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BY REV. THOMAS GOODWI , D. D.
PREFATORY REMARKS. 1. There are, among Christians, two sorts of converts : those who, at the time of conversion, are sensible of the change wrought in their minds ; and those to whom the change is not, at the time, perceptible. As to the first, the suddenness of the change produces great effects in them. The powers of their minds are greatly excited. Their feelings are unusually strong. They have great sorrow and deep humiliation for sin. Their souls are watered with copious dews and showers from heaven ; till all the streams swell to a flood. But, by and by, the waters abate, and flow in an ordinary channel"; and then, those who had supposed tlieir joys were always to last, ignorant of the cause of their interruption, begin to indulge in sorrow, give way to distressing doubts, and in the end, perhaps, are ready to conclude that they are not subjects of grace. Those who have never been sensible of any sudden change in their views, are exercised with doubts of another kind. Conversion was to them as the morning light, not perceptible at first, but " shining more and more unto the perfect day." They are therefore distressed that they cannot tell when the streams began to flow. Thus hath God in his wisdom ordered it, that neither the one class nor the other should rest in any works wrought in them ; but all fly to Christ alone. 2. Those who grow in grace, do not appear to themroL. H. "23'''
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selves to be growing more holy ; on the contrary, they are more and more sensible that they are great sinners. True, they loathe sin more than ever, and are less than ever under its dominion ; yet, having more perfect views of God's character and law, they daily become better convinced of their own exceeding depravity and vileness. 3. Earnest desires after greater degrees of grace are excited in Christians by a discovery of their deficiencies. When they see so many wants, they are often ready to think they do not grow in grace. " There is," sajth Solomon, " that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches." Because he enlarges his desires, therefore he thinks himself poor. But to determine our bnproveinent, we are not to compare our writing with our copy ; but our writing now, with what it was at jirst. 4. It is not to be expected, that growth in grace will be as discernible as the change wrought at first conversion. Then, the change is from entire sinfulness to a beginning of holiness. Afterwards, in growth of grace, the change is only from one degree of holiness to another ; the addition of something more of the same kind. 5. To discern growth in grace, time must be allowed. Christians do not grow perceptibly, till after some space. or are those things which grow the fastest, always the most excellent. Rushes and willows grow fast, but they are weak plants : oaks grow slowly, but they are solid, and attain to great size. 6. In the degree and manner of growth. Christians are not alike. To some God gives more grace at first, when he has immediate use for them ; as to Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles. To some he gives five talents : to others, two. And some who are soon to die, God fits early for heaven. Again, there are some who grow almost without intermission, while others are continually meeting with obstacles in their way ; and perhaps, for a time, cease to grow. Such are to determine their growth, not by a part of their lives, but by comparing their whole lives together.
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It will be my object here, to point out several things, ichich are often made measures of growth in grace, but lohich in reality are evidences nowise to he depended upon. 1. Growth in grace is not to be measured by groioth in gifts. Hypocrites may grow in gifts. Believers too may grow in gifts, as in praying, preaching, and exhortation, while they gain nothing in grace. Gifts are desirable, and the apostle bids us " covet earnestly the best gifts." But he adds, " yet I show unto you a more excellent way." This more excellent way, he tells us, is charity : that is, true grace, holy love, love exercised towards God and our neighbor. And what stronger language could he have used, than when he further adds, " Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, 1 am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." Gifts may enable us to edify others ; nothing short of grace can save our own souls. We ought, indeed, to endeavor to grow in gifts, that we may be more serviceable to those around us ; and for this reason it is, that we are commanded to covet the best gifts. But there is a wide difference between cultivating gifts, and making them the measure of grace. The one is directly enjoined upon us in Scripture ; the other is forbidden, and is manifestly full of danger. It should never be forgotten by us, that the greater gifts we possess, the greater obligations we are under to become eminently useful. If our gifts come from Christ, and we vise them for him, they will aid our growth in grace ; if not, they will only prove a hindrance, and serve to enhance our final condemnation. Here it should be remarked, that by increasing in grace, men often, yea, commonly, increase in gifts ; and that, for
4 GROWTH I GRACE. the want of increasing in grace, gifts often fail. The talents which were faithfully used, were doubled ; that which was misimproved, was taken away. Christians are often led to question their growth in grace, because they cannot pray or converse so fluently as some others. Such should remember, that the very want of gifts, if it cause us to walk humbly, and to pray fervently, though not eloquently, will be a means of growth in grace. The deeper our humility, the less the pride occasioned by our gifts, the more fruit shall we bring forth to God. Even when gifts fail, growth in grace need not be hindered. Our memories and all the faculties of our minds may be impaired ; our bodies may cease to be active ; all our means for doing good may become less ; and yet we may grow more than ever in grace. True grace is the only thing that does not necessarily decay. " Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail ; whether there be tongues, they shall cease ; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away ; but love never faileth." 2. Growth in grace cannot be measured by the success which attends gifts. That is, we cannot determine our growth in grace by the effects which our example, conversation, prayers, or preaching may have upon others. We are assured that " every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor;" but nowhere is it written, that men shall be rewarded according to the success of their labors. The aged minister may be compelled to relax his labors, perhaps entirely cease from them ; so that he can no longer perceive that success which crowned the exertions of his younger years. But this need not prevent his own growth in grace. The same will hold true of the labors of Christians in every situation. The Holy Ghost, at times, makes one of less ^race instrumental of more good than others of more grace ; though it is most true, that usually God delights to honor with the greatest success such as are the most active and
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zealous in their labors ; such as in their religion are the most humble, pious, and sincere. Christians, in their endeavors to do good, may often fail. But their reward shall not fail. They shall be rewarded, because it was m their hearts to do good. " Thou didst well," said God to David, "that thou hadst it in thine heart to build me a house." 3. Growth in grace is not to be measured by our opportunities or means of doing good. One who has less grace than another, may be in a situation to do more good, and may possess far more abundant means. God regards not the advantages we have, but the manner in which we improve them. He seeth not as man seeth. He looketh on the heart. He considereth the desires which we have, and the exertions which we make, to render him service. " Verily, I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than all they who have cast into the treasury." The Christian, though he has it not in his power to do great good himself, will ever rejoice when he hears that others are doing good. Paul, in prison, rejoiced to hear that Christ was preached by otliers, and his rejoicing he knew would turn to his salvation. If we prize opportunities for doing good ; if, for the sake of benefiting others, and advancing the cause of the Redeemer, we sacrifice our own property, ease, or credit ; then do we truly grow in grace. 4. Growth in grace is not to be measured by hopes, joys, or raptures. Hopes and joys are the comfort of a Christian ; faitli, humility, and love, are the substantial graces. Joys may diminish, while faith and humility increase. The blossoms fall from the tree before the fruit comes on. To be at times involved in darkness, or forsaken of the Spirit, may serve, in the end, to strengthen the substantial graces. A state of darkness tries our faith, produces humility, and give us a deep sense of our dependence.
6 GROWTH I GRACE. Young Christians are, not unfrequently, subjects of great joy. For a time, they seem to advance rapidly. But, as yet, they have been moving only with the stream. Let them attempt to stem the tide, and immediately they find difficulty. Skill and strength can be gained only by striving occasionally against the stream. 5. Growth in grace is not to be measured by outward profession. To have the most excellent truths of Christianity often on our tongues, is not to feel the power of those truths upon our hearts. It is possible to manifest great forwardness in religion, without having ever been acquainted with its transforming influence. We ought not to cause men to think of us above what we are. Higher professions than the truth will warrant are hypocrisy, and are sure to injure the cause we would promote. If we would gain truly Christian characters ; if we would make a truly Christian profession ; I'eligion must have its seat in our hearts. Let holiness possess the affections, and it will not fail to discover itself in our conduct. 6. Growth in grace is not to be measured by the strength of our feelings. We speak in general of those feelings which are connected with religion. The fact, that the feelings produced in our minds by the things of religion, are not so strong now as they once were, is not sufficient to prove that we are not growing in grace. There may still be more of holiness in the affections which we now exercise. Spiritual and natural affections, in a greater or less degree, exist together in the hearts of the children of God. Growth in grace, then, will be in proportion to the predominancy of holy affections over the natural. The faith of the Christian, while his joys continue great, and his passions wear the appearance of friends, will seem far stronger than it is ; much presumption will mingle with faith. But when the Christian finds that his life is to be a warfare, that he has within powerful enemies to encounter, then he feels himself weak, and learns that his strength is
GROWTH I GRACE. 7 only " in the Lord. His strength is made perfect in weakness. When I am weak, then am I strong." 7. Growth in grace is not to be measured by growth in any one virtue singly. In the different parts of the " perfect man in Christ Jesus," there will be a beautiful proportion. There will be no distortion of the body, by an overgrowth of particular members while others are at a stand. All the members will grow equally and uniformly, and thus beauty and symmetry be preserved through the whole. As the Christian advances in years, he may find it necessary to devote less time to some duties than he was wont to do when young. Perhaps he then employed the greatest part of his time in fasting, prayer, or meditation. If he now spends Idss time in these duties, he is not hastily to conclude that he does not grow in grace. There are many duties to be performed besides fasting and prayer : some of which, it may be, he formerly neglected. Is he now careful to perform every known duty ? Does he guard against neglecting the more arduous duties of religion for those which are more pleasant ? Has every precept of the Bible weight with him 1 Does he assign to each duty its proper place, and its proper portion of his time ? Then, though he abounds less in some things, he grows more than ever in grace. It is often necessary for such as have just begun a life of religion, to spend much of their time in those duties which bring them near to God. It is necessary, because their condition requires it. They are seeking to be established in grace. Religion has just become, with them, " the one thing needful ;" therefore, for a time they are allowed to neglect other things for it. After Paul, on his way, was " met of the Lord," he spent three whole days in fasting and prayer. In seasons of religious anxiety, children and servants are to be treated with peculiar tenderness. They should have more time than usual allotted to them, from their ordinarv
8 GROWTH I GRACE. employments, to attend to the concerns of their souls. The same mild treatment is to be extended to such as, having once been established in grace, are again involved in darkness. This, with the soul, is a time of sickness ; and who does not allow to his servants, in sickness, opportunity to apply the means of cure ? DIRECT PROOFS OF GROWTH I GRACE. 1. We grow in grace when we are led to the exercise of netv graces. The Christian is continually adding grace to grace. At every step of his progress in Christian knowledge, he arrives at the perception of new truths ; and these truths are accompanied with correspondent affections. Christians have, first, the laio for their schoolmaster. From this they learn the holy character of God, their own sinfulness, and the just sentence they are under of eternal punishment. They are next made acquainted with the method of pardon and free grace : salvation by Jesus Christ. Then, through the Spirit they discover their union to Christ, and learn to do all things for him, and in his strength. God deals with Christians as with his church. In the infant days of the church, he revealed only such things as were necessary for salvation, reserving more particular and glorious revelations for after ages ; so now, God, at first, only implants in Christians a holy principle, and reveals that which is necessary to salvation ; but afterwards, he gives greater degrees of his Spirit, and calls every grace into exercise. As God constantly repeated his instructions to the church, from time to time, teaching them all things anew; so he now instructs Christians again and again, going over all things from the beginning. The Christian, through his whole life, is ever learning something new. He often has views of things more distinct than he ever entertained before. Sometimes he dwells upon his own wretchedness, misery, and entire want of all things ; and humbles him-
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self by looking at the holiness and strictness of God's law. Again, he considers the excellency and righteousness of Christ, the fulness there is in him to supply all his wants ; and is filled with hope and joy, while he trusts in his Redeemer. Christians, when they have new affections, are often ready to distrust what they have before experienced, and to suppose that their present feelings only are evidences of grace, while, in fact, they are to be considered as evidences of growth in grace. When the mind becomes more enlightened ; when apprehensions of spiritual things become more distinct, and affections more enlarged ; then have we reason to conclude that we grow in grace. As the wicked, proceeding from sin to sin, reach the greatest wickedness ; so Christians arrive at eminent holiness, by adding grace to grace. " Add to your faith, virtue ; and to virtue, knowledge ; and to knowledge, temperance ; and to temperance, patience ; and to patience, godliness ; and to godliness, brotherly kindness ; and to brotherly kindness, charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, ye shall be neither barren nor unfruhful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." 2. We grow in grace when we exercise new degrees of the same grace. Tliis is to extend to every grace. ot only is love to become more fervent, but humility more profound, and faith stronger. We are to rely more and more upon Christ, and to find increasing sweetness in him. In all things, that which is lacking is to be made up. If we truly grow in grace, we shall not only hate sin, as contrary to God's holiness, but shall also mourn for it, as committed against our best Friend, against him " who loved us and laid down his life for us." Hatred of sin will daily increase; and our motives in hating it become more pure. In a word, if we go on to exercise greater degrees of grace, we shall have an increasing spirit of prayer ; we shall " abound in the work of the Lord ; our last works will be more than our first ; and we shall be filled with the fruits of righteousness." VOL. II. ZX
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3. We grow in grace when we lecome more spiritual in the perfor7nance of religious duties. It is the spirit with which religious duties are performed, rather than their niwiber, by which we are to judge of growth in grace. The prayers of him who truly grows in grace, become more spiritual. Christians, in sickness, or in the decline of life, may be obliged, in part, to remit holy duties ; and yet they may then, no less than at other times, be in the exercise of grace. The duties they do perform, may be performed in a far more spiritual manner. One short prayer put up in faith, and with brokenness of heart, may avail more with God, than many long prayers, or than whole days spent in fasting and prayer. If young Christians often perform more duties than older Christians, they also spoil more duties. It is not the size, nor the juiciness of fruit, which commends it most; it is its flavor. When our prayers become more spiritual, our confessions will expose more of the deformity of our hearts ; our petitions will be made with stronger faith ; we shall have more earnest desires for pardon and holiness ; the heart will flow out more readily in gratitude ; we shall more sensibly feel the wants of others ; we shall pray with increased zeal for the churches, and for all those that are ignorant of a Saviour. The spirituality of religious duties will depend upon the object we have in them. If our aim is the glory of God ; if we sanctify him in our hearts ; if we obey out of love and thankfulness ; then we are spiritual in our duties. The greatest growth in grace is in the spirituality of religion ; in worshipping Him who is a Spirit " in spirit and in truth."
4. We grow in grace when we grow in our dependence upon Christ. " In all things we are to grow up in him who is the Head, even Christ. The life we lead is not in ourselves, but in Christ. Without him, we can do nothing." Being emptied of our own rightenusness, we are to " receive
GKOVVTH I GRACE. H of his fulness." In Scripture, growth in grace is connected with growing m the knoiolcdge of Christ : " Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." To grow in grace, and in the knowledge of Christ, are inseparably connected. The heathen philosophers could grow in moral virtues, but not in grace ; for they knew nothing of Christ. And, at the present day, there are many, externally amiable and pleasing in their lives, who do many of those things which it is well should be done, who are yet destitute of grace, because they know nothing of Christ. In all they do there is no regard to a Redeemer. They are ignorant of those things which are the first principles of grace ; the pure motives of the Christian have never entered their hearts. A young Christian may possibly perform more works than one who is older ; but not more works of grace. If we think, by our works, by the performance of any duty, to recommend ourselves to God, then we are resting in works, and not depending upon Christ ; we are trusting to " the deeds of the law," and do not acknowledge Christ to be all in all. 5. We grow in grace when we learn to do all things in season. The righteous man is said to " bring forth his fruit in his season." And words "in season, fitly spoken," are compared to " apples of gold in pictures of silver." We are not simply to reprove, but to reprove in season ; not simply to act, but to act in season. All things are to be done in their proper time. We are to observe proper seasons in the performance of our religious duties. 6. We grow in grace when we learn to do all things with wisdojn. Often a little, done xoisely, has been known to effect more than many great labors. The smallest exertions,
made with care and discretion, may accomplish much. When Moses could not hear all the causes of the children of Israel, he laid himself out to greater advantage, by appointing judges from the people, for the smaller matters, and reserving for himself only the hard cases.
22 GROWTH I GRACE. Those men are not always the most liberal, who give the most. The Christian is careful, not only to give, but to do good with what he gives. He seeks out such sufferers as will be most benefited by his charity ; and promotes, by his property and influence, such objects as promise the most extensive usefulness. 7. We grow in grace when we become more even and constant in a holy course. The inward man is renewed most, day by day, when the spiritual affections become settled ; so that the Christian can walk closely with God for a long time together. To be at times careful in the performance of duties, and again to be remiss ; to be one day full of ardor, and the next, cold and indifferent, is no good sign of growth in grace. It is the steady, even flame, not the sudden flash, which benefits us most by its light. 8. We grow in grace when we ])er severe in the midst of difficulties and dangers. The true Christian will persevere. With whatever difficulties and discouragements he may meet, he will not draw back. But when Christians effect little with great labor, and in the midst of difficulty, their little shall be accounted to them for much. When they patiently endure reproach, subject themselves for the cause of the Redeemer to insult and danger, and, in the midst of a perverse world, continue to lead a holy and blameless life, they are making advances towards the heavenly Canaan. Their works, \heir patience and labor, shall not be forgotten. Soon they shall finish their journey, and enter on their rest.
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