The Necessity of the Sacraments

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) - The Most Precise Theologian of the Reformation Era

Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.

“Every decree of God is eternal; therefore it cannot depend upon a condition which takes place only in time. (2) God’s decrees depend on his good pleasure (eudokia) (Mt. 11:26; Eph. 1:5; Rom. 9:11). Therefore they are not suspended upon any condition outside of God. (3) Every decree of God is immutable (Is. 46:10; Rom. 9:11).”

The Scholastic Reformer explains what a sacrament is.


Was it necessary that sacraments should be instituted in the church and is their use necessary? We distinguish.

I. A twofold question is here agitated about the necessity of the sacraments: one about the necessity of their institution (why God willed to add the sacraments to the word); the other about the necessity of their use (whether it is necessary to use the sacraments). We must treat distinctly of each.

II. As to the first, we say the necessity of the sacraments is not absolute and simple on the part of God, but hypothetical on the part of us; not that the word by itself has need of any confirmation (being divine and infallible), but to help our infirmity and confirm our faith. As by the word he insinuates his truth into our ears, so by the sacraments he exhibits it to be seen in some measure by our eyes, so that his word may become as it were visible. Hence not by one sense (to wit, hearing), but by many (namely, sight, touch and smell) he wishes to seal the certainty of his grace in our minds, so that we may be carried from sensible and earthly to intelligible and heavenly things. For as the senses are the windows of the soul by which sin and death have taken possession of it, so by the same it was fitting that the remedy of saving grace should be transmitted. What is offered to and apprehended by many senses at the same time is more certain to us than what is perceived by the hearing alone. Thus by the delivery of the key, the possession of a house; by the laying hold of a clod, the field is gained; by the giving of a ring, the wife is betrothed.

III. Thus (1) God “wished to help our ignorance and slowness, and to consult our weakness.” “If you were an incorporeal (asomatos) being,” says Chrysostom, “God would 51 have delivered his gifts to thee naked and incorporeal; but since thy soul is connected with a body, he has delivered things intellectual by sensible signs” (to wit, by clothing them with a covering of earthly and sensible things) (cf. ‘Homilia LX,’ “Ad populum,” in Opera [1530], 4:481). (2) “To meet our incredulity and distrust” that faith may be more and more confirmed in us. For such is the weakness of the human mind and its prone- ness to distrust that unless it be sustained by every manner of support, it wavers and at length casts aside the hope of future things, especially when it falls upon those times in which any occasion of doubting occurs; for then particularly there is need of some pledge of the divine will, by whose assistance we can be secure (fear being removed). For what doubt can remain after so many arguments of truth which he furnishes us?

IV. (3) He wished that “the power and efficacy of grace might be more strongly implanted in our minds.” The word is addressed indifferently and promiscuously to all, but the sacraments single out individuals and far more powerfully and efficaciously move the heart; not only because “a sign stimulates the soul thrust through the ear of that which, to the eyes, are subjects of faith”; but also because the special application of the sacraments shows that the blessing of grace belongs to each one using them well.

V. If we wish to seek further into the origin of sacraments, it must be sought from the origin of covenants, of which they are the seals. For as in the covenants contracted between men, it was the usual custom to fortify the record of the covenant by seals on both sides (whether they were public or private); so God, entering into covenant with man, willed to all certain sacraments as so many seals to confirm it; not, indeed, on his part but on our part. Now as that covenant is either absolute and one-sided (monopleuron), which consists in the promise of God alone (such as the covenant entered into with Noah, when he promised that the world should never again be destroyed by a flood); so a sign was added to this covenant which depends on God alone, to the institution or use of which no action of man intervenes (to wit, the rainbow or arch in the clouds). Or the covenant is two-sided (dipleuron) and conditioned, consisting in the promise of God and a restipulation on the part of man; he also added the sacraments, which demand the mutual action of God and man, of God sealing the grace promised by word and of man receiving by faith the offered grace and in turn consecrating his worship and obedience to God.

VI. Hence a multiple relation of the word and sacraments arises by which they both agree with and differ from each other. They agree in their author, God; in their foundation, Christ; in their end (to wit, salvation); in the mode of reception, by faith; in the object, the saving grace of God. Bui they differ in other things. (1) With regard to their necessity, the word is absolutely necessary, the sacraments only hypothetically. (2) As to mode: the word is audible, the sacraments are visible; the word produces faith, the sacraments confer it. (3) As to the object towards which they are directed: the word is extended promiscuously to all, believers and unbelievers; the sacraments pertain to the covenanted alone; the word offers the promises of God indiscriminately and in common; the sacraments seal them singly to each one partaking of them rightly. (4) As to their effects: to adults the word is profitable without the sacrament; the sacraments do not help without the word, but with it they more powerfully move on account of sensible images and the analogy they have with spiritual things.

Vll. As to the necessity ot their use, we say that it is not of means, but of command; not from the nature of the thing (as if without them salvation could not be obtained at all), but from the command of God, because he willed to enjoin their use upon us for the confirmation of our faith. It is confirmed from this—that (as will be proved hereafter) they do not bestow or produce grace, but only seal it, according to the institution and command of God. Hence the grace of God is not tied down to signs, but can work either with or without them. Thus without them many are saved. Therefore not the privation but the contempt of them condemns, as will be proved more at length when we treat of the necessity of baptism.

VIII. Hence it appears that two extremes are to be carefully avoided here. (1) Of the Romanists, who urge the absolute necessity of the sacraments as if without them (or at least the wish for them) salvation cannot be obtained. (2) Of the Socinians, who even take away their hypothetical necessity, as if we can safely and without any prejudice of salvation be without them when it is in our power to use them. But as these pledges of the grace of God (which we are bound to receive from his hand and to confirm our faith by them) are not to be despised, so our salvation is not to be too closely bound to and connected with these signs, as if it was all over with the salvation of those who in any manner are deprived of them.

IX. Now although the sacraments are means unto salvation, instituted by God, they do not on this account have the necessity of means without which salvation cannot be obtained. God has not bound his grace to the sacraments, and although he uses various means attempered (attemperata) and accommodated to our understanding by which he promotes our salvation, still he can even without these external means perform his work in the elect. Therefore, all means do not forthwith have the necessity of means, so that without them salvation cannot be obtained. But only those which by themselves reach and work salvation itself, such as the word and the Spirit are.

X. Although God under the New Testament is to be worshipped in spirit and truth (Jn. 4:24), it does not follow that he cannot be worshipped in the use of the sacraments. This is said in comparison with the Old Testament, in which the greatest part of worship consisted in the external rites of ceremonies; whereas now under the New, gospel worship is wholly spiritual and moral, consisting of very few external ceremonies. In this sense, the Spirit is opposed to the letter and the truth to figures.


What is the nature of the sign required in a sacrament?

I. Since all agree that the sacraments are certain signs and with respect to them the sign has the relation of kind, it is deservedly inquired, What are signs? Concerning this, theologians differ.

II. A sign in general, as Augustine well observes, is “a thing, which besides the appearance it presents to the senses, causes something else to come from itself into the thoughts” (Cl 2.1 [FC 2:61; PL 34.35]). Therefore, in the sign is not so much considered what it is as what it signifies and what it shows, as Augustine adds in the same place. And: “The sacraments are things in which, not what they are, but what they show, is always attended to, since signs exist as one thing and signify another” (Contra Maximinum Arianorum 2*.22.3 [PL 42.794]). For although they are not without some material subject, the relation of it is not here considered, but the relation of signification only is attended to; as in matrimony, not the price of the ring or the worth of the material is regarded, but the use of the sealing.

III. Now because signs are of many kinds, we must find out to what kind of signs the sacramental belong. And here, in the first place, we say (1) that they are not natural signs (which are such by nature [ph’sei]), having from themselves the power of signifying, as smoke of fire, the aurora of the rising sun, the paleness of disease. For what they naturally signify, these they signify at all times and always, which cannot be said of the sacraments. But they are voluntary signs (which are such by an imposition [thesei]) from the institution of God or of men, which Augustine calls “given.”

I. (2) They are not signs from a human but a divine institution, because it belongs to the same one to signify and seal grace to whom it belongs to promise and to give it. (3) They are not signs only by imposition (thesei), which depends upon the prescription of the institution
alone (as the rainbow); but are such also by analogy (kat analogian), when the relation of signifying arises either from fitness or on account of a similitude. They have the imposition (thesin) from the institution of God, but the analogy (analogian) from the similitude. Augustine: “If the sacraments did not have a certain similitude, they would not be sacraments” (Letter 98, “To Boniface” [FC 18:137; PL 33.364]). (4) They are not merely theoretical signs, which do nothing else than represent and signify the thing of which they are the signs, but practical, which not only signify, but also seal and really confer. For although the signs are theoretically significant both of a mystical profession and the efficacy of the grace of Christ in us and of his suffering for us (for the remembrance [anamnesin] of which they were instituted), still they do not rest in this theoretical signification, but have besides a practical signification, both a sealing and exhibitive signification in their own manner and sense of the thing signified, as the handing over of a key has the practical signification of putting in possession and seals and confers it.

II. I confess that an external thing cannot confer grace physically, substantially and immediately, but nothing hinders it from doing this instrumentally and mediately, the Holy Spirit principally working this. Nor if it belongs to the Holy Spirit alone to confer upon us grace efficaciously, does it follow that the sacraments cannot seal and confer it morally; for subordinates do not clash with each other. Now although the sacraments in many are without effect on account of the accident of the depravity of the persons themselves, they do not cease to be practical signs per se and by the institution of God; not in opposition to faith, but harmonizing with it. This will be seen more at length hereafter when we treat of their efficacy.

III. (5) Not intelligible (noeta) signs (as images in the mind, the sign of Jonah and the like), but sensible (aistheta), affecting the senses. This is evident by the very induction of the sacraments (all of which are constituted in a sensible thing) and is gathered from the nature of man (because we are so formed that nothing passes into our minds except by the help and ministry of the senses). (6) They are not audible, but visible signs. This we maintain against the Romanists, who hold that it is sufficient for the sacrament to be perceived by any sense and especially by hearing, in order to favor their spurious sacraments. The reasons are (a) every sacrament ought to consist of things (as the matter) and of the word (as the form); the word is added to the element and it becomes a sacrament. And yet no audible object consists of things and words, (b) Thus there would be no difference between the word and a sacrament (which is absurd), (c) If words were sacramental signs, then they would be such either as they sound or as they seal; not as they sound, because thus they would have no similitude; not as they seal, because a signification affects the mind, not the sense, (d) The fathers everywhere call them “visible” (horata), “visible symbols of invisibles” (horata symbola ton noumenon) and as Augustine says, “a visible word” (Tractate 80, On the Gospel of John [NPNF1, 7:344; PL 35.1840]). As to the rest, this visible sign ought to be some substance and a thing, not the accident of a thing, because an analogy is drawn from the very nature of the thing and from its properties (which is evident in all the sacraments to which Augustine’s rule quoted before has reference— “The word is added to the element, and it becomes a sacrament”).

IV. (7) They are not only remembrances (mnemoneutika) of past events (such as the pile of stones in the Jordan, the rod of Aaron in the tabernacle), but significant (semantika) of future events (as the rainbow, the fleece of Gideon, the burning bush) and sealing (sphragistika) or readily offering (parektika) present things, sealing and conferring, which demonstrate and seal that the thing which they indicate is really given, as far as that can be done. Thus the Supper is celebrated in commemoration of the past death of Christ as a seal of present grace or of union with his flesh and blood; also to signify future glory and the marriage feast which will be celebrated in heaven.

V. (8) They are not formal signs, which mark the species itself received by cognitive faculty, to which the sign is proposed. Rather they are instrumental, which represent themselves to the senses and a thing different from themselves to the intellect. In their own way, they make it present because God uses them as organs and instruments for offering and conferring grace upon us in their own way. But the formal of the sign ought not to be confounded with the formal sign; for another thing is opposed to the sign materially considered, as in the Supper the bread is the material of the sacramental sign; but if it is considered as a sign, it is of the body of Christ. This pertains to the formality of that, which is considered reduplicatively as a sign of the body of Christ. But the formal sign distinctly (not from the material, but from the instrumental) is the intelligible species itself excited by the sign in its formality in the mind.

VI. Here belongs the question agitated by the Lutherans, who maintain that the genus of a sacrament is rather an action than a sign because the sacraments beyond their use are not sacraments and because the effects of sacraments are effects of actions, not of signs. But far more truly is it said that a sacrament is a sign than an action. Thus the Scripture everywhere speaks (Gen. 17:11; Rom. 4:11; 1 Pet. 3:21) and the whole of antiquity votes with us, with whom the sacraments are everywhere called signs, symbols, types, antitypes, images.

VII. Now although the sacraments are not signs out of their use and do not seal, unless an action mediates, it does not follow that they are rather an action than a sign, because this is common to all signs from their institution. By it they do not cease to be signs, as words do not cease to be the signs of things first and by themselves. On this account, they do not signify unless there is someone who acts and speaks.
VIII. The sacraments can be considered either in the signified act and abso-lutely per se, or in the exercised act and as they are offered by the minister and received by the believer. The elements considered in the former manner have in their mystical and significative being the relation of sacramental signs without the circumstance of any action; as the bread and wine in the Eucharist, water in baptism. But in the latter manner, certain actions intervene; as the breaking of the bread to be distributed and the distribution of it for union with the body of Christ. Nor do they accomplish this by their natural and physical, but mystical and significative being.

XII. Hence the question can be settled easily, if we say the sacraments are signs, but clothed and administered with certain rites, ceremonies and actions. Thus the sign materially considered (or in its material being) is not a sacrament, but formally and reduplicatively as a sign. This cannot be in the exercised act, unless with certain actions, for the substance itself simply is not the foundation of the relation, but the substance dispensed with certain rites.

XIII. As to the rest, we must observe concerning this sign that it is the material of the sacrament and the foundation of relation. First, because it is common to all communicants; second, because it is something ordinary and drawn from common usage that rites should also be most simple and most easy; that in this way the whole dignity and efficacy of the sacraments may be from God.


Is the essential and internal form of the sacraments placed in the relation of the sign to the thing signified and in their merely relative union (schetike)? We affirm against the Romanists.

I. As the matter of the sacraments is twofold (one external, having the relation of a sign; the other internal, which is the thing signified), so their form consists in the relation and habitude of the one to the other. It is about this that the question is instituted so that its true nature may be ascertained against the errors of the Romanists.

II. Now it must be observed before all things that the form (concerning which we here inquire) is not external, which belongs to the sacraments in the exercised act or in the use itself, consisting in both the legitimate administration and the participation of them according to the command of God. Rather the form is internal, which belongs to them in the signified act and which is placed in the analogy or habitude (schesei) and relation of the sign to the thing signified. This relation is in one word the “signification,” since the whole relation of the sign consists in signifying. But this signification is not only theoretical (which is nothing else than a representation or declaration of the promise of grace and of the blessings of Christ founded on the analogy and similitude existing between the sign and thing signified), but also practical, by which the external thing (dispensed with certain rites) is a seal of the divine promises and so of the conferring and exhibition of the things promised. In one word, it is the sealing of the covenant of grace and of the gospel promises and of the things contained in them (from which use the sacraments are called “seals” [sphragides, Rom. 4:11]).

III. From this sealing arises the sacramental union of the sign with the thing signified. This is neither physical, such as is that of matter and form, of the subject and accident; nor local, by contact and contiguity; nor spiritual, so that by the signs the power of justifying and regenerating is immediately instilled. But it is wholly schetical (schetike) and relative, or moral (such as between the rites of investiture and the office with which anyone is invested or between a pledge and the thing which the pledge signifies). Just as things signified are not joined by a natural position with those words by which they are signified and by the very substance, but only by a relation and schesis (schesei), inasmuch as those words (as the marks of things) make the things themselves as it were present to the understanding of those who perceive them. Thus also a sacrament (which moreover is said to be a certain visible word, bearing into the eyes that which words bring into the ears) demands no local presence or nonexistence (inexistentiam) of the sign with the thing signified, but implies the mere relation and habitude of the one to the other.

IV. Still this union is so moral and relative as to be also in its own sense real in the legitimate use; not indeed by a contiguity of the sign and thing signified, but with respect to the communicant, who is made a partaker of both at the same time. Here belong the phrases “to be planted with Christ in baptism” (Rom. 6:4, 5); “to put on him” (Gal. 3:27*); “to eat Christ, and to drink his blood” (Jn. 6:53). And there are some divines who say that this union and participation of Christ in the Supper is made substantially and bodily; where these terms are partly opposed to unreality (to phantastikos) and, imaginarily, partly declare that believers become partakers of the very substance of Christ inasmuch as they ought to be really and truly united with him.

V. Further, from this reality of union flows the presence by which the things signified become also present together with the signs to those using them lawfully; not corporeally and locally as if the things signified cohered with the signs immediately (because such is a fictitious presence and has no foundation in the Scripture); but relatively and morally, inasmuch as the things signified are present by their signs, whose nature is to make another thing come into the mind and so place the thing before the senses or the mind; and really, by which the things signified become present to those lawfully using them (to wit, Christ gives himself wholly to be embraced to believers, which is the presence of faith).

VI. Now although this spiritual presence does not take place except faith mediates, it does not follow (as our opponents falsely charge upon us) that it is only imaginary and unreal (phantastiken), by which not so much Christ as a phantasm (phantasma) of him or his image becomes present. Spiritual things are no less real and true than corporeal; nay, as they are more perfect, so their mode of presence ought to have perfection. I confess that by those to whom faith is only historical and consists in the bare knowledge of the object, that presence can be called less real (although not even so is a presence denied by philosophers by whom whatever is perceived by the intellect can be said to be truly present to it). But the Scriptures far otherwise describe faith and the presence which it works, while they designate it by sight, hearing and touch, by access, reception and manducation: all of which prove not an unreal (phantasticam) presence (which is made only by phantasms or notions and imaginary ideas), but a true and real presence. Otherwise our union with Christ (which is made by faith, Eph. 3:17) would be merely imaginary. Even the thought of this is impious.

VII. About this union it is inquired—Is it purely and merely schetical (schetike) and relative or also physical and local? The Romanists and Lutherans affirm the latter; we assert the former. (1) As is the sacrament, so also ought to be the sacramental union which is its form. Now
uugm lo De u sacramental union which is its norm. Now the sacrament is merely relative, since its formal relation consists in signification. (2) This union ought to be such as agrees with all the sacraments. Now no other than a relative union can agree with the sacraments of the Old Testament. Therefore, neither does any other agree with the sacraments of the New Testament. (3) If there was any other than the schetical (schetike) union, ministers would exhibit the very thing signified also and those receiving the sign would receive also the thing signified, which is absurd. (4) A physical union cannot have place here, both because it is impossible and because it is useless.

VIII. It is one thing only to signify and represent the things signified theoretically; another to signify them practically. In the former sense, they cannot be said to seal and confer the things signified; but in the latter (which is here to be attended to) they really seal and confer, not by a coexistence and inclusion in place, but by the institution of God.

IX. A schetical (schetike) and relative union suffices for founding the sacramental phraseology concerning the commutation of names between the sign and thing signified. That relation is not only significative, but also sealing and applicative, which has place not only in the sacraments of the New, but also of the Old Testament; as circumcision is a covenant, Christ is a rock.

X. If the sacramental union is merely relative (schetike), it does not follow that the hypostatic union ought to be such, because they differ widely from each other. Nor if the fathers sometimes compare them together (on account of a certain analogy), on this account do they wish to place them upon an equality.

XI. Although this union is not physical, it will not on that account be only verbal, but most real; both because it has a real foundation (to wit, a divine institution) and because the real and physical are not identified. There are many species of real union, the extremes of which are not at the same time by physical contact (such as the union of believers with Christ and with each other).

XII. Although the sacramental form is placed in a relative (schetike) analogy, it does not follow that all water and all bread can be called a sacrament. We must distinguish between the fitness to signify and the actual signification. All bread has the former in reference to the body of Christ; but not the latter, except bread consecrated according to the institution of God.


Are the sacraments only marks and badges of our profession? Or are they also signs and seals of the grace of God concerning the remission of sins and the regeneration of the Spirit? We affirm against the Socinians and Romanists.

I. The question lies between us and the Socinians and Romanists. The Socinians confess that the sacraments are distinctive signs or badges and marks of profession by which we are distinguished from unbelievers; but they deny that they can be called seals of the grace of God concerning the remission of sins and regeneration. The Racovian Catechism says: “The baptism of water is an exterior rite, by which men coming either from Judaism or from Gentilism to the Christian religion, openly profess that they acknowledge Christ as their Lord” (Catechesis ecclesiarum 4 [1609], p. 195). This Socinus had asserted before (De Baptismo aquae Disputatio [1613]). Volkelius denies that “the sacred Supper is well designated by the name of sacrament, since it neither gives nor seals any grace of God, but adumbrates the sealing of it already given and on this account it was instituted, that the kindness of God itself might be celebrated by a stated commemoration and giving of thanks” (De vera Religione 4.22 [1630], pp. 302-3).

II. The Romanists also deny that the sacraments have a sealing power and that they are seals of the divine promises. Bellarmine labors to prove this. “The eighth article, that the sacrament seals the promise like a seal to excite and nourish faith, is false and is to be diligently refuted” (“De Sacramentis in Genere,” 14 Opera, 3:39). This he endeavors to do in the following chapter, with whom Becanus agrees (“De Sacramentis,” 1.4,5 Summa [1651], pp. 901-3). However, Gregory of Valentia differs from them: “We confess that the sacraments of the new law are signs or seals in some measure of the divine promise” (Commentariorum theologicorum, Disp. Ill, Q. 3, Punct. 1 [1603-9], 4:552). Tirinus agrees with him, holding that “a sacrament is not only a distinctive sign of the Christian people, significative of righteousness, sealing the divine promises, but also causative and effective of righteousness” (Theologicae elenchticae . . . controversiarum fidei, Cont. 18 [“De Sacramentis”] [1648], p. 452).

III. The orthodox do not deny that they are signs distinctive of Christians and badges of profession. But they deny against the Socinians that they are to be restricted to this. Besides this less principal use, they think there is a primary use; not indeed that they are signs causative and effective of righteousness (concerning which we will hereafter treat with the Romanists), but that they are sealing and practical signs which are pledges of God’s grace and exhibitive of the thing signified in its sense. For this end they are called “seals,” the word being borrowed from human custom and intercourse, in which (to conciliate confidence) there is a great use of seals. Thus they are accustomed to be employed in agreements to confirm them, in the diplomas of princes for their certification so that it may be evident that they are true and authentic. Thus God willed to employ the sacraments with the word of the promise of grace as seals of that heavenly diploma that no one might doubt concerning its truth and certainty.

IV. (1) The first argument is drawn from the express words of Paul, in which he calls circumcision “a sign and seal of the righteousness of faith” (semeion kai sphragida, Rom. 4:11). He not only says it is a “sign” (which has a simple significative force), but also a “seal” (which has further a sealing force); and indeed of the covenant of which it was the sign (Gen. 17:11); and of the promise of grace concerning the righteousness of faith, which was included in the benediction by which all the nations of the earth were to be blessed in the blessed seed because, as Jehovah our righteousness, he ought to bring in an everlasting righteousness (as Paul explains it, Gal. 3:6-14; 2 Cor. 5:21). Since there is the same relation of circumcision as of the other sacraments, we rightly argue from it to the others. For what is essential to one sacrament must necessarily belong to the others. For although they are not essential to the whole genus (which belong to one species), still what is essential to one undivided thing (of which kind is circumcision under the specific relation of the sacraments) ought to be ascribed to the whole species.

V. Nor can it be objected that this was indeed said of Abraham, but that it cannot with equal reason be transferred to others. It is so ascribed to Abraham as to pertain also to others, both because he is considered here as the father of the faithful (who is set forth as an example to us, so that what was fulfilled in him, the same is also fulfilled in others); and because the righteousness of faith and the promises of grace of which it is the seal are common to all, not peculiar to Abraham (Rom. 4:12; Gal. 3:9, 16). I confess that here also is included the promise concerning the paternity of Abraham—that he was to be the father of many nations. But circumcision was not the seal of this promise simply and properly, but of the righteousness of faith, which is common to all believers. Nor ought it to be added that Paul distinguishes the seal from the sign and that circumcision is indeed a sign to all, but a seal to Abraham. For the seal is not distinguished from the sign except as an explanation from the thing explained (i.e., such a sign as to be also a seal) that it may be distinguished from other signs, which are indeed signs, but are not seals.

VI. (2) The sacraments stand related to the promises of grace, just as other signs and seals added to the promise which seal it and make it more certain, as the rainbow stands related to the promise not to flood the world again; not only to keep up the recollection of the past flood (as Bellarmine wishes), but to confirm our faith that there will not be another flood (Gen. 9:11, 12). The fleece of Gideon is related to the future deliverance of Israel (Jdg. 6:37). The live coal, laid upon the mouth of Isaiah, is related to the promise of the grace of God in the exercise of his calling (Is. 6:6). The washing of the feet (Jn. 13:4, 5) is related to the purgation of the apostles. Now all these signs and others of the same kind stood related to the promises of God not only significatively, but also confirmatively and as seals.

VII. (3) To the signs are given the names, properties and effects of the thing signed; for which predication no other cause can be assigned except the relation of sealing: as to circumcision is given the name of covenant (Gen. 17:11); to the lamb, the name of Passover (Ex. 12:11); to the manna and water from the rock, the name of spiritual meat and drink and Christ (1 Cor. 10:4); to baptism, the name of the laver of regeneration and of the remission of sins (Tit. 3:5; Acts 22:16); to the bread, the name of the body of Christ (Mt. 26:26; 1 Cor. 10:16).

VIII. (4) The sacraments are the signs of a covenant. Now they cannot be the signs of a covenant except for its confirmation and the ratification of the promises made on both sides, on the part of God as well as on the part of men. It is confirmed from this—that they have the relation of an oath by which God binds himself to fulfill the promises. But an oath is the seal of his promises (Heb. 6:16, 17).

IX. Although the word and Holy Spirit testify of the grace of God and also seal it in their own way, it does not follow that this also does not belong to the sacraments. These are subordinates, not opposites. The effect is common to both causes, but the manner of effecting is diverse; there verbal, here symbolic; there by hearing, here by the sight and other senses. The Spirit is the internal seal, which seals from its own nature; but the sacraments are external seals, which seal only from their institution; the Spirit as the principal and efficacious cause who uses the word and sacraments as instruments.

X. Although nothing is greater and more efficacious than the word of God in itself, it does not follow that it can be confirmed with respect to us by the sacraments. They yield nothing to the objective certainty of the promises, since on the contrary the sacraments themselves draw all their power and efficacy from the word of God. But they add much in this way to the subjective certainty, inasmuch as our faith rests on and is upheld by this foundation as it were. The word in itself is not confirmed by the sacraments, but we in the use of them are assured of the promises which, although in themselves most certain, still are often called into doubt by us. They are therefore called seals, not because the certainty of the word depends upon them, but because God impressing more strongly the promises by them (not doubtful by themselves) affects the mind with a deeper sense.

XI. Although the sacraments are seals, it does not follow that their sealing is often false (to wit, with respect to hypocrites and unbelievers). No more than the preaching of the word is false, which is also addressed to them; for this is not so absolutely, but conditionally, the faith of the recipient and the lawful use being supposed. Otherwise there is no sealing, the condition being wanting. Therefore, it is one thing for the sacraments to seal grace in the act sealed from the institution of God; another in the exercised act and with respect to the person receiving. The sacraments seal nothing to hypocrites and unbelievers on account of their lack of the required condition; but they do not fail to have such power according to the order of God in the sealed act. Therefore that hypocrites and the impious receive neither any promise nor seal of the promise in the use (or rather in the abuse of the sacraments), but contract thence greater guilt, this does not overthrow the proper and primary end of the sacraments. Otherwise neither would the gospel be a testimony of saving grace, nor would Christ himself have to be esteemed the author of life, since the former is to many the savor of death unto death and Christ is to many a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.

XII. When the sacraments are said to seal the promises of God, it is not necessary that they should be better known and more certain than the promises themselves in themselves; but only with respect to us and inasmuch as they are considered, not in opposition to the word of promise, but in composition with it. Thus the meaning is, the word sealed by seals is better known and more certain with respect to us than the word alone; just as a diploma, to which a seal is affixed, is better known and more certain than one without it.

XIII. It is one thing to seal to us on our part our justification and calling; another to confirm it on the part of God. Good works can be seals and testimonies of our justification on our part; but the sacraments are seals on God’s part. The former are the fruits of our faith; the latter, seals of the divine promises. However, here we do not treat of the testimonies of our faith (whether towards us or towards our neighbor); but concerning the testimony of the grace of God towards us. Nor are these to be opposed, but composed.

XIV. If the sacraments are said to confirm the promises, this is not either because they teach that there are divine promises or because we trust to the sacraments more than to the promises, but that we may trust more to both (namely, the promises and sacraments at the same time). As two chains are said to be stronger than one and two witnesses more certain than a solitary one, thus the obligation of a promise and the pledge of the sacraments avail far more to the confirmation of faith than either separately (namely, because the intellect is moved by itself in the words and by the senses in the sacraments).

XV. It is one thing for the sacraments to be marks and badges of our profession (which we grant); another to be so only or principally and primarily (which we deny), since they have many other ends, as we have said before.

XVI. Although faith is prerequisite to the use of a sacrament, this does not hinder it from being confirmed by the sacrament; as sight is required for the use of a watchtower and yet it is confirmed by it. Thus faith which perceives the sacraments can increase and grow by them.

Bible Verse:

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless,” (Gen. 17:1).

New Releases


APM Newsletter

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!