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Who can maintain his faith, when he is tormented by wicked men in the most dreadful manner, that they may compel him to deny it? Yet the Holy Ghost doth even by tribulation work patience, experience and hope," Rom v. 3, 4. But the gospel is better calculated by its own nature to confirm faith: all the mysteries, promises and encouragements of the gospel are used by the Holy Ghost to confirm faith: "Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope, saith Paul, Rom. xv. 4. But the sacraments were more especially instituted, and are used by the Holy Ghost for the confirmation of our faith.
The word Sacrament is derived from the Latin word sacrare, to consecrate, or to dedicate. Thus the heathens called the money which two persons at law who had betted, laid up in the holy place, as a pledge, upon condition that he who should win the action, should receive his money again, and that the other should leave it there. And in this manner are the sacraments pledges of the faithfulness of God and of his covenant people. The military oath was also called anciently a sacrament: and thus also the use of the sacraments serves as a solemn engaging of ourse'ves to the Lord, to fi, ht under his banner faithfully against all his enemies. This word was most probably introduced into the church by the vulgar Latin translation of the Bible, which renders the Greek word musterion, a mystery, sometimes by sacramentum, as the Latin fathers also called a mystery sometimes a sacrament: and truly the sacraments contain great and profound mysteries. The Papists have been guilty of a shameful abuse here, by taking occasion from this sense of the word, to multiply the sacraments beyond measure. I will not however on this account disapprove of using the word, because we know what we understand by it, and the church makes use of other words, which are not to be found in the bible. If we will be particular, we may make use of the language of the Holy Spirit, who calls the sacraments signs, seals, a covenant, and tokens of the covenant," Rom. iv. 11. Gen. xvii. 11, 13. Exod. xii. 13.
In order to contemplate the matter itself, we say that a sacrament is a visible sign, and seal of invisible grace." So "Abráham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith," as Paul speaks in the text. The instructor, in order to explain this, teacheth us three things, 1, the nature of the sacraments, Q. 66. 2, The agreement of the word with the sacraments, Q. 67, and 3, The number of the sacraments, Q. 68,
1. To the nature of the sacraments pertains, 1, an outward and vi
sible sign, 2, an invisible thing signified, 3, an union between the sign and the thing signified, 4, the foundation, or fundamental reason of that union, 5, an end of the institution and of the use of it.
1. "The sacraments," saith the instructor, "are holy, visible signs," they are therefore calculated to signify and represent spir itual things, in order that we may, by using them, attain to a better understanding of spiritual things. It pleaseth the Lord to work in us by means of the outward senses, since we have not only a reasonable soul, but also a body: "Faith cometh by hearing," and the confirmation of it cometh by seeing; but not only the elements, but also the outward ceremonies, which accompany the elements, are signs; we will illustrate this more fully, when we treat upon baptism and the Lord's Supper. I leave it to others to show that signs are either natural, or instituted, either human or divine, as the sacraments are holy signs. Not that the signs are holy by themselves, having grace and the thing signified in themselves, and communicating it thus; for God alone works the thing signified, and the signs can work only in a moral manner, and cannot convey grace to the soul by themselves. But they are holy signs by a divine institution signifying holy things, in order to render men holy by a holy use of them. Independent of this, the signs are neither holy nor profitable, as Paul teacheth with respect to circumcision, Rom. ii. 25, 29.
2. The thing signified by a sacrament is invisible grace: the instructor saith "the promise of the gospel, that God grants us freely the remission of sin, and life everlasting, for the sake of that one sarifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross." This is called by Paul in one word, "the righteousness of faith," Rom. iv. 11. We may also say that the great covenant of grace, with all its sure benefits, is the thing signified by the sacraments, and is therefore called "the covenant of God," Gen. xvii. 11, 13. Since now the sacraments differ one from another, therefore the benefits of the covenant of grace are also proposed to us in different relations as will appear in the sequel.
3. But what relation hath the sign to the thing signified, unless there be an union of the sign with the thing signified? this sacramental union consists in the relation which the sign hath to the thing signified, by which (a) there is a resemblance, and an agreement between the outward and material element and grace, by which the sign exhibits and expresseth the thing signified in a lively manner. (b) This sacramental union and relation consists also in the conjunc of the sign with the thing signified by and in the use of them both.
We use and receive the sign with our outward senses, and the assurance that we partake of the thing signified, with our understanding and will through faith, and the operation of the Holy Ghost.
That such an union belongs to the sacraments, we learn from four kinds of sacramental phrases, usual in the word of God, by which, (a) the name of the thing signified is given to the sign. Circumcision, "the sign of the covenant," is called "the covenant" itself, Gen. xviii. ii. 13. See also Lxod. xii. 11. Matt. xxvi. 26, 27, 28. (b) The name of the sign is given to the thing signified; thus, Christ is called "our passover," 1 Cor. v. 7. (c) The properties and effects of the thing signified are ascribed to the sign; so baptism is called "the washing away of sin," and "the washing of regeneration," Acts xxii. 16. Eph. v. 26. Titus iii, 5. And (d) the properties and effects of the sign are attributed to the thing signified: when Christ broke the bread, he said, "this is my body, which is bro ken for you," 1 Cor. xi. 24.
4. We find many similitudes in the word of God, in which spiritual things are expressed by material; Christ is called a vine, a branch, a door; we can also spiritualize many material things, and ascend up by them to spiritual things; but they are not thereforė sacraments, and the conjuction of a material, with a spiritual thing doth not of itself constitute a sacrament, but the word of God must be added to it; the word, joined to the element, constitutes it a sacrament, according to Augustin. The word of God, which constitutes the element a sacrament, is the word of institution and of promise. God alone hath a sovereign right to constitute any thing a sacrament, and therefore we find that he alone hath instituted the sacraments; we can see this in circumcision, Gen. xvii. in the passExod. xii. in baptism. Matt. xxviii, and in the Supper, Matt. xvi. This word of the institution is the command of God, by which he chargeth us to hold, and to use such an element as a sign of spir itual things, as the Lord said concerning circumcision, "It shall be a sign of the covenant," Gen. xvii. 11. The word of the promise constitutes the element, instituted for a sign, also a seal, which confirms and assures, that believers do as truly partake of the thing signified, as they make use of the sign in faith. Thus "Abraham received the sign of circumcision for a seal of the righteousness of faith," as the text speaks. Therefore the Socinians, Remonstrants and Mennonites contradict the scripture, when they say that the sacraments are only bare signs of a profession, and of our thankfulness to God and the Papists are guilty of slander, when they report of us, that we dispense no other than bare signs in the sacraments.
5. As a wise man doth nothing to no purpose, so the Lord also did not bestow the sacraments to no purpose, and without any end, but he instituted them, not merely that they might serve as duties of religious worship, but that we might, by using them, bind ourselves solemnly, as it were, by a military oath, to obey him; also, that they might serve for signs of the pure worship, of the communion of saints, and of their separation from the assemblies of erroneous persons. Moreover the Lord instituted the sacraments, that he might oblige us to acknowledge his sealed kindness; but they were bestowed especially for the confirmation of our faith.
We must illustrate all this more fully, when we treat of the nature of baptism, and of the Lord's supper: we will now only show how the Holy Ghost confirms our faith by the sacraments. He doth this, (a) by bringing us to a better understanding of the promise of the gospel through the sacraments. The signs are like pictures, which represent Christ and all his benefits to us: when a person makes a proper use of the signs, he will be presently led to a knowledge of the thing signified by them, and obtain a lively view of it. The signs are indeed memorials, according to Exod. xii. 14. 1 Cor. xi. 24, 25. Besides this, the Holy Spirit irradiates the soul with his light, by which she is enabled to "behold the glory of the Lord as in a glass," 2 Cor. iii. 18. (b) By giving believers the sacraments for seals, and enabling them to make use of them as such, as Abraham was taught by him, Rom. iv. 11. The sacraments are indeed seals of the Testament, which was confirmed by the death of Christ, and they are, as it were, pledges and earnests for confirming the faithfulness of Christ. (c) This would have no force, and would have no influence on the soul, if the Holy Ghost did not "bestow himself for an earnest and seal, in order to confirm and to seal the soul," according to 2 Cor. i. 21, 22. Eph. i. 13, 14. iv. 30, which he doth particularly, when he causeth her to enjoy in, and by the use of the sacraments the thing signified, as he did to the Lord Jesus, when he was baptized: "The heavens were then opened, and the Spirit of God descended upon him as a dove, and a voice from heaven said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," Matt. iii. 16, 17, "Jesus said, it is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you they are spirit, and they are life," John vi. 63.
2. Although there is a great difference between the word of the gospel and the sacraments, since the word affects us by our hearing, and the sacraments by the other senses; the word works faith, and the sacraments confirm it; the word promiseth faith, and the sacraC
ments seal it, and the word can be profitable without the sacraments, but the sacraments cannot without the word; nevertheless the word and sacraments agree herein, that "they both direct our faith to the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus upon the cross, as the only ground of our salvation," which the instructor exhibits in the sixty seventh question against the Romanists, who teach a totally different doctrine, when they say that the sacraments contain grace, and that it is given ex opere operato, "from the work itself," and that the efficacy of the sacraments nevertheless depends upon the administrator of them; yea, they lead souls more to the sacrifice of the mass, than to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. And they direct men thus, not to the sacrifice of Christ, as the only foundation of salvation, but to the sacraments, to seek their salvation in them. The instructor sets himself against this, when he saith, "The Holy Ghost teacheth 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 accomplished for us on the cross." That the Holy Ghost teacheth us this in the gospel hath been abundantly proved on the sixth, eleventh. twenty third and twenty fourth Lord's days. The Holy Ghost assures us of this same thing by the sacraments; for circumcision refers to "the circumcision of Christ, without hands," Col. ii. 11, 12. The passover is therefore called Christ himself, 1 Cor. v. 7. That baptism and the Lord's supper also refer only to the bloody sacrifice of Christ, will be shown in order on the following Lord's days.
3. As we read of several covenants, which God made with men, so we read also of several sacraments; for the sacraments are adapted to the nature of the covenants, inasmuch as they are signs and seals of the covenants. We read of one covenant, which had only temporal promises, to wit, the covenant that God made with Noah, with all his posterity, and with every living creature, in which he promised that he would not destroy the earth again with a general flood. This covenant had the rainbow for its sacrament, according to Gen. ix. 8-17. But this covenant supposed the covenant of grace, since the Lord made it only to preserve an elect seed alive, and to glorify himself, as a gracious God. But the other cov. enants have heavenly promises; these are either the covenant of works, established with Adam and all his posterity, in which the Lord God promised life, in consequence of the perfect observation of his law. He gave the tree of life as a sacrament to confirm this promise. Or the covenant of redemption which the Father established from eternity with his Son, in which he required of him, that he should give his soul a ransom for many, and promised him that