Tuesday, November 04, 2014

"Means of Grace" 4

Paraphrasing continues of Wesley's sermon, "Means of Grace" in contemporary English.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
... I am using this expression, "means of grace," because I don't know of any expression that is better. I also use it because it has frequently been used by Christians in the Church for many ages. It has particularly been used by our own church, the Anglican Church, which instructs us to praise God both for giving us these means of grace, as well as for our hope of future glory. The Church teaches us that a sacrament is "an outward sign of an inward grace, and a means by which we receive this grace."

The most important of these means are 1) prayer, whether privately or publicly in a worshiping congregation, 2) searching the Scriptures--including reading it, hearing it read, and meditating on them, and 3) partaking of the Lord's Supper, eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Christ. We believe that God has ordained these to be the normal channels by which God conveys his grace to the souls of men.

2. But let's make it clear that the whole value of these means depends on whether they actually serve the ultimate goal of faith. As a result, all of these means, when they are separated from the goal, are less than nothing. They are emptiness. If they do not contribute to knowing and loving God, they are not acceptable in God's sight. Indeed, they become rather an abomination before God, a stink in his nostrils. He is tired of putting up with them. Most of all, if they are used to do away with the faith they were designed to serve, it is not easy to find words for the enormous foolishness and wickedness of thus turning God's arms against himself. It is keeping Christianity out of the heart by using the very means that God put in place to bring it.

3. Similarly, we accept that apart from the Spirit of God, no outward means whatsoever can bring any benefit. It cannot to any degree bring the knowledge or love of God. Beyond dispute, the Spirit himself brings about any help that happens on the earth. It is he alone who, by his own almighty power, brings about in us what is pleasing in his sight. All outward actions--unless God is working in them and by them--are only ineffective and impoverished actions.

Therefore, whoever imagines that there is any intrinsic power in any means of grace whatsoever is greatly in error. This person does not know the Scriptures or the power of God. We know that there is no inherent power in the words that are spoken in prayer, in the letter of Scripture read, the sound of Scripture heard, or the bread and wine received in the Lord's Supper. Rather, it is God alone who is the giver of every good gift and the author of all grace. The whole power is from him whereby there is any blessing conveyed to our soul through any of these.

Similarly, we know that he is able to give the same grace even if there were no means [of grace] on the face of the earth. In this sense, we may affirm, that, with regard to God, there is no such thing as a means of grace, because he is just as able to work whatever he wants by any means or by no means at all."

4. We believe further that no use of these means of grace will ever atone for a single sin. Only the blood of Christ alone can do that. Only through the blood of Christ can any sinner be reconciled to God. There is no other satisfaction of the need for atonement [propitiation] because of our sins. There is no other fountain to wash our sin and uncleanness.

Every believer in Christ is deeply convinced that there is no worthiness before God except in Christ. There is no virtue in any work that we do, not in saying prayers or searching the Scripture or hearing the word of God or eating the bread of communion or drinking the cup of communion. No one who knows the grace of God will deny that Christ is the only real basis and cause of God's grace, which if nothing else is captured by the expression that "Christ is the only means of grace."

5. Still again, although it is a sober truth, we recognize that a large proportion of those who are called Christians today abuse the means of grace to the destruction of their souls. No doubt this is the case with all those who are content with a look of godliness but who lack the power of it. Some of them would like to think that they are already Christians, because they do certain things, even though Christ was never yet revealed in their hearts, nor the love of God poured out in them. Others suppose that they will certainly become one just barely because they use these means. They may be dreaming, without hardly thinking about it, that there is some kind of automatic power in them that will sooner or later (they don't know when) make them good people. Or they imagine that there is some sort of merit in using them that will earn them true righteousness from God--or that perhaps he will accept them without it...

1 comment:

matthew said...

Mine are paraphrase summaries in 250 words or less. Loved "on the nature of enthusiasm"