Word and Sacrament: Agreements & Differences

William Attersoll
Badges of Christianity
Book 1, ch. 1, pp. 1-13

God always gave his Sacraments to his Church.

God even from the beginning added unto the preaching of the Word his Sacraments in the Church (as the Scripture teacheth) outwardly representing and visibly offering to our sight, those things that inwardly he performeth to us: as the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden. After man’s Fall, when a new necessity was added, in regard of man’s want and weakness: he testified his love and ratified his Covenant by sacrifices and ceremonies to our first parents. He gave the Ark to Noah and his sons, to confirm them in the promise which he made to them, that they should not be drowned with the rest of the world. He added to Abraham the sign of Circumcision, as a seal of the righteousness of faith: and to the Israelites he gave the Passover, manna, oblations, purifications, the brazen serpent, the Rock, and such like spiritual types, whereby he assured them of the promise, that God for the only sacrifice of Christ wrought upon the Cross, would give to all that believe forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

The Agreement between the Word and Sacraments

Now the Word of God may fitly be resembled to writings and evidences: and the Sacraments to seals, which the Lord alone setteth to his own letters. They are as a visible sermon preaching unto us most lively the promises of God: that as the Word we hear doth edify and instruct the mind by the outward ears, so doth the Sacraments by the eyes and other senses. First then, that we may understand the doctrine and nature of the Sacraments: we are to consider, what the Word and Sacraments have in common, and how they agree one with another: then, what they have peculiar and proper each to other, and how they differ one from an other. The agreement between them standeth in these points:

First, both are of God, and instruments which the Holy Ghost useth to this end, to make us more and more one with Christ, and partakers of salvation: not that God needeth them, or that he is tied unto them (for as he can nourish without meat and drink, so he can save without word or sacraments:) but because we need them, he useth them when he will, and as often as it pleaseth him. The same which is published and promised by the Word of God, is signified and sealed by the Sacraments. For they are not a delivering of new promises and articles of faith, but seal up such as are offered in the Word. 

Secondly, although God use them as instruments of his grace, yet the especial working and forcible power of them, is not in them, but dependeth on God alone: so that we must not think that whosoever partaketh of them is a partaker of grace, salvation, forgiveness of sins, and everlasting glory, but the virtue of them floweth from him only as from a fountain. A man may hear the Word and receive the Sacraments all the days of his life and be never the better, except God change the mind, open the heart, enlighten the understanding, cleanse the conscience, and sanctify the affections to his glory. 

Thirdly, as the preaching of the Word profiteth nothing, unless it be understood, applied, and received, but tendeth to judgement: so the Sacraments, except we bring the hand of faith with us, cannot give us faith nor grace, but tend to our condemnation. Yet, as the Gospel is always the savour of life unto life of its own nature, and the Word lively and of comfortable operation, howsoever the unfaithful turn it to be the savour of death unto death: so the Sacraments cease not in themselves to be true Sacraments, although they be administered by unworthy ministers, and received by unfaithful people. For man’s wickedness cannot pervert, much less evert [overturn] the nature of God’s ordinance. 

Lastly, as the best seed springeth not up and bringeth not fruit so soon as it is sown, but lieth a time covered in the earth to take rooting: so the fruit reaped by the Word, and benefit received by the Sacraments presently appeareth not, but groweth and increaseth at the time appointed of God, who will bless them in his elect, at what season himself hath ordained.

Thus we see what the Word and Sacraments have in common, both are instruments of the same grace, both have their benefit, blessing, and force depending on God, both require faith to be mingled with them, without which they are unprofitable, and lastly they profit not by and by at the same moment they are published, administered, heard, or received: but God afterward worketh often-times by them in his children to their great comfort, when all fruit to come by them seemed to be buried. The disciples at the first understood no more of Christ’s resurrection then the unbelieving Jews, when he said, “Destroy this Temple, and I will build it again in three days” (John 2:19), but they lay it up in their hearts, and long afterward remember the words he spake unto them.  So when they saw Christ riding to Jerusalem, the multitude spreading their garments in the way, and cutting down branches from the trees, the City moved, and children crying in the Temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Mat. 21:9), they understood none of those things at the first. “But when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done such things unto him” (John 12:16). If then at the present time of our hearing or receiving, we find not nor feel the fruit and comfort we desire: let us not doubt and despair, but wait on God, who in his own appointed times will make his own ordinances available to all his servants. Thus much of the things that are common to the Word and Sacraments.

Differences Between Word and Sacrament 

In the next place let us see what they have proper and peculiar, and so differ one from another.

1. The Sacraments depend upon the Word.

First, forasmuch as the Sacraments are appurtenances and dependences to the Word, and are applied to this end to seal up our communion with Christ, and our fellowship one with another: it appeareth that in men of riper years the teaching and hearing of the Word preached, and the open confession and profession of faith did go before participation of the Sacraments, as Mat. 28. “Go, teach all Nations,” that is, make them disciples of Christ, gave them to the faith (as the word signifieth) and then baptize them. Thus Phillip taught the Eunuch before he baptized him (Acts 8), to whom when the Eunuch said, “What letteth me to be baptized?” Philip answered, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest: and he said I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God. And Acts 10, “Can any forbid water that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” Indeed touching children’s baptism, there is another especial respect to be had, of which we shall speak afterward. But touching others, this is in difference between them: that where as the Word was offered even to such as were out of the Church not having heard of the name of Christ, and none excluded or debarred from the hearing of it, whether believers or unbelievers, holy, or profane (1 Cor. 14), no person being an unbeliever or infidel, was ever admitted to the Sacraments, although he should offer himself (for that had been to “give that which is holy to dogs, and to cast pearls before swine,” Mat. 7:6) but such only as were instructed in the faith, and had made public confession thereof as members of the Church. 

2. Word and Sacraments differ in their necessity, end, and use.

Another difference is in the necessity, end, and use of the one and of the other. The preaching of the Word is the ordinary means and instrument of the Holy Ghost to beget and begin faith in us (except God do deal extraordinarily, which of us is not to be looked for) and none hath entrance to Christ but by faith: so that men, if they will be saved, must hear it. But the Sacraments are of another nature, they cannot engender faith in us: we must bring faith with us, lest we partake them unworthily, so that he which believeth, and could not come to the Sacraments, is yet partaker of salvation. Wherefore the necessity of them is not simply and absolutely so great, that without exception a man cannot be saved without them: for it is the contempt, not the want of them that bringeth danger and damnation.

3. The Word may be without the Sacraments, but the Sacraments cannot be without the Word.

Thirdly, it may sometimes fall out, that in a visible Church, the Word preached may be found (as an essential note of the Church) without the Sacraments, and yet be a true church of God: so that the Word may be without the Sacraments, but the Sacraments cannot be without the Word, as a writing may be without a seal, but not the seal without the writing. Set a seal to a blank, and is it not vain, void, and unprofitable?

4. How the Sacraments are more effectual than the Word.

Last of all, the preaching of the Word rouseth and affecteth only one of the senses, to wit, the ears, we feel it not, we touch it not, we handle it not, only we hear the sound thereof: but the Sacraments are offered to the eyes as well as to the ears, so that we do even behold Jesus Christ as it were crucified before us, nay they move and stir up the rest of the senses, whereby we may understand what they bring and how they avail unto our faith, making us after a sort to handle Christ with our hands, to see him with our eyes, to taste him and touch him with our whole body. Wherefore, they do more seal up than the Word, not that God is more true of his promise when he worketh by signs, than when he speaketh by his Word: but in respect of the manner of teaching and receiving, because by his Sacraments he representeth his promises as it were painted in a table, and setteth them forth lively as in a picture before our eyes, that we may not only hear, but see, handle, touch, taste, and even digest them. Again, the promise of the Gospel is more effectually declared and sealed up by the Sacraments than by the bare Word, not for the substance and matter itself, but for the manner of working, which is here full, perfect, and more effectual: so as that which we perceive and receive by many senses as hearing and seeing, is more sure and certain then that which is discerned by hearing only.

The Uses.

Hitherto of the agreements and differences between the Word and Sacraments, and we have shewed that so soon as God gave his Word, immediately he seconded the same with his Sacraments. The uses which we are to make hereof are these. 

1. The Spirit strengthens our faith by these signs and seals.

First, seeing God contenteth not himself with the Word only, but addeth the Sacraments in all ages and times of the Church, which proceedeth partly through his own goodness, and partly from man’s weakness: we ought to be so far from despising the Sacraments, that contrariwise we must confess the benefit, use, and worthiness of them can never be sufficiently magnified, and commended, nor they with sufficient reverence be received. We are dull to conceive his promises and slow to remember them, we are full of doubting and unbelief: we are like to Thomas one of the disciples, we will not believe them until in some sort we see them, and in some measure feel them in our hearts. Wherefore God hath ordained these mysteries and holy actions, to keep in continual memory his great benefits bestowed upon man, to seal up his promises, and as it were to offer unto our sight those things which inwardly he performeth to us, and thereby strengtheneth and increaseth our faith through the working of his Spirit in our souls. An house, the more props and posts it hath to sustain and support it, the more weak and ruinous it is, whereas if it were strong enough, it needed nothing to bear it up. Even so, seeing God contenteth not himself with bestowing upon us, and blessing of us with his Word, but giveth unto us together with his Word his holy Sacraments also, so that our faith is not only underset with the one, but underpropped with the other, it serveth to lay before our eyes our weakness, our distrust, and our unbelief. For if we had fullness and perfection of faith, we should have no need either of the Word or Sacraments: and therefore when this world shall have an end, the ministry of the Word shall cease, and the administration of the Sacraments shall be abolished.

Seeing then the Word is not sufficient, but the Sacraments were added for further assurance: we must in this behalf consider the great goodness of God toward us, who doth not only give us faith by his Word as by his saving instrument, but hath also added to his Word, Sacraments or seals of his promise and grace, that by the lawful use of them he might uphold and strengthen our faith through his blessed Spirit. For inasmuch as the Lord not only sent the blessed seed, for the redemption of mankind, for the remission of our sins, and for the bruising of the Serpent’s head, but ordained for us Sacraments to be pledges of his promises, testimonies of his faithfulness, and remedies of our distrust: we must confess and thankfully acknowledge the bottomless depth of God’s endless mercy toward us, who vouchsafeth to be our God, to be reconciled to us being vile and miserable sinners, to make a league and covenant with dust and ashes, and delivers his only son to suffer the shameful death of the cross for us. And withal we must labour more and more to feel our own blindness, distrust, infidelity, and perverse nature, we would easily forget this mercy of God, unless it had been continually represented before our eyes.

2. As the Sacrament is a visible Word, so the Word is a speaking Sacrament.

Again, seeing nothing is offered and given in the Sacraments which is not published in the Gospel, seeing they cannot be where there is no Word, and seeing the same Christ with all his benefits is propounded in both: it meeteth with a common corruption and lamentable practise among many professors, that desire and crave, especially in sickness and extremity, often to come to the Lord’s Table, but esteem little of the preaching of the Word, and that seem to languish with a longing after the Sacrament, but never mourn and lament for want of the Word: which is as great an error and madness, as if one should ever look upon the seal of his writings, but never regard the conveyance of his estate. Is there not one God, the author of both? Is there not one Spirit, that sealeth up his promises by both? Is Christ divided; that speaketh evidently unto us in both? How is it then, that many desire the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and seem to pine away through want thereof, who never wish or regard the preaching of the Gospel, which is the food of the soul, the key of the kingdom, the immortal seed of regeneration, and the high ordinance of God to save those that believe (Rom. 1:16; 10:14)? And whence proceedeth it, but from palpable ignorance in the matters of God and their own salvation, to be much troubled that the Sacrament is not brought unto them, and yet never concern to have a word of comfort spoken to them in due season. Let all such persons understand, that as the Minister is charged from God to teach every Sabbath day, and to preach the Word in season and out of season, to deal the bread to the hungry, and to give unto every one in the family his portion (Acts 15:21; 19:4; 2:40-42), so is it required of all the people to desire the sincere milk of the Word of God that they may grow thereby, which, howsoever it be to them that perish, foolishness; yet to such as are called it is the wisdom of God and the power of God (1 Cor. 1:24).

Thus Origen, a man excellently learned, & among the Ancients one of the most ancient, saith, “When ye receive the Lords supper with al heed & reverence, ye take heed that no small piece fall from it by negligence to the ground: how then do you think it is a matter of less heinous offence to neglect his word then his body?” Whereby we see in the judgment of this father and doctor of the Church, the loss of the Word is as great a want as the loss of the Sacrament, and the neglect of the Word is as high an offence as the neglect of the Sacrament, for as much as one God is the author of them both, and the worker by them both.

Wherefore, we must not make account that there is less danger in neglecting the Word of God, than in neglecting the Sacrament of his Last Supper: but we must take heed, that while we willingly desire the one, we do not willingly despise the other. For we must carefully consider, that as the Sacrament is a visible word, so the Word is a speaking Sacrament: and as God lifteth up his voice unto us in the one, so he reacheth out his hand unto us in the other. We must as well hear when he calleth, as receive when he offereth. Now, by his Word preached, he calleth by his Sacraments administered, he offereth his graces unto us: and, as we must have ears for the one, so must we have hands for the other.

3. Diligent attendance upon both Word and Sacrament.

Lastly, seeing the Sacraments are so nearly linked together, and join as friends hand in hand one with another, it checketh all such as are content to come ordinarily and usually to hear the Word, and will scarce miss one sermon: howbeit when the Sacrament of the Supper is administered they are so senseless and secure, that except it be at Easter (when they come to it of custom rather than of conscience, for fear rather than of faith), they make small reckoning of it; neither think it their duty to resort unto it.

Woe unto all them that unjoin and put asunder those things, which God hath coupled together: woe unto such as do the work of the Lord negligently or deceitfully. This is to serve him to halves, and to worship him after our own inventions. For as it is a counterfeit repentance to leave one sin, and cleave to another, so it is a feigned holiness to follow one ordinance of God, and to omit or forsake another. True repentance standeth in denying of all sin, and true religion consisteth in practicing of all good things of God. Among many that are often hearers of the Word, you shall not find many that are often receivers of the Supper of the Lord. These are like unto Ahaz, mentioned in the Prophet Isaiah (7:11), when God offered unto him a sign, and bade him, “ask it either in the depth, or in the height above,” to strengthen his faith, and assure him of the promise of God, he neglected and contemned the same, through profaneness of heart, albeit he answered in words, he would “not tempt the Lord.” This man is worthily branded in the Scripture with the note of a wicked man (2 Chron. 28:22), and hath it set upon him as a mark whereby he may be known, for as much as in refusing to receive a sign, beside all his other sin, he breaketh out into many sin, and sheweth his contempt, unthankfulness, hatred, pride, infidelity, and hypocrisy. So it is with such as live among us, and love not to come to the Table of the Lord.

What sins they commit that neglect the use of the Sacraments.

First, they are disobedient to God, and refuse to do that which he commandeth them to do. They contemn the ministry of those whom God hath sent to offer unto us the seals of his love, the assurances of his promises, and the pledges of our salvation. To rebel against God is no small sin, and to deny openly without fear and without shame to obey his will.

Secondly, such as absent themselves from the Sacraments are most unthankful unto God, who spareth our weakeness, and offereth unto us wholesome stays, as it were firm and strong pillars to uphold our faith. Such as have the greatest and strongest faith, and have attained to the highest measure of assurance, do yet in this life stand as much in need of the Sacraments, as a ruinous building doth of shores and supporters, or a weak body doth of meat and nourishment.

Thirdly, they are guilty of the grievous sin and horrible crime of hatred against God, because like to Ahaz as much as lieth in them, they would have the glory of God darkened, that it might not shine, and the truth of God buried, that it might not appear in the performance of his promises. If these men were persuaded in their hearts, that the neglect of the Sacraments is a secret hatred against God, and an unjust detaining from him the praise and honour that is due to his great name, they would make more conscience of this sin than commonly they do.

Fourthly, such as come not unto them with fear and reverence, are possessed with spiritual pride and presumption, which is a dangerous disease, and so much the more dangerous, by how much it is the less espied. For these men do imagine they have strength of faith, greater then indeed they have: and in that high and haughty conceit of their own gifts, do contemn the use of the Sacraments, as needless and superfluous things. These are they that say they are rich, and have need of nothing, and yet know not that they are wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. These are heartsick and yet feel it not, and are near without speedy repentance unto condemnation. For as the sick man that refuseth wholesome medicines & sovereign preservatives, increaseth his disease, and draweth death willingly and willfully upon himself: so such persons as regard not the Sacraments, which God (as the spiritual Physician of our souls) offereth unto us, as means to restore us and recover us from the venomous poison of unbelief, which we have drunk from our first parents, do by little and little harden themselves, and justly perish in the evil way.

Fifthly, they bewray their infidelity, and an evil persuasion of the truth & power of God, as Ahaz did when he refused the sign which of his grace and goodness was offered unto him. He said, he would not aske a sign neither tempt God; but because he asked not a sign, therefore he tempted God. So do all they that refuse to help the weakness of their faith by the use of the Sacraments, they tempt God, and make trial whether he will save them, or can save them, without those ordinary means that he hath ordained. This is a true and certain rule, that all they which have faith will be careful to strengthen their faith: such as have no faith at all, regard not any means whereby they may obtain faith; as they that have life in them seek to sustain it, but the dead stir not hand or foot.

Lastly, such persons as care not to be present at the Sacraments, have their hearts possessed with hypocrisy and deep dissimulation, and do indeed and in truth, no better than mock God and godliness. They profess themselves to be desirous to know God, and to serve him with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind, in as much as they are partakers of the Word; howbeit, because they regard not to resort to his Table, and to sit down with him as his guests: they are far from that truth and inward sincerity that ought to be in all the servants of God. Thus then we see how many sins do concur and meet together, in all such as do not constantly and conscionably frequent the Sacraments, which must be duly considered of us, least by heaping up all these sins in the neck one of another, we also bring down from Heaven upon our heads many punishments and plagues, according to our just deservings. For inasmuch as the Lord not only sent the blessed Seed for the redemption of mankind, for the remission of sins, and for the bruising of the Serpent’s head, but ordained for us Sacraments to be pledges of his promises, testimonies of his faithfulness, and remedies of our distrust; we must confess and thankfully acknowledge the bottomless depth of his mercy towards us, who vouchsafeth to be our God, to be reconciled unto us being vile & miserable sinners, to make a league and covenant with dust and ashes, and to deliver his only Son to suffer the bitter death of the shameful cross. And withal we must confess, and labour more and more to feel our own blindness, and infidelity, which mercy we would easily forget, unless it had been continually represented before our eyes.


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