The Meaning of Means

Facing a broad valley heaped with bones, dried and bleached in the unrelenting heat of the sun, Ezekiel hears the command, “Prophesy over these bones” (Ezekiel 37:4). In other words, “Preach the Word, Ezekiel.” After all, “Preaching the Word is prophesying in the name and on the behalf of Christ (William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying [Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1996], 7). Yes, preaching is prophesying.

Of course, preaching is one of the ordinary means of grace. WSC 88 declares, “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all of which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” Under the category of the word, the Catechism refers to reading and preaching the word (WSC 89).

In response, Ezekiel records, “So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone” (Ezekiel 37:7). God uses the preaching of His Word under the power of His Spirit to put people together, “bone to its bone.”

Jonathan Edwards makes this same point, connecting God’s decrees with God’s means. Note his apt illustration.

It is not at all the more in vain to use the means of salvation because there is a certain number that are elected to salvation, because God in the decree itself has connected the end and the means. Plowing and sowing and reaping is the mean of our having breadcorn, and it is not vain to till the field because God has determined whether we shall have bread to eat or no, for God has in his decree connected these ends with those means. So that if the ground be not tilled, we are like to famish; and if it be, we may hope to enjoy the fruits of our labors. So in like manner, if we diligently and constantly use the means that God has appointed for our salvation, there is great hope of our being saved; but if we neglect them, we shall certainly be damned, because God in his eternal decree has connected salvation with the means of salvation [Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses 1723-1729, Kenneth P. Minkema, ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 174].

Westminster Divine, William Greenhill, comments on Ezekiel 37:4 in his exposition of Ezekiel. As he does so, he issues an important warning. God commanded Ezekiel to preach to dead bones. He did so. The bones reassembled.

Here was prophecy used, but that did not work without God: “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and ye shall live.” God could have done this without prophecy, but that was the means he would use and work in or by. We must not neglect means, and leave all to God, that is tempting the Most High; neither must we trust to means when used, that is to idolize a creature: but we must use means and look to God to be all in them (for without him nothing is done); and if we make him all in the means, we shall make him all after them (William Greenhill, An Exposition of Ezekiel [Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994], 741).

Fast forward. You are in worship on the Lord’s Day. You are either behind the pulpit leading or in the congregation participating. You love singing Psalms. You participate in the prayers. You follow the reading of the Scriptures. In the preaching moments, pastor and people, you and others, are connected in the Spirit. As you do so, you look to Christ. You trust Him. You know this is the time and place and means you expect Christ to meet with you, to encourage you, and to fuel you for the slog ahead in the coming week. You do not trust the means; that would be idolatry. You do not trust God without His means; that would be presumption. But for you, Christ is all in all in His means; and so he will be all in all to you each coming day. Praise God; He is good!

Denny Prutow

2019-05-30T17:34:07-04:00 June 3rd, 2019|