Iain Campbell on the Means of Grace

This is solid, helpful, brief account. I’m not sure we should read Berkhof’s distinction back into the Heidelberg Catechism (nor am I confident that the Westminster Divines meant to distinguish their doctrine of prayer as a means of grace from the HC) but this is good stuff.

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  1. Thanks for the link to that helpful post. One point of interest that’s slightly critical is that whenever the Sacraments are mentioned as means of grace, a slew of caveats follow. Whenever the Word is mentioned as such, caveats come slowly if at all. I know that Sacramental theology has more baggage than LAX around Christmas, but our regular qualifications seem conspicuously uneven. For example, When asked how the Word works, the response is “by the Spirit, of course.” But when asked how, say, baptism works, the response is “not magically, not ex opera operato, no hocus pocus here…” instead of just “by the Spirit, of course.” What caveats do we regularly lay down to keep folks form thinking that the Word functions magically?

    As to ritual, the weekly preaching of the Word is far more, but is certainly no less than “a church ritual or ecclesiastical activity.” Mere ritualism is death, to be sure. But biblical worship is full of ritual and we oughtn’t be ashamed of it, but rather glory in it.

    • Tim,

      I agree that it would be nice not to have to qualify everything we say about the sacraments, but given the confusion in the W. church since the 11th century and the repeated problems we’ve had in the Reformed churches in recent years Iain’s caution is understandable.

      When Mike Horton has used unqualified language the FV boys have attempted to capitalize on it to make it appear that he agrees with them! i know that Iain is quite familiar with these sorts of problems, hence the qualifications.

      Years ago, the White Horse Inn guys decided to be explicit about the solas, to spell them out each time they used them, to say “by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone” because the short hand expressions had led to confusion.

      In our age it’s a pedagogical necessity.

  2. As always, thanks for posting.

    I’ve thought quite a bit lately, about the question of prayer as a means of grace. Reading this entry brought to mind a couple questions.

    Question 1: When the Westminster Divines spoke of prayer as a means of grace, were they speaking of prayer as a means of God’s grace a) when one is prayed for (e.g. by an appointed minister on behalf of God’s people in worship) or b) when one is actually praying him or herself, whether in public or private?

    Question 2: Monergism is by definition at the heart of any means of grace. Can that not be affirmed with regard to prayer, as something given by God (instituted for us by Christ), since Jesus himself taught us to pray, “Our Father in Heaven…”?


    • Hi Fix,

      I don’t agree with Louis Berkhof’s sharp dichotomy between the WCF and the HC on this. We have to say that prayer is one of the “ordinary means” by which God has promised to operate.

      There is a distinction, however, between the way that he operates in prayer and the way he operates in gospel and sacraments. In the latter God comes to us and makes objective promises.

      He operates through prayer, but he doesn’t come to us in the same way, to make the same promises. The Spirit is certainly helping us to pray and working through prayer and enabling us to respond with gratitude and to express gratitude and to live out of our Spirit-wrought union with Christ but our sanctity, Spirit-wrought though it is, and the gospel. The gospel is outside of us. Our sanctity is, experientially considered, unsteady. Our assurance ebbs and flows. The gospel is not unsteady. The gospel does not ebb and flow.

      So, inasmuch as there’s a distinction between the things in themselves (gospel preached and gospel made visible in sacraments on the one hand and prayer on the other as a response to the gospel) then I think it’s helpful to distinguish between the way they function as means of grace.

      I don’t think it’s helpful to argue that because humans are involved in prayer and the administration of the gospel that they are, essentially, the same. God operates through human administration and the gospel doesn’t fall out of the sky. True enough but equating them thus ignores the intrinsic differences and the promises attached to each.

      God hears our prayers and he always answers them but he doesn’t always answer them as we envision as we pray. Our Father knows the end from the beginning and understands us and our needs in a way that utterly transcends our own understanding.

      In this case, however, when I pray for an “answer” that answer may be one thing and the actual providence of God may be something entirely different!

      That’s not true with the gospel. What God promises in the gospel is what we believe: righteousness accomplished for and imputed to sinners and received freely through faith (knowledge, assent, and trust) in Christ alone.

  3. Indeed, a short, solid treatment of the subject. I remember as I began memorizing the Shorter Catechism early on being somewhat suprised by its endorsement of ‘means of grace.’ It sounded so Roman Catholic to me at first. What I later came to realize was that I had been indoctrinated with an unbiblical, low view of the Church and its ordinances. Again, the classic confessions and catechisms strike a Scriptural, via media between two erroneous extremes.

  4. Oh, and thanks for the words about clarifying the Horton/FV issue.

    Dr. Clark, do you thik we could keep much closer to biblical terms, minus qualifications, if in theory no heretics existed to assault the teachings of Scripture? Or, do you think extra-Scriptural terminology, including qualifiers, are really a necessary evil arising from their disturbance of the faithful?

    • Well, we’ve never lived in a world without heretics, given that the evil one twisted God’s Word even in the garden.

      If we did live in such a world, sure we, as they say in Texas, might could use only biblical language, but we don’t and won’t until the consummation.

      I’m instructed by the Council of Nicea where they had to use extra- biblical language in order to express and preserve the truth against rationalism (e.g. Arianism). I’m also instructed by the fact that the Apostle John used extra-biblical language of a striking sort in the prologue to John 1: “In the beginning was the WORD (Logos)….”

      I don’t think the apostles were biblicists (i.e., only repeating biblical phrases). Scripture has to be explained and it has to be explained, in part, using extra-biblical language in a way that’s faithful to the text.


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