THE

SHORTER CATECHISM

EXPLAINED


QUESTION 92. What is a sacrament?

ANSWER: A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.


Q. 1. From whence is the word sacrament derived?

A. It is of Latin origin, being anciently used, by the Romans, to signify their military oath; or that oath which their soldiers took to be true and faithful to their prince, and that they would not desert his standard.

Q. 2. How is it used by the church?

A. Not only to signify something that is sacred, but likewise a solemn engagement to be the Lord's.

Q. 3. What is the general nature of a sacrament?

A. It is a holy ordinance, instituted by Christ.

Q. 4. Why is a sacrament called a holy ordinance?

A. Because it is appointed not only for holy ends and uses, but likewise for persons federally holy.

Q. 5. Is it necessary that a sacrament be instituted by Christ?

A. Yes; it is essentially necessary that it have his express and immediate warrant and institution, otherwise it does not deserve the name, 1 Cor. 11:23 -- "For I have RECEIVED of the Lord, that which also I delivered unto you," &C.

Q. 6. Why must sacraments be expressly or immediately instituted by Christ?

A. Because he alone is the head of the church; and has the sole power and authority to institute sacraments and other ordinances in it, Eph. 1:22, 23.

Q. 7. "What are the parts of a sacrament?"

A. "Two; the one, an outward and sensible sign, used according to Christ's own appointment; the other, an inward and spiritual grace, thereby signified, Matt. 3:11; 1 Pet. 3:21."[124]

Q. 8. What are the outward signs in sacraments?

A. They are the sacramental elements, and the sacramental actions; but chiefly the elements, because it is about these that the sacramental actions are exercised.

Q. 9. Why called sensible signs?

A. Because they are obvious to the outward senses of seeing, tasting, feeling, &c.

Q. 10. What kind of signs are sensible signs in a sacrament?

A. They are not natural, nor merely speculative; but voluntary and practical signs.

Q. 11. Why are they not natural signs?

A. Because natural signs always signify the self-same thing, as smoke is always a sign of fire, and the morning light a sign of the approaching sun; whereas the signs in a sacrament never signify what they represent in that holy ordinance, but when sacramentally used.

Q. 12. Why are they practical, and not merely speculative signs?

A. Because they are designed not only to represent the spiritual grace signified by them; but likewise to seal and apply the same.

Q. 13. Why are the signs in a sacrament called voluntary signs?

A. Because they depend entirely upon the divine institution to make them signs; yet so as there is some analogy or resemblance between the sign and the thing signified.

Q. 14. When are sacramental signs used according to Christ's own appointment?

A. When they are dispensed with the words of institution annexed to them, Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:23-25.

Q. 15. What do the words of institution imply or contain in them?

A. They contain, "together with a precept authorising the use" of them, "a promise of benefit to the worthy receivers, Matt. 28:20."[125]

Q. 16. What is the inward and spiritual grace signified by the sensible signs in a sacrament?

A. Christ and the benefits of the new covenant.

Q. 17. Why is the covenant of grace called the new covenant?

A. Because it is always to remain in its prime and vigour, without the least change or alteration; for "that which decayeth and waxeth old, is ready to vanish away," Heb. 8:13.

Q. 18. What are the benefits of the new covenant?

A. They are all the blessings contained in the promises of it, which may be summed up in grace here, and glory hereafter, Psalm 84:11.

Q. 19. Are Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, separable from one another?

A. No; for, "he that hath the Son, hath life," 1 John 5:12; whoever has Christ, has all things along with him; "all are yours, and ye are Christ's," 1 Cor. 3:22, 23.

Q. 20. What is the intention and design of sensible signs in a sacrament, with reference to Christ and the benefits of the new covenant?

A. The design of them is, that Christ and his benefits may be represented, sealed, and applied by them.

Q. 21. Why are Christ and his benefits said to be represented by the signs in a sacrament?

A. Because as sacramental signs are of divine institution, so there is a resemblance or similitude between the signs and the things signified.

Q. 22. Why are Christ and his benefits said to be sealed by these signs?

A. Because, by the sacramental signs, Christ and his benefits are confirmed to the believer, even as a seal is a confirmation of a bond or deed, Rom. 4:11.

Q. 23. Why said to be applied?

A. Because, by the right and lawful use of the sacramental signs, Christ and his benefits are really communicated, conveyed, and made over to the worthy receiver, 1 Cor. 11:24 -- "Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you."

Q. 24. To whom do the sacramental signs represent, seal, and apply Christ and his benefits?

A. Not to all who use them, but to believers only.

Q. 25. Why to believers only?

A. Because nothing but true faith can discern, and apply the spiritual grace, which is represented and exhibited by sensible signs in the sacrament, Gal. 3:26, 27.

Q. 26. In what consists the FORM of a sacrament?

A. In "a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified."[126]

Q. 27. What is the consequence of this sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified?

A. The consequence is, "that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other."[127] Thus Christ is called our passover, 1 Cor. 5:7; and the bread in the supper is called Christ's body -- " This is my body," 1 Cor. 11:24.

Q. 28. When are the signs and the things signified, united in those who partake of the sacraments?

A. When, together with the signs, (in virtue of Christ's institution) the blessings signified are received by faith, Gal. 3:27.

Q. 29. How may this be illustrated by an example?

A. A little earth and stone put into a man's hand at random, signify nothing; but when this is done in a regular manner, according to the forms of law, to give a proprietor possession of his lands, from whence these symbols were taken, it is of great importance to corroborate his right: so bread and wine in the sacrament, are of little value in themselves abstractly considered; yet when received in faith, as the instituted memorials of the death of Christ, by which his testament was ratified and sealed, the believer's right to all the blessings of his purchase is by it most comfortably confirmed, 1 Cor. 11:24 -- "This is my body, which is broken FOR YOU."

Q. 30. Are the sacraments necessary for the confirmation of the word?

A. No; the word being of divine and infallible authority, needs no confirmation without itself: but they are necessary on OUR account, for helping our infirmity, and confirming and strengthening our faith, Rom. 4:11.

Q. 31. What is the difference between the word and the sacraments?

A. The word may be profitable to the adult, without the sacraments; but the sacraments cannot profit them without the word, Gal. 5:6.

Q. 32. What is the END of the sacraments?

A. It is "to represent Christ and his benefits; and to confirm our interest in him: as also to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the church, and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his word."[128]

Q. 33. Who are they that have a right to the sacraments?

A. They "that are within the covenant of grace, Rom 15:8."[129]

Q. 34. Who are to be reckoned within the covenant of grace, in the sight of men?

A. They who "profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, Acts 2:38;" and "infants descending from parents, either both or but one of them professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are, in that respect, within the covenant, Rom. 11:16."[130]

Q. 35. What may we learn from the nature of the sacraments in general?

A. The amazing love of the Lord Jesus, in giving us not only the word as the instrument in the hand of the Spirit, for besetting faith, and all other graces, Eph 1:13; but likewise the sacraments for strengthening and increasing the same, as well as for cherishing our love and communion with one another, 1 Cor. 12:13.


[124] Larger Catechism, Question 163.

[125] Confession of Faith, chapter 27 § 3.

[126] Confession of Faith, chapter 27 § 2.

[127] Ibid.

[128] Ibid. 27 § 1.

[129] Larger Catechism, Question 162.

[130] Ibid., Question 166.


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