The Beneficial Use of the Lord’s Supper

By Carl Manthey-Zorn

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Carl Manthey-Zorn’s Handbuch für den ersten Selbstunterricht in Gottes Wort (Beginner’s Manual for Self-Instruction in God’s Word) (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1906), p. 281-285. It comprises the fourth section of Chapter 8, “The Holy Supper.”

Zorn was pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cleveland, Ohio, at the time this manual was published. Click here for a biography of Zorn, which also includes a picture of the man. You can also find a brief analysis of his significance for the Lutheran Church by one of his contemporaries in the translator’s preface here.

I undertook this translation both for devotional purposes and in preparation for an Ash Wednesday sermon on the importance of self-examination, especially before receiving the Lord’s Supper. In an age where the supporting rites and props for self-examination, such as privately announcing for Communion with the pastor the day before Communion and the “confessional service” that Zorn mentions, seem more and more to be fading into the past (at least among Lutherans in America), may the Holy Spirit use Zorn’s biblical exhortation to rouse us to practice such examination diligently and earnestly in a spirit of repentance to our ever-merciful Savior.

The Beneficial Use of the Lord’s Supper

It should be clear to you from the previous section [on the power of the Holy Supper] that it is not enough for us merely to receive this sacrament. We must also receive it in a proper and worthy manner, if we want to enjoy the great and saving benefit which is offered to us through it.

This is what Dr. Luther wants to really bring home for us, and so he adds the question:

Who then receives this sacrament in a worthy manner?

He answers:

Fasting and taking measures of physical preparation can serve as fine outward discipline, but everyone is really worthy and well prepared who believes these words: “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But whoever does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared. For the words, “for you,” require nothing but hearts that believe.

Let us consider what Dr. Luther is saying.

The way that Luther treats the subject of the true worthiness with which we should receive this sacrament is still entirely unique. This is no doubt due to the fact that the Holy Spirit himself does the same through the apostle Paul when he says in 1 Corinthians 11:28-29:

But a person ought to examine himself, and in this way he should eat of this bread and drink from this cup. For whoever eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment on himself by not distinguishing the body of the Lord.

See for yourself, then, just how seriously the Holy Spirit insists that we receive the Holy Supper in true worthiness! We should first carefully examine ourselves, he says, to see whether we are even really worthy for the reception of the profoundly holy Sacrament. For, he says, whoever takes the Holy Supper in an unworthy manner eats and drinks on himself the judgment of God, because there he is shamelessly and carelessly profaning the body of the Lord, which is really presented to him in the Holy Supper and which he receives under the consecrated bread, as he does the blood of the Lord under the consecrated cup.

Who then receives this sacrament in a worthy manner?

If a person fasts and takes measures of physical preparation beforehand, if he or she appears at God’s table in a composed and reverential manner, that is certainly a fine discipline and a commendable practice. But all of this only takes place on the outside; hypocrites and godless people are also capable of such things.

Who then receives this sacrament in a worthy manner?

This person, and only this person, is really worthy and well-prepared – the one who believes these words: “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

Christ is the Savior of sinners. He has won for us poor sinners forgiveness of sins and life and salvation. He extends this grace and gift to us through the means of grace – including the Holy Supper, through the sparkling words: “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Now whichever poor sinner believes these words and, believing these words, comes to the Holy Supper for the forgiveness of sins, comes to receive life and salvation through Christ – that person is really worthy and well prepared. There is no other worthiness. Our dear Lord does not desire any other worthiness. Rejoice, O sinner! You need only believe that the Lord Christ’s body and blood is given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. And with such faith you should come, come to the Holy Supper, and there under the consecrated bread and wine receive the Lord Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, for life, and for salvation. Yes, with such faith you are really worthy and well prepared.

But whoever does not believe the words, “given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins,” or doubts what they say; whoever holds the Lord Christ in crude contempt; whoever thinks he can be saved just fine without the Lord Christ, through his own righteousness and good works; whoever is indifferent about his sins and about the Lord Christ; whoever says in his heart, “Who knows whether the whole story of Jesus, the Savior of sinners, is even true!”; and whoever thus comes to the Holy Supper only for show and out of hypocrisy – that person is unworthy and unprepared. For the sweet, gracious, alluring, and divine words, “for you,” require nothing but hearts that believe.

So then examine yourself before you go to the Holy Supper, to see whether you are receiving this sacrament in a worthy manner.

Examine yourself, to see whether you even feel heartfelt remorse over your sins. For if you do not have heartfelt remorse over your sins, you cannot really believe the words: “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

Examine yourself, to see whether you believe in Jesus Christ, who has given and poured out his body and his blood for you for the forgiveness of sins, and who gives you his body and his blood in the Holy Supper for the forgiveness of sins.

Examine yourself, to see whether you have the good and earnest intention, through the assistance of God the Holy Spirit, to amend your sinful conduct from now on. For if you do not have this intention, neither your remorse nor your faith can be genuine.

Precisely for the purpose of leading you to such self-examination, it is a practice in our churches to have a confessional service before the Holy Supper, in which you are exhorted to examine yourself in this way.

I will say it again: Examine yourself before you go to the Holy Supper, to see whether you are receiving this sacrament in a worthy manner, that is, to see whether you really believe these words as a poor sinner: “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

Now it might happen that, as a result of such self-examination, you find that your faith is weak; that you are being attacked and tormented by unbelief; that your faith is like a bruised reed, drooping over weak and withered, instead of shooting upward green and strong; that your faith is like a smoldering wick which gives little light and is threatening to go out altogether. In that case you might say in your misery and despair, “Ah, do I even dare come to the Holy Supper? I will not risk it! I am not yet worthy and prepared! Will our dear Lord actually welcome someone as wretched as I am? If only I had a really strong faith in my Savior and in his grace!”

If this is what you discover about yourself, should you come to the Holy Supper?

Indeed you should! Yes, and double yes! Those who are weak in faith should especially come to the Holy Supper so that their faith may be strengthened, for the Holy Supper strengthens faith. Just as a sick person should go to the doctor and take medicine, so those who are weak in faith should come to the Lord Jesus and take the Holy Supper.

“I believe, dear Lord; help my unbelief!” a man once said to the Lord Jesus (Mark 9:24). And the Lord Jesus helped him. That’s what you should say when you come to the Holy Supper with weak faith. The Lord Jesus will also help you – through the Holy Supper.

“The miserable should eat, that they may be satisfied,” says the Holy Spirit in Psalm 22:27(26). Apply this to the Holy Supper.

“The bruised reed he will not break, and the smoldering wick he will not snuff out,” says the Holy Spirit in Isaiah 42:3. “Whoever comes to me, I will not drive him away,” says the Lord Jesus in John 6:37. Here you have God’s answers to the question of whether those who are weak in faith may come to the Holy Supper.

But the Holy Supper may not be administered to:

  1. Those who are obviously godless and impenitent. You know this. With these people, their sins should in fact not be forgiven, but retained [John 20:23]. The Lord Jesus also says, “You should not give dogs what is sacred, nor should you throw your pearls in front of swine” (Matthew 7:6).
  2. The unorthodox, that is, those who do not confess with us the truth faith, but a false one. Please understand what I am saying. Such unorthodox people may be believing children of God. The false doctrines may be clinging to them only because they have been falsely instructed. But since the joint partaking of the Holy Supper should be a testimony that we are one in faith [1 Corinthians 10:16-17], the unorthodox cannot go with us to the Holy Supper, nor can we go with them. For example, should a member of the Reformed Church be permitted to go with us to the Holy Supper, even though he does not believe that the Lord Christ’s body and blood is given and eaten in the Holy Supper, and when he also does not believe that we receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through it? Certainly not. We do not judge and condemn such a person. He may be a child of God in spite of this false doctrine. But he cannot go with us to the Holy Supper. And by no means can we take part in the Supper of the Reformed Church. Is this clear to you?
  3. Those who have given an offense and have not yet settled it. By an “offense” we mean a scandal caused by word or deed, through which others are led astray to evil. If anyone has given such an offense, he should first settle it and get it out of the way. That is something a Christian will gladly do. A Christian will certainly not want to persist in something through which others are led astray to evil!
  4. Those who are not able to examine themselves, for example, small children, the unconscious, or the completely insane. Baptized children are certainly children of God. But they first have to learn God’s word in an orderly way so that they are able to examine themselves as the Holy Spirit commands. After that they should be admitted to the Holy Supper. And if the faith in the Lord Jesus still exists in the unconscious and completely insane, they will be saved, even if they are not in a condition to receive the Holy Supper.

The faithful and merciful God give you his Holy Spirit, so that you always receive your dear Savior’s body and blood under the consecrated bread and wine in the Holy Supper in true faith for the forgiveness of sins, for life, and for salvation, and for the great strengthening of your faith, which is still under constant attack here on earth.

Hasten as a bride to meet him,
And with loving rev’rence greet him,
For with words of life immortal
He is knocking at your portal.
Open wide the gates before him,
Saying, as you there adore him:
Grant, Lord, that I now receive you,
That I nevermore will leave you.

Jesus, Sun of life, my Splendor,
Jesus, Friend of friends most tender,
Jesus, Joy of my desiring,
Fount of life, my soul inspiring—
At your feet I cry, my Maker:
Let me be a fit partaker
Of this blessed food from heaven
For our good, your glory, given. (Christian Worship 311:2,7)

About redbrickparsonage
Red Brick Parsonage is operated by a confessional Lutheran pastor serving in the Midwest.

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