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Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4 > Chapter 9: The Spirit's Means of Grace: The Sacraments

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In the last chapter, we learned that the church's spiritual power is principally from the Word. "Alongside the Word, we must consider the sacraments as a second means of grace" (p. 464). Accordingly, in this chapter, we will be examining the sacraments in general. Afterwards, we will look at baptism (chapter 10) and the Lord's supper (chapter 11) in particular.

1. Historical Development of the Word "Sacrament": "Scripture does not know the word 'sacrament,' nor does it, in the abstract, contain a doctrine of the sacraments" (p. 472). As such, in order to better understand the origin of the word "sacrament," we must first look into church history and see how worship was initially conducted. In the early church, it appeared that believers "met regularly on the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10). It is likely that on that day two gatherings were held, one for the ministry of the Word, to which also nonmembers were admitted (1 Cor. 14:23)… To this was added another for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper ('for the purpose of eating,' 1 Cor. 11:33), in which only believers were permitted to take part (10:16ff.; 11:20ff.)" (p. 464).

"In the second century… [there arose a] change in this arrangement. For whatever reason… the two gatherings, that for the ministry of the Word and that for the Lord’s Supper, were united. From that time onward, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper took place in the regular worship service after the ministry of the Word, and the service was distinguished in two parts. At the first part, the ministry of the Word, also pagans or at least the catechumens and penitents were allowed to be present; but the second part, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, was open only to baptized members of the church. As a result of the addition of the baptismal confession, the administration of baptism, the Lord’s Prayer, and a wide range of ritual and symbolic actions, the Lord’s Supper increasingly acquired a mysterious character" (p. 465).

"In the New Testament, μυστηριον (mystērion) is the word for the mighty and marvelous acts of God that were formerly hidden but have now been revealed. Soon, however, this word acquired a very different meaning in the Christian church and became the designation of everything that was mysterious and incomprehensible in the Christian religion. In the Latin, this word was translated by sacramentum… [and] absorbed the idea of a mysterious and holy act or matter" (p. 465). This is how the use of the word "sacrament" arose.

2. Historical Numbering of the Sacraments: Due to the vagueness of the term "sacrament" (see point #1 above), "the number of sacraments for a long time remained indefinite… Pseudo-Dionysius in the sixth century was the first to list six sacraments: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, holy orders, monastic consecration, and funeral customs… Hugo of St. Victor mentions no fewer than thirty sacraments… [But] Lombard is the first to list the familiar seven [of Roman Catholicism], but also after him theologians and synods (e.g., the [Third] Lateran Council of 1179)… and [finally] the Council of Florence (1439) established the number at seven" (p. 466).

3. Relationship Between Grace and Sacraments: Sacraments are means of grace. Therefore, in order to understand the sacraments properly, we must first understand what grace is (see: Fesko, J.V. Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 2010. pp. 265ff). Depending on how grace is defined, the means of grace will vary greatly (recall (chapter 8, points #8 and 9). The Reformed have traditionally referred to special grace as salvific. Grace is demerited favour that God provides in order to remove sin and to renew the sinner in conformity with the image of God (cf. Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1996. p. 605; and Fesko, p. 270). In contrast, Rome speaks of grace as a substance. According to Rome, "God's grace in redemption is ontological—a created thing or power that transforms the sinner" (Fesko, p. 273).

4. Rome's Understanding of Grace and Sacraments: "Rome views the grace imparted by the sacrament as being only sanctifying grace, that is, as a power that, being infused in persons, elevates them to the supernatural order and makes them partakers in the divine nature. Grace here has been almost completely separated from guilt and the forgiveness of sins and transformed into a supernatural gift coming down to people from without. In the second place, Rome almost completely severs the bond between the sacrament and the Word… The faith produced by the Word is nothing other than historical faith that is insufficient for salvation and has to be augmented with love, that is, by infused grace. And this grace is only imparted by the sacrament, which therefore occupies an independent place of its own next to the Word and far exceeds it in value. In the third place, faith is absolutely no longer a requirement in the recipient of the sacrament. Grace as sanctifying grace is enclosed within the sacrament as something material, is imparted by it ex opera operato… The sacrament, accordingly, works physically and magically by virtue of a power granted to the priest by God, as an instrument in his hand" (p. 468).

5. Reformation's Response to Rome's Understanding of Grace and Sacraments: Based on Scripture, "Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin… all stated that the grace imparted in the sacrament is in the first place forgiving grace and is directed, not to the lower nature, which is devoid of the superadded gift, but toward sin. They also insisted that the sacrament is a sign and a seal attached to the Word, did not impart any grace that was not also bestowed by the Word, and therefore is valueless without the Word. Finally, they said that not the sacrament itself but its operation and fruit depended on faith and hence always presupposed saving faith in the recipient" (p. 468). Even so, there was significant disagreement on what exactly the sacrament represented (i.e., the sacramental union) between each doctrinal system that emerged from the Reformation.

Luther eventually sought to emphasize the objective character of the sacraments. "The result is that, according to the later Lutheran conception, the 'heavenly substance' is concealed in, with, and under the elements" (p. 469). "Zwingli, by contrast, taught that since the sacraments are administered only to those who have faith and through that faith share in Christ and all his benefits, they are in the first place signs and proofs of faith, acts of confession. Only in the second place are they also the means of strengthening faith, inasmuch as they remind us of the benefits toward which our faith is directed" (p. 469). The sacraments serve as mere memorials. "Calvin indeed also views the sacraments as acts of confession… [but the] sacraments are, first of all, 'a testimony of divine grace toward us confirmed by an outward sign,' signs and seals of the promises of God in his Word… The signs fulfill only an instrumental or ministerial function: God employs them to impart his grace. And he imparts this grace only to those who believe, and then he strengthens and nourishes their faith. Unbelievers only receive the sign, not the thing signified" (p. 470).

6. The Sacraments of Rome: Roman Scholastics broadly defined the sacraments as "the visible form of an invisible grace." Accordingly, the Roman Catechism "described the sacraments as 'certain sensible signs which because of their institution by God have a power both of signifying and effecting holiness and righteousness.' … Roman Catholic theology… conceives the sacrament as a 'sacred, secret, and hidden thing'… Furthermore, it emphasizes to the exclusion of all else that the sacraments contain grace within themselves" (p. 473). This sanctifying grace is "the grace that is added to nature" (p. 478). "To Rome, after all, the creation is of a much lower order than re-creation. The creation is nature, re-creation is grace, that is, the elevation of nature. The world bears a profane character… Accordingly, all that passes from the world into the service of the church must be withdrawn from the power of the devil and devoted to and blessed for the service of God" (p. 491). To summarize, Rome articulated the following points with respect to her doctrine of the sacraments (reference, p. 467):

1. All the sacraments of the new covenant have been instituted by Christ and are seven in number: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, holy orders, and marriage.
2. These are all true sacraments, essentially different from those of the old covenant, but differing among themselves in value.
3. Though not all of them are necessary for the salvation of every individual, they are necessary for salvation, so that without them or without the desire for them, by faith alone, that is, the grace of justification cannot be obtained.
4. They not only signify grace but also contain it and communicate it 'through the act performed' (ex opere operato).
5. For the sacrament to be authentic, it is at least required of the administrators of the sacraments that they have the intention of doing what the church does, but for the rest it is immaterial whether or not they exist in a state of mortal sin.
6. The lawful administrators of the sacraments are only the ordained priests, but confirmation and holy orders are only performed by the bishop, and in case of emergency baptism may be administered also by laypersons.
7. Recipients are only required to have the intention to receive what the church bestows and not to put any obstacle in the way of grace.
8. Every sacrament supplies a special grace; and baptism, confirmation, and holy orders supply an 'indelible character' (character indelebilis).

7. Rome's Seven Sacraments: It is worthwhile (briefly) touching on Rome's seven sacraments. According to Rome, "the sacraments are the means by which God sanctifies the members of the church internally, imparts supernatural grace to them, and makes them partakers of his nature. They are… represented in the four elements they use (water, oil, bread, and wine) and are seven in number because [it is linked to] the number of the Deity" (p. 491).

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1. Baptism. According to Rome, baptism "not only takes away all the guilt and punishment of sin but also frees believers from the pollution of sin, [and] implants the principle of grace and holiness… in the soul by regeneration… Just as Adam entered into a higher world… by means of the superadded gift, so the baptized are elevated to the status of supernatural sanctity. But just as Adam had to preserve the grace conferred by his free will, so also Christians must appropriate baptismal grace by their free will.
2. Confirmation. "Aside from the laying on of hands, confirmation further consists in anointing with oil and in the pronouncement of a formula by the bishop… According to Rome, this sacrament imparts to baptized children, when they have reached the age at which they can use their reason, the power of the Holy Spirit so as to preserve the life of grace received in baptism" (pp. 491-492).
3. The Eucharist (Mass). "In this sacrament Christ himself is present with both his divine and human natures, sacrifices himself bloodlessly for sins, and gives his true body and blood to communicants for the nourishment of their souls" (p. 492).
4. Penance. Since "the life of grace can be harmed by a wide variety of sins and even be lost… Christ has instituted a fourth sacrament, that of penance, in order to restore or renew his saving grace… In the Roman view, accordingly, the sacrament of penance became a court of law in which the priest judges… the sins confessed, and though absolving penitents from guilt and eternal punishment, he nevertheless imposes a wide range of penalties on earth or in purgatory. These penalties, however, can then again be remitted by means of indulgences" (pp. 492-493).
5. Extreme unction. This sacrament serves "to prepare the dying person for death. The anointing with holy olive oil denotes the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the communication of grace, which frees the soul from its defects and confers the strength needed for the final struggle" (p. 493).
6. Holy orders. This sacrament "distinguishes the priest from the layperson by an office-enhancing gift of the Holy Spirit and confers on him the power to change the bread and wine of the Mass into the body and blood of Christ and to forgive, in Christ’s name, the sins of the penitent sinner" (p. 493).
7. Matrimony. The sacrament of marriage "not only unites the spouses by natural ties but also by supernatural grace and gives them the strength to persevere in mutual love until death and to bring up their children in the fear of the Lord" (p. 493).

Even with all these sacraments, however, Rome's system can never confidently deliver a person from his sins! Saving grace can always be lost. "Their state of grace is never certain and firm; they are always in dread over whether they are indeed in a state of grace and will not fall from it the following moment. And this uncertainty, this lack of assurance, is not in the least removed by the teaching that the sacraments work ex opere operato. For… the sanctifying grace imparted by the sacraments can nevertheless always again be lost… The work of satisfaction continues to be necessary, even in purgatory after this life" (p. 494). How horrid.

8. Reformed Understanding of the Sacraments: "Reformed theology described the sacraments as visible, holy signs and seals instituted by God so that he might make believers understand more clearly and reassure them of the promises and benefits of the covenant of grace, and believers on their part might confess and confirm their faith and love before God" (p. 473).

1. "Noteworthy in this connection is first of all that God is mentioned as the one who instituted the sacraments… He alone is the possessor and distributor of all grace. He alone can determine to what means he will bind himself in the distribution of his grace" (pp. 473-474).
2. In opposition to Rome, the Reformed pointed out that "Christ did not institute any sacraments other than baptism and the Lord’s Supper" (p. 474). These are the only two sacraments of the New Covenant.
3. In contrast to Rome, the Reformed defined grace differently, and more biblically. "Grace, certainly, is not a material something, but the favor and fellowship of God, something that is inseparable from God and therefore cannot be imparted by a creature, either a human or an angel. For that reason God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is the only 'institutor' but also the only 'distributor' of the sacrament. Only that sacrament is true that is administered by God himself. It is Christ himself who baptizes and celebrates the Lord’s Supper in his church… even though it is true that in this connection he also employs humans as his instruments" (p. 474).
4. Sacraments are signs. "Now sacraments are among the instituted extraordinary signs that God has taken—not arbitrarily but according to an analogy preformed by him—from among visible things and uses for the designation and clarification of invisible and eternal goods" (p. 476).
5. Sacraments are seals. "Aside from being signs, the sacraments are also seals that serve to confirm and strengthen. Seals, after all, are distinguished from signs by the fact that they do not just bring the invisible matter to mind but also validate and confirm it. Inasmuch as there is so much deception and falsehood in the world, all sorts of means are used to distinguish the true from the false, the genuine from the spurious" (p. 476). "Aside from being signs, therefore, sacraments are also seals that God attaches to his word in order to highlight its trustworthiness, not of course to the Word as such, for as the word of God it is reliable enough, but for our benefit and to our mind" (p. 477).
6. Sacraments unite God's action with our confession. "In the sacrament God first comes to believers to signify and seal his benefits. He assures them with visible pledges that he is their God and the God of their children. He attaches seals to his Word to strengthen their faith in that Word (Gen. 9:11–15; 17:11; Exod. 12:13; Mark 1:4; 16:16; Luke 22:19; Rom. 4:11; and so forth). On the other hand, the sacraments are also acts of confession. In them believers confess their conversion, their faith, their obedience, their communion with Christ and with each other. While God assures them that he is their God, they solemnly testify that they are his children. Every observance of the sacrament is an act of covenant renewal, a vow of faithfulness, an oath that obligates those who take it to engage in the service of Christ (Mark 1:5; 16:16; Acts 2:41; 8:37; Rom. 6:3ff.; 1 Cor. 10:16ff.)" (pp. 475-476).

To summarize, the sacraments are "signs" and "seals" instituted by God so that he might make believers understand the blessings of redemption. (1) They are "signs" in that they are visible pledges by God. In them, God takes visible things (e.g. water, bread, wine) to represent invisible, eternal goods. (2) They are "seals" as well. A seal is distinguished from a sign in that it not only portrays, but also confirms something. A seal is often used to mark the authenticity of a product (e.g., a mint that marks money to prove that it is genuine). Similarly, sacraments are seals used to "confirm" God’s Word, to highlight its trustworthiness for our benefit and to our mind. "Sprinkling or immersion in baptism... and [the] reception of bread in the Lord’s supper... enable us to better understand the promises and benefits of the covenant... of the invisible benefits of redemption" (p. 477).

9. Lutheran Understanding of the Sacraments: Early on, Lutherans and the Reformed agreed upon many points. Both understood "the sacrament to impart the same grace as that imparted by the Word. But [over time, for the Lutherans] as a result of their doctrine of consubstantiation, they gradually… accepted… a 'heavenly substance' in the sacrament. As a result of the word of consecration, the element not only ceases to be… an ordinary external element but also absorbs a special divine power that is distinct from the word… and works through the element as its medium and vehicle. Thus a difference emerged between the benefits of grace imparted through the Word and those imparted through the sacrament" (p. 478).

Bavinck points out the problems of this view. "All this… is in conflict with Scripture and an importation of the erroneous doctrine of Roman Catholicism. [After all the] sacrament does not impart a single benefit that is not also received from the Word of God by faith alone" (p. 479). Importantly, by separating Word and sacrament in their content and in how they operate, one is at risk of serious error. "Those who define the two differently and ascribe to the sacrament one operation of grace and another to the Word, separate Christ from his benefits… materialize grace; make the sacrament something independent of, contrary to, and above the Word… and make the sacrament necessary for salvation and the people dependent on the priest" (p. 480).

10. Relationship Between Word and Sacrament: "The content of the Word is Christ, the whole Christ, who is also the content of the sacrament. There is not a single benefit of grace that, withheld from us in the Word, is now imparted to believers in a special way by the sacrament… The content of Word and sacrament is completely identical. The two contain the same Mediator, the same covenant, the same benefits, the same salvation, the same fellowship with God. They are even the same in mode and instrument of reception, for also in the sacrament Christ is enjoyed spiritually, not physically, by faith, not by the mouth. They only differ in the external form, in the manner in which they offer the same Christ to us… [T]he Word signifies and seals Christ to us by the sense of hearing; the sacrament signifies and seals Christ to us by the sense of sight. Jointly they offer Christ and all his benefits to us by way of the two higher senses that God has given human beings, without thereby entirely excluding the sense of smell, taste, and touch" (p. 479).

Even so, "the sacrament is subordinate to the Word… The Word, accordingly, is something, even much, without the sacrament, but the sacrament is nothing without the Word and in that case has neither value nor power. It is nothing less but also nothing more than the Word made visible. All the benefits of salvation can be obtained from the Word and by faith alone, while there is not a single benefit that could be obtained without the Word and without faith from the sacrament alone… [Its only function is] to strengthen the faith of believers" (p. 479). "Apart from the Word, the sacraments are empty symbols indistinguishable from any other washing or meal. The preaching of the Word with the explanation of the symbolism of the sacraments sets the washing with water and the meal of bread and wine apart as sacraments, as means of grace… [The sacraments serve] as a visible proclamation of the gospel" (Fesko, p. 276).

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11. Sacramental Union: "The link that connects the sign with the thing signified [is commonly called]… 'the sacramental union'" (p. 480). For Roman Catholics and Lutherans, "they teach that the thing signified enters into and is contained in the sign: they assume the existence of a physical, corporeal, and local union. But even on their position there is a problem, for in the case of Roman Catholics the sign changes into the thing signified… and for the Lutherans the thing signified is, to be sure, present in, with, and under the sign and hence brought together with the sign in the same location and space" (p. 480). The Reformed, on the other hand, taught that the relationship between the sign and thing signified "is not a physical, local, corporeal, or substantial connection. The signs of water, bread, and wine are not miracles, remedies, schemes, vehicles, channels, or physical causes of the thing signified. It is, rather, an ethical connection… The natural is an image of the spiritual" (p. 481).

12. Words of Institution: For the Reformed, the elements employed in the sacraments receive their meaning because God has appointed them in His Word. "Water, bread, and wine are not by nature signs and seals of Christ and his benefits. No one would be able or permitted to make that connection had not God specifically declared it to be there. This is not to say that God quite arbitrarily chose these signs from the world of visible things. On the contrary, now that God has informed us of it in his Word, we can see the most striking correspondence between the sign and the thing signified. For that matter, it is the same God and Father who rules both in the realm of nature and in that of grace. He so created the visible world that we can understand from it the things that are invisible. The natural is an image of the spiritual. Yet a special word from God was needed for us to see in the signs of baptism and the Lord’s Supper a depiction of the spiritual benefits of salvation. And this was all the more necessary since water, bread, and wine not only depict grace but also seal it and so serve in God’s hand to strengthen our faith. The 'form of the sacrament,' accordingly, consists in these two things: in the above-mentioned relationship between the sign and the thing signified ('the internal form'), and in the divine institution that by the word establishes such a connection between the two" (p. 481).

In contrast, "Roman Catholic and Lutheran theologians ascribe to the words of institution a different force than the Reformed do. For them it has to serve (1) to change the sign into the thing signified or (2) to incorporate the thing signified in the sign. It therefore has a consecrative and operative force, is directed more to the element than to the listeners, and is for that reason articulated in the Roman Catholic Church by the priest in a mysterious whisper and the Latin language. But in the Reformed tradition the words of institution spoken by the minister have no such hidden, mysterious, and magical power" (p. 481). Importantly, "God and God alone remains the distributor of grace, and also in the sacrament, [so] the Christian depends not on the minister but on God alone" (p. 482). "This dependence on God alone is altered by Roman Catholics and Lutherans into dependence on the minister" (p. 482).

13. Objectivity of the Sacraments: "Even though the connection between the sign and the thing signified does not consist in a corporeal or local union of the two, it can nevertheless very well be objective, real, and essential" (p. 483). Roman Catholics and Lutherans criticize the Reformed by saying that if the thing signified is not physically suited with the sign, the connection between the two is not real. The Reformed responded by saying that grace is not material, and therefore does not need to be communicated physically. "Things are no different with the sacrament than with the Word. In the Word, Christ is truly and essentially offered and granted to everyone who believes. And he is just as really communicated to believers in the sacrament. The sacrament grants the same full Christ as the Word and in the same manner, that is, a spiritual manner by faith, even though the means differ, one being audible and the other visible" (p. 483).

Side note: It is possible to participate in the external administration of the sacraments yet not partake of its internal substance. Just as it is possible to sit under the faithful preaching of the Word of God and not believe, so it too is possible to receive the external sacrament without obtaining its invisible benefits. "In the visible professing church, all things outwardly seemed to be equal. There are the same ordinances administered unto all, the same profession of faith is made by all, the same outward duties are attended unto, and scandalous offenses are by all avoided. But yet things are not internally equal. In a great house, there are vessels of wood and stone, as well as of gold and silver. All that eat outwardly of the bread of life, do not feed on the hidden manna. All that have their names enrolled in the church’s book, may yet not have them written in the Lamb’s book" (John Owen, John Owen's Exposition of Hebrews: Hebrews 6). "Even though they receive the sign they do not obtain the thing signified" (p. 487). " But this does not take away from the objective character of the sacrament.

14. Conditions Attached to the Sacrament: There are conditions attached for the sacraments to be effectual for salvation. Notably, it should be pointed out that even for Roman Catholics and Lutherans, the operation of grace does not always coincide with the sacrament. For instance, in the case of adults, Lutherans still require faith for the receiving of the sacraments. In the case of Roman Catholicism, it still requires "that the recipient of the sacrament refrain from placing an obstacle in the way. According to both Lutherans and Roman Catholics, therefore, the sacrament does not absolutely work ex opere operato. Cases exist in which the sacrament does not work, that is, yields no grace, and nevertheless retains its objective character" (p. 487). Therefore, the "'sacramental union' taught by Roman Catholics and Lutherans, however intimate, is still not capable as such of conferring grace, for in that case it would have to impart it always, everywhere, and in all cases" (p. 488).

Rather, for the sacraments to be effectual for salvation, what is "required on the part of the subjects is that their minds be illumined, their wills brought around, to truly understand and accept the sacrament… For that reason the Reformed asserted that, though Christ is in fact objectively, truly, and seriously offered to all participants in the sacrament, as he is in the Word to all who hear it, still, subjectively, a working of the Holy Spirit is needed for them to enjoy the true power of the sacrament" (p. 488). Indeed, "the full and true benefit of the sacraments, like that of the Word, is only for believers. Believers are assured by them of their salvation" (p. 489).

15. Value of the Sacraments: "Because we are not [disembodied] spirits but sensuous earthly creatures who can only understand spiritual things when they come to us in humanly perceptible forms, God instituted the sacraments in order that by seeing those signs we might gain a better insight into his benefits, receive a stronger confirmation of his promises, and thus be supported and strengthened in our faith. The sacraments do not work faith but reinforce it, as a wedding ring reinforces love. They do not infuse a physical grace but confer the whole Christ, whom believers already possess by the Word. They bestow on them that same Christ in another way and by another road and so strengthen the faith. Furthermore, they renew the believers’ covenant with God, [and] strengthen them in the communion of Christ" (p. 489).

16. Sacraments Throughout History: "The number of the sacraments is most variously determined depending on whether the term 'sacrament' is taken in a more restricted or a broad sense. If with Augustine we say, 'Every sacred sign is a sacrament,' the number becomes exceedingly large. And also when, with Calvin, we count as sacraments all those signs that God has ever given people to assure them of the truth of his promises, Scripture offers us a long list. The Reformed, accordingly, tallied up a great many, especially when later the doctrine of covenants was elaborated, and every covenant plus every covenant dispensation had to have the requisite number of sacraments. Thus sometimes, in the covenant of works before the fall (when there really were no means of grace), they listed the Sabbath and paradise, the tree of knowledge and the tree of life, as sacraments. And in the Old Testament dispensation of the covenant of grace, not only circumcision and Passover, but frequently also the expulsion from paradise, the making of garments of skins, the sacrifice of Abel, the rainbow of Noah, the passage through the Red Sea, manna, the water from the rock, the bronze serpent, Aaron’s rod, Gideon’s fleece, Hezekiah’s sundial, and so forth were counted as sacraments" (p. 490; cf. p. 473).

Even so, "having come to the New Testament sacraments, [the Reformed] immediately shifted to a more restricted definition of the term 'sacrament' and limited the number to two" (p. 490)—that is, baptism and the Lord's supper. "[I]t is enough to have the Word and the two sacraments instituted by Christ" (p. 494). Through these two sacraments, by faith, we receive the whole Christ and all His benefits. "Of this [we] are assured in baptism, and [we] are continually strengthened and confirmed in that faith by the Lord’s Supper… In baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Protestant Christians possess infinitely more than Roman Catholic Christians do in their seven sacraments. For it is not the number of sacraments that is decisive, but the institution of Christ and the fullness of grace he imparts in it" (p. 495). Amen!

Side note 1: The Westminster Standards (e.g., Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 88) and some Reformed theologians have included prayer as a means of grace as well. However, properly speaking, only the Word and sacraments can be considered to be objective means of grace. "Faith, conversion, and prayer, are first of all fruits of the grace of God, though they may in turn become instrumental in strengthening the spiritual life. They are not objective ordinances, but subjective conditions for the possession and enjoyment of the blessings of the covenant" (Berkhof, p. 604). The "means of grace are objective, that is, not dependent on man's subjective experience or reception. God's objective revelation is independent and true whether man accepts it or not. Both Word and sacrament are forms of divine revelation. Prayer, on the other hand, is not divine revelation" (Fesko, p. 278).

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Side note 2: Although the sacraments are a means of grace, but, because they are linked to the covenant, they sometimes serve as means of judgment too. "The microcosm of the crucifixion shows that God's self-revelation in Christ is both a means of judgment and redemption. Two thieves were crucified with Him—one believed and was saved, but the other thief did not believe and was condemned (Luke 23:30-43; cf. John 3:16-18). The same Jesus brought both redemption and judgment—He is both the cornerstone and the stone of offence and stumbling (Isa. 8:13-15; Rom. 9:33; 1 Peter 2:7-8)" (Fesko, pp. 286-287).

"God's revelation has always been double-edged. There are no neutral encounters with God. In the covenant with Adam, God revealed His command as well as the blessing and sanction—to eat from the tree of knowledge would bring death, but to obey the command would bring life (Gen. 2:17). In the Mosaic covenant, Israel was given the law and their tenure in the land… was conditioned by the same covenant blessings and sanctions—do this and life (Lev. 18:5), which implies that to disobey meant death (Deuteronomy 27-28). God's covenantal revelation has always come with both blessings and sanctions" (Fesko, p. 287).

"This blessing-sanction principle is true not only of God's revelation in Christ and the Word, but also of sacraments… The blessing-sanction principle is evident, for example, in the Lord's Supper. The supper is clearly a means of blessing and judgment, for Paul warned the Corinthians that some of them had died because they failed to recognize rightly the body of Christ (1 Cor. 11:27-30). Redemption and judgment are bound with baptism… The same flood that delivered Noah and his family through a covenant brought judgment on the unbelieving world (cf. Gen. 6:17-18; 1 Peter 3:20-21). The Red Sea crossing that Paul calls a baptism was the covenantal deliverance of Israel and judgment on Pharaoh's army (cf. Ex. 14; 1 Cor. 10:1-4). Christ drowned in His crucifixion-baptism in the wrath of God (Luke 12:50); this crucifixion-baptism was also other curse of the covenant (Gal. 3:13; cf. Deut. 21:23). But the crucifixion-baptism of Christ is also the source of new creation and life (Rom. 6:1-4; Col. 2:11-14)" (Fesko, pp. 278-288). This theme is seen through the Scriptures (e.g., Passover, circumcision, sacrificial rites, etc.) "For now, it is sufficient to note that the sacraments are means of grace, because apart from a Spirit-wrought faith, they become means of judgment" (Fesko, p. 288; for more on this subject, please refer to Beale, G. K. A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011. pp. 812ff; there, Beale refers to this topic under the heading of dual-oath signs).

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