Bp JC Ryle’s “Knots Untied” is a great little book of essays for anyone inquiring about the evangelical protestant basis of the Anglican Church. They also reflect a healthy Reformed view of the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and baptism as instrumental means.
Ryle rightly rejects importing unbiblical elements of Roman Catholicism into Anglican ritual:
I ask whether there is not something unscriptural about the enormous amount of pomp and bodily reverence with which the Lord’s Supper is now administered in many of our churches? The ostentatious treatment of the Communion table as an alter,- the lights, ornaments, millinery, gestures, postures, bowings, crossings, incensing, processions, which are connected with the so-called altar… What does it all mean? Where is there in all this the simplicity of the first institution, as we find recorded in the Bible? Where is the simplicity which any plain reader of the English Prayer-book might justly expect? The true Lord’s Supper is no longer there. The whole thing savours of Romanism.
People nearly always quote JC Ryle speaking as above, and rightly so. But with the those caveats in mind, Ryle still has a positive view of the benefits of sacraments and other helpful affirming things to say about them.
On the Lord’s Supper:
Rejecting as I do, with all my heart, the baseless notion of any bodily presence of Christ on the Lord’s Table, I can never doubt that the great ordinance appointed by Christ has a special and peculiar blessing attached to it. That blessing, I believe, consists in a special and peculiar presence of Christ, vouchsafed to the heart of every believing communicant, p146
You will rarely find a true believer who will not say that he reckons this ordinance one of his greatest helps and highest privileges, p146.
When faith and prayer accompany baptism, and a diligent use of Scriptural means follows it, we are justified in looking for much spiritual blessing. Without faith and prayer baptism becomes a mere form. p65.
To say, as some do, in the face of these [biblical texts on baptism], that baptism is an institution of no importance, is to pour contempt on the Bible. To say, as others do, that baptism is only a thing of the heart, and not an outward ordinance at all, is to say that which seems flatly contradictory to the Bible. p65.
We must beware of despising baptism. Many in the present day seem to regard it with perfect indifference. They pass it by, and give it no place or position in their religion. Because, in many cases, it seems to confer no benefit, they appear to jump to the conclusion that it can confer none. p76
[The reader of the New Testament] will find that baptism is spoken of with deep reverence, and in close connection with the highest privileges and blessings. p78.
If children were considered to be capable of admission into the Church by an ordinance in the Old Testament, it is difficult to see why they cannot be admitted in the New. The general tendency of the Gospel is to increase men’s spiritual privileges and not diminish them. Nothing, I believe, would astonish a Jewish convert so much as to tell him his children could not be baptized! p73.
The right of Christian infants to baptism is only through their parents. p96.
The question to be settled is not whether a child may be born again and receive grace in baptism, but whether all children are born again, and receive grace when they are baptised. p77.
[The Book of Common Prayer] supposes those who bring their children to be baptised, to bring them as believers. As the seed of godly parents and children of believers, their infants are baptized. As believers, the sponsors and parents are exhorted to pray that the child may be born again, and encouraged to lay hold on the promises. And as the child of believers the infant when baptized is pronounced ‘regenerate,’ and thanks are given for it. p99
The principle, which the Church [of England] lays down as an abstract principle is this, – that baptism when rightly and worthily received, is a means whereby we may receive inward and spiritual grace, even a death until sin and a new birth into righteousness.
JC Ryle simply reflects the Reformed theology of Thomas Cranmer (who got it from Calvin?):
The men who drew up our Baptismal Service held that there was a connection between baptism and spiritual Regeneration, and they were right. They knew that there was nothing too high in the way of blessing to expect for the child of a believer. They knew that God might of his sovereign mercy give grace to any child before, or in, or at, or by the act of baptism. At all events they dared not undertake the responsibility of denying it in the case of any particular infant, and they therefore took the safer course, to express a charitable hope of all. p100.
My page numbers above are from a very old edition (don’t have it with me right now to check which).
The Nolan edition of Knots Untied linked to above has a foreword by Douglas Wilson – does anyone have this? I’d love to read a scan or photocopy. It also claims to be unabridged.