Sunday, March 23, 2014


The detrators of both Zwingli and Bullinger claimed that they had a view that the sacraments were ‘bare signs’ or ‘empty signs.’ But such people had not read either Zwingli or Bullinger carefully.

The following quotes from The Decades demonstrate that, for Bullinger, the sacraments where not ‘bare signs.’

As with the other reformers, Bullinger refers to the “sign” and “the thing signified”. He thus writes:

“And because I taught, that sacraments consist of two parts, the sign and the thing signified, it remaineth to shew, that these two parts retain their natures distinguished, not communicating properties … that each part retaineth their natures distinguished, without communicating or mingling of properties, it is to be seen hereby; that many may be partakers of the sign, and yet are barred from the thing signified…” (V.6 Parker ed p 270)

With respect to grace and the sacraments, Bullinger explains:

“We must not say by any means that grace is contained substantially in the sacraments, as water in a vessel, or as a medicine in a box; yea, to understand it so, it is erroneous. But they are said to contain grace, in that they signify grace; and because, unless there be a want on the part of the receiver, grace is always given in them: so that ye may understand that grace is in the soul, and not in the visible signs. For this cause they are called also vessels of grace.” (V.7 Parker ed p 307)

The following is Bullinger’s reply to those who accuse him of viewing the sacraments as ‘bare signs’:

“But if they call them void or empty, and men profane and unholy things, that is to day, which differ nothing from profane signs; if by bare they understand things of no force; we openly profess, that we have sacraments which are holy, and not profane; effectual, and not without force; garnished from above, not naked; and therefore full, not void or empty. For they are holy things and not profane, because they are instituted of God, and for godly men, not for profane persons. They are effectual, and not without force: for in the church with the godly and the faithful they work the same effect and end whereunto they are ordained of God; whereof more hereafgter. They are also worthily said to be beautified and adorned by God, and not bare things, which have the word of God itself, wherewith they are most beautifully adorned. And therefore also they are full, and not empty sacraments, because they have those things which make a perfect sacrament.” (V.7 Parker ed 314)

“Now, who will hereafter say, that they which think thus of the sacraments, and are by this faith partakers of them, have nothing but empty shews, and receive nothing in them; albeit we neither include grace in the signs, neither derive it from them? But if any many have any other opinion of God and his ordinances, that shall no more be falsehood in God, or accuse him of untruth, than if any one should charge a just man with a lie, because he performeth not that which he looked for; when in the meantime this man promised not the things which he looked for;; when in the meantime this man promised not the thing which he looked for; but he, through his corrupt and false opinion, hath dreamed that it was promised unto him. And thus far by occasion I have shewed what agreement and difference there is between the sacraments of the old and new Testament, and that our sacraments do neither confer nor contain grace.” (V.7 Parker ed pp 315,316)

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