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Ezekiel 20:20

20. And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God.

20. Et sabbatha mea sanctificate, et erunt in signum inter me et vos, ad cognoscendum 273273     That is, “that you may recognize, or know.” — Calvin. quod ego Iehovah Deus vester.


What he had said generally concerning the commandments he now applies again to the Sabbath, and not without reason. For, as we said yesterday, God not only wished by that day of rest to exact from the people what was due to him, but he rather commands it for another purpose, namely, that his Sabbaths should be sanctified. But the manner of keeping it holy was formerly explained, since mere rest was insufficient. God was not satisfied by the people’s resting from their occupations, but the inward sanctification was always the chief end in view. And for this reason he also repeats again, that they may be a sign between me and you to show you that I Jehovah am your God. In this passage God bears witness, that if the Jews rightly observed their Sabbaths they should feel the effects of that favor which he wished to be represented thereby. For we said that the Sabbath was a sacrament of regeneration: now therefore he promises the efficacy of his Spirit, if they did not shut the door by their own impiety and contempt. Hence we see that sacraments are never destitute of the virtue of the Spirit unless when men render themselves unworthy of the grace offered them. When papists speak of the sacraments they say that they are efficacious, if we only remove the obstacle of mortal sin: they make no mention of faith. If a person is neither a thief, nor an adulterer, nor a homicide, they say that the sacraments produce their own effect: for example, if any one without a single particle of faith intrudes himself at the table of Christ, they say that he receives not only his body and blood, but the fruit of his death and resurrection, and only because he has not committed mortal sin; that is, cannot be convicted of theft or homicide. We see how they are steeped in blindness, according to God’s just judgment. We must hold, therefore, that there is a mutual relation between faith and the sacraments, and hence, that the sacraments are effective through faith. Man’s unworthiness does not detract anything from them, for they always retain their nature. Baptism is the laver of regeneration, although the whole world should be incredulous (Titus 3:5:) the Supper of Christ is the communication of his body and blood, (1 Corinthians 10:16,) although there were not a spark of faith in the world: but we do not perceive the grace which is offered to us; and although spiritual things always remain the same, yet we do not obtain their effect nor perceive their value, unless we cautious that our want of faith should not profane what God has consecrated our salvation. 274274     At a period when the controversy concerning the efficacy of sacraments is revived with all its former virulence, and the authority of Calvin is often called in to decide between conflicting statements, the language of this passage is worthy of special notice. It would startle some of our modern critics to find Calvin calling the Sabbath “a Sacrament of regeneration.” In treating this class of subjects, it is essential to ascertain the exact ideas of the medieval controversialists, and to perceive how very different they were from our own. For example, Protestants of the present day would pronounce any man unsound who allowed of more sacraments than two, while Romanists would require all men to admit them to be seven; yet Calvin would have no objection to the assertion that there are seventy. He used the word for what is now currently expressed by the phrase “the means of grace.” All aids and helps to the cultivation of the life of God in the soul have been termed sacramental; and by using the word in a comprehensive sense, the assertion is strictly true. Sabbaths are to us, as well as to the Jews, means of grace, conducive to regeneration. Calvin also asserts that these means of grace are never destitute of the Holy Spirit’s virtue, except we render ourselves unworthy of the grace which they contain. He differs from the papists, not with reference to what a sacrament is in itself, but as to the need of faith in the recipient for the personal advantage to be derived from it. The opinion is absolutely expressed, that they always retain their nature, on the principle that spiritual things always remain the same: man’s unbelief is said to make no difference as to the reality of the grace inherent in the sacrament; it only affects our reception of it. The spiritual blessing is there: our want of faith is the only cause why the blessing does not pass by the appointed channel to the unworthy recipient. As the sentiments of our Reformer are sometimes quoted in support of views very different from this, the reader’s attention is particularly directed to his commentary on this verse, since the greatest errors arise from interpreting controversial phrases by the modern meaning which the words have acquired.
   The history of opinions which have formerly prevailed on subjects deeply interesting to ourselves is always serviceable towards the formation of accurate opinions. Hence we may here refer to Dr. Lawrence’s Bampton Lectures for the year 1804, in which the lecturer has distinctly stated the different views taken by the Papists and the Schoolmen, the Lutherans and the followers of Zwingle and Calvin. In Sermon 6, page 123, he makes the same statement with reference to the papists as Calvin does in his comment on this verse, viz., “asserting, among other extravagancies, that the Sacraments are in themselves efficacious by virtue of their own operation, exclusively of all merit in the recipient.” In notes on Sermon 3, page 276, he adds, “The Lutherans contended that the Holy Spirit was efficacious in baptism;” and quotes Calvin’s letter to Melancthon, “non inanes esse figuras sed reipsa praestari, quidquid figurant. In baptismo adesse spiritus efficaciam, ut nos abluat et regeneret.” See also his opinion on the state of the children of Christians dying unbaptized. Instit., lib. 4. cap. 15, section 22. The view of Zwingle will be found in his Declaratio de peccato originali, Op., volume 2 page 118; and Epist. Urbano Regio, volume 1, p. 383; and of Bullinger, in his treathese adversus Cala-baptistarum prava dogmata, page 57. It will not be expected that the admirers of Calvin will be satisfied with Dr. Lawrence’s reasonings and conclusions; but the notes to his discourses form a most valuable digest of the views of the Schoolmen and the various Reformers of celebrity, selected with judgment from the voluminous disputations of those stirring times. See also the Dissertation on this verse at the end of this volume.

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