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Dissertation Sixteenth


Ezekiel 20:13, 14

We have already cautioned the modern reader of Calvin not to be startled at his assertion, that “the Sabbath is Sacrament.” We have in these days become so thoroughly imbued with the notion that; there can be but two Sacraments, that we reject at once the possibility of, third. This causes us again to call the reader’s attention in detail to the principles expressed in the note to the 20th verse of this chapter.

A number of words occur in theological discussions which are not met with in Holy Scripture. Among these are the words Sacramentum, Persona, Trinitas, Unitas. If these were merely translations of equivalent Greek words found in the New Testament, all difficulty would cease; but they are not although they express the ideas of the Apostles correctly, if taken in the sense in which they were originally used. The Protestant of these later times, if he would understand them aright, should study their use in the Schoolmen, and by the leading writers of the Church of Rome, and then, approach the writings of the Reformers. Lawrence’s Bampton Lectures have already been mentioned: besides these, Bishop Davenant’s Determinationes of theological questions, when Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, are a valuable specimen of the subject-matter of theological dispute in the days immediately preceding his own. (See edit. 1634, and also 1639, in Lib. of Queen’s Coll., Cam.) The greatest mistakes have been committed by English writers on Theology in consequence of their unconscious subjection to a traditional phraseology. It may fairly be called a slavery to words. They have lost sight of realities, through anxiety for a verbal orthodoxy. This has led them to look for spiritual realities where riley are not to be found. In tracing the cause of this, we find it to arise from our receiving so many of our theological expressions through the Latin Vulgate. And not only are the words, but the ideas, of the Reformers tinctured by their education under the religious philosophy which they rejected. Calvin, for instance, in Ezekiel 20:16, uses the phrase “guttam pietarts;” in Ezekiel 20:20, “guttam fidei;” and in Ezekiel 20:19, “suis commentis inficiunt legem ipsius,” the two former expressions implying that piety and faith are qualities within the soul, measurable by quantity’ and the latter, that the fictions of man can in any way affect the purity of the law of God. Instances of this kind are here pointed out, that we may be aware of the principle on which Calvin’s expressions on many interesting points frequently rest. Other words as well as sacramentum are used by Calvin in a sense rather different from their modern meaning. For example, virtus and virtutes, doctrina and religio, occur throughout these Lectures, and sometimes need a circumlocution for their English equivalents. In Ezekiel 20:29 religio occurs for respect paid to idols, and “mysterium“ must be taken rather in its classical than its familiar meaning. The Greek μυστηριόν was translated “sacramentum“ in the copies used by Tertullian, Cyprian, and Ambrose. Tertullian accordingly calls the doctrines of the Trinity and of our Lord’s Incarnation “sacramenta.” Prudentius uses it for “the whole Christian doctrine,” as St. Paul does the word μυστηρίον 1 Corinthians 4:1. It is sufficient to point out this difference in the use of terms, that no reader may judge Calvin hastily, but rather be led to discover the error or the unsoundness in himself. Those Reformers who were more strenuous Nominalists than Calvin, did not deny the realities of the faith but they thought for them where they are only to be found: not in rites, and words, and creeds, and ceremonies, but in the inner soul of man; in our moral and spiritual nature; in the character and revelation of God; in the teachings and guidings of the Holy Spirit; and in the renewed lives and peaceful deaths of all who are new-created in Christ Jesus their Lord.

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