Eating is Believing
by Josiah Audette
“Now in this that I declare, I praise you not, that ye come together, not with profit but with hurt. For first of all, when ye come together in the Church, I hear that there are dimensions among you: and I believe it to the true in some part. For there must be heresies even among you, that they which are approved among you, might be known. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For every man when they should d eat, taketh his own supper afore, and one is hungry, and another is drunken. Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? despise ye the Church of God, and shame them that have not? what shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. For I have received of the Lord that which I also have delivered unto you, to wit, That the Lord Jesus in the night when 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 ye 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 as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye shall eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye show the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Let every man therefore examine himself, and so let them eat of this bread, and drink of this cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh his own damnation, because he discerneth not the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak, and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, because we should not be condemned with the world. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye are come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man be hungry, let him eat at home, that ye come not together unto condemnation…” 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
TABLE OF MY GOD
It was 1553. An infamous Libertine named Barthelier was forbidden to eat the Lord’s Supper in a local church in Geneva. The pastor of the local congregation refusing Barthelier had stated emphatically, “I… took an oath that I had resolved to meet death than profane so shamefully the Holy Supper of the Lord… My ministry is abandoned if I suffer the authority of the Consistory to be trampled upon, and extend the Supper of Christ to open scoffers… I should rather die a hundred times than subject Christ to such could mockery.” Despite such a stern indictment, Barthelier and his compatriots attended this pastor’s church one Sabbath day, intent on eating the Lord’s Supper by means of violence. The pastor had finished his sermon and was preparing to give the Lord’s Table to his congregation when without warning their was a clamourous march pushing towards the communion table. The pastor recognized these armed assailants flouncing towards him as the Libertines led by Barthelier. The pastor fearlessly hurled himself in front of the table to protect the sacramental vessels from this sacrilege. With outstretched arms he rang out in a powerful cry, “These hands you may crush, these arms you may lop off, my life you may take, my blood is yours, you may shed it; but you shall never force me to give holy things to the profaned, and dishonor the table of my God.” Stunned in silence by this astounding display of holiness, the Libertines ceased their advance. One of the witnesses wrote of this encounter, “After this the sacred ordinance was celebrated with a profound silence, and under solemn awe in all present, as if the Deity Himself had been visible among them.” The pastor from this remarkable account was none other than John Calvin.
The New Testament sacrament of the Lord’s Supper instituted by the Lord Jesus in the night he was betrayed as a memorial to his death and return is a central and defining practice to the universal Church throughout all ages and likewise to our congregation. Maybe this unbelievable account of John Calvin might instil in us a newfound respect for this ordinance and help us as we consider it in today’s lecture.
“The Lord’s supper is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ, his death is showed forth; and they that worthily communicate feed upon his body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace; have their union and communion with him confirmed; testify and renew their thankfulness, and engagement to God, and their mutual love and fellowship each with other, as members of the same mystical body.” Westminster Larger Catechism
The Lords Supper is one of two sacraments of the New Testament next to baptism. As with both sacraments, it was ordained by the Lord Jesus. For only God alone can make a thing that is common to be holy. Christ ordained the Lord’s Supper on the night he was betrayed. Each sacrament of the New Testament is a metonym, where a name of the visible object is given to the thing signified. For instance, the bread is the body of Christ, the wine is the blood, the dove is the Holy Spirit, the burning bush is God, the rock in the desert from which the water flowed was Christ. So it is that the sacraments are a kind of metonym, an outward sign of God’s inward work. Calvin writes, “Since, however, this mystery of Christ’s secret union with the devout is by nature incomprehensible, he shows its figure and image in visible signs best adapted to our small capacity. Indeed by guarantees and tokens he makes it as certain for us as if we had seen in it with our own eyes. For this very familiar comparison penetrates into even the dullest minds: just as bread and wine sustain physical life, so are souls fed by Christ.” Particular to the Lord’s Supper as Calvin notes, is the outward signs of the giving and receiving the bread and wine and eating and drinking them in a solemn, holy manner. The bread simply signifies the broken body of the Lord Jesus, crucified on the cross of calvary. The wine symbolizes the blood of Christ shed upon the cross. Each action within the practice of the Lord’s supper is too symbolic in nature. In receiving the Lord’s Supper we signify our unconditional acceptance of Christ as offered to us in the Gospel. By eating what we have just received we signify the satisfaction and nourishment of our souls in Christ by faith. Jesus’ intent in instituting the Lord’s Supper for his bride, the Church, was too set a memorial of his death and ultimately his return. Each of the New Testament sacraments are thus covenantal and furthermore a continuation of the Old Testament sacraments of circumcision and the passover. The Lord’s Supper is a sign and seal of the new covenant of grace which God has made and fulfilled to us. Finally, as a sign of the covenant of grace, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is only to be both ministered and received worthily by the local Church, the whole local Church, and the universal Church. One theologian observed, “The Supper is no personal affair between the individual believer and Christ. It is the covenant meal, the congregational meal, par excellence… the Supper is the foundation and criterion for the unity of the church as the new people of God… baptism as entrance to and incorporation into the body and the supper as the unity of the body repeatedly received and manifested afresh in eating one bread.” In addition, contrary to heresies of the Lord’s Supper outside the protestant Church, the sacrament is not for our salvation, but rather our sanctification. There are two types of sacrifice in the Scriptures. The first is a sacrifice made for sin and the second a sacrifice of divine worship and thanksgiving. The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice of expiation, to atone for our guilt before God and appease his wrath. Or as Spurgeon said of the Lord’s Supper, “Remember religion does not begin with ordinances… It is not a converting ordinance, nor a saving ordinance; it is an establishing ordinance and a comforting ordinance for those who are saved.” Rather, it is a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Calvin wrote, “The Lord’s supper cannot be without a sacrifice of this kind, in which, while we proclaim his death and give thanks, we do nothing but offer a sacrifice of praise.” This is why it is called the Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving” or “grateful.”
THE MANNER OF GRAMMAR
This short summary of the doctrine and practice of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper would be rather easily received by the layman in today’s Church. However what obstacle remains to the layman is how he or she is to receive this covenantal sign lest they partake, “unworthily.” Albert Barnes recognized this spiritual quandary the layman wrestles with. “Unworthily – Perhaps there is no expression in the Bible that has given more trouble to weak and feeble Christians than this.” Says Barnes, “It is certain that there is no one that has operated to deter so many from the communion; or that is so often made use of as an excuse for not making a profession of religion. The excuse is, ‘I am unworthy to partake of this holy ordinance. I shall only expose myself to condemnation. I must therefore wait until I become more worthy, and better prepared to celebrate it.’ It is important, therefore, that there should be a correct understanding of this passage.” I concur very much with Barnes having myself struggled with such doubt and uneasiness in myself. There are antinomians, arminians, and legalists today who at each moment of the Lord’s Supper foist unbearable and unmeetable standards upon their congregations. They withhold their congregation from receiving the nourishment of the table on uncertain and unscriptural grounds. God’s poor layman is racked with an ill conscience and hindered from presenting himself at the Lord’s holy table. God’s table, the Eucharist, meant as a time of victory, and a sacrifice of thanksgiving to Christ is turned into a slough of sorrow. The laymen is told that if he is not living in holiness, if he is not at peace with the brethren, if he is living in known sin, or if he has secret sin that he is then unworthy and thus eats and drinks judgment to himself. It is sadly a common thing in modern churches that the communion service sermon turns more into a stern warning against taking communion than a victorious invitation to receive it. Laymen are more encouraged to abstain then they are to partake. Some tables are closed so as to keep the sacraments from hands not yet determined “worthy” by the Church authorities. The standards dictated by the ministers to their congregation for being “worthy” of receiving the table are so rank it is no wonder that most churches only have the supper half a dozen times or even once a year. However these legalists read Paul’s passage in Corinthians too isolated and far too fast. Read again verse 27. “Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily…” Morecraft observes, “Paul does not speak of the worthy eater, for no one is worthy to come to this Table, but of ‘worthy eating,.’” The English Standard Version makes this critical distinction quite plainly, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” This text is so often misapplied to mean “whoever unworthy drinks,” not “whoever drinks unworthily” as the text actually states. There is a mind-blowing distinction. Paul is not concerned with the state of the individual partaking, but the manner in which the individual partakes. Albert Barnes on this point notes, “Most persons interpret it as if it were ‘unworthy,’ and not ‘unworthily,’ and seem to suppose that it refers to their personal qualifications, to their ‘unfitness’ to partake of it, rather than to the manner in which it is done. It is to be remembered, therefore, that the word used here is an ‘adverb,’ and not an ‘adjective,’ and has reference to the manner of observing the ordinance, and not to their personal qualifications or fitness.” Barnes makes an astute, simple point. As many of you know, in the English language, when you take an adjective (Which is a word that describes the state of a person, place, or thing) and ad the simple suffix, “ly” to it you make it an adverb (Which is a word that describes a verb or action.) Thus “unworthy” when combined with the suffix “ly” no longer describes in this passage the state of the individual partaking but describes the state of the manner in which they partake. So dear Christian, who is tormented with the infirmity of their soul and hindered by it in receiving the Lord’s Supper, let me now encourage you by firstly discouraging you further. You’re right, you will never be worthy of approaching the table of the Lord. You are unworthy to receive the token of the new covenant of grace. You are unworthy of receiving the nourishment it provides to your soul. You are unworthy to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving in the Eucharist. You may never partake of this ordinance in a worthy state. Never. You are unworthy of being called a follower of Christ. You are unworthy of fellowshiping with his bride. But, dear Christian, take heart, it does not mean that you may not receive this ordinance. You may receive it, if you receive it in a proper manner, not a proper state, in a worthy manner, not a worthy state, in a right manner, not a right state. Because there is no such possibility as a right state before the Lord’s table. “Therefore” writes Calvin, “Although we feel to be imperfect, and our conscience not so pure that it does not accuse of many vices, that ought not to hinder us from presenting ourselves at the Lord’s holy table.” Still, you may say, “Well I shall wait an pray till God brings me into a better state.” But what makes you think that if you are unfit to receive the table now that you are somehow able to pray to God then. Listen to reminder from Calvin, “He who would exempt himself from receiving the Supper on account of unworthiness must hold himself unfit to pray to God.” Calvin goes on to encourage the troubled layman, “I mean not to force consciences which are tormented with certain scruples which suggest themselves… Only I wish to show that no one ought long to rest satisfied with abstaining on the ground of unworthiness, seeing that in so doing he deprives himself of the communion of the Church, in which all our well-being consists. Let him rather contend against all the impediments which he devil throws in his way, and not be excluded from so great a benefit, and from all the graces consequent thereupon.” As a matter of fact, coming to the table with a sense of unworthiness is the best manner and disposition to come to Christ’s Table in and receive the benefits of the covenant of grace. Read the grammar, its not about the state, its about the manner.
So what does it mean to partake in an unworthy manner? In the context of 1 Corinthians 11 we may determine that such ill manners may include firstly the irregular practice of the Lord’s Supper as many congregations today could be faulted for. “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” As one historian wrote of those who are absent from the Lord’s Table, “Shall they undervalue, by a wilful neglect, an ordinance which he settled immediately before his death, and disregard the dying command of that friend who laid down his life for them.” We are to regularly partake in the Lord’s Table. “This do as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.” Acts 2:42, “And they continued in the Apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship and breaking of bread, and prayers.” “For as often as ye shall eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye show the Lord’s death till he come.” As stated before, many churches could be faulted for neglecting the Lord’s table. This mostly due to the fact that the standards for receiving it are Romish and impossible for the majority of layman to meet and thus partake on a regular basis. The second reason many churches could be faulted for neglecting the Lord’s table is the fact that their table is closed. These churches while esteeming themselves as merely being cautious of preserving the table from those whom come unworthily are nonetheless guilty for not keeping the examination Paul requires to “themselves” and not of others. A third reason is this mysterious notion that it is a neutral decision for the layman to abstain from the Lord’s table. You will always receive something from the Lord’s table. Either a blessing or a curse from the Holy Spirit who is present in it. Choosing to opt out and abstain however, is not a neutral choice. As stated before communion is a congregational covenantal meal. In abstaining, one does not “Show the Lord’s death till he come”, one refuses himself the benefits of the covenant of grace, and refuses the family of God from unity in the one bread and body of our saviour. It is thus a detrimental act of disbelief. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Secondly, it is the unholy observance of the Lord’s Table where it is as indistinguishable from the common table that is unworthy eating. “For every man when they should eat, taketh his own supper afore, and one is hungry, and another is drunken. Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? Despise ye the Church of God, and shame them that have not?” The observance of the Lord’s supper is to be conducted in an orderly manner, a separate and holy manner, as a religious ordinance ought. Albert Barnes stated that, “Such ignorance can hardly be supposed to prevail now in those lands which are illuminated by Christian truth.” Perhaps he was speaking facetiously, but otherwise I’m afraid I have not so much faith in mankind as he. We must be vigilant in maintaining a composure of order, a countenance of sobriety, a conversation of respect when we are before the Lord’s table. God has made the bread and the wine holy, it is no ordinary meal and must not be treated or considered as such. We must not treat this sacred ordinance as a trivial formality, believe ourselves to be worthy and walk in where angels fear to tread. “Put off thy shoes from thy feet,” Spurgeon said of partaking in the Lord’s Supper, “for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Rush not in to the sacred place, but come with that gracious timorousness—nay, rather, with that holy boldness which becomes a sinner who has been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ, and is robed in his spotless righteousness.” Thus “unworthy eating” is as Morecaft observed, “not timid and doubtful eating, it is careless and profane eating.” Calvin had no kind words for those who indulge in such a manner of eating, “Men of this sort who, without any spark of faith, without any zeal of love, rush like swine to take the Lord’s Supper [and] do not discern the Lord’s body.” Thirdly, it is unworthy eating when it is done out of mockery and ignorance of the meaning of the sacred ordinance. “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh his own damnation, because he discerneth not the Lord’s body.” “Do ye in remembrance of me.” We think again of the encounter Calvin had with the libertarians of his city and hear his cry against such, “These hands you may crush, these arms you may lop off, my life you may take, my blood is yours, you may shed it; but you shall never force me to give holy things to the profaned, and dishonour the table of my God!” If you know not the gospel, if you cannot discern the meaning of the bread and the wine, if you refuse the covenant of grace, then take not this sacrament. It is on these grounds that Paul exhorted the Corinthians and likewise reminds us to “therefore examine himself.” While we are to make our calling and election sure, before the Lord’s table we are specifically admonished to examine the attitude, disposition, and manner in which we approach the Lord’s table and determine whether or not it is becoming of receiving it or not. We are not called to “therefore examine the one sitting beside you taking communion.” Even Jesus offered communion to Judas. We are not being admonished to imagine our souls meeting a state of prerequisite righteousness or not to receive the Eucharist. This would be unworthy eating itself.
So then what does it mean to eat worthily? The purpose of the Eucharist is as Paul wrote, “Show the Lord’s death till he come.” Calvin observed this to mean, “That we should by confession of our mouth declare what our faith recognizes in the Sacrament: that the death of Christ is our life.” As we partake in the Lord’s Table we are actively remembering and resting in Jesus’ act that sealed the covenant of grace God has brought us into. We are thus participating afresh in the benefits of this covenant. Hence, Reformed Christianity can speak of the Lord’s Supper as the Eucharist, a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Furthermore we are doing it as a body, a congregation, a fellowship of brethren, sons and daughters of God together in the covenant of grace. All of these blessings and benefits of worthily receiving the Lord’s Table are taken by faith. Augustine beautifully wrote, “A person cannot carry away form this sacrament more than he can collect in the vessel of faith.” This again is the metonym nature of the sacrament. The flesh and blood of Christ cannot be seen, but through the eye of faith, or received, by the mouth of faith, or grasped, but by the hand of faith. Again this foundational qualification to “worthily eating” goes directly in the face of “worthy eaters.” It is received solely by faith, not works and not by performance. As we receive the visible metonym of the bread and wine by the mouth of the physical, so we receive the blessings and benefits of the covenant of grace in the body and blood of Christ through the mouth of the soul to our nourishment. “I am the living bread, which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world…. Verily, verily I say unto you, Except ye eat of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whosoever eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me, and I in him. As that living father hath sent me, so live I by the Father, and he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers have eaten Manna, and are dead. He that eateth of this bread, shall live forever.” Weak and weary sinner, troubled layman, lay hold of the vessel of faith and receive the nourishment from the Lord’s supper which your soul so desperately needs. Why prolong your starvation? Let your soul receive in the Eucharist, the feast of thanksgiving. Christ is present at the table by His Holy Spirit to bless those whom come and receive by that humble and contrite faith. To eat Christ is to believe in Christ and to receive Him as he offers Himself to us. Eating is believing.
The Lord’s Supper from the Puritan book of prayer, “Valley of Vision”
God of all good,
I bless thee for the means of grace;
teach me to see in them thy loving purposes
and the joy and strength of my soul.
Thou hast prepared for me a feast;
and though I am unworthy to sit down as guest,
I wholly rest on the merits of Jesus,
and hide myself beneath his righteousness;
When I hear his tender invitation
and see his wondrous grace,
I cannot hesitate, but must come to thee in love.
By thy Spirit enliven my faith rightly to discern and spiritually to apprehend the Saviour.
While I gaze upon the emblems of my Saviour’s death,
may I ponder why he died, and hear him say
‘I gave my life to purchase yours,
presented myself an offering to expiate
shed my blood to blot out your guilt,
opened my side to make you clean,
endured your curses to set you free,
bore your condemnation to satisfy divine justice’
O may I rightly grasp the breadth and length
of this design,
draw near, obey, extend the hand,
take the bread, receive the cup,
eat and drink, testify before all men
that I do for myself, gladly, in faith,
reverence and love, receive my Lord,
to be my life, strength, nourishment,
In the supper I remember his eternal love,
boundless grace, infinite compassion,
agony, cross, redemption,
and receive assurance of pardon, adoption,
As the outward elements nourish my body,
so may thy indwelling Spirit invigorate
until that day when I hunger and thirst
and sit with Jesus at his heavenly feast.