29. He who shall eat unworthily, eateth judgment to himself. He had previously pointed out in express terms the heinousness of the crime, when he said that those who should eat unworthily would be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Now he alarms them, by denouncing punishment; for there are many that are not affected with the sin itself, unless they are struck down by the judgment of God. This, then, he does, when he declares that this food, otherwise health-giving, will turn out to their destruction, and will be converted into poison to those that eat unworthily.
He adds the reason—because they distinguish not the Lord’s body, that is, as a sacred thing from a profane. “They handle the sacred body of Christ with unwashen hands, (Mark 7:2,) nay more, as if it were a thing of nought, they consider not how great is the value of it. They will therefore pay the penalty of so dreadful a profanation.” Let my readers keep in mind what I stated a little ago, that the body is presented to them, though their unworthiness deprives them of a participation in it.
For this cause, etc. After having treated in a general way of unworthy eating, and of the kind of punishment that awaits those who pollute this sacrament, he now instructs the Corinthians as to the chastisement which they were at that time enduring. It is not known whether a pestilence was raging there at that time, or whether they were labouring under other kinds of disease. However it may have been as to this, we infer from Paul’s words, that the Lord had sent some scourge upon them for their correction. Nor does Paul merely conjecture, that it is on that account that they are punished, but he affirms it as a thing that was perfectly well known by him. He says, then, that many lay sick—that many were kept long in a languishing condition, and that many had died, in consequence of that abuse of the Supper, because they had offended God. By this he intimates, that by diseases and other chastisements from God, we are admonished to think of our sins; for God does not afflict us without good reason, for he takes no pleasure in our afflictions.
The subject is a copious and ample one; but let it suffice to advert to it here in a single word. If in Paul’s times an ordinary abuse of the Supper could kindle the wrath of God against the Corinthians, so that he punished them thus severely, what ought we to think as to the state of matters at the present day? We see, throughout the whole extent of Popery, not merely horrid profanations of the Supper, but even a sacrilegious abomination set up in its room. In the first place, it is prostituted to filthy lucre (1 Tim. 3:8) and merchandise. Secondly, it is maimed, by taking away the use of the cup. Thirdly, it is changed into another aspect, by its having become customary for one to partake of his own feast separately, participation being done away. Fourthly, there is there no explanation of the meaning of the sacrament, but a mumbling that would accord better with a magical incantation, or the detestable sacrifices of the Gentiles, than with our Lord’s institution. Fifthly, there is an endless number of ceremonies, abounding partly with trifles, partly with superstition, and consequently manifest pollutions. Sixthly, there is the diabolical invention of sacrifice, which contains an impious blasphemy against the death of Christ. Seventhly, it is fitted to intoxicate miserable men with carnal confidence, while they present it to God as if it were an expiation, and think that by this charm they drive off everything hurtful, and that without faith and repentance. Nay more, while they trust that they are armed against the devil and death, and are fortified against God by a sure defence, they venture to sin with much more freedom, and become more obstinate. Eighthly, an idol is there adored in the room of Christ. In short, it is filled with all kinds of abomination.
Nay even among ourselves, who have the pure administration of the Supper restored to us, in virtue of a return, as it were, from captivity, how much irreverence! How much hypocrisy on the part of many! What a disgraceful mixture, while, without any discrimination, wicked and openly abandoned persons intrude themselves, such as no man of character and decency would admit to common intercourse! And yet after all, we wonder how it comes that there are so many wars, so many pestilences, so many failures of the crop, so many disasters and calamities—as if the cause were not manifest! And assuredly, we must not expect a termination to our calamities, until we have removed the occasion of them, by correcting our faults.
—John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 388–92.