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RELIGIOUS & MISCELLANEOUS COMMUNICATIONS.
For the Christian Observer.
SKETCHES OF ORIGINAL SERMONS
(Continued from p. 262.)
2 Peter iii. 18: But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. THESE words are recommended to our regard by the solemn circumstances under which they were recorded. They were written by the Apostle Peter when he was about to put off the tabernacle of the body. They were written by him when he was desirous that after his decease his converts should have his doctrine always in remembrance. They were the Apostle's dying testimony; and he thought there was nothing with which he could better close his ministry, so far as his inspired writings formed a part of it, than by this injunction.
But some persons venture to say, that growth in grace is impossible; that there is no such thing; that all true holiness is in Christ, and is made ours by imputation; and that, as this grace is equal in all, we cannot grow in it.
But the Scriptures speak a very different language. They speak of an internal holiness communicated to the soul, as well as of a righteousness imputed for justification; of the necessity of a new birth, as well as of justification by the merits of
Delivered Feb. 18, 1827,
Christ. They inculcate an internal renovation of the heart, of a spiritual nature and character, as well as a state of pardon and acceptance before God. They teach, not only that men must be interested in the merits of Christ, but also that" if any man be thus in Christ he is a new creature; old things having passed away, and all things having become new.”
It is hardly necessary for me to recall to your recollection, that our Lord represents the growth of grace in the human heart by the blade, the ear, and the full corn in the ear; and by the grain of mustard-seed, which, when it is sown, is the least of all seeds, but which becomes, by a progressive growth, the greatest of herbs: which comparison, indeed, may be interpreted of the manner in which the Gospel was first propagated in the world, but ought not to exclude religion as an internal principle in every heart. The blessed Redeemer also compares the kingdom of heaven to "leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened ;"sentation which implies progression, successive improvement, and advances in inward piety. The Apostles likewise use the same language. St. Paul says to the Thessalonians, after commending their love, in order to exhort them to go forward in it still more, and cultivate a higher degree of the same principle, "As touching brotherly love, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you; for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one 2 T
another and indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Ma cedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more." And again, he prays, " And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one towards another, and towards all men." And in the Second Epistle he thanks God always for them, because their faith grew exceedingly, and the charity of every one of them all toward each other abounded."
The same Apostle proposes himself as an example of the progress which Christians ought to make in grace: Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do; forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark." These and other passages intimate the progression of religion in the heart, the necessity of growth in grace.
If there be no growth in grace, it is difficult to conceive in what practical religion consists. For what room can there be for watchfulness, effort, prayer, humiliation, if there be no danger? and what danger can there be, if grace can neither be impoverished nor increased? What reason can there be, in such a case, for guarding against evil or aspiring after good? Nay, how can either of these be possible? A state fixed and stationary cannot be the object of lively anxiety and care.
But the Apostle teaches us a very different doctrine in the passage before us. Let us, then, point out some indications of the growth in grace which he recommends.
But let me premise a remark. Growth in grace is what I may call proportionate. It is a growth in every part of religion in its due place and proportion. It is not growth in knowledge, without practical piety. Speculative knowledge, however it may advance, is not growth in grace: it makes men contentious, highminded, and less edifying to others. Growth in knowledge, if it be without a proportionate conformity to
the image of Christ, and the cultivation of devotion and practical religion, merely puffeth up. Growth in grace respects all the graces of the Spirit. The child in health experiences an expansion of all the parts of the body, till it arrive at the fulness of the stature of mature age. One part is not invigorated whilst others decay. The arm, for example, does not grow whilst the rest of the body remains stationary. As every part of a healthy tree flourishes and grows alike, partaking equally of the life which is in the root, so does the Christian. Where there is real growth in grace, no duty is neglected, no virtue is cultivated to such an extent as to overshadow other virtues; there is no systematic disregard of any single part of the Divine will : he has respect to all God's commandments, and all false ways he utterly abhors."
Let us now give some indications of what growth in grace is.
I. We may judge of it by the increased disinterestedness of our religious emotions. Whether we can ever be completely disinterested in religion, is a matter of doubt. Perhaps we can never be quite free from a regard to our own interests: but there may be an approach to this disinterestedness.
When the mind of man is first illuminated to see the danger arising from sin and apostasy from God, his religion turns almost entirely on his personal fears and hopes. Repentance is the religion of fear: faith the religion of hope. These are personal: these confine and absorb his attention. He is conscious of nothing but a desire to escape the wrath to come; deepened by a conviction that he merits that wrath, together with some hope that he may escape, through the redemption and grace of the Lord Jesus.
But as he advances in his religious course his fears subside. His own interests have been provided for: he can look more abroad, and he can see things of a spiritual nature as they are. He now begins
to discover the excellency of the moral character of God. He sees the excellency of the Saviour, and discovers the peculiar glory and beauty of his character: he sees what draws his affections, and fixes his admiration on the Redeemer, apart from the sense of safety. He has a delectation, a pleasure, in the contemplation of Christ, distinct from the first emotions of joy at deliverance. The character of the great Redeemer rises upon him in its loveliness, as well as absorbs his faith from the necessity of his interposition. He says, with the spouse, "His name is as ointment poured forth. This is my beloved, and this is my friend. Thou art fairer than ten thousand, and altogether lovely."
He sees also the true character of God, beholding as in a glass his glory. His religion is not only the elevated raptures of adoration, but is accompanied with complacency, with rest in God, as satisfying all the desires of the soul. This more approaches the temper of heaven; this is religion of a higher character; this resembles more the adoration, the employment, the delight in obedience for its own sake, which characterize the heavenly inhabitants. Then he has a clearer discernment of the beauty of holiness; and in proportion to this, as well as in the preceding particulars, is his growth in grace. At his first conversion he broke off his sins from fear of eternal death; but now he hates them as much as he did then, and even more, from views of the deformity of sin in itself, its opposition to the Divine nature, its resistance to the infinite authority of God. This sets his whole soul against it. He now delights in the path of holiness for its own sake. He sees a charm, a beauty, in conformity to the will of God. His motives to obedience are higher and purer; they are connected more with gratitude for past mercies and delight in present duty. He takes God as his heritage for ever. He says, "Oh how I love thy law! it is my meditation all the day."
As, on the one hand, man cannot
in this world be wholly disinterested, so, on the other, there is no degree of grace, probably, which has not something of this disinterested spirit. The Holy Ghost, in the first principles of the new nature, gives some perceptions of the excellency of the Divine character. "God, who commanded the light," says the Apostle, describing the conversion of the Corinthians, "to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.'
II. Growth in grace will be indicated by a greater predominance of spirituality, and a greater separation from the pollutions of this present world. "To be spiritually minded is life and peace.' If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." "To be carnally-minded is death :" it is the distinguishing mark of the unregenerate. A progress, therefore, in spirituality, is a mark of growth in grace. Every advance in real religion must imply a proportionate degree of spirituality. The Christian's sinful adhesions hang less closely about him. He lays aside more the old man, and puts on more the new; he becomes more disengaged from the passions and affections which distinguish worldly men. He cannot, indeed, be indifferent altogether to outward things: he is in a corporeal form; he partakes of the joys and sorrows of humanity; he feels pain and grief, and experiences loss and disappointment, if not so acutely, yet as really, as others. But as he grows in grace he is more moderate and temperate as to earthly things. He uses the world as not abusing it; he has a superiority over it as his portion; the losses connected with it affect him with less agony; he rejoices and he sorrows more in the temper of a pilgrim and stranger. There is a greater ascendancy of spiritual things in his heart; they occupy more of the sphere of his attention, and dictate more the resolutions of his mind. He is better prepared
for heaven; for passing from an earthly to a heavenly state; for the enjoyment and pursuit of things spiritual, permanent, holy, eternal.
In these indications of growth in grace it is necessary just to observe, that we are not to expect to discover them in the very act, and at the very time of growing. The vegetable creation cannot be traced in the moment itself of growth, as it actually is taking place: but if we look at it at different periods, and those not very remote from each other, we see that the growth has taken place; we see the different space which the tree occupies, and the expansion of all the parts. Thus Christians at the time cannot perceive the advance of grace in their characters. But let them look back upon different points of their past progress, and they will discover a visible improvement: they will see that their graces have now greater force, that their knowledge and love and spirituality are more elevated, more pure, more heavenly, more humble. I appeal to all the Christians before me, whether they do not find, as they go on, that spiritual things have a greater ascendancy over their hearts; and whether they cannot discern this growth, when looking back on themselves and their past history.
III. Growth in grace is indicated by a more steady and successful resistance to temptation. There is often a higher impulse of passion in the young than in the experienced Christian. There is a novelty in the great discoveries of religion, when they first break upon the conscience of the unconverted: this the habit of contemplating them necessarily diminishes and impairs. There is a fervour of love and affection, which is rarely carried into the more mature exercises of after-life. But the Christian, as he grows in grace, resists temptation with far more steadiness and success than the young convert. His conduct is more equal, his character more consistent; there is more of peace and repose in it; the heart is more governed by the Spirit of God; re
lapses into sin are more rare. Using his weapons, he acquires the art of employing them better, and with more success; he learns to stand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand. It would be strange if one who was only putting on his armour could understand the use of his weapons, and stand against his enemies, and detect the wiles of an artful foe as an experienced veteran. We cannot expect from a new convert that steadiness, that consistency, that resistance of temptation, which mark the mature Christian. Those who are advanced in grace inspire a just confidence in the minds of others, which cannot be the case as to new converts, however high their zeal or promising their character. We ought not to commit young converts to the assay of great temptations: their graces are tender, their habits are fresh, the combat between the two principles of grace and nature has but just commenced: they are not confirmed. By the very law of habits they are in greater danger than the advanced and established Christian : every achievement strengthens his resolution, and invigorates his hopes, and diminishes the relative power of temptation. The joy of the Lord is his strength. The more we yield, the weaker we become our power of resistance is lost. And, on the other hand, the longer the Christian walks in the paths of holiness, the more he is capable of doing, and the faster he makes his way towards perfection.
And here we may easily try ourselves as to the question of our growth in grace. Ask yourselves only, how do you conduct yourselves under temptation; how do you meet provocations to malevolence, impurity, pride, arrogance, covetousness, anger, wrath, selfishness? Do you keep your guard when in slippery paths? When you look back, as to your conduct in critical situations, can you rejoice in the testimony of your conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God,
IV. The Christian may further
To live, is, with the matured Christian, matter of resignation; to die, matter of choice. Death, instead of being the king of terrors, is viewed with calm and joyful ex
pectation. He is in a strait betwixt
The nearer we approach
to heaven, the more influential will be its attractive virtue: the nearer our journey is to its close, the more shall we feel a contempt for all earthly things, and a superiority over death. Heaven increases upon contemplation: the more we meditate upon it, the more we feel the poverty and nothingness of all in comparison with it.
Let me now, in application, exhort you to comply with the exhortation of the Apostle, which we have thus explained.
1. Grow in grace; because this is the only way to be certain that you have any grace at all. If we aim not at growth in grace, we have never been converts to goodness. He that is satisfied with his attainments, has attained nothing. He that sees so little of the promises of the inward, transforming, elevating influences of grace, as to think that he has attained all he can desire, has never understood the first elements of the Christian life. No: we are begotten to a life which aspires after perfection;
we have desires awakened which nothing but complete holiHe who says he ness will satisfy. is content with his present progress, has never set out to heaven.
2. Grow in grace; because, though Christians in fact attain at last to very different degrees of perfection, yet it does not follow that any will be saved, if they dare to set limits to their obedience; if they persevere to aim at a lower mark than that of perfection; if they venture to set before themselves any less standard than the whole will of God. It is a proof of hypocrisy, of insincerity