By Aaron Hills
THE CHURCH AND ITS SACRAMENTS
Inasmuch as the Church is a divine institution designed to help men home to God, its discussion may be properly included in Soteriology.
I. The Church of Christ, in its largest sense, consists of all who have been baptized in the name of Christ and have made a profession of their faith in Him, and the doctrines of His Gospel. But in a stricter sense, the Church consists of those, and only those, who have a saving relation to, and vital union with, Christ, as members of His body, and who "walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
The usual New Testament word for Church is ekklesia. It sometimes meant only a concourse of people, as in Acts 19: 39, 41. But the Christian idea was a body of believers "called out" from the world to live for God. They were a people "called to" a heavenly hope and a glorious inheritance (Eph. 1: 18); "called" into a brotherly fellowship, "in the unity of the Spirit" (Eph. 4: 1-4); "called into his kingdom and glory" (1 Thess. 2:12); "called with a holy calling" (2 Tim. 1:9); "called out of darkness into His marvelous light, to be a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people" (2 Tim. 1:9). The dominant idea of an organic association is ever-present, in all these beautiful figures of speech, a people "called out" and organized by God himself.
1. Visible fellowship with the church would naturally seem, then, to be the duty of every true child of God. This is a real and most substantial way of obeying the command of Christ to confess Him before men. It would seem, therefore, obligatory on all who are convinced of the truth of Christianity, to accept Christ by faith for personal salvation, and then to take upon them the vows of church-membership, and accept the sacraments of the church, in order to testify to their faith in Christ as the Savior of men, through His atonement.
The end of this fellowship is mutual helpfulness, and association in worship and mutual co-operation in the spreading of the Gospel and in extending the kingdom of Christ throughout the world. The organized church provides for the proclamation, and hearing of the Gospel, the training and support of the ministry, the erection of houses of worship, the sending forth and support of missionaries, the publication of Bibles and Christian literature, the watch care and government of the members, and whatever else is calculated to spread the leaven of the Gospel among men.
The very importance of this work makes it obligatory for those who would do good and get good, to join the organization. Membership therein is necessary to the full enjoyment of the privilege and the largest usefulness. The duty of church-membership seems often to be insisted on in the New Testament. It appears in the emphasis placed on the public confession of Christ. "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 10: 32, 33). Such a confession carries with it membership in the visible church. Such also is the meaning of an unyielding fidelity to Christ amidst persecution and trial. The devil strikes his blow at the known members of the church organization. He hates the church and would wipe it from the earth. Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it. The friends and followers of the Master must take sides with Him, and lift His standard, and carry it victorious to the ends of the earth. God gives assurance of the divine favor to the persecuted, and the promise of a crown of life as the reward of fidelity (Rev, 2: 10).
All these things mean that Christ intended His followers to unite into a visible organization. What if there had been no such organization! What if the apostles and martyrs of the early church had kept their relation to Jesus private, and had taught the principle of privacy to all their converts, and had discouraged all organic unity and co-operation! A moment's reflection would show that the church would long ago have perished from the earth. But if one has a right to abstain from such a public profession of Christ, so has another, so have all; and soon the church would cease to exist.
2. Church government. All organized or co-operative and collective bodies of men must be governed. Men widely differ in opinion and practice as to the government of the church of Christ.
(1) It may be said at the outset that the Scriptural idea of church government is one wholly spiritual. It is concerned only with spiritual subjects. Its members are united only by the bond of a common faith in, and loving devotion to, their common Lord. Their hearts are inspired by a common purpose to escape the moral corruption of the world, and to please God. They have one common aim to exalt Jesus as Lord of all. And His kingdom is not of this world. It is a kingdom of moral influence, and cannot be successfully propagated by the sword. It cannot employ force to compel men to enter its pale; for faith and love are the only doors of entrance, and these come open not by compulsion. He who believes in Christ, and confesses Him in the ordinance of baptism, becomes a member of the church, according to its original constitution.
Further evidence that the government of the church was only spiritual is shown by the New Testament discipline. The early church did not inflict pains and penalties upon the disobedient, like civil governments do. It had no thumb-screws, or racks of torment. It built no dungeons, in which prisoners were left to groan their life away in solitary confinement. It kindled no martyr-fires. Its only punitive discipline, authorized by Christ and His apostles, is comprised in admonition, reproof, rebukes, expostulation, and, finally, expulsion from the church. Christians were taught to consider themselves members of one body, and members of one another, and that, they were a holy brotherhood, bound together in a common bundle of sympathy, and love. Their ties were not the good will which they were commanded to feel for all men; but that holier tie of Christian love which sprang from the cross, and was inspired by the Holy Ghost.
They did "good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of faith." They were forbidden, however, "to eat" at the Lord's Table with those who dishonored their profession by immoral conduct. This was extreme discipline, to treat an unchristian and refractory brother, who would not heed the discipline of the church, "as a heathen-man and a Publican." But still, like heathen and Publicans, they were to be subjects of prayer, and also objects of pitying love. And even this extreme discipline was not to be inflicted hastily; but only after deliberate, and prayerful, and repeated efforts at restoration. Originally, excommunication itself was only a merciful separation of an incorrigible member from the body of believers, without any infliction of civil punishment. How this matter of discipline and excommunication has since been perverted and abused by false and backslidden churches, scarcely deserving the name of Christian, is a matter of church history too painful to record.
(2) Who are to govern? Here there is a wide difference of opinion, as to the early government of the church, as it is set forth in the New Testament. Men are not even agreed as to the original orders or ranks in the ministry. An appeal to the Scriptures will here be helpful.
In Ephesians 4: 11, 12, we apparently have a complete list of what we now would call the clergy: "And he gave some (to be) apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering," etc.
The apostles were those immediately commissioned by Christ to witness to His resurrection, and to be inspired authority in Christian doctrine. This order ceased.
The prophets, if we mean by it those who were inspired to foretell future events, had an office of an extra-ordinary nature, and it too ceased with the first century. If it meant, an extraordinary, inspired and authoritative teacher, still the office was temporary.
The evangelists, it is thought were assistants of the apostles, who went about under their authority and direction. Of this number were Timothy and Titus, who were directed by the Apostle Paul to ordain bishops or presbyters in the several churches; but were not instructed to appoint their own successors. Perhaps there were also evangelists like Philip, who were more like the evangelists of today, who have no authority. But the kind who had authority, were extraordinary and temporary ministers, who served the first age of Christianity, and then passed away.
We still have two terms left "pastors and teachers," and in other passages "bishops" and "presbyters," or "elders." Whether these terms signified the same order of ministers is a point of interpretation hotly discussed by Episcopalians and Presbyterians. The Episcopal form of church government gathers around the Greek word (episkopos), which means an overseer; a watcher; a guardian, a bishop. The Presbyterian form of church government gathers around the word (presbuteros), which means an elder, or preacher in a Christian church. But in Acts 20: 17, we find that St. Paul sends for the elders, presbyters of Ephesus to meet him at Miletus; in verse 28, he tells them that the Holy Ghost had made them episkopos (bishops) to feed the flock of God which he had purchased with His own blood." So the presbyters are the same kind of ministers as bishops; and they are told to feed the flock, as pastors or shepherds, as if all three were the same office.
Again in Titus 1: 5 St. Paul directs Titus to "ordain elders or presbyters in every city," and then adds, as a directory to ordination, verse 7, a bishop must be blameless,"-plainly using the two words as synonyms, and indicating the same office. "Bishops and deacons" are the only classes of ministers, addressed in the Epistle in the Philippians; and if the presbyters were not to be understood to be included under the term bishop, then the absence of all mention of this order of preachers is unaccountable.
So it seems that the presbyters were to take the oversight of the flock of God, This seems a conclusive evidence that the teaching and government of the church devolved, after the time of the apostles, upon a class of men indiscriminately called pastors, presbyters, and bishops, the latter names becoming the most common.
In the course of years, perhaps as early as the beginning of the second century, a distinction arose between the bishops, and the other clergy, or ministers. But it was evidently not because they belonged to a superior order of ministers, who could rule the presbyters and pastors by a divine right. They were simply first among equals; first by their pre-eminent ability, so that they were looked up to, and often consulted by their brethren; or they were first by virtue of the prominence of the large city church of which they were the pastor, so that the elders of the churches in smaller towns sought the counsel and help of the city pastor, precisely as it is done today in churches where there is no thought of different orders of clergy.
But, as we can easily conceive, and may well believe, in the course of years, perhaps centuries, the pastors of these large, central city churches, grown proud and elated by their prominence, began to give unasked, the counsel that was once sought after; and their advice grew into dictation, and domination. So, by ways perfectly natural to the proud, carnal heart of man, there came to be a wide-spread and generally accepted notion of different orders in the clergy. The ambitious leaders of the backslidden church favored the notion and propagated it as a convenient way of reaching place and power.
"As to the argument from the succession of bishops from the time of the apostles (could the fact be made out), it would only trace diocesan bishops to the bishops of parishes; those to the bishops of single churches; and bishops of a superior order, to bishops who never thought themselves more than presiding presbyters, primi inter pares. This, therefore, would only show that an unscriptural assumption of distinct orders has been made, which that succession, if established, would refute. But the succession itself is imaginary" (Wakefield, p. 542).
Whether Episcopacy may not be a wise and allowable form of church government is quite another question. This is to be decided by expediency, by its fruits. Godly men, equally pious, have prayerfully studied the New Testament, to find out from it, if possible, how churches should be governed. And after the most careful investigation, they have widely differed in their findings. As a result of their study, some have conscientiously adopted the Congregational polity; others have adopted the Presbyterian form of government; and others still the Episcopal form of government. These three forms, with minor variations practically include all forms of government. This fact makes it more than probable that no particular form of ecclesiastical government is of divine origin and command, any more than any particular form of civil government. It is doubtful if a uniformity of method prevailed even during the life-time of the Apostles.
"Churches are quite at liberty to adopt the Episcopal mode of government, provided they maintain St. Jerome's distinction, that "bishops are greater than presbyters rather by custom than by appointment of the Lord, and that still the church ought to be governed in common," that is, by bishops and presbyters united. It was on this ground that Luther placed Episcopacy, as useful, though not of divine right. It was by admitting this liberty of churches that Calvin and others allowed Episcopacy and diocesan churches to be lawful, there being nothing in Scripture to forbid such an arrangement, when placed on the ground of expediency. Indeed some divines of the English Church have chosen to defend Episcopacy wholly on this ground, as alone tenable; and, admitting that it is safest to approach as near as possible to primitive practice, have proposed the restoration of presbyters as a senate to the bishops, the contraction of dioceses, the placing of bishops in all great towns, and the holding of provincial synods, thus raising presbyters to their original rank, as the bishop's "compresbyters," as Cyprian calls them, both in government and ordination.
The only objection to Episcopacy, as it is understood in modern times, is its assumption of superiority of order, and of an exclusive right to govern the pastors, as well as the flock, and to ordain to the Christian ministry. These exclusive powers are nowhere granted to bishops in distinction from presbyters. The government of pastors as well as people was at first in the assembly of presbyters, to which ruling body all were individually accountable. As to ordination, it was a right in each presbyter, though used by several together for better security; and even when the presence of a bishop came to be thought necessary to its validity, presbyters were not excluded" (Wakefield, pp. 542, 543).
John Wesley wrote of the office of Bishop: "Lord King's 'Account of the Primitive Church,' convinced me many years ago that Bishops and Presbyters are the same order, and consequently have the same right to ordain. For many years I have been importuned to exercise the right to ordain traveling preachers. But I have still refused, not only for peace's sake, but because I was determined as little as possible to violate the established order of the National Church to which I belonged.
It is in obedience to those laws that I have never exercised in England the power which I believe God has given me. I firmly believe I am a Scriptural (Episcopos) Bishop, as much as any man in England or in Europe. For the uninterrupted succession I know to be a fable which no man ever did or can prove" (Works, VII, pp. 311, 312).
3. The Church to be Governed. The Papists contend for the visible unity of the church, throughout the world under a visible head the Pope. But this opinion is contradicted by the language of the apostles. While they taught that there is but one Church composed of all believers throughout the world, yet they thought it was not inconsistent with that idea to speak of "the churches of Judea," "the churches of Galatia," "the seven churches which are in Asia," and "the Church at Ephesus," "the churches of the Gentiles" (Rom. 16: 5); "Salute Priscilla and Aquila; and the Church that is in their house" (Rom. 16: 5). So it seems that a little congregation worshiping in a woman's private house was called a "church." All the worshiping congregations of a city or province were called "churches"; yet all the churches in the world were called "the church of God."
The apostles among themselves had no common head. St. Paul had to administer a public rebuke to Peter at Antioch (Gal. 2: 11). The apostles planted churches and gave directions for their government, in most cases without any correspondence with each other. The doctrine of a Pope at the head of the church, to whom all yielded obedience, is not hinted at in the New Testament. So far were the apostles from making provision for the government of this one supposed church by the appointment of one visible head, a Pope, that they provided for the government of the respective churches raised up by them, if at all, in a totally different manner, that is, by the ordination of ministers for each church, who were indifferently called bishops, presbyters, and pastors. There were but two orders, in the officiary of the Church,-one of the above three, and deacons. The only unity was the common faith in Christ, the invisible Head, and the common love for Him and for each other, that bound them together.
"Nor has the popish doctrine any countenance from antiquity. The best ecclesiastical historians have shown that the Christian Churches were independent of one another during the greater part of the second century, and that no very large associations of churches existed till toward its close. These facts sufficiently refute the papal argument from antiquity" (Wakefield, p. 544).
The advocates of extreme independency hold that the universal church is composed of all the independent churches in the world, each one perfect in itself and independent of every other. Whatever union may grow up between such churches is purely voluntary, for the sake of mutual helpfulness and co-operation, still preserving inviolate the principle of self-government. It is probably true that insulated, widely separated churches preserved a large degree of independence long after the death of the apostles, and their government was what is now called Independency. But it is also probably true that the churches in large cities, and populous communities, had many presbyters who might be called in the language of today "official boards," and as the members multiplied there were separate assemblies or congregations, yet all under the same government. "When churches were raised up in the neighborhood of cities the appointment of chorepiscopoi, or country bishops, and of visiting presbyters, both acting under the presbytery of the city, with its bishop (or ruling elder) at its head, is sufficiently in proof that the ancient churches, especially the larger and more prosperous of them, existed in that form which, in modern times, we should call a religious connection, subject to a common government" (Wakefield, p. 544).
4. The Ordination of Ministers. The Apostles were ordained by our Lord, the evangelists by the apostles, and the elders in every church, both by apostles and evangelists. The New Testament seems to show clearly that the laity never had the power of ordination, or exercised it. It was the ministry who ordained the candidates for the ministry, and were the final judge of their fitness. This continued after the death of the apostles. The people seem never to have invaded this prerogative of the presbyters.
But yet the members of the Church had their influence in an indirect way. The directions to Timothy and Titus imply a reference to the judgment of the members of the Church, because from them only could it be learned whether the party fixed upon for ordination possessed those qualifications without which ordination was prohibited. When churches assumed a more regular form, it was usual for the people to be present at ordinations, and to ratify the action by their approbation. Sometimes also they nominated persons by vote and thus proposed them for ordination, as is the custom in Congregational Churches now. "The mode in which the people shall be made a concurrent party is a matter of prudential regulation; but they had an early, and certainly a reasonable right to a voice in the appointment of their ministers, though the power of ordination was vested in ministers alone, to be exercised on their responsibility to Christ" (Wakefield, p. 546).
5. The Admission into the Church, and Expulsion. This is dependent upon the united action of minister and people. To the minister is committed the office of baptism by which the outward sign of grace is applied to the subject of it. It is in a way the door of admission into the Church organization, or one of the steps to it. But the members of a church have a right to decide who shall be admitted into their fellowship and society, and to oppose the administration even of the rite of baptism on an unworthy subject. Their concurrence with the pastors in the admission of members, and in the discipline of them, when insubordinate and backslidden, is most reasonable and proper, and may be supported by arguments drawn from the New Testament, and from primitive usages.
The expulsion of unworthy members also devolves upon the joint action of members and the pastor. The laws and requirements are in a general way laid down by Jesus, the great Head of the Church, and cannot be abrogated, or set aside.
The determination of the facts as to whether Christ's laws have been so flagrantly broken that it is improper, to retain a member longer is to be decided, by the members with the pastor as presiding officer, and he is to voice the findings of the body, and carry it into execution.
Unworthy ministers under accusation of immorality should be tried by their peers,-that is, by their fellow pastors. If a presbyter must be arraigned, it should be before a tribunal of his own brethren, "provided an accusing lay brother having proper evidence, is unobstructed in the prosecution."
Such are the general principles of church government that may be gathered from the Scripture and they give a fair footing for the support of either one of the three forms of church polity. There have been many variations from any one form in the course of the centuries, and large variations between the managements of churches in the same connection. This is because the methods of ecclesiastical government are not a matter of divine appointment, like the Ten Commandments; but are largely a matter of human invention and growth. What was found useful and expedient has grown into custom, and usage, and ecclesiastical law, within the bounds of a denomination.
6. The Legitimate Ends of Church Government. Of course in a comprehensive way, these are the spread of the Gospel and the extension of the kingdom and glory of Jesus Christ. The church must defend itself against the destructive influence of unclean members and false doctrines. Against false doctrines and the men of "corrupt minds" who taught them, the sermons of Christ and the writings of His apostles abound in warnings. Christ said "beware of the wolves in sheep's clothing," and Paul said of false teachers "their mouths must be stopped." This implies that there must be a standard of truth, and some person or persons who can authoritatively pronounce on the correctness of doctrines for the Church, or Churches of a denomination. False teachers ought to be silenced within the pale of any connection of Churches.
This duty is assigned to the Church; but the right has been abused by the Church of Rome, and has led to anti-Christian usurpation of human rights, and to cruel persecutions. She has brought in tradition as the equal of inspired Scripture, and denied to men the right of independent private study of The Holy Word, and of private judgment, and the right to test her dogmas by the Bible.
The great Protestant principle is that the Holy Scriptures are the only standard of doctrine, and that the doctrines of every church must be measured by the Divine Word, and that every man has the right to test every doctrine of a creed by this standard. This principle must be maintained if Protestantism is to live, and if we would not see the teaching of God displaced by the doctrines of men. This is the duty of every man for himself before God, to know the truth which will make him wise unto salvation.
But since men may come to different opinions about the interpretation of Scripture, it has been the custom from the early days of Christianity to give the consenting voice of the meaning of Scriptures by assemblies of ministers and learned Bible scholars, who reverently studied the Word, and prayerfully reached the best united conclusion they were able to attain. Such a decision or creed has authority as to what will be allowed to be taught within the pale of church or connection of Churches. But it has no authority with an individual soul, as to what he shall believe for his own salvation. That is between him and his God.
It is the manifest duty of every church.
1. To make a formal statement of its articles of faith, and let men know how it interprets the Scriptures on all the leading doctrines of Christianity. Some contend that no articles of faith, or (reeds, are proper, but that acceptance of Scripture is all that should be required. But we may ask whose idea of Scripture, and whose interpretation? A Roman Catholic's, or a Protestant's? A Universalist's or Unitarian's? Or a Trinitarian's? Or a Swedenborgian's? Or a Christian Scientist's? It will be seen at once that to denounce all creeds and statements of doctrine is cowardly in the extreme, and is dealing unfairly and dishonestly with the public.
2. The members of a church should be fairly instructed by the Pastor in the articles of its faith. The members should give them due respect, and careful examination, receiving them as helps and guides to faith.
3. It is the duty of a church or denomination to silence any teacher or preacher within its pale who proclaims doctrines contrary to the accepted standards. If a preacher or theological professor changes his views and comes to accept doctrines contrary to those of his church, let him withdraw, like an honest man, and join himself to those of a like faith with his own. To stay in a church and disrupt it by sowing infidelity to its articles of faith, or to draw a salary from trust-funds contributed by godly men to propagate the Gospel of faith in a Divine Redeemer, and then to teach a Christless infidelity, is to be another Judas Iscariot and a wolf in sheep's clothing. We have seen colleges and churches and a theological seminary blotted out by such conduct. We cannot conceive of anything more base or more reprehensible. To accept the support of a Christian institution, while stabbing its faith and corrupting its life, is unadulterated infamy. Every minister is commanded by God to "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints," not to destroy it. Whoever has fallen low enough to seek to destroy it, should step down and out of the ministry. If he does not, he should be put out of it. This is no violation of Christian liberty, or any right of man.
II. The Sacraments. The Greek fathers used the word (mustarion) for sacrament, in the sense of a hidden meaning of a symbol. It was specially applied by the early church to the symbolical rite of the Lord's Supper.
It is called in the Vulgate translation, sacramentum, and signifies a sacred ceremony. It is also the name of the military oath of fidelity taken by the Roman soldiers. For both these reasons, probably, the term sacrament was adopted by the Latin Christians. For the first reason, because of the peculiar sacredness of the Lord's Supper; and for the second reason, because of that engagement which was applied in this sacred ordinance to be faithful to the commands of Christ. The same term was early applied to the ordinance of baptism.
Of the nature of sacraments there are three leading views.
1. The Roman Catholic view, and that of similar churches. According to this, the sacraments contain the grace which they signify, and confer grace by the work itself upon such an offer no hindrance. Their theologians declare, "These sensible and natural things, work by the Almighty power of God in the sacraments, what they could not do by their own power." Nor is anything more necessary than that the priest, "who makes and consecrates the sacraments, have an intention of doing what the Church doth, and doth intend to do."
According to this the efficacy, depends on the intention of the priest who speaks a few words of a formula. He conveys to sacrament a Divine virtue; and this is mechanically conveyed to the soul that receives it, whether with a good disposition and faith on the part of recipient, or not. The act of receiving it is alone sufficient for the experience of the benefit.
The following objections are urged by many thoughtful Protestants against such teaching.
(1) It is without authority in the Scriptures.
(2) It is antiscriptural. It makes the communication of saving grace depend alone upon a sacrament; while the Scriptures teach that it depends on faith.
(3) It debases an ordinance of God, from a rational service into a magical charm.
(4) It is of vicious tendency; as venial sins cannot prevent the communicant from receiving the grace, which it is designed to bestow.
(5) It makes the benefit of the sacrament to depend on the intention of the administrator.
2. The Socinian Notion. The Unitarians hold that the sacraments are quite like other religious rites and ceremonies; their peculiarity chiefly consists in their emblematic character, representing as they do spiritual and invisible things, and are memorials of past events. They are chiefly an aid to pious sentiments, and a quickener of devotional feelings and holy emotions. They are also an appointed means of professing faith in Christ, and acknowledging Him before the world. There is very much truth in this view.
3. The Stronger Protestant View. A sacrament is thus defined by Wakefield: "A sacrament is a holy ordinance formally instituted by Christ in His Church, not only as a badge or token of our Christian profession, but rather as a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, and a means of conveying to us the blessings of the Gospel." This is excellent if we do not make too much of the latter clause, which is perilously close to the Romish doctrine. The Essential Elements of the Sacraments are: 1. They are instituted by Christ Himself. This invests them with a peculiar sanctity. We cannot understand how Christians, who really love their Master and profess fidelity to Him, can consent to neglect them, and discontinue their observance. It seems to us that what Christ so solemnly appointed should be obligatory upon every Christian conscience. He gave to His disciples the parting command to disciple all nations "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" (Matt. 28: 19). In like manner, also He instituted the supper, when He said: "Take, eat, this is my body which was broken for you," and in regard to the cup, "Drink ye all of it" (Matt. 26: 26, 27). It does not seem that these sacraments could be more significant, or sacred, and we do not see with what propriety they can be neglected.
2. They are signs of Divine grace. That is, they are visible and symbolical representations of the benefits of redemption. They exhibit to the senses, under appropriate emblems, the same benefits that are described and promised in the written Word of God. Augustine said, "sacramentum esse verbum visibile." A sacrament is a visible word. The water of baptism suggests the "washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" of which it is not at all the cause, but only the after sign of what is already supposed to have taken place. So in the feast of the Eucharist, the visible elements which are employed point to the broken body and shed blood of the Redeemer. They are a sign of the infinite love, and atoning death of Jesus, and His offered grace to a sinful world. "As often," says the apostle, "as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come" (1 Cor. 11: 26).
3. They are seals. A seal is a confirming sign. A sacrament is a seal of the covenant of grace, both on the part of God and of men. By it God declares His gracious intention of bestowing His saving grace upon us, and covenants to keep His promises of mercy. They show His condescending love, and His gracious desire to do everything that is possible for our salvation. By the same act, we set our seal that we will keep the obligations, according to the express terms of the covenant, and obey and trust God, and walk with Him by faith. We seal the contract that we and ours shall be the Lord's alone and forever.
4. Thus the sacraments are a means of grace. They are sweet and blessed reminders of our relations to God and what He has done for our salvation. They do not, as the Papist says, necessarily convey the grace which they signify; but they do exert a gracious influence upon the recipient; awaking a sense of obligation to be the Lord's. They are closely related to the central doctrines of Christianity. Baptism, as a symbol of regeneration, suggests the fallen condition of the human family, and the reason why we need a divine cleansing. The Eucharist teaches a Divine Savior who alone would be able, to make an atonement for sin, and whose blood is amply efficacious for our cleansing.
In partaking of the communion, the communicant may, and should, and often does reach out the hand of faith and take the blessings, so beautifully symbolized, and so dearly bought by the efficacious blood shed on Calvary's cross. Who ever draws near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, does receive a fresh sense of the presence of God, and a warming of His heart toward His Redeemer, and Savior. God does work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also confirm and strengthen our faith in Him.
Thus the sacraments become covenant transactions between God and our souls. It becomes, therefore, profoundly important that we keep the vows that we make at the sacramental altar.
5. As to the number of the sacraments. Jesus gave but two, - baptism and the Lord's Supper. Only these were practiced in the early Church, or have any foundation in the New Testament.
To these the Papal Church has added five others, confirmation, penance, order, matrimony, and extreme unction.
In respect to these we may briefly say:
1. They rest on no Scriptural authority.
2. They have no visible sign ordained of God.
3. They seem to have been invented to magnify the priest and the Church in the eyes of the people.