Book Review: Jewel’s Treatises on Scripture and the Sacraments


One of the least-known yet highly influential figures of the English Reformation was John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury from 1559 until his death in 1571. His most famous work was his defense of the reformed Church of England over and against her Romanist opponents, known as the Apology of the Church of England. It was received with such high esteem that it was eventually sent to every parish in England! Jewel was the editor of both the Second Book of Homilies and the final version of the 39 Articles of Religion (1571). He was also mentor to Richard Hooker, who became one of England’s most prolific theologians and himself referred to Jewel as the “worthiest divine that Christendom hath bred for some hundreds of years.”

Recovering a Lost Jewel

Lesser known amongst his works, however, are his Treatise on the Holy Scriptures and Treatise of the Sacraments, which were of course topics of considerable debate during the Reformation. Now, thanks to the work of Fr. Andrew Brashier, we can read both of these treatises together in one well-crafted package aptly titled Treatises on Scripture and the Sacraments.


In the second of the treatises, Bishop Jewel reminds his audience, “I seek not to astonish you… nor yet to seek mine own glory thereby” but instead he seeks to “discharge our conscience, and to speak the truth, that we may be blameless in the day of our Lord” (93). Likewise, in the spirit of Jewel, Brashier tells us in his foreword, “I stand on the shoulders of giants… I am merely publishing [Jewel’s] original work and doing so with the notes and citations from prior editors… with the addition of a slightly modernized version of the text” (X). We should all seek to be so humble in the recovering and reading of the great churchmen who came before us.

On the Holy Scriptures

In the first treatise, which was “gathered out of certain Sermons… preached at Salisbury,” Jewel treats us with a thoroughly reformed understanding of the role of Holy Scripture. Early on, he states simply, “The Scriptures are ‘the word of God.’ What title can there be of greater value?” (5). 

He compares the Scriptures to the sun, as they “bring light unto our ways, and comfort to all parts of our life, and salvation to our souls… that we may the better see the path which we have to walk in, my meaning is, truly and plainly and shortly to shew you, what authority and majesty the ‘word of God’ beareth…” (5). Or, to put it more plainly: “Christians, who desire to know the truth, whereupon they may build their faith, have no refuge but to try and learn this by the Scriptures” (20).

And he also speaks of their enduring nature:

By the space of so many thousand years, the word of God passed by so many dangers of tyrants, of Pharisees, of heretics, of fire, and of sword, and yet continueth and standeth until this day, without altering or changing one letter. This was a wonderful work of God… No creature was able to do this, it was God’s work. (9-10)

Jewel points to the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church, demonstrating how they viewed the Scriptures as their ultimate authority, “necessary and needful…in the whole trade of our life” (35). In other words, even the high authority of the Church Fathers bows before the authority of the Scriptures. Thus Saint Augustine, whom Jewel cites: “Neither weigh we the writings of all men, be they never so worthy and catholic, as we weigh the canonical Scriptures” (26).

Jewel doesn’t say anything about the Scriptures that any good Protestant doesn’t already know and believe, but the captivating way in which he expresses his understanding of the principle of sola scriptura can still be a valuable read and serve to renew our confidence and dedication in this vital principle of the Reformation.

Of the Sacraments

Given the disputes regarding the Sacraments that have been raging for centuries (both within Anglicanism and in Protestantism as a whole), it is likely in Jewel’s second treatise that readers will show the most interest.

He breaks the treatise down into four basic parts:

  1. Of the Sacraments in General
  2. Of Baptism
  3. Of the Body and Blood of Christ
  4. Other Sacred Rites in the Church

St. Augustine is famously known for describing sacraments as “a visible sign of grace invisible.” Jewel takes up the same understanding: 

“A Sacrament is an outward and visible sign, whereby God sealeth up his grace in our hearts, to the confirmation of our Faith” (61). 

Pointing to the circumcision of Israel, he argues that this is nothing new. The Creator has always worked in and through the creature.

Jewel also takes the time to address the other sacred rites of the Church: Confirmation, Matrimony, Orders, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick. He stops short of calling them Sacraments, though he does admit that there are many in his time that do refer to them as such. For his part, he argues that they were not instituted by Christ and therefore should not be viewed in the same way as Baptism and Holy Communion.

Selected Quotations

On the Sacraments in General:

We know that Christ hath left his Sacraments to his Church, that they might be helps to lift us up into Heaven. By them we are joined to Christ and made partakers of his passion. (95)

On Baptism:

They that be washed in [baptism] receive the remission of sins: their robes are made clear in the blood of the Lamb. The water itself is nothing: but by the working of God’s Spirit, the death and merits of our Lord and Saviour Christ are thereby assured unto us. (74)

On Infant Baptism:

Infants are a part of the church of God; they are the sheep of Christ and belong to his flock. Why should they not bear the mark of Christ? They have the promise of salvation. Why should they not receive the seal whereby it is confirmed unto them? (72)

On Holy Communion:

Even so we see the bread and wine, but with the eyes of our understanding we look beyond these creatures; we reach our spiritual senses into heaven, and behold the ransom and price of our salvation. We do behold in the Sacrament, not what it is, but what it doth signify… It goeth not into the mouth or belly, but only into the soul, and it feedeth the mind inwardly, as the other outwardly feedeth the body. (94)

Connection to the 39 Articles

Jewel was intimately connected to the reformers who wrote the 39 Articles of Religion, and served as the editor of the 39 Articles in their final form (1571). If we pay attention, we can hear echoes of the Articles throughout these treatises. Here are three examples.

First, in regards to the Sacraments, Jewel states: 

What, are they nothing else but bare and naked signs? God forbid. They are the seals of God, heavenly tokens, and signs of the grace… imputed to us. (65) 

This (along with the above quotes) sounds very much like the language of Article XXV, which says, “Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace…”

Likewise, his language concerning the Lord’s Supper is reminiscent of Article XXVII, which says that “the Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner.” Jewel says:

It were unpossible his natural body naturally received might suffice all the world, to let them see he had no such meaning, he speaketh of his going up into heaven. Spiritually then, he is received of every one, and is digested, and becometh the nourishment of all the world. (99-100)

Lastly, in the midst of discussing the Sacraments, Jewel gives us a glimpse of another aspect of his theology: 

God hath his purpose in us and our children. Before we be born, when we had done neither good nor evil, he hath mercy and compassion on us. Judgment appertaineth to God. He knoweth who are his. (77)

Article XVII states, “Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour.”


Given the role that Jewel played in the Elizabethan Settlement and the formulation of the Thirty-Nine Articles, I believe that these Treatisesalong with his Apologyshould be required reading for anyone interested in the English Reformation (or the Protestant Reformation as a whole). And this particular version of them is an enjoyable means of doing just that. Thank you Fr. Andrew for providing us with this wonderful Anglican resource!

You can purchase a copy of Treatises on Scripture and the Sacraments by John Jewel (Edited by Andrew Brashier) on Amazon.

Published on

January 28, 2023


Adam Hunter

The Rev. Adam Hunter is a deacon living in Lafayette, Louisiana, with his wife Holly and their four children. He serves as a campus missionary with Campus Communion at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

View more from Adam Hunter


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