1. Definition: means of grace.
The term “means of grace” denotes the divinely instituted means by which God offers, bestows, and seals to men forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Properly speaking, there is but 1 means of grace: the Gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16–17); but since in the Sacraments the Gospel appears as the verbum visibile (visible Word) in distinction from the verbum audibile (audible Word), it is rightly said that the means of grace are the Gospel and the Sacraments. The Law, though also a divine Word and used by the Holy Spirit in a preparatory way to work contrition, without which there can be no saving faith, is not, properly speaking, a means of grace. It is the very opposite of a means of grace, namely a “ministration of death,” 2 Cor. 3:7. Prayer is not a means of grace, but faith in action.
2. Basis of the means of grace.
There are means of grace because there is, 1st, Christ’s objective justification or reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19–21) and, 2nd, Christ’s institution. In other words, there is forgiveness for all through Christ’s active and passive obedience. Christ wants this forgiveness to be offered and conveyed to all men through the Gospel and the Sacraments (Mat. 28:19–20; Mark 16:15; AC V, VIII).
3. Twofold power of the means of grace.
The means of grace have an offering or conferring power, by which God offers to all men forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation (Mat. 18:20; 26:28; Acts 2:38; 20:24; FC SD II 57), and an operative or effective power, by which the Holy Spirit works, strengthens, and preserves saving faith (Rom. 1:16; 10:17; 1 Cor. 4:15; 2 Cor. 2:14–17; 3:5–6; 1 Thes. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:23; FC SD II 56).
4. Importance of the means of grace.
The doctrine of the means of grace, part of the doctrine of the Word, is a fundamental doctrine. God bestows His saving grace “only through the Word and with the external and preceding Word” (SA-III VIII 3; John 8:31–32; Rom. 10:14–17). Therefore the Bible inculcates faithful adherence to the Gospel and the Sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution (Mat. 28:19–20; John 8:31–32; Acts 17:11; Titus 1:9). Because of the strong emphasis on the Word in the Lutheran Confessions, Holy Scripture has rightly been called the Formal Principle of the Reformation.
5. Means of grace and the Lutheran Church.
The doctrine of the means of grace is a distinctive feature of Lutheran theology, which owes to this central teaching its soundness, strong appeal, freedom from sectarian tendencies and morbid fanaticism, coherence, practicality, and adaptation to men of every race and degree of culture. According to Lutheran doctrine the means of grace are unchanging, sufficient, and efficacious. The efficacy of the means of grace does not depend on the faith, ordination, gifts, or intention of the administrator. Hearers of the Word, communicants, and subjects of Baptism derive no benefit from the means of grace unless they have faith (the receiving means; the hand reached out to accept blessings offered in the conferring means); but it does not follow that faith makes the means of grace effective. The Word is effective per se; the Sacraments are Sacraments by virtue of Christ’s institution. Faith does not belong to the essence of the means of grace; it is itself a blessed work through the means of grace by the power of the Holy Ghost (Rom. 10:14–17; Eph. 1:19–20).
The Lutheran Confessions generally speak of the Word and the Sacraments as the means of grace (Ap VII–VIII 36; SA-III VIII 10; FC SD II 48), specifically denoting the Gospel as the means of grace (AC V). The Lutheran Confessions take a decisive stand against “enthusiasts,” who teach that the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of men without the Word and Sacraments (SA-III VIII 3–13; LC II 34–62; FC Ep II 13).
6. Means of grace have the same effect.
The Sacraments have the same effect as the spoken or written Word because they are nothing else than the visible Word (see par. 1 above), that is, the Gospel applied in sacred action in connection with the visible signs. For this reason the Sacraments offer, convey, and seal to the recipients forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation just as the Gospel does when it is spoken, contemplated, or read. It is therefore not in agreement with Scripture to ascribe to Baptism (see II below) regeneration exclusively and to the Lord’s Supper (see III below), as a special function, the implanting of the germ of the resurrection body. Also the Gospel regenerates when it is read, preached, or contemplated in the heart (1 Peter 1:23).
7. Calvinism and the means of grace.
Calvinism rejects the means of grace as unnecessary; it holds that the Holy Spirit requires no escort or vehicle by which to enter human hearts. The Reformed doctrine of predestination excludes the idea of means which impart the Spirit and His gifts to men, the Holy Spirit working effectively only on the elect. According to Reformed teaching, the office of the Word is to point out the way of life without imparting that of which it conveys the idea. Reformed theology regards Word and Sacraments as necessary because of divine institution. They are symbols of what the Holy Spirit does within as He works immediately (i. e. without means) and irresistibly. “Enthusiast” doctrine of the Anabaptists and of the many sects since their day regarding the “inner light,” generally identified with the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and the “2nd conversion,” has its root in this specifically Reformed doctrine of the immediate working of the Holy Spirit.
8. Roman Catholicism and the means of grace.
Roman Catholicism emphasizes 7 sacraments as means of grace. The Council of Trent (Sess. VII, Canons on the sacraments in gen., 6 and 8) taught that these sacraments confer grace ex opere operato on those who do not put an obstacle in the way. Roman Catholic theologians differ on questions pertaining to sacramental grace, e.g., some regard it as identical with sanctifying grace, others hold that it is a special type of sanctifying grace. Grace bestowed by the sacraments is often described in Roman Catholicism as a spiritual quality infused by God into the soul. Baptism, according to Roman Catholicism, wipes out original sin in the baptized.
9. Necessity of the means of grace.
The means of grace are necessary because of Christ’s command and because they offer God's grace. God has not bound Himself to the means of grace (Luke 1:15, 41), but He has bound His church to them. Christians dare not regard as unnecessary the Sacraments and the preaching of the Word (Mat. 28:19–20; Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:23–28), as some “enthusiasts” do. But Lutheran theology does not assert an absolute necessity of the Sacraments, since faith and regeneration can be worked by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men through the Word without the Sacraments. Mere lack of the Sacraments does not condemn, but contempt for them does (Luke 7:29–30).
II. Baptism as a means of grace.
1. Baptism instituted by Christ.
Baptism was instituted by Christ (Mat. 28:18–19) and is to be used as a means to impart forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation till the end of time. Its visible element is water (1 Peter 3:20–21); nothing else may be substituted. The mode of applying water is an adiaphoron, the Greek term baptizein meaning not only immersing but also washing, sprinkling, and pouring (Mark 7:3–4; Acts 1:5 cf. 2:16–17; Eph. 5:25–26; Heb. 9:10 [“washings,” literally “baptisms”] cf. Num. 19:13, 19; Didache 7:1–3).
2. Purpose of Baptism.
“It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare” (SC IV 6). According to Scripture, Christ sanctifies His church with the washing of water by the Word (Eph 5:25–26). Baptism makes disciples of men (Mat. 28:19); it saves (1 Peter 3:21); it is a washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5) by which men are born again (John 3:5–6). Through Baptism we put on Christ, that is, His merits and righteousness, by the very faith which, by application of the Gospel, it creates in the heart (Gal. 3:26–27); for Baptism is pure Gospel, not Law, and hence it does not save mechanically, but by faith, which receives the blessings Baptism offers and which is worked by this Sacrament; the Gospel is both the means of creating faith and the foundation of faith. Baptism also unites the baptized with the Triune God, for we are baptized into communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Mat. 28:19) as also into communion with Christ (Gal. 3:27). And by Baptism we are buried with Christ into death, that is, through Baptism we partake of the merits which Christ procured for the whole world by His vicarious suffering and death (Rom. 6:3–5). Baptism, as the application of the saving Gospel, is, therefore, a true means of grace. “How can water do such great things? It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water” (SC IV 9–10). Baptism is a means of grace because it “is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God's command and connected with God's word” (SC IV 2), the Gospel promise of salvation. Those who have fallen from baptismal grace should remember that God's promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation remain unshaken; they should return penitently to the Gospel covenant est. by God with the baptized in and through Baptism.
3. Meaning of Baptism.
By Baptism we are buried with Christ into death and arise with Him to newness of life (Ro 6:4). “What does such baptizing with water signify? It signifies that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (SC IV 11–12).
4. Infant Baptism.
Baptism in the New Testament is the counterpart of circumcision in the Old Testament (Col. 2:11–12), and in the OT infants were circumcised (Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3). In the New Testament families were baptized (Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:16); in Acts 2:38–41 Baptism is connected with the promise “to your children.” Christ’s command to baptize all nations certainly also included infants (Mat. 28:19–20). The need for infant regeneration is clear (Ps. 51:5; Jn 3:6; Eph. 2:3). Baptism is the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost (John 3:3–7; Titus 3:5). Christ desires to have also little children brought to Him for the blessings of His grace (Mark 10:14). Little children can believe (Mat. 18:2–6).
III. Lord’s Supper as a means of grace.
1. Names of this Sacrament.
Names by which this Sacrament is known are derived partly from Scripture (Breaking of Bread, Mat. 26:26 and 1 Cor. 10:16; Holy Communion, 1 Cor. 10:16–17; Lord’s Table, 1 Cor. 10:21; Lord’s Supper, 1 Cor. 11:20; Eucharist [from Greek eucharistesas, “when He had given thanks”], 1 Cor. 11:24), partly from church usage (e.g., Sacrament of the Altar).
2. Institution of the Lord’s Supper.
Mat. 26:17–28; Mark 14:22–24; Luke 22:19–20; 1 Cor. 11:23–25. These accounts agree in all essentials, but supplement each other in details. All quote Christ’s words: “This is My body.” With regard to the cup, Matthew and Mark emphasize the blood of the New Testament, given with the cup; Luke and Paul stress the blessing given with the cup, the forgiveness of the new covenant, procured by the blood of Christ, which is offered to the communicant in the Sacrament.
3. Real Presence.
The words of institution, “Take, eat; this is My body,” clearly state: “With this bread I give you My body.” So these words are explained 1 Cor. 10:16. There is no transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, nor any consubstantiation or impanation. In, with, and under the bread and wine a communicant, also an unbelieving communicant (1 Cor. 11:27–29), receives Christ’s true body, given into death, and His true blood, shed for sins. This is the point of controversy between Lutherans and Reformed. The question is not whether Christ is present according to His divine nature in the Sacrament, or whether the soul by faith is united with Christ (spiritual eating and drinking), or whether the believing communicant receives the merits of Christ’s shed blood by faith (all of which is acknowledged as true by both Lutherans and Reformed). In Lutheran terminology the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine is called sacramental eating and drinking. The Reformed deny that the words of institution should be taken in a literal sense, or that in, with, and under the bread and wine the true body and blood of Christ are really present (Real Presence, a mystery). The Reformed teach instead the real absence of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament by resorting to a figurative, or symbolical, interpretation. Karlstadt sought the figure in “this,” H. Zwingli in “is” (making “is” mean “represents”), John Calvin and others in “body” (making “body” mean “the sign of My body”), and others (e.g., W. Bucanus, B. Keckermann, and H. Zanchi) in the entire statement. The multifarious attempts to pervert the proper sense of the words are but so many evidences of the persistent refusal of the words to yield to perversion.
4. Elements in the Sacrament.
The heavenly elements in the Sacrament are the true body and the true blood of Christ; the earthly elements are true bread and true wine, for which no substitutes should be used, since the use of any substitute makes void, or at least renders uncertain, the Sacrament (Mat. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18; 1 Cor. 11:21). Jesus used not unfermented grape juice but wine, used in the Old Testament on festive occasions (Gen. 14:18; Jb 1:13; Is. 5:12). Bread and wine are received in a natural manner; the body and blood of Christ, though received orally, are received in an incomprehensible, supernatural manner (no Capernaitic eating; FC SD VII 64). The Sacrament should be received by all communicants sub utraque specie (“under both kinds”), according to Christ’s institution in Roman Catholic practice the celebrating priest receives the bread and wine, other communicants usually only bread (sub una specie, “under 1 kind”).
5. Purpose of the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is essentially an application of the Gospel, with all its spiritual blessings, in a sacred act. It offers, conveys, and seals to the communicant forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation; strengthens faith; promotes sanctification through strengthening of faith; increases love toward God and the neighbor; affords patience in tribulation; confirms hope of eternal life; and deepens union with Christ and His mystical body, the church (1 Cor. 10:17). It also serves a confessional purpose (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:20–21; 11:26). All these blessings are mediated through the Gospel-promise in the Sacrament (“Given and shed for you for the remission of sins”) and are apprehended by faith in the divine promise. The words “This do in remembrance of Me” do not mean merely that the communicant is to remember the absent Christ, who atoned for his sins; they invite the communicant to accept the forgiveness offered in the Sacrament (“Do this in remembrance of Me” means: remember Christ’s blessings and accept them by faith; cf. Ap XXIV 72). The Lord’s Supper differs from the preaching of the Gospel, which is addressed to all hearers, believers and unbelievers, and from Absolution, which is individually addressed to believers, to the believers as a penitent group, in that the Sacrament offers forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation individually to each communicant under pledge of Christ’s body and blood, received with the bread and wine. Since the Sacrament may be received unto damnation (or judgment; 1 Cor. 11:29), close Communion should be observed, the pastor as the steward of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1) admitting only such as are able to examine themselves (1 Cor. 11:28). JTM
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