Afternoon Sermon: What Are The Outward And Ordinary Means Of Grace?, Baptist Catechism 93, Acts 2:41–47

Baptist Catechism 93

Q. 93. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?

A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are His ordinances, especially the Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation. (Rom. 10:17; James 1:18; 1 Cor. 3:5; Acts 14:1; 2:41,42)

Scripture Reading: Acts 2:41–47

“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:41–47, ESV)

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Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.

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God ordinarily works through means. That is a very important concept to understand. So what does it mean?

Well, sometimes God works in an immediate way. For example, when God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning he did not work through means. He simply called the heavens and earth into existence. But often God works through means. He used people and things to accomplish his purposes. Take for example the parting of the Red Sea. God could have worked in an immediate way. He could have simply caused the waters to part in front of Israel, but he chose to part the sea through Moses. He revealed his will to Israel through Moses and commanded that Moses lift his staff and thus part the waters. Though God could always work in a direct way and without the involvement of people and things, he often uses means. He parted the sea by means of Moses and his staff. He brought you to faith in Christ by means of the prayers and gospel witness of others. And he is sanctifying you now by means of your life experiences and your relationships with others, etc. God is at work in the world, and he typically works through means.

Here our catechism is not only teaching us that God works through means, but that there are few things that God has determined to use regularly to work grace within his people. These are the ordinary means of grace.

How does God bring his elect to faith in Christ? How does he purify, strengthen, and preserve them? I suppose he could do it in an immediate way. He could speak his gospel directly to sinners from on high. He could purify us in the mind and heart directly by zapping us with spiritual power from on high. But he has determined to work his grace in us through means. And these are called ordinary means because they are the means that God has determined to ordinarily use. They are the Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. God has determined to work faith and grace in his elect through these ordinary things.     

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Baptist Catechism 93

Let us now consider the answer to catechism 93 piece by piece.

First, our catechism clarifies that it is talking about the “the outward” means. These are the things that are outside of us that God uses to work his grace within us. How does God work upon our hearts? This he does immediately by the power of the Holy Spirit. But God does use these things which are outside of us to work within us.  

Secondly, our catechism clarifies that it is talking about the “the ordinary” means. May the Lord use things other than the Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer to work grace within his people. Of course, he can. Often the Lord will use life circumstances — even trials and tribulations — to purify and strengthen his people. But these circumstances will be unique to each one of us according to the decree of God. We are not called to chase after sanctifying circumstances, therefore, nor are we call to chase after trials and tribulations so that we might be sanctified by them. God may use those things to refine us, but they are not the ordinary means which God has set apart for his people. 

Thirdly, or catechism is specifically speaking of those means whereby Christ “communicateth to us the benefits of redemption”. Here “communicate” does not refer to the dissemination of information, but distribution. So the question is this: Christ has earned our redemption. But how do we come to have the benefits of it as our own? Or more to the point, what are the things that God has determined to regularly use to distribute his gift of salvation to us?    

Fourthly, the question is answered in a very succinct way with these words: “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are His ordinances…” “Ordinances” are those things which Christ has commanded, or ordered, us to use.

God has his elect in the world. Each and every one of them will be saved, for it is the will of God. But how will these elect come to be saved? Well, what has Christ commanded, or ordered? He has ordered us to preach the gospel. God works through means, remember? The gospel proclamation is the means that God will use to bring his elect to salvation. How do we know? Christ has ordered it. 

God has promised to give our daily bread. How do we come to have it? Through prayer, etc.  

Fifthly, our catechism highlight four things in particular with the words, “especially the Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper and prayer…” So these are the outward and ordinary things that God uses to distribute the benefits of the redemption that Christ has earned to his elect. 

The elect are brought to faith through the preaching of the Word of God. And the elect are further strengthened and preserved in the faith through the word of God. This is why Paul says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, ESV). Do you wish to see your loved ones come to salvation? Then one thing you must do is share the word of God with them,  for God brings sinners to salvation through his word. And do you wish to grow in the grace of God? Then you had better be reading and hearing God’s word, for it is one of the outward and ordinary means that God has determined to use.

Next, baptism is mentioned. Baptism is not something that we are to partake of over and over again. No, we are to be baptized in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the beginning of the Christain life. But God uses baptism to distribute the benefits of the redemption that Christ has earned to his elect. The elect are baptized into Christ. They are baptized by the church and into the fellowship of the church. The Spirit of God works mightily in his people through the waters of baptism. 

Next, the Lord’s Supper is mentioned. We will learn more about the Lord’s Supper in the future. For now, let us confess that the Lord’s Supper is not only a memorial. It is not only a time for the church to remember what Christ has accomplished (though it is certainly that). No, the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace. God works powerfully through the Lord’s Supper both to strengthen his church and to purify her.  

Lastly, prayer is mentioned. God works through prayer, brothers and sisters. You’ve heard it said that prayer changes things, and it does! It does not change the decree of God. But God does work through the prayers of people to accomplish his decree. More than anything, prayer changes us. Prayer is an outward and ordinary means of grace. 

The sixth and last phrase of the catechism is, “all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” So who does the word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper are prayer benefits? They benefit the elect of God. And who is it that makes these things effectual, or effective? We know that it is the Spirit of God who makes these ordinary means of grace effective. 

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Conclusion

Please allow me to make three observations by way of conclusion. 

One, our catechism will clarify in the following questions that these ordinary means of grace do not work in an automatic way. No, they are only effective when they are received by faith, and we know that faith is the gift of God.

Please listen to questions 94, 96, and 105 . They ask, “How is the Word made effectual to salvation?” “How do Baptism and the Lord’s Supper become effectual means of salvation?” And “what is prayer?” I do not want to get ahead of myself, but I think it is important to recognize that each of the answers to those questions emphasize the necessity of faith

Q94: How is the Word made effectual to salvation?

A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith unto salvation. 

Q. 96. How do Baptism and the Lord’s Supper become effectual means of salvation?

A. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them or in him that doth administer them, but only by the blessing of Christ and the working of the Spirit in those that by faith receive them.

Q. 105. What is Prayer?

A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires to God, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, believing, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies

So then, these means of grace do not work in an automatic way. In other words, you do not receive the grace of God — you do not receive the benefits of the redemption purchased by Christ — if you hear God’s word, partake of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or pray, without faith in Christ in your heart. It is by faith that we are saved. And it is by faith that we walk and are sanctified. And if we are to be strengthened by these ordinary means of grace, we must partake of them with faith in Christ in our hearts. 

Two, by identifying these things are outward and ordinary means of grace, our catechism is urging us to use them, just as the scriptures do. You know, it never ceases to amaze me to see professing Christians look to other things besides these things for growth in Christ. They will look to this program, and that discipline, and this method to find spiritual nourishment while neglecting the ordinary things which God has ordained. 

The first Christians, after being baptized, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The rest of scripture confirms that these are the ordinary things that we are to make use of for growth in Christ Jesus.  

Q. 93. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?

A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are His ordinances, especially the Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation. (Rom. 10:17; James 1:18; 1 Cor. 3:5; Acts 14:1; 2:41,42)

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