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What Is the Lord's Supper? Part IX

Q. 171. How are they that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper to prepare themselves before they come unto it?

A. They that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves thereunto, by examining themselves of their being in Christ, of their sins and wants; of the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, repentance; love to God and the brethren, charity to all men, forgiving those that have done them wrong; of their desires after Christ, and of their new obedience; and by renewing the exercise of these graces, by serious meditation, and fervent prayer.


In the Westminster Larger Catechism, Question and Answer 171 explains to us something of what it means to examine ourselves before we come to the Lord’s Supper. This is, in essence, an unpacking of what Paul is getting at when he cautions members of the church by saying, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:28).

Why does Paul command us to take a time of examination before partaking of the Supper? Because of the solemnity of the sacrament and the danger of incurring God’s wrath if we eat in an unworthy manner (11:27). But if we think about it, the entire worship of God deserves a serious preparation—not just once a month or however often we might partake of the Supper. Just as we prepare for worship all week, and not just in the five minutes before the service, so too we should be examining ourselves constantly. This self-examination is simply part of the Christian life. It should be second nature to us.

In reality, however, it’s something we often fail at. It’s something we neglect to do. We walk into worship with the nonchalance with which we would enter a shopping mall. To remedy this, a careful study of what the Catechism says on the subject is in order.

Interestingly, the very first thing the Westminster Divines say this means is that we must recognize our status as “being in Christ.” They cite 2 Corinthians 13:5 as a proof text. This is further evidence that our examination must be constant, and not just spared for the Lord’s Supper, for Paul is not speaking about the sacrament in 2 Corinthians 13, he’s speaking about the Christian life in general. This is what he writes: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?”

Paul is saying to the Corinthians that they need to wake up and realize that their true identity is found in Jesus Christ. A firm grasp on this truth will keep them from sinning, which is inconsistent with who they are as Christians. So the very first thing we must do when coming to the Table is remember to whom we belong. This is a meal that is not set for the world. It is a meal for God’s people, for those who are in Christ. Our sinful habits and behaviors can often overwhelm and discourage us to the point where we think we don’t have a seat at the Table. But ask yourself this: is Christ in me? Am I in Him by faith? If so, no matter what sin you are struggling with, then there's an open invitation.

Jonathan Cruse