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Savoy on the Sacraments. Part 3.


Savoy continues it’s explanation of the Christian sacraments in general…

The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it, but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution; which contains, together with a precept authorising the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.

This is a vital point. If you are unregenerate and you are baptised, your baptism will not cleanse you from sin. If you are unregenerate and you come to a Communion service that will never make you fit for heaven. There is no power to save in baptism or communion alone. The benefit of the sacraments is only for those who already have a living faith in Christ.

This is in contrast to the Roman Catholic/sacramentarian view, where the sacraments in and of themselves confer the grace of God upon the recipients. The technical term for this is Ex opere operato (see notes below) It means that the sacraments ‘work’ on their own. The priest who administers them may be unworthy, and the recipient also unworthy, but the sacraments still achieve what they are meant to achieve, to mediate God’s grace to sinners. You can understand the perceived logic in this. If the ‘sacred host’ really is the body of Christ, then what the unworthy priest is handing to the unworthy recipient is, to all intents and purposes, Christ. He is ‘taking Christ” literally and physically, and saving faith is not actually required.

Savoy counters this false and dangerous belief in Chapter 28:3 above. In reformed theology, whatever benefits are appropriated by the recipient by the sacraments are appropriated solely by the work of God’s Holy Spirit, fulfilling the promise of Christ to so benefit those who are His.

David Dickson’s arguments for this are:
Because the Bible attributes our justification to faith only, … And no other thing. Rom. 1:17, 3:28, Gal. 2:16. Therefore the sacraments cannot be the efficient causes of our justification and life.

Because the Scripture makes an express difference between the work of a man dispensing the sacraments and the work of the Holy Ghost. Matt 3:11

Because the signs and seals of grace cannot confer and effectuate grace. But the sacraments are but signs and seals of grace; … To signify and to have … Power to do, differ in nature and kind.

Because many are partakers of the sacraments who are not yet partakers of the grace of God: As was Simon Magnus (Acts 8:13) Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:4,9). And how many thousands do eat and drink unworthily, eating and drinking damnation to themselves? 1 Cor. 11:29)

Because many have been justified before they ever did partake of a sacrament, such as Abraham (Rom. 4:11) and Cornelius (Acts. 10:46).

Dickson, D, Truth’s Victory, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 2007


Ex opere operato is a Latin phrase meaning “from the work done” referring to the efficacy of the Sacraments deriving from the action of the Sacrament as opposed to the merits or holiness of the priest or minister.

According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, to receive the fruits of the sacraments requires that a person be properly disposed. This means reception of grace via the sacraments is not automatic. There must be, at least in the case of an adult, an openness to receive the grace which is available in a sacrament. When the recipient is properly disposed, the grace of the sacrament is effective and is received even if the priest or minister is in a serious state of sin. This principle gives a certainty to the availability of grace through the sacraments.

This principle holds that the effect of the sacrament is a result, not of the holiness of a priest or minister, but rather of Christ Himself who is the Author (directly or indirectly) of each sacrament. The priest or minister acts “in persona Christi” (in the person of Christ) even if in a serious state of sin. Although such a sacrament would be valid, and the grace effective, it is nonetheless sinful for any priest to celebrate a sacrament while himself in a state of sin.

The principle of ex opere operato affirms that while a proper disposition (openness) is necessary to receive grace in the sacraments, it is not the cause of the grace. Catholics believe that what God offers in the sacraments, is a gift, freely bestowed out of God’s own love. A person’s disposition, as good as it may be, does not automatically bring God’s blessing.

In the Anglican tradition, the principle of “ex opere operato” is made conditional upon worthy reception. Article XXVI of the Thirty-nine Articles (Of the unworthiness of ministers which hinders not the effect of the Sacrament) states that the ministration of the Word (Scripture) and sacraments is not done in the name of the priest or minister and that the effect of Christ’s sacraments is not taken away, nor God’s grace diminished by the sinfulness of clergy. This is because sacraments have their effect due to Christ’s promise to His Church.

However, in modern usage, the phrase often refers to the idea that sacraments are efficacious in and of themselves rather than depending on the attitude either of the minister or the recipient. For example, Confirmation might be held to bestow the Holy Spirit regardless of the attitude of both the bishop and the person being confirmed. This idea, while contradicted by the official teaching of both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches, is still fairly common. – From ‘Wikipedia’

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