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The Canons of Dort, Third/Fourth Head of Doctrine, Article Seventeen

Article 17: God's Use of Means in Regeneration

Just as the almighty work of God by which he brings forth and sustains our natural life does not rule out but requires the use of means, by which God, according to his infinite wisdom and goodness, has wished to exercise his power, so also the aforementioned supernatural work of God by which he regenerates us in no way rules out or cancels the use of the gospel, which God in his great wisdom has appointed to be the seed of regeneration and the food of the soul. For this reason, the apostles and the teachers who followed them taught the people in a godly manner about this grace of God, to give him the glory and to humble all pride, and yet did not neglect meanwhile to keep the people, by means of the holy admonitions of the gospel, under the administration of the Word, the sacraments, and discipline. So even today it is out of the question that the teachers or those taught in the church should presume to test God by separating what he in his good pleasure has wished to be closely joined together. For grace is bestowed through admonitions, and the more readily we perform our duty, the more lustrous the benefit of God working in us usually is and the better his work advances. To him alone, both for the means and for their saving fruit and effectiveness, all glory is owed forever. Amen.


Article seventeen, although lengthy, simply reminds us that the Scriptures themselves connect the divinely appointed ends (the salvation of God's elect) with the divinely appointed means–the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments.

Therefore, as Christians, we must not only believe the correct things about God and his grace as taught us in his word, but that we must also ever be on our guard not to separate that which God has joined together. God does not effectually call his elect to faith in Christ, nor does he give us the new birth, through any means other than those which he has prescribed in his word.

This means that there is a spiritual marriage between divinely appointed means and ends, a marriage in which we dare not attempt to divide what God has so clearly joined together. This, of course, was the error of the Anabaptists at the time of the Reformation, who sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit apart from the text of Holy Scripture, the same error made by many Charismatics and Pentecostals today. Everything we need to know about how God saves sinners has been revealed in God's word and is confirmed through the two divinely appointed sacraments.

Since the Holy Spirit works in and through the word and the sacraments, we must seek God to do the things he has promised to do through the means which he has prescribed, and only through the means he has prescribed. This is why the Canons contend that “it is out of the question that the teachers or those taught in the church should presume to test God by separating what he in his good pleasure has wished to be closely joined together.”

We cannot expect God’s blessing if we divorce the work of the Spirit from the word, or expect the Spirit to work apart from the word and sacraments. This is not to say that God cannot work outside of these means (and ordinarily he does not), but that he has bound himself to these particular means.  We can expect God’s blessings only if we trust in God’s promise, power, grace and mercy, and reject all humanly devised efforts and techniques.

Therefore, when all is said and done, we are left with the two things God has prescribed—word and sacrament. These are the weapons and instruments of our spiritual warfare. When we trust in the power of God to work in and through the means he has prescribed, there we will see God advance his kingdom.  Let no man divide that which God has joined together!

Reader Comments (7)

Even though the Lutheran view of the sacraments are different, you are correct in your commentary -- that we must stick with the Word and the sacraments, if we want to hear from God. The Holy Spirit does, indeed, work through those appointed means -- whether most of the American Christians (the modern day Anabaptists) like it or not.

We speak to God in prayer, and He speaks back to us in the means of Grace, the Gospel, found in the Word and the sacraments.

Simple stuff, but true!
May 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd
Lloyd -

Although I agree with everything you said, it seems to be the toughest pill for American Evangelicals to swallow. I had almost this exact discussion with a Baptist friend regarding the means of grace (Word and sacrament) as God speaking back to us in answer to our prayers. The response was one of astonishment and rebuke, saying that we might as well not pray at all, then. They fully expect to be answered in that "still, small voice" in the manner of the OT prophets - or else through what appears to be some miraculous healing or material fulfillment. Certainly God takes care of our daily needs, but direct answer is no longer considered to be normative for NT Christians. It seems to be either all one way or nothing with these folks.
May 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge

I always tell other Christians, that one of the gifts that God gives us, is common sense.

When we are faced with a big decision, James says in 1:5, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (ESV)

We ask God in prayer, to clear our minds, so that we may focus on all of the facts at hand, so that we can make an intelligent decision.

We don't listen to the still, small voice, or our hearts (which are deceitfully wicked). Think of how many Christians have screwed up their lives, listening to the still small voice -- rather than common sense.

Again, we should only attempt to hear from God in His Word and the sacraments. It is un-Biblical, to attempt to hear from God any other way!
May 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd

Mike says to Cindy, "God told me that we are going to get married." Cindy says to Mike, "How funny. God told me that we are not going to get married."

Who's right? Neither. There are no passages in the Bible which say that Mike will marry Cindy, or Cindy will not marry Mike.

Both Mike and Cindy took the Lord's name in vain! I have actually heard stuff like this. When you don't stick with the Word and sacraments, anything goes.
May 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd
George - In all fairness not all Baptists are like that...<grin>
Unless I truly am a minority of one...hmmm...
May 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPB
PB - including "Reformed" Baptists?
May 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge
Yes, I know, a contradiction in terms according to some...
May 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPB

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