Louis Berkhof, 1933

VI. The Doctrine of the Church and the Means of Grace

    A. The Church

        Nature of the Church

        The Government of the Church

        The Power of the Church

    B. The Means of Grace

        The Word as a Means of Grace

        The Sacraments in General



Nature of the Church

A. Different USES of the Word "Church" in Scripture.

The principal designation of the Church in the Old Testament is derived from a root which means "to call." It was applied especially to the assembly of Israel as it met for worship. The most common word for "church" in the New Testament, which is also the most important, comes from a verb meaning, "to call out." Both words contemplate the Church as an assembly called by God. In the New Testament the word "church" is first used by Jesus. He applied it to the company that gathered round about Him, recognized Him publicly as their Lord, and accepted the principles of the kingdom of Heaven. Later on the word acquired several different connotations.

1. Most frequently it denotes a circle of believers in some definite locality, a local church, irrespective of the question, whether it is assembled for worship or not. Some passages regard it as assembled, Acts 5:11; 11:26; 1 Corinthians 11:18; 14:19, 28, 35, and others do not, Romans 16:4; 1 Corinthians 16:1; Galatians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:14, etc.

2. In some passages it denotes a domestic church, or "the church in the house" of some individual. The wealthy, it would seem, often provided a meeting-place in their homes, Romans 16:5, 23 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2.

3. In its most comprehensive sense the word serves as a designation of the whole body of believers, whether in Heaven or on earth, who have been or shall be spiritually united to Christ as their Savior, Ephesians 1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 32; Colossians 1:18, 24.

There are several figurative designations of the Church in Scripture. It is called "the body of Christ," 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 1:18, "the temple of the Holy Spirit," 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Peter 2:5, "the Jerusalem that is above," Galatians 4:26, "the heavenly," Hebrews 12:22, or "the new Jerusalem," Rev. 21:2 (cf. verses 9 and 10), and "the pillar and ground of the truth," 1 Timothy 3:15. It should be noted that our word "church" is derived from a word which means "belonging to the Lord," and thus stresses the fact that the Church is the property of God.


B. The ESSENCE of the Church.

There is quite a difference of opinion between Roman Catholics and Protestants as to the essential nature of the Church. The former find its essence in the Church as an external and visible organization. And this organization, strictly speaking, does not consist of the whole body of the faithful that constitute their Church, but of the hierarchy, consisting of the priests together with the higher orders of bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and the Pope. They distinguish this body as the "teaching church" from the common body of believers as the "learning" or "hearing church." This hierarchical body shares directly in the glorious attributes of the Church, such as its unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity, while the general body of believers is adorned with these only indirectly. Theoretically Roman Catholics still hold to the principle that there is no salvation outside of their external organization, though the facts often constrain them to modify it in various ways. The Reformation reacted against this external conception of the Church and sought the essence of the Church in the invisible and spiritual communion of the saints. This Church includes the believers of all ages and no one else, and outside of it there is no salvation. It is the spiritual body of Jesus Christ, destined to reflect the glory of God as this is manifested in the work of redemption.


C. The Many-sided CHARACTER of the Church.

In speaking of the Church several distinctions come into consideration.

1. The Church Militant and the Church TRIUMPHANT. The Church as she now exists on earth is a militant Church, that is, she is called unto and is actually engaged in a holy war. She must carry on an incessant warfare against the hostile world in every form in which it reveals itself, and against the spiritual powers of darkness. The Church in Heaven, on the other hand, is the triumphant Church, in which the sword is exchanged for the palm of victory, the battle-cries are turned into songs of triumph, and the cross is replaced by the crown.

2. The VISIBLE and the INVISIBLE Church. The one Church of Jesus Christ is on the one hand visible and on the other invisible. This is a distinction applied to the Church as it exists on earth. She is called invisible, because she is essentially spiritual and cannot, as far as her essential nature is concerned, be discerned by the physical eye, and because it is impossible to determine precisely who do and who do not belong to her. This same Church, however, becomes visible in the profession and conduct of its members, in the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, and in her external organization and government.

3. The Church as an ORGANISM and the Church as an Institution or ORGANIZATION. This distinction applies only to the visible Church. The Church as an institution or organization becomes visible in the offices, in the administration of the Word and the sacraments, and in a certain form of Church government. But even if these were absent, the Church would still be visible as an organism, as a communion of believers, in their communal life and profession, and in their joint opposition to the world.


D. DEFINITION of the Church.

In defining the Church it will be necessary to bear in mind the distinction between the visible and the invisible Church.

(1) The former may be defined as the company of the elect who are called by the Spirit of God, or briefer still, as the communion of believers.

(2) The latter is a broader concept, and may be defined as the community of those who profess the true religion together with their children. It is important to bear in mind that these two are not entirely parallel. Some who are members of the invisible Church may never become members of the visible organization or may be shut out from it; and some who belong to the visible Church may be unbelievers and hypocrites and as such form no part of the body of Christ.


E. The Church in the Different DISPENSATIONS.

The Church existed from the moment that God set enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, but it did not always assume the same form.

1. In the PATRIARCHAL Period. In the patriarchal period the Church was best represented in the pious households, where the fathers served as priests. There was at first no collective worship, though Genesis 4:26 seems to imply a public calling upon the name of the Lord. At the time of the flood the Church was saved in the family of Noah. And when true religion was again on the point of dying out God separated unto Himself the family of Abraham. Up to the time of Moses the fear of God was kept alive in the families.

2. In the MOSAIC Period. After the exodus the people of Israel were organized into a nation and also constituted the Church of God. They were enriched with a ceremonial cultus in which the religion of the nation could find expression. The Church had no independent organization, but had its organized existence in the State. Israel was a Church-State. Foreigners could enter the Church only by joining the nation. Religious worship was regulated down to the minutest details, was largely ritual and ceremonial, and found its highest expression in the services at the central sanctuary at Jerusalem.

3. In the NEW TESTAMENT Period. On the day of Pentecost the Church was divorced from the national life of Israel and obtained an independent organization. What had up to this time been a national Church now assumed a universal character. And in order to realize the ideal of a world-wide extension, it had to become a missionary Church, carrying the gospel of salvation to all the nations of the world. Moreover, the ritual worship of the past made place for a more spiritual worship in harmony with the greater privileges of the New Testament.


F. The ATTRIBUTES of the Church. The attributes of the Church belong primarily to the invisible Church, though Roman Catholics ascribe them almost exclusively to the visible Church.

1. The UNITY of the Church. According to Roman Catholics the unity of the Church consists in its imposing world-wide organization, which aims at the inclusion of all nations. It centers especially in the hierarchy. Protestants maintain that the unity of the Church is primarily of a spiritual character. It is the unity of a body, the mystical body of Jesus Christ, of which all believers are members. This unity expresses itself to a certain extent in Christian profession and conduct, in public worship, and in the external organization of the Church.

2. The HOLINESS of the Church. Roman Catholics also conceive of the holiness of the Church in an external fashion. Instead of the inner holiness of its members, it stresses the ceremonial holiness of its dogmas, its moral precepts, its worship, and its discipline. Protestants apply the idea of holiness to the members of the Church. They regard these as objectively holy in Christ, as subjectively holy in principle, since they are in possession of the new life, and as destined for perfect holiness. This holiness finds external expression in a life devoted to God.

3. The CATHOLICITY of the Church. The Church of Rome lays special claim to the attitude of catholicity in view of the fact that she is spread over the whole earth, has existed from the beginning and continues to exist, while sects come and go, and has a greater number of members than all the sects taken together. Protestants stress the fact that the invisible Church is the real catholic Church, because it includes all believers of all ages, has its members among all the nations of the world, and exercises a controlling influence on the entire life of man.

Besides these three attributes the Church of Rome also claims the attitude of apostolicity, since she traces her origin back to the apostles, bases her doctrine on an apostolic tradition, and has in her bishops and the Pope the lawful successors of the apostles.


G. The Notes or Characteristic MARKS of the Church. The marks of the Church belong to the visible Church and serve to distinguish the true from the false. Reformed Churches usually mention three marks, but the three can be reduced to one, namely, faithful adherence in teaching and practice to the standard of God's Word. The three notes of the Church are the following:

1. The True Preaching of the Word of God. This is the most important mark of the Church, John 8:31, 32, 47; 14:23; 1 John 4:1–3; 2 John 9. This does not mean that a Church's preaching of the Word must be perfect and absolutely pure, if it is to be recognized as a true Church. Such an ideal is not attainable on earth. It does mean, however, that its preaching must be true to the fundamentals and must have a controlling influence on faith and practice. Naturally, the Church that excels in its adherence to the Word of God is the best Church.

2. The Faithful Exercise of Discipline. The faithful exercise of discipline is quite essential for maintaining purity of doctrine and safeguarding the holiness of the sacraments. Churches that are lax in discipline soon find the light of the truth eclipsed, and that which is holy abused. The Word of God insists on proper discipline in the Church of Christ, Matthew 18:18; 1 Corinthians 5:1–5, 13; 14:33, 40; Rev. 2:14, 15, 20.

Questions for Review:

What is the meaning of the Scripture words for "church"?

What different meanings has the word in the New Testament?

How is the Church described figuratively?

How do Roman Catholics and Protestants differ as to the essence of the Church?

What is the difference between the militant and the triumphant Church?

To what Church does the distinction between the visible and invisible Church apply?

In what respects is the Church called invisible?

How do the Church as an organism and the Church as an institution differ?

How can we define the invisible Church?

How can we define the visible Church?

What form did the Church assume in the patriarchal period?

In what respect did it change in the Mosiac period?

What is the characteristic of the New Testament Church?

Which are the attributes of the Church?

Do they belong to the visible or to the invisible Church?

How do we, in distinction from the Catholics, conceive of the unity, the holiness, and the catholicity of the Church?

Which are the notes of the Church?

Do they belong to the visible or to the invisible Church?

How must we conceive of the true preaching of the Word?

What belongs to the right administration of the sacraments?

Why is discipline necessary?


The Government of the Church

A. Different Theories Respecting the Government of the Church.

1. Quakers and Darbyites. Quakers and Darbyites reject all Church government as a matter of principle. They believe that every external church organization necessarily degenerates and leads to results that are contrary to the spirit of Christianity. For the Word of God they substitute special revelations, for what they call the humanly instituted offices, the divinely given charisms, and for public preaching, words of exhortation prompted by the Spirit.

2. The Erastian System. Erastians regard the Church as a society which owes its existence and form to regulations enacted by the State. The officers in the Church are merely instructors or preachers of the Word, without any right or power to rule, except that which they derive from the civil magistrate. The State governs the Church, exercises discipline, and excommunicates, if necessary. This system ignores the independence of the Church and the headship of Jesus Christ.

3. The Episcopalian System. The Episcopalians hold that Christ, as the Head of the Church, has entrusted the government of the Church directly and exclusively to an independent order of bishops, as the successors of the apostles. The community of believers has absolutely no share in the government of the Church. This was at one time the system of the Roman Catholic Church, and is now the system in vogue in the Church of England.

4. The Present Roman Catholic System. This is the Episcopal system carried to its logical conclusion. It recognizes not only successors of the apostles in the bishops, but also a successor of Peter, who had the primacy among the apostles. The Pope is honored as the infallible head of the Church. As the representative of Christ he has the right to determine and regulate the doctrine, the worship, and the government of the Church.

5. The Congregational System. This is also called the system of independency. In this system each local church or congregation is regarded as a complete church, independent of every other. The governing power rests exclusively with the members of the Church. The officers are simple functionaries of the local church, having no other power than that which is delegated to them by the members of the church. This is the theory of popular government in the Church.

6. The National Church System. This proceeds on the assumption that the Church is a voluntary association just as the State. The separate churches or congregations are merely subdivisions of the one national Church. The State has the right to reform public worship, to decide disputes respecting doctrine and practice, and to convene synods. The rights of the local church are disregarded altogether.


B. The Fundamental Principles of the Reformed or Presbyterian System.

The general principles of the Reformed system are derived from Scripture, while many of its details are determined by human wisdom or expediency. Its fundamental principles are as follows:

1. Christ the Head of the Church and the Source of All its Authority. Christ is the Head of the Church in a twofold sense. He is the Head of the Church in an organic sense. The Church is the body to which He stands in vital and organic relationship, which He fills with His life and controls by His Spirit, John 15:1–8; Ephesians 1:10, 22, 23; 2:20–22; 4:15; 5:30; Colossians 1:18; 2:19; 3–11. He is also the Head of the Church in the sense that He is its King who has authority and rule over it, Matthew 16:18, 19; 23:8, 10; John 13:13; 1 Corinthians 12:5; Ephesians 1:20–23; 4:4, 5, 11, 12; 5:23, 24. This is the Headship which comes into consideration here. In this capacity Christ established the Church, made provision for its ordinances, instituted its offices and clothed its officers with authority, and is ever present in the Church, speaking and acting through its officers.

2. Christ Exercises His Authority by Means of the WORD. Christ does not rule the Church by force, but by His Spirit and by the Word of God as its standard of authority. All believers are unconditionally bound to obey the word of the King. As Christ is the only King of the Church, so His word is the only word that is law in the absolute sense, and that must be obeyed by all. It is the word of the King and is therefore binding on the conscience. All those who have rule in the Church are clothed with the authority of Christ and must submit to the control of His Word.

3. Christ as King Endowed His Church with POWER. Christ endowed the Church with the power that is necessary for carrying on the work which He entrusted to it. He invests all the members of the Church with a certain measure of power, but bestows a special measure of it upon the officers of the Church. Their authority is not delegated to them by the people, though the people choose them for office. While they share in the original power, they receive directly from Christ that additional measure of power which is required for their work as officers in the Church of Christ.


C. The OFFICERS of the Church.

Different kinds of officers may be distinguished in the Church. A very common distinction is that between extraordinary and ordinary officers.

1. EXTRAORDINARY Officers. Of these the New Testament mentions three classes:

a. APOSTLES. Strictly speaking, the name apostle applies only to the Twelve chosen by Jesus and Paul; but it is also given to some apostolic men, Acts 14:4, 14; 1 Corinthians 9:5, 6; 2 Corinthians 8:23; Galatians 1:19. The apostles had certain special qualifications. They:

(1) received their commission directly from God or from Jesus Christ, Mark 3:14; Galatians 1:1;

(2) were witnesses of the resurrection of Christ, 1 Corinthians 9:1;

(3) were conscious of being inspired, 1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:8

(4) confirmed their message by miracles, 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:4; and

(5) were richly blessed as a sign of the divine approval of their labors, 1 Corinthians 9:1; 2 Corinthians 3:2, 3; Galatians 2:8.

b. PROPHETS. The New Testament also speaks of prophets, Acts 11:28; 13:1, 2; 15:32; 1 Corinthians 12:10; 13:2; 14:3; Ephesians 2:20; 4:11. These were men who were specially gifted to speak for the edification of the Church, and were occasionally instrumental in revealing mysteries and predicting future events.

c. EVANGELISTS. Some New Testament passages make mention of evangelists, Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:5. Philip, Mark, Titus, and Timothy belonged to this class. They frequently accompanied and assisted the apostles in their work, preaching, appointing officers, and also exercising discipline, Titus 1:5; 3:10; 1 Timothy 5:22.

2. ORDINARY Officers. The following classes of ordinary officers should be mentioned.

a. ELDERS. The term "elders" is sometimes used to denote the older men of the community, and sometimes to designate a class of officers somewhat similar to those who functioned in the synagogue. Frequent mention is made of them in the book of Acts, 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 6, 22; 16:5; 20:17; 21:18. As a designation of office the name was gradually eclipsed and even superseded by the name "bishop." The terms are used interchangeably in several passages, Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Timothy 3:1; 5:17, 19; Titus 1:5, 7; 1 Peter 5:1, 2. While both were applied to the same class of officers, the name "elder" stressed their age, and the name "bishop" their work as overseers.

b. TEACHERS. It is clear that the elders were not originally teachers. There was no need of separate teachers at first, since there were apostles, prophets, and evangelists. Gradually, however, the teaching function was connected with the office of elder or bishop, Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:2. Finally, ever increasing heresies made the task of those whose duty it was to teach more exacting, so that it required special preparation, 2 Timothy 2:2; Titus 1:9. Those who prepared for this work were set free from other labors and were supported by the churches. In all probability the "angels" of the seven churches of Asia Minor were such teachers, Rev. 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14.

c. DEACONS. The New Testament repeatedly speaks of deacons, Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8, 10, 12. According to the prevailing opinion Acts 6:1–6 records the institution of the diaconate. Some are of the opinion, however, that the seven men mentioned there were appointed to be elders; and others that they were simply appointed temporarily for a special function. In all probability, however, they were the first deacons, though their work assumed a special form which was demanded by the occasion of their appointment.

3. The Officers' Calling and Induction into Office. In the discussion of these points we limit ourselves to the ordinary officers.

Their CALLING. The calling of the officers is twofold:

(1) INTERNAL calling. This internal calling should not be regarded as a supernatural call by means of special revelation. It consists in certain providential indications, such as a strong desire, prompted by love to God, the special work in the kingdom of God, the conviction that the necessary gifts are in some measure present, and the experience that God is paving the way.

(2) EXTERNAL calling. The internal calling finds its necessary complement in the external calling by the Church. This external call serves to confirm the internal, and thus gives the recipient the assurance that he is called of God. The officers of the church have a guiding hand in the extension of this call, but do not ignore the voice of the people, Acts 1:15–26; 6:2–6; 14:23.

Questions for Review:

What is the view of Quakers and Darbyites respecting church government?

What is the Erastian system?

What is the Episcopal system?

What is the present Roman Catholic system?

What is the congregational system?

What is the national church system?

In what sense is Christ the Head of the Church?

What is the standard by which He rules?

What extraordinary officers were there in the early Church?

What were the characteristics of the apostles?

What characterizes the New Testament prophets?

What were the evangelists mentioned in the Bible?

Which were the ordinary officers?

What other name was used for the elders?

How did the office of teachers gradually arise?

Does Acts 6 record the institution of the office of deacon?

What constitutes internal calling?

How is the external call related to the internal call?


The POWER of the Church

A. The SOURCE of Church Power.

Jesus Christ not only founded the Church, but also endowed it with the necessary power or authority. He did this in His capacity as King of the Church as a spiritual commonwealth. He gave unto His disciples power to bind and to loose, that is, to determine what is forbidden and what is permitted in the sphere of the kingdom or of the Church, Matthew 16:18, and also to forgive sins and to retain them declaratively, or to admit to the kingdom and exclude from it, John 20:23. The power, extended to the apostles in the fullest degree, is also given to the Church in general, though in a less absolute sense. In exercising this power the Church is bound by the standard of right living and proper conduct transmitted to it in the apostolic Word. While a certain measure of power is given to the people as a whole, 1 Corinthians 5:7, 13; 6:2–4; 12:28, a special measure of it is bestowed upon the officers, through whom the Church mainly exercises its power. These officers receive their authority directly from Christ, though the Church is instrumental in putting them in office.


B. The NATURE of This Power.

The power with which Christ endows His Church is:

1. A SPIRITUAL Power. That the power of the Church is spiritual does not mean that it is altogether internal and invisible, since Christ rules both body and soul. The ministry of the deacons has special reference to the needs of the body. It is spiritual because it is given by the Holy Spirit, Acts 20:28, is a manifestation of the power of the Spirit, John 20:22, 23; 1 Corinthians 5:4, pertains exclusively to men as believers, 1 Corinthians 5:12, and can only be exercised in a moral or spiritual way, 2 Corinthians 10:4. And because the power of the Church is exclusively spiritual, it does not resort to force in the maintenance of good order.

2. A MINISTERIAL Power. It is clear from Scripture that the power of the Church is no independent and sovereign power, Matthew 20:25, 26; 23:8, 10; 2 Corinthians 10:4, 5; 1 Peter 5:3, but a ministerial power, Acts 4:29, 30; 20:24; Romans 1:1, etc., which is derived from Christ and is subordinate to His sovereign authority over the Church, Matthew 28:18. It must be exercised in harmony with the Word of God, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and in the name of Jesus Christ, the King of the Church, Romans 10:14, 15; Ephesians 5:23; 1 Corinthians 5:4.


C. A Dogmatic or TEACHING Power. The Church has a task in connection with the truth. The Word of God was given to the Church as a precious deposit of the truth, and the Church is commissioned to guard the truth, to hand it on faithfully from generation to generation, and to defend it against all the forces of unbelief, 1 Timothy 1:3, 4; 2 Timothy 1:13; Titus 1:9–11. It has the further duty of preaching the Word for the conversion of sinners and for the edification of the saints, and to provide translations of it, so that the work of preaching may be carried on among all the nations of the world, Isaiah 3:10, 11; 2 Corinthians 5:20; 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 2:15; 4:2; Titus 2:1–10. Furthermore, it must draw up creeds and confessions, in which it formulates its faith, so that the world may know exactly what it believes. The need of such creeds is felt especially in times of defection, when many depart from the historic faith of the Church. Finally, it is also the duty of the Church to develop the truth by theological study. It owes this to the truth itself as a revelation of God, but also to the training of its future ministers. According to Scripture the Church is in duty bound to provide for and to supervise the training of successive generations of teachers and pastors, 2 Timothy 2:2.


Questions for Review:

What is the source of Church power?

What power was given to the apostles?

Do later officers have this power in the same degree?

Is this power given to the officers only or also to the people?

What is the nature of the power given to the Church?

Why is it called spiritual?

Why ministerial?

What is included in the teaching power of the Church?

What elements are included in the Church's governing power?

Must all Church regulations be based directly on the Word of God?



A. The Word of God, the Most Important Means of Grace.

The term "means of grace" is sometimes used in a very general sense to denote whatever may minister to the spiritual welfare of believers, such as the Church, the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, the Sabbath prayer, etc. It is generally employed in a more restricted sense, however, as a designation of the Word of God and the sacraments. Strictly speaking, only these two can be regarded as means of grace. When we speak of the Word as a means of grace, we do not think of the personal Word (the second person in the Trinity, John 1:1 ff), nor of the word of power by which all things were created and are maintained, Psalm 33:6; Hebrews 1:3, nor of any kind of revelation such as the prophets received; but very specifically of the Word of God as it is contained in Scripture and as it is preached to the Church. It is the word of God's grace, and as such the most important means of grace. While the emphasis falls on the Word as it is preached in the name of God, it may also be brought to men in other ways: in the home and in the school, by means of conversation and literature. While the sacraments can only be administered in the Church by a lawful minister, the Word of God can be carried out into the world by all believers and operate in many different ways.


B. The Relation of the Word to the Spirit.

There has always been a difference of opinion as to the relation between the operation of the Word and that of the Holy Spirit. Pelagians and Rationalists regard the intellectual and moral operation of the Word as quite sufficient for the production of the new life, and feel no need of an additional operation of the Holy Spirit. Antinomians, on the other hand, expect everything from the operation of the Holy Spirit. They stress the importance of the inner word or the inner light, and do not regard the external Word as necessary at all. As a matter of fact, however, the Word alone is not sufficient to work faith and conversion, and while the Holy Spirit can, He does not ordinarily work without the Word. In the application of the work of redemption the two work together, the Spirit using the Word as His instrument. The preaching of the Word does not yield the desired fruit until it is made effective by the Holy Spirit.


C. The Two Parts of the Word as a Means of Grace.

We distinguish two parts in the Word of God as a means of grace, namely, the law and the gospel.

1. The Distinction Between the Law and the Gospel. The law and the gospel should not be represented as absolute opposites, as is sometimes done in the present day. They who do this contemplate the law as the condition of the covenant of works and usually fail to recognize its other aspects. And if the law is regarded merely as the condition of the covenant of works—a broken covenant—it naturally cannot now be a means of grace. When we speak of the law as a means of grace, we think of it as the necessary expression of God's character and will, and more particularly of it as it is made subservient to the covenant of grace. As such it is closely linked up and is even permeated with the promises of God. It is possible to speak of the gospel in the law. In the gospel the promises of God are naturally in the foreground, but this does not mean that there are no demands in connection with the gospel, nor that they who live in the gospel dispensation are in every respect free from the law. The law requires that we shall believe the gospel, and the gospel aims at the fulfillment of the law in our lives. Clearly the law is held high also in the New Testament, Matthew 5:17–19; Romans 13:10; Ephesians 6:2; Jas. 2:8–11; 1 John 3:4; 5:3.

2. The Function of the Law. The law serves the purpose of common grace in the world at large by restraining sin and promoting righteousness. However, this is not its specific use as a means of grace, for the "means of grace" are means of special grace. In this capacity the law first of all serves the purpose of bringing man under conviction of sin, Romans 3:20, making him conscious of his inability to meet the demands of the law, and becoming his tutor to lead him to Christ, Galatians 3:24. In the second place it is also a rule of life for believers, reminding them of their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation. This use of the law is denied by the Antinomians.

3. The Function of the Gospel. The law, conceived purely as law, can only point away from itself, and in connection with the promises of the Old Testament points to the coming Redeemer as the way of salvation. The gospel is a clear representation of the way of salvation revealed in Jesus Christ. It exhorts the sinner to come to Christ in faith and repentance, and promises those who truly repent and believe all the blessings of salvation in the present and in the future. It is the power of God unto salvation for every one that believes.


Questions for Review:

What is the meaning of the term "means of grace"?

What do we mean by "the Word of God" as a means of grace?

Why is the Word the most important means?

How do Pelagians and Rationalists conceive of the relation between the Word and the Spirit?

What position do the Antinomians take on this point?

What is the proper conception of this relation?

Are the law and the gospel absolute opposites?

Are believers free from the law in every respect?

What is the function of the law as a means of grace?

What is the function of the gospel?


The Sacraments in General

A. Relation Between the Word and the Sacraments.

The Word of God can exist and is also complete as a means of grace without the sacraments, but the sacraments cannot exist and are not complete without the Word. This must be maintained over against the Roman Catholics, who proceed on the assumption that the sacraments contain all that is necessary for the salvation of sinners. The sacraments are a special aid for man, since they address the eye which is more sensuous than the ear and therefore deepen the impression made. The Word and the sacraments agree in that both have God for their author and Christ as their central content, and in their appropriation by faith. At the same time they differ in some important points:

(1) the Word is absolutely necessary, while the sacraments are not;

(2) the Word is intended to beget and to strengthen faith, while the sacraments can only strengthen it; and

(3) the Word goes out into all the world, while the sacraments are administered only to those who are in the covenant.