We concluded our previous article with an unfinished quotation from Dr. Bavinck as he wrote on the Romish doctrine of the sacrament of baptism. We now continue with this quotation.
“Grace alone serves to make it again possible for man to merit the heavenly salvation. This was fundamentally even the case with Augustine. Grace, however true it be that it was bestowed without merit, did not consist with him, first of all, in the forgiveness of sins but in regeneration, the infusing of love which enabled one to perform good works and thus acquire everlasting life. The merits do not precede grace and faith, but they do follow upon the same. Later, when the doctrine of the image of God as donum superadditum (the gift added in addition, H.V.) arose, this became still worse. The concept, grace, then experienced a significant change. Grace became something that was not only necessary for fallen man; but Adam must also be elevated by it from a common, ordinary man to the image of God. Hence, after the fall grace receives a two-fold task, first to redeem man from sin (gratia sanationis medicinalis), and, secondly, to lift him up to the supernatural order (gratia elevans). For the first grace is but accidental; for the second it is absolute and physically necessary. Therefore the latter pressed the first more and more upon the background; the ethical contrast of sin and grace makes place for the physical contrast of natural and supernatural. Rome views grace magically, through the means of priest and sacrament, infused into the natural man as a supernatural, created, physical power, which lifts him up to the supernatural order and enables him to merit by good works all subsequent grace and also to merit in this way the heavenly salvation.”—end of quote.
Rome, we understand, is thoroughly Arminian and Pelagian in this conception. Our merits do not precede our grace and faith (of course not, as according to Rome) but they follow. In baptism the child receives regeneration (infused grace), and the adult, when baptized, receives a grace which consists of the enlightening of the mind and a strengthening of the will by the Holy Spirit. However, this grace is resistible and man can reject the same. Man can lose the grace bestowed upon him in baptism, but in the grace infused into him he receives the supernatural power to perform good works and thereby merit all subsequent grace, yea everlasting life. Rome maintains the merits of good works. And grace is magically bestowed, through the means of the priest and the sacrament.
Summarizing the significance of the sacrament. of baptism as set forth by the Roman Catholic Church and as therefore constituting one of the seven sacraments, we remark the following. First, the sacrament of baptism is absolutely necessary unto salvation. Incidentally, Augustine also taught that baptism was necessary unto salvation. The Council of Trent decided in its Seventh Session; Canon V, on Baptism, the following, and I quote: “If any one saith, that baptism is free, that is, not necessary unto salvation: let him be anathema.”—end of quote. Rome teaches that the sacraments of baptism and penance are necessary unto salvation; or, that the sacrament of penance is absolutely necessary for those who have committed a mortal sin after baptism. Secondly, Rome believes that the sacrament of baptism (as do all the sacraments) contains the grace it signifies, that the sacrament is not merely an outward sign of grace or justice received through faith, and the efficacy of this ordinance lies in the sacramental action itself. Rome maintains that the relation between the sign and the thing signified is physical, and that the reception of the external material necessarily carried with it a participation in the internal or inward material. Thirdly, the sacrament of baptism delivers from the guilt of original sin and of all actual sins committed up to the time of baptism. This means that it delivers infants only from the guilt of original sin, It secures the infusion of sanctifying grace, dependent, however, upon the will of the person receiving it. Man, however, is able to lose this grace through mortal sins; and if he commits these mortal sins penance is required of him. Man can reject this grace but also acquiesce. This view of baptism was rejected, as we shall see later, by the reformers. Luther understood that the chief part of penance did not consist in the private confessional, whereof Scripture knows nothing, nor in our satisfaction, for God forgives our sins freely, but in a hearty sorrow over sin, in an earnest desire to bear Christ’s cross, in a new life, and in the word of grace in Christ. The penitent one does not receive the forgiveness of sin in the way of his satisfaction and priestly satisfaction, but in the way of trusting upon the Word of God, through faith in God’s grace. The sacrament does not justify, but faith justifies (although he did not break from Rome, also in this connection, in the complete sense of the word).
We understand, I am sure, that the chief question in connection with the sacrament of the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper concerns the proper interpretation of the words: “This is My body.” That this is the fundamental question lies in the very nature of the case. In the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ. This thought is beautifully expressed in John 6:50-56, and we quote: “This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if a man eat of this bread; he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews, therefore, strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us His flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him.”—end of quote. It is obvious from this passage that we must eat and drink the Lord Jesus Christ. If we do not eat the body of Christ and drink His blood, then we simply have no sacrament, but only a mere form. The question is therefore very important: what is the meaning of the words: “This is My body.”
Relative this important question we may say that there are at present four different views concerning the Lord’s Supper. There is, first of all, the Roman Catholic view known as Transubstantiation. This word refers literally to a change of substance. Rome simply identifies the sign and the thing obsignated. They teach that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of the Lord. This doctrine of Transubstantiation constitutes a very vital part of the teaching and life of the Church of Rome.
Another view of the Lord’s Supper is that which is entertained by the Lutheran Church. This view of the Lord’s Supper is, known as Consubstantiation. According to the Lutheran conception of the sign and the thing obsignated, they are not identified. Luther certainly rejected the view that the bread and wine are actually changed into the body, and blood of the Lord. However, although the Lutheran conception refuses to identify the two, they do maintain that they are objectively and really connected. Their view, we repeat, is known as Consubstantiation. And this means literally with the substance. Lutheranism maintains that the body and blood of the Lord are really present in, with, and under the bread and the wine. Very strenuously and vehemently the German reformer maintained that Jesus said: This is My body.
A third view of the Lord’s Supper is the Calvinistic conception. The Calvinistic view we may designate as the sacramental conception. This conception teaches and emphasizes that the relation between the sign and the thing obsignated is purely spiritual. It rejects the literal and natural interpretation of Jesus’ words: This is My body, and maintains that the bread and wine are purely and exclusively symbolic. The eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood does not occur through the mouth and is exclusively an act of faith. The bread and wine must be separated from Christ’s body and blood, are merely symbols of this body and blood. However, this does not mean that the Lord’s Supper is merely a remembrance feast, a joyful occasion at which we simply meditate upon the sufferings and death of our Lord. The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament; an operation of grace certainly accompanies our eating and drinking of the bread and wine; only, this relation between the sign and the thing obsignated is purely spiritual.
The fourth and final view that has been developed in connection with the Lord’s Supper is known as the Zwinglian conception. Zwingli was the Swiss Reformer. He entered once with Luther into a very violent and utterly fruitless debate. He disagreed completely with the German reformer, maintaining that Christ is in heaven and not upon the earth. His view may be designated as the symbolical view, the merely symbolical view. He maintained that the elements of the Lord’s Supper (the bread and wine) were symbols and nothing more. It is true that the Calvinistic conception also stresses the symbolical character of the bread and the wine. However, we maintain the sacramental relation between these symbols and the Living Bread and Wine, Christ Jesus, our Lord, whereas Zwingli’s conception of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is such that this sacrament is a mere feast of remembrance at which tie remember the death of a departed friend.
During the earliest period of the Church in the New Dispensation, the so-called first period of the Church, none of these four views had been distinctly and fully developed. This is readily understandable. The Church simply observed the Lord’s Supper without entering into its deeper significance. Standing upon the threshold of the New Dispensation, the Church of God did not enjoy the clear understanding of the Scriptures which characterizes the Church of God today. It did not give itself immediately a clear and distinct account of the meaning of this sacrament. However, it may also be observed that also to this sacrament, as to the sacrament of baptism, a profound significance was attached, although it had no clear idea or conception of its significance. And we may also remark that by various writers of this early period, the seeds were sown for the development of all the various views of the Lord’s Supper that were to be developed in a later period. More specifically we may observe, in the first place, that the present Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation was entirely unknown in this early period of the Church. Some views, as those expressed by Ignatius, Justin and Irenaeus, remind us of the present Lutheran doctrine. They emphasize the real presence of the body and blood of the Lord. The North African Church, however, revealed rather clear tendencies toward the Zwinglian conception. However, Clement, Tertullian and Cyprian inclined toward the Calvinistic or sacramental conception. The Lord willing, we will continue with this in our next article.