by Rev. Lee Johnson
65. Since, then, we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only, where does this faith come from?
The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Holy Gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.
66. What are the sacraments?
The sacraments are visible holy signs and seals appointed by God for this end, that by their use He may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the Gospel, namely, that of free grace He grants us the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life for the sake of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross.
67. Are both the Word and the sacraments designed to direct our faith to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?
Yes, truly, for the Holy Spirit teaches in the Gospel and assures us by the holy sacraments, that our whole salvation stands in the one sacrifice of Christ made for us on the cross.
68. How many sacraments has Christ instituted in the New Testament?
Two: Holy Baptism and the Holy Supper.
The sacraments. Sadly, these gifts of God are often a source of disagreement and disunity in today’s world. They are misunderstood and misused. Lord’s Day 25 gives us the definition of sacraments and helps us make sure we take them by faith, rightly knowing the centrality of Christ.
First, note Q. 65. It is the Holy Ghost that works faith in our hearts. And that is done through preaching and hearing the word of God. The sacraments do not create faith. Rather, they confirm that which is already present within us. The sacraments can help assure our faith and confirm to us the promises of God, but they cannot and will not create faith in our hearts. Thus, for the unbeliever, the sacraments give no benefit. They are not converting ordinances: there is no magic in simple eating, or in the water itself.
Second, Q. 66 gives us the definition of what makes a sacrament. They are a sign appointed by God. But they must be a visible sign. Thus, if there is no outward sign, it cannot be a sacrament. These sacraments must be present to our senses. And we must be able to see in God’s word where this sacrament is instituted and given to His church. We do not believe in man-made sacraments. We, the church, cannot invent our own. Christ instituted them, and Christ ordained them. And note again the importance of what the sacrament does. It points us to the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. The already accomplished sacrifice. The completed action of Jesus.
Third, Q. 67 then builds on that very point. We are taught by the Spirit in the word and assured by the Spirit in the sacraments. But both are done by pointing us to the cross. Our whole salvation is found in Jesus Christ, our mediator and redeemer, giving himself up for us upon the cross. As you go through the next few Lord’s Days keep this in mind. Count how often the questions direct you back to this basic fact. The sacraments point us to Jesus. How are we assured of our faith? By looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. If we linger on the physical elements of the sacraments and look for comfort no further than there, then we have failed. There is no comfort in the water alone. There is no comfort in the bread and wine alone. Only in the one to whom these elements point can true comfort be found. See again Q. 1 of the Catechism.
Fourth, Q. 68 is short and sweet, but important to distinguish ourselves from the Roman Catholic Church. There are only two sacraments. Only two meet the requirements of Q. 66. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the visible signs instituted by Jesus Christ himself. We, therefore, do not accept extreme unction, nor penance, nor ordination, nor confirmation nor even marriage as sacraments. Yes, some of these things, such as marriage, are good and can be found in God’s word. But there is no visible outward sign of these things. Rings are a fairly modern invention, and we are not allowed to create our own sacraments. So, while marriage and confirmation and ordination can be good things, they have no visible outward sign. They are vows taken by words of mouth. Bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper and water of baptism remain the only sacraments of the Christian church.