Self-Examination

Ques. 80: What difference is there between the Lord's Supper and the popish mass?

Ans.: The Lord's Supper testifies to us, that we have a full pardon of all sin by the only sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which He Himself once accomplished on the cross; and, that we by the Holy Ghost are engrafted into Christ, Who, according to His human nature is not now on earth, but in heaven, at the right hand of God His Father, and will there be worshipped by us:—but the mass teaches that the living and the dead have not the pardon of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is daily offered for them by the priests; and further, that Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine, and therefore is to be worshipped in them; so that the mass, at bottom, is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Christ, and an accursed idolatry. 

Ques. 82: For whom is the Lord's Supper instituted? 

Ans.: For those who are truly sorrowful for their sins, and yet trust that these are forgiven them for the sake of Christ; and that the remaining infirmities are covered by His passion and death; and who also earnestly desire to have their faith more and more strengthened, and their lives more holy; but hypocrites, and such as turn not to God with sincere hearts, eat and drink judgment to themselves.

We are confronted here with the question: Who are the true partakers of the Lord's Supper? Our Book of Instruction has repeatedly reminded us that the Table of Holy Communion assures us of Christ's one perfect sacrifice on the cross as a complete atonement for all of our sins. Moreover, that we become partakers of Christ and of all His benefits by a living faith wrought in our hearts by the Holy Spirit of Christ. In the Lord's Supper we worship a living Savior, Who from heaven bestows upon us every spiritual blessing that God has prepared for us, even from eternity. Our celebration of the Lord's Supper is an act of faith, which, in turn, is blessed by God with an enrichment of His grace. 

It is in this connection that the fathers felt compelled to warn us against the mass of the Roman Catholic Church, in which we had our roots in the past. We should remember that the mass is not the same as the Supper, but actually precedes it in the Romish church. In the mass the priest supposedly performs a miracle. Bread and wine are said to be changed into the body and blood of Christ. Thereupon the bread and wine, now supposedly the body and blood of Christ, are sacrificed in "an unbloody manner" for the daily sins of the participants. The mass is considered an extension of Calvary and serves to remove sin and convey grace. When the communicant receives the wafer on his tongue he is supposed to receive the body of Christ, which he tastes, swallows, digests, and thus receives the blessings of salvation. The number of times the communicant partakes, not whether he partakes in' faith, is important. It is no wonder that our fathers call this entire ceremony an accursed idolatry, placing our trust in the wafer rather than in the one perfect sacrifice for sin once completed on the cross of our Savior. 

This makes the question more important for us: Who is the true partaker of the Lord's Supper? Am I? In confronting this question we are in full harmony with the Scriptures, in which we are admonished: "But let every man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread (still examining himself), and drink of that cup, for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lords body" (
I Cor. 11:28, 29). 

This accounts for our customary preparatory services. In the week of preparation we face the question: Who examines whom? And, of what does this true examination consist? 

Well may we ask: Who am I that is called to do the examining? Immediately the unbeliever is ruled out. Since partaking of the Lord's Supper is an act of faith, he cannot partake without eating and drinking condemnation to himself. Nor can he be honest with himself and with an examination of himself. Our Catechism also rules out the hypocrite and any one who does not turn to God with a sincere heart. 

The hypocrite belongs to the carnal element in the church. Likely he is baptized and reared in the church. He attends the public worship, even as he was instructed in the catechisms and made confession of faith. He prays. He reads the Bible. He may even be thoroughly acquainted with the content of the Scriptures, so that he knows sound doctrine. He may be able to discuss fluently the truths of God's Word, may become an elder or deacon, or even a minister. To all appearances he is sincere in his confession and walk, so that he is considered a sincere child of God. He also wants to make that impression upon others. Possibly the question arises in your heart: Might that be true of me? Actually, anyone who is afraid that he might be wearing a mask of hypocrisy need have no concern. The hypocrite knows very well that he is not sincere, not in his prayers, nor in his church attendance, nor in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. He may deceive others, but he does not deceive himself. Judas is the perfect example of the hypocrite. He could spend three years with Jesus and the disciples. He could listen as Peter was the spokesman, declaring, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." He could hold out even after Jesus' word of warning, "One of you is a devil." He continued to play the hypocrite right up to the last greeting and kiss in the garden. Hypocrites are warned that they have no place at the Lord's Table. 

Scripture also warns against those who do not turn to God with sincere hearts. These are ungodly persons within the church. They love the things of this world and the service of sin, yet they want to keep a back door open to heaven. Maybe they sleep in church. Maybe they allow their thoughts to wander. They are not singing from the heart, even though they may be very good singers. They only close their eyes and wait out the congregational prayer, which never touches them. They are not edified by the preaching, but they either blame the minister for this, or it is no great concern to them. They never feel a need for celebrating the holy Supper, but they do so anyway from some ulterior motive. They do experience a certain remorse for their sins. Either they are afraid of being discovered, or they are sorry for the consequences they experience from their sins. They may even pretend to turn to God, yet not with sincere hearts. Theirs is an Esau's sorrow, which has nothing in common with a true repentance. Conversion is a sincere sorrow that we have offended God with our sins, even as David cried out, "Against Thee, against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight" (
Psalm 51:4). Conversion brings us on our knees in true repentance, confessing and forsaking our sin, and pleading for forgiving mercies. For the sincere child of God there is a continual sorrow for sin, guilt, and depravity, with a seeking after God and a longing for perfection. Those who do not experience this true conversion are admonished to refrain from celebrating the Supper, lest they bring greater condemnation on themselves. 

The sincere examiner is the 
child of God, who lives by faith and seeks to be strengthened in the faith. 

Whom does he examine? Himself. Does this mean that he stands off at a distance, as it were, to take an objective look at himself? Does this self-examination imply that I begin by asking myself: Am I a Christian? Am I a child of God? Does this mean that I look to myself for some virtues, good works, or even a bit of perfection? If that were the case, I might despair of myself, be filled with doubts and fears, or else assume the Pharisee's position: "I thank Thee, Lord, that I am not as other men are." Scripture nowhere admonishes this, since I cannot look at myself objectively, any more than I would get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and ask myself whether I am the same person who retired in sleep last night. 

Scripture does admonish us to examine ourselves whether we are in the faith (
II Cor. 13:5). That is something quite different. Then we ask ourselves, first of all, whether we are sound in doctrine, whether we believe the truth of the holy Scriptures, and, moreover, whether our daily walk of life is in harmony with our profession. Do we desire, will and think, speak and act as children of God? As our Form for the Lord's Supper expresses it, "Considering that we seek our life outside of ourselves in Jesus Christ, we acknowledge that we lie in the midst of death; therefore, notwithstanding we feel many infirmities in ourselves, as namely, that we have not perfect faith, and that we do not give ourselves to serve God with that zeal as we are bound, but have daily to strive with the weakness of our faith, and the evil lusts of our flesh; yet, since we are (by the grace of the Holy Spirit) sorry for these weaknesses and earnestly desirous to fight against our unbelief, and to live according to all the commandments of God: therefore we rest assured, that no sin or infirmity, which still remains in us against our will, can hinder us from being received of God in mercy, and from being made worthy partakers of this heavenly meat and drink." 

That leaves us with the question: Of what does this self-examination consist? After taking an honest inward look at ourselves, we might ask: What do the other members of my family think of me? What impression do I leave with my fellow church members? Do my friends and acquaintances speak well of me as a child of God? On the other hand, does the world hate me? In one word, am I a friend and companion of those who fear the Lord? 

Yet, this examination of ourselves includes more than that. The Form for the Administration of the Lord's Supper leads us in the right direction, informing us that the true examination of ourselves consists of three parts. It is interesting to note that these 'three parts are also the basis for the division of our Heidelberg Catechism and are found in the first part of our Baptism Form. They are drawn from many passages in the Psalms, such as 
Psalm 51, 116, 130, as well as from the three parts of Paul's epistle to the Romans. 

I must know how great are my sins and miseries. I must realize that I am conceived and born in sin, and therefore am subject to all misery, yea, to condemnation itself. We must consider our sins and the curse due to us for them, so that we abhor and humble ourselves before God. With the Psalmist we cry from the depths of our sin and misery: Lord, hear my voice. If Thou shouldst mark my iniquities, Lord, how could I ever stand before Thee? (
Psalm 130:1-3). 

Moreover, we must know how we are delivered from all our sins and miseries. We must examine our hearts whether we believe this faithful promise of God, that all our sins are forgiven us for the sake of the passion and death of Christ, so that His perfect righteousness is imputed to us so perfectly as if we in our own persons had satisfied for all our sins, and fulfilled all righteousness. We must have the song in our hearts: "Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered, in whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, in whose spirit there is no guile" (
Psalm 32:1, 2). 

Finally, we must purpose henceforth to show true gratitude to God in our whole lives, and to walk uprightly before Him, laying aside all enmity, hatred, and envy, resolved to walk in true love and peace with our neighbor. 

All those God will certainly receive in mercy and count them worthy partakers of the Table of His Son Jesus Christ (Form for the Administration of the Lord's Supper).