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Grace Conferred (3): The Means Which God Employs: Admonitions

Grace Conferred (3): The Means Which God Employs: Admonitions

The following is Part Three in the series "Grace Conferred by Means of Admonitions" by Martyn McGeown. Read Part Two here.


If God’s grace works in rational, moral creatures “endowed with understanding and will” (Canons 3-4.16), how does God’s grace operate? He works by means of admonitions. Of course, he does because you cannot admonish a stock or a block, but you can admonish—and God does admonish—a rational, moral creature; a living, thinking, willing human being, whether man, woman, young person, or child. “Grace,” we read, in Canons 3-4.17, is conferred. The Latin verb confero means to bring, to bring near, and here, it has the idea of give. It is conferred in a particular way, “by means of (Latin: per) admonitions.”

The Latin word monitus, which appears twice in Canons 3-4.17 (once it is translated as “precepts” and once as “admonitions”), comes from the verb moneo, which means to warn, to remind, to exhort. There is a misconception about admonishing or admonitions, that is, many view admonitions as only, or even mainly, as something negative. They view an admonition as only a rebuking or a chiding of another, such as a parent might give a naughty child. But a parent would commit a serious error if his only admonition of his child was a rebuke, if no other kind of admonition ever came out of his mouth, no encouragement, no comfort, no consolation, so that the child withered under constant negative criticism. There are, in fact, a variety of types of admonitions in Scripture, at least five.

First, to admonish means to teach or instruct someone. Here the object of the admonition is someone who is ignorant: he or she does not know the truth, or does not know the truth sufficiently. Or the person knows the truth, but does not know how to apply the truth. In such a situation, admonition takes the form of wise counsel.

Second, to admonish means to entreat or to beseech someone. In this case, the admonition aims at a person’s heart or mind by appealing to the conscience. We appeal to someone to do the right thing and to turn from evil, perhaps even with tears in our eyes, as we appeal to them to listen to the truth. Admonition, then, is never a cold, calculating activity in which we are devoid of feeling—we admonish out of a desire to see change.

Third, to admonish means to encourage, comfort or console someone. In this case, the object of the admonition is someone who is distressed, afflicted, frightened, discouraged, or anxious. We admonish such a person by reminding him about the promises of God’s Word and the hope of the gospel, and we encourage him to believe the truth.

Fourth, to admonish means to warn someone. Here the object of the admonition is someone who is walking in disobedience, or someone who is tempted to begin to walk in disobedience. We admonish such a person by reminding him of the consequences of such disobedience, and by bringing to his heart and mind the duty that he has before God. To allow a brother or sister to continue on a wicked path of self-destruction without earnest warning is to be negligent in our duty toward one another.

Fifth and finally, to admonish means to rebuke someone. We think of admonition only in terms of rebuke, but I mention it last because it really is the final step of admonition. We rebuke someone when they have not taken to heart the instruction, entreaty, encouragement and warning. To rebuke someone, a fellow believer in the church, when we see him walking in sin, is a necessary, but difficult, and even unpleasant, duty. It is the duty of the elders in discipline, it is the duty of the preacher from the pulpit when he sees a certain sinful trend in the congregation, and it is the duty of all members towards one another. I Thessalonians 5:14 combines many of these ideas, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.”

The preaching of God’s Word—“the sacred precepts [admonitions] of the gospel” (Canons 3-4.17)—includes all of these elements: instruction, entreaty, encouragement, comfort, consolation, warnings, and rebukes. By such admonitions or precepts God’s people are “[kept] in the exercise of the Word, sacraments, and discipline.”

The pastoral epistles especially remind preachers of the importance of this, while the other epistles provide many examples of this.

For example, 1 Timothy 1:3 reminds Timothy of a charge (or a commandment) that he gave his young protegee “that thou mightest charge (command) some that they teach no other doctrine” and the purpose of that charge (Greek: commandment) “[was] charity out of a pure conscience” (v. 5). In 1 Timothy 4:6 Timothy is commanded to “put the brethren in remembrance of these things,” which certainly included exhortations to godliness (vv. 7-8). In verse 13 Timothy is commanded to “give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” In 2 Timothy 4:2 Paul charges the young pastor: “Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”

An elder, writes Paul to Titus, must be able “by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers” (Tit. 1:9); and Titus himself must “speak… the things which become—or which fit with—sound doctrine” (2:1), which includes “exhort[ing] [young men] to be sober minded” (2:6), “exhort[ing] servants to be obedient” (2:9), and “put[ting] [the whole congregation] in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men” (3:1-2). In short, the work of a preacher is “to affirm [these things—the aforementioned truths of the gospel with gospel admonitions] constantly, that [so that, with the purpose that] they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works” (3:8) and that Christians might “learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they may be not unfruitful” (3:14).

Does the preaching that you hear contain only doctrine with no application, no admonitions, no warnings? Such preaching might please you and your children for a time, because you will probably never feel uncomfortable in your sins, but such sermons lack a vital component, the “sacred precepts (admonitions) of the gospel,” and such sermons fail to take into account the truth of Canons 3-4.17, “Grace is conferred by means of admonitions” and the truth of Canons 5:14, “God…preserves, continues, and perfects [his work of grace in us] by … the exhortations, threatenings, and promises [of the gospel].”

But what are the admonitions of the gospel? To that we turn next time.


Click here or the image below to read more from Martyn McGeown on grace.

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