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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

The First Helvetic Confession 1536 says


4.

The conception that Christ filled the whole sphere of God, which was for the Reformers a fundamental and experimental fact, enabled them to construct a spiritual doctrine of the sacraments which they opposed to that held in the mediaeval Church. Of course, it was various theories about the sacraments which caused the chief differences among the Reformers themselves; but apart from all varying ideas--consubstantiation, ubiquity, signs exhibiting and signs representing--the Reformers united on the thoughts that the efficacy in the sacraments depended entirely on the promises of Christ contained in His word, and that the virtue in the sacraments consisted in the presence of Christ to the believing communicant. What was received in the sacraments was not a vague, mysterious, not to say magical, grace, but Christ Jesus Himself. He gave Himself in the sacraments in whatever way His presence might be explained.

They all taught that the efficacy of the sacraments depends upon the promise of Christ contained in their institution, and they insisted that word and sacrament must always be taken together. Thus Luther points out in the _Babylonish Captivity of the Church_ that one objection to the Roman practice is that the recipients "never hear the words of the promise which are secretly mumbled by the priest," and exhorts his readers never to lose sight of the all-important connection between the word of promise and the sacraments; and in his Large Catechism

he declares that the sacraments include the Word. "I exhort you," he says, "never to sunder the Word and the water, or to separate them. For where the Word is withheld we have only such water as the maid uses to cook with." Non-Lutheran Confessions are equally decided on the necessity of connecting the promise and the words of Christ with the sacraments. The Thirty-nine Articles declare that the sacraments are effectual because of "Christ's institution and promise." The Heidelberg or Palatine Catechism (1563) says that the sacraments "are holy and visible signs ordained of God, to the end that He might thereby the more fully declare and seal unto us the _promise_ of the Holy Gospel."

Similarly the Reformers unanimously declared that the virtue in the sacraments consisted in no mysterious grace, but in the fact that in them believing partakers met and received Christ Himself. In the articles of the Bern Synod (1532) we are told that the sacraments are mysteries of God, "through which from without Christ is proffered to believers." The First Helvetic Confession (1536) says, concerning the Holy Supper, "we hold that in the same the Lord truly offers His Body and His Blood, that is, Himself, to His own." The Second Helvetic Confession (1562) declares that "the Body of Christ is in heaven at the right hand of the Father," and enjoins communicants "to lift up their hearts and not to direct them downwards to the bread. For as the sun, though absent from us in the heaven, is none the less efficaciously present ... so much more the Sun of righteousness absent from us in the heavens in His Body, is present to us not indeed corporeally, but spiritually by a life-giving activity." The French Confession of 1557 says that the sacraments are pledges and seals, and adds, "Yet we hold that their substance and truth is in Jesus Christ." So the Scots Confession of 1560 declares that "we assuredlie beleeve that be Baptisme we ar ingrafted in Christ Jesus to be made partakers of His justice, be quhilk our sinnes ar covered and remitted. And alswa, that in the Supper richtlie used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us, that Hee becummis very nurishment and fude of our saules." In the _Manner of the Administration of the Lord's Supper_ the Scottish Reformation Church directed the minister in his exhortation to say to the people: "The end of our coming to the Lord's Table ... is to seek our life and perfection in Jesus Christ, acknowledging ourselves at the same time to be children of wrath and condemnation. Let us consider then that this sacrament is a singular medicine for all poor sick creatures, a comfortable help to weak souls, and that our Lord requireth no other worthiness on our part, but that we unfeignedly acknowledge our naughtiness and imperfection."


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