ON THE PRECEPTS OF THE CHURCH
Consider first, that all Christians are under a strict obligation of keeping also the precepts, that is the commandments, of the church; because the law of God commands us so to do. ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’ is a commandment which not only obliges us to obey them that are our parents according to the flesh, but also our spiritual parents, at least in matter spiritual, viz., the pastors of the church of Christ. To these Christ our Lord has said, Luke x. 16. ‘He that heareth you, heareth me, and he that despiseth you, despiseth me.’ To these he has given ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ with the power of ‘binding and loosing,’ St. Matt. xvi. 19, xviii. 18. These ‘he has sent as his Father sent him,” St. John xx. 21. With these he has promised to abide till the end of the world, St. Matt. xxviii. 20. These he has made his ministers, the stewards and dispensers of his mysteries and sacraments, 1 Cor. iv. 1, and his ambassadors, 2 Cor. v. 20. These he has given us for pastors and teachers, Eph. iv. 11, 12, & c. To these he has given the charge of our souls; and therefore the apostle calls upon us, Heb. xiii., not only ‘to follow their faith,’ v. 7, but also to obey them, and submit ourselves to them, v. 17. O blessed obedience! ‘Tis in vain to pretend to obey our Father in heaven if we refuse to obey our mother the church.
Consider 2ndly, the excellency of these precepts of the church, and their admirable tendency to bring us to God, by obliging us to set aside so many of our days for prayer and other religious duties; to humble ourselves so often, and to do penance for our sins, by fasting and abstinence; to frequent the sacraments and sacrifices of the church, & c. O, these precepts are not mere human inventions or injunctions, they have been dictated by the Spirit of God, which always resides and presides in the church; they are enacted by divine commission and authority; they are, generally speaking, so many determinations of the divine law. The law of God and of nature requires that we should dedicate a considerable part of our time to the divine worship – the precepts of the church point out the particular days we are to set aside for this end. The divine law calls upon us to pay to our God the homage of adoration, praise and sacrifice; the precepts of the church prescribe for this end the frequenting the great sacrifice of the death of Christ, offered up to God in the holy mysteries. The law of God obliges us to do penance for our sins; to restrain our passions and lusts; to offer up pure and humble prayer to God, and consequently to fast and abstain, as far as shall be necessary for us to answer these ends; the church, by her precepts, orders the times for this penitential exercise, lest, if we were left to ourselves, we might neglect it. The law of Christ ordains the confession of our sins, and the worthily receiving the sacred Communion; the precepts of the church require, under pain of excommunication, that this divine law should be complied with in such a manner as not to defer the confession of our sins beyond the year, nor neglect receiving the holy Communion, at least at Easter. See then, my soul, how necessary it is for thee to observe all the precepts of the church, in order to comply with the law and commandments of God.
Consider 3rdly, the unhappy case of all such Christians as despise these precepts of the church of Christ. Alas! they despise in effect both Christ and his Father, Luke x 16, and will be treated accordingly at his tribunal. The wilful transgression of any one of these ordinances of God’s church is certainly criminal in the sight of God; how much more the contempt of them? And what then must we think of the wretched state of so many souls that make a practice of transgressing these laws of the church, by breaking through the rules prescribed by her decrees and constitutions with regard to festivals, fasts, and abstinences; or with regard to the frequentation of the sacrament at the times appointed? Ah! such undutiful children as these, that live in an habitual disobedience to God and his church, deserve not the name of children, or of catholic Christians; and without a sincere conversion from these their evil ways, must expect undoubtedly to be reckoned another day amongst heathens and unbelievers.
Conclude to observe religiously the law and ordinances of the church of God, and see that they be religiously observed by all under our care. If there be a necessity at any time of your being dispensed with in any of these church laws, go to your pastors for this dispensation; but presume not to dispense yourselves. Only the pastor of the church can dispense in the precepts of the church.