by Theodorus Vandergroe
LORD’S DAY 25
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. —ROMANS 10:17
Question 65: Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only, whence doth this faith proceed?
Answer: From the Holy Ghost, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.
Question 66: What are the sacraments?
Answer: The sacraments are holy visible signs and seals, appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof, He may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel, viz., that He grants us freely the remission of sin, and life eternal, for the sake of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross.
Question 67: Are both word and sacraments, then, ordained and appointed for this end, that they may direct our faith to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, as the only ground of our salvation?
Answer: Yes, indeed: for the Holy Ghost teaches us in the gospel, and assures us by the sacraments, that the whole of our salvation depends upon that one sacrifice of Christ which He offered for us on the cross.
Question 68: How many sacraments has Christ instituted in the new covenant, or testament? Answer: Two: namely, holy baptism, and the holy supper.
How precious, comforting, and encouraging are the words that the apostle Paul wrote to the believing Philippians, saying, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6)! In speaking of that “good work” in the Philippians, Paul referred to their upright faith and their “fellowship in the gospel,” as he called it in the preceding verse. By this faith, they had embraced and received, with true and upright hearts, the precious gospel regarding the grace and salvation of the Lord Jesus, and, by virtue of being in the covenant of grace, they had surrendered themselves fully and eternally to God in Christ unto salvation, so that they might solely live by faith in Christ. The apostle here testified that God had begun this good work of faith in the Philippians, for by the power of His Holy Spirit, He had so wrought in them that they had obeyed, embraced, and heartily approved of the gospel of salvation as it is in Christ Jesus. God having begun this good work of faith in them, Paul was also confident that God would finish it in them in “the day of Jesus Christ” by increasingly establishing, expanding, and strengthening this good work of faith by His Word and Spirit, and that He would bring it finally to its complete fruition and perfection in the day of Jesus Christ. And so it is indeed, for God will never forsake the work of His own hands, but rather, in all His believing people, He will be the “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending” (Rev. 1:8).
The good work of faith and repentance solely originates in, proceeds from, and will be completely finished and perfected by God, and no other author is to be acknowledged in regard to this good work. Our Christian instructor desires to expound this truth in greater detail in this Lord’s Day.
In the previous Lord’s Days, beginning with Lord’s Day 7, he addressed:
1. the nature of true saving faith;
2. the objective truths toward which this faith is exercised, namely, the spiritual truths of the gospel as they are articulated in the Apostles’ Creed; and
3. the glorious efficacy and blessed benefit of faith, being God’s gracious justification of the sinner in Christ.
He now proceeds to consider the origin of faith, as well as how it is affirmed and strengthened by means of the Word and by the holy sacraments. This is a very glorious and beneficial subject for consideration, worthy of being known by all of us unto salvation. May the Lord, by His Holy Spirit, graciously equip us to preach and to hear, and may He bless His Word to our souls. Amen.
The instructor observes the following order in his exposition:
1. In Question 65, he first sets before us Him who works and strengthens faith in the hearts of God’s elect, namely, God the Holy Spirit, and then the means by which He accomplishes this.
2. He proceeds to address each of these means individually, doing so in Questions 66–68.
Regarding the first, the instructor asks, “Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only, whence doth this faith proceed?” This is a very useful and essential question. It is in one’s interest rightly to know not only how to obtain this true faith in his heart, but, if one may perceive within himself the beginning of this faith, also to know how that good work within him may be built up, established, and strengthened unto his salvation.
People in general rely too much upon themselves in this regard. Since God commands them to believe and it is their duty to believe, they are always endeavoring in their own strength to stir themselves up to exercise faith. They are ignorant of their radical spiritual impotence in this regard, failing to recognize that faith must be wrought within them from on high by the gracious power of God. That work they must expectantly desire, and, as needy souls, they must long for it.
The instructor now proceeds to expound and explain this in greater detail, teaching with regard to the exercise of faith that the Holy Spirit “works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and He confirms it by the use of the sacraments.”
As to the Holy Spirit’s saving operation in the hearts of the elect, and specifically as to the common way in which He initially and continually works faith, we recently addressed this in detail in our exposition of Lord’s Day 20. We will therefore not repeat what we said there. We wish only to note that faith is here set before us as the special work of the Holy Spirit.
We need to recognize that all of the extrinsic works of God, both in grace and in nature, proceed entirely from the triune God. They proceed equally from all three of the exalted and divine persons. The reason for this is to be sought and found in the most perfect unity and simplicity of the adorable and one divine being, so that one of the divine persons neither does nor works anything without the engagement of the other persons. Since the gracious benefit of faith also belongs to the extrinsic works of God, we must consider faith as a work of the triune God, who works all things and in all. In the Holy Scriptures, this work is therefore commonly attributed to all three divine persons.
1. Faith is attributed to God the Father, for Paul calls faith “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Of the Father, Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44). This drawing is the efficacious translation of the soul into Christ by faith.
2. God the Son is also designated as the author of faith, for Paul calls Him “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). The disciples therefore worshiped the Lord Jesus as such and besought of Him, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5b).
3. Though faith is attributed to the Father and the Son, it is and remains the special and primary work of the Holy Spirit, and, by Him, the Father and the Son execute the work of salvation and redemption in the elect.
According to the eternal counsel of peace, it is the personal work of the Father to ordain the salvation of the elect and to choose them to that end. It is the personal work of the Son to accomplish and merit this preordained salvation for the elect. It is the personal work of the Holy Spirit to apply this preordained and accomplished salvation to the elect, enabling them also to possess and enjoy this salvation initially, progressively, and, finally, perfectly and completely. Therefore, all that belongs to the work of applying salvation to the elect is the essential, special, and efficacious work of the Holy Spirit.
Faith belongs in its entirety to the application of salvation, for thereby the elect are truly and internally united to Christ, the fountain of salvation, and thereby they internally receive Him with His accomplished salvation and merited benefits of grace. Consequently, faith belongs to the essential and special ministry, office, or work of the Holy Spirit. In the Word of God, faith is also specifically attributed to the Holy Spirit as being its author, who works and strengthens faith in the hearts of the elect. Paul testifies of this, saying, “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom…to another faith by the same Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:8–9). In 2 Corinthians 4:13, he expressly calls the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of faith,” and in Galatians 5:22, he identifies faith as one of the fruits of the Spirit.
In the meantime, take note, beloved—and may the Lord further teach this to you by His Spirit—that in order for faith to be worked and strengthened in our souls, nothing less than the initiative of a triune God is required. This is required because we ourselves are absolutely unsuitable and unfit unto faith, for we live entirely unto ourselves, fully cleave to ourselves, function from within ourselves, and end in ourselves. We cannot do otherwise, because we are utterly carnal and darkness itself. To enable us to believe by completely turning away from self and turning unto Christ, and to seek all our light, life, comfort, peace, and salvation only with Him, God must prevail over us by His all-conquering power and grace. He must strip us of all that is of self in order to lead us out of ourselves and to bring Christ, with His grace and all-sufficiency, to our souls, that He might unite us to Him by the effectual inclination of our wills toward Christ and toward His salvation and grace. He does so in order that our only desire is to seek our life entirely outside of ourselves in Christ and fully to deny ourselves in all that pertains to us.
Therefore, all who desire to have this faith wrought in their hearts, or to have it strengthened, must enter upon this pathway in all simplicity. Being convinced of the total and absolute necessity of true faith unto salvation, and acknowledging their utter and complete impotence to give themselves this faith, as well as God’s all-conquering omnipotence and gracious inclination to work and strengthen this faith in them by His Word and Spirit, they must come before the Lord in all uprightness and simplicity, and surrender themselves to the Lord and to the gracious operation of His Spirit. Using the means faithfully and diligently, they must wait with submission, surrendering themselves unto the Lord and His light, grace, and power until it pleases Him to look upon them in sovereign mercy and to help them in the day of His good pleasure.
This is the proper way to have the Lord work and strengthen faith in the heart. Having said this, how does the Holy Spirit accomplish His work in the hearts of the elect? The instructor says that He “works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.” The instructor sets two matters before us:
1. How the Holy Spirit works faith.
2. How the Holy Spirit strengthens faith.
Regarding the first, the instructor teaches that the Holy Spirit works faith in the hearts of the elect “by the preaching of the gospel.” The Spirit of the Lord by no means works faith immediately, as some enthusiasts insist upon; that is, by way of extraordinary and powerful influences or stirrings apart from the Word. The Lord does not work faith in this manner, for although He would certainly be able to do so, this is not His common way. Rather, He works mediately by way of the presentation or preaching of the gospel.
By the gospel, we must simply understand God’s adorable counsel and purpose regarding the salvation of the elect in and by way of their surety and mediator, Christ Jesus, as has been so clearly and transparently revealed by God in the Holy Scriptures. Paul summarizes the preeminent content of this gospel, saying, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19). This gospel has eternally been couched in the heart of God, and it is therefore also called “a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory” (1 Cor. 2:7). If God, in His adorable counsel and according to His gracious will, had purposed to keep this concealed and hidden in His heart, no one would ever have known or imagined anything like this apart from God Himself. However, for the Lord to execute His secret counsel regarding the salvation and redemption of His people, He necessarily had to make known to them this counsel or this gospel, and to present it to them so that they might receive and embrace it.
Having been pleased to do this from the very beginning of the world, the Lord continues to do so until this day, and He will continue to do so until the end of the world. He has revealed and expounded this precious and blessed gospel most extensively in His Holy Word. This He entrusts to His servants and ambassadors, whom He has explicitly called, appointed, and equipped for the task of proclaiming His gospel throughout the world among the children of men and of instructing them accordingly. Consider, therefore, Christ’s express command to His apostles and disciples: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15–16).
In this manner, God causes His holy gospel to be proclaimed everywhere among men by His servants and ambassadors, thereby making known to men that as truly as He lives, He has no pleasure in the death of the ungodly and of sinners, but rather, that it is His heartfelt will, inclination, and desire to redeem and save them eternally. He furthermore causes it to be proclaimed that He gives them Christ, His Son, to be a suitable and all-sufficient surety and mediator, setting Him before them as having been made unto them wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption from all their sins (1 Cor. 1:30). He exhorts all and everyone to whom this gospel of salvation is made known to acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ to be such an all-sufficient surety and mediator, and upon dispensing fully and willingly with all their own wisdom, righteousness, and strength, to turn to Him and receive Him with a true and upright faith. He exhorts them to do so in order that they may be taught and instructed by Him as prophet in the way of salvation, be justified before God by Him as high priest, and be sanctified and delivered by Him as king—and all of this purely out of free and sovereign grace and without any of their own worthiness, merits, or strength.
Behold, God causes such a gospel or counsel of salvation and redemption to be proclaimed throughout the world, and, by means of the preaching of this gospel, the Holy Spirit, according to the instructor, works faith in our hearts, that is, in the hearts of the elect.
The Holy Scriptures clearly teach this, as, for example, in our text: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?… So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:14, 17). The same apostle says in 1 Corinthians 1:21 that “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”
When we focus on the initial establishment of the church of Christ, we observe that the apostles, and all who with them were called to the ministry, proclaimed the gospel in all places, and the Lord, by means of their preaching of the Word, worked with them (Mark 16:20). As a result, in a short period of time, many thousands among the Jews and Gentiles were saved upon their repentance and belief of the gospel. There are multiple examples of this in the Holy Word of God, for we read of Cornelius and his house, that “the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word” (Acts 10:44). Such was true for almost all who were converted at that time. They were converted and received faith by means of the Word or the gospel being preached to them. Paul therefore asked the Galatians, “Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Gal. 3:2); that is, by hearing the preaching of the gospel, whereby the sinner is exhorted and called to believe in Christ as the only way and means of deliverance. The gospel sets Christ before sinners as the only object of faith, and it depicts this object as being exceedingly beautiful, precious, and delightful, so that the hearts of sinners are set aflame and stimulated to receive and embrace Christ by faith. The gospel is therefore also called “the glorious gospel of Christ,” whereby God causes “the light to shine out of darkness…in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4a, 6). This truth has therefore been sufficiently affirmed, namely, that the Holy Spirit works faith in the hearts of the elect by means of the preaching of the gospel.
The mere external presentation of the gospel is by no means efficacious, for of itself and apart from the efficacious operations of the Spirit, it cannot bring forth faith. However, the Pelagians teach otherwise. Beloved, were it possible to hear this precious gospel of God’s grace and salvation proclaimed to us most clearly and powerfully for a thousand years, and were we able, with our natural intellect, to understand and comprehend its verbal presentation, we nevertheless would not embrace this gospel by faith unto salvation unless we were wrought upon inwardly by the Holy Spirit and, in an efficacious manner, enabled to do so. Without this, we would merely hear and intellectually understand the gospel as a general truth, but by no means would we believe it with our hearts unto salvation. The Holy Spirit alone must work this in us, for, according to the gospel, “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 12:3b). The apostle therefore writes: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6–7). In Ephesians 1:19–20, he speaks of “the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places.”
Other than this truth being set before us with such clarity in the Word of God, it is taught daily with no less clarity by the experiential operation of the Lord’s Spirit in the hearts of all true believers. We must therefore affirm the following two doctrines as eternally abiding truths:
1. It is the Spirit of the Lord alone who works faith in the hearts of the elect.
2. The Spirit generally works this faith mediately by means of the preaching of the gospel.
It is therefore the inescapable and compelling obligation of all who desire to have this faith wrought in their hearts that they diligently frequent the preaching of the Word of God and avail themselves of all other means of grace, and, in their use, look expectantly to the Lord until He may also be gracious to them.
Having thus far endeavored to set before you how the Holy Spirit works faith in the hearts of the elect by means of the preaching of the gospel, we only wish to add this remark: the faith that the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of the elect is identical in all believers as to its essence; however, the manner and circumstances of the operation of the Spirit vary greatly.
The essence of the matter is that the Holy Spirit convinces the elect of their sins, their misery, their hell-worthiness, and their impotence. He brings them to the point of holy despair and perplexity in themselves, so that they no longer are able to find any help or comfort in any creature under the sun. He opens for them the gospel of Christ’s salvation, His all-sufficiency, and His sovereign grace. He brings Christ into their hearts, causes them to turn away completely from themselves, and unites them to Christ, so that they truly come to Him with a hunger and thirst for Him. In forsaking everything outside of Him, they desire nothing less than to be found in Him and to be fully and freely redeemed by Him purely out of free and sovereign grace and in harmony with the contents of the gospel.
The Holy Spirit works the essence of this faith without distinction in all the elect. However, the manner in which He works faith is not the same in all, but varies greatly, for He works sooner in the one than in the other. One He leads in a more legal and severe manner, and the other in a more evangelical fashion. One He keeps longer in the way of conviction, and for the other, He sooner brings the Lord Jesus and His grace into focus and to their hearts. We must therefore look more to the outcome of the matter rather than to the unique manner and circumstances of the Spirit’s operation in the elect when faith is in exercise.
Having considered how the Holy Spirit works faith, we will now proceed to consider how the same Spirit also strengthens this faith, for the instructor continues by teaching that He “confirms it by the use of the sacraments.” When faith is initially exercised in the elect, it is by no means immediately as complete in its various stages as it is complete with respect to its essence and components, for as all things are initially very deficient, weak, and tender, and only gradually increase in strength and come to full fruition, so is it also with the gracious work of faith. They who have newly been wrought upon are also initially very feeble, weak, and tender. It cannot be expressed in words how feeble grace is when initially it begins to function! The Lord Jesus compares faith in its initial exercises to “a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth” (Mark 4:31).
Grace, time, and exercise cause that small beginning of faith to grow increasingly, and it gradually increases in strength, steadfastness, and perfection. It is analogous to a small child who, by partaking of essential nourishment, imperceptibly increases in size and strength, and matures as the years progress. We therefore read in the Holy Scriptures of a faith that “groweth exceedingly” (2 Thess. 1:3), of the increase of faith (Luke 17:5), and of being “stablished in the faith” (Col. 2:7). A distinction is made throughout the Holy Scriptures between a weak and a strong faith, and the Scriptures also teach that “God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3).
We need to consider carefully that this does not imply the least variation in the essence of faith, for that is always and in all believers the same. The only difference is in the measure in which faith is exercised, and thus the Holy Scriptures teach that there are some who are children and babes, others young men, and others men and fathers in the faith (1 John 2:12–14). However, in the natural realm, children, young men, men, and fathers all have the principle of life within them in identical fashion, and likewise, all true believers, both weak and strong, have also the identical principle of life within them: they are internally and spiritually united by faith to the Lord Jesus. Proceeding from that principle, they continually grow in grace and are strengthened in their faith by the Holy Spirit, who is always at work in them in a greater or lesser measure.
The manner in which the Holy Spirit commonly strengthens the weak faith of God’s children is diverse. The Spirit strengthens the faith of God’s children:
1. Primarily by means of the Word, increasingly illuminating the understanding of God’s children and gradually leading them spiritually and experientially more deeply into the reality of their misery, utter bankruptcy, and impotence, but also into the reality of the complete all-sufficiency, willingness, and evangelical grace of the Lord Jesus. Paul prayed for such illumination of the Spirit for the believing Ephesians, praying “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened” (Eph. 1:17–18a). Thereby God’s children increasingly are led to look away from themselves, they are inwardly united to the Lord Jesus, and their faith is thus strengthened and built up.
2. By gradually and increasingly assuring God’s children inwardly of divine truths as they are revealed in the Word of God, so that, in all their activity, they more fully rely upon and trust in them. As these truths are impressed ever more deeply upon their hearts, they learn all the more purely to believe the Lord on the basis of His Holy Word, without so readily and continually doubting them through unbelief, for “it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth” (1 John 5:6b).
3. By continually exercising the internal principle and propensity of faith within their souls, thereby gradually increasing its measure, steadfastness, and strength. Consequently, faith is exercised by God’s children with increased facility and ease, and with less resistance and instability. The more that faith is exercised in a lively and active manner, the more it gradually functions as it should and is more functional and steadfast in the soul. This inherent principle of faith then functions more fully within us, and God’s children consequently are increasingly “rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith” (Col. 2:7). This affirms what is written in Isaiah 7:9: “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.”
4. By communicating many lively manifestations of God’s love and grace to their souls, much communion with God in Christ, and much assurance of their gracious state, all of which issue forth from faith. The Holy Spirit fills them with more knowledge of God’s glory and causes them to be more discerning regarding all things that detract from His glory. Hereby He teaches them to become more acquainted with the Lord, to cleave to Him in all their difficulties, and to follow Him in His way, having a quiet confidence in Him, in His truth, wisdom, goodness, faithfulness, and power.
Hereby the Spirit leads the Lord’s children increasingly “into the land of uprightness” (Ps. 143:10) and causes them to proceed on the way of life more steadfastly, calmly, and unwaveringly, so that in submissive humility and with patient faith, they follow the Lord in all things and for all things, commending their way and the outcome of all their affairs continually to the Lord and to the word of His grace (Acts 20:32), saying with Hezekiah, the man of God, “I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul” (Isa. 38:15).
In this manner, God’s children increasingly surrender themselves to the gracious and fatherly leadings of the Lord and remain at peace, being content, irrespective of how He may deal with them, knowing and having learned by extensive experience that He is the only wise God and that “His work is honourable and glorious” (Ps. 111:3).
This is the most steadfast, secure, and profitable state of faith. However, such is not the initial state of God’s children, but they rather arrive at this point in the way of much strife and exercise of faith, for this state is the manly state of a Christian, and presently, there are but few who attain to it.
The Holy Spirit thus incrementally strengthens the faith He Himself has wrought, and gradually He causes it to become more steadfast and perfect in the Lord’s people. However, He by no means does this immediately, but He rather does it mediately:
1. by the preaching of God’s Word, and therefore it has the pre-eminence as the “sincere milk of the word” whereby newborn babes must grow and which they must also greatly desire (1 Peter 2:2).
2. by other means, which, according to the instructor, are “the use of the sacraments.”
The instructor now proceeds to address this further as he gives a clear and concise description, saying, “The sacraments are holy visible signs and seals, appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof, He may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel.” There is nothing that is of greater benefit to God’s children than a believing, receiving, and embracing of the promises of God’s grace in Christ Jesus that are made to them and set before them in the gospel. Hereby God communicates that, for the sake of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, He will always graciously pardon all their sins and bestow upon them eternal life and whatever else they may need unto salvation, all of which He will grant freely in Christ and by way of faith. This constitutes the vitality of their inward spiritual life, namely, the heartfelt embracing of, believing in, and appropriation of these gracious promises of the gospel. They may fully trust in these promises unto their comfort, as well as to the strengthening of their faith and their growth in sanctification.
Since, however, these gracious promises of the gospel are matters that are entirely spiritual and invisible, and therefore cannot be known, embraced, and enjoyed by us in any way but by faith, and since there is nothing more difficult for us than to maintain an active exercise of faith due to our ignorance, as well as to the legal mindset to which God’s children continue to be so greatly inclined, it has pleased the Lord to accommodate the weak faith of His children in an extraordinary manner by way of external means. To that end, He has ordained and instituted the holy sacraments in His Word, external and visible signs and seals whereby it pleases Him to give His believing children a lively and visible display of His internal grace and redemption as they are in Christ Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit, it also pleases Him thereby to seal this to their hearts to their comfort, their sanctification, and the strengthening of their faith.
Therefore, in the sacrament of baptism, by the external and visible sprinkling of water, symbolizing the washing and cleansing of the pollution of the body, it is internally signified and sealed to the hearts of all believers by the power of the Holy Spirit that all their sins are washed away by the blood and Spirit of Christ, unto their salvation and their eternal redemption.
In a similar manner, in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, by the bread and the wine that is eaten and drunk externally, it is clearly signified and sealed internally in the hearts of believers that they, by faith truly have fellowship with Christ and His broken body and shed blood—all to their justification, sanctification, and redemption. Furthermore, it is signified and sealed that they are as surely nourished and refreshed with spiritual food and drink unto eternal life as they see the visible signs before their eyes and eat and drink them with their mouths.
These are the holy sacraments that the instructor will subsequently consider in greater detail, for by means of the spiritual and believing use of them, the Holy Spirit inwardly strengthens the faith of God’s children. These sacraments, when merely partaken of externally, by no means have any inherent power to stimulate and strengthen the faith of God’s children. It is the Holy Spirit who must work in the hearts of God’s children during and by means of the use of the sacraments. By the visible signs and seals, the Holy Spirit spiritually sets before their eyes Christ and the promises of the gospel. He internally illuminates their darkened understandings and causes their hearts to go out to Christ and His grace to embrace and enjoy them. In so doing, the Holy Spirit, by a spiritual and holy use of the sacraments, continually stimulates and strengthens the faith of God’s children.
That the nature and propensity of both Word and sacraments are such that they are suitable means to that end is taught more explicitly by the instructor in Question 67, where the pupil poses the question, “Are both word and sacraments, then, ordained and appointed for this end, that they may direct our faith to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, as the only ground of our salvation?” The instructor replies, “Yes, indeed: for the Holy Ghost teaches us in the gospel, and assures us by the sacraments, that the whole of our salvation depends upon that one sacrifice of Christ which He offered for us on the cross.”
The entire foundation upon which the salvation of God’s children rests, securely and immovably, is the Lord Jesus and His holy sacrifice on the cross; that is, His passive and active obedience, whereby He, as their surety, endured in the flesh the punishment due to their sins and met the requirements of the law on their behalf, thereby meriting for them the forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life. This confirms that God’s children, in fully forsaking all things, must continually take refuge to this sacrifice of the Lord Jesus and to His all-sufficient righteousness. They must completely and solely cast themselves upon Christ Jesus and His righteousness as their only foundation of salvation, always adhering thereto by a true faith while immovably resting upon and trusting therein as the immovable rock of their salvation.
In order for them to do so continually, both Word and sacraments are efficient and suitable means, for by the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit, the two sacraments point the children of God to the all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ on the cross and His perfect righteousness, for these continually stir up God’s children to embrace them by a true faith, adhere to them, and trust solely in them in forsaking all that is of themselves. And thus the nature and propensity of both Word and sacraments are such that, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, they are very precious and suitable means that continually stir up and strengthen the faith of God’s children.
In Question 68, the instructor posits that there are two sacraments: holy baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Holy baptism was instituted by the Lord Jesus in the place of circumcision, and the Lord’s Supper was instituted in the place of the Passover, both of which were the stated and common sacraments of the covenant of grace in the Old Testament. The Lord Jesus did not institute any other sacraments in His Word besides baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and there is no need for any additional sacraments. The instructor will now proceed in several additional Lord’s Days to consider both of these sacraments. We will pray to the Lord that His Spirit may still have much work among us, and that His work may prosper to the glory of God and to the salvation of the elect as it is in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Source: The Christian's Only Comfort in Life and Death: An Exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism by Theodorus VanderGroe