Yesterday I posted a quote from Pierre Marcel where he explained that the Word is absolutely necessary for salvation whereas the sacraments are not. Does that make the sacraments a waste of time, a “get to it if you can” means of grace? Marcel says no. These paragraphs come right after the quotes from yesterday. All italics are his all bold is mine.
According to the Reformed view of a sacrament, sacraments are not necessary for salvation. The necessity of means is in general an absolute necessity, a condition sine qua non. In this sense, food is a vital necessity for the body, light is necessary for the use of sight, the Word for the exercise of faith. In our opinion, the sacraments possess a necessity of precept. It is a duty to make use of them, but they are not means necessary for salvation.One can be saved without them. The benefits which they signify, and of which they are the organs of signification for sealing and applying them to believers, do not depend on their use in such a way that these benefits cannot be received apart from them.
Christ, however, has ordered His disciples to baptize all those who are received as members of His Church, and the He has required that His disciples should regularly commemorate His death by the celebration of the Lord’s supper; thus His people find themselves under a compelling moral obligation to obey these commandments of His. But it may happen that the exercise of this duty is counteracted by external circumstances…which hinder the obedience even of those who are disposed and desire to practice their Savior’s injunction. Even where obedience is not opposed by external circumstances the observance of these commands may be neglected through ignorance or through scruples of conscience which are unjustifiable. We believe that if such people possess faith through the Word alone their salvation is in no way compromised.
It is not the privation but the contempt of the sacraments which renders us culpable before God. Let us not forget that we are not spirits, but sensible and earthly creatures who cannot understand spiritual things otherwise than by sensible forms; not that God has instituted the sacraments in order that, by gazing upon signs, we might acquire a better notion of His benefits and be more firmly assured of His promises, and thus sustained and strengthened in our faith. No one can neglect the use of the sacraments deliberately without exposing himself to grave spiritual consequences.The believer has no right to rely upon the operation of grace apart from the conditions upon which the promise of help is made, and these conditions are: the hearing of the Word and the participation of the sacraments. It is for this reason that the faithful Christian, even at the cost of the greatest sacrifices, will go to hear the Word preached and will partake of the Lord’s Supper. In dispensing with these, excuses valid before God will alone be admissible.
To summarize: The Word is absolutely necessary for our salvation. The sacraments, while not necessary in the absolute sense, are a necessary part of obedience to Christ. We can be saved apart from the sacraments. We can either not have access to them or our conscience can be misinformed about their importance. Neither of these reasons would qualify as contempt. But the willful, deliberate, neglect and contempt of the sacraments will lead to the damnation of our souls. We cannot expect the promise of grace to be given apart from the means of grace.