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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

An Exposition of the Assembly's
Shorter Catechism

by John Flavel


Of Sacraments as Means of Salvation.

Q. 91. How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
A. The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that cloth administer them, but only by the blessing of. Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them.


Q. 1. What is the first proper sense of this word sacrament?
A. It primarily signifies a solemn oath taken by soldiers, when they list themselves under a prince or general; and this oath was mutual.

Q. 2. Why do we use it, seeing it is not a scripture word?
A. Though the word be not found in scripture, yet the thing intended by it is, and that brings the word in use; for in the sacraments God obliges himself to us by confirming his covenant by it; Romans 4:11. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith, which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also. And we oblige ourselves to God; Romans 6:3-4. Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Q. 3. What is here meant by salvation?
A. By salvation is meant our complete and final deliverance from sin and misery, both temporal and eternal. From sin, Matthew 1:21. For he shall save his people from their sins. From misery, 1 Thessalonians 1:10. Even Jesus who delivered us from the wrath to come.

Q. 4. What is a mean of salvation?
A. A mean of salvation signifies any appointment of God, whereby he promotes and accomplishes his design of saving our souls; so the word is a mean; Romans 1:16. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth.

Q. 5. How doth the word and sacraments differ as means of salvation?
A. The word is appointed to be the first means of begetting faith; 1 Corinthians 3:5. Who then is Paul? And who is Apollos? But ministers by whom ye believed, &c. Sacraments are to seal and confirm it; Romans 4:11. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith, &c.

Q. 6. What is meant by an effectual mean of salvation?
A. By an effectual mean, is meant such a mean as fully obtains and accomplishes the end it was appointed for, 1 Thessalonians 2:18. Because when ye received the word of God, which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men; but (as it is in truth) the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

Q. 7. Do not all the means of salvation prove effectual to men?
A. Though the means of salvation prove effectual to all Godís elect, yet they are not so to others; Acts 28:23-24. And when they bad appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging, to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening. And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.

Q. 8. Do not the sacraments save all that partake of them?
A. No, they do not; baptism may pass on a cast-away; Acts 8:23. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. And the Lordís supper maybe received unworthily; 1 Corinthians 11:27. Wherefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

Q. 9. What is the reason they prove not effectual to all?
A. Because their virtue and efficacy is not in themselves, but in God; for we see they work as Godís Spirit concurs, or not concurs with them, as in the instance before given.

Q. 10. But is not that for want of wisdom, holiness, or zeal in the minister, that they have no more efficacy?
A. No, it is not principally, or only from thence; for it is not in the power of the holiest minister in the world to make them effectual; 1 Corinthians 3:7. Neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.

Q. 11. Whence is it that sacraments become effectual?
A. It is only from the Spirit of Christ working in them, and by them on the souls of men; 1 Corinthians 12:13. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

Q. 12. What is the first instruction hence?
A. That men enjoying all the ordinances of the gospel, and partaking of the sacraments annexed to the covenant of grace, may yet perish for ever; 1 Corinthians 10:3-5. And did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink; (for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them: and that rock was Christ.) But with many of them God was not well pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness; Luke 13:26-27. Then shall ye begin to say, we have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me all ye workers of iniquity.

Q. 13. What is the second inference?
A. That men should not idolize some ministers for the excellency of their gifts, and despise others, seeing it is not in them to make the means effectual.

Q. 14. What is the last inference?
A. That in all our attendance upon the means of salvation, we should be careful to beg the Spirit and blessing of Christ, without which they cannot be effectual to our salvation.

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