counsel of God against yourselves? Will you prefer the pleasures of sin, carnal mirth, and sensual riot, to all the blessed fruits of divine love? You will say, I suspect that you have but a cold notion of all this profusion of language about joy in God; it is because you know it not. Do but taste and see, that the Lord is good! I am sensible; however, it is in vain to speak to any but those who are weary of their sins; and therefore, I shall only, in our Saviour’s words, call all those “who are weary and heavy laden to come unto him, that they may have rest” (Mat. 11:28). As this ordinance is proper for ratifying former engagements, so it is also proper for entering into covenant with God, and solemnly giving yourselves to be his. And that this may be a day and place, marked in the registers of heaven, when and where many joined themselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant never to be forgotten or recalled!

[3] The last use to be made of this subject is to show you what is your proper manner at the Lord’s table. It ought to be a joyful, thankful application of the blessings of Christ’s purchase to your souls. Be strong in faith, giving glory to God; not only celebrate his love, but build upon it, by asking, in faith, everything necessary to your sanctification and peace. I shall shut up all, by desiring you to use the Psalmist’s preface, in going unto God, who says, in Psa. 43:3, “O send out thy light and thy truth; let them lead me, let them bring me in to thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.” In order to raise and elevate your minds, to fix and engage your unsettled hearts, apply to God, who hath the hearts of all men in his hand, that he would dispose you for his service that he would shed abroad his love in your hearts, and make you joyful in his house of prayer. And my earnest prayer to God for you is, that he would at this time, convert some, or every profane sinner in this assembly; pull off the masks of hypocrites, and show them their own likeness; that he would make it a joyful communion to many of you, and a profitable communion to all.


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