Lord’s Day 25: Holy Signs and Seals

Catechism and Psalter

With Lord’s Day 25 of the Heidelberg Catechism we move into a study of the sacraments, a key aspect of  the Christian life.  Writing in an atmosphere dominated by the numerous extra-biblical and unbiblical rites of the Roman Catholic Church, the authors of the Catechism took special pains to delineate the nature of the only true sacraments instituted by Christ: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  For the next several weeks in this URC Psalmody series we’ll be considering the connection between the psalms and the sacraments.

65 Q.  You confess that by faith alone you share in Christ and all his blessings: where does that faith come from?

A.  The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts
by the preaching of the holy gospel,
and confirms it
through our use of the holy sacraments.

66 Q.  What are sacraments?

A.  Sacraments are holy signs and seals for us to see.
They were instituted by God so that
by our use of them
he might make us understand more clearly
the promise of the gospel,
and might put his seal on that promise.

And this is God’s gospel promise:
to forgive our sins and give us eternal life
by grace alone
because of Christ’s one sacrifice
finished on the cross.

67 Q.  Are both the Word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?

A.  Right!
In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us
and through the holy sacraments he assures us
that our entire salvation
rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.

68 Q.  How many sacraments did Christ institute in the New Testament?

A.  Two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Suggested Songs

164, “Lord, My Petition Heed” (Psalm 86)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“The Holy Spirit produces [faith] in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it through our use of the holy sacraments.”  More than anything else, Psalm 86 is a prayer for faith.  Admitting that he is “poor and needy,” David cries out for the Lord to gladden his soul; he turns to declare, “you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.”  Then the psalmist prays:

Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.

–Psalm 86:11 (ESV)

Psalm 86 concludes with another prayer whose language echoes the imagery of the sacraments as signs and seals: “Show me a sign of your favor” (v. 17).  Or, as the blue Psalter Hymnal versifies it:

Show me Thy mercy true,
Thy servant’s strength renew,
Deliverance send;
To me Thy goodness show,
Thy comfort, Lord, bestow;
Let those that hate me know
Thou art my Friend.

202, “Mindful of Our Human Frailty” (Psalm 103)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

Sacraments “were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and might put his seal on that promise.”  How weak and dull-minded we are, how slow to comprehend what God has done for us.  One of the URCNA’s new forms for the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper contains this wonderful admonition:

Do not allow the weakness of your faith or your failures in the Christian life to keep you from this table.  For it is given to us because of our weakness and because of our failures, in order to increase our faith by feeding us with the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  As the Word has promised us God’s favor, so also our Heavenly Father has added this confirmation of his unchangeable promise.

Psalm 103:14-18 speaks eloquently of our “human frailty” and the “changeless mercy” of our Lord:

Mindful of our human frailty
Is the God in whom we trust;
He whose years are everlasting,
He remembers we are dust.

Changeless is Jehovah’s mercy
Unto those that fear His Name,
From eternity abiding
To eternity the same.

All the faithful to His covenant
Shall behold His righteousness;
He will be their strength and refuge,
And their children’s children bless.

109, “O God, Regard My Humble Plea” (Psalm 61)

“[T]his is God’s gospel promise: to forgive our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ’s one sacrifice finished on the cross.”  In times of trouble and distress it is all too easy to forget that we are God’s own children, yet the sacraments are powerful reminders of our identity in Christ.

In Thee my soul has shelter found,
And Thou hast been from foes around
The tower to which I flee.
Within Thy house will I abide;
My refuge sure, whate’er betide,
Thy sheltering wings shall be.

For Thou, O God, my vows hast heard,
On me the heritage conferred
Of those that fear Thy Name;
A blest anointing Thou dost give,
And Thou wilt make me ever live
Thy praises to proclaim.

Before Thy face shall I abide;
O God, Thy truth and grace provide
To guard me in the way;
So I will make Thy praises known,
And, humbly bending at Thy throne,
My vows will daily pay.

54, “How Great the Goodness Kept in Store” (Psalm 31)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us and through the holy sacraments he assures us that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.”  The latter half of Psalm 31 calls us to praise the Lord for the goodness he has shown to his elect.  These blessings he seals to us through the preaching of the Word and the faithful administration of the sacraments.

How great the goodness kept in store
For those who fear Thee and adore
In meek humility.
How great the deeds with mercy fraught
Which openly Thy hand has wrought
For those who trust in Thee.

Secured by Thine unfailing grace,
In Thee they find a hiding-place
When foes their plots devise;
A sure retreat Thou wilt prepare,
And keep them safely sheltered there,
When strife of tongues shall rise.

Ye saints, Jehovah love and serve,
For He the faithful will preserve,
And shield from men of pride;
Be strong, and let your hearts be brave,
All ye that wait for Him to save,
In God the Lord confide;
In God the Lord confide.

–MRK

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