Excerpted from Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 2.569–89
Part 1 of 2

It is of utmost necessity that he who desires to partake of the Lord’s Supper should prepare himself to that end, for:

First, believers still carry within them the old Adam as well as an inclination to world conformity. So often they gravitate again toward the earth, as the weights in a clock, and therefore they find themselves unfit when something of a special nature needs to be performed. Consequently, especially at such occasions, believers need to encourage, stir up, and spiritually arouse themselves in order to perform spiritual duties in a spiritual fashion.

Secondly, everyone will be carefully examined at the table as to whether he wears a wedding garment; that is, whether he appears there with the proper frame of heart. “And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?” (Mt 22:11–12). It is therefore needful to put on the wedding garment prior to this event in order to be a desirable guest.

Thirdly, it is furthermore a duty of an extraordinary nature. One approaches unto God in an extraordinary manner, that is, in a very intimate manner. One comes to the table as a partaker of the covenant in the presence of other partakers of the covenant, sits at the Lord’s table in the light of His countenance, and partakes of the signs and seals of the crucified body and shed blood of the Lord Jesus. And since it is the Lord’s will that He be sanctified in those who approach unto Him, it is needful to consider the following: “Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God?” (Mic 6:6). One must therefore prepare himself in an extraordinary manner for this extraordinary duty.

Fourthly, it is also God’s command that he who approaches unto God in an extraordinary manner should also prepare himself to that end. When the Lord was about to descend to the people upon Mount Sinai, the Lord gave command to Moses, saying, “Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes, And be ready against the third day” (Ex 19:10–11). When Israel was about to cross the Jordan dry-shod by a divine miracle, it was commanded, “Sanctify yourselves: for to morrow the LORD will do wonders among you” (Jos 3:5). When Moses approached the burning bush—a symbol of God’s extraordinary presence—he heard the voice, “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Ex 3:5). When Samuel invited Jesse and the elders to the sacrifice, he said, “Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice” (1 Sam 16:5). Whenever the priests would approach unto the altar, they first had to wash themselves. Therefore, we also, when about to approach to the holy table, must first prepare ourselves.

Fifthly, it will generally be experienced that a blessing is received after having prepared one’s self. I repeat, generally, for it does occasionally occur that a godly person who neglects preparation until the last moment and ultimately cannot bring himself to be properly engaged therein, in a short time can consciously sink away so deeply in his abominableness, insignificance, and sinfulness; receive the Lord Jesus in such a lively frame, acknowledging free grace; and with such sincerity arise from his sinful state, that he partakes in faith and does receive many conscious encouragements, so that in amazement he exclaims, “Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?” (Gen 16:13). On the contrary, it can also happen that a believer who has made much work of preparation, both during the time of preparation and in partaking, remains in the dark, is troubled, and is weak in faith. And even if he received light during the time of preparation, it can happen at the table that a sudden darkness and deadness come upon him, so that he who was encouraged while coming to the table, returns with sorrow to his seat. However, even though this does happen, preparation ought not to be neglected, for it is his duty. One must enter in God’s way, and God generally bestows a blessing upon serious preparation, be it that which one had in view or that which is most beneficial for him at that time. To such a person the promise will be fulfilled, “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13). The soul will then not accuse itself of slothfulness, but will find peace in her sincere endeavours. From this, one can perceive the necessity of preparation.

Even though we may perceive the necessity of preparation, we nevertheless allow ourselves to be readily hindered and to be kept from it.

(1) This may be done by way of postponement, saying, “Yes, I must, I am willing, and I shall engage myself in preparation; however, I will do it then, at such and such a time when this matter has transpired and after that task has been finished. I am not fit at this moment.” Often, the then does not materialise. Meanwhile, the time which we thought would be available slips away, and before having prepared ourselves, we are overtaken by the event itself. One then finds himself unfit to use the remaining time properly, and will have to attend in such an unprepared fashion.

(2) The devil is active in a most subtle manner by providing us with so many activities that it appears we have no time for preparation, or by stirring up our lusts and causing us to fall into sin, so that we are tossed to and fro as chaff in the wind. He thus attempts to captivate the heart, allowing it no quietude to formulate thoughts with composure.

(3) Sometimes one will be in doubt as to whether he ought to attend. One obstacle or the other is in the way, causing him to say, “I am so in the dark, so unbelieving, and so confused. Would it be better if I would not attend this time?” By thus being caught in the middle, whether to partake or not to partake—as if this were his own decision—time passes by and the desire fails. If, however, he determines, “I must go and I shall go,” he will be all the more motivated to be engaged in preparation.

(4) Having now begun with preparation, this work appears to be of a very difficult nature, and he perceives himself entirely unfit to perform such difficult work: “It is too difficult and impossible for me to make such an effort, to engage in such close self-examination, mourn over sin, pray and weep, and observe a day of fasting.” He thus refrains from doing so, or it is postponed from day to day. Or he will, with much hesitation, begin with that which he ought to undertake in an evangelical manner, that is, by quietly waiting upon the Spirit and quietly giving heed to His motions as much as he is able. For here it is true that it is not by might, nor by power, but it must take place by the Spirit.

(5) It can also be that upon engaging in preparation, one experiences himself to be more unfit than he expected to be—yes, becoming more unspiritual, confused, and in more darkness than was the case previously. A lively frame yields to a dead frame, and a believing to an unbelieving frame, relative to the truth as well as one’s spiritual state. This would cause a person to be discouraged and inclined to desist from this work. One must note such a frame, however, as an indication that God will deal with you in a special manner, and is desirous to give you much grace. Therefore do not walk away from this task nor refrain from it. Rather, take courage and wait upon the Lord; He will strengthen thine heart.

As we proceed to consider the work of preparation, three matters are to be practised: (1) a stimulating of desire; (2) an examination of self; and (3) spiritual adornment.

The First Aspect of Preparation:
A Stimulating of Desire

One must first of all endeavour to stir up a strong desire to be among God’s people, to appear before the Lord with the multitude that keeps holyday, to see the good of His chosen, to rejoice in the gladness of His people, and to glory with His inheritance. How David longed for this! “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple” (Ps 27:4); “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps 42:2). How sorrowful he was when he was deprived of this! “When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday” (Ps 42:4); “Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!” (Ps 120:5). How he rejoiced when he was permitted to be among God’s people in the temple! “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem” (Ps 122:1–2).

Therefore, may your desires be also thus stimulated. Permit me to arouse a desire within you and to stir you up.

The meeting place where the Lord’s Supper is administered is at that moment none other than a portal of heaven—with Jacob one may say of it, “Surely the LORD is in this place... How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen 28:16–17). Heaven opens itself in such a place, and the rays of divine glory and grace descend to that place, filling it with the very presence of God. The Father comes to His people with His favour and reveals Himself in a familiar manner to His favourites, addressing them as Ammiruhamah! that is, My people, and object of My mercy! I have loved thee with an everlasting love and therefore I have drawn thee with loving kindness. I have come here to meet you in order to make known to you, and to cause you to feel, my delight and my love. The Lord Jesus, the Bridegroom, comes in His love to them to have this supper with them and to cause them to enjoy it together with Him. With love and delight He views them as they surround Him. It is there that the Holy Spirit is active, filling the soul with light, grace, and comforts. There multitudes of angels are present who delight themselves in God’s gracious coming to His people. They observe everyone’s behaviour and investigate as much as possible what the spiritual motions of each person are. Here they observe one who faints for desire; there is one overwhelmed with love; there one who swoons due to the absence of Jesus; there a soul is bowed down in sorrow. There is one in whose eyes can be seen a fearful anxiety due to the heart being so oppressed and so hard that not one sigh to heaven can come forth; there quiet tears trickle down the cheek since the Comforter who should comfort the soul is so far from him. Yonder is one who is strong in the faith and stands firm upon the truths and promises of God as standing upon a rock. Here is one who follows hard after the Lord, and there is one who is leaning upon her Beloved; there is one who is burdened with sin and who, with this heavy burden, comes to Jesus to be delivered. There comes an infant in grace in all simplicity, and here there are some who receive rivers of grace and comfort, so that they are filled to overflowing. All this longing, yearning, sighing, weeping, and goings forth of love are directed toward Jesus and end in God. Here all that is perceived and experienced in the soul converges in one focal point. All this the angels view with wondrous delight and they glorify God for His grace and goodness toward the children of men. Here is the household of God, and here spiritual friends are gathered together for a moment in order to delight themselves in the presence of their heavenly Father and in Jesus, their beloved Bridegroom. Whose heart, upon observing these manifestations, would not be stirred also to go there, to be part of this gathering, and also to delight oneself in the Lord? Even a barren soul will say, “There I wish to go, for it could be that I may receive a blessing there.”

Secondly, consider this gathering as being led into the inner chambers (Song 1:4) and into the king’s palace (Ps 45:15), where many wonders are unveiled to the godly which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, which has never entered into the heart of man, and which God has prepared for them that love Him. Oh, what glorious matters the Lord shows them there, and what sweetness He causes them to taste there! There He grants His children a profound insight into the eternal, sovereign pleasure of eternal election: He has known and loved them from eternity and has ordained them to be the recipients of a salvation which passes all understanding. There He reveals to them the covenant of redemption, the Counsel of Peace between Jehovah and the Man whose name is the Branch, together with all the conditions and promises of this covenant, the voluntary surrender of the Son to be a Surety for those elect, and the manner in which this covenant is their certainty and salvation. There He reveals to them His unfathomable wisdom in the way by which He leads them to salvation by first concluding them under sin and permitting them to come into a state in which they completely miss and are estranged from God, from which He afterwards, demonstrating His wondrous mercy, delivers them again. There He reveals to them the work of redemption; there they behold Jesus coming in the flesh, and they follow Him from the manger to the cross—in His preaching, His acts of benevolence, and His suffering and death. Not only do they reflect upon this as a truth, but they do so in a lively, intimate manner, considering the very essence of the matters themselves and all the perfections of God which are revealed in them. They focus on every one of them and are in amazement about every one of them. The Lord reveals to them the wondrous ways in which He has drawn them and led them hitherto. There He reveals something to them of future glory, which at times brings them into ecstasy. There He assures them of, and seals to them, His eternal love and the certainty of their state, letting them depart with a loving kiss of His mouth.

Thirdly, consider for a moment the sweet and friendly invitation of the Lord Jesus Himself. He has no need of you; He could have passed you by and have invited others. However, He now says to you, “Come, for all things are ready!” This invitation He accompanies with so many sweet motives—yes, in His Name He beseeches you that you would come to Him. Furthermore, He Himself stands at the door and knocks, waiting for you to open to Him in order that He may sup with you and you with Him (Rev 3:20). The bride acknowledged this by saying, “I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to Me, My sister, My love, My dove, My undefiled: for My head is filled with dew, and My locks with the drops of the night” (Song 5:2). Since He calls and invites you in such a friendly manner to have fellowship with Him, would you then yet walk away or remain standing? No, but allow your heart to be set aflame with love for such a gathering, and let your soul, so to speak, fly there with wings.

Fourthly, at the Lord’s Supper a public confession of the Lord Jesus is made. It is then that the celebrating church professes publicly before the entire world, and proclaims that Jesus Christ is the only and sufficient Saviour, their Head, and their Lord. She commemorates His suffering and death as the only atoning sacrifice, and she declares the death of the Lord to be the only foundation for peace, comfort, and life. It is God’s way to convert men by confessing the Lord Jesus and to thus gather His Church. It is the honour which the Father has awarded the Lord Jesus upon His suffering. A true believer has love for the Lord Jesus, and wherever there is true love, the believer has a desire to say of his Beloved, “This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend” (Song 5:16). The Lord Jesus takes careful notice of those who are not ashamed of Him and whose delight it is, together with the church, to confess Him and to live to His honour and glory. He promises that He in turn will confess them before His Father, before the angels, and before the entire world. Since, therefore, the partaking of the Lord’s Supper is a public confession of the Lord Jesus, who would then not be stirred up to be among that people who profess and exclaim that Jesus is King? It is a confession that one would not neglect to make in time of persecution, even if he would have to die for it.

Fifthly, one exercises communion with Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Is not that the focus of all your desires, and the essence of your spiritual life? Is not your soul troubled in the absence of such communion? It is there that the Lord Jesus assures believers of being a partaker of Him as well as of His love toward them. It is there that the Holy Spirit generally works in a more perceptible manner. On the one hand, He reveals the promises to them and the marks of those who are heirs thereof, and on the other hand He reveals to them the graces which are to be found in them. Thus, on the basis of God’s Word, He causes them to come to the following conclusion: The Lord promises these specific matters to those who are in such a condition; however, in the presence of God, I perceive such spiritual frames to be within me and therefore these specific promises are for me—and since the Lord is true, He will also fulfil them for me. Furthermore, believers consider the signs of the Lord’s Supper as a seal and pledge by which they are assured that they truly belong to Christ and that Christ is also their portion. At such a moment the Holy Spirit works immediately and witnesses with their spirit that they are the children of God, impressing the Word, the seal, and their conclusion so powerfully upon their heart, that they know that the Lord Jesus loves them. This in turn causes their love to be revived toward Him and they thus exercise intimate fellowship with Christ. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). How all this ought to stir up the believer to partake joyfully of the Lord’s Supper!

Sixthly, not only is there a sealing communion with Christ in the Lord’s Supper, but there are also times when one may enjoy extraordinary graces which engender ecstasy. A person may at times, with the disciples, be brought to the holy mountain and see Christ in His glory. Occasionally, the believer is there led into the banqueting house, and Christ spreads His love over him as a banner. He and the Father come and make their abode with him. He causes him at times to dip joyfully into the fountain of salvation, and such corn and wine causes even the lips of the young men and the young daughters to speak. He kisses them with the kisses of His mouth and satisfies them there with the goodness of His house, even of His holy temple. He causes them to sing praises with joyful lips. Therefore, “let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17).

Seventhly, consider furthermore the blessed company which gathers there, for there God’s children are gathered together before the countenance of their heavenly Father and their beloved Jesus in order to find mutual delight. There they express their love to each other; there they fully separate themselves from the world and despise its love since they find satisfaction in their mutual love for each other. There they express their love, not only for those with whom they are acquainted, but also toward all believers with whom they are not acquainted. They not only unite themselves with all the godly who are present, but also with the angels and with the souls of just men made perfect. “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling” (Heb 12:22–24). Even if the world, as their enemy, hates, despises, persecutes, and oppresses them, there is yet no reason for concern; they can readily miss its love, for they have better company and they refresh themselves in a sweet manner in the exercise of mutual love. They confess this unity in the Lord’s Supper by eating of the same bread and by drinking of the same cup. “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Cor 10:17). Thus, God’s children may here enjoy a prenuptial celebration.

Eighthly, one furthermore gains strength from the Lord’s Supper in sanctification, the mortification of sin, and the living of a life that is pleasing unto the Lord—for the food and drink of this meal yield strength and refreshment. Here faith is strengthened; love is stirred up and becomes more steadfast; and here is union with Jesus, the very life of the soul, and a willing commitment to serve the Lord. The Lord’s Supper obligates one to a childlike obedience and here one becomes enamoured with continual fellowship with God—fellowship impeded by sin, but enlivened by the exercise of godliness. Therefore the soul quietly begins to shine as Moses’ countenance did. She is as the bride of Christ, receiving the eyes of a dove to keep her Beloved continually in view and to look away from all that is desirable. It is her desire to please her Beloved, and she therefore yields to His will.

If there be then a stirring within, a believer—however sluggish he may be and however many difficulties and objections he may be accustomed to bring forth—ought to be moved to go with longing to the Lord’s Supper and to say with Moses, “I will now turn aside, and see this great sight” (Ex 3:3).

31 March 2002

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