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ST. LUKE xiv, 22. “ Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.” THIS is a report sent up by man to God, from
earth to Heaven. A servant of God, one of His ministers, ordained to serve in holy things between man and God, thus addresses his Master,“Lord, it is done as Thou hast commanded, and yet there is room." 'I have invited all Thy guests to the supper which Thou hast prepared. And, when those who were first asked declined to come, I have gone, at Thy bidding, into the streets and lanes of the city, bringing in as many as were willing, out of “the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind.” And still there is room.
I have done all that I can to fill the hall of banqueting. I have told the people Thy commands. I have shown to them the love which moves Thee to ask them to Thy feast. I have endeavoured to persuade them by moving arguments, and by appealing at once to their reason and their hearts, and still the absentees are many, still the hall is more than half empty, still there are many places not yet filled.' This, I say, is a report carried up to God by those
Ι couriers who continually pass between earth and Heaven. It is a report, too, which I regret to say that I am myself obliged to send regarding many of you, my beloved brethren. I have to tell my Master, and I do so with the deepest pain and the most bitter sorrow, that the feast which He gives here every Lord's day is not frequented as it ought to be, that His table is not full or nearly full, that the number of those who attend the Holy Communion, compared with those who do not attend, is very small, that out of the many thousand persons who belong to us in this city there are only some few hundreds who ever think of presenting themselves at their Father's board, that men turn their backs habitually upon this holy ordinance, as a matter of course, without being at all aware that their conduct is extraordinary, or that by so doing they are offending and grieving Him Who died to save their souls. This is the fact, and that which is the fact may be spoken of as the report which I am obliged to give. I am compelled to tell my Master of many among you who are here present, and of many who are not present now, that though I have done as he has commanded, and though I have asked you to His table, “ yet there is room."
I confess to you, my brethren, that it is a matter which often weighs heavily upon me, and I have resolved to speak to you with great plainness, and to open and to unburthen my whole heart to you, without any reserve or concealment.
This, then, is what a minister of Christ must think, when he reflects on such a state of things as that which I have just described to you. He considers what the supper of the Lord is. He says to himself, God is very good to us. He sent His Son into the world to save us.
up the cross to deliver us from sin and from the conse
to death upon
quences of sin. And then,-to keep alive the memory of His precious death, and to apply to every soul and body the good which was effected by it,-He instituted a sacred feast, to be kept as a perpetual ordinance unto the world's end. And no one comes to it! Here in this place are hundreds and thousands of men and women, calling themselves Christians, professing faith in Jesus Christ, saying that He died for them and that all their hopes are in His death ;
and yet when they are asked to commemorate that death, and when they are invited to come to that holy table upon which it is exhibited and shown forth, a miserable remnant of the whole number comes.
To be a communicant is not the rule, but the exception. Whereas we should expect that the many would come and the few would absent themselves, the reverse is true; only a few come; the vast majority are never found at that table; thousands of seats are empty ; a communicant is a marked man with something extraordinary in his character; the mass of Christians never celebrate the death of Christ.'
This is what he must say to himself. And then he goes on to say,—This is very strange. If, in the exercise of painful but salutary discipline, the pastor is constrained to warn a member of his flock from coming to the Lord's table, because his life is inconsistent with so high a privilege, such warning is felt as a censure of the gravest and most galling kind.
almost every man whom you meet is an excommunicated person, and nothing is thought of it. Did one say to them, you may not come to the holy sacrament, they would rise in arms against the insult and the injury which they would then suppose to be inflicted on them. And yet, with contentment, with
self-complacency, without any pricks of conscience or disquietude of heart, they inflict upon themselves the severest penalty of the Church. They excommunicate themselves. They brand themselves with the most dreadful mark of infamy which is known in Christendom. And still they live in the world and go about their daily work, satisfied and happy.'
It seems to me that any man who reflects at all upon the matter must think of it in some such way as this. And how comes it? What is the reason ? Why are all these seats empty? Why is it that yet there is room?
Is it that Christ's religion is wearing out? that eighteen hundred years of work and conflict have worn it threadbare? Is faith perished or all but perished from among us? I hope not; I hope that things, however sad their state may be, are not so altogether bad as this. And yet, my brethren, I say plainly, a religion such as this, which can dispense with that act of worship which commemorates the sacrifice of Christ, and is contented with the dispensation, whatever else it may be, is not the religion of Jesus Christ. The sacrifice of Christ is the central truth of Christianity, regarded as a faith ; let that go and all goes ; nothing, or nothing worth keeping, is left. And the Holy Eucharist, which commemorates and represents that sacrifice, is the central act of Christianity regarded as a religion,—the heart of all Christian worship, the focus of all devotional fire. Neglect that sacred rite, despise it, treat it as a superfluous and unnecessary thing, deny that grace is given in it, and then life has perished from worship ; prayer becomes nothing but our own offering, and is not presented to our Heavenly Father through the
priesthood and the blood of Christ. All good comes to us by Christ's atoning sacrifice. What must be the state of those who despise the sacrifice ? Can those who refuse to commemorate the sacrifice expect to be partakers of the good ?
So that our state is bad at the best. Taking the most charitable and lenient view of the condition in which the vast majority of Christians are now living around us, we must say that our religion is at a very low ebb, at best. And yet I think that a portion of the blame may fairly be laid upon doctrinal mistakes which are prevalent among us; and to a consideration of two out of these mistakes I now address myself.
I. One mistake is, that faith is everything, and therefore that sacraments are nothing. Faith is everything, but faith is not everything if we mean that faith shuts everything else out. Faith is everything, as a basis, as a ground of conduct, as a support of life. It is quite right to say,“only believe.” But“only believe” does not mean, do not work, do not pray, do not worship. It means, believe in God, so as to put yourself entirely in God's hands, and then, through trust in Him, to do His will ; that is, to accomplish all the work, all the duties, all the worship, which form the several component parts of a religious life. Faith is everything, if we mean that it is the beginning of everything and that it includes in itself as in a seed all else that is good, but faith is not everything, or nearly everything, if we mean that faith is the only grace
and that there is no other grace but faith only. There is the
grace of love as well as the grace of faith. Nevertheless, a notion is abroad that faith in this exclusive sense suffices, that faith is enough though there be in a man nothing but faith. And as one result of