Exposition of LC 153, The Means of Grace by which Redemption communicated…
This week we begin a new series in the Theology Piety and Practice Articles (TPP). This series will focus on the means of grace, that is the means God has appointed to grow his church. Basically they can be summarized as God’s word and our response in prayer. Word and Prayer makes up the dialogue in worship, and summarizes the Christian life. Summaries are helpful because they give us hooks to hang other concepts things on. These “hooks” or Word and prayer give us context for the means of grace. These “hooks” are a good place to start, but we don’t want to end up there. They are necessarily just a starting place.
Therefore, the goal of this series is to understand the nuts and bolts of our worship services, family worship, and personal devotions. However, we need a larger analogy and context to fit these nuts and bolts into. This is like when you have something that “has some assembly required.” You usually get instructions that come along with it. Every piece that comes with it has its place, and without the manual you cannot figure out where they go. I don’t know how many projects I have started where I look at the end product picture on the box, finish it up completely, and then have five or six extra parts left over. That is not a good thing. And I got myself in trouble by just feeling my way through it rather than consulting the instruction manual.
Similarly, there is a larger context to our growth. That context is sin. The context is not that we are okay but just need to grow out of sin. Our desire to sin continues until the day we die. So the constant struggle is not just overcoming little pecadillos, but it is killing the old nature which still lives within us. This is the context in which the Larger catechism begins its instruction on the nature of Christian growth (the Larger Catechism can be found on our website, Here: http://www.ecpres.org/what-we-believe/).
Larger Catechism 153 Reads
Q. 153. What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us by reason of the transgression of the law?
A. That we may escape the wrath and curse of God due to us by reason of the transgression of the law, he requireth of us repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and the diligent use of the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation.
Let me clarify what this is saying. First, the context is sin. The Catechism has just spent Questions 99-152 explaining the Ten Commandments. The Commandments show us our sin because they show us how profoundly we fail to keep all the commandments. The use of the Law for the believer has two functions.1. mortifying/killing the old nature; and 2. Instructing us on how to serve God as a result of the salvation he worked on our behalf. It breaks up the old man, and it spurs us on to love and good works out of our love for Christ.
Secondly, notice that the Catechism went on to explain the things God “requires of us to escape his wrath and sin.” These are repentance toward God, faith in the Lord Jesus, and use of the outward means. Most people would gladly say “Amen” to the first two, but then puzzle over what in the world that third one is! God using means rather than directly acting upon us is necessarily offensive to our sensibilities. Why is “diligent us of the means of grace” so important? The answer lies partly in the clause that follows, “whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation.” This goes back to the last few weeks of these TPP articles. Christ communicates or applies what he earned as a our mediator to us by the Holy Spirit. However, the Holy Spirit does not just do this willy nilly. He uses definite “means.”
Let me illustrate. One of the wonderfully confusing passages in the New Testament is when Jesus heals the blind man by sitting on the ground, making mud out of the spit, and then rubbing the spittle mud on the eyes of the blind man, which results in his partial sight, which Jesus then perfect by spitting directly on the man’s face! I believe the meaning of the text is that God uses means in order to accomplish his tasks. Here, Christ took on flesh (the first means of the man’s salvation) and then he used mud to make the man see. Now, I am not trying to advocate spittle-mud-eye-rubbing-healing-ceremonies as an element in our worship services, but simply pointing out the offensiveness to our sensibilities that God would use ordinary things to do his work.
Thomas Vincent said this about the ordinary means,
“The ordinances are called ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, because the Lord hath not wholly limited and bound himself unto his ordnances; for he can in an extraordinary way bring some out of the state of nature into a state of grace; as Paul, who was converted by a light and a voice from heaven: but the ordnances are the most usual way and means of conversion and salvation, without the use of which we cannot, upon good ground, expect that any benefit of redemption should be communicated to us.” (The Shorter Catechism Explained From Scripture, 234)
So, God can work in extraordinary ways. But apart from lights and voices from heaven. These are the means he uses. And thus we seek Christ through them.