Examine Yourself: Preparation for the Lord’s Supper
Thomas Watson

That we may receive the supper of the Lord worthily, and that it may become efficacious: –

I. We must solemnly prepare ourselves before we come. We must not rush upon the ordinance rudely and irreverently, but come in due order. There was a great deal of preparation for the passover, and the sacrament comes in the room of it. 2 Chron 30: 18, 19. This solemn preparation for the ordinance consists: –

[1] In examining ourselves. [2] In dressing our souls before we come, which is by washing in the water of repentance and by exciting the habit of grace into exercise. [3] In begging a blessing upon the ordinance.

[1] Solemn preparation for the sacrament consists in self-examination. ‘But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat.’ I Cor 11: 28. It is not only a counsel, but a charge: ‘Let him examine himself. ‘ As if a king should say, ‘Let it be enacted.’ These elements in the supper having been consecrated by Jesus Christ to a high mystery, represent his body and blood; therefore there must be preparation; and if preparation, there must be first self-examination. Let us be serious in examining ourselves, as our salvation depends upon it. We are curious in examining other things; we will not take gold till we examine it by the touchstone; we will not take land before we examine the title; and shall we not be as exact and curious in examining the state of our souls?

What is required for this self-examination?

There must be a solemn retirement of the soul. We must set ourselves apart, and retire for some time from all secular employment, that we may be more serious in the work. There is no casting up accounts in a crowd; nor can we examine ourselves when we are in a crowd of worldly business. We read, that a man who was in a journey might not come to the Passover, because his mind was full of secular cares, and his thoughts were taken up about his journey. Num 9: 13. When we are upon self-examining work, we had not need to be in a hurry, or have any distracting thoughts, but to retire and lock ourselves up in our closets, that we may be more intent upon the work.

What is self-examination?

It is the setting up a court of conscience and keeping a register there that by a strict scrutiny a man may see how matters stand between Got and his soul. It is a spiritual inquisition, a heart-anatomy, whereby a man takes his heart in pieces, as a watch, and sees what is defective therein. It is a dialogue with one’s self ‘I commune with my own heart.’ Psa 77: 6. David called himself to account, and put interrogatories to his own heart. Self-examination is a critical enquiry or search. As the woman in the parable lighted a candle and searched for her lost groat, so conscience is the candle of the Lord. Luke 15: 8. Search with this candle what thou can’t find wrought by the Spirit in thee.

What is the rule by which we are to examine ourselves?

The rule or measure by which we must examine ourselves is the Holy Scripture. We must not make fancy, or the good opinion which others have of us, a rule to judge of ourselves. As the goldsmith brings his gold to the touchstone, so we must bring our hearts to a Scripture touchstone. ‘To the law and to the testimony.’ Isa 8: 20. What says the word? Are we divorced from sin? Are we renewed by the Spirit? Let the word decide whether we are fit communicants or not. We judge of colours by the sun, so we must judge of the state of our souls by the sunlight of Scripture.

What are the principal reasons for self-examination before we approach the Lord’s supper?

(1) It is a duty imposed: ‘Let him examine himself.’ The passover was not to be eaten raw. Exod 12: 9. To come to such an ordinance slightly, without examination, is to come in an undue manner, and is like eating the passover raw.

(2) We must examine ourselves before we come, because it is not only a duty imposed, but opposed. There is nothing to which the heart is naturally more averse than self-examination. We may know that duty to be good which the heart opposes. But why does the heart so oppose it? Because it crosses the tide of corrupt nature, and is contrary to flesh and blood. The heart is guilty; and does a guilty person love to be examined? The heart opposes it; therefore the rather set upon it; for that duty is good which the heart opposes.

(3) Because self-examination is a needful work. Without it, a man can never tell how it is with him, whether he has grace or not; and this must needs be very uncomfortable. He knows not, if he should die presently what will become of him, to what coast he shall sail, whether to hell or heaven; as Socrates said, ‘I am about to die, and the gods know whether I shall be happy or miserable.’ How needful, therefore, is self-examination; that a man by search may know the true state of his soul, and how it will go with him to eternity!

Self-examination is needful, with respect to the excellence of the sacrament. Let him eat de illo pane, ‘of that bread,’ that excellent bread, that consecrated bread, that bread which is not only the bread of the Lord, but the bread the Lord. I Cor 11: 28. Let him drink de illo poculo, ‘of that cup;’ that precious cup, which is perfumed and spiced with Christ’s love; that cup which holds the blood of God sacramentally. Cleopatra put a jewel in a cup which contained the price of a kingdom: this sacred cup we are to drink of, enriched with the blood of God, is above the price of a kingdom; it is more worth than heaven. Therefore, coming to such a royal feast, having a whole Christ, both his divine and human nature to feed on, how should we examine ourselves beforehand, that we may be fit guests for such a magnificent banquet!

Self-examination is needful, because God will examine us. That was a sad question, ‘Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding garment?’ Matt 22: 12. Men are loath to ask themselves the question, ‘O my soul! art thou a fit guest for the Lord’s table?’ Are there not some sins thou hast to bewail? Are there not some evidences for heaven that thou hast to get?’ Now, when persons will not ask themselves the question, then God will bring the question to them, How came you in hither to my table, not prepared? How came you in hither, with an unbelieving or profane heart? Such a question will cause a heart-trembling. God will examine a man, as the chief captain would Paul, with scourging. Acts 22: 24. It is true that the best saint, if God should weigh him in the balance, would be found wanting: but, when a Christian has made an impartial search, and has laboured to deal uprightly between God and his own soul, Christ’s merits will cast in some grains of allowance into the scales.

Self-examination is needful, because of secret corruption in the heart, which will not be found out without searching. There are in the heart plangendae tenebrae, Augustine, ‘hidden pollutions.’ It is with a Christian, as with Joseph’s brethren, who, when the steward accused them of having the cup, were ready to swear they had it not; but upon search it was found in one of their sacks. Little does a Christian think what pride, atheism, uncleanness is in his heart till he searches it. If there be therefore such hidden wickedness, like a spring running under ground, we had need examine ourselves, that finding out our secret sin, we may be humbled and repent. Hidden sins, if not searched out, defile the soul. If corn lie long in the chaff, the chaff defiles the corn; so sins long hidden defile our duties. Needful therefore it is, before we come to the holy supper, to search out these hidden sins, as Israel searched for leaven before they came to the passover.

Self-examination is needful, because without it we may easily have a cheat put upon us. ‘The heart is deceitful above all things.’ Jer 17: 9. Many a man’s heart will tell him he is fit for the Lord’s table. As when Christ asked the sons of Zebedee, ‘Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?’ Matt 20: 22. Can ye drink such a bloody cup of suffering? ‘They say unto him, We are able.’ So the heart will suggest to a man, he is fit to drink of the sacramental cup, he has on the wedding-garment. Grande profundum est homo. Augustine. ‘The heart is a grand impostor.’ As a cheating tradesmen will put one off with bad wares, so the heart will put a man off with seeming grace, instead of saving. A tear or two shed is repentance, a few lazy desires are faith, just as blue and red flowers growing among corn, look like good flowers, but are beautiful weeds only. The foolish virgins’ vessels looked as if they had oil in them, but they had none. Therefore, to prevent a cheat, that we may not take false grace instead of true, we had need make a thorough search of our hearts before we come to the Lord’s table.

Self-examination is needful, because of the false fears which the godly are apt to nourish in their hearts, which make them go sad to the sacrament. As they who have no grace, for want of examining, presume, so they who have grace, for want of examining, are ready to despair. Many of God’s children look upon themselves through the black spectacles of fear. They fear Christ is not formed in them, they fear they have no right to the promise; and these fears in the heart cause tears in the eye; whereas, would they but search and examine, they might find they had grace. Are not their hearts humbled for sin? What is this but the bruised reed? Do not they weep after the Lord? What are these tears but seeds of faith? Do they not thirst after Christ in an ordinance? What is this but the new creature crying for the breast? Here are, you see, seeds of grace; and, would Christians examine their hearts, they might see there is something of God in them, and so their false fears would be prevented, and they might approach with comfort to the holy mysteries in the Eucharist.

Self-examination is needful with respect to the danger of coming unworthily without it. He ‘shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.’ I Cor 11: 27. Par facit quasi Christum trucidaret [It is as if he were butchering Christ]. Grotius. God reckons with him as with a crucifier of the Lord Jesus. He does not drink Christ’s blood, but sheds it; and so brings that curse upon him, as when the Jews said, ‘His blood be upon us and our children.’ Than the virtue of Christ’s blood, nothing is more comfortable; than the guilt of it, nothing is more formidable.

(4) We must examine ourselves before the sacrament, on account of the difficulty of the work. Difficulty raises a noble spirit. Self-examination is difficult, because it is an inward work, it lies with the heart. External acts of devotion are easy; to lift up the eye, to bow the knee, to read over a few prayers, is as easy as for the Papists to tell over a few beads; but to examine a man’s self, to take the heart in pieces, to make a Scripture-trial of our fitness for the Lord’s supper, is not easy. Reflexive acts are hardest. The eye cannot see itself but by a glass; so we must have the glass of the word and conscience to see our own hearts. It is easy to spy the faults of others; but it is hard to find out our owns. Self-examination is difficult, with regard to self-love. As ignorance blinds, so self-love flatters. What Solomon says of love, ‘Love covereth all sins,’ is most true of self-love. Prov 10: 12. A man looking upon himself in the flattering glass of self-love, his virtues appear greater than they are, and his sins less. Self-love makes a man rather excuse himself, than examine himself; self-love makes one think the best of himself; and he who has a good opinion of himself, does not suspect himself; and not suspecting himself, he is not forward to examine himself. The work, therefore, of self- examination being so difficult, requires the more impartiality and industry. Difficulty should be a spur to diligence.

(5) We must examine ourselves before we come, because of the benefit of self-examination. The benefit is great whatever way it terminates. If, upon examination, we find that we have no grace in truth, the mistake is discovered, and the danger prevented; if we find that we have grace, we may take the comfort of it. He who, upon search, finds that he has the minimum quod sit, the least degree of grace, he is like one that has found his box of evidences; he is a happy man; he is a fit guest at the Lord’s table; he is heir to all the promises; he is as sure to go to heaven as if he were in heaven already.

What must we examine?

(1) Our sins. Search if any dead fly spoils sweet ointment. When we come to the sacrament, as the Jews did before the passover, we should search for leaven, and having found it we should burn it. Let us search for the leaven of pride. This sours our holy things. Will a humble Christ be received into a proud heart? Pride keeps Christ out. Intus existens prohibet alienum [Its presence within blocks the entrance of any other]. To a proud man Christ’s blood has no virtue; it is like a cordial put into a dead man’s mouth, which loses its virtue. Let us search for the leaven of pride, and cast it away. Let us search for the leaven of avarice. The Lord’s supper is a spiritual mystery, to represent Christ’s body and blood; what should an earthly heart do here? The earth puts out the fire; so earthliness quencheth the fire of holy love. The earth is elementum gravissimum [the heaviest of the elements], it cannot ascend. A soul belimed with earth cannot ascend to heavenly cogitations. ‘Covetousness, which is idolatry.’ Col 3: 5. Will Christ come into the heart where there is an idol? Search for this leaven before you come to this ordinance. How can an earthly heart converse with that God which is a spirit? Can a clod of earth kiss the sun? Search for the leaven of hypocrisy. ‘Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.’ Luke 12: 1. Aquinas describes it as simulatio virtutis: hypocrisy is ‘the counterfeiting of virtue.’ The hypocrite is a living pageant, he only makes a show of religion; he gives God his knee, but no heart; and God gives him bread and wine in the sacrament, but no Christ. Oh, let us search for this leaven of hypocrisy and burn it!

(2) We must examine our graces. I shall instance one only – our knowledge.

We are to examine whether we have knowledge, or we cannot give God a reasonable service. Rom 12: 1. Knowledge is a necessary requisite in a communicant; without it there can be no fitness for the sacrament. A person cannot be fit to come to the Lord’s table who has no goodness; but without knowledge the mind is not good. Prov 19: 2. Some say they have good hearts, though they want knowledge; as if one should say, his eye is good, but it wants sight. Under the law, when the plague of leprosy was in a man’s head, the priest was to pronounce him unclean. The ignorant person has the plague in his head, he is unclean; ignorance is the womb of lust. 1 Pet 1: 14. Therefore it is requisite, before we come, to examine what knowledge we have in the main fundamentals of religion. Let it not be said of us, that ‘unto this day the vail is upon their heart.’ 2 Cor 3: 15. In this intelligent age, we cannot but have some insight into the mysteries of the gospel. I rather fear, we are like Rachel, who was fair and well-sighted, but barren: therefore,

Let us examine whether our knowledge be rightly qualified. Is it influential. Does our knowledge warm our heart? Claritas intellectu parit ardorem in effectu [Clearness in the understanding breeds zeal in the doing]. Saving knowledge not only directs but quickens; it is the light of life. John 8: 12. Is our knowledge practical? We hear much; do we love the truths we know? That is the right knowledge which not only adorns the mind, but reforms the life.

[2] This solemn preparation for the sacrament consists in dressing our souls before we come. This soul-dress is in two things:

(1) Washing in the lever of repenting tears. To come to this ordinance with the guilt of any sin unrepented of makes way for further hardening of the heart, and gives Satan fuller possession of it. ‘They shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him.’ Zech 12: 10. The cloud of sorrow must drop into tears. We must grieve as for the pollution, so for the unkindness in every sin which is against Christ’s love who died for us. When Peter thought of Christ’s love in calling him out of his unregeneracy to make him an apostle, and to carry him up to the mount of transfiguration, where he saw the glory of heaven in a vision, and then of his denying Christ, it broke his heart: ‘he wept bitterly.’ Matt 26: 75. To think, before we come to a sacrament, of sins against the bowel-mercies of God the Father, the bleeding wounds of God the Son, the blessed inspirations of God the Holy Ghost, is enough to fill our eyes with tears, and put us into a holy agony of grief and compunction. We must be distressed for sin, be divorced from it. Before the serpent drinks it casts up its poison; in this we must be wise as serpents. Before we drink of the sacramental cup we must cast up the poison of sin by repentance. Ille vere plangit commissa, qui non committit plangenda. Augustine. ‘He truly bewails the sins he has committed who does not commit the sins he has bewailed.’

(2) The soul-dress is the exciting and stirring up the habit of grace into a lively exercise. ‘I put thee in remembrance, that thou stir up the gift of God which is in thee,’ that is, the gifts and graces of the Spirit. 2 Tim 1: 6. The Greek word to stir up, signifies to blow up grace into a flame. Grace is often like fire in the embers, which needs blowing up. It is possible that even a good man may not come so well disposed to this ordinance, because he has not before taken pains with his heart to come in due order, to stir up grace into vigorous exercise; and though he does not eat and drink damnation, yet he does not receive consolation in the sacrament.

[3] A solemn preparation for the sacrament consists in begging a blessing upon the ordinance. The efficacy of the sacrament depends upon the co-operation of the Spirit, and a word of blessing. In the institution, Christ blessed the elements: ‘Jesus took bread and blessed it.’ The sacrament will do us good no farther than it is blessed to us. We ought, before we come, to pray for a blessing, that it may not only be a sign to represent, but a seal to conform, and an instrument to convey Christ and all his benefits to us. We are to pray that this great ordinance may be poison to our sins, and food to our graces. As with Jonathan, when he tasted the honeycomb, ‘and his eyes were enlightened;’ so by receiving this holy Eucharist, our eyes may be enlightened to ‘discern the Lord’s body.’ I Sam 14: 27. Thus should we implore a blessing upon the ordinance before we come. The sacrament is like a tree hung full of fruit, but none of this fruit will fall unless shaken by the hand of prayer.