Eating & Drinking [Eternal!] Judgment on Ourselves? (Henry)

  In 1 Corinthians 11:29, in the middle of Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s Supper debacle in the Corinthian church, he wrote this: “For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself” (NET). It’s not uncommon for Christians to read this text and think: “If I come to this table in an unworthy manner, I could face God’s eternal judgment and wrath!  If I don’t examine myself enough, or if I do it wrong, this could mean condemnation and hell for me.”  In fact, some Christians simply stay away from the table because they have these kinds of thoughts.

However, in 1 Corinthians 11:29 Paul is not talking about eternal condemnation or eternal judgment. He’s talking about temporal and physical judgment; that is, weakness, sickness, and even death (v 30).  In fact, Paul goes on to say that this “judgment” is God’s fatherly discipline (think Heb. 12:6) to prevent his people from falling into the condemnation that the unbelieving world will face (11:32).

Matthew Henry explains this well:

Note, A careless and irreverent receiving of the Lord’s supper may bring temporal punishments. Yet the connection seems to imply that even those who were thus punished were in a state of favor with God, at least many of them: They were chastened of the Lord, that they should not be condemned with the world, v. 32. Now divine chastening is a sign of divine love: Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth (Heb. 12:6), especially with so merciful a purpose, to prevent their final condemnation. In the midst of judgment, God remembers mercy: he frequently punishes those whom he tenderly loves. It is kindness to use the rod to prevent the child’s ruin. He will visit such iniquity as this under consideration with stripes, and yet make those stripes the evidence of his lovingkindness. Those were in the favor of God who yet so highly offended him in this instance, and brought down judgments on themselves; at least many of them were; for they were punished by him out of fatherly good-will, punished now that they might not perish forever. Note, It is better to bear trouble in this world than to be miserable to eternity. And God punishes his people now, to prevent their eternal woe.

That’s excellent and worth reading a few times in case we need correction in this area of our Christian thinking about Communion.

The above quote is found in Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Why the Lord’s Supper? (Calvin)

 One of my favorite essays on the Lord’s Supper is John Calvin’s work called “Short Treatise on the Supper of Our Lord, in Which is Shown Its True Institution, Benefit, and Utility.”  This essay is clear, it’s based on Scripture’s truths and principles, it points us to Jesus, and it gives a great summary of the meaning and benefit of Communion.  If you haven’t read it, I very highly recommend it!  Here’s an excerpt I had highlighted some time ago and ran across this morning (I’ve edited it slightly for readability):

Our Lord, therefore, instituted the Supper:

First, in order to sign and seal in our consciences the promises contained in his gospel concerning our being made partakers of his body and blood, and to give us certainty and assurance that therein lies our true spiritual nourishment, and that having such an earnest [pledge], we may entertain a right reliance on salvation.

Secondly, in order to exercise us in recognizing his great goodness toward us, and thus lead us to laud and magnify him more fully.

Thirdly, in order to exhort us to all holiness and innocence, inasmuch as we are members of Jesus Christ; and especially to exhort us to union and brotherly charity, as we are expressly commanded.

When we shall have well-considered these three reasons, to which the Lord had respect in ordaining his Supper, we shall be able to understand, both what benefit accrues to us from it, and what is our duty in order to use it properly.

Calvin, John, and Henry Beveridge. Tracts Relating to the Reformation. Vol. 2. Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1849. p. 167.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Our Souls Need to Feed on Christ (Horton)

The Lord’s Supper is a great blessing for Christians.  In it, the Lord condescends to feed us with the body and blood of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit by the faith he’s graciously given us.  Paul called it a “participation” or “sharing” in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16).  The Westminster Larger Catechism says that in the Lord’s Supper we “feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after [in] a corporal and carnal, but in a spiritual manner, yet truly and really….” (Q/A 170).  I like how Michael Horton comments on this:

“According to Rome, baptism washed away original sin in the infant and, to use an illustration, filled the bathtub of grace.  But every time the believer committed a venial (‘little’) sin, grace would leak; a mortal (‘big’) sin could empty the tub altogether!  That’s where the sacraments like communion came in; they could fill the tub up again.  This, of course, is not the view the Protestant Reformers held, and it is, I believe, far from the biblical view.”

“The impartation of grace we find in Holy Communion is not a grace that saves but a grace that restores the believer’s confidence in the Word’s pronouncement, ‘Not guilty.’  Communion is a refueling station not because we continually need to recover lost merits, but because we need our faith in Christ to be strengthened regularly by God’s promise.  We are weak; our hearts are easily cooled, and our souls need to feed on Christ just as truly as our bodies need to feed on bread.”

“Holy Communion strengthens us not only because it symbolizes or represents something great, but because it really is something great.  It is the actual nourishment of Christ himself who offers his body and blood for spiritual food.  To those wearied by a tough week at home or the office or to those whose consciences never let them forget a sin they commit during the week, the Supper is there to communicate Christ and his forgiveness.  There is no conscience that cannot be instructed and overcome by this powerful sacrament.  Rather than using it as a means of filling up a leaky bathtub, we must view it as God’s chosen reminder that we are always and everywhere forgiven people.”

Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, p. 201.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

We Ask You To Abstain

The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms Historic Reformed and Presbyterian churches have always “fenced” the table of the Lord.  That is, when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, the pastor and/or an elder says that certain people are not to partake.  The details vary among historic Reformed/Presbyterian churches, but they all do fence the table to some extent.  Even if we might disagree how “high” the fence is, it is proper and biblical to warn the unrepentant and unbelievers not to take Holy Communion.  The Westminster Confession of Faith says it like this:

“All ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with him [Christ], so they are unworthy of the Lord’s table; and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such [ignorant and ungodly], partake of these holy mysteries or be admitted thereunto” (29.8).  [1 Cor. 11:27-29, 2 Cor. 6:14-16, 1 Cor. 10:21, 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15, Matt. 7:6, etc.]

Thomas Brooks, in The Crown and Glory of Christianity, discussed this topic briefly and gave some helpful citations from church history (slightly edited):

“Chrysostom said that he ‘would rather give his life to a murderer, than Christ’s body to an unworthy receiver, and rather suffer his own blood to be poured out like water, than to tender Christ’s blessed blood to a profane person.’  ‘Church officers are to keep the sacrament pure, as a man would keep a pleasant spring which he drank from clean, not letting the filthy beasts and swine to muddy it.’”

“Justin Martyr wrote, ‘In our assemblies we admit none to the Lord’s Supper but such as being baptized continue in professing the true faith, and in leading such lives as Christ hath taught.’  Martyr taught that these three things were required for those who wish to come to the table: 1) ‘A new birth,’ 2) ‘Soundness in faith,’ and 3) ‘A promise to live well.’”

“Augustine argued that there were horrid sins wrapped up in Adam’s eating of the fruit, much more so are there horrid sins in unbelievers eating the sacrament: pride, rebellion, treason, sacrilege, theft, murder, etc.”

“Aquinas said ‘the majesty of church discipline should never allow this, to let open and known offenders presume to come to the table of the Lord.’”

“Calvin wrote, ‘I will sooner die than this hand of mine shall give the things of God to contemners of God.’”

Again, we might discuss and debate how “high” the fence is around the table, but it is biblical (see citations above) and wise to clearly tell unbelievers and unrepentant persons that they are not to take the Lord’s Supper.  It might not sound politically correct or “nice,” but it is a biblical help in keeping Christ’s church pure, it does keep unbelievers from bringing further judgment upon themselves, and it does guard God’s people from trouble and hardship (cf. 1 Cor. 11).

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church
hammond, wi

Athanasius and Calvin on the Holy Supper

  Here’s a helpful section from an interesting book: Worshiping With The Church Fathers by Christopher Hall.

“Athanasius’s understanding of the Eucharist is remarkably similar to that of John Calvin, the sixteenth-century reformer.  Calvin believed Christ was spiritually present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist after the invocation (epiklesis) of the Holy Spirit, though not physically present.  After Christ’s ascension his physical body remained at the right hand of the Father.  Through the Spirit, though, Christ was genuinely present in the eucharistic elements.”

“In like manner, Athanasius focuses on the ascension of Christ, commenting that the ascension points us away from a ‘material notion’ of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.  Christ is indeed present, but in a spiritual fashion.  [Athanasius wrote:]  ‘The reason for his mention of the ascension into heaven of the Son of Man (cf. John 6:61ff) was in order to draw them away from the material notion; that thenceforth they might learn that the flesh he spoke of was heavenly food from above and spiritual nourishment from him.  For, he says, “What I have spoken to you is spirit and life,” which is as much to say, “What is displayed and given for the world’s salvation is the flesh which I wear: but this flesh and its blood will be given to you by me spiritually as nourishment, so that this may be bestowed spiritually on each, and may become for individuals a safeguard to ensure resurrection to eternal life”’” (p. 72-3).

Christopher Hall, Worshiping With The Church Fathers (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009).

shane lems

The Lord’s Supper and Assurance

Heaven on Earth (Puritan Paperbacks) The Lord’s Supper is a holy sacrament that Jesus gave to his church to help strengthen us in the Christian faith.  If you’re a Christian who is weak, weary, full of doubts, and in need of God’s love and grace, don’t avoid the table – go to it with repentant faith.  Thomas Brooks put it this way.

“[Assurance] was the principle end of Christ’s institution of the sacrament of the Supper that he might assure them of his love, and that he might seal up to them the forgiveness of their sins, the acceptance of their persons, and the salvation of their souls (Matt. 26:27-28).  The nature of a seal is to make things sure and firm among men; so the Supper of the Lord is Christ’s broad seal, it is Christ’s privy-seal, whereby he seals and assures his people that they are happy here, that they shall be more happy hereafter, that they are everlastingly beloved of God, that his heart is set upon them, that their names are written in the book of life, that there is laid up for them a crown of righteousness, and that nothing shall be able to separate them from him who is their light, their crown, their all in all.”

“In this sacrament Christ comes forth and shows his love, his heart…his blood, that his children may no longer say, ‘Does the Lord Jesus love us?  Does he delight in us?’ but that they may say with the spouse, ‘I am my beloved’s and his desire is towards me’ (Songs 7:10).”

Thomas Brooks, Heaven on Earth, 27.

rev shane lems

The Lord’s Table (Not Altar)

One of the many deep, theological, biblical, and practical differences between Roman Catholic churches and Reformed churches is the understanding of the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Rome teaches that in the Eucharist, the bread and wine become Christ’s actual body and blood which are then offered on the altar as a sacrifice.  “The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice. …In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 2, Article 3, various sections).

The entire discussion would fill a book, but suffice it to say here that the confessional Reformed response completely resists the ideas of “sacrifice” and “altar” when it comes to the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  The Heidelberg Catechism shows how Rome’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper throws a dark fog over the gospel:

“…the Mass teaches that the living and the dead do not have their sins forgiven through the suffering of Christ unless Christ is still offered  for them daily by the priests. It also teaches that Christ is bodily present in the form of bread and wine where Christ is therefore to be worshiped.  Thus the Mass is basically nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ and a condemnable idolatry” (Q/A 80).

I like how Herman Bavinck talks about the altar, the sacrifice, and the Lord’s Supper based on Hebrews.  (The quote at the end of Bavinck’s paragraph is from Calvin’s Institutes.)

“The difference between the worship of the Lord and that of the New Testament consists…in the fact that temple and altar, priest and sacrifice, are no longer in earth but in heaven.  The Jerusalem that is above is the mother of us all (Gal. 4.26).  This is where Christ, our eternal high priest, has entered on our behalf (Heb. 6.20) after having by one sacrifice accomplished an external redemption (9.12), to appear before the face of God for us (9.24).  There Christians have their sanctuary, into which they enter with boldness through the blood of Jesus (4.16, 10.19, 12.22).  Here on earth we merely meet among ourselves, a meeting in which there is no room for sacrifice (10.25).  The only altar Christians have is the cross on which Christ brought his sacrifice (13.10; cf 7.27, 10.10).  From that altar, that is, from the sacrifice brought on it, they eat when by faith they have communion with Christ and his benefits.  Believers have to bring no sacrifice other than the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that praise his name (13.15).  The Lord’s Supper is a sacrificial meal, a meal of believers with Christ on the basis of his sacrifice and therefore one that must be served on a table, not an altar.  ‘This is indeed very certain: that the cross of Christ is overthrown, as soon as the altar is set up.”

Well said.  Based on that summary of Hebrews, I also agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith (29.2) which says that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is not an offering or real sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.  Rather it is a commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice he offered, once for all, on the cross as well as a spiritual act of thanksgiving and praise.  “The Popish sacrifice of the mass is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of his elect.”

The above quote by Bavinck is found in volume four of Reformed Dogmatics (p. 566).

shane lems