« PrécédentContinuer »
man soldier, upon his first entrance into service, had an oath (sacramentum) administered to him with every circumstance of solemnity. He promised never to desert his standard-to submit his own will to the commands of his leaders-and to sacrifice his life for the safety of the Emperor, and the Empire.
The historian Pliny, too, in one of his letters to the Emperor Trajan, states, that the Christians in his province, when they came together on a set and solemn day, (no doubt the Lord's day), having sung a hymn in honour of Christ, bound themselves by an oath (se obstringere sacramento) not to commit any wickedness, to love each other as brethren, &c.
From these quotations, it is evident that the leading idea designed to be conveyed by the term sacrament, as applied to the seals of God's covenant, is that of sworn fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ, and the interests of his kingdom: That we will not desert the standard of the cross-that we will love the truths, and keep the commandments of Zion's King
and hold all that we are, and all that we have, under sacred consecration to the promotion of his cause and the advancement of his glory.
It is not necessary to enquire at what particular period of the Christian church this term was first applied to the sacred institutions of baptism and the Lord's supper. It is a well established fact, that while the Greek fathers used the term Mudropia, mysteries, the fathers of the Latin church early adopted the word sacramentum, sacrament, to denote those sealing ordinances of our holy religion, in which
Christians bind themselves publicly, and under the solemnity of an oath, to be the Lord's entirely and forever.
What an impressive idea does this view of the terni sacrament give us of those solemn transactions, in which we offer up our children to God in baptism, and receive at the Redeemer's table the memorials of his broken body and shed blood; and what a chilling representation does it make of the exceeding sinfulness of those "who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth nor in righteousness."* Shall not the soul of the Lord be avenged on him that sweareth falsely-on him who, at the baptism of his child, or the communion-table, takes the oath of fidelity, but continues to live in the wanton profanation of God's name and day-in the neglect of public and family worship and the commissior of vile offences? Pause, reader; and as you dread the displeasure of the Almighty, let me entreat you not to vow unless you mean to pay what you have vowed unto the Lord. So says the wise man, "When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: Pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow, and not pay."
Let this suffice with regard to the term. We now proceed to enquire more particularly into the nature of these holy institutions. "Sacraments, according
Eccles. v. 4, 5,
*isa. xviii. 1.
Ps. lxxvi. 11.
to our excellent Heidelbergh Catechism," are visible signs and seals appointed of God for this end, that, by the use thereof, he may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel; to wit, that he grants us freely the remission of sins, and life eternal, for the sake of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross." With this perfecly agrees the statement given of sacraments by the Westminster Divines in their larger Catechism, and also by the Church of England. The former say,*" a sacrament is an holy ordinance, instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exbibit to those who 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." The latter says,† "a sacrament is 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."
Sacraments, then, according to these several definitions, are signs and seals of God's grace, ordained by Christ; in the reception of which the Christian solemnly owns God as his God and portion, and devotes himself to his service and glory.
In the proper use of sacraments, God makes himself over to us, and we surrender ourselves up to
* Quest. clxii.
Catechism, to be learnt by such as wish confirmation.
him in the bonds of a covenant never to be forgot
1. They are signs. In the administration of sacraments, spiritual benefits, particularly the righteousness and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ for the justification and sanctification of his people, are represented by material objects and visible actions. God thus symbolically declares all men are by nature and practice guilty and depraved; that the merit of Christ's blood, and the efficacy of his grace, alone can remove their guilt and depravity; and that, on these accounts, he, as the God that keepeth covenant, becomes their God, and receives them as his people.
2 Sacraments are also seals.-" Abraham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised."* Not only do sacraments exhibit the benefits resulting from the Saviour's mediatorial undertaking; but they sensibly confirm God's covenant with believers, furnish them with the strongest pledge of their interest in the benefits represented by them, and thus strengthen their confidence in the special love and unchanging faithfulness of their be venly Father. So says our Confession of Faith.† "We believe that our gracious God, on account of our weakness and infirmities, hath ordained the sacraments for us, thereby to seal to us his promises, and to be pledges of the good-will and grace of God.
*kom. iv. 11.
† Art. xxxiii.
towards us, and also to nourish and strengthen on faith; which he hath joined to the word of the gospel, the better to present to our senses both that which he signifies to us by his word, and that which he works inwardly in our hearts, therr by assuring and confirming in us the salvation which he imparts to us. For they are visible signs and seals of an inward and invisible thing, by means whereof God worketh in us by the power of the Holy Ghost."
Such, then, is the nature of sacraments. They are sensible confirmations of divine goodness, and visible pledges of offered blessings. The reception of the pledges is the public acceptance of the blessings, on the terms on which they are proposed,-or, in ther words, the reception of the pledges is a solemn engagement to comply with the terms of the covenant, of which they are the divinely appointed
Such institutions, you cannot fail to notice, are well adapted to the constitution of man. Most of our impressions are received through the organs of our bodies; and in the use of sacraments the senses of our body are made, in an eminent degree, assistant to the devotions of our souls.
It has therefore pleased that God, "who knows our frame," always to deal with man in the form of a covenant, and to confirm his engagements by sensible objects or sacramental signs. In the covenant of works made with Adam, our common parent and representative, the tree of life was a visible assurance