The Lord's table and the Lord's supper
Notes of an address given by Dr D. W. Paterson
(Scriptures read 1 Corinthians 10:5, 12, 14-22 and 11:17, 20-34)
I want to speak tonight about the table of the Lord, 1 Corinthians 10, and the supper of the Lord, 1 Corinthians 11. I have been in the meetings for a long time, over forty years, but I cannot remember an address being given specifically on this subject. It is a subject that opens to us the very greatest possibilities in blessing. Likewise it opens to us a subject of the very gravest responsibility. Chapter 10 is fellowship and the place of fellowship. Chapter 11 the highest expression of fellowship in the breaking of bread.
Now in handling such a deeply practical subject we do well at the start to try and capture something of the atmosphere surrounding these passages. The apostle Paul had a very deep affection for the saints. For the Galatians he was ready to travail again in birth for them. For the Thessalonians he was willing not to have imparted the gospel of God only but also his own life. And he had a very special affection for the Corinthians. His entry into Corinth was marked by no small tumult and yet in the midst of the sorrows of this servant the Lord encouraged him in a vision saying ‘I have much people in this city’ (Acts 18:10). Subsequently he must often have dwelt upon that vision to keep him going. The love of God constrained him. There was a working according to God’s working which he said worked in him mightily. And in this context we can understand those words in the Second Epistle when he wrote ‘out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears’ (2 Cor. 2:4). Now if we fail to get this antecedent to this practical passage we’ll fail to enter into the apostle’s deep exercise in bringing this passage before the Corinthians.
Secondly, I think we ought to know that the apostle wrote confidently. Despite the many issues with the Corinthians it wasn’t with a view to anything else but their recovery. They were doing shockingly badly. In the fifth chapter there was a case of blatant sin in their midst. But of course in the Second Epistle it is quite apparent that they got to God about it and were repentant and it’s in this Epistle that the apostle says ‘I rejoice, therefore that I have confidence in you in all things’ (2 Cor. 7:16). We can therefore approach this practical section in the assurance of the apostle’s affection and his confidence in God that there was going to be some answer to the very serious practical matters that he was going to raise in these verses.
So, let’s look a little at the table of the Lord. The scriptural references are surprisingly few, in the Old Testament I believe only four, two of them in Ezekiel which we can quickly dispose of. In the 44th chapter, verse 16, we read of the Sons of Zadok and in a time to come they are going to have access into the sanctuary to minister at the table of the Lord, clearly a reference to a millennial day. Likewise in chapter 41, verse 22, we come to the altar of wood. There are two more references, both in the 1st chapter of Malachi. The remnant had returned from Babylon and they too, like the Corinthians, were doing shockingly badly. In their carelessness instead of bringing to the Lord the very best they were bringing to him what was blind and lame and sick. They were saying, not in so many words, of course, ‘the table of the Lord is contemptible’ (Mal. 1:7). They were really just giving to the Lord what was left over and this brought serious consequences for the remnant in that day.
Now when we come to 1st Corinthians we come, I believe, to the only reference in the New Testament to the table of the Lord. May I say too that the teaching that I have heard relative to the table is not only deficient but sometimes defective. We will therefore have to proceed carefully and try and learn from the scripture what this table stands for. There is an Old Testament scripture that helps us greatly. You will remember concerning Mephibosheth, that man who was lame upon both his feet, that the kindness of God was shown to him by David who brought him from Lodebar to Jerusalem. In the aboundings of grace towards this guilty man, he did eat bread as one of the king’s sons, and did eat bread at the king’s table continually. Was he always eating at the table? No. Had he the privilege of access to the table? Yes. And was his conduct at all times to be viewed relative to this high dignity that had been put upon him? Yes. This really puts in a nutshell what we have in these passages.
We have been brought into the very highest privileges and I hope that this aspect of the teaching in 1 Corinthians 10 comes home to us very clearly. We have here a picture of what is available to us in fellowship at the place of eating. Just notice please that mention is made of the cup. It is mentioned first, and speaks of the basis of the fellowship. And what do we read? ‘… is it not the communion of the blood of Christ’ (1 Cor. 10:16). Now, the expression ‘the blood of Christ’ might come to those who are familiar with New Testament language as a little bit of a surprise. We are used to the blood of the New Covenant but we can say we’ve got something that goes beyond New Covenant here. We have here ‘the blood of Christ’ and our communion is in relation to this grand foundation. It is not only the matter of forgiveness but we have the privileges of union with Christ and in the Spirit’s power we know the truth of headship and of sonship. We have here that which lays the foundation for the very highest Christian privileges.
There are three fellowships spoken of here in 1st Corinthians 10. There is Christian fellowship, there is Jewish fellowship and there is Heathen fellowship. And they are all literally exclusive. There is a certain analogy between Christian fellowship and Jewish fellowship and may we just spend a little moment on this. Israel occupied a very special place in God’s dealings with men. In Deuteronomy chapter 32 verse 8 we read that when God separated the inheritance to the children of Adam’s race, the division was made according to the number of the children of Israel. He set the boundaries of the nations according to His own people. Later Balaam said Israel ‘shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations’ (Num. 23:9). Israel was in the midst of an idolatrous world as a testimony to the living God. They were brought into great privileges. Thy knew God as Jehovah. And if you trace the history of Israel you find that so long as they maintained their position they were blessed. I’ll quote a few scriptures. Jeremiah 2:3, ‘Israel was holiness unto the Lord.’ In the early days of the history of David Israel again were giving the Lord the first place. The ark was brought up to Jerusalem. In the early days of Solomon you find likewise he stood before the altar. The blessing to Israel, so long as they were maintained in purity and in preparation, just could not be measured. The eyes of the Lord ran to and fro throughout the whole earth to show Himself strong in the behalf of those whose hearts were perfect towards him. Sadly, idolatry still remained a great snare in Israel. I don’t know whether you’ve ever pondered the verse in the thirteenth of Nehemiah (v. 26) where, speaking of Solomon, Nehemiah wrote, ‘even him did outlandish women cause to sin.’ This is in keeping with what we have in Corinthians, ‘Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall’ (1 Cor. 10:12). Even him, even a Solomon, fell into idolatry and we know that the consequences of this are seen in the division of the kingdom and the scattering subsequently.
But idolatry didn’t only trouble Solomon. In both Israel and Judah it was a constant plague. I could mention many instances but I just choose one to show how easily and quickly it came in. In 2 Chronicles 18:1 we read that Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance and in the very same sentence that he joined affinity with Ahab. Even in the midst of his prosperity he joined affinity with Ahab. And the sowing in that day meant a reaping in subsequent history. Four kings were devastated because of the link with Ahab. On the other hand when graciously the Lord raised up those who stood against the trend, who dealt with the idolatry, blessing immediately was the result. Hezekiah, and Josiah, and Ezra and Nehemiah, all lived in times of revival. Each revival was smaller than the one before but the spiritual enjoyment subsequent to this action was brighter in each case. The lesson we have to take is that if there is an analogy between Christianity and Judaism what is portrayed in Heathenism is an exact spiritual opposite. The Heathen had their cup and they poured it out. That may be another reason why the cup is mentioned first here. And there were some in Corinth who thought that they could with impunity not only eat what was sacrificed to idols but more, they could go into an idol-temple and sit down there and still come off scot-free. No, says the apostle, ‘I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.’ The Corinthians were indwelt by the Holy Spirit and had intelligence to take account of the matter. So the apostle says, certainly the idol is a non-entity and they have power neither human nor divine. But the one who is behind the scenes, who is pulling the strings, is none other than the devil himself. It is absolute folly for you to say that you can go into an idol- temple and that’s alright because your heart isn’t in it. If you go into an idol-temple you will take the consequences. This is exactly what was happening in Corinth and we have to write over the situation there ‘a ruined testimony.’ Associations do matte and because they were careless in regard to them the public testimony was gone.
I cannot but go on now to the next question. Tell me, where is the table of the Lord today? Before you come up with the answer, I am going to discourse on something where I at least have been misled. I have heard in the meetings that the bread on the table speaks only of the sacrificial body of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am going to tell you tonight I don’t think that is correct. That bread upon the table certainly does speak of the sacrificial body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we can back it up by this, it is the bread which we break. But I read here ‘For we, being many, are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread.’ As putting our hand to that loaf, as receiving the broken bread, we become a testimony to the truth of the one body. Now this was truth that burned brightly at the start of the brethren movement. At the beginning of the past century the consciousness of the saints was this that the Spirit that linked them with Christ linked them also with every other believer on earth. There was a very definite awareness of the truth of the one body and it should come home to us too. On the table of shewbread there were twelve loaves which showed Israel’s portion. To us, on the table, there is one loaf. And in that one loaf I think we can say categorically now, I believe it is the correct understanding of the words, that loaf in a primary sense speaks of the sacrificial body of our Lord Jesus Christ, but in a secondary sense it speaks of the truth of the one body.
I say that as preliminary to my own answer to the question as to where is the table of the Lord today. There are, I believe, four features that mark its presence. In the first place there is room at the table of the Lord for every member of the body of Christ. We come to a large upper room furnished where there is room at the table for every genuine believer in our Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, everyone who is not a believer in our Lord Jesus Christ is excluded from that table. Wrong indeed, damaging to souls, to admit to the privileges of the Christian circle those who have neither part nor lot in this matter. The third consideration is this, that table is not yours, and that table isn’t mine, and nor is it ours. It is the Lord’s table and at the Lord’s table it is His authority which will be felt. Sometimes you hear it said that those who are born again, real Christians, they have a right to the table. No, dearly beloved, it is their privilege to be at the table. The only one who has rights at the table is the Lord. And therefore if I am looking for the table of the Lord I want to ask certain questions. Is the authority of the Lord owned? I mean, in worship. I mean, in ministry. I mean, in discipline. Is place given to the Spirit of God? Do the saints come together on the first day of the week to break bread? What is the character of the meeting? Is the authority of the Lord owned? And the fourth feature is this, there is no room for independency at the table. The truth of the one body cuts out sectarianism but likewise it also cuts out independency.
Now let’s proceed a stage further. Generalities do not serve. You can say, I’ve got your four points. I feel intellectually wonderfully set up. I’ve got the answers. Well, now let’s apply them. The Anglicans, the Church of England, have they got the table of the Lord? After all your admitted to the Anglican body by baptism. But the difficulty of course is that in their system, (I’m not speaking against individuals, please, everyone, understand that. I’ve got dear friends amongst the Anglicans) baptism is baptismal regeneration. Consequently there are at their table those who are not members of the body of Christ. Manifestly then, the Anglicans haven’t got the table of the Lord. Secondly, what about all the sects in Protestantism? Have they got the table of the Lord? But they don’t accept others from other sects. They exclude those who are real members of the body of Christ. Have they got the table of the Lord? Manifestly they haven’t got the table of the Lord. Oh, but you say, I’ve got just the answer. I know the company, nice Christians, such an attractive company, they’ll receive every real believer and they have no room at their table for those who are unconverted. Well, I’ve got a few questions to ask. Tell me now, do you own the authority of the Lord at your table? Do you have a minister, or is the Spirit free? Do you come together on the first day of the week to break bread? Tell me, what is the system of ministry? Do the prophets speak two or three? When discipline is necessary do you bow to the Word of God? You see, it is the Lord’s table, it is His authority. But then there is a fourth group. Those who have a nice little wall around themselves. Excellent. Ah, but dearly beloved, this matter of independency comes up. Are we in fellowship with others who likewise have the table of the Lord? You see, it becomes very searching. And may I say that this affects each one of us as to our personal walk. Have we got any understanding as to the table of the Lord? I’ll put it in other words. Have we got any conviction in regard to the table of the Lord?
I could spend a lot of time on this but I’ll just give you one example. When John Nelson Darby lost his father I think it was, his father was buried in the church. Horror of horrors think you, he wouldn’t go inside that church. I read in my Bible that the sons of Aaron could be defiled for a dead body, father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister (Lev. 21). A High priest, no! (Lev. 21:10-11). A Nazarite, no! (Num. 9:6). And I ask you each one in the presence of God, carefully to watch your own steps. How do you stand in regard to your conduct with other Christians? I am not saying that those in other bodies are going to idol-temples. I didn’t say that. But the principle applies and I haven’t any doubt at all, in the presence of God I say it with all confidence, that if there is carelessness in regard to our associations, the result is known amongst us, as it was known amongst the Corinthians, a ruined testimony. I’m reminded of church history and may I quote, ‘the church persecuted is the church pure and the church pure is the church powerful.’ In the early days at Pentecost, in the early days of the brethren history, when brethren gathered to the Lord’s name, they were persecuted. The world really gave them trouble, the religious world as well as the secular world. It purified their testimony. And oh the freshness that marked their meetings. Dearly beloved, are we losing that freshness? What has happened to our prayer meetings? What has happened to the supper? What about the gospel preaching, the open air? How about the outreach, our impact upon others? I believe this matter that we are now talking about is a matter that we’ve got to get to God about . That’s why I was so careful to say at the start of the meeting the apostle brought this in all affection before the Corinthians. ‘Judge ye what I say.’ And then he comes in with that sledgehammer at the end of his address: ‘Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?’ He wasn’t talking about matters on a human level, no, he wanted to bring the hearts and consciences of the Corinthians, as the Spirit of God will bring your heart and conscience and mine into the presence of God, so that we’ll come to a right answer, and this is a necessary antecedent to any upsurge of blessing in the public testimony.
And now more briefly I am going to talk about the supper of the Lord, 1st Corinthians 11. This is the breaking of bread. Most of us know the blessedness of this occasion. It was the last request of our beloved Lord made in circumstances most affecting. He seeks a response from those that love Him, and through that response there is an announcement in this world of His death and a testimony to the truth of the one body. We enjoy His company together, the very moments of heaven upon earth. Now, says the apostle, this is not only the breaking of bread, this is the Lord’s supper. The word ‘Lord’ (in verse 20, ‘When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper’) only occurs twice in the Scriptures. The other reference is in Revelation 1 verse 10, where John speaks about being ‘in the Spirit on the Lord’s day’. It is a Lordly day, and a Lordly supper. If you look down the passage you would find no fewer than eight references to the Lord. Verse 20, ‘the Lord’s supper’; verse 23 ‘I received of the Lord… That the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed...’ Verse 26 ‘the Lord’s death...’ Verse 27 (x2) ‘The Lord’, verse 29 ‘the Lord’s body’, verse 32 ‘chastened of the Lord.’ What does it mean? We have heard the statement that 1 Corinthians 10 is the responsibility of the bread breakers and chapter 11 it is the breaking of bread. I am going to add what I believe that teacher wouldn’t have denied, that there is responsibility also in the eleventh chapter. It is not only the breaking of bread it is the Lord’s supper. When we put our hand to the loaf, when we take the cup, it becomes a vitally important matter that we discern the Lord’s body. Now the Corinthians were not discerning it. They were taking the Lord’s supper as if it were an ordinary meal, their own supper. They had failed to discern that in that loaf there was a representation of the Lord’s body, and in that cup there was a representation of His blood. What was the effect? Dearly beloved, it makes us tremble, doesn’t it. The Lord, who is present in the company, is watching the hearts. None of us is worthy, except through His precious blood, but here it is a question of eating worthily.
How far have we taken to heart that the Lord is watching our hearts? Is there an allowance with any of us of that which has come to an end at the cross? Are we sharing His reproach? I am comforted that in the ministry of recent weeks there has been a talk on baptism. We’re baptised to His death, something that is individual. Here at the supper we announce His death. In recent weeks there has been a talk on the sufferings of the Lord Jesus. How far do we enter into those sufferings? I don’t mean intellectually, but so far as our lives are concerned. Are we actually sharing His reproach, are we really walking in the same steps? I believe it is only in the measure in which we answer up to this that we’ll discern His body, and we’ll prove His blessing.
I have to add that the Corinthians came under the Lord’s chastening hand. Now, when we speak of the Lord’s chastening hand we have to speak very gently with one another. Job said, ‘the hand of God hath touched me’ (Job 19:21). Serious, isn’t it. ‘Many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.’ I have had more than 30 years in medical practice and I know that there are some sicknesses the doctor can’t make better. I must say more sicknesses are becoming treatable, I’d be a Job’s comforter if I didn’t, but nevertheless there are some sicknesses that can only be explained on the basis of the Lord’s chastening hand. Therefore, dearly beloved, we do well to examine ourselves. I’m glad that I come from a stock and lineage where this examination was a serious matter. Scotsmen, they only broke bread about once a year but when they approached the supper there was an examination that was intense. I wonder whether familiarity hasn’t caused this word of preparation to drop out from our vocabulary but it is a serious matter whether it’s once a year or every week. We have to face up to it in the presence of the Lord as to whether we are eating and drinking worthily. You have to answer for yourself, I have to answer for myself. But oh, the consequences of not answering to it scarcely bear mentioning because it is with God we have to do.
Now, that’s all that is in my mind. I ask you quietly to take home these thoughts concerning the table of the Lord and the Lord’s supper which touch on very, very, practical matters. So far as the Corinthians were concerned, there was a ruined testimony and personal chastisement. How far do the meetings that we know measure up to this and our lives too? Is there spiritual prosperity or is the Lord’s hand upon us? I believe it is exactly in this area where the victory is won or lost. I repeat what I said at the start, the apostle had very great affection for the Corinthians, but more, he had very great confidence in them. ‘I rejoice, therefore, that I have confidence in you in all things’ (2 Cor. 7:16). Who did he say that to? He said it to a company who had judged themselves and where the fruits of repentance had come in and without that repentance I’m afraid it’s not confidence we’ll have but the assurance that the Lord’s hand will be upon us still.
Dr D W Paterson
It will be of interest to some readers to know that Dr Paterson’s father and forebears were strong Scottish Presbyterians. His father’s eldest brother, William Paterson Paterson, was moderator of the Church of Scotland in 1919.