“Ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them” (Malachi 3:7).
We endeavour to show that Christ has ordained certain outward means for conveying His grace to the souls of men. By ‘The Means of Grace’ we do not refer to ‘Saving Grace.’ The apostolic church knew of these means and practiced them. The modern church has fallen short of what the early church was.
The Early Church as an example
“And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common” (Acts 2:42-44). Here we see some aspects of the life of the first believers; they had love for God and men. But in the process of time, as the love of many waxed cold (Matthew 24:12), these outward works became religious duty. The church forgot that “the end of the commandment is charity [love] out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Timothy 1:5).
Those who abused the ordinances of God brought a curse down upon them rather than a blessing. God raised up men to “stand in the gap” (Ezekiel 22:30) against the overflowings of ungodliness. These men sought to show that the outward show of religion and external worship is a lost labour, and that they were an abomination to the Lord. Outward religion had almost driven the religion of Christ out of the world, but these men of zeal recovered souls of delusion. It was soon thought that outward religion had no profit; this was a mistake, for it deprived the church of the ordinary means of conveying God’s grace to the souls of men. Outward religion must proceed from the religion of the heart.
The Means of Grace
By ‘means of grace’ we refer to outward signs, words, or actions ordained by God to be ordinary channels whereby He might convey grace. The chief of these means is prayer, studying the Scriptures, and the Lord’s Supper. Yet if we separate these from the reason for them, we are left with nothing but false religion. True Christianity is then kept out of the heart by the very means which were ordained to keep it in.
Those who teach that there is grace and power in the means, simply by practicing them, are in great error. There is no inherent power in prayer, Bible reading, or the bread and wine. Such things can never atone for sin, only the blood of Christ can do that. There is no merit in anything or anyone but in Christ. Those who believe otherwise have a “form of godliness,” but do not have “the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5). Christ has never been revealed in their hearts, nor has the “love of God” been “shed abroad” in them (Romans 5:5). They reject the Scripture which teaches “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
How do we receive grace?
1. Through prayer. In His Sermon on the Mount the Lord Jesus Christ encourages to “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). Therefore, to receive from God, we should ask in prayer. God always gives “good things to them that ask him” (Matthew 7:11). In Luke 11:13 Jesus asks, “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” He directs us to use this means to receive the blessing. What we ask should be always according to faith … “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6).
2. We should also search the Scriptures. The Bereans did just this and found God’s grace (Acts 17:11-12). “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We should read, study and meditate upon the Word of God, and we “do well that [we] take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in [our] hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).
3. The Lord’s Supper is also a means of grace. When we partake of the bread and cup we remind ourselves of what it cost the Saviour to purchase our salvation (1 Corinthians 11:23-28). It is a sacred sign of the New Covenant, and by partaking of it we manifest our solemn remembrance of Christ’s death, until He comes again in the clouds. Do we not see that this cup is a “cup of blessing”? (1 Corinthians 10:16). Through this means God is able to convey all spiritual grace to our souls.
God can bring His grace into our lives through the means revealed to us in Scripture. We should take care that we do not limit Him in any way. Along with Eli, we should say, “It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good” (1 Samuel 3:16). But remember, there is no power or merit in the means themselves. The mere practicing of them does not please God, so we cannot congratulate ourselves by thinking we have done some great thing. None of them are able to save the sinner from damnation. Those who have true faith can use the means to grow deeper in the grace of God. The means that God has ordained are for the refreshing of our souls in righteousness and true holiness.
Preached by John Wesley 22 June 1741