Definition of the Means of Grace

Discussion in 'Covenant Theology' started by WildWolf1, Aug 6, 2019.

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  1. WildWolf1

    WildWolf1 Puritan Board Freshman

    I need a proper definition as found in the creeds or Calvin's Institutes and so on. I'm working on a sermon outline and could really use some help. Thanks a lot.
  2. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

  3. Timmay

    Timmay Puritan Board Freshman

    I read through your old post. Some questions.

    1. What is meant by grace in this context?

    2. What is meant by “communicating” said grace?

    3. The WCF uses the word “especially” and then lists the means of grace. Today using that word could imply primacy or importance but leave room open for other means of grace. Is that what the statement is saying?

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  4. Chad Hutson

    Chad Hutson Puritan Board Freshman

    “Experience will tell every Christian that the more strictly, and closely, and constantly he walketh with God, the stronger he groweth in duty. Infused habits are advantaged by exercise. As the fire that kindled the wood for sacrifices upon the altar first came down from heaven, but then was to be kept alive by the care and labour of the priests, so the habits of spiritual grace are indeed infused from God, and must be maintained by daily influences from God, yet with a concurrence also of our own labours, in waiting upon God, and exercising ourselves with godliness; and the more a Christian doth so exercise himself, the more strong he shall grow.”—Collinges on Providence. 1678.
    Also, read J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (London: William Hunt and Company, 1889) chapter VI, section III. Bishop Ryle details differences between public and private means of grace.
  5. Ryan&Amber2013

    Ryan&Amber2013 Puritan Board Junior

    The proper means of grace refer to those things God promises to bless and grow His people with (Word, sacraments, prayer, fellowship). But in a broader spectrum, means of grace are anything God uses to bless His people. For example, suffering or raising children could be seen as a means of grace if God grows us through them.
  6. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    1. As I exposited the WSC 88 at the end of the first section, "by 'grace' we intend the benefits of redemption." And in the section dealing with the Word, I wrote: "in giving us grace, God gives us himself." So, we may speak of grace in this context in terms of salvation, and particular essentials of it such as justification and sanctification (ala the "golden chain of redemption, Rom.8:29-30); and we may speak of such grace as inseparable from the Person of Christ, of whom and through whom is all that salvation ours--in Christ, in covenant. Those benefits are entirely in him (see Eph.1:3-14, repeatedly).

    2. If I am communicating with you, we are engaged in some kind of exchange of value, at its most simple: a verbal exchange. When I communicate something to you, I am sending you some information-laden content. The latter is more of a one-sided description. When WSC 88 describes God as "communicat[ing] to us the benefits of redemption" using "outward and ordinary means," we confess that the Word, sacraments, and prayer are the standard, not-flashy-but-very-effective vehicles God uses--according to his clear and explicit gospel promise--to put salvation "in our hands;" or expressed another way, to define, establish, and maintain a real and ongoing personal and intimate relationship between him and believers in him.

    3. I do not believe that multiplication of (in particular) the "outward and ordinary means" is intended by the term "especially," as if there were so many other, or potential, means of grace. There are extraordinary communications by God to certain individuals, events we would generally class under the heading of "miraculous." We aren't promised anything miraculous in the Bible, outside of the raising of dead souls to new life in Christ; and the most common avenue for that wondrous work is the "foolishness of preaching," 1Cor.1:21. Though, God is free to communicate in any way he sees fit, even contrary to nature and his other divine habits. But contrasting ordinary and extraordinary is not the aim of the term.

    The "ordinances" of Christ are a broader category of his gifts and counsels. They would include things such as the government or ministry he has set up for his church's sake. We can see how the existence of said ministry facilitates the communication of word and sacrament to his people. But rather than (in our Reformed understanding) multiplying means of grace, and for example regarding those human instruments ordained for disbursement of his gifts as though so essential to the primary gifts, as though equivalent to the outward and ordinary means of grace; the term "especially" designates and defines the principal gifts, which reliably convey the benefits of redemption to God's elect. However much good and importance we ascribe to ministers or any other ordinance of Christ beside the special ones considered, the former are forever distinct from the uniqueness of the latter: the ordinary means of grace--word, sacraments, and prayer.

    With due respect to Ryan's good intention (post above mine), I refrain from any use of the technical term "means of grace" to refer to God's manifold ways of blessing his people more broadly (refer back to item #1)

    I hope this explanation is helpful and answers your question.
  7. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Junior


    Let me encourage you to create a signature for posting on the board. They help us know a little about the people with whom we're interacting.

    One thing your signature would tell us is your denominational affiliation (e.g. Presbyterian, Baptist). That can be valuable when answering questions like yours.

    The Baptist Catechism for instance (adapted from the Shorter Catechism with slight modification) defines the means of grace in this way:

    The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, baptism, the Lord’s supper, and prayer; all which means are made effectual to the elect for salvation (Mt. 28:19, 20; Acts 2:42, 46, 47).
  8. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    I appreciate Berkhof's discussion of how the Word is a means of grace. (Unlike him, though, I typically think of prayer as making the short list of means.) From his Manual:

    The term "means of grace" is sometimes used in a very general sense to denote whatsoever may minister to the spiritual welfare of believers, such as the Church, the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, the sabbath prayer, etc. It is generally employed in a more restricted sense, however, as a designation of the Word of God and the sacraments. Strictly speaking, only these two can be regarded as means of grace. When we speak of the Word as a means of grace, we do not think of the personal Word (the second person in the Trinity, John 1:1 ff), nor of the word of power by which all things were created and are maintained, Ps. 33:6; Heb. 1:3, nor of any kind of revelation such as the prophets received; but very specifically of the Word of God as it is contained in Scripture and as it is preached to the Church. It is the word of God's grace, and as such the most important means of grace. While the emphasis falls on the Word as it is preached in the name of God, it may also be brought to men in other ways: in the home and in the school, by means of conversation and literature. While the sacraments can only be administered in the Church by a lawful minister, the Word of God can be carried out into the world by all believers and operate in many different ways.
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