The part of the communion form that we want to consider in this article is the concluding paragraph of the preparatory part of this form. From a practical point of view this paragraph is very significant. In the preceding section which dealt with the matter of self examination we discovered, among other things, that we are all dead in sin and deserving of the curse of God. Further, those who are defiled with many sins are enjoined upon the command of Christ and the apostle Paul to keep themselves from the table of the Lord. To them it is declared that they have no part in the kingdom of Christ. They are warned to abstain from partaking of the heavenly meat and drink signified in the sacrament, lest their judgment and condemnation be made the heavier. These are hard but nevertheless absolute facts. The wicked and ungodly who are not brought to repentance have no place in the communion of Christ. As long as they continue in their sins, they are and must be excluded from the table of the Lord.
From these facts an altogether erroneous conclusion can very easily be drawn. A child of God who very seriously examines himself comes to the sound conclusion that he is sinful, very sinful, and deserving only of God’s wrath. He is also deeply conscious of the sanctity of the Holy Supper, and when he puts these two together he comes to the conclusion that the Supper is not for him, a miserable, wretched and curse-deserving sinner. In some circles where ignorance of the truth prevails, this notion is rather common and those who hold to it even consider it to be rather virtuous. It supposedly reflects a deeper sense of humility. God must certainly be very pleased with those who so forthrightly confess their total unworthiness and who are so serious in the acknowledgment of His absolute holiness. But this same idea is not uncommonly found in the minds of young people in the church, when they are confronted with the matter of making confession of faith. On the one hand they experience a desire to do so, but then they begin to look at themselves, and they discover how sinful they are and how little they know of the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures, and they come to the conclusion that they better wait. They must learn more first and they must improve themselves before they are ready to confess Christ.
For several reasons this idea must be condemned. In the first place, a careful analysis of it will unveil the fact that it is not rooted in a consciousness of humility at all, but has its origin in the sinful pride of our old nature. It is based on the false supposition that we must or can so improve ourselves as to make ourselves presentable to God, and it denies the truth that this can be and is done only by the free and sovereign grace of God. It is the works-notion applied to salvation which excludes grace, for “if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” (Romans 11:6) It stems from the sinful boast that we are able to do the work of Christ, and it denies the complete adequacy of His work for us and in us. In the second place, if this notion is consistently followed to its logical end, it leads to the certain conclusion that no one can partake of the Lord’s Supper. If we must wait until we have reached a state of sinlessness, we will not find it on .this side of the grave, but will have to wait until we can celebrate Communion in heavenly perfection. This is directly contrary to the command of Christ Who ordered His church in the present world where sin still adheres to all its members to: “Do this till I come!” Christ did not tell His church to celebrate the Holy Supper only after she has reached perfection. Neither did He single out a few select members of the church and give to them the sacraments, but He told His church to: “Do this in remembrance of Me!” In the third place, this erroneous idea fosters a vain and superficial conception of righteousness and holiness and leads to the altogether wrong practice where theself-righteous rather than the truly righteous gather about the table. Righteousness is determined according to a standard of man instead of by the criterion which God has established. And it need not be said that such righteousness is no righteousness at all but, as the Scriptures declare, it is as “filthy rags.” Jesus declares that publicans and harlots enter the kingdom before the self-righteous Pharisees. The former have more place at the table of the Lord than the latter. Christ did not come to call the “righteous” but sinners to repentance, and this call of Christ is also applicable to His Table. It is not prepared for those who in themselves profess to be without sin, but it is for those who in themselves confess to be sinners.
Finally, although this view therefore is to be rejected, we must warn against a possible wrong conclusion which some might infer from this rejection. It might be reasoned that the table of the Lord is then opened to all sinners and therefore it does not matter how much we sin, and as long as we acknowledge we are sinners we can come to the table. We thereby attempt to justify our continuance in things which we know are not pleasing to God. We neglect our duties in the church or we violate our sacred vows or we continue to follow certain pleasures of the flesh in the world, and when it comes time to celebrate communion we make light of these things by telling ourselves and God that we are not yet perfect. We must know that such an attitude is of the evil one and to follow it is to invoke God’s holy displeasure. We must remember that the table of the Lord is not prepared for sinners who want to justify and continue in their sin but for those sinners alone who are penitent, who hate sin and seek with all they are to flee from it.
With this in mind we can understand that the prohibitions and warnings of our Communion Form are given not to discourage and deject the contrite hearts of the faithful, but to encourage the faithful saints to reject all other ways and to come to the table of the Lord in the way of faith only.
In this light we would have our readers carefully consider the following paragraph of the Communion Form, which Dr. B. Wielenga in Ons Avondmaals Formulier says is a beautiful piece of liturgy that is replete with the gospel.
“But this is not designed (dearly beloved brethren and sisters in the Lord), to deject the contrite hearts of the faithful, as if none might come to the supper of the Lord, but those who are without sin; for we do not come to this supper, to testify thereby that we are perfect and righteous in ourselves; but on the contrary, considering that we seek our life out of ourselves in Jesus Christ, we acknowledge that we lie in the midst of death; therefore, not withstanding we feel many infirmities and miseries in ourselves, as namely, that we have not perfect faith, and that we do not give ourselves to serve God with that zeal as we-are bound, but have daily to strive with the weakness of our faith, and the evil lusts of our flesh; yet, since we are (by the grace of the Holy Spirit) sorry for these weaknesses, and earnestly desirous to fight against our unbelief, and to live according to all the commandments of God: therefore we rest assured that no sin or infirmity, which still remaineth against our will, in us, can hinder us from being received of God in mercy, and from being made worthy partakers of this heavenly meat and drink.”
The blessed gospel contained in this part of our liturgy consists of the unspeakable promise that God in mercy receives sinners and makes them worthy partakers of heavenly meat and drink. He gives to them eternal life through Jesus Christ, and He works in them this life by the grace of the Holy Ghost. The above quotation lucidly presents the particular and unconditional character of this promise of God, and this may indeed be emphasized, but our purpose is not to do so now. Our attention must be focused upon the recipients of this promise of God, since this part of the Communion Form still deals with the matter of self-examination. If we, through self-examination, find ourselves answering to the description of the recipients of the promise which is given here, we need not be dejected but we may then come to His Table with confidence.
We note concerning these children of faith that they are “contrite in heart”. A broken heart and contrite spirit delights the Lord. They do not claim to be perfect or righteous in themselves, but they do profess to be perfectly righteous in Christ Jesus. In Him they are sinless, and yet they readily acknowledge that sin very much adheres to them. Their life they seek out of Christ and with the apostle Paul confess: “It is no longer I that liveth but Christ that liveth in me.” These saints are not dead, but they do lie in the midst of death. In that sphere of death where they consciously sojourn they are aware of the “infirmities of the flesh” and are not oblivious of the “miseries within themselves.” The knowledge of sin and misery is very much their experience. Weary and heavy laden they are as they struggle through the present vale of tears and labor for the rest that remains for the people of God. Particularly disturbing to the faithful saints is the fact that faith is not yet perfect in them, and consequently they find themselves failing to give themselves to serve God with the fervor and zeal they ought. Toward this they do not assume an attitude of indifference, excusing it because we cannot be perfect anyway, but it is the cause of a constant, deep-felt sorrow. The things they would (in their regenerated hearts) they do not and the things they hate (as being in Christ) they do. The sinful desires of the flesh, disobedience and unbelief, are ever present, and these cause an experience of wretchedness and grief. They earnestly desire to fight against and overcome these foes, and they long sincerely to live according to all the commandments of God. The will of God which is reflected in His law and in the precepts of the gospel is their chief delight. In them the battle of faith is fought with the flesh warring against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh.
Are these then the characteristics of your daily experience? Is this typical of the kind of life you know? If so you may come to the table of the Lord in the assurance that God will receive you and feed you with the heavenly meat and drink, because these very things give evidence that God has begun a good work in you which He will perform until the day of Jesus Christ, (Phil. 1:6) He has given to you the privilege of not only believing in His Son but also of suffering for righteousness’ sake. He will strengthen you through the means of His Table, so that you can and will continue the struggle against sin, until you will receive the complete and final victory. In that battle you will never relent, and no matter how mighty the forces of evil may appear or how difficult the way may become, you will press on in His strength toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. And you will never be ashamed, for the hope that is in you cannot be made ashamed. Into His everlasting communion He will receive you and you will confess: “All the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared . . . .”—not worthy to be compared.