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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Means of Grace
a convenient but unscientific and unscriptural phrase for those exercises or agencies which become the channel or occasion of spiritual influences to the Christian. The doctrine concerning the means of grace is based on that of grace itself. It has only received its adequate form through the Reformation, which, in opposition to the Roman Church, who considers that grace is imparted by the visible Church, particularly by the priest, asserts as the only regular means of grace the Word of God and the sacraments instituted by Christ. In popular language, however, the term "means of grace" is extended so as to include those duties which we perform for the purpose of improving our minds, affecting our hearts, and of obtaining spiritual blessings; such as hearing the Gospel, reading the Scriptures, self-examination, meditation, prayer, praise, Christian conversation, etc. The means are to be used without any reference to merit, solely with a dependence on the divine Being; nor can we ever expect happiness in ourselves, nor be good exemplars to others, while we live in the neglect of them. It is in vain to argue that the divine willingness to bestow grace supersedes the necessity of them, since God has as certainly appointed the means as the end. Besides, he himself generally works by them, and the more means he thinks proper to use, the more he displays his glorious perfections. Jesus Christ, when on earth, used means; he prayed, he exhorted, and did good, by going from place to place. Indeed, the systems of nature, providence, and grace are all carried on by means. The Scriptures abound with exhortations to them (Matthew 5; Romans 12), and none but enthusiasts or immoral characters ever refuse to use them. In the following article we use the term in its more restricted sense, as related to the sacramental controversy between Roman Catholics and Protestants, condensing the statements in Herzog's Real Encyklop. v. 200 sq.
The starting-point of the Protestant doctrine on this subject is contained in the fifth article of the Confession of Augsburg. Grace itself is presupposed, such as exists in the form of justification by faith. The hearing of the Word and the partaking of the sacraments are methods of arriving at this faith: "Nam per verbum et sacramenta, tamquam per instrumenta donatur Spiritus Sanctus, qmii fidem afficit, ubi et quando visum est Deo in iis, qui audiunt Evangelium," etc. To this. statement is joined the declaration, "Damnant Anabaptistas et alios, qui sentiunt, Spiritum Sanctum. contingere sine verbo externo hominibus per ipsorum praeparationes ad opera." The Heidelberg Catechism enounces the same doctrine, and at the same time states still more emphatically the connection between the sacraments and the Word of God in quest. 65: "Whence comes saving grace? It is the effect of the Holy Spirit in our heart by means of the preaching of the holy Gospel, and confirmed by the use of the holy sacraments." (The most important passages of symbols on this point are Apoleg. 4:153; Artic. Smalc. pars 2:2,:8; Catechism. maj. Praeceptum iii, p. 426; .Symbol. apost. p. 502; Formul. conc. Epitome: "De lib. arbitr." Negativa vi; Solid. decl. p. 655, 669, 828; Conf. Helv. ii, c. 1; Conf Gall. art. 25, 35; Conf; Belg. art. 24.) The means of grace are called instrumenta gratice, media, adminicula gratice. In the Lutheran Church the union between the Word and the sacraments is made much closer than in the Reformed. The Helvetic Confession treats of the Word of God in the first-chapter, and of the sacraments in the nineteenth.
The reason of this separation is that the Bible, as the Word of God, is the foundation of the whole system. Yet their connection. and union are not lost sight of: "Praedicationi verbi sui adjunxit Deus imox ab initio in ecclesia sua sacramenta, velsigna sacramentalia." The idea of the unity of the means of grace is not considered by the evangelical Church as only a formal, human, or theological connection between the Word of God, baptism, and the Lord's Supper, but as the consequence of a divine act, the institution of the Church and of the ecclesiastical office. The means of grace are not mere possessions of the Church, but its foundation itself. The Church is called into existence by the Word of God, while by baptism and communion it is manifested as a religious community (see Conf. Aug. art. vii). Schleiermacher himself recognised in them the essential and unchangeable foundations of the Church (ii, § 127). ‘ Thus he contradicts himself when further on, treating of,the connection between baptism and the Lord's Supper, he refuses to consider it as an actual dogmatic point (p. -A16). The unity of the means of grace may be briefly said to consist in their constituting the Church as the organ of transmission of grace.
The inner ground of their unity is grace itself, of which they are the channels; the outer aspect is the ministerium, the office appointed by Christ, which has to administer both forms of the means of grace. This brings us to the significance and necessity of these means of grace, or to the views of the Protestant Church as opposed to the Roman Catholic Church on these points. ‘ The first point of difference lies in the conception of the ecclesiastical office. Both, indeed, consider it as a divine institution, but the Protestants look upon it as a ministerium, which can be considered as a continuous Christian working of the Church in the Word and sacraments, while the Roman Catholics retain the idea of a sacerdotium forming the real fundamental means of grace, and creating itself the distinct means of grace after the manner of the apostles (see Dieringer. Lehrbuch d. Kath. Dogmatik, p. 512), "The substitution of the Son of man by the apostleship." If its sacerdotal character is susceptible of being. defended by Scripture and tradition, it yet is certain that it is only through tradition that it obtained this superior .,importance, as capable of creating the other means of grace., The practical results of this superior importance became manifest in the prohibition to read the Bible, the refusal of the chalice in communion, etc., thus diminishing the other means of grace, while they were increased on the other hand by the promulgation of the commandments of the Church, and the institution of additional sacraments; and also modified in the doctrine of the sacrificial character of the Eucharist, etc. Thus the Protestant doctrine of the means of grace differs at once from the Roman Catholic, by its conception of a ministerium in the place of a sacerdotium. They next differ in the relative position they assign to the means of grace. ‘ Protestants maintain that this grace is first communicated through the Word of God, and confirmed by the sacraments; Roman Catholics, on the contrary, consider the sacraments as the chief means of grace, and the Word of God as accessory. Then, as regards the Word of God, Protestants consider it as consisting essentially in Scripture, together with explanations, while by it Roman Catholics understand only the praedicatio verbi. The latter also increase the number off sacraments, and recognise other means of grace. On these points, (See WORD OF GOD) and (See SACRAMENTS).
Another distinction is the difference in which the means of grace themselves are apprehended in their connection with grace and forgiveness. According to the Concil. Trident., sess. 7, the sacraments work ex opere operato, a doctrine which the Conf. Aug. art. xiii, rejects. We must, of course, refer to Roman Catholic theologians to find the sense which that Church attaches to the opus operatum (Bellarmine, De sacr. 2:1). According to them, infant baptism is efficient in itself to regenerate them, without any resistance being for a moment to be thought of. The opposition of adults to baptism,' confession, and the mass could only consist in an obstacle (ponere obicem), a deceitful hiding of a mortal sin, and the persistence in it, for absolution presupposes a full and candid confession. But a passive faith as saving faith, in the Protestant sense, is not required to give efficiency to the sacraments. We might then suppose that the Word would here, as a means of grace, be placed before the sacrament, and produce conversion, which would insure the effect of the sacrament. But we must remember that, for the most part, Roman Catholics are such from being born of Roman Catholic parents. Of converts themselves nothing further is demanded than that they should have enough fides. implicita in the word-announced to them to .submit to the authority of the Church; History teaches us how even the word itself may become the opus operatum.
In opposition to the Roman Catholic Church, Protestants generally draw a distinction between grace and the means of grace, although they recognise their relation. We must, however, distinguish between such as reject altogether the necessity and ordinance of the means of grace, and those who recognise as such the Word of God but not the sacraments. Among the former we find in the time of the Reformation the Anabaptists, in later times the Quakers. They maintain that the Holy Spirit, without the aid of the Word, illuminates each man immediately by an inner light at a certain time, and that by it only is-man able to understand the Word of God (see Barclay, Apol.). Still it would be unjust to say that they altogether reject the notion of means, of grace, for the Quakers are especially distinguished for diligent searching of the Scriptures." But they ‘ deny the' existence of divinely-ordained,' special means of grace of the Church. The Socinians and Mennonites, on the other hand, consider, in a certain sense, the Word of God as an objective means of grace; the former considering the sacraments purely as symbols of the Christian faith (cerimoniae), while the Mennonites consider them also as objective signs of the action of grace (Riz, Conf. art. 30). Here also we miss the objective character of the means of grace, but we find it again among the Arminians. ‘ Necessarily as the sphere of action of the sacraments is restricted as means of grace, that of grace itself, as immediately active, becomes enlarged; this we see exemplified in the doctrine of restoration of the Anabaptiste, in the Quaker doctrine of the action of the revealing Spirit ("Deus spiritus revel latione se ipsum semper filiis hominum patefecit," Barclay, Apol. thes. ii), and in the Socinian notion of an extraordinary and special action of the divine Spirit aside from its general action through the Gospel (Osterodt, Unferricht. K. p. 34). The Protestant Church, in its doctrine of grati praeveniens, recognises, with some, restriction, the truth of these views, but still maintains the necessity of the sacraments.
According to Scripture, the sphere of the gratia praeveniens extends beyond that of the theocratic revelation. The Spirit dwells where it chooses, the Logos shines in all human souls, and the gratia praeveniens is active in all receptive hearts. Yet the prepared soul only arrives to an experimental knowledge of salvation within the sphere of revelation, and to a certainty of it by the ordained means of grace. On this point of the necessity of the means of grace, the difference, such as it is, which exists between the Lutheran and the Reformed Church on that doctrine, cannot but appear. The possibility of the spiritual enlightenment of individual members of the Church, sine externo ministerio, is clearly recognised by the Conf Helv. ii, cap. i. Still the article considers it as divinely ordained that it is imparted by the usitata ratio instituendi homines. It insists still more strongly on the necessity of the praedicatio dei verbi, to which, of course, is joined the interna Spiritus illuminatio. But this necessity is defined as a necessitas precaepti, non absoluta, i.e.. God, in the work of redemption, is not confined to these means, as is proved by the prophets and by revelation, but, in consideration of the weakness of our nature, has appointed these means (see Schweizer, Glaubenslehre d. ec . ref. Kirche, 2:561). Luther, on the contrary, refers even the inspiration of the prophets to the verbum vocale (Art. Smal. p. 333). Another difference consists in the close connection existing in the Lutheran Church between the sacrament and the Word, while in the Reformed theology the Word takes the prominent position as the causa instrumentalis fidei (see Ebrard, Christliche Dogmatik, p. 578). The Lutheran Church teaches an organic joint action of grace and the means of grace, without, however, making them identical.
The Reformed Lutherans understand only an; economic joint action, which, however, does not exclude irregularities or rather exceptions. As regards the Word of God, the Lutheran theologians strongly uphold its effcacia, and Calovius and Quenstedt speak of a unio mystica gratice sive virtutis divince cum verbo (see Hahn, Lehrbuch, p. 549). At this point orthodoxy approaches the idea of the opus operatum (see Lange, Dogmatik, p. 1119). According to Reformed theology, the connection of the Spirit with the Word is conditioned by the number of the elect among the number of hearers, while the Heidelberg Catechism, holds that the Spirit awakens faith in our heart through the preaching of the holy Gospel. According to Nitzsch, the point of union of the two confessions on this doctrine lies in the conception of the pignus. We further notice that the Reformed Church does not insist as strongly on the necessity of baptism as the Lutheran. The Confessio Scotica (p. 127) emphatically rejects the Roman Catholic doctrine of the damnation of children dying without baptism; so does also Calvin, in his Instit. 4:16, 26. As regards the connection between baptism and regeneration, the twenty-seventh article of the Conf. Anglic. takes a middle course, saying that baptism is a signum regenerationis per quod recte baptismum suscipientes ecclesiis inseruntur. By this is meant that the ecclesiastic, social regeneration is accomplished, the individual, social regeneration made thereby perceptible to the senses, and sacramentally promised. (See REGENERATION).
With regard to the action and the necessity of the means of grace, the differences of the different confessions come again into play. While the evangelical churches teach that the sacraments are agents of sanctification for those who receive them with faith, strengthening and increasing that faith, the Roman Catholic holds that they are the agents of faith, requiring none to be worthily participated in beyond faith in the authority of the Church, and that mortal sin alone can render them ineffectual, and the Baptists and Socinians look upon the participation in the sacraments only as outward acts, professions of the Christian faith,
In dogmatics, the means of grace represent the eternal presence of Christ in the spiritual Church, and through her in the world. In his institutions, Christ, by the Holy Spirit, identifies himself with them, and in his eternal presence draws the world to his salvation. The Word and the sacraments are inseparably connected with each other the Word receives its fulfillment and seal in the sacrament, while the sacrament receives light and spiritual life from the creative power of the Word. The Word, without the seal of the sacrament, is only a scholastic knowledge; the sacrament, without the vivifying influence of the Word, is a piece of priestly magic. But though the means of grace, in their connection with the Holy Spirit, set at work the saving power of the life of Christ, as a participation in his salvation, still they must be preceded by faith, since Christ required faith when personally present on earth. Yet he no more requires a perfect faith than he compels to believe. Those who ask shall receive. (See SACRAMENT).
See Fletcher, Works; Wesley, Works; Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines; Winer, Symbol. p. 113; Kurtz, Ch. Hist. vol. i; Niedner, Philos. p. 441.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Means of Grace'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/m/means-of-grace.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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