The Shorter Catechism, 28
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Q91: How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
A. The sacraments become effectual mean 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.
The sacraments ARE not effectual means of salvation, but they can BECOME such. They become means of salvation, not by any virtue or power that is in them. Baptism and the Lordís Supper can become means of salvation, only by the blessing of Christ. When Christ gives His Spirit to those that receive the sacraments by faith, then baptism and the Lordís Supper become means of salvation. Without the blessing of Christ, baptism is nothing but water, and the bread and wine in the Supper are common bread and wine. Only when the Spirit works in one that receives a sacrament, then they are means of salvation. Baptism saves us; not the baptism by the water, but the baptism with the Holy Spirit. "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." 1 Pet. 3:21.
You may have a godly minister, but he cannot give you the salvation. "So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase." 1 Cor. 3:7. The ministers plant the Word in you, and afterwards they water it. But they cannot give the growth. Only God can give the increase of the seed planted in you. Neither he that plants is anything, nor he that gives water; only God that gives the increase; He is all. A godly minister cannot give you salvation. Neither can a wicked minister deprive you of your salvation.
Q92: What is a sacrament?
A: A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.
A sacrament. We all have heard thereof, and we have often seen them. But what is, actually, a sacrament? We can describe a sacrament by several characteristics.
We read of the sacrament of circumcision under the Old Covenant. God said to Abraham: "This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised." Gen. 17:10. You see in this verse that the sacrament is called Godís "covenant". Not that it is the covenant itself, but it is called a "covenant", because it signifies the covenant and has the promise of grace joined to it: a phrase that is common to all ordinances. This is explained in the next verse, the eleventh: "And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you." Gen. 17:11. The circumcision is called "a token of the covenant"; so it is not the covenant itself, but a token thereof. Paul says of this, that Abraham "received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised." Rom. 4:11. We read in this verse that the sacrament of circumcision was a seal of the righteousness of faith. So, it is not the salvation itself, but a seal thereof. Only to believers it seals and applies Christ and His benefits. Only the believers receive the salvation, though many unbelievers are baptised also.
Q93: Which are the sacraments of the New Testament?
A: The sacraments of the New Testament are, Baptism, and the Lordís supper.
Of Baptism we read in Mark 16:16 "He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved." And of the Lordís supper you read in 1 Cor. 11:23-26 "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread. And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lordís death till he come."
Q94: What is baptism?
A: Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lordís.
Baptism is a sacrament. It is instituted by Christ. Christís ministers should baptism with water. They should baptise in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. This according to the command Jesus gave His disciples, before He ascended to heaven: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Matt. 28:19.
Baptism signifies and seals our ingrafting into Christ. It seals this not to unbelievers, but only to those that believe. They are ingrafted in Christ, signified and sealed by baptism. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into his death?" Rom. 6:3.
Baptism signifies and seals the partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace and our engagement to be the Lordís. "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Rom. 6:4.
Q95: To whom is baptism to be administered?
A: Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptised.
Baptism is not to be administered to everybody. Those that are out of the visible church on earth, should not be baptised, until they profess their faith in Christ, and show their obedience to Him through their works. As long as they are outside the church, they cannot be baptised. But after their profession of faith, and after they have showed their obedience, they can be baptised. "Then they that gladly received his word were baptised." Act. 2:41.
Infants of the members of the visible church neither can profess their faith, nor show their obedience. Yet they should be baptised. The circumcision was administered also to children. At the age of eight days the boys were circumcised. "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised." Gen. 17:7,10. Likewise should the young children of the members of the visible church be baptised. "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Act. 2:38,39.
Q96: What is the Lordís supper?
A: The Lordís supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christís appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.
The Lordís supper is the second sacrament of the New Testament. It is instituted by Christ. In the supper, bread and wine are given, and received by the people. By this bread and wine, the death of Christ is showed forth. "And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you." Luke 22:19,20. When the bread is broken, we remember that the body of Christ is crucified for the sins of the world. And when the wine is shed, we remember that Christ once shed His blood, to be a propitiation for sins. There are receivers of the bread and wine that are unworthy. Of those we speak not at present. We speak of the worthy receivers; they are made partakers of Christís body and blood. They are partakers, not after a corporal and carnal manner, as some groups have invented, but they partake of Christ by faith only. Christís flesh and blood is in heaven, and we receive real bread and real wine, but by faith we partake of Christ. The wine and bread does not change in the blood and the body of Christ, but remains real wine and real bread.
The believers partake of Christís body and blood. They receive, by faith, all the benefits of Jesus Christ. They spiritually grow thereby in grace, and are nourished by it. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" 1 Cor. 10:16.
Q97: What is required to the worthy receiving of the Lordís supper?
A: It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lordís supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lordís body, of their faith to feed upon him, of their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgement to themselves.
Is everybody that confesses the faith to be admitted to the Lordís supper? No; not everybody without distinction can be admitted. Only those that can receive the sacrament worthily. Who are worthy of the receiving of the Lordís supper? Of them that would worthily partake of it, several things are required.
What happens to him or her that unworthily partakes of the Lordís supper? According to the scriptures, they eat and drink judgement and damnation to themselves. "Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lordís body." 1 Cor. 11:27-29. Instead of receiving the benefits of the covenant by their eating and their drinking, they receive the curses of the covenant; that is, they eat and drink damnation to themselves.