4 Resources on the Means of Grace

A theological understanding of the Ordinary Means of Grace is what every Christian generation needs. This is particularly true in our day when so many churches have abandoned the Ordinary Means (Preaching, Sacraments, and Prayer) for secondary means, church growth strategies, or programs. A clear understanding that there are particular means, or mechanisms that the Scripture identifies, which Christ ordained to grow His people in grace, and which He promises to bless, is absolutely necessary. Some helpful starting points for this might be:

1. A Survey of Systematic Theologians

In their respective treatments of Systematic Theology or Dogmatics, Herman Bavinck, Louis Berkhof, and Charles Hodge offer helpful descriptions and definitions from Scripture regarding the Ordinary Means of Grace. Picking up a copy of any one of these works will give the reader an opportunity to relatively quickly consider the Scriptural nature of this doctrine, and thus its importance.

2. The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin

Many would argue Calvin belongs under number one above, as a noteworthy read on the topic of Preaching, Sacraments and Prayer. I separate it here given its age, historic connection to early Reformed theology, and its place as a foundation for most Reformed writers to come. In addition, consider Calvin’s sermons and commentary on various related biblical passages or topics. He combines a theological treatment with a rich pastoral application for the believer. For instance, in one little work on the Lord’s Supper he writes with theological and practical importance: “We can therefore say, that in it the Lord displays to us all the treasures of his spiritual grace, inasmuch as he associates us in all the blessings and riches of our Lord Jesus. Let us recollect, then, that the Supper is given us as a mirror in which we may contemplate Jesus Christ crucified in order to deliver us from condemnation, and raised again in, order to procure for us righteousness and eternal life. It is indeed true that this same grace is offered us by the gospel, yet as in the Supper we have more ample certainty, and fuller enjoyment of it, with good cause do we recognise this fruit as coming from it.”[1]

3. The Puritans

The Puritans discussed the Ordinary Means of Grace all throughout their writings. There are some examples where they wrote entire works on the subject, like Thomas Watson’s The Lord’s Supper. However, there are also sprinklings of this theological doctrine throughout various non-topical works. For instance, in his work on the Gospel and Sanctification, Walter Marshall writes, ““The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to remind you that Christ’s body and blood are bread and drink, a totally sufficient food to nourish your soul to everlasting life.  Take, eat, and drink of him by faith.  This will assure you that when you truly believe in him, he is as closely united to you by His Spirit as the food you eat and drink is united to you body.”[2] With theological clarity and practical application, these kinds of statements are all through the writings of the Puritans and are an instructive balm to the soul of the believer in need of soul-nourishing truth.

4. The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace: More Than a Memory, Richard Barcellos

Richard Barcellos’ treatment on the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace is a very helpful, modern exegetical work on what the Lord Supper is (a means of grace), and what it isn’t (just a memory). It is a helpful work, and a work by a Baptist scholar, which helps to demonstrate what the text of Scripture says the Lord’s Supper is.

Many have written on this topic. It is one that many Baptists today know nothing of, even though it was a foundation of our history (see for instance BAPTIST CATECHISM 1693: “Q. 96. How is the Word made effectual to salvation? A. The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith unto salvation.” Or for instance, the early Particular Baptists and their writings on the subject (ex. Early Puritan Baptist- Hanserd Knollys, “Christ and his Saints, do enjoy mutual communion and spiritual fellowship one with another, at the Lords Supper…Christ sups with his saints, and the saints Sup with Christ…”[3]). In my own thinking and writings on the subject, the above-mentioned resources have been so very helpful. Tolle Lege.

 


[1] http://www.the-highway.com/supper1_Calvin.html    #10

[2] Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Modern English Version by Bruce McRae, “The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

[3] Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies 2015, article by G. Stephen Weaver, Jr.

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