Calvin's Catechism Part 4 - The Word and Sacraments

Creeds and Confessions of the Church

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A reformulation of the Genevan Catechism written by John Calvin.

A Dialogue between the Minister and the child.
by John Calvin

IV. The Word and Sacraments

296. It is time to come to the fourth part of worship we are to render to God.
We said that this consists in acknowledging with the heart and confirming with the mouth that God is the author of all good, that thereby we may glorify Him.

297. Has He given us any rule for this?
All the praises and thanksgivings contained in Scripture ought to be our rule and guide.

298. Is there nothing regarding this in the Lord’s Prayer?
Yes there is, for when we pray that His name may be hallowed, we pray that He may be glorified in all His works, as indeed He is–that He may be praised for His justice when He punishes, for His mercy when He pardons, and for His faithfulness when He fulfils His promises; in short, that there is nothing in which His glory does not shine forth. This is to ascribe to Him the praise for all blessing.

299. What shall we infer from all that we have said?
What truth itself tells us, and was stated at the outset, viz. that this is eternal life to know one true God the Father, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3)–to know Him, I say, in order that we may worship Him aright, that He may be not only our Master, but also our Father and Saviour, and we be in turn His children and servants, and a people dedicated to His glory.

300. How can we attain to such a blessedness?
For this end God has left us His holy Word, which is, as it wee, an entry into His heavenly Kingdom.

301. Where do you find this Word?
It is comprised for us in the Holy Scriptures.

302. How are we to use it in order to profit by it?
By receiving it with the full consent of our conscience, as truth come down from heaven, submitting ourselves to it in right obedience, loving it with a true affection by having it imprinted in our hearts, we may follow it entirely and conform ourselves to it.

303. Is all this within our own power?
None of it; but God works them in us in this way by His Holy Spirit.

304. But are we not to take trouble and be diligent, and zealously strive by hearing and reading its teaching, as it is declared to us?
Yes, indeed: first each one of us in particular ought to study it: and above all, we are frequently to attend the sermons in which this Word is expounded in the Assembly of the Christians.

305. Do you mean that it is not enough for people to read it privately at home, without altogether hearing its teaching in common?
That is just what I mean, while God provides the way for it.

306. Why do you say that?
Because Jesus Christ has established this order in His Church (Eph. 4:11), and He has declared this to be the only means of edifying and preserving it. Thus we must keep ourselves to it and not be wiser than our Master.

307. Is it necessary, then, that there should be pastors?
Yes; and that we should hear them, receiving the teaching of the Lord in humility by their mouth. Therefore whoever despises them and refuses to hear them, rejects Jesus Christ, and separates himself from the fellowship of the faithful (Matt. 10:40; Luke 10:16).

308. But is it enough to have been instructed by them once, or ought he to continue to do this?
It is little to have begun, unless you go on to persevere. We must continue to be disciples of Christ right to the end. But He has ordained the ministers of the Church to teach in His Name.

309. Is there no other means than the Word by which God communicates Himself to us?
To the preaching of His Word He has conjoined the Sacraments.

310. What is a Sacrament?
An outward attestation of the grace of God which, by a visible sign, represents spiritual things to imprint the promises of God more firmly in our hearts, and to make us more sure of them.

311. What? Does a visible and natural sign have this power to assure the conscience?
No, not of itself, but in so far as it is ordained of God for this end.

312. Seeing it is the proper office of the Holy Spirit to seal the promises of God in our hearts, how do you attribute this to the Sacraments?
There is a great difference between the one and the other. The Spirit of God in very truth is the only One who can touch and move our hearts, enlighten our minds, and assure our consciences; so that all this ought to be judged as His own work, that praise may be ascribed to Him alone. Nevertheless, the Lord Himself makes use of the Sacraments as inferior instruments according as it seems good to Him, without in any way detracting from the power of the Holy Spirit.

313. You think, then, that the efficacy of the Sacraments does not consist in the outward element, but proceeds entirely from the Spirit of God?
Yes; for the Lord is pleased to work by these instruments which He has instituted: without detracting from His own power.

314. And what moves God to do that?
For the alleviation of our weaknesses. If we were spiritual by nature, like the angels, we could behold God and His graces. But as we are bound up with our bodies, it is needful for us that God should make use of figures to represent to us spiritual and heavenly things, for otherwise we could not comprehend them. At the same time, it is expedient for us to have all our senses exercised in His Holy promises, in order to confirm us in them.

315. Since God has introduced the Sacraments to meet our need, it would be arrogance and presumption to think that we could dispense with them.
Certainly: hence he who voluntarily abstains from using them thinks that he has no need of them, condemns Jesus Christ, rejects His grace, and quenches His Holy Spirit.

316. But what assurance of grace can the Sacraments give, seeing that good and bad both receive them?
Although the unbelievers and the wicked make of none effect the grace offered them through the Sacraments, yet it does not follow that the proper nature of the Sacraments is also made of non effect.

317. How, then, and when do the Sacraments produce this effect?
When we receive them in faith, seeking Jesus Christ alone and His grace in them.

318. Why do you say that we must seek Jesus Christ in them?
I mean that we are not to be taken up with the earthly sign so as to seek our salvation in it, nor are we to imagine that it has a peculiar power enclosed within it. On the contrary, we are to employ the sign as a help, to lead us directly to the Lord Jesus, that we may find in Him our salvation and all our well-being.

319. Seeing that faith is required, why do you say that they are given to confirm us in faith, to assure us of the promises of God?
It is not sufficient for faith once to be generated in us. It must be nourished and sustained, that it may grow day by day and be increased within us. To nourish, strengthen, and increase it, God gives us the Sacraments. This is what Paul indicates when he says that they are used to seal the promises of God in our hearts (Rom. 4:11).

320. But is it not a sign of unbelief when the promises of God are not firm enough for us, without support?
It is a sign of the smallness and weakness of faith, and such is indeed the faith of the children of God, who do not, however, cease to be faithful, although their faith is still imperfect. As long as we live in this world some elements of unfaithfulness remain in our flesh, and therefore we must always advance and grow in faith.

321. How many Sacraments are there in the Christian Church?
There are only two Sacraments common to all which the Lord Jesus has instituted for the whole company of the faithful.

322. What are they?
Baptism and the Holy Supper.

323. What likeness and difference is there between them?
Baptism is for us a kind of entrance into the Church of God, for it testifies that instead of our being strangers to Him, God receives us as members of His family. The Supper testifies that God as a good Father carefully feeds and refreshes the members of His household.

324. That the meaning may be more clear to us, let us treat of them separately. First, what is the meaning of Baptism?
It consists of two parts. The Lord represents to us in it, first, the forgiveness of our sins (Eph. 5:26, 27) and, secondly, our regeneration or spiritual renewal (Rom. 6:4).

325. What resemblance has water with these things in order to represent them?
The forgiveness of sins is a kind of washing, by which our souls are cleansed from their defilements, just as the stains of the body are washed away by water.

326. What about the other part?
The beginning of our regeneration and its end is our becoming new creatures, through the Spirit of God. Therefore the water is poured on the head as a sign of death, but in such a way that our resurrection is also represented, for instead of being drowned in water, what happens to us is only for a moment.

327. You do not mean that the water is a washing of the soul.
By no means, for that pertains to the blood of Christ alone, which was shed in order to wipe away all our stains and render us pure and unpolluted before God (I John 1:7; I Peter 1:19). This is fulfilled in us when our consciences are sprinkled by the Holy Spirit. But by the Sacrament that is sealed to us.

328. Do you think that the water is only a figure to us?
It is such a figure that the reality is conjoined with it, for God does not promise us anything in vain. Accordingly it is certain that in Baptism the forgiveness of sins is offered to us and we receive it.

329. Is this grace fulfilled indiscriminately in all?
No, for some make it of no effect by their perversity. Nevertheless, the Sacrament loses nothing of its nature, although none but believers feel its efficacy.

330. From what does regeneration get its power?
From the death and resurrection of Christ. His death has had this effect, that through it our old Adam is crucified, and our evil nature is, as it were, buried, so that it no longer has the strength to rule over us. And the renewal of our life, in obedience to the righteousness of God, derives from the resurrection of Christ.

331. How is this grace applied to us in Baptism?
In it we are clothed with Jesus Christ, and receive His Spirit, provided that we do not make ourselves unworthy of the promises given to us in it.

332. What is the proper use of Baptism on our part?
It consists in faith and in repentance. That is, assurance that we have our spiritual purity in Christ, and in feeling within us, and declaring to our neighbours by our works, that His Spirit dwells in us to mortify our natural desires and bring us to follow the Will of God.

333. If this is required, how is it that we baptize infants?
It is not said that faith and repentance should always precede the reception of the Sacrament, but they are only required from those who are capable of them. It is sufficient, then, if infants produce and manifest the fruit of their Baptism after they come to the age of discretion.

334. Can you show that there is nothing inconsistent in this?
Circumcision was also a Sacrament of repentance, as Moses and the prophets declare (Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4); and was a Sacrament of faith, as St. Paul says (Rom. 4:11, 12). And yet God has not excluded little children from it.

335. But can you show that they are now admitted to Baptism for the same reason as in the case of circumcision?
Yes, for the promises which God anciently gave to His people of Israel are now extended to the whole world.

336. But does it follow from this that we are to use the sign also?
That becomes evident when everything is considered. Jesus Christ has not made us partakers of His grace, which formerly had been bestowed on the people of Israel, in order to diminish it in us, or make it more obscure, but rather to manifest it and to bestow it upon us in increased abundance.

337. Do you reckon that if we denied Baptism to little infants, the grace of God would then be diminished by the coming of Christ?
Yes; for the sign of the bounty and mercy of God toward our children, which they had in ancient times, would be wanting in our case, the very sign which ministers so greatly to our consolation, and to confirm the promise already given in the Command.

338. You mean then that since God in ancient times declared Himself to be the Saviour of little infants, and wanted to have this promise sealed on their bodies by an external Sacrament, it is right that confirmation of it should not be less after the advent of Christ, since the same promise remains and indeed is more clearly attested by the Word and ratified in action.
Yes. And besides, since it is quite evident that the power and the substance of Baptism pertain to little children, to deny them the sign, which is inferior to the substance, would be to do them injury.

339. On what conditions should we baptize little children?
As a sign and testimony that they are heirs of God’s blessing promised to the seed of the faithful, that when they come of age they are to acknowledge the truth of their Baptism, in order to derive benefit from it.

340. Let us speak of the Supper. And, first, what is its signification?
Our Lord instituted it to assure us that by the communication of His body and blood, our souls are nourished, in the hope of eternal life.

341. But why does the Lord represent His body by the bread and His blood by the wine?
To signify that as it is the particular virtue of bread to nourish our bodies, to refresh and sustain us in this mortal life, so it pertains to His body to act toward our souls, i.e., in nourishing and quickening them spiritually, so His blood is our joy, our refreshing and our spiritual strength.

342. Do you mean that we must truly communicate in the body and blood of the Lord?
I understand so. But since the whole affiance of our salvation rests in the obedience which He has rendered to God, His Father, in order that it may be imputed to us as if it were ours, we must possess Him: for His blessings are not ours, unless He gives Himself to us first.

343. But did He not give Himself to us when He exposed Himself to death, to reconcile us to God His Father, and deliver us from damnation?
That is true; but it is not enough for us unless we receive Him, in order that we may feel in ourselves the fruit and the efficacy of His death and passion.

344. Is not the way to receive Him by faith?
Yes. Not only in believing that He died and rose again, in order to deliver us from eternal death, and acquire life for us, but also that He dwells in us, and conjoined with us in a union as the Head with the members, that by virtue of this conjunction He may make us partakers of all His grace.

345. Does this communion take place apart from the Supper alone?
Yes, indeed, we have it through the Gospel, as St. Paul declares (I Cor. 1:9): in that the Lord Jesus Christ promises us in it, that we are flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone (Eph. 5:30), that He is that living bread which came down from heaven to nourish our souls (John 6:51), and that we are one with Him, as He is one with the Father (John 17:21).

346. What is the blessing that we have in the Sacrament, and what more does it minister to us?
This communion is more abundantly confirmed in us, ratified as it were, for although Jesus Christ is truly communicated to us both by Baptism and by the Gospel, nevertheless this only in part, and not fully.

347. What then fully do we have through the sign of the bread?
That the body of the Lord Jesus which was once offered to reconcile us to God, is now given to us, to certify to us that we have part in this reconciliation.

348. What do we have in the sign of the wine?
That the Lord Jesus, who once shed His blood in payment and satisfaction for our offences, gives it to us to drink, that we may have no doubt at all of receiving its fruit.

349. According to your replies, the Supper takes us back to the death and passion of Jesus Christ, that we may communicate in its virtue?
Yes, for then the unique and perpetual sacrifice was offered for our redemption. Therefore there remains for us nought but to enjoy it.

350. The Supper, then, was not instituted in order to offer up the body of Jesus the Son to the Father?
No, for this office pertains to none but Him alone, since He is the eternal Priest (Heb. 5:5). But He commands us only to receive His body, not to offer it (Matt. 26:26).

351. Why is there a double sign?
Our Lord has appointed it for the sake of our weakness, in order to teach us that He is not only food to our souls, but drink also, so that we may seek our nourishment wholly and entirely in Him, and not elsewhere.

352. Should all men equally use the second sign, that is the chalice?
Yes, this is according to the commandment of Jesus Christ, against which nothing is to be attempted.

353. Do we have in the Supper simply the testimony of the things already mentioned, or are they truly given to us in it?
See that Jesus Christ is the Truth, there can be no doubt that the promises which He made at the Supper, are actually fulfilled in it, and that what He figures in it is made true. Thus in accordance with what He promises and represents in the Sacrament, I do not doubt that He makes us partakers of His very substance, in order to unite us with Himself in one life.

354. But how can this be, when the body of Jesus Christ is in heaven, and we are pilgrims on this earth?
By the incomprehensible power of His Spirit, who conjoins things separated by distance.

355. You do not think, then, either that the body is enclosed in the bread, or the blood in the chalice?
No. On the contrary, in order to have the reality of the Sacraments, we must lift up our hearts on high to heaven, where Jesus Christ is in the glory of His Father, from whence we expect Him in our redemption, and do not seek Him in these corruptible elements.

356. You understand, then, that there are two things in this Sacrament, material bread and wine, which we see by the eye, handle by the hands, and perceive by the taste, and Jesus Christ by whom our souls are inwardly nourished?
Yes, but in such a way that we have in it also a testimony and a kind of pledge for the resurrection of our bodies, in that they are made partakers in the sign of life.

357. What is the right use of this Sacrament?
That which St. Paul declares, namely that a man examine himself before he approach to it (I Cor. 11:28).

358. In what is he to examine himself?
Whether he is a true member of Jesus Christ.

359. By what sign can he know this?
If he has a true faith and repentance, if he loves his neighbour in true charity, and is not tainted by hatred or rancour or discord.

360. But is it necessary to have perfect faith and charity?
Both should be entire and unfeigned, but to have such a perfection, from which nothing is wanting, will not be found among men. Moreover the Supper would have been instituted in vain if no one could receive it unless he were entirely perfect.

361. Imperfection, then, does not prevent us from approaching it.
On the contrary, the Supper would be of no use to us, if we were not imperfect. It is an aid and support for our weakness.

362. Do these two Sacraments not serve another end?
Yes, they do. They are also signs and marks of our profession. That is to say, by them we declare that we are of the people of God, and make confession of our Christianity.

363. How ought we to judge a man who never wishes to use it?
He could not be regarded as a Christian, for in so doing he refuses to confess himself as such, and tacitly, as it were, disavows Jesus Christ.

364. Is it sufficient to receive each once?
Baptism is only ordered to be received once, and may not lawfully be repeated. But this is not so with the Supper.

365. What is the reason for that?
By Baptism God introduces and receives us into His Church. After He has received us, He signifies by the Supper that He wishes continually to nourish us.

366. To whom does it belong truly to baptize and administer the Supper?
To those who are publicly charged to teach in the Church. For the preaching of the Word and the distribution of the Sacraments are things conjoined.

367. Is there any certain proof for this?
Yes, indeed. Our Lord specially charged His Apostles to baptize as well as to preach (Matt. 28:19). In regard to the Supper. He ordered all to follow His example. Moreover He performed the office of a minister in order to give it to others.

368. But ought pastors, who are appointed to dispense the Sacraments, to admit without discretion all who present themselves there?
In regard to Baptism, as it is administered today only to infants, there is no need for discrimination; but in the Supper the minister ought to take heed not to give it to a man whom he recognizes to be entirely unworthy.

369. Why so?
Because it would pollute and dishonour the Sacrament.

370. But our Lord admitted Judas to the Supper, impious though he was?
His iniquity was still hidden, and although our Lord knew it, yet it was not evident to all.

371. What then is to be done with hypocrites?
The minister cannot exclude them as unworthy, but must wait until God has revealed their iniquity.

372. But what if he knows or has been warned that someone is unworthy?
That would not be sufficient to exclude him, unless there were a legitimate investigation and decision of the Church.

373. Then there ought to be some order and polity regarding this.
Yes, if the Church is to be well ordered. Some persons must be appointed to watch out for the offences that may be committed. And they, with the authority of the Church, should refuse communion to those who are quite unfit, and to whom communion cannot be given without dishonouring God and scandalizing the faithful.

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