The Lord's Table and The Lord's Supper
Edward Robinson, Exmouth
The Corinthian Epistles are intended to regulate local church doctrine and practice. In spite of their corrective character, occasioned by the carnality of the Corinthian saints, Paul addresses them in the most dignified terms: “unto the church of God which is at Corinth”. Paul holds back the subjects which are at the heading of this paper, skilfully leading up to them, but not introducing them until chapters 10 and 11 of the first Epistle are reached. They are not mentioned in any other Epistle, but their importance is evident and has especially been appreciated since the revival some 140 years ago. The fruits of that movement of the Spirit we still enjoy, but its distinctive character is in danger of being dissipated as assemblies tend more and more to take on features of the surrounding denominationalism.
In chapter 10 of the first Corinthian Epistle, the apostle treats of the Lord’s table; he refers to “the cup of blessing” and to “the bread which we break” in that order. He does not mention by name the Lord’s supper, the reason being that is not the subject of this chapter. Nevertheless, it is quite common practice for the Lord’s table and the supper to be spoken of as though they were synonymous terms. In announcing the presence of visitors participating in the Lord’s supper, a brother often welcomes them to meet with the assembly “around the table of the Lord”. From conversation with our younger brethren, it seems that some of them think that the table on which the loaf and the cup are placed becomes thereby “the table of the Lord”. One is reminded of the story of the vicar’s warden reporting “We’re in trouble, vicar. One of the legs of the Lord’s table is broken!”. On the same line, we hear the expression “we sit together in front of the Lord’s table”. It is perhaps not altogether unnecessary to state that Paul in this chapter is setting forth, not the subject of a piece of furniture, but a great spiritual idea of the Christian fellowship in contrast to “the table of demons”, 10. 20-21 R.V. marg. It emphasizes the responsibilities as well as the privileges of fellowship. A bed-ridden saint may enjoy much of what is provided at the Lord’s table, whilst physically being precluded from the remembrance of the Lord in the supper.
In chapter 11 of this Epistle, Paul introduces the celebration of the Lord’s supper. He makes no mention of the table of the Lord; this is not the subject here. In chapter 10, the cup (symbol of the precious, shed blood) is spoken of before the loaf, the reason for this being that the blood is basic to the whole idea of the fellowship to which we are called. In our remembrance of the Lord, the loaf is first of all in mind. It speaks so eloquently of the personal love of the Lord Jesus for His Church: “my body, which is for you”, 11. 24 R.V. In thought we are taken further as we take the cup: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood”, 11. 25 R.V. “My body, my blood” - how personal is the supper and what affectionate response it should evoke from the hearts of all on every occasion afforded to us of corporately remembering Him.
We need to distinguish things that differ, though they be related. As chapter 10 precedes chapter 11, so the understanding of the truth of the fellowship underlines the intelligent and affectionate participation of the assembly in the Lord’s supper.