The reformers rejected the sacramental doctrine that many of them inherited from the Roman Catholic Church, which taught that the elements of the ceremony infused grace into the recipient, working independent of their faith, or lack of faith. Instead, Reformed theologians such as Zurich pastor Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) taught that the sacrament was the sign and seal of grace, received by faith, a visible and tangible witness to an invisible truth. For Zwingli and a number of his Protestant contemporaries, the ropes and chains Jeremiah is instructed to hang around his neck are a powerful illustration of the relationship between sign and word in the sacraments.
Teaching True Faith and the Senses
“Fit ropes and chains to your neck.” What need was there for this example or odd sign? Indeed was it not enough to give a verbal warning? Unless the real reason was that these kinds of deeds would move people to accept the warnings by stirring more of the senses, and therefore working more dramatically than when only one sense is moved.Indeed only faith, which sits and rules at home, takes in the meaning of these things. If Jeremiah had only preached, the hearing alone would receive impact. But when he displays to the sight a portent similar to that which he preaches, then the two most exalted senses are excited, and arrogance is broken while lethargy is lessened. Likewise in the Lord’s Supper, the mind is led more dramatically to contemplate what is done, while the symbols of seeing and tasting suggest the same thing that is preached to the ears. Nevertheless, these things are all external. Indeed only faith, which sits and rules at home, takes in the meaning of these things. If faith is lacking, then hearing the Word, seeing the gesture, and tasting the symbol inspires nothing but laughter: indeed, the gospel is foolish to the unbelieving nations. But how do these things arrive at faith, or how do they create it, or enter into it at all, and support it? Faith—that is, true faith—manifests the certainty and full assurance of grace and divine friendship. This faith is given by no one except the Father who draws us to him: therefore no external things are able to give it or make it.
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