Chapter 25: The Word Of God And The Sacraments In General

1. THE WORD OF GOD. The Word of God is the most important means of grace, though Catholics ascribe this honor to the sacraments.

a. THE WORD AND THE SPIRIT. While the term ‘means of grace’ can be used in a broader sense, it is here used as a designation of the means which the Church is directed to employ. When we speak of the “Word” here, we do not refer to the personal Word (second person in the Trinity, John 1:1ff), nor to the creative word of power (Psalm 33:6); but very specially to the Word of God as it is contained in Scripture and is preached to the Church. (1 Peter 1:25)  It is the word of God’s grace, and therefore the most important means of grace. While the emphasis falls on the Word as it is preached, it may also be brought to men in other ways: in the home and in the school, by means of conversation and religious literature. The Word is made effective as a means of grace only through the operation of the Holy Spirit. The Word alone is not sufficient to work faith and conversion, but is yet the necessary instrument. While the Holy Spirit can, He does not ordinarily work without the Word. The preaching of the Word is made fruitful by the operation of the Spirit.

b. TWO PARTS OF THE WORD AS A MEANS OF GRACE. The Word as a means of grace consists of two parts, namely, the law and the gospel. The law as a means of grace first of all serves the purpose of bringing men under conviction of sin (Romans 3:20), making him conscious of his inability to meet the demands of the law, and becoming his tutor to lead him to Christ. (Galatians 3:24) In the second place it is also the rule of life for believers, reminding them of their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation. The gospel is a clear representation of the way of salvation revealed in Jesus Christ. It exhorts the sinner to come to Christ in faith and repentance, and promises those who truly repent and believe all the blessings of salvation in the present and in the future. It is the power of God unto salvation for every one that believeth. (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18)

2. THE SACRAMENTS IN GENERAL. The Word of God is complete as a means of grace, but the sacraments are not complete without the Word. This must be maintained over against the Roman Catholics, who teach that the sacraments contain all that is necessary unto salvation. The Word and the sacraments differ in the following particulars:

(a) the Word is absolutely necessary, while the sacraments are not;

(b) the Word serves to beget and to strengthen faith, while the sacraments can only strengthen it; and

(c) the Word is for all the world, but the sacraments only for believers and their seed. The following points deserve attention:

a. THE PARTS OF THE SACRAMENTS. Three parts must be distinguished in the sacraments, namely,

(1) THE OUTWARD AND VISIBLE SIGN. Each one of the sacraments contains an external element. This consists of water in baptism, and of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. One who receives merely this may be said to receive the sacrament, but does not receive the whole, nor the most important part of it.

(2) THE INWARD SPIRITUAL GRACE SIGNIFIED. A sign points to something that is signified, and this is the internal matter of the sacrament. It may be called the righteousness of faith (Romans 4:11), the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4), faith and repentance (Mark 1:4; 16:16), or communion with Christ in His death and resurrection. (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:11-12)

(3) The union between the sign and the thing signified. This really constitutes the essence of the sacrament. Where the sacrament is received in faith, the grace of God accompanies it.

The following definition may be given of a sacrament. ~A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ, in which by sensible signs the grace of God in Christ is represented, sealed, and applied to believers, and they, in turn, express their faith and obedience to God.

b. THE NUMBER OF THE SACRAMENTS. During the Old Testament there were just two sacraments, namely, circumcision and passover. The former was instituted in the days of Abraham, and the latter in the time of Moses. Both were bloody sacraments in harmony with the Old Testament dispensation. The Church of the New Testament also has two sacraments, namely, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, both of which are unbloody. After Christ has brought His perfect sacrifice, no more shedding of blood is needed. The Church of Rome enlarged the number of sacraments in an unwarranted manner by adding confirmation, penance, orders, matrimony, and extreme unction.

c. OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT SACRAMENTS COMPARED. The Church of Rome holds that there is an essential difference between the two: the former being merely typical, affecting only the legal standing of the recipient and not his spiritual condition, and depending for their effectiveness on the faith of those who received them; and the latter working spiritual grace in the hearts of the recipients irrespective of their spiritual condition, merely in virtue of the sacramental action. As a matter of fact, however, there is no essential difference (Romans 4:11; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 10:1-4; Colossians 2:11)  There are some dispensational differences, however:

(1) The Old Testament sacraments had a national aspect in addition to their spiritual significance.

(2) They pointed forward to the coming sacrifice of Christ, while those of the New Testament point back to the completed sacrifice.

(3) They did not convey to the recipient as rich a measure of spiritual grace as do the sacraments of the New Testament.



Passages pointing to:

a. The Word as a means of grace:

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

b. The twofold function of the law:

because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law [comes] the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” (Romans 7:7)

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)

c. The function of the gospel:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

d. The spiritual significance of the sacraments:

and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, (Romans 4:11)

Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are [in fact] unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. (1 Corinthians 5:7)

having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:12)

“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” (John 6:51)


For Further Study:

a. Is the law also a rule of life for New Testament believers?

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.  “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of [the] law. (Romans 13:10)

HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), (Ephesians 6:2)

If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well. (9) But if you show partiality, you are committing sin [and] are convicted by the law as transgressors. (10) For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one [point,] he has become guilty of all. (11) For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (James 2:8-11)

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4)

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)

b. Can you prove that the sacraments are only for believers and their seed?

“This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. (Genesis 17:10)

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it; (44) but every man’s slave purchased with money, after you have circumcised him, then he may eat of it. (45) “A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it. (Exodus 12:43-45)

“He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. (Mark 16:16)

“For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:39)

But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. (29) For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. (1 Corinthians 11:28-29)

c. What dispute arose in the early Church about circumcision? Acts 15; Galatians 2:3-9.

Some men came down from Judea and [began] teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  (Acts 15:1)

But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.  But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.  But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.  But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.  But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. (Galatians 2:3-9)


Questions for Review:

1. What do we mean by the term ‘means of grace’?
2. What do we mean by ‘the Word of God’ as a means of grace?
3. Why is the Word the most important means of grace?
4. What is the relation between the Word and the Spirit?
5. What is the function of the law as a means of grace?
6. What is the function of the gospel?
7. How are the sacraments related to the Word?
8. How do Word and sacraments differ as means of grace?
9. What is a sacrament?
10. What are the component parts of a sacrament?
11. What is the sign in each one of the sacraments?
12. What is the thing signified in each?
13. How are the sign and the things signified related?
14. How did the Old Testament sacraments differ from those of the New?

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