Essay / Theology

Even More Means, Even More Grace

When teaching about the means of grace, John Wesley habitually listed three things: prayer, Bible study, and the Lord’s supper. Those are the three in his best exposition of the doctrine of the means, and in many other places:

GOD hath in Scripture ordained prayer, reading or hearing, and the receiving the Lord’s supper, as the ordinary means of conveying his grace to man.

But he never seems to dictate these three as a comprehensive or exhaustive list. And a friend points out that in other places, Wesley commends not three but five means of grace. In his “Large Minutes,” which became part of the Discipline of American Methodism, he is exploring ways in which pastors should hold each other accountable for their spiritual lives. In particular, he begins inquiring into the way seasoned ministers should give guidance to their helpers, and says this:

We might consider those that are with us as our pupils ; into whose behaviour and studies we should inquire every day. Should we not frequently ask, Do you walk closely with God? Have you now fellowship with the Father and the Son ? At what hour do you rise ? Do you punctually observe the morning and evening hour of retirement? Do you spend the day in the manner which we advise? Do you converse seriously, usefully, and closely? To be more particular: Do you use all the means of grace yourself, and enforce the use of them on all other persons?

Fear not, he isn’t saying that rising early is a means of grace. He goes on to list five instituted means, as follows:

1.) Prayer

private, family, public; consisting of deprecation, petition, intercession, and thanksgiving. Do you use each of these ? Do you use private prayer every morning and evening? if you can, at five in the evening; and the hour before or after morning preaching ? Do you forecast daily, wherever you are, how to secure these hours? Do you avow it every where ? Do you ask every where, ” Have you family prayer?” Do you retire at five o’clock?

2.) Searching the Scriptures by

(i.) Reading : Constantly, some part of every day ; regularly, all the Bible in order ; carefully, with the Notes ; seriously, with prayer before and after; fruitfully, immediately practising what you learn there?

(ii.) Meditating : At set times ? by any rule?

(iii.) Hearing: Every morning? carefully; with prayer before, at, after; immediately putting in practice ? Have you a New Testament always about you?

3.) The Lord’s Supper : Do you use this at every opportunity? with solemn prayer before; with earnest and deliberate self devotion?

4.) Fasting : How do you fast every Friday?

5.) Christian conference:

Are you convinced how important and how difficult it is to “order your conversation right?” Is it always in grace? seasoned with salt? meet to minister grace to the hearers? Do not you converse too long at a time? Is not an hour commonly enough? Would it not be well always to have a determinate end in view; and to pray before and after it?

(Thanks to Joe Henderson, strangely-warmed Old Testament scholar, for this information)

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