June 22 – LD 25, Day 5: The Sacraments as the Secondary Means of Grace
Tuesday the 22nd of June
in Heidelberg Catechism Meditations
Read: Romans 4: 1 to 11.
The preaching of the Word is the chief means of grace. God has added to the preaching a secondary means of grace, the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. There is a reason why they are properly called the secondary means of grace. The sacraments do not have any magical power in themselves to work faith. They can only strengthen the faith that by the grace of God is already in the heart of those who receive the sacraments.
One lesson we can learn about the history of the Protestant Reformation is that God used this mighty movement to teach us the right understanding and use of the sacraments. The proper administration of the sacraments is one of the marks of the true church of Jesus Christ. The church of Rome before the days of the Reformation had corrupted the sacraments. It also wrongly added five additional sacraments by its own imaginary authority. The church of Rome, especially during the middle ages, gave the sacraments a place in the church that corrupted their use in the church. Because of Rome’s false and superstitious teaching regarding the sacraments, they were given a position independent of and above the preaching in the church. It was and is maintained even today by the church of Rome that the sacraments in themselves have the power to save. Preaching in the church of Rome was virtually eliminated or reduced to mere moral homilies.
Scripture teaches that the sacraments are of benefit only to believers. So true is this that, wrongful use of the sacraments adds to the condemnation of those who partake of them without repentance and faith in their hearts. Read I Cor 11: 18 - 34. The church must forbid unbelieving and unworthy people from receiving the sacraments. The sacraments must be kept holy in the church. The honor and glory of Christ is maintained when the church is faithful in this regard.
But when the holy sacraments are properly received with faith and reverence for their intended meaning, they are a great blessing to the church and great encouragement and comfort to the believer.
We limit the sacraments strictly to the two which Christ instituted in the church. Sacraments are not human inventions. They are not even mere traditions that originated from the church herself. They were given by Christ to His church. Christ Jesus Himself operates in connection with the sacraments which He Himself has ordained in the church and works in the hearts of believers through them.
We only need the two sacraments which Christ has instituted in the church because they signify and seal to us all the blessings of salvation. Baptism signifies and seals to us the washing away of all our sins. The Lord’s Supper is a spiritual sign of our daily communion with Christ and of our being partakers with Christ of all the benefits which He has merited for us by His sacrifice on the cross.
If the sacraments are to be of spiritual benefit to us, we must be very careful that we do not have any superstitious ideas regarding their power and significance in our lives. We need to have a good spiritual understanding of the meaning of the sacraments. This is the reason why there was so much debate about this at the time of the Reformation and why the Heidelberg Catechism has such a lengthy section on the sacraments.