The Nature of a Sacrament: Partly Outward and Partly Inward.

William Attersoll
Badges of Christianity
Book 1, ch. 3, pp. 26-32.

We have seen what a Sacrament is; now we are to consider in it two things, first its parts, then its uses. For in handling these two points, we shall see what is the nature of a sacrament. The parts of a Sacrament are of two sorts, some outward, open, sensible, earthly, visible, and signifying—some are inward, hidden, spiritual, heavenly, invisible, and signified. For the nature of a Sacrament is partly earthly and partly heavenly. If we had been wholly a spirit without body, he would give us his gifts spiritually without a body: but seeing we are soul and body he giveth us his Sacraments, that so we may apprehend spiritual gifts by sensible things.

The outward part is one thing and the inward part is another thing, the outward is applied to the body, the inward is applied to the soul and conscience. This division and distinction of parts appeareth plainly, “He is not a Jew which is one outward, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew which is one within, and the circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter” (Rom. 2:28-29), where we see, he maketh circumcision to stand of two parts: part in the flesh and part in the heart, partly in the spirit and partly in the letter. Hereunto cometh that saying. “Ye are circumcised with circumcision made without hands” (Col. 2:11), so that there is a circumcision without, and there is an other within by the virtue of Christ. The same we may say of Baptism. There is a baptizing of the body, and there is a baptizing of the soul: the body is washed with water, the soul is cleansed by the precious blood of our Saviour Christ, which is the hidden and mystical part of the Sacrament.

This appeareth by many examples recorded in Scripture. Simon the Sorcerer, though he were baptized with water, yet his heart was not right in the sight of God, he remained in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity, so that albeit he were baptized, yet he was not regenerated (Acts 8:13, 21, 23). The Israelites were partakers of the outward signs, not of the invisible grace. “They were all baptized unto Moses in that cloud and in that sea: they did all eat the same spiritual meat, they all drank the same spiritual drink, yet with many of them God was not pleased” (1 Cor. 10:1-5). The like may be said of Judas one of the twelve , he did eat the Paschal lamb as well as the rest of the Apostles but he did not eat Christ (who is the undefiled and without spot) as the other did. This is that also which John the Baptist teacheth, “Indeed I baptize you with water unto repentance, but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (Mat. 3:11), where, as the Baptist maketh two baptizers, himself and Christ, so he distinguisheth their actions—his own to wash with water, and the action of Christ to wash with the Holy Ghost.

Neither need we to seek far for reason, to persuade any to believe this truth, that the nature of a Sacrament, is neither wholly outward nor wholly inward, but taketh part of both, seeing nothing can be a sign of itself, but a sign is a sign of another thing, and seeing they are mysteries, they have an hidden meaning and spiritual understanding. If the water in Baptism had not grace annexed unto it, it could not be a mystery. We see the sign, we see not the grace which is invisible. Now let us come to the uses.

Use 1. Sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified.

These parts though distinguished really one from another, that the outward parts cannot be the inward, the earthly cannot be the heavenly, the seal cannot be the thing sealed, the token cannot be the thing betokened, nor contrariwise: (for this were to alter nature and to mingle heaven and earth together) yet in respect of the proportion between the sign and the thing signified, and of the conjunction of them to the faithful, which receive both the one and other, one part is affirmed of the other. For we must understand that the Scripture in regard of this union, speaketh of the Sacraments two ways, to wit, properly and figuratively.

Properly, when that which belongeth to the sign is given to the sign, and when the thing signified is given and applied to the thing itself, and thus each part hath his own, as Circumcision is called the sign of the Covenant (Gen. 17:11). And the blood of the lamb is called a sign (Ex. 12:13)—these are plain and proper speeches, and without figure. Again when it saith, “My body which is given for you, my blood which is shed for many for remission of sins” (Luke 22:19; Mat. 26:28), we must understand the words literally as they lie. Figuratively, when the sign is given to the thing signified, and called by the name of it, as Christ is called the Passover (1 Cor. 5:7), and the Lamb of God (John 1:29), his flesh is also said to be meat indeed, and his blood drink indeed (John 6:55), the Holy Spirit is called water (Ezek. 36:25), or else the name of the thing signified is given to the sign, as bread is called the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16), the cup is called the New Testament (Mat. 26:28). These speeches must be taken figuratively, and understood by a change of name according to the intention and meaning of the Holy Ghost, so that we must beware that we do not take or mistake the sign for the thing, nor the thing for the sign, seeing the parts are distinguished in nature, though joined in the person.

Use 2. Sacramental union does not confound the outward & inward parts.

Again, albeit by God’s ordinance these parts be so united, that by taking of the sign the faithful are made partakers of the thing signified, no less truly than the outward signs are received of our bodily senses: yet we must conceive and consider, that these outward and inward parts remain, distinct and unconfounded, and therefore we must take heed we take not one for another: we must not ascribe too much to the outward parts, and so take them for the inward, which hath been the occasion of sundry errors from time to time. Some attribute too little to the outward sign, and some ascribe too much: both ways the Sacrament is abused and the parts are misapplied.

Hence sprang as a rank weed in the Lord’s corn, the doctrine of transubstantiation or carnal turning of the substance of bread into the body, whereby the sign is swallowed up and the outward substance with them quite abolished. For their feigned Christ hath consumed the outward sign, as the rich devoureth and eateth the poor. Thus the sign is consumed and too little regarded. Others on the other side, cleave to much to the outward sign, and rest in the external work, placing holiness and remission of sins in the deed done. And thus the thing signified is little regarded and wholly abolished, as the evil favoured and lean-fleshed kine did eat up the fat and well-favoured (Gen. 41:4): this was Pharaoh’s dream, and the other is man’s devise. For these men give all to the outward receiving, placing holiness and remission of sins therein, and thinking themselves sure and secure when the bread and wine is taken at the Lord’s Table.

Thus all hypocrites, Libertines, and carnal Gospellers do. For all the religion, devotion, and godliness of these idle and ignorant professors, standeth in outward resorting to the Church, and in an outward taking of the communion of the body and blood of Christ, which is to make an Idol of the sign, and to flatter themselves in their evils to their own destruction. For albeit a man have been baptized and have received the Lord’s Supper, yet if he live wickedly and walk after his own lusts, the Sacraments shall avail and advantage him nothing at all, but further his condemnation.

Use 3. We must study the meaning of the Sacraments.

Lastly, hath the Sacrament some parts outward and some inward, some seen and some not seen with bodily eyes? Then it giveth occasion, both to parents to teach their children the meaning of these mysteries and to declare unto them the ordinances of God, as likewise to children and the younger sort to ask and inquire of their parents, to hear and learn of them the doctrine of the Sacraments, thereby to know the merciful promises that God hath made to his people.

This appeareth directly, where the the fathers are forewarned to teach their children the hidden mystery of the Passover, “When your children ask you, what service is this ye keep, then ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, which passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians and preserved our houses.” (Ex. 12:26-27). So likewise chapters 13-15, speaking of separating and sanctifying the first born for the service of God, he chargeth parents to whet this doctrine on their children and to instruct them, how God with a mighty hand and outstretched arm brought them out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Again, we see when the Lord had parted the waters of Jordan that the people might pass, he commanded Joshua to set up 12 stones, in memorial of the mighty and miraculous work of God for his people against their enemies. And when their children should ask them in time to come, what was meant by those stones, they should answer “that the waters of Jordan were cut off before the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord” (Josh. 4:6-7; 8:21-23). He would not only have themselves to profit by his wonderful works, but to retain the remembrance of them, he would have their posterity to know the cause and occasion thereof, and so glorify his name for ever. Hereunto we may fitly join what the Psalmist saith, “I will open my mouth in a parable, I will declare high sentences of old which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us, we will not hide them from their children, but to the generation to come we will shew the praises of the Lord, his power also and his wonderful works that he hath done: that the posterity might know it, and the children which should be born should stand up and declare it to their children, that they might set their hope on God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Psalm 78:2-7).

How to teach our children the meaning of the Sacraments.

All these things serve to this purpose, to shew that it is a duty and burden laid on the shoulders of all parents, to acquaint their children with the works of God, especially with the benefits of our redemption wrought by Christ for our salvation. If they ask the question, why infants are baptized and washed with water into the name of the holy Trinity, we must make plain unto them the meaning of that mystery. We must say unto them, My children, this is a sign of the Covenant of God’s mercy to us, and our duty to God: it is a mystery of our salvation, and teacheth that being in our selves unclean, unrighteous, unholy, and sinful, our souls are washed by the blood of Christ even as the water in Baptism washeth our bodies:  wherein the mercy of God is so much the more marvelous in our eyes, insomuch as the Jews were entered into the covenant by cutting, lancing, and effusion of blood in circumcision.

Again, before they come to years to receive the holy Supper of the Lord, we must inform them at home, and declare the institution of that Sacrament and the comfortable uses thereof to them—so they may afterward come to this Communion with better warrant of their work, with greater comfort to themselves, and with less danger to their souls. We must teach them that as the bread is broken and the wine poured out, so the body of Christ was crucified and his blood shed for the remission of our sins. And that if we believe in the Lord Jesus, we are nourished in our souls to eternal life by the passion of Christ our Savior, as certainly as our bodies are nourished with the creatures of bread and wine.

Notwithstanding, there is a general defect of this duty in many parents, neither are children ready to enquire and learn at home, neither are parents able to answer anything in these matters of God. Waywardness in the one, and worldliness in the other, and ignorance in them both, hath taken away all care and conscience from them, touching these holy duties and heavenly mysteries, so that neither the one teacheth nor the other learneth, neither the child enquireth nor the father answereth.


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