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MEANS OF GRACE.
PROVERBS VIIL 34.
"Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors."
The speaker throughout this chapter is wisdom, by whom we are most probably to understand Christ, acting in his prophetical office. By the expressions in the text,
Watching at my gates," and "waiting at the posts of my doors," we are undoubtedly to understand a diligent use of the means of grace. To those who use these means aright, a blessing is promised. "Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors."
These words thus understood may lead us to speak of the means of grace.
The outward and ordinary means of grace we have stated in the answer to the 88th question of our Catechism. "What are the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?
The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ comunicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all of which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
The application of redemption, or the production and maintenance in the soul, of those graces which are necessary to salvation, is a divine work. This is abundantly evident from the Scriptures. As from the following passa ges among others: "Except a man be born of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God;" John iii. 5. "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God;" John i. 12, 13. "By grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not
of yourselves; it is the gift of God;" Eph. ii. 8. " Hin (viz. Christ) hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance;" Acts v. 31. From these and many other texts it is clearly evident, that these graces to which the promises of life ure made, are not produced by the mere natural powers of sinful man, but by God himself.
But nevertheless the Lord uses means in this work. He could work without means. He could convince and convert the sinner, and work and maintain in him all those graces which are necessary to salvation, without means, if he thought proper. But he has determined ordinarily to work by means; and we have not the least ground to hope for the divine blessing, while we live in the neglect of those means which he hath thought proper to appoint. That God has determined to work by means in the application of redemption to the souls of sinners, the Scriptures clearly teach. When Cornelius was to be instructed into a knowledge of the way of salvation, an angel was sent to him, not to give him the necessary information, which he might easily have done, but to direct him to send for Peter a minister of Christ. When the Lord had a work to do in Macedonia, Paul was in a vision directed to go thither. And we are told, "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe;" 1 Cor. i. 21. And, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God;" Rom. x. 17. And, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God;" 1 Pet. i. 23.
The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances; or such means as he hath ordained and appointed in his word, and commanded to be observed, and no other. In using other means than those which God hath appointed, because we suppose they are calculated to affect the passions, and bring men to embrace salvation, or carry on this work where it is begun, we have no right to expect they will do us good, and produce a saving effect; for as has been shown, means become effectual only by the blessing of God, and he knows what means are best, and he has instituted those means, which in his infinite wisdom he judged to be best; and it is an impeachment of his wisdom, when, as has often been done, men contrive others.
Yea, we not only have no reason to expect that God will bless such ordinances as have been invented by men, and not instituted by himself; but on the contrary, we have every reason to believe that he will be displeased. For this our Saviour condemned the Pharisees, when he said, " in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men;" Mat. xv. 9. And again we read, "why are ye subject to ordinances, after the commandments and doctrines, of men? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship;" Col. ii. 20, 22, 23. Such is the system of papal superstition, as the use of images, worshipping the host or consecrated elements in the Eucharist, their frequent holidays, abstaining from certain kinds of food at certain seasons, and on certain days, and a great many more superstitions, customs, and ordinances which are the invention of men, and not authorized by the word of God. To those who observe these ordinances of human invention, God saith, "who hath required this at your hand;" Is. i. 12.
The means of grace are therefore, not the ordinances which have been invented by men; but those which God hath appointed in his word. These are, especially, the word, sacraments, and prayer. These are the principal ordinances, by which Christ communicateth the benefits of his redemption. There are others, which are not mentioned, in the answer in the Catechism which we are now considering Such are singing the praises of God, occasional fasting and thanksgiving, when called to them by the Providence of God, and church discipline. The Scriptures clearly teach, that these are odinances of God's appointment. But the word, sacraments, and prayer are the principal.
These ordinances are made effectual, by the power of God alone. If he bless in the use of them, they will prove effectual to the salvation of the soul; but if he does not add his special blessing, they will prove ineffectual. This is the doctrine of our Catechism as contained in the answer to the 89th question.
"How is the word made effectual to salvation?
The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and building them up in holiness, and comfort through faith unto salvation."
So also with respect to the sacraments in the answer to the 91st question, their efficacy is ascribed entirely to a divine power.
"How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them, but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his spirit in them, that by faith receive them."
This doctrine, that the means of grace become effectual only by the power of God, is clearly proved, by observation, experience, and the word of God."
Our constant observation proves it. For among persons of the same character, and sitting under the same means, we see the means prove to some effectual, and to others not. To some they prove a savour of life, and to others a savour of death; and under them some are softened, while others are hardened. These things prove that there is no virtue in means themselves to render them effectual; for if there was, in similar circumstances, they would produce a similar effect. The experience also of those to whom the means of grace have been blessed, proves that they are rendered effectual by the power of God; for they will uniformly acknowledge that the work was the Lord's. And the Scriptures repeatedly teach us this doctrine. The Lord spake by Isaiah, "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I send it ;" Is. Lv. 11. When Lydia sat under the means of grace, with the other women that were assembled with her, she was convinced and converted; but we do not learn that this was the case with any of the others. The reason is given, why the word proved effectual to Lydia, "The Lord opened her heart, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul;" Acts xvi. 14. In the 1st Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians we read, "Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption;" 1 Cor. i. 30. In this passage the whole. work of Salvation, from beginning to end, is ascribed to God. In the same Epistle we again read, "I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then
neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase;" 1 Cor. iii. 6, 7. Hence it is clearly evident that the means of grace become effectual by the power of God alone; and unless this power accompanies them, they will prove ineffectual.
But notwithstanding the increase, or the effect of means, is of God, still it is our duty to use them, and we have not the least ground to expect the divine blessing in the neglect of them.
With respect to the unconverted, although means, of themselves will never convert them, neither will they convert themselves in the use of means, nor is there any certainty that if they do externally wait upon the means, that God will convert them in the use of them; yet there is much more hope, that they will be converted under the means of grace, than when they withdraw from them.Both the word of God and constant observation prove the truth of this. God has commanded the use of them, and this is a sufficient reason why they should be used, although of themselves, they never can convert us. And this command lays a foundation to hope, that the Lord will bless in the use of them. The command of God lays a sufficient foundation for the use of the means of grace, even though we could see no natural connexion between the means and the end. For there was no natural connexion, between the blowing of the ram's horns around the walls of Jericho; but God commanded it, and the Israelites obeyed, and the walls fell. There was also no natural connexion between Ezekiel's prophesying to the dry bones and their living; but God commanded it, the prophet obeyed, and the bones lived. Again there was no natural connexion that we can discover, between Naaman dipping himself seven times in Jordan, and the cure of his leprosy, but God commanded it, and if he had not obeyed, or if he had used other waters, he would not have been healed. So the mere command of God is a sufficient reason why the means should be used, and an encouragement to use them with a hope of receiving benefit, although the means of themselves will never prove ef fectual, and although neither is he that planteth anything, neither is he that watereth; but God that giveth the in