Sunday Citation

I’m immersed in the section on sacraments in Calvin’s Institutes, and I’m learning quite a bit. I have been been struck that present-day Calvinists would probably balk at Calvin’s deep scriptural and spiritual views on the efficacy, mystery, and importance of God’s work in and through the sacraments, considering how it seems like we’re all functional Zwinglians when it comes to the sacraments. Calvin’s section on the sacraments is brilliant, and some excerpts are worth quoting at length here (from book 4, chapter 14, sections 1-17).

“[A sacrament] is an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promises of his good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; and we in turn attest our piety toward him in the presence of the Lord and of his angels before men…a testimony of divine grace toward us, confirmed by an outward sign, with mutual attestation of our piety toward him…[section 1]

“…a sacrament is never without a preceding promise but is joined to it with the purpose of confirming and sealing the promise itself, and of making it more evident to us and in a sense ratifying it…It is not so much needed to confirm his Sacred Word as to establish us in faith in it. For God’s truth is of itself firm and sure enough, and it cannot receive better confirmation from any other source than from itself. But as our faith is slight and feeble unless it be propped on all sides and sustained by every means, it trembles, wavers, totters, and at last gives way. Here our merciful Lord so tempers himself to our capacity that, since we are creatures who always creep on the ground, cleave to the flesh, and, do not think about or even conceive of anything spiritual, he condescends to lead us to himself even by these earthly elements, and to set before is in the flesh a mirror of spiritual blessings…[3]

“…Since the Lord calls his promises ‘covenants’ and his sacraments ‘tokens’ of the covenants, a simile can be taken from the covenants of men. What can the slaughter of a sow accomplish unless words accompany the act, indeed, unless they precede it? For sows are often slain apart from any inner or loftier mystery…The sacraments, therefore, are exercises which make us more certain of the trustworthiness of God’s Word. And because we are of flesh, they are shown us under things of flesh, to instruct us according to our dull capacity and to lead us by the hand as tutors lead children…[6]

“…Sacraments are truly named the testimonies of God’s grace and are like seals of the good will that he feels toward us, which by attesting that good will to us, sustain, nourish, confirm, and increase our faith…[7]

“…But the sacraments properly fulfill their office only when the Spirit comes to them, by whose power alone hearts are penetrated and affections moved and our souls opened for the sacraments to enter in. If the Spirit be lacking, the sacraments can accomplish nothing more in our minds than the splendor of the sun shining upon blind eyes…[9]

“…God uses means and instruments which he himself sees to be expedient, that all things may serve his glory, since he is Lord and Judge of all. He feeds our bodies through bread and other foods, he illumines the world through the sun; yet neither bread nor sun is anything save in so far as he distributes his blessings to us by these instruments. In like manner, he nourishes faith spiritually through the sacraments, whose one function is to set his promises before our eyes to be looked upon, indeed, to be guarantees of them to us…Our confidence ought not to inhere in the sacraments, nor the glory of God be transferred to them. Rather, laying aside all things, both our faith and our confession ought to rise up to him who is the author of the sacraments and of all things…[12]

“…Christ is the matter or the substance of all the sacraments; for in him they have all their firmness, and they do not promise anything apart from him…[16]

“…Therefore, let it be regarded as a settled principle that the sacraments have the same office as the Word of God: to offer and set forth Christ to us, and in him the treasures of heavenly grace.” [17]


One thought on “Sunday Citation

  1. Jimmey agrees with Calvin! You're definitely right. On the issue of the sacraments, we would do much better to listen to Calvin's actual teachings than Zwingli. When did we go so wrong on this?Awesome quotes. Thank you. I can't wait to finish reading the Institutes.


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