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Are you preparing to observe the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper? Preparation is a good thing because communicants are called to examine themselves first and so to “worthily partake” of the Supper (Westminster Shorter Catechism #97). But, it may be asked, who can adequately prepare for such a service? The Westminster Larger Catechism addresses this concern head-on:
Q172: May one who doubteth of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation, come to the Lord’s supper?
A172: One who doubteth of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, may have true interest in Christ, though he be not yet assured thereof; and in God’s account hath it, if he be duly affected with the apprehension of the want of it, and unfeignedly desires to be found in Christ, and to depart from iniquity: in which case (because promises are made, and this sacrament is appointed, for the relief even of weak and doubting Christians) he is to bewail his unbelief, and labor to have his doubts resolved; and, so doing, he may and ought to come to the Lord’s supper, that he may be further strengthened.
Judge Samuel Bayard, Esq., of French Huguenot descent, served as a ruling elder of the First (Nassau) Presbyterian Church of Princeton, New Jersey for 33 years. His Letters on the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (1822) also responds to the common anxiety shared by believers who feel that they are not in a position to come to the Table. Bayard offers these words of encouragement to those who so doubt of themselves:
My Dear Friend —
You acknowledge the weight of the obligation, and motives to obedience, stated in the preceding letters. You admit that Christians are obviously deficient in respect and gratitude to their Redeemer, if they willfully neglect to comply with his injunction, or abstain from institutions of his appointment. Still however you excuse your own delay in coming to his table, by alledging your unprepared state for this solemnity.
On this subject it is of great importance to form a correct opinion. Have you then ascertained, on scriptural grounds what is the preparation that is indispensible to a worthy communion? Do you imagine that nothing short of a state of sinless perfection, will authorize an attendance on the Lord's Supper; if so, you may indeed despair of ever being suitably prepared. — We are assured on the highest authority that “there is no one who liveth and sinneth not." — (Eccles. 7) In the heart of the holiest saint, how much indwelling corruption still exists! — No my friend, you must be content to come just as you are. The Lord Jesus ''came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." You must come in the exercise of faith, and of repentance, and relying on the assistance of Divine grace; with a fixed resolution to conform in your life and conversation with the rules of the gospel. Availing yourself of all the aids prescribed for advancing in holiness; — namely, of prayer — of meditation — study of the sacred Scriptures, and self examination, you have no ground for apprehension that the blessing of Heaven will be withheld from the use of these appointed means.
But you object — "After using the means, how shall I ascertain with any certainty that I am qualified for an admission to this solemn ordinance? I see many attend it without scruple, whose lives are in truth a libel on the profession they make. They must be grossly deceived in regard to their own state, — and I ask myself, may not this in like manner be the case with myself."
My brother, while we avoid presumption we should study not to err from excess of caution. lf all Christians were to reason thus, how thin would the ranks of openly professed followers of the Lord Jesus, then be!
Though your life is below the standard of the gospel; it is stained by no crime. You are not grossly ignorant. You are not an unbeliever in Divine Revelation. You do not willfully indulge in any known sin. Come then, not rashly, but with humility, and with a firm resolution, (aided by strength from above,) that in obedience to your Saviour’s dying command, you will commemorate his death, by a frequent attendance on this consolatory ordinance.
“There are many truly devout persons, who deal more seriously with themselves than with any one else, and from dejection or mistaken notions of duty some are disposed to render this Sacrament a mean of melancholy and discouragement instead of consolation and thanksgiving — they consider themselves as the chief of sinners, though they cannot fix on any great crime of which they have been guilty; and in consequence of this impression lose that cheerfulness of mind, and those pleasures which the gospel is calculated to impart.''
To such persons we may say — if men had been perfect the death of Christ would have been unnecessary. The means of grace are appointed for our advancement in holiness — the best of men have their infirmities; but the infirmities and weaknesses to which pious persons are exposed are their grief, against which they zealously contend. This ordinance is appointed to establish their faith, and to subdue every sin; such persons Christ affectionately invites to come to him for relief. “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Consider these words of encouragement, and remember that the Lord’s Supper is not an ordinance in which only the perfect may partake, but a means of grace to establish the faith of sinners who know they are such. Read more of Samuel Bayard’s Letters here.