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OF THE SACRAMENTS.
Introductory Remarks.-Name and Properties of a Sacrament Sacraments erroneously affirmed.-Sign and Grace in Baptism.-Requisites.-Evidences of the Rite.-Infant Baptism.- Admission to a State of Grace.-The Lord's Supper.Its Benefits and Requisites.-Evidences of the Appointment.-A Caution-Improvement.
IT is an unreasonable excuse, which some make for the neglect of the two ordinances called Sacraments, that they are not moral, but ceremonial. Although there is indeed such a difference in duties, yet it avails no thing as to their respective measure of obligation. This must be evident, were it only that they all owe their obligation to the will of the great Being, who has a right to the unlimited obedience of his creatures. But when, besides this, the duties regarded as moral, with a state of heart inclining to them, are the object intended to be accomplished by those which come under the character of instituted or ceremonial; it is difficult to perceive, how contempt can be poured on the one, without its extending to the other. And especially when it is considered, that the institutions were in condescension to certain weaknesses, attached to hu man nature; the slighting of what is thus given, is not only ungrateful to the great ordainer of it; but aggravates the fault of every frailty which might be reme died, and the sin of every evil action which might have been prevented, by the means put into our hands: means, the figures of which are objects of sense; while they are accompanied by an inward virtue, full of religious improvement to our spirits.
The danger thus intimated, may be illustrated by comparing the two ordinances which are to come before us, with two others under the law: previously
noting concerning the penalty which will be seen annexed to disobedience, that if nothing of the same sort is threatened under the gospel, the difference should be accounted for, from the different spirit of the dispensations; the former abounding chiefly with temporal sanctions, agreeably to the property which has given to it the name of "a carnal commandment;" while there are also sanctions accompanying the latter; being such as are suited to its high character, of "the power of an endless life."*
When God enjoined on Abraham and on his posterity, the ordinance of circumcision; there was the awful entailment concerning every Israelite on whom the ceremony should not pass-"That soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant."+ If then Baptism, as a seal of the Christian covenant, has been appointed with an explicitness equal to that of circumcision, as the seal of the covenant of the law; there would seem in such a circumstance, to be at all events an exclusion from the visible society of Christian people; and in addition to this, much sin in those on whom the fault of the omission lies: Although doubtless, under both the dispensations, the subjects of the neglect are no further amenable, than as they may be consenting to it.
Again, on the subject of the passover; which was enjoined on the children of Israel, to be celebrated in commemoration of the deliverance from Egyptian bondage; and which Christians consider as typical of the sacrifice of the cross; it was declared, as the penalty of the omission of unleavened bread-"That soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land." Now the Lord's Supper is a retrospective celebration of the meritorious sacrifice, of which the other was the anticipation. And although it might be carrying the matter too far, to deny the rights of visible membership to those who absent themselves from the Communion; because we
Heb. vii. 16. + Gen. xvii. 14.
Exod. xii. 19.
have no injunction to this effect in the New Testament; yet there is ground in the subject to affirm, that persons to whom this applies are professors of Christianity only in an imperfect sense of the expression; and to intimate to them the danger of slighting a benefit, far greater than that presented to the immediate contemplation of the Israelites. The benefit here referred to, is deliverance from the bondage of sin.
Under a sense of the importance of the subject, suited to these sentiments, I proceed to speak of Sacraments generally; and of Baptism, and of the Lord's Supper, each of them in particular
The catechist asks-"How many Sacraments hath Christ ordained in his Church?" The catecumen answers-" Two only, as generally necessary to salvation; that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord.” The word "generally" was inserted, with a reference to the want of opportunity. It would have been inconsistent and unauthorized to have said this, for the dispensing with observation of the ordinances, in regard to any. But it was well to guard against the uneasiness which might be occasioned to sincere persons, who are not favoured with the means. Under such circumstances, God dispenses by the course of his providence, with an obligation which man cannot abrogate or lessen, in any instance.
The word "only" has evident reference to the number of Sacraments, acknowledged in the Church of Rome. But the consideration of this will properly come under the answer to the next question; which furnishes the test, by which the true number is to be ascertained.
The next question is-" What meanest thou by this word Sacrament?" And the answer is "I mean an outward and visible sign, of an inward and spiritual grace, given unto us, ordained by Christ himself; as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof." The different clauses of this sentence seem to have been framed with great care and circumspection; and with the design, that they should
express in substance, whatever is taught by the Church on this important subject. It will be proper to explain the import of the clauses, before we proceed to establish the propriety of the use of them, as also of the doctrine affirmed; and further to apply it as a test to some controversies which have arisen.
There must be an outward and visible sign: so that any divine institution, destitute of this appendage, however obligatory, comes not under the name of a Sacrament. There must be annexed to the outward sign, an inward and spiritual grace, or benefit: therefore, independently on the general useful tendency of every exercise of devotion, there must be scriptural authority, to attach something especially appropriated to an ordinance of this description. Next, it must have been ordained by Christ himself. It would be needless to inquire, how far apostolick appointment might have been construed to be that of Christ, in whose name the apostles acted; there being nothing in practice, to which such a question would relate: so that the clause may be rather considered, as designed to exclude the pretensions of an authority purely ecclesiastical. An institution resting on this ground, however reasonable and obligatory, is not a Sacrament. "As a means whereby we receive the same:" this is to show the intimate connexion, between the sign and the thing signified. "And a pledge to assure us thereof;" which describes what is visible to sense, as having a tendency to realize to us what is designed for our spiritual benefit.
This is the proper place, for some remarks on the subject of Sacraments generally, as received by our Church.
They who object to the obligation of such institutions, build much on the very name of them; which they allege to have been taken from the Latin word* expressive of an oath, and to be altogether unauthorized by scripture.
Although some of our respectable writers seem to favour the former idea, by saying that Sacraments bind the members of the Church to obedience under their divine head, as soldiers are bound by their military oaths to the persons and the orders of their generals; and although there can be no objection to the idea, in the line of illustration; yet this is not the origin of the word, as introduced into religion. Its origin in this way, was to express any material object connected with religious worship; in relation to which, it was considered as a sign, or a pledge: this being also the meaning of the Latin word referred to. Accordingly the term "sign" is applied to it in the Catechism; wherein we find no intimation of an oath.
In the early Latin Church, through which Christianity came to us, the word "Sacrament" signified precisely, what the Greek Church expressed by the word "mystery:"* agreeably to which we are told, that among the Greek Christians, down to the present day, what we call "Sacraments," are known by the name of "mysteries." And this name is applied to the elements, in the last prayer of our communion service; the communicants speaking of themselves, as having" duly received these holy mysteries."
In the New Testament, the word "mystery" commonly means the representation of some spiritual subject, by an object addressed to the senses. Only two instances shall be here given. In the 13th chapter of St. Matthew, our Lord illustrates the preaching of the word, under the figures of "seed sown by the way side," on" stony places," among "thorns," and on "good ground:" and when he proceeds to explain the allusion to his disciples, he prefaces his explanation by telling them" It is given unto you, to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven:" that is, to have the preceding symbols interpreted to you.
The other instance is in the twentieth verse of the first chapter of the book of Revelation; in which,