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§ 6. Validity of the Sacraments.

That is valid which avails for the end intended. The question, therefore, as to the validity of the sacraments is a question as to what is necessary to their being that which they purport to be. The answer to this question is that they must conform to the prescriptions given in the Bible concerning them. The elements employed must be those which Christ ordained. The form, or the manner in which those elements are given and received, must be in accordance with his directions; and the ordinance must be administered with the intention of doing what He has commanded. Thus if baptism be a washing with water, then it is necessary that water should be the element employed in its administration. If it be a washing with water in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, then those words, or that form, must be used; and the ordinance must be administered and received in the faith of the Trinity. The general faith of the Church has been in favour of the validity of heretical baptism; but heresy was made to include other departures from the standard of faith, than the denial of the essential doctrines of the Gospel. Baptism is a Christian ordinance. It involves on the part of both the administrator and the recipient the profession of the Christian religion. It is perfectly evident that the same service, as to matter and form, performed by a heathen to a. heathen, who attached an entirely different meaning to what was done, could not be regarded as a Christian ordinance.

The other condition necessary to the validity of the sacraments 524concerns the intention of those engaged in the service. They must intend to do what Christ commanded. If a man receives the ordinance of baptism he must intend to profess his faith in the Gospel and to accept the terms of salvation therein presented. And the administrator must have the purpose to initiate the recipient into the number of the professed disciples of Christ. A sacrament, therefore, administered by an idiot, or a maniac, or in sport, or in mockery, is utterly null and void. It has no meaning and is entirely worthless.

The only question on which there is much diversity of opinion on this subject, is, Whether the validity of the sacraments depends on the official standing of the person by whom they are administered? We have seen that Romanists make canonical ordination or consecration absolutely essential. If any man but a bishop (in their sense of the word) should confirm or ordain, nothing is done. The service in either case is an empty one, conveying neither grace nor authority. If any other than a priest should absolve a penitent, no absolution takes place; and so of the Lord’s Supper, the words of consecration pronounced by any lips but those of a canonically ordained priest, produce no change in the elements. The reason of this is, not merely that the officiator acts in such cases disorderly and improperly, but that he has neither the prerogative nor the power to render the sacraments effectual. They are invalid, because they do not avail to accomplish the end for which they were appointed. Romanists are guilty of a benevolent inconsistency in making baptism an exception to this rule. There is the same logical or theoretical reason that baptism should be invalid when administered by an unordained person, as that confirmation, ordination, or absolution, when thus administered, should be null and void. But as baptism is held to be essential to salvation, souls must often perish, when a priest is inaccessible, unless lay baptism be allowed. In cases of such emergency the Church of Rome, therefore, pronounces baptism to be valid (i.e., efficacious) when administered by a layman, a woman, or even by a pagan, provided the administrator really intends to baptize, i.e., to do what the Church contemplates in the administration of that ordinance.

The standards of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches place preaching the Word and the administration of the sacraments on the same ground. They teach (1.) That Christ has appointed certain officers in his Church. (2.) That by his Spirit he calls and qualifies certain men for the discharge of the duties of those 525offices. (3.) That those who aspire to them are to be examined as to their call and qualifications. (4.) That if found competent they are to be set apart or ordained in an orderly manner to the office to which they deem themselves called. (5.) That the special functions of one class of these officers, are preaching and the administration of the sacraments. (6.) It follows from all this that for any one not thus called and ordained to undertake the exercise of either of these functions of the ministry, in a settled state of the Church, is wrong; it is a violation of the divinely constituted order of Christ’s Church. According to this view, lay preaching and lay administration of the ordinances (in ordinary circumstances) are equally wrong. But are they invalid? That is a very different question. We know that Romanists, when they pronounce a sacrament invalid, mean that it is powerless. We know that when the old English law pronounced any marriage invalid if not solemnized by a man in holy orders, the meaning was, that the ceremony was null and void; that the parties were not married. But what can be meant by lay preaching being invalid? Is the Gospel invalid? Does it lose its truth, authority, or power? This cannot be. Neither its authority nor its power depend upon the clay lips by which it is proclaimed. Again, if a number of pious Christians assemble, where no minister can be had, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, in what sense is such a service invalid? Do they not commemorate the death of Christ? Are not the bread and wine to them the symbols of his body and blood? If faith be in exercise, may they not receive those symbols to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace? Again, if baptism be a washing with water in the name of the Holy Trinity, to signify and seal our engrafting into Christ, does it cease to be, or to signify this if not administered by an ordained minister? Does not the man thus baptized make a profession of his faith in Christ? and does he not thereby become a member of that great body which confesses Him before men? Can it, therefore, be any more invalid than the Gospel, when preached by a laymen?

What the Bible, therefore, seems to teach on this subject is, that Christ having appointed certain officers in his Church to preach his Word and to administer his ordinances, for any man, under ordinary circumstances not duly appointed, to assume the functions of the ministry, is irregular and wrong, because contrary to the order of Christ’s Church. Further than this the Reformed and Lutheran standards do not appear to have gone.

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