Reformed Free Publishing Association
This article was written by Rev. G. VandenBerg in the December 1, 1965 issue of the Standard Bearer.
Our communion form delineates the walk of gratitude of the Christian as the laying aside unfeignedly of all enmity, hatred, and envy and a firm resolution to walk in true love and peace with the neighbor. Such conduct evidences true thankfulness to God because it is only the regenerated child of God who can and will do these things and in the practice of them he is deeply conscious that "by the grace of God I am what I am and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain" (1 Cor. 15:10). Human nature cannot and will not submit to God's ordinance of love for "the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7). All the works of the flesh are characterized by "enmity, hatred, and envy", the very things which the child of God strives by grace to put off. Thankfulness, which is the fruit of regeneration, springs to manifestation in a life of uprightness before God.
The essence of that life is love and in the concrete manifestation of the love of God in our walk therefore lies the proof that we are born of God and are made partakers of his communion and that of his saints. In the living experience of that love lies the conscious enjoyment of all the blessings of salvation while the absence of that love creates total spiritual vacuum in the consciousness of man.
It is not particularly striking then that the word of God in countless places emphasizes the importance of love in the conversation of the saints. Jesus tells us that it constitutes the core of the entire law of God in that well known summary: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and the great commandment; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37–40).
The elect of God are enjoined in Colossians 3:12–14 to "put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." But this is not enough for to this large order is added "And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness." Love supersedes all the rest. There can be no kindness, forbearance, forgiveness, or any spiritual practice without love.
In this light we would also consider that classic passage on love that is found in first Corinthians 13. Though we speak with the tongue of men and of angels, have the gift of prophecy, understand all mysteries, have all knowledge and faith, give our goods to the poor and our bodies to be burned; if we lack LOVE we are nothing and all these things profit us nothing.
This is basically because without love we do not have God. GOD IS LOVE (1 John 4:16). We note this text because in the present connection it is especially significant for there is added: "He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him." And although this is certainly true as applied to our entire life in the midst of the present world, it is especially true in application to the Lord's Supper. God communes at his table with his people in love and there he bestows upon them the riches of his grace as they dwell in him and he in them. That is exactly why it is so important that in our self-examination we discover within ourselves that spiritual desire and determination to walk in love with our neighbor. This love is the proper expression of our thankfulness to God for the apostle John also writes: "Beloved, if God so loved us, (so as to send his Son to be the propitiation for our sins) we ought also to love one another. . . . .If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is made perfect in us" (1 John 4:11–12).
We cannot walk in enmity and hate of the brother, refuse to seek reconciliation with the brother, bear a grudge in our soul against the brother and refuse to see him about it and expect to have fellowship with God. Love, which is the emulation of the virtue of God himself, demands another way. Love is "kind, it envieth not, it vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, does not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth" (1 Cor. 13:4–6). Love admonishes and seeks to save always. It is reflected practically in the attitude of which James speaks: "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" (James 5:19–20).
Do we so love?
That is the criterion by which the genuineness of our professed gratitude is to be gauged. Without love our gratitude is carnality. Verbal expressions of thanksgiving without love are but so many empty sounds. That is love that responds to the commandments of God in the whole of life and out of the doing of his word comes forth a true expression of thanksgiving.
The Application of the Keys of the Kingdom
"All those, then, who are thus disposed, God will certainly receive in mercy, and count them worthy partakers of the table of his Son Jesus Christ." With this statement the communion form continues to explain how the keys of the kingdom of God are applied to the participants at the communion table. The statement itself is positive and assures the true believers that God will certainly dwell with them in the communion of his Son Jesus Christ. They will receive the benefits of this holy institution and they may eat and drink by faith in the assurance that God has given unto them eternal life. The phrase, "who are thus disposed," does not refer alone to the part of the self-examination that deals with the matter of gratitude but it includes all of the foregoing. Those who know their sin and misery, are conscious of their own worthlessness; those who believe that Christ Jesus has unconditionally merited perfect righteousness for them and who, therefore, in the experience of that salvation are truly thankful unto God, God will receive in mercy at his table. Of course he will, for it is God himself who draws such in the way of that salvation unto his table where he feeds and nourishes them unto eternal life.
But there is more. There is an opposite side to this picture. "On the contrary," states our Form, "those who do not feel this testimony in their hearts, eat and drink judgment to themselves." The sacraments are subsidiaries of the preaching of the word and the effect of both is the same. Even as in the preaching of the word there is always a two-fold effect upon the hearers, so is there a two-fold working of God through the sacraments. The word is a savor of life unto life or of death unto death. At the table of the Lord we either eat and drink by faith unto the enjoyment of our salvation in Christ, or we eat and drink judgment unto ourselves. The sacrament never leaves us totally unaffected. It is not so that we can come away from the Lord's table as though we had not been there. The word of God speaks to us through the holy sacrament and it says one of two things: it proclaims either the truth of justification by faith which affords us conscious peace with God, or it declares to us that we are the objects of God's holy wrath and disfavor. Such is the implication of the term "judgment" here. It contains the idea of "condemnation" and, consequently, it is a judgment of God in which he finds and declares us to be guilty according to his law of love.
Therefore it is necessary to warn and admonish those who are defiled with sin "to keep themselves from the table of the Lord, and declare to them that they have no part in the kingdom of Christ."
Concerning this paragraph of the communion form we wish to make the following observations:
First, the admonition to abstain from the Lord's Supper is not directed to all who at some time or another have defiled themselves with the sins here enumerated. Rather, it speaks of those who live in these sins, refuse to part with them and in whom therefore there are no marks of conversion. Those who have sinned and repented of their sins are spoken of a bit later.
Secondly, the list of sins given here is not intended as a complete list of censurable sins or sins for which one will be excommunicated from the fellowship of the church. Neither is it simply a catalog of sins that happened to be common in the days when this communion form was written. One would miss the point altogether who would attempt to clear himself for admission to the table of the Lord by attempting to show that he is not guilty of the specific sins mentioned. We do well to observe that in general this list of sins follows the order of and covers the ten commandments of the law of God and in that light we may conclude that the thrust of the admonition here is that all those who walk in defiance of God's word are warned to abstain from the holy supper. This is further indicated by the last thing mentioned in this series, namely, "and all who lead offensive lives." This cannot be taken in general as though the meaning is that all offense is sin. It is unavoidable that the walk of the Christian in the midst of the world will and does give offense to those who love iniquity but this is not meant. The offense is that which results from violating God's word. God is the offended one. The life of the sinner is offensive to him. He never looks upon such lives with a "little favor" but he abhors it utterly. And, thus, also all the sins previously enumerated are those that cause such offense. The list could without difficulty be greatly enlarged but this is not necessary. It is sufficient to show from these examples that those who in their walk of life act contrary to the commands of God, thereby demonstrate that they have no part in the kingdom of Christ and therefore cannot be received at his table. To allow this is to desecrate the Lord's table and thereby bring the wrath of God upon the entire congregation (Lord’s Day 30, Heidelberg Catechism).
In the fourth place, the form explicitly states that they shall abstain from the Lord's table "while they continue in such sins". The way is open for repentance and a turning from sin but as long as one walks willfully in sin and then seeks place at the table of the Lord, he can do so only to the aggravation of his own judgment. His condemnation becomes heavier.
Fifthly, this warning and admonition is not designed to instill fear or terror into the hearts of those that would seek admission to the table of the Lord. Among some people you find the notion quite prevalent that the table of the Lord is only for people of God who are virtually perfect. This is a serious mistake and, if the self-examination were then properly conducted, it would lead to the practical conclusion that no one could ever come to the table of the Lord. It is well to be cautious, and in our preparation for the celebration of the Lord's Supper we cannot be too careful that there remains willful sin in us; but the fact that sin is still present in us may not deject our hearts. We exactly come to the supper as sinners, as redeemed sinners, as thankful sinners.