As there are foes and dangers confronting the young pilgrim, so there are also helps to assist him Heavenward. When the great Syrian host encompassed Elisha, his servant’s heart quailed; but the prophet’s eye beheld the surrounding mountain full of horses and chariots of fire sent by heaven for his defence, and thereupon he addressed his trembling servant: “Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” (2 Kings vi. 16.) And so it is with the Christian soldier, that his friends are more than his enemies, his weapons are stronger than theirs, and his helps are mightier than his dangers. All that he needs is for his eyes to be opened in order to see them. To these, for his comfort and defence, we now, therefore, direct him.
The Means Of Grace: The Word And Sacraments.
Numerous are the helps which God has given us to awaken us from sleep and from relapse, and to quicken us in holiness; but so far above all others stand the Word and Sacraments that they are called, by way of eminence, The Means of Grace. That is, as the rounds are the means by which we climb a ladder, or as the steps are the means by which we ascend a stair, such are the Word and Sacraments. They are the vessels through which we drink of the life-giving stream of grace. As the cup is not the water, but is needed that we may drink the water, so is it with the Word and Sacraments. They are not the grace itself, but without them, as cups or vessels to hold and convey the grace, we cannot have it.
This makes it easy, also, to understand the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, which is not a mere symbol of grace, but a means of grace. The bread and the wine are not as the Romanists say, the literal Body and Blood of Christ,—are not the sacramental grace itself,—but they are the means, the vessels, through which that sacramental grace comes, and through which is received by us the true Body and Blood of the Lord. The means are not the thing itself, as Romanists say, neither are the Body and Blood separated from the means as some others would say; but the true doctrine is that the sacramental grace is supernaturally connected with the means, which remain simply, and purely, and only, bread and wine, and yet through which our Lord’s most precious Body and Blood are truly offered and received. Thus we do not violate the testimony of our senses, neither do we take from the Sacrament all that makes it unutterably dear, holy, mysterious, and strengthening to the soul.
Consider, then, the Word. “Sanctify them through Thy Truth,—Thy Word is Truth,” said the Saviour. That is, the great means of sanctification, of growth in the new life, and of walk in the Spirit, is the Word of God. It is the sole spring of regeneration. “From a child,” said Paul to his young friend, Timothy, “thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation.” “Search the Scriptures” is the great law for him who seeks after eternal life.
It is through God’s Word that the Holy Ghost awakens us when dead in trespasses and sins; enlightens our understanding; inflames our love; reproves our shortcomings; and feeds, nourishes, and sustains the new life. “Thou shalt be nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine” said the holy apostle.
O that Christians would prize more the Word, and that they would seek more to be rooted and grounded in the pure doctrine. “Other foundation than this can no man lay.” Having itching ears, turning to fables, and seeking after this and that new thing, are the cause that the piety of many is mere hay, wood, stubble, to be devoured by the fiery test; or chaff, to be swept away by the first storm of temptation; or grass, which springeth up on the rock, but having no root in itself, withers away.
“The great need of modern Christianity is the meditative spirit.” Everyone talks of works, of activity, of Christian enterprise, of successful arts in popularizing the Church, and conforming it to worldly taste in order to draw the crowd; but of deep, calm piety,—unseen communion with God,—devout feeding upon the Word,—growing up to Christlike manhood by meditation upon the profound and sublime mysteries of faith, there is quite too little. The leaves are green, while the worm is feeding upon the heart.
Be not, then, young pilgrim, like these, but “as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby.” And thus shall your house be built upon a rock, and your anchor struck far down into the deeps of eternal truth, and the very waves of hell shall not prevail against you.
Along with the Word, and borne by it, are the Holy Sacraments. As the other is a spoken Word, so these are a visible Word. That addresses itself to the ear, these to the sense of sight and touch. In the Word we hear, but in the Holy Sacraments we see and “taste that the Lord is gracious.” (i Peter ii. 2.)
As Holy Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration, so the Holy Communion is the sacrament to which the believer goes for renewal. The former admits us into, the latter sustains us upon, the Christian pilgrimage.
Holy Baptism, (and its attendant Confirmation,) accordingly is administered but once; but the Holy Communion is celebrated over and over again, as often as the Church thinks it judicious for our renewal, and comfort, and upbuilding in grace. The sincere seeker for life will, therefore, most faithfully improve this golden means. He will thank God for every opportunity to feed anew upon its precious nourishment for his inner life. Every time that he partakes of the Holy Communion he will feel strengthened in faith, quickened in zeal, renewed in love and hope. But the neglect of it, or the careless celebration thereof, will weaken and soon destroy his religious life. “For this cause” (improper dealing with the Communion), said St. Paul to the Christians of Corinth, “many are weak and sickly among you and many sleep.” (i Cor. xi. 30.)
It is often a matter of painful surprise to pastors, how professors of Christ can show the indifference they do to these great Means of Grace—the Word and the Holy Communion. They are careless in their attendance upon church, and every little obstacle keeps them at home, showing how little they live upon the Word as their daily food. More than half the seasons of Holy Communion, though not as frequent as desirable, they miss, showing how little they prize this feast of renewal.
No wonder, then, that their piety is a feeble and sickly plant. Let it, then, beloved disciple of Jesus, above all things else, be the chief help upon which you rely; the chief ladder by which you ascend the heights of spiritual life, to diligently lay hold upon the Means of Grace —the Word and Sacraments. By their regular and faithful use will you be developed in that sound, humble, quiet, enduring, and effective piety, which, most of all, God loves.