The Southern Presbyterian Journal/Volume 13/Number 45/The Sacraments
On one occasion a friend and I visited some Lutheran professors. Perhaps they had not received many Calvinistic visitors, or perhaps they merely wanted to get the conversation started; but at any rate one of them asked what were some of the differences between Calvinists and Lutherans. Since we were not on a polemic mission, it did not seem wise to mention any major topic of contention such as predestination or perseverance; so I sought for some obscure technicality and remarked that Calvinists do not accept the theory of the communicatio idiomatum. (This is the theory that the qualities of Christ's divine nature can be attributed to his human nature.) But instantly, one of the gentlemen, a professor neither of philosophy nor of theology, but of history, replied that a denial on this point would undermine the whole Lutheran view of the sacraments. At such immediate penetration, my esteem of Lutheran scholarship, already high, soared still higher. But it struck me as a great tragedy of history that Lutheranism has tenaciously held to the one point at which Luther differed from the Calvinists, while at the same time it has departed from Luther on the many points of agreement.
In attributing to Christ's human nature, particularly to his body, the divine attribute of omnipresence, the Lutherans maintain a view of the Lord's Supper that is not far enough removed from the very objectionable Romish view. The Lord's Supper and Baptism will each be discussed in the following articles; but with respect to all their sacraments the Romanists hold that the effect is, one might say, automatically produced if the sacrament is properly administered. The water itself regenerates and the physical body of Christ nourishes.
On the contrary, the Westminster Confession says that "Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace." This is in full accord with Paul's warnings to those Jews who trusted in circumcision. "Circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law; but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcisism . . . For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh . . ." (Rom. 2:25-29). And to the same effect: "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat . . . for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself . . ." (I Cor. 11: 27-31).
Furthermore, in Romanism the proper administration of a sacrament, and therefore its efficacy, depends on the intention of the priest. Unless the priest has the secret intention of doing what the Church intends in the definition of the sacrament, the thing does not work. Now, there was a priest who came to rebel against the whole system of his church. He came to have a hatred of religion. While in this state of mind, according to his later confession, he baptized many infants with the intention, not of doing what the Church defined, but of sending them to hell. Of course the priest is hardly to be commended for such evil intentions, as he himself later came to see; but consider the position of the Roman church which deprived these infants of regeneration by making a valid baptism to depend on the priest. On the Romish view a priest may outwardly pronounce every word and perform every action prescribed by the ritual, and the recipient may fulfill every condition required of him; yet if the priest has the wrong intention, the worshipper goes away destitute of the grace he thinks he has received.
How different is the position of Paul, of the Reformers, and of the Confession. "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 authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers."