The Lord's Supper
James Smith, 1864
The supper of the Lord is a divine institution. It originated in the wisdom and love of our adorable Redeemer. It is intended to . . .
benefit our souls,
test our attachment to his cause, and
perpetuate the remembrance of his sufferings and death.
It is a privilege, intended for every real believer.
It is a duty, binding upon every true Christian.
We ought to meet together, expressly for the purpose of breaking bread together. We ought frequently to do so. We ought regularly to do so. If our souls are in a healthy state — we shall do so. But it is a Church ordinance, and should only be attended to by us as a Church. We should come together into our usual place of meeting for the purpose. We should meet simply as disciples of Jesus. We should meet in a spirit of love, having no wrath, or bitterness, or malice in our hearts against any. We should meet because Jesus commands us, because he sets us the example, because he has promised to meet with us, and because he considers himself honored by our so meeting.
The elements used are simple bread and wine.
The subject presented is the substitutionary sufferings and death of Christ.
The end is to bring Christ to our remembrance, to increase mutual love, and to show forth the death of Christ unto others, until he comes. Every Christian ought to have his place at the Lord's table, and ought regularly to fill that place. But some never attend, and others only occasionally. Various are the excuses which men frame to justify their neglect of this holy ordinance — but such excuses will not bear the light of investigation, or stand in the presence of God. Let us therefore attend to a few particulars, and answer a few inquiries upon this interesting point.
First. What will justify a member of a Christian Church in keeping away from the Lord's table?
1. Not private quarrels or personal dislikes; seeing the Lord has not made it a condition of coming to his table, that we should all see exactly alike in all things; nor has he left the power to censure in the hands of any private individual — but in his Church, and we know not — but that he himself sat down with Judas, whom he could not love, for he called him a devil. It is for a lamentation that the members of the same church do so often differ, and manifest their dislike, by neglect of ordinances; but let all such remember, their rule is to be found in Matthew 18:15-19; and not in their own imagination or temper. Every one of us must give account of himself to God, Romans 14:12, and why we have neglected his ordinances, as well as other things.
"But how can I meet at the Lord's table with one against whom I feel enmity in my heart?" By acting upon God's word, and exercising a forgiving spirit, according lo the word, "Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you." Ephesians 4:32.
"But I have been treated so badly that I cannot forgive." How then can you expect forgiveness? Has your brother or sister acted worse toward you — than you have toward the Lord? Or, have you forgotten his word? "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in Heaven may forgive you your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in Heaven forgive your sins." Mark 11:25, 26. Read also with prayer and attention Matthew 6:14, 15; 18:21-35; Luke 6:37; Colossians 3:13; James 2:13. Have you read these portions of God's word, and can you still be unforgiving, and keep from God's table on account of it? If so, your case is truly fearful — may the Lord awaken and reconvert your soul.
2. Not any particular frame of mind, or state of soul; because the Lord has not forbidden us to come in one frame, or commanded us to come in another. His words are, "As oft as you do it, do it in remembrance of me." You are not coming to bring a frame or feeling to God — but to commemorate the love, sorrows, and death of Jesus. We should pray for a holy, solemn, melting frame of soul — but not stay away for the lack of it. Sometimes the Lord meets us, when at his table, while mourning over such a state — and softens, humbles, and feeds our souls with heavenly manna. No frame of mind should keep us from using ordinances, and if we allow ourselves to neglect ordinances on account of frames — we must expect that Satan will labor to bring us into such frames, just before ordinance times arrive. Therefore, if you would not tempt Satan to endeavor to bring you into such God-dishonoring, soul-distressing frames — never neglect ordinances on account of them.
3. Not the lack of preparation; seeing no preparation is prescribed in the word of God, only an examination, whether we are in the faith; and this the Christian should be often attending to, that he may be fully assured. It is true, meditation, prayer, and reading the holy Scriptures are excellent helps, and should always precede attendance on this, and all ordinances, if opportunity is afforded; but if no opportunity offers, we are not justified in abstaining from ordinances for the lack of the same. Come to ordinances as you first came to Christ — as a repentant sinner — and you cannot come wrong, and will seldom come in vain.
4. Not a fear of receiving unworthily, because this may be prevented by prayer. Besides, on this principle, if we carry it as far as Satan would have us, we would abstain from every duty, and neglect all ordinances. He who comes to the Lord's table, desiring and praying to see, feed on, and enjoy Jesus — will not eat or drink unworthily. He who is most sensible of his sins, and utter undeservings, is the most welcome guest at the Lord's supper.
5. Not a lack of inclination; seeing this arises from the old man which is to be put off, from sin which is to be opposed, from Satan, to whom we are not to give place; but whom God commands us to resist, steadfast in the faith. If inclination is to guide at all, then let it guide in all — and then farewell Bible reading, farewell meditation, farewell prayer meetings, farewell hearing the word — farewell all that I now attend to, from a sense of duty, or with a hope to enjoy my Lord.
6. Not every, or any excuse which is presented to the mind; for if we attend to these, Satan will supply us with plenty, and we shall soon be like those spoken of by Jesus. Luke 14:16-25. But we are not ignorant of his devices: anything that will displease, or dishonor Jesus, feed the flesh, grieve the Spirit, and vex the saint — he will forward; but all that is opposite, he will oppose to the uttermost, and find plenty of reasons, and excuses, why we should neglect and forsake such things. Be not unwise — but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
We should keep away from the Lord's table in the following instances:
1. Being unavoidably detained at home, in servitude, by affliction, or family duties; prayer having been used, opportunity sought, and no way found. The Lord's ordinances were never designed to lead us to neglect any moral duties; positive institutions and moral precepts help each other — but never run counter to one another; therefore, he who cannot attend ordinances without committing positive sin in coming, is justified in staying away.
2. Being prohibited by the church for sin; if that prohibition is according tot he word of God and command of Christ. The believer who has fallen into sin, and is under the censure of the church, should not attempt to attend to his ordinance, until that censure is removed, unless the church acts unscripturally severe.
3. Being positively commanded by Christ not to come; but then such command must be found written in the word. His word is "COME" — not stay away; unless you are walking disorderly, and then he says to your brethren, "with such a one, do not eat."
4. Being satisfied from God's word, and our own consciences, that we are haters of Christ, hypocrites in heart, and enemies to God. But then, with such convictions we should not be in a church — unless they spring from the power of temptation, and then we should seek to be rightly informed on the subject, and mercifully delivered from the snare.
A second inquiry. What does neglecting the ordinances of the Lord's Supper, by a member of a Christian Church, who has, or may have opportunity to attend it — appear to imply?
1. That he is wiser than Jesus — who instituted it, and commanded his people to attend to it. lmmanuel saw it necessary, and therefore commanded it; but he sees it to be unnecessary, and therefore neglects it. What an awful sin is this — and yet how many professors are guilty of it! Lord, humble your people, and deliver them.
2. That he is tired of Christ, and finds his ordinances wearisome. He is afraid of being too much in the company of Jesus, or of remembering his sorrows, and thinking of his love too often. O Christian, did you ever conceive that your willful neglecting of the Lord's ordinances appeared to imply this? But whether you conceive it or not — so it most evidently does. Let not Satan make excuses for you — but bare your consciences and receive the stroke; it is the wound of a friend who is faithful, and which the blood of atonement will heal.
3. That he has no regard to the commands of Christ, or concern for his positive institutions. That though he wishes to be saved by Jesus — he has really no love to him, nor desire to obey him. But what can we think of those who wish to divide the doctrines and duties, the promises and commands of Jesus? Are they wise? Are they holy? Are they humble? Are they like the primitive believers? Surely they are not. But how many are there who profess doctrinally to hold these things in union — yet practically divide them? He who neglects the holy supper, does so.
4. That he centers in self, and is only seeking his own gratification, and studying his own feelings. O how many are there whose conduct says, that their religion is self — self — self. They are able to do without Christ, or nearly so; they are rich and have made their fortunes; and know not that they are wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. They come not to ordinances to seek supplies from him, because they have a stock of their own; and the conduct of many of whom we hope better things, appears to imply that they are infected in a measure with this fearful disease!
5. That he rejects the Scriptures, and substitutes his own fancies, or something worse, in their stead.
6. That he does not care whether Jesus Christ has any to remember him as he desired, or not. What a fearful state is this to be in; and what just cause for mourning that the conduct of many professed lovers of Jesus seems to say as much as this.
A third inquiry. What does keeping from the Lord's table, without a just cause, openly manifest?
1. Unkindness towards the Lord Jesus. And can it be that the Lord's people can manifest unkindness to Jesus, who has shown much boundless, inconceivable, an astonishing love to them? Yes, alas! it is possible. If Jesus had thought of us, or acted toward us, as we think and act toward him — where and what would we now be? Where and what would we be forever? Think of this, negligent Christian, and be zealous henceforth and repent. Rev. 3:19.
2. Hardness of heart and contempt of his holy Gospel. If the heart was not lamentably hard, the Gospel could not be despised; and if the Gospel was not despised, the ordinance of the supper could not be thus neglected.
3. Indifference respecting our personal prosperity, and our evidence of being the friends of Christ. John 15:14.
4. We are expecting what the Scriptures do not warrant us to look for, namely, that everything should be just as we wish, which must be wrong, if it was so, we being ignorant, sinful, selfish creatures; beside everyone would wish to have it his way, and almost every one different from the other.
5. There is not sufficient concern for the honor of Christ, whom we profess to love, reverence, and serve. Did we feel sufficiently for his honor — thousands of little difficulties would be surmounted, which now appear insurmountable barriers. Then should we run in the way of his commandments, for it would enlarge our hearts.
6. There is a lack of love to the church, the officers and head of the same. If we loved the church sincerely and tenderly, we should be careful of grieving its members or officers, much more its head. Love brings together and keeps together. It is lack of love which is the cause of most of our dissensions and divisions! Did we love Jesus, his Church, and our own souls more — we would be more diligent in observing his righteous and soul-profiting commands.
A fourth inquiry. What is neglecting the Lord's Supper likely to produce?
1. Barrenness under other ordinances. Christ being dishonored and the Spirit grieved — what can a Christian expect, but barrenness? Surely it is of importance to inquire when experiencing barrenness of soul: What is the cause? What is the occasion of this? And if there is an allowed neglect of any duty, surely we need not look farther to find a reason.
2. Deadness of soul, in prayer, reading the word, hearing the Gospel, and Christian conversation.
3. A sensible distance from God, and lack of communion in prayer; shyness at the throne of grace, and a painful withholding divine communications which were formerly enjoyed; and what is religion without these?
4. Doubts, fears, and suspicions arising in the mind in reference to our real state before God, and a lack of confidence, peace, and joy in God, as our covenant Father and Friend.
5. An increase of carnality, coldness, darkness, lukewarmness — and indifference in the ways of God.
6. It will procure the rebukes of the Spirit in the conscience, the visible disapprobation of God, and the laying on of the rod of correction.
Fifthly. A few serious considerations proposed to those who live in the neglect of the ordinance of the Lord's Supper.
1. Can you justify your conduct before God upon the principles laid down in your Bibles?
2. Are you manifesting a Christian spirit? Is there any meekness, love, longsuffering, forbearance, tenderness, brotherly kindness, forgiveness, charity, and spirituality manifested in your so acting?
3. Are you following after peace and the things whereby one may edify another?
4. Are you an obedient child, attending to the exhortation of the Holy Spirit, by Peter, "As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy." 1 Peter 1:14-16
5. Does your conduct proceed from being spiritually-minded — or carnally-minded? Read Romans 8:5-9.
6. Do you think you shall reflect on such conduct with pleasure on a sick bed, or a dying pillow, in the prospect of standing before God and a solemn eternity? Remember the words of the Holy Spirit, which were addressed to the church at Rome, are of importance; they are truths, not fancies; "Every one must give an account of himself to God. Romans 14:12. See also to the same purpose, Matthew 12:36; 16:27; 18:23-35; 2 Corinthians 5:10.
Let it not be supposed that I attach an undue importance to the ordinance of the Lord's supper, or superstitiously think that it confers grace; for this is not the case. But Jesus his instituted it, and positively enjoined it on his people to attend to the same. When we join a church of Christ, we profess to have respect to all his commands, and to wish to walk in them; the conduct referred to, is a violation of that engagement, and a practical disregard of the Savior's word. If obedience honors our reigning Immanuel, then disobedience dishonors him; and has he not said, "Those who honor me I will honor — and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed?" Are these words acted upon by Jesus? Or are they only written to amuse or frighten us? Assuredly they are acted upon; then I am correct in what I have written. I do not say that this is the only thing that produces the effects spoken of above; but it is one of the things for which our holy Father thus corrects us.