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the fulfilment of promises, yet they have applied it to the assurance or certain pursuasion which a person has of the truth itself: so as a sacrament is an oath by which a soldier binds himself to his leader, they have applied it to the sign by which the leader receives soldiers into his army. For by the sacraments the Lord promises that he will be our God, and that we shall be his people. But we pass over such subtilties, as I think I have proved by sufficient arguments that the ancients had no other view, in their application of the word sacrament, than to signify that the ceremonies to which they applied it were signs of holy and spiritual things. We admit the comparison deduced from external badges, but we cannot bear that the last and least use of the sacraments should be represented as their principal and even sole object. The first object of them is to assist our faith towards God; the second, to testify our confession before men. The similitudes which have been mentioned are applicable to this secondary design, but the primary one ought never to be forgotten; for otherwise, as we have seen, these mysteries would cease to interest us, unless they were aids of our faith, and appendices of doctrine, destined to the same use and end.
XIV. On the other hand, we require to be apprised, that as these persons weaken the force of the sacraments, and entirely subvert their use; so there are others of a contrary party, who attribute to the sacraments I know not what latent virtues, which are nowhere represented as communicated to them by the word of God. By this error the simple and inexperienced are dangerously deceived, being taught to seek the gifts of God where they can never be found, and being gradually drawn away from God to embrace mere vanity instead of his truth. For the sophistical schools have maintained, with one consent, that the sacraments of the new law, or those now used in the Christian Church, justify and confer grace, provided we do not obstruct their operation by any mortal sin. It is impossible to express the pestilent and fatal nature of this opinion, and especially as it has prevailed over a large part of the world, to the great detriment of the Church, for many ages past. Indeed, it is evidently diabolical: for by promising justification without faith, it precipitates souls into destruction:
in the next place, by representing the sacraments as the cause of justification, it envelopes the minds of men, naturally too much inclined to the earth, in gross superstition, leading them to rest in the exhibition of a corporeal object rather than in God himself. Of these two evils I wish we had not had such ample experience, as to supersede the necessity of much proof. What is a sacrament, taken without faith, but the most certain ruin of the Church? For as nothing is to be expected from it, but in consequence of the promise, which denotes God's wrath against unbelievers as much as it offers his grace to the faithful; the person who supposes that the sacraments confer any more upon him than that which is offered by the word of God, and which he receives by a true faith, is greatly deceived. Hence also it may be concluded, that confidence of salvation does not depend on the participation of the sacraments, as though that constituted our justification, which we know to be placed in Christ alone, and to be communicated to us no less by the preaching of the gospel than by the sealing of the sacraments, and that it may be completely enjoyed without this participation. So true is the observation, which has also been made by Augustine, that invisible sanctification may exist without the visible sign, and, on the contrary, that the visible sign may be used without real sanctification. For, as he also writes in another place, “men put on Christ, sometimes by the reception of a sacrament, sometimes by sanctification of life.” The first case may be common to the good and the bad, the second is peculiar to the faithful.
XV. Hence that distinction, if it be well understood, which is frequently stated by Augustine, between a sacrament and the matter of a sacrament. For his meaning is, not only that a sacrament contains a figure and some truth signified by that figure, but that their connection is not such as to render them inseparable from each other; and even when they are united, the thing signified ought always to be distinguished from the sign, that what belongs to the one may not be transferred to the other. He speaks of their separation, when he observes, that “the sacraments produce the effect which they represent, in the elect alone.” Again, when he is speaking of the Jews; “ Though the sacraments were common to all, the grace which is the
power of the sacrament was not common: so now also the washing of regeneration is common to all; but the grace itself, by which the members of Christ are regenerated with their Head, is not common to all.” Again, in another place, speaking of the Lord's supper; “ We also in the present day receive visible meat; but the sacrament is one thing, and the power the sacrament is another. How is it that many receive of the altar and die, and die in consequence of receiving. For the morsel of bread given by the Lord to Judas was poison; not because Judas received an evil thing, but because being a wicked man he received a good thing in a sinful manner.” A little after; “ The sacrament of this thing, that is, of the unity of the body and blood of Christ, is prepared on the table of the Lord, in some places daily, in other places at appointed days, at stated intervals of time, and is thence received, by some to life, by others to destruction. But the thing signified by this sacrament is received, not to destruction, but to life, by every one who partakes of it.” He had just before said; “He shall not die, who eats; I refer not to the visible sacrament, but to the power of the sacrament: who eats internally, not externally, he who eats in his heart, not he who presses with his teeth." In all these passages we find it maintained, that a sacrament is separated from the truth signified in it, by the unworthiness of a person who receives it amiss, so that there is nothing left in it but a vain and useless figure. In order to enjoy the thing signified together with thc sign, and not a mere sign destitute of the truth it was intended to convey, it is necessary to apprehend by faith the word which is contained in it. Thus, in proportion to the communion we have with Christ by means of the sacraments, will be the advantage which we shall derive from them.
XVI. If this be obscure in consequence of its brevity, I will explain it more at large. I affirm that Christ is the matter, or substance, of all the sacraments; since they have all their solidity in him, and promise nothing out of him. So much more intolerable is the error of Peter Lombard, who expressly makes them causes of righteousness and salvation, of which they are parts. Leaving all causes, therefore, of human invention, we ought to adhere to this one cause. As far as we Vol. III.
are assisted by their instrumentality, to nourish, confirm, and increase our faith in Christ, to obtain a more perfect possession of him and an enjoyment of his riches, so far they are efficacious to us: and this is the case, when we receive by true faith that which is offered in them. Do the impious then, it will be said, by their ingratitude frustrate the ordinance of God and cause it to come to nothing? I reply, that what I have said is not to be understood as implying, that the virtue and truth of à sacrament depends on the condition or choice of him who receives it. For what God hath instituted continues unshaken, and retains its nature, however men may vary: but as it is one thing to offer, and another to receive, there is no incongruity in maintaining, that a symbol, consecrated by the word of the Lord, is in reality what it is declared to be, and preserves its virtue, and yet that it confers no benefit on a wicked and im
, pious person. But Augustine happily solves this question in a few words: he says, “If thou receive it carnally, still it ceases
: not to be spiritual; but it is not so to thee.” And, as in the passages already cited, this Father shews that the symbol used in a sacrament is of no value, if it be separated from the truth signified by it; so, on the other hand, he states that it is necessary to distinguish them, even where they are united, lest our attention be confined too much to the external sign. “As to follow the letter," says he, "to take the sign instead of the things signified, betrays servile weakness; so it is the part of unsteadiness and error, to interpret the signs in such a manner as to derive no advantage from them.” He mentions two faults, against which it is necessary to guard. One is, when we take the signs as if they were given in vain, and disparaging or diminishing their secret significations by our perverse misconstruction, exclude ourselves from the advantage which we ought to derive from them. The other is, when not elevating our minds beyond the visible sign, we transfer to the sacraments the praise of those benefits, which are only conferred upon us by Christ alone, and that by the agency of the Holy Spirit who makes us partakers of Christ himself, and by the instrumentality of the external signs which invite us to Christ, but which cannot be perverted to any other use, without a shameful subversion of all their utility.
XVII. Wherefore let us abide by this conclusion, that the office of the sacraments is precisely the same as that of the word of God; which is to offer and present Christ to us, and in him the treasures of his heavenly grace; but they confer no advantage or profit without being received by faith: just as wine, or oil, or any other liquor, though it be poured plentifully on a vessel, yet will it overflow and be lost, unless the mouth of the vessel be open; and the vessel itself, though wet on the outside, will remain dry and empty within. It is also necessary to guard against being drawn into an error allied to this, from reading the extravagant language used by the Fathers with a view to exalt the dignity of sacraments; lest we should suppose there is some secret power annexed and attached to the sacraments, so that they communicate the grace of the Holy Spirit, just as wine is given in the cup: whereas the only office assigned to them by God is to testify and confirm his benevolence towards us; nor do they impart any benefit, unless they are accompanied by the Holy Spirit to open our minds and hearts, and render us capable of receiving this testimony: and here also several distinct favours of God are eminently displayed. For the sacraments, as we have before hinted, fulfil to us on the part of God the same office as messengers of joyful intelligence, or seals for the confirmation of covenants on the part of men: they communicate no grace from them. selves, but announce and shew, and, as earnests and pledges, ratify, the things which are given to us by the goodness of God. The Holy Spirit, whom the sacraments do not promiscuously impart to all, but whom God, by a peculiar privilege, confers upon his servants, is he who brings with him the graces of God, who gives the sacraments admission into our hearts, and causes them to bring forth fruit in us. Now though we do not deny that God himself accompanies his institution by the very present power of his Spirit, that the administration of the sacraments which he hath ordained may not be vain and unfruitful; yet we assert the necessity of a separate consideration and contemplation of the internal grace of the Spirit, as it is distinguished from the external ministry. Whatever God promises and adumbrates in signs, therefore, he really performs; and the signs are not without their effect, to prove the veracity