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§ 5. The Necessity of the Sacraments.

The distinction between the necessity of precept and the necessity of means, is obvious and important. No one would be willing to say, without qualification, that it is unnecessary to obey an explicit command of Christ. And as He has commanded his disciples to baptize all who are received as members of his Church, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and required his disciples statedly to commemorate his death by the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the strongest moral obligation rests upon his people to obey these commands. But the obligation to obey any command, such as to observe the Sabbath, to visit the sick, and to relieve the poor, depends on circumstances. No opportunity may be offered; or the discharge of the duty may be hindered by external circumstances; or we may lack the ability to render the service required. So with regard to the command to be baptized and to commemorate the Lord’s death at his table, it is evident that many circumstances may occur to prevent obedience even on the part of those who have the disposition and purpose to do whatever their Lord requires at their hands. And even where obedience is not prevented by external circumstances, it may be prevented by ignorance, or by unfounded scruples of conscience.

By the necessity of means is usually understood an absolute necessity, a “sine qua non.” In this sense food is a necessity of life; light is necessary to the exercise of vision; the Word is necessary to the exercise of faith, for it is its object, the thing which is to be believed; and faith is, on the part of adults, necessary to salvation, for it is the act of receiving the grace of God offered in the Bible. And therefore times almost without number, it is said in Scripture, that we are saved by faith, that he that believeth shall be saved, and that he that believeth not shall not see life.

The question between the Reformed on the one hand, and Lutherans and Romanists on the other, is in which of these senses are the sacraments necessary. According to the Reformed they have the necessity of precept. The use of them is enjoined as a duty; but they are not necessary means of salvation. Men may be saved without them. The benefits which they signify and which they are the means of signifying, sealing, and applying to believers, are not so tied to their use that those benefits cannot be secured without them. Sins may be forgiven, and the soul 517regenerated and saved, though neither sacrament has ever been received. The Lutherans and Romanists, on the other hand, hold that the sacraments are necessary means of grace, in the sense that the grace which they signify is not received otherwise than in their use. There is no remission of sin or regeneration without baptism; no reception of the body and blood of Christ to our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace, without the Lord’s Supper; and, according to Romanists, no forgiveness of post-baptismal sins without priestly absolution; no grace of orders without canonical ordination; and no special preparation for death without extreme unction. This question is of importance chiefly in reference to baptism, and will therefore come up when that sacrament is under consideration. At present it is only the general teachings of these several churches that need be referred to. The “Consensus Tigurinus” is the most carefully considered and cautiously worded exposition of the doctrine of the Reformed in relation to the sacraments, belonging to the period of the Reformation. It was drawn up to settle the differences on this subject between the churches of Geneva and those of Zurich. It contains the statements in reference to the sacraments to which both parties agreed. It teaches529529Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum, Leipzig, 1840, pp. 193-195. (1.) That the sacraments are “notæ ac tesseræ” of Christian fellowship and brotherhood; incitements to gratitude, faith, and a holy life, and “syngraphæ” binding us thereto. They were ordained especially that therein God might testify, represent, and seal to us his grace. (2.) The things signified are not to be separated from the signs. Those who by faith receive the latter receive also the former. (3.) That respect is to be had rather to the promise to which our faith is directed; for the elements without Christ “nihil sint quam inanes larvæ.” (4.) The sacraments confer nothing “propria eorum virtute;” God alone works in us by his Spirit. They are organs or means by which God efficaciously operates. (5.) They are sometimes called seals, but the Spirit alone is properly the seal as well as the beginner and finisher of our faith. (6.) God does not operate in all who receive the sacraments, but only in his own chosen people. (7.) Hence the doctrine is to be rejected that the sacraments convey grace to all who do not oppose the obstacle of mortal sin. The grace of God is not so bound to the signs, that all who have the latter have the former. (8.) Believers receive without the sacraments the blessings which they receive in their use. “Extra eorum usum fidelibus constat, quæ 518illic figuratur veritas.” Paul received baptism for the remission of sins; but his sins were remitted before he was baptized. Baptism was to Cornelius the layer of regeneration, but he had received the Spirit before he was thus externally washed. In the Lord’s Supper we receive Christ, but Christ dwells in every believer, and we must have faith before we can acceptably approach the table of the Lord. (9.) The benefit of the sacraments is not confined to the time in which they are administered or received. God often regenerates long after baptism those baptized in infancy; some in early youth, some in old age. The benefit of baptism, therefore, continues through the whole life, because the promise signified therein continues always in force.

As to the Lutheran doctrine on this subject, Guerike says that the three churches, the Greek, Roman, and Lutheran, “are agreed in holding that in the sacraments the visible signs as such really convey the invisible divine things, and therefore, that a participation of the sacraments is necessary in order to a participation of the heavenly gifts (göttliche Sache) therein contained. While on the contrary the Reformed Church teaches that the visible signs as such do not convey the invisible grace, and that the Christian can by faith receive the same divine benefits without the use of the sacraments, and consequently that the sacraments are not absolutely necessary, much less the middle point of the Christian plan of salvation.”530530Symbolik, p. 374. The language of the Lutheran Symbols justifies this strong language of Guerike. Thus the signers of the Augsburg Confession,531531Par. I. ix. 3; Hase, Libri Symbolici, 3d edit. Leipzig, 1846, p. 12.Damnant Anabaptistas qui improbant baptismum puerorum et affirmant pueros sine baptismo salvos fieri.” And in the comment on that article in the “Apology for the Confession,” it is said,532532Apologia, iv. 51; Ibid. p. 156.Nonus articulus approbatus est, in quo confitemur, quod baptismus sit necessarius ad salutem, et quod pueri sint baptizandi, et quod baptismus puerorum non sit irritus, sed necessarius et efficax ad salutem.” The Lutheran theologians, however, in treating of the necessity of baptism, make a distinction between adults and infants. With regard to the former, regeneration should precede baptism. In reference to them, the design of baptism is to seal and confirm the grace already received. In regard to infants it is the organ or means of regeneration. Thus Baier says:533533Compendium Theologiæ Positivæ, III. x. 10; edit. Frankfort and Leipzig, 1739, p. 648.Hic autem, quod ad finem proximum attinet, diversitas occurrit, respectu subjectorum 519diversorum. Nam infantibus quidem æque omnibus per baptismum primum confertur et obsignatur fides, per quam meritum Christi illis applicetur: Adultis vero illis tantum, qui fidem ex verbo conceperunt ante baptismi susceptionem, baptismus eam obsignat et confirmat.” So also Gerhard says: “Infantibus baptismus principaliter est medium ordinarium regenerationis et mundationis a peccatis, etc. Secundario autem sigillum justitiæ et fidei confirmatio; adultis credentibus baptismus principaliter præstat usum obsignationis ac testificationis de gratia Dei, υἱοθεσίᾳ et vita æterna; sed minus principaliter renovationem et dona Spiritus Sancti auget. Infantes, per baptismum primitias Spiritus et fidei accipiunt: adulti qui per verbum primitias fidei et Spiritus Sancti acceperunt, per baptismum incrementa ejusdem consequuntur.534534Loci Theologici, XXI. vii. § 124; edit. Tübingen, 1769, vol. ix. p. 169.

The doctrine of the Church of Rome on this subject is, not that all tho seven sacraments are necessary to salvation, but that each is necessary to the reception of the gift or grace which it is intended to convey. There can be no “grace of orders” without canonical ordination, but it is not necessary that every man should be ordained. The sacrament of penance is necessary only in the case of post-baptismal sin, and even the eucharist, which they regard as far the greatest of their sacraments “in dignity and mystery,” is not necessary to infants. Baptism, however, being the only channel through which remission of sins and regeneration are conveyed, is absolutely necessary to salvation, And priestly absolution is absolutely necessary for the remission of sins committed after baptism. Such revolting consequences would flow from carrying this principle rigorously out, that Romanists shrink from its assertion. It would exclude many confessors and martyrs from the kingdom of heaven. It is, therefore, taught that when circumstances render it impossible that these sacraments can be received, the purpose and desire to receive them secure their benefits. These cases are, however, exceptions, and are generally overlooked in the statement of the doctrine. This exception does not apply to infants, and, therefore, they cannot enjoy its benefits. It is the doctrine of the Church of Rome that all unbaptized persons fail of eternal life. This is included in their idea of the Church. None are saved who are not within the pale of the true Church. None are within the pale of the Church who have not been baptized, and who are not subject to canonical bishops, and especially to the 520bishop of Rome. The unbaptized, therefore, not being in the Church, as defined by Romanists, are of necessity excluded from the kingdom of heaven.

The language of the Roman standards is perfectly explicit. The Council of Trent says:535535Sess. vii., De Sacramentis in genere, canon 7; Streitwolf, vol. i. p. 39.Si quis dixerit, non dari gratiam per hujusmodi sacramenta semper, et omnibus, quantum est ex parte Dei, etiam si rite ea suscipiant, sed aliquando, et aliquibus anathema sit.” And again:536536Ibid., De Baptismo, canon 5; Ibid. p. 41.Si quis dixerit baptismum liberum esse, hoc est non necessarium ad salutem; anathema sit.” In the Roman Catechism537537Par. II. cap. ii. quæst. 25 (31, xxx.); Ibid. p. 274. we find the following: “Estne Baptismus ad salutem omnibus necessarius?” the answer is: “Sed cum ceterarum rerum cognitio, quæ hactenus expositæ sunt, fidelibus utillissima habenda sit, tum vero nihil magis necessarium videri potest, quam ut doceantur, omnibus hominibus baptismi legem a Domino præscriptam esse, ita ut, nisi per baptismi gratiam Deo renascantur, in sempiternam miseriam, et interitum a parentibus, sive illi fideles, sive infideles sint, procreentur.” According to the Church of Rome, therefore, all the unbaptized, whether their parents be believers or infidels, are doomed to eternal misery and perdition. With regard to penance, the Council of Trent says:538538Sess. xiv. cap. 2; Ibid. p. 55.Est hoc sacramentum pœnitentiæ lapsis post baptismum ad salutem necessarium, ut nondum regeneratis ipse baptismus.” It also teaches that full confession of all sins committed after baptism is “jure divino” necessary, because our Lord Jesus Christ, about to ascend into heaven, left his priests as his vicars, as “præsides et judices,” to whom all mortal sins, into which Christians may fall, are to be communicated, and who are authorized to pronounce the sentence of remission or retention. It is said, moreover, that our Lord teaches that priests, who themselves are in a state of mortal sin, in virtue of the power of the Holy Spirit given them in ordination, exercise, as ministers of Christ, this function of remitting sins, and those err who contend that wicked priests have not this power. All this is reiterated in the canons and amplified and enforced in the Catechism.539539Sess. xiv. cap. 5, 6; Ibid.

In this connection it is sufficient to remark, —

1. That the doctrine that the sacraments are necessary to salvation, on the ground that they are the only channels for conveying to men the benefits of Christ’s redemption, is clearly contrary to the express teachings of the Bible. The Scriptures everywhere 521teach that God looks upon the heart; that He requires of fallen men simply faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and repentance toward God as the only indispensable conditions of salvation; that all men have free access to God, through the mediation of Christ, to obtain at his hands the remission of sins and all the benefits of redemption; that they need no intervention of priests to secure for them this access or the communication of those benefits; and that no external rites have power in themselves to confer grace. God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life. He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. Whosoever calleth on the name of the Lord, shall be saved. Whoso believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God. The Scripture cannot be broken. It cannot be that he who truly believes the record which God has given of his Son should fail of eternal life. We become the sons of God by faith in Jesus Christ. It is true we are commanded to be baptized, as we are commanded to confess Christ before men or to love the brethren. But these are duties to which faith secures obedience; they are not the means of salvation.

2. This ritual system is utterly inconsistent with the whole genius of Christianity. God is a Spirit, and He requires those who worship Him, to worship Him in spirit and in truth. External rites are declared to be nothing. Circumcision is nothing. and uncircumcision is nothing. “He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Rom. ii. 28, 29.) This is not merely a fact, but a principle. What St. Paul here says of circumcision and of Jews, may be said, and is substantially said of St. Peter in reference to baptism and Christianity. A man who is a Christian outwardly only, is not a Christian; and the baptism which saves, is not the washing of the body with water, but the conversion of the soul. (1 Peter iii. 21.) The idea that a man’s state before God depends on anything external, on birth, on membership in any visible organization, or on any outward rite or ceremony, is utterly abhorrent to the religion of the Bible. It did not belong to Judaism except in the corrupt form of Pharisaism. It is true, that under the old dispensation a man could not be saved unless he belonged to the commonwealth of Israel, 522and was one of the children of Abraham. But according to St. Paul (Rom. ix. 8; Gal. iii. 7 and 29), this only meant that they must believe in Abraham’s God and the promise of redemption through his seed. If a man of heathen birth and culture came to the knowledge of the truth, believed the doctrines which God had revealed to his chosen people, relied on the promise of salvation through Christ, and purposed to obey the law of God, then he was a Jew inwardly and one of Abraham’s seed. His circumcision was only “a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised.” (Rom. iv. 11.) The doctrine that such a man, notwithstanding this thorough change in his inward state in knowledge, conviction, and character, is under the wrath and curse of God, until a little piece of flesh is cut from his body, never was a part of the religion of God. It is part and parcel of the religion of his great adversary. Any one, therefore, who teaches that no man can be saved without the rite of baptism, and that by receiving that rite he is made a child of God and heir of heaven, is antichrist, and “even now are there many antichrists.” (1 John ii. 18.)

3. This ritualistic system, which makes the sacraments the only channels of grace, and consequently absolutely necessary to salvation, naturally leads to the divorce of religion and morality. A man, according to this system, may be in the true Church a child of God, and assured of heaven, and yet utterly frivolous, worldly, and even immoral in his inward and outward life. This is illustrated on a large scale in every Roman Catholic country. In such countries some of the greatest devotees are openly wicked men. And wherever this system prevails we find its most zealous advocates among people of the world, who live at ease in full security of salvation, because they are in the Church and faithful in observing “days, and months, and times, and years;” and are punctiliously “subject to ordinances, touch not, taste not, handle not.”540540A gentleman of discrimination and candour, not long since said to a friend, “You are very pious, but you have no religion. I am religious, but I have no piety.” The great question at issue in the controversy with ritualism is, Whether a man’s salvation depends on his inward state, or upon outward rites; or, as some would give it, Whether his state is determined by outward rites, or whether the rites depend for their value and efficacy on his inward state. In either form the question is, Are we saved by faith or by sacraments? The Apostle teaches us that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” (Gal. vi. 15.)


4. The above remarks are not intended to apply, and it fact are not applicable to the Lutheran system. Lutherans do, indeed, teach the necessity of the sacraments, but as they also teach that true, living, saving faith is the indispensable condition of their efficacy; and, as they further teach that in the case of adults such faith produced by the Word precedes baptism, they do not make baptism the ordinary and indispensable channel for the communication of the saving influences of the Holy Spirit. They hold that all who, through the reading or hearing of the Word, are led to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as their God and Saviour, are thereby made children of God and heirs of eternal life. They believe with the Apostle (Gal. iii. 26), that we “are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” It is this doctrine of salvation by faith, or as Luther has it, “by faith alone,” that has saved the Lutheran system from the virus of ritualism.

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