QUESTION 91. How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
ANSWER: 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.
Q. 1. What is meant by effectual means of salvation?
A. Such means as, by the blessing of God, do fully attain the end for which they are appointed, 1 Thess. 2:13.
Q. 2. What is the meaning of these words in the answer not from any virtue in them?
A. The meaning is, that the sacraments have not any virtue or efficacy in themselves to confer salvation; being only among the outward and ordinary means of grace, which can have no more efficacy of themselves to confer any saving benefit than the rainbow of itself has to prevent a deluge.
Q. 3. Who are they who maintain that the sacraments have a virtue or power in themselves to confer grace?
A. The Papists, who affirm that the sacraments of the New Testament are the true, proper, and immediate causes of grace; and that the efficacy of them flows from the sacramental action of receiving the external elements.
Q. 4. How do you prove that the sacraments have not any innate or intrinsic virtue in themselves to confer grace or salvation?
A. From this one argument, that if the sacraments had any such virtue, then grace, or salvation, would be infallibly connected with the external use of them: but it is obvious from scripture, that after Simon Magus was baptised, he remained still "in the gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity," Acts 8:13, 23.
Q. 5. Why is it said in the answer, that the sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in him that doth administer them?
A. It is so said in opposition to the Papists, who maintain, that the efficacy of the sacraments depends upon the intention of the priest; so that any benefit by them, is conferred, or withheld, according to them, just as the secret will of the administrator would have it.
Q. 6. How is this error refuted?
A. If the efficacy of the sacraments depended upon the intention of the administrator, then there could be no certainty about the efficacy of them at all; because no mortal can be absolutely certain about the intention of another; the secrets of the heart being known to God only, Acts 1:24.
Q. 7. From whence, then, have the sacraments their efficacy and virtue?
A. Only from the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit.
Q. 8. What do you understand by the blessing of Christ?
A. That divine power and life, with which he is pleased to accompany the sacraments and other ordinances; and without which they would be utterly ineffectual, Rom. 1:16.
Q. 9. What is the working of his Spirit, which is necessary to make the sacraments effectual means of salvation?
A. Not only the planting of grace in the soul at first, but the drawing of it out into suitable exercise on all sacramental occasions, Zech. 4:6.
Q. 10. Why is the working of the Spirit necessary to the efficacy of the sacraments?
A. Because we are utterly impotent of ourselves for any thing that is spiritually good, John 15:5.
Q. 11. In whom are the sacraments (by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit,) effectual means of salvation?
A. In them that by faith receive them.
Q. 12 What is it to receive the sacraments by faith?
A. It is to apply Christ, and the benefits of his purchase, as represented, and exhibited to us in them, Luke 22:19, 20.
Q. 13. What may we learn from the necessity of Christ's blessing, and of the Spirit's working, in order to the efficacy of the sacraments?
A. It teaches us, that our whole dependence for the blessing, whether upon ourselves, when we partake of the sacrament of the supper, or upon our children, when we are sponsors for them in baptism, should be only on Christ alone, and the saving influences and operations of his Spirit, held forth in the promise, to accompany his own institutions; and therefore our partaking of these solemn ordinances, dispensed by some ministers, to the slighting of them as dispensed by others, equally sound and faithful, though perhaps in our esteem somewhat inferior in outward gifts, says upon the matter, that the efficacy of the sacraments depends, somehow, upon the administrator, and not upon the blessing of Christ alone: quite contrary to the mind of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 3:7 -- "So, then, neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase."