The Preaching of the Gospel: A Means of Grace

Ques. 65. Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits through faith only, whence does this faith proceed? 

Ans. From the Holy Ghost, who works faith in the hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments. 

Lord’s Day 25, Heidelberg Catechism.

An important question. 

We find that the questions of our Catechism are often as important as the answers. This is indeed the case here. “Since we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits through faith only, whence doth this faith proceed?” 

We are made partakers of Christ. We do not become partakers of Christ by our free choice or by some act of our own. We are made partakers. By His own work of grace in our hearts God gives us Christ as our Mediator, Savior, and Lord. We are engrafted into Him, even as a branch is engrafted into the vine (Lord’s Day 7). We live, yet no more we, Christ lives in us (Gal. 2:20). The righteousness which Christ merited by His atoning death on the cross is our righteousness (Lord’s Day 23). Therefore we are one with Christ, sons and daughters of God, members of God’s family and heirs of eternal life.

Also we are made partakers of all Christ’s benefits. Christ’s incarnation, atoning death, resurrection, ascension, and sitting at the right hand of God are all spiritual benefits that serve toward our salvation. Christ comes into our hearts by His Spirit to dwell in us, never to leave us. He regenerates us, calls us out of death into life and out of darkness into light, converts us, justifies us, sanctifies us, and leads us to glory. Christ grants us the gift and desire of prayer, joy, peace, covenant fellowship with God and with His saints, and the hope of eternal life. A hope that is never put to shame, because the love of God is spread abroad in our hearts (Rom. 5:5). 

These gifts of salvation come to us through faith, and through faith only. Faith is the living bond that unites us with Christ. It is like a power line that carries the powerful life of Christ into our hearts and returns to Him in a sincere knowledge of Him as our Savior and a hearty confidence that all our salvation is in Him. We confess that we are saved by grace, and that in no sense of us, but it is God’s work in us, lest there should be any boasting in us (Eph. 2:8, 9). 

We are lavishly graced with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus, so that we confess,

Come, hear, all ye who fear the Lord, 

While I with grateful heart record 

What God has done for me. 

Whence doth this faith proceed? We find ourselves confronted with two questions. The first, Who works that faith in us? The second, How does He work that faith in us? 

In answer to the first question, we readily confess that the Holy Spirit both works and confirms faith in us. Salvation is of the Lord. His blessing is upon His people. The triune God, Who is our Father, has chosen us unto Himself in Christ Jesus, has redeemed us unto life and glory by the death of His dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and now bestows on us the Spirit of our exalted Lord, Who makes us partakers of Christ and of all His benefits. 

In answer to the second question, as to how the Holy Spirit bestows these blessings of salvation upon us, we have the answer of God Himself, that He does this by the preaching of the Gospel. This preaching of the Gospel, along with the sacraments, is often referred to as “means of grace.” They are the means whereby the Holy Spirit bestows the blessings of God’s grace upon His people. 

Means of Grace. 

God uses means to bring us to a conscious faith. That does not mean that God could not possibly save us apart from those means, or that God is bound or limited by those means. Nothing is impossible with God that is in harmony with His will. But God does bind Himself to certain definite means and refuses to work His grace in us apart from those means, that is, apart from the preaching of the Gospel

This should not seem strange to us, if we but consider that God also binds Himself to means in sustaining our earthly existence. We cannot live without the air we breathe. We need food, not once a month, but two or three times a day, besides all the other necessities of life. With a false piety we might contend that God can keep us alive without these means; yet in doing so we would be tempting God and would soon become starved, sick and die. The same applies to our spiritual existence. God works faith through the preaching of the Word. Only through the preaching do we obtain Christ, Who is the Bread of Life, the Water of Life, the Way; the Truth and the Life. 

That raises the question, does not God use other means to save us, means which often seem to be much more effective than the Word? Does He not sometimes use mystical means like an inner voice, or miracles, or speaking in tongues? Does He not bring conviction of sin and guilt and the need of salvation through some traumatic experience, a serious accident or a severe illness, a tragic death or the loss of a dear one? Does He not arouse faith in us through some inspiring novel, some soul-stirring music, a movie, or a dramatization of some sort? The answer is an emphatic No! This does not mean that God does not use circumstances in our lives to bring us under the power of His Word. God brought Saul on the way to Damascus intending to persecute the church, in order that there he might meet the Lord Jesus Christ, be stopped on his rebellious way, and brought under the preaching of Ananias. God caused the Ethiopian eunuch to be riding in his chariot and reading Isaiah 53 about the suffering Servant of God at the moment when God brought Philip to him to expound for him the Scriptures. God used the imprisonment of Paul and Silas, the earthquake and threat of losing two important prisoners, to awaken in the jailer the consciousness of the preaching that he had heard before, so that he begged of Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” Yet all the incidents and experiences that we may undergo in our lives do not work faith in our hearts. Our fathers are so very right when they say that nothing, absolutely nothing can work faith in our hearts except the preaching of the Word. 

We do well to bear this in mind, especially in a timewhen the devil is doing his utmost to minimize the value of the preaching of the Word. Many seem to think that preaching has failed to attain its desired purpose. People have grown weary of sitting in the church for some length of time, are not interested in what they consider cold doctrine, dry sermonizing. They crave something more exciting, more appealing, more entertaining. Catering to these wishes the churches have introduced revival meetings, given place to dialogue, sought to entertain young and old with outside speakers, choirs, solos, dramatizations, movies, and even coffee and lunches after the service. We are reminded of the warning of our Lord Himself, in connection with the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31). 

The Preaching of the Word. 

You and I need the preaching of the Word. This means that we must maintain with might and main that Scripture is the infallibly inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word of God. All these new translations and paraphrasings of the Bible that are now on the market only arouse doubts concerning the accuracy of the inspired Word and minimize its authority, apart from the fact that many translations are corruptions of the truth of the holy Scriptures. We must insist that there are not two authors of Scripture, a human author as well as a divine Author, but that God inspired holy men to write His Word as it was breathed into them by the Holy Spirit. Moreover, we cannot allow any time of day to those who would insist that the Word of God is in the Bible, but that this Word of God is wrapped up in myths, sagas, old wives’ tales, traditions, and whatever man might have introduced into the Scriptures. Scripture is the revelation of the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ, whereby Christ through His Spirit gathers and preserves His church unto heavenly perfection. He who adds anything to the Scriptures or in any way detracts from it will suffer the severe judgment of God, both in this life and in eternity (Revelation 22:18, 19). 

We also need the preaching of the Word. We do not come to church to hear the preacher, or to hear what he has to say. He is but a man. And there is not a single man who does not have certain faults and weaknesses, which soon become evident in his preaching. Usually when a minister begins preaching in a congregation he is liked, admired, and often praised as the best yet. But before long we become weary of hearing the same man from week to week. We see his faults. We readily criticize. All the while we are forgetting that we do not come to church to hear the preacher, but to hear the Word. Actually, the minister is nothing more or less than an ambassador of Jesus Christ. He is sent in Christ’s name to herald the Gospel of the Living God. He does not and may not bring his own word, his own ideas about the Scriptures, or his own theories, but he must declare, “Thus saith the Lord.” His preaching must be expository, bringing the Word of God to us, so that we hear the glad tidings of salvation. We must hear Christ speaking to us from the Word, applied to us personally by the Holy Spirit in our hearts confirming the Word. We readily expose ourselves to the danger that we criticize the Word of God when we say that we are criticizing the sermon. 

From this follows that we may not neglect the fellowship and assembly of the saints. God has instituted His church with its threefold office of minister, elder, and deacon. No one can ignore that institution or calling of God. Today there are too many running around who call themselves preachers, yet were never called and ordained by the church, and thus by Christ. We recall how Paul waited for some time after he was appointed to be the apostle to the Gentiles, even until the church at Antioch called and ordained him. How shall we hear, unless we hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us through the Word? And how shall anyone preach unless he is called and sent by Christ? (Romans 10:14, 15). 

We need our weekly Sabbaths, which God has wisely set apart for us. We need the communion of saints under the ministry of the Word as a foretaste of the Heavenly Rest and eternal covenant fellowship with God and with His saints before the throne. Only through that God-given means can we grow in grace to the glory of our God, Whose is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever, world without end!