In the main the Form for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper which is used in our churches, may be divided into two sections or parts. The first of these may be labeled the “Doctrinal” or “Expository” part. It contains a section that deals with the matter of “Preparatory” and is followed by a brief exposition of the Lord’s Supper, its purpose and significance. The second main division deals with the “Liturgical” aspects of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and under this heading various important matters may be mentioned. In this and subsequent articles we will discuss this form according to the above-named outline.
The Institution Of The Lord’s Supper
In dealing with the matter of the Lord’s Supper we must never forget that we have to do with a holy institution of God. In our Baptism Form we are reminded that “holy baptism is an ordinance of God, to seal unto us and our children His covenant; therefore it must be used for that end, and not out of custom or superstition.” This is equally true with respect to the Holy Supper of our Lord. The danger is always present that since we celebrate this sacrament at set times, a minimum of four times a year, that we begin to regard this as merely a traditional thing in the church and if we fall into this error we will be deprived of the rich spiritual blessings inherent in this institution. The Supper belongs to the most sacred things which God has committed to His Church. Of this we must be made deeply conscious so that we may come to the Table in the proper spiritual attitude and deal with these things with the most profound reverence.
Of this we are reminded at the very beginning of the Communion Form. The Form begins with the words: “Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ.” This immediately sets apart the Communion Supper as an exclusive institution. It is not designed for all and everyone. It is a Supper for the “beloved in Christ,” that is, for those alone for whom Christ in love laid down His life as a perfect sacrifice and propitiation for their sins. They are the saints, i.e., the ones made holy. As the objects of His eternal love, He has gathered and called them out of the world of darkness and translated them into His own Kingdom of light. In that Kingdom they have received the benefits of His love and to bring them to the conscious realization of the greatness of those benefits, they are now to hear and give attention to the words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Only they are able to hear and discern these words and the rest, though they may hear the sound of words, fail to grasp their spiritual meaning. Eyes they have but they see not, ears have they but they hear not and with their hearts they do not understand these things. Only unto the “beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ” is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. These mysteries are set forth in the sacrament and so the beloved are enjoined to “attend to these words.”
This address is followed by a quotation from I Corinthians 11:23-30 in which the institution of the Lord’s Supper is clearly set forth. This is important because we must be assured that this ritual is not one that has somewhere in history’s past been inaugurated by men or even by the church but that it is definitely instituted by God Himself. On this point, Scripture leaves no room for doubt. In addition to the passage cited in the form, the record of the Gospels might also be given here. Matthew (Matt. 26), Mark (Mark 14) and Luke (Luke 22) all tell how Jesus instituted this Supper in connection with the celebration of the last Passover with His disciples on the very night of His betrayal. But the passage from Paul’s Epistle is very lucid.
“For I have received of the Lord, that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you, this do in remembrance of Me. And, after the same manner also, He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, this do ye, as oft as ye drink it in remembrance of Me; for as oft as ye eat of this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come.” (vss. 23-26)
Perhaps this passage of I Corinthians 11 was selected by the author of our Communion Form, in preference to the passages of the Synoptics, because it also contains a very serious warning about eating and drinking at this Supper in an unworthy manner. The fact that we deal with an institution of God here accentuates the importance of our realizing that we cannot partake of these things without their affecting us in one way or another. Either, as the beloved in Christ Jesus, we partake in faith and are spiritually built up through these means or we partake unworthily and invoke upon ourselves the judgment and wrath of God. And this is not a theological conclusion that is reached by rationalizing processes but it is the very Word of God itself. In the very same passage in which the institution of the Supper is clearly set forth, the apostle writes:
“Wherefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup; for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation (judgment) to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (vss. 27-29)
All of this is somewhat introductory to the Form but it serves a very necessary purpose. Here the church is brought to the realization that she is dealing with a sacred institution of God and that for each member of the church the personal confrontation of these things becomes at once a matter of life or of death. Our commemorating of His death moves God to act upon us either in His favor or in His wrath. The very serious responsibility that rests upon each and every member of the church in these matters cannot be too strongly emphasized. And so we are brought to the first practical part of the Communion .Form which deals with the matter of our conducting a careful and thorough self-examination.
The Preparatory Self-Examination
This self-examination is necessitated by the fact that we all, in ourselves, are unworthy to partake of the Lord’s Supper. There are none that are good, no not one. And since the Lord’s Supper is the sacrament of Communion in which the just and holy God dwells in fellowship with men, it must be understood that there is nothing in us that makes this fellowship possible. We must, therefore, examine ourselves to find the evidences of His work of grace in us for without this we are and forever remain unworthy of His Table.
We must not forget, however, that the purpose of this self-examination is positive. The Communion Form expresses it: “That we may now celebrate the Supper of the Lord to our comfort . . .” Our aim must be to find a solid and assuring basis on which we can approach the table of the Lord with the comforting certainty of His favor. To attain this objective we must search our souls, probe the deepest parts of our hearts and with honest integrity reckon with our findings. Oh, this self-examination must not be a superficial custom to which little or no thought at all is given after a while but it must be a diligent, prayerful exercise that is permeated with the thoughts of the Psalms:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23, 24)
“Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.” (Psalm 26:2)
It involves an earnest striving to be conformed to the image of God’s Son and it is done in the realization that our own perceptual senses are not adequate to discover every deformity within us and therefore we need the scrutiny of God’s own searching eye to expose our actual corruption. We want to be seen, not as we see ourselves, but as He sees us in order that we may dispose of all that is found in us that meets with His displeasure and retain only that in which He delights. Only then are we ready to walk and talk and commune in fellowship with Him, the High and Lofty One Whose Name is Holy. For self-examination does not purpose solely to discover; it aims to uncover and to dispose of all that is of sin. It is not like going to the doctor for a physical check-up and then to ignore his advice and prescription relative to things of disorder which he may find as a result of his examination. It is a going to God to have all of our spiritual disorders corrected and to have our entire spiritual house set in such order that He will delight to dwell therein. Thus, this self-examination is already a vital part in our seeking the table of the Lord and if we do not so desire to be examined, we can only be assured that we really do not want a place in the communion of the “beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
According to our Communion Form this self-examination consists of three principal things. First there is the examination with respect to our knowledge of and attitude toward our sins. Secondly, there is the examination with respect to our faith in the promises of God concerning the forgiveness of our sins or, in a bit broader context, our salvation in Christ. And, finally, there is the examination of ourselves with respect to our thankfulness or gratitude to God Who is the God of our salvation.
Before discussing the content of the Communion Form as it pertains to this matter of self-examination, there are a couple of things that must be mentioned. We note that the three parts of this examination follow the subjective or experiential order of salvation. It is the same order that is followed in the development of the truth in our Heidelberg Catechism: There, too, we deal firstly with the matter of our sins and misery. This is followed by a lengthy exposition of the glorious wonder of our redemption and then the final section of this Confession treats various matters that are pertinent to our walk of sanctification or gratitude. Thus, for those who like to make a distinction between the doctrinal and the practical, (a distinction which we do not believe holds because doctrine is practice; doctrine is life) we may say that the matter of self-examination is extremely practical. It doesn’t follow a dogmatic or theological order but it probes the consciousness and experience of those examined.
But let us not misunderstand this order. It is not so that the three parts of self-examination are three distinct, isolated, separate things that we can deal with apart from each other. Not at all. These three are never to be separated because they all deal with the same matter. They deal with the conscious experience of salvation in the heart of the child of God. One cannot discover a true knowledge of and repentance for sin without also finding the reality of salvation in Christ and experiencing a sincere desire to live in thankfulness unto His praise in the midst of the present world. Neither is it possible to say that Christ has died for me and saved me from death without also experiencing sorrow after sin and a desire to walk in good works. And certainly it is not possible to find one who sincerely longs to manifest true thankfulness in life for a salvation which he isn’t aware of or without the consciousness of sin from which he needs to be redeemed.
Although it may be true that in the experience of the child of God, one or the other element of this self-examination may at times be more pronounced in the consciousness so that sometimes the awareness of his great sins overwhelms him while at other times he overflows with works of thankfulness, yet, all three are essentially one.
This is the work of God’s sovereign grace in us. It is His work of salvation which is applied to our experience by His Holy Spirit. And our self-examination aims to make us comfortably aware of this work of salvation in order that we may come to His table in the confidence that He will receive us and dwell with us and in us, imparting unto us an ever increasing portion of the riches of His grace in Christ Jesus our Lord.