Office Hours: Sanctification And The Means Of Grace

Office HoursIt is easy to imagine that sanctification is the result of an immediate action by God upon the soul. By “immediate” I mean that the Spirit is thought to act without using means. In the history of the church more than a few people have thought this. In the early church Christians began withdrawing from the world, first by themselves and then in communities to try to become holy. What they found is that they took the world with them. Other Christians have sought access to and information from God without means—we usually describe that as mysticism.

The Reformed confessions would have us think differently, however. The Heidelberg Catechism does not begin explaining sanctification in detail until after it has completed its doctrine of the sacraments and the ministry of the Word. From its beginning, the Westminster Confession casts the Christian life as one that involves “the due use of ordinary means” (1.7). Shorter Catechism 88 closely ties our salvation, including our sanctification, to the “outward and ordinary means” by which Christ communicates to us the benefits of salvation.

Yet, just as the church has struggled with mysticism, it has just as surely been tempted to turn the Word and sacraments into magic and priestcraft. We call that temptation, “sacerdotalism” after the Latin word for priest. Of course Christ alone is our high priest and on earth we have ministers of Word and sacrament, not priests.

Mike Horton, Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, and I sat down recently to discuss the relations between the means of grace and sanctification.

Here is the episode.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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12 comments

  1. In Horton’s translation of Matthew 18:20 he has added to Scripture:

    Mat 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

    Nothing about ‘sacraments’ ‘rightly administered’…

    • David,

      well it might be self-evident to everyone else but I guess I am a little thick. Could you please do us the favor of explaining your concerns?

      As it stands you have accused a fellow believer of a serious thing: adding to God’s word. I don’t see how I can let that stand if you will not substantiate it.

  2. Horton quoted Matthew 18:20 by adding the Reformed view of the marks of a true church to the verse. I.e. the verse obviously stings types who have a cleric vs. lay people mindset. If you’re going to quote the verse, just simply quote the verse.

    • So you began by accusing him of adding to the verse when, in reality, you don’t like his interpretation?

      Those are two different things aren’t they?

      The Reformed interpret Matt 18 to refer to the visible church because that’s what is in view. When Jesus says “where two or three are gathered” it’s in the context of the visible church. It’s not in the context of a small group bible study or a pietist conventicle.

  3. Listen to the audio. He didn’t say it like that. And as you guys can tell from the pushback from around the internet: the Romanism is getting old.

    You probably don’t know this but Louis Berkhof wrote a long essay about how Reformed churches were dead zones. You should look it up.

    • So, he was advocating Romanism? Really? No. He’s advocating what we confess God’s Word to teach.

      Yes, because I never listen to the guests nor do I ever listen to the episodes. Thanks for that very helpful advice.

      I moved the Berkhof link (it’s still there) and took a look at it. Because it lacks context (namely, his discussion of the first two kingdoms) it’s a little hard to decipher but there wasn’t anything there about the church being a “dead zone” whatever that means.

      You’re welcome to participate if you want to be helpful and constructive but if you’re just going to be outrageous, well there are lot’s of places on the interwebs for that but this isn’t one of them.

  4. David, I have 2 questions:
    1) Is Christ present in his Word proclaimed? In Romans Paul calls the gospel “the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes…”

    2) Is Christ present with those who partake of the Lord’s Supper? In First Corinthians Paul says that –

    “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ?”

    Believers have communion with Christ in the redemption he purchased for them on the cross by partaking of the wine and bread of the Supper. Is Paul Roman Catholic?

    • In the interview, Dr. Horton said that Christ is present in the midst of his people where his Word is proclaimed and his Sacraments rightly administered. That is clearly biblical teaching as noted above.

  5. In the essay the first kingdom is basically mineral and non-living things. The second kingdom is this life and world we all are born into. the Third Kingdom is the Kingdom of God which we enter upon regeneration. Berkhof references the Third Kingdom as both what we are now in while at the same time it is above us.

    Read the last three paragraphs of the Berkhof essay. You don’t get the context, but that is where he discusses what I refer to. Actually, here they are:

    “But I have said the denial of miracles is due mainly to defective observation—mainly, however, not wholly. The members of the Third Kingdom have something to answer for themselves here. They have failed to provide due materials for observation. Energy may be potential as well as kinetic. Were a visitant from a distant planet who had read “The Correlation of the Physical Forces” or Ganot’s “Physics” to land on the coast of Labrador and demand of the Esquimaux to be shown the energies of electricity or the powers of steam, his credulity in his authorities would certainly be shaken. And even if he were informed by a passing Nordenskiold that many of the physical forces were available at Labrador, only the people had never utilized them, his bewilderment would not be lessened. Those who read the Christian’s Book hear in like manner of faith to remove mountains, of love stronger than death, of limitless powers to be had for the asking of all the fulness of the Godhead placed at man’s disposal. And when they turn to those who know this Book, who profess to believe it, who contribute themselves to the literature of the Third Kingdom, expanding and enforcing its ideas, and almost forcing them on men’s attention, what do they see? Is it any satisfaction that a courteous Nordenskiold assures them that these forces are there withal, only the members of this frigid province at the moment do not happen to employ them? For does not the critic see multitudes of individuals met every week for the ostensible purpose of receiving these powers, down on their knees by the thousand crying for them to come? What is he to make of it? Is he dreaming or they? Or does the Kingdom come—but without observation? No; the Kingdom does not come. On the large scale it does not come. The splendid machinery of Christianity is standing still. The Church is paralyzed. When the Second Kingdom asks the Third for its credentials it remains silent. It has something to show in the past; it points sadly to the early centuries. But for the present nothing stirs; it is all as frozen as Labrador.”

    “So men tell us the spiritual energies are a myth—which is as inconclusive as the statement that the physical forces are myths where they are not utilized. The scepticism of the age nevertheless lies at the door of the Church. That there are individuals, and here and there churches, witnessing to the powers of the Third Kingdom is not to be gainsaid. No man who really desires to satisfy himself of the reality of the Spiritual World will seek in vain for a demonstration of the Spirit and of Power. But the appeal is not going forth to all the earth and arresting men by a testimony triumphant and irresistible. The Power that operated at Pentecost is no longer a mighty and awakening force. And even the ethical light which the subjects of the Third Kingdom were admonished to “let shine among men” is all but too dim to see.”

    “Now, whatever may be the state of matters at present within the Visible Church of the Third Kingdom, let us not blind ourselves to the unspeakably important fact that the Spiritual World contains forms of energy infinitely more powerful than those of the First and Second. It has never been sufficiently realized how much greater they are—how much greater they must be, even from analogy. One might almost speak of an Evolution of Energy going on as we rise from higher to higher Kingdoms. By this, of course, is not meant that the higher energy is in any sense evolved from the lower, but that the potency—whatever may be the source of the increment—is found gradually becoming stronger and stronger. As a matter of fact, while the energy within each Kingdom is constant, the organic powers are greater than the inorganic, the Spiritual than either. And the one thing requisite at once for the attestation of the Third Kingdom and the further evolution of the Second is that the subjects of the former should give heed once more to the offer of its King and Founder, “If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask it.””

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