The Word of God must be preached. Then, and then only—as the Word that is preached—it is a means of grace. This too is expressed in our confessions. In the Belgic Confession, where it instructs us in the marks of the true church, we read: “The marks, by which the true Church is known, are these: if the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin . . .” There are many who either deny or completely ignore this truth, and belittle the importance of preaching. They simply speak of the Word, or even of the Bible, as the means of grace. Thus, even Hodge in his Systematic Theology really ignores the preaching when he speaks of the Bible as the means of grace. Writing under the subject, “The Means of Grace,” he says: “The Word of God, as here understood, is the Bible. And the Bible is the collection of the canonical books of the Old and New Testament.” Again he writes: “There can, therefore, be no doubt that the Scripture teaches that the Word of God is the specially appointed means for the sanctification and the salvation of men. This doctrine of the Bible is fully confirmed by the experience of the church and of the world.” Again he writes: “It being admitted as a fact that the Bible has the power attributed to it, the question arises, to what is that due? To this question different answers are given.” Again: “Christians then do not refer the saving and sanctifying power of the Scriptures to the moral power of the truths which they contain.” From all this it is evident that Dr. Hodge refers to the Bible as the means of grace, rather than to the preaching of the Word of God. The same is true of Dr. Bavinck in his Roeping en Wedergeboorte. On pages 111 and 113 he writes (we translate): “But out of this affinity of the covenant of grace and the gospel, it follows in the second place that grace is not dependent, as presented by the Romish Church, on the institute of the church or priest and sacrament. The relation between Scripture and the church is defined by the Protestants in an entirely different way than by the Roman Catholics. According to the latter, the church precedes the Scriptures. The church is not built on Holy Scripture, but Scripture proceeded out of the church. The church, therefore, for her being in existence does not need de Scripture; but the Scriptures For their origin, collection, preservation, and explanation are in need of the church. The Reformation, however, reversed this relation. She placed the church on the foundation of the Scriptures, and put the latter far above the church. Not the church, but the Scriptures, the Word of God, became the means of grace par excellence. Even the sacraments were subordinated to the Word and had no meaning or power without that Word. But that Word was able, therefore, to operate and did operate also without the institute of the church. It is true that God entrusted the Word of God to His church, in order that it might be explained by her, preached, and defended. But that Word is not given to the church in such a way that without her it would have neither existence nor power. On the contrary, that Word is directed to all men; it is of value in all circumstances and for all the spheres of life. And it derives its power and operation by no means only from the fact that it is being preached by an official person in the gathering of believers. It operates also then when it is being read and studied in the home, when it is being narrated by parents or teachers, when it is brought to the knowledge of men no matter in what form. Everyone, who, and what, and wherever he be, who accepts that Word in faith, is a partaker of God’s promise, of grace in Christ, and of the entire blessing of salvation. He does not need to wait for the church, a minister, or for the sacrament. Whoever believes has eternal life.”
We admit, of course, that the Word as means of grace is not dependent on the church, if by church is meant the Romish Church, or the institute of the Roman Catholic Church. Nor is salvation dependent on a Romish priest. The church is certainly free to institute its own offices. But this does not alter the fact that the means of grace are given to the church. No Reformed man so belittles the institute of the church as to think or teach that he can partake of the sacraments, whether baptism or the Lord’s Supper, without the institute of the church, in his own home or in any gathering of believers. Nor is the preaching of the Word a means of grace apart from the institute of the church. It is true, of course, that the church is founded on the Word of God, that the Word of God was first, and not the church. But it is evidently not true that the Bible as we now have it was before the church. Long before there was ever a Bible there was preaching of the Word of God. It is comparatively very recently that the Bible as we now have it existed not only, but was accessible to all the members of the church. For many centuries the church existed without a written Word whatsoever. For many more centuries only the Old Testament canon was gradually written and finally completed.