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What is a sacrament? and,
Our text, it is true, does not, properly, include all these points; but it will lead to them as well, perhaps, as any single text we can find. Circumcision was a sacrament of the covenant of grace under the Old Testament dispensation, and we have in our text its nature pointed out, viz. a sign and seal of spiritual things. And the general nature of all the sacraments, both under the Old and the New Testament were the same. Therefore our text expresses the general nature of all the sacraments.
The first inquiry which claims our attention is,
“ A sacrament is an holy ordinance, instituted by Christ wherein by sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.”
The word sacrament is not found in the Scriptures, but the things signified by this word are there contained ; and the word was adopted by the primitive fathers to express these things. The word is borrowed from the Latin, and signifies the military oath in use among the ancient Romans, which they called sacramentum, by which soldiers bound themselves to be faithful to their general. As in those ordinances, which we call sacraments, there is a solemn engagement on the part of the receiver to be faithful to Christ. The word sacraments has been adopted, as expressive of these ordinances.
“ À sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ.”
Christ was the author of the sacraments. Those of the New Testament were instituted, immediately by himself in person ; and those of the Old Testament may also be said to have been instituted by him; for we have sufficient reason to believe that it was God the Son, who was with the Old Testament church, and so frequently appeared to the saints of that period, and gave to the church, the institutions, with which they were favoured.
A sacrament is a positive institution, the obligation to observe which, arises not from the nature and fitness of things, but solely from the command of the Institutor.If Christ had not instituted the Sacraments, they would not be binding, and whenever he pleases to repeal them the obligation to their observance ceases.
As to the nature of a sacrament, it is that, “ Wherein by seusible signs, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers." Hence the parts of a sacrament are two, the outward ard sensible signs, and the things signified by those signs.
in a sacrament, there are outward and sensible signs. Thus in circumcision, there was the cutting off the flesh of the foreskin ; in the passover, there was the slaying of the lamin, the sprinkling of the blood, and the eating of the lamb with unleavened bread, and bitter herbs, and in haste, with their staves in their hands, and their shoes on their feet; in baptism there is the application of water to the subject; and in the Lord's supper, there is the breaking and eating of bread, and the drinking of wine. These are all external signs, presented to the senses, and intended to affect them, and through them to affect the soul.This is a method of instruction, which God has always taken with his church, and which is well suited to our present state, in which we are naturally more affected by things that strike our senses, than by spiritual ideas, presented without these helps.
But in the sacraments we are to look further than merely to the external elements and actions. These are signs; but there is always something of a spiritual nature signified by them. They signify and represent Christ and the blessings of the covenant of grace. 'Thus in circumcision the sign represented, that the subject deserved to be cut off from the favour of God, and signified that without shedding of blood there was no remission, and pointed to the blood of Christ, which was to be shed to take away sin. In the passover, the lamb slain signified the Lamb of God to be slain to take away sin; the sprinkling of the blood, the application of his blood to the soul for the pardon of sin; and the eating of the lamb, the necessity of depending on Christ for the support of spiritual life. In baptism, the application of water signifies that the subject is guilty and polluted, and represents the pardon of sin through the blood of Christ, and the regeneration and sanctification of the soul by his Spirit. And in the Lord's Supper, the bread represents the body of Christ broken for us, and the wine his blood shed for us.
In a sacrament the sign and the thing signified, are to be kept distinct, and not to be confounded. This has not always been done. The sign and the thing signified have been confounded, and this confusion has been productive of very dangerous errors. Thus baptism has been called regeneration, and persons have supposed themselves really regenerated, and in a state of safety, because they had been baptized.
In the Lord's Supper also' the sign has been made the thing signified. Thus the bread after consecration, has been held to be, not a sign of the body of Christ, but the real body itself, and the wine his real blood. This is called the doctrine of transubstantiation, the truth of which was once generally believed, and scarcely called in
question in the world. A doctrine most absurd, violating every dictate of common sense, and which before this audience can need no refutation. The true nature of a sacrament is, by external signs to represent spiritual things : and we oughi carefully to avoid confounding the one with the other.
A sacrament is represented in the answer which we are considering, as a seal also as well as a sign; and thus is circumcision represented in our text; “ He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had.” A sacrament is a seal of the covenant of grace. A seal is a standing evidence of the reality of a covenant; and it binds the parties to fulfil the articles thereof. So the sacraments are standing evidences of the reality of the covenant of grace; and they not only signify the blessings of this covenant; but they seal the articles, and mutually bind the parties to the performance thereof, on the conditions stated in the covenant. The sacraments are seals, both on the part of God and the receiver. The Lord graciously condescends not only to promise to the believing receiver, but to confirm this promise with the sacraments as seals, that he will bestow upon him, the blessings of the new covenant signified by these signs. And the receiver obligates himself by the sacraments as seals, that he will be the Lord's and his alone, and that he will faithfully endeavour to perform all the duties required of him in the covenant.
The persons to whom the sacraments represent, seal, and apply Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant as stated in the answer which we are considering are believ
With respect to adults, the seals of the covenant belong to believers alone, and to none but believers. To those who receive these signs by faith, are the things signified, sealed and applied. And upon none but those who do believe, does God bind himself to bestow the blessings of the new covenant. With respect to all others, they are condemned already ; and "Unto the wicked, God saith, what hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth;" Ps. l. 16.
These remarks apply to adults. There was a sacrament under the Old Testament, which was applied to infants; and we hold there is one under the New. With respect to infants, they cannot exercise faith ; but still there ought to be faith in the offerer; and the ordinance which is applied to infants, belongs in the sight of the church to the seed of the visibly faithful.
We proceed to inquire,
The sacraments of the New Testament are baptism and the Lord's Supper."
Under the Old Testament, there were two sacraments, which were signs and seals of the covenant of grace, viz. circumcision and the passover. These by the coming of Christ were done away. Their abrogation at his coming, was implied in their very nature. For being by the shedding of blood, typical of Christ and the shedding of his blood, it was proper when he came and shed his blood, that the seals should be changed, and that others more suited to the New Testament dispensation should be substituted in their room. That the sacraments of the Old Testament have ceased to be obligatory on the church, is evident from the Scriptures of the New Testament. Baptism and the Lord's Supper have come in the room of them and signify the same things as far as consists with the difference of dispensation.
Baptism and the Lord's Supper, were instituted by Christ himself, while he was upon earth. These sacraments are still in force. This has been denied by some, who exclude every thing external from the gospel dispensation. But it is certain, Christ instituted these ordinances, and that they were observed by the Apostles and disciples after his death, and by the primitive church, and by the church in all ages since, down to
the present time. Besides, there was as much need of these ordinances in future generations, as in the apostolic age, and we no where find them abrogated by divine authority; and no one but he who instituted them has a right to abrogate them. Further, that baptism was to continue a sacrament in the christian church to the end of the world, appears from the commission which our Saviour gave to his apostles after his resurrection, and the promise which he annexed. “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world;" Mat. xxviii. 19, 20. The promise here made was intended to strengthen the apostles and their successors, in the performance of the duties just assigned them; and as the promise extended to the end of the world, the conclusion is obvious, that the commission to preach and baptize was to continue as long. And that the Lord's Supper was to be a standing ordinance in the church is evident from the words of institution as given us by Paul : “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come;" 1 Cor. xi. 26. Whence we learn that in this ordinance, the disciples of Christ were to show forth his death until the end of the world, when he was to come the second time.
And as there are two sacraments in the christian church, which are to continue in it till the end of the world, so we believe there are but two. In opposition to this belief the Roman Catholics hold to seven, viz. besides baptism and the Lord's Supper ; confirmation, penance, orders, matrimony, and extreme unction. On the last five I would only observe, that no divine warrant can be produced for their institution as sacraments ; and without this we have no right to consider them as such; and they all want some, if not all of the things essential to a sacrament.
We proceed to consider the
“ How do the sacraments become effectual ineans of salvation ?
The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer