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Savoy on the Sacraments. Part 1


In this short series, I plan to look briefly at the various clauses of the Savoy Declaration concerning The Sacraments. The Savoy is the subordinate standard of historic Congregationalism.

Savoy Chapter 28
Of The Sacraments

‘Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by Christ, to represent him and his benefits, and to confirm our interest in him, and solemnly to engage us to the service of God in Christ, according to his Word.’

A) The relationship between the sacraments and the covenant of grace.
The covenant of grace is at its simplest, that overall plan of God, from before the world was formed, until the Lord returns, in which God purposes the redemption of the elect. To quote some other sources:

Calvin Knox Cummings:
“It is essential in any study of the Scriptures that one first has an understanding of their underlying message. There will be little profit in mastering the details of the Bible if we have missed its central message. Throughout the entire Bible there is one underlying message; it is the message of salvation by a Redeemer. The Old Testament prophesies that the Saviour will come. The New Testament tells us that he has come and what he has done. This underlying message of salvation serves as a unifying principle, connecting the various revelations of the Bible and uniting them into a harmonious whole. Like a winding stream it connects the many rivulets and streams of thought that run throughout the Bible and unites them into one mighty river.”

OPC Website:
“The covenant of grace” is the most accurate and comprehensive term to describe that one plan of redemption which runs through the Bible. An understanding of this covenant will acquaint one with the central message of the Bible and at the same time provide an outline of its history and revelation. In this little study our primary interest will be in the history of this covenant of grace. This emphasis, we believe, will afford a clearer survey and outline of the Bible.”

True, and it will also give us a clearer idea of what the sacraments are about if we understand them as symbols depicting that Covenant. These symbols, the sacraments, are described as SIGNS and SEALS.
* What does a sign do? A sign is a symbolic representation of a specific reality. (We all need road signs. When a road sign shows us a junction is ahead, we know that the sign itself is not the junction – it is a representation of the junction to inform and warn us of the reality that exists)
* What does a seal do? A seal confirms and authenticates. If you enter into a legal contract, like a house purpose, it may be affixed with a seal. A university may affix its seal to a degree certificate. The seal assures the recipient of the authenticity of what is notified in the document. The degree has really been issued, the honour is really conferred – the seal assures us that it is so.

B) Note that the sacraments are devices instituted only by Jesus. This precludes anything other than baptism and communion. It distinguishes sacraments from the creation ordinances, generally considered to be Work, Marriage and the Lord’s Day. The creation ordinances are applicable to all mankind, for they were instituted by God, in the beginning, for the benefit of all. The sacraments are only for the Church. This clause also precludes devices instituted by the apostles, such as anointing with oil for healing.

C) The sacraments remind us of Jesus. Christ is not present at the Lord’s table in a physical sense, but in the symbolism of the bread and wine we sense his spiritual presence and are forcefully reminded of his work upon the cross for sinners, where he died as an atoning sacrifice for us. We are reminded that he will one day return, for we hear the words ’till he come.’. The same applies to baptism, for in baptism we have a forceful reminder of how God in Christ applies the sacrifice, cleanses us personally from our sins and brings us within the Covenant of Grace. The sacraments are all about Jesus.
They thus confirm for us, and reinforce in our minds, our status in Christ. We see in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, two amazing vivid visual aids pointing to the Covenant of Grace, and our part and interest in that covenant, our redemption being secured for us on the cross, by Christ, and applied to us through the Holy Spirit’s regenerative work in our souls.

D) The sacraments motivate us in our service for the Lord. Attending to the sacraments, and partaking of them ought to motivate us in service. As we are reminded of the actions which God took in Christ to redeem us, we ought to remember that we are commissioned by Him to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. As we remember Christ’s love for us, we are compelled to demonstrate that same love for others.

As the Puritan David Dickson reminds us:
…the sacraments bring into our memories Christ and his benefits, and therefore as it were, they set him before our eyes and so increase and confirm our faith.
Dickson, D, Truth’s Victory, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 2007

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