« הקודםהמשך »
like a mere worldly man in other circles, and on other occasions; when his religion falls almost wholly under human observation, and neither enters his closet, nor influences his conduct in his family, his dealings, or the use he makes of his time and talents ; when he loves to dispute about the truth, but manifests no improvement of disposition from his attachment to it; when he makes one, almost as regularly at the places of diversion or dissipation, as at those of public worship; or when he is religious with reserves, and only by fits and starts ; he exhibits a melancholy and affecting sight to every truly pious mind. But to this too common character we may contrast the professor of the gospel, who maintains a consistent conduct in all places and companies, under the habitual impression of this thought, “ Thou God, seest me;" who “ is in the fear of the Lord all the day long;” who conducts his most ordinary concerns on the highest principles; who aims to fulfil the duties of every relation “ heartily, as to the Lord and not unto men;" who seeks to have every employment, possession, and comfort, " sanctified by the word of God and prayer;" who serves his Master in heaven, when engaged in his shop, in manual labour as a servant, and even in taking needful recreation; and endeavours to observe the apostle's direction, “Whether ye eat, or whether
ye drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Religion constitutes such a man's business, interest, and pleasure; and by assigning to every thing its proper place, proportioning his attention to every object according to its value and importance, and arranging his secular concerns in due subordination and subserviency to tlie one thing needful, he renders every part of his conduct an act of cheerful obedience to the God of his salvation. It is probable, that no mere man completely answers this description ; but it certainly comprises the substance of various scriptural exhortations, and accords to the commands and example of our blessed Lord.Growth in grace must, therefore, especially consist in a continual approximation to this state of mind and tenor of conduct; and the disparity between our actual attainments and this proficiency in religion, should increase our earnestness in pressing forward to the mark, for the prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
V. The apostle next adds, “ that ye may be without offence till the day of Christ;" and we may from this clause deduce another particular, connected with the believer's growth in grace. The day of Christ, when he shall come to judgment, should be continually kept in view by all his disciples; and the Scripture constantly calls our attention to it. Without any inquiry into the times and seasons, which the Lord hath been pleased to conceal, we may certainly know that “ the Judge is at the door;" death will speedily transmit each of us to the tribunal of God, and if we be preserved without offence till death, we shall be also till the day of Christ.
The word translated offence denotes any thing laid in a man's path, over which he may stumble and fall. Numbers “ stumble at the word, being disobedient,” and openly reject the gospel ; some make a temporary profession, but “ by and by they are offended, and in time of temptation fall away; and others prove an offence to their neighbours, by a conduct inconsistent with their avowed principles. Should we suppose that St Paul meant to intimate to the Philippians, that they would do well to distrust themselves, though he had expressed a strong confidence respecting them, it might suggest an useful instruction; for the Christian who most grows in grace will be least disposed to rely on the favourable opinion of his brethren; knowing that they cannot discern the secrets of his heart; conscious of many inward evils that none suspect; and aware that brotherly love induces candour in judging others, and severity only towards ourselves. But the new convert, or declining professor, is apt to take vast encouragement from the good opinion of reputable professors, or eminent ministers: and it may seriously be apprehended that many rest their confidence entirely on such testimonies, and finally deceive themselves; because they deem it needless to regard the warnings of Scripture, or the remonstrances of their own consciences, and refuse
to « examine themselves whether they are in the faith," after having been approved by the disciples and ministers of Christ.
A man may stumble, however, who is not finally cast down. Judas alone fatally apostatized ; but all the apostles were offended, when their Lord was delivered into the hands of sinful men. Many professors have stumbled, and fallen into grievous crimes, causing others to stumble also: and yet they have been renewed unto repentance, and finally saved. Whatever wise and holy reasons the Lord may have, in his unsearchable counsels, for permitting such things; his law, of " loving our neighbour as ourselves,” is our rule of duty: and the believer, who understands and feels the genuine tendency of his principles, would, however assured of his own salvation, be ready to leave the world with groans and tears, on reflecting that his misconduct had emboldened the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme; hardened some in impenitency ; deceived others in an empty profession ; exposed the gospel to profane ridicule and reproach, and overwhelmed the friends of truth with grief and discouragement.
Our path through life is interspersed with stumbling-blocks, which Satan hath placed there, by means of infidels, hypocrites, apostates, deceivers, and inconsistent professors.--It behoves us, therefore, “ to watch and be sober;" yet, unless the Lord keep us, we shall watch in vain : so that while we walk circumspectly and cautiously, we should pray without ceasing, “ Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe ;” and, while we carefully avoid every occasion of stumbling, we ought to use every precaution not to throw any stumbling-blocks in the way of our brethren. For this must be the consequence, if we imbibe, countenance, or propagate erroneous opinions ; if we be drawn into any glaring indiscretion or inconsistency; if we yield to temptation in an unguarded hour; and even, if we do not carefully « avoid every appearance of evil.”
Nothing surely can be more desirable to an heir of salvation, than to pass the time of his sojourning in humble fear and circumspection; that he may bring no reproach on the gospel while he lives, and leave a testimony to the excellency of his character, in the consciences of his survivors. Thus a man finally ratifies every thing he hath said and done to recommend the cause of Christ, during the whole course of his profession: " by well-doing, he puts to silence the ignorance of foolish men:' “ being dead he yet speaketh,” and the recollection of his holy conversation perpetuates, and stamps a value on his principles; when he can no longer endeavour to disseminate them.-In proportion to the degree of our genuine love to the Lord and his cause, the desire of thus living and dying must gain strength; and the consistent Christian, in his deliberate judgment, would prefer death with credit, to the most prosperous life, connected with becoming a disgrace to the gospel. This habitual disposition will render him more vigilant and circumspect, and especially more fervent in prayer, that he may be preserved “ without offence until the day of Christ.”. On the contrary, when professors deem it a mark of proficiency, that they are freed from all concern about these things ; when they really grow more lax in their conduct, and regardless what impressions it may make on others; it is evident that they are declining in grace, if not wholly destitute of divine life, whatever opinion they may form of themselves..' The primitive churches were troubled with persons of this description, who deemed it a proof of their knowledge, and a part of their liberty, to disregard expediency or propriety in using their privileges ; and to please themselves, whatever might be the consequence. Thus they became an offence to their weak brethren, not walking charitably towards them. The apostle, therefore, exhorted them to “ follow those things which make for peace, and by which one may edify another:" he declared, that “ if meat made his brother offend, he would eat no flesh while the world stood, lest he should make his brother to offend :" and he added, “ Be ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ." But who can doubt, that Paul was more advanced in grace, than the Christians to whom he wrote? He was far more conformed to the mind that was in Christ, delivered from carnal self-love, inspired with
zeal for the glory of God, filled with love to his brethren, and desirous of the salvation of sinners, than they were. Hence we may indisputably conclude, that growth in grace consists greatly in an increasing circumspection respecting our conduct, that we may avoid every cause of offence laid in our way, and not prove an occasion of stumbling to others. And as our Lord has declared that “it is better for a man, that a mill-stone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depths of the sea, than that he should offend one of the little ones who believe in him,”-how greatly ought we to dread such misconduct, “ as may prejudice numbers against the truth, and prove an occasion of their eternal ruin?” It is to be feared that few of us are wholly guiltless in this respect; and probably we shall find, on accurate self-examination, more cause for deep humiliation than we suspect.
But it would exceed the bounds assigned to this treatise, should the subject of offences be considered in a manner suitable to its importance: especially as another occasion will offer of resuming it. Yet, before we proceed further, it may be proper to call the reader's attention to that source of scandals, which our Lord hath especially selected, namely, discords and contentions among his disciples. Matt. xviii. Bitter controversies among professors of the gospel ; mutual accusations, if not invectives, and slanders; appeals to the world in print of one party against another; and many other effects of pride, selfishness, and resentment, too common at this day, are not only deviations from the rules our Lord hath prescribed in this case, but diametrically opposite to them; and constitute offences of the most pernicious and lamentable kind. But growth in grace proportionably destroys the root of this bitterness, and renders men cautious not to disgrace the common cause, by an eagerness to vindicate their own characters, secure their own interests, or expose the crimes of their opponents. It renders them averse to controversy when it can be avoided ; and when constrained to contend for the truth, it dictates candour, meekness, modesty, and benevolence, mortifies the desire of victory and applause, and inspires zeal for the honour of God and the salvation of souls. It is, therefore, evident, that this is one important part of growth in grace, though it be seldom duly valued and inculcated.
VI. The apostle concludes with these words, “ That ye may be filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of God:” and this evidently comprises another particular of great importance in this inquiry. The care, expense, and labour of planting, grafting, pruning, and tending the tree, have respect to the fruit expected from it ; without which nu man would be satisfied with its stately growth, redundant foliage, or beautiful blossoms. The whole plan of redemption, the humiliation and sufferings of the divine Saviour, the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, the preached gospel, and the instituted ordinances, are entirely designed to render men fruitful in good works; and if this end be not answered in those who profess the gospel, the whole as to them has hitherto been ineffectual. “ What could I have done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes." Even the work of the Holy Spirit, in regenerating, illuminating, convincing, and comforting the soul, is entirely subservient to the Lord's design of rendering it holy and fruitful: nor is any knowledge, experience, faith, joy, or confidence, genuine, which is not connected with fruitfulness, or productive of it. “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire,
Whatever part of a believer's conduct tends to make known the glorious perfections and works of God, and to promote the credit of the gospel, the conversion of sinners, and the peace or purity of the church ; whatever may diminish the sum total of ignorance, error, vice and misery in the world, or increase that of true knowledge, wisdom, holiness, and felicity; in short whatever does real good to mankind, in their temporal or spiritual concerns; is good fruit: all else should be counted but as leaves and blossoms. An upright, faithful, blameless, benevolent, peaceable, forgiving, pure, and holy
conversation; a cheerful, thankful, resigned, and patient spirit ; a reverential, and stated attendance on the ordinances of public and family worship; a conscientious regard to the will of God, in our dealings with men, and in our behaviour towards all who are in any way related to us, even when they neglect their reciprocal duties; and an habitual moderation, in all the pursuits, interests and pleasures of life, have a manifest tendency thus to adorn our profession and benefit mankind. To these we may add a faithful improvement of the talents committed to our stewardship; whatever measure of authority, influence, abilities, learning, or riches, may be assigned to us by our common Master; for with such talents we may do proportionable good; provided we be influenced by evangelical principles, avail ourselves of advantages and opportunities, and ask wisdom of God to direct us in our endeavours. All those liberal acts of piety ard charity, which Christians perform with that portion of their time, attention, or property, which others waste or abuse, are fruits of righteousness, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. And when we connect with these things, an holy boldness in professing the truth, and constancy, cheerfulness, and meekness in suffering for it; we have the general outlines of Christian fruitfulness.
The good ground brought forth fruit, some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred fold.” All believers are in some measure fruitful, when their principles have had time to produce the proper effect : but the apostle prayed for his beloved people, " that they might be filled with the fruits of righteousness." He earnestly desired, that they might produce all the fruits of the Spirit, Gal. v. 22; 23. in a degree fully adequate to their abilities and opportunities; that none of their talents might be buried or misemployed, nor any thing neglected, or left unattempted, by which they might glorify God and do good to men. We cannot think ourselves perfect in this life, without being justly chargeable with pride ; nor can we neglect to pray for perfection and follow after it, without criminal negligence and toleration of sin in our hearts and lives.
Professors of the gospel too often resemble those trees, which must be very carefully examined, before it can be determined, whether they bear any fruit or no. "But the apostle could not be satisfied with such ambiguous characters; he wished to see his people, like such fruit-trees as attract the notice and admiration of every traveller, while at one glance he sees all the branches loaded with the valuable produce.-It must then be manifest that the increase of fruitfulness is one essential branch of the believer's growth in grace; nay, indeed, that all the other particulars are principally important because of their subserviency to this grand object. This might be more copiously proved and illustrated, but it seems too obvious to require it. Our Lord declares, he had “ chosen and ordained his apostles, that they should bring forth fruit, and that their fruit should remain ;” and whoever duly considers the instruction conveyed by the parable of the vine and the branches, will be ready to conclude, that no man is a living branch of that true Vine, who does not bring forth more and more fruit, during his continuance in this world; and will at least determine, that when the reverse takes place, the professor's state and character become proportionably ambiguous.
We have now followed the apostle through the several petitions of this important prayer; intending to reserve the concluding words to be considered in the application of the subject. We shall therefore here close this division of the treatise with the words of the apostle to the same Philippians: “ Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are love whatsoever things are of good report,-if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think of these things. * Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do, and the God of peace shall be with you.” Phil. iv. 8, 9.
Containing some additional Observations on the nature and effects of Growth in Grace,
as deducible from other Scriptures.
While we attempt to inculcate those practical subjects, which have been enlarged on in the preceding part of this treatise, it may perhaps be feared lest we should draw men from the simplicity of dependence on free grace, by faith in the righteousness and atonement of the Divine Saviour. On this account, therefore, as well as for other reasons, it may be expedient to subjoin a few more particulars, in which growth in grace consists, and by which it may be ascertained both in respect of its reality and degree.
I. Genuine growth in grace is always accompanied with proportionable humiliation, and the habitual exercise of repentance. This hath indeed been implied and intimated in every part of our progress : but it is a matter of that importance, and creates such diffculty to many persons, that a more explicit consideration of it seems necessary. True grace consists in illumination, sensibility, submission, and spirituality; and, as these increase by progressive sanctification, deeper humiliation must be produced. Clearer and more distinct views of the divine Majesty and greatness must proportionably abate our self-importance, and render us little, and, as it were, nothing in our own eyes. Fuller discoveries of the holiness, justice, mercy, and truth of God, and of the glory and beauty of his harmonious perfections as displayed in the person of Christ, must show us more and more the intrinsic evil of sin, and the heinousness of our own transgressions; and the same defects or defilements must give us proportionably greater uneasiness, than they did when we had less sensibility and spirituality. Thus self-abhorrence, on account of present sinfulness, must increase with our growth in holiness. The habit also of comparing every part of our temper and conduct with the perfect law of God and the example of Christ, instead of judging ourselves by other rules, tends to bring us more acquainted with the hidden evils of our hearts, and the unsuspected sins of our lives; as well as to show the imperfection of our duties. That intimate communion with God, which accompanies growth in grace, must make us more sensible of our sinfulness; and even the company of the most pious Christians tends to abate our self-confidence, to cover us with shame, and to excite us to renewed exercises of deep repentance, from the consciousness that we fall far beneath them in many parts of our character and behaviour. Every discovery of the glory of redemption by the cross of Christ, and of the immensity of our general and particular obligations to his love, tend to make us dissatisfied with our present measure of devoted obedience, and to humble us under the consciousness of multiplied instances of ingratitude to our Benefactor. So that, while there is any alloy of sin in the heart of a regenerate person, his self-abhorrence and humiliation before God for it must bear proportion to the degree of his actual proficiency in holiness. No proof that a sinner has become pure in heart is so unequivocal, as his groans and tears on account of his remaining pollution, while it appears less and less in his external conduct; yet this often occasions dejection, when not attended with a clear understanding of that sanctifying work, by which the Holy Spirit seals believers to the day of redemption; and would always produce this effect, were it not for the discoveries made to the soul, of the entire freeness and inexhaustible riches of divine grace to all that flee for refuge to the hope set before them.— Thus, when holy Paul abounded in grace, and was fruitful in good works, probably above any man on earth; he was more humbled before God than others, not only for his former rebellions as “ the chief of sinners;” but also in respect of his present disposition and services, “ less than the least of all saints.”—Nor is it necessary to refer to the well known ex