Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Means of Grace

The apostle Paul declares, “By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8–9). Where does this faith come from? How is this gift of God imparted? The answer of historic Christianity is that it comes from God and by the means of grace that Christ has appointed in His church. All the ordinances, or things commanded by Christ (Matt. 28:20), are in view in this answer, but the primary means is the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, “which are able to make thee wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15). David extols the saving power of the Word, declaring that “the law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul” (Ps 19:7).

There is no conflict between faith in the sovereignty of God and use of His appointed means to obtain what He promises to us. As God, the Holy Spirit is free to work when, where, and how He pleases, with or without the use of means. Nevertheless, the means of grace are commended to us by the very fact that the sovereign God commands us to use them.

A distinction must be made between the kindness of God shown to all creatures, by which He showers good gifts upon all mankind, just and unjust alike, and that special or saving grace imparted only to God’s elect. The Bible affirms, “The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works” (Ps. 145:9). However, “he sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them” (Ps. 147:19–20).

Scripture’s uniqueness as a means of grace lies in its very nature: “The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword … a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). However, because of the unbelief, ignorance, and darkness of our fallen, corrupted hearts, the Holy Spirit alone makes the reading and preaching of the Word effectual as a means of grace, using the Word to enlighten our darkness, working faith in our hearts, and enabling us to receive Christ as Savior and to serve Him as Lord.

Other means of grace are subordinate to God’s Word. Holy baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the Word of God made visible to confirm the truth of God’s promises to us. Prayer is a means by which those promises are invoked by believers, to “obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Praise is a means by which God’s grace, the Word of Christ dwelling in our hearts, is poured forth in thanksgiving to God as we sing the “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” included in the canon of Scripture at the direction of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18–21; Col. 3:16).

We must never attribute efficacy to the means themselves and the bare use of them. The water of baptism cannot wash away sins. The bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are not and cannot become the life-giving flesh and blood of Christ. A man’s Christianity is not to be measured by the number of sermons he has heard or prayers he has recited. It is possible to do all the right things without a believing heart: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Even so, those who believe that God has instituted these means of grace make diligent use of them.

The church must give first place to the sound preaching of the Word. Her members should hear such preaching with faith and submission, desiring to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed therein. The sacraments should be administered only in conjunction with such preaching, and must be received in faith by all who would profit from them. To pray effectively, our minds must be filled with the truth of God’s Word. To praise acceptably, our hearts must be filled with the Word of Christ and with the Holy Spirit.