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Thus should we be urgent, even to exhort one another, and all should gladly and thankfully receive “the word of exhortation; ” to “be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our labor will not be in vain in the Lord.”
The author of this epistle says, We should exhort one another “so much the more as we see the day” (meaning, no doubt, the great day, or the second coming of Christ) “approaching.” If this motive had weight in the times of the apostles, it must have more now ; since that great day, which will “try every man's work of what sort it is,” must be nearer than it was then ; and though this time was not known to our Lord himself, but only the signs of its approach, many intelligent Christians, who are attentive to the signs of the times, are of opinion that it cannot now be far distant, and may be expected even in the present generation. But since the coming is certain, though the time be uncertain, let us be ready, that, when our Lord shall return and take account of his servants, we may be found without spot, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.
OBSERVANCE OF THE LORD’S DAY.
IF one day in seven be appointed to be a season of rest from labor, and for serious recollection of mind, by that Being who has made us capable both of labor and of reflection, let us conscientiously appropriate this, as well as every other portion of our time, to the use for which it was intended, and for which, we may therefore presume, it is really wanted; and let us not, out of too great a dread of superstition (which ought certainly to be guarded against, in this as well as in every thing else), pass into the contrary extreme, of a gross abuse of a divine ordinance, and a scandalous licentiousness of conduct. Works of necessity and mercy are allowed to be a sufficient reason for setting aside the distinction of the Lord's day from the rest; but that journey, for instance, cannot be said to be necessary, for which nothing but convenience can be pleaded; neither can it be necessary to confine yourselves at home by taking a medicine on that day, when your health would not suffer by its being taken on the day before, or the day after. Also a cold, or other slight indisposition, is with a very ill grace pleaded as an excuse for absence from public worship, by those who are known to run much greater risks on other accounts. I wish it were merely a matter of doubt, whether, in many cases, the plea of necessity be justly alleged, and that it could be supposed that persons acted according to their judgments, though biassed by their inclinations. But, alas! so generally, and so manifestly, is business of a nature altogether foreign to the proper design of the Lord's day thrown into it, by many persons, that it cannot be accounted for but by supposing it to be the effect of particular design and contrivance; which, being a wilful neglect of an acknowledged duty, certainly argues a want of the fear of God, and the absence of religious principle, properly so called.
THE LORD'S SUPPER.
THE Lord's supper, consisting of eating bread, and drinking wine, is a religious rite instituted by Christ, in commemoration of his death; the breaking of the bread, more especially representing the wounding of the body of Christ, and the pouring out of the wine the shedding of his blood; and this rite is to continue to be celebrated by the disciples of Christ till his second coming. The design of this institution being to serve as a memorial, or record, of that important fact of the death of Christ, it may be considered as one monument of the truth of the Christian religion, as was observed in a preceding part of this work. Being more especially a memorial of the death of Christ, in which he chiefly manifested the love that he bore to mankind, it furnishes the most proper opportunity of recollecting the love of Christ, and rejoicing in the consideration of the blessings of his gospel. Since this rite is peculiar to Christians, it likewise serves as a public declaration of our being Christians; and is, consequently, a recognising of the obligation we are under to live as becomes Christians: for no man can say that he is a Christian, and especially in a public and solemn manner, without acknowledging that he is obliged to live as becomes a Christian. Joining habitually in public worship, implies very much the same thing. Lastly, as, in this rite, we more especially commemorate the death of Christ, it serves to remind us, that we are the professed disciples of a crucified Master; and, therefore, must not expect better treatment from this world than our Lord met with from it: that we must lay our account with meeting with hardships, reproach, and persecution, as he did, and that we should contentedly and patiently bear them, rather than quit the profession of our faith, or do any thing unworthy of it; in full assurance that, if “we suffer” with Christ, “we shall also reign with him,” and “be glorified together.” This rite having such excellent moral uses, and the celebration of it being an express command of Christ, who said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” I do not see how any person, professing Christianity, can satisfy himself with refusing to join in it. In the primitive times, the celebration of the Lord's supper made a part of the ordinary service every Lord's day, and every person who was thought worthy to be considered as a member of a body of Christians partook of it. Whenever, indeed, any person professing Christianity behaved in a manner unworthy of the Christian name, so as to be in danger of bringing a reproach upon it, he was excommunicated; in consequence of which, he was cut off from joining in any part of Christian worship, and from this among the rest; but there was no distinction made between this and other parts of the service, especially the prayers of the church. An excommunicated person was one who was publicly declared not to belong to a Christian society: and, therefore, the church would not consent to any thing that should imply their acknowledging him in the character of a brother, and declined associating with him. The reason of this conduct was most evident; because the good name of Christians, and of Christian societies, was a thing of the greatest consequence to the propagation of Christianity in those early times; and it ought to be considered, at all times, as a matter of great consequence. Considering that Christ absolutely requires of all his disciples the most open and public profession of his religion,