The Lord's Table - Some Extracts
The doctrine of the Lord’s table (1. Cor. 10:14-22) is central to the truth of the church and fundamental for the understanding of the ground of gathering. It shows the guiding principles for Christian fellowship:
- The unity of the body of Christ (‘Because we, being many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf.’ (V. 17))
- Separation from evil, including evil associations (‘ye cannot’ – v. 21))
- The authority of the Lord Jesus: it is His table (v.21).
No Christian or group of Christians should claim to ‘have’ the Lord’s table (He has it, it is His table). But every Christian should seek out fellow believers who practise the principles connected with the Lord’s table: unity, separation, and recognition of the Lord’s authority. Only in this way can we ‘partake’ of the Lord’s table (1. Cor. 10:21).
The extracts below have been collated from various articles and Bible commentaries written by well-known and respected Bible teachers such as J. N. Darby, William Kelly, C. H. Mackintosh, F.B Hole, Hamilton Smith, W.J Hocking, and others.
We trust this compilation of helpful comments in one document may be useful to our readers and be used by the Lord for His glory, the blessing of His own, and the strengthening of the testimony to His name.
Seeing then that I could not again accept a "pastorate" amongst Dissenters, the question with which I had now to deal was, With what Christians ought I to be identified? You will remember that I already held that believers should be gathered together on the first day of the week to break bread; and hence my attention was once more directed to “Brethren;" for I knew that, notwithstanding the generally-admitted scriptural character of this practice, they were the only Christians, saving some individual congregations, who gathered weekly around the table of the Lord.
[…] Let us then turn, on the other hand, to what I found to be the principle or ground of worship as understood by "Brethren." In the first place, they are gathered together unto the name of Christ, around His table, to break bread, according to His command, every Lord's-day. (Matt. 18:20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; Acts 20:7, etc.).
… there surely ought to be a place at the Lord's table for every believer who is not under Scriptural discipline.
… There are many Christians, and we ourselves were amongst the number, who contend that the Lord's table is open to all believers. This is of course fundamentally true, or it were not the Lord's table. There arises, however, another thing to be decided. Are there any limitations imposed by the Lord Himself in His word?
… My question, therefore, was this, Does the word of God teach that false doctrines-doctrines touching the person and work of the Lord, should disqualify for the Lord's table? or, to put it in another form, ought we to have fellowship with the teachers, or the holders of false doctrine?
… One is often met at the outset by such words as these: "Can it be right to exclude such and such men? Look at their holy lives, their devotedness; and do you pretend to sit in judgment upon their qualifications for the Lord's table?" Such questions are common…. May I then say that they have nothing to do with the matter? The only question we have to decide is this-Ought such discipline to be maintained according to the word of God? If so, it becomes a matter on our parts of simple obedience to the Lord, and not of passing judgment upon other believers; and one of His servants tells us, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments." (1 John 5:2.) So that love to the saints is evinced, not by admitting them to the Lord's table against His express will, but by keeping His commandments.
… I took my place at the Lord's table with the believers who are gathered on that ground in obedience to their Lord.
C. H. MACKINTOSH
As to the matter of reception at the Lord's table, we must remember there are two sides to the question, the Divine and the human. As to the Divine side, there is a place at the table for every member of the body of Christ. But as to the human side, we have to bear in mind we are not in Acts 2, but 2 Timothy. In Acts 2 the Lord added to the Assembly such as should be saved. All was clear and unmistakable. But, in 2 Timothy, we have the great house, vessels to dishonour, false professors, all sorts of errors, evils and difficulties. […] All this demands constant exercise of heart and conscience and the greatest vigilance and care as to the reception at the Lord's table.
When "heresy" or self-will is working, and "schisms" are apparent as the result, we have to "approve" ourselves, as regards our moral and spiritual condition, and so take our place at the table of the Lord, where the most prominent is, not OUR rights and privileges or those of others, but the claims of Christ, as head of the body. […]
The Lord's table is not a place for paying compliments to people, or for the display of OUR great liberality, breadth of mind, or catholicity of spirit. No; it is a place where the claims of Christ are to be maintained; where truth, holiness and practical righteousness are to be the grand characteristics.
F B Hole
The point he enforces is this, that communion is involved in the Supper of the Lord: not merely communion with one another, but the communion of the blood and body of the Lord. There is nothing here to foster superstition. That which we break is bread. That of which we partake is bread. Yet in drinking and in partaking we have communion in that which the cup and the bread signify; and shall be held responsible in regard to that, as is plainly stated in the next chapter, verse 27. This is exceedingly solemn truth-truth, which all too often is overlooked.
In verse 18 the Apostle shows that there was a fore-shadowing of this truth in the case of Israel, inasmuch as the priests were permitted to eat certain parts of certain offerings, and in the case of the peace offering even the offerer had certain parts to eat. Details as to this are given in Leviticus 6 and 7. If these chapters be read it will be seen that restrictions were laid upon those who eat. All defilement had to be kept far from them just because they were thereby in communion with the altar of God, and all that it signified. Had they taken liberties with their holy food and treated it unworthily, they would have come under serious consequences.
The same thing was true in principle of the idol sacrifices of the Gentile world. The idols they venerated represented demons; and these demons were but subordinate officers of Satan. By their sacrifices they entered into the communion of demons. Now such a communion as this the child of God is to flee at all costs.
Verses 16 to 20, then, set before us three communions, the Christian, the Jewish, the heathen; centred respectively in the Table of the Lord, the Altar in the midst of Israel, and the idol sacrifices of paganism; and expressed in each case by the act of eating. In this passage Israel's altar is not in question so it is merely introduced as an illustration; and left at that, (to be referred to further in Hebrews 13: 10). The issue here lies between the communion of Christ's death and the communion of demons. These two are totally, fundamentally and continuously opposed. It is impossible to be a participator in both. "Ye cannot," says the Apostle, twice in verse 21.
And supposing someone ignores this "cannot" and is bold enough, having partaken of the Lord's table, to partake of the table of demons-what then? Then, he provokes the Lord to jealousy for the sake of His Name and glory. The Lord will not give His glory to another, and the offender will come into sharp collision with the Lord Himself, and taste the bitterness of coming under His dealing in discipline, possibly unto death. Disciplined of the Lord he will soon discover that he is not stronger than He, and come face to face with the toilsome road of repentance, which is the only way that leads to recovery.
In the mercy of God we are hardly endangered by "the fellowship of demons." But, because of that, let us not lightly dismiss this truth from our minds, for the principle of it is of much wider application. If we partake of the Lord's table it is necessary for us to set a watch lest we partake also in things that are inconsistent with it and its holiness. If we are in the communion of the blood and body of Christ, we shall find it great enough to exclude all other communions. We shall keep clear of communions that can only entangle us, and may possibly defile us. We fear that the implications of this truth are often ignored. It is all too possible to partake of the cup and of the loaf without giving much thought to the solemn obligations that are connected therewith. We can have no fellowship with evil things.
How, then, could the Christian, who by drinking of the cup of the Lord expressed fellowship with the Lord, His death, and His people, dare to drink of a cup that expressed fellowship with demons? If we sit down at the Lord's table, where He presides, and partake of the blessings that He provides, how can we partake in the evils that demons may provide for the gratification of the flesh at their table?
J N Darby
He enjoins, with regard to idolatry, that holy fear which avoids the occasion of doing evil, the occasion of falling. There is association and communion through the table of which we partake with that which is on it; and we Christians, being many, are but one bread and one body, inasmuch as we share the same bread at the Lord's supper. Those in Israel who ate of the sacrifices were partakers of the altar-were identified with it. So those who ate of idol's meat as such were identified with the idol it was offered to. Was this to say that the idol was anything? No. But as it is written (Deut. 32), "The things which the Gentiles offered, they offered to demons and not to God." Should a Christian then, partake of the table of demons? The table was the table of demons, the cup the cup of demons-an important principle for the assembly of God. Would one provoke the Lord by putting Him on a level with demons?
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? He begins with that which most nearly touches the heart. It would have been an order more natural, if one may so say, to speak of the body of Christ; as we know in the Lord's supper habitually, there is that which brings before us first the body and then the blood. The departure from what may be called the historical order makes the emphasis incomparably greater. More than that, the first appeal is founded on the blood of Christ, the answer of divine grace to the deepest need of a soul found in its guilt before God and covered with defilement. Was this to be slighted? "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" He does not here say, "the blood" or the "body of the Lord." This we find in 1 Corinthians 11; but it is here Christ, because it becomes a question of grace. "The Lord" brings in the idea of authority. This, then, is evidently an immense advance in dealing with the subject. Accordingly he now develops it, not on the ground of injury to a brother, but as a breach of fellowship with such a Christ, and indifference to His immense love. But he does not forget His authority: "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table and of the table of demons." It is not simply the love of Christ, but His full authority as the Lord. The apostle contrasts two mighty powers that were contesting - demons, on the one hand, a power stronger than man, struggling as to him here below; and, on the other hand, there was the Lord that had shed His blood for them, but the Lord of all who should judge quick and dead
[…] For what does a person come to the table of the Lord? Is it to pour out his doubts? If he has them, he surely will; but this makes it an ordeal, not a feast. You would scarcely like this even at your own festivities. A gloomy heart or face suits not a marriage feast: it would slight the bridegroom and the bride, and might spoil all for everyone else. Such a person would be best away; and the more you loved him, the less could you desire his presence thus, because of the pain to all concerned. […]
As for the notion that you may have the Lord's table without the Lord's supper, it is beneath sober Christians. We may distinguish where we cannot separate. All such speculations are but the fruit of idleness with a certain small activity of mind, but none the less injurious to faith and practice. […]
The apostle is contrasting what the Christian has with the Jew on the one hand and the Gentile on the other. What the Gentiles sacrificed was to demons… Israel, again, had their peace-offerings their symbol of communion with Jehovah's altar. The church of God, as he shows, is as distinct from the Jew as from the Gentile. Thus the apostle is contrasting both with the Lord's table of which Christians eat.
We are free as led of the Holy Ghost to remember the Blessed One at the Lord's table in all that He was and did in and preceding His death. "In or for a remembrance of Me," and "Ye do shew the Lord's death," are distinct, although vitally connected, truths. — ED.
The expression of this gathering on earth is the table of the Lord. It is there that, besides the memorial of His death, the unity of the body is proclaimed (1 Cor. 10:16, 17). […]
We find a second feature of worship in 1 Corinthians 10 and 1 Corinthians 11. The Lord's Supper is presented there as the visible centre of the Assembly gathered at the table of the Lord, the Lord Himself being the invisible centre. […]
This subject is too well known for us to dwell on longer. It is more necessary, perhaps, to remark that if generally worship be connected with the Lord's Supper, that in no way excludes a meeting of the Assembly for worship without the breaking of bread, different from that on the first day of the week, when the Assembly is gathered at the table of the Lord to break bread (Acts 20:7). […]
C J Davies
Hence, at the table, we eat as those who may be in glory with Himself before next Lord's-day. How weaning, then, is the feast calculated to be when partaken intelligently! […]
Thousands of believers, with not a few excuses, but with no good reason whatever, absent themselves from the table of the Lord. […]
In appearing at the table of the Lord once a week, the disciples of the Lord manifest, in His own appointed way and time, their loyalty to One whom the world cast out. […]
If a man be living in sin, I wonder that the Table is not the most miserable situation he could occupy. […]
THE LORD'S TABLE, THEN, IS LARGE ENOUGH FOR ALL HIS SAINTS, AND IS AN EXPRESSION OF THE ONE BODY; BUT AT ITS NARROW ENTRANCE IS WRITTEN IN LARGE LETTERS, "HOLINESS BECOMETH THINE HOUSE, O LORD, FOR EVER" (Ps. 93:5).
The Lord’s Table
J N Darby
I could not own, with the light I have as to the unity of the body, that these denominational ordinances are the Lord's table; but I am quite ready to believe that souls may go there with a deeper sense than myself of the Lord's love personally.
The Lord's Table, and Its Place in the Church
The Bible Treasury: Volume 12
So Christ, our passover, has been once sacrificed for us on Calvary's cross, and Christians gather to the Lord's table, on the ground of the blood of Christ, to remember this, and feed on the Lamb slain, which they see by faith in the memorials spread before their eyes, having put away all evil from amongst them, of which the leaven was the type. (See vers. 6-11.) If any Israelite ate leavened bread, he was cut off from the congregation of Israel; so a Christian who eats the Lord's supper, having fallen into sin morally or doctrinally, ought to be put away from the assembly.
Thus we see that the Lord's table holds a most important place as the gathering place for the assembly of God.
The assembly is the body of Christ. (See chap. xi. 12, 13.) The Lord's table is the place where that unity is exhibited by the members, all partaking of the one loaf, the symbol of unity. (See 1 Cor. x. 17.)
At the Lord's table the Christian exhibits fellowship with the Lord, and His altar, His death, and that as a member of the body of Christ with the others gathered on that ground. This would show the Corinthians the utter impossibility of mixing up fellowship at the Lord's table with fellowship with devil worship. Thus we see that the Lord's table holds the very central place in christian worship; so much so that if saints are not gathered as members of Christ's body to that table, there is no exhibition of the church of God in the place. The Lord's table is where the members of Christ are gathered as members of one body, to show it by partaking together of the one loaf, which is the symbol of unity, and where the authority and claims of the Lord are owned. It is the Lord's table. The Lord therefore invites; the assembly, as representing Him there, receives in His name. Rom. xv. 7.)
The ground of gathering is the unity of the body, the centre of gathering is the Lord's person, the place of gathering on earth is the Lord's table. Here the Christians gather to be occupied with the Lord Himself, to break bread (Acts xx. 7) in remembrance of His death, and to worship the Father through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter ii. 5.).
Letters : Volume 2, number 188
J N Darby
I should not in the least avoid saying that we meet around the Lord's table. I could not own sectarian tables as the Lord's table with the light I have; but saints who may honestly think us in disorder go to it as such, and I do not doubt enjoy individual communion with the Lord.
Letters Volume 2, number 275
J N Darby
The table of the Lord therefore expresses unity, association with Christ; and this is the whole ground of the apostle's argument in 1 Corinthians 10. Now they are avowedly in division: Baptist tables where others cannot go; others, where they are not members of the church even if admitted - they are members of such a church, but not of Christ, as being there. They may individually remember piously the Lord's death, and in that sense have the Lord's supper; but they are avowedly, on church ground, on other ground than the unity of Christ's body. I am fully satisfied that from Paul's death they never were even on the true ground of salvation, and identified the body with the corrupt external things though till, say A.D. 240, there was no external division - at which period some separated because they received back those who had denied the Lord in Decius persecution.
If they are the Lord's table, why should not I go to them? it would be pure schism.
The Institution and Observance of the Lord's Supper
[…] But at the Lord's table, while there may be loftier thoughts, is there anything which can touch the heart more deeply than the remembrance that He suffered for me? He died for me. "My body is given for you," He says. […]
"This cup is the new covenant in My blood." From these words we learn that the blood of Christ is the only ground upon which we can be at the Lord's table at all.
Christ and his Church (ch. 8)
W J Hocking
He shows that the Lord's table is exclusive in the fullest sense of the word. The Lord's supper is for the saints of God only; and it must have nothing unholy associated with it, nothing that appertained to idolatry. Fellowship with idols was destructive of the real character of this simple feast.
For in this chapter the apostle shows that those who partook of idol feasts, or of sacrifices offered in the worship of idols, and who also took their part at the Lord's table were associating in a public manner what was of Christ with what was of Satan, because behind every idol was the emissary of Satan; behind the idols were the demons who wrought upon the evil passions of those who worshipped them.
The constant object of Satan is to steal, to kill, to destroy, to do all possible damage and hurt to men. And he was doing this in Corinth, and throughout the Gentile world of that day, by leading men into the worship of idols. These unthinking Christians linked up the Lord's table with the table of demons; they attended both; and the apostle speaks to them in words of serious warning.
Notes on the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians
Clearly the apostle reasons from the public symbol of christian communion; he is not laying it down to correct any wrong observance: else he would not hays put the cup before the loaf here. He begins his appeal with that which had the deepest meaning as to Christ; he leaves for the next place what most impressively conveys the fellowship of the saints with Christ as one body. It is so viewed as to compare it best with the peace-offerings of Israel and the sacrifices of the heathen. Fellowship there is in each. The worshippers share in common what distinguishes them from all others. In the church's case it is the blood and body of Christ. The blood of Christ awakens the gravest thoughts in the Christian; the body of Christ, the most intimate unity possible, "because we, the many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of the one loaf."
If we add a few characteristics of the Lord's table, it may serve to preserve you from mistake.
1. The table must be spread on ground outside of all denominational systems, otherwise, as we have shown, it could not comprehend all the members of the body of Christ.
2. The saints should be gathered on the first day of the week […]
3. The purpose of the gathering should be to break bread. […].
4. Everything in connection with the table - worship, ministry, and discipline, must be in accordance with, and in subjection to, the word of God. If there is a single human regulation, on whatever ground adopted, the character of the table is destroyed. For it is the table of the Lord; and hence His authority alone can be recognized by His gathered saints.
The Lord's Table
J A Trench
Now it is remarkable that it is only when the apostle brings in the one body that the Lord's Supper gets the character of the “Lord's Table,” [….]
For just herein lies the distinguishing characteristic of the Lord's Table, that in partaking of the one loaf we express the unity in which we have been formed with Christ and all who are His, which becomes the ground of the subsequent reasoning of the apostle, that if united on the ground we take of highest privilege, we are, as thus united, separated from all that is morally incompatible with it.
That which professes to be the Table of the Lord, which only recognizes the members of a sect or party, is thus proved false to the place Scripture gives it in the Assembly of God.
Keeping Christ's Word
Bible Treasury, New Series, Volume 7
Think of the church that is scattered, and which we would so desire to see restored: what are we to do for its restoration? Shall we proclaim to themall, that it is the will of God that His people should be together? Shall we spread the Lord's table, free from all sectarian names and terms of communion, and fling wide open our doors, and invite all that truly love the Lord to come together? For in fact the "one loaf" upon the table does bear witness that we are "one bread, one body"; and there is no other body that faith can own, but the "body of Christ." Why should we not then do this?
I answer: Tell them by all means that the Lord has welcome for all His own: that is right but tell them it is the Holy and True who welcomes, and that He cannot give up His nature." How has the true church become the invisible church? Has it been without sin on her part? is it her misfortune, and not her fault? Take the guidance of these seven epistles in the book of Revelation, and trace the descent from the loss of first love in Ephesus to the sufferance of the woman Jezebel in Thyatira, and on through dead Sardis to the present time: can we just ignore the past, and simply, as if nothing had happened, begin again? What would it be but mere hardness of heart to say so?
Suppose your invitation of "all Christians" accepted, and that in the place in which you give out your notice, you are able really to assemble all the members of Christ at the table of the Lord — bring them together with their jarring views, their various states of soul, their entanglements with the world, their evil associations how far do you suppose, would the Lord's table answer to the character implied in its being the table of the Lord? How far would He be indeed owned and honoured in your thus coming together? With the causes of all the scattering not searched out and judged, what would your gathering be but a defiance of the holy discipline by which the church was scattered? what would it be but another Babel?
S R Ridout
But while disavowing the applicability of the term to any Christian table, we would call attention to the other expression "table of the Lord," and press that it suggests obedience and subjection to Him in all things. Most inconsistent is it therefore that aught should be connected with that table, not according to His will. With this we trust all will agree. […]
To put away from their company would include, first of all, exclusion from the Lord's table; unquestionably that would be followed by exclusion from the company of the saints until repentance was manifest. But it would be impossible to think of one put away from among the saints and still permitted to break bread. […]
This holiness, we must remember is not left to the judgment of the individual, but is here put in the hands of the assembly, which is corporately responsible for the walk, so far as manifest, of all those received at the Lord's table. […]
Passing to the next feature, how wide a field for self-examination is opened by that word, "Lord." Is He indeed Lord and Master, and is His will absolute? How, then, can a disobedient walk be connected with His table? We make amplest allowance for weakness and ignorance, but we feel the great importance of this matter. The Lord's table is surely to be marked by subjection to Him, and while patience may be had for ignorance in individual cases, obedience to Him is surely to be expected from all. In moral questions, none would dispute this, but many would probably interpose serious objections to what follows.
Converted Children and the Lord's Table – by J N Darby