Strengthened by the Supper (1): What are the Sacraments?
The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament. The Lord’s Supper is a divine gift meant to declare and seal to us, Christ’s church, His great promise of the gospel of a crucified and risen Christ. Receive the sacraments with gratitude, and rejoice in the gospel given you in and through them.
A slight correction from last time. I read Heidelberg 65, which is important to this series, but I referenced it as Heidelberg 66. I apologize for the confusion.
Heidelberg 65 asks, “where does . . . faith come from?” Great question. Believers want to have faith and a stronger and deeper faith. How do they get that? Heidelberg 65 answers, “From the Holy Spirit who works it in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel and strengthens it by the use of the sacraments.” Aren’t you glad for the gospel of a generous and powerful God? You don’t have to muster up the faith yourself, you simply receive grace from your God, and He builds your faith. You need preaching like you need regular meals if you’re going to have strength on your pilgrim journey to heaven. Additionally, the Holy Spirit strengthens your faith by the use of the sacraments. You need the Lord’s Supper like you need regular meals if you’re going to endure your pilgrim journey to heaven. So then, let’s ask the question: What are the sacraments?
When you hear the word “sacrament” what do you think of? Maybe the word sounds Roman Catholic to you, but it’s not a word reserved for Romanists. The word “sacrament” has been used in the church for a long time. The Protestant Reformers used the word.
According to Webster’s Dictionary 1828, the word “sacrament” comes from the Latin sacramentum meaning an oath, the root being sacer or sacred. Additionally, ancient writers used sacramentum to describe a mystery. But in the history of the church, the word “sacrament” was used to refer to visible signs and seals that communicated the gospel of Christ. Heidelberg 66 defines sacraments as follows:
The sacraments are holy, visible signs and seals. They were instituted by God so that by their use He might the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel. And this is the promise: that God graciously grants us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life because of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross.
So, several things can be said about the sacraments. They are holy, visible, signs, and seals. It’s right to say the sacraments “were instituted by God.” Man didn’t invent the sacraments; God gave the sacraments to man. What does God intend to do through the sacraments? God intends to “more fully declare and seal to [His church] the promise of the gospel.” So the sacraments are declarations and authenticating seals of the gospel of Christ to Christ’s church. The sacraments represent God’s promise to us His church. What’s the promise? The sacraments signify and seal the gospel promise of God to us. Here’s the promise: “that God graciously grants us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life because of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross.” It’s really, really important to understand that the sacraments are God’s gift to His church, a gift through which He communicates the gospel and its benefits to them. The sacraments are not gifts that the church gives to God. The sacraments are not a response to the gospel per se, they are the gospel being given by God to His church as they obediently receive them.