We wrote the last time that everyone is duty bound to consider by himself the matter of his sin in connection with the preparatory self-examination that is to precede the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. We stressed the personal or individualistic character of this self -examination. In the experiential sense of the word each one of us must be brought to self-knowledge of sin in order that we may consciously realize the real need of the Saviour and Mediator whose death we celebrate in the sacrament.
There is, however, more to be said. The Communion Form speaks not only of considering and knowing “our sins,” but it adds, “and the curse due to him for them.” This statement here serves the purpose of bringing before our consciousness the indisputable fact that whenever we sin we justly deserve nothing less than the curse of God upon us. Every thought in our minds and every deed in our walk that does not conform perfectly to His standard of right and is not motivated completely by love to Him and our neighbor brings us deservedly under that awful curse. This must be so, for it follows from the very nature of God Himself. We must never forget that He is the Holy, the Just (Righteous) and eternally Unchangeable One. He can never assume a tolerant attitude (either in time or eternity) toward that which is contrary to Himself or His own infinitely perfect Being. Always His disposition is that of wrath toward all that is of sin, even as His love extends to that which is in harmony with Himself. And always that which is of sin is deserving of His wrath even as that which is ethically agreeable with God is worthy of His love and virtue. This is because God, in His disposition toward the creature, is always just. There is no unrighteousness in Him.
On this point the Scriptures are very explicit. To the first man they declare: “The day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Throughout irrevocable testimony is given, such as the following: “The soul that sinneth shall surely die.” “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” “The wages of sin is death.” More need not be added: for the matter is indisputable. No one can and no one may deny that for every sin we commit we are worthy of and deserve the curse.
Now the matter of God’s curse is not something with which we may trifle. Men often do that. Do you not hear every day in the world where loose and vile language is spoken, the using of God’s Holy Name and the calling upon God to bring down His curse upon things and people as though it were a matter of no consequence? The gibberish and vulgar tongue of man is very free with its, “Gosh, darn it” and “dammits”; and if we would add that those who speak this way do not realize what they are saying, it would not be to excuse or justify such vulgarity, but only to emphasize the fact that they speak as fools who have no understanding.
We repeat that the matter of God’s curse is not something to trifle with. The mere mention of it is enough to make one shudder. An+ attempt to form an idea of this reality results in great trembling of body and soul. Words are entirely inadequate to describe the awfulness, the intensity, the excruciating horribleness, of the divine curse. It is God Himself, with all the power of His infinite being, coming against the creature in holy wrath. It is immeasurably more destructive than all the combined forces that have wrought devastation throughout the history of mankind. It is unbearable and evinces wailing and gnashing of teeth and unutterable cries of torment. God’s curse is HELL. It is death . . . . eternal death in all its implications. In Thy wrath we pine . . . . and DIE!
The true examination of ourselves consists of this first, “that everyone consider by himself, his sins and the curse due to him for them.” Do we come to that realization each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper? Do we feel that deservedness of that terrible death? Do we reach that necessary consciousness in which we know ourselves to be miserable and wretched sinners?
Without this we cannot reach the purpose of this part of the self-examination which is expressed in the words of the Form: “to the end that he may humble himself before God.” Directly connected with this is the statement that follows and which indicates how this humiliation of self before God is brought about. That statement reads: “Considering that the wrath of God against sin is so great, that (rather than it should go unpunished) He hath punished the same in his beloved Son Jesus Christ, with the bitter and shameful death of the cross.”
Several thoughts come to our mind in this connection that literally strip us of all pride and bring us before the face of God in the right spirit and attitude of humiliation. First of all, we note the words that are found in parentheses above. The implication of those words is not that God might have conceivably simply winked at sin or turned his face the other way and let it go unpunished. This we know is an impossibility with God. Rather, this is mentioned here to bring out this fact that God could not allow sin to go unpunished, and that because of this the only possible reaction in Him toward our sin is that of a great . . . a very great wrath. Then, in the second place, the emphasis must be placed upon the fact that this wrath of God against our sin is so great that we could never bear it. It is impossible that we by our works, our piety, our prayers or faith, our employing the aid of any other creatures, in any way can possible alleviate or obliterate that wrath of God. This we must also realize fully: for in the measure, or rather, to the extent that any thought remains in us that we can pacify that wrath of God in some way, the sin of pride has not left us, and we cannot humble ourselves before God. And if we are not humiliated, we can meet God only in the sphere of His wrath, where there is no communion of life and fellowship but where we are consumed by death. Then, in the third place, let it be observed that this wrath of God against sin is so immensely great that it required the bitter and shameful death of the SON OF GOD on the cross to placate it. Though in a sense this means everything to me, in the present connection there is one fact that impresses me deeply and makes me fully conscious of my own nothingness and makes me stand in silent and humble adoration of God. That fact is: MY SALVATION IS DEPENDENT SOLELY UPON GOD. Without Him, in the Person of His Son, I could never be saved. On the corner stone of this truth my confession and hope rests.
Summarizing, then, this first part of true self-examination, we may say that it unveils to us four things, the knowledge of which incites in us a spirit of true humility. These are:
(1) The self-confessed knowledge that our sins are exceedingly great.
(2) The acknowledgment that, because of these sins, we justly deserve only God’s wrath and eternal perdition.
(3) The realization of the utter impossibility of removing or pacifying the wrath of God by ourselves or through the creature.
(4) The awareness that GOD HIMSELF punished our sins when He poured out His wrath upon His own beloved Son, Christ Jesus, our Lord.
The Second Part of the Self-Examination
According to the Communion Form we are enjoined in the second part of the self-examination as follows:
That everyone examine his own heart, whether he doth believe this faithful promise of God, that all his sins are forgiven him only for the sake of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, and that the perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed and freely given him as his own, yea, so perfectly, as if he had satisfied in his own person for all his sins, and fulfilled all righteousness.
As we proceed, then, with this part of our self-examination, we observe that this is to be done in the same subjective vein as in the first part. The question here is not whether we know about or have been instructed in the Scriptural truth of the atonement of Christ; but the matter of concern has to do with the personal, conscious appropriation of the benefits of His redemptive work. The fact that Christ died for sin and that through His death He has fulfilled all righteousness is here assumed. The reality of this and of all that, on the basis of Scripture, might be said about this is not being disputed but the matter of our deepest concern here is wrapped up in the personal question: Has Christ died for me? Are my sinsforgiven on the basis of His redemptive work? Am I a partaker of His benefits so that I can appear before God in the state of perfect righteousness?
The main object of investigation in the second part of our self-examination, therefore, is the matter of our faith in the promise of God. Concerning this also there is considerable superficiality in our day; and, lest we be carried away by this spirit, we must take our time here and devote ourselves seriously to these matters.
What is the promise of God? This question may indeed be asked and carefully analyzed. Many there are who construe the promise of God to include just about everything. The idea is that God will give us whatever we want if only we are willing to go to Him and ask for it. This, of course, is altogether foreign to and has no basis in the Scriptures.
Others have only an Old Testament concept of the promise of God and limit it to the temporal and earthly things that were promised to the patriarchs and to Israel. They fail to see that these promises of God were typical of the promise of better things and had their ultimate fulfillment, not in the procurement of the land of Canaan, but in Christ and the realization of the eternal Kingdom of Heaven through His Cross and resurrection from the dead.
That the promise of God is centrally and essentially Christ is clearly taught throughout the Word of God. All the promises of God are yea and amen in Him. To Him are the promises of God given, and only they that are in Christ are of the seed of Abraham and heirs according to the promise. Now our purpose in this connection is not to enter into all of these matters, for that belongs to another rubric in our paper. Our present concern deals with self-examination with respect to these matters; a self-examination that is concentrated now on the personal question: “Do I believe the promise? Do I believe in Christ? Do I possess the righteousness and salvation of His Cross?”
It is a question of faith in the second part of our self-examination.
To be noted, first of all, and to be emphasized here is the fact that our communion form speaks in this connection of “everyone examining his own heart.” Faith is a matter of the heart. The fact that one is outwardly a member of the church and numbered with those who are called the children of God and even given certain legal rights in the congregation, does not guarantee the blessings of communion with God at His table. There must be faith in the heart. The center of our being, out of which all the issues of our life proceed, must be joined with Christ so that the power of His life pulsates that heart. There must a real spiritual knowledge in us of the Christ in the sense that we experience the power of the work He has accomplished through His passion and death. In our hearts there must be an unwavering confidence in Him as our Lord and Saviour which gives us that wonderful assurance that His perfect work is imputed unto us and on this basis alone we are made acceptable before God in the Beloved.
We need not add that this “believing” is God’s gift to us. Concerning this we shall write more, D.V., next time; but because of this, the finding of this gift in us through self-examination gives us confidence to come unto the table of the Lord in the certainty that He will not cast us out.