Means of Grace

A new edition of the Rev. Robert Bickersteth’s lectures on,

Means of Grace.

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Introduction by Nicholas Steward

During the seven Wednesdays of Lent in March and April 1851, the Rev. Robert Bickersteth delivered a series of lectures to his congregation on seven means[1] of grace. These means or practices help believers to, “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). 

Reverend Bickersteth defines grace as “the free and spontaneous overflowing of the Divine love.”[2] The means discussed in his lectures are appointed by God, and are,

“subservient to the bestowment and the increase of grace. They are the vehicles through which it is ordinarily imparted or augmented, and the use of them in dependence upon the Divine promises, and in obedience to the Divine command, is an imperative duty which devolves to every professing disciple of Jesus.”[3]

The study is split between five ordinary means: hearing Scripture, studying the Bible, prayer, religious meditation and self-examination, and fellowship; and two extraordinary means: Baptism and the Eucharist.[4] The two extraordinary or sacramental means are separate, “from the other means of grace, having a virtue belonging to them which arises simply out of the fact that Christ appointed them to be signs and seals of spiritual blessing.”[5] In each chapter, he focuses on a mean and its application; and adds Biblical references to show how God, through his Word, gives examples of each of these means.

Each mean interacts with and is key to the others. For example, there is prayer before the study of scripture, self-examination before prayer, and religious meditation after hearing the Gospel, etc. None should be neglected or thought of as less important than another.  

He stresses, however, that the seven means are neither exclusive nor exhaustive, and emphasizes that each one is only a guidepost, not the vehicle, along the spiritual journey. Mechanically practicing one or all of them will not lead to growth.

What are the fruits of this growth? According to the Rev. Bickersteth, we will know that we are growing in grace by,

“a conformity of mind and disposition, of heart and life, to the example of Jesus; the subject of such grace will be led from the renunciation of the world, the flesh, and the devil, to the pursuit after holiness : holiness will be the marked and visible fruit. There will be separation from the world, the abandonment of its maxims, its pleasures, its customs, and its follies; there will be the fixing of the affections upon things above.”[6]

Sanctification, the theological term for growth-in-grace, is the process of resisting the pull of the world and of our own sins by “be[ing] holy in all [we] do” (1 Peter 1:15, NIV) in preparation for glory.

Growth in grace is the middle step in the believer’s journey, preceded by justification and followed by glorification. Through justification, the believer is brought into a right relationship or righteousness with God. In Romans, St. Paul says of justification,

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10:9–10, NIV).

The ultimate end of growth in grace is glorification or God’s final removal of sin from everyone who is saved because,

“our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20–21, NIV).

The Rev. Bickersteth chose Lent for this series since it is, “set apart as a period for special recollection, self-examination, and self-humiliation before God. The design of such a season is clearly to promote the growth in grace of those who will apply themselves to its appointed duties.”[7] For the believer, however, these means can be practiced, in faith, daily or weekly throughout the year.

[1]means: A subservient agency or instrumentality; that which confers ability or opportunity to attain an end : now rare in the singular, the plural form being used with both singular and plural meanings : as, means of travel or subsistence; by this means you will succeed.” Whitney, W. Dwight. The Century Dictionary: an Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English language, def. 7, (New York: The Century Co., 1897), 3674.

[2] p. 20.

[3] Ibid.

[4] p. 8.

[5] p. 90.

[6] p. 3.

[7] p. 2.