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Grace, Means of.

I. Doctrine in gen.

1. Definition. 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 (Ro 1:16–17); but since in the Sacraments (see Sacrament and the Sacraments) the Gospel appears as the verbum visibile (visible Word; Ap XIII 5; Augustine* of Hippo, Tract 80 on Jn 15:3; see also par. 6 below) 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 (see Faith, 2), is not, properly speaking, a means of grace (see Law and Gospel). It is the very opposite of a means of grace, namely a “ministration of death,” 2 Co 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 (see Justification, 5) or reconciliation* (2 Co 5:19–21) and, 2d, 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 (Mt 28:19–20; Mk 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 (Mt 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 (Ro 1:16; 10:17; 1 Co 4:15; 2 Co 2:14–17; 3:5–6; 1 Th 2:13; 1 Ptr 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 (see Fundamental Doctrines). God bestows His saving grace “only through the Word and with the external and preceding Word” (nisi per verbum et cum verbo externo et praecedente, SA-III VIII 3; Jn 8:31–32; Ro 10:14–17). Therefore the Bible inculcates faithful adherence to the Gospel and the Sacraments administered according to Christ's institution (Mt 28:19–20; Jn 8:31–32; Acts 17:11; Tts 1:9). Because of the strong emphasis on the Word in the Luth. Confessions, Holy Scripture has rightly been called the Formal* Principle of the Reformation.

5. Means of grace and the Luth. Ch. The doctrine of the means of grace is a distinctive feature of Luth. theol., which owes to this cen. 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. Acc. to Luth. 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 (Ro 10:14–17; Eph 1:19–20).

The Luth. Confessions gen. 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 Luth. 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). See also Enthusiasm.

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 III below) regeneration exclusively and to the Lord's Supper (see IV 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 Ptr 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 Ref. 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. Acc. to Ref. teaching, the office of the Word is to point out the way of life without imparting that of which it conveys the idea. Ref. theol. 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,” gen. identified with the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and the “2d conversion,” has its root in this specifically Ref. doctrine of the immediate working of the Holy Spirit. See also Enthusiasm.

8. RCm and the means of grace. RCm 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 (see Opus operatum) on those who do not put an obstacle in the way. RC 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 RCm as a spiritual quality infused by God into the soul (see also Gratia infusa). Baptism, acc. to RCm, wipes out original sin* in the baptized. See also Sacraments, Roman Catholic.

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 (Lk 1:15, 41), but He has bound His ch. to them. Christians dare not regard as unnecessary the Sacraments and the preaching of the Word (Mt 28:19–20; Lk 22:19; 1 Co 11:23–28), as some “enthusiasts” do. But Luth. theol. 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 (Lk 7:29–30).

II. Law and Gospel.

1. Distinction bet. Law and Gospel. The terms Law and Gospel are used at times in a wide sense for the entire body of Bible doctrine (Ps. 1:2; Mk 1:1). But in a narrow sense Law and Gospel are contradictory or opposite, one threatening and condemning, the other promising and for. giving (Ro 3:19–31). The Law, in its proper sense, is the Word “which reproves all sins” (FC SD V 2). The Gospel is the joyous message of God's grace in Christ Jesus toward all sinners (Jn 3:16). This “distinction between law and Gospel is an especially glorious light that is to be maintained with great diligence in the church so that, according to St. Paul's admonition, the Word of God may be divided rightly” (FC Ep V 2).

2. Moral Law and ceremonial laws. The ceremonial laws of the OT have been abolished (Cl 2:16–17), but the Moral Law (see Decalog) is in force to the end of time (Mt 5:18). The Moral Law, however, determined by the law of love (Mt 22:35–40), must not simply be identified with the Decalog as given in the OT (Ex 20; Dt 5), since that contains ceremonial elements, meant only for the Jews (e.g., Dt 5:15). The “Ten Commandments” (Ex 34:28; Dt 4:13; 10:4) must direct our conduct inasmuch as they serve the principle of love (Ro 13:8) and are restated in the NT (Mt 19:18–19; Ro 13:9). The 3d Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” is omitted in the NT; this shows that emphasis no longer rests on the day, but on sanctifying through the Word (LC I 78–102).

3. Use of the Law and the Gospel. The use of the Law is 3-fold. The Luth. Ch., in accord with Holy Scripture, confesses: “The law of God serves (1) not only to maintain external discipline and decency against dissolute and disobedient people, (2) and to bring people to a knowledge of their sin through the law, (3) but those who have been born anew through the Holy Spirit, who have been converted to the Lord and from whom the veil of Moses has been taken away, learn from the law to live and walk in the law” (FC SD VI 1). H. C. Schwan,* A Short Exposition of Dr. Martin Luther's Small Catechism (see also Catechetics, 11), question 91: “What purposes does the Law, then, serve? First, it checks, in a measure, the coarse outbursts of sin, and thereby helps to maintain outward discipline and decency in the world. (A curb) Secondly, and chiefly, it teaches man the due knowledge of his sin. (A mirror.) Thirdly, it leads the regenerate to know what are truly good works. (A rule.)” From the hour when Adam and Eve fell into sin to the end of this present world there never was, nor is, nor will be a man conceived and born in the natural way who could by his own efforts satisfy the demands of the Law and stand in the presence of God by virtue of his own righteousness. All are guilty, under condemnation, deserving of, and liable to punishment at the hands of God, whose Law they have broken and whose sovereign majesty they have offended (Ro 3:22–23). That is the last word the Law has to say to the sinner. It leaves him with the threat of divine retribution.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, in its proper sense, is the glad tidings of forgiveness, peace, life, and joy, the eternal divine counsel of redemption, of which Christ Himself ever was, is, and will be the living center, the very heart and soul. The Gospel, just as the Law, though in a different and opposite way, has a 3-fold use: (1) The Law teaches the knowledge of sin; the Gospel imparts forgiveness of sin; (2) the Law teaches what good works are; the Gospel produces true joy and zeal to do good works; (3) the Law checks sin outwardly, but increases sin inwardly; the Gospel destroys sin both outwardly and inwardly. The difference bet. the Law and Gospel may be put thus: “The Law prescribes; the Gospel inscribes,” and “The Law kills the sinner, but not sin; the Gospel kills sin, but not the sinner.” See also Law and Gospel.

III. Baptism as a means of grace.

1. Baptism instituted by Christ. Baptism was instituted by Christ (Mt 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 Ptr 3:20–21); nothing else may be substituted. The mode of applying water is an adiaphoron (see Adiaphora), the Gk. term baptizein meaning not only immersing but also washing, sprinkling, and pouring (Mk 7:3–4; Acts 1:5 cf. 2:16–17; Eph. 5:25–26; Heb 9:10 [“washings,” literally “baptisms”] cf. Nm 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). Acc. to Scripture, Christ sanctifies His ch. with the washing of water by the Word (Eph 5:25–26). Baptism makes disciples of men (Mt 28:19); it saves (1 Ptr 3:21); it is a washing of regeneration (Tts 3:5) by which men are born again (Jn 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 (Gl 3:26–27); for Baptism is pure Gospel, not Law, and hence it does not save mechanically (see Opus operatum), 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 (Mt 28:19) as also into communion with Christ (Gl 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 (Ro 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 NT is the counterpart of circumcision in the OT (Cl 2:11–12), and in the OT infants were circumcised (Gn 17:12; Lv 12:3). In the NT families were baptized (Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Co 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 (Mt 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 (Jn 3:3–7; Tts 3:5). Christ desires to have also little children brought to Him for the blessings of His grace (Mk 10:14). Little children can believe (Mt 18:2–6).

See also Baptism, Liturgical; Sponsors.

IV. 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, Mt 26:26 and 1 Co 10:16; Holy Communion, 1 Co 10:16–17; Lord's Table, 1 Co 10:21; Lord's* Supper, 1 Co 11:20; Eucharist [from Gk. eucharistesas, “when He had given thanks”], 1 Co 11:24), partly from ch. usage (e.g., Sacrament of the Altar). See also Mass.

2. Institution of the Lord's Supper: Mt 26:17–28; Mk 14:22–24; Lk 22:19–20; 1 Co 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, Mt and Mk emphasize the blood of the NT, given with the cup; Lk 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 Co 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 Co 11:27–29), receives Christ's true body, given into death, and His true blood, shed for sins. This is the point of controversy bet. Luths. and Ref. The question is not whether Christ is present acc. 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 Luths. and Ref.). In Luth. 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 Ref. deny that the words of instit. 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 Ref. 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”), J. 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. See also Altar Fellowship; Lutheran Confessions, A 2 (b); Sacramental Union.

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 (Mt 26:29; Mk 14:25; Lk 22:18; 1 Co 11:21). Jesus used not unfermented grape juice but wine, used in the OT on festive occasions (Gn 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”), acc. to Christ's instit. In RC 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 ch. (1 Co 10:17). It also serves a confessional purpose (Acts 2:42; 1 Co 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 Co 11:29), close* Communion should be observed, the pastor as the steward of the mysteries of God (1 Co 4:1) admitting only such as are able to examine themselves (1 Co 11:28). JTM

See also Grace; Remanence; Word of God.

J. T. Mueller, “The Means of Grace,” What Lutherans Are Thinking, ed. E. C. Fendt (Columbus. Ohio, 1947), pp. 265–288, Christian Dogmatics (St. Louis, 1934), and “Holy Baptism,” The Abiding Word, II, ed. T. Laetsch (St. Louis, 1947), 394–422; C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, tr. W. H. T. Dau (St. Louis, 1929): J. M. Reu, Die Gnadenmittellehre (Chicago, 1917); F. R. Zucker. “Circumcision and Baptism,” CTM, XV (April 1944). 245–259; W. Geihsler, “The Law and the Gospel,” The Abiding Word, I, ed. T. Laetsch (St. Louis, 1946), 105–123; E. E. Pieplow, “The Means of Grace,” The Abiding Word, II, ed. T. Laetsch (St. Louis, 1947), 322–346; S. W. Becker, “The Gospel,” The Abiding Word, II, ed. T. Laetsch (St. Louis, 1947), 347–366; A. E. Neitzel, “The Sacraments,” The Abiding Word, II, ed. T. Laetsch (St. Louis, 1947), 367–393; R. Prenter, “Luther on Word and Sacrament,” More About Luther, ed. G. L. Belgum, D. T. Nelson, and J. C. Bale (Decorah, Iowa, 1958); E. B. Koenker, Worship in Word and Sacrament (St. Louis, 1959); H. Sasse, This Is My Body: Luther's Contention for the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar (Minneapolis, 1959); Meaning and Practice of the Lord's Supper, ed. H. T. Lehmann (Philadelphia, 1961); K. Aland, Did the Early Church Baptize Infants? tr. G. R. Beasley-Murray (London, 1963); J. Jeremias, Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries, tr. D. Cairns (Philadelphia, 1961), The Origins of Infant Baptism, tr. D. M. Barton (Naperville, 1963), and The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, tr. N. Perrin (New York, 1966); A Short Exposition of Dr. Martin Luther's Small Catechism (St. Louis, 1912); E. J. Kilmartin, The Eucharist in the Primitive Church (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1965); bibliography under Dogmatics.


Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod


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