Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Brief Thoughts on the Ordinary Means of Grace

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on August 7, 2013 at 6:44 am

Of Saving Faith

“The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened” (1689 Confession 14.1).

Notice that faith is a grace or gift of God. Faith comes in conjunction with the ministry of the Spirit and Word of God. Faith, once born in the heart, is strengthened through means: the Word of God, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, prayer and other means. The means of grace are God’s delivery systems, ordained conduits, through which grace comes to souls from heaven to the earth. What can we learn from this? Consider three things:

First, we see how redemption accomplished becomes redemption applied. We know from the Bible that our blessed Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, accomplished redemption for us (that is, He purchased all the benefits of redemption – justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification, eternal life]). Redemption has been won; eternal life has been gained. Redemption in all its facets has been accomplished via the life-unto-death obedience of Christ along with the reward of His resurrection and all for us. The Son of God became one of us, for us and for our salvation. All is done! The doctrine of the means of grace explains how accomplished redemption becomes applied redemption. It tells us how acquired grace becomes distributed grace which is actually possessed and personally enjoyed by sinners on the earth. Or we could put it this way: The means of grace are the conduits through which redemption accomplished becomes redemption applied.

Second, we are reminded of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in relation to our exalted Mediator. The doctrine of the means of grace also reminds us of the relationship between our exalted Mediator and the Holy Spirit in relation to accomplished redemption. Grace comes from Christ, who is in heaven, through ordained means utilized on the earth. Purchased grace becomes experienced grace by virtue of what the Holy Spirit does with or through the means of grace. The Spirit of God takes the blessings procured by the incarnate Son of God, who is now in heaven, and brings them special delivery to our souls through the means of grace. In other words, the means of grace do not work on their own; they do not have effective power in themselves. The means must be blessed by God in order to be effectual, in order to actually and really convey grace to us. The means become effectual, they actually convey grace, but only when God blesses them to that end. This is the office of the Holy Spirit; He brings the things won for us by Christ to our souls through means, as and when He pleases.

Third, we are reminded that all of this comes to us in the context of a robust doctrine of the blessed Trinity. The doctrine of the means of grace assumes and illustrates the glorious doctrine of the Trinity; the Father chose us, the Son became one of us to redeem us, and the Holy Spirit applies the fruits of the incarnation to and in us.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

Richard Barcellos
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Palmdale, CA
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  1. […] the Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog, Richard Barcellos writes out some Brief Thoughts on the Means of Grace from the 1689 Confession […]

  2. May I comment on this? I don’t agree with it. The language of means of grace as “conduits through which grace comes to souls” suggests an exclusive “delivery system” of grace. A conduit is exclusive by definition. But this is not what the confession teaches. Rather it presents means as simply “ordinarily” used by God, 5:3 “God, in his ordinary providence maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them at his pleasure.” Among other things a view of means as conduits of grace is contrary to the fact of the direct influences of the Holy Spirit on the regenerate soul absolutely and apart from any particular activity on the part of the believer. Beside this, the Holy Spirit may or may not use virtually anything, including things not expressly ordained to any positive end. Such a supposed conduit of grace must be stretched to be as large as all God’s providence. The working of the Holy Spirit is not narrowly formulaic, ritualistic or sacramental. It is not a “delivery system” of grace we have to do with it is a personal, spiritual indwelling of God’s Spirit. There are ordinary means but the confession does not teach a “delivery system” of grace by means of exclusive “conduits”.

  3. Title changed to reflect wider considerations than my intent with this brief piece. I was considering the church’s means of grace alone, the means established by God for us to employ, the ordinary means.

  4. I have a question: Why does the confession say “[Faith] is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word”. Can faith ever be wrought except by the ministry of the Word?
    Is it formulated this way so as to allow for Infant salvation?

    Thank you,
    Johan Mortensen

  5. A friend and I are currently listening to Jim Gables’ lectures on Pilgrim’s Progress, and we just listened to the exposition of supper in the Palace Beautiful. If we understood brother Gables correctly, he was saying that the way that God revives the zeal of his church is not through a particular sermon but through the Lord’s Supper. We had to scratch our heads at this- I don’t want to validate or reject something purely because of personal experience, but this seems at odds with ours. Which got me to thinking- is the Lord’s Supper more of a means of grace than prayer and the reading and preaching of the Word? I ‘m not including baptism because I think you could make a case that, since it’s normally someone’s first step in public, corporate discipleship, that it’s a greater means of grace.

  6. I think I got my answer from the Baptist Catechism 🙂

    Question 95: What are the outward and ordinary means by which Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?

    Answer: The outward and ordinary means by which Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the Word, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Prayer; all of which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

    Scripture: Romans 10:17; James 1:18; 1 Corinthians 3:5; Acts 14:1; 2:41, 42.
    Question 96: How is the Word made effective for salvation?

    Answer: 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.

    Scripture: Psalm 19:7; 119:11, 18; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Peter 2:1, 2; Romans 1:16.
    Question 97: How is the Word to be read and heard that it may become effective for salvation?

    Answer: That the Word may become effective for salvation we must attend to it with diligence, preparation and prayer, receive it in faith and love, lay it up in our hearts and practice it in our lives.

    Scripture: Proverbs 8:34; 1 Peter 2:1, 2; 1 Timothy 4:13; Hebrews 2:1, 3; 4:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:10; Psalm 119:11; James 1:21, 25.
    Question 98: How do Baptism and the Lord’s Supper become effective means of salvation?

    Answer: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper become effective means of salvation, not from any virtue in them or in him that administers them, but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in those who by faith receive them.

    Scripture: 1 Peter 3:21; 1 Corinthians 3:6, 7; 12:13.
    Question 99: How do Baptism and the Lord’s Supper differ from the other ordinances of God?

    Answer: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper differ from the other ordinances of God in that they were specially instituted by Christ to represent and apply to believers the benefits of the new covenant by visible and outward signs.

    Scripture: Acts 22:16; Matthew 26:26-28; 28:19; Romans 6:4.

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