13 March 2005
1 Peter 3:21, Matthew 3:11 & 1 Corinthians 3:6
The Westminster Shorter Catechism
Q. 91. How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
A. The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of His Spirit, in them that by faith receive them.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English:
Q.91. How do the sacraments become effective means of salvation?
A. The sacraments become effective means of salvation, not because of any special power in them or in the people who administer them, but rather by the blessing of Christ and the working of His Spirit in those who receive them by faith.
1. What is meant in this Question by the “effectual means of salvation?”
The “effectual means of salvation” are the appointments of God by which He accomplishes the end He has in view, that of saving our souls (Romans 1:16).
2. What is the meaning of the words “not from any virtue in them” in this Question?
The words “not from any virtue in them” simply mean the sacraments have no power in themselves, as expressed by the Larger Catechism. The sacraments are simply the outward and ordinary means of grace and have no efficacy of themselves to confer salvation.
3. Why is it so important to make this distinction?
It is important to make this distinction because of the position taken by the Roman Catholic Church. They hold that the sacraments of the New Testament are true, proper, and immediate causes of grace. They insist the power of them flows from the sacramental action of receiving the external element.
4. What is meant here by “the blessing of Christ?”
The “blessing of Christ” is His divine power and life. Calvin states, “The sacraments duly perform their office only when accompanied by the Spirit, the internal Master, whose energy alone penetrates the heart, stirs up the affections, and procures access for the sacraments into our souls. If He is wanting, the sacraments can avail us no more that the sun shining on the eyeballs of the blind, or sounds uttered in the ”ears of the deaf."
5. How do we receive the sacraments by faith?
We receive them by faith by coming with the prayer that the Holy Spirit will do His work in our hearts, giving us the grace to believe in Christ and to apply His Word to our lives.