Not many people associate illness and death with being unprepared when participating in the Lord’s Supper. But that is exactly what Paul does when he reforms the communion services in Corinth. Not being suitably prepared, or worse still, not being really converted at all, and going ahead and participating in this blessed Christian ordinance, is a serious life and death issue for professing Christians. Believers everywhere are seriously cautioned against partaking “unworthily” which really means to be unprepared and to act unsuitably to the sacredness of the duty and privilege. The personal remedy involves serious self-examination.
The following updated excerpt is from a sermon James Durham preached in Glasgow about preparation for the Lord’s Supper. Durham was himself converted at a Saturday preparation sermon preached in South Queensferry. Preaching to his own congregation years later from 1 Corinthians 11:29, “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” Durham, paraphrased the text in striking terms. “You had need to look well to the examination of yourselves, for if you neglect or miscarry in that duty, your hazard and danger is dreadfully great through unworthy communicating. If you would escape, then make conscience narrowly and carefully to examine yourselves.”
We cannot be ultimately accountable for others, any more than we can examine others. But if, like in Corinth, the Church comes under some spiritual judgement, there is encouragement here for those who sincerely examine themselves before participating, that they will personally escape the hazard. If not, they are sure to be affected in some way by the Lord’s chastisement of the Church. The special dignity and excellence of the Lord’s Supper is also a strong motive to the duty of self-examination. As Durham explains, communion with Christ in the Supper is the closest that His people come on earth to the communion they will enjoy with Him in heaven, and how then can we fail to approach His table with the greatest reverence and love?
How is the Lord’s Supper uniquely solemn?
In the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper there is a special eminence, excellence, dignity and worth. To put it another way, this ordinance is of a unique, solemn nature.
All the ordinances of the Lord are excellent. If all His works be excellent, then much more the gospel ordinances are a step above these. Yet the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper seems dignified with an eminence and excellence above them all.
1. In reference to what it sets out and exhibits. They all set out love, but this sets out love in an eminent degree, for it sets forth the Lord’s death, where the most eminent step and degree of His love shines. In fact, this ordinance sets out His actual dying, and so sets out His love in its liveliest colours, and its great masterpiece.
2. In reference to the excellent benefits communicated in it. It is true that, as to matter, it communicates only the same as what is communicated in the Word and baptism. Yet if we look at the words, “Take ye, eat ye, this is my body,” they hold out Christ Jesus not so much giving any particular gift, as actually conferring Himself in his death and suffering. The main scope of this ordinance is to confer Christ and all that is in Him to the believer.
3. In reference to the manner in which our Lord Jesus makes Himself over to us. I don’t mean only the clearness of it (for in this ordinance there is the clearest view of a slain Saviour, and of covenanting with God, and often the most comfortable manifestations of love go along with it), but also that there is here a clear glance of heaven on earth. Jesus Christ and His people are mixing and being familiar together — He condescends not only to keep company with them, but to be their food and refreshment. He gives them not only the word to their faith, but himself (as it were) to their senses (in so far as the means by which He communicates Himself is more sense-able, although of course it is by His Spirit that the means is made effectual). The very firstfruits of heaven are communicated, as it were, to the very senses of the believer. “I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of the fruit of the vine, until that day I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26 29). He seems to point out a more special way of keeping communion with His people in this ordinance, in resemblance to that which He will have with them in heaven. This ordinance seals up a special union and communion between the head and members, a type of what there will be in heaven.
What more could Christ have given us?
This lets us see how much we are obliged to Christ Jesus. What more could He have given than Himself? And what could have been invented, that could have more confirmed and warmed the hearts of His people than this, such a lively representation and commemoration of His blessed body?
Very likely we might come to discern His body better, if there we had a more high estimation of this ordinance. Not that there is any efficacy in the ordinance of itself to communicate grace, yet in view of the fact that it is Christ’s own institution, it is a most lively means of grace. There is not a circumstance in all the action but it is to be wondered at. It was instituted the same night He was betrayed, for example, and after the Passover, when the traitor Judas was going to bring the band of soldiers to take Him, and He warrants us to take it, and in it we have sweet communion amongst ourselves. Every thing in it ought to draw us to admire His sufferings, and the great love they came from, and their notable effects for us.
What frame of mind and heart should we have approaching it?
All of this should stir us up to make the effort to be in a solemn, divine, heavenly frame of soul for such a solemn, divine, heavenly activity as this is. We should thoroughly examine ourselves, to see that all things are in good order, like to a bride who is going to be married tomorrow, trying on her wedding dress, and seeing that everything is just right.
Without going into detail, I will only point out in general what frame is called for from you ahead of participating in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.
1. It should be how you would desire to be, if Christ was coming personally and visibly to marry you tomorrow. Consider what frame we would wish to be in, if we were to meet with Him, and clasp hands with Him personally and visibly. Pursue that kind of frame!
2. It should what we would desire to have if we were about to die, when all earthly things will be insignificant and of little worth to us — if our eternal peace and happiness were depending on this critical point. That would be a night of making our will, and adjusting our accounts with God, and bringing things to a point between Him and us, so that our debts would not grow any greater, otherwise it would not be so easy for them to be discharged.
3. It should be the kind of frame we would desire to be found in, if the day of judgement were to be tomorrow. How humble we would strive to be, how abstracted from the things of the present world, and how confirmed in the faith of God’s love, if the voice of the archangel and the last trumpet were sounding, and a solemn meeting of all before the tribunal of Christ was about to take place! What frame would you desire to be in, if that was the case? That is what you should strive to be in tonight — just as you would desire in that day. It will be a sting in many a conscience on that day, that they were so unconscientious about being in a suitable frame for this ordinance!
4. It should be a heavenly and divine frame, because this is what a heavenly and divine action calls for. How abstracted your heart should be from the world, and from your carnal delights! How much your heart should be in heaven and conversant with God! What a pitch your communion with God should be raised to, in apprehending Him, and meditating on Him, and considering and admiring at the sufferings of Christ and the love they came from, and tasting that He is good, and even delighting and solacing yourselves in His love! This is what the Lord grants His people, when they go about the action of the ordinance humbly and reverently.
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