The Church and the Lord's Supper
(Read 1 Corinthians 10:14-22; 1 Corinthians 11:20-34)
These scriptures are no doubt familiar to us all, and we can I hardly hope to consider them in full detail this evening; but you may have observed that the verses read may be roughly divided into three parts:
Firstly, 10:14-22 speaks of the Lord's supper as it concerns the church collectively looked at as the one body. I refer particularly to verses 16, 17, "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? For we being many are one bread and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread." In this passage, the church is viewed in its unity, and the celebration of the Lord's supper is regarded as an act by the church in its collective capacity.
Secondly, in 11:20-26, the apostle is referring to the manner of eating the Lord's supper, bringing out those tender and affecting features of the remembrance of the Lord which are so closely connected with a proper observance of the Lord's supper. This is a passage of the greatest importance to us, seeing that it sets out the meaning, the spiritual import of this central institution of the church of God.
Thirdly, the concluding verses of the eleventh chapter (27-34) are a powerful exhortation with regard to the personal conduct of those who attend the observance of the Lord's supper.
One Loaf, One Body
In the tenth chapter then, the apostle presents the Lord's supper with regard to this great fact that in it all the saints of God (because they are members of the one body of Christ) are represented when they gather together on such occasions. They meet as units of that great congregation on earth which forms the church of God and the body of Christ. There is one loaf; and the one loaf, while it speaks most truly of the Lord's own body given for us, also speaks of that mystical body, the spiritual body, which He Himself has formed by the Holy Spirit, because of His death. We, being many, are one loaf: there is one loaf, there is one body. Symbolically, the saints are all together there — a most important consideration, particularly at this present juncture in the history of the church of God, when the saints, outwardly speaking, are divided into so many conflicting parties, all carrying on under different names. Nevertheless, week by week, as the saints of God gather together for the remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ in His death, the one loaf upon the table has this voice to all that are present, namely, that there is but one body. The Lord Jesus Christ died that He might gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad, and the unity of the church, formed and maintained by the Spirit of God, is expressed in a figurative way in the one loaf.
There was, no doubt, a special reason why in the tenth chapter the apostle presents the Lord's supper in this way, and the reason was found in those whom he addressed. The saints of God at Corinth, and possibly at other places too, had forgotten the peculiar and unique nature of the Lord's supper. They forgot that it was something which linked them with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; it was His own appointment; and this appointment was made by Him after He had completed the observance of the paschal supper, of which He Himself was the Antitype. Then it was that, speaking to the eleven apostles, He desired of them that they should do this for a remembrance of Him. The Lord's supper was thus instituted to be the memorial of Himself — their absent Lord and Master. The One Who had died would be remembered in the world by the continual observance of His wishes in respect of this supper.
The Lord's supper therefore stood out as an institution in complete contrast with the Jewish feasts which were instituted in Old Testament times; it superseded them; it differed from them in character altogether. Think of the occasion when it was founded. The Lord Jesus Christ was sitting at the table and the eleven were around Him. It was a simple ceremony, appealing to the heart's affections. The Lord spoke tenderly, graciously, as a man speaks to his friends; and He spoke on the eve of the solemn moment when He would be betrayed into the hands of sinners for crucifixion. He said in effect: I am going away and you will see My face no more. Remember Me, not only in your hearts, not only with the sense that though absent I am with you alway, but do this for a public memorial of Me. Eat the bread and drink the wine for the specific purpose that here in the world there may be maintained an abiding remembrance that the Christ, the Son of the living God, laid down His life at Calvary's cross.
Because of this special character, the observance of the Lord's supper, in spite of its simplicity, outshone in glory and significance everything in the Old Testament procedure. The Old Testament feasts and ceremonies pointed forward to what was to be done. The Lord's supper speaks of what has been done, and particularly of the One Who has done it at such infinite cost to Himself, and Who has presented to all the participants in that feast, the spoils of His victory over sin and death. The Lord did not hedge about His words in the upper room with thunders and lightnings, as when the terrible Voice came from Mount Sinai. The men who listened to Him did not tremble as they sat before Him. There was no fright within their hearts as He spoke; He appealed to their love. He set before them Himself as the One Who loved them and gave Himself up for them, and said, "Do this for a remembrance of Me."
Association with Idols
Now, this simple ceremony, while it had the special character of obedience to the word of the absent and beloved Lord, was exposed to the danger of being degraded to the level of other observances. The children of God might be inclined to connect with this simple ceremony some other ceremony, either some of the ancient Jewish ceremonies, or of the idolatrous ceremonies to which they were accustomed in their unconverted days. We find that this danger existed at Corinth, and there were those in that assembly who had fallen into the snare. Consequently, the apostle brings before them truth to correct this error. 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. He bids them to flee from idolatry (ver. 14). He reminds them of the Israelites, who started out from Egypt, the house of their bondage, where idolatry was rife, who were all under the cloud, and who all passed through the sea. All were baptized unto Moses, and they all partook of the manna which came down from heaven, and they all drank of that Rock which followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But God was not well pleased with many of them, and they were overthrown in the wilderness because they linked themselves up with idols (vers. 1-11). They worshipped the great enemy of God and Christ in the person of the demons, who were behind the images to which they bowed down.
God is a jealous God. He will not have Himself associated with idolatry. "What communion hath light with darkness?" God is a holy God. He said, "Be ye holy; for I am holy"; and if every individual who is a follower of God and of Christ must be a holy person, how much more so the church of God! — particularly in view of its unique character, being welded together by the Holy Spirit to form one body on the earth. It must be maintained in holiness, all being separate to God from all evil.
The Cup Mentioned First
The apostle, as you will notice, in speaking here of the Lord's supper, reverses the historical order of the observance. He mentions first the cup and then the loaf, while we know from the Gospels themselves that our Lord broke the bread first, and passed the vessel of wine to the disciples subsequently. But here Paul speaks first of the cup; he refers to the cup of blessing which they blessed. Why is this prominence given to the cup? Because, he said, "Is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?" and the blood of Christ speaks of the death of Christ.
The death of Christ had a significance which would correct their error. The Lord Jesus Christ inhabited the body of His flesh from the first. In the body prepared for Him He walked and served from the day of His birth to the day of His death, but the wine in the cup symbolized His death, not His life. When blood is in the body it is the life, as we are told in the Old Testament (Lev. 17:11), but when apart from the body, it is the evidence of death. And in the Lord's supper the cup of blessing told of the death of Christ; and what did the death of Christ mean? It meant that there was this great gulf fixed between the world and Christ. In connection with his death the world in combination rose against the Lord Jesus Christ, and Jew and Gentile in an unrighteous alliance put to death the Lord of glory. It was outwardly the triumph of unholiness and wickedness, but the Lord Jesus, Who was crucified in weakness, was raised in glory.
The cup of blessing sets forth the blood of Christ, which not only made atonement for sin, but is evidence of the guilt of the religious and idolatrous world in crucifying the Lord. How completely the death of Christ cuts us off from the world! And it is not for me, nor you, any more than it was for the Corinthians, to seek to undo what Christ has accomplished by His death. There must be purity and holiness in those that share that cup of blessing, and particularly in the way of their collective association. Oh, let us lay hold of this fact that, in the tenth of Corinthians, the saints of God are not looked at individually; here they are looked at as a whole, as an organization bound together in spiritual unity by the power of the Spirit of God; and as such they are to maintain pure and holy associations only.
The One Loaf Broken
"The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? Now Paul is speaking of the body of Christ in which our sins were borne on the cross, but in the seventeenth verse, he passes to the new scriptural signification of the term "body", that is, the body of which the Lord Jesus Christ is the Head — "We being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread." Each believer has his personal interest in that loaf. When the loaf is undivided, it is the symbol of Christ's body for which He died — that new corporation formed in consequence of His death.
Adam fell into a deep sleep, and God built from a rib out of his side a woman, whom He presented to Adam as a helpmeet for him. And in like manner the helpmeet for Christ was formed after His death; the church did not spring out of the living body. There was no union with Christ in incarnation, but through His death this new body was formed. And we all are partakers of that one loaf, we each have our share there. We all taken together form one body, while each one is a part of the whole.
The Danger of Degrading the Supper
In the next chapter the apostle brings before the saints of God the true character of the Lord's supper; it is a sacred memorial of the Lord Himself. It may help us if we remember what the error was into which the Corinthians had fallen in their actual observance of the Lord's supper. It is corrected in these verses, and it is an error into which every one of us during the observance is liable to fall. At Corinth, many had degraded the Lord's supper to the level of a common meal. They regarded it very much in the same light as they did their ordinary practice of taking food together as a company. The solemn significance of what they were doing passed from their minds. They mechanically ate the bread, they mechanically drank the wine, as in their ordinary fashion.
No wonder the apostle declared, "This is not to eat the Lord's supper." Why? Because they had left the Lord out of their thoughts; they had not before their minds the adorable Person of the One Who died. They looked upon the memorials as common bread and common wine, as articles of food. And in a literal sense it was but common bread and common wine. There was no material change in the bread or the wine, yet there was a real presence in their company, the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ made those elements, the bread and the wine, significant of the most tremendous event in the world's history — the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, God's own Son.
Received from the Lord in Glory
But the saints in Corinth had forgotten all this, as we too are in danger of doing. Accordingly, the apostle recounts simply the facts concerning the institution of the Lord's supper, recalling its solemn significance.
And we gather from what the apostle says in this connection the immense importance to the church of this Supper and its observance. This may be learned from the fact that the apostle Paul, who was not present at its institution, did not receive the account of it from the other apostles, but direct from the Lord Himself in glory. He was the latest of the apostles, as it were, born out of due time; he did not see Christ after the flesh, but he saw the Lord from above (1 Cor. 15:8). And the Lord Himself gave him the details of his special apostleship; the mystery of the church was communicated to him by personal revelation.
Here we have the fact that the things that the other apostles witnessed in the upper room in Jerusalem, the apostle Paul received from the lips of the Lord in glory, showing us that the Lord in glory and the Lord in the upper room are the same Lord. He is the One Who died, and He is risen again, and what He said to those who were present with Him that night, "This do in remembrance of Me", He said again from the glory of God to this apostle. Now Paul was the apostle of the Gentiles, and it was perhaps for that very reason that the Lord spoke especially to him. Otherwise some might have said, "That supper was given to eleven Jews and it is for Jews and does not apply to us." But the apostle of the Gentiles was instructed by the Lord Himself about the institution of this supper, so that we, Gentiles, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, cannot escape from our responsibility in connection with the Lord's supper.
If we are His, His word comes to us to be obeyed. If we have any interest in His death, we must have an interest in the commemoration of that death in this world in the appointed way. And I do beseech you, my readers, to consider what is your relationship to Him in this matter. It is not a question of merely participating in some ceremonial observance when it suits you. The great fact which ought to appeal to you is this, that the Lord personally is interested in receiving this tribute of the hearts' affections of those that are His upon the earth; and it is His will that they should as often as possible be entwined about Himself afresh, as it were, in connection with the bread and wine partaken of as a memorial of Himself in His death.
The Lord's supper is not something surrounded by complicated and forbidding restrictions, in which we may only take part very rarely, as if it were an observance so solemn, so awe-inspiring, that we must not make it too common by becoming too familiar with it. There is nothing in the scriptures which supports such a view at all. The homely manner in which it was instituted shows us that the Lord graciously comes, down to where we are in our everyday circumstances, and He says to us as He said to them of old, "This do in remembrance of Me."
But a man may seek to excuse his non-attendance by saying, "I can stay at home and I can remember the Lord there; I can read my Bible, this chapter and others, and I can remember Him just as well privately as in the assembly." But the Lord said to His disciples collectively, not individually, "This do in remembrance of Me." Therefore, the Lord's will is only done when believers come together as members of the body of Christ; it must be done not in private but in communion with one another. It is a holy communion most certainly, for the Lord is present and the Holy Spirit is present when the saints of God are gathered together in assembly. No single person in his chamber, or walking along the streets or in the fields and woods, can remember the Lord in the sense our Lord desired it and ordained it.
Eating Without Understanding
"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." The occasion was most solemn. It was the hour of man and of the power of darkness. Do we not remember that Judas on that night of betrayal took the sop from the Lord? Then the Lord said to him, "That thou doest, do quickly", and the man rose up and went out; and it was night — the night of betrayal. Judas was going out to betray the Lord Who knew all that was in his heart, though he did not realise that the Lord knew all about it. He betrayed the Lord, because he did not realise Whom he was betraying. He did not realise that it was the Son of God Who handed him that sop. Then Satan entered into him, and he went out on his errand. He was not present at the Lord's supper, but the fact of his awful betrayal is mentioned here, bringing before us the affecting circumstance that a man, who had companied with the Lord and had seen so much of His doings, could have the heart to sell his Master for thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave.
But the fact is true, and the historical incident of the betrayal is named by the apostle in connection with his rebuke of the levity of the Corinthians. It showed that there was a man in the upper room that night who took a morsel during the passover supper from our blessed Lord in fulfilment of scripture, yet did not understand the nature of what he was doing nor the evil of the heart that conceived it. It is a solemn reminder that there is something within me and you, when we are at the Lord's supper, which is capable even of betraying our Lord. Do you believe it? I do. It is there. The Lord knows it is there. If we know that it is there, if we recognize it, if, at the same time, we recognize that the One Who is present to receive the remembrance of our heart, knew it when He invited us there, and moreover, that He died for us condemning sin in the flesh because it was so evil and nothing could improve it — then all is well, for the truth is in us. But if we deceive ourselves as to the real character of the "old man" and fail to perceive the beauty and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is present, the Lord's supper will become of no value to us. To partake heedlessly of this solemn memorial is to rob our souls of the inimitable fragrance of His presence, and to expose ourselves to the rod of His displeasure because of our thoughtlessness at such a time.
Simple but Solemn
There is no more blessed occupation on the face of the earth for the children of God than the remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ in His death; the oftener we do it, the sweeter it becomes to those who understand its significance, while if we forget, we do so at our peril spiritually. None can with impunity trifle with the remembrance of the Lord in His death. When we really think Who He is, and that He should suffer, and should die, and that we are remembering that great event, what a spirit of solemnity becomes us! How is it that we are sometimes so trivial during the few moments that we are together and think so little of the solemn act that we are remembering?
The apostle states the circumstances of the institution of the supper very concisely, and very definitely: "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." The Lord first took the bread; this was to be for a symbol: He was holding the bread in His hand. He said, "This is My body." What the Lord held was not really His own body; the loaf was not something to be worshipped and adored, then or afterwards; but it was chosen to be the emblem of His body, the thing for our sight and our lips. But if our hearts are not right at the supper, there will be no fulfilment of the Lord's word in our looking upon the bread, nor in our partaking of it; we shall miss its memorial character.
The Lord said to them there, "This is My body, which is broken [or given] for you: this do in remembrance of Me. 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." Observe the repetition of the injunction, "This do in remembrance of Me", in connection with the cup as well as the loaf. The Lord Himself is speaking, consequently He seeks the remembrance of Himself — "of Me." It is of the utmost importance to remember that the Lord Jesus Christ is the central figure of this institution. He is there! It is He that makes the supper a reality by His presence; it is He that gives value and worth to our memorial service.
The Memorial of Himself
The Lord Jesus Christ is not now an object of sight. His presence is to us a matter of faith, but we are apt to forget this at times. And when we come together for the remembrance of the Lord Jesus we are liable to allow objects of sight and hearing to come between us and the fact that we are remembering the Lord Jesus Himself, and that His known presence should engage every heart. This subtle danger has to be watched against. We have to be careful lest our thoughts wander from Him. We know how treacherous our hearts are. Some persons, I suppose, may have more difficult minds to manage than others; some people's minds move very rapidly and are easily influenced by outward events — by whatever happens inside the door or even outside it. All these things Satan can use to rob us of some, if not of all, the few moments we are together for the remembrance of the Lord Jesus. The object of Satan is to interpose something between our hearts and the Lord Jesus Christ which will cause us to forget Him. If he can make me forget Him for twenty per cent. of the time, he has gained the victory so far, and I have been so far defeated.
Every remembrance of our Lord Jesus brings responsibility of this nature. The object of Satan is to take from our Lord, for as great a period as possible, the engagement of my heart and my affections with Himself. He may accomplish this purpose in this way. He may introduce obstacles which in my lethargy I fail to surmount, so that I am ten minutes, a quarter of an hour, or twenty minutes late; instead of being present before or at the appointed time, I arrive ten minutes after it. The Lord has lost ten minutes of my heart's service, and I have lost what I can never regain. Should we be late if the king of this country had promised to be here at a definite hour? Who would slight His gracious Majesty by being absent when he came? And the Lord Jesus Christ is faithful to what He promised, "Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst." Let us always be present when the appointed hour comes.
The Real Presence
Beloved friends, do not let Satan get any victory over us in this matter of punctual attendance. The Lord is there at His supper, and the object of this ceremony is His remembrance. We remember the Lord Jesus as the One Who died; He is present with us as the living Lord of glory, and this is the "real presence" in connection with the supper of the Lord about which we hear a great deal sometimes. The phrase is often misunderstood and misconstrued. The "real presence" is the living presence of Christ in this way, as He promised to be in the midst of His own company. He is there as the One Who is glorified at God's right hand; and He is there to lead our hearts back to remember Him when He was betrayed and crucified.
And what better guide than Himself could we have? Who knows the sorrows of Gethsemane like that One Who sweat as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground? We dare not think about such solemn scenes unless the Lord lead our hearts, direct our memories, and control our imaginations. But He will do this if we are depending upon Him; He will lead us into a true and worthy remembrance of Him, when they put a crown of thorns upon His head, when they spit upon His blessed face, when they mocked Him and bowed the knee before Him, and when He bore our sins in His own body on the tree. Who can awaken within us holy and true thoughts concerning Him like the Lord Himself? There is no one else. But it is a real feature of this Supper that the Lord is alive, and that it is He Who shows us His hands and His side, silent but eloquent witnesses of His death, so that we bow before Him and say, "My Lord and my God." He wrings the worship out of our hearts by His compelling presence and His power, and the well of water within us bubbles up unto everlasting life.
Until His Coming
Paul says, "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come"; and so the Lord's supper is made a great link between two outstanding events in the chain of divine history. The central event in God's history of the world is the death of Christ upon the cross. The Old Testament looked forward to it. He Who should come as its Saviour would die. The next great event is the Lord's second coming. And the observance of the Lord's supper connects the two comings, standing between the past event and the future event. Therefore we are to show or announce the Lord's death until He comes. This passage is an answer to those persons who seek to minimise the importance of the act, and say, "Of course, the Lord's supper was a right and proper thing for Christians to observe in the early days, because so many of them actually saw the Lord. There were many in Jerusalem and throughout Judea and Galilee who had heard His words and had witnessed His miracles. The Lord and His work were fresh in their memories, and therefore it was natural for them to keep this feast in the first century, but now the Lord's death is to us long ago; it is an event long past; we do not need to keep the Lord's supper now; we have got beyond the range of this early ceremony." But the answer in a few words is in this sentence; we are to proclaim "the Lord's death till He come." The Lord has not yet come, so those who neglect the supper are without legitimate excuse.
Neglecting the Supper
I hope no believer present is searching for a legitimate excuse not to remember the Lord in His death at all, or to remember Him only once a quarter, or once a year. The Lord does not lay upon us any rigid commandment, enforcing obedience under the penalty of losing our eternal life. He does not even tell us that we are to do it every week. We are shown in the word of God that the early disciples broke bread at Troas every week, while earlier still, in Jerusalem after Pentecost they did so every day, while they were specially together there. What are we to gather from the absence of any prescribed interval, and from the record of actual practice? That we are to show the Lord's death as often as we can. If we stay away when we might be present, there is One Whom we ought to satisfy that there is a real, a reasonable excuse for our absence.
The Lord knows when any are unavoidably prevented from being present. And He knows those who deny themselves comforts and conveniences in order to attend the breaking of bread. Why are they so anxious to go? Because of what the Lord said on the night of His betrayal; because obedience is good to their souls; because they want to bless the Lord in the cup of blessing; because they cannot forget His precious word, "This do in remembrance of Me." They so love the Lord that they say, "As long as we can crawl we'll go. Everything else must be given up, so that we may be faithful to Him in showing forth His death." And in this manner the Lord's supper ought to appeal to us all,
When the Lord comes, and receives us to Himself, we shall not then need bread and wine as memorials of Him. We shall see Him before us in His glory. His majesty will overpower us perhaps, as it did John in Patmos. We shall have glorified bodies that the sight may not altogether overpower us, but I think we may be dazzled when we first look upon our Lord. He will be so wonderful in our eyes. We shall remember that He is the same One as He Who died. When we see the glories thick upon the Lamb, we shall remember He is the Lamb Who was slain. The experience will not be by faith, as it is now; it will be by sight. Then we shall not need the aid of a commemoration supper.
But even then it will be a season of fellowship, for in that place of glory our adorable Lord will Himself come forth and serve us, and give us to taste of the cup of His own joys. The cup of blessing that we shall share in that bright place above will be our share in the glory of Christ, which He will grant us in the day of His coming kingdom. But now, while our Lord is rejected, and while the world says, "We do not care for Jesus the crucified; He is nothing to us; we hate Him; we despise Him," there are a few on earth who say, "We love Him; we adore Him; and we eat the bread and we drink the cup in continual remembrance of His death." And by eating the Lord's supper, the church proclaims to the world that the Lord Jesus died.
The doors should not be shut "for fear of the Jews", but open so that the world can come in and observe what takes place. If any ask what it means, the answer is that these men and these women are celebrating the death of the Lord of glory. The world crucified Him, but God has exalted Him; and the supper of the Lord is a witness in this present evil age to this fact.
In the latter verses of our chapter we have the apostle correcting the absence of that simplicity and reality which should characterise attendance at the Lord's supper. Some at Corinth appear to have been partaking of the bread and the cup of the Lord unworthily.
Paul had already said that they were not to treat it as their own supper (11:21). If a man were sitting at his own table, he might sit how he pleases. He might sit in his shirt-sleeves if he wished. In the privacy of his own family his behaviour might not matter. But if he had a number of people there, or if he were summoned to a royal banquet, he would be very careful of his appearance and manners. The difference would arise because of the character of the meal of which he partook and that of the persons who were present. Now at Corinth the saints had treated the Lord's supper with levity, behaving as if it were their own supper. They had confounded it with the love-feast of the day, that is, in our modern tongue, the tea meeting or conference meal, when the saints of God come together out of common interest in the things of Christ. The latter occasion is right and proper, but to mix it up with the Lord's supper is altogether an error and destructive of the purpose of gathering together.
The consequence at Corinth of forgetting the Lord's presence was that they went to the Lord's supper with their hearts and their consciences unjudged. By that I mean that the light of God was not allowed to shine upon what their hearts were naturally. They were looking at things from their own point of view, and social distinctions and personal prejudices were allowed to prevail among those present. Fleshly appetites were indulged, and they degraded the Lord's supper to the level of a common meal. The apostle writes, "When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper."
We see therefore the contrast drawn in the tenth chapter between the supper of the Lord and an idol supper, and in the eleventh chapter between the Lord's supper and a man's own supper. We are certainly all in danger of falling into this latter error of making it our own supper. If we make it our own supper, we consider first our own inclinations, and study our own convenience. There are, alas, too many persons who seem to think that they can come to the Lord's supper just how and when they like. They rise very late on the Lord's day, and after a hurried breakfast arrive five minutes or more late. Possibly there may be a legitimate excuse on some special occasion, but if lateness is a habit, what does the practice show? It shows that such a person regards the Lord's supper from an human standpoint altogether, and sets aside its claims in favour of his own ease and self-indulgence. It shows a deadened conscience toward God too, for he would not allow himself the same liberty in the matter of his secular employment. He forgets that the Lord is there; he ignores the sanctity of His presence; he does not judge himself and his ways. The consequence of. such laxity is that those who, forgetting the Lord's presence, eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord, do so unworthily.
Be pleased to mark this word of the apostle very carefully, "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." He condemns the way in which the supper was observed. Some persons have misunderstood this text, and have needlessly stayed away from the Lord's supper for years. They say, "I am not worthy to go; it says in the Bible I ought not to go." But they have not read the passage very carefully, because the verse does not speak about unworthy persons eating, but about the unworthy way in which some persons ate.
Where is the man or woman who is worthy to be at the Lord's table? None have a right to be there; we have no suitable qualifications in ourselves to be there; and we go only because the Lord has bidden us to go. He knows what we are, far better than we do ourselves; and yet He has invited us to "do this in remembrance" of Him. The Lord says that we can go, but we must do so with propriety; we must remember in Whose presence we are; we must remember how to behave ourselves in the church of the living God. Because what are we doing when we "do this"? We are ostensibly remembering that the body of Christ was given for us, that the blood of Christ was shed for us; and can we think lightly about such holy matters as these? The body of Christ which was riven with the cruel spear, the blood of Christ which flowed from His side, can we treat these solemn subjects with levity? The apostle declares that the person who eats unworthily is guilty in respect of the body and blood of the Lord.
The verse is very solemn. Will you therefore say, "I am afraid to go; I cannot trust myself to go lest I eat unworthily? Sometimes it is such a long time before anybody speaks or says anything, and my thoughts wander. I think of many things — of what happened last week, what is likely to happen tomorrow, about somebody who is there and somebody who is not there, and about all sorts of things. It is only when somebody gives out a hymn or speaks that my thoughts are recalled."
Well, why is it your attention is so divided and distracted? It is because your eyes of faith are not looking upon the Lord; you are not thinking of Him. If you were thinking of Him you would not be thinking of somebody or something else. If you find yourselves guilty of so doing, say to the Lord there, and then, "Pardon me, O Lord, for doing this; fill my heart; draw my wandering thoughts to Thee." Never mind about somebody else taking an audible part; you must not depend upon somebody else; you are there to remember the Lord. You are with others; this is blessedly true, but your individuality is not lost. Let your own thoughts be upon Him. Let some scripture, perhaps, come to your mind, and think about that. Feel that the Lord is speaking to you in His own living, written words, and this consciousness will fill your heart with a wonderful sweetness. Do you not think that you can keep your mind occupied with Him for sixty minutes or so? Are there those that sleep at the Lord's table like those that slept in the garden of Gethsemane? Oh, shame that it should be so. You are to that extent guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, and you have no excuse. Think of Him. "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation."
The apostle shows how to avoid this sin of partaking unworthily. He says, "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup." This does not mean that when I am sitting at the Lord's table I am to look into my own heart, which would be a poor, wretched occupation. I can do that at home. A person ought to examine or prove himself. It means judging himself as to what he has done and what he is capable of doing. We may be so self-satisfied as to forget how liable we are to err, apart from God's grace. Then, in our self-complacency, we may come to the Lord's supper forgetting that during that short while it is possible to dishonour the Lord, to rob ourselves, to be guilty with regard to the body and blood of the Lord. But if, in the privacy of our own chamber at home, we reflect that without the Lord's grace and power and the exercise of His priestly ministry on our behalf in the sanctuary we shall not be able to worship Him as we ought, we shall then be examining or proving ourselves as the apostle enjoins. We thus remind ourselves that in us, that is, in our flesh, dwells no good thing.
"Let a man examine himself", and not stay away, but come and eat of this bread and drink of this cup. There is no excuse permissible according to scripture for a person absenting himself from the Lord's table. Though in himself he is unworthy, he is, unless under assembly discipline, invited to come. If he comes confessing his dependence upon the Lord even that he may remember Him properly in His death, if he is honest enough with himself to get down upon his knees and say, "Oh, Lord, Thou knowest how foolish and ignorant a person I am, and although I have known Thy love so many years and although I have learned much in those years about Thy sufferings and death, I am apt to fail even when eating Thy supper: I dare not trust my own heart, lest when I am present with all Thy saints, I may by my frailty or my folly hinder the working of Thy Spirit. Lord, concentrate my heart upon Thee, shut out everything that is unworthy, enable me to remember Thee as Thou wouldst have it" — do you think the Lord will not take care of one who takes this lowly place before Him?
Trusting the Lord, Distrusting Self
Do not rush into the presence of the Lord at His table as if you were hurrying to catch a train; you are going into the most holy place. Go there circumspectly, having judged yourself before the Lord, having filled your heart with the sense of His great sacrifice, of His dying love for you, of His abiding love that desires the remembrance of such a foolish heart as you may have. Go in such a spirit, and you will find what a difference it makes to your enjoyment of the meeting. Do not be occupied with the fact that so-and-so is not there, and that somebody else is there whom you wish was not present. All such untimely thoughts are of Satan. The great enemy is the spoiler of the meetings for the remembrance of the Lord Jesus. You must not forget that Satan is a foe and never a friend, and that you cannot trust him. He may even come and sit by your side as an angel of light sometimes, and talk what seems heavenly language to you. But you ought not to be ignorant of his devices, and you may be sure it is the deceiver if he shuts out the Lord from your spirit. Have nothing at any time to do with Satan, but at all times have everything to do with the Lord Jesus Christ.
May God give us to have yet sweeter and more precious communion with the Lord and with His saints at His table. There is no place on earth like it, not only because the Lord Jesus Christ is there, but the saints are there in the character of the assembly of God and the church of Christ. There may be only a few in number, but the Lord has guaranteed His presence to two or three gathered to His name, and He works amongst these two or three in a way which is unique. There is nothing comparable to it on the earth. It is just a little foretaste of that great assembly of which we have a picture in Revelation 5, when every heart in unison with the mighty throng will swell with praise and adoration to Him in the midst, Who redeemed them with His precious blood. We shall all be there, every one of us; we shall not then be latecomers; we shall be fully prepared for that holy service; we shall not take part in that worship-meeting unworthily; but all and each will be to the glory and praise of the Lord.
Now the Lord's supper provides us with oases in the desert; it gives us, even when we are passing through the wilderness, foretastes of that grand and glorious time. And it is incumbent upon all of us to see to it that we do not miss any of the joys that may be ours in the breaking of bread.