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Calvin and Calvinism » The Efficacy of the Sacraments

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(d) With respect to children no less than for adults, it is clear from the above that besides the two elements of the offer of the covenant and the obligation of the covenant, there is still a third element present. This consists of the expectation that covenant children will enter into the fellowship of the covenant. This expectation is based on the promise of God to believers that He desires to be their God and the God of their seed and that He also desires to continue His covenant in their seed and to make it a living reality. This does not merely hold true for some promises under certain restrictions, but also for the promises of the covenant, as they span all of life and include every gift of grace. It is, we think, striking how strongly just in this respect the comprehensive character of the covenant is applied by Reformed churches. All of them assume it to be a totality and do not hesitate to unfold it in all its fullness in their liturgical writings. As a promissory covenant its total content is brought into contact with the individual already as an infant. When that infant later enters into covenantal consciousness by active faith, this faith sums up al1 that is included in the covenant, so that the wide, rich world of God’s works of grace is opened up to his sight, a perspective looking backwards and forward. It is just this beautiful outlook which leads one to call the idea of the covenant of grace a "mother-idea." The covenant is a mother because it spiritually bears sons and daughters by the power of divine grace and the promises, a mother because its children have received everything from it, because it has given birth to them, sustains them, feeds, and blesses them. Reformed theology has certainly realized that the church has two sides, and that besides being the assembly of believers and the revelation of the body of Christ, she must also be the means by which new believers are added. But it has not separated these two sides; rather it has kept them in organic connection. Just because the promises of God have been given to the assembly of believers, in its entirety, including their seed, this assembly is also a mother who conceives sons and daughters and is made to rejoice in her children by the Lord. The name "mother" signifies this truly Reformed point of view in distinction from other terms such as "institution of salvation."

As far as we can discover, the leading spokesmen of Reformed theology are completely agreed on this. They all recognize that the church has received such promises for her offspring. They equally recognize that the consideration of these promises is the heart of the fruit of comfort which her view of the covenant offers. And they insist that remembrance of the promise must function as an urgent reason for rousing the seed of the church to embrace the covenant in faith. On both sides, parents and children, this conviction provides strength. Strength was provided in the days of old, in the golden age of the churches, a glorious comfort, finding its most beautiful fruition in the doctrine of the salvation of the children of covenant who die in infancy. Only in the working out of these principles did the theologians diverge to a greater or lesser degree. One could not but expect that a conscious appropriation, an entering into the relation of the covenant by faith and conversion, would be revealed in each member of the covenant who comes to the age of responsibility. The whole tendency of the doctrine of the covenant, as we have tried to present it, led to that demand. One could hardly be satisfied with the thought that a nonrejection of the covenant, where all expression of life was missing, would be sufficient. Here they collided with the discovery, as they also knew from the Scriptures, that not all belong to the seed of the promise. In comparing the statements of theologians at this point, it is clear that the older theologians generally proceeded more fearlessly than the later ones in the individualization and general application of the promises. Beza writes:

The situation of children who are born of believing parents is a special one. They do not have in themselves that quality of faith which is in the adult believer. Yet it cannot be the case that those who have been sanctified by birth and have been separated from the children of unbelievers, do not have the seed and germ of faith. The promise, accepted by the parents in faith, also includes their children to a thousand generations. . . . If it is objected that not all of them who are born of believing parents are elect, seeing that God did not choose all the children of Abraham and Isaac, we do not lack an answer. Though we do not deny that this is the case, still we say that this hidden judgment must be left to God and that normally, by virtue of the promise, all who have been born of believing parents, or if one of the parents believes, are sanctified (Confessio Christianae Fidei, IV, 48).

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The Hungarian Confessio Catholica (1562) on the Sacraments

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism

Confessio Catholica:

Concerning the Sacraments

The sacraments are seals of the righteousness of faith, as supplements and seals to the promises of grace, in testimony of God’s grace towards us, to the confirming of faith and imprinting the promises of God on our hearts.

But the stipulation and promise of grace always precedes the sacraments, by which the promises are sealed as it were with a seal. They are of two kinds: those of the Old and the New Testaments. The sacraments of the Old Testament were circumcision and sacrifices in the literal sense. There are other signs placed in natural things, such as the rainbow and the skin of animals: they are not sacraments strictly speaking. They are called signs of holy things because they lead us to divine things.

The Parts of the Sacraments

The sacraments have two parts, as man too consists of two parts, spiritual and bodily. The sign is a bodily thing, sensible, of earthly material, which serves the bodily part of man for the strengthening of faith. What is symbolized is the spiritual and heavenly thing, and is given to man’s spiritual part, i.e., to the soul through faith in the promise.

The Difference between the Sacraments

The signified and heavenly thing is the same in the sacraments of both Old and New Testaments, i.e., Christ and the grace of God. Only this heavenly thing is more obscurely presented in the Old Testament and more clearly, more tangibly, in the New (as is taught in 1 Cor. 10). There are differences in the signs because the matter of the sacraments is different. The presence of the signs signifies everywhere by a heavenly mode the heavenly presence of the things symbolized, but those of the Old Testament signify Christ offered, Himself sacrificed for our sins. The signs of the New Testament signify the heavenly and spiritual presence of the things symbolized–Christ who had by then been offered and sacrificed for our sakes. From this, the fathers called the sacraments of the Old Testament significative (significativa); the sacraments of the New Testament are exhibitive (exhibitiva) signs. The sacraments in themselves will not save us, but are signs of the righteousness of faith and salvation. Romans 4 and Peter also say that salvation does not consist of the water that washes away the filth of the body, but our consciences are reconciled with God by the power of the passion and resurrection of Christ. “I baptize you with water, the Messiah himself with fire and spirit” (cf. Matt. 3:16; Luke 3:16; John 1:26), adding to the sign the thing symbolized. On the part of God, the sign and the thing signified as objects of the sacrament are always bound together and never separated. For in the Word, as in the sacraments too, Christ is offered to the good and evil alike (Rom. 4; Mark 16; Matt. 3; Jerome, on Ps. 77; Titus 3; Eph. 5; Augustine, On Faith, chap. 3; Book 9, on John, chap. 1, 3; Doctrine of the Church, chap. 74; Cyprian, On Baptism, Book 4; letter 7). The true offering and application of the thing signified or the efficacy of the sacrament, however, occurs only in the believing elect, those apprehending Christ in the promise. When, through the unbelief of men, the things signified become separated from the signs, and men make use of the sacraments apart from their legitimate purpose, those who receive them unworthily, without faith and self-examination, do not profit thereby; indeed, with respect to them, the sacrament is a judgment and a mere shadow (1 Cor. 11). When we say that the sacraments save us, or that in baptism we put on Christ, we take the sacraments in themselves out of respect for the ordinance of Christ, using a metonymy as a figure for the thing signify. For the signs really testify that we are saved and that we put on Christ spiritually in the promise, just as the signs exhibit bodily, so the spiritual things signified are exhibited to the soul by faith. So teach the Scriptures and the fathers.

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Andreas Hyperius (1511-1564) on the Efficacy of Baptism

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism


1) 4. These constestations and promises being thus solemnly made on both parts, you were baptized, that is to say, you were were dipped or sprinkled with water, and therewithal the Word of God was pronounced forth, having virtue after a marvelous sort to wash and take away your sins by the bloodshed of Christ. The Word was added to the Element, and so was it made in you a Sacrament and Seal of the righteousness of faith. Of that faith (I say)which you even a little while afore did profess; and of what righteousness, which God promised unto you. And it is (as it were) an Indenture of Covenants, or mutual hand-writing obligatory between God and you. For in this action of your baptism there passes a certain mutual bond or obligation between you ; even much like as between Barterers and Bargainers: but most aptly, properly, and specially, between the husband and the wife, [Eph. 5.]. For, the covenant, promised and bond here made, is not for any short while, but even for the whole space of your life: and so long as you continue in this world, the memory of this promise and covenant by you made, ought surely to be imprinted in your mind: yea still, even so long as your life lasts, it behooves you (all that ever you can) to endeavor yourself to accomplish and perform your promised covenants. You are now in this sort engrafted into his holy congregation, being the Church, and you are received into the number and fellowship of the faithful [Rom. 6:4; Eph. 2:13.].

5. Moreover very the form, manner and customable rite of Baptism itself is a perpetual witness of your vowed promise, and admonishes thee of thy duty all the days of your life. Namely first, when was put down into the Font, dipped into the water, or sprinkled therewith, there was signified unto you, the mortification of your self and all your members, in that you did there openly and solemnly profess, that you would die unto sin. Again, your raising and lifting up again out of the water, betokened your resurrection and rising again to newness and amendment of life. And it did represent unto you, that like as Christ died, was buried and raised up from the dead for you, so should you continually walk in righteousness [Rom. 6:4.].

6. Call further to remembrance what great benefits yo have received in Baptism, as well in being thereby assured of the good promises of God there and then made unto you, as also in bring thereby the more encouraged and stirred up to perform such things as you for your part there did promise and undertake. First, your sins all and some, both original, actual and accessory, were there freely remitted and forgiven you. Sin ceased there to be imputed unto you, and a new righteousness even the righteousness of Jesus Christ was bestowed upon you, [1. Cor. 6:11; Tit. 3:5.]. The force and strength of that sin which naturally dwelt in you, is broken and vanquished that now it should not be able (as afore) “to rain any more in thy mortal body, neither that thou should obey the lusts thereof,” [Rom. 6:12.]. Our old man is crucified with him that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For, indeed, sin is in Baptism remitted and done away, but not so, as that we should for ever after be clear and void of it, but that it should not be any more laid to our charge, or imputed unto us, and that it should not reign in us, or bear sovereign rule and domination over us. As Augustine does very well note in his Epistle to Julian, and in his exposition in exposition of the 102 Psalm: but most excellently and plainly is it set out and explained by the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans: “I delight in the law of God concerning the inner man: but I see an other law in my mind, and leading me captive unto the law of sin, which is in my members,” &c, [Rom. 5, and 7:22.].

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Rudolph Gualther on Baptism: An informal Comment

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism


Now remains the last part of Ananias’ oration, where he exhorts him [Paul] to be baptize, that he should openly profess the name of Christ, an be grafted into his Church, according to Christ’s commandment. And this he urges with great gravity & weight: “Why lingerest thou,” (says he) not for that Paul meant to defer or shift off the matter, but to prick him forward the more earnestly, being dismayed with fear and trembling in conscience. Where he adds this saying: “Arise and be baptized, and wash away the sins in calling on the name of the Lord.” Here we have to observe his manner of speaking of the Sacrament, which declares the reason and dignity of baptism. For Ananias meaning was not, that he thought sins were washed away by water, which the Scripture every because that washing which is made by the blood of Christ, is outwardly shadowed and expressed by Baptism, it comes to pass, that by reason of such phrase of Scripture sins are said to be washed away by baptism. And because Paul should not think it a strange or hard kind of saying, he adds, thereto, “by calling on the name of the Lord.” For by these words he is ent unto Christ, which being taken hold of, and called upon by faith, bestows such gifts of salvation upon us, as the sacraments us to figure and shadow unto us. And as we must in using of the Sacraments have a respect unto Christ, if we will have them to profit us: so again we are taught, that they must not b e contemned nor thought superfluous by any means. For God has ordained nothing without great consideration, whose intent is not to have his church overcharged or clogged by any means. Therefore Philip baptized the Eunuch also after he had confessed his faith. And Peter thought it good to baptize Cornelius’ household, when they had received the Holy Ghost. Yea Paul, whom the Holy Ghost secretly commends, is here earnestly moved to receive baptism. These examples reprove the despisers of Sacraments, which while they seem too spiritual, do wickedly set light the ordinances of God.

Radulphe Gualthere, An Hundred, threescore and fifteen Sermons, uppon the Acts of the Apostles, trans., by Iohn Bridges, (London: no publ, 1572), 791.


The Belgic Confession on Baptism

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism

Belgic Confession:

We believe and confess that Jesus Christ, who is the end of the law, has made an end, by the shedding of His blood, of all other sheddings of blood which men could or would make as a propitiation or satisfaction for sin; and that He, having abolished circumcision, which was done with blood, has instituted the sacrament of baptism instead thereof; by which we are received into the Church of God, and separated from all other people and strange religions, that we may wholly belong to Him whose mark and ensign we bear; and which serves as a testimony to us that He will forever be our gracious God and Father.

Therefore He has commanded all those who are His to be baptized with pure water, into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, thereby signifying to us, that as water washes away the filth of the body when poured upon it, and is seen on the body of the baptized when sprinkled upon him, so does the blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit internally sprinkle the soul, cleanse it from its sins, and regenerate us from children of wrath unto children of God. Not that this is effected by the external water, but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God; who is our Red Sea, through which we must pass to escape the tyranny of Pharaoh, that is, the devil, and to enter into the spiritual land of Canaan.

The ministers, therefore, on their part administer the sacrament and that which is visible, but our Lord gives that which is signified by the sacrament, namely, the gifts and invisible grace; washing, cleansing, and purging our souls of all filth and unrighteousness; renewing our hearts and filling them with all comfort; giving unto us a true assurance of His fatherly goodness; putting on us the new man, and putting off the old man with all his deeds.

We believe, therefore, that every man who is earnestly studious of obtaining life eternal ought to be baptized but once with this only baptism, without ever repeating the same, since we cannot be born twice. Neither does this baptism avail us only at the time when the water is poured upon us and received by us, but also through the whole course of our life.

Therefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists, who are not content with the one only baptism they have once received, and moreover condemn the baptism of the infants of believers, who we believe ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as the children in Israel formerly were circumcised upon the same promises which are made unto our children. And indeed Christ shed His blood no less for the washing of the children of believers than for adult persons; and therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of that which Christ has done for them; as the Lord commanded in the law that they should be made partakers of the sacrament of Christ’s suffering and death shortly after they were born, by offering for them a lamb, which was a sacrament of Jesus Christ. Moreover, what circumcision was to the Jews, baptism is to our children. And for this reason St. Paul calls baptism the circumcision of Christ.

Belgic Confession of Faith, “Holy Baptism,” Art 34.

[Note the shades of two-fold baptism as in Vermigli and Ursinus for example.]