Preparing For Communion

An Extract from a Preparation Sermon by John Willison, Sacramental meditations and advices, grounded upon Scripture texts &c, [Wilmington, 1803], 305-19

“Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonderfully among you” (Joshua 3:5).

In this chapter we have the history of Israel’s passing through Jordan to Canaan; and a very memorable history it is, for long after they are bid to remember what God did for them between Shittim and Gilgal (Mic 6:5) that they may know the righteousness of the Lord. Shittim as the place where they decamped, and Gilgal where they next pitched. See Joshua 3:1, compared with Joshua 4:19. He orders them to march up to the river side, where they came and lodged, through they were unprovided of means to pass it in the ordinary way. Though they had neither boats nor bridges, yet they go forward in faith, trusting God’s power and promise. It was told them (Jos 1:11) that they should pass it.

We must go on in the way of our duty, though we foresee difficulties, trusting God to help us through them when we come to them. The people are directed to follow the Ark (v. 3) when borne by the Priests and Levites, to teach us closely to attend ordinances, of we would have the marks of God’s favour and special presence.

In the text we have two things: (1) A command; and (2) Reasons given for it.

As to the first, Sanctify yourself. The word sanctify has divers acceptations in scriptures. Some times it is applied to God. We are commanded to sanctify the Lord, that is, to think and speak reverently of Him, or humbly to worship him. At other times we are commanded to sanctify ourselves, and then it imports several things: (1) Our separating or setting ourselves apart to some holy use. (2) Our cleansing ourselves from all ceremonial pollution. (3) Our preparing ourselves for some solemn or sacred action, by the use of some sacred rites or ceremonies, such as legal washing, etc. (4) Our putting ourselves in a suitable frame for attending on God’s worship. (5) Our purifying ourselves inwardly from sin, and adorning ourselves with holiness.

I might cite scripture for all the significations of the word, as Exodus 19:22; Joshua 7:13; 1 Cor 15:12; 2 Chronicles 5:11; 29:5; 30:3, etc. I shall take it here as comprehending something of all these senses, especially the people preparing themselves to attend the ark, and the discovering of God’s power, glory, and goodness, with a suitable sorrow and awful frame of spirit, befitting such a great occasion.

[As to the second,] we have reasons for it, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders amongst you. See how magnificently he speaks of God’s works, he calls them wonders; and indeed these were so, the dividing of the waters of Jordan, and making them to stand up as a heap, and the to run back, turning fluids into solids, and causing the Israelites to walk through the rapid river upon solid dry ground. All these were great wanders of God’s power and goodness towards Israel.

Now, says Joshua, since God us about to give you such uncommon instances of his power and favour, Sanctify yourselves, compose your minds by meditation, prayer, and abstractedness from the world, that ye may be in case for a careful and religious observation of his wonderful works, and to receive the discovery of his glory, and the communications of his goodness, that may give God all the communications of his goodness, that so ye may give God all the glory, and take to yourselves the comfort of his wondrous works and gracious appearances.

[We infer that] when God is about to make wonderful discoveries of his glory and goodness to his people, then they should make solemn preparation for observing and receiving the same. For confirmation whereof, see Exodus 19:10-11—

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes, And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.”

Or secondly, When God sets tryst with a people, they should prepare themselves to attend him. 1 Samuel 16:4-5—

“And Samuel did that which the LORD spake, and came to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, Comest thou peaceably? And he said, Peaceably: I am come to sacrifice unto the LORD: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.”

[Therefore, let us seek to prepare to come to the Lord’s Table, next Sabbath]

Why Prepare?

Consider that (the near approach you are to make to God at his Table…, is the nearest approach you can possibly make on this side of death. Consider what preparation God required of the Israelites for receiving the fiery law at mount Sinai (Ex 19:10-11). God commanded them to sanctify themselves, wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day, for upon that day the Lord would come down upon mount Sinai, in sight of all the people. What awful fear and trembling do you imagine was there among them, when God came down in a thick cloud, when the trumpet began to sound, the thunder to crack, the mountain to smoke, and the earth to tremble under the weight of the great God descending on it.

Well, you should be under the same awe of God in this solemn ordinance as they were. It is true, he comes not down with such terror, to give a fiery law, as on mount Sinai, but to deliver the gospel of peace front mount Sion: But mind, it is the same God that speaks, hath the same majesty, the same authority, and therefore you should prepare as carefully, and be as humble before him, as the Israelites were. Were God to come down among you… in terrible majesty, should a thick cloud fill this house, and lightning break out, and should you hear the thunder of his voice: “I am the Lord, thou shalt have no other Gods before me,” certainly such a dreadful glory would make your hearts tremble within you, and the earth tremble beneath you.

Well then, God is come down as really among you as among the Israelites, hear him with the same reverence, and be as intent upon adoration as they were. Let not his gracious and familiar way of condescending to deal with you, tempt you to come with less preparation and reverence.

Consider the nature of that God you are to approach to.

First, He is a great and mighty God; Ps 89:7-8—“God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him. O LORD God of hosts, who is a strong LORD like unto thee? or to thy faithfulness round about thee.”

Would we feast with a great king with filthy hands and garments? Joseph prepared himself by shaving himself, and changing his raiment, before he went in to Pharaoh; and wilt thou not prepare thyself, by putting thy soul in the holiest dress and humblest posture, when thou art to go to the King of heaven and earth?

Secondly, God is a jealous and omniscient God, most jealous of his honour, and will come in to see the guests, Matthew 22:11; and then he will spy every unprepared and unsanctified guest ; he notices the state of your souls, the frame of your hearts, the ends of your communicating, and your preparation before hand. O then sanctify yourselves before you come to the feast.

Thirdly, He is a pure and holy God; he cannot hold communion with unholy persons, he will be sanctified in them that come nigh him, Leviticus 10:3, he will be attended as a holy God, in a holy manner. Did a holy angel set tryst with you at a certain place, against such an hour, would you not prepare with all seriousness and solemnity to attend him? Oh! but it is the God of angels that trysts with you here even the God, before whom the angels adore, and cover their faces and feet with their wings, and say, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty. If the linen on the communion table, or vessels that hold the elements were foul, ye would be ready to exclaim it; and no doubt there ought to be observed an outward decency in this respect: Christ would have the very room in good order where he was to eat the Passover. But O it is a small crime to have a foul cloth or vessel for outward elements, in respect of what it is to have a foul heart, or an unprepared soul to entertain a holy God, and receive the body and blood of Christ.

Consider that God’s people used always great preparation before solemn approaching to God, Gen. 35:1-5, where we see how solemnly Jacob prepared himself and his family, when by God's command he was going up to Bethel, to sacrifice unto the Lord. They change their garments, wash and make themselves clean, and put away their strange gods. How much more ought we to prepare, when we go not only to Bethel, God's house, but to God's table, by changing our garments of tin, and putting on Christ’s righteousness by faith, and patting away and mortifying our lusts and idols of jealousy? We see also the Psalmists preparation for approaching to God, Psalm 26:6—“I will wash my hands in innocency, so will I compass thine altar, O Lord.” The Jews had great preparation for the passover, and so should we for the Lord's supper that is come in its room. Wherefore we find the primitive Christians used to sit up whole nights at prayer before the Lord's supper, which they coiled vigil.

Consider that the matter of this sacrament requires solemn preparation. Solomon directs us, when we are to eat with a ruler, to consider what is set before us, Proverbs 22:1. There are here the symbols of Christ's body and blood, rare food! It is a great sin to abuse common meat and drink, or to partake of these without some serious thought before hand. We would have vessels clean to hold our ordinary food; but here is soul food, heaven's dainties, the jewel of heaven. Christ's body in the sacrament must be wrapt in a clean soul, as 'well as his body by Joseph of Arimathea, was wrapt in clean linen, and laid in a new tomb.

The duties to be performed at the Lord's table require preparation, viz. Covenanting with God, renewing our baptismal vow, expressing our love to Christ, feasting on a broken Christ.

You are naturally unfit for this ordinance; naturally you have neither habitual nor actual preparation, being dead in sins and trespasses, leprous, loathsome, carnal, and earthly minded. Wherefore we must be quickened and purified, before we can hold communion with a holy God.

Because communion with God would be altogether disagreeable to an unsanctified soul, he would weary of it, and take no pleasure in it.

Because of the great advantage of this preparation, God will come…, and work wonders of mercy for such as sincerely aim at preparation. O then sanctity yourselves.

Quest. What are these wonders of mercy? Ans. (1) He will raise dead souls out of the grave, and put life in them. (2) He will warm cold hearts, and put spiritual heat in them. (3) He will soften hard rocky hearts, and make them tender and sensible. (4) He will cleave the rock and make waters gush out of it, the waters of penitential tears. (5) He will cure the paralytic trembling hand, that could hardly be stretched out or grip to any thing. He will enable the weak soul to grip fast to Christ, and subscribe his name to the marriage contract. (6) He will strengthen the feeble knees and lame feet, and make the soul to- run on in the way of his commandments with enlarged heart. (7) He will kill strong Goliaths and lusts that defied the armies of the God of Israel. (8) He will fix a wandering heart, and fix it on God and things above. (9) He will heal a wounded conscience by the balm of Gilead. (10) He will brighten a dark cloudy mind, and resolve all the doubts and fears of believers. (11) He will give a light of the King in his beauty, a view of the smiles of Christ's lovely face. (12) He will give a seal of the pardon of all your sins. (13) He will give a Pisgah view of Canaan, a sight of the promised land. 14. He will feed the hungry, and fill them with the dainties of heaven. O these are rare wonders of grace, that Christ will work for the prepared sou1.

Preparation is your seed time, receiving is your harvest. Now, as a man soweth, so shall he reap; He that soweth sparingly, shall reap sparingly, and he which soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully (2 Cor 9:6). It is in the duty of partaking, as in the duty of praying, the more prepared a man's heart is to pray, the greater is his return from heaven, Psalm 10:17—“Thou wilt prepare their hearts, thou wilt Cause thine ear to hear.”

So it may be said in the case of receiving, Thou wilt prepare the heart, thou wilt cause thine hand to give. When God prepares a man's heart for duty, it is a token he hath a hand prepared for mercy. Hence the Lord makes that gracious promise, Psalm71:10—“Open thy mouth wide, and I will fi11 it.” I will enlarge my hand as you enlarge your heart. He saith, as Joseph to his steward, Genesis 44:1—“Fill the men's sacks as much as they can carry.” So as Joseph’s brethren prepared sacks in number and largeness, so did they carry corn away: And as you bring prepared hearts to the ordinance, so shall you leap benefit thereby.

Because of the great danger in coming unprepared. If you do not sanctify and prepare yourselves. God will come and do wonders of judgment, wonders of wrath among you: (1) He may inflict bodily diseases, as 1 Corinthians 11:30. (2) He may send untimely death. (3) He may smite with desertion from God. (4) He may send darkness on the mind. (5) He may smite with deadness and impenitency on the heart; (6) With decaying and withering on the gifts and graces. (7) He may send a leanness and barrenness on the soul. (8) He may smite with formality and lifelessness in duty. (9) With searedness in the conscience, so as it shall challenge for no sin. (10) He may send horror and terror on the conscience, so as to make it a Magor-missabib. (11) He may let Satan loose against you with temptations, atheistical and blasphemous thoughts. (12) He may send you to hell from the communion table, as Matthew 22:12-13—

“And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness.”

How to Prepare?

By (1) sequestrating ourselves from the world. (2) Self- examination. (3) Humiliation for sin. (4) Renewing of our personal covenant with God in Christ. (5) Reformation of what is amiss. (6) Exciting of all the graces to a lively exercise. (7) Meditation on the death and sufferings of Christ. (8) Earnest prayer to God for preparation and assistance in the work.

And after your utmost preparation, you must lay no stress thereon, but cast yourself wholly on Christ for assistance, saying, It is only in the Lord I have righteousness and strength. We ought to be denied to ourselves, and to look with David to the Lord both for assistance and acceptance, Psalm 71:16—I will go in strength of the Lord, I will make mention of thy righteousness even of thine only.”

You ought to imitate king Asa, who, though he had a great army to fight against the Ethiopians, yet cried to the Lord, and trusted in him alone for help as you have it recorded, 2 Chronicles 14:11—

“And Asa cried unto the LORD his God, and said, LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude.”

So let every communicant say, “Lord, all my strength and preparations are nought, I have no power for celebrating this feast; help me, O Lord my God, for I rest on thee, and in thy name I go to this great and weighty ordinance.” And if you come forward [next sabbath] in this self-denied and sanctified frame, you have ground to expect that the Lord will do wonders of grace and mercy for you. Amen. Ω