Means and administration

Status
Not open for further replies.

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
The WLC 34-35 uses the word "administered" in relation to the obligations set forth in the covenant of grace under various dispensations (OT and NT). Reformed theology is careful to not make salvation subservient to the administration of sacraments (e.g. circumcision/baptism) (Rom. 4:9-12). In contrast, Aquinas says:

God's grace is a sufficient cause of man's salvation. But God gives grace to man in a way which is suitable to him. Hence it is that man needs the sacraments that he may obtain grace. (Summa Theologica, Part III)

Questions:

1. Is the difference between Reformed and Catholic theology in regards to the relationship between grace and the sacraments summarized in the words "administration" (Reformed) and "means" (Catholic)?

2. Does Reformed theology ever use the word "means" in relation to sacraments?

3. Can grace be administered apart from the Word and sacraments?

4. Should we differentiate between administration of Word and administration of sacrament in relation to grace?

Also, if you think there is other pertinent information in regards to this discussion, please feel free to add to this list if you think it would be helpful.

Thanks!
 
Last edited:

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
2. Does Reformed theology ever use the word "means" in relation to sacraments?

Yes. WLC 154
Q. 154. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?

A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.

WLC 161

Q. 161. How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?

A. The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not by any power in themselves, or any virtue derived from the piety or intention of him by whom they are administered, but only by the working of the Holy Ghost, and the blessing of Christ, by whom they are instituted.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
1. No. Rome's perspective is that ex opere operato "through the working it is worked." They identify the sign and the thing signified, making the sign together with the sacerdotal priest a mechanism for grace transmuted into the sacramental substance, and received by whomsoever avails himself of it.

The Reformed apprehend by grace not a substance, but a disposition. We don't receive in sacrament a distillation of a good gift resupplying our constantly ebbing reservoir of grace. But we receive God, who gives us himself in Christ, our husband, as our portion.

2. Yes.
WLC Question 154: What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?
Answer: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.

WLC Question 161: How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
Answer: The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not by any power in themselves, or any virtue derived from the piety or intention of him by whom they are administered, but only by the working of the Holy Ghost, and the blessing of Christ, by whom they are instituted.

WSC Question 88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?
Answer. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

WSC Question 91. How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
Answer. The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them, but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them.​

3. Holy Spirit may do as he will. He is not bound. But he has made promises to meet us in and by Word and sacrament. That's why these are called "ordinary" means. They are mundane and unimpressive by themselves, and to all appearances. Yet they have the promise attached; and the ministers of Word and sacrament are appointed to their "ordinary" (constant, repetitive, regular) presentation. I know of no other avenue by which to bless my flock with God's gift of himself to them other than the means for which he has ordained me an administrator.

4. We don't receive a different Christ in the sacraments, than we receive by the Word. But sometimes we get him better. (Robert Bruce, 1554?-1631)
 
Last edited:

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
Thank you for your help! I'm constantly amazed at how God uses what seems so insignificant from the human standpoint and purposes it to work something extraordinary and miraculous in the lives of His people. We truly do serve an awesome God!
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
As I was reading through the WLC Q&A provided above in their context, I have another question. In no way am I seeking to challenge the confession, but I simply want to ask for the sake of clarity.

Question: In 161, how do we understand the sacraments to be "effectual means of salvation" when the Lord's supper is to be administered to those who are already believers? It seems that baptism is the only one that could be argued as a "means of salvation," and that for covenant children alone. Apart from covenant children receiving baptism, the sacraments are designed as signs and seals after salvation.

I feel like I must be missing or misunderstanding something...
 

Nicholas Perella

Puritan Board Freshman
As I was reading through the WLC Q&A provided above in their context, I have another question. In no way am I seeking to challenge the confession, but I simply want to ask for the sake of clarity.

Question: In 161, how do we understand the sacraments to be "effectual means of salvation" when the Lord's supper is to be administered to those who are already believers? It seems that baptism is the only one that could be argued as a "means of salvation," and that for covenant children alone. Apart from covenant children receiving baptism, the sacraments are designed as signs and seals after salvation.

I feel like I must be missing or misunderstanding something...

The work of salvation by the Spirit of Christ is not complete until our glorification when the Lord returns and we live in incorruptible bodies. (1 Corinthians 15) We are saved now, but this work of salvation is not yet complete. We are being sanctified by God til that glorious Day.
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
So are we to understand "salvation" in the WLC as specifically referring to sanctification and not conversion? If so, why use the broad term "salvation" when the specific application is only one part of salvation?

I also checked the 3FU and WCF. They don't use the word "means" (unless I missed it).
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
So are we to understand "salvation" in the WLC as specifically referring to sanctification and not conversion?
In the case of infants, the faithful use of the means of grace by believing parents in their child's interest precedes his conversion. Glorification follows sanctification. Sacraments are emblems of divine grace, which begins for his elect in eternity past, and encompasses eternal life for them.

The salvation in view, witnessed to in the sacraments, is comprehensive. Westminster's language is intended to put the reader into a comprehensive appreciation of the blessing. This idea is completely in accord with the 3FU's presentation:

Heidelberg Cat. Question 66
Q. What are the sacraments?
A. The sacraments are holy, visible signs and seals. They were instituted by God so that by their use He might the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel. And this is the promise: that God graciously grants us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life because of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross.

Heidelberg Cat. Question 67
Q. Are both the Word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?
A. Yes, indeed. The Holy Spirit teaches us in the gospel and assures us by the sacraments that our entire salvation rests on Christ's one sacrifice for us on the cross.

Belgic Confession Article 33 - The Sacraments
We believe that our gracious God, mindful of our insensitivity and infirmity, has ordained sacraments to seal His promises to us and to be pledges of His good will and grace towards us. He did so to nourish and sustain our faith. He has added these to the Word of the gospel to represent better to our external senses both what He declares to us in His Word and what He does inwardly in our hearts. Thus He confirms to us the salvation which He imparts to us. Sacraments are visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible, by means of which God works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore the signs are not void and meaningless so that they deceive us. For Jesus Christ is their truth; apart from Him they would be nothing. Moreover, we are satisfied with the number of sacraments which Christ our Master has instituted for us, namely, two: the sacrament of baptism and the holy supper of Jesus Christ.​

The Westminster Confession (which is not to be divorced from the catechetical expressions) does not use the term "means" in the chapter on Sacraments, ch.27. However, it does use the language of "means" and "ordinary." In particular, recall that the Reformed and Presbyterian churches teach that the sacraments are intended to strengthen and assure us in faith.

Chapter 18: Of Assurance of Grace and Salvation
18:3 This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be a partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure; that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance: so far is it from inclining men to looseness.

Chapter 17: Of the Perseverance of the Saints
17:3 Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve His Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded, hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.

Chapter 3: Of God’s Eternal Decree
3:6 As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, fore-ordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

Chapter 1: Of the Holy Scripture
1:7 All things in Scripture are not alike in plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.​
 
Last edited:

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
I completely understand your point and I agree with it. I think I'm just a little uncomfortable with the wording of WLC 161, not the doctrine. If it is designed to comfort us with the assurance of salvation and is the divine means appointed to that end, I completely agree. The exact wording "How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation" would almost seem to justify a Solomon Stoddard conception of the sacraments. But looking at the confession as a whole, I think I understand its meaning.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The Confession and Catechisms express the necessity of the Spirit's work in order for the means to be effectual, but perhaps the Directory for Public Worship emphasises this most practically in a way that cannot be mistaken:

Let the prayer, thanksgiving, or blessing of the bread and wine, be to this effect:

"With humble and hearty acknowledgment of the greatness of our misery, from which neither man nor angel was able to deliver us, and of our great unworthiness of the least of all God's mercies; to give thanks to God for all his benefits, and especially for that great benefit of our redemption, the love of God the Father, the sufferings and merits of the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, by which we are delivered; and for all means of grace, the word and sacraments; and for this sacrament in particular, by which Christ, and all his benefits, are applied and sealed up unto us, which, notwithstanding the denial of them unto others, are in great mercy continued unto us, after so much and long abuse of them all.

"To profess that there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ, by whom alone we receive liberty and life, have access to the throne of grace, are admitted to eat and drink at his own table, and are sealed up by his Spirit to an assurance of happiness and everlasting life.

"Earnestly to pray to God, the Father of all mercies, and God of all consolation, to vouchsafe his gracious presence, and the effectual working of his Spirit in us; and so to sanctify these elements both of bread and wine, and to bless his own ordinance, that we may receive by faith the body and blood of Jesus Christ, crucified for us, and so to feed upon him, that he may be one with us, and we one with him; that he may live in us, and we in him, and to him who hath loved us, and given himself for us."
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top