SUPPOSE this. Suppose you were commanded to sup with King Edward the Seventh on this day week. Then what else than that command would you think about all the intervening six days and six nights? I feel sure you would think about nothing else. The great invitation, and the coming supper in the king's palace, would never be out of your thoughts for a moment. You would discourse about your high honour all day, and you would dream about it all night. But at the same time, you would rejoice at the prospect with trembling. And you would do this. You would seek out those in this city who had sometimes been at court. You would apply to those ministers, or other highly honoured men, who had dined or supped with the late Queen, his Majesty's mother, and you would beseech them to tell you all about the palace and its royal rules and regulations. You would interrogate them about a thousand things, from the way in which you should reply to such a command, down till you were safely back again in your own house. You would be in such mortal terror lest in your inexperience and ignorance you should fall into some awful mistake. You have never been much in good society, not to say in such society as a crowned head keeps, and it would not be to be wondered at if you scarcely slept with anxiety till it was all over and you were safely home again. And if there was any book of palace etiquette and court ceremonial to be had for love or money, you would sit up all night over it; you would set your very Bible aside night after night in order to give all your mind to the Court Guide. Your Bible could wait, but not your preparation for the great event of your life. And if in studying its directions you came on any expressions and descriptions you did not understand, you would go back again to the king's chaplain rather than risk the smallest misunderstanding or mistake. And if you could accuse yourself of neglecting the very utmost precaution, and thus fell into some disgraceful blunder at court, you would never forget it, and you would never forgive yourself, to your dying day. And who would blame you for all that solicitude? Who would say that you were anxious over much? We would all envy you for your high honour, but we would all be thankful that we had not to go through your ordeal. And as often as we thought of your certainty to make some terrible mistake, we would say to ourselves-Better him than me.
Intending communicants! Your own hearts have already interpreted to you what I have been driving at all this time. For this day seven-night you are all commanded to be ready to present yourselves before your Lord in His Father's house. Now what are you intending to do all this week with a view to the Lord's Supper? With whom do you intend to take counsel? Do you know, in all your circle of acquaintances, any one you feel sure is at home in such matters? What books will you read this week, and what books will you judge it impertinent, and unseasonable, and unbecoming, to read this week? How do you intend to lay out your nights especially? In short, what steps do you intend to take to secure and guard yourself against some awful slip or oversight when you are ushered into the King's presence? Have you any plan? Have you any programme? Six days and six nights look a long time in which to prepare. But they will all be past and gone before you know where you are. For one thing, I have a great faith myself in the proper books. I shall owe my own soul, if it is saved at last, to the proper books. And if your soul is lost at last that catastrophe will be accounted for largely by your persistent reading of unseasonable and unbecoming books, and especially in the night-watches of the communion week. Some intending communicants will do something like this. Tomorrow night they will take time and will read again all about the institution of the Passover in Israel, and they will apply all the lessons of the Passover to their own hearts, and to their own lintels and side-posts. On Tuesday night if you went in on them late you would find them deep in the Fifty-first Psalm. And on Wednesday night deep in the Fifty-third of Isaiah. On Thursday we used to have all the shops shut, and all the churches open; and we still have our communion books, if we choose, that no one can shut as they have shut the churches. And all Thursday night they will be still deeper in the arrest and the trial and the cross of their Redeemer. What else, in the name of sin and salvation, would you expect to find them reading on such a night and in such a week! And all the week they will have among their choicest books some classic on the communion, say like Robert Bruce, and they will work their soul-saving way through that great book again. Robert Bruce's book is not in the circulating library, and it is too dear for you who are laymen to be expected to buy it. But if there is any divinity student here who hopes one day to be a good minister of Jesus Christ, let him get his hands somehow or other on Bruce before tomorrow night, and master one of "that stately Presbyterian divine's" sermons on the Sacrament every night all the week. I have not read Bruce so often, I am ashamed to say, as Jowett had read Boswell. But I read him for the first time forty years ago, and I read him again last week. And in the strength of many readings of that great Edinburgh preacher I will venture this prophecy that if you begin Bruce at this communion, you will still be reading him forty years after this, and you will be liking him better and better at every returning communion in your ministry,-a sure mark of a masterpiece.
But with all that, you must not sit at home and read your Bible and Bruce on the Sacraments all the week, and do nothing else. "Therefore we must," says Jeremy Taylor, "before every communion especially, remember what differences or jealousies are between us and any one else, and recompose all such disunions, and cause right understandings between each other. Offering to satisfy whom we have injured, and to forgive those who have injured us." And so on, in his heart-searching and eloquent treatise. As for instance. One of our own elders on the Sabbath before one communion heard a sermon on the text, "Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way: first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." Now that elder had long ago had a miserable quarrel with a man in the same profession as his own, and whose office was in the same street as his own. And on the Monday before the communion, as if it were tomorrow, he left his own office-door and crossed the street and rang his enemy's bell. He felt, as he told me himself, that he would almost as soon have faced a lighted cannon as rung that bell. But he did it. And when he stood before his old foe he did not speak. He only held out his hand. The two estranged men looked at one another. They shook hands and parted without words. But a load of anger and hatred and wickedness that had lain like a mill-stone on both their hearts was from that moment removed. And the two men came to the table next Sabbath reconciled to God and to one another. Will you do that same preparatory act tomorrow forenoon? Or still better, will you do it tonight on your way home from the House of God?
And then when the communion day dawns this day week, rise early. Be like Moses that morning when he was hidden in the cleft rock, and when he first heard the Name of the Lord. And have something suitable in your mind the last thing on Saturday night that you are to say the first thing on Sabbath morning. Have this: When I awake I am still with Thee. Or this: I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness. Or this: This is the day the Lord hath made. Or this: He was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Or this: Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. And then finish up with this: I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. And, all the morning hours, let your mind go back to that first Lord's day morning. Think you see Mary Magdalene while it is yet dark. Think you hear what she says to her Risen Lord, and what He says to her. Go through their dialogue with them. And open and read the journey to Emmaus, and think you are one of them, till your heart burns within you. And be up here in good time. We will have the doors open in good time. Come so as to have a quiet half-hour to yourself. Do not come late and agitated with getting ready. Have a good half-hour to read and think and pray. And enter at once into the stream of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and make melody in your heart to the Lord. Follow the action-sermon with your whole attention. Miss nothing that is said. I think it will suit you next Sabbath. And then at the table rise to your best faith, and to your best love. And if your heart has resisted all the preparations of the week and you are ready to sink into the earth when the elders bring forward the elements, then give vent to your heavy heart in such ejaculations as this: I am not worthy, Holy Lord. And this: Then will I to thine altar go. And this: Just as I am. And this: Cleft for me. And then when the King comes to see the guests He will find you singing in your heart to Him and to yourself this acceptable song:-
O let the dead now hear thy voice:Now bid thy banished ones rejoice,-Their beauty this, their glorious dress,Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness.And then take a moment or two at the Table to pray for those who are as dear to you as your own soul. For those you love as Christ has loved you. And, after your own flesh and blood, then for those you love almost as much, your choicest and most select friends. And wind up with the man you were reconciled to last week. For that is the best friendship, and that is the surest reconciliation, that is sanctified and sealed at the Lord's Table.
And then, when your Saviour says to you after supper, Know you what I have done to you? you will have your answer ready. My blessed Lord, you will say, I know only too well what Thou hast done for me. I doubt, in all Thy great doings for sinners, if ever Thou hast done for mortal man what Thou hast done for me. Many men call themselves the chief of sinners; but I know, and Thou knowest, better than that. If I do not know all Thou hast done for me, keep the full knowledge of it back till I am able to bear it. For I am not able to bear any more today. Oh! the past, the past! you will cry in your agony of remorse mingled with faith and love. For you see your past sins and your present sinfulness at every returning communion blacker and blacker. Yea, Lord, Thou hast redeemed me. Thou hast substituted Thyself for me. Thou hast borne my sins in Thine own body on the tree. Thou hast come after me, and Thou hast been full of unparalleled long-suffering with me. Thou hast endured me far past all other men. No man has provoked Thee to the uttermost as I have done. And yet, you will say,-I am not in hell, but at the Lord's Table!
And then, with all that possessing your heart, you will go home from the Lord's Table a new creature. You will go home at peace with God and with your own conscience through the sin-atoning death of the Son of God. At peace also with all men, and full of love and prayer for all men. And you will henceforth walk with a far more perfect heart before your house at home. And you will henceforth possess your heart with a holy patience among all the crooks in your lot, and under all the crosses that God sees good to lay upon you. And amid all these things you will henceforth be one of the most watchful, and prayerful, and humble-minded, and easy to live with, of men. A miracle to yourself, and a wonder to many. From one day to another living for nothing else so much as to perfect holiness in the fear of God. And God every day more and more perfecting in you what He has begun in you, till the day of Christ. Till that day, that is, when He shall come in to see the guests, and to go no more out.