TWENTY-FIFTH LORD S DAY.
Question 67. Are both word and sacraments then ordained and appointed for this end, that they may direct our faith to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, on the cross, as the only ground for our salvation?
Answer. Yes, indeed; for the Holy Ghost teaches us, in the gospel, and assures us by the sacraments, that the whole of our salvation depends upon that one sacrifice of Christ, which he offered for us on the cross.
The sacraments have certain things in common with the word, and certain things, again which are different from the word. They agree in the following particulars:
1. Both have God for their author.
2. God administers, and dispenses both by the ministers of the church. He speaks unto us in his word by his ministers, and by them dispenses the signs which are used in the administration of the sacraments. The things, however, which the signs signify, the Son of God bestows upon us immediately; for he said: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” “The bread that I give is my flesh.” John the Baptist says of him: “I indeed you with water; but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” (John 20:22; 6:51. Matt. 3:11.)
3. Both are means through which the Holy Ghost kindles and strengthens faith in us: and so both also confirm and strengthen faith.
4. They have this especially in common, that both exhibit the same things to us. God declares his will in both; he offers the same blessings, the same grace, and the same Christ in both; nor does he exhibit, or con firm any thing by the sacraments, different from what he promises in his word. Whoever, therefore, seeks any thing in the sacraments, which God has not promised in his word, idolizes the sacraments.
The sacraments differ from the word, 1. According to their nature. Words signify and express certain things according to the appointment of men, who use them arbitrarily. The sacraments signify certain things ac cording to the analogy which exists between the signs and the things which are signified. We also read, and hear words, whilst we receive signs by feeling, seeing and tasting. Again, words only signify certain things: signs and symbols also confirm.
2. They differ in their objects. The word with its various commands and promises is preached to all men without any distinction, to the unregenerate as well as to those who are regenerated and members of the church. It is preached to the former that they may be regenerated, and exercise faith in Christ, or be rendered perfectly inexcusable; and to the latter that their faith may be more, and more confirmed. The sacraments, on the other hand, are dispensed only to those who are members of the church, who pro fess repentance and faith, and are designed to preserve and strengthen their faith. Again, the word is preached to all, and every one at the same time; the sacraments are administered to one at a time. One is baptized after another: and the Lord’s supper is given to one after another.
3. The word is that through which the Holy Ghost commences and confirms faith in us, and for this reason, should go before the sacraments. The sacraments are means through which the Holy Ghost confirms faith already called into exercise, and for this reason ought to follow the word. The reason of this difference is that the sacraments do not exert any influence unless they be understood. There is no desire for that which is unknown. There must, therefore, necessarily be some explanation of the sacraments out of the word before they are observed. The case is different, however, in regard to the infants of the church: for in them the Holy Spirit neither begins, nor confirms faith by means of the word; but by an inward working; and that because they are also included in the covenant and promise of God, being born in the Church.
4. The word is preached only to adults: some of the sacraments include infants also, among their subjects, as circumcision, and baptism.
5. The word is sufficient and necessary for the salvation of adults; for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17.) The sacraments, however, are not positively and absolutely necessary for all, neither are they in themselves sufficient for salvation independent of the word. Seals without a charter, or without being affixed to some thing are of no consequence; and that familiar saying of Augustin is true beyond doubt: “It is not the want, but the contempt of the sacraments that condemns.”
6. The word may be without the sacraments, as it respects both its public and private exposition, and it may be effectual also independent of the sacraments, as in the case of Cornelius: the sacraments, on the other hand, cannot be without the word, nor can they have any efficacy independent of it.
7. The word is that which is confirmed by the signs which are used: the sacraments are the things by which the word is confirmed.
Lastly, Augustin expresses that in which the word and sacraments agree and differ most briefly, when he defines “a sacrament a visible word “for when he defines a sacrament a word, he expresses that in which they agree, which is, that they both teach the same thing. And by adding the word visible, he expresses the difference, which consists in rites, and ceremonies. In a word, the signs declare unto us the will of God by administration; whilst the word declares it through the medium of speech. Faith is called into exercise, and confirmed by the word; the sacraments do nothing more than confirm faith. The word is also effectual apart from the sacraments; whilst the sacraments effect nothing independent of the word. Adults can not be saved without knowledge; they may, however, be regenerated and saved without the sacraments, if they do not despise them. The word extends to all; the sacraments only to such as believe.
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