1 Corinthians 11:29
Explain the Scottish custom of "fencing the tables" at sacramental seasons, that is, of guarding the tables from the approach of unworthy persons. There has grown up round the expression, "Let a man examine himself," a kind of self searching, as a Christian duty, which could hardly have been in the thought of the apostle. It has come to be considered the right thing that, at stated seasons, the Christian should subject his whole inner life, his thoughts, his views of truth, his frames of mind, and his varied feelings, to examination; testing them by the most familiar and admired models of Christian experience. Many of us know what it is to attempt this painful and difficult work, and perhaps we know also the heavy porosities which follow the attempt; the oppressed moods into which our souls get, the killing outright of all Christian joy, the morbid pleasure found in dwelling on the evil phases of our experience, and, above all, the subtle self trust which it engenders, until we awake to find that we have been led away from simple, childlike reliance on Christ to an attempted confidence in our own frames and feelings and experiences. St. Paul distinctly enjoins the duty of examining one's self, but if we take his counsel in connection with the circumstances and doings of those to whom his counsel was given, we shall see what was the sphere of self examination to which he referred. The evils which the apostle deals with are plainly the relics of the old heathen life gaining strength again, such strength as to imperil this most solemn Christian ordinance. There were class rivalries, one pressing before another; the rich were making ostentatious display; the poor were grasping at the best food; self indulgence, gluttony, were so manifest that few could realize the special religious significance of the closing part of the feast, the common sharing of the bread and wine of memorial. St. Paul, having this in mind, urges that a man must examine into his morals, his habits, his conduct, his relationships, and his duties, and gain a moral fitness for partaking of the bread and of the wine of memorial. We consider -

I. THE MORAL LIFE THAT IS IN HARMONY WITH HOLY COMMUNION. One important element of the Christian spirit is sensitiveness to the tone, the character, the genius, of Christianity. We ought not to have to ask," What is consistent?" We should feel what is becoming, what is worthy of our vocation. The cultured, spiritually minded Christian, who is "transformed by the renewing of his mind," finds himself resisting all wrong, disliking all that is unlovely, shrinking from everything that is untrue, and gathering round him all that is kind and lovely and of good report. His life he seeks to set sounding through all its notes in full harmony with the keynote of the gospel. But we should see that our moral life is to be tested by Christianity when that religion is at its highest point of expression, and that we find in the Eucharistic feast. We must test ourselves by the ideal which we imagine as realized at the Lord's table. Then we say:

1. That there must be a very clearly cut and marked separation from the larger social evils of our time.

2. There must be a firm stand in relation to the questionable things of our time, the things that seem to lie on the borderland between good and evil.

3. There is further required a wise ordering of family relationships, and an efficient restraining of personal habits. Our communion times, when the holy quiet is around us, when the fever and the bustle of life are stilled, and our glorious, pure, white Lord comes so near to us, bring out to view the stains of secret fault.

II. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF SECURING THE HARMONY BETWEEN THE MORAL LIFE AND CHRISTIANITY IS THROWN UPON THE CHRISTIAN HIMSELF. The question of supreme importance to us is this, "Will we let the Christ spirit that is in us nobly shape our whole life and relationship? Will we so fill everything with the new life that men shall find the Christ image glowing everywhere from us? Will we be thoroughly in earnest to live the holy life?" The old idea was, win the soul for Christ, and let the body go - the helpless body of sin and death. The truer idea is that we are to win our bodies for Christ, our whole life spheres for Christ. And the burden lies on us. God will win no man's body or life sphere for him. He will win them with him. God will help every man who sets himself manfully to the work. The sanctification of a believer is no accident and no miracle. The law concerning it is most plain: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who worketh in you to will and do of his good pleasure." The responsibility lies on us of "putting off the old man with his deeds," and the responsibility lies on us of "putting on the new man." The goodness and graces of the Christian life are to be won; they are not mere gifts. Gentleness of speech and manner, lowly mindedness, meekness of self denial, tender consideration for others, glistening purity of thought and heart, strong faith, glowing love, and ardent hope; the inexpressible loveliness of those who have caught the spirit of Christ; the charming bloom - richer far than lies on ripened fruit - that lies on the word and work of the sanctified; - all these are to be won. We must want them, set ourselves in the way of them, wrestle and pray for them, put ourselves into closest relations with Christ so that they may be wrought in us by his Spirit. And communion times bring all these claims so prominently before us. Brotherhood, holiness, forgiveness, charity, mean then so much; and our attainments seem so few, so small, in the light of the ideal Christian life. Let a man examine himself; find his evil and put it away; find what is lacking, and seek to gain it, and so attain the moral fitness for sharing in the Holy Communion. - R.T.

For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself.

1. What is meant by eating and drinking? Not the body and blood of Christ, but sacramental bread and wine.

2. What by unworthily? Not according to Christ's institution.

3. What by damnation? Judgment. He sins, and so must expect punishment.

II. DOCTRINE. It behoves every one to have a great care he doth not receive unworthily. Who are unworthy receivers?

1. The ignorant receivers.(1) Such as know not the fundamentals of religion, that is (Matthew 28:19) —

(a)God the Father (John 17:3).

(b)God the Son. Who He was; what He became; what He suffered; what He did; what He is; for whom He undertook these things; what benefit we receive from them.

(c)The Holy Ghost.(2) Such as know not the state of their own souls.(3) That know not the nature of the sacrament, even that it is an ordinance instituted by God, wherein, under the outward signs of bread and wine, Christ, with all the benefits of His death and passion, is represented, sealed, and conveyed to the worthy receiver.(4) Examine —

(a)How may we know whether we know God? By our love to Him, trust on Him (Psalm 9:10), desire for Him, joy in Him, fear of Him.

(b)Ourselves. By our thoughts of ourselves, and our constant endeavour to get ourselves bettered.

(c)The sacrament. By our desire of it, and preparation:for it.

2. The impenitent (Acts 2:33).

(1)What is repentance?

(a)To sorrow for the sins we have committed.
(i.) Heartily (Joel 2:13).
(ii.) Sincerely.
(iii.) Universally.
(iv.) Constantly.

(b)To turn from the sins for which we sorrowed —
(i.) With full purpose of heart.
(ii.) In obedience to God.
(iii.) From all sin.
(iv.) To a right end.

(2)How appears it that the impenitent is unworthy?

(a)They cannot discern the Lord's body.

(b)They mock the ordinance by acting and living contrary to it, and provoke God.

3. Examine —

(1)Your heart, thoughts, affections.

(2)Your life, words, actions (Jeremiah 9:17, 18).

(Bp. Beveridge.)

I. THE SIN. Thoughtless, impenitent, irreverent participation of the holy communion.


1. Not discerning the Lord's body.

2. Through ignorance and unbelief.

III. THE CONSEQUENCES. Not necessarily eternal damnation, but condemnation, entailing, it may be, temporal chastisement (ver. 30), yet with a merciful design.

(J. Lyth, D.D.)


1. God. commands it (ver. 28). The matter and manner of all duties are linked together in the command of God. What God hath joined, let no man put asunder.

2. No duty is pleasing to God, unless it be done in a right manner.

3. Nothing is a work theologically good. but what is done in a right manner (Hebrews 11:6). There was a vast difference betwixt Cain and Abel's offering (Genesis 4:4, 5; cf. Hebrews 11:4). Cloth may be good, and yet the coat base, if it be marred in the making.

4. Though the work be in itself good, yet if it be done not in a right manner, it provokes God to inflict heavy strokes on the doer (ver. 31).

5. Only the duty done in a right manner prospers and gets the blessing. Our meat can do us no good, and our clothes cannot warm us, if we do not use them in the right manner.

6. If we communicate not in a right manner, we do no more than hypocrites actually do, and pagans may do.

7. God gets no glory otherwise from us in our duty (Matthew 5:16).


1. Because to communicate is easy, but to communicate in a right manner is very difficult.

2. Because they obtain their end by the bare performance of the duty. As —(1) Peace of mind. Many consciences are not so far awakened as to give men no rest without doing duty in a right manner, yet they will not hold their peace should a man neglect duties altogether.(2) Credit in the world. It is no small matter to have a name, and to seem good.

3. Men may get duties done, and their lust kept too; they may go to a communion table, and to the table of devils too; but to do duties in the right manner is inconsistent with peace with our lusts (Psalm 66:18).

4. Because men mostly have low and mean thoughts of God and His service (Malachi 1:6-8; cf. Hebrews 12:28, 29).

5. Because men mostly are acquainted with fellowship with God to be had in duties; they know not the necessity of it, nor the excellency of it. Hence they are not at pains about it.

(T. Boston, D.D.)

1. A trial of grace, whether it be inherent or no. It is a showing the death of Christ: there must be therefore a search, whether those graces which suit the death of Christ, and answer to the ends of it, be in the subject.

2. A trial of the state wherein those graces are. Since the Supper is not worthily received but by an exercise of repentance, faith, and love, it is necessary to inquire into the state of those graces and their vigor or languor in the soul. By this are excluded from this ordinance —(1) All persons incapable of performing this antecedent duty. Either in regard of natural inability, as children, infants. And in regard of a negligent inability, as ignorant persons, who neglect the means of knowledge, or improve them not.(2) All persons who cannot find upon examination anything of a Divine stamp upon them in the lowest degree. This command of self-examination evidenceth to us —(a) That a Christian may come to the knowledge of his state in grace; otherwise it would be wholly fruitless to examine ourselves.(b) No necessity of auricular confession: to tell all the secrets of the life to a priest. So let a man eat of this bread and drink of this cup. So, not otherwise, it is a hedge planted against every intrusion, so not without examination, and a fitness upon it. For the first. All men outwardly professing Christianity are not in a capacity to come to the great ordinance of the Supper. If all men were capable, pre-examination were not then necessary. In prosecution of this doctrine we shall lay down some propositions.

1. Only regenerate men are fit to come to the Lord's Supper. No man in a natural state but must needs eat and drink unworthily, for he retains his enmity against God and Christ. Sanctified persons only are the proper guests. An unregenerate man cannot perform the duties necessary. It is bread belonging to children; unrenewed men are not yet in a state of sonship.(1) Faith is a necessary qualification, but unrenewed men have not faith. An unbeliever receives the elements, not the life and spirit of a sacrament.(2) An unrenewed man is not in covenant, and therefore no capable subject.(3) This sacrament is a sacrament of nourishment; unrenewed men therefore are not fit for it. They are dead (Ephesians 2:1), and what hath a dead man to do with a feast? Men must be alive before they be nourished. Dead branches receive no sap from the vine.(4) This sacrament is an ordinance of inward communion with Christ. But unrenewed men can have no inward communion with Him. They cannot have that joy which ought to be in a converse with Christ. Bosom communion belongs only to bosom friends: others are but intruders, and will receive no countenance from Christ.(5) This ordinance is to be received by true Christians only. But renewed men only are such. Christianity is an inward powerful work, not a paint, an image. The form of godliness doth not constitute a man a Christian, but the power of it (2 Timothy 3:5). Freemen only have a right to the privileges of the city, and true, Christians to the privileges of the Church.

2. Men guilty of a course of sin, though secret and unknown to others, are unfit for this ordinance. What sins debar a man from this ordinance?(1) Not such which are infirmities incident to human nature. Every sin doth not impede the operation of faith about the proper object.(2) But a course in wilful and frequent breaches of a known command debars a man.(3) Such cannot in that state perform the duties requisite in this ordinance. Faith is a necessary qualification; but a denial of subjection to Christ is an evidence of a gross infidelity. Practices are the clearest indexes of faith or unbelief, evil works deny God in His promises and precepts.(4) Such contemptuously undervalue the blood of Christ, and therefore are unfit for this heavenly ordinance. It is no better than a mocking of God to come to His table with a professed enmity in the heart against Him.(5) Such cannot receive any good from this ordinance. He can design no good to himself with a resolution to continue in his sin. Doctrine second: It is every man's duty solemnly and seriously to examine himself about his interest in Christ, his habitual grace, his actual right and fitness for the Lord's Supper before his approach to it. Every ordinance hath a preparative: meditation is to usher in prayer, prayer is to sanctify the Word, the Word and prayer to sanctify other ordinances.This institution hath examination for its harbinger to prepare the way of its access to us, and our access to it.

1. This self-examination or preparation is necessary. God required it in all duties. Purification went before sacrificing. The preparation and examination of themselves as to ceremonial uncleanness was strict before the passover, which was inferior to this ordinance, as the legal state was to the evangelical. The mercy to be now remembered is greater, the duties of preparation and devotion ought not to be less. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice, and eat of the part appointed for the feast (1 Samuel 16:5).(1) It is necessary to clear up a right. There is an outward acceptation of Christ and His laws without a true and inward change of heart.(2) It is necessary for the exciting of grace. That the soul may be excited before; that there may not be an ebb in our affections, when there is a flood of our Saviour's blood; that we may not have little thoughts in the presence of great and adorable objects.(3) It is necessary to prevent sin. The apostle's direction to them to examine themselves implies the want of it to be the cause of those miscarriages among them, which he taxeth in the preceding verses.

2. As it is necessary, so it is universal. Let a man examine himself. Not some men, but every man; the most substantial Christian, as well as the weakest. I shall only mention two things.(1) Let a man examine himself as to his sentiments concerning the nature of the institution.(2) Let a man examine himself what soil he hath contracted since the last time he was with God, whether the interest of God hath prevailed in our hearts above the interest of the flesh. Do we invite Christ into our souls, and shall we not examine every corner and search out the dirt and cobwebs which may be offensive to Him? The Spirit of Christ is a dove, and doves love clean places. But —

3. We should inquire whether we have habitual grace or no; whether there be those uniting, gluing graces — faith and love. The second grace to examine ourselves about and to exercise at this ordinance is sorrow for sin. This is necessary to the Supper. The way to an heavenly repast, as well as the way to heavenly mansions, is through the valley of Baca. Since repentance is necessary, let us examine ourselves what of this grace there is in us.(1) What is the spring of our sorrow?(2) What is the subject of the sorrow? Is it the sin of nature? do we judge that the greatest sin, and not regard it, as the common people do the stars, imagining them no bigger than a candle, when they are of a vast bigness?(3) What are the adjuncts of the grief? Is it in some measure proportionable to our sin, proportionable not to the law, but to the gospel? The first cannot be attained by us, because the injury done to God is infinte. Is the league between sin and the soul broken?

4. Love to God is another grace we are to examine ourselves about.(1) Spiritual affections to God are required in all duties, much more in this. The highest representation of a loving Saviour suffering, ought to have a suitable return of affection. Now for the trial of this love.

(a)Let us not judge ourselves by a general love.

(b)Nor let us judge ourselves to be lovers of God because of our education.

(c)Nor let us judge ourselves by any passionate fits of love which may sometimes stir in our souls. But let us examine —(1) The motives and object of our affection.(2) What is the nature of our love?

(a)In regard to the prevalency of it. Do we love Christ solely?

(b)In regard to the restlessness of it. Can nothing but Christ and the enjoyment of Him content us?

(c)What are the effects and concomitants of our love? Are we careful to please Him, though with our own shame?

5. Another grace to be examined is love of God's people. This is the badge of a disciple (John 8:34, 35).(1) This is necesssary in all duties. Would we pray, our hands must be lifted up without wrath and doubting (1 Timothy 2:8).(2) But more necessary in this ordinance.

(a)It represents the union of believers together. The bread being made up of several grains compacted together (1 Corinthians 10:16). For we being many are one bread and one body. This ordinance was instituted to solder believers together. They have the same nourishment, and therefore should have the same affection.

(b)No benefit of the ordinance without this grace.Let us examine ourselves as to this grace. And that we may not mistake, every difference in judgment is not a sign of the want of this grace. But this love is true —(1) When it is founded upon the grace of a person.(2) It must be a fervent love. With a pure heart fervently (1 Peter 1:22), not in appearance and faintly.(3) A love manifested most in their persecutions. To be ashamed of believers in their sufferings is, in Christ's interpretation, to be ashamed of Christ Himself.

6. Another grace to be examined and acted is desire, a holy appetite.(1) This is necessary in all duties. In hearing the Word the desire must be as insatiable as the infant's cry for milk (1 Peter 2:2).(2) But in this ordinary more necessary.

(a)It is a feast, and appetite is proper to that.

(b)The greater the longings, the greater the satisfaction.

(c)This is the noblest affection we can bestow upon God.

(Bp. Hacket.)

Like as if a rebellious subject should no more regard his king's seal than other common wax, it might rightly be said that he doth no more esteem him than other men; so when we come to the Lord's table, if we take irreverently the mystical bread and wine as common food, we make the Lord's body and life to be like the common body and life of humanity.


It was a smart and piercing speech of St. to , offering himself to the table of the Lord, What, wilt thou reach forth those hands of thine, yet dropping with the blood of innocents, slaughtered at Thessalonica, and with them lay hold upon the most holy body of the Lord? Or wilt thou offer to put that precious blood in thy mouth? etc. The like may be said to many coming to the sacrament, that instead of washing their hands in innocency, they rinse them in the blood of innocents. What! will they reach forth those hands of theirs, defiled with blood, with the blood of oppression, those fingers of theirs defiled with iniquity and with those hands and fingers touch those holy mysteries? with those lips of theirs, that have drivelled out such a deal of filthy communication, with those mouths which have drunk of the cup of devils; with those mouths and lips, will they offer to drink the precious blood of Christ? is it not sin enough that with their sins they have already defiled their hands, fingers, lips, mouths, but that now also they will needs come and defile the Lord's table? and impudently crowd into the sacrament, when they come piping hot out of their sins and provocations?

(R. Skinner.)

A man is not said to be worthy in regard of any worthiness in himself, but in respect of his affection and preparation, and in regard of his fit and seemly receiving. As we used to say the king received worthy entertainment in such a gentleman's house, not for that he was worthy to receive him, but because he omitted no compliments and service in his power fit to entertain him; even so I say, we are not worthy of Christ, that He should enter into our houses, that He should come under our roof. But, notwithstanding, we are said to be worthy when we do all things which are in our power fit for the entertainment of Him. If we come not in pride and in our rags, but with repentance, joy, comfort, and humility, then are we worthy.

(R. Sibbes, D.D.)

Consider —


1. What is meant by worthiness to partake.(1) Not a legal worthiness, as if we could deserve it at the hands of God (Luke 17:10). Those who are that way worthy in their own eyes, are altogether unworthy.(2) But it is a gospel-meetness and fitness (Matthew 3:8). And much of that lies in coming with a deep sense of our vileness and emptiness (Isaiah 4:1).

2. Wherein does this worthiness to partake consist?(1) In habitual meetness for it, in respect of a gracious state. A dead man is not fit for a feast nor a dead soul for the Lord's table.(2) In actual meetness, in respect of a gracious frame. Not only life, but liveliness is requisite (Psalm 80:18), A sleeping man is not fit for a feast; and therefore even a true believer may communicate unworthily, as some in Corinth did (vers. 30, 32).


1. The rule or touchstone by which we must examine.(1) Beware of false ones.

(a)The common guise of the world. It is not enough that ye are like, aye, and better than many (Luke 18:11).

(b)One's being better than sometime before (2 Corinthians 10:12).

(c)The letter of the law. The Pharisee (Luke 18:11); and Paul before his conversion (Romans 7:9).

(d)The seen practice of the godly, which is an unsafe rule, because you cannot see the principle, motives, and ends of their actions.(2) The only true rule or touchstone in this case is the Word of God (Isaiah 8:20). God hath given us marks in the Word, by which one may know whether he be in Christ or not (2 Corinthians 5:17); whether born of God or not (1 John 3:9), and the like.

2. The matter about which we are to examine ourselves — the state of our souls before the Lord.(1) The reason is, this sacrament is not a converting, but a confirming ordinance. It is a seal of the covenant, and so supposes the covenant entered into before by the party. It is appointed for nourishment, which presupposes life. And if it were not so, what need of self-examination?(2) But more particularly, because there are some graces, namely, knowledge, faith, repentance, love, and new obedience, which in a particular manner are sacramental graces — these are to be examined.


1. To prevent the sin of coming unworthily to the Lord's table. If we rush on this ordinance without previous examining ourselves, how can we miss of communicating unworthily?

2. To prevent the danger of coming so, which is eating and drinking damnation to one's self. The danger is great —

(1)To the soul (ver. 29).

(2)To the body (ver. 30).

(T. Boston, D.D.)

Not discerning the Lord's body
The Saviour is here making a spiritual feast for His people, presenting Himself to them under the form of bread and wine; you are, therefore, not to look on these as mere dumb signs, but as objects which speak most distinctly to your spiritual ear. It behoves every Church, that is, every company of believers —

I. TO REALISE THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD AMONG THEM AS HIS GUESTS AND FRIENDS. At His table you are to meditate of His love — to sit down and commemorate His sufferings on your behalf; His object is to make you happy; He commands you to take this as a pledge of His friendship; you must not stop short at the mere symbol; this is, in effect, His body that was broken for you, and this is His blood which was poured out for you on the accursed tree. His hands, His feet were pierced for you — His side, too, was pierced, after He had given up the ghost: His sufferings were such as no tongue can tell, and such as cannot be known to mortal man. His affection for you was written in blood, and that blood was His own! That bread and that wine tell you that He died for you; and that in so doing He made "an end of sin, and brought in an everlasting righteousness." "He is now able to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by Him." "Eat, then, oh! friends, and drink, oh! beloved," is His language. As He died for you, so He now lives for you: and at the close He will come again, and take you unto Himself, that you may be for ever with the Lord.

II. TO RECIPROCATE THE FEELINGS OF THE LORD JESUS. The soul must and will speak to the praise of sovereign mercy. That we may properly discern the Lord's body, we must —

1. Discern the evil of sin. Where is sin painted in colours so dreadful as here?

2. Discern the relation of man. What is the depraved creature man worth to his Maker? He is lost for all the ends which he ought to answer. Divine mercy could not reach him, apart from a proper Mediator and an atonement for sin. After this redemption he needed the exercise of Divine power to create him anew. The Cross, clearly seen, is death to human glorying. There is no room for it there! Go then, Christian, to His table, and take a fresh lesson from your Lord, who, with all His perfections, was made lowly in heart, since the more you share of this, the more abundantly will you possess rest to your own soul.

3. Discern the beauty of holiness and the necessity of cultivating it. Can you have a more impressive lesson on the evil of sin than the table of the Lord affords you? Will you prepare a second Cross for Christ, and with your own hands nail Him to it? Is there anything in the universe so full of beauty as holiness? Is it not the interest of every creature to press after a close resemblance to our Judge and our Creator?

4. Discern His sovereign and unutterable love. Were we not all enemies, full of selfishness, a god to ourselves, and a rule to ourselves, living without God, and having no hope in the world? Yet He came to die for these very enemies.

(The Christian Witness.)

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