Zwingli and the Doctrine of the Sacraments

by William Cunningham

From The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation

It is a very common practice of Popish writers to represent Protestantism and the Reformation as thoroughly identified with Luther, with his character, opinions, labours, and achievements. Protestantism, according to a mode of representation in which they are fond of indulging, and which is not destitute of a certain measure of plausibility, is a new religion, never heard of till it was invented by Luther, and traceable to him alone as its source and origin. Having thus identified the Reformation and Protestantism with Luther, they commonly proceed to give an account of him whom they represent as the author of our faith, bringing out, with great distortion and exaggeration, everything about his character and history, about his sayings and doings, which may be fitted to excite a prejudice against him, especially as contemplated in the light in which they, not we, represent him, viz. as the author and founder of a new religious system. Independently of the utterly unfounded and erroneous assumptions in point of principle and argument on which this whole representation is based, it is altogether untrue as a mere historical fact, that Luther occupied any such place in regard to the Reformation and Protestantism, as Papists - for controversial purposes - are accustomed to assign to him. He was not the only person who was raised up at that period to oppose the Church of Rome, and to bring out from the word of God other representations of apostolic Christianity than those which the Papacy inculcated and embodied. It is quite certain that, in different parts of Europe, a considerable number of persons, as early as Luther and altogether independently of him, had been led to deduce from the sacred Scriptures doctrines substantially the same as his, even the doctrines which may be said to constitute the fundamental principles of Protestantism. In France, Lefevre and Farel, of whom so very interesting an account is given by Dr’Merle D’Aubigne in the twelfth book of his “History of the Reformation,” had been led to adopt, and to promulgate, to a certain extent, the leading doctrines of the Reformation before Luther appeared publicly as a Reformer; and they certainly stand much more in the relation of something like paternity to Calvin, and to all that he was honoured to achieve, than Luther does. And if an open breach with the Church of Rome, and the organization of a Protestant church, previously to and independently of Luther, are insisted upon as necessary to the character and position of a Reformer, we can point to Zwingli and his associates, the Reformers of German Switzerland.

Zwingli, indeed, was honoured to perform a work, both as a reformer and as a theologian, which entitles him to special notice; and we intend at present giving a brief account of the doctrines which he taught, the place which, he occupied, and the influence which he exerted, in regard to theological subjects.

The important movement of which Zwingli might be said to be the originator and the head was wholly independent of Luther; that is to say, Luther was in no way whatever, directly or indirectly, the cause or the occasion of Zwingli being led to embrace the views which he promulgated, or to adopt the course which he pursued. Zwingli had been led to embrace the leading principles of Protestant truth, and to preach them in 1516, the year before the publication of Luther’s Theses; and it is quite certain that all along he continued to think and act for himself, on his own judgment and responsibility, deriving his views from his own personal and independent study of the word of God. This fact shows how inaccurate it is to identify the Reformation with Luther, as if all the Reformers derived their opinions from him, and merely followed his example in abandoning the Church of Home, and organizing churches apart from her communion. Many at this time, in different parts of Europe, were led to study the sacred Scriptures, and were led further to derive from this study views of divine truth substantially the same, and decidedly opposed to those generally inculcated in the Church of Rome. And more particularly it is certain that Luther and Zwingli - the two men who, in different countries, may be said to have originated the public revolt against Rome and the organization of Protestant churches - were wholly independent of, and unconnected with, each other, in the formation of their opinions and their plans, and both derived them from their own separate and independent study of God’s word.

We need not dwell upon Zwingli’s general character as distinguished from his theological opinions; for, indeed, it has never been subjected to any very serious or formidable assaults. He was in a great measure free from those weaknesses and infirmities which have afforded materials for charges, in some degree true, and to a much greater extent only plausible, against both Luther and Melancthon. He usually spoke and acted with calmness, prudence, and discretion, and at the same time with the greatest vigour, intrepidity, and consistency. He gave the most satisfactory evidence of being thoroughly devoted to God’s service, and of acting under the influence of genuine Christian principle; and his character was peculiarly fitted in many respects to call forth at once esteem and affection.

He has been sometimes charged, even by those who had no prejudice against his cause or his principles, with interfering too much in the political affairs of his country, and connecting religion too closely with political movements. And, indeed, his death at the battle of Cappell has been held up as an instance of righteous retribution, - as an illustration of the scriptural principle, that “he that taketh the sword shall perish by the sword.” Though this view has been countenanced by some very eminent and influential names in the present day, we are by no means sure that it has any solid foundation to rest upon. We do not know any scriptural ground which entitles us to lay it down as an absolute rule, that the character of the citizen and the patriot must be entirely sunk in that of the Christian minister, - anything which precludes ministers from taking part, in any circumstances, in promoting the political well-being of their country, or in seeking, in the use of lawful means, to have the regulation of national affairs directed to the advancement of the cause and kingdom of Christ. Ministers certainly show a spirit unworthy of their office, and indicate the low state of their personal religion, when they ordinarily give much time or attention to anything but the direct and proper business of their office, and when they act as if they believed that the success of Christ’s cause was really dependent upon political changes, upon results to be accomplished by human policy and human laws; and scarcely anything short of downright immorality tends more powerfully to injure their usefulness, than engaging keenly in the ordinary contentions of political partisanship which may be agitating the community. But since they are not required to abandon wholly the discharge of the duties, or the exercise of the rights, which devolve upon them as citizens, or to become indifferent to the temporal welfare or prosperity of their country; and since it can scarcely be disputed that, in point -of fact, the way in which national affairs have been regulated and national laws framed has often materially contributed to the obstruction or the advancement of Christ’s cause, - it seems scarcely fair at once to condemn the conduct of those who may have done something directed to the object of securing the right regulation of national affairs, by means of vague allegations about the spirit of Christianity and the use of carnal weapons, etc. etc., without a careful examination of the particular things done, viewed in connection with the whole circumstances in which they took place. Many countries were so situated at the time of the Reformation, that it was scarcely possible to keep political and religious matters entirely distinct, and scarcely practicable for men who were interested in the welfare of true religion to abstain from taking part in the regulation of national affairs; and the narrower the sphere of action, the more difficult, or rather impracticable, did such separation and abstinence often become. What John Knox did, was compelled to do, and did with so much advantage to his country, in Scotland, it was at least equally warrantable and necessary for Zwingli to do in the small canton of Zurich, and in the Helvetic Confederation. And while this may be said generally of his taking some part in the regulation of the public affairs of his country, we are not aware that any evidence has been produced, that he either recommended or approved of any of the public proceedings of Zurich and her confederate cantons, which were clearly objectionable on grounds of religion, equity, or policy. It is well known that he disapproved, and did what he could to prevent, the steps that led to the war in which he lost his life; and it was in obedience to the express orders of the civil authorities, and in the discharge of his duties as a pastor, that, not without some melancholy forebodings, he accompanied his countrymen to the fatal field of Cappell. We cannot dwell upon this subject, but we have thought it proper to express our doubts whether the disapprobation which some eminent men in the present day have indicated of Zwingli’s conduct in this respect is altogether well founded. We confess we are inclined to regard this disapprobation as originating rather in a narrow and sentimental, than in an enlarged and manly, view of the whole subject; and to suspect that it may have been encouraged by an unconscious infusion of the erroneous and dangerous principle of judging of the character of zwingli’s conduct by the event, - of regarding his violent death upon the field of battle as a sort of proof of his Master’s displeasure with the course he had pursued. But we cannot dwell upon historical and biographical matters, and must proceed to notice Zwingli’s theology.

Though he preached the gospel, and inculcated the leading principles of Protestantism, in 1516, it was not till 1519 that he was called to come forth publicly in opposition to the Church of Home, and it was in 1522 that his first works were published; so that, as his death took place in 1531, when he was only forty-seven years of age, his public labours as a Reformer extended only over a period of twelve, and as an author over a period of nine, years. And when we attend to the multiplicity and abundance of his public labours, and the character of the four folio volumes of his works produced in this brief space, we are constrained to form the highest estimate both of his ability and his industry. His works are chiefly occupied with the exposition of Scripture, and with unfolding and defending the doctrines which he had deduced from the word of God, in opposition to the errors of the Papists and the Anabaptists, - or, as he commonly called them, the Anabaptists, - and in opposition to Luther and his followers, on the subject of the presence of Christ’s flesh and blood in the Eucharist. It is deplorable, indeed, to find, that through Luther’s error and obstinacy, so large a portion of the brief but most valuable life of Zwingli was of necessity occupied in exposing the unintelligible absurdity of consubstantiation.

Zwingli was not endowed with the fire and energy, with the vigorous and lively imagination, or with the graphic power of Luther; but his understanding, upon the whole, was sounder, and his mental faculties were better regulated and more correctly balanced. He had not been led either by the course of his studies or by his spiritual experience, - that is, God’s dealings with his soul in leading him to the knowledge and belief of the truth, - to give such prominence as Luther did to any particular departments or aspects of divine truth. He ranged somewhat more freely over the whole field of Scripture for truths to bring out and enforce, and over the whole field of Popery for errors to expose and assail; and this has given a variety and extent to his speculations, which Luther’s works do not perhaps exhibit in the same degree. And as he was eminently distinguished for perspicacity and soundness of judgment, he has very generally reached a just conclusion, and established it by judicious and satisfactory arguments from Scripture. There are errors and crudities to be found in Zwingli’s works, but they are not perhaps so numerous as in Luther’s; and several instances occur in which, on points unconnected with the sacramentarian controversy, and without mentioning Luther’s name, he has corrected some of the extravagances and overstatements in which the great Saxon Reformer not unfrequently indulged. Indeed, considering the whole circumstances in which Zwingli was placed, the opportunities he enjoyed, the occupations in which he was involved, and the extent to which he formed his views from his own personal independent study of the sacred Scriptures, he may be fairly said to have proved himself quite equal to any of the Reformers, in the possession of the power of accurately discovering divine truth, and establishing it upon satisfactory scriptural grounds.

His theology upon almost all topics of importance, derived from his own independent study of the word of God, was the same as that which Luther derived from the same sacred and infallible source, as was fully proved by the Articles agreed upon at the conference at Marburg in the year 1529. This conference is one of the most interesting and important events in the history of the church, both in its more personal and in its more public aspects. It was a noble subject for the graphic pen of Dr. Merle D’Aubigne, who has certainly done it ample justice, and whose narrative of it, in the thirteenth hook of the “History of the Reformation,” is singularly interesting, and admirably fitted to exert a useful and wholesome influence. We do not know that ever, on any other occasion in the history of the church, four such men as Luther and Melancthon, Zwingli and Oecolampadius met together in one room, and sat at the same table discussing the great doctrines of theology. Luther’s refusal to shake hands with Zwingli, which led that truly noble and thoroughly brave man to burst into tears, was one of the most deplorable and humiliating, but at the same time solemn and instructive, exhibitions of the deceitfulness of sin and of the human heart the world has ever witnessed.

The importance of the Marburg conference in its more public aspects lies in this, that it was the first formal development, both of the unity and the divergence of the two great sections of the first Reformers, who had, independently of each other, derived their views of divine things from the study of the word of God. At this conference, the leading doctrines of Christianity were embodied in fifteen Articles, and both parties entirely agreed with each other in regard to fourteen and two-thirds of the whole - comprehending almost everything that could be regarded as fundamental in a summary of Christian truth. Even in regard to the Lord’s Supper they agreed upon most matters of importance, and differed only on this question, “Whether the true body and blood of Christ be corporally present in the bread and wine?” And in regard to this question of the corporal presence, they promised to cherish Christian love towards one another “as far as the conscience of each will allow” - u quantum cujusque conscientia feret.” Luther’s conscience unfortunately would not allow him to go far, in the way of Christian love, towards those who denied the unintelligible dogma which he defended so strenuously; and the mischiefs that arose from this controversy, and from the Way in which it was conducted, especially by Luther and his followers, including its indirect and remote consequences, have been incalculable in amount, and are damaging the cause of Protestantism, and benefiting the cause of Popery, down to the present day. Luther and his followers are the parties responsible for this controversy, and for all the mischief which, directly and indirectly, immediately and remotely, it has occasioned, lst, and principally, because they were palpably and wholly wrong on the merits of the question; and 2d, because they also displayed a far greater amount of the injurious influences which controversy usually exerts upon the spirit and conduct of men, than their opponents did. How many have there been in every age who, while destitute of all Luther’s redeeming qualities, have displayed largely the grievous infirmities which he exhibited in the sacramentarian controversy, and like him have laid all the responsibility of this upon their conscience, which compelled them to stand fast for the truth; and how great the mischief which persons of this stamp have done to the church, by their number and audacity, notwithstanding their insignificance individually!

The subjects on which the orthodoxy of Zwingli has been chiefly assailed are the doctrine of original sin and the salvation of the heathen; and, on the ground of statements which he made on these subjects, the Papists have been accustomed to accuse him of Pelagianism and Paganism. In regard to the first of these topics, viz. the doctrine of original sin, on which Bossuet and other Papists have adduced heavy charges against Zwingli’s orthodoxy, as if he denied it altogether, it has, we think, been proved that when a full and impartial view is taken of his whole doctrine, he does not materially deviate from the standard of scriptural orthodoxy on the subject of the natural and universal depravity of man; and that the peculiarities of his statements, upon which the charge is commonly based, really resolve into differences chiefly about the precise meaning and the proper application of words. He seems to have been anxious to confine the proper meaning of the word peccatum to an actual personal violation of God’s law, and to have been disposed to call the natural depravity of man, the source or cause of actual transgression, by the name of a disease, morbus, rather than of a sin or peccatum. But though he attached unnecessary importance to this distinction, he has clearly defined his meaning, explained in what sense men’s natural propensity to violate God’s law is or is not peccatum; he has fully expressed his accordance in the great scriptural doctrine, that all men do, in point of fact, bring into the world with them a depravity of nature, a diseased moral constitution, which certainly, and in every instance, leads them to incur the guilt of actual transgressions of God’s law, and which, but for the interposition of divine grace, would certainly involve them in everlasting misery. The Marburg Articles were prepared by Luther, who had been led to entertain suspicions of Zwingli’s orthodoxy upon other points than the real or corporal presence, and among others on original sin, and were no doubt intended by him to test Zwingli’s soundness in the faith. Yet Zwingli had no hesitation in subscribing the proposition which Luther prepared upon this point, viz. “Credimus peccatum originis, ab Adamo in nos carnali generatione propagatum, tale peccatum esse, quod omnes homines condemnet, et nisi Christus opem nobis su& morte et vita tulisset, seterna morte nobis in eo moriendum fuisset, neque unquam in regnum dei et beatitudinem seternam pervenire potuissimus.” This in all fairness must be held to establish Zwingli’s substantial orthodoxy in regard to the universality and the fatal consequences of man’s natural depravity; and the suspicion afterwards expressed by Luther as to Zwingli’s soundness upon this subject, without any new cause having been afforded for the suspicion, should be regarded merely as a specimen of the unjust and ungenerous treatment which he too often gave to the sacramentarians and others who opposed him. It is proper to mention that Milner has given a very defective and unfair representation of Zwingli’s views upon this subject, as if he were anxious to establish a charge of error against him; and that the unfairness of Milner’s statements has been pointed out, and Zwingli satisfactorily vindicated from the imputation, by Scott, in his excellent Continuation of Milner.

Zwingli’s adoption of this Article upon original sin also proves, that he did not deviate quite so far from sound doctrine in his views about the salvation of the heathen, as might at first sight appear from some of his statements upon this point. He has indeed plainly enough intimated, as some of the fathers have done, his belief that some of the more wise and virtuous heathen were saved and admitted to heaven; and in specifying by name some of the individuals among them whom we might expect to meet there, such as Hercules and Theseus, he has certainly not shown his usual good sense. But he never meant to teach (and his subscription to the above-quoted Article, as well as the whole tenor of his writings, proves it) that men may be saved “by framing their lives according to the light of nature, and the law of the religion they profess.” On the contrary, he constantly taught that men, if saved at all, were saved only on the ground of Christ’s atonement, and by the operation of God’s grace. But he thought, without any sufficient scriptural warrant, that the benefits of Christ’s death might be imparted to men, and that their natures might be renewed by God’s agency, even though they were not acquainted with any external supernatural revelation, and that some of the heathen did manifest such moral excellence as to indicate the presence of God’s special gracious agency. This was certainly seeking to be wise above what is written. We are not called upon to be making any positive affirmations as to what God can do or may do, in extending mercy to individuals among men. But the principle is clearly revealed to us in Scripture, that the general provision which God has made for saving men individually from their natural guilt and depravity, is by communicating to them, through the medium of an external revelation, and impressing upon their hearts by His Spirit, some knowledge of the only way of salvation through a Redeemer and a sacrifice; and this truth, solemn and awful as it is, we are bound to receive as the ordinary rule of our opinions and practice, abstaining from all unwarranted speculations, and resting satisfied in the assurance that the Judge of all the earth will do right. Still there may be said to be less of error and presumption in the notion that a knowledge of divine truth has been communicated extraordinarily to some men who were not acquainted with an external supernatural revelation, than in the notion that men may be saved merely by framing their lives according to the light of nature, and the particular religion, whatever it may be, with which they may happen to have been acquainted; and to the benefit of this difference in degree, such as it is, Zwingli is entitled, though his mode of discussing the subject cannot be vindicated.

There is nothing in the Articles of Marburg bearing very directly and explicitly upon the doctrines which are usually regarded as the peculiarities of the Calvinistic system, though we are persuaded that none but Calvinists can hold, with full intelligence and thorough consistency, the great scriptural doctrines which are there set forth concerning the natural guilt and depravity of man, the way of salvation through Christ, gratuitous justification, and the production of faith and regeneration by God’s immediate agency. Still, as some men do not perceive and admit the necessary connection between these great doctrines and what they call the peculiarities of Calvinism, the question may still be asked, whether Zwingli agreed with Calvin in those peculiar doctrines with which his name is usually associated. And in answer to this question, we have no hesitation in saying, - what is equally true of Luther, - that though Zwingli was not led to dwell upon the exposition, illustration, and defence of these doctrines so fully as Calvin, and although he has not perhaps given any formal deliverance on the irresistibility of grace and the perseverance of the saints, in the distinct and specific form in which these topics came to be afterwards discussed, yet in regard to the universal foreordination and efficacious providence of God, and in regard to election and reprobation, he was as Calvinistic as Calvin himself.

It is rather singular that both Mosheim and Milner have denied this position, though it can be most fully established. Mosheim says, that “the celebrated doctrine of an absolute decree respecting the salvation of men, which was unknown to Zwingli, was inculcated by Calvin,” and Milner says, “On a careful perusal of Zwingli’s voluminous writings, I am convinced that certain peculiar sentiments, afterwards maintained by Calvin, concerning the absolute decrees of God, made no part of the theology of the Swiss Reformer.” This statement of Milner’s is very cautiously expressed, and contains no specification of the precise points upon which Zwingli and Calvin are said to have differed. But it is quite plain, from the whole scope of the passage where this extract occurs, that Milner just means in substance to say, as Mosheim does, that while Luther, as he admits, though Mosheim denies this too, was, on the subject of predestination and the decrees of God, a Calvinist, Zwingli was not. Scott, however, whose representations of the theological sentiments of the Reformers are very full and accurate, and whose Continuation of Milner is, on this account, peculiarly valuable, and deserving of the highest commendation, has fully proved that .the representations of Mosheim and Milner upon this point are perfectly erroneous. It is indeed scarcely possible that they could ever have read Zwingli’s “Elenchus in Strophas Catabaptistarum,” or his treatise, “De Providentia Dei.” In these treatises he has clearly and unequivocally expressed his sentiments upon this subject, in full conformity with those afterwards taught and expounded by Calvin, while it cannot he alleged that he has contradicted them in any part of his writings. It may be worth while to give one or two brief extracts from these works in confirmation of this position. In his “Elenchus,” he gives the following statement as a summary of Paul’s argument in the Epistle to the Romans: - “Fide servamur, non ex operibus. Fides non est humanarum virium sed dei. Is ergo earn dat us quos vocavit, eos autem vocavit quos ad salutem des-tinavit, eos autem ad hanc destinavit quos elegit, elegit autem quos voluit, liberum enim est ei hoc atque integrum, perinde atque figulo, vasa diversa ex eadem massa educere. Hoc breviter argumentum et summa est electionis a Paulo tractatse.” And in his commentary upon this summary of Paul’s argument, he makes it clear, beyond all possibility of reasonable doubt, that he believed, upon Paul’s authority, that God, by an absolute decree, chose some men to everlasting life, and made effectual provision that they should be saved, - a choice or election made without regard to anything foreseen in them, but solely according to the counsel of His own will. And in his treatise, “De Providentia Dei,” he has a chapter, the sixth, on “Election,” in which he fully explains his views in such a way as to leave no room for doubt as to their import, and makes some statements even about reprobation, quite as strong as any that ever proceeded from Calvin. Indeed he here expressly tells us, that in his early life, when he was engaged in the study of the schoolmen, he held, as most of them did, what we should now call the common Arminian doctrine of God’s electing men to life because He foresaw that they were to repent and believe the gospel, and that they would persevere in faith and good works. “Quae mihi sententia, ut olim scholas colenti placuit, ita illas deserenti et divinorum oraculorum puritati adhserenti, maxime displicuit.” And then he proceeds to show, with a clearness and a force not unworthy of Calvin himself, that this Arminian doctrine is utterly inconsistent with the perfections and moral government of God, and necessarily makes men, whatever its supporters may profess to maintain about the divine sovereignty, the absolute arbiters of their own everlasting destiny, - the true authors of their own salvation.

Many other extracts of a similar kind will be found in Hottinger and Scott. They are amply sufficient to establish, that Zwingli concurred with Luther in teaching those great doctrines which have brought so much odium on the name of Calvin, before that great man had been led even to form his views of divine truth; for Luther’s treatise “De Servo Arbitrio” was published when Calvin was seventeen, and Zwingli’s treatise “De Providentia Dei” when Calvin was twenty years of age.

These mis-statements of Mosheim and Milner about the theological views of Zwingli, are rather remarkable specimens of the “humanum est errare,” and are fitted to remind us of the little reliance that should be placed upon second-hand authorities. Mosheim further lays it down, that Zwingli and Calvin differed from each other, not only in regard to predestination, but also in regard to the power of the civil magistrate in religious matters, and the doctrine of the sacraments. On the first of these points, Mosheim is right in saying of Calvin, “that he circumscribed the power of the magistrate in matters of religion within narrow limits, and maintained that the church ought to be free and independent, and to govern itself by means of bodies of presbyters, synods, or conventions of presbyters, in the manner of the ancient church, yet leaving to the magistrate the protection of the church, and an external care over it.” These were the views of Calvin; and they have been the views ever since of the great body of those who have usually been ranked under his name, as opposed to Erastianism on the one hand, and to Voluntaryism on the other. But Mosheim falls into inaccuracy and exaggeration when, in contrast with these views of Calvin, he alleges, that “Zwingli assigned to civil rulers full and absolute power in regard to religious matters, and, what many censure him for, subjected the ministers of religion entirely to their authority.” There is no warrant for ascribing such extreme views upon this subject to Zwingli, who, though he did not restrain the power of the civil magistrate within such narrow bounds as Calvin assigned it, was not nearly so Erastian as Mosheim himself and the generality of Lutheran writers. There is no ground, indeed, for believing that Zwingli ever attained to a distinct conception of the great scriptural principle, which has been generally held by Calvinists, viz. that Christ has appointed in His church a government in the hands of ecclesiastical office-bearers, distinct from, independent of, and not subordinate in its own sphere to, the civil magistrate. But he certainly showed that he was decidedly in advance of Luther and Melancthon on this question, and that he was altogether opposed to the leading principle which chiefly Erastus laboured to establish, by ascribing fully and unequivocally the power of excommunication solely to the church itself, and not to the civil magistrate. And with respect to the wider and more general subject of the province and function of the civil magistrate in regard to religion, Zwingli may perhaps be regarded as holding the main substance of what sound principle demands, in maintaining, as it can be proved that he did, that all the powers conceded to the civil authorities of Zurich in religious matters were exercised by them as representing the church, and only with the church’s own consent. We do not believe that the church can lawfully concede or delegate to the civil authorities any power which Christ has conferred upon her. But still there is a fundamental difference between this principle of Zwingli’s and the proper Erastian tenet, which ascribes to the civil magistrate jurisdiction or authority, not merely circa sacra, but in sacris, as inherently attaching to his office.

But perhaps the most interesting topic of discussion connected with the investigation of the opinions of Zwingli, is his doctrine on the subject of the sacraments. A very general impression prevails, and it is certainly not altogether without foundation, that Zwingli held low and defective views upon this subject. He is usually alleged to have taught, that the sacraments are just naked and bare signs or symbols, emblematically and figuratively representing or signifying scriptural truths and spiritual blessings; and that the reception of them is a mere commemoration of what Christ has done for. sinners, and a profession which men make before the church or one another of the views which they have been led to entertain upon the great doctrines of Scripture concerning the way of salvation, as well as a public pledge to follow out consistently the views thus professed; and there are undoubtedly statements in Zwingli’s writings which seem fairly enough to imply, that this was the whole doctrine which he taught concerning the sacraments. This doctrine was generally regarded by Protestants, especially after Calvin had published his views upon the subject, as being defective, and though true so far as it went, yet coming far short of bringing out the whole truth taught in Scripture regarding it. And as the Papists were accustomed to bring it as a serious charge against the Reformers, that they explained away the whole mystery and efficacy of the sacraments, the Protestant churches became anxious to disclaim the view which Zwingli had seemed to sanction. Accordingly, in the original Scottish Confession, prepared by John Knox, and adopted by the church in 1560, it is said, “We utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm sacraments to be nothing else but naked and bare signs.” Similar disclaimers are to be found in many of the other confessions of the Reformed churches, and in the writings of the generality of the Protestant divines of that period; though there is some good reason to doubt, whether there be adequate grounds for alleging that Zwingli held the sacraments to be nothing else but naked and bare signs, and though there is considerable difficulty in ascertaining in some cases what those meant to affirm who were anxious to repudiate this position. It is very manifest that Zwingli, disgusted with the mass of heresy, mysticism, and absurdity which had prevailed so long and so widely in the church on the subject of the sacraments, leant very strongly to what may be called the opposite extreme of excessive simplicity and plainness. It is not wonderful that he did not succeed perfectly in hitting the golden mean, or that the reaction against the monstrous and ruinous system which had been wrought out and established in the Church of Rome, tempted him to try to simplify the subject of the sacraments beyond what the Scripture required or sanctioned. We believe that he did to some extent yield to this temptation; but we are persuaded, at the same time, that he rendered services of the very highest value to the church, by the light which he threw upon this important and intricate subject.

There is some difficulty in ascertaining precisely what Zwingli’s views upon the subject of the sacraments were, and there is some ground to think that, towards the end of his life, he ascribed a higher value and a greater efficacy to these ordinances than he had once done. In his great work, “De Vera et Falsa Religione,” published in 1525, he admits that he had spoken of the sacraments somewhat rashly and crudely, and indicated that his views were advancing in what Protestants generally would reckon a sound direction. It is true, indeed, that in a later work published in 1530, his “Ratio Fidei,” he continued to assert, “Sacramenta tam abesse ut gratiam conferant, ut ne adferant quidem aut dispensent.” But many Protestants, who were far enough from regarding the sacraments as naked and bare signs, have denied that the sacraments confer grace; and indeed it is only in a very limited and carefully defined sense that any persons intelligently opposed to the doctrine of the Church of Rome admit this position. In a work published in the same year, in defence of his “Ratio Fidei,” he declared that he was quite willing to concur in anything that might be said in commending and exalting the sacraments, provided that what was spoken symbolically was understood and applied symbolically, and that the whole honour of whatever spiritual benefit was derived was ascribed to God, and not either to the person administering them, or to any efficacy of the outward elements or actions. And in the last work which he wrote, and which was not published till after his death, the “Expositio Fidei,” he gave some indications, though perhaps not very explicit, of regarding the sacraments not only as signs but as seals, - as signs arid seals not only on the part of men, but of God, - as signifying and confirming something then done by God through the Spirit, as well as something done by the receiver through faith. This is the great general principle which has been usually held by Protestants upon the subject, and is commonly regarded as constituting the leading point of difference between what is often represented as the Zwinglian doctrine of the sacraments being only naked and bare signs, and that generally held by the Protestant churches. We cannot assert that Zwingli has brought out very distinctly and explicitly this important principle, that the sacraments are signs and seals on the part of God as well as of men; and therefore we cannot assert that his doctrine, though it is true so far as it goes, brings out the whole of what Scripture teaches upon this subject, or deny that he leant unduly and excessively to the side of plainness and simplicity in the exposition of this topic. But we are persuaded that he manifested very great strength and vigour of mind in his speculations upon this matter, and that he aided greatly the progress of scriptural truth in regard to it.

It was in the highest degree honourable to Zwingli that he so entirely threw off the huge mass of extravagant absurdity and unintelligible mysticism, which from a very early period had been gathering round the subject of the sacraments, and which had reached its full height in the authorized doctrine of the Church of Rome. This was an achievement which Luther never fully reached, either in regard to baptism or the Lord’s Supper. Zwingli’s rejection of the whole of the erroneous and dangerous doctrine in regard to the sacraments which had been inculcated by the schoolmen, and sanctioned by the Church of Rome, was, in the circumstances in which he was placed, one of the most arduous and honourable, and in its consequences one of the most important and beneficial, achievements which the history of the church records. The great general principles by which Zwingli was guided in the formation and promulgation of his views in regard to the sacraments were these: - 1st, That great care should be taken to avoid anything which might appear to trench upon the free grace of God, the meritorious efficacy of Christ’s work, and the almighty agency of His Spirit in bestowing upon men all spiritual blessings; and 2d, That whatever external means of grace may have been appointed, and in whatever way these means may ordinarily operate, God must not be held to be tied or restricted in the communication of spiritual benefits to the use of anything of an external kind, though He has himself appointed and prescribed it; and 3d, That the most important matter connected with the subject of the sacraments is the state of mind and heart of the recipient; and that, with reference to this, the essential thing is, that the state of mind and heart of the recipient should correspond with the outward act which, in participating in the sacrament, he performed. Zwingli was deeply persuaded that the right mode of investigating this subject was not to follow the example of the Fathers, in straining the imagination to devise unwarranted, extravagant, and unintelligible notions of the nature and effects of the sacraments, for the purpose of making them more awful and more influential, but to trace out plainly and simply what is taught and indicated in Scripture regarding them. By following out this course, conscientiously and judiciously, he was led in the first place to repudiate the whole huge mass of absurdity and heresy which the Fathers and the schoolmen had accumulated around this subject; and in the second place, to lay down and to apply the three great general principles above stated, which were fitted not only to exclude much grievous error, but to bring in much important and wholesome truth. Zwingli, in these ways, rendered valuable service to the church, and has done much to put the general subject of the sacraments upon a sound and safe footing.

Zwingli’s mental constitution gave him a very decided aversion to the unintelligible and mystical, and made him lean towards what was clear, definite, and practical. He had a strong sense of the great injury that had been done to religion by the notions which had long prevailed in regard to the sacraments. And under these influences it is not surprising that, while discarding a great deal of dangerous error, he should have left in abeyance some portion of wholesome truth. He leaned to the side of what was clear, palpable, and safe; and in the circumstances in which he was placed, this was the right side to lean to. It is not surprising that he did not stop precisely at the right point, and that he carried the work of demolition somewhat too far. And when we consider what a mass of unintelligible and incredible absurdities, to the deep degradation of the human intellect, - and what a mass of heresies, perverting the way of salvation and tending to ruin men’s souls, - had been invented by the Fathers and the schoolmen, and sanctioned by the Church of Home on the subject of the sacraments, we cannot but sympathize with Zwingli’s general spirit and tendencies in regard to this matter, and rejoice in the large measure of success which attended his investigations. It is indeed a matter of fundamental importance, and perhaps more indispensable than anything else towards preparing men for a rational, intelligent, and beneficial reception of the sacraments, and guarding against self-deceit and danger in the use of them, that they have distinct and accurate conceptions of what the outward elements and actions signify or represent, and of what is professed or implied in the reception of them; that is, of what is the state of mind and heart on the part of the recipient which the reception of them indicates or proclaims. It is in a great measure from inattention to this fundamental point, that so many in every age have been led to participate in the sacraments, who were thereby making a false profession, and of course injuring their own souls; while they were entertaining unfounded expectations of getting spiritual blessings without having any anxiety or concern about what is ordinarily necessary with a view to that result. Zwingli rendered a most important service by bringing out this great principle, which had been almost entirely buried, and pressing it upon the attention of the church. He came short indeed of the truth in his doctrine as to the nature and efficacy of the sacraments, by not bringing out fully what God does, or is ready and willing to do, through their instrumentality, in offering to men and conferring upon them, through the exercise of faith, spiritual blessings. But he laid a good foundation, on which the whole truth taught in Scripture might be built, when he directed special attention to the true significance and import of the outward elements and actions; and pressed upon men the paramount necessity of seeing to it, that the state of their mind and heart corresponded with the outward signs which they used - with the outward actions which they performed.

To all this amount of commendation in connection with the exposition of the sacraments we believe Zwingli to be well entitled, while the true amount of his shortcoming or deficiency it is not very easy to estimate. Indeed, in regard to this latter point, it should not be forgotten, that of the important document commonly called the “Consensus Tigurinus,” - in which was embodied a statement of the fundamental principles about the sacraments, which were held in common by the churches of Geneva and Zurich, as represented by Calvin and by Bullinger the successor of Zwingli, - Calvin declared his conviction, that “if Zwingli and Oecolampadius, these most excellent and illustrious servants of Christ, were now alive, they would not change a word in it.”

We do not consider it necessary to dwell longer upon the examination of the opinions of Zwingli in regard to the sacraments. Indeed we do not intend to bring forward anything further that is connected with the personal history of the great Reformer of German Switzerland. We propose now to give some exposition of the general doctrine or theory of the sacraments, as it has been held by the Reformed churches, - and especially as it has been set forth in the Confession of Faith and Catechisms which were prepared by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, and which are still received as symbolical by the great body of Presbyterians over the world.

A grievous corruption of the scriptural doctrine of the sacraments appeared very early in the church: it spread far and wide, and exerted a most injurious influence upon the interests of true religion. Confusion and, exaggeration very early appeared in speaking of these ordinances, or the “tremendous mysteries,” as some of the Fathers called them; and this confusion and exaggeration soon led to a substitution of the mere observance of outward rites for the weightier matters of the law - for the essential features of Christian character and conduct. Even in the second century we find plain indications of a tendency to speak of the nature, design, and effects of the sacraments, in a very inflated and exaggerated style, - a style very different from anything we find in the New Testament. We have a striking instance of this in the famous passage on the Eucharist, occurring near the end of the first Apology of Justin Martyr, the very earliest of the Fathers who was not contemporary with the apostles. Romanists contend that this passage teaches the doctrine of transubstantiation; Lutherans, that it teaches consubstantiation; and most other men, that it teaches neither the one nor the other. All men of candour admit that the passage is obscure and ambiguous; and all men of sense should have long ago come to the conclusion, that it was not worth while to spend any time in investigating its meaning. It holds true of this, as of many other passages in the writings of the Fathers which have given rise to much learned discussion in modern times, that it really has no definite meaning; and that if we could call up its author, and interrogate him on the subject, he would be utterly unable to tell us what he meant when he wrote it. This tendency to exaggeration and extravagance, to confusion and absurdity, upon the subject of the sacraments, increased continually, in proportion as sound doctrine upon matters of greater importance disappeared and vital religion decayed, until, in the Middle Ages, Christianity came to be looked upon by the great body of its professors, as a system which consisted in, and the whole benefits of which were connected with, a series of outward ceremonies and ritual observances. The nature, design, and effects of the sacraments occupied a large share of the attention of the schoolmen; and indeed the exposition and development of the Romish and Tractarian doctrine upon this subject, may be justly regarded as one of the principal exhibitions of the anti-scriptural views and the perverted ingenuity of the scholastic doctors. An exaggerated and unscriptural view of the value and efficacy of the sacraments was too deeply ingrained into the scholastic theology, and was too much in accordance with the general policy of the Church of Home, and the general character and tendency of her system, to admit of the Council of Trent giving any sanction to the sounder views which had been introduced by the Protestants, especially by that section of them who have been called the Reformed, to distinguish them from the followers of Luther.

The doctrine of the Church of Rome upon this subject is set forth in the first part of the decree of the seventh session of the Council of Trent, which treats de Sacramentis in genere, and in statements made in treating of some of the other sacraments individually. The leading features of their doctrine on the general subject of the sacraments are these, that “through the sacraments of the church all true righteousness either begins, or when begun is increased, or when lost is repaired;” “that men do not obtain from God the grace of justification by faith alone without the sacraments, or at least without a desire or wish to receive them;” “that the sacraments contain the grace which they signify or represent, and confer it always upon all who receive them, unless they put a bar or obstacle in the way” (ponunt obicem), - that is (as they usually explain it), unless they have at the time of receiving the sacrament a deliberate intention of committing sin; and that they confer or bestow grace thus universally ex opere operato, - that is, by some power or virtue given to them and operating through them. The application of these principles, which constitute the general doctrine or theory of the sacraments in the Romish theology, to the sacrament of baptism, and to the fundamental blessings of forgiveness and regeneration which it signifies or represents, plainly implies - what indeed the Council of Trent expressly teaches - viz. that baptism is the instrumental cause of justification, which with Romanists comprehends both forgiveness and regeneration; that all adults receive when baptized, unless they put a bar in the way, these great blessings; that all infants, being unable to put a bar in the way of the efficacious operation of the sacrament, receive in baptism the forgiveness of original sin and the renovation of their moral natures; and that no sin of unbaptized persons, not even the original sin of those who die in infancy, is forgiven without baptism. This is in substance the doctrine in regard to the sacraments which is taught by the modern Tractarians of the Church of England, and which indeed, in its main features, may be said to have been always held by High Churchmen. Some of them shrink, indeed, from speaking so plainly on some points as the Council of Trent has done, especially on the opus operatum; but there is no difficulty in showing that -all High Churchmen must concur in substance with the general sacramental theory of the Church of Rome. The essential idea of the Popish and Tractarian doctrine upon this subject is, that God has established an invariable connection between the sacraments as outward ordinances, and the communication by himself of spiritual blessings, of pardon and holiness; with this further notion, which naturally results from it, that He has endowed these outward ordinances with some sort of intrinsic power or inherent capacity of conveying or conferring the spiritual blessings with which they are respectively connected. This is what is, and indeed must be, meant by the sacramental principle, about which High Churchmen in the present day prate so much; and notwithstanding their efforts to wrap it up in vague and indefinite phraseology, it is plainly in substance just the doctrine which was established by the Council of Trent. It is a necessary result of this principle, that the want of the outward ordinance, - not the neglect or contempt of it, but the mere want of it, - from whatever cause arising, deprives men of the spiritual blessings which it is said to convey or confer. Romanists have found it necessary or politic to make some little exceptions to this practical conclusion; but this is the great general result to which their whole scheme of doctrine upon the subject leads, and which ordinarily they do not hesitate to adopt and to apply.

In opposition to all these views, Protestants have been accustomed to maintain the great principle, that the only thing on which the possession by men individually of the fundamental spiritual blessings of justification and sanctification is, by God’s arrangements, made necessarily and invariably dependent, is union to Jesus Christ, and that the only thing on which union to Christ may be said to be dependent, is faith in Him; so that it holds true, absolutely and universally, that wherever there is faith in Christ, or union to Him by faith, there pardon and holiness - all necessary spiritual blessings - are communicated by God and received by men, even though they have never actually partaken in any sacrament, or in any outward ordinance whatever. Scripture, we think, plainly teaches this great truth, that as soon as, and in every instance in which, men are united to Christ by faith, they receive justification and regeneration; while without or apart from personal union to Christ by faith, these indispensable blessings are never conferred or received. Every man who is justified and regenerated is certainly admitted into heaven, whether he have been baptized or not; and there is no ground in Scripture for maintaining either that every one who has been baptized has been forgiven and regenerated, or that those who have not been baptized have not received these great blessings.

If this great general principle can be established from Scripture, it must materially affect some of the views which Romanists and Tractarians hold in regard to the sacraments, and especially in regard to their necessity and importance. Romanists, indeed, are in the habit of charging Protestants with holding that the sacraments are unnecessary or superfluous. But this is a misrepresentation. In perfect consistency with this great doctrine, which represents the possession of spiritual blessings and the ultimate enjoyment of heaven, as dependent absolutely and universally upon union to Christ through faith and upon nothing else, we maintain that the sacraments which Christ instituted are of imperative obligation, and that it is a duty incumbent upon men to observe them when the means and opportunity of doing so are afforded them; so that it is sinful to neglect or disregard them. Upon the subject of the necessity of the sacraments, Protestant divines have been accustomed to employ a distinction, which, like many other scholastic distinctions, brings out very clearly the meaning it was intended to express, viz. that the sacraments are necessary, ex necessitate praecepti non ex necessitate medii; - necessary ex necessitate praecepti, because the observance of them is commanded or enjoined, and must therefore be practised by all who have in providence an opportunity of doing so, so that the voluntary neglect or disregard of them is sinful; but not necessary ex necessitate medii, or in such a sense that the mere fact of men not having actually observed them either produces or proves the non-possession of spiritual blessings, - either excludes men from heaven, or affords evidence that they will not in point of fact be admitted there. Regeneration or conversion, as implying a thorough change of moral nature, is necessary, both ex necessitate praecepti and ex necessitate medii. It is necessary, not merely because it is commanded or enjoined, so that the neglect or omission of it is sinful, but also because, from the nature of the case, the result cannot be attained without it; inasmuch as it holds true, absolutely and universally, in point of fact and in the case of each individual of our race, that except we be born again we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. No such necessity can be established with respect to the sacraments, though Romanists and Tractarians assert this, and must do so in order to carry out their principles consistently.

But while this great general principle about spiritual blessings and eternal happiness being dependent upon union to Christ and upon nothing else, is inconsistent with the Popish and Tractarian notions of the necessity of the sacraments, and furnishes a strong presumption against the higher views of the importance and efficacy of these ordinances, it does not of itself give us any direct information as to what the sacraments are, - as to their nature, objects, and effects. Protestants profess to have a certain theory or doctrine in regard to the sacraments, as well as Romanists and Tractarians. A definition of the sacraments - or, throwing aside the technical scholastic meaning of the word definition, a description of the leading features of the sacrament, or a statement of the main positions held concerning them - is properly the sacramental principle; although that phrase has been commonly employed in the present day in a more limited and specific sense. At the time of the Reformation the name Sacramentarian was applied by Luther to Zwingli and his followers, to convey the idea that they explained away or reduced to nothing the value and efficacy of the sacraments; while Zwingli, throwing back the nickname, protested that it might be applied with more propriety to those who made great mysteries of the sacraments, and ascribed to them a value and importance beyond what Scripture warrants. The justice of this statement of Zwingli has been confirmed by the aspect which the discussion of this topic has assumed in the present day. The Tractarians seem to think that none ought to be regarded as really believing in sacraments, except those who concur with the Church of Rome in holding that there is an invariable connection between the outward sign and the spiritual blessing signified, and that the outward ordinance exerts a real efficacious influence in producing the internal result. This, accordingly, is what they mean by the sacramental principle, on which they are fond of enlarging, and of which they claim to themselves a sort of monopoly. And this is the sense in which the phrase is now commonly used. But the sense in which the expression ought to be employed, is just to designate the fundamental idea of the general doctrine of Scripture on the subject of the sacraments; and in this sense, of course, Protestants have their sacramental principle as well as Romanists and Tractarians.

We believe that Scripture furnishes sufficient materials for giving a general definition or description of the. sacraments, or of a sacrament as such; and we call this the sacramental principle, or the true doctrine of Scripture concerning the sacraments. The Reformers put forth their sacramental principle, or their general doctrine concerning the sacraments, in opposition to the views which prevailed at the time in the Church of Rome, and which were afterwards established by the Council of Trent. Definitions and descriptions of the sacraments were in consequence introduced into all the Confessions of the Reformed churches; and the investigation of the nature, the objects, and the effects of the sacraments has continued ever since to hold a place in theological discussions. Since the time when Calvin succeeded in bring the churches of Geneva and Zurich to a cordial agreement upon this subject, in the adoption of the Consensus Tigurinus in 1549, there has been no very great difference of opinion concerning it among Protestant divines, although there have occasionally been individuals who showed an inclination either towards the Popish and superstitious, or towards the Socinian and Rationalistic doctrine, and although the Church of England, from her unfortunate baptismal service, has been repeatedly placed in a most difficult and deplorable position. But though there is no great difference of opinion among the Reformed churches, and among Protestant divines, concerning the general doctrine of the sacraments, there seems to have sprung up in modern times a great deal of ignorance and confusion in men’s conceptions upon this subject. While the sacraments individually, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, have been a good deal discussed in some of their aspects, the general doctrine of sacraments, as equally applicable to both, or to any other ordinances for which the designation of a sacrament might be claimed, has been very much overlooked. Even the boasting of the Tractarians about the sacramental principle, has not led to much discussion about the nature and design of the sacraments in general. The two latest works, so far as we know, which have been published under the title of the Doctrine of the Sacraments, contain nothing whatever on the general questions to which we have adverted. In the year 1838 a work was published, entitled “The Doctrine of the Sacraments,” extracted from the “Remains of Alexander Knox,” who was the friend and correspondent of Bishop Jebb, and whose writings seem to have contributed in no small degree to the rise and growth of Tractarianism; and this work discusses, with no little ability, many questions about baptism and about the Lord’s Supper, but it contains nothing about the sacraments in general, or about sacraments as such. This statement likewise applies to a recent work of Archbishop Whately, the latest we believe he has published. In 1857 he put forth a work, entitled “The Scripture Doctrine concerning the Sacraments, and the Points connected therewith;” and it contains an able discussion on some points connected with baptism, and on some points connected with the Lord’s Supper, but nothing whatever on the general nature, objects, and effects of the sacraments.

The disregard of this topic has tended to produce a great deal of confusion and error in men’s conceptions upon the whole subject. We are in the habit of seeing baptism and the Lord’s Supper administered in the church, and are thus led insensibly, and without much consideration, to form certain notions in regard to them, without investigating carefully their leading principles and grounds, and especially without investigating the relation in which they stand to each other, and the principles that may apply to both of them. We believe that there is scarcely any subject set forth in the confessions of the Reformed churches, that is less attended to and less understood than this of the sacraments; and that many even of those w’he have subscribed these confessions, rest satisfied with some defective and confused notions on the subject of baptism and on the subject of the Lord’s Supper, while they have scarcely even a fragment of an idea of a sacramental principle, or of any general doctrine or theory on the subject of sacraments.

We are persuaded that it would tend greatly to enable men to understand more fully, what we fear many subscribe without understanding, if they took some pains to form a distinct and definite conception of what is taught in the confessions of faith in regard to sacraments in general, and then applied these views to the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper separately. It is quite true that the Scriptures can scarcely be said to contain any statements which bear very directly and formally upon the topics usually set forth in confessions of faith, and discussed in systems of theology, under the head De Sacramentis in genere, or to give us anything like full and systematic information about the general subject of the sacraments as such. But the New Testament plainly sets before us two outward ordinances, and two only, the observance of which is of permanent obligation in the Christian church, and which manifestly resemble each other in many respects, both in their general character as emblematic or symbolical institutions, and in their general purpose and object as means of grace, - that is, as connected in some way or other with the communication and the reception of spiritual blessings. As these two ordinances evidently occupy a peculiar place of their own in the general plan of the Christian system, and in the arrangements of the Christian church, it is natural and reasonable to inquire whether there are any materials in Scripture for adopting any general conclusions as to their nature, design, and efficacy, that may be equally applicable to them both. And, accordingly, what is usually given as the definition or description of the sacraments, or of a sacrament as such, is just an embodiment of what it is thought can be collected or deduced from Scripture, as being equally predicable of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Of course nothing ought to be introduced into the definition or description of the sacraments, which cannot be proved to be equally and alike applicable to all the ordinances to which the designation of a sacrament is given; and the less men find in Scripture that seems to them equally applicable to both ordinances, the more meagre is their sacramental principle, or their general doctrine in regard to the nature and design of the sacraments.

The Reformed confessions and Protestant divines, in general, have agreed very much in the definition or description of the sacraments, though there is a considerable diversity in the clearness and distinctness with which their doctrine upon this subject is unfolded. It can scarcely, we think, be denied that the general tendency, even among the Reformers, was to exaggerate or overstate the importance and efficacy of the sacraments. Zwingli’s views were a reaction against those which generally prevailed in the Church of Rome; but the extent to which he went rather reacted upon the other Reformers, and made them again approximate somewhat in phraseology to the Romish position. This appears more or less even in Calvin, though in his case there was an additional perverting element - the desire to keep on friendly terms with Luther and his followers, and with that view to approximate as far as he could to their notions of the corporal presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We have no fault to find with the substance of Calvin’s statements in regard to the sacraments in general, or with respect to baptism; but we cannot deny that he made an effort to bring out something like a real influence exerted by Christ’s human nature upon the souls of believers, in connection with the dispensation of the Lord’s Supper, - an effort which, of course, was altogether unsuccessful, and resulted only in what was about as unintelligible as Luther’s consubstantiation. This is perhaps the greatest blot in the history of Calvin’s labours as a public instructor; and it is a curious circumstance, that the influence which seems to have been chiefly efficacious in leading him astray in the matter, was a quality for which he usually gets no credit, viz. an earnest desire to preserve unity and harmony among the different sections of the Christian church.

But, independently of any peculiarity of this sort, we have no doubt that the general tendency among Protestant divines, both at the period of the Reformation and in the seventeenth century, was to lean to the side of magnifying the value and efficacy of the sacraments, and that some of the statements even in the symbolical books of some churches are not altogether free from indications of this kind. But while this is true, and should not be overlooked, there is not nearly so much ground for the allegation, and in so far as there is ground for it, it does not apply to points of nearly so much importance, as persons imperfectly and superficially acquainted with the history of theological discussion have sometimes supposed. Indeed, blunders have occurred in connection with this subject which are perfectly ludicrous.

Dr Phillpotts, the present Bishop of Exeter, a man of very considerable skill and ability in controversy, and respectably acquainted with some departments of theological literature, asserted, in a charge which he published in 1848, that several of the confessions of the Reformed churches - specifying “the Helvetic, that of Augsburg, the Saxon, the Belgic, and the Catechism of Heidelberg” - agreed with the Church of Rome and the Church O O of England in teaching the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Dr Goode, now Dean of Ripon - who has done most admirable service to the cause of Christian Protestant truth, by his crushing and unanswerable exposures of Tractarianism, and who, in point of learning and ability, is one of the most creditable and successful champions the Evangelical party in the Church of England has ever had - thoroughly exposed this “astounding statement,” - “this most extraordinary blunder.” He showed that it arose from a very imperfect and superficial acquaintance with their theology as a whole; and proved that the construction thus put upon some of their statements was, in the first place, not required by anything they had said; and, in the second place, was precluded, not only by the views set forth in some of these documents on the subject of election, but by the views taught in all of them on the general character and objects of the sacraments, and the persons for whom they are intended, and in whom alone they produce their appropriate effects. The exposure was so conclusive, that Dr Phillpotts felt himself constrained to withdraw the statement in the second edition of his charge; but tried to cover his retreat by an unfounded allegation, that the documents to which he had referred were self-contradictory.

It was upon the same grounds which misled the Bishop of Exeter, that the same allegation of teaching baptismal regeneration has recently been adduced against “the deliverance of the Westminster divines in the Shorter Catechism on the subject of baptism.” It is very certain that the Westminster divines did not intend in this deliverance, or in any other which they put forth, to teach baptismal regeneration. A contradiction is not to be imputed to them, if by any fair process of construction it can be avoided; and it is in the highest degree improbable that they should have contradicted themselves upon a point at once so plain and so important. The doctrine of baptismal regeneration, whatever else it may include, is always understood to imply, that all baptized infants are regenerated. Now there is nothing in the Shorter Catechism which gives any countenance to this notion, or indeed conveys any explicit deliverance as to the bearing of baptism upon infants. The notion that the Shorter Catechism teaches baptismal regeneration, must, we presume, be based upon the assumption, that the general description given of the import and object of baptism, is intended to apply to every case in which the outward ordinance of baptism is administered. But there is no ground for this assumption. The general description given of baptism must be considered in connection with the general description given of a sacrament, and it is the disregard of this which is one main cause of the ignorance and confusion so often exhibited upon this whole subject. In accordance with views which we have already explained, the description of a sacrament is intended to embody the substance of what is taught or indicated in Scripture, as being true equally and alike of both sacraments. Of course, all that is said about a sacrament not only may, but must, be applied both to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as being in all its extent true of each of them.

The definition or description given of a sacrament in the Shorter Catechism is, that it “is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.” In order to bring out fully the teaching of the Catechism on the subject of baptism, we must, in the first place, take in the general description given of a sacrament, and then the special description given of baptism, and we must interpret them in connection with each other as parts of one scheme of doctrine. Upon this obvious principle we say, that the first and fundamental position taught in the Shorter Catechism concerning baptism is this, that it (as well as the Lord’s Supper) “is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.” It is of fundamental importance to remember, that the Catechism does apply this whole description of a sacrament to baptism, and to realize what this involves. In addition to this general description of baptism as a sacrament, common to it with the Lord’s Supper, the Catechism proceeds to give a more specific description of baptism as distinguished from the other sacrament. It is this, - “Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, our partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.” Now the only ground for alleging that this teaches baptismal regeneration, must be the notion, that it applies in point of fact to all who have been baptized, and that all who have received the outward ordinance of baptism are warranted to adopt this language, and to apply it to themselves. But the true principle of interpretation is, that this description of baptism applies fully and in all its extent only to those who are possessed of the necessary qualifications or preparations for baptism, and who are able to ascertain this. And the question as to who these are, must be determined by a careful consideration of all that is taught upon this subject. Much evidently depends upon the use and application of the pronoun our here; that is, upon the question, Who are the persons that are supposed to be speaking, or to be entitled to speak, - that is, to employ the language in which the general nature and object of baptism are here set forth? The our, of course, suggests a we, who are supposed to be the parties speaking; and the question is, Who are the we? Are they all who have been baptized? or only those who are capable of ascertaining that they have been legitimately baptized, and who, being satisfied on this point, are in consequence able to adopt the language of the Catechism intelligently and truly? Now this question is similar to that which is often suggested in the interpretation of the apostolical epistles, where the use of the words we, us, and our, raises the question, Who are the we that are supposed to be speaking? that is, Who are the we, in whose name, or as one of whom, the apostle is there speaking? And this question, wherever it arises, must be decided by a careful examination of the whole context and scope of the passage. In the Catechism we have first a general description given of a sacrament, intended to embody the substance of what Scripture is held to teach or indicate, as equally and alike applicable to both sacraments. One leading element in this description is, that the sacraments are for the use and benefit of believers, and this principle must be kept in view in all the more specific statements afterwards made about either sacrament. This consideration, as well as the whole scope of the statement, clearly implies, that the description given of baptism proceeds upon the assumption, that the persons who partake in it are possessed of the necessary qualifications, - that is, that they are believers, and do or may know that they are so.

This principle of construction is a perfectly fair and natural one. It has always been a fundamental principle in the theology of Protestants, that the sacraments were instituted and intended for believers, and produce their appropriate beneficial effects only through the faith which must have previously existed, and which is expressed and exercised in the act of partaking in them. This being a fundamental and recognized principle in the Protestant theology of the sacraments, it was quite natural that it should be assumed and taken into account in giving a general description of their objects and effects. And the application of this principle of interpretation to the whole deliverances of the Westminster divines upon the subject of the sacraments, in the Confession of Faith and in the Larger Catechism as well as in the Shorter, introduces clearness and consistency into them all, whereas the disregard of it involves them in confusion and inconsistency.

On the grounds which have now been hinted at, and which, when once suggested, must commend themselves to every one who will deliberately and impartially examine the subject, we think it very clear and certain, that the we, suggested by the our in the general description of baptism, are only the believers who had been previously set forth as the proper and worthy recipients of the sacraments; and that consequently the statement that “baptism signifies and seals our ingrafting into Christ,” etc., must, mean, that it signifies and seals the ingrafting into Christ or those of US who have been engrafted into Christ by faith. This construction, of course, removes all appearance of the Catechism teaching baptismal regeneration.

The truth is, that the only real difficulty in the case is precisely the reverse of that which has been started. The difficulty is, not that the Catechism appears to teach that infants are all regenerated in baptism, but that it appears to teach that believers are the only proper recipients of baptism, as well as of the Lord’s Supper; while yet at the same time it also explicitly teaches, that the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized. This will require some explanation, while at the same time the investigation of it will bring us back again to the main subject which we wished to consider, - viz. the true doctrine of the Reformed churches, and especially of the Westminster standards, in regard to the nature, objects, and effects of the sacraments in general.

The general view which Protestants have commonly taken of the sacraments is, that they are signs and seals of the covenant of grace; that is, of the truths which unfold the provisions and arrangements of the covenant, and of the spiritual blessings which the covenant provides and secures, - not only signifying or representing Christ and the benefits of the new covenant, but sealing or confirming them, and in some sense applying them to believers. As the sacraments are the signs and seals of the covenant, so they belong properly to, and can benefit only, those who have an interest in the covenant, the foederati; and there is no adequate ground for counting upon their exerting their appropriate influence in individual cases, apart from the faith which the participation in them ordinarily expresses, and which must exist before participation in them can be either warrantable or beneficial. These are the leading views which Protestant divines have usually put forth in regard to the sacraments in general, - that is, their general nature, design, and efficacy. In looking more closely at the doctrines of Protestant churches upon this subject, it is necessary to remember, not only that, as we have already explained, they usually assume, in their general statements, that the persons partaking in the sacraments are duly prepared, or possessed of the necessary preliminary qualifications, but also that, when statements are made which are intended to apply equally to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or when the general object and design of baptism are set forth in the abstract, - they have in their view, and take into their account, only adult baptism, the baptism of those who, after they have come to years of understanding, ask and obtain admission into the visible church by being baptized.

This mode of contemplating the ordinance of baptism is so different from what we are accustomed to, that we are apt to be startled when it is presented to us, and find it somewhat difficult to enter into it. It tends greatly to introduce obscurity and confusion into our whole conceptions on the subject of baptism, that we see it ordinarily administered to infants, and very seldom to adults. This leads us insensibly to form very defective and erroneous conceptions of its design and effects, or rather to live with our minds very much in the condition of blanks, so far as concerns any distinct and definite views upon this subject. There is a great difficulty felt - a difficulty which Scripture does not afford us adequate materials for removing - in laying down any distinct and definite doctrine as to the bearing and efficacy of baptism in the case of infants, to whom alone ordinarily we see it administered. A sense of this difficulty is very apt to tempt us to remain contentedly in great ignorance of the whole subject, without any serious attempt to understand distinctly what baptism is and means, and how it is connected with the general doctrine of the sacraments. And yet it is quite plain to any one w’he is capable of reflecting upon the subject, that it is adult baptism alone which embodies and brings out the full idea of the ordinance, and should be regarded as the primary type of it, - that from which mainly and principally we should form our conceptions of what baptism is and means, and was intended to accomplish. It is in this aspect that baptism is ordinarily spoken about and presented to our contemplation in the New Testament, and we see something similar in tracing the operations of our missionaries who are engaged in preaching the gospel in heathen lands.

Adult baptism, then, exhibits the original and fundamental idea of the ordinance, as it is usually brought before us, and as it is directly and formally spoken about in the New Testament. And when baptism is contemplated in this light, there is no more difficulty in forming a distinct and definite conception regarding it than regarding the Lord’s Supper. Of adult baptism we can say, just as we do of the Lord’s Supper, that it is in every instance, according to the general doctrine of Protestants, either the sign and seal of a faith and a regeneration previously existing, already effected by God’s grace, or else that the reception of it was a hypocritical profession of a state of mind and feeling which has no existence. We have no doubt that the lawfulness and the obligation of infant baptism can be conclusively established from Scripture; but it is manifest that the general doctrine or theory just stated, with respect to the import and effect of the sacraments, and of baptism as a sacrament, cannot be applied fully in all its extent to the baptism of infants. The reason of this is, because Scripture does not afford us materials either for laying down any definite position as to a certain and invariable connection between baptism and spiritual blessings, - that is, for maintaining the doctrine of baptismal regeneration; or for stating such a distinct and definite alternative with respect to the efficacy of the ordinance in individuals, as has been stated above in the case of adult baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But notwithstanding these obvious considerations, we fear it is a very common thing for men, just because they ordinarily see infant, and very seldom see adult, baptism, to take the baptism of infants, with all the difficulties attaching, to give a precise and definite statement as to its design and effect in their case, and to allow this to regulate their whole conceptions with respect to this ordinance in particular, and even with respect to the sacraments in general. This is a very common process; and we could easily produce abundant evidence, both of its actual prevalence, and of its injurious bearing upon men’s whole opinions on this subject. The right and reasonable course is plainly just the reverse of this, - viz. to regard adult baptism as affording the proper fundamental type of the ordinance, - to derive our great leading conceptions about baptism from the case, not of infant, but of adult, baptism, viewed in connection with the general theory or doctrine applicable to both sacraments; and then, since infant baptism is also fully warranted in Scripture, to examine what modifications the leading general views of the ordinance may or must undergo, when applied to the special and peculiar case of the baptism of infants.

These views were acted upon, though not formally and explicitly stated, by the Reformers in preparing their confessions of faith, and in their discussions of this subject. It is impossible to bring out from their statements about the sacraments a clear and consistent sense, except upon the hypothesis that, in laying down their general positions as to the nature, objects, and effects of the sacraments, they proceeded upon the assumption, that those partaking in these ordinances were duly qualified and rightly prepared; and more particularly, that the persons baptized, in whom the true and full operation of baptism was exhibited, were adults, - adult believers. The Council of Trent, in their decrees and canons on the subject of justification, which in the Romish system comprehends regeneration, and of which they asserted baptism, or the sacrament of faith, as they call it, to be the instrumental cause, dealt with the subject on the assumption that they were describing the process which takes place in the case of persons who, after they have attained to adult age, are led to embrace Christianity and to apply for baptism. And we find that the Reformers, in discussing these matters with their Romish opponents, accommodated themselves to this mode of putting the case; and having thus adult baptism chiefly in their view, were led sometimes to speak as if they regarded baptism and regeneration as substantially identical. They certainly did not mean to assert or concede the Popish principle, of an invariable connection between the outward ordinance and the spiritual blessing; for it is quite certain, and can be conclusively established, that they rejected this. They adopted this mode of speaking, which at first sight is somewhat startling, lst, because , the Council of Trent discussed the subject of justification chiefly in its bearing upon the case of those who had not been baptized in infancy, and with whom, consequently, baptism, if it was not a mere hypocritical pretence, destitute of all worth or value, was, in the judgment of Protestants, a sign and seal of a faith and regeneration previously wrought and then existing; and 2dly, because it was, when viewed in this aspect and application, that their great general doctrines, as to the design and efficacy of the sacraments in their bearing upon the justification of sinners, stood out for examination in the clearest and most definite form. This was the true cause of a mode of speaking sometimes adopted by the Reformers, which, to those imperfectly acquainted with their writings, and with the state of theological discussion at the time, might seem to countenance the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.

It was very important to bring out fully and distinctly the nature and character of the sacraments as signs and seals of the covenant of grace and its benefits, the import of the profession implied in partaking in them, and the qualifications required for receiving them rightly; and then to connect the statement of their actual effects with right views upon all these points. This process was at once the most obvious and the most effectual way of shutting out the erroneous and dangerous notions upon the subject of the sacraments that prevailed in the Church of Rome. It was very important, with this view, to give a compendious and summary representation of what was set forth in Scripture as the sacramental principle or theory, as being equally applicable to both sacraments; and to keep steadily before men’s minds the consideration, that this could be held to be fully realized and exhibited only in those for whom the sacraments were mainly intended, and who were duly prepared for receiving and improving them aright. Their minds were filled with these principles, and they were anxious to set them forth, in opposition to the great sacramental system which had been excogitated by the schoolmen, and sanctioned by the Church of Rome. And it was because their minds were filled with these principles, that, though strenuously opposing the tenets of the Anabaptists, they yet saw clearly and admitted the somewhat peculiar and supplemental position held by infant baptism. They held it to be of primary importance to bring out fully the sacramental principle as exhibited in its entireness in adult baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and in aiming at accomplishing this, they were not much concerned about putting forth definitions or descriptions of the sacraments or even of baptism, which could scarcely be regarded as comprehending infant baptism, or as obviously and directly applying to it. They never intended to teach baptismal regeneration, and they have said nothing that appears to teach it, or that could be supposed to teach it, by any except those who were utterly ignorant of the whole course of the discussion of these subjects as it was then conducted. They never intended to discountenance infant baptism; on the contrary, they strenuously defended its lawfulness and obligation. But they certainly gave descriptions of the general nature, design, and effects of the sacraments, which, if literally interpreted and pressed, might be regarded as omitting it, or putting it aside.

It is impossible to deny, that the general description which the Shorter Catechism gives of a sacrament teaches, by plain implication, that the sacraments, so far as regards adults, are intended only for believers; while no Protestants, except some of the Lutherans, have ever held that infants are capable of exercising faith. It also teaches, by plain implication, in the previous question, the 91st, £hat the wholesome influence of the sacraments is experienced only by those who “by faith receive them.” All this is applied equally to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Its general import, as implying a virtual restriction of these ordinances to believers, is too clear to be misunderstood or to admit of being explained away. And then, again, the apparent discrepancy between this great principle, and the position that “the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized,” is too obvious to escape the notice of any one who deliberately examines the Catechism with a view to understand it. These considerations would lead us to expect to find that the discrepancy is only apparent, and that there is no great difficulty in pointing out a mode of reconciliation. The mode of reconciliation we have already hinted at. It is in substance this, that infant baptism is to be regarded as a peculiar, subordinate, supplemental, exceptional thing, which stands indeed firmly based on its own distinct and special grounds, but which cannot well be brought within the line of the general abstract definition or description of a sacrament, as applicable to adult baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The Westminster divines, then, have given a description of a sacrament, which does apply fully to adult baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but which does not directly and in terminis comprehend infant baptism. This, which is the plain fact of the case, could only have arisen from their finding it difficult, if not impossible, to give a definition of the sacraments in their great leading fundamental aspects, which would at the same time apply to and include the special case of the baptism of infants. This, again, implies an admission that the definition given of a sacrament does not apply fully and in all its extent to the special case of infant baptism; while it implies, also, that the compilers of the Catechism thought it much more important to bring out fully, as the definition of a sacrament, all that could be truly predicated equally of adult baptism and the Lord’s Supper, than to try and form a definition that might be wide enough and vague enough to include infant baptism, - a topic of a peculiar and subordinate description. This is the only explanation and defence that can be given of the course of statement adopted in the Catechism.

It may possibly occur to some, that since it is certain that the compilers of the Catechism held that it was the children of believers only that were to be baptized, and that they were to be baptized on the ground of their parents’ faith, and the general principle of covenant relationship based upon this, the word believers, in the definition of a sacrament, might include infants, viewed as one with their believing parents, and virtually comprehended in them. But, besides that this leaves untouched the statement which implies that spiritual benefit is derived from the sacraments only by “those who by faith receive them,” we think it quite plain and certain, from the whole scope of the statement given in answer to the question, What is a sacrament? that the believers to whom the sacraments represent, seal, and apply Christ and His benefits, are those only who themselves directly and personally partake in the sacraments, and not those also who, though not believers themselves, may b§ admitted to one of the sacraments because of their relationship to believers.

A similar doubt might be started about the meaning and application of the parallel passage in the Larger Catechism. A sacrament is there described as “an holy ordinance instituted by Christ, in His church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of His mediation, to strengthen and increase their faith,” etc. Now there can be no doubt that, according to the prevailing opinions and the current usus loquendi of the period, - and, as we believe, in accordance with Scripture, - the expression, “those that are within the covenant of grace,” might include the children of believers, who were regarded as foederati, and as thus entitled to the “signa et sigilla foederis.” But it is quite certain that the expression is not used here in this extended sense, or as including any but believers. For this sentence goes on immediately, without any change in the construction, and without any indication of alteration or restriction in regard to the persons spoken of, to say, that the sacraments were instituted “to strengthen and increase their faith,” - implying, of course, that the persons here spoken of had faith before the sacraments came to bear upon them, or could confer upon them any benefit.

There can, then, be no reasonable doubt that the Shorter Catechism, in defining or describing a sacrament, restricts itself to the case of adult believers; and the only way of reconciling the definition with its teaching on the subject of infant baptism is by assuming that it is not to be applied absolutely and without all exception in other cases; and that infant baptism, though fully warranted by Scripture, does not correspond in all respects with the full sacramental principle in its utmost extent and clearness, as exhibited in adult baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and must therefore be regarded as occupying a peculiar and supplemental position. We know no other way of showing the consistency with each other of the different statements contained in the Catechism. The principle we have explained refutes the allegation of inconsistency or contradiction, and resolves the whole difficulty into a certain concession on the subject of infant baptism, - a concession not affecting the scriptural evidence for the maintenance of the practice of baptizing infants, but merely the fullness and completeness of the doctrinal explanation that should be given of its objects and effects.

The explanation we have given upon this point is in full accordance with the views set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and in the confessions of the Reformed churches generally. They all of them assert the scriptural authority of infant baptism, while at the same time most of them, though with different degrees of clearness, present statements about the sacraments or about baptism, which do not very fully and directly apply to the baptism of infants. We have been the more disposed to give some time to the explanation of the peculiar position and standing of the topic of infant baptism, because it is not merely indispensable to the intelligent and consistent exposition of the Shorter Catechism, but also because ignorance or disregard of it produces much error and confusion in men’s whole views with respect to the sacraments in general. Men who have not attended to and estimated aright this topic of the peculiar and subordinate place held by the subject of infant baptism are very apt to run into one or other of two extremes. - viz. lst, That of lowering the true sacramental principle, as brought out in the general definition of a sacrament, and as exhibited fully in the case of adult baptism and the Lord’s Supper, to the level of what suits the special case of infant baptism; or 2d, That of raising the explanation propounded of the bearing and effect of infant baptism, up to a measure of clearness and fullness which really attaches only to adult baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And as error is generally inconsistent, and extremes have a strong tendency to meet, cases have occurred in which both these opposite extremes have been exhibited by the same persons, in connection with that one source of error and confusion to which we have referred. . The truth, as well as the importance, of some of the points which have been referred to in the course of the preceding statements,.will appear more clearly as we proceed to explain more fully and formally the general doctrine of the sacraments as set forth in the Westminster symbols, in accordance with the other confessions of the Reformed churches.

The doctrine of the sacraments, or the sacramental principle, in the proper import of that expression, is intended, as we have explained, to embody the sum and substance of what is taught or indicated in Scripture, as equally and alike applicable to both the ordinances to which the name of a sacrament is commonly given. Of course, nothing ought to be introduced into the definition or description of a sacrament, but what there is sufficient scriptural ground, more or less direct and explicit, and more or less clear and conclusive, for holding to be predicable equally and alike of baptism, - that is, adult baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Besides the scriptural statements that bear directly upon these two ordinances separately, there are views suggested by their general character and position, taken in connection with general scriptural principles, to which it may be proper, in the first instance, to advert. There is not a great deal in Scripture that can be said to bear very directly upon the question, What is a sacrament? but there is a good deal that may be deduced from Scripture by good and necessary consequence.

There are two different aspects in which the sacraments are to be regarded, - 1st, Simply as institutions or ordinances whose appointment by Christ stands recorded in Scripture, and whose celebration in the church, according to His appointment, may be contemplated or looked at by spectators; and 2d, as acts which men perform, transactions in which men individually take a part; - that is, they may be regarded either as mere instituted symbols, or also, and in addition, as symbolic actions which men perform.

Viewed in the first of these aspects as symbols, they merely signify or represent (these two words are generally used synonymously in this matter) spiritual blessings, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant, and the scriptural truths which make known, unfold, and offer these blessings to men; while, in regard to the second aspect of them, this much at least must be evident in general, that the participation in the sacraments by men individually, is on their part an expression or profession of a state of mind and feeling, with reference to the truths which the outward symbols represent, and the blessings which they signify. Viewed in the first of these aspects as mere symbols, which have been instituted and described in Scripture, and which may be contemplated or looked at, it is evident that the sacraments are merely, to use an expression which Calvin and other Reformers applied to them, appendages to the gospel, - that is, merely means of declaring and bringing before our minds in another way, by a different instrumentality, what is fully set forth in the statements of Scripture. In baptism, viewed in this light, God is just telling us, by means of outward symbols instead of words, that men in their natural condition need to be washed from guilt and depravity, and that full provision has been made for effecting this, through the shedding of Christ’s blood and the effusion of His Spirit. In the Lord’s Supper, in like manner, He is just telling us that Christ’s body was broken and that His blood was shed for men; and that in this way, full provision has been made, not only for restoring men to the enjoyment of God’s favour, and creating them again after His image, but for affording them abundance of spiritual nourishment, and enabling them to grow up in all things unto Him who is the Head. The sacraments as symbols thus teach, by outward and visible representations, the leading truths which are revealed in Scripture concerning the way of salvation; and teach them in a manner peculiarly fitted, according to the principles of our constitution, to bring them home impressively to our understandings and our hearts.

And it is important to notice that, even in this simplest and most elementary view of the sacraments, they may truly and reasonably be called seals as well as signs, - they may be said not only to signify or represent, but to seal. A seal is something external, usually appended to a deed or document, or impressed upon a substance which forms the subject of negotiation or arrangement, and it is intended to strengthen or confirm conviction or faith, expectation or confidence. A seal in this sense, the only sense in which it can apply to the sacraments, is a thing of no real intrinsic value or importance apart from the engagement ratified. Its use and efficacy are purely conventional. Seals are based, indeed, upon a natural principle in our complex constitution, in virtue of which external objects or actions connected with, or added to, declarations, engagements, or promises, are regarded as tying or binding more strongly those from whom these deeds or documents proceed, and as thus tending to strengthen and confirm the faith and the hope of those to whom they are directed. It is this principle in our constitution which is the source and origin, the rationale and defence, not only of the sealing of deeds and documents, - that is, of the practice of appending a seal to the signature of the names attached to them, - but of the whole series of outward significant rites and ceremonies, which in all ages and countries have been associated with covenants and treaties, with bargains and barterings. These sealings, and other similar rites and ceremonies, which in such variety have prevailed in all ages and countries in connection with transactions of this sort, have been always regarded and felt as somehow binding the parties more strongly to' their respective statements and engagements, and as thus strengthening their reliance upon each other, in reference to everything that had been declared or promised. And yet it is quite plain, that these sealings and other rites and ceremonies usually connected with compacts and bargains, can scarcely be said to possess any value apart from the engagement sealed, or to exert a real influence in effecting any important result. The only essential things in transactions of this sort are the deeds or documents, embodying a statement of the things arranged or agreed upon, with all their circumstances and conditions, and the signatures of the parties, binding themselves to the terms set forth in the deed.

Applying these obvious principles to Christianity and salvation, it is plain that the essential things, as bearing on the practical result, are arrangements and proposals, made and revealed by God, understood and accepted by men. It is indispensable that men understand the import of the offers and proposals made to them, be satisfied that they come from God, and then accept and act upon them. The covenant of grace is thus substantially a proposal made by God to men, which is accepted by them; and the essential things are, the substance of the proposal set forth as in a deed or document, and the concurrence of the parties, as if attested by their signatures. The sacraments, according to the views which have generally prevailed among Protestants, are signs and seals of this covenant, - that is, as signs they embody in outward elements (for we are not speaking at present of the sacramental actions) the substance of what is set forth more fully and particularly in the written word; and this additional, superadded, external embodiment of the provisions and arrangements, is regarded as occupying the place and serving the purpose of a seal appended to a signature to a deed; not certainly as if it could very materially affect the result, so long as we had the deed and the signatures, but still operating, according to the well-known principles of our constitution, in giving some confirmation to our impressions, if not our convictions, of the reality and certainty or reliability of the whole transaction.

But we proceed to advert to the second and higher view that must obviously be taken of the sacraments. They were intended not so much to be read about or to be looked at, as to be participated in. Men are individually to be washed with water, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and they are individually to eat bread and to drink wine at the Lord’s table, in remembrance of Christ. This being the case, the questions naturally arise, What is the meaning and what the object of those acts which they perform? Why did God require these things at their hands? What is the effect which the doing of these things is intended to produce? and, What are the principles which regulate and determine the production of the resulting effects! Now, as bearing upon the answer to these questions, there are some positions which are generally admitted, and are attended with no difficulty. The two leading aspects in which the sacraments, viewed as actions which men perform, are represented in Scripture are, - first, as duties which God requires of us; and second, as means of grace or privileges which He appoints and bestows. And again, under the first of these heads, viz. commanded duties, there are two views that may be taken of them, - 1st, as acts of worship; and 2d, as public professions of Christianity. It is, of course, men’s duty to render to God the acts of worship, and to make the professions, which He requires of them. The sacraments seem plainly to possess these two characters. In participating in them we are rendering an act of worship to God, and we are making a public profession by an outward act, and all this He has required at our hands, or imposed upon us as a duty. If this be so, then it follows that any general principles which are indicated in Scripture, or involved in the nature of the case, as being rightly applicable to acts of worship and to public professions, must be applied to them. Whatever is necessary to make an act of worship reasonable and acceptable to God, and whatever is necessary to make a public profession intelligent and honest, must be found in men’s participation in the sacraments, in order to make it fitted to serve any of its intended purposes. And this most simple and-obvious view of the general nature and character of the sacramental actions ought not to be overlooked or forgotten, as it is well fitted, when remembered and applied, to guard us both against error in doctrine and delusion in practice.

It is the second of these views of them, however, - that which represents them as outward public professions, - which bears more immediately upon their mode of operation and their actual effects, as privileges or means of grace. All admit that the sacraments embody or involve a public profession of a certain state of mind and feeling. Indeed, this is plainly implied in their character as symbolical or emblematical ordinances. We cannot conceive that it should have been required as a duty of those to whom the gospel is preached, that they should be baptized and should partake in the Lord’s Supper, unless this washing with water, and this eating bread and drinking wine, symbolized and expressed some state of mind, some conviction or feeling or purpose, bearing upon their relation to God, and the salvation of their souls. That participation in the sacraments is a discriminating mark or badge of what may be called, in some sense, a profession of Christianity, and that it involves an engagement to perform certain duties, is admitted by all, even those who take the lowest views of their nature and design. And all orthodox divines hold that this constitutes one end and object of the institution of these ordinances, though they regard it only as a subordinate one. In the very important document formerly referred to, called “Consensus Tigurinus,” prepared by Calvin, and embodying the agreement among the Swiss churches on the whole subject of the sacraments, while it is admitted that there are various .ends and objects of the sacraments, - such as, that they may be marks and badges of a Christian profession and union or brotherhood, - that they may be incitements to thanksgivings and exercises of faith and a pious life, and engagements binding to this, - it is laid down, “that the one principal end of these ordinances is, that God, by them, may attest, represent, and seal His grace to us.” This mode of statement is in accordance with the views generally entertained by the Reformed divines, and it is adopted in the Westminster Confession,f where, after describing it as the end or object of the sacraments “to represent Christ and His benefits, and to confirm our interest in Him,” it adds, evidently in the way of suggesting some additional points of less fundamental importance, a as also to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the church and the rest of the world, and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ.” These subordinate ends of the sacraments, connected with their character and functions as badges of a public profession and solemn engagements to duty, do not in themselves require lengthened explanation, as they are simple and obvious, and have not given rise to much discussion, except in so far as the question has been raised, as to the precise import and amount of the profession which participation in the sacraments involves.

This is a question of some difficulty and importance; and it is intimately connected with the investigation of the great primary end or object of the sacraments, and with their character and function as means of grace. It is generally admitted by Protestant divines, that the sacraments are signs and seals of the covenant of grace, - that is, of the truths and promises setting forth the provisions and arrangements which may be said to constitute the covenant, and of the spiritual blessings which the covenant offers and secures; and these terms, accordingly, are applied to them in almost all the confessions of the Reformed churches. But even where there is a concurrence in the use of these epithets, there is still room for error and confusion on some important topics connected with this matter. The leading questions connected with the sacraments may be ranked under two heads, - 1st, What are their objects or ends, comprehending the purposes for which they were instituted, and the effects which they actually produce? and 2d, Who are their proper subjects, the parties for whom they were intended, those who are qualified to partake in them lawfully and beneficially? These two heads of investigation, which may be briefly described as respecting, the first the objects, and the second the subjects, of the sacraments, are very closely connected with each other. The settlement of either of these questions would go far to determine the other. If we had once ascertained what is the leading primary object of the sacraments, there would be no great difficulty in deducing from this, viewed in connection with other doctrines plainly taught in Scripture, what kind of persons ought to partake in them; and if we once knew who are the parties that ought to partake in them, we might from this infer a good deal, positively as well as negatively, in regard to the purpose they were intended to serve. On some grounds it would seem to be more natural and expedient to begin with examining the objects or ends of the sacraments. But as we have been led, in the arrangement we have adopted, to advert to the view of the sacraments as badges of a public profession, and as the consideration of this topic, which has not yet been completed, is connected rather with the examination of the subjects than the objects of the sacraments, we shall consider, in the first place, in contemplating them as means of grace, the question, Who are the parties for whom they were intended? We are the less concerned about following what might seem to be the more strictly logical order, because our object is rather explanation than defence; it is rather to bring out what the doctrine of the Reformed confessions, and especially of the Westminster symbols, on the general subject of the sacraments is, than to establish its truth and to vindicate it from objections; - as we have in view chiefly the case of those who have professed to believe these symbols, but who still exhibit a great deal of ignorance in regard to their meaning and import.

We have mentioned, as the first and most general division that obtains on the subject of the sacraments, that they may be regarded either, first, as duties which God requires; or second, as means of grace. The difficulties which have arisen, and the discussions which have been carried on respecting them, have turned chiefly upon their character and functions as means of grace. It is universally admitted that the sacraments are means of grace; and the great general idea involved in this position is this, that they are institutions which God intended and appointed to be, in some sense, the instruments or channels of conveying to men spiritual blessings, and in the due and right use of which men are warranted to expect to receive the spiritual blessings they stand in need of. In this wide and general sense, even those who hold the lowest view of the sacraments admit that they are means of grace; while it is also true that the great differences in doctrine which have been maintained by different churches on the whole subject of the sacraments, resolve very much into the different senses in which the position that they are means of grace may be explained. In the wide sense above stated, the position that the sacraments are means of grace may be conclusively inferred from the fact, that God has appointed them, and required the observance of them at our hands. As the outward acts which constitute the observance of the sacraments are in themselves not moral, but merely positive or indifferent, we are warranted to believe that God appointed them solely for our benefit, and because He intended them to be in some way instruments or channels of conveying to us spiritual blessings.

The Romish doctrine upon this subject is, that the sacraments contain the grace which they signify; that they confer grace always and certainly, where men do not put an obstacle in the way; that they do this ex opere operato, or by some sort of physical or intrinsic power bestowed upon them, apart from the state of mind of the recipient; that baptism is the instrumental cause of justification, as including both remission of sin and regeneration; and that the Lord’s Supper invariably conveys spiritual nourishment. There are some points, however, involved in the exposition of these doctrines, which have not been explicitly settled by the authority of the church, and in regard to which some latitude is left for a difference of opinion. Among Protestants, again, High Churchmen, and men disposed to exalt the value and efficacy of the sacraments, have generally adopted, or at least approximated to, the Romish doctrine as explained by its more reasonable defenders, and have been disposed to allege that the controversies with the Church of Rome upon this subject, resolve very much into disputes about words or points of no great importance; while sounder Protestants have, in general, met the Romish doctrines with decided opposition. At the same time it must be admitted, that it is not easy to fix -upon any definite modes of statement, which can be said to be distinctly Protestant as opposed to Romanism, about the true character and functions of the sacraments as means of grace, viewed apart from the doctrine held with regard to their subjects and objects. It is generally supposed that the strongest statement to which the Church of Rome is pledged on this point is, that the sacraments “contain the grace which they signify or represent,” implying that the grace resides or is laid up in them, and that they give it out; and yet Calvin, in his “Antidote to the Council of Trent,” seventh session, admits that there is a sense in which it is true “sacramentis contineri gratiam quam figurant.” He asserts also that those who allege, that by the sacraments grace is conferred upon us when we do not put an obstacle in the way, overturn the whole power of the sacraments; while he distinctly admits that the sacraments are instrumental causes of conferring grace upon us, though the power of God is not tied to them, and though they produce no effect whatever apart from the faith of the recipient. And, moreover, we find, upon a principle formerly explained, that in dealing (sixth session) with the position that baptism is the instrumental cause of justification, he rather objects to the omission of the gospel or the truth, and to the high place assigned to baptism, than meets the position of the council with a direct negative. His statement is this: “It is a great absurdity to make baptism alone the instrumental cause. If this be so, what becomes of the gospel? Will it not even get into the lowest corner $ But, they say, baptism is the sacrament of faith. True; but when all. is said, I will still maintain that it is nothing but an appendage to the gospel (evan-gelii appendiceal). They act. preposterously in giving it the first place; and this is just as if one should say that the instrumental cause of a house is the handle of the workman’s trowel. He who, putting the gospel in the background, numbers baptism among the causes of salvation, shows thereby that he does not know what baptism is or means, or what is its function and use.” It would be easy to show that there are many other eminent divines who have differed from each other as to the phraseology that ought to be employed in explaining the position that the sacraments are means of grace, some asserting and others denying that they are causes of grace, - that they confer, or convey, or bestow spiritual blessings, - while yet there is no very material difference of opinion among them; as is evident from their agreement in regard to the two important questions, as to the persons for whom the sacraments are intended, and the purposes they were instituted to serve.. And on this ground we shall now, as has been intimated, consider - lst, the subjects, and 2d, the objects, of the sacraments; assuming only, in the meantime, that the position, universally admitted, that the sacraments are means of grace, implies that, in some way or other, they are employed by God as instrumental or auxiliary in bestowing upon some men some spiritual blessings.

1. Let us first advert, then, to the subjects of the sacraments, or the persons for whom they were intended. We have already seen that, both in the Larger and the Shorter Catechism, the Westminster Assembly have distinctly laid down the position that the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are intended for believers, for men who had already and previously been led to embrace Christ as their Saviour; and that they were not in the least deterred from the explicit assertion of this great principle by its appearing to exclude or ignore the practice of infant baptism, which they believed to be fully sanctioned by Scripture. This great principle is not set forth in the Confession of Faith quite so explicitly as it is in the Catechisms, but it is taught there by very plain implication. The Confession lays it down as the first and principal end or object of the sacraments, of both equally and alike, “to represent Christ and His benefits, and to confirm our interest in Him,” - this last clause implying, that those for whom the sacraments were intended, have already and previously acquired a personal interest in Christ, which could be only by their union to Him through faith. It further,! in speaking still of the sacraments, and of course of baptism as well as the Lord’s Supper, asserts that “the word of institution contains a promise of benefit to worthy receivers;” and worthy receivers, in the full import of the expression, are, in the case of adult baptism, believers. In the next chapter, the twenty-eighth, the description given of baptism manifestly applies only to believing adults. It is there described as a “sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his engrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life.” It is quite true that infants, as well as adults, though incapable of faith, must be engrafted into Christ, and must receive regeneration and remission; and that without this, indeed, they cannot be saved. But the statement in the Confession plainly assumes, that each individual baptized not only should have the necessary preliminary qualifications, but should be himself exercised and satisfied upon this point; and should thus be prepared to take part, intelligently and consciously, in the personal assumption of the practical obligations which baptism implies.

This is sufficient to show that the teaching of the Confession is quite in harmony with that of the Catechisms, though upon this particular point it is not altogether so explicit. It holds true, indeed, generally - we might say universally - of the Reformed churches, as distinguished from the Lutheran, and of almost all the Reformed theologians, that though firm believers in the divine authority of infant baptism, they never hesitate to lay down the general positions, that the sacraments are intended for believers; that participation in them assumes the previous and present existence of faith in all who rightly receive them; and that they produce their appropriate beneficial effects only through the operation and exercise of faith in those who partake in them. The Reformed divines, not holding the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, did not regard the baptism of infants as being of sufficient importance to modify the general doctrine they thought themselves warranted to lay down with respect to the sacraments, as applicable to adult baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And it is interesting and instructive to notice, that the adoption by the Lutherans of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, led them to be much more careful of laying down any general statements, either about the sacraments or about baptism, which virtually ignored the baptism of infants. They are much more careful than the Reformed divines, either expressly and by name to bring in infant baptism into their general definitions or descriptions, or at least to leave ample room for it, so that there may be no appearance of its being omitted or forgotten. It may be worth while to give a specimen of this. Buddaeus, one of the best of the Lutheran divines, a man whose works exhibit a very fine combination of ability and good sense, learning and evangelical unction, in treating of the effect of baptism, which, he says, may also be regarded as the end or object of the ordinance, lays it down, that it is “with respect to infants, regeneration, and with respect to adults, the confirming and sealing (confirmatio et obsignatio) of the faith of which they ought to be possessed before they are admitted to baptism.” In contrast with this, many of the Reformed divines asserted, without any hesitation, that the great leading object and effect of the sacraments, and of course of baptism as well as of the Lord’s Supper, was just the confirmatio fidei, - that is, the confirming and strengthening of the faith, which must, or at least should, have existed in the case of adults before either sacrament was received.

This, however, bears rather upon the objects than the subjects of the sacraments. And in returning to the latter of these topics, we would lay before our readers, what we regard as a very complete and comprehensive summary of the doctrine of the Reformed churches upon this point, in the words of Martin Vitringa, in his “Adnotationes” to the <e Doctrina Christianse Religionis per Aphorismos summatim descripta” of Campegius Vitringa: -

“From these quotations it clearly appears, that the common doctrine of our divines concerning the proper subjects of the sacraments amounts to this: -

“lsi, That the sacraments have been instituted only for those who have already received the grace of God, - the called, the regenerate, the believing, the converted, those who are in covenant with God; and also that it is proper for those to come to them who have true faith and repentance.

“2d, That they who receive the sacraments are already, before receiving them, partakers through faith of Christ and His benefits, and are therefore justified and sanctified before they take the sacraments.

“3d, That faith is the medium, the mouth, and the hand, by which we rightly receive and perceive the sacraments.

“4th, That the faith of those who lawfully receive the sacraments is confirmed and increased by them, and that they are more closely united to Christ.

• “5th, That those only who receive the sacraments in faith have, in the use of them, the promise of the remission of sins and of eternal life bestowed, sealed, and applied in a singular way, just as if God were addressing them individually, and were promising and sealing to them remission of sins and eternal life; and thus believers are rendered more certain about their communion with Christ and His benefits, so that they can certainly determine that Christ belongs to them with His gifts.

“6th, That by the sacraments the promises of the covenant of grace are offered and sealed, under the condition of true faith and penitence.

u7th, That only true believers and true penitents, using the sacraments worthily, receive not only the signs, but also the things signified, which are sealed to them, and also that they only receive them with benefit and advantage.

“8th, That God wishes the sacraments to be administered to those who are possessed of true faith and unfeigned repentance; but that the ministers of the church ought to admit to the sacraments those who make a profession of faith and penitence, and do not openly contradict it by their life and conduct , and that they, before coming to the sacraments, ought to be admonished to try themselves, whether they have true faith and repentance, lest, being destitute of faith and repentance, they should receive the sacraments to their condemnation.

“9th, That unbelieving and impenitent persons receive only the naked signs but not the things signified; that nothing is sealed to them; that, moreover, they profane and contemn the sacraments; and that from this profanation and contempt the sacraments not only do not benefit but hurt them, and bring to them condemnation and destruction; and then, that the sacraments, when administered to unbelieving and impenitent persons, remain sacraments so far as God is concerned, but so far as concerns the unbelieving and impenitent, lose the nature and power of a sacrament.

“10th, That the sacraments do not, in the first instance, bestow grace, faith, and penitence, and are not the instruments of producing the beginnings of faith and penitence, but only confirm, increase, and seal them.”

It will be observed that all these important doctrinal statements are made concerning the sacraments, and of course are intended to apply equally and alike to baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and that the sum and substance of what is here asserted of both these ordinances is, that, in the case of adults, they were intended only for persons who have already been enabled to believe and repent, and that it is believers only who do or can derive any benefit from partaking in them, all others using them only to their own condemnation. We do not adopt every expression in this summary just as it stands. But we have no doubt that, in its substance, it is in full accordance with the teaching of Scripture, and of the Reformed as distinguished from the Lutheran churches. Upon the second of these points, indeed, - the historical question' of the identity of these views with those of the Reformed churches and of the leading Reformed divines of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, - Vitringa has produced his evidence at length.

His quotations fill about twenty pages, and are certainly amply sufficient to establish his position. They prove that the quotation we have produced, contains a correct summary of the doctrine of the Reformed churches in regard to the proper subjects of the sacraments. Vitringa gives extracts from eight or ten of the confessions of the Reformation period, and from above fifty of the most eminent divines of that and the succeeding century. He has thus brought together a vast store of materials, abundantly sufficient to establish his position, so far as authority is concerned; and we think it may be worth while to give the names of the divines from whom he produces his extracts. They are Zwingli, CEcolam-padius, Bucer, Musculus, Bullinger, Calvin, Beza, Zanchius, Ursi-nus, Olevianus, Sadeel, Whitaker, Aretus, Sohnius, Polanus, Chamier, Junius, Perkins, Bucanus, Kuchlinus, »Acronius, Trel-catius, Scharpius, G. J. Vossius, Maccovius, Walaeus, Rivetus, Amyraldus, Altingius, Forbes, Voetius, Wendelinus, Cocceius, Hottinger, Heidanus, Maresius, Venema, Burman, Mastricht, Wit-sius, Turretine, Heidegger, Leydecker, Braunius, Marckius, Roell, Meyer, Gerdes, Wyttenbach; in short, all the greatest divines of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Here is a storehouse of names and quotations, which might enable any one to set up as an erudite theologian by means of a stock of second-hand authorities.

We are dealing at present only with the historical and not with the scriptural view of the case; but we may briefly advert to the kind of proof by which it can be shown, that the proper subjects of the sacrament are only believing and regenerated men. The general place or position of the sacraments seems plainly to indicate that they were intended only for those who had already been led to embrace Christ, and had been born again of His word. It is evident, from all the representations given us on this subject in the inspired account of the labours of the apostles, that men first of all had the gospel preached to them, were warned of their guilt and danger as sinners, and were instructed in the way of salvation through Christ; and that thus, through the effectual working of God’s Spirit, they were enabled to believe what they were told, to embrace Christ freely offered to them, and to receive Him as their Lord and Master. They were told, among other things, that it was Christ’s will that they should be baptized, and should thereby publicly profess their faith in Him, and be formally admitted into the society which He had founded. When, in these or in similar circumstances, and upon these grounds, a man asks and obtains the administration to him of baptism (of course we speak at present only of adults, for, upon grounds formerly explained, we must form our primary and leading conceptions of the import and object of this ordinance from the baptism of adults, and not of infants), the application seems plainly to carry upon the face of it, a profession or declaration, that he has been led to choose Christ as his Saviour and his Master, and is determined in every way to follow out this profession of entire dependence and of implicit subjection. If faith and regeneration are necessary preparations and qualifications for baptism, they must of course exist in all who come to the Lord’s table, which, from its nature, and from the place it occupies in the apostolic history, must manifestly come after baptism.

These obvious general considerations tell in favour of the position, that the sacraments were instituted and intended only for believers; and this view is confirmed,by a closer examination of the particular features and provisions of the ordinances themselves. In regard to the Lord’s Supper, it is generally admitted, that it is intended for, and can be lawfully and beneficially partaken of only by, those who have already been received into God’s family, and are living by faith in His Son. An attempt, indeed, was made in the course of the Erastian controversy, as conducted at the time of the Westminster Assembly, to set up the notion that the Lord’s Supper is a converting ordinance, and may therefore be rightly partaken of by those who have not yet believed and been regenerated. But this notion, manifestly got up merely for the purpose of undermining ecclesiastical discipline, was unanswerably exposed by George Gillespie, in the third book of his “Aaron’s Hod Blossoming.” And when a similar notion was, with a similar purpose, promulgated about a century later among the Congregationalists of New England, it was again put down, with equal ability and success, by Jonathan Edwards, in his “Inquiry into the Qualifications for Communion.” The notion has not again, so far as we are aware, been revived in any such’ circumstances as to entitle it to notice. It is otherwise in regard to baptism. Some men seem to shrink from laying down the position, either that the sacraments, or that baptism, should be held to be intended for believers, and of course to require or presuppose faith and regeneration, because this leaves out and seems to exclude the case of infant baptism, - a difficulty which neither the Reformers nor the compilers of the Westminster standards, though decided paedobaptists, allowed to influence or modify their statements. Others take wider and more definite ground, and endeavour to establish a great disparity between baptism and the Lord’s Supper as to their import and objects, and to disprove the equal applicability to both these ordinances, of the definition and description usually given of a sacrament. No one, indeed, can deny, that there are some points in which baptism and the Lord’s Supper stand alone and resemble each other. All admit that both these ordinances are emblems or symbolical representations of scriptural truths, fitted and intended to embody and to exhibit the great doctrines revealed in the word of God concerning the salvation of sinners. This description is undoubtedly true of these ordinances so far as it goes. It is admitted by all Protestants, that this description applies equally and alike to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and that there are no other institutions under the Christian economy to which it does apply. But the question is, Can we not get materials in Scripture for giving a more complete and specific account of what is equally true of these two ordinances, and may therefore be set forth as the full and adequate description of the sacraments? and more especially, have we not materials for making statements of a more precise and specific kind, both about the subjects and the objects of these ordinances, that shall apply equally to both of them? This at least is what has been generally maintained and acted upon by Protestant divines. They have embodied the substance of these materials in their description of a sacrament; and the leading features of this description, as set forth in the Westminster standards, are, that both ordinances, equally and alike, are intended for believers, and represent, seal, and apply to believers Christ and His benefits.’

So far as concerns the subjects of the sacraments, the topic with which at present we have more immediately to do, it is generally admitted, that partaking in the Lord’s Supper implies a profession of faith in Christ, and is therefore warrantable and beneficial only to believers. But many, and we fear a growing number, refuse to admit this principle as applicable to baptism. It is contended, not only that infants who are incapable of faith ought to be baptized (a position which all the Reformers and all the confessions of the Reformed churches decidedly maintained, though they did not allow it to affect their general definition of a sacrament), but also that adults may be admitted to baptism, though they are not, and do not profess to be, believers and regenerate persons, - baptism, it is alleged, not expressing or implying a profession of believing in Christ, but only a profession of a willingness to be instructed in the principles of Christianity. This notion is flatly opposed to the leading views with respect to the sacraments which have always prevailed in the Protestant churches, and been embodied in the Reformed confessions. But it seems now to prevail to a considerable extent among the Con-gregationalists of this country. And we fear that it is likely to continue to prevail, because while it can be defended with considerable plausibility in. argument, it has also this important practical advantage, that it furnishes a warrant, or an excuse, for baptizing the infants of persons who could not be regarded as qualified to be members of the Christian church in full standing, or as admissible to the Lord’s table. There is a very elaborate and ingenious defence of this view of the import and object of baptism, and of the absence of all similarity in these respects between it and the Lord’s Supper, in Dr Hailey’s work, entitled, “Baptism, the Designation of the Catechumens, not the Symbol of the Members, of the Christian Church,” which Dr Wardlaw, in reply to whom chiefly it was written, did not answer, and which Dr W. Lindsay Alexander has pronounced to be unanswerable. We think it can, and it certainly should, be answered. But this we cannot attempt at present, our object being chiefly explanation rather than defence. The attempt to make so wide a gulf between baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and to extend the application of baptism beyond the range of the membership of the church, so as to include all who are placed, by their own voluntary act, or that of their parents, under the church’s superintendence and instruction, while neither in connection with their own baptism nor that of their children are they held to make a profession of faith and regeneration, is, of course, flatly opposed to the definition or description of a sacrament, given in the confessions of the Reformed churches as applicable to both ordinances. It is also, we are persuaded, inconsistent with every consideration suggested by the symbolic or emblematic character of the ordinance as an outward act, implying a declaration or profession of a certain state of mind and feeling on the part of the person baptized, and with all that is asserted or indicated in Scripture as to the connection between baptism on the one hand, and remission and regeneration on the other.

It is, as we have explained, of fundamental importance in judging of these symbolical ordinances, to attend to the profession implied in the outward act, and to the correspondence between the outward act and the state of mind and heart of the recipient. When a man asks, in obedience to Christ’s commands, to be solemnly washed with water, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and when, in compliance with this request, he has baptism administered to him, he seems as plainly and as explicitly to make a profession of faith in Christ, as when he applies for and obtains admission to the Lord’s table. Baptism, indeed, may be said to be a formal and solemn entering into Christ’s service, implying a promise to be thereafter governed and guided by Him. And it surely is this, at least, - that is, this is just about as low a view as can be taken of the ordinance, and of the act of engaging in it. But even this view of it implies, that in the honest and intelligent reception of baptism, such views of Christ are professed as presuppose the existence of saving faith. Men cannot honestly and intelligently enter Christ’s service, and profess their unreserved submission to His authority, unless and until they have been led to adopt such views of what is revealed in Scripture concerning Him, as imply and produce true faith in Him as a Saviour. Why should any man desire and ask to be washed with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, unless he has already been led to adopt such views of the three Persons of the Godhead, and of the way of salvation, as must have led him to embrace Christ as all his salvation and all his desire? In short, an application to be baptized, and the being actually baptized as the result of the application, plainly imply a profession, that the person so acting has been already led to believe in Christ, to receive and accept of Him as his Saviour and his Master; and that he intends to profess or declare, by being baptized, the views he has been brought to entertain concerning Christ, and the relation into which he has been led to enter with respect to Him, and to pledge himself to the discharge of all the obligations which these views and that relation impose. When this state of mind and feeling has not been produced, we cannot conceive that the baptism of an adult can be an honest and intelligent act. The nature of the act itself, and the almost universal consent of the Christian church, in every age and country down till the present day, attach this meaning and significance to the baptism of an adult; and if so, the baptism of any one who has not believed and been born again, must be a hypocritical form.

This view of the matter is confirmed, we think, by all that is said in the New Testament, whether in explicit statement or in indirect allusion, concerning the relation between baptism and the great spiritual blessings which are invariably connected with faith in Christ, viz. remission and regeneration. The relation subsisting between baptism and these fundamental blessings involves a discussion of the whole topics comprehended in the controversy about baptismal justification and regeneration; and on this we cannot enter. It seems to us pretty plain, that the scriptural statements which are usually brought to bear upon the settlement of this controversy, and which are founded on by the advocates of baptismal regeneration, imply that some connection subsists between baptism, in the legitimate use of it, and these fundamental blessings; while the view which, has been devised by modern Con-gregationalists, and is defended by Dr Hailey, seems to deny any connection whatever between them. The texts referred to seem to imply either, that baptism, in the right and legitimate use of it, is a sign or symbol, a seal and a profession of remission and regeneration, as previously conferred and then existing in the party baptized; or else that regeneration is produced or bestowed in baptism, and through the instrumentality of that ordinance. The first of these views is, we are persuaded, that which is sanctioned by Scripture, and certainly it has been generally taught by the Reformed churches. The latter is the common Popish and Tractarian doctrine; and though it has no solid scriptural ground to rest upon, it can be defended from Scripture with some plausibility, and this is more, we think, than can be said, so far as concerns this branch of the argument, in favour of the notion that baptism may be rightly and honestly applied for and received by men who have not already and previously received faith in Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of their sins, and the regeneration of their natures. We would only say, before leaving this subject, that we cannot but regard the serious error to which we have adverted, as affording another illustration of a danger formerly mentioned, that, namely, of allowing the notions or impressions which the special exceptional case of infant baptism is apt to suggest, to influence unduly our views about baptism in general, and even about the sacraments as a whole. The giving undue prominence to the special case of infant baptism, is very apt to blind men’s eyes to the strength of the evidence, that baptism in its general import and object - that is, adult baptism in its legitimate use - implies a profession of faith in Christ, and can therefore be rightly received and improved only by believers; while at the same time the temptation to reject this great scriptural principle, which is so explicitly set forth in almost all the confessions of the Reformed churches, is strengthened by the opening thus made, for giving baptism to the children of those who do not make a profession of faith, and who would not, or should not, have been admitted to the Lord’s Supper.

2. We must now proceed to advert to the second leading division of the subject, viz. the objects of the sacraments, or the purposes for which they were instituted, and which they are fitted and intended to serve, - or, what is virtually the same thing, the beneficial effects which men are warranted to expect, and do receive, from the right use of them. There is, as we have mentioned, a very close connection between this topic and that which we have already considered. If the sacraments were intended for believers, - if their proper subjects are those only who have already been united to Christ, and been born again of His word, - then it follows that they could not have been fitted or intended to be auxiliary or instrumental in bestowing or producing anything which is implied in the existence of saving faith, or in effecting anything which is involved in, or results from, saving faith, wherever it exists. Upon the ground, then, of what has been already set forth under the former head, it follows, not only that justification and regeneration are not bestowed or produced in or by baptism, but that they must have been already bestowed and produced before baptism can be lawfully or safely received. This is a principle of fundamental importance, and it is confirmed by all that is taught us in Scripture, both with respect to the subjects and the objects of the sacraments. There is, indeed, no principle more important with reference to this whole matter, whether viewed theoretically or practically, whether regarded as an exposition of truth, or as a security against corruption and abuse, than that the sacraments are intended for believers, and of course must have been fitted to aid them in some way or other in the great work of carrying on the life of God in their souls, in promoting their growth in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. The sacraments are means of grace, - that is, they are ordinances or appointments of God, which are intended to be in some way auxiliary or instrumental in conveying to men spiritual blessings. The blessings conveyed by the sacraments, and to be expected from the right use of them, cannot of course be those which, according to God’s arrangements, are conveyed to men, and must exist in and be possessed by them, before the sacraments can be lawfully and honestly received. It is a fundamental principle of scriptural doctrine, that justification and regeneration are necessarily and invariably connected with faith, and that they are contemporaneous with it, whatever may be the precise relation subsisting among them in the order of nature. Whoever has been enabled to believe in Jesus Christ has been justified and regenerated; he has passed through that great ordeal on which salvation depends, and which can occur but once in the history of a soul. And if these principles are well founded, then the spiritual blessings which the sacraments may be instrumental in conveying, can be those only which men still stand in need of, with a view to their salvation, after they have been justified and regenerated by faith. And these are the forgiveness of the .sins which they continue to commit, a growing sense of God’s pardoning mercy, and grace and strength to resist temptation, to discharge duty, to improve privilege, and to be ever advancing in holiness; - or, to adopt the language of the Shorter Catechism in describing the blessings which accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, they are a assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.” There is nothing asserted or indicated in Scripture to preclude the conveyance of any or all of these blessings, through the instrumentality of the sacraments, as well as of the other means of grace. On the contrary, there is good scriptural ground why believers should expect to receive, in the right use of the sacraments, any or all of these blessings, according as they may need them. And accordingly, it is the general doctrine of the Reformed confessions, that the great leading object of the sacraments - the main purpose which they were designed and fitted to accomplish - is just to be instrumental or auxiliary in conveying these blessings to those who have believed through grace, in producing these results in those who have already been renewed in the spirit of their minds, and to do this mainly, if not solely, by strengthening and confirming their faith.

We have already had occasion to quote the principal passages in which this doctrine concerning the great leading object or design of the sacraments is set forth in the Westminster symbols, but it may be proper to advert to them somewhat more formally in this connection. In the Confession of Faith, the main position laid down regarding the sacraments is this, that they “are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits, and to confirm our interest in Him; as also,” etc. Here the general nature and character of the sacraments is declared to be, that they are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace; and the principal object - the leading design, on account of which they were instituted by God - is said to be “to represent Christ and His benefits, and to confirm our interest in Him.” The “representing Christ and His benefits” applies more properly to the sacraments in their character and functions as signs; “the confirming our interest in Him,” in their character and function as seals. The representing or signifying Christ and His benefits, - that is, the blessings of the covenant of grace, and the doctrines or promises which unfold and offer, and which, when believed and applied, instrumentally convey or bestow them, - applies more immediately to the mere symbols or elements, and to the preaching of the gospel to all, without distinction or exception, which is involved in the selection and appointment of such symbols, as recorded in the New Testament. The “confirming our interest in Him” brings under our notice the more limited and specific object of the sacraments, as brought out in the actual individual participation in them by persons duly qualified and rightly prepared. This latter statement suggests at once, as a fundamental point in the doctrine of the sacraments, - and, of course, as true of baptism as of the Lord’s Supper, - that they are intended only for those who have already obtained an interest in Christ by faith, and that they are designed to benefit these persons mainly by confirming this interest in Christ, which they have already acquired, and which they must have possessed before they could lawfully and beneficially partake even in the initiatory sacrament of baptism. This important principle is also explicitly declared in the 19th chapter of the Confession, which treats of Saving Faith. Concerning saving faith, it says, that “it is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the word, by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.” Here the increasing and strengthening of saving faith, previously produced and already existing, is ascribed to the administration of the sacraments, and of course is predicated equally and alike of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and this incidental, though most explicit, assertion of the principle, that the sacraments were designed to increase and strengthen saving faith, shows how familiar the minds of the compilers of the Westminster Confession were with a doctrine, which is now very much ignored by many who profess to follow in their footsteps.

The same doctrine as to the objects of the sacraments is very explicitly set forth in the Larger Catechism, where, in answer to the question, What is a sacrament? it is said, that “a sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in His church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of His mediation, to strengthen and increase their faith and all other graces, to oblige them to obedience, to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another, and to distinguish them from those that are without.” We have already shown that, according to the strict grammatical construction of this sentence, the expression, “those that are within the covenant of grace,” is used simply as synonymous with believers, and not in the wider sense in which it might include also the children of believers; and that, therefore, the Larger Catechism agrees with the Confession of Faith and the Shorter Catechism, in setting forth this great doctrine in regard to the subjects of the sacraments, viz. that they are intended for believers, for those who have already received the gift of faith; not meaning to exclude the baptism of infants, - which was regarded as fully sanctioned by scriptural authority, - but virtually conceding, 1st, That the full and adequate idea of a sacrament, as exhibited in adult baptism and the Lord’s Supper, does not directly and thoroughly apply to the case of infant baptism; and 2d, That it is of more importance to bring out fully and explicitly, the sacramental principle, - the true and lull doctrine of the sacraments, - as applicable to adult baptism and the Lord’s Supper, than to attempt to lay down some more vague and diluted view upon this subject, which might include the special and peculiar case of the baptism of infants. This being assumed, we see that the Larger Catechism, in entire accordance with the Confession of Faith, gives it as the true account of the general nature and character of the sacraments, that e( they signify, seal, and exhibit” the benefits of Christ’s mediation to believers, and that their primary leading object is to strengthen and increase faith and all other graces, where these have been already produced. The three other objects here assigned to the sacraments, viz. “to oblige them to obedience, to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another, and to distinguish them from those that are without,” - all, be it observed, applicable only to believers, - are usually described by theologians, and were no doubt regarded by the Westminster divines, as the secondary or subordinate objects or ends of the sacraments. And it is plain that, in respect of intrinsic importance in their bearing upon the salvation of sinners, they do not stand upon the same level with the great object and result of strengthening and increasing faith and all other graces, and thereby signifying, sealing, and exhibiting the benefits of the covenant of grace.

The general definition or description of a sacrament given in the Shorter Catechism is very explicit in declaring, that the proper subjects of the sacraments are believers, though it does not bring out so formally and fully what are their objects or ends, except in so far as the truth upon this point is implied in their general nature and character. But as the statement in the Shorter Catechism is that with which most people in Scotland are familiar, though in many cases, we fear, familiar only with the words, without understanding the meaning, it may be proper to give a somewhat full and formal explanation of it, even though this may involve some repetition. It is this: a A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein by sensible signs Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.”

1. This statement explicitly asserts, as we have shown, that the sacraments, baptism as well as the Lord’s Supper, are intended for believers, and produce their appropriate beneficial results only in those who by faith receive them; while it assumes or takes for granted, that those who partake in them are duly qualified for doing so, by the possession of that faith which, in receiving them, is professed or declared.

2. The things which are represented, sealed, and applied to believers in the sacraments are, “Christ and the benefits of the new covenant, not some of the benefits of the covenant, however important and fundamental, but these benefits as a whole, - everything, including both a change of state and of character, which is invariably connected with saving faith; not the covenant of grace, regarded merely as a statement or exposition of a certain compact or transaction revealed in Scripture and bearing upon the salvation of sinners, but the grace of the covenant, or the blessings which the covenant offers, conveys, and secures. Any attempt to represent baptism, or the water the application of which constitutes baptism, as representing or signifying remission, - apart from regeneration, or regeneration apart from remission, - and any attempt to explain the difficulty about sealing by distinguishing between the covenant of grace and the grace of the covenant, and alleging that .sacraments are seals of the covenant, but are only signs or symbols of spiritual blessings, - is precluded by the terms of this statement, and still more explicitly by the further explanation given in the Confession of Faith and Larger Catechism.

3. “Christ and the benefits of the new covenant” are here declared to be equally and alike “represented, sealed, and applied and this one complex position being predicated of them, it cannot, in consistency with this statement, be alleged that these benefits, or any of them, are either represented and not sealed, or sealed and not represented, in reference to any one class or section of legitimate and worthy recipients. The admission of the accuracy of this description of a sacrament implies, that there is a sense in which Christ and His benefits are, in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, not only represented and signified, but also sealed and applied to believers.

4. The “signify, seal, and exhibit” of the Larger Catechism are evidently identical with the “represented, sealed, and applied” of the Shorter, - “signify” being synonymous with “represent,” and “exhibit” with a apply.” And in considering these expressions, we have first to advert to the question of the consistency of this account of the nature and character of the sacraments, with the view which, as we have seen, is given in these symbols, of their main object, their principal design. There is no difficulty in perceiving how the signifying and sealing here ascribed to the sacraments' accord with the doctrine which represents their leading object to be, to confirm or strengthen a faith previously existing, and thereby to contribute to convey the blessings which believers still need. Signifying and sealing naturally suggest the idea, that the things signified and sealed not only exist, but are actually possessed by those to whom they are signified and sealed. Whatever may be the precise kind of influence and effect indicated by these words, they assume or imply, that the things of which they are predicated have been already bestowed or conveyed, and are now held or possessed. The sacraments are for believers. In describing their general nature and character, it is usually assumed that the persons who receive them are duly qualified by the possession of faith; by receiving the sacraments, they express and exercise their faith; they thus have all the great fundamental blessings, the possession of which is invariably connected with the existence of faith, signified and sealed to them; and the tendency and effect of this are to strengthen and increase their faith, and thereby to convey to them more fully and abundantly those other blessings of which they still stand in need.

But while the signifying and sealing ascribed to the sacraments are plainly, whatever may be their precise meaning and import, quite accordant with the general doctrine taught concerning their objects, there seems to be more difficulty about “exhibiting” or “applying.” Do not these words convey the idea of conferring or bestowing what was not previously possessed? Do they not thus sanction the notion that Christ and His benefits are conveyed or bestowed, not previously to the lawful reception of the sacraments, but in and by the use of them? Now, in opposition to this notion, we take the position, that the doctrine that the sacraments are for believers, and assume the previous existence in worthy recipients of the great spiritual blessings with which saving faith is invariably connected, is far too explicitly and too fully set forth in the Westminster symbols, in accordance with the general doctrine of the Reformed churches, to admit of its being set aside or involved in uncertainty, on the ground of a single vague and ambiguous expression, even though there were greater difficulty than there is, in interpreting that expression in harmony with the general strain of their teaching. The proof of this in the statements of the Confession and Catechisms is too clear to require the application of any collateral and subordinate evidence. But it so happens that we have evidence of this sort, which would be conclusive as to what was the doctrine which the Westminster divines intended to teach upon this point, even though the language of their symbols, taken as a whole, had been much more ambiguous than it is. This evidence we find in statements contained in Samuel Rutherford’s “Due Right of Presbyteries,” and in George Gillespie’s “Aaron’s Rod Blossoming.” Rutherford and Gillespie are, literally and without any exception, just the two very highest authorities that could be brought to bear upon a question of this kind, at once from their learning and ability as theologians, and from the place they held and the influence they exerted in the actual preparation of the documents under consideration. That Rutherford held the views about the sacraments which we have ascribed to the Westminster standards, is quite certain, from the following quotations from the work above referred to: -

“All believers as believers, in foro Dei before God, have right to the seals of the covenant; those to whom the covenant and the body of the charter belongeth, to those the seal belongeth; but in foro ecclesiastice, and in an orderly church way, the seals are not to be conferred by the church upon persons because they believe, but because they profess their believing; therefore the apostles never baptized Pagans, but upon profession of their faith.” “Certainly, God ordaineth the sacraments to believers as believers, and because they are within the covenant, and their interest in the covenant is the only true right of interest to the seals of the covenant; profession doth but declare who believe and who believe not, and consequently who have right to the seals of the covenant, and who not; but profession doth not make right, but declareth who have right.”

There is no great difficulty connected with the Lord’s Supper, so far as concerns the point now under consideration. The difficulty applies only to baptism, and in regard to baptism the following statements of Rutherford are conclusive: -

“1. Baptism is not that whereby we are entered into Christ’s mystical and invisible body as such, for it is presupposed we be members of Christ’s body, and our sins pardoned already before baptism come to be a seal of sins pardoned. But baptism is a seal of our entry into Christ’s visible body, as swearing to the colours is that which entereth a soldier to be a member of such an army, whereas, before his oath, he was only a heart-friend to the army and cause.

“2. Baptism, as it is such, is a seal, and a seal - as a seal - addeth no new lands or goods to the man to whom the charter and seal is given, but only doth legally confirm him in the right of such lands given to the man by prince or state. Yet this hindereth not; but baptism is a real legal seal, legally confirming the man in his actual visible profession of Christ, remission of sins, regeneration, so, as though before baptism he was a member of Christ’s body, yet, quoad nos, he is not a member of Christ’s body visible, until he be made such by baptism.” _

Gillespie, in like manner, has the following explicit statement upon this subject: -

“The Papists hold that the sacraments are instrumental to confer, give, or work grace; yea, ex opere operato, as the schoolmen speak. Our divines hold that the sacraments are appointed of God, and delivered to the church as sealing ordinances, not to give, but to testify what is given; not to make, but to confirm saints. And they not only oppose the Papist’s opus operatum, but they simply deny this instrumentality of the sacraments, that they are appointed of God for working or giving grace where it is not. This is so well known to all who have studied the sacramentarian controversies, that I should not need to prove it; yet that none may doubt of it, take here some few instead of many testimonies.”f Nay, what is somewhat remarkable, and singularly pertinent to our present purpose, we find that the same difficulty which we are now considering is stated and answered by Gillespie, and that his answer to it is virtually a commentary upon the passage we are examining, and establishes the sense in which it was understood by those who may be regarded as its authors, - thus not only proving that the doctrine we have asserted is to be maintained, notwithstanding its apparent discrepancy, with one expression, but at the same time showing in what way this apparent discrepancy is to be explained. The remarkable passage is as follows: - “You will say, peradventure, that Protestant writers hold the sacraments to be, 1, Significant or declarative signs; 2, Obsignative or confirming signs; and 3, Exhibitive signs, so that the thing signified is given or exhibited to the soul.” Now these three points are manifestly identical with the three words employed in the Catechisms, - “signify, seal, and exhibit,” in the Larger; and “represent, seal, and apply,” in the Shorter. The main question is, What is meant by the third point, exhibit and apply, or exhibitive signs? and Gillespie’s answer is this: -

“I answer, that exhibition, which they speak of, is not the giving of grace where it is not (as is manifest by the afore-quoted testimonies), but an exhibition to believers, a real, effectual, lively application of Christ, and of all His benefits, to every one that believeth, for the staying, strengthening, confirming, and comforting of the soul. Our divines do not say that the sacraments are exhibitive ordinances, wherein grace is communicated to those who have none of it, to unconverted or unbelieving persons.

“By this time it may appear (I suppose) that the controversy between us and the Papists, concerning the effect of the sacraments (setting aside the opus operatum, which is a distinct controversy, and is distinctly spoken to by our writers, - setting aside also the causalitas physica and insita, by which some of the Papists say the sacraments give grace, though divers others of them hold the sacraments to be only moral causes of grace), is thus far the same with the present controversy between Mr Prynne and me, that Protestant writers do not only oppose the opus operatum and the causalitas physica and insita, but they oppose (as is manifest by the testimonies already cited) all causality or working of the first grace of conversion and faith in or by the sacraments, supposing always a man to be a believer and within the covenant of grace before the sacrament, and that he is not made such, nor translated to the state of grace in or by the sacrament.”

We think it of some importance to show, that these views of the sacramental principle, or of the doctrine of the sacraments, which, though so clearly and fully set forth in the Westminster standards, have been so much lost sight of amongst us, were openly maintained by the leading divines of the Church of Scotland during last century. Principal Hadow and Thomas Boston may be regarded as the heads of two different schools of theology in Scotland in the early part of last century, and; as happens not unfrequently in theological discussions, they divided, we think, the truth between them in the points controverted. They have both left very explicit statements of their views upon this subject of the sacraments, especially in regard to baptism, about which alone there is any difficulty, so far as concerns the points we have been considering. Principal Hadow lays down this position, that the commonly received doctrine of the Reformed churches does not “ascribe any other virtue or efficacy to baptism, than what is moral and objective, in representing and signing the promises, confirming of faith, and exhibiting or applying the promised benefits of the covenant unto believers, by w ay of a sign and seal, which still supposeth grace already conferred on those in whom this sacrament hath its due operation;” and he supports this and one or two other positions of a similar import and tendency by quotations from Zwingli, Bullinger, Peter Martyr, Musculus, Polanus, Wollebius, Aretius, Calvin, Beza, Spanheim, Turretine, Heidegger, Bucer, Zanchius, Ursinus, Parseus, Wendelinus, Rivet, Walseus, Hoornbeck, Essenius, Ley decker, Mastricht, Witsius, Alting, Maresius, Gomarus, Maccovius, Ames, Arnoldus, Danseus, Chamier, Amyraut, Du Moulin, - thus furnishing, like Vitringa, a great storehouse of materials for a theological display.

Boston’s views are brought out in the following extract from his “Miscellany Questions in Divinity:” -

“The sacraments are not converting but confirming ordinances; they are appointed for the use and benefit of God’s children, not of others; they are given to believers as believers, as Rutherford expresses it, so that none other are subjects capable of the same before the Lord. Either must we say they have no respect at all to saving grace, or that they are appointed as means of the conveyance of the first grace, - that is, to convert sinners, - or finally, for confirmation of grace already received. If it be said they have no respect at all to saving grace, then baptism cannot be called the baptism of repentance, nor are persons baptized for the remission of sins, nor can it be looked on as a seal of the righteousness of faith, all which is evidently against Scripture testimony. If it be said they are appointed as means of the conveyance of the first grace, then, first, either there are none converted before baptism, which is manifestly false, or else baptism is in vain conferred on converts, which is no less false. But surely in vain are means used to confer on any that which they had before. Second, it were unfaithfulness to Christ and cruelty to men to withhold the sacraments from any person whatsoever. Were it not soul-murder to withhold the means of conveyance of the first grace from any, and unfaithfulness to Him who will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth? But that the sacraments, and particularly baptism, are not to be conferred on all promiscuously, none can deny. Wherefore it remains that they are indeed appointed for confirmation, which doth necessarily suppose the pre-existence of grace in the soul, seeing that which is not cannot be confirmed.”

These quotations confirm everything we have said as to the doctrine which has been regarded by the most competent judges as taught in the Westminster standards. We give only one other short quotation from Dr John Erskine, probably the greatest divine in the Church of Scotland in the latter part of last century: -

“Scripture sufficiently proves that the sacraments of the New Testament are signs and seals of no other covenant than that covenant of grace which secures eternal happiness to all interested in it. And the partaking of them manifestly implies a partaking of covenant blessings on the one hand, and the exercise of faith on the other. To begin with baptism: John baptized for the remission of sins, and so did Christ’s disciples. We are told that baptism saves us; and by baptism we are said to put on Christ, to die, to be buried, and to rise with Him, because the water in baptism represents and seals that blood of Jesus which cleanseth from the guilt of sin, and purchases for us the sanctifying influences of the Spirit, and all other needful blessings. Baptism, then, is a seal of spiritual blessings; and spiritual blessings it cannot seal to the unconverted.”

We have now explained the doctrine taught in the Westminster standards concerning the subjects and the objects of the two sacraments of the Christian church, - that is, the persons who can lawfully and beneficially partake in them, and the purposes which, in these persons, they are fitted and intended to accomplish. Another question still remains to be considered, viz. Have we any further information as to the way and manner in which the sacraments produce their appropriate effects, or as to the principles which regulate the production of the results? So much mischief has been done to the souls of men by the perversion or abuse of the sacraments, that we consider it necessary, in connection with this branch of the subject, to state again distinctly what is, of course, obviously implied in the views we have explained, viz. that men who outwardly partake in the sacraments without having been previously led to believe in Christ Jesus, can derive from them no benefit whatever. Persons who are still unbelieving and impenitent, do not, in receiving baptism or the Lord’s Supper, discharge a duty, or perform an acceptable act of worship, or enjoy and improve a privilege or mean of grace. On the contrary, they are only committing a sin, because they are presumptuously engaging in a sacred service, while destitute of the qualifications which God has required, and because, in the very act of outwardly receiving the sacraments, they are making a false and hypocritical profession; they are declaring by deeds the existence of a certain i state of mind and heart, corresponding to the outward act they are performing, while it has really no existence. The sacraments can be expected to become the means of grace, or the channels of conveying spiritual blessings, only when men rightly receive them, - that is, when they are duly prepared for the reception of them, and when they faithfully improve them for their intended objects. With respect to the due preparation, there are required what the old divines used to call an habitual and an actual, or a general and a special, preparation. The habitual or general preparation is, of course, faith, without which already existing there can be no warrant for participating in the sacraments, and no capacity of benefiting by them; and the actual or special preparation is just faith in exercise, under the influence of right views and suitable impressions of our own wants and necessities at the time, and of the nature, character, and objects of the ordinance, whether it be baptism or the Lord’s Supper, in which we are about to engage.

It is only in these circumstances that the sacraments can be expected to prove means of grace. The question thus becomes limited to this, In what way, or through what process, do the sacraments become instrumental in conveying spiritual blessings to those persons who, having previously believed in Christ, and been justified and regenerated, receive these ordinances under a due sense of regard to Christ’s authority, and from a sincere desire to share more abundantly in the blessings of which they still stand in need, and which are all treasured up in Him? Now as to the way and manner, the process and regulating principles, according to which these men derive benefit from receiving the sacraments, the word of God has certainly not given us much direct information. And this, indeed, is just a part or a consequence of a more general truth, viz. that Scripture does not ascribe to the sacraments any such prominence or influence in the way of contributing to men’s salvation, by conveying to them spiritual blessings, as the Popish or Tractarian theory does. There are, indeed, some important negative truths bearing upon this subject, which are clear and certain, and which it is important to remember and to apply, as the great securities against error and abuse. Most of these have been referred to already, but it may be proper now to state them together, and in this connection. They are chiefly these -

1. That the sacraments do not occupy any such place in the scheme of God’s arrangements, as to make the participation in them, or in either of them, necessary to the possession and enjoyment of any spiritual blessing, or to entire meetness for heaven.

2. That no spiritual blessings are derived from the sacraments, without the previous existence and the present exercise of true saving faith.

3. That the sacraments become effectual means of grace and salvation, not from any virtue - that is, any power or worth, personal or official - in him who administers them, nor from any virtue in them, - that is, from any intrinsic efficacy inherent in them, and resulting ex opere operato, - and that they do not operate certainly and invariably in conveying any spiritual blessings.

4. That the sacraments are not seals of spiritual blessings in any such sense as implies that they are attestations to the personal character or spiritual condition of those who receive them, or that the mere reception of the sacraments is to be held as of itself furnishing a proof, or even a presumption, that those receiving them are true believers, and may be assured that they have reached a condition of safety.

These truths, it will be observed, are to a large extent negative. They consist mainly of denials of certain notions about the nature and necessity, the subjects, objects, and effects of the sacraments, which are very apt to spring up in men’s minds, and which have been openly maintained by Romanists and High Churchmen. And when we reflect upon the extent to which these unwarranted and extravagant notions about the sacraments have prevailed, and upon the fearful amount of injury they have done to the souls of men, we reckon it about sufficient to know, that in the case of adults they are not intended for those who have not already faith and regeneration; that they do not produce any beneficial results which may not be comprehended under the general head of aiding and assisting believers in carrying on the work of sanctification in their hearts; and that they do not directly and of themselves furnish any evidence, that faith and regeneration have been produced, and that the work of grace has begun. Let men firmly believe and carefully apply these negative doctrines, and they will thus be preserved from error and delusion, and at the same time will be able, if they carefully improve what they know, and wait upon God for His blessing, to derive from the sacraments all the spiritual benefits they were ever fitted and intended to be the means of conveying. „

There is really nothing more declared or defined upon this point in Scripture, or in the Westminster symbols, except what may be implied in or deducible from their general character as signs and seals of the covenant of grace. The general idea suggested by the word seal is that of confirming; and there is no great difficulty in seeing how this idea may be applied to the sacraments, without imagining that they are in themselves attestations on God’s part to men’s individual character and condition, or that they involve anything very exalted or mysterious. There is, first of all, the general consideration, that Christ having expressly appointed these two special ordinances to be instruments or channels of conveying to men spiritual blessings, in addition to what may be called the more ordinary means of grace, the word and prayer, we have in this very circumstance special grounds for confidently expecting His special blessing when we receive and use them aright. This consideration is well fitted to confirm us in our determination to improve the sacraments to the uttermost, and in our confident expectation of deriving spiritual benefit from doing so.

And when we look more particularly to the character of the sacraments as outward actions of a symbolic import, we see plainly that they have an individualizing, appropriating bearing or tendency, which fits them specially for being made the instruments in the hand of the Spirit of guiding us to a personal application of divine truth to our own condition and circumstances, and thus sealing or confirming our faith, love, and hope. A believer, in partaking of the sacraments, stands forth, plainly and palpably, as making a personal profession of his faith in Christ, and giving a personal promise and pledge to persevere in faith and obedience. The natural tendency of this is to lead him to realize more fully his actual position, obligations, and prospects as a believer, and this warrants the confident expectation that the Spirit will actually employ it for accomplishing this result. But the sacraments are to be regarded as signs and seals on the part of God as well as of man. And in this aspect their sealing or confirming character comes out in this way: God, by giving to a believer, in the ordinary course of His providence, an opportunity of partaking in the sacraments, does not indeed thereby attest or indorse his personal character and standing as a believer, but He may be said to single him out and to deal with him in his’ individual capacity, - addressing to him personally, and in a manner and circumstances peculiarly fitted to come home with power to his understanding, heart, and conscience, the great truths of Scripture, with the knowledge, belief, and application of which all spiritual blessings are connected; and thus intimating His readiness and willingness to bestow, in connection with these ordinances, all needful spiritual blessings, in accordance with all that He has revealed in His word, as regulating His conduct in such matters. Viewed as signs and seals on God’s part, the sacraments may be fairly regarded as signifying or intimating this; and the declaration of all this in such circumstances, and with such accompaniments, is well fitted to exert a sealing or confirming influence upon the minds of believers.

The substance of this matter may be embodied in these two positions, - 1st, That the Holy Spirit ordinarily employs the sacraments, when received by persons duly qualified and rightly prepared, as means or instruments of conveying to them clearer views and more lively and impressive conceptions of what He has done and revealed in His word; with respect to the provisions and arrangements of the covenant of grace, and their special application to men individually. And 2d, That the Holy Spirit, acting in accordance with the principles and tendencies of our constitution, ordinarily employs the sacraments, as means or instruments of increasing and strengthening men’s faith with reference to all its appropriate objects, and thereby of imparting to them, in greater abundance, all the spiritual blessings which are connected with the lively and vigorous exercise of faith, - that is, all those subordinate blessings - as in a certain sense they may be called - which accompany and flow from justification and regeneration.

We have now stated the substance of what is suggested by Scripture, and set forth in the Westminster standards, concerning the way and manner in which the sacraments become means of grace, and produce their appropriate beneficial effects; and, indeed, more generally, concerning the nature and character, the subjects and the objects, the end and the effect, of these ordinances. And we have done so under the influence of a strong desire and determination to avoid the very common and very injurious tendency, either directly to overrate the value and efficacy of the sacraments, or to furnish facilities and encouragements to others to overrate them, by leaving our statements on these subjects in a condition of great vagueness and confusion. Any attempts to assign to them greater dignity, value, and efficacy than we have ascribed to them, or to invest them with a deeper shade of mystery, are, we are persuaded, not only unsanctioned by Scripture, but inconsistent with the fair and legitimate consequences of what it teaches, and are fitted to exert an injurious influence upon the interests of truth and holiness. The strong natural tendency of men to substitute the tithing of mint, anise, and cumin, for the weightier matters of the law, - to substitute the observance of outward rites and ceremonies for the diligent cultivation of Christian graces and the faithful discharge of Christian duties, - is strengthened by everything which, professedly upon religious grounds, either adds to the number of the rites and ceremonies which God has prescribed, or assigns even to prescribed rites and ceremonies an importance and an efficacy beyond what He has sanctioned. In the second of these ways, as well as in the first, the truth of God has been grievously perverted, and the interests of practical godliness have been extensively injured. Almost the only rites and ceremonies permanently binding upon the Christian church are baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and these have been in every age so distorted and perverted by exaggeration and confusion, as to have proved, in point of fact, the occasions of fearful injury to men’s souls. It is true that men have sometimes exhibited a tendency to go to the opposite extreme, to depreciate instituted ordinances, and to reduce their importance, value, and efficacy below the standard which the word of God sanctions. But the tendency to overvalue the sacraments, and to make the observance of them a substitute, more or less avowedly, for things of much greater importance, is far more common and far more dangerous; more dangerous, at once, because it is more likely to creep in, and to gain an ascendency in men’s minds, and because, when yielded to and encouraged, it exerts a more injurious influence upon the highest and holiest interests, by wrapping men in strong delusion in regard to their spiritual condition and prospects, and leading them to build their hopes of heaven upon a false foundation.

We have confined ourselves to an explanation of the sacramental principle, or the general doctrine or theory of the sacraments as applicable to both these ordinances - a subject greatly neglected and misunderstood. We have referred to baptism and the Lord’s Supper only in so far as this was necessary for illustrating something connected with the exposition of the general doctrine. We have had no occasion to dwell upon the Lord’s Supper, because the application of the general doctrine of the sacraments to it is plain enough, and because there is no serious difficulty connected with it, unless we had gone into the discussion of the kind and manner of the presence of Christ in this ordinance, which we regard as one of the most useless controversies that ever was raised. We have been obliged to dwell at some length on baptism, and especially infant baptism, chiefly because of the peculiar place which infant baptism holds, - a peculiarity, the ignorance or disregard of which has introduced much error and confusion into men’s views upon this whole subject, The peculiarity is, that infant baptism really occupies a sort of subordinate and exceptional position; while, at the same time, this peculiarity being overlooked, and infant baptism coming much more frequently under our notice than adult baptism, we are very apt to allow the specialties of this peculiar case to modify unduly our views, not only of baptism, but even of the sacraments in general.

The views we have set forth upon this subject may at first sight appear to be large concessions to the anti-paedobaptists, - those who deny the lawfulness of the baptism of infants; and to affect the solidity of the grounds on which the practice of paedobaptism, which has ever prevailed almost universally in the Christian church, is based. But we are firmly persuaded, that a more careful consideration of the whole matter wall show, that these views - besides being clearly sanctioned by Scripture, and absolutely necessary for the consistent and intelligible interpretation of the confessions of the Reformed churches, and especially of the Westminster symbols - are, in their legitimate application, fitted to deprive the arguments of the anti-paedobaptists of the plausibility they possess. It cannot be reasonably denied, that they have a good deal that is plausible to allege against infant baptism. But we are satisfied that the plausibility of their arguments will always appear greatest to men who have not been accustomed to distinguish between the primary, fundamental, and complete idea of this ordinance as exhibited in the baptism of adults, and the distinct and peculiar place which is held by infant baptism, with the special grounds on which it rests. We cannot conclude without simply stating the following leading positions that ought to be maintained and set forth, in order to guard against error and delusion on the subject of infant baptism: -

lsi, That Scripture, while furnishing sufficient materials to establish the lawfulness and obligation of infant baptism, does not give us much direct information concerning it, - does not furnish materials for laying down any very definite deliverances as to its proper effects in relation to individuals; and that the whole history of the church inculcates the lesson, that upon this subject men should be particularly careful to abstain from deductions, probabilities, or conjectures, beyond what Scripture clearly sanctions.

2d, That while believers are under the same obligation to present their infant children for baptism as to be baptized themselves, if they have not been baptized before, no infants ought to be baptized, except those of persons who ought themselves to be baptized as adults upon their own profession, and who, being thus recognized as believers, are not only entitled but bound to be habitually receiving the Lord’s Supper.

3d, That while believers are warranted to improve the baptism of their children in the way of confirming their faith in the salvation of those of them who die in infancy, and in the way of encouraging themselves in a hearty and hopeful discharge of parental duty towards those of them who survive infancy, neither parents nor children, when the children come to be proper subjects of instruction, should regard the fact that they have been baptized, as affording of itself even the slightest presumption that they have been regenerated; that nothing should ever be regarded as furnishing any evidence of regeneration, except the appropriate proofs of an actual renovation of the moral nature, exhibited in each case individually: and that, until these proofs appear, every one, whether baptized or not, should be treated and dealt with in all respects as if he were unregenerate, and still needed to be born again of the word of God through the belief of the truth.


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