Preparation For The Lord’s Supper
“ Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup.”
1 Corinthians 11:28
“Let a man examine himself.” The word is forcible. Let him make inquisition into his own soul as to whether all isright or not. Let him search diligently, tracing out every symptom that looks unfavorable, if, perhaps, that symptom may reveal the truth. Let him dwell upon every dark side or ill-looking spot, if, perhaps, those dark signs should mean more than is apparent on the surface. We are not to trifle with ourselves by making a superficial survey. Let a man examine himself as does the dealer in precious metals when he thrusts the ore into the fire, knowing that only the gold will come out, while the dross will be consumed. Put yourself into a crucible! Heat the furnace of examination seven times hotter than before, for since your heart will, if possible, escape from knowing the truth, be resolved that it shall know it, and the worst of it, too! Let a man review, test, prove, search, try! In all the strongest words that I could find that mean the fullest scrutiny, would I put the language of the Apostle, “Let a man examine himself.”
“Let a man examine himself.” He need not be so particular to examine those that surround him. If there should beunworthy communicants at the Table, his communing will not thereby be damaged. Though some may have intruded where they ought not to be, yet if your heart and mind shall come near to Christ in actual fellowship, we shall not have the less indulgence from our Lord because a Judas happened to be there. “Let a man examine himself.” Let it be personal work. I know there is an examination through which the Church member among us passes, when such as are experienced in the faith ask, “What do you know of these things? What is your faith touching this and that? Have you believed? Have you repented?” Such an examination, however, must never content you. I pray you never feel that it is any certificate of genuine discipleship to have been seen by the Elders, or to have had the pastor satisfied of your conversion. We are poor, fallible creatures–we cannot profess to search the heart–no, we never did profess it! It is but your outward life and your profession that we are called upon to judge at all. You must not go by our examination, but, “Let a man examine himself.” You are to look into your own heart, with your own eyes and ask to have them enlightened by the Holy Spirit! You are to hold the balance, yourselves, and weigh your soul therein. You are not to be satisfied with a second-hand judgment, or with another man’s search! Take the candle yourself, Man! Go through every corner and every crevice. Sweep out the old leaven and so keep the feast in simplicity of heart. “Let a man examine himself.”
“ And so. It is tocome always at the time of the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine. It should always be the prelude to communion. Examination should preface enjoyment. You should see whether you ought to be there and have a right to be there and, that ascertained, then you should come–but not till then! Is it not a very significant circumstance that the examination going on–and they then made an appeal to the Lord, Himself, at the conclusion, for each one said, when the question was asked as to who it was that would betray Him, "Lord, is it I?” “Lord, is it I?”–not at all an unsuitable question to be passed round tonight, when we shall break bread, and hear it said, “One of you will betray Me.” Ah, Brothers and Sisters, I fear there are many more than one here among professors who will betray Him! Perhaps there are scores, if not hundreds, among so large a mass of professing Christians who will not prove, after all, to be genuine! Then let the question, though it stirs the anguish of your souls, pass round among you, “Lord, is it I?” “Lord, is it I?” Nor let any man eat of this bread, or drink of this cup till he has humbly in his soul sought to put it to his conscience, that he may investigate this matter whether he is Christ’s or not!
Now, dear Brothers and Sisters, for a few minutes we shall look at the matter about which we are to examine ourselves. . May God grant us a blessing in this searching business!
- CONCERNING WHAT WE ARE TO EXAMINE.
You will observe that the text does not tell us, “Let a man examine himself as to this or that particular, and so let him eat.” He is to examine himself, but the Apostle does not say about what. The inference is that he is to examine himself about this Supper. He is to examine himself as to whether he has a right to eat of this bread and to drink of this wine. The Supper gives us the clue, then, as to what we are to examine ourselves upon. I shall see before me, presently, broken bread and the wine cup filled with the red wine. These two things are the emblems–the bread of the body of Christ, which was bruised and made to suffer for our sake–the wine of that precious blood of Christ by which sin is pardoned and souls are redeemed.
I have no right to touch these emblems unless in my soul I believe the facts that they represent. Shall I not begin toquestion myself, then? Do I accept, as a certain fact that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us? Do I believe thatGod descended from the highest Throne of Glory and became a Man born of woman? Do I believe that He suffered in human flesh, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God? Do I believe that in His blood, which was “shed for many,” there is a virtue for the putting away of sin and making Atonement to Almighty God, and that so sinners may be accepted in the Beloved? Unless I believe these things, I am clearly a hypocrite, a terrible hypocrite, if I dare to come to this Table at all! I am perverse among the perverse to thrust myself in to touch the emblems when I do not accept the facts which those emblems set forth! Now, every man here can easily examine himself by that test, but I hope the most of us here would say, “We do believe those facts.” Yes, but do you believe them as facts that are forcible in themselves and fraught with consequences? Do you apprehend them in their amazing weight and their stupendous bearing upon the judgment of God and the destiny of men? God made flesh–God Incarnate–Jesus, Immanuel, suffering to put away the sins of His people–The Christ of God presenting salvation to every soul that trusts in Him! Why, this is news such as never stirred even Paradise, itself, before! It is the best, highest and most wondrous news that angels ever heard! We ought to so hear and accept these facts in that same spirit that characterized them when they transpired, in order to duly discern their importance, or we have no right to come here!
Furthermore, Brothers and Sisters. Every man who eats of the bread and drinks of the wine sets forth in emblem by the eating of the bread that the flesh of Christ is his, and by the drinking of the wine that the blood of Christ is his. Because he has possession of these things, he, therefore, comes to eat as men eat their own bread, or to drink as men drink their own wine. Now, dear Hearer, the question asked of you is this–Have you an interest in the body and the blood of Christ? “How can I know my interest therein?” asks one. You may know it thus–Do you fully and alone rely upon Jesus Christ for your salvation? Do you implicitly trust the merits of His agonies? Do you, without any other confidence, cast yourself fully upon the great atoning Sacrifice and transactions of Calvary? If so, that faith gives you Christ! It is the evidence that Christ is yours–you need not be afraid to come and take the wine when you so manifestly have the thing that is signified thereby. You may come–you are invited to come–you cannot stay away without sin if Christ, indeed, is yours!
The question may assume another form. This Supper was instituted that we might remember Christ in it. A question,then, for each one–Can you remember Christ? Will coming here help you to remember Jesus Christ? If not, you must not come. How can you remember what you do not know? And how shall you remember at all aright, One in whom you have no part nor lot? To remember Christ as a mere person in history is of no more use than to remember Julius Cesar, or Napoleon Bonaparte! To remember Christ, who loved you and gave Himself for you–this is the choice remembrance that will be beneficial to your spirits. Beloved, I am quite certain that sometimes in what is called, “the Sacrament,” there is little or no recollection of Christ. Men and women come to it with no idea of remembering Him. They think that there is something in the thing, itself–some holiness in eating the bread and drinking the wine–some Grace bestowed by the priestly hands that administer the emblems of the Passion. But oh, it is not so! This is not to receive the Lord’s Supper–this is but Popish idolatry! This is not the true worship of the child of God! You come to the Table to remember Him! And only as far as those signs help you to remember Him–to trust Him, to love Him–only so far do they become a means of Grace to you! There is no latent moral virtue in material substances! No regeneration lurks in water! No confirmation in Grace streams from prelatic hands! There is no sanctity in lawn sleeves! There is no holiness in bread and nothing devout in wine! These are just outward and visible signs. The holiness, the sanctity, the Grace must lie in your own hearts as you lovingly receive these symbols and draw near with true spirits to the Lord who bought you with His blood! Ask yourselves, then–do you remember Him? Would these things help you to remember Him? If not, you have no business here.
It may be that some child of God here tonight is not fit to come to the Table. You may be startled, perhaps, at that remark, but I venture to suppose such a thing possible! And if it should happen to turn out to be the case, I pray that Brother or Sister to take the admonition home! Is there any Brother whom you have offended, whose forgiveness you have not sought, or is there anyone who has offended you, to whom you have not rendered forgiveness? I think that what our Lord said about coming to the altar and leaving the gift before the altar until first we have been reconciled to our brother–though this is no altar at all–may be with all righteousness supposed concerning this Table! How can you expect fellowship with Christ with an unforgiving heart? How can you love God, whom you have not seen, if you do not love your brother, whom you have seen? If it is so hard for you to forgive, how hard will it be for you to be forgiven? Anunforgiving spirit shuts you out of Heaven. Why, Man, you cannot even perform the lowliest act–you cannot pray! You, cannot say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And if you cannot pray, much less can you commune! Oh, see to that, and let each man and woman examine themselves upon that!
In pressing this subject upon you, may I be permitted to say, very earnestly, that the right way to examine ourselves before coming to this Table is by the rule which is laid down in Scripture. Examine yourselves by the tests and proofs ofthe Spirit which are spoken of in God’s Word. Just as you would examine another, impartially–
Nor anything set down in malice–
so must you examine yourselves. Alas, we have one rule for others and another rule for ourselves! How mistakenly quicksighted are we to discover the imperfections and infirmities of others of God’s people, while our own glaring sins scarcely give our conscience a twinge! We go about with great beams in our eyes, all the while wondering why our Brothers and Sisters cannot see the mote that is in theirs! Judge yourselves! Judge yourselves and let the severity of your judgment upon your fellow Christians be now turned upon yourselves! It will be much more to your profit and much more according to the rules of Christian charity. God grant we may, none of us, be afraid of the strictest rules of Scripture in their sternest form. Alas, Brothers and Sisters, we often stop short in our self-examinations just when they might be of use to us, like the patient who tears off the plaster just when it begins to work, or ceases to receive the medicine precisely when it has reached a point in which it would be useful! Press home, press home, the grave questions and anxieties that lurk within you! Never be afraid to be probed to the quick and to be cut to the core. Make no provision for self-deception! Ask the Lord to lay bare your hearts, right bare, before His Omniscient eyes. And as you are thus examining, do not flinch, do not mince matters, do not trifle, do not be partial, but judge yourselves truly and thoroughly, lest, after all, you should be mistaken! And lest, after coming to this Table, you should be banished from the Marriage Supper of the Lamb!
Thus much upon the points which are in debate–about which we are to examine our fitness to come to this Table. Allow me now, as best I can–
II. TO PRESS THIS VERY IMPORTANT SUBJECT UPON YOU, WITH SOME REASONS WHY THERE SHOULD BE SUCH A SELF-EXAMINATION.
I might say, Brothers and Sisters, that such an examination should be used because self-knowledge is always valuable.The old Greeks, whose wonderful sayings often verged upon Inspiration, used to say, “Man, know yourself!” It is ill for a man to be acquainted with foreign countries and to know nothing of his own–to understand other men’s farms and to let his own run to waste–to be conversant with other men’s health and to be dying of a secret disease! To study other men’s characters, but to allow his own character to be obnoxious in the sight of God. Know yourselves! Nothing will pay you better than to search your own hearts and to know yourselves. Of all stock-taking, this is one of the most beneficial. It will often be the death of pride when a man finds out what he really is. Self-righteousness will fly before such a searching, as owls fly before the rising sun! Know yourself and you are on the road to knowing Christ, for the knowledge of self will humble you, will make you feel your need of Jesus and may, in the hands of God the Holy Spirit, lead you to the finding of the Savior! Oh, Men and Women, how is it that you have so many acquaintances, such a large circle of friends and yet do not make acquaintance with yourselves? While you will read much of literature, you read not your own hearts! You commune with others, yet you commune not with yourselves and do not know yourselves. I pray you examine yourselves, if for no other reason than because such lore is among the most precious that a man can gain!
Examine yourselves, again, you professed Christians, because it is a marvelously easy thing for us to be deceived andto continue to be deceived. Of course, every man likes to be flattered. Whether he believes it is so or not, this is a universal truth, and any man–I care not who he may be–is very easily to be persuaded that all is right with him. Satan, too, will help your natural tendencies, your partiality to yourselves. He only wishes to lull you to sleep and to rock you in the cradle of delusion. All things around a man conspire to help him to delude himself. The notion of Grace which is commonly entertained, the popularity of religion, the ease with which a man can join a church, the littleness of persecution in these days–all these things help to make it a very easy passage by which a man may glide along, until even when he dies he may still believe that he is on the road to Heaven, while all the while he has been going post-haste to Hell! Oh, since it is so easy to be deceived, and it is your soul that is in jeopardy, I beseech you examine yourselves!
Besides, my dear Friends, you know how some are deceived. Charge your memories a minute. Do you not know someamong your own acquaintance that are deceived? Ah, you readily remember them! But do you know that there were persons sitting in other parts of the Tabernacle who were thinking of you while you were thinking of them! You said of sucha one, “Ah, I have watched her at home. I know that noisy tongue of hers, she is no Christian.” And that very woman was just whispering to herself, “Ah, I know him. I have traded at his shop. I know those short weights of his–he is no Christian.” Ah, you do not want God to condemn you–if you were only allowed to speak, you would condemn yourselves! But if such is the case, that we so readily can find out that others are deceived, is not the question one that is worth the asking, “May we not be deceived, ourselves?” Oh, let it come home. May not the preacher be deceived? May not Elders and deacons, who have been in honor these many years, be, nevertheless, rotten at heart? May not members of this Church who have been at this Table from the very beginning, almost from their childhood have, after all, had but a superficial godliness that will not stand the fire, that shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is? Therefore, I beseech you, since many are deceived, examine yourselves and so come to this Table.
Further, remember that it is important for professing Christians to do this, beyond all others, because, perhaps, there is no greater bar to the reception of Grace in all this world than the belief that you have Grace already. It were amercy if some here present had never joined the Church. Sad that I should say it, but it is so. It were a mercy to themselves that they had never professed to be Christians, because now, if we preach repentance, they say, “I repented years ago.” If we talk of faith in the Savior, they say, “I have faith–I joined the Church and avowed my faith.” If we speak of Christian knowledge–they have Christian knowledge–though it is the knowledge that puffs up. They have the imitation of all the Graces and, as it is sometimes very difficult to know which is the real gem and which is the paste gem that imitates it, so these people live so much like Christians, in many respects, that it is hard even for themselves to discover that they are not rich and increased in goods, but are naked, and poor, and miserable! If I were out of Christ, I would wish to be out of the Church. If I had no faith in Him, would that I had no profession of Him! If there is any soul in any place that is least likely to be saved, it is an unregenerate soul inside the Church, participating in Christian ordinances and dead while it lives! Search yourselves, then on this account.
And let me add another solemn word. Search yourselves because within a short time, at the very longest, you will beupon the bed of death and there, if not before, there will be deep searching of heart. When the outward man decays and the flesh is melting away, you will need something more than profession to lean on. Sacraments, and going to places of worship will prove but poor things to bear you up in the midst of the billows of death! How must a man feel when he puts out on that dread sea with his lifebelt and finds it will not bear his weight! When he leaps into his lifeboat that he had hoped would bear him safely to the haven, and finds that every timber is strained and that it leaks–and he sinks into the flood. Oh, find out your mistakes while yet there is time to rectify them! I beseech you by the living God, whose face of fire you shall soon see, prepare yourselves for His judgment as well as for the judgment of your own conscience in the hour of death, for every man must be weighed in the balance! No mere pretender shall pass the gates of bliss. Destitute of faith, it matters not how bright your profession–you shall be banished from His Presence! If it is not Grace-work and heart-work, you may have eaten or drunk in His Presence and He may have taught in your streets, but He will never know you! If you have never confessed your sins in secret to the great High Priest. If you have never laid your hand upon that precious head that bore the sin of His elect. If you have never seen in solemn transfer your iniquities passed over to Him–and if your faith has never recognized that transaction and rejoiced in it–oh, beware, beware, beware, for in the last tremendous day your professions shall be but a painted pageantry for you to go to Hell in! Yes, worse than that, among the firewood of your burning that shall flash most furiously with devouring fire, will be the hollow sticks of your base profession, your bastard godliness, your counterfeit graces, your glitter that was not golden, your profession that was not based upon possession!
Oh, dear Brothers and Sisters, for these reasons let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of this bread.
But now, supposing this to be all done and we have come to this answer, “I am not in Christ. I am not a Christian. I have not believed”? Then, away, away, away from this Table! But where shall I send you? I will send you to the Cross. Though you may not come to the Table, you may come to Jesus!
But suppose your answer should be, “I am very unworthy and sinful, but still, I have believed in Jesus, though I yet see much in myself that is evil.” Dear Brothers and Sisters, that is not the question! Preparation for the Lord’s Supper does not lie in perfect sanctification, but in true faith in Jesus! If, then, you have made sure of this, have done with the examination–I mean for tonight–because after you have examined yourself, it does not then say, “Keep on,” but, “So let him eat,” and I do not like that examination to stick in the throat so that you cannot digest the dainty morsels of the Savior’s precious body. It is done! You have examined and you know Him! You have believed in Him and trusted that He is able to keep you. Now, then, take care that you eat! I mean not merely eat with the mouth and drink with the throat, but now take care to pray that you may have real fellowship with the Incarnate God, gratefully magnifying the Grace that has made you to differ and cheerfully accepting the precious Person who is the ground of your reliance, of the life of your soul!
God grant you now, having passed the door and shown your entrance ticket as true Christians, to sit and eat bread in the Kingdom of God!