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It is necessary, that those who partake of the Lord’s supper, should judge themselves truly and cordially to accept of christ, as their only Saviour and chief good; for of this the actions which communicants perform at the Lord’s table, are a solemn profession.
There is in the Lord’s supper a mutual solemn profession of the two parties transacting the covenant of grace, and visibly united in that covenant; the Lord Christ by his minister, on the one hand, and the communicants (who are professing believers) on the other. The administrator of the ordinance acts in the quality of Christ’s minister, acts in his name, as representing him; and stands in the place where Christ himself stood at the first administration of this sacrament, and in the original institution of the ordinance. Christ, by the speeches and actions of the minister, makes a solemn profession of his part in the covenant of grace: he exhibits the sacrifice of his body broken and his blood shed; and in the minister’s offering the sacramental bread and wine to the communicants, Christ presents himself to the believing communicants, as their propitiation and bread of life; and by these outward signs confirms and seals his sincere engagements to be their Saviour and food, and to impart to them all the benefits of his propitiation and salvation. And they, in receiving what is offered, and eating and drinking the symbols of Christ’s body and blood, also profess their part in the covenant of grace: they profess 459 to embrace the promises and lay hold of the hope set before them, to receive the atonement, to receive Christ as their spiritual food, and to feed upon him in their hearts by faith. Indeed what is professed on both sides is the heart: for Christ, in offering himself, professes the willingness of his heart to be theirs who truly receive him; and the communicants, on their part, profess the willingness of their hearts to receive him, which they declare by significant actions. They profess to take Christ as their spiritual food, and bread of life. To accept of Christ as our bread of life, is to accept of him as our Saviour and portion; as food is both the means of preserving life, and is also the refreshment and comfort of life. The signification of the word, manna, that great type of this bread of life, is a portion. That which God offers to us as our food, he offers as our portion; and that which we accept as our food, we accept as our portion. Thus the Lord’s supper is plainly a mutual renovation, confirmation, and seal of the covenant of grace: both the covenanting parties profess their consent to their respective parts in the covenant, and each affixes his seal to his profession. And there is in this ordinance the very same thing acted over in profession and sensible signs, which is spiritually transacted between Christ and his spouse in the covenant that unites them. Here we have from time to time the glorious bridegroom exhibiting himself with his great love that is stronger than death, appearing clothed in robes of grace, and engaging himself, with all his glory and love, and its infinite benefits, to be theirs, who receive him: and here we have his spouse accepting this bridegroom, choosing him for her friend, her only Saviour and portion, and relying on him for all his benefits. And thus the covenant-transaction of this spiritual marriage is confirmed and sealed, from time to time. The actions of the communicants at the Lord’s table have as expressive and significant a language, as the most solemn words. When a person in this ordinance takes and eats and drinks those things which represent Christ, the plain meaning and implicit profession of these his actions, is this, “I take this crucified Jesus as my Saviour, my sweetest food, my chief portion, and the life of my soul, consenting to acquiesce in him as such, and to hunger and thirst after him only, renouncing all other saviours, and all other portions, for his sake.” The actions, thus interpreted, are a proper renovation and ratification of the covenant of grace; and no otherwise. And those that take and eat and drink the sacramental elements at the Lord’s table with any other meaning, I fear, know not what they do.
The actions at the Lord’s supper thus implying, in their nature and signification, a renewing and confirming of the covenant, there is a declarative explicit covenanting supposed to precede it; which is the profession of religion, before spoken of, that qualifies a person for admission to the Lord’s supper. And doubtless there is, or ought to be, as much explicitly professed in words, as is implicitly professed in these actions; for by these significant actions, the communicant sets his seal but to his profession. The established signs in the Lord’s supper are fully equivalent to words; they are a renewing and reiterating the same thing which was done before; only with this difference, that now it is done by speaking signs, whereas before it was by speaking sounds. Our taking the bread and wine is as much a professing to accept of Christ, at least, as a woman’s taking a ring of the bridegroom in her marriage is a profession and seal of her taking him for her husband. The sacramental elements in the Lord’s supper represent Christ as a party in covenant, as truly as a proxy represents a prince to a foreign lady in her marriage; and our taking those elements is as truly a professing to accept of Christ, as in the other case the lady’s taking the proxy is her professing to accept the prince as her husband. Or the matter may more fitly be represented by this similitude: it is as if a prince should send an ambassador to a woman in a foreign land, proposing marriage, and by his ambassador should send her his picture, and should desire her to manifest her acceptance of his suit, not only by professing her acceptance in words to his ambassador, but in token of her sincerity openly to take or accept that picture, and to seal her profession, by thus representing the matter over again by a symbolical action.
To suppose persons ought thus solemnly to profess that which at the same time they do not at all imagine they experience in themselves, and do not really pretend to, is a very great absurdity. For a man sacramentally to make such a profession of religion, proceeding avowedly on the foot of such doctrine, is to profess that which he does not profess; his actions being no established signs of the thing supposed to be professed, nor carrying in them the least pretension to it. And therefore doing thus can be no man’s duty; unless it be men’s duty to make a solemn profession of that which in truth they make no profession of. The Lord’s supper is most evidently a professing ordinance; and the communicants’ profession must be such as is adjusted to the nature and design of the ordinance; which nothing short of faith in the blood of Christ will answer, even faith unfeigned, which worketh by love. A profession therefore exclusive of this, is essentially defective, and quite unsuitable to the character of a communicant.
When the apostle says, 1 Cor. xi. 28. “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat;” it seems most reasonable to understand it of trying himself with regard to the truth of his Christianity, or the reality of his grace; the same as 2 Cor. xiii. 5.. where the same word is used in the original. The Greek word (NOT ENGLISH ) will not allow of what some have supposed to be the apostle’s meaning, viz. that a man should consider and inquire into his circumstances, and the necessities of his case, that he may know what are the wants for the supply of which he should go to the Lord’s table. The word properly signifies proving or trying a thing with respect to its quality and goodness, or in order to determine whether it be true and of the right sort. And so the word is always used in the New Testament; unless that sometimes it is used metonymically, and in such places is variously translated, either discerning, or allowing, approving, liking, &c. these being the effects of trial. Nor is the word used more frequently in the New Testament for any sort of trial whatever, than for the trial of professors with regard to their grace or piety. The word (as Dr. Ames in his Catecheseos Sciagraphia, and Mr. Willard in his Body of Divinity, observe) is borrowed from goldsmiths, properly signifying the trial they make of their silver and gold, whether it be genuine or counterfeit: and with a manifest allusion to this original application of the word, is often used in the New Testament for trying the piety of professors. It is used with this view in all the following texts: 1 Pet. i. 7. “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried by fire, might be found unto praise,” &c. 1 Cor. iii. 13. “The fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” James i. 3. “The trying of your faith worketh patience.” 1 Thess. ii. 4. “God who trieth our hearts.” The same word is used in 2 Cor. viii. 8. “To prove the sincerity of your love.” So, Gal. vi. 3, 4. “If any man thinketh himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself: but let every man prove his own work.” In all these places there is the same word in the Greek with that in the text now under consideration.
When the apostle directs professing Christians to try themselves, using this word indefinitely, as properly signifying the examining or proving of a thing whether it be genuine or counterfeit, the most natural construction of his advice is, that they should try themselves with respect to their spiritual state and religious profession, whether they are disciples indeed, real and genuine Christians, or whether they are not false and hypocritical professors. As if a man should bring a piece of metal that had the colour of gold, with the impress of the king’s coin, to a goldsmith, and desire him to try that money, without adding any words to limit his meaning, would not the goldsmith naturally understand, that he was to try whether it was true gold or true money?
But here it is said by some, that the context of the passage under debate (1 Cor. xi. 28..) plainly limits the meaning of the word in that place; the apostle there speaking of those things that had appeared among the communicants at Corinth, which were of a scandalous nature, so doubtless unfitting them for the Lord’s supper, and therefore when the apostle directs them to examine or 460 prove themselves, it is but just, to suppose his meaning to be, that they should try whether they be not disqualified by scandal.—To this I answer, though the apostle putting the Corinthians upon trying themselves, was on occasion of mentioning some scandalous practices found among them, yet this is by no means any argument of its being only his meaning, that they should try themselves whether they were scandalous persons; and not, that they should try whether they were genuine Christians. The very nature of scandal (as was observed before) is, that which tends to obscure the visibility of the piety of professors, and wound others’ charity towards them, by bringing the reality of their grace into doubt; and therefore what could be more natural, than for the apostle, when mentioning such scandals among the Corinthians, to put them upon trying the state of their souls, and proving their sincerity? This is certainly the case in this apostle’s directing the same persons to prove themselves, 2 Cor. xiii. 5.. using the same word there which he uses here, and giving his direction on the like occasion. For in the second epistle (as well as in the first) his putting them on examining and proving themselves, was on occasion of his mentioning some scandals found among them; as is plain from the foregoing context. And yet there it is expressly said, that the thing concerning which he directs them to prove themselves, is, whether they be in the faith, and whether Christ is in them. Nor is there any thing more in the preceding context of one place, than in that of the other, obliging or leading us to understand the apostle to intend only a trying whether they were scandalous, and not whether they were sincere Christians.
And as to the words following in the next verse; “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body:”—these words by no means make it evident, (as some hold,) that what the apostle would have them examine themselves about, is, whether they have doctrinal knowledge, sufficient to understand, that the bread and wine in the sacrament signify the body and blood of Christ: but on the contrary, to interpret the apostle in this sense only, is unreasonable, upon several accounts. (1.) None can so much as attempt such an examination, without first knowing, that the Lord’s body and blood is signified by these elements. For merely a man putting this question to himself, Do I understand that this bread and this wine signify the body and blood of Christ? supposes him already to know it from a previous information; and therefore to exhort persons to such an examination, would be absurd. And then, (2.) It is incredible, that there should be any such gross ignorance in a number of the communicants in the Corinthian church, if we consider what the Scripture informs us concerning that church. St. Paul was an able and thorough instructor and spiritual father, who founded that church, brought them out of their heathenish darkness, and initiated them in the christian religion. He had instructed them in the nature and ends of gospel-ordinances, and continued at Corinth, constantly labouring in the word and doctrine for a long while, no less than a year and six months; and, we may well suppose, administered the Lord’s supper among them every Lord’s day; for the apostle speaks of it as the manner of that church to communicate at the Lord’s table with such frequency, 1 Cor. xvi. 2.. And the Corinthian church, when the apostle wrote this epistle, was noted for excelling in doctrinal knowledge; as is evident by 1 Cor. i. 5-7.. and several other passages in the epistle. Besides, the communicants were expressly told at every communion, every week, when the bread and wine were delivered to them in the administration, that the bread signified the body, and that the wine signified the blood, of Christ. And, (3.) The apostle by his argument in 1 Cor. x. 16.. supposes the Corinthians doctrinally acquainted with this subject already. It therefore appears to me much more reasonable, to apprehend the case to be thus: the offensive behaviour of the communicants at Corinth gave the apostle reason to suspect, that some of them came to the Lord’s table without a proper impression and true sense of the great and glorious things there signified; having no habitual hunger or relish for the spiritual food there represented, no inward vital and experimental taste of that flesh of the Son of man, which is meat indeed. The word translated discerning, signifies to discriminate or distinguish. The taste is the proper sense whereby to discern or distinguish food, Job xxxiv. 3.. And it is by a spiritual sense or taste we discern or distinguish spiritual food. Heb. v. 14.—“Those who by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil:” NOT ENGLISH &c. a word of the same root with that rendered discerning, in 1 Cor. xi. 29.. He that has no habitual relish of that spiritual food, which is represented and offered at the Lord’s table; he that has no spiritual taste, wherewith to perceive any thing more at the Lord’s supper, than in common food; or that has no higher view, than with a little seeming devotion to eat bread, in the way of an ordinance, but without regarding in his heart the spiritual meaning and end of it, and without being at all suitably affected by the dying love of Christ therein commemorated; such a one may most truly and properly be said not to discern the Lord’s body.— When therefore the apostle exhorts to self-examination as a preparative for the sacramental supper, he may well be understood to put professors upon inquiring whether they have such a principle of faith, by means whereof they are habitually in a capacity and disposition of mind to discern the Lord’s body, practically and spiritually, (as well as speculatively and notionally,) in their communicating at the Lord’s table: which is what none can do who have a faith short of that which is justifying and saving. It is only a living faith that capacitates men to discern the Lord’s body in the sacrament with that spiritual sensation or spiritual gust, which is suitable to the nature and design of the ordinance, and which the apostle seems principally to intend.
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