The First Helvetic Confession, Art. 21, also describes the sacraments. In this article the emphasis evidently falls on the fact that the sacraments, considered as a whole, do not merely consist in the signs and seals, but also include the things signified. The article reads as follows: “The signs, which, in the church of Christ, are called sacraments, are two, baptism and the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper). These symbols of hidden things do not consist of mere signs, but the signs and the things themselves. In baptism, indeed, the water is the sign, but the thing itself is regeneration and the adoption into the fellowship of the people of God. In the Eucharist the signs are the bread and wine, but the thing itself is communion with the body of the Lord, procured salvation, and remission of sins. Which things indeed are received as spiritual things by faith, as the signs are received by the mouth of the body. For in these things is the whole fruit of the sacraments.” It is clear that in this confession the sacraments do not merely consist in signs and seals; but, as I said before, they include the things signified, “the things themselves.”
Also the Second Helvetic Confession has a very long article on the sacraments. I will quote from the translation presented by Schaff, “Creeds of Christendom,” Vol. III, pp. 84, ff. The article is quite long; and I will not quote it in its entirety, but only refer to the main parts of it: “God, even from the beginning added unto the preaching of the word his sacraments, or sacramental signs, in his church. And to this does the Holy Scripture plainly testify. Sacraments are mystical symbols, or holy rites, or sacred actions, ordained by God himself, consisting of his word, of outward signs, and of the things signified, whereby he keeps in continual memory, and recalls to mind, in his church, his great benefits bestowed upon man, and whereby he seals up his promises, and outwardly represents, and, as it were offers unto our sight those things which inwardly he performs unto us, and therewithal strengthens and increases our faith through the working of God’s Spirit in our hearts; lastly, whereby he does separate us from all other people and religions, and consecrates and binds us wholly unto himself, and gives us to understand what he requires of us.” Here we may note that also in this description of the sacraments we find substantially the same elements as we already found in the Heidelberg Catechism and in the Netherland Confession. Also here, however, it is emphasized that the things themselves, the things signified, belong to the sacraments as a whole. Moreover, in this article of the Second Helvetic Confession it is added that also the Word, the Word of God, belongs to the sacraments; and it is even mentioned first.
The spoken Word of God, therefore, is an essential element in the sacraments. This is clearly expressed in the following quotation from the same article of the Second Helvetic Confession: “And as in the old church the sacrament consisted of the Word, the sign, and the thing signified, so even at this day they are composed, as it were, of the same parts. For the Word of God makes them sacraments, which before were not: for they are consecrated by the Word, and declared to be sanctified by him who first ordained them. To sanctify or to consecrate a thing is to dedicate it unto God and unto holy uses; that is, to take it from the common and ordinary use, and to appoint it to some holy use. For the signs in the sacraments are drawn from common use, things external and visible. As in baptism, the outward sign is the element of water, and that visible washing which is done by the minister; but the thing signified is regeneration and the cleansing from all sins. Likewise, in the Lords Supper, the outward sign is bread and wine, taken from things commonly used for meat and drink; but the thing signified is the body of Christ which was given, and his blood which was shed for us, or the communion of the body and blood of the Lord. Wherefore, the water, bread, and wine, considered in their own nature, and out of the holy use and institution of the Lord, are only that which they are called, and which we find them to be. But let the Word of God be added to them, together with the invocation upon his holy name, and the renewing of their first institution and sanctification, and then these signs are consecrated, and declared to be sanctified by Christ, For Christ’s first institution and consecration of the sacraments stand yet in force in the church of God in such sort that they who celebrate the sacraments no otherwise than the Lord himself from the beginning has appointed, have still, even to this day, the use and benefit of that first and most excellent consecration. And for this cause, in the administration of the sacraments, the very words of Christ are repeated.”
In another quotation from the same article of the Second Helvetic Confession it is emphasized that the sacraments are necessarily ordained by God only. And it is also emphasized that they presuppose faith in them that use them. “The author and institutor of the sacraments is not any man, but God alone: for man can by no means ordain sacraments; because they belong to the worship of God, and it is not for man to appoint and to prescribe a service of God, but to embrace and retain that which is taught unto him by the Lord. Besides, the sacramental signs have God’s promises annexed to them, which necessarily requires faith: now faith stays itself only upon the Word of God; and the Word of God is resembled into writing or letters, the sacraments two seals, which the Lord alone sets to his own letters. And as the Lord is the author of the sacraments, so he continually works in that church where they are rightly used; so that THE STANDARD BEARER the faithful, when they receive them from the minister, do know that the Lord works in his own ordinance, and therefore they receive them as from the band of God; and the ministers’ faults (if there by any notorious in them) cannot hurt them, seeing they do acknowledge the goodness of the sacraments to depend only upon the ordinance of the Lord. For which cause they put a difference, in the administration of the sacraments, between the Lord himself and his ministers; confessing that the substance of the sacraments is given them by the Lord, and the outward signs by the ministers of the Lord.”
It is plain, therefore, that in the Second Helvetic Confession three things are especially emphasized. In the first place, there are, of course, the signs and seals, the water in baptism and the broad and wine in the Lord’s Supper. Secondly, it is emphasized that God alone can institute and maintain the sacraments, not man, even though he be a minister. And, in the third place, it is also emphasized that there are no sacraments without the Word of God.
The French Confession of Faith, which dates from 1559, Article 34, speaks of the sacraments in the following words: “We believe that the sacraments are added to the Word for more ample confirmation, that they may be. to us pledges and seals of the grace of God, and by this means aid and comfort our faith, because of the infirmity which is in us, and that they are outward signs through which God operates by His Spirit, so that He may not signify anything to us in vain. Yet we hold that their substance and truth is in Jesus Christ, and that of themselves they are only smoke and shadow.”
Notice that in this article of the French Confession of Faith the following elements are emphasized: 1) The Word of God is always the main means of grace; and the sacraments are added to the Word for more ample confirmation. 2) The sacraments are pledges and seals of the grace of God. You understand, of course, that this last sentence does not and cannot mean what is emphasized in some Reformed churches, as:, for instance, in the church of the Liberated, that on God’s part the sacraments, and especially baptism, are sincerely meant for all the children that are baptized. 3) The sacraments are an aid and comfort to our faith, so that also here faith is presupposed. 4) The sacraments are outward signs through which God operates by His Spirit. 5) The sacraments of themselves, that is, as mere signs, are nothing, but only smoke and shadow; and their substance and truth is in Christ only.
In Article 37 of the same French Confession of Faith it is emphasized that in the sacraments the sign and the thing signified belong together, as is evident from the following quotation: “We believe, as has been said, that in the Lord’s Supper, as well as in baptism, God gives us really and in fact that which He there sets forth to us; and that consequently with these signs is given the true possession and enjoyment of that which they present to us.”