Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge,to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness,to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Pet. 1:1–11)
Consider an individual in your church. The specific identity of the individual doesn’t matter – male or female, young or old. The only thing that matters is that this person is a professing Christian, baptized, and a member of your assembly. As you contemplate him or her, consider several facts. In the depths of eternity, the triune God elected this person to salvation in Jesus Christ. In human history, this person was purchased by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and called by the Holy Spirit to faith in Christ. From the inception of new life, this individual is being renewed in the image of Jesus Christ, growing in grace and in the knowledge of God, with the result eternal life in God’s kingdom. In reality, two separate but intimately related processes are in view: the conversion of a sinner, and the growing conformity to Christ of that converted sinner. Our interest in this article is really more closely related to the second process – sanctification, than to the first – conversion. Nevertheless, we will make allusion to the first along the way.
The eternal decree of God is not simply an abstract concept, but comes to reality in human history. God infallibly accomplishes his purpose of redemption – men and women are taken from darkness and brought into conformity to Christ. Our question must be, how does this increasing conformity to the Savior happen? There are actually several very different answers proposed to us – some of them fervently promoted and holding sway over the majority of evangelical ministerial practitioners. If we consider the last century or so, we may identify a progressive process in which the development of these differing views may be identified. They are related to each other, and perhaps reflect a logical succession of methodologies. In any case, I wish to identify them briefly, and then explore by way of contrast the method presented in the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (2nd LCF).
When I came to faith in Christ in 1970, I was nurtured in a method at the very heart of fundamentalist/evangelical practice. It seems to me that it is safe to say that this was the reigning method for most of the century in these churches, and it had two focal points. On the one hand, it was oriented towards participation in the life of the church. The normal schedule of events every week, at least for a teenager like me, was Sunday School, Morning Worship, Youth Group and Evening Worship on the Lord’s Day, Mid-week prayer meeting, and a young people’s activity scheduled for Friday or Saturday night. We also very frequently had an evangelism night.All of these events were well-attended; there was a consciousness that much good could come from them, and all of them, except perhaps the youth group activity, were very Bible oriented. We were always listening to someone teach us the Bible. On the other hand, we were all taught that there were three activities essential to our growth as Christians: daily devotions (prayer and Bible reading), tithing, and witnessing. Everyone was encouraged to pursue these personal activities with vigor. I suspect that for many who were raised as Christians in that era, this description is familiar, and brings fond memories of helpful periods of growth in life.
Not everyone was satisfied, however, with the apparent simplicity of this method. The deeper-life movement had long proposed that there was more to the Christian life than participation in these types of things. Critics of the church were promoting extra-ecclesiastical methods, and para-church discipleship ministries were gaining in prominence. In my own home church, an invasion of men from a certain group promoting what they called “discipleship” wreaked havoc, pitting the more spiritual followers of their methods against the main body of church members. Much harm was done. The older evangelical/fundamentalist method was being challenged, and quickly morphed into a new methodology – what has come to be known as the Spiritual Formation movement.
An Internet search using the words “Spiritual Formation” turns up a dizzying array of sites. Anyone familiar with trends in, for example, Christian Education, will recognize that this is one of the great issues of interest in our day. What is it? One website provides a definition:
“Spiritual Formation is the process of God forming the character of Christ in believers by the ministry of the Spirit, in the context of community, and in accordance with biblical values. This process involves the transformation of the whole person, in their thoughts, behaviors, and styles of relating with God and others, resulting in a life of service to others and witness for Christ.
So far, so good. This definition, while perhaps somewhat imprecise, is nonetheless hardly objectionable. But when we pursue an investigation into the method attached to these words, we note a significant change of scope.
Perhaps most important for our interest is the appearance of Richard Foster’s book A Celebration of Discipline in 1978. This book “rang the bell” (to use J.I. Packer’s phrase ) for the Spiritual Formation movement. Foster, a Quaker (and it is very important to remember this), offered “critical insights into how to practice twelve Spiritual Disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.”3 We must notice how Foster’s twelve disciplines turned decidedly upon the individual: now the church was no longer central, it was supplementary. This is no exaggeration. Consider what Foster wrote in May of 2003, in a letter he entitled “On Christian Spiritual Formation.” Under the heading, “Focusing on Spiritual Disciplines,” he says,
“The life we find in the Bible is meant for us. Jesus’ declaration, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” is intended for you and for me (John 10:10). It is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is solid. It is simple. It is serene. It is radiant. But, it is not automatic.
“There is a process, a God-ordained means, to becoming the kind of persons and the kind of communities that can fully and joyfully enter into such abundant living. This is the reason for the Disciplines of the spiritual life. They constitute the way God has given us for intentionally “training ourselves in godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). This is why the Spiritual Disciplines is the third essential focus of Spiritual Formation. [italics mine]
Frankly, no Spiritual Disciplines, no Spiritual Formation. The Disciplines are the God-ordained means by which each of us is enabled to bring the little, individualized power pack we all possess – we call it the human body – and place it before God as “a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). It is the way we go about training in the spiritual life. By means of this process we become, through time and experience, the kind of person who lives naturally and freely in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22, 23).
What are these Spiritual Disciplines I am speaking of? Oh, they are many and varied: fasting and prayer, study and service, submission and solitude, confession and worship, meditation and silence, simplicity, frugality, secrecy, sacrifice, celebration, and the like. The commonly identified public religious activities are important to be sure, but the less commonly practiced activities like solitude and silence and meditation and fasting and submission to the will of others as appropriate are in fact more foundational for Spiritual Formation. All Disciplines should be thoughtfully and resolutely approached for the purpose of forming the life into Christlikeness, or they will have little or no effect in promoting this life. “
These are strong words, but Foster is not alone in saying them. Another leader in the movement wrote in 1999:
“Most of the activities commonly identified as “religious” activities can be a part of the process of spiritual formation, and should be. Public and private worship, study of scripture, nature, and God’s acts in human history, prayer, giving to godly causes, and service to others, can all be highly effective elements in spiritual formation. But they must be thoughtfully and resolutely approached for that purpose, or they will have little or no effect in promoting it.
Other less commonly practiced activities such as fasting, solitude, silence, listening prayer, scripture memorization, frugal living, confession, journaling, submission to the will of others as appropriate, and well-used spiritual direction are in fact more foundational for spiritual formation in Christlikeness than the more well known religious practices, and are essential for their profitable use.”
This is a paradigm shift of great moment. The proponents of the Spiritual Formation movement urge upon believers, as essentials of growth in Christlikeness, a new series of activities, primarily centered on private, personal and individual measures. The church may have a place, but it cannot and does not take on the importance of these other “spiritual disciplines.”
They are so important, that even the more traditional acts of growth in grace are only profitable in the context of a careful pursuit of these disciplines! I cannot resist recasting their argument in Pauline terms, in order to emphasize the stark contrast between what they promote and what we will see is central to the Reformed doctrine of sanctification: If these men are correct, then faith comes by journaling, whatever the Apostle may say.
Those familiar with Foster’s books recognize that he is much enamored with the mystical pietism of the Middle Ages, frequently citing monastic devotional writers as the source for his ideas. In this way, he seeks to give some historical perspective to the promotion of his ideas. He can truthfully say that he is not introducing something new, but rather rediscovering something that has been lost or neglected.
…There seems to be a common thread, and a logical progression to these methodologies. The common thread is the recognition that the Christian life is not stagnation but growth; the logical progression is based on the essentially man-centered nature of this approach to sanctification. When Semi-Pelagian decisionism reigns, all kinds of attendant problems surface. All of these methodologies flow from an essentially Arminian root – men must find something to do the work of God. All of them, even the benign method of traditional evangelicalism, are faulty, and should be rejected.
What do we say to these perspectives? They must be answered. We might approach this question from a variety of viewpoints, but I wish to do so primarily through the lens of the 2nd LCF. As a document from the high water era of Reformation and Protestant theological formulation, it presents us with a well-conceived and well-developed perspective on the issue. Along the way, I shall also make reference to the 1695 edition of the Baptist Catechism, as a supplemental document to the Confession.
In Reformed theology, the expression typically used to describe the process of conversion and growth incorporates the words “the means of grace,” and it is with this concept that I am especially concerned. It seeks to address the question we have already posed – how is a sinner brought to life and especially, to growth in Christ?
The doctrine of means is woven into the theology of the 2nd LCF. The Reformers and their followers recognized that God normally works through processes that can be identified and described. This recognition led them to identify and intertwine the doctrine of means into their theological formulations wherever it was appropriate. We ought not to be surprised when we find that it plays a major role in the Confession.
Let us examine more closely the doctrine as we find it in our Confession. Before doing so, I wish to make explicit one of my presuppositions. It is this: the doctrine of the 2nd LCF is faithful to the doctrine taught in the Word of God. We could spend a great deal of time expounding Scripture in demonstration of our point. Let us acknowledge that our Confession is based on sound exegesis, and thus reflects the truth of the Bible.
We find the doctrine of the means of grace stated explicitly in chapter 14:1.
“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.”
In this statement, both matters of interest are addressed. The faith that brings salvation is the result of Christ’s Spirit working through the ministry of the word, and in those enabled to believe, it is strengthened in the same way.
This statement needs to be considered in detail and serves as an excellent example of the method we should use in reading and understanding our Confession. Notice several things:
• Faith has a direct relationship with election. This causes us to think about the doctrine of the decrees of God, and the outworking of the decrees in the world.
• There is an emphasis placed on the work of the Holy Spirit. We are told that the Spirit, in his sovereign work, enables humans to believe the Gospel, which causes us to think about effectual calling.
• Ordinarily, the Spirit uses the ministry of the word, along with other means to bring this to pass.
• These things have been appointed by God.
All of these deserve thoughtful consideration. We might think of it in these terms – this section of Chapter 14 is like a fruit tree, with beautiful fruit hanging from its branches. The layman sees the fruit, picks it off the tree, and enjoys it. But to the expert, there is much more. As he enters the orchard, fully intending to consider the same fruit, all sorts of information presents itself to his consideration. He notices the topography of the area in which the orchard is located, and makes a mental note of the influence this has on the trees. He knows something of the microclimate, and considers its impact on the fruit. Irrigation, ground water and aquifers all are contemplated, as are such factors as fertilization, pollination, pests, insects, and pesticides. He knows that there is a great deal involved in the process of producing fruit on a tree. Similarly, we need to see that our theological fruit depends on a whole system of theology for its development.
…The Doctrine Of The Ordinary Means Of Grace In The 2nd LCF
The place to begin our study of the means of grace is in the foundational chapters of the Confession, especially the chapter on the decrees of God. As ministers committed to the Reformed faith, we are convinced that the Bible teaches that God is sovereign in all things. We deny the principles of Arminianism and its grotesque step-child Open Theism (i.e., Neo-Socinianism), and rejoice in a universe over which God exercises his infallible lordship. We find great comfort in this doctrine.
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is well expressed in Chapter 2:2, Of God and of the Holy Trinity: “He hath most sovereign dominion over all creatures, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth.” This reign of God is not merely a philosophical concept; it is expressed in the reality of the world by means of his decrees, the topic addressed in the next chapter in the Confession. It says:
“God hath Decreed in himself from all Eternity, by the most wise and holy Counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things whatsoever comes to pass. (2nd LCF 3:1)
By the decree of God for the manifestation of his glory some men and Angels, are predestinated, or foreordained to Eternal Life, through Jesus Christ to the praise of his glorious grace. (2nd LCF 3:3)
As God hath appointed the Elect unto glory, so he hath by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, fore-ordained all the means thereunto, wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ, by his spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation; neither are any other redeemed by Christ, or effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the Elect only. (2nd LCF 3:6) “
The eternal decree does not simply assure that the elect will be saved (by this meaning not simply conversion but the whole process of eschatological salvation) but encompasses all of the means that God uses to bring this to pass. Full conformity to Christ – glorification in his image – is the culmination of a divinely appointed process. It looks back into eternity, recognizing that the sovereign Lord has ensured the result, for his own glory, and by his own method.
But we confess that the decrees of God are not abstract, they take shape in space and time. How does this happen? The Baptist Catechism – based closely on the Westminster Shorter Catechism – asks and answers the question best:
Q. 11. What are the decrees of God?
A. The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, by which for his own glory, he has foreordained whatever comes to pass.
Q. 12. How does God execute his decrees?
A. God executes his decrees in the works of creation and providence.
The sovereignty of God is expressed in the accomplishment of his plan by way of his decrees, and the decrees of God are executed in creation and providence. This relationship is absolutely crucial, and must not be missed or neglected. Since we live in the world created and governed by God’s providence, we must expect that even the matters of our salvation should be addressed under this topic. The 2nd LCF does exactly this. Chapter 3, Of God’s Decree, is immediately followed by Chapter 4, Of Creation, and Chapter 5, Of Divine Providence. The former speaks to the reality of God’s creative act; the latter describes his ongoing relationship with his creation.
At this point, with our minds full of the sovereign glory of God and an understanding of his creative work, we must consider the doctrine of providence. Chapter 5:1 states:
“God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power, and wisdom, doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all Creatures, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were Created.”
The transcendent Lord is also immanent – he rules over his creation. He directs it according to his purpose. Everything has an “end,” a telos for which it was created, and God upholds, directs, disposes and governs, by his most holy providence, all of these things as they move toward that divinely appointed goal. And how does he do this? Chapter 5:3 states, “God in his ordinary Providence maketh use of means; yet is free to work, without, above, and against them at his pleasure.” God has appointed means – processes in this world – by which he ordinarily accomplishes his purpose, i.e., bringing everything to its appointed end.
We must understand this carefully: “God in his ordinary providence maketh use of means.” The doctrine is simple: God has determined that he will use certain created processes as the means to accomplish his will. This is his appointment, and we bow before it. In reality, this statement anticipates several other statements found in the Confession, especially its teaching concerning the means of grace (14:1). God the creator sovereignly governs in and by the use of means. We could say that there are means of nature, and there are means of grace. The means of nature are those processes of the created order, established by God, to accomplish his decrees in the natural world. He determines that at a certain time of the year the leaves will turn color, fall off the trees, land in certain places, decay, and provide nutrients for soil. The Lord governs all of these things, using primary and secondary causes. Likewise, the means of grace are the process established by God to bring to fruition his special and gracious decree of election.
This ought to be no surprise to those of us who love the Reformed faith. We do not believe in an abstract doctrine of election, but a very personal doctrine. We do not believe only in God’s general governance of the world, but his direct and specific governance of the world. This is part and parcel of the Reformed faith. If you are a believer, God has appointed you to eternal life, and he has decreed not just that you will be saved, but also how you will be saved. The doctrine of providence is at the very root of Reformed soteriology.
Notice how the Confession fleshes this out, first in terms of the process of bringing individuals to faith in Christ. In Chapter 20, Of the Gospel, and of the extent of the Grace thereof, a chapter added to the Westminster Confession of Faith by John Owen and the Savoy divines, we read these words:
“The Covenant of Works being broken by Sin, and made unprofitable unto Life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the Seed of the Woman, as the means of calling the Elect, and begetting in them Faith and Repentance; in this Promise, the Gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and therein Effectual, for the Conversion and Salvation of Sinners. (2nd LCF 20:1)”
This is covenantal language, and reflects the notion that God always addresses men by way of covenant. The preaching of the gospel, telling men that they are covenant breakers in Adam and must become covenant keepers in Christ, is the appointed method of “begetting faith and repentance.” It was revealed to Eve after the fall, and has been the central message of human history. But lest it be thought that it is automatic, the Confession adds:
“Although the Gospel be the only outward means, of revealing Christ, and saving Grace; and is, as such, abundantly sufficient thereunto; yet that men who are dead in Trespasses, may be born again, Quickened or Regenerated; there is moreover necessary, an effectual, insuperable work of the Holy Spirit, upon the whole Soul, for the producing in them a new spiritual Life; without which no other means will effect their Conversion unto God. (2nd LCF 20:4) “
Notice that the Holy Spirit must attend the proclamation of the Gospel. Without his blessing on the preached word, there is no divine begetting, and beyond this, nothing – no other means – will be able to bring anyone into new life. God simply does not work this way. The inception of life is utterly dependent on the preaching of the Gospel attended by the Spirit’s blessing. This is the divinely appointed means of conversion. The eternal God, who decrees all things, has established the gospel as the means in time and space of the conversion of individuals.
But the Confession does not stop with the application of this doctrine to conversion. The sovereign Lord has decreed also the means of growth – the increase of conformity to Jesus Christ – according to his own good pleasure. Note again to the words of 14:1, words that move the theological discussion forward:
“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. “
Do you see the direct connection made by the theologians who wrote this document? Faith is worked by the Spirit through preaching, and is increased by the means of grace. This has very practical application. How, for example, may a Christian grow in the enjoyment of the assurance of salvation? Consider 18:3:
“This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true Believer, may wait long and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it; yet being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may without extraordinary revelation in the right use of means attain thereunto: and therefore it is the duty of every one, to give all diligence to make their Calling and Election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the holy Spirit, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this Assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness.”
The proper use of the means of grace produces infallible assurance in the life of the believer. What is often the cause of backsliding into sin? Note 17:3:
“And though they may through the temptation of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of means of their preservation fall into grievous sins, and for a time continue therein; whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve his holy Spirit, come to have their graces and comforts impaired, have their hearts hardened, and their Consciences wounded, hurt, and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgements upon themselves: yet they shall renew their repentance and be preserved through faith in Christ Jesus to the end.”
When believers neglect the means appointed by God for their growth in holiness, they may fall into all kinds of grievous sins.
Do you see how important this doctrine is? Every aspect of Reformed soteriology is rooted and grounded in it. At every step, we turn to heaven and see the hand of the Lord at work, appointing and accomplishing his purpose in the life of his people by the means of grace. But what are the means of grace? We have already said that Gospel preaching is ordinarily the means the Lord uses to bring about conversion. But what about growth? The Confession addresses this as well. We have already seen 14:1, which tells us what the means are:
“The Grace of Faith,. .. 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. “
The list is brief, though at this point incomplete. Preaching, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, and other “means appointed of God.” These are, at least according to our Confession, the processes through which the Lord works his good pleasure in our lives. The Baptist Catechism also addresses this question directly:
Q. 94. What are the outward means, by which Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means, by which Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the Word of God, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer; all which means are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
This is identical to the content of 2nd LCF 14:1, and is strengthened by the phrase “made effectual to the elect for salvation.” In the Catechism, the doctrine is teased out through a series of explanatory questions and answers:
Q. 95 How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
A. 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.
Q. 96. How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?
A. That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer, receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.
Q. 97. How do baptism and the Lord’s Supper become effectual means of salvation?
A. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper become effectual means of salvation, not for any virtue in them, or in him that does administer them, but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of the Spirit in those that by faith receive them.
We need to notice that our Baptist forefathers were not afraid to confess that these things are effectual means of salvation. Did they mean that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper save ex opere operato? No, not at all; their statement carefully avoids such a notion. But they also were not afraid to confess the (Reformed) sacramental nature of these things. They were not memorialists. Their doctrine reflected the common post-Reformation position that preaching, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer are effectual means of grace.
Consider question 98:
Q. 98. What is baptism?
A. Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament instituted by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death, burial, and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him, of remission of sins, and of his giving up himself unto God through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.
This is exactly the doctrine of 2nd LCF 29:1, in almost exactly the same words. Baptism is a divinely appointed means given for the increase of faith. Why do the Scriptures so frequently urge us to look back to our baptism? Just for this reason – it is a sign to us of all of these things. The application of water to the body signifies all of them, both godward and manward. It signifies the Lord’s powerful work in us, and our allegiance to him as covenant Lord. It is an awesome act – Peter calls it a pledge to God (1 Pet. 3:21) – an act in which the believer declares his glad subjection to the divine rights of the great King, and in so doing bows to the lordship of Christ. We see the terrible danger associated with turning back from our baptismal commitment. Peter’s words to Simon the Sorcerer are frightening (Acts 8:21)!
Likewise, the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace. The language of the Confession is straightforward:
“The Supper of the Lord Jesus, was instituted by him, the same night wherein he was betrayed, to be observed in his Churches unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance, and showing forth the sacrifice of himself in his death confirmation of the faith of believers in all the benefits thereof, their spiritual nourishment, and growth in him, their further engagement in, and to, all duties which they owe unto him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other. (2nd LCF 30:1)
Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible Elements in this Ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally, and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified and all the benefits of his death: the Body and Blood of Christ, being then not corporally, or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of Believers, in that Ordinance, as the Elements themselves are to their outward senses. (2nd LCF 30:7) “
We believe and confess the Reformed doctrine of the real (albeit spiritual) presence of Christ in the Supper.
Like Baptism, the Lord’s Supper brings blessings, but also may bring a curse. Consider the Baptist Catechism again:
Q. 105. What is required to the worthy receiving of the Lord’s Supper?
A. It is required of them that would partake of the Lord’s Supper, that they examine themselves, of their knowledge to discern the Lord’s body, of their faith to feed upon him, of their repentance, love, and new obedience, lest coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves.
Our confessional standards take Paul’s word seriously. What is intended to be a blessing may become a terrible curse.
What about prayer?
Q. 106. What is prayer?
A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires to God, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, believing, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.
Prayer expresses our utter dependence upon God. Like everything else, the doctrine taught here is an expression of Word and Spirit. By the Spirit, we ask those things that are according to his will as revealed in Scripture, with faith, confession of sins, and thanksgiving.
Perhaps you noticed that 14:1 spoke of “other means appointed of God.” What are they? We need not look outside the Confession for definition:
“The reading of the Scriptures, Preaching, and hearing the word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual songs, singing with grace in our Hearts to the Lord; as also the Administration of Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are all parts of Religious worship of God, to be performed in obedience to him, with understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear; moreover solemn humiliation with fastings; and thanksgiving upon special occasions, ought to be used in an holy and religious manner. (2nd LCF 22:5)”
In this list of the elements of worship, we find all of the previously mentioned means of grace, supplemented by two further items: humiliations with fastings, and thanksgivings. These are the “other means appointed of God.” Our Puritan forefathers recognized that there are some special times when other means ought to be employed; for example, fasting was an important part of the ordination of elders in a church (26:9). Likewise, days of thanksgiving for special providences, whether ecclesial, personal, or national, were certainly appropriate. All of these things were good. Interestingly, both fastings and thanksgivings have a direct relationship with the final two characteristics of prayer mentioned above: confession of sin and thankful acknowledgements of his mercies. The doctrine of the means of grace is a tightly knit and self-consistent expression of truth.
The Relevance Of The Ordinary Means Of Grace In The 2nd LCF
Why are the ordinary means of grace so important? The answer is really quite simple – they are the God-appointed means of bringing us to Christ. Think about it for a moment. The preaching of the Word must be essentially Christ-centered, or it will degenerate into religious moralism. When it is properly done, the Savior is proclaimed in all of his beauty and glory. Baptism identifies us with him – it is an ordinance of the New Covenant, ordained by Christ Himself for this purpose. The Lord’s Supper, by its very name, indicates the centrality of the One who is really and truly present in the observation; and prayer is offered to God through our Mediator. We find Christ, first and foremost, here. These are the places where he has promised to meet us. Substitutes have no divine authorization.
At the beginning of this article, 2 Pet. 1:1–11 is printed. Do you believe this text? Consider this question: Did the dispersion pilgrim of Pontus or Galatia or Bythinia (those who are mentioned in Peter’s 1st epistle) really have “everything needed for life and godliness”? Of course! And so also do we. But they didn’t have all of the innovative activities proposed to us today; they didn’t even have printed Bibles. But the Lord provided everything they needed, and he does so for us all well. To put it in the most simplistic of terms, what was good enough for the Apostle Peter is good enough for us. What did they have? What do we have? What do we need? The means of grace. These point us to Christ. As we increase in our knowledge of him, all of the graces of this passage are added to our faith. They are truly Christ-centered, always leading us away from ourselves and to our Savior.
Faith does not come by journaling, or contemplation, or silence, or walking the labyrinth. It comes by hearing the Word of God – the voice of the Prophet of the church Jesus Christ speaks to us in preaching. Too often, we fall prey to the latest fads and trends; we want growth, and we want it now. But the best methods are the old methods – they may be slow and seemingly dull; who really likes to be as the farmer, waiting after months of toil and labor for the harvest, watching growth in the smallest of increments? But he knows that the end result of his patience will be delightful produce.
When we examine our theological system closely, we have a wonderfully complete doctrine of the process God appoints to take his people from death in sin to full conformity to Christ. In eternity, he elects them. In space and time, he calls them by the gospel, and throughout their lives he provides them with “everything that they need for life and godliness.” May the Lord bless us as we enjoy these wonderful gifts. Amen.*
*Vol. 1: The Reformed Baptist Theological Review Volume 2. 2004 (2) (73-78, 83-85, 85-94). Owensboro, KY: Reformed Baptist Theological Review.
- Bill H
- Nate Milne
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