THE correctness of the statements, as to the forensic nature of justification, and its being an act of God which declares simply the relation of the justified to the law, will more plainly appear from what we shall learn of the nature of Sanctification, which is another of the privileges bestowed upon the people of God, as the result of their union with Christ.
I. MEANING OF THE TERMS USED.
While justify, as has been seen, means simply to declare just, or to treat as just; sanctify means to make holy. The usage of Scripture is as clear in this case as in that. The word “holy” in Scripture has, however, various meanings. It is sometimes applied to things, and not to persons only. (1.) It is used in the sense of that which is set apart or dedicated to an especial use. Thus, God threatens that instruments of vengeance will be “prepared” (sanctified) against “the king’s house of Judah,” Jer. 22:7. But the dedication is most frequently for some holy use. Thus, “holy” is applied to the Sabbath day (Ex. 31:14); and to the house of God (Lev. 16:33); and to the water (Num. 5:17); and to the vessels of the young men (1 Sam. 21:5). (2.) Things are also called holy from their connection with holy persons. Thus, the “place” on which Moses stood was proclaimed “holy” on account of its connection with Jehovah (Ex. 3:5); likewise the Mount of Transfiguration (2 Pet. 1:18). (3.) As descriptive of an act free from sin, and performed with holy motives. Thus, the kiss of Christian salutation, called in 1Pet. 5:14 a kiss of charity, is in several other places called a “holy kiss.” 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26. (4.) “Holy,” as tending to produce holiness; as “most holy faith” (Jude 20). (5.) It is most generally used as descriptive of personal character, whether the holiness be perfect, as in God, or angels, or glorified saints; or partial, as seen in his people on earth. A few of the many instances of its application to this last class are 1 Sam. 2:9; Acts 9:13; Rom. 15:25, 26; Phil. 4:21; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:2; Rev. 18:24.
The doctrine of sanctification has reference to the first and last of these usages of “holy;” to the last more especially, as including the character of holiness produced by the continuous working of the Holy Ghost through the word of truth; but also to the first, as involving that dedication of person and life to God, which constitutes that “living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God,” which is the believer’s “reasonable service.” Rom. 12:1. Christian holiness includes both character and life. “Sanctification” is the process by which these are accomplished. The “sanctified” are those who are thus made holy. To “sanctify” is to make them thus holy.
II. WHO ARE SANCTIFIED.
The sanctified are those only who are in Christ Jesus, who have been regenerated, and have been justified through faith.
1. No man can cleanse or purify his heart or life. He lacks especially the will to do so. If he should determine to attempt it, the temptations, which will assail him, will soon overcome that will.
2. The law cannot furnish controlling power to this result; not because of its own deficiencies, but because of its weakness through the flesh. Rom. 8:3.
3. The difficulty of the work to be done consists in its not being a mere reformation of a bad life and habits, which is measurably within the power of man, and is sometimes accomplished so far as the mere outward life among men demands; but in its including the destruction and removal of man’s sinful condition, and habits, and action, which he by nature ardently loves, and the substitution for them of their very opposites in every respect.
4. Regeneration, therefore, is necessary, as antecedent to the work of sanctification. A new nature must be attained which will love and seek after holiness, and struggle forward, dissatisfied until it shall be perfected. The Scriptures, therefore, represent sanctification as occurring only in those who have been regenerated, and to whom a new heart and a new spirit have been given.
5. But, not only regeneration, but justification also, must precede sanctification. Yet certainly not for the same reasons; for regeneration is, like sanctification, a change in nature, and character; and justification a change only in relation to the law. There is, therefore, no such natural connection of sanctification with justification as there is with regeneration. Nor is there anything meritorious in the position of a justified person. For the meritorious ground of all blessings can be found only in the person and work of Christ. But, as the merit of Christ becomes that of the believer only in justification, and, as the faith by which we are united with him is also the condition of justification, so must justification precede the blessings which flow from that union, and from justification itself. The same necessity for precedence arises because in justification are furnished the motives by which the Christian is led through the Spirit. The Psalmist of old sang “There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared,” Ps. 130:4, and the Apostle John declares “Every one that hath this hope [of sonship and likeness to Christ] set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” 1 John 3:3. Paul, also, teaches that the condition of obedience with the newness of the spirit, is that we have been discharged from the law. Rom. 7:6. The believer must co-operate in the work of sanctification. His reception of the word of God, his reliance upon its promises, his struggles against sin, and his earnest longings for holiness are important elements in his sanctification. But the existence of these depends upon the belief that God has pardoned his sins, and will accept and bless him, which is the consequence of the personal trust in Christ which constitutes justifying faith.
This precedence of justification to sanctification is distinctly set forth by the Apostle in the order in which the parts of salvation are arranged in Rom. 8:29, 30 and Phil. 3:9-12.
III. THE NATURE OF SANCTIFICATION.
What now, we may inquire, is the nature of the sanctification which is wrought out in the believer?
1. It is a personal sanctification. It is accomplished in each individual personally, and not in that of a common representative as is the righteousness which justifies.
2. It is a real sanctification, not merely one that is imputed, as is righteousness. Holiness is not merely “accounted to men,” so that they are treated as though holy, but they are made holy. Holiness becomes the characteristic of their natures. It is habitually exercised in their lives. It will eventually be possessed in perfection. It is real and in no sense only virtual.
3. It is of the whole nature. The renewed nature, given in regeneration, shows that sanctification includes the whole spiritual part of man. It is not to be confined to mere outward actions. God’s spiritual nature demands not only spiritual worship, but holy spiritual emotions and affections; and these belong to the heart. Hence the need of inward conformity to his will and commands is so especially set forth in the New Testament, as to mark its teachings as essentially spiritual. We are also plainly taught that between the outward fruit, and the inward condition, is such a connection that the latter is the actual producing power of the former, and is manifested by it. Matt. 12:33-35; Luke 6:43-45.
But sanctification is to be extended to the body likewise. Its appetites and passions are to be controlled, wicked actions are to cease, and unholy habits to be put away, the members of the body are to be mortified, all filthiness of the flesh to be cleansed, good works are to be exhibited to mankind, and such high moral duties to be performed as are imposed upon Christians as obligatory towards each other and the world.
The Scriptures exhort to sanctification of the whole nature, both body and soul. See 2 Cor. 7:1; Eph. 4:17-24; Col. 3:5-10; 1 Thess. 5:23. That of the body alone is urged. The apostle tells the Ephesians about his prayers for their spiritual sanctification. Eph. 1:17-19.
4. It is not a sanctification to be completed in this life.
It is not, like justification, a single act, but is a continuous process. The work goes on throughout the lifetime of the believer, nor is it completed before death.
(1.) This is manifest from the frequent exhortations to sanctification addressed to those who are already believers in Christ, and who are actually called saints. Many of the passages containing these have been given in the preceding section.
(2.) It is also shown by the warnings, about the danger of backsliding, addressed to Christian believers. Such was that to Peter by our Lord, the reality of the danger of which was shown by his subsequent grievous fall. Luke 22:31, 32. See examples of other such warnings in 1 Cor. 10:12; Col. 1:23; Heb. 3:12, 13; 12:15.
(3.) The fearful condition of actual apostasy is presented for the purpose of teaching the true people of God the extent to which knowledge of his grace may be possessed without the attainment of actual and final salvation. Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-29; 2 Pet. 2:20. The object of this instruction is to warn against committing sins, and indulging habits to which they are still prone.
(4.) Christians are not presented in the New Testament as completely pure and holy, but, on the contrary, the very best of them acknowledge the existence of sinful tendencies, and pronounce any idea of freedom from the presence of sin to be a delusion. The faults of good men, such as Peter, James and John, and Thomas, and Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:37-40) are especially mentioned, and John who declares that “whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not” (1 John 5:18) is the very apostle who, in a previous part of that very same epistle, teaches that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8. Paul constantly speaks of himself as still struggling against the power of sin, as not counting himself to have attained, as buffeting his body and bringing it into bondage lest he should be rejected, and thus he gives us, in his descriptions of his own experience, a pattern of what has been almost universally acknowledged as that of every other Christian.
5. But sanctification will not always be incomplete. In heaven perfect purity and holiness will be the portion of the believer.
(1.) The purpose of God, in the foreordination of those whom he foreknew, is that they shall “be conformed to the image of his Son.” Rom. 8:29. This conformity shall be attained in heaven, for “if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is.” 1 John 3:2. Such likeness involves personal sinless purity.
(2.) Paul’s triumphant language as to the resurrection shows that this will be true of the body no less than of the soul. 1 Cor. 15:50-57.
(3.) The Scriptures declare as to the New Jerusalem that “there shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean, or he that maketh an abomination and a lie: but only they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Rev. 21:27. Peter says that the inheritance reserved in heaven for the saints is incorruptible and undefiled. 1 Pet. 1:4.
6. The partial sanctification of this life is also progressive. It is not a certain degree of attainment, possessed by all alike, and remaining always in this life the same; it is a growth from the seed planted in regeneration, which is constantly bringing forth new leaves, and new fruit; it grows with increased intellectual knowledge of God’s truth, with a clearer perception of human sinfulness and corruption, with stronger faith and brighter hope, and more confident assurance of personal acceptance with God, with a more heartfelt conception of the sacrificing love of Christ, and with a more realizing belief in his constant presence and knowledge of what we do. It even increases from its own acquired strength and through the suffering and doing in which it is developed. In these and many other ways do Christians grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, and in conformity to his image, “cleansing themselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” 2 Cor. 7:1.
When, however, this sanctification is said to be progressive, it is not meant to deny the imperfections before referred to, nor to assert that there is a constant rise upward to God and toward his holy perfection. The Christian life on earth is a warfare with sin, and the believer is not always without failure. He often yields to temptation, sometimes falls even into most grievous sin. The personal experience, presented by Paul, in the seventh chapter of Romans, is so strong a statement of such struggles that some have been inclined to confine its application to a time prior to acceptance of the gospel. But there can be no question of the applicability to Christians of the declaration made to the Galatians, “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would.” Gal. 5:17.
But the progress of sanctification is nevertheless continuous. These temptations and struggles enter into that progress, and not only they, but even the sins and falls which mar the Christian life. The process of sanctification is like the ascent of a mountain. One is always going forward, though not always upward, yet the final end of the progressive movement of every kind is the attainment of the summit. Sometimes, because of difficulties, the road itself descends, only more easily to ascend again. Sometimes certain attractions by the way cause a deviation from the route most suitable for ascent. Often it is feared that there has been no higher attainment, often that it has been but a continual descent, until, perchance, some point of view is gained from which to look down upon the plain whence the journey was begun and behold the height which has already been overcome. Often, with wearied feet, and desponding heart, the traveller is ready to despair, because of his own feebleness, and the difficulties which surround. But he earnestly presses forward and the journey is completed, the ascent is made, the end is attained.
IV. THE AUTHOR OF SANCTIFICATION.
1. From what we have learned of the persons who are sanctified, and of the nature of the work performed, it is evident that the author of it must be more than man. The Scriptures teach that it is God.
The work is attributed to God without reference to any distinction of persons. 1 Thess. 4:3; 5:23. It is also ascribed to the Father, John 17:17; Heb. 13:21; and to Christ, Eph. 5:26; Tit. 2:14.
But it is the especial work of the Holy Spirit, who is the author of the process of Sanctification, as he is also the act of Regeneration. 1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2.
(1.) He enlightens the mind. John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2 :9-16; Eph. 1:18; 3:18, 19; 1 John 2:20, 27. On this account he is called “the Spirit of truth,” John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; and the “Spirit of wisdom.” Eph. 1:17.
(2.) He gives spiritual strength (Eph. 3:16), lusting against the flesh (Gal. 5:17), enabling the believer to mortify the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13), leading the sons of God (Rom. 8:14), and enabling them to purify their souls in obeying the truth. 1 Pet. 1:22.
(3.) Inasmuch as he dwells within them (Rom. 8:9), so that they are his temple (1 Cor. 3:16), with whom they are sealed as the earnest of their inheritance (Eph. 1:13, 14), so, also, does he bear witness with their spirits that they are the children of God, and, removing the spirit of bondage to fear, bestows on them the spirit of adoption, whereby they cry Abba, Father. Rom. 8:15, 16.
(4.) The fruit of this indwelling Spirit is declared to be “in all goodness and righteousness and truth.” Eph. 5:9. It is specifically stated to be “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” Gal. 5:22.
2. But, while there is such need of a divine author of sanctification, it is a work in which the believer is passively a recipient, but one in which he actively co-operates. This is exhibited in various ways in the word of God.
(1.) Christians are called upon to recognize this presence of the Spirit. 1 Cor. 3:16, 17. They are exhorted to “walk by the Spirit,” and assured that, in so doing, they “shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” Gal. 5:16. They are taught that “they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh, but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.” Rom. 8:5. They are told that, because of the indwelling Spirit, “we are debtors, not to the flesh to live after the flesh,” and thus, by implication that we are debtors to live after the Spirit. Rom. 8:12. They are charged to “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” Eph. 4:30. In these, and in other ways, their co-operation with the Spirit in the work is implied quite plainly.
(2.) They are exhorted to engage in the work of self-purification. The apostle exhorts the Ephesians not to “walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, . . . to put away . . . the old man, which waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and be renewed in the spirit of their mind, . . . and to put on the new man, which after God, hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.” Eph. 4:17-24.
(3.) This self-purification is declared to be the work of every one that has the hope of likeness to Christ. 1 John 3:3.
(4.) Direct promises and commands, and exhortations to perfection and holiness, imply co-operative action in those who are in the process of attaining sanctification. Matt. 5:48; 2 Cor. 7:1.
(5.) All warnings against the power of temptation, the lust of the flesh, the subtlety of Satan, the influence of the world, the grievous character of sin; all exhortations to lead a virtuous and godly life, to set the affections on heavenly and divine things, to consecrate the soul and body to God; all motives to these ends drawn from the work of Christ, as an exhibition of divine love and mercy, as an example of purity of life, and of patient suffering, or as personally connected with the believer because of his union with the Lord,-in short, all that the Scriptures contain fitted to lead the Christian to a higher spiritual life, is evidence of his co-operation with the Holy Spirit in the work of sanctification.
The author of sanctification is indeed the Divine Spirit, but the Christian actively unites with that Spirit, “working out his own salvation with fear and trembling,” being exhorted and encouraged to do so, because “it is God which worketh in him, both to will, and to do, for his good pleasure.” Phil. 2:12, 13.
V. THE MEANS OF SANCTIFICATION.
The manner in which the Spirit operates in sanctification is beyond our knowledge. In none of the acts of God can we tell how he exerts his power, not even in creation. “As thou knowest not,” says the preacher, “what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child; even so thou knowest not the work of God who doeth all.” Ecc. 11:5. In sanctification the Spirit moves as mysteriously as we are taught that he does in regeneration. John 3:8. In general, undoubtedly, it is in accordance with the laws of mind and of spiritual life. Yet we know no reason why there is not a place for supernatural action in sanctification, as well as in regeneration. We can only know the effects produced, and the means which are revealed in the word of God, and in Christian experience.
1. The primary means which the Spirit uses for our sanctification, as both of these sources of information teach, is the truth of God. “Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth” (John 17:17), was the prayer of the Lord, in which the whole work, both of consecration and cleansing, is set forth as thus to be accomplished. (See also John 17:19). “Growth in the grace” is inseparably connected with growth “in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” 2 Pet. 3:18.
This is further taught in Scripture by
(1.) Such passages as connect spiritual life with truth; as John 6:63; 8:32.
(2.) Such as ascribe quickening power to the word of God; as Ps. 119:50, 93.
(3.) Such as teach the that truth is promotive of obedience; as Ps. 119:34, 43, 44.
(4.) Such as declare its usefulness in preventing sin; as Ps. 119:11.
(5.) Such as associate it with cleansing from sin; as Ps. 119:9; 1 Pet. 1:22.
(6.) Such as state that it produces hatred of sin; as Ps. 119:104.
(7.) Such as assert its power to lead to salvation; 2 Tim. 3:15-17.
(8.) Such as say that “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” have been given through the knowledge of God, and Christ; as 2 Pet. 1:2, 3.
(9.) Such as imply that growth in grace is due to greater knowledge; as Heb. 5:12-14.
(10.) Such as account for inability to accept higher doctrinal truth, by such weakness as should be characteristic only of those who are babes in Christ; as 1 Cor. 3:1-3.
(11.) Such as set forth the word of God as “the sword of the Spirit;” as Eph. 6:17.
(12.) Such as announce that all the ministerial gifts bestowed by Christ are “for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ; till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Eph. 4:11-16.
2. In connection with this primary means of divine truth others are presented. But they are not only secondary, but actually subordinate means to the word of God. They rather furnish occasions for the exercise of the means of sanctification contained in the truth of God than are proper means of themselves to that end. In themselves they have no efficacy, and only accomplish the end of sanctification by bringing the believer into connection with the truth of God.
(1.) Such are the providences of God, which tend in various ways to arouse and move his children, and avail unto sanctification so far only as they recall, and lead to the apprehension of divine instructions. They are frequent and effective means of such apprehension, and, through this, of the believer’s growth in holiness. Such especially are the afflictions, sent as chastisements by the Heavenly Father upon his children. Such, also, are the temptations and trials to which they are subjected. Such, likewise, are the infirmities of the flesh, and perplexities of the spirit which God permits to remain, or causes to arise in his own elect. In these, and in numerous other ways, as well as what is called good, as of what is called evil, does God surround his people with the acts of his providence. But these acts themselves avail not unto their sanctification but are only made effective through the truth of God apprehended amid such events, and received as spiritual food for the growth of the believer.
(2.) The good works of the Christian, furnish another secondary means for his sanctification. By these are not meant works that are good in a legal sense, for such goodness would require a perfection and freedom from taint which no work of fallen man can possess; but it is the privilege of the Christian to live unto the Lord, and the name of good works is given in Scripture to such outward actions as are the results of his life through the Spirit.
These good works are the result of sanctification; but, in their performance, they naturally become the means of further sanctification. John 14:23; Eph. 3:16-20. Yet, is this accomplished, not apart from, but in connection with, the truth of God. The new development will always be in the direction of the particular truths, contemplated in their performance. These will furnish the motives to further action, the strength for additional duty, the earnest purpose of deeper consecration, or whatever else the Spirit may graciously use for a more complete sanctification of the believer.
(3.) Prayer is still a further means to the same end; which, from its nature, can be effective only through the believer’s apprehension of divine truth.
Hence the worthlessness of mere lip service (Isa. 29:13; Ezek. 33:31; Matt. 15:8), or vain repetitions, Matt. 6:7. Not only are they offensive to God, but without value to the soul. Hence also the necessary spirituality of divine worship, because that only is true worship which is the service of the soul. John 4:23, 24. Prayer, which is a mere formal or mechanical utterance of words, can have no value; because the one that offers it, does so in ignorance, or forgetfulness of the truth of God appropriate to accompany it.
(4.) The Lord’s day is another secondary means of sanctification, which manifestly becomes such only in the Christian’s use of divine truth; either such as is suggested by God’s appointment of such a day, or such as is attained through the opportunity for such purpose which it affords.
(5.) The association of believers in church relations, is another means ordained by God for the increase of individual spiritual life and consequently of sanctification. This is attained not only through social prayer, and the preaching of the word, but also by Christian watchcare and discipline, and by the mutual sympathy and aid of believers in matters both temporal and spiritual. Whatever in these pertains to sanctification, must be connected with the recognition of divine truth in the moving influences which bestow, or the accepting thankfulness which receives.
(6.) The ministry given by Christ, is also a means for the sanctification of his people, in the preaching of his truth, in the spiritual guidance and rule of the flock, and in the sympathizing bestowment of the consolations of his grace. But, even these, though officially appointed, cannot either of themselves, or by virtue of their office, confer or increase spiritual grace. Their ministry is one only of the word of God, and it is only through his inspired truth “that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.” 2 Tim. 3:17. What these works are, is shown by verse 16, viz.: “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.” Ministers are in no other sense vehicles of grace. They are not appointed as personal channels of access to God, or of the bestowment of blessings by him, except so far as he has made it their duty to make known his truth. In connection with that truth they are means of sanctification to his people, and only thus are to be regarded as occupying relations between their fellow-men and God.
(7.) The ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are also means of sanctification. It is especially important to understand in what respects they are so. Upon this subject there are several opinions.
By the Papal Church these, with five others (confirmation, penance, matrimony, extreme unction and orders), are regarded as the Sacraments of the New Law. As to their efficacy as means of grace
1. This Church maintains that the Sacraments are, in and of themselves,–wherever conferred with the intention of the church, and where the recipient does not put obstacles in the way,–active causes to produce the grace which they signify, by virtue of the sacramental action itself, instituted by God for this end. The sufferings of Christ concur as the meritorious, but not as the efficient cause, which also depends neither upon the merit of the agent, nor upon that of the receiver.
They make distinctions, however, as to the necessity of these two Sacraments; regarding baptism as absolutely necessary to justification, in which they include sanctification; but the Lord’s Supper as only necessary because commanded and eminently useful.
The efficacy which is thus ascribed to the Sacraments is that of what is called an opus operatum, in which grace is conferred ex opere operato, viz: from the mere act done. It denies that faith alone in the divine promise suffices to obtain the grace. Will, faith, and repentance, in the adult, are necessarily required as dispositions on the part of the subject, but only to remove obstacles, for, as fire burns wood, not because the wood is dry, nor because the fire is applied to it, but because of the power in the fire to consume, so, they maintain that a sacrament, by its own inherent power, confers the grace when no obstacle prevents, such as would be dampness in wood to the power of fire to burn.
[See statements and extracts from the Canons of the Council of Trent, and from Bellarmine, contained in Hodge’s Outlines, pp. 597-600].
The objections to this explanation of the use of the Sacrament as means are,
(a.) That the ordinance is thus regarded as effective in itself, disconnected from any divine truth which may be symbolized in it, or taught in its objective presentation, or suggested through the Christian experience which accompanies its reception. The Scriptures nowhere teach such efficacy apart from the truth of God.
(b.) To no immediate connection of God with these, is ascribed their effective power. They are held to be mere appointments of God to be applied through man, and grace is taught to be as inherent in them as is, in any merely physical substance, any natural quality which God has bestowed upon it.
(c.) The faith which is declared requisite to remove obstacles is “mere assent” to receive, and not the appropriating faith of personal trust in Christ which alone is the saving faith of the Bible. Hodge’s Sys. Theol., vol. 3, p. 512.
(d.) This doctrine of the Sacraments places the salvation of every one entirely in the power of others. Whatever his own faith, unless some one else will baptize him, he cannot attain justification and sanctification.
(e.) Inasmuch as the sacraments are valid to convey grace only when performed with “the intention of doing what the Church does,” no one can know that the grace has been conferred, since he cannot know the mind of the administrator.
2. A second opinion, different in many respects as to the efficacy of the Sacraments, has been held by almost all Protestants.
(1.) In opposition to the doctrine of Rome, they teach that the Sacraments, which are but two, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are not in themselves means of grace, and have no separate inherent power to convey it.
(2.) They say, however, that these are “real means of grace,” that “they are not, as Romanists teach, the exclusive channels; but they are not channels.” Hodge’s Sys. Theol., vol. 3, p. 499.
(3.) They also assert that they are “sacred signs and seals of the covenant of grace.” Westminster Confess., ch. 27, sec. 1.
(4.) They hold that the efficacy of the Sacraments depends “upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.” West. Conf., ch. 27, sec. III.
This position is preferable to that of the Romanists inasmuch as:
1. It recognized the necessary presence of the Spirit in connection with the grace bestowed, and thus denies that this proceeds exclusively from any natural inherent power.
2. The benefits are said to be conferred only upon those “who worthily receive the Sacraments.” By this possibly meant persons receiving them through the exercise of true faith in Christ. Such is generally the position assumed by the various theologians of these churches as to the adult recipients of the Sacraments. But it should have been more clearly stated in their creeds. The language used could mean this in adult receivers only. Yet it is almost certain that the intention was to include infants among those who “worthily receive.” He, however, who “worthily receives” through faith must be capable of personal faith. If the receiver is not himself a believer, he does not receive “through faith.” He may receive because of the faith of another, but it is through the personal exercise of faith, and not on account of its exercise by others, that the Scriptures teach that the Christian is blessed in connection with the ordinances.
The objections to this form of the doctrine are:
1. The continued use of the word sacrament. It has no Scripture authority. It has led many to attach a superstitious sacredness to these ordinances.
2. The use of the word “seal” is also objectionable. A seal is a visible stamp, or impression which is made upon a paper or some other substance for the purpose of certifying to the truth of some fact thus implied. It may either be attached personally by the one whom it represents, or by some person authorized by him; but its presence by his authority is his testimony to the genuineness or correctness of what is witnessed.
Now either of the ordinances makes a visible mark upon their recipients. They are thus without an important characteristic of the seal. Neither of them is affixed to a designated individual by divine authority. The authority to administer is only a general one. No man can put marks upon the elect of God which shall authoritatively certify that they are his. Neither Baptism, nor the Lord’s Supper, becomes such an authentication either to re recipient or to others. This is found in the conscious possession of truth faith, or in the manifestation of that faith by the good works of his life.
This common usage of the word “seal” in connection with the ordinances has no other Scriptural support than the reference to Abraham in Rom. 4:11. “He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was in uncircumcision.” Cf. Gen. 17:11. But the rite then performed had the characteristics of a seal which have been denied of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It was a visible mark and not only so, but it was applied to the individual man Abraham by direct divine authority.
3. Objection may also be made to the word “sign” in the sense in which it is used. These two ordinances are indeed “signs;” but signs of what Christ did and suffered, and not of what is done to is people. Yet it is in the latter sense that the word “sign” is exclusively used by those holding this opinion.
4. The use of these two words has let to the mistake about the manner in which these two ordinances are means of grace, which constitutes the fatal error of this opinion. They are means of grace as they set forth truth, as they teach something, and only in this way do they convey grace. In the act of receiving, that grace may be conferred either from the consciousness of an act of obedience or through the apprehension and comprehension of the truth symbolized. It can come in no other way. The strongest expression in Scripture in favour of the grace-conveying power of an ordinance–that in 1 Pet. 3:21, in which the apostle speaks of “water: which also after a true likeness (in the antitype) doth now save you, even baptism,”–is at once explained by him to be not the ordinance, but the spiritual condition in which it is received, viz. “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation (inquiry, appeal) of a good conscience toward God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Serious has been the error which has resulted from these expressions and the doctine taught in connection with them. It has led men actually to teach that the grace of God has been really conferred upon or pledged to a recipient by the agency of the administrator. In the Anglican Catechism the question is put to the child: “Who gave you this name?” to which it is taught to reply: “My God-father and God-mother, in my baptism, wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.” Here the ordinance performed upon an unconscious subject is taught to have produced regenerating power. This doctrine of baptismal regeneration has been commonly regarded as unscriptural and false by evangelical Christians. But is the effect declared of this baptismal act any more a matter of the mere human choice and will and action of some one who is not the recipient, than is the result ascribed by an eminent Presbyterian theologian to the baptism of the child of a believer? He says: “And so when a believer adopts the covenant of grace, he brings his children within that covenant in the sense that God promises to give them, in his own good time, all the benefits of redemption, provided they do not willingly renounce their baptismal engagements.” Hodge’s “Syst. Theology,” vol. 3, p. 555.
3. The true statement of the sanctifying power of these ordinances seems the rather to be,–
1. A denial of all inherent power in them as means of grace.
2. Recognition of them as conveying truth by symbolical instruction.
3. The fact that they are partaken of because of the command of Christ also makes the act of obedience to him a means of grace to the recipient.
4. Only as truth is, in some way or other, brought by them to the acceptance of the heart and mind, can they have sanctifying power.
It is thus seen that all the means of sanctification are connected with the truth, and are secondary to it. They only become such, as they convey truth, or as they suggest truth, or as they are employed in the recognition of some truth.