Help Understanding the Sacraments

Discussion in 'Theological Forum' started by Ben Chomp, Apr 11, 2019.

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  1. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    Brothers, Fathers, Sisters, and Mothers,

    As I study the Westminster Standards in an attempt to better understand the sacraments, I am confused by Larger Catechism Q&A 163:

    Q - What are the parts of a sacrament?

    A - The parts of a sacrament are two: the one an outward and sensible sign, used according to Christ's own appointment; the other an inward and spiritual grace thereby signified.

    The Catechism says that a sacrament has two parts - the sign and the grace. This would imply that both are necessary for a full participation in the sacraments. JG Vos says this:

    "Those who use the sacraments wrongly, without true faith in Jesus Christ, do not really participate in the sacraments; they only participate in the outward forms or ritual of the sacraments, not in the spiritual realities of the sacraments."

    I'm used to thinking about sacraments as signs and seals of grace, but not as grace themselves. But here the Catechism and Vos seem to be saying that grace is a part of the sacraments. So a full participation in baptism, then, would not just be washing, but also regeneration. This seems to contradict what the standards say elsewhere.

    Could you help me understand what the Catechism is saying here?
  2. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    They do confer grace but not necessarily at the time it is administered, like infant baptism. When and where the grace is conferred is a mystery that only God knows. On our end we have only the visible signs and the promise of God to go by. The preached word and the visible word. The rest is up to God in his good pleasure.
  3. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks. So is this to affirm that a full participation in the sacraments always includes the grace that is signified?

    Catholics sometimes say that the sacraments are grace. For example, they believe that baptism regenerates. Of course we would disagree, saying that they err in conflating the sign with the thing signified.

    But would we say that baptism rightly used (with faith in Christ) includes the grace of regeneration? The caveat, of course, is that regeneration may not come at the moment of administration.
  4. yeutter

    yeutter Puritan Board Senior

    The Heidelberg Catechism [Lord's day 25, Question 66] speaks of the connection of faith to the sacraments. It tells us that the Holy Ghost graciously working faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Gospel, and confirms it by use of the Holy Sacraments.
  5. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    Still hoping someone can help me understand this section of the Catechism. Any other thoughts?
  6. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Grace is not a "spiritual substance," as Rome affirms, a medium of and for intrinsic divine blessings.

    Neither is grace God's acts of blessing, although certainly there is no grace apart from the divine activity that blesses according to his intention. And these are sometimes spoken of with the very language of grace; such that for example baptism may be spoken of as "regeneration" (Tit.3:5) even if strictly speaking this is an example of metonymy.

    My preferred language for explaining what grace is in simple terms: it is a blessed relationship, it is the terms of favor, it is the manner of our covenant with God.

    So when we speak of grace as presented in the sacrament, we are not talking about something akin to manna, a "substance" with characteristics that produce by the nature of the thing certain effects, comparable to physical nourishment's effects or the effects of water.

    Nor are we speaking of grace as presented in the sacrament as if the act is a blessing because God is good. If that were so, then baptism for example would be grace because goodness is the nature of God and hence of all his extended effects. The element of truth in that conception cannot be made to override the will of God in all his acts. Men do not access the grace of God simply by going to the source an taking it, even if grace is on offer. Unauthorized participation brings no blessing, not even for an instant. And misuse or theft of God's gifts summons a curse--just ask Adam and Eve.

    When we speak of God's presenting his grace in the sacrament, we mean that God presents himself to us in his sacrament. He offers himself to us in intimate relationship, because of his favor to us in his Son. Which means that for our part, we must have faith that he is who he reveals himself to be, he does what he wills, and he means what he says. Faith is the key to our relationship of blessed trust.

    Who is "we," "us," and "our" in those sentences? Broadly and undifferentiated, it is the church. God presents the church with himself, with grace. Of course, the church has both a visible and an invisible aspect, an elect contingent and a reprobate. More narrowly, God presents himself in the secret place to his elect. The public announcement of his favor is observable by all, and it carries with it either an explicit or an implicit qualifier: believe, and you will be saved. The secret disclosure carries a hidden treasure: unconditional pardon and the power to believe it.

    The secret is not "in" the baptism (or the Lord's Supper). But the sacrament is an instrument for communication, as public communication as verbal proclamation is. The sacrament testifies to God's saving intention for all those who have faith in the Mediator. It calls people to faith in the promise. And, speaking for myself as a Presbyterian, we believe that God begins his saving work upon his elect through the means of grace as soon as his people begin to have contact with them, possibly as soon as birth. At some point, for many a youth being brought to church to see and hear the things of God, those means of grace--word and sacrament--are the instruments by which saving faith springs to life in God's elect.

    Can God speak to a babe in arms? Well, maybe let's begin by asking if a mother can speak to a babe in her arms? Is she wasting her breath on a squirmy or half-asleep bundle that lacks the mental processing of language skill? Furthermore, what is the effect of her touch? And what is the effect of God's touch, through the instrument of water, besides the murmuring of the words of his institution? Maybe... nothing observable, or nothing much, at the historic time-and-place of baptism. But, for the lifetime one child will travel, perhaps it is the very first moment he starts to recognize the caress and Voice of his Shepherd, more dear to him than his mother's gentleness and tone.
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  7. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    The sacraments are signs and seals insofar as the Spirit signifies and seals the benefits of the covenant to us by means of the element(s). This a gracious operation of the Spirit.

    If the Spirit does not signify or seal, there is no sign or seal.
  8. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks. I'm trying to simplify this for my simple mind! Would you say that there is grace in the sacraments so long as we use them rightly? By "use them rightly" I mean with faith in Christ in our hearts.

    Would this imply, like Vos says above, that those who participate without any faith are not really participating in the sacraments?
  9. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    The Catechism says that a sacrament has two parts - the sign and the grace that it signifies. Does this mean that the two parts of baptism are washing with water (sign) and union with Christ (grace signified)?
  10. TheInquirer

    TheInquirer Puritan Board Freshman


    You have a talent for explaining things clearly with precision and nuance - a real gift.

    What I have struggled to understand is God giving more of Himself to a Christian. I understand in growing in knowledge of God and in relational experience of God but not receiving more of God than one already has at conversion with the indwelling Holy Spirit.

    Can you expand a bit on your understanding of that or point me to something to read that has been helpful to you?

  11. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    You can say "grace IN the sacraments," so long as you are distinguishing a Reformed understanding of that preposition. There is grace in connection with the sacraments, because God ordained them and unto that end has promised to bless participants through them, which blessing is theirs only when received by a believing heart.

    God really does meet with us by his means (as opposed to the memorialist view), so in that sense he is truly with us spiritually (not carnally) in the breaking of the bread. There's an instrumentality to these (ordinary, mundane) things, just as much as to the audible reading and preaching of the word. The latter is the nearest thing this side of heaven we have of our Savior's actual voice speaking to us, teaching us, conveying his heart and mind and emotion to us. What we have in his word is such a good thing, it actually works to save and improve us--or rather, he works thereby to create faith and sanctify us, because his word isn't an impersonal energy cell but honest to goodness Personal communication.

    The sacraments strengthen and increase faith, in ways analogous to the utility of the word. Do you think there was grace in the meal on the night the Lord's Supper was inaugurated? Think about how meaningful that event was! Think about the deepening of the connection between participants that came about in the context of that meal, the bonds of unity with their Lord and one another forming tighter and stronger and more beautiful. Not least, because Jesus was present and communicating his love, communicating himself to his disciples.

    And this event is exactly what is being remembered and reenacted and repeated at every Lord's Supper since. The only substantive difference is in the meal's temporal relation relative to the deliverance it symbolizes. The only difference in the company is in new and more people being sat at the Table by and by. Due to the passage of time, some of the disciples are promoted to another venue (heaven). Meanwhile, Jesus just keeps on rehearsing the same meal on earth, presiding over the same table, praying over and blessing the same elements, and passing them to... you.

    If there was a palpable blessing of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ at the First Supper, then there should be the same palpable blessing of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ at our umpteenth memorial Supper. He's present for us there, a real but spiritual presence, but not one whit less a powerful and communicable presence than in the hours before the cross. That's where it's so plain that without faith, there's no sight of Jesus. There's only a kind of "raiding" the Table, in mockery, or in ignorance, or in outright theft. Christ is not present for them. They are not participating beyond eating and drinking condemnation to themselves. Because the sign of a thing is not nothing, even if it isn't the thing itself. The signs have value, on account of their connection. Those who topple statues of dictators are showing contempt for the reality via the symbol.

    But for those who know the Lord, who recognize him in the breaking of the bread (Lk.24:35), who see in those elements the broken body and shed blood of their Savior (in like manner to the original disciples), that is covenant, that is relationship, favor, and life in Christ.
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  12. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    In terms of an absolute value, you will never have "more" God later than at the first. But in your growing capacity (2Pet.3:18), surely there is more room for that which is "of" God, and also of the "nearness" of God. You acknowledge growing in knowledge and relational experience; but what about Personal appreciation; and what about quality, not simply quantity? What about knowing God, and knowing him better? You might also think about the "more" in terms of special appreciation. I love my wife every day, but I also love her "more" on our anniversary.

    Are you married? Surely one does not grow in marriage simply by knowing particulars about the other person, inside and out; and by pursuing meaningful experiences together--both which are unquestionably vital to a good and healthy marriage. Theoretically, perhaps I gave my wife all of me when I said "I do," and she gave to me the same. But then there is the actual giving and receiving of one another. There's all I can handle today; and then all I can handle tomorrow. And there's bound to be some increase there, through my exercises and explorations.

    Our relation to God is asymmetric. He starts out knowing all there is to know about us, all we've ever been and will be. Unlike a spouse, God doesn't change, and thereby give us some "new development" in him that we then embrace with what went before. But because I'm changing all the time, I keep finding him "all in all."

    There is depth and riches to the wisdom and knowledge of God, Rom.11:33. When we're tiny, we think one hundred is a pretty huge number. When we finally ask what comes after the thousands, and we dwell for a while on "millions," then "billions..." we stop after a while, because those aren't figures, as much as vague words that mean "lots and lots." We keep growing into larger figures that attain an anchor in our minds, but our horizon also expands. And looking afar off, we know (in theory) "God is there, too."

    I like this quote: We don't receive a different Christ in the sacrament than in the word; but sometimes we get him better. Sometimes, we need "more" on a given Sunday, because of some high or some low in our lives just about that time. And God is gracious, and generous, and gives us a precious token of our relationship. We received "more" and better of him, when we needed him. (for ref. see pp.63-64, "Second Sermon," original pagination)
  13. TheInquirer

    TheInquirer Puritan Board Freshman


    First, thanks for the response.

    My understanding of “knowing” in the biblical sense goes beyond mere factual knowledge to include the relational factors you describe (I think). Yes, my wife and I have been married 17 years - What you are describing in that analogy seems like what I meant by knowledge and relational experience - perhaps my terms werent quite comprehensive (language can be limiting) though to me they seem to include what you are describing if I am understanding you correctly. Also, for me, quantity and quality are interrelated concepts when it comes to good relationships - there is an interplay between the two. Perhaps there is a third factor/facet that you are trying to get across that I am missing?

    I have also never quite understood the term “nearness” either - how we can be “near” or “far” from God as Christians and what people mean when they use those terms. If one means either walking in the spirit and pursuing God vs walking in the flesh and neglecting/ignoring/rebelling - those are terms I understand. I cant tell if “nearness” is a spatial term (in a spiritual sense) or a “feeling” or a “status” or something else.

    I also don’t quite understand receiving Christ “better” in the sacrament. I guess despite what I’ve read of Reformed sacramentology, and all the times I’ve read through Scripture, I still don't get the concept of gaining any more of Christ than we already have. I haven’t heard solid, biblically sound explanations of what is actually taking place spiritually in the Lord’s Supper in the Reformed view even after reading Calvin and a couple others. The proof texts typically offered always seem to me what Christ communicates to the believer at salvation. Thus, I havent come across any compelling reason to move from my firm stance on the memorial view but I keep being open to correction since I hold Reformed theology in high regard and desire to be humble enough to admit I may certainly be missing something. But at this point, I am just truthfully perplexed - I sincerely don’t understand the Reformed view, but I will keep trying.

    Edit: just read the selection you recommended. Unfortunately the author provided no biblical justification or proof texts for his assertion that our souls are enlarged and we receive Christ better through the sacrament than through the word. Perhaps he does at another point or previously?

    Last edited: Apr 13, 2019
  14. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    If faith is required to benefit from the sacrament, and if, upon the believing use of the sacrament, the Holy Spirit confers the grace signified to those to whom it belongs (according to His will and at His own time)....then how does this work with regeneration (the Spirit's baptism) and baptism? Regeneration is one of the graces signified by baptism, but regeneration cannot be received by faith, since it precedes faith both logically and temporally (or possibly, simultaneously with faith) and renews the nature to produce faith.

    Also, how about the other converting graces that are signified by baptism, since the sacraments work as confirming, not converting ordinances (although perhaps I have answered my own question here: the other converting graces are received by faith and the sacrament confirms God's promises that He will bestow these on those who believe)? WCF 14 says that faith is generated by the word, while the sacraments are only said to confirm faith.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2019
  15. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    My purpose was less to try to explain a difference in our thinking (yours and mine), than to get all that variety of knowledge out in the open. If you can relate to the idea that your greater acquaintance with a human wife is translatable to having "more" of her, or that she opens new doors to you than you once knew existed; then I think God in his Word authorizes us to analogize from our human relationships to our relationship with the divine.

    Is it fair to say that you've given "more" of yourself to your wife over time--that you're giving her more today, than on your wedding day? Even if you "in theory" gave her all of you that day? Or that you try to make "extra" available to her at this time or that, when she needs it or on a special occasion? To me, all that is true without a doubt.

    Such, then, are the senses I understand God gives "more" of himself to me, because he is Tri-Person and not simply an Existent. If God became yours like a bike on your birthday, then just as the bike gives you all it ever is on day 1 exactly as it does on day 3000, God would give you all he ever is on day 1 exactly as he does on day 30,000. The bike-relationship is static, even if you gain lots of experience with it, and know more about it over time. Our personal relationship are dynamic; the more they resemble static relations, the less well they are.

    All I mean to do with these thoughts is stimulate your thinking. I'm not trying to persuade you (to Reformed sacramentology, or much else), but replying to your prompt.

    "Drawing near to God" is biblical terminology, e.g. Ps.73:28; Heb.7:19; Jas.4:8. So, I hope that you will study the notion directly in the text; and by pastors, professors, and mentors; with commentaries and other study aids. God, being omnipresent, "isn't far from any one of us," Act.17:27, even the unbelievers, in that sense. But he is "far from the wicked," Prv.15:29, in that he wants nothing to do with them. In contrast, he hears the prayers of the righteous. Did he have to be within a certain audible range to accomplish that? Of course not.

    How can we be "near to" or "far from" God as believers? There is probably more than one sense in which that expression is useful. Ps.38:21 pleads with God not to forsake him; Ps.22:1 cries to God who apparently has forsaken him. Ps.71:12 asks God to close the gap, even if it's a small one. This is the language of a child with his parent. Isn't God our heavenly Father? Perception of physical distance (large or small) is taken as a metaphor of relationship, whether in actual terms or felt terms.

    Final advice. Let the language of Scripture guide your mind, and be wary of trying to straitjacket the language God has chosen to communicate to us (with some flexibility), in order to fit stark, preconceived categories. God bless your studies.
  16. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Baptism isn't only about the past, and the moment of initiation. We participate in the baptisms of others, and we improve our own, thereby drawing on the strength of the grace of God by means of it.

    The life of regeneration is the SAME life of sanctification. In the Reformation era the term "regeneration" was practically synonymous with "vivification," (the counterpart to mortification), but referred primarily to the work of God, whereas the latter includes at least a sense of our engagements (e.g. Jn.15:16; Col.3:12; Rom.8:13). There is a whole-cloth connection between the first moment of regeneration and the life of this present moment.

    Regeneration is certainly received by faith, inasmuch as the touch of regeneration is the beginning of faith, actuating the organ of reception. Like we live to breathe, and breathe to live. Set aside our modern scientific regard for a moment, and think of the baby's birth. To live, the child must breathe; to breathe, the child must live. Live-birth, as such, is the result of producing a "breather" in a single act.

    I'm reminded of discussions about the relative priority of justification and union. "Unionists" aver that justification by faith, being a benefit drawn from Christ alone via the instrument, can't happen unless union with him is present. But justification by faith is that which makes us "right with God," so allowing for the formation of an existential union. In my estimation, justification is properly the bond and seal of union unto Christ (in whom are all benefits), and his touch making connection imparts life to the instrument of faith for reception.

    The key (in my opinion) is simultaneity, with ongoing (rather than instant and done) effects.
  17. TheInquirer

    TheInquirer Puritan Board Freshman

    Very helpful Bruce, thank you.
  18. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    That's because, following Thomist metaphysics, they believe grace is almost a physical substance.
  19. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    Some evidence from Gillespie and others that WCF 28.6 intends the same thing as standard Reformed teaching in the era, i.e., that the sacrament of baptism is an instrumental means of confirming grace, not converting grace (See also WCF 14.1; WSC 92 and WLC 162 where the benefits are only to believers). There is no baptismal regeneration in the WCF, and any grace conferred is conferred by the Holy Spirit. Those who do not have faith/regeneration do not have a full participation in the sacrament because the sacrament does not function as a seal to people except to those who have faith.

    So to understand WCF 28.6, by baptism, Christ and his benefits are conferred by the Spirit to believers (with the given qualifications). It is the same Christ and the same benefits received by the Word, but (although the Word also conveys confirming grace) it is Christ and his benefits applied to the believer in a confirming way, not converting way.

    (See Part 3 for Gillespie)

    The cited pages of Aaron's Rod Blossoming

    G.H. Milne also has an essay

    Thomas Boston is useful as usual.
  20. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    This is interesting, thanks. Let me ask a question to see if I'm understanding. Would you say that the grace represented in baptism is regeneration or the promise of regeneration?
  21. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    By "represent," I understand you to mean the thing that baptism signifies/symbolizes. Baptism signifies/represents grace, and therefore, it signifies/represents regeneration. Baptism represents Christ and his benefits. As a seal, baptism confirms our interest in him (WCF 27.1) and is thereby related to the promise of grace. See Thomas M'Crie's Lectures on Christian Baptism (very useful in general) for more:

    "Be pleased, then, to mark the sense in which we understand the word seal as applied to baptism. The term is used in three senses in Scripture. The first is in the sense of security, as when a person seals a letter. "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his." (2 Tim. ii. 19.) The second is in the sense of distinction, as when a merchant puts his seal on his goods to appropriate and distinguish them. "In whom after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise." (Eph. i. 13.) The third is in the sense of confirmation, as when a seal is affixed to a charter or bargain. "And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it." (Neh. ix. 38.)

    Now, in applying the term seal to the ordinance of baptism, it is not either in the first or second senses here noticed that we are to understand it. It is not used in the sense of securing the person, or of distinguishing him from others. Baptism is not an assurance of salvation to any, or a pledge of sonship. In this sense it is the Spirit alone that is the seal of God's people. It is in the third sense only, namely, in that of the confirmation of a deed, that we use the term in relation to baptism. It is the seal which God has been pleased to append to the charter of his covenant. It is not like the signet which Pharaoh put on the hand of Joseph as a badge of distinction, or like the ring put on the hand of the penitent prodigal in token of acceptance; it is rather like the signet by which King Ahasuerus sealed the letters which saved the Jews from destruction.

    Thus, while baptism viewed as a symbol has a relation to the grace of the covenant, viewed as a seal it stands related to the covenant itself. We must carefully distinguish between the grace of the covenant, and the covenant of grace. Baptism is the sign, but it is not, properly or directly, the seal of regeneration; it symbolizes the blessing, but it seals the covenant. By keeping this distinction in view, you will save yourselves from a world of confusion. By not attending to it our views have been sadly misrepresented.The distinction is very obvious. As a symbol, the ordinance addresses itself to the senses; as a seal, it appeals to faith. As a symbol, it is a badge of distinction from the world; as a seal, it stands related, not to the person, but to the covenant. A seal implies something spoken or written; and the design of baptism as a seal, is to confirm the faith of the Church in God's written Word, in his everlasting covenant with her. It is the visible pledge added to the verbal promise. And where is the inconsistency of supposing that God may ratify his word by an outward symbol? Has he not "confirmed his promise by an oath, that by two immutable things, wherein it was impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation?" And why not also confirm it by a seal? All bonds and covenants are thus confirmed, and God never made a covenant yet without a seal. The tree of life was the seal of Adam's covenant, the rainbow was the seal of Noah's, circumcision was the seal of Abraham's, and baptism is the seal of Christ's.

    In accordance, therefore, with the very design of a sacrament, as well as with the uniform doctrine of the primitive church and of our reformers, we maintain that baptism is not merely a symbol of spiritual grace, but is the seal of God's holy covenant. And remember it is God's seal. It is not the baptizer's, nor the baptized's, but God's only. Its validity is independent of man's act. God delivers the promise signed and sealed, presenting it to all, and saying, "Here is my salvation: behold the seal of the King!" And there it stands, sealed and sure, whether we accept or reject it. "If we believe not, he abideth faithful; he cannot deny himself.""
  22. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks all. I'm still reading up on the articles that have been linked in. Let me see if I'm understanding...

    The sacraments are signs and seals of the covenant.

    Seals function as something like God's signature or as a ratification of the covenant.

    The efficacy of baptism, as a seal, does not consist in its ability to regenerate the faithful. Rather, the efficacy of baptism consists in its ability to assure the faithful that they are regenerate. Or it also may assure the faithful that God will regenerate all of his elect.

    Is this the correct way to think about it?
  23. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    This is essentially right. For a little further sharpening of what you wrote (although perhaps you have read the articles and have reached the further sharpening)....

    As a visible word and confirmation of the promise that God will save all who believe, yes, it will assure the faithful that God will regenerate all of his elect. However, its function as a seal is intended especially in assuring the faithful that they are regenerate: a person sees that they believe and sees God's particular promise to them as an individual in baptism (and the promise made more sure by baptism too) and thereby receives assurance of God's pardon. The efficacy lies in more than assurance (See WLC 162): they include a strengthening, quickening, and confirming of faith and all other graces of the believer. Part of using baptism rightly includes improving on it (WLC 167).
  24. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks. I will have to reflect more on these other graces mentioned.

    I think I'm grasping the difference between a converting grace and a confirming grace. My sacraments professor used to say something like this:

    "If I believe in Jesus, then as surely as I have been baptized, I have been regenerated and forgiven of all my sins."

    You could extend that to the Lord's Supper saying:

    "If I believe in Jesus, as surely as I receive this bread and wine, so I receive Christ and all his benefits."

    Is this an accurate way of thinking?
  25. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    Yes, this is right. The Heidelberg Catechism essentially puts it that way too. It should be noted too that Christ and his benefits are also received by baptism, but obviously, due to the symbolism of baptism, the focal point is regeneration, forgiveness of sins, etc, while due to the symbolism of the Lord's Supper, the focal point is continued spiritual life by appropriating Christ's body and blood.

    Converting grace is a working of a new grace in the soul. A confirming grace is one that builds up, confirms, and quickens grace that is already in the soul. Converting grace produces new graces that were not there; confirming grace increases graces that are already present. The Word functions as both a converting and a confirming ordinance. I think this distinction helps show the main differences between the Reformed view of the sacraments and all others (concerning the views of how grace is connected with the sacraments).
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2019
  26. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    Yes this is a very interesting and helpful distinction. I'm surprised I've never been exposed to it. Maybe some articles have already been linked in, but could you point me to some prominent Reformed theologians who utilize this distinction?
  27. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    Interestingly, Calvin compares Jesus' breathing on the disciples in John 20:22 with the sacraments.

    "And saying this, he breathed on them and he said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit..."

    The disciples received the Spirit by the power of Christ's word and the Holy Spirit working. Christ's breath did not impart the Spirit. But Christ's breath did accompany the words of Christ and working of his Spirit as a further confirmation that they have indeed received the Spirit.

    Calvin: "Although Christ might have bestowed grace on his Apostles by a secret inspiration, he chose to add a visible breathing in order to confirm them more fully. Christ took this outward emblem from the ordinary manner of speaking in the Scripture, which very frequently compare the Spirit to wind; a comparison which we briefly accounted for in the exposition of the Third Chapter of this Gospel. But let the reader observe, that with the visible and outward sign the word is also joined; for this is the source from which the sacraments derive their efficacy; not that the efficacy of the Holy Spirit is contained in the word which sounds in our ears, but because the effect of all those things which believers receive from the sacraments depends on the testimony of the word. Christ breathes on the Apostles: they receive not only the breathing, but also the Spirit. And why, but because Christ promises to them?"
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  28. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    There are a number of references to confirming versus converting ordinance. I'm not sure where to find the exact terms "confirming grace" versus "converting grace," but the concept is certainly present (and the terms "confirming grace" and "converting grace" can be found being distinguished in other contexts).

    Thomas Boston (from the portion I linked earlier)
    "The difference betwixt the two former [i.e., the difference between the word and sacraments as means of salvation] is,
    That the word is the mean of conversion, and the sacraments means of confirmation: so the word is the leading, and the sacraments are the subsequent means of salvation. The word is first to have its effect, then the sacraments have theirs on the soul, 1 Cor. 3:5 with Rom. 4:11."

    David Dickson's Truths Victory over Error
    "Are all that are baptized, undoubtedly regenerated?
    Because, Baptism is not a converting, but a confirming Ordinance, even as the Lords Supper is.
    "'s Victory Over Error - David Dickson.pdf

    From Gillespie's Aaron's Rod Blossoming
    "[T]he word is not only a confirming and comforting, but a converting ordinance...whereas the sacrament is not a converting, but a confirming and sealing ordinance, which is not given to the church for the conversion of sinners, but for the communion of saints."

    "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 confirm saints. And they do not only oppose the Papists' 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."
    p. 229

    "Ursinus speaks so fully and plainly for us that none can say more. He distinguisheth between the word and sacraments, as between coverting and confirming ordinances, and argueth that the sacraments do not confer grace, because we receive not the thing by receiving the sign, but we get the sign because it is supposed we have the thing; yea, he speaks of it as a principle known to children." p.230

    "I answer, That exhibition which they speak of, is not the giving of grace where it is not (as is manifested 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 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. . .

    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[ix]) 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."p.230

    "Waleaus asserteth, both against Papists and some of the Lutherans, that sacraments do instrumentally confirm and increase faith and regeneration, but not begin nor work faith and regeneration where they are not."p.232


    Stephen Marshall
    "And after a needlesse shewing that you have read these Authors, you grant as much as I contend for, That the taking away the heart of stone, and infusing of a principle of new life, is only Gods work; and that a new heart, faith, &c. are the effects of converting grace, and that in these things wee are passive: in summe, you are of my judgment in this point, that Infants are capable of new life, and some of them partakers of it: and I likewise consent with you, "

    Thomas Manton (in a non-sacramental context)
    "As soon as joined to him as our head, his grace is applied to us by his Spirit. It is first applied by converting grace, and then continually supplied by the confirming grace of the Spirit"
    ("confirming grace" "converting grace"&pg=PA389#v=onepage&q="confirming grace" "converting grace"&f=false)

    (From one of the historical articles I linked by Ramsey.)
    "Confirmation and conversion are two distinct functions, and so confirming grace is to be distinguished from converting grace. Although, as Richard Vines granted, confirming and converting grace may be the same in substance, even as every degree of heat is of the same nature as the first degree, there is still a difference between first coming to Christ and being strengthened and confirmed in Christ. Since the Word fulfills both functions, it is feasible that a sacrament could do so as well. Nevertheless, if baptism is divinely designed for sealing and confirming then one key implication would be that it is not a converting ordinance because sealing and confirming presuppose the existence of that which is being sealed and confirmed."
    Richard Vines can be found here distinguishing between confirming and converting grace in relation to the sacrament:"confirming grace" "sacrament"&pg=PA224#v=onepage&q="confirming grace" "sacrament"&f=false
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2019
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