Are the Sacraments really Means of Grace?

Q. 162. What is a sacrament?
A. A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of his mediation; to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces; to oblige them to obedience; to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another; and to distinguish them from those that are without.

According to the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q&A 161), the sacraments are more than signs.  Through the sacraments, when received by faith, believers faith are strengthen, nourished, increased, and the like.

We must also concede the mysterious nature of the sacrament and how the Holy Spirit chooses to work through them, to the benefit of believers.

But I refuse to believe that they are merely symbolic.  In fact, it was one of the things that I struggle with as a Baptist.

This entry was posted in Baptist, Baptists, Sacraments, Westminster Confession and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Are the Sacraments really Means of Grace?

  1. Jon Hughes says:

    Hi TC,

    As a Baptist, I struggle with the sacrament of baptism being “received by faith” – and strengthening, nourishing, increasing a believer’s faith – when the ‘believer’ is in fact an infant 😉

    To reply that it is the faith of the parents is to open up an even bigger can of worms 🙂

    God bless.

  2. Colin says:

    Strong similarity between the Westminster Confession and the 39 Articles here.

    I guess Jon’s difficulty with the Baptism of believer’s children is at least one of the driving forces behind the London Baptist Confession of 1689?

    • Jon Hughes says:

      Hi Colin,

      Yes, indeed.

      But I agree with the premise of the post that the sacraments are a means of grace. What I continue to struggle with regarding baptism is the notion of an infant’s faith being nourished, unless one wants to go down the line of baptismal regeneration. I totally get the concept of covenant when it comes to infant baptism, but find the Reformed position neither here nor there compared with the more consistent (but wrong!) Roman Catholic position. Either something happens to the child being baptised that is so significant that those believing parents who withhold baptism from their infant children are placing them in a spiritually perilous state, or nothing of significance happens beyond that of Baptist children who are dedicated. Reformed paedobaptists who believe the former should come clean and warn their credobaptist counterparts that they placing their children in a dangerous position. Or are we simply to maintain that God honours either conviction, which is surely to believe the latter?

      Conversely, as I understand it, baptism is most certainly a means of grace for the believer who is consciously making a profession of faith and is boldly stepping out with the people of God as one who has firmly nailed his colours to the mast!

  3. TC Robinson says:


    First, I’m encouraged that as a Baptist you see the sacraments as means of grace. But regarding the sacraments and infants, there are a few crucial points to consider: (1) the nature of the sacraments. As means of grace, it’s more about what God does and not us. The accent goes on the activities of God. Consider the circumcision of infants. Infants did not have to know the meaning of circumcision to be circumcised, yet they received it. Circumcision was still the sign of the covenant. Circumcision of the flesh pointed to circumcision of the heart. If infants had to first circumcised their hearts before they received the sign of circumcision, well, they never would have received. But to argue thus, is to miss the point.

    Circumcision in the flesh was a reminder that one needed to be circumcised in heart, by the Spirit (Rom. 2:28-29).

    Now consider the circumcision of Abraham. Paul’s says that Abraham received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith (Rom. 4:11). The sign of circumcision was not a profession of his faith, but rather a seal of the RIGHTEOUSNESS he had by faith.

    (2) it is important to note that when we say the sacraments are means of grace we’re not approaching the matter like Rome here – ex opere operato, “from the work worked,” which will rule out baptismal regeneration.

    The sacraments are only means of grace, that is, effective, by the work of the Spirit and the faith of believers.

    Now consider the sign of circumcision in the history of redemption: (1) Abraham received the sign as a seal of the righteousness he had by faith. (2) But male infants received the sign before coming to faith, which meant that when those circumcised in infancy later came to faith, God would be faithful to his promise to justified them, to declare them in right standing with him. Even under the OT we read, “the righteousness will live by faith” (Hab. 2:4; cf. Rom. 1:17 and Gal. 3:11).

    THEREFORE, infants didn’t need to understand what the sign of circumcision meant when they first received. The important thing was, that it was a sign and seal of the covenant of grace.

    • Jon Hughes says:

      Hi TC,

      I appreciate the way you think it through, but am still at a loss to know what spiritual privileges the infants of Reformed paedobaptists enjoy compared with their credobaptist counterparts. Are you saying that they are more likely to be born again?

      • TC Robinson says:

        I believe no more than Baptists who present their infants for baby dedication and both parents and congregation repeat vows to be good examples and the like.

        No, I do not believe the children of Reformed paedobaptists are more likely to be born again than others.

        I hold to covenant baptism because of the continuity that I see in Scripture. And I don’t see this covenant nature of God’s operation with his people changing in the NT, if household baptisms are any example.

  4. Jon Hughes says:


    Many thanks for the clarification.

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