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Calvin’s Geneva Catechism (1536-45)

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Geneva Catechism Outline


Master - As the second part of Divine Worship, which consists in service and obedience, has been sufficiently discussed, let us now proceed to the third part.

Student - We said it was invocation, by which we flee to God in any necessity.

Master - Do you think that he alone is to be invoked?

Student - Certainly; for he requires this as the proper worship of his Divinity.

Master - If it is so, how can we beseech men to assist us?

Student - There is a great difference between the two things. For when we invoke God, we testify that we expect no good from any other quarter, and that we place our whole defense in no other, and yet we ask the assistance of men, as far as he permits, and has bestowed on them the power of giving it.

Master - You say, then, that in having recourse to the faith and help of men, there is nothing that interferes with our invocation of God, seeing that our reliance is not fixed on them, and we beseech them on no other ground, than just because God, by furnishing them with the means of well-doing, has in a manner destined them to be the ministers of his beneficence, and is pleased by their hands to assist us, and draw out, on our account, the resources which he has deposited with them?

Student - Such is my view. And, accordingly, whatever benefits we receive from them, we should regard as coming from God, as in truth it is he alone who bestows all these things upon us by their instrumentality.

Master - But are we not to feel grateful to men whenever they have conferred any kindness upon us. This the mere equity of nature and law of humanity dictates?

Student - Certainly we are; and were it only for the reason that God honors them by sending to us, through their hands, as rivulets, the blessings which flow from the inexhaustible fountain of his liberality. In this way he lays us under obligation to them, and wishes us to acknowledge it. He, therefore, who does not show himself grateful to them by so doing, betrays his ingratitude to God.

Master - Are we hence at liberty to infer, that it is wrong to invoke angels and holy servants of the Lord who have departed this life?

Student - We are not at liberty; for God does not assign to saints the office of assisting us. And in regard to angels, though he uses their labor for our salvation, he does not wish us to ask them for it.

Master - You say, then, that whatever does not aptly and fitly square with the order instituted by God, is repugnant to his will?

Student - I do. For it is a sure sign of unbelief not to be contented with the things which God gives to us. Then if we throw ourselves on the protection of angels or saints, when God calls us to himself alone, and transfer to them the confidence which ought wholly to be fixed upon God, we fall into idolatry, seeing we share with them that which God claimed entirely for himself.

Master - Let us now consider the manner of prayer. Is it sufficient to pray with the tongue, or does prayer require also the mind and heart?

Student - The tongue, indeed, is not always necessary, but true prayer can never be without understanding and affection.

Master - By what argument will you prove this to me?

Student - Since God is a Spirit, he requires men to give him the heart in all cases, and more especially in prayer, by which they hold communion with him. Wherefore he promises to be near to those only who call upon him in truth: on the other hand, he abominates and curses all who pray to him deceitfully, and not sincerely. (Psalm 145:18; Isaiah 24:13.)

Master - All prayers, then, conceived only by the tongue, will be vain and worthless?

Student - Not only so, but will be most displeasing to God.

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Master - What kind of feeling does God require in prayer?

Student - First, that we feel our want and misery, and that this feeling beget sorrow and anxiety in our minds. Secondly, that we be inflamed with an earnest and vehement desire to obtain grace from God. These things will also kindle in us an ardent longing to pray.

Master - Does this feeling flow from the temper natural to man, or does it proceed from the grace of God?

Student - Here God must come to our aid. For we are altogether stupid in regard to both. (Rom. 8:25.) It is the Spirit of God who excites in us groanings which cannot be uttered, and frames our minds to the desires which are requisite in prayer, as Paul says. (Gal. 4:6.)

Master - Is it the meaning of this doctrine, that we are to sit still, and, in a kind of vacillating state, wait for the motions of the Spirit, and not that each one is to urge himself to pray?

Student - By no means. The meaning rather is, that when believers feel themselves cold or sluggish, and somewhat indisposed to pray, they should forthwith flee to God, and beseech him to inflame them by the fiery darts of his Spirit, that they may be rendered fit to pray.

Master - You do not, however, mean that there is to be no use of the tongue in prayer?

Student - Not at all. For it often helps to sustain the mind, and keep it from being so easily drawn off from God. Besides, as it, more than other members, was created to display the glory of God, it is right that it be employed to this purpose, to the whole extent of its capacity. Moreover, vehemence of desire occasionally impels a man to break forth into utterance with the tongue without intending it.

Master - If so, what profit have those who pray in a foreign tongue not understood by them?

Student - It is nothing else than to sport with God. Christians, therefore, should have nothing to do with this hypocrisy. (1 Cor. 14:15.)

Master - But when we pray do we do it fortuitously, uncertain of success, or ought we to feel assured that the Lord will hear us?

Student - The foundation of our prayer should always be, that the Lord will hear us, and that we shall obtain whatever we ask, in so far as is for our good. For this reason Paul tells us, that true prayer flows from faith. (Rom. 10:14.) For no man will ever duly call upon him, without previously resting with firm reliance on his goodness.

Master - What then will become of those who pray in doubt, and without fixing in their minds what profit they are to gain by praying, nay, are uncertain whether or not their prayers will be heard by God?

Student - Their prayers are vain and void, not being supported by any promise. For we are ordered to ask with sure faith, and the promise is added, that whatever we shall ask, believing, we shall receive. (Matt. 21:22; Mark 6:24; James 1:6.)

Master - It remains to be seen wherein we have such great confidence, that while unworthy, on so many accounts, of appearing in the presence of God, we however dare to appear before him.

Student - First, we have promises by which we must simply abide, without. making any reference to our own worthiness. Secondly, if we are sons, God animates and instigates us by his Spirit, so that we doubt not to betake ourselves to him in a familiar manner, as to a father. As we are like worms, and are oppressed by the consciousness of our sins, God, in order that we may not tremble at his glorious majesty, sets forth Christ as a Mediator, through whom we obtain access, and have no doubt at all of obtaining favor. (Psalm 4:15; 95:15; 145:18; Isaiah 30:19; 65:1; Jer. 29:12; Joel 2:32; Rom. 8:25; 10:13.)

Master - Do you understand that we are to pray to God only in the name of Christ?

Student - I so understand. For it is both so enjoined in distinct terms, and the promise is added, that he will by his intercession obtain what we ask. (1 Tim. 2:5; 1 John 2:1.)

Master - He is not then to be accused of rashness or presumption, who, trusting to this Advocate, makes a familiar approach to God, and holds forth to God and to himself Christ as the only one through whom he is to be heard? (Heb. 4:14.)

Student - By no means: For he who thus prays conceives his prayers as it were at the lips of Christ, seeing he knows, that by the intercession of Christ, his prayer is assisted and recommended. (Rom. 8:15.)

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Master - Let us now consider what the prayers of believers ought to contain. Is it lawful to ask of God whatever comes into our mind, or is a certain rule to be observed?

Student - It were a very preposterous method of prayer to indulge our own desires and the judgment of the flesh. We are too ignorant to be able to judge what is expedient for us, and we labor under an intemperance of desire, to which it is necessary that a bridle be applied.

Master - What then requires to be done?

Student - The only thing remaining is for God himself to prescribe a proper form of prayer, that we may follow him while he leads us by the hand, and as it were sets words before us.

Master - What rule has he prescribed?

Student - The doctrine on this subject is amply and copiously delivered in the Scriptures. But to give us a surer aim, he framed, and, as it were, dictated a form in which he has briefly comprehended and digested under a few heads whatever it is lawful, and for our interest to ask.

Master - Repeat it.

Student - Our Lord Jesus Christ being asked by his disciples in what way they ought to pray, answered, when ye would pray, say ye, (Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2,) "Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen."

Master - That we may the better understand what it contains, let us divide it into heads.

Student - It contains six parts, of which the three first respect the glory of God alone as their proper end, without any reference to us: the other three relate to us and our interest.

Master - Are we then to ask God for any thing from which no benefit redounds to us?

Student - He indeed of his infinite goodness so arranges all things that nothing tends to his glory without being also salutary to us. Therefore when his name is sanctified, he causes it to turn to our sanctification also; nor does his kingdom come without our being in a manner sharers in it. But in asking all these things, we ought to look only to his glory without thinking of advantage to ourselves.

Master - According to this view, three of these requests have a connection with our own good, and yet their only aim ought to be, that the name of God may be glorified.

Student - It is so; and thus the glory of God ought also to be considered in the other three, though they are properly intended to express desire for things which belong to our good and salvation.

Master - Let us now proceed to an explanation of the words; and, first, Why is the name of Father, rather than any other, here given to God?

Student - As security of conscience is one of the most essential requisites for praying aright, God assumes this name, which suggests only the idea of pure kindness, that having thus banished all anxiety from our minds, he may invite us to make a familiar approach to him.

Master - Shall we then dare to go to him directly without hesitation as children to parents?

Student - Wholly so: nay, with much surer confidence of obtaining what we ask For as our Master reminds us, (Matt. 7:11,) If we being evil cannot however refuse good things to our children, nor bear to send them empty away, nor give them poison for bread, how much greater kindness is to be expected from our heavenly Father, who is not only supremely good, but goodness itself?

Master - May we not from this name also draw the inference which we mentioned at the outset, viz., that to be approved, all our prayers should be founded on the intercession of Christ? (John 15:7; Rom. 8:15.)

Student - And indeed a most valid inference. For God regards us as sons, only in so far as we are members of Christ.

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Master - Why do you call God "our Father" in common, rather than "my Father" in particular?

Student - Each believer may indeed call him his own Father, but the Lord used the common epithet that he might accustom us to exercise charity in our prayers, and that we might not neglect others, by each caring only for himself.

Master - What is meant by the additional clause, that God is in heaven?

Student - It is just the same as if I were to call him exalted, mighty, incomprehensible.

Master - To what end this, and for what reason?

Student - In this way we are taught when we pray to him to raise our minds aloft, and not have any carnal or earthly thoughts of him, nor measure him by our own little standard, lest thinking too meanly of him, we should wish to bring him into subjection to our will, instead of learning to look up with fear and reverence to his glorious Majesty. It tends to excite and confirm our confidence in him, when he is proclaimed to be the Lord and Governor of heaven, ruling all things at his pleasure.

Master - Repeat to me the substance of the first petition.

Student - By the name of God, Scripture denotes the knowledge and fame with which he is celebrated among men. We pray then that his glory may be promoted everywhere, and in all.

Master - But can any thing be added to his glory, or taken from it?

Student - In itself it neither increases nor is diminished. But we pray as is meet, that it may be illustrious among men- that in whatever God does, all his works may appear, as they are, glorious, that he himself may by all means be glorified.

Master - What understand you by the kingdom of God in the second petition?

Student - It consists chiefly of two branches-that he would govern the elect by his Spirit-that he would prostrate and destroy the reprobate who refuse to give themselves up to his service, thus making it manifest that nothing is able to resist his might.

Master - In what sense do you pray that this kingdom may come?

Student - That the Lord would daily increase the numbers of the faithful-that he would ever and anon load them with new gifts of his Spirit, until he fill them completely: moreover, that he would render his truth more clear and conspicuous by dispelling the darkness of Satan, that he would abolish all iniquity, by advancing his own righteousness.

Master - Are not all these things done every day?

Student - They are done so far, that the kingdom of God may be said to be commenced. We pray, therefore, that it may constantly increase and be carried forward, until it attain its greatest height, which we only hope to take place on the last day on which God alone, after reducing all creatures to order, will be exalted and preeminent, and so be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:28.)

Master - What mean you by asking that the will of God may be done?

Student - That all creatures may be subdued into obedience to him, and so depend on his nod, that nothing may be done except at his pleasure.

Master - Do you think then that any thing can be done against his will?

Student - We not only pray that what he has decreed with himself may come to pass, but also that all contumacy being tamed and subjugated, he would subject all wills to his own, and frame them in obedience to it.

Master - Do we not by thus praying surrender our own wills?

Student - Entirely: nor do we only pray that he would make void whatever desires of ours are at variance with his own will, but also that he would form in us new minds and new hearts, so that we may wish nothing of ourselves, but rather that his Spirit may preside over our wishes, and bring them into perfect unison with God.

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Master - Why do you pray that this may be done on earth as it is in heaven?

Student - As the holy angels, who are his celestial creatures, have it as their only object to obey him in all things, to be always obedient to his word, and prepared voluntarily to do him service, we pray for such prompt obedience in men, that each may give himself up entirely to him in voluntary subjection.

Master - Let us now come to the second part. What mean you by the "daily" bread you ask for?

Student - In general every thing that tends to the preservation of the present life, not only food or clothing, but also all other helps by which the wants of outward life are sustained; that we may eat our bread in quiet, so far as the Lord knows it to be expedient.

Master - But why do you ask God to give what he orders us to provide by our own labor?

Student - Though we are to labor, and even sweat in providing food, we are not nourished either by our own labor, or our own industry, or our own diligence, but by the blessing of God by which the labor of our hands, that would otherwise be in vain, prospers. Moreover we should understand, that even when abundance of food is supplied to our hand, and we eat it, we are not nourished by its substance, but by the virtue of God alone. It has not any inherent efficacy in its own nature, but God supplies it from heaven as the instrument of his own beneficence. (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4.)

Master - But by what right do you call it your bread when you ask God to give it?

Student - Because by the kindness of God it becomes ours, though it is by no means due to us. We are also reminded by this term to refrain from coveting the bread of others, and to be contented with that which has come to us in a legitimate manner as from the hand of God.

Master - Why do you add both "daily" and "this day ?"

Student - By these two terms we are taught moderation and temperance, that our wishes may not exceed the measure of necessity.

Master - As this prayer ought to be common to all, how can the rich, who have abundance at home, and have provision laid up for a long period, ask it to be given them for a day?

Student - The rich, equally with the poor, should remember that none of the things which they have will do them good, unless God grant them the use of them, and by his grace make the use fruitful and efficacious. Wherefore while possessing all things, we have nothing except in so far as we every hour receive from the hand of God what is necessary and sufficient for us.

Master - What does the fifth petition contain?

Student - That the Lord would pardon our sins.

Master - Can no mortal be found so righteous as not to require this pardon?

Student - Not one. When Christ gave this form of prayer, he designed it for the whole Church. Wherefore he who would exempt himself from this necessity, must leave the society of the faithful. And we have the testimony of Scripture, namely, that he who would contend before God to clear himself in one thing, will be found guilty in a thousand. (Job 9:3.) The only refuge left for all is in his mercy.

Master - How do you think that sins are forgiven us?

Student - As the words of Christ express, namely, that they are debts which make us liable to eternal death, until God of his mere liberality deliver us.

Master - You say then that it is by the free mercy of God that we obtain the pardon of sins?

Student - Entirely so. For were the punishment of only one sin, and that the least, to be ransomed, we could not satisfy it. All then must be freely overlooked and forgiven.

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Master - What advantage accrues to us from this forgiveness?

Student - We are accepted, just as if we were righteous and innocent, and at the same time our consciences are confirmed in a full reliance on his paternal favor, assuring us of salvation.

Master - Does the appended condition, that he would forgive us as we forgive our debtors, mean that we merit pardon from God by pardoning men who have in any way offended us?

Student - By no means. For in this way forgiveness would not be free nor founded alone on the satisfaction which Christ made for us on the cross. But as by forgetting the injuries done to ourselves, we, while imitating his goodness and clemency, demonstrate that we are in fact his children, God wishes us to confirm it by this pledge; and at the same time shows us, on the other hand, that if we do not show ourselves easy and ready to pardon, nothing else is to be expected of him than the highest severity.

Master - Do you say then that all who cannot from the heart forgive offences are discarded by God and expunged from his list of children, so that they cannot hope for any place of pardon in heaven?

Student - So I think, in accordance with the words, "With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again."

Master - What comes next?

Student - "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

Master - Do you include all this in one petition?

Student - It is only one petition ; for the latter clause is an explanation of the former.

Master - What does it contain in substance?

Student - That the Lord would not permit us to rush or fall into sin-that he would not leave us to be overcome by the devil and the desires of our flesh, which wage constant war with us-that he would rather furnish us with his strength to resist, sustain us by his hand, cover and fortify us by his protection, so that under his guardianship and tutelage we may dwell safely.

Master - How is this done?

Student - When governed by his Spirit we are imbued with such a love and desire of righteousness, as to overcome the flesh, sin, and Satan; and, on the other hand, with such a hatred of sin as may keep us separated from the world in pure holiness. For our victory consists in the power of the Spirit.

Master - Have we need of this assistance?

Student - Who can dispense with it? The devil is perpetually hovering over us, and going about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. (1 Pet.. 5:8.) And let us consider what our weakness is. Nay, all would be over with us every single moment did not God equip us for battle with his own weapons, and strengthen us with his own hand.

Master - What do you mean by the term Temptation?

Student - The tricks and fallacies of Satan, by which he is constantly attacking us, and would forthwith easily circumvent us, were we not aided by the help of God. For both our mind, from its native vanity, is liable to his wiles, and our will, which is always prone to evil, would immediately yield to him.

Master - But why do you pray God not to lead you into temptation, which seems to be the proper act of Satan, not of God?

Student - As God defends believers by his protection; that they may neither be oppressed by the wiles of Satan, nor overcome by sin, so those whom he means to punish he not only leaves destitute of his grace, but also delivers to the tyranny of Satan, strikes with blindness, and gives over to a reprobate mind, so that they are completely enslaved to sin and exposed to all the assaults of temptation.

Master - What is meant by the clause which is added, " For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever ?"

Student - We are here again reminded that our prayers must lean more on the power and goodness of God than on any confidence in ourselves. Besides, we are taught to close all our prayers with praise.

Master - Is it not lawful to ask any thing of God that is not comprehended in this form?

Student - Although we are free to pray in other words, and in another manner, we ought, however, to hold that no prayer can please God which is not referable to this as the only rule of right Prayer.

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The Word

Master - The order already adopted by us requires that we now consider the fourth part of divine worship.

Student - We said that this consists in acknowledging God as the author of all good, and in extolling his goodness, justice, wisdom, and power with praise and thanksgiving, that thus the glory of all good may remain entirely with him.

Master - Has he prescribed no rule as to this part?

Student - All the praises extant in Scripture ought to be our rule.

Master - Has the Lord’s Prayer nothing which applies here?

Student - Yes. When we pray that his name may be hallowed, we pray that he may be duly glorified in his works-that he may be regarded, whether in pardoning sinners, as merciful; or in exercising vengeance, as just; or in performing his promises, as true: in short, that whatever of his works we see may excite us to glorify him. This is indeed to ascribe to him the praise of all that is good.

Master - What shall we infer from these heads which have hitherto been considered by us?

Student - What truth itself teaches, and was stated at the outset, viz., that this is eternal life to know one true God the Father, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent, (John 17:3,) to know him, I say, in order that we may pay due honor and worship to him, that he may be not only our Lord but also our Father and Savior, and we be in turn his children and servants, and accordingly devote our lives to the illustration of his glory.

Master - How can we attain to such blessedness?

Student - For this end God has left us his holy word; for spiritual doctrine is a kind of door by which we enter his heavenly kingdom.

Master - Where are we to seek for this word?

Student - In the Holy Scriptures, in which it is contained.

Master - How are you to use it in order to profit by it?

Student - By embracing it with entire heartfelt persuasion, as certain truth come down from heaven-by being docile, and subjecting our minds and wills in obedience to it- by loving it sincerely-by having it once for all engraved on our hearts, and there rooted so as to produce fruit in our life-finally, by being formed after its rule. Then shall it turn to our salvation, as it was intended.

Master - Are all these things put in our own power?

Student - None of them at all; but every thing which I have mentioned it belongs to God only to effect in us by the gift of his Spirit.

Master - But are we not to use diligence, and zealously strive to profit in it by reading, hearing, and meditating?

Student - Yea, verily: seeing that every one ought to exercise himself in the daily reading of it, and all should be especially careful to attend the sermons when the doctrine of salvation is expounded in the assembly of the faithful.

Master - You affirm then that it is not enough for each to read privately at home, and that all ought to meet in common to hear the same doctrine?

Student - They must meet when they can-that is, when an opportunity is given.

Master - Are you able to prove this to me?

Student - The will of God alone ought to be amply sufficient for proof; and the order which he hath recommended to his church is not what two or three only might observe, but all should obey in common. Moreover, he declares this to be the only method of edifying as well as preserving. This, then, should be a sacred and inviolable rule to us, and no one should think himself entitled to be wise above his Master.

Master - Is it necessary, then, that pastors should preside over churches?

Student - Nay; it is necessary to hear them, and listen with fear and reverence to the doctrine of Christ as propounded from their lips.

Master - But is it enough for a Christian man to have been instructed by his pastor once, or ought he to observe this course during life?

Student - It is little to have begun, unless you persevere. We must be the disciples of Christ to the end, or rather without end. But he has committed to the ministers of the Church the office of teaching in his name and stead.

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The Sacraments

Master - Is there no other medium, as it is called, than the Word by which God may communicate himself to us?

Student - To the preaching of the Word he has added the Sacraments.

Master - What is a Sacrament?

Student - An outward attestation of the divine benevolence towards us, which, by a visible sign, figures spiritual grace, to seal the promises of God on our hearts, and thereby better confirm their truth to us.

Master - Is there such virtue in a visible sign that it can establish our consciences in a full assurance of salvation?

Student - This virtue it has not of itself, but by the will of God, because it was instituted for this end.

Master - Seeing it is the proper office of the Holy Spirit to seal the promises of God on our minds, how do you attribute this to the sacraments?

Student - There is a wide difference between him and them. To move and affect the heart, to enlighten the mind, to render the conscience sure and tranquil, truly belongs to the Spirit alone; so that it ought to be regarded as wholly his work, and be ascribed to him alone, that no other may have the praise; but this does not at all prevent God from employing the sacraments as secondary instruments, and applying them to what use he deems proper, without derogating in any respect from the agency of the Spirit.

Master - You think, then, that the power and efficacy of a sacrament is not contained in the outward element, but flows entirely from the Spirit of God?

Student - I think so; viz., that the Lord hath been pleased to exert his energy by his instruments, this being the purpose to which he destined them: this he does without detracting in any respect from the virtue of his Spirit.

Master - Can you give me a reason why he so acts?

Student - In this way he consults our weakness. If we were wholly spiritual, we might, like the angels, spiritually behold both him and his grace; but as we are surrounded with this body of clay, we need figures or mirrors to exhibit a view of spiritual and heavenly things in a kind of earthly manner; for we could not otherwise attain to them. At the same time, it is our interest to have all our senses exercised in the promises of God, that they may be the better confirmed to us.

Master - If it is true that the sacraments were instituted by God to be helps to our necessity, is it not arrogance for any one to hold that he can dispense with them as unnecessary?

Student - It certainly is; and hence, if any one of his own accord abstains from the use of them, as if he had no need of them, he contemns Christ, spurns his grace, and quenches the Spirit.

Master - But what confidence can there be in the sacraments as a means of establishing the conscience, and what certain security can be conceived from things which the good and bad use indiscriminately?

Student - Although the wicked, so to speak, annihilate the gifts of God offered in the sacraments in so far as regards themselves, they do not thereby deprive the sacraments of their nature and virtue.

Master - How, then, and when does the effect follow the use of the sacraments?

Student - When we receive them in faith, seeking Christ alone and his grace in them.

Master - Why do you say that Christ is to be sought in them?

Student - I mean that we are not to cleave to the visible signs so as to seek salvation from them, or imagine that the power of conferring grace is either fixed or included in them, but rather that the sign is to be used as a help, by which, when seeking salvation and complete felicity, we are pointed directly to Christ.

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Master - Seeing that faith is requisite for the use of them, how do you say that they are given us to confirm our faith, to make us more certain of the promises of God?

Student - It is by no means sufficient that faith is once begun in us. It must be nourished continually, and increase more and more every day. To nourish, strengthen, and advance it, the Lord instituted the sacraments. This indeed Paul intimates, when he says that they have the effect of sealing the promises of God. (Rom. 4:11.)

Master - But is it not an indication of unbelief not to have entire faith in the promises of God until they are confirmed to us from another source?

Student - It certainly argues a weakness of faith under which the children of God labor. They do not, however, cease to be believers, though the faith with which they are endued is still small and imperfect; for as long as we continue in this world remains of distrust cleave to our flesh, and these there is no other way of shaking off than by making continual progress even unto the end. It is therefore always necessary to be going forward.

Master - How many are the sacraments of the Christian Church?

Student - There are only two, whose use is common among all believers.

Master - What are they?

Student - Baptism and the Holy Supper.

Master - What likeness or difference is there between them?

Student - Baptism is a kind of entrance into the Church; for we have in it a testimony that we who are otherwise strangers and aliens, are received into the family of God, so as to be counted of his household; on the other hand, the Supper attests that God exhibits himself to us by nourishing our souls.

Master - That the meaning of both may be more clear to us, let us treat of them separately. First, what is the meaning of Baptism?

Student - It consists of two parts. For, first, Forgiveness of sins; and, secondly, Spiritual regeneration, is figured by it. (Eph. 5:26 ; Rom. 6:4.)

Master - What resemblance has water ’with these things, so as to represent them?

Student - Forgiveness of sins is a kind of washing, by which our souls are cleansed from their defilements, just as bodily stains are washed away by water.

Master - What do you say of Regeneration?

Student - Since the mortification of our nature is its beginning, and our becoming new creatures its end, a figure of death is set before us when the water is poured upon the head, and the figure of a new life when instead of remaining immersed under water, we only enter it for a moment as a kind of grave, out of which we instantly emerge.

Master - Do you think that the water is a washing of the soul?

Student - By no means; for it were impious to snatch away this honor from the blood of Christ, which was shed in order to wipe away all our stains, and render us pure and unpolluted in the sight of God. (1 Pet. 1:19; 1 John 1:7.) And we receive the fruit of this cleansing when the Holy Spirit sprinkles our consciences with that sacred blood. Of this we have a seal in the Sacrament.

Master - But do you attribute nothing more to the water than that it is a figure of ablution?

Student - I understand it to be a figure, but still so that the reality is annexed to it; for God does not disappoint us when he promises us his gifts. Accordingly, it is certain that both pardon of sins and newness of life are offered to us in baptism, and received by us.

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Master - Is this grace bestowed on all indiscriminately?

Student - Many precluding its entrance by their depravity, make it void to themselves. Hence the benefit extends to believers only, and yet the Sacrament loses nothing of its nature.

Master - Whence is Regeneration derived?

Student - From the Death and Resurrection of Christ taken together. His death hath this efficacy, that by means of it our old man is crucified, and the depravity of our nature in a manner buried, so as no more to be in vigor in us. Our reformation to a new life, so as to obey the righteousness of God, is the result of the resurrection.

Master - How are these blessings bestowed upon us by Baptism?

Student - If we do not render the promises there offered unfruitful by rejecting them, we are clothed with Christ, and presented with his Spirit.

Master - What must we do in order to use Baptism duly?

Student - The right use of Baptism consists in faith and repentance; that is, we must first hold with a firm heartfelt reliance that, being purified from all stains by the blood of Christ, we are pleasing to God: secondly, we must feel his Spirit dwelling in us, and declare this to others by our actions, and we must constantly exercise ourselves in aiming at the mortification of our flesh, and obedience to the righteousness of God.

Master - If these things are requisite to the legitimate use of Baptism, how comes it that we baptize Infants?

Student - It is not necessary that faith and repentance should always precede baptism. They are only required from those whose age makes them capable of both. It will be sufficient, then, if, after infants have grown up, they exhibit the power of their baptism.

Master - Can you demonstrate by reason that there is nothing absurd in this?

Student - Yes; if it be conceded to me that our Lord instituted nothing at variance with reason. For while Moses and all the Prophets teach that circumcision was a sign of repentance, and was even as Paul declares the sacrament of faith, we see that infants were not excluded from it. (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 4:4; Rom. 4:11.)

Master - But are they now admitted to Baptism for the same reason that was valid in circumcision?

Student - The very same, seeing that the promises which God anciently gave to the people of Israel are now published through the whole world.

Master - But do you infer from thence that the sign also is to be used?

Student - He who will duly ponder all things in both ordinances, will perceive this to follow. Christ in making us partakers of his grace, which had been formerly bestowed on Israel, did not condition, that it should either be more obscure or in some respect less abundant. Nay, rather he shed it upon us both more clearly and more abundantly.

Master - Do you think that if infants are denied baptism, some thing is thereby deducted from the grace of God, and it must be said to have been diminished by the coming of Christ?

Student - That indeed is evident; for the sign being taken away, which tends very much to testify the mercy of God and confirm the promises, we should want an admirable consolation which those of ancient times enjoyed.

Master - Your view then is, that since God, under the Old Testament, in order to show himself the Father of infants, was pleased that the promise of salvation should be engraved on their bodies by a visible sign, it were unbecoming to suppose that, since the advent of Christ, believers have less to confirm them, God having intended to give us in the present day the same promise which was anciently given to the Fathers, and exhibited in Christ a clearer specimen of his goodness?

Student - That is my view. Besides, while it is sufficiently clear that the force, and so to speak, the substance of Baptism are common to children, to deny them the sign, which is inferior to the substance, were manifest injustice.

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Master - On what terms then are children to be baptized?

Student - To attest that they are heirs of the blessing promised to the seed of believers, and enable them to receive and produce the fruit of their Baptism, on acknowledging its reality after they have grown up.

Master - Let us now pass to the Supper. And, first, I should like to know from you what its meaning is.

Student - It was instituted by Christ in order that by the communication of his body and blood, he might teach and assure us that our souls are being trained in the hope of eternal life.

Master - But why is the body of our Lord figured by bread, and his blood by wine?

Student - We are hence taught that such virtue as bread has in nourishing our bodies to sustain the present life, the same has the body of our Lord spiritually to nourish our souls. As by wine the hearts of men are gladdened, their strength recruited, and the whole man strengthened, so by the blood of our Lord the same benefits are received by our souls.

Master - Do we therefore eat the body and blood of the Lord?

Student - I understand so. For as our whole reliance for salvation depends on him, in order that the obedience which he yielded to the Father may be imputed to us just as if it were ours, it is necessary that he be possessed by us; for the only way in which he communicates his blessings to us is by making himself ours.

Master - But did he not give himself when he exposed himself to death, that he might redeem us from the sentence of death, and reconcile us to God?

Student - That is indeed true; but it is not enough for us unless we now receive him, that thus the efficacy and fruit of his death may reach us.

Master - Does not the manner of receiving consist in faith?

Student - I admit it does. But I at the same time add, that this is done when we not only believe that he died in order to free us from death, and was raised up that he might purchase life for us, but recognize that he dwells in us, and that we are united to him by a union the same in kind as that which unites the members to the head, that by virtue of this union we may become partakers of all his blessings.

Master - Do we obtain this communion by the Supper alone?

Student - No, indeed. For by the gospel also, as Paul declares, Christ is communicated to us. And Paul justly declares this, seeing we are there told that we are flesh of his flesh and bones of his bones-that he is the living bread which came down from heaven to nourish our souls-that we are one with him as he is one with the Father. (1 Cor. 1:6; Eph. 5:30; John 6:51; John 17:21.)

Master - What more do we obtain from the sacrament, or what other benefit does it confer upon us?

Student - The communion of which I spoke is thereby confirmed and increased; for although Christ is exhibited to us both in baptism and in the gospel, we do not however receive him entire, but in part only.

Master - What then have we in the symbol of bread?

Student - As the body of Christ was once sacrificed for us to reconcile us to God, so now also is it given to us, that we may certainly know that reconciliation belongs to us.

Master - What in the symbol of wine?

Student - That as Christ once shed his blood for the satisfaction of our sins, and as the price of our redemption, so he now also gives it to us to drink, that we may feel the benefit which should thence accrue to us.

Master - According to these two answers, the holy Supper of the Lord refers us to his death, that we may communicate in its virtue?

Student - Wholly so; for then the one perpetual sacrifice, sufficient for our salvation, was performed. Hence nothing more remains for us but to enjoy it.

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Master - The Supper then was not instituted in order to offer up to God the body of his Son?

Student - By no means. He himself alone, as priest for ever, has this privilege; and so his words express when he says, "Take, eat." He there commands us not to offer his body, but only to eat it. (Heb. 5:10; Matt. 26:26.)

Master - Why do we use two signs?

Student - Therein the Lord consulted our weakness, teaching us in a more familiar manner that he is not only food to our souls, but drink also, so that we are not to seek any part of spiritual life anywhere else than in him alone.

Master - Ought all without exception to use both alike?

Student - So the commandment of Christ bears: and to derogate from it in any way, by attempting anything contrary to it, is wicked.

Master - Have we in the Supper only a figure of the benefits which you have mentioned, or are they there exhibited to us reality?

Student - Seeing that our Lord Jesus Christ is truth itself; there cannot be a doubt that he at the same time fulfils the promises which he there gives us, and adds the reality to the figures. Wherefore I doubt not that as he testifies by words and signs, so he also makes us partakers of his substance, that thus we may have one life with him.

Master - But how can this be, when the body of Christ is in heaven, and we are still pilgrims on the earth?

Student - This he accomplishes by the secret and miraculous agency of his Spirit, to whom it is not difficult to unite things otherwise disjoined by a distant space.

Master - You do not imagine then, either that the body is enclosed in the bread or the blood in the wine?

Student - Neither is enclosed. My understanding rather is, that in order to obtain the reality of the signs, our minds must be raised to heaven, where Christ is, and from whence we expect him as Judge and Redeemer, and that it is improper and vain to seek him in these earthly elements.

Master - To collect the substance of what you have said-You maintain that there are two things in the Supper, viz., bread and wine, which are seen by the eyes, handled by the hands, and perceived by the taste, and Christ by whom our souls are inwardly fed as with their own proper aliment?

Student - True; and so much so that the resurrection of the body also is there confirmed to us by a kind of pledge, since the body also shares in the symbol of life.

Master - What is the right and legitimate use of this Sacrament?

Student - That which Paul points out, "Let a man examine himself;" before he approach to it. (1 Cor. 11:28.)

Master - Into what is he to inquire in this examination?

Student - Whether he be a true member of Christ.

Master - By what evidence may he come to know this?

Student - If he is endued with faith and repentance, if he entertains sincere love for his neighbor, if he has his mind pure from all hatred and malice.

Master - Do you require that a man’s faith and charity should both be perfect?

Student - Both should be entire and free from all hypocrisy, but it were vain to demand an absolute perfection to which nothing should be wanting, seeing that none such will ever be found in man.

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Master - Then the imperfection under which we still labor does not forbid our approach?

Student - On the contrary, were we perfect, the Supper would no longer be of any use to us. It should be a help to aid our weakness, and a support to our imperfection.

Master - Is no other end besides proposed by these two Sacraments?

Student - They are also marks and as it were badges of our profession. For by the use of them we profess our faith before men, and testify our consent in the religion of Christ.

Master - Were any one to despise the use of them, in what light should it be regarded?

Student - As an indirect denial of Christ. Assuredly such a person, inasmuch as he deigns not to confess himself a Christian, deserves not to be classed among Christians.

Master - Is it enough to receive both once in a lifetime?

Student - It is enough so to receive baptism, which may not be repeated. It is different with the Supper.

Master - What is the difference?

Student - By baptism the Lord adopts us and brings us into his Church, so as thereafter to regard us as part of his house-hold. After he has admitted us among the number of his people, he testifies by the Supper that he takes a continual interest in nourishing us.

Master - Does the administration both of baptism and of the Supper belong indiscriminately to all?

Student - By no means. It is confined to those to whom the office of teaching has been committed. For the two things, viz., to feed the Church with the doctrine of piety and administer the sacrament, are united together by an indissoluble tie.

Master - Can you prove this to me by the testimony of Scripture?

Student - Christ gave special commandment to the Apostles to baptize. In the celebration of the Supper he ordered us to follow his example. And the Evangelists relate that he himself in dispensing it, performed the office of a public minister. (Matt. 28:19; Luke 22:19.)

Master - But ought pastors, to whom the dispensing of it has been committed, to admit all indiscriminately without selection?

Student - In regard to baptism, as it is now bestowed only on infants, there is no room for discrimination; but in the Supper the minister ought to take heed not to give it to any one who is clearly unworthy of receiving it.

Master - Why so?

Student - Because it cannot be done without insulting and profaning the Sacrament.

Master - But did not Christ admit Judas, impious though he was, to the Communion?

Student - I admit it; as his impiety was still secret. For though it was not unknown to Christ, it had not come to light or the knowledge of men. (Matt. 26:25.)

Master - What then can be done with hypocrites?

Student - The pastor cannot keep them back as unworthy, but must wait till such time as God shall reveal their iniquity, and make it manifest to all.

Master - But if he knows or has been warned that an individual is unworthy?

Student - Even that would not be sufficient to keep him back from communicating, unless in addition to it there was a legitimate investigation and decision of the Church.

Master - It is of importance, then, that there should be a certain order of government established in churches?

Student - It is: they cannot otherwise be well managed or duly constituted. The method is for elders to be chosen to preside as censors of manners, to guard watchfully against offences, and exclude from communion all whom they recognize to be unfit for it, and who could not be admitted without profaning the Sacrament.

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