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of reason and moral feeling. Most persons, therefore, who become the subjects of grace, can remember the time, when they were alienated from the life of God; and have some knowledge of the change which took place in their views and affections.
Another thing implied in the exhortation of our text is, that grace in its commencement is imperfect, and that its progress to maturity is gradual ; for if it were perfect, there could be no room for growth. Althouyb, in different individuals, the vigour of spiritual life is different in degree, yet in most cases, grace is, in its infancy, feeble. The indications of its existence may be very
clear, and its actings lively; but still, this is nothing more than the vivacity and strength of a healthy babe in Christ. For in young converts the knowledge of spiritual things, generally, is indistinct and confined, and their faith wavering. When their feelings are joyful, they can exercise confidence in God; but when a dark cloud overshadows them, they are cast down with discouragement, and sometimes driven to distrust the mercy and faithfulness of the Redeemer, to whom they have committed their souls. Their pious affections also are unsteady, and though apparently strong, are nevertheless mingled with gross animal feelings, and alloyed with selfishness. As grace is progressive in its nature, it may be inferred, that where there is no growth, there is no life. The degree and rapidity of advancement in all, however, is not the same : nor does it bear an exact proportion, in every case, to the vigour of the principle of spiritual life, at the time of the new birth : As it is an observable fact, that some infants at first are so feeble, that they can barely be said to be alive, and yet after a while, by assiduous nursing, become much more robust, than others that commenced life with greater strength ; so, in the divine life some Christians, who in the beginning gave but obscure indications of grace, afterwards become vigorous in piety, and far outstrip many whose commencement promised more eminent advancement. It should be remarked here also, that the life of piety in the soul is subject to such diseases and decays as often greatly retard its progress, and cause it, for a season, to decline. These declensions are so common, that some have supposed, that all Christians do, in some part of their course, make a retrograde motion; and instead of advancing, lose something of the ground already gained. But there seems to be no just foundation for this opinion. In some saints, both of those whose lives are recorded in Scripture, and of those who fall under our own observation, there is no evidence of backsliding ; but still it is a lamentable fact, that there are very few, who have lived long in the profession of piety, who have not reason to confess with shame, that they have at some time “ left their first love," and become remiss in their vigilance, and, of course, unfruitful in their lives. And not unfrequently, while in this feeble state, they are overcome by some temptation, so as not only to contract a painful sense of guilt, but also to bring reproach on the holy profession they have made. This frequency of spiritual decays, is one of the chief causes that so few Christians rise to eminence in piety. A fall may, indeed, make a man more cautious ever afterwards; but he purchases experience at a dear rate, who pays for it with a broken bone, or a joint out of place. And here it may be observed, that
nothing is more insidious and dangerous to the backsliding Christian, than a certain leaven of antinomianism, which too often diffuses its deadening influence over the soul. The soldier of Christ sleeps in the midst of enemies, and dreams of victory without conflict ;-he falls under the influence of some temptation, and excuses himself by referring to the example of other saints. But every professor ought to know, that every degree of backsliding is, so far as it goes, an evidence against the reality of his piety. Many, alas! who once appeared well, go back by a perpetual declension, and thus prove that the root of the matter" wao never in them. Every step in this backward course, should be viewed as an alarming circumstance; and it may be safely affirmed, that all confidence of security indulged by any, while in a backsliding state, is delusive. A man may, indeed, be in a safe state, as to his ultimate salvation, when under a spiritual decay ; but he cannot in such a state, possess any satisfactory evidence of safety.
The strong tendency of the heart, even in the best, to depart from God, furnishes a powerful reason for the exhortation, to “grow in grace;' for, in religion, it has often been observed, that there is no such thing as standing still. If the Christian makes no advancement, he is pretty certainly going backward. The only course of safety, therefore, as well as comfort, is, to make vigorous efforts to “ grow in grace.”
The nature of growth in grace, after what has been said, will require little explanation. It is a gradual increase in the vigour and purity of all those affections in which holiness consists; and is necessarily accompanied with a decrease of the power of sin. A real growth in grace includes also an advancement in spiritual knowledge, especially in the knowledge of our own depravity and helplessness, and of the Lord Jesus Christ as our Mediator. The apostle, therefore, joins these two things together, in his exhortation, and says, “Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
An increase of faith is an essential part of growth in grace. The belief of the reality and excellence of divine things becomes more firm and constant; a more implicit reliance is placed on the promises of God; and the soul, in the exercise of humble confidence, is enabled to commit all its con cerns, for time and eternity, to the care of a covenant-keeping God.
But there is no one thing more essentially involved in this progress of religion, than the growing fervour and constancy of love to God. This holy principle continues to strike its roots deeper in the heart, and becomes more and more purified from the alloy with which it was at first mingled. Growth in divine love manifests itself in a reverential esteem for the moral attributes of God, in a greater delight in meditating on his holiness and goodness; and in a livelier exercise of gratitude for His love and mercy towards ourselves and others. It is accompanied also with a more ardent desire to please God, to enjoy communion with him, and to advance his glory in the world.
Progress in real piety includes also an increase of humility. The more true knowledge the believer acquires, the more penetrating is his view of the sin that secretly works within him; and the more holy he becomes, the more abominable does all sin appear. No evidence of growth in grace is less suspicious than this. Hypocrites may, indeed, affect humility, and abound in
the language of self-abasement; but it is difficult to wear this disguise without betraying one's true state of heart. The growth of grace is as much downward at the root, as upward in the towering and spreading branches; and he who supposes that he is making a near approximation to perfection, and yet is not abased before God, under a sense of his own vileness, does but deceive himself.
Resignation to the will of God, is another criterion by which growth in grace is ascertained ; or rather, it is an important part of that grace in the heart, of which growth is predicated. The more uniformly and cordially we can say, under all circumstances, even the most afflictive, “ Thy will be done,” the more strength has the principle of grace acquired. And as genuine progress in piety, is the growth of the whole spiritual man, so our love to the children of God, and our sincere good will to all men, will' bear a just proportion to our piety to God.
Moreover, if piety flourish in the inner man of the heart, it will manifest itself by the abundance of its fruits in the life. Holy, active, universal obedience to the commandments of God, will flow from a heart warm with love to God and love to man; and will evince to others, as well as to ourselves, that we are thriving Christians. Our light will so shine, that others seeing our good works will be induced to glorify our Father who is in heaven. The conversation of a growing Christian will be edifying to all around : his speech will be always with grace, seasoned with salt. Out of the good treasure of his heart, he will be continually bringing forth something good. His example will be a model for the imitation of others; and in proportion as grace prevails in his heart, there will be exhibited a beautiful consistency in his life. His attention to all the duties of the worship of God, in public and private, will be constant and conscientious; and with alacrity and energy, he will exert limself to advance the cause and kingdom of Christ, in the world; counting no service too hard, and no sacrifice too costly, which will aid in promoting the glory of God, by the propagation of the gospel throughout the world.
Several stages, in the progress of the spiritual life, may be particularly noticed. The first is the state of the Christian immediately after his conversion ; when both novelty and contrast are combined with the excellence of the objects presented to his view, in the new world into which grace has translated him, to make a more sensible impression on his mind than will be produced by the same truths afterwards. A new creation has, indeed, risen
before him ;“old things are passed away, and behold all things are become new.” His wonder is excited, his joy overflows, his hopes are buoyant, and his heart melts with tender compassion for those who are yet out of Christ. His frames are often delightful, but they are transient : and from the mount of vision, he quickly descends into the dark valley of doubt and sorrow. He lives rather by sensible feelings than by faith. His eyes often overflow both with joy and grief. In the exercises of religion, he is full of ardour, nor does he suspect a reverse, nor foresee the dangers which beset his path. In fervency of spirit, and alacrity in the service of God, he seems greatly to outstrip older disciples, who have been long engaged in the Christian race; and is sometimes disposed
to chide them, because they do not manifest that quick susceptibility of feeling, and that glowing zeal, with which he feels his own bosom penetrated and warmed.
This period of the Christian's life bears a strong resemblance to infancy and childhood, when a succession of lively emotions fills up our days; when vivacity and activity are predominant traits in our character ; when our transitions from one state of feeling to the opposite, are sudden and frequent; and when our happiness depends very much upon our ignorance of the evils which surfound us.
cup of joy would be embittered to the young convert, if he had a clear view of the depth of iniquity which still remains in his heart, and of the dangers and conflicts which await him in his future pilgrimage.
The second stage is that of temptation and severe conflict. Before, he resembled the young soldier just enlisted, and enjoying his bounty-money; but now his case is like that of the combatant on the field of battle. The same power which opened a passage for the children of Israel through the Red sea, could have transported them to Canaan in a day or an hour, but it was the plan of their invisible Leader to conduct them through the wilderness, and subject them to numerous difficulties and temptations, that he might put their faith and obedience to a severe test. So, also, our Heavenly Father could translate his redeemed children at once to heaven, or could render their pasşage through the world uniformly pleasant ; but, instead of pursuing either of these courses, he leaves them to learn, by bitter experience, the treachery and wickedness of their own hearts, and the malicious devices of the invisible enemy, who is ever ready to assault and vex them.
These trials, from causes which exist without and within, often come upon the people of God at the time when they have “left their first love," and have become remiss in watchfulness and prayer. A conscience goaded with inward stings, is a fit subject for Satan to operate upon with his fiery darts : and his usual method is, first to seduce the unwary souls by baits of worldly glory or sensual pleasure, and then to attack the debilitated believer with desperate suggestions, calculated to make the impression, that the favour of God is “clean gone,” and that“ he will be merciful no more ;” or, that his sins are unpardonable ; or that the day of grace is gone by for ever. Now, also, the providence of God seems to combine with other causes to afflict Zion's pilgrim. Dark clouds of adversity gather over him. Earthly comforts decay. The sun of prosperity no longer shines. The fondest hopes are disappointed, and the brightest prospects of earthly bliss obscured. Malignant enemies arise from among those before considered friends; health is broken ; slander and reproach assail ; dear friends and relatives are buried in the grave ; children are disobedient and profligate, or die prematurely; and, to complete the list of troubles, the church, broken with schism, and overrun with heresy and hypocrisy, sits in sackcloth and mourns. Now the Christian pilgrim spends his days in trouble, and his nights in groans and tears. If, under these accumulated evils, the light of the Divine countenance was lifted upon him, he could still rejoice in the midst of tribulations ; but, to add poignancy to all his other griefs, his Heavenly Father seems to frown upon him. To his most earnest prayers he receives no answer; or, if an answer comes, it is only this, “ My grace is sufficient for
thee.” But no evils so grievously afflict the renewed soul, as the corruptions of the heart. Evils unsuspected to exist now show themselves, and manifest a strength and obstinacy, which baffle all the resolutions and efforts directed against them. Pride, envy, unbelief, insensibility, impurity, sloth, and evil thoughts without number, pollute and harrass the afflicted spirit.
These conflicts are not experienced in an equal degree by all Christians, but every one has his share, and everv one knows the plague of his own heart, so much better than that of others, that his secret thought is, that his case is, of all others, the most deplorable and desperate. In his extremity he is often ready to exclaim, “ If I am a child of God, why am I thus ? Surely no others are so beset with sinful entanglements, and distracted with contending passions."
There is, probably, in every case of Christian experience, something peculiar, something which distinguishes it from every other case ; but there is, notwithstanding, so great a general resemblance in the conflicts of the pious, that he who knows his own heart, sees, as in a glass, the condition of all his brethren.
as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to
be termed the winter season of The tree is now stripped of its foliage and its bloom, and very little fruit appears on the branches. But while it is shaken by the fierce blasts, so as to be almost overturned, it may
he gaining strength by the concussions, and may be striking its roots more firmly in the earth. So the tempted and afflicted Christian, while he experiences a great loss of comfort and sensibility, may be, and often is, actually growing
Much knowledge of the deceitfulness of the heart, and of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, is obtained ; a deadly blow is struck at the root of self-confidence and self-righteousness ; a broken and contrite spirit is produced; Christ and his grace are more liighly appreciated ; and the desire of total and universal purification from sin becomes more constant and intense.
The third and last stage in the progress of the divine life, is a state of settled peace, when the violence of the conflict is over, and the risings of sinful passions are greatly subdued by the power of divine grace. This is the sweet calm which succeeds the storm. Now there is, instead of doubts and darkness, a comfortable assurance of the favour of God. This period is characterized by a steady trust in the promises and providence of God, and a meek submission to his holy will. The mature Christian is not less sensible of the depth of remaining depravity than before ; for the more holy he becomes, the more quick-sighted he is to discern the minutest spots which defile the “inner man :" but he has now learned to “ live by faith on the Son of God," and has formed the habit of continual application to the “ blood of sprinkling," and to “ the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness.” Many of his former besetting sins are indeed subdued ; and he has learned the necessity of vigilance in guarding against the occasions of sin, as well as against the first buddings of evil desire : but his peace does not result from any views which he takes of an increase of sanctification in himself, but from keeping his eye steadily fixed on “ Jesus, the author and finisher of his faith.”
This advanced state of piety is also characterized by an increasing dead