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A Concise Explanation of the Means of Grace

Jason Klay Harrison

09 December 2011


Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. - 2 Peter 3:18

Grace is the giving of any substance from a patron to his/her client, which is completely free from all future reciprocal commitments. It is not the expected normality in any modern society. In a reciprocity culture, grace is unanticipated because rarely is anything supplied without some sort of future expectation. Thus, grace is easily misunderstood because many people expect to be attached to some form of reciprocity. Grace breaks the hold of reciprocity and expects no future commitment. That doesnt mean there cant be a future response from the client, however that response cannot be chained in any reciprocal fashion to that which was given in grace. Therefore, most forms of grace today need to be expressed and explained by the patron as such. Though grace may be misunderstood in normal cultural transactions and communications, this need not be true of ones encounter with God. God is constantly revealing grace to his children through many forms. These forms, or means of grace, are not only available to Christians but also to all of humanity. The only requirement to receive grace through these means is a willingness to accept. Yet, receiving grace is only the first part, the client should also understand what they have received and the means by which they actually encountered it. United Methodism has the distinct opportunity to express and explain these means of grace in very meaningful ways through its Wesleyan tradition. This paper will look at the different means of Gods grace as understood through United Methodist polity and history, for the purpose of better comprehension of the grace of God that is given to each person.


By means of grace I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.1 - John Wesley

For the United Methodist Church, the means of grace need to be adequately explained and expressed because they are significant to Methodisms identity and have been emphasized throughout its tradition. When American Methodism was officially established at the Christmas Conference of 1784, they urged all members to avoid evil, to do good, and to use the means of grace supplied by God.2 Methodists have always been strictly enjoined to maintain the unity of faith and good works through the means of grace.3 Even today, the United Methodist Church describes one part of their process for making disciples as the nurturing of persons in Christian living through the means of grace.4 Thus, this rich Wesleyan heritage is important and finds traditional emphasis in one of its founders, John Wesley. According to John Wesley, the means of grace accompanied a wide range of activities associated with public worship, personal devotion, Christian community, and discipleship. He saw the Christian life as composed of these activities, which are invited and enabled by the grace of God. Thus, the means of personal experience and response to Gods loving presence for the

The Means of Grace, The Works of the Rev. John Wesley (hereafter cited as Works), V:187. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (hereafter cited as BOD), (Nashville, TN; UM Publishing House, 2008), 12. Emphasis has been added. Ibid., 48. Emphasis has been added. Ibid., 88.


Christian is the means of grace.5 To understand and explain these means, they can be organized into three broad categories or typologies; the general means, instituted or particular means, and prudential means.6

The General Means of Grace The general means of grace indicate particular attitudes and practices present throughout the Christian life. These would include universal obedience, keeping all the commandments, watching, denying oneself, taking up ones cross daily, and exercising of the presence of God.7 This category is the only one that will constantly bear fruit, for never can you use these means but a blessing will ensue.8 Whenever a person is active in one of these means of grace, he/she can expect Gods grace to be revealed in his/her life. Watching is a wholehearted effort of the Christian to have a conscious and intended alertness to sin, temptation, and ones weakness. This is the underlying disciplined accountability and confessional practices found in the prudential means of grace.9 Watching encourages the Christian to continue depending upon the grace of God and recognize the frailty of mankind. By watching, the Christian becomes alert and can inwardly focus on Gods grace in order to learn Gods will, which in turn is linked to the exercise of the presence of God.

Henry H. Knight, The Presence of God in the Christian Life, (Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1992), 2. Ibid., 3. Ibid., 5 Minutes of Several Conversations, Works, VII: 324. Knight, 122-23.


Wesley described the exercise of the presence of God as the endeavoring to set God always before you; to see his eye continually fixed upon you.10 This is a conscience act by the Christian to desire Gods grace to be revealed so that he/she may become attentive to the presence of God and so that his/her faith might be strengthened. Watching helps faith continue to grow through avoiding that which blocks or distorts the vision of faith; exercising the presence of God informs faith of those remaining sins and temptations which need to be removed.11 Self-denial is also a general means of grace. This may seem self-explanatory, yet it can be described as the deliberate turning away from a way of life contrary to God that is graciously revealed by the practice of watching and exercising the presence of God.12 The one practicing self-denial increases in grace and does not become trapped in formal religion alone. Self-denial is the antecedent means of grace to taking up ones cross. To take up ones cross is the embracing of Gods will to voluntarily suffer what is in ones own power to avoid. This means of grace is the putting of oneself onto the path of Gods love in the world regardless of the personal cost. Taking up ones cross reinforces self-denial. Selfdenial prepares the way for taking up ones cross through renouncing all that tempts one to avoid love through pleasure; taking up ones cross in the world enables one to become increasingly aware of those undenied temptations and practices which still remain as obstacles to a life of love.13

Minutes of Several Conversations, Works, VII: 324. Knight, 123. Ibid., 124. Ibid., 124-25.





These general means of grace are normal practiced by those who have at least taken the first steps to serve Jesus Christ, but are available to all people by means of prevenient grace. This is why universal obedience and keeping the commandments are part of the general means. Those who serve Christ are, at a minimum, conscience of the need to obey the requirements of God as revealed through Scripture and the laws that govern their nation. Yet, even those who practice universal obedience are placing themselves into a position to recognize Gods grace. When the grace of God is revealed to them, the law of God becomes available to them not as a burden but another means to receive that which God is already offering. Thus all of the general means of grace strengthen ones faith, not presuppose it. These are not prior requirements to be a Christian, but help humanity become aware of a continued need for God and seek further relationship with him.14

The Instituted (Particular) Means of Grace The instituted or particular means of grace are distinguished as being appointed by God, and are evident in the Universal Church throughout all eras of history and every culture. These would include prayer, searching the scriptures, the Lords Supper, fasting or abstinence, and Christian conference.15 It is these means of grace that unite all Christian communities and denominations ecclesiastically. Prayer is essential to all means of grace because it pervades the life of a Christian and is preparatory to the other means of grace while also providing them with content. Prayer is a way of life and the breath of all spiritual life. Without faith prayer is dead, however with faith prayer

Ibid., 125-126. Ibid, 5.



becomes a communion with God.16 Therefore, prayer is a means of grace because it allows one to come into communion with God and leads to a conscious and intentional relationship with him. Prayer is how one communicates with God, for the very act of communication must occur between a minimum of two individuals. Though God may express his grace to a person in other ways, a conversation or prayer is where God enables deeper communion and growth for the Christian life. God gives grace and gifts in love, one must only be open to receive and respond in turn with love. This is the purpose of prayer, for as a means of grace it allows one to be moved and open to the reception of the grace of God.17 Fasting or abstinence is a means of grace that is closely related to prayer. The act of fasting is intentionally doing without for the purpose of focusing on God. Wesley identifies five grounds or reasons for fasting: sorrow for sin, bodily health, avoidance of excessive consumption, self-punishment (which Wesley was reluctant to stress), and as an aid to prayer.18 By fasting, one is able to present him/herself before God as a recognized sinner, express repentance, and profess any faulty presumptions one might have had regarding his/her relationship with God. As a means of grace, fasting always enables a person to focus their attention on God and clarify any true needs offered in prayer.19 When rightly used, it is a means of avoiding both presumptive claims for the Christian life and, when conjoined with prayer, it enables Christians to attend to the presence of God and the needs of the world as found in Gods love.20

Ibid., 116. Ibid., 117. Ibid., 120-21. Ibid., 121. Ibid., 122.






The Lords Supper is a means of grace that the Church is able to offer to both Christians and those seeking God. In participation of the Lords Supper, a union of natural and spiritual senses correspond to an experienced union of tangible elements (bread and cup) and the spiritual presence of Christ.21 John Wesley rejected any notion of the Lords Supper as merely symbolic, but expressed that that the presence of grace is available and might vary from recipient to recipient but not service from service. Thus, the grace of God is present in every Eucharist celebration because at the holy Table people meet to worship God, and God is present to meet and bless His people.22 Whether or not a person receives Gods grace through communion is determined upon that persons willingness of acceptance. When a person is prepared to accept the Lords Supper as a means of grace, during the Lords Supper he/she becomes grieved by experiencing the death of Christ as caused by ones sins. Then there is a response of self-denial when ones sins that put Christ to death are also put to death, which results in the person offering his/her service to God. This offering of oneself is essential to the participation in the Lords Supper and to the understanding of it as a means of grace.23 The Lords Supper encompasses many means of grace because in it the participant dies to sin and rises to follow Christ in love. The intent is to live whole-heartedly for God, to offer all that we are and all that we have to God.24 Thus the United Methodist Church proclaims the Lords Supper is a representation of our redemption, a memorial of the suffering and death

Ibid., 131. Ibid., 133. Ibid., 146-47. Ibid., 147.





of Christ, and a token of love and union which Christians have with Christ and with one another.25 The Lords Supper is not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about; but that we should duly use [it]. And in such only as worthily receive the same, [it has] a wholesome effect or operation.26 The identity and presence of God is experienced through remembrance and promise; the response to the experience of Gods self-giving love is to give ourselves in love to God and our neighbor.27 Searching the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, is a means of grace because it is the heart of the Christians life. Scripture shapes a persons prayer based on and in response to Gods Character. Since the Bible expresses Gods work in human history, when accompanied by prayer, it portrays Gods identity and permeates all other means of grace. Without the Scriptures, one would not know to whom he/she prays, nor why one should offer thanks, repentance, etc.28 The Bible is a means of grace to everyone regardless of ones measure of faith. It is even a means of grace to non-believers because God reveals himself to them through his prevenient grace.29 For John Wesley, searching the Scriptures was more than just reading the bible, but also included hearing the proclaimed Word and meditating upon it.30 Thus, the Bible is a means of grace in multiple avenues at once. For the preacher it is a means of grace for it can work in

BOD, 68. Ibid., 63. Knight, 148. Ibid., 149. Ibid., 150. Ibid.






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his/her life and can transform him/her through the Holy Spirit. The preacher can see Gods grace revealed in his/her life and can continue to learn of the depth of the grace of God. Yet, the proclaimed word from the preacher is also a means of grace to the recipient. Sermons, which reflect the scriptural identity of God in its fullness, searches the persons heart and shows him/her where he/she is unlike Jesus Christ, which in turn causes him/her to love with all his/her heart and serve God with all of his/her strength. Therefore, all means of searching the Scriptures present the complete intention and promise of the loving God; in this way it is a means of grace and not just a collection of historical documents.31 The last of the instituted means of grace is the Christian conference. This would include any community that is concerned with the maintenance and advancement of the Christian life.32 Both Christian denominations and the innumerable Christian gatherings, which embrace the above intent and have taken place throughout history and across all cultures, are part of this means of grace. The United Methodist Church shares in this means of grace as a Christian denomination and through its many Conferences and committees across the globe.

The Prudential Means of Grace The prudential means of grace are avenues of Gods grace that might not be evident in every age or culture, but when present in any form are a means of grace; such as classes, bands and love feasts. These would include particular rules or acts of holy living, class and band meetings, independent Christian gatherings, visiting the sick, doing all the good one can and


Ibid., 158. Ibid., 95.


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doing no harm, and reading edifying literature.33 Since these means of grace are not timeless truths but rather relative to particular times and cultures, it is important to understand why they are considered a means of grace so that they may be replicated by future faithful generations. The early Methodist gatherings of classes and bands were a means of grace. They could be considered part of Christian conferencing, yet Wesley continued to call them prudential because they were not a model for all time and only a pattern of fellowship and discipleship. By understanding how they related to their historical and cultural context will aid in reduplicating their effectiveness and relevance to our many Christian communities today.34 These gatherings allowed Christians to strengthen one anothers faith and clarify the content of their faithful discipleship. They also allowed the Christians to watch over each other in love and have a healthy form of accountability. They worked out their salvation together as brothers and sisters in Christ.35 These central truths are a means of grace that are present in many forms even today. Holy living is a means of grace that has been expressed in many ways throughout history. The Wesleyan heritage also embraces this means of grace through John Wesleys historic General Rules of Our United Societies. John Wesley expressed three main requirements for those who are to continue to flee from the wrath to come; do no harm, do good, and attend to the ordinances of God or the means of grace. Each of these three requirements were then expanded for effectiveness and clarification within the mid-1700 English culture within which the early Methodists lived. Most of these are still applicable today as prudential means of grace, yet some still need to be revised to be relevant to our culture. These General Rules are included in the

Ibid., 5. Ibid., 95. Ibid., 97.



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Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church and are a required commitment for all ordained clergy, which shows the emphasis still placed today on holy living as a means of grace among all Methodists.36 Reading edifying literature is considered a means of grace only when the literature is related to Scripture, Christian tradition, Christian living and experience, and Christ-like reasoning. John Wesley considered this literature to be Christian classics and the current literature coming from the Christian communities during his lifetime. This is reflected in his Christian Library. The United Methodist Church has established The Standard Sermons of John Wesley and John Wesleys Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament as part of their constitution and thus a consistent prudential means of grace for all Methodists.37 They also require the continuing education of all clergy, which shows their commitment to this means of grace.38 Today, certain literature is still edifying and found to be a means of grace. This is an area where the Church should spend some time and really relate this means of grace to its people. With the surplus of blogs, Internet sites, various digital and visual media, and excess of printed material, much discernment is needed to guard against sensationalism and other detractions. Literature other than the Bible can be and is a means of grace, but one must be careful in modern societies of the excessive amount of material at ones access. At no other point in history has information been so readily available to people across the globe, thus this means of grace can be very meaningful but a the same time has the potential to be lost if not explained and expressed properly.

BOD, 73. Ibid., 71 This is evident throughout the BOD, especially in the section entitles The Ministry of the Ordained.



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Conclusion It is not always sufficient to divide the means of grace into these categories because there is much overlap, as has been shown. However, these typologies do give the church a way to explain each of the means of grace for clarification purposes and personal comprehension. It should be made clear to all inquirers that these categories are not meant to separate the many means of grace as to create a check list for personal endeavors of good works. All means of grace find their end in the Christian life, a life of love as intended by God. As such, I also think the sacrament of baptism can be viewed as a means of grace because in baptism the Christians life is reoriented and placed upon the path of Gods love and righteousness. However, as a Wesleyan, this means of grace only takes place once in a persons life instead of multiple times. Granted, the act of Baptism can be celebrated and reaffirmed in the life of the Christian many times, which can reinforce this means of grace. Baptism can be viewed as a means of grace because through baptism a continuing relationship with God is built and the persons commitment to a new life begins to flourish and grow.39 In baptism, the Christian is given new life by confessing faith in Jesus Christ and establishing a covenant with God in his/her heart.40 Gods grace thus becomes evident in many ways to the Christian; before, during, and after his/her baptism. Therefore, Baptism is a means of grace but not one in which the Christian can participate multiple times. It is through all of these means of grace that the Christian begins to understand what God has given him/her through grace. Gods grace given freely with no strings attached, no future reciprocal requirement. This grace evokes multiple responses in the Christian and enables

Knight, 181. Ibid., 190.


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them to live a life of purpose, freedom in Christ, and gives him/her the ability to love the world as God loves. By understanding the means by which grace is given will allow the Christian or God fearer the ability to respond to grace as it given and revealed in his/her life. As the Church seeks to express the love of Christ to the world, it will be ever important that the means of grace are constantly addressed and related to every culture in order to better equip Christians everywhere for ready response to Gods grace in their lives. The United Methodist Church has a distinct opportunity with its Wesleyan heritage to explain and express all means of Gods grace in this world. Through a proper understanding of the instituted means of grace, the Universal Church can join together to celebrate the entire body of Christ and encourage one another in Christian love. By learning new ways to express the prudential means of grace, the United Methodist Church can be extravagant missionaries by establishing practical ways for all Christians to be involved in the means of grace and discern Gods truth through the mass of information available throughout the world. In emphasizing the general means of grace, the United Methodist Church can help Christians be active in the many means of grace where God is certain to be revealed to each of them. Through the means of grace, every Christian can grow in Christian perfection and love with the same love God has for his creation.

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The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. Nashville, Tennessee: United Methodist Publishing House, 2008. Knight, Henry H. The Presence of God in the Christian Life: John Wesley and the Means of Grace. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1992. The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, ed. Thomas Jackson, 14 vols. (London: Mason, 1829-1831; reprinted by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1979).