Preparation Necessary for the Communion
“Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” — 1 Corinthians xi. 28.
WE do not hold it right to admit all persons indiscriminately to the Lord’s supper; we believe the Lord’s table is the place of communion, and we would have none there with whom we cannot have true Christian fellowship. We can commune with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ, however different may be their views upon some points of doctrine. So long as we find it possible to have fellowship with them, we believe it to be our duty to welcome them to the supper of our Lord. When, through unholiness of life, lack of piety, or unsoundness in the fundamental truths of the gospel on the part of those who apply to us to be received as communicants, we feel that we cannot commune with them, we hold it to be our bounden duty, as God hath given us authority in his Church, to prevent those from drawing nigh unto the table who would but commune unworthily, and so eat and drink unto themselves judgment, as the word in the 29th verse should be translated. Among our Baptist churches, fashioned, we trust, somewhat nearer to the Scriptural order than certain others we wot of, we do exercise at least some measure of discipline. We require from those who are members of the church, and who are, by reason of that membership, entitled to commune, that they should, at their reception, give us what we consider satisfactory proofs of their conversion; and we require of them, afterwards, that their conduct should be consistent with the law of Christ; otherwise, we should not in the first place receive them, or having received them, we should not be long before, by the Scriptural process of excommunication, we should remove from our midst those members whose lives and conversation were not in accordance with the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
But, my brethren, do what we may, — though we fence the table with the utmost diligence, and though we continually warn you not to deceive us, and not to deceive yourselves, seeing that you cannot deceive God, — yet are we perfectly aware that the greater part of the guarding of the table must rest with yourselves. We believe it to be our bounden duty, as God shall give us grace, to take care, so far as we can, that unworthy persons are not received at the Lord’s table. Yet man being mortal, is fallible and erring; so we cannot judge you, and we must leave the greater part of your examination, before you come to the sacred table of the Master, with yourselves. Remember, dear friends, that no recognition by the minister, no reception by the deacons or elders of a church, will excuse you for coming to the Lord’s table if, when you come, you are not a really converted person. It is true that you cannot come there unless the church itself consents to your coming; but the church takes upon itself none of the responsibility of your fitness; it says to you, “You may come to the table of communion; but if you have deceived us, on your own head be the sin; and if you are not what you profess to be, — true believers in Christ, — your unlawful observance of the ordinance must be accounted for, at the last great day, amongst the rest of your transgressions.” And I do now, most solemnly and earnestly, as the Pastor of this church, in the name and on behalf of this church, warn all men and women now about to draw nigh unto this table that, if they be not God’s children, and have no faith in Christ, they do stop before they, with sacrilegious hands, touch the elements of this sacred supper. We would have them know that it can be of no service to them, but will increase their sin, and add to their guilt, if they do, after such a warning as this, come to the Master’s table without having examined themselves, and without being thoroughly persuaded in their hearts that they have been born of God. Let that thought have due weight with all intending communicants, and if some of them even withdraw from the table as the result of this fencing of it, I shall rejoice that they have had the honesty to do what is right.
I. Now, beloved, turning from that point for a little while, I would remind you that THERE IS A PREPARATION NECESSARY FOR RECEIVING THE LORD S SUPPER ARIGHT.
In certain churches, amongst persons who are only nominally religious, mere formalists and ceremonialists, it has been customary to set apart a whole week for preparation; and you may remember how Mr. Rowland Hill, in his Village Dialogues, tells of Mistress Toogood, who, after spending a whole week in preparation for the Lord’s supper, found that it was not to be administered till the next Sabbath day; whereupon she fell into a great passion, and cursed and swore, because she said that she had wasted a week. I doubt not that there have been some who have made a kind of hypocritical preparation which would have been better omitted. I do not exhort you to do any such thing; but if a right thing be abused, that is no reason why we should not use it properly. Every one of us, before we come to the supper of the Lord, ought to have prepared our hearts, under the help of the Holy Spirit, for a right participation therein. We are not to rush to our Master’s table, as a horse runs into the battle, not knowing whereunto it is going; we are not to come to this sacred feast as we go to a meal in our own houses; we are not to partake of the emblems of the body and blood of Christ, as we would sit down at our common tables to eat and drink.
We are to come here with devout solemnity and due preparation; nor may we expect to receive a blessing, in the reception of the supper, unless we have properly prepared ourselves for it before we come hither. Alas! this is too much forgotten; and men think they may draw nigh to God without making any preparation whatever. Not so was it with the ancient saints. When Jacob was going to build an altar, and to sacrifice to the Lord at Bethel, he felt it needful to bid his family to put away all their strange gods from among them. When God was about to appear on Sinai, he commanded the people to purify themselves, because he was coming near unto them; and not only was it so in olden times, but it should be so now. We should not draw nigh unto God with hasty and careless steps; but we must remember and obey Solomon’s injunction: “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.” As Moses put his shoes from off his feet, because the place whereon he stood was holy ground, so ought we, my brethren, to put away all carnal thoughts and all worldly things when we approach this most sacred circle, — a circle even more hallowed than that which surrounded the burning bush, for this surrounds the cross of Calvary, the death-place of our Lord and Master.
“Sweet the moments, rich in blessing,
Which before the cross I spend,
Life, and health, and peace possessing,
From the sinner’s dying Friend.
“Here I'll sit for ever viewing
Mercy’s streams in streams of blood;
Precious drops! my soul bedewing,
Plead and claim my peace with God.
“Truly blessed is this station,
Low before his cross to lie;
While I see divine compassion
Floating in his languid eye.
“Here it is I find my heaven,
While upon the cross I gaze;
Love I much? I’ve more forgiven;
I’m a miracle of grace.
“May I still enjoy this feeling,
In all need to Jesus go;
Prove his wounds each day more healing,
And himself more fully know.”
Let me just press upon your consideration two or three thoughts with regard to what is necessary in a proper preparation for the Lord’s supper. First, I think, before coming to the Lord’s table, every professing Christian should occupy himself , in some measure, in contemplation and meditation. We ought not to come here without due consideration of what we are about to do; we ought to consider, in the first place, that we are coming into the more immediate presence of God. It is true that, during divine service in the house of God, we are specially in the presence of the Most High; but when, at eventide, we eat and drink the supper of the Master, we get nearer to him than we do in any of our other religious exercises, with the solitary exception of the ordinance of believers’ baptism. This communion service has about it something so pathetic, so tender, so full of fellowship, bringing us so near to Christ, while Christ is so near to us, that we ought not to come to it without feeling that we are entering into the immediate courts of the Most High; and, surely, if the contemplation of God makes the angels veil their faces with their wings, it should make us come to this table with great reverence and solemnity of spirit.
We ought, in the next place, before we come here, to contemplate the authority upon which we celebrate this ordinance. If any of you come to this table because I administer the ordinance, or because your parents partake of it, or because, according to the old orthodox doctrine of the Baptist churches, this is regarded as being a divine ordinance, you have made a mistake. It is your duty, in the reception of the Lord’s supper, or the observance of the ordinance of baptism, to consider the authority by which you do it, and to be certain that, in coming here, you are doing God’s will, and that you are performing that which God has commanded you. If you come not to the communion as to a divine ordinance, you come not to it aright; if you merely partake of it as a matter of form, instead of knowing that God has commanded the form, and that his Son Jesus Christ is embodied in it, you have not the preparation which you ought to have in coming hither.
Again, before coming to the communion, it behoves you to consider the great distance there is betwixt you and God. Even though you now have very blessed and hallowed fellowship with the Lord Jesus, remember that, in this supper, there is a memorial of your guilt. It is true that here you see how your sins were taken away by the broken body and the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ; but let the very bath in which you were cleansed remind you of your sinfulness. And, oh, my brethren, when we sit here, let us not eat and drink ostentatiously, as if we were doing some praiseworthy act; but let us do it as if we felt that we were not fit to sit on the lowest seat of the Church of Christ. God grant that this may be a time when we shall humble ourselves, and cast ourselves in the very dust before him! We might, instead of being at the table of the Lord, have been sitting on the ale-bench; we might have been drinking the cup of devils, and holding communion with Belial; but grace, free grace has brought us here. Let us abase ourselves in the presence of God; let us humble ourselves before him; and, whilst we feed, by faith, on our Master’s body, let us feel as if our own proud flesh were cut away and humbled by the very communion we hold with Christ our Redeemer.
Then, Christian, this should be a further subject of contemplation before thou comest hither, thou shouldst have a right idea of the Saviour, whose body and blood are here typified to thee. I think we should not come to this ordinance unless we have, for some time at least, devoutly considered the broken body, the shed blood, the sufferings, the agonies, the death, and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us all, before we sit at this table, remember whose death it is we commemorate here. We should view the Saviour as the Son of God, and then as the Son of man, born of the Virgin Mary; we should view him as he walks along his way of sorrow; we should seek, by earnest contemplation, to view him prostrate in the garden, to see him ploughed with bloody furrows at Gabbatha, and to behold him dying amid terrible tortures upon the hill of Calvary. Unless, my brethren, we have done this, or are enabled by God’s Spirit in a special manner to do this now, we must not expect to derive any benefit from the mere eating of the bread and drinking of the wine. You might eat your bread and drink your wine at home; you might be taking your ordinary suppers; you might break your crusts and drink from your cups in your own houses; but of what avail would all of them be? They would not be the Lord’s supper; neither shall this be the Lord’s supper to you, unless your hearts are occupied with a devout contemplation of the presence of God, of your own nothingness before him, and of the glorious sacrifice and atonement of Jesus Christ here evidently set forth before you.
In the next place, not only contemplation, but supplication should form a part of our preparation for this supper. If we acted aright, we should never come even to the hearing of a sermon without prayer; were our hearts in a proper spiritual condition, we should never leave our houses to go to the house of prayer, without first supplicating God to help the minister and to help us. We should never leave the tents of Jacob without asking that the pillar of cloud might be manifestly seen resting upon the tabernacle of Israel. We should, when we come up to God’s sanctuary, breathe a prayer the moment we enter it, crying out for the Holy Spirit to rest upon us during the day. And, certainly, if ever we neglect prayer before holy duties, it should never be omitted before this sacred supper. O my brethren, I fear that many of us have lost the sweetness of this ordinance because we have forgotten to pray for a blessing upon it! It was but this very day that I found myself preparing to come to this place, without having first of all sought fellowship with Jesus; and I felt grieved and vexed within my spirit that I should have been so guilty as to have forgotten the solemnities to which I was about to attend; and I sought at once to spend some time in silent meditation and prayer to God. So should every church-member do. Oh, what blessed communion services should we then have! We should not go away from the table of the Lord barren and cold, as we often have done, blaming the minister because we think he has not spoken with sufficiently affecting words, and has not distributed the sacred elements in a profitable manner, whereas the fault has been in ourselves, and not in the minister; and we have been eating and drinking unworthily, and, as the judgment upon that wrong state of heart, have found the Lord’s table itself to be barren, instead of proving it to be the King’s banqueting-house and a feast of fat things to our souls.
II. Now, beloved, I ask you to notice that MY TEXT GIVES US THE BEST PART OF PREPARATION, WHICH is SELF-EXAMINATION: “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”
How many of us have thus examined ourselves? I fear we have, many of us, come here without any self-examination whatever. Well, then, let us begin at once to examine ourselves; and, during the little interval between this service and the time of the administration of the supper, perhaps it might not be amiss if you were to read over the hymn which we sometimes sing, from which you can see what are the questions which it is incumbent upon you to ask yourselves in self-examination, and what are the marks of those who have the right to sit down at the table of the Lord.
“The sacred Word declares them such,
Whose hearts are changed by sovereign grace,
Who place their confidence and hope
In Jesu’s blood and righteousness.
“Who know the truth, and in the ways
Of holiness direct their feet;
Who love communion with the saints,
And shun the place where scorners meet.
“With past attainments not content,
Increasing purity they seek;
By whom uprightness is maintained
In all they do, and all they speak.
“These are the men whom God invites,
For them the Church sets wide her door,
Whate’er their birth or rank may be,
The bond, the free, the rich, the poor.”
This hymn suggests some solemn questions, which none of us ought to have ventured here without having answered; and I think many of us can easily answer them. My brethren, have we not been changed by sovereign grace? Can we not, each one, say, “By the grace of God I am what I am; and I am not now what I was once”? Can we not, if we are not awfully deceived, say, with an unfaltering lip, “We know whom we have believed, and we are persuaded that we have been born again”? If we cannot say so, — O my friends, if any one of you cannot say so, I charge you, before God, before Jesus Christ and the elect angels, if you cannot say that you believe and know that you have been born again, do not come and profane this table of the Master by daring to sit with the saints, whilst you yourselves are unrenewed, and not begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!
How many of you are amongst those whom the hymn next describes?
“Who place their confidence and hope
In Jesu’s blood and righteousness.”
I know that, by God’s grace, it is so with many of us. No other hope have I; no rock, no refuge for my weary spirit, is there beside the atonement of Jesus. You can say so, too, I trust, my dear friends. But if you cannot, if you are resting anywhere else but in Jesus, if you have any dependence upon rites or ceremonies or good works, again I adjure you, by the Judge of the quick and the dead, venture not to this table to receive the Lord’s supper; for, in so doing, you would but eat and drink unworthily, not having faith in Jesus, and confidence in his precious blood.
Can you say, also, as the hymn does, that you know the truth, and that in the ways of holiness you direct your feet? I fear we must all confess that we cannot say this as much as we would desire. Let us, however, still make it a point of self -examination. Come, friend, it is now a month since the last time thou didst sit down at this table; what hast thou done during this time? How have thy steps been directed? How has thy speech been ordered? What about thine acts towards God, and towards man? Make this a time of turning over the pages of thy diary for the last month. Come, brethren and sisters, let us examine ourselves, and so let us eat of this bread, and drink of this cup. It cannot be an unprofitable exercise which is commanded in our text, so let us obey it. Let us now question ourselves. Are we truly the Lord’s? If he should say to us, as he said to his disciples, “One of you shall betray me,” what should we say? Let us each one ask the question now, “Lord, is it I?” Have we, like Judas, been plotting against the Master? Have we been robbing the Lord’s treasury, depriving him of what we promised in our vows, not giving him the time and service which we solemnly pledged to give him?
Let us look again at our hymn. Have we broken the communion of saints during the last month? Have we not, by anger and wrath and bitterness, injured our own spirituality when we have been talking against the children of God? Have we not felt that we have broken the sacred link which united us with them? Have we washed the saints’ feet this month? Have we not rather bemired and befouled them by going astray ourselves, and leading them astray, too? Have we humbled ourselves during the last month? Have we taken the towel, and girded ourselves, as Jesus did, to do menial work for the church? Has there not been too much pride creeping into all our services? Has it not marred all our deeds, and spoiled our best endeavours? And how about prayer? Have we not been sadly negligent in that holy exercise? And with regard to love to our Master, have not our hearts been too often cold towards him, who had his heart set abroach for us, that all the blood therein might be spilt in one great torrent for our sakes?
O friends, I cannot suggest all the questions that you have need to ask yourselves in such an examination as our text enjoins! Begin from the last communion evening, and go through the Sabbaths, and through the Mondays, and Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, and all through the weeks, and then surely both you and I will have work enough to do, during the next hour, to examine ourselves. Ah! we ought to have done it before, that now we might be able to apply ourselves more solemnly to communion, rather than to self-examination. But now I entreat you once again, as I am bound to do, to be faithful to my God; if ye be lovers of our Lord Jesus Christ, if ye be faithful to the truth, if ye have been really converted, if ye have partaken of the Holy Spirit, I invite you to the Master’s table, and may the Spirit of God rest on you! But, as an honest minister, I do warn you, who are not what you should be, from coming to this table. Oh, if any of you have been mere professors and hypocrites, I charge you not to come here! As in your dying day you shall remember your deeds of formality and hypocrisy, I beseech you, do not dare to touch that bread with unhallowed lip, nor sip that wine; take them not unless you feel that you have God’s Spirit within you, and are really united to the Lamb.
I fear there are some of you who have, for many a month, received these emblems, who would this night, for the first time, leave them untasted, if you were really to know yourselves. There are some, in this church, I grieve to say, with whom I can hold but very little fellowship, by reason of the hard speeches they sometimes utter against certain of us because of some little difference of opinion; and there are many others with whom we can have no communion at all, because their lives are so unholy, and their conduct is so un-Christian, that, though they be sound enough in the faith, we can but wonder that they know so much of the truth, and yet have so little of the spirit of Christ in them. Ah, dear friends! it is not all gold that glitters, and all professors are not possessors. There are some in Christ’s Church everywhere, — and God forbid that I should flatter this church, — and there are some even here, who are enough to rend the church in twain by their bitterness, and wrath, and evil speaking. There are others who are enough to bring down God’s rod upon us for their unholy living; yea, and the very best of us, the Johns and the Enochs, have they not cause to humble themselves on account of their manifold shortcomings and misdoings? Let all professors of religion examine themselves, lest it should be found that they have been deceiving themselves, and have deceived others, — have trusted in themselves that they were righteous, when they had not passed from death unto life.
Ah, friends! I cannot speak with the solemnity I would desire to command on such an occasion as this. I cannot bar this table, — God forbid that I should do so! — from any one of you; come and welcome all ye who love the Lord Jesus. But although I cannot force back any of you who are not converted, though I cannot thrust you away if you have the right to come, because you are members of this church or of some other, I do, as far as human power can have any influence with you, solemnly warn you not to come to the communion unless you are really regenerated by the Holy Spirit. I would rather have six members in my church, who are living souls in Zion, than six hundred mere professors. O Lord God, sift and fan this church yet again! If any are only chaff, drive them out of it, or do thou make them thy wheat, that they may be housed in thy barn, and not be burned up with unquenchable fire! O Lord, make us each sincere; impress upon our minds the solemnity of this act; and when we draw nigh unto this table, may it be specially under thy smile, and with thy benediction, through Jesus Christ our Lord! To God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be glory for ever and ever! Amen.