1 Corinthians 11:28
Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
These words represent the Apostolic standard for understanding how we ought to come to the Lord’s Table; how we ought to approach this sacred meal where we are seated with Christ as He is pleased to feed and nourish us spiritually by His own body and blood. These are sacramental signs given to us believers as a means of grace whereby we receive all the benefits of His death. Since His glorified body is in heaven where He is seated at the right hand of the Father, we know that common bread and wine do not become His literal body and blood. But there is such a relationship between the signs and what they signify, that we rightly say, according to our own Confession, chapter 29:
Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death: the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.
And so we are called upon to examine ourselves before coming to this meal on the Lord’s Day. But how ought we to examine ourselves? By what standard ought we to evaluate our worthiness to come to the Table? We admit that one of the great problems in modern Christianity is that many people coming to the Lord’s Table fail to heed this warning, as was certainly true in Corinth of Pauls’ day. Many give little thought to what is taking place as we gather and are seated before Him Who judges the thoughts and intentions of our hearts and minds. Many come carelessly, treating holy things lightly. How then ought we to come as we consider the teachings of God’s Word?
Our Confession of Faith reminds us that the blessings of this means of grace are only given to worthy receivers. Let us remember that none of us, by and in ourselves, are worthy of coming to the Lord’s Table. It is clear at the very outset (and this is emphasized in the quotation above) that we must come with faith, believing that Jesus died for us and that through this meal we receive from Him all the benefits of His death. Our coming must be with faith, believing God at His Word. It is only as we believe the Gospel signified in this meal that we can benefit from it. By faith we are united to Christ our Savior in the likeness of His death and resurrection and thus made worthy to come by His grace alone. Our worthiness is never found in ourselves, but in Him to Whom we look in faith, believing the promises of God given to us in Christ. Every promise of God is “Yes and Amen in Him!” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
This then becomes the goal of our self-examination—to find ourselves as being in Christ, united to Him in the likeness of His death and resurrection, being conformed to Him. The great 19th century English theologian and preacher, J.C. Ryle, wrote the following concerning our need to examine ourselves before coming to the Table. Here he writes with great wisdom, seeking to balance between the error of coming carelessly and the danger of seeing too much of ourselves and not enough of Christ.
In a word, I find that a worthy communicant is one who possesses three simple marks and qualifications–repentance, faith, and love. Does a man truly repent of sin and hate it? Does a man put his trust in Jesus Christ as his only hope of salvation? Does a man live in love towards others? He that can truly answer each of these questions, “I do,” he is a man that is Scripturally qualified for the Lord’s Supper. Let him come boldly. Let no barrier be put in his way. He comes up to the Bible standard of communicants. He may draw near with confidence, and feel assured that the great Master of the banquet is not displeased. Such a man’s repentance may be very much imperfect. Never mind! Is it real? Is he truly repentant? His faith in Christ may be very weak. Never mind! Is it real? A penny is as much true currency as is a one hundred dollar bill. His love may be very defective in quantity and degree. Never mind! Is it genuine? The grand test of a man’s Christianity is not the quantity of holiness he has, but whether he has any all. The first twelve communicants, when Christ Himself gave the bread and wine, were weak indeed–weak in knowledge, weak in faith, weak in courage, weak in patience, weak in love! But eleven of them had something about them which outweighed all defects: they were real, genuine, sincere, and true. Forever let this great principle be rooted in our minds–the only worthy communicant is the man who has demonstrated repentance toward God, faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and practical love toward others. Are you that man? Then you may draw near to the table, and take the ordinance to your comfort. Anything less than this I dare not change in my standard of a communicant. I will never encourage someone to receive the Lord’s Supper who is careless, ignorant, and self-righteous. I will never tell anyone to keep away till he is perfect, and to wait till his heart is as unruffled as an angel’s. I will not do so, because I believe that neither my Master nor His Apostles would have done so. Show me a man that really feels his sins, really leans on Christ, really struggles to be holy, and I will welcome him in My Master’s name. He may feel weak, erring, empty, feeble, doubting, wretched, and poor. But what does that matter? Paul, I believe, would have received him as a right communicant, and I will do likewise.
Careful and sound words for you to consider as you prepare to come to the Lord’s Table. We will speak more of these things on Sunday morning, but for now rejoice, believer, that He has invited you to come and has promised you grace and help in your time of need through this holy and precious means!
In the bands of love, securely His,
Pastor Ted Trefsgar