“Offered to All” – “Received only by Grace”
By far this is my favorite reading from Calvin. Below I have highlighted the early section of this chapter which I believe answers Lane’s (Go Fetch!) questions to us students.
What is a Sacrament? What does God do through a Sacrament?
(4.14.1) Definition: We have in the sacraments another aid to our faith related to the preaching of the gospel… First, we must consider what a sacrament is. It seems to me that a simple and proper definition would be to say that it is an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promise of his good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; and we in turn attest our piety toward him in the presence of the Lord and his angels and before men.”
(4.14.3) Word and Sign “Now, from the definition that I have set forth we understand that a sacrament is never without a preceding promise but is joined to it as a sort of appendix, with the purpose of confirming and sealing itself, and of making it more evident to us and in a sense ratifying it.”
(4.14.4) The Word must explain the Sign “The word must explain the sign… not as one whispered without meaning and without faith, a mere noise, like a magic incarnation, which has the force to consecrate the element. Rather, it should, when preached, make us understand what the visible sing means… The sacrament requires preaching to beget faith… Accordingly, when we hear the sacrament word mentioned, let us understand the promise, proclaimed in a clear voice by the minister, to lead the people by the hand wherever the sign tends and directs us.”
(4.14.5) The Sacraments as Seals “Indeed, the believer, when he sees the sacraments with his own eyes, does not halt at the physical sight of them… Rises up in devout contemplation to those lofty mysteries which lie hidden in the sacraments”
(4.14.6) The Sacraments as Signs of a Covenant “The sacraments, therefore, are exercises which make us more certain of the trustworthiness of God’s Word… Or we may call them mirrors in which we may contemplate the riches of God’s grace, which he lavishes upon us… They confirm faith, not of themselves, but as agencies of the Holy Spirit and in association with the Word; and they are distinguishing marks of our profession of faith before men.”
(4.14.7) The Reception of the Sacraments by the Wicked in no evidence against their importance. “It is therefore certain that the Lord offers us mercy and the pledge of his grace both in his Sacred Word and in his sacraments with sure faith, just as Christ is offered and held forth by the Father to all unto Salvation, yet not all acknowledge and receive him... We have determined, therefore, that sacraments are truly named the testimonies of God’s grace and are like seals of the good will that he feels towards us, by attesting that good will to us, sustain, nourish, confirm and increase our faith.”
(4.14.8) To What extent can we speak of a confirmation of faith through the sacraments? “For first, the Lord teaches and instructs us by his Word. Secondly, he confirms it by the sacraments. Finally, he illumines our minds by the light of his Holy Spirit and opens our hearts for the Word and sacraments to enter in, which would otherwise only strike our ears and appear before our eyes, but not at all affect us within.”
(4.14.9) The Holy Spirit in the Sacraments “As to the confirmation and increase of faith.. I should therefore like my readers to be reminded that I assign this particular ministry to the sacraments. Not that I suppose there is some secret force or other perpetually seated in them by which they are able to promote or confirm faith by themselves. Rather, I consider that they have instituted by the Lord to the end that they may serve to establish and increase faith… The sacraments properly fulfill their office only when the Spirit, that inward teacher, come to them, by whose power alone hearts are penetrated and affections moved and our souls opened for the sacraments to enter in. If the Spirit be lacking, the sacraments can accomplish nothing more in our minds that the splendor of the sun shining on blind eyes, or a voice sounding in deaf ears.”
What most stirred my intellect is how deeply spiritual Calvin is about the Sacraments
and that they are meant to be contemplated upon.
I am also struck by his language about the ‘Words of Institution’ for Holy Communion and ‘The Great Commission” for Baptism, that they are to be preached and that in the Sacraments the ‘Holy Spirit is ‘Powerfully Active’ especially for those who have come to them with little faith or understanding.
My questions to you my fellow Reformers:
Are we administering the Sacraments in our churches
with enough time for ‘contemplation’?
Do we ‘preach’ their institutions?
Do we hold them in ‘awe’ as a testament of our faith
that the ‘Holy Spirit is truly in our presence’?