“Though the sacraments are connected with the thing signified nevertheless both are not received by all men: the ungodly indeed receives the sacrament to his condemnation but he does not receive the truth of the sacrament. As Judas, and Simon the sorcerer, both indeed received the sacrament, but not Christ, who was signified by it, of whom believers only are made partakers.” (Belgic Confession, § 35).
Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism
pp. 340, 350-351
Question 65. Since then we are made partakers of Christ, and all his benefits, by faith only, whence doth this faith proceed?
Answer. From the Holy Ghost, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.
This Question points out the connection which holds between the doctrine of faith and the sacraments. The Holy Ghost ordinarily produces faith (concerning which we have spoken) in us by the ecclesiastical ministry, which consists of two parts, the word and the sacraments. The Holy Ghost works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel; and cherishes, confirms, and seals it by the use of the sacraments. The word is a charter to which the sacraments are attached as signs. The charter is the gospel itself, to which the sacraments are affixed as the seals of the divine will. Whatever the word promises concerning our salvation through Christ, that the sacraments, as signs, and seals annexed thereto, confirm unto us more and more for the purpose of helping our infirmity. It is proper, therefore, that we should now speak of the sacraments, the seals of faith, appended to the gospel.
Obj. But it is said that the Holy Ghost and the word produce faith in us, and that the sacraments strengthen it. In what, therefore, do these three differ from each other? Ans. They differ very much. 1. The Holy Ghost works and confirms faith in us as the efficient cause, whilst the word and sacraments do this as instrumental causes. 2. The Holy Ghost can also work faith in us independent of the word and the sacraments, whilst these, on the other hand, can effect nothing independent of the Holy Ghost. 3. The Holy Ghost works effectually in whomsoever he dwells, which cannot be said of the word and sacraments.
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IX. What is the Lawful Use of the Sacraments?
The sacraments are used lawfully, when the faithful, or such as are converted observe the rites which God has instituted, as signs of grace, and pledges of his will to them. It may be said to consist in these three things: 1. In observing in their purity the rites which God has instituted. Those things which Anti-Christ has added must be removed, and those which have been thrown aside must be restored. This institution of Christ must be retained in its purity. 2. When those observe these rites, for whom God instituted them. None but Christians, who by profession of faith, and repentance are members of the church ought to observe the sacraments. “If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest be baptized.” “And were baptized confessing their sins.” (Acts 8:37. Math, 3:6.) 3. When the sacraments are observed with the design for which they were instituted. If any of these conditions are wanting, or if any of the rites are changed, and another design substituted without divine authority; or if the signs be received without faith, it is manifest that the sign and the thing signified do not continue united according to divine appointment. Of those who receive the sacraments it is said: “Circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law.” &c. (Rom. 2:25.) When abuses are connected with the observance of the sacraments the Apostle says: “This is not to eat the Lord’s supper.” (1 Cor. 11:20.) And so when the sacraments are observed with an improper design, no benefit is received; for, says the prophet Hosea 5:6. “They shall go with their flocks, and with their herds to seek the Lord, but they shall not find him.” God did not institute sacrifices that justification and salvation might be obtained thereby. Nor is any one allowed to change the ordinances of God to any other end, than that to which he himself has appointed them. To do this is to disobey God, and to forfeit his promise. The sacraments, therefore, without their appointed and lawful use are no sacraments, being nothing more than vain ceremonies, and empty forms. Their proper use consists in true faith and repentance. Hence the sacraments are no sacraments to those who are destitute of these conditions, so that those persons are beside themselves who, affirm that unbelievers and infidels receive in connection with the signs the things which are signified thereby.
X. What do the Ungodly Receive in the Use of the Sacraments?
In discussing the subject of the sacraments we must especially consider what, to whom, and how God offers and communicates in them. As it respects the wicked, although God also offers them his benefits in the sacraments, yet they receive nothing more than the naked signs, and these to their own judgment, and condemnation, in as much as they are destitute of faith. This is proven: 1. Because the benefits of Christ are received only in the proper use of the sacraments. But the wicked do not use them properly, for they receive them unworthily, having no faith, or repentance. Hence the apostle Paul says: “Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall he guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Cor. 11:27.) The ungodly now eat and drink unworthily, because they profane the sacraments. 2. To whom there is nothing promised in the word, to him the sacraments seal nothing. But the word promises nothing to the wicked; for all the promises of the gospel are made upon the condition of repentance, and faith. The sacraments, therefore, neither seal, nor confer any thing upon the ungodly. As a charter promises certain things to certain persons, and as the sign which is appended thereto promises the same things to the same individuals, and to none else; so God also bestows his benefits in the same manner, and to the same persons to whom he promises them. But God has promised nothing to the ungodly as long as they continue in their unbelief. 3. We receive spiritual things by faith. But the ungodly have no faith. Therefore they do not receive any spiritual things. 4. To be ungodly and yet receive the thing signified in the sacraments implies a contradiction.