THE USE OF THE SACRAMENTS.
By W. M. BAUM, D. D.
THE able and distinguished lecturers who have preceded me, have been pleased, without exception, and with most manifest propriety and advantage, to discuss the Articles of the Augsburg Confession in the order of their occurrence. The subject of the Thirteenth Article, which falls to our present examination and study, is intensely interesting, and preeminently adapted to the wants and peculiarities of our times. It belongs very pertinently to the question of the day. Of the entire number, we could scarcely have selected one more promising or more desirable. May its discussion be attended with the divine blessing!
No sooner had the work of the Reformation been fully inaugurated, than it became manifest that a vital pivotal point was to be found in the question of the Sacraments. Rome had so perverted the design and intent thereof, in the abuses of the Mass, that no reconciliation was possible. Unwilling as the Reformers were to make an irreconcilable breach with existing church authorities, they nevertheless refused to sacrifice or compromise the truth for the sake of temporary quietude. This question, therefore, of necessity, occupies a very prominent place in the Augsburg Confession.
We have already had presented in learned and exhaustive discussions, upon the Ninth and Tenth articles, the teachings of the word of God as held by the Reformers, and the Church since then, of the doctrines of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, separately considered. It remains, in order to complete the cycle of sacramental theology, to consider the question of the sacraments in the abstract, as it is set forth in the Thirteenth article, whose caption is in these words: ”Of the Use of the Sacraments.”
Not only did diversity and conflict with Rome appear upon this great question, but very soon were these manifest within the narrow circle of the disenthralled Church. Luther and Zwingli, at Marburg, are both a type and a prophecy of the conflicting tendencies and theories in Protestantism. Around one or the other have gathered the mind and the heart of all succeeding teachers and expounders of God’s word, maintaining each, to this hour, his own interpretation with as unyielding pertinacity and divergent conclusions, as did the great champions, their prototypes, upon that historic occasion.
The accepted English version of this Article of the Augsburg Confession is thus given, and is a faithful rendering of the original:
“Concerning the use of the Sacraments our Churches teach, that they were instituted not only as the marks of a Christian profession amongst men; but rather as signs and evidences of the will of God toward us, for the purpose of exciting and confirming the faith of those who use them. Hence the sacraments ought to be received with faith in the promises which are exhibited and set forth by them.
“They therefore condemn those who teach that the Sacraments justify (ex opere operato) by the mere performance of the act, and who do not teach that faith, which believes our sins to be forgiven, is required in the use of the sacraments.”
The sacramental idea belongs to both the Old and the New Testament dispensations. The name, it is true, is not found in the Bible, but the thing signified is plainly revealed and enjoined. Although not distinguished by any particular title, we have the ordinances pertaining to our holy religion minutely described. Circumcision and the Passover in the Old Testament dispensation. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the New, and whatever these involve and include, are instituted. Their observance in the Church, and by the Church, is implied and demanded by the very fact of their divine appointment and preservation.
The Early Christian Fathers.
The teaching of the early Christian Fathers concerning the sacraments, are neither very definite, nor very satisfactory. With all we find due appreciation of the importance of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but not a very clear apprehension of their relation to each other, or to the other rites and ceremonies of our faith.
The word “Sacrament” comes into the terminology of Christianity mainly through the Vulgate and other ancient Latin versions of the Bible. It is there used in the translation as the synonym of the Greek μυστήριον, including of course many more things than the two sacraments of later times. Its introduction and use may also be traced in part to a classic origin. The Latin word “Sacramentum” was used to designate the sum of money deposited with the high priest, or legal functionary, before the commencement of a suit at law, and which was forfeited for public uses by the defeated party. It was also employed to signify an oath, such as that by which the soldier bound himself to fidelity to his commander and his country.
Even Pagan usages may have contributed to the employment of some special designation for the rites and ceremonies of Christianity. Their priests, in order to enhance their importance in the eyes of the multitude, were accustomed to celebrate their sacred rites in secret, and to call them mysteries. The early Christian Fathers sought similar results by performing Baptism and the Lord’s Supper privately, from which all were excluded but the initiated, and hence the title mysteries or sacraments.
We may not be able to say with certainty why this term was selected and appropriated to this special service, or why this special and limited signification was given to it, but of the fact there remains no doubt. Its continuance in this usage for so many centuries, identifies it forever with the sacred ordinances of Christianity.
With the earliest patristic writers, the use of this term was not as limited as it has since become.
Tertullian was confessedly the most influential among the Fathers in the matter of terminology. To him may be traced the introduction of the phrases so long in use, Novum Testamentum, Trinitas, Peccatum Originale, Satisfactio, etc. With him begins the use of Sacramentum in this connection. He speaks of sacramentum baptismatis et eucharistiae, and sacramentum aquae et eucharistae, whilst he also uses it in a more general sense, speaking even of the Christian religion as a sacrament.
Cyprian, who comes next in order of time, does not seem to observe any exclusive terminology. He applies this word indiscriminately to the Lord’s Supper, to the Trinity, and the Lord’s prayer. Thus it appears that whatever implied a high religious idea, as well as the more profound doctrines of the Church, were spoken of as sacraments without any acknowledged recognition of a systematic definition.
In the day and under the influence of Augustine, who, if not the most learned, is ever regarded as the greatest of the Christian Fathers, the idea of the sacraments was much more clearly apprehended and defined. Without speaking of their number, he designates them as the visible word, and unfolded the mysterious union of the word with the external element. When honestly and logically applied we believe the definitions of Augustine will leave none but those now included by Protestants in the number of the sacraments, yet even he at times uses the word in a more general sense, embracing matrimony, holy orders, exorcism, i.e., the renunciation of the devil at Baptism, and other sacred ceremonies.
Among the Scholastics the Sacraments had special interest and significance. Accepting the terminology of Tertullian, and the definition of Augustine, they attempted to formulate their views more definitely and systematically.
Special attention was given to the number of the Sacraments. There seems to be no rule or standard for a satisfactory determination of this difficult question, which was intensified by their divergent views and definitions until the happy thought occurred to Peter Lombard that as seven was the sacred number, there must needs be seven sacraments. Rabanus Maurus advocated four, Dionysius Areopagiticus demanded six, whilst Peter Damiani would be content with nothing short of twelve, the apostolic number. The scholastic acuteness and determined zeal of Peter Lombard, however, prevailed, and his view was endorsed and approved, first by the Council of Florence, 1439, and then of Trent, 1547, and continues unto this day as the accepted number, held and proclaimed by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. The views of Hugo of St. Victor deserve a passing notice. He divided the sacraments into three classes; first, those pertaining to salvation, viz: baptism, confirmation, and the Lord’s Supper; secondly, those pertaining to sanctification, viz: the use of holy water, sprinkling with ashes, etc.; thirdly, those pertaining to preparation for utilizing the others, such as holy orders, the consecration of robes of the clergy, and others.
Before leaving this interesting and fruitful chapter of the writings of the ante-Reformation period, we cite the speculations of the well-known Bonaventura. Accepting the number seven as the true one, he brought them severally into connection with the seven diseases of man. Original sin is counteracted by Baptism, mortal sin by penance, venial sin by extreme unction, ignorance is cured by ordination, malice by the Lord’s Supper, infirmity by confirmation, and evil concupiscence by matrimony. The criticism of Schleiermacher upon this representation is no less just than humorous: “The poor laity have no sacrament for ignorance, nor have the poor clergy a sacrament to counteract lusts.” The fertile brain of this ecclesiastic soon discovered an intimate connection between the seven sacraments and the seven cardinal virtues of humanity; thus Baptism leads to faith, confirmation to hope, the Lord’s Supper to love, penance to righteousness, extreme unction to perseverance, ordination to wisdom, matrimony to moderation.
Thomas Aquinas finds the analogy between the natural and spiritual life of man, both recognized and provided for in the existence of the seven sacraments. Thus man is born, then strengthened, then nourished, furnished with means of recovery from illness, with means to propagate his race, to live under the guidance of legitimate authority, and to be prepared for his departure from this world.
The exact counterpart for all this he finds in his spiritual nature, and for all these necessities and emergencies the sacraments make full provision. Man is born spiritually in baptism, strengthened by confirmation, nourished by the Lord’s Supper, recovered from spiritual malady by penance, the Church is continued by holy matrimony, a supernatural guide is found in the sacrament of orders, whilst extreme unction completes the equipment for death.
Such is a mere glance at the gradual development of the sacramental idea, which is manifestly ecclesiastical rather than biblical in its nature. As far as it is in perfect accord with the teachings of the word of God, it is or should be accepted by Christians; but as it is now enunciated, it is not formally found therein.
We are thus prepared the better to appreciate the complex difficulties which attended the work of the Reformers, and the more to admire the discernment, wisdom and fidelity they displayed in its accomplishment.
As in the day of Christ, the truth of the Old Testament had been obscured and almost buried beneath the additions and traditions of the scribes and elders, so in the day of the Reformation, the truth of the Gospel was in like manner sadly disfigured and distorted by the inventions and the speculations of the schoolmen, the mystics and the ecclesiastics, and could scarcely be any longer recognized as the word of Christ and of His apostles.
To bring order out of this chaos, to eliminate the simple truth out of its intricate enfoldings, to sift and to separate the divine from the human in the current teachings of the Church, was the duty and the danger of the hour. To it the framers and expounders of the Augsburg Confession were called and committed, and in it they achieved a success as marvelous as it has been enduring. Inferior to the first apostles only in the particular of personal intercourse with Christ, and of direct inspiration, they have witnessed such a good Confession, that to this day we thankfully believe it and proudly teach it.
The Article under consideration is itself the best and most satisfactory exhibit of the views of the Reformers upon the subject of which it treats.
So happily conceived and accurately stated is it, that it has been the easily recognized basis of every subsequent Protestant Confession, as it has been bodily transferred and almost literally incorporated as Article XXV. of the Articles of Religion of the Church of England.
In a few exceptional cases only, as in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, and then not absolutely but figuratively, as is affirmed and maintained by the learned and ingenuous Dr. Leonard Hutter, do any of the Confessional writings or acknowledged leaders of the Reformation speak of more than two sacraments. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper alone meet all the requirements thereof Other rites and ceremonies of the Church, which may be very appropriate in themselves, and very helpful to believers, may also in some particulars partake of a sacramental character, and may in many respects resemble a true sacrament, yet do not complete the entire representation, so as to justify their permanent enrollment as of divine appointment.
At the time of the preparation of the Augsburg Confession and the enunciation of the faith of what has since grown into the well-defined system of Protestantism, two fearful evils concerning the sacraments were possible; two terrible extremes, alike dangerous, were imminent. The avoidance of the one greatly endangered the encountering of the other. Many a precious bark, in fleeing Scylla, has been wrecked upon Charybdis. May we not devoutly recognize and acknowledge God’s hand in the guidance of the Gospel crew, by which they escaped both, and, as we firmly believe, rescued the Church from the errors and evils of materialistic exaggeration on the one hand, as seen in the ex opere operato fallacy of the Papacy, and its effeminate offspring usually denominated High Churchism, and of rationalistic ignoring, on the other, by which all meaning and efficiency are lost, as seen in the mere outward ceremony theory of Socinianism, and its natural concomitant usually designated Zwinglianism.
Safely and grandly between these did they direct their course, bringing out, in the clearest light, the nature, necessity, design, and significance of these divine institutions.
In endeavoring to arrive at a clear and definite view of the teachings of the Reformers and the Symbols upon this question, we are at the same time attaining acquaintance with the views of the ablest theologians of all subsequent times. Their masterly efforts and scriptural statements have well nigh exhausted the field of inquiry, and leave but little for us to accomplish, except to verify and emphasize their statements.
Such was the providential disposition of the Christian world, political and religious, in that day, that the whole energy of human thought, the whole power of human learning, and the whole strength of human faith, and love, and party attachment, were given to the study and the defence of the doctrines of the Gospel. It was a single and an absorbing pursuit. The results attained demonstrate the thoroughness and the fidelity of the labor performed.
It is very manifest that neither the Old nor the New Testament Scriptures furnish any formal definition of a Sacrament; nor do the writings of the Greek Apologists, or the Latin Fathers, or the schoolmen of the middle ages, present anything that has been regarded as authoritative and final. The conclusions of the Council at Trent have decided the question so far as Romanism is concerned; and though widely and diametrically opposed thereto, evangelical Protestantism has also reached very clear and definite, and, may we not believe, ultimate conclusions.
Beginning with the simple idea of mystery, as descriptive of the doctrines and usages of the Redeemer’s kingdom, we have next the added thought of obligation incurred by the believer and the participant. Then comes out more definitely the relation between the written word and the instituted ordinance; and then gradually the conception of the Sacraments as a channel, and finally as the only channel, through which God’s grace is bestowed upon man. Beyond this it is difficult to conceive to what human ingenuity or ecclesiastical device could have advanced. Divine grace shut up to the Sacraments; the Sacraments belonging exclusively to the Church; the Church the only depository and guard of the word of God — there can be of course no salvation out of the Church, and there can be no opposition or resistance of the power or decisions of the Church. Having received the efficacious grace signified and conferred by the use of the Sacraments, these need only be continued by the faithful to have it strengthened and increased, or assiduously used by the negligent to have it restored.
It matters very little what we call a Sacrament, if our definition be broad enough to embrace it, and there is nothing in revelation or in history that presents any limit. Nor does it matter how many Sacraments we regard as obligatory, provided only we do not give to all the same authority, nor ascribe to them all the same import and efficacy.
In order, however, to reach uniformity of view and practice, and to avoid the risk of teaching such unscriptural exaggerations as were endorsed and promulgated by the Council of Trent, and yet not incur the charge Romanism constantly makes, that we ignore and destroy the sacraments, our theologians have drawn in their writings full and frequent descriptions of their nature, design and efficacy. These are briefly, but yet thoroughly and scientifically stated in the Article of the Augsburg Confession under consideration.
In systematic theology, the Sacraments belong to the department of Soteriology. They logically and necessarily follow “the word of God,” in the enumeration of the means of grace and of salvation. The initial operation of the Holy Ghost upon the heart and conscience of man is through the word. When not opposed and resisted by the will of man, the truth of God produces its appointed and legitimate results: “it has an active, supernatural and truly divine power of producing supernatural effects; in other words, of converting, regenerating, and renewing the minds of men.” This power, transcending beyond comparison all that may be predicated of the convincing force of the highest human oratory, is due solely and entirely to the presence and efficacy of the Holy Spirit in the word. In the economy of redemption and the application of the means of grace, the word and the Spirit are always associated.
By this provision the way is opened for imparting grace to man; but the faith wrought by the preached word must be strengthened and confirmed, for which there has been appointed in the Church the visible word, in the form of divinely instituted rites or ceremonies, now named Sacraments, through which, by means of external visible signs, this saving grace is secured to man, or if already possessed, is reassured to him.
Chemnitz, Ex. Tr. Con., says: “God does not impart His grace in this life all at once, so that it is straightway absolute and finished, so that God has nothing more to confer, man nothing more to receive; but God is always giving and man is always receiving, so as ever to be more closely and perfectly joined to Christ, to hold more and more firmly the pardon of sins; so that the benefits of redemption, which have been begun in us, may be preserved, strengthened, and increased.”
This we regard as the true import and interpretation of the teaching of the Augsburg Confession, and of the Apology, concerning the use of the Sacraments, which is also reiterated and reaffirmed with unexampled uniformity of view, by the long line of able and learned divines who have been revered and trusted in our Church as expounders of the word of God, and “of the faith of our Church founded upon that word.”
The views of Luther, Melanchthon, and the other theologians at Wittenberg, prior to the Diet in 15 30, may be regarded as authoritatively and accurately set forth in the Augsburg Confession, which received their united and unqualified approval and endorsement. Therein they utter no uncertain sound. They were distinctly understood, as they designed they should be, not only by the great body of the theologians of the papal hierarchy, but also by those violent errorists, the Anabaptists, and such enthusiasts as Andrew Bodenstein, familiarly known as Carlstadt, the place of his birth, and Zwinglius and AEcolampadius, and the like.
In the first paragraph of the seventh article of the Apology, it is stated: “Our adversaries admit our assertion in the thirteenth article, that Sacraments are not mere signs, by which men recognize each other, like the countersign, court-livery, &c., but efficacious signs and sure testimonies of God’s grace and purposes towards us, by which He admonishes and strengthens our hearts to believe the more firmly and joyfully.” In a subsequent paragraph of this same article, we have this additional testimony: “We cannot, however, too carefully consider, or speak too freely of the abuses and errors introduced by the pernicious, shameful and impious doctrine of the opus operatum, namely, that the mere use of the Sacraments, the work performed, makes us just before God, and secures His grace, even without a good disposition of the heart. Hence originated the unspeakable and abominable abuse of the mass. They cannot show a particle of truth from the writings of the ancient Fathers to sup- port the opinions of the Scholastics, Nay, Augustine says, directly to the contrary, that it is not the Sacraments that justify, but faith in their use justifies us in the sight of God.” From this noble utterance, alike evangelical, scriptural and Lutheran, no genuine Protestant can logically dissent. Of it we may quote the hearty endorsement of many names widely and most favorably known and honored for their piety, ability, and learning.
Endorsement of the Symbols.
From Martin Chemnitz, “the greatest pupil of Melanchthon, and the prince among the Lutheran divines of his age,” one of the most famous of the learned Professors at Wittenberg, who was already in the promise of early manhood when Luther died, and who had attained the maturity of his powers when Melanchthon was called to his reward, and who with Andreae and Selnecker formed the theological triumvirate who more than all others gave shape, and form, and point to the Formula of Concord, we make the following extract:
“God, in those things which pertain to our salvation, is pleased to treat with us through certain means; he himself has ordained this use of them, and instituted the word of gospel promise, which sometimes is proposed to us by itself or nakedly, and sometimes clothed or made visible by certain rites or sacraments appointed by him.”
From the equally learned and distinguished teacher and author who followed Chemnitz as Professor at Wittenberg, the voluminous Dr. Leonard Hutter, we offer the following:
“A Sacrament is a sacred rite divinely instituted, consisting partly of an external element or sign, and partly of a celestial object, by which God not only seals the promise of grace peculiar to the Gospel (i. e. of gratuitous reconciliation,) but also truly presents through the external elements, to the individuals using the Sacrament, the celestial blessings promised in the institution of each of them, and also savingly applies the same to those who believe.”
Dr. John Gerhard, the pupil of Hutter, who has been often called the most eminent of Lutheran theologians, and of whom the venerable Dr. Tholuck said: “He was the most learned, and with the learned, the most beloved, among the heroes of Lutheran Orthodoxy,” writes the following (VIII., 328): “A Sacrament is a sacred and solemn rite, divinely instituted, by which God, through the ministry of man, dispenses heavenly gifts, under a visible and external element, through a certain word, in order to offer, apply and seal to those using them and believing, the special promise of the Gospel concerning the gratuitous remission of sins.”
“Two things are absolutely requisite to constitute a sacrament, properly so called, viz.. the word and the element, according to the well-known saying of Augustine: ‘The word is added to the element and it becomes a sacrament.’ This assertion is based upon the very nature and aim of the sacraments since the sacraments are intended to present to the senses in the garb of an external element, that same thing that is preached in the gospel message, from which it readily follows that neither the word without the element, nor the element without the word, constitutes the sacrament. By the word is understood first, the command and divine institution through which the element, because thus appointed by God, is separated from a common use and set apart for a sacramental use; and, secondly, the promise peculiar to the Gospel to be applied and sealed by the sacrament. By the element is meant not any arbitrarily chosen element, but that which has been fixed and mentioned in the words of the institution.”
John Andrew Quenstedt, D. D., another of the truly distinguished professors of Wittenberg, writes thus: “God has added to the word of the Gospel, as another communicative means of salvation, the sacraments which constitute the visible word.”
That we may not burden this discussion with excessive quotation, we omit many others of similar import and authority. The citations already adduced serve the double purpose of showing what interpretation was put upon the Confession and its Apology on this subject, and of the striking agreement, in all essential particulars, between these several witnesses.
Theology, it has been said, is not a progressive science. This is true of this doctrine. There was advance in the interpretation and representation of it until it was brought to conform in all particulars with the revealed teachings of God’s word; but when once clearly expressed in the happy terms of the Confession, it has remained unchanged unto this day, and will, we may confidently believe, continue in this form until the means of grace shall happily no longer be needed.
In the light which this discussion thus far has brought to the understanding of this important and interesting Article of our Confession, we may venture to examine in detail its several declarations.
The Sacraments as External Signs.
“Concerning the use of the sacraments, our churches teach that they were instituted not only as marks of a (Christian) profession among men, . . ”
If “not only” (non modo) for this purpose, yet manifestly, along with this purpose, for something beyond. The purpose for which they were instituted was not limited to this one design.
We accept then the sacraments as “marks of a profession amongst men,” as pertaining to the visibility of the Church, and as such both valuable and indispensable. We have only to consider the necessities of our complex nature, of reason and sense, of body and soul, to be convinced of the wisdom and the propriety of a set of external rites and ceremonies in our system of religion. There must be arrangement and provision for the whole nature of man, for the exercise of all his faculties and powers, so that through his bodily senses, his spiritual emotions may be aroused and sustained.
Under the Abrahamic covenant, a proselyte could only be admitted to the immunities of citizenship in the commonwealth of Israel by submitting to the rite of circumcision; in like manner, participation in the Christian sacraments is a public declaration of faith in Christ. They are, therefore, “badges of Christian men’s profession.”
Our blessed Saviour did not confine himself in his instructions to the mere utterance of the word, the simple declaration of the truth, but ever accompanied it with some striking illustration, pressing into His service whatever nearest at hand presented itself as available. The occupations and occurrences of his hearers, the objects within the vision of those about him, helped to unfold his meaning and quicken their apprehension. A system that has no reference to the bodily constitution of man, may do for angels, but it is not fitted for men, since it ignores one-half their nature.
Quakers reject both the name and the idea of a sacrament. According to Barclay, they acknowledge only spiritual Baptism and a mystical Lord’s Supper.
The rejection of a name, confessedly not in the Bible, and never enjoined by divine authority, is not a matter of any importance. If those who use it, do so by their own option, the same right remains to those who do not use it to refuse its adoption.
The rejection of an idea, however, which involves the ignoring of positive enactments, the disregard of the word and the example of our blessed Lord and his immediate followers, is immeasurably more serious and responsible.
The authority to spiritualize, and thereby entirely to destroy the commanded ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, implies and demands similar treatment of all of Christ’s commanded institutions. Marriage, with all its blessed sanctions and restraints must be rejected; public worship, with all its supports and incentives, must be abandoned; the Sabbath, with all its healthful and corrective power, must be obliterated; and the Church, as an institution of God, must be disbanded.
The logic which puts a period to the validity of Christ’s commands necessarily terminates the value of his promises. Whilst it excludes external ceremonies from the Church, it destroys the Church itself, leaves believers without the means of mutual recognition and assistance, destroys both opportunity and motive, either to declare or to defend our faith in Christ and our love to God, or to detect and expose, to resist and refute false doctrines and errors. Upon the supposition of the truth and inspiration of the Gospel narratives, in which is contained the record of the appointment, by Christ, of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, with the accompanying commands as to their continuance, we may well demand the reasons for their abrogation. When and by whom was the edict promulgated? By what authentication was it attended? What occurrences or circumstances rendered their future use no longer desirable or necessary?
The value and utility of the Sacraments, in this respect, may be clearly recognized in their influence upon the maintenance and propagation of religion. Thereby children are instructed as to the nature of God’s kingdom, and their attachment to it secured. Thereby heathen, heretics and unbelievers are addressed, and may be impressed, when the preached word would be disregarded. Thereby the powerful bond of human friendship and fellowship is introduced, to strengthen the hands of the weak and support the faith of the faint.
The public administration of the Sacraments, pointing back, as they do, with unerring certainty, to the time and the circumstances of their institution by Christ, are an argument in behalf of Christianity, the value of which cannot be overstated. Infidelity must account for their origin, their introduction, their prevalence, and their uninterrupted continuance. Except upon the ground of their appointment by Divine command, their hold upon the mind and heart of our race would not endure beyond a single generation. There is nothing to maintain their irresistible sway among Christians, except their superhuman adaptation to the wants and the necessities of our condition. That adaptation proclaims their high origin and pleads for their preservation and perpetuity.
Their number is sufficient to give form and visibility to the Church of Christ, without being burdensome. They are impressive and suggestive in their influence upon the mind and heart, and capable of universal application. In all the centuries of their existence, no complaint has yet been preferred by the devout worshiper, that they have lost their freshness or their meaning. True, the highest form of worship is that which is purely spiritual, and to this we are invited, encouraged and urged; but this we cannot hope to reach until, in the resurrection, we shall have undergone that wondrous change, by which our present material bodies shall become spiritual bodies. Until then they must needs retain their confessional character, and continue to be used as “marks of profession amongst men.”
The Sacraments as Means of Grace.
The concluding portion of the paragraph under consideration is in these words: “but rather as signs and evidences of the will of God towards us, for the purpose of exciting and confirming the faith of those who use them.”
The former use and purpose they did truly subserve, and were intended to subserve, but that did not exhaust the design of their appointment. According to this statement, they have their most special import and reference to the recipient. They look not only to the visible, external Church, and supply it with needful ceremonies for the reception and recognition of its members, but also to the spiritual wants and necessities of the individual believer, and supply signs and evidences (testimonies of God’s disposition towards us). This brings before us the innermost meaning and intent of these sacred and divine institutions. No wonder that the early Church called them “mysteries,” for who can fathom them?
We naturally and properly turn to the Apology, as the first authorized and accepted commentary upon the text of the Confession, for explanation of the sense in which its words are used. To the question, how are we to interpret the declaration that the Sacraments are “signs and evidences of the will of God towards us,” we have reply: ” the Sacraments are not mere signs * * * but efficacious signs and sure testimonies of God’s grace and purpose towards us, by which he admonishes and strengthens our hearts to believe the more firmly and joyfully.” “The external signs were instituted to move our hearts, namely, both by the word and the external signs, to believe, when we are baptized, and when we receive the Lord’s body, that God will be truly merciful to us, through Christ, as Paul, Rom. X. 17, says: ”Faith cometh by hearing.“As the word enters our ears, so the external signs are placed before our eyes, inwardly to excite and move the heart to faith. The word and the external signs work the same thing in our hearts; as Augustine well says: ‘the Sacrament is a visible word;’ for the external sign is like a picture, and signifies the same thing that is preached by the word; both, therefore, effect the same thing.” “The proper use of the Sacraments requires faith, to believe the divine promises and receive the promised grace which is offered through the Sacraments and the word.” “The Sacraments are external signs and seals of the promises.” “We should firmly believe then that the grace and remission of sins, promised in the New Testament, are imparted to us.”
These quotations lead to the conclusion that the Confession designs to represent the Sacraments as signs and evidences of God’s purpose to pardon sin, to nurture grace, and to bestow salvation. They are signs not of our condition before God, or of our disposition toward God, but of his disposition and of his purposes of grace towards us.
After most carefully and honestly tracing the developments of the views of Luther upon this subject, the learned and reliable Dr. Dorner, of Berlin, concludes his representation of the position to which the great reformer was conducted as follows: “The signs, and even the body and blood of Christ, do not give something specially contained in them, which is not to be had otherwise; but they are only the sealing form, the pledge of the gift, by which the substance of the blessing, which lies in the word of promise, even in connection with the Holy Supper, may become the sooner fixed and be the more certain. But the substance itself is the forgiveness of sins. The body and blood of Christ are not properly in themselves regarded as the gift which is the object of the Holy Supper, but they are only the means of assurance, divine and holy pledges of the proper gift, namely of the forgiveness of sins with which life and salvation are connected. This then is the doctrine to which Luther continued essentially to adhere, and which has become peculiar to the Lutheran Church. The Holy Supper is, according to this form of doctrine, a promise of the forgiveness of sins, confirmed by signs or seals, wherein not merely bread and wine, but even and emphatically the present body and blood of Christ, form the pledge; and this in such a way, that faith receives the same matter both in and outside of the Sacrament, the forgiveness of sins, only in the Holy Supper with special external certification by means of the God-given pledge. To this the Lutheran Confessions adhere. Apol. 201: Idem effectus est verbi et ritus, after Augustine’s language, Sacramentum esse verbum visibile, quia ritus est quasi pictura verbi, idem significans quod verbum, quare idem est utriusque effectus.”
From this we anticipate no dissent, as of it we believe no positive denial can be sustained. We may, therefore, proceed to enumerate and describe the things signified and indicated in the two Christian Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
These Sacraments, in their external symbols, are designed to exhibit the blessing of God’s covenant, and to shadow forth the benefits of redemption. The one ordinance meets the believer at the very threshold of the Church, and by its simple but significant ceremony, indicates the character which alone fits for worthy membership therein; the other attends him, with its equally appropriate service, throughout his entire pilgrimage, furnishing ever the needed evidence of sustaining grace, and witnessing anew the presence of the risen Lord. The lessons they teach are invaluable, the influence they exert is most blessed.
As Baptism presents its water, it reveals the moral and spiritual filth which demands cleansing, that we may become acceptable to God and fitted for fellowship with him, and already promises the renewing power which attends the added word and accompanying Spirit. What could more aptly point out “‘the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” which is shed abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour on all who are saved according to his mercy? Was not the same prophetically seen by the prophet of Chebar, when he writes in anticipation of this ordinance and of its high import: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean?” Ezek. xxxvi. 25. Baptism is therefore justly a sign of spiritual renewal, by which its recipient is fitted for the salvation and entitled to all the benefits of the Covenant, i Titus iii. 5.
Neither is the Lord’s Supper an unmeaning ceremony. It too has its mode of administration and its necessary emblems. Its consecrated bread and wine most strikingly portray the broken body and the shed blood of the Redeemer. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the Communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the Communion of the body of Christ? I Cor. X. i6. “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” i Cor. xi. 26. Each new celebration of this ordinance is a most positive and emphatic redeclaration of the chiefest doctrines and revelations of the Christian religion. In its commemoration of the death of its Founder it reasserts the sin and ruin of our race, making such sacrifice a necessity. It re-echoes the righteous indignation of a holy God against all evil-doers and transgressors. It unfolds the infinite resources of the Almighty in being able to provide a way of reconciling the conflicting demands of judgment and mercy. It sends forth anew the superhuman prayer: ”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do;” heard alike on earth and in heaven, which, that it might be answered, forced that other cry, which still makes angels wonder and mortals adore, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It affords the truest fulfilment of the Saviour’s own most gracious words, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” In that it places in the hand of each participant the appointed emblems, and bids each one, ”take, eat;” “drink ye all of this,” the personal acceptance of every one, who receives it with faith in the promises which are exhibited and set forth, is reassured. In that all who believe and are gathered together in one place are cordially invited to unite in this observance, there is exhibited alike the duty and reality of “the Communion of Saints,” true type of that more blessed fellowship which will be eternal and complete in the world to come. In that the design and efficacy of Christ’s sacrificial offering in our stead and in our behalf are ever thrust upon the eye, by this visible word, and upon the ear by the spoken word, in this grand sacramental communion, there is uttered to the soul the glad assurance that we are pardoned and saved through grace divine; and in that this festival has been appointed to continue to the end of this dispensation, we, by it, do show forth the Lord’s death until he come, and thus keep alive the remembrance and the expectation of his “appearing the second time without sin unto salvation; to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe.” In a word, the whole gospel history culminates in the transactions commemorated in the Lord’s Supper. The great truths of revelation and redemption centre around the cross, and as in these alone we can adequately discover the will of God toward us, Christ has graciously left in his Church this rite, that with its co-ordinate Sacrament of Baptism, it might testify to us of his gracious intentions to bestow his promised blessings and fulfil his covenanted engagements.
Dr. Dorner unfolds the workings of Luther’s mind upon this point as follows: “Whilst the word of God in the Holy Scriptures is thus established as the means of grace in general, grace assumes in the Sacraments, on the other hand, a form having reference still more immediately to the individual person, as living in a specified time and space. It is an expression of Luther’s, in reference to this, as frequent as it is singularly descriptive, that God “deals with us” (mit uns handle) through the means of grace.”
“It does not satisfy the vital religious need, as it expresses itself in Luther, to know of a divine decree of salvation, whether concerning the individual person, or concerning the past, even although eternally valid, work of atonement; but the soul of the pious longs after the living God, and hence requires not merely past history or eternal decrees, but also deeds of love on the part of God, which as it were, renew their youth, the present glance of love and greeting from above.”
Two-fold Use of the Sacraments.
But the article under investigation represents the use of the Sacraments as two-fold, designed not only to serve “as signs and evidences of the will of God towards us,” but also “for the purpose of exciting and confirming the faith of those who use them.”
So admirably conceived and happily adjusted are they, that they accomplish this double office most successfully. They unfold God’s grace and favor, by the manifestation of the truth concerning the divine will and covenant, and in response they invite and encourage implicit reliance upon the divine promises. They show the claim of God’s word upon us, the security of the foundation upon which our faith is to rest, and the blessed results it will effect.
It is true, “faith cometh by hearing,” but the faith so wrought by the preached word needs to be nourished and fed, so as to be preserved, strengthened and perfected, as the Apostles prayed, “Lord, increase our faith.”
Faith is a living, vital power, and like every other form of life on earth, is capable of growth, under favorable conditions, and so, also, is subject to injury and destruction by adverse influences, as St. Paul says (i Tim. i. 19): “Some concerning faith have made shipwreck.” The Sacraments are not represented in this Article of the Confession as bestowing or conferring faith in its beginnings, but as stirring up and confirming that which has been already established.
We cannot advance very far, in an examination of the symbols and authors of our Church upon the subject of the Sacraments, before we become convinced that faith is made the condition of their true benefit and efficacy. Under the long neglect and perversion of the dark ages, the moral condition of the participant was entirely disregarded, and the full advantages of the Church’s ordinances were put unconditionally, sine bono motu utentis, at the disposal of the administrator. From this the Reformers dissented in the most positive manner.
As early as the year 1518, Luther declares the leading principle to be: “Whatever may be the case with the Sacraments, faith must maintain its rights and honors”: * * ”that without faith no blessing can come to a man from the Sacrament:” * * “that the Sacraments do not effect the grace which they signify; not the Sacrament, but faith in it, justifies; it purifies, not because it takes place, but because it is believed (non sacramentum, sed fides sacramenti, justificat; abluit sacramentum non quia fit, sed quia creditur); * * ” that faith may also receive, apart from the Sacrament, the same thing as in the Sacrament, namely, the forgiveness of sins (through faith in the word).”
In the Apology (VII., 18,) it is affirmed, “We teach that faith is necessary to the proper use of the Sacraments; a faith which believes the promises and receives the things promised, which are here offered in the Sacrament. And the reason of this is plain and undeniable. A promise is useless to us, unless it is embraced by faith. But the Sacraments are signs of the promises, therefore faith is necessary to their proper use.”
In perfect harmony with this representation are the views of the leading Lutheran theologians unto the present day. Out of the many at hand, we cite but a few. Chemnitz (Ex. C. Trid., II. 36): “The instrumental cause in this doctrine is two-fold; one is, as it were, the hand of God, by which, through the word and Sacraments, He offers, presents, applies, and seals the benefits of redemption to believers. The other is, as it were, our hand, by which we in faith ask, apprehend and receive those things which God offers to us through the word and Sacraments. The efficacy of the Sacraments is not such as though through them God infused, and as it were, impressed grace and salvation, even on unbelievers or believers.” Hollazius (1061): “Faith is necessarily required in order to the reception of the salutary efficacy of the Sacrament.” “The Sacraments confer no grace on adults, unless when offered they receive it by true faith, which existed in their hearts previously.”
Nor need we wonder that such prominence and emphasis are given to the matter of faith in its relations to the Sacraments, or that this Article concludes with a condemnation of the opposite theory:
“They therefore condemn those who teach that the Sacraments justify (ex opere operato) by the mere performance of the act, and who do not teach that faith which believes our sins to be forgiven, is required in the use of the Sacraments.”
Protestantism versus Romanism.
A very little reflection will, we believe, make it manifest that the gist of the controversy between Protestantism and Romanism centers in this point.
Its interpretation decides the question of the way of salvation. It cannot be denied that two opposite theories are held, and that they are conflicting, antagonistic, irreconcilable, and mutually destructive of each other. There is no one point where they approximate so closely as to merge imperceptibly into one another. Narrowness, shallowness, ignorance, and blind partisan zeal have often, must we not say always, deceived and misled the unthinking so as to cause them to lift into undue prominence matters comparatively unimportant, and to display embittered hostility over questions of taste, of modes, of measures, or of men. True, everything pertaining to religion is important, but everything is not equally religious or equally important. But neither skill, nor conciliation, nor cordiality, nor charity, nor expediency, nor explanation, nor admission, nor silence, nor all these combined, can bridge the chasm between that familiarly known as the ex opere operato theory, and that of Faith, as taught in the Augsburg Confession and held in the Church of the Augsburg Confession, and in the Reformed Church at large. It is not a question of degrees, or of probabilities, or of preferences, or of historical development, but of scriptural representation, of theological dogma, of divine truth. Are we saved by faith through grace, or are we saved by the Sacraments through the Church? Or, as it is sometimes stated, do we come to Christ through the Church, or do we come to the Church through Christ? We claim that this presentation is neither fanciful nor unfair; and if some object who hold the theory, but who do not like either the name or the organization of the papal hierarchy, we can only add that by adopting the doctrinal tenets and the sacramental theory of Rome, they have already obliterated all distinctive peculiarities, and are now separated from her only in name.
The blessed Saviour saw fit to defer the institution of the Sacraments until he had reached the very close of his earthly ministry. We cannot regard this as unintentional or circumstantial. Had they been necessary to the attainment of faith, or more important and influential than the spoken word, he would have placed them at the very beginning of his work, and thus have afforded his disciples the full benefits they would have conferred. The only means of grace they had, apart from the sacrificial observances of Judaism, was that of the word, and this was deemed enough.
In Protestant theology, the word assumes, and must ever maintain the first place in enumerating the means of grace. It stands before the Sacraments, not in the order of importance or of intrinsic value, as though one were to be balanced against the other, for they cannot thus be rightly compared or contrasted; but in the order of time, for the word was first spoken, and is ever the first in its agency in building up the believer in a life of true godliness. The word proclaims Christ as “the way, the truth, and the life.” The Holy Spirit ever attends and accompanies its declaration, and if we may so speak, the sacramental grace of the preached word leads to faith, saving faith, not a mere historic belief, but that faith which follows repentance and precedes salvation. Then and there are the place, and the value, and the efficacy of the Sacraments to be recognized and acknowledged. Rome, in contrast with the Bible, elevates the Sacraments above the word in her estimate of the means of grace; the Greek Church, in conflict with it, hardly regards the word as a means of grace; whilst in the Scriptures it is to the word that most frequent reference is made when speaking of the agency by which man’s salvation is secured. The Sacraments demand for their proper and profitable reception suited and adequate spiritual preparation, as they claim and proclaim corresponding fitness and attainment in all their participants. But how shall this be secured, if faith be not made to precede? “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.” “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.” Nothing can be clearer than that in every case of adult admission to the initiative rite of Baptism, as recorded in the New Testament, repentance and faith are either declared or implied. The word, received by faith and applied by the Holy Spirit, is the only true preparation for the reception of the blessings belonging to the Sacraments. These blessings are not to be regarded as consisting in mere external relations secured by our connection with the Church, and because of which God’s favor is to be enjoyed, but they are to be found in a new heart and a right life, delivered from the power and service of evil and consecrated unto God. These can only be secured through personal union with Christ, through faith in his name. Mere participation in the Sacraments without faith, i. e., without the character and life which faith works in us, will not avail for our growth in grace (for that cannot grow which has not yet been born), nor for our acceptance and salvation.
The theory condemned in the Confession practically and virtually teaches the very reverse of this. With it, the Church consists of all, irrespective of moral or religious character, renewed or unrenewed, who are in external formal connection with it; and that the blessings of union with Christ, with all that belongs thereto, and flows therefrom, are assured and secured through the sole agency of the Sacraments, and that access to Christ is obtained through the intervening agency of the Church.
Even where Romanism admits the need of personal holiness to the attainment of salvation, it looks for, as is done by Bellarmine, in his discussions on the Sacraments, the renewing and sanctifying of the soul, not to the word and the Spirit, but to the Church and the Sacraments. It regards the Church as a visible institution, with complete apparatus and machinery for saving souls. It meets all alike with the offer and the requirement of Baptism, by which it not only professes and promises to secure union with Christ, but also to provide and bestow sacramental grace, i. e. spiritual power and life to discharge subsequent duty. It then presents the Sacrament of Confirmation, by which it fully equips for the spiritual warfare upon which the recipient enters. The Eucharist is then reached with its declared ex opere operato efficacy, feeding and nourishing with Christ’s body and blood all who interpose no positive bar (non ponentibus obicem). For those who have fallen, there is in readiness the very convenient sacrament of Penance, whose restoring virtue never fails in the hour of need. Thus is there provision for every emergency of life, and so is there also for death. The Sacrament of Extreme Unction places in his hand a passport to the eternal world, issued by the order and with the seal of the Church upon it. But eternal life is not yet bestowed. Confessing that this ex opere operato theory does not necessarily work moral changes or necessarily secure oneness with Christ and fitness for heaven, there is placed, somewhere between the grave and glory, the Sacrament of Purgatory for completing and perfecting the preparation of the soul for its final and unchanging condition.
There is in this arrangement, most surely, the merit of completeness. Should it ever fail in achieving its professed object, it cannot be for want of instrumentality.
Council of Trent on the Sacraments.
At the seventh session of the Council of Trent, held March 3, A. D. 1547, action was taken upon the subject of “The Sacraments in general.” Thirteen Canons were passed, as set forth in the preface, “in order to destroy the errors and to extirpate the heresies which have appeared in these our days on the subject of the said most holy Sacraments, as well those which have been revived from the heresies condemned of old by our fathers, as also those newly-invented, and which are exceedingly prejudicial to the purity of the Catholic Church and to the salvation of souls.”
In the first of these it is ” established and decreed” that the Sacraments were instituted by Christ, that they are neither more nor less than seven, and an anathema is discharged at any one who may be so daring and wicked as to declare “that any one of these seven is not truly and properly a Sacrament.” Was not that cannon most effectually spiked by Chemnitz in his illustrious Examen? It has harmed no Protestant theologian since then.
Anathemas, like cannon balls in a citadel, were provided in great abundance, and with the adoption of each successive Canon, one was hurled at the head of any unbelieving dissenter.
Canon II. sets forth the difference between the Sacraments of the Old and New Testaments.
Canon III. declares that these seven Sacraments are not all of equal value.
Canon IV. affirms that these Sacraments are necessary unto salvation; that the grace of justification cannot be obtained without them, although all the Sacraments are not necessary for every individual.
Canon V. anathematizes any one who may say that these Sacraments were instituted for the sake of nourishing faith alone.
Canon VI. reads as follows: “If any one saith that the Sacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace which they signify; or, that they do not confer that grace on those who do not place an obstacle thereunto; as though they were merely outward signs of grace or justice received through faith, and certain marks of the Christian profession, whereby believers are distinguished amongst men from unbelievers: let him be anathema.”
Canon VII. is distinctive: “If any saith that grace, as far as God’s part is concerned, is not given through the said Sacraments, always and to all men, even though they receive them rightly, but (only) sometimes and to some persons: let him be anathema.”
Canon VIII. is also worthy of quotation: “If any one saith that by the said Sacraments of the New Law grace is not conferred through the act performed, but that faith alone in the divine promise suffices for the obtaining of grace: let him be anathema.”
Canon IX. asserts that Baptism, Confirmation and Orders imprint upon the soul certain indelible signs, on account of which they cannot be repeated.
Canon X. affirms that all Christians have not power to administer the word and the Sacraments.
Canon XI. declares that when ministers effect and confer the Sacraments, the intention of doing what the Church does is required.
Canon XII. teaches that though a minister be in mortal sin, yet if he observe all the essentials which belong to the effecting or conferring of the Sacrament, he effects and confers the Sacrament.
Canon XIII. says that the received and approved rites of the Catholic Church, used in the administration of the Sacraments, may not be contemned, or omitted, or changed, without sin.
A more interesting, important, or timely study, than that which these thirteen Canons invite and demand, enters not into a theological course, nor arises in the longest pastorate. Conflicting opinions and theories have prevailed, and no doubt will prevail so long as Sacraments exist. The Church ever has observed and doubtless ever will observe these external ordinances. The questions of grace and salvation stand in closest connection therewith. Indifference, either for theologians or pastors, is impossible. Through them the faith and the life of Christians are expressed. There is possibility, if not danger, for censurable and destructive extremes, as the charges and denunciations of each age and tendency make apparent. Let there be too objective and materialistic a conception entertained, reducing the appliances of the Church to the low position of being a mere religious machinery, working its results necessarily and by the mere act performed, severing the appointed connection between morality and religion, there will be outcry loud and long, and they who persist therein must do so against the most earnest protest, and the most cogent reasoning, of an alarmed and indignant Church. Should there be, on the other hand, too violent a rebound, should there be too low a value placed upon the existing and established rites of the Church, should they be shorn of all their credited efficiency, and be regarded simply as suggestive ceremonies, by which to make out and distinguish Christians and stimulate their spiritual sensibilities, as the rainbow in the heavens, or the memorial stones of the Jordan, or the pictures in our churches, there will again be most righteous indignation provoked, and believers will demand the respect and appreciation due to institutions of this high character.
Against both these false and dangerous positions has the Church of the Augsburg Confession been compelled to bear witness. Guided alone by the sure and infallible word of God, it has taken its position advisedly and firmly, protesting alike against Rome and Rationalism, against excluding Christ from his own Church by the substitution of Sacraments multiplied at will, and the distorted interpretation or unbelieving neglect of his solemn commands and appointments.
Stimulated by the zeal, ability and achievements of the Reformers, and, as is most likely, with the original (German) copy of the Augsburg Confession before them for examination and refutation, the enraged and indignant Doctors and theologians at Trent formulated their conclusions in the Canons just recited. Therein they clearly declare and maintain that the Sacraments contain the grace which they signify; that they confer grace ex opere operato, by the mere act, upon such as do not put an obstruction by mortal sin; that the Sacraments are equally efficacious in accomplishing their designed end — “for these sensible and natural things,” it is declared, “work by the almighty power of God in the Sacraments what they could not do by their own power;” that faith in the recipient in order to his experiencing the efficacy of the Sacraments is not necessary; that all that is necessary in the administrator is the intention of doing what the Church designs to be done.
Ex Opere Operato.
Much has grown out of the declaration that the Sacraments have an ex opere operato efficacy, for much is contained therein. Romanists and Protestants have explained and expounded until what in itself is plain enough and easily understood, has become much obscured. There need be no difficulty, however, in arriving at a positive understanding. There is here propounded and affirmed what had been so relentlessly condemned in the thirteenth Article of the Augsburg Confession. Over against that Article they design, and make clear their design, to say that the Sacraments when duly administered invariably produce the intended results, irrespective of the moral character of the recipient. They are sufficient in themselves, and we need not look beyond them for the effect produced.
It would be an easy task to bring together the masterly utterances of Lutheran and Reformed theologians in reply to this assumption. We will not lengthen this article by such quotations, however interesting and valuable they might prove. The line of argumentation we will briefly indicate. Not only is it affirmed that it lacks authority from the sacred scriptures, which is in itself an indispensable requisite and a most damaging defect, but that it is absolutely unscriptural, being in conflict with the Bible in its representation of saving grace, as dependent upon a Sacrament and not upon faith.
Then again it is urged against this theory, that it debases the ordinances of divine appointment, intended to influence the mind and control the affections, into a mere physical law, with no other recommendation than that it will unfailingly operate as a magical charm. The Sacraments are thus degraded to the level of heathen ignorance and superstition. It is also affirmed of this priestly device, that it is of immoral tendency, as nothing short of mortal sin can constitute a sufficient bar against the reception of the grace signified and conveyed by the Sacraments.
Another most serious and immovable objection is found in the fact, that whatever may be the design or the desire, the need or the qualifications of the recipient, it conditions the efficacy and the blessings of the Sacraments, entirely upon the intention of the administrators. For reasons like these we reject and repudiate this whole conception as alike unscriptural, unreasonable, unnatural, and unsatisfactory.
Later Dogmatic Views.
The requirements of this occasion impose the obligation, not simply to use the Article under examination as a text for an isolated discourse, as the homiletician employs a passage of scripture, but in addition, under its lead, to trace the influence it has had in forming and controlling the theology of the Church in subsequent times. We may, in some sense, regard the Augsburg Confession as a germ, which, endowed with spiritual vitality, must continually increase and grow until it has reached its utmost dimensions. It was indeed an imperishable and indestructible bud, which has opened and expanded into a most beautiful and fragrant flower. Yet it must ever be regarded as the work of uninspired and fallible men, who them- selves acknowledge no human authority as final, and who are most honored, not when their utterances are credulously accepted, but when they are thoroughly examined and diligently compared with the word of God. To this their successors and followers are ever urged, not only by their example, but also by their precept.
The history of Dogmatics in the Lutheran Church, reveals the existence of a difference in the mode of stating the efficacy of the Sacraments. There may not be in it as much as at first appears, but unquestionably the representations of our later theologians must be regarded not only as fuller, but as stronger. Dr. Heinrich Schmid, of Erlangen, in his admirable and indispensable work, “The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church,” presents the matter at considerable length, and with fairness and discrimination. “When we compare the views of the earlier dogmaticians with those of the more modern, we find their difference to consist in this, that the earlier dogmaticians are solely concerned to prove the analogy of the word and Sacraments, as the two means of salvation, according to which in the one case, evangelical grace is communicated by the word, and in the other by the external, visible sign. In this view, however, there is no notice taken of the fact, that above all in the Lord’s Supper, besides grace, there is something in addition present and communicated, viz., the body and blood of Christ. The later theologians, on the other hand, keep this particularly in view, that even if by the Sacraments, as well as by the word, the grace of salvation (i. e. conversion, justification, regeneration, etc.) is conferred, yet that this grace is not the first and proximate object conferred in the Sacraments, as it is in the word, but that in the Sacraments there is something else which precedes it, (in the Lord’s Supper, body and blood), the design of which is to impart saving grace. It is this, then, that they mean to convey by the general expression, materia caelestis, applicable to both Sacraments, but it is difficult for them to show the materia caelestis in Baptism, in the same way as in the Lord’s Supper. And in this view of the subject, the force of the analogy also between a Sacrament and the word, as the two means of salvation, is weakened. In assuming a materia caelestis, they assumed also a particular union of the materia caelestis et terrestis.”
The manner of this union is stated by Quenstedt (IV., 75) as follows: “As a Sacrament is composed of a terrestrial and a celestial object, there must necessarily be a certain union and κοινωνία which we properly call sacramental. For that union is neither essential, nor natural, nor accidental, but in view of the materia unita, it is extraordinary; in regard to the design it is sacramental. Therefore one does not exist without the other; for instance, water without the Spirit, nor the Spirit without the water, because these too are most intimately united in the sacramental act, nor can one be a Sacrament without the other.”
This method of stating the doctrine seems to have been induced by the views held with regard to the Lord’s Supper, as in that Sacrament, especially, is it satisfactorily verified and illustrated. Much diversity of opinion and statement prevailed as to what constitutes the celestial material in Baptism.
The most prominent and able opponent of this assumption was found in the vigorous and indefatigable Dr. Baier, “who contended that the expression, celestial material, should be entirely ignored in the doctrine of the Sacraments in general, and we should adhere to the simple doctrine of the earlier dogmaticians, who do not mention it at all.” It seems to have maintained its hold upon the great body of Lutheran divines, as is manifest among others from the statements of Guericke, who regards the correct view of the efficacy of the Sacraments to lie nearer that of the Greek and Roman representation, than that which is found in the Reformed theology. If Guericke be right in this supposition, so much the worse for the Reformed theology. Neither Guericke, strenuous Lutheran as he is, nor any other Lutheran, can be deterred from holding or defending the accredited doctrines of the Church, provided they be first ascertained to be the teachings of the sacred Scriptures, or clear and necessary deductions therefrom, by any suspicion or charge of thereby approximating Romanism. The truth is more valuable than reputation or presumed consistency.
So long however, as it remains an undenied fact, that in each century of her existence the Lutheran Church has demanded, with firm and unanimous voice, the absolute necessity of faith in order to any real sanctifying or saving benefit being derived from the use of the Sacraments, which cuts up by the very roots the whole theory of the Romish ex opere operato, we may well endure the charge of occupying a higher position than others, as to our interpretation of the value and efficiency of those ordinances in which all rejoice.
Even so un-Lutheran a witness as Dr. C. Hodge, of Princeton, very frankly declares that “the Lutheran definition of the Sacraments agrees in all essential points with that of the Reformed Churches.” The approximation towards Rome, therefore, quoted from Guericke, cannot be so close as to endanger any “essential point.” The same distinguished theologian very candidly admits, that “this doctrine of salvation by faith, or as Luther has it, by faith alone, has saved the Lutheran system from the virus of ritualism.”
“The Lutheran Church” says Guericke, “regards the Sacraments as actions wherein God, through external signs by Him appointed, offers and confers His invisible and heavenly gifts; they see in the Sacraments visible signs, which in virtue of the divine word of promise pronounced over them, in such sense contain the invisible divine gifts they signify that they communicate them (Mittheilen) to all who partake of them, although only to believers to their good.”
The divergency between the strict Lutheran view of the efficacy of the Sacraments, and that which is set forth in the Reformed symbols, does not display itself at first sight. The formal definitions are so near alike as to be almost interchangeable. It is not until we come to the question, ‘how, in the Sacraments, are the things signified, conveyed and applied to those who by faith worthily receive them?’ that this difference appears.
If we cannot account for this difference upon the supposition of a difference of philosophic conception, if after all allowance be made for the difference of interpretation of the same language there still remains an unresolved residuum, we cannot but ask, must there not be some definite efficacy predicated of the Sacraments? With the whole conception of a Sacrament before the mind, must we not associate with it, apart from all accessories, an effect possible when all the conditions are met, such as this view indicates, so as to attain the end designed, and vindicate the propriety of its appointment? It is not limiting salvation to the Sacraments, and irrespective of possibilities or intentions, to send all to perdition who may not be in possession or enjoyment of them, to say that the things intended by the Sacraments are secured by them and only by them. It is only to say that there was a place in Christ’s kingdom for them, and that they accomplish the end for which they were appointed. We may with full comfort and assurance remit all supposable exceptions or cases of difficulty to the goodness and the wisdom of him who will most wondrously provide for every emergency and harmonize all apparent contradictions.
The difficulty is sometimes felt, and the objection urged, that by ascribing intrinsic efficacy to the Sacraments, we would seem to invade the province and ignore the power of the Holy Spirit. The conflict supposed is only apparent, not real. No theory of the Sacraments can stand for a moment, that does not fully harmonize with the clear statements of the Scriptures as to the office and work either of the Father, the Son, or the Spirit. In this instance we have little difficulty in recognizing the agreement.
The representations of the Symbols, and of those authorized to interpret them, are uniform in their testimony on this point. This is placed beyond cavil or quibble by the express and definite language of Article V. of the Augsburg Confession: ”through the instrumentality of the word and Sacraments the Holy Spirit is given, who, when and where it pleases God, works faith in those who hear the Gospel.” Equally clear and definite are the statements of the Apology and the Form of Concord. Chemnitz very emphatically declares: “The Sacraments are certainly not to be put upon an equality with the Holy Spirit, so as to be regarded as conferring grace in an equal and, in fact, an identical respect with the Holy Spirit Himself.” * * ” But most carefully and solicitously, when we dispute concerning the virtue and efficacy of Sacraments, must we avoid taking from God, and transferring to the Sacraments, what properly belongs to the grace of the Father, the efficacy of the Spirit, and the merit of the Son of God; for this would be the crime of idolatry; nor are the Sacraments to be added as assisting and partial causes to the merit of Christ, the grace of the Father, and the efficacy of the Holy Spirit; for this would involve the same crime.”
“Baptism,” says Gerhard, “is the washing of water in the word, by which washing the whole adorable Trinity purifieth from sin him who is baptized, not by the work wrought (ex opere operato), but by the effectual working of the Holy Ghost coming upon him, and by his own faith.” After quoting the above. Dr. Krauth adds: “Such is the tenor of all the definitions our Church gives of Baptism, from the simple, elementary statements of the Catechism up to the elaborate definitions of the great doctrinal systems.” Dr. Krauth’s exceptional familiarity with all that has been written upon this subject, and his well-known pronounced position in regard to the nature and efficacy of the Sacraments, give additional value to this testimony. Speaking of the unjust, because unfounded, charges against our Church on this subject, he says: “She regards it as just as absurd to refer any blessings to Baptism, as her enemies define it, as it would be to attribute to swords and guns the power of fighting battles without soldiers to wield them.”
Sacraments are one of the agencies employed by the Holy Ghost by which to accomplish his divine work. His presence and power in and through them are neither denied nor ignored, but on the other hand, are fully recognized and acknowledged by the Lutheran conception of a Sacrament. There can be no Sacrament without the element, and the word, and the Holy Spirit which unites them. Whenever, therefore, a Sacrament is administered, the entire constituency is necessarily present, else it would be no Sacrament.
It is, therefore, unjust to assert that our theologians ignore the operations of the Holy Ghost in their representations of the intrinsic efficacy of the Sacraments. There may or there may not be a special manifestation of the Holy Ghost, but this is not dependent upon the administration of the Sacrament, or caused by it.
The Holy Ghost is ever present in the preaching of the word, but not always with the same demonstration. Sometimes there are Pentecostal results, at others there are no results to be seen; yet it is ever the same word, armed with its own peculiar efficacy.
What ls a Sacrament?
We are now prepared to ask and to answer the question, “What is the Church’s definition of a Sacrament?” The Apology says very concisely: “The Sacraments are rites commanded by Christ, and to which is added the promise of grace.” “A Sacrament is a ceremony or work, in which God holds out to us that which the promise annexed to the rite offers.” Chemnitz, at great length and with characteristic force and clearness, lays down and defends the following particulars: “Any ordinance that is to be properly regarded as a Sacrament of the New Testament must have the following requisites: 1. It must have an external, or corporeal and visible element or sign, which may be handled, exhibited, and used in certain external rites. 2. The element or sign, and the rite in which it is employed, must have an express divine command to authorize and sanction it. 3. It must be commanded and instituted in the New Testament. 4. It must be instituted not for a certain period or generation, but to be in force until the end of the world. 5. There must be a divine promise of grace as the effect or fruit of the Sacrament. 6. That promise must not only simply, and by itself, have the testimony of God’s word, but it must by the divine ordinance be annexed to the sign of the Sacrament, and, as it were, clothed with that sign or element. 7. That promise must not relate to the general gifts of God, whether corporeal or spiritual, but it must be a promise of grace or justification, i. e., of gratuitous reconciliation, the remission of sins, and, in a word, of all the benefits of redemption. 8. And that promise in the Sacraments is either signified or announced, not in general only, but on the authority of God is offered, presented, applied, and sealed to the individuals who use the Sacraments in faith.”
Hutter describes it thus: “A Sacrament is a sacred rite, divinely instituted, consisting partly of an external element or sign, and partly of a celestial object, by which God not only seals the promise of grace peculiar to the gospel (i. e., of gratuitous reconciliation), but also truly presents, through the external elements, to the individuals using the Sacrament, the celestial blessings promised in the institution of each of them, and also savingly applies the same to those who believe.” By the grace of the gospel is understood “the applying grace of the Holy Spirit secured by the merit of Christ, and promised in the gospel, namely, grace that calls, illuminates, regenerates, etc.”
From Gerhard we extract the following: “A Sacrament is a sacred and solemn rite divinely instituted, by which God, through the ministry of man, dispenses heavenly gifts, under a visible and external element, through a certain word, in order to offer, apply and seal to those using them and believing, the special promise of the gospel concerning the gratuitous remission of sins.” Quenstedt says: “The word Sacrament is understood for the solemn rite instituted, prescribed and commanded by God, in which, by an external and visible sign, invisible benefits are graciously offered, conferred and sealed.” Baier says: “A Sacrament in general may be defined as an action, divinely appointed, through the grace of God, for Christ’s sake, employing an external element cognizable by the senses, through which, accompanied by the words of the institution, there is conferred upon or sealed unto men the grace of the gospel for the remission of sins unto eternal life.” Hollazius defines in this manner: “A Sacrament is a sacred and solemn rite divinely instituted, by which God, by the intervening ministry of man, through an external and visible element united with the words of the institution, presents something celestial (or heavenly gifts) to the individuals participating, in order to offer to all men and to confer upon and seal unto believers the grace of the gospel.”
Number of Sacraments.
It is a matter of surprise and congratulation that the Reformers so quickly and so unanimously settled the question of the number of the Sacraments. They were guided by the only principle which could secure them from mistake. Dropping for the time all that had been surmised and conjectured by the extravagant and fanciful schoolmen, they went for unerring instruction directly to the New Testament. Accepting only those which were admitted by all to be Sacraments, they sought out their essential elements or characteristics. Having thus decided what were the indispensable constituents of a Sacrament, such as are found in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, they proceeded to apply this test to all the other rites and institutions, which at one time or another had been called Sacraments.
These must have sure evidence of divine appointment. As none but God could promise grace, so none but God could appoint a sign or seal of it, or institute an ordinance that might be the means of communicating it. This is God’s province and prerogative alone. They must necessarily signify grace, as Baptism, of cleansing, renewing, regenerating, and the Lord’s Supper, spiritual food, nourishment, strength, and at the same time be seals of this grace, by which those who participate in faith may be sanctified and saved. They must necessarily have the promise of grace, i. e. “the special promise of the gospel concerning the gratuitous remission of sins.” They must also be general and perpetual in character, and applicable to all classes, conditions and generations of men, co-extensive with the continuance of Christ’s everlasting kingdom, from which they dare never be divorced.
Dr. Schmid, of Erlangen, says: “We cannot determine from the meaning of the word Sacrament per se, what sacred services are to rank as Sacraments; but the marks which belong to the two services, by common consent designated as Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are examined, and all other rites are excluded from this conception of a Sacrament which do not present similar marks. In doing this, it is not affirmed that the idea of Sacrament per se does not belong to them, but it is maintained that it is not applicable to them in the same sense as to the two genuine Sacraments.”
In reference to this matter, Chemnitz says: “We will not contend about the definitions of this man or that man, of the ancients or the moderns, but we shall assume the ground which is beyond controversy and acknowledged among all. Baptism and the Eucharist are confessed by all to be truly and properly Sacraments.” Baier is of similar opinion: “Thus, therefore, from the commonly received conceptions of the marks in which those rites agree that are undoubtedly Sacraments, it is apparent that those which may perchance be called Sacraments, but have not these common requisites, are not Sacraments in the same sense and reality as those which are properly so called, but are only equivocally designated as such.”
Adhering strictly and unfalteringly to this rule, it very soon became manifest that the additional five Sacraments, endorsed by the Council of Trent, could not be accepted as valid Sacraments. They all lacked one or more of the essential dements of a Sacrament as discovered in Baptism and the Eucharist.
Concerning absolution, however, for awhile there had been some wavering. Chemnitz admits that some of the theologians would have granted it a place among the Sacraments, “because it has the application of a general promise to the individuals using this service. But still it is certain that absolution has not an established external element, or sign, or rite, instituted or commanded of God. And although the imposition of hands, or some other external rite, may be applied, yet it is certainly destitute of a special and express divine command. Nor is there any promise, that through any such external rite, God will efficaciously apply the promise of the Gospel. We have, indeed, the promise that through the word he wishes to be efficacious in believers; but in order to constitute anything a Sacrament, not only is a naked promise in the word required, but that by a divine appointment or institution, it be expressly clothed with some sign or rite divinely commanded. But the announcement or recitation of the Gospel promise is not such a sign, for in that way the general preaching of the gospel would be a Sacrament. Therefore absolution is not properly and truly a Sacrament in the way or sense in which Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are Sacraments; but if any one, with this explanation and difference added, would wish to call it a Sacrament on account of the peculiar application of the promise, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession declares that it would not oppose the idea.”
The impossibility of defending the sacramental character of the added five of the Council at Trent has become so apparent that none but those acknowledging the supremacy of the Papacy for a moment affirm it. Admitting that they may be spoken of in the New Testament as existing rites in the Church, yet every rite is not a Sacrament. However expressive and useful these ceremonies may be, they have not been associated with the promise, the sign or seal of grace, by which to apply to believers the benefits of redemption. Their design is much more limited, and their application is not universal. Matrimony is indeed a divine institution, but has nothing to do with applying the benefits of redemption to believers. For confirmation, penance and extreme unction, as expounded and practiced in the Church of Rome, we fail to find any authorization whatever in the New Testament. As now existing, they were not instituted by Christ, but by man. Concerning ordination as a Sacrament, it may be remarked that it was never claimed by the Apostles, nor affirmed of them in the New Testament, that they conferred other than miraculous power. They did not possess, nor did they claim, the power of conferring the sanctifying and saving influences of the Holy Ghost. Much less is it declared or implied that apostolic gifts were designed to be perpetuated in the Church.
Can it be for a moment supposed that if Christ intended such an array of ordinances to be associated with the bestowment of grace, nearly twelve centuries should be permitted to pass before it should be discovered, and four more before the Church of Christ should be certified of it?
The relation of the Sacraments to the growth of ritualism and to the development of hierarchy is so intimate that we can easily understand why they were multiplied. Protestantism could not have done what it has thus far achieved, nor would it to-day be the power it has become, had it accepted the perversions of Rome on this subject. We owe it to the gospel and to the heroic achievements of that second heralding of it, to guard with unsleeping vigilance all our teachings concerning the Sacraments.
At this point it may be a matter of interest to place in juxtaposition the several authorized formal definitions of a Sacrament.
1. The Apology (1530) says: “If we regard as Sacraments the external signs and ceremonies which God enjoined and with which he connected the promise of grace, it is easy to determine what are Sacraments; for ceremonies and other external things instituted by men are not Sacraments in this sense; because men cannot promise the grace of God without authority. Signs, therefore, which are instituted without the command of God, are not signs of grace, although they may be memorials to children and to the ignorant, like a painted cross.”
2. The first Helvetic Confession (1536) says: “Sacraments are not only tokens of human fellowship, but also pledges of the grace of God, by which the ministers do work together with the Lord, to that end which He doth promise, offer and bring to pass; yet so, as we said before of the ministry of the word, that all the saving power is to be ascribed to the Lord alone.” “Sacraments are visible patterns, instituted by God, of the grace, good will, and promises of God toward us; sure testimonies, and holy remembrances, the which under earthly signs do represent unto us, and set before our eyes, heavenly gifts, and do withdraw the mind from earthly to heavenly things. Moreover, they be tokens of Christian brotherhood and fellowship. Therefore, a Sacrament is not only a sign, but it is made up of two things, to wit, of a visible or earthly sign, and of the thing signified, which is heavenly; the which two, although they make but one Sacrament, yet it is one thing which is received with the body, another thing which the faithful mind, being taught by the Spirit of God, doth receive.”
3. The French Confession of Faith (1559) says: “We believe that the Sacraments are added to the word for more ample confirmation, that they may be to us pledges and seals of the grace of God, and by this means aid and comfort our faith, because of the infirmity which is in us, and that they are outward signs through which God operates by his Spirit, so that he may not signify anything to us in vain. Yet we hold that their substance and truth is in Jesus Christ, and that of themselves they are only smoke and shadow.”
4. The Scotch Confession of Faith (1560) says: “We acknowledge and confess, that we have two chief Sacraments only, instituted by the Lord Jesus and commanded to be used of all those that will be reputed members of his body; to wit, Baptism, and the Supper or Table of the Lord Jesus, called the Communion of his body and his blood. These Sacraments * * not only do make a visible difference betwixt his people and those that were without his league, but also do exercise the faith of his children, and, by participation of the same Sacraments, do seal in their hearts the assurance of his promise and of that most blessed conjunction, union and society, which the elect have with their head, Christ Jesus. And thus we utterly condemn the vanity of those that affirm Sacraments to be nothing else but naked and bare signs.”
5. The Belgic Confession (1561), Article XXXIIL, says: “We believe that our gracious God, on account of our weakness and infirmities, hath ordained the Sacraments for us, thereby to seal unto us his promises, and to be pledges of the goodwill and grace of God towards us, and also to nourish and strengthen our faith; which he hath joined to the word of the Gospel, the better to present to our senses both that which he signifies to us by his word, and that which he works inwardly in our hearts, thereby assuring and confirming in us the salvation which he imparts to us. For they are visible signs and seals of an inward and invisible thing, by means whereof God worketh in us by the power of the Holy Ghost. Therefore the signs are not in vain or insignificant, so as to deceive us. For Jesus Christ is the true object presented by them, without whom they would be of no moment.”
6. The Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Question 66, says: “The Sacraments are visible, holy signs and seals, appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof he may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the Gospel; namely, that he grants us out of free grace the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, for the sake of the one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross.”
7. The Church of England (1563), in Article XXV., says: “Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our faith in him.”
8. The Second Helvetic Confession, (1566) Chapter 19, says: “Sacraments be mystical symbols, or holy rites, or sacred actions, ordained of God Himself, consisting of His word, of outward signs, and of things signified; whereby He keepeth in continual memory, and eftsoons (from time to time) recalleth to mind, in His Church, His great benefits bestowed upon man; and whereby He sealeth up His promises, and outwardly representeth, and, as it were, offereth unto our sight, those things which inwardly He performeth unto us, and therewithal strengtheneth and increaseth our faith through the working of God’s Spirit in our hearts; lastly, whereby He doth separate us from all other people and religions, and consecrateth and bindeth us wholly unto Himself, and giveth us to understand what He requireth of us.”
9. The Irish Articles of Faith (1615) say: “The Sacraments ordained by Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather certain sure witnesses and effectual or powerful signs of grace and God’s good will toward us, by which He doth work invisibly in us, and not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our faith in Him.”
10. The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) says: “Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits, and to confirm our interest in Him, as also to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ according to His word.”
11. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) says: “A Sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed and applied to believers.”
12. The Confession of the Waldenses (1655) says: “We believe that God does not only instruct us by His word, but has also ordained certain Sacraments to be joined with it, as means to unite us to Jesus Christ, and to make us partakers of His benefits; and that there are only two of them belonging in common to all the members of the Church under the New Testament, to wit. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”
13. The Methodist Episcopal Articles of Religion (1784) say: “Sacraments ordained of Christ are not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they are certain signs of grace, and God’s good will toward us, by the which He doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our faith in Him.”
Administration of the Sacraments.
Avery important branch of our examination presents itself in the question of the public administration of these sacred ordinances. In what manner and under what circumstances are they to be employed?
They were given by Christ not to individuals, for special personal use, nor yet to the Apostles as a particular class, but to them as the first public functionaries of the Gospel, as its heralds. “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Matt, xxviii. 19.
“As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show forth the Lord’s death till He come.” i Cor. xi. 26.
It must needs be that upon all questions pertaining to the doctrines and the ordinances of the Church, the Apostles received vastly more personal and official instruction than stands written in the brief gospel narrative. That which is essential and which is necessary to legitimate their teachings and their actions, is recorded. For their guidance in all doubtful cases, and for their preservation from all error, the promise was given them that the Holy Ghost should bring all things to their remembrance, whatsoever Christ had said unto them. Since their day, as the result of their example and teaching, the administration of the Sacraments has been regarded as belonging primarily and principally to the Church in her organized capacity, and to her regularly chosen and appointed ministers. There seems to be no room for doubt that as the necessities of the case require, so it was intended to perpetuate an order of men in the Church who should preach the word and administer the Sacraments. Either theoretically or practically, this has been held and taught in every age and by every branch of the Church.
To constitute a ceremony or ritual in public worship a Sacrament, it must not only be divinely appointed, but it must be used for a designated end, and administered according to prescribed order. We have no more command over the purpose or the manner of observance than of the matter, in so far as the manner may have been divinely instituted. Hafenreffer very justly remarks: “It is specially required that in each Sacrament the whole action, as instituted and ordained by Christ, should be observed; neither is the use of the Sacraments to be applied to foreign ends and objects. Hence, the rule: ‘Nothing has the authority or nature of a Sacrament beyond the application and act instituted by Christ’ — e.g., if the water of baptism be employed for the baptism of bells, or for the cure of leprosy; or when the consecrated bread is not distributed and taken, but is either deposited in the pyx, or offered in sacrifice, or carried about in processions, this is not the use, but the abuse and profanation of the Sacraments.” According to Hollazius: “God has intrusted the right of dispensing the Sacraments to the Church, which commits the execution or exercise of this right, for the sake of order and propriety, to the called and ordained ministers of the Gospel. But in case of extreme necessity, where the Sacrament is necessary and could not be omitted without peril of salvation, any Christian, male or female, may validly administer the Sacrament of Baptism or initiation.” Have such cases of extreme necessity ever occurred, or can they even be imagined?
Validity and Value of the Sacraments.
The relation of the character and intention of the administrator to the validity and efficacy of the Sacraments, has ever been regarded as an interesting and important inquiry. The Apology says: “The Sacraments are efficacious, even if they be administered by wicked ministers, because the ministers officiate in the stead of Christ, and do not represent their own person.” Quenstedt says: “The Sacraments do not belong to the man who dispenses them, but to God, in whose name they are dispensed, and therefore the gracious efficacy and operation of the Sacrament depend on God (i Cor. iii. 5), and not on the character or quality of the minister. The dispute about the intention of the minister is more intricate. Propriety requires that he, who administers the Sacraments, should bring to the altar a good intention of performing what God has commanded and instituted; a mind not wandering, but collected and fixed. It is absolutely necessary that the intention of Christ be observed in the external act. I say in the external act, for the intention of the minister to perform the internal act is not necessary; that is performed by the Church. On the other hand, the Church of Rome teaches that the intention of the minister is necessary to the integrity, verity and efficacy of the Sacrament; that this intention has respect, not only to the external act of administering the Sacrament according to the form of institution, but to the design and effect of the Sacrament itself. Thus the Council of Trent: “If any one declares that the intention of doing what the Church does, is not required in the ministers whilst they dispense the Sacraments, let him be anathematized.’ ”
We may well rejoice, that the more rational, and we believe, more scriptural representations of the reformers on this subject, delivers us from all uncertainties of the unknown intention of the officiator. For. with all grace locked up in the Sacraments — with their efficacy and validity dependent entirely upon the undeclared will and purpose of the administrator — who can know whether his own Baptism was rightly performed, or whether he has ever once really received the saving efficacy of the Lord’s Supper?
The salvation of every member of the Church of Rome, from Pope Leo XIII. to the last one that has participated in its ordinances, is placed upon the uncertain condition of the right intention of its clergy. Could anything more imperil one’s safety, or more increase the power of the priesthood?
Without any such precarious and profitless power at command, the administrator, according to Protestantism, has the high and honorable prerogative of consecrating the elements, i. e., of separating them from a common to a sacred use, which he accomplishes by reciting and pronouncing the words of the institution. Gerhard describes it thus: “The consecration is not (1) a mere recitation of the words of the institution directed only to the hearers, nor (2) is the change of symbols which consecration effects a mere change of names, a significative analogy, a representation of an absent celestial thing; * * * but it is a sacred and efficacious action, by which the Sacramental symbols are truly sanctified, i. e., separated from a common and set apart for a Sacramental use. But there is no (a) magical superstitious action dependent on the dignity or quality of the person, i. e., on the power and character of the minister who renders the Sacraments valid by the force of his intention; nor (b) is it to be thought that there is a certain occult subjective power in the sound or number of words by which the consecration is accomplished; (c) nor that by it the external elements are essentially changed and transubstantiated into the res caelestis; but the presence of the res caelestis and its union with the res terrena depend altogether upon the institution, command and will of Christ and upon the efficacy of the original institution, continuing in the Church even until the present day, which the minister, or rather Christ himself by the voice of the minister, continually repeats. The minister, therefore, in the consecration (1) repeats the primitive institution of the Sacrament according to the command of Christ; (2) he testifies that he does this not of his own accord, nor celebrates a human ordinance, but, as the divinely appointed steward of the mysteries, he administers the venerable Sacrament in the name, authority and place of Christ; (3) he invokes the name of the true God, that it may please him to be efficacious in this Sacrament according to his ordinance, institution and promise; (4) he separates the external elements from all other uses to a sacramental use, that they may be the organs and means by which celestial benefits may be dispensed.”
In order, therefore, that the administrator may rightfully perform his official work and his act become a valid Sacrament, he must use the divine ordinance for the purpose for which it was instituted and in the way in which it was appointed. Over these he has no control, nor do his personal peculiarities exert any influence.
Whether he subjectively believes in the divine appointment of the Sacraments or not, whether he understands their meaning or not, whether he has full intention or no intention to secure to the recipient the spiritual blessings designed to be conveyed thereby, can in no wise affect the validity or the value of the ordinance, or destroy or diminish its efficiency. The Sacraments are of God, not of man. Their vitality resides in their divine appointment, and not in their human administration. They have been committed to the Church for the spiritual comfort and benefit of God’s true children, who cannot be deprived of their priceless advantages by the unfitness, incompetency or perverseness of unworthy officials.
This does not, however, require in the administration of the Sacraments absolute uniformity of manner. As Hollazius has well remarked: “The Church cannot change anything in the substantials of the Sacraments, yet she rejoices in the liberty of making some change in the circumstantials.” The posture of the recipient e. g. is not regulated either by the command of Christ or by canon of the Church. The frequency of administration is not indicated by statute. The method of the distribution of the elements in the Eucharist, or of applying the water in Baptism, is nowhere prescribed.
The moral character of the recipient, however, is all important. His personal condition either of faith or unbelief, of uprightness or sin, controls and modifies the results of the participation either for grace or condemnation.
In regard to the Sacraments, we find in every age of the Christian Church, two conflicting tendencies, the result of two opposing theories. By some the disposition exists to over-estimate, and by others to undervalue. The results are alike lamentable and destructive. They are based upon two grand underlying peculiarities of man’s mind. The one may be characterized as material, the other as spiritual; the one is largely matter-of-fact, the other mainly poetical; the one ever looking without itself for help, for a firm resting place, the other, self-conscious and self-confident, looks rather to its own capacities and resources; the one readily admits authority and accepts subjection, that it may be freed from responsibility and from uncertainty, the other resists all assumed control and prescribed order, that it may gratify its innate love for liberty and its earnest longings for independence; the one delights in a luxurious ritual, a spectacular display, an imposing ceremonial, the other disowns and despises mere external display, and rejoices in the power to lift the spirit out of the thraldom and dependence upon base matter.
The mission of the Gospel, as delivered a second time by the Reformers, is well adapted to mediate between these, to hold and cherish what is true and right and good in each, and by dropping the excesses and extremes of both, to secure that which is most scriptural and therefore most needed, and best calculated to develop spiritual life and godliness.
It is matter of clear demonstration, and may be easily verified by any who will make honest examination, that the Reformers, and especially those whose views and writings gave form and direction to the development of the Lutheran faith and cultus, and whose opinions we have already largely quoted, that whilst they always accepted with unquestioning faith and child-like simplicity the clear word of God, and always held in highest reverence and esteem the divinely appointed ordinances as co-ordinate means of grace, they never represented these latter as the only and indispensable channels for conveying to men the benefits of Christ’s redemption. They had studied too long and too thoroughly those Scriptures, which without, indeed, the form and order of scholastic or scientific theology, yet with the clearness and authority of inspiration, set forth the way of life as including repentance, faith, a pure heart, and a right life. The place and agency and indispensable value of the Sacraments are recognized, confessed and enjoined. But that the gospel scheme is embraced in a mere set of ceremonies, which work irresistibly, by their own inherent power, as drugs and medicines upon the body, they never taught and our Church has never believed. Yet to this does the Romish theory of the Sacraments degrade it. To this does ritualism, of any name, conduct it. The most diligent study of the Bible, and fidelity to its teachings, are as much needed to-day as at any former day, to rescue the Church from this dangerous tendency and to prevent a return to this spiritual enslavement. Apostolic teaching and apostolic example must be produced, and set over against the speculations of visionary mystics or ambitious churchmen. The genius of Christianity must be discovered and boldly opposed to the decisions of ecclesiastical conclaves. It must be declared with all plainness, that this so-called “Sacramental theory” cuts the very sinews of true piety and personal godliness. It secures salvation of its own unaided power, and, as is seen in the practical workings of it, there may be a glittering religiousness (that is, churchliness) without any moral rectitude. The extent to which this principle may mislead and destroy, can only be rightly appreciated when we read its doings in the sad decline of “the dark ages,” and hear its true spirit in the ring of money which fell into Tetzel’s treasury, as the price of sins deliberately planned and to be as deliberately perpetrated.
The strict application of the principle that faith is necessary to the attainment of the full efficacy of the Sacraments, as Luther says, “without faith Baptism profits nothing,” would seem to invalidate the argument for Infant Baptism, which is held and practised in all our churches. The force of this objection is of sufficient magnitude to demand examination. The opponents of Infant Baptism use it constantly, as it presents a plausible reason for their position.
The question of infant membership, and the scriptural authority to bestow upon the children of believers the rite of Baptism, have been fully and ably discussed in the Lecture on Article IX., to which we refer. We do not propose to reproduce that argument, as our theme neither demands nor would justify it. The same remark applies with equal pertinence to the intensely interesting and much disputed question of ” Baptismal Regeneration,” a very full discussion of which may be found in Evang. Rev., vol. viii., p. 303-354. We desire only to show that this objection has no real foundation, and that our theory and practice are in perfect harmony.
When Christ instituted the ordinance of Baptism, its grand design and application were unquestionably for adults. It could not be otherwise. The Apostles were the only confessed and recognized members of His kingdom. All others were yet without. The phraseology, the instructions and the requirements of this institution, clearly indicate this purpose. As in Paradise the human race began with adults, and every arrangement contemplated adult life, so in the founding of the Christian Church, its membership began with adults, and all its arrangements primarily contemplated adult spiritual life. But as the first creation included, and when necessity arose, disclosed full provision for infant life, so also in the Christian Church is there found full provision for the spiritual necessities of children, placed there by the unerring wisdom and grace of its founder. Adult membership carries with it the necessity to provide, in some way or other, for the relation of the children of believers. The absence of all command or intimation that the relation established and disclosed in the Old Testament would be abolished, or in anywise vitiated by the New Testament, compels its continuance. Nothing short of the authority of him who appointed it, can change or annul it. Without further formal command it remained standing, not, we conscientiously and firmly believe and our Church strongly holds, in opposition, but in positive agreement, with all the requirements of this ordinance. It completes the idea of an initial ordinance, demanding faith of all who in adult life ask for admission, and disclosing its arrangements for securing the blessings of the covenant to all their household: “The promise is unto you and to your children.”
Of necessity, therefore, the primary type and the full idea of Baptism must be sought for, as it can only fully be seen, in adult Baptism, for that precedes and includes the right of infant Baptism.
It is thus that it is ordinarily and historically brought before us in the records of the New Testament, and thus that in all subsequent missionary movements it presents itself.
That everything embraced in the sacramental idea as pertaining to the Baptism of an adult may not apply to the Baptism of an infant, neither demands nor justifies its exclusion from what is common to both. The defence of infant membership is not placed upon this ground. Its lawfulness and obligation rest, we believe, upon the positive representations of the Bible, and the unvarying examples of God’s true followers in every age as therein recorded.
The idea of the Sacrament, therefore, which contemplates infant as well as adult membership, must not be so limited in its interpretation and application, as to exclude either of those for whom it is intended. Its requirements being controlled by the circumstances of its subjects, the principle remains inviolate, that, notwithstanding the Baptism of infants, faith is the condition of its efficacy.
Dr. Schmid says: “The objection of the opponents, viz., ‘the Sacraments are of no advantage without faith, but infants have no faith,’ is considered untenable, for faith is taken into the account only in the case of adults, who are already capable of being influenced by the word.”
It may not be amiss, before closing this article, to deplore the confusion of ideas so largely prevailing in many Christian communities in regard to the value and efficacy of the Sacraments, and the little regard bestowed upon their observance.
We cannot resist the temptation nor forego the pleasure of presenting the following beautiful extract from the Commentary of Rev. Jean Daille, minister of the French Reformed Church at Charenton, A. D. 1639, Col. ii. 12: “The Sacraments of Christ are not vain and hollow pictures in which the benefits of his death and resurrection are nakedly portrayed as in a piece of art, which gives us merely an unprofitable view of what it represents.
“They are effectual means, which he accompanies with his virtue and fills with his grace, effectively accomplishing those things in us by his heavenly power, which are set before us in the Sacrament when we receive it as we ought. He inwardly nourishes, by the virtue of his flesh and blood, the soul of him who duly takes his bread and his cup. He washes and regenerates that man within who is rightly consecrated by Baptism.
“And if the infirmity of infancy prevents the effect from appearing at the instant in children baptized, yet his virtue does not fail to accompany his institution, to preserve itself in them and to bring forth its fruits upon them in their person, when their nature is capable of the operations of understanding and will.”
With many, the plausible but superficial statements that no good can come from a mere external ceremony, and that all true piety is seated in the heart and not in outward forms, suffice to set aside positive enactments and commanded duties. Not only is there either entire ignorance or more culpable neglect of the place and value of these divinely appointed ordinances, but there is profane disregard of the mind and will of Christ, expressed under circumstances the most solemn and impressive. The acknowledgment of the gospel histories as of canonical authority and the belief in the divine appointment of the Church necessitate the acceptance of these ordinances as the only authenticated means for maintaining and perpetuating its existence. Disregard and neglect involve a grave responsibility and expose to unmeasured risk and injury. Those placed beyond their reach or dying without a knowledge of them will not be judged with the same exacting severity, ”For unto whom much is given, of him shall much be required.” Luke xii. 48. God will deal with extraordinary cases in an extraordinary manner.
But as for those that hear the word there can be no salvation without faith, so as to those who have access to the Sacraments there will be no other means afforded for obtaining whatever these are appointed to convey. There can be no question that ”the necessity of precept,” as it is called by the theologians, exists in the positive words of their appointment; neither should there be any doubt of ”the necessity of means;” not an absolute indissoluble necessity, as though God would limit his omnipotence to a single agency or the bestowment of his Holy Spirit to a single channel, but that having given an appointed instrumentality and having neither promised nor revealed any other, we are shut up thereto, for as Jesus said: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead;” or as the apostle Paul writes: “Before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.”
We cannot be saved without faith, yet faith in itself does not save us, it is only the subjective condition under which alone the work of Christ becomes efficacious in our behalf Eternal life is promised to the believing, but the believing will show their faith by their works, by their use of the means of grace and obedience to the words of Christ: “Faith which worketh by love,” Gal. v. 6. Hollazius, on this subject, says: “The Sacraments are necessary by the necessity of the precept and the means. They have no absolute, but an ordinate or conditionate necessity.” Quenstedt says: ” Baptism is necessary in infants, not only by the necessity of the precept, but by the necessity of the means, because there is no other means by which they may be regenerated; but in adults it is necessary, because in that case it requires faith. The Eucharist is necessary to all Christian adults, by the necessity of the precept.”
Correct views of the value and efficacy of the Sacraments will ever more and more tend to elevate them in our esteem; will show in clearer light the wisdom and the grace of their appointment. Under ordinary circumstances, we can as little dispense with them as with the Word. They are from the same gracious Lord, and for the same gracious purpose. A scriptural view of them, and an evangelical use of them, cannot but work our salvation.
Chemnitz says: “The Sacraments, which God Himself instituted to be aids to our salvation, can in no way be considered either useless or superfluous, or be safely neglected and despised. God who is rich in mercy * * * desires to present His grace to us not only in one way, that is by His mere word, but he desires also to help our infirmity by certain aids, namely by Sacraments, instituted and annexed to the promise of the Gospel, i. e. by certain signs, rites or ceremonies, obvious to the senses, that by them He might admonish, instruct or make us sure that what we see performed in a visible manner, externally, is effected internally in us by the power of God.
“In this way the Sacraments are, in respect to us, signs confirming our faith in the promise of the Gospel; in respect to God, they are organs or instruments through which God in the word presents, applies, seals, confirms, increases, and preserves the grace of the gospel promise in believers.”
Their beneficial effects are by no means to be limited to those only who participate in them. Their influence reaches as far as their observance may be seen or known. As Hollazius says: “The secondary designs of the Sacraments are: (a) That they may be marks of the Church, by which it is distinguished from unbelievers (‘and symbols of confession by which we separate ourselves from other sects.’ Quen.) (b) That they may be monuments of the benefits of Christ, Luke xxii. 18. (c) That they may be bonds of love, and the nerves of public assemblies, Eph. iv. 5; i Cor. x. 17. (d) That they may be incitements to the exercise of the virtues, (Baptism signifies the burying of the old Adam, Rom. vi. 4: the Lord’s Supper excites us to a grateful remembrance of the death of Christ, I Cor. xi. 26.)”
In all the wide range of theological inquiry, there is none more important or more interesting than that of the Sacraments. In the whole course of pastoral administration, there is no duty more impressive or more promising, and in the whole history of Christian experience there is nothing more central, more vital.
Beyond all others, does it become the ministry and membership of our own historical Church, to be true to the spirit and genius of the Reformers in regard to the estimate they placed upon the Sacraments. Therein emphatically should we grasp their spirit and imitate their example. More than in any other particular do we therein find the individuality of our Confession. Thereby especially may we hope to understand our capabilities as a Church, and by rising to proper self-consciousness, and then to a proper self-appreciation, we may attempt to influence others, by wielding the power of a compact organization, armed with the omnipotence of divine truth, in behalf of the unifying of the Church and the conversion of the world.
Shall it not be that in this we may at last recognize our true mission among the discordant influences and dangerous tendencies by which we are surrounded? Holding fast with Luther’s persistency to Luther’s Protestantism, as crystallized in his guiding and controlling principle of “Justification by faith,” we shall be able to retain whatever is vital in our Church-life, notwithstanding the violent changes of outward form and of internal organization to which we may be exposed.
The truest and worthiest manifestation of gratitude to God, and loyalty to the Church, is to bestow a believing appreciation upon these priceless means of grace, and ever to make a reverent use of them. Then shall we “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory, both now and forever, Amen.” 2 Peter iii. 18.