A fence usually says “KEEP OUT!” Some fences are put up to keep precious things in, but often they are put up to keep suspicious things out. But there are also fences to protect those who might wander heedlessly into danger. For example, we have laws requiring pool owners to put fences around their swimming pool for just this reason.
The Lord’s Table, Communion, The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist has just such a fence – to protect those who might wander heedlessly and faithlessly into danger. Our Scottish forefathers erected a movable fence, called a Travess, around the communion tables. Communicants had to remit a communion token to an elder at the gate to give evidence of an examination by their minister that their life and conversation was in accord with their profession of faith in Christ.
Nowadays, Reformed churches erect this fencing verbally. This fencing consists of warning those who have not been baptized in the Triune name, who have not professed faith before the church, who are under the lawful discipline of the Church or who are unwilling to repent of their sins, not come heedlessly and faithlessly to the Lord’s Table. Lest they believe that bread and cup are enough to save without faith in Christ.
The “fencing” and the call to self-examination, however, may tempt tender believers to flights of morbid introspection, turning the joyful feast into a sorrowful fast. Dwelling dolefully upon our sin and failure turns the nourishing grace and assurance of the Lord’s Supper into a wasting moral perfectionism and works righteousness. You see, the words of Scripture are important at this point. “Let a man examine himself and come!” The proper response to this examination — which inevitably turns up unconfessed sin, un-sanctified habits, half-hearted love for Christ and our neighbors — is to confess, repent, rest upon Christ and come. The warning is not to wait or stay away until we have mastered our sin by our piety or practice. For that, my friend, will never, and can never, happen.
What a precious sentiment is expressed in Joseph Hart’s hymn, “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched.”
Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus, ready, stands to save you,
Full of pity, joined with power.
He is able, He is able;
He is willing; doubt no more.
Come ye needy, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.
Without money, without money
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken by the fall;
If you tarry ’til you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Not the righteous, not the righteous;
Sinners Jesus came to call.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need of Him.
This He gives you, this He gives you,
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.
Lo! The Incarnate God, ascended;
Pleads the merit of His blood.
Venture on Him; venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.
One phrase is particularly relevant as we examine ourselves in regard to the Lord’s Table. “Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream, all the fitness He requires, is to feel your need of Him.” With similar words, John Calvin exhorted his flock at the Lord’s Supper that their worthiness to come to the table was found in acknowledging their unworthiness in themselves and trusting solely in the worthiness of Christ. Let a man examine himself… and come.
Join us this Lord’s Day, September 9, for worship as we come to the Lord’s Table to celebrate Christ’s atoning work, find strengthening for our faith in this means of grace, and a enjoy together a foretaste of the future feast. We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock. Click here for directions and download the order of service.