December 18: Van Horn on Westminster Doctrines

“To God’s Glory” : A Practical Study of a Doctrine of the Westminster Standards
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

THE SUBJECT : The Means of Grace

THE BIBLE VERSES TO READ : Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:42, 46; I Tim. 4:16; I Cor. 1:21; Eph. 5:19-20; Eph. 6:17-18.

REFERENCE TO THE STANDARDS : Confession : XXI, XXVI-XXIX; Larger Catechism : Q. 178-195; 153-177; Shorter Catechism : Q. 88-107.

The “Means of Grace” are words seldom heard in our churches today. In the Presbyterian tradition of our forefathers, those in the pew heard much of the means of grace. Any child in the church of that day could recite what made up the means of grace, for the child knew the 88th Question and Answer to the Shorter Catechism : “. . .His ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer.”

As those subscribing to the Reformed Faith, we do not think of the means of grace as the Roman Catholic Church thinks of them, that of rites which have the power to confer grace. Rather, the Reformed Faith has always thought of them as those means appointed by God for the purpose of conveying His grace. The manner of conveying the grace comes through the power of the Holy Spirit.

One of the problems we have in many of our churches today is that we default in our emphasis on the means of grace. We have sought to replace the means of grace with subjective experience, in whatever way such experience is used in our churches. We forget we must use the means God has appointed and other means are not Biblical. We dare not seek to substitute excitement, popularity, success, or whatever, for the means God has ordained to convey His grace to His children.

The difficulty always presents itself when the believer does not make proper use of the means of grace. Whether by disuse, or whether by a lack of use, the resulting effect will be a life that is not pleasing to the Lord.

Peter makes this very plain when he states, “That ye may be mindful (care for) of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Savior : Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts.” (II Peter 3:2, 21).

In these days of lack of doctrinal integrity, there needs to be a return to the proper use of the means of grace in those churches subscribing to the Reformed Faith. There needs to be a proper understanding of their importance. There needs to be a proper use made of them. There needs to be a proper recognition from where they come, even the Sovereign God Himself.

How can we best make use of the means of grace? We would suggest three methods that might be helpful to us. We pray that God might use these three methods, all to His glory!

First, we must be persuaded that it is important that we know them and make use of them. This is probably our first and great mistake. We might have intellectual knowledge of them. We might be able to state from memory that the means of grace are The Word, Sacraments, and Prayer. But we must realize they come from God, that their efficacy depends solely on God, not on man. This is one of the greatest dangers facing us today, a false view of the means of grace that motivates people to believe God’s grace will come through human, subjective sources.

Second, we must prepare ourselves in order that God’s means of grace will find good soil in which to work in our hearts. We cannot expect God to work in unprepared hearts, hearts that are harboring sin. We must prepare ourselves for their use by saying with Paul, “Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly, in this present world.” (Titus 2:12). How many sermons are preached to those who come unprepared? How many times do Saturday night festivities work against the preaching of God’s Word on Sunday morning? This is just one example of how we deny the means of grace in our lives.

Third, we must make use of the means of grace. This means we must use them! We must be constantly studying God’s Word, making certain that each day finds us giving time to it. We should never miss an opportunity to partake of the Lord’s Supper and we should always keep our covenant vows made at baptism. We should pray without ceasing, knowing full well that a life void of prayer will be a fruitless life.

The Word! The Sacraments! Prayer! These are the means of grace and we have a holy responsibility to make use of them, all to the glory of God.

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