The Shorter Catechism, 27
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Q88: 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, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
The redemption is once earned by Christ, when He was on earth. Being earned, it isnít given to us yet. How are we made partakers of that once earned redemption? Christ uses some outward means to do that. Therefore the question is: What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption? Those outward means are His ordinances. Special ordinances Christ uses to give us the benefits of His redemption are the Word, and the sacraments, and prayer. Those ordinances may be performed by the people, but without receiving the benefits. For example, one might hear or read the Word, and yet not be converted. The reason is, that these outward means in themselves effect nothing. But Christ makes them effectual for salvation to the elect. The means in themselves do not much, but Christ makes use of them, and makes them powerful and effectual to the conversion and salvation of the elect people.
As said, the three outward means are the Word, the sacraments and prayer. You find these three in Acts, for example. "Then they that gladly received his WORD were BAPTISED. And they continued steadfastly in the apostlesí doctrine and fellowship, and in BREAKING OF BREAD, and in PRAYERS." Acts 2:41,42. We have here the Word, baptism, breaking of bread, and prayers. The young congregation continued therein, and every present believer, that wishes to receive the benefits of redemption, should do the same.
Q89: 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.
The Word in itself may be heard and read, but we know that millions read and hear the Word without benefit. The reason is that the Word in itself cannot give us salvation. It must be made effectual to salvation. How is that done? How is the Word of God made effectual to our salvation? It is done by the Spirit of God. He makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of salvation. The Spirit begins to convince sinners of their wretched and sinful state, through the Word. The Spirit continues, and uses the same Word to convert those sinners. For it is written that "the law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple." Ps. 19:7. The unconverted soul is converted by the Spirit, because "the law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul". Further, the ignorant people deceived themselves, telling themselves that they are saved and also believe. But when they heard the preaching of the Word, and after the Spirit used means for their salvation, they became wise. Their former emptiness of ignorance was filled with knowledge, because "the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple".
Besides using the Word for conviction and conversion, the Spirit also uses that outward means for the building up of the believers in holiness and comfort. Through the steadfast hearing and reading of the Word, and through the meditation thereon, the believers are built up in holiness, through the effectual working of the Spirit. The same Word, when bedewed by the Spirit, gives them much comfort in their affliction. They begin to love the Word, because it comforts them when they need it. It is said of them: "And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." 1 Thess. 1:6. Hearing the Word, they begin to see more and more their sins and unholiness. Hearing the Word, and how they should live in holiness, they are more and more transformed to the image of a perfect man, though they never become perfect on earth. Their holiness increases, through the effectual working of the Spirit.
The Spirit of God makes uses of the reading and preaching of the Word, unto the salvation of the elect. The Spirit uses these means not directly, but he gives us all benefits through faith. Without faith, we cannot receive the benefits. Paul writes: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." Rom. 1:16. So we see that the gospel of Christ is called "the power of God unto salvation". To whose salvation? "To every one that believes". The believers experience the power of the Word, and the unbelievers receive nothing except damnation. The gospel is made effectual and powerful to the believers.
Q90: How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?
A: That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faiths and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.
How should we read and hear the Word, that it may become effectual to salvation? Shall we do as the multitudes do? They sleep in the church, and in the case they read the Word, they do it without attentiveness and with their thoughts elsewhere. Shall the Word become effectual to salvation in this way? No, when we do it so, it is as if we ask that God may not make it effectual for us. Instead of sleepiness and inattention, we have better rules for reading and hearing, that God may make His Word effectual. We must attend to the Word with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faiths and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives. These things are required, and we should endeavour to use the Word in this manner.
We should read and hear the Word with diligence, for there is written: "Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors." Prov. 8:34. Letís then hear to God, speaking through His Word, with diligence. Letís watch daily and always at Godís gates, to hear whenever He intends to speak to our souls. Letís waiting at the post of Godís doors, while reading and hearing the Word, that we may catch His voice in it.
We should read and hear the Word after having prepared ourselves. For there is written: "Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings. As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." 1 Pet. 2:1,2. Falling upon reading the Word, or hearing it, directly when coming from our own business, is vain and useless. We should prepare our souls in advance. That is why it is so helpful and advantageous to prepare ourselves on the Saturday-evenings, that we may be ready to receive the sermons on the Sunday. And before we read for ourselves, letís prepare our hearts for a while, and above all, lay always aside all sins and other vices. Who is defiled with some sins, is, whatever he may do, yet unprepared. Letís live holily then, and prepare ourselves before we attend to the Word.
We should read and hear the Word with prayer before, with prayer during the work, and with prayer after that. The Psalmist did so: "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." Ps. 119:18. He prays God that He may open his eyes, so that he will behold the excellency of the Word. Letís us pray for light over the Word, because only by the Spirit, the Word is made effectual.
It is written that "the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." Hebr. 4:2. We see that without faith, the Word profits not. The preacher may preach what he wills, but when there is no faith in the hearers, he preaches in vain. Faith is required in the person that wishes to hear and read the Word with benefit.
Using the Word with a cool heart is also in vain. Love is required. We should receive the Word in love. Of many it is said: "They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved." 2 Thess. 2:10. These people, it might be that they did receive the Word, but yet they had no love to the truth in contains. Therefore, being without love, they were not saved. Love is required in him that receives the Word. Modern Bible critics have no love for the Word, judging from their work, that tears the Word in pieces. They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved, but instead of that, they show their hatred, and criticise the Word with such heavy attacks, that they take away the possibility of faith in everybody that listen to them, and is infected by their poison. Letís learn then that we should receive the Word with faith and love.
The hearing and the reading of the Word must not be a work for that same moment only, but we should keep the Word in our hearts always. The whole day we should meditate it, and lay it up in our hearts. "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." Ps. 119:11.
Lastly, only hearing the Word and meditating on it isnít enough. We should also practice it in our lives, that it becomes visible. The Word should have influence on our behaviour, that we more and more follow the good examples of Jesus and the apostles. Letís imitate all holy man, as far as they imitate Jesus. "But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the word, this man shall be blessed in his deed." Jam. 1:25. Many are forgetful hearers, but the doers of the word are blessed.