Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Reformed consensus on 1 Cor. 11:29

As we noticed in a previous post, the Westminster Assembly were very clear in their interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:27, 29 and 32, i.e. that it includes the warning of damnation as well as chastisement. The Confession states: "Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament; yet, they receive not the thing signified thereby; but, by their unworthy coming thereunto, are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation."

We stressed that those who are not brought to repentance for partaking unworthily through chastisement are liable to damnation. In what follows we wish to make clear the Reformed consensus on 1 Corinthians 11:29, i.e. that it includes the warning of damnation as well as chastisement. This is the context for understanding the statement in the Confession and other relevant parts of the Standards. Without this context we will try to force the interpretation of the Confession to our own preferences rather than acknowledge the plain sense according to the original intent. While the interpretations of former times are determinative of the interpretation of Scripture we ought to have the humility to take seriously how the Spirit has illuminated men of old with greater godliness and understanding of the Scriptures.

It is interesting that John Calvin, in opposing paedocommunion, makes clear that he regards damnation as a potential consequence of receiving unworthily:
He does not admit all to partake of the Supper - but confines it to those who are fit to discern the body and blood of the Lord.... ‘He who eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body’ [First Corinthians 11:29].... Why should we offer poison - to our young children? 
The Form of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments, etc. Used in the English Congregation
at Geneva (1556) was used in Scotland following the Reformation. This makes very clear the same interpretation:
Therefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, he shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Then see that every man prove and try himself, and so let him eat of this bread and drink of this cup; for whosoever eateth or drinketh unworthily, he eateth and drinketh his own damnation, for not having due regard and consideration of the Lord's body.
so is the danger great if we receive the same unworthily, for then we are guilty of the body and blood of Christ our Saviour, we eat and drink our own damnation, not considering the Lord's body; we kindle God's wrath against us, and provoke him to plague us with diverse diseases and sundry kinds of death.
Without making a minute examination of every key document or key minister that we might we shall pass to consider the views of Robert Bruce from the generation immediately following the Reformation. During his five sermons on the Lord's Supper, Bruce refers to the warning of damnation on those receiving unworthily.
Therefore come not to the sacrament, except you bring both faith and obedience with you. If thou come not with a heart minded to obey Christ, at least more than thou wast wont to do, thou comest to thine own damnation. And if thou bringest a heart void of faith, thou comest to thine own damnation.
He then deals with an objection regarding damnation upon an unbeliever who receives the Lord's Supper. It was objected that since an unbeliever could not receive Christ in a spiritual manner, he was not eating and drinking unworthily, and not therefore guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ. Interestingly, Bruce makes it clear that it is the elements that are being eaten and drunk and therefore whether or not the body and blood of Christ is spiritually received, there is still guilt. "Yet theyare accounted guilty of the body and blood of the Son of God, because they refused Him".
For when they did eat that Bread and drink that Wine, if they had had faith, they might have eaten and drunk the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus. Now because thou refusest the body of Christ, thou contemnest His body; if thou have not an eye to discern and judge of His body that is offered thee. For if they had had faith, they might have seen His body offered with the Bread; by faith they might have taken and eaten that body. Therefore lacking their wedding garment, lacking faith whereby they should eat the body and drink the blood of Christ; lacking faith, which is the eye of the soul to perceive, and the mouth of the soul to receive that body which is spiritually offered ; they are counted guilty of the body and blood of Christ. 
if thou come as a swine or a dog to handle the seals of the body and blood of Christ...I say, mayest thou be reckoned guilty of His body and blood.

From Hebrews 6:6 and 10:29 he shows that these are not real believers but apostates who in their apostasy crucify Christ again and are so guilty of his body and blood.

The wicked cannot eat the body of Christ; but they may be guilty of it. The Apostle makes this more plain yet by another speech which I have aforetime handled from this place. In Heb. vi. 6, it is said that the apostates, they that make grievous defection, "crucify again to themselves the Son of God;" and their falling away makes them as guilty as they were who crucified Him. He is now in heaven, they cannot fetch Him from thence to crucify Him : yet the Apostle says they crucify Him. Why? Because their malice is as great as theirs that crucified Him ; so that if they had Him on the earth, they would do the like : therefore they are said to crucify the Son of God. Likewise in Heb. x. 29, there is another speech: the wicked are said to tread the Blood of Christ under their feet. Why? Because their malice is as great as theirs that trode upon His blood. They are accounted for this reason to be guilty of the body and blood of Christ, not because they eat His body, but because they refuse it, when they might have had it.  
Now the time remains yet, wherein we may have the body and blood of Christ. This time is very precious, and the dispensation of times is very secret and has its own bounds ; if you take not this time now, it will away. This time of grace and of that heavenly food has been dispensed to you very long: but how ye have profited, your life and behaviour testify. Remember, therefore, yourselves in time, and in time make use of it, for you know not how long it will last : crave a mouth to receive, as well the food of your soul that is offered, as the food of your bodies : and take this time while you may have it, or assuredly the time shall come, when you shall cry for it but shall not get it ; but in place of grace and mercy, shall come judgment, vengeance, and the dispensation of wrath.

In a further post we wish to make extensive reference to the Puritans on this topic, God Willing.