In reviewing chapter 10 of RINE, we need to start out with some definitions. Sacerdotalism has to do with a priesthood caste in the church. It is the idea that the priesthood in the church has supernatural powers. It is the idea that such a priesthood needs to be exalted at the expense of the laity. As such (although obviously related in practice) it may be distinguished from sacramentalism, the idea that the Sacraments work ex opere operato, or magically.
The reason this distinction is important is because Wilson has not quite grasped what Warfield was targeting, in my judgment. Wilson says that Warfield is “disparaging the means of grace” (p. 85). This is the result of a rationalist system (Wilson’s own words). Then follows a lengthy quotation from Warfield’s book The Plan of Salvation. In this quotation, what Wilson sees is a denial of the means of grace in salvation in the interests of pure supernaturalism (p. 86). He calls Warfield’s view “closer to refried Gnosticism” (p. 86). Just to be clear, Wilson argues thusly: “I take his insistence that God works ‘directly’ on the human soul as a claim that God is working ‘apart from means'” (p. 86). Now, Wilson immediately qualifies this by saying that Warfield elsewhere acknowledges that God uses means of grace (p. 86). And he ends by asking this question, “But how is this not God working ‘indirectly’?” (p. 86). I will explain how this is so.
Warfield’s target is not sacramentalism in the quotation, but rather sacerdotalism. This is evident from the reasoning: “and has not suspended any man’s salvation upon the faithlessness or caprice of his fellows” (emphasis added). The target here is plainly a human priest getting in the way of God’s grace. He explicitly says “Sacerdotal system” in the quotation, which in turn defines “this human factor indeed, is made the determining factor in salvation” (quoted on p. 86 of RINE). It is plain, then, that the human factor which is intruded is the target of Warfield’s statement, and not the means of grace unmediated by a priest. Because Wilson has seemingly conflated sacerdotalism with sacramentalism in the mind of Warfield, he thinks that a denial on Warfield’s part of the former must also imply a denial of the latter, and furthermore a downplaying of the significance of the sacraments. Wilson further misreads Warfield when he says that “According to Warfield’s definition, to have the covenant dispensed in ordinances and to have them be spiritually efficacious, is sacerdotalism” (p. 88). This is plainly not Warfield’s definition of sacerdotalism. Warfield’s definition is plainly that mentioned above: a human intruder in the pathway of God’s grace. But surely we can therefore see that just because Warfield denies sacerdotalism does not mean that he has too low a view of the sacraments. What was Warfield’s view of baptism and the Lord’s Supper?
To answer that question, we must go to the Selected Shorter Writings, volume 1, pp. 325-338. Given the fact that Warfield was such a target of Wilson in this chapter, it might have been good had Wilson referenced these two short articles, which are quite clear concerning Warfield’s view. Warfield starts out his chapter on baptism by talking about circumcision, coming to the standard Reformed conclusion that (from circumcision to baptism) “the form of the rite was changed, not its substance” (p. 327). Then follows this statement:
God gave it to (Abraham) as a “sign” and a “seal,” not to others but to himself. It is inadequate, therefore, to speak of baptism as “the badge of a Christian man’s profession.” By receiving it, we do make claim to be members of Christ…The meaning of that (the “honorable name in James 2:7, LK) is that we have been marked as the peculiar possession of our Lord, over whom he claims ownership, and to the protection and guidance of whom he pledges himself…What it means is just this and nothing else: that we are the Lord’s. What it pledges us just this and nothing else: that the Lord will keep us as his own. (pp. 327-328). Salvation is cleansing, salvation is ransoming. Baptism represents it from the one point of view, the Lord’s Supper from the other (p. 330).
Does this sound like a rationalistic downplaying of the Sacrament to you? And furthermore, in Warfield’s view of the Lord’s Supper, he uses the same procedure: he starts from the OT type, and moves from there to the antitype.
What is done in the two feasts (passover and the Lord’s Supper, LK) is therefore precisely the same thing: Jesus Christ is symbolically fed upon in both…It is much rather only a new form given to the Passover (p. 333). All who partake of this bread and winde, the appointed symbols of his body and blood, therefore, are symbolically partaking of the victim offered on the altar of the cross, and are by this act professing themselves offerers of the sacrifice and seeking to become beneficiaries of it. That is the fundamental significance of the Lord’s Supper…by which we testify our “participation in the altar” and claim our part in the benefits bought by the offering immolated on it (pp. 336-337).
Finally, it should be noted that Wilson says this: “I quote Warfield at this point knowing that as a confessional Presbyterian he had to (and did) acknowledge that God established and used means of grace within the Church. I do not want to misrepresent him as overtly denying that there are means of grace. But I do want to argue that Warfield was being inconsistent here” (p. 86). I am arguing that Warfield was not being inconsistent, but rather was denying sacerdotalism, and not sacramentalism, and even though he would also deny sacramentalism, he would not thereby downplay the importance of the sacraments. At the very least, he does not approach a refried Gnosticism. I will go over the latter part of this chapter in another post.
Update: to tack on something that is unrelated to this specific post, but very much related to the FV, see this outstanding quotation from Jonathan Edwards.