תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

amples of Job, Isaiah, Daniel, or the centurion whom our Lord commended : their actual attainments and unaffected humility are well known to all who diligently consider the subject.

This increase of humility never fails to produce a proportionable disposition to condescension, courteousness, and modesty ; a willingness to take the lowest place, “ in honour preferring others to ourselves ;" and a satisfaction of mind in obscure stations, or with ordinary services, if they be allotted to us. The believer gradually acquires such a view of himself and his misconduct during a succession of years, that he “ remembers and is confounded, and never opens his mouth any more for his shame, when the Lord is pacified to him for all that he hath done." Ezek. xvi. 63. This cures him of his propensity to boast, revile, censure, and complain ; and produces lowliness, meekness, candour, resignation, contentment and gratitude, in the habitual frame of his temper, and tenor of his conduct.-If then any person's supposed growth in other respects, be accompanied with evident pride, ambition, ostentation, contention, arrogance, boasting, and bitterness; we must conclude his apparent graces to be counterfeits, and not the real fruits of the Spirit : for “ this wisdom is not from above, but is earthly, sensual, and devilish.” Indeed, unless such proficiency be accompanied with an evident increase in ten• derness, modesty, and gentleness; with a readiness to submit to conviction, and to be very sorry for every fault; and with a disposition to be more and more resigned under contempt and neglect; a man's growth in grace cannot be clearly ascertained. Be ye clothed with humility,” is an exhortation to the most arduous attempt and the most exalted attainment, to which man is capable of aspiring. Pride is the most offensive to God of all sins : a proud holiness is therefore self-contradictory; for no grace can subsist except by connection with humility; and the idea, that exhortations to Christian tempers and evangelical fruitfulness tend to render men proud, arises from an entire misapprehension concerning the very nature of that “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”

It is indeed true, that the exercise of grace, or diligence in duty, may prove an occasion of pride to a believer : and so may the knowledge of evangelical truth, or even the exercise of self-abasement and contrition in any remarkable degree. But then true grace continually counteracts these emotions; and the root of pride is gradually weakened, even by means of these rank but unallowed buddings : as “ Hezekiah was humbled for the pride of his heart." The vigorous exercise, therefore, of holy affections must eventually produce deep humiliation; whereas gifts, high and false affections, lifeless notions, ostentatious services, and an unholy zeal for evangelical truth, not only allow the branches of pride to shoot forth luxuriantly, but water and nourish the root of that hateful propensity.

II. The increase of faith, in all its varied exercises, is an essential part of growth in grace, and inseparably connected with all the rest. This has hitherto been taken for granted : but it may be useful to give the subject a more particular consideration. If we define faith to be “ belief of the truth," or “ a disposition to credit implicitly the testimony of God in his word;" we may easily perceive that all true religion begins and increases with it.' Unless we thus believe the testimony of God, we can neither fear his wrath, revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” regard his warnings, nor understand the nature and value of his salvation : we can neither accept of his invitations, rely on his promises, give up present objects for better things in reversion, nor render the willing obedience of grateful love. It is impossible therefore to be saved without faith ; because we shall certainly neglect the great salvation revealed in Scripture, if we do not believe the record of God concerning it. It is also manifest, that the more fully we are acquainted with revealed truths, and the more firmly we believe them, without vain reasonings or sceptical hesitations; and the more entirely we realize to our minds the awful and affecting scenes thus presented to our view; the greater degree of every holy affection, the more

as

decided victory over the love of the world and the dread of the cross; the deeper compassion for perishing sinners, and the firmer attachment to the cause and people of God, will be produced. Faith at first works by fear and hope, and afterwards by love: the increase of faith therefore must increase the energy of these active principles, and of every affection dependent on them.

On the other hand, growth in grace strengthens faith, and habituates the soul to a realizing contemplation of invisible objects, to a deep sense of their importance and of our intimate concern in them, and to a decided preference of eternal things above all the interests of this transient scene.-Thus the believer faints not while “ he looks not to the things which are seen, but to the things which are not seen.” He learns, with Abraham, to part with objects which nature most endears to him, when the will of God requires them; believing him able to make up every loss; and, with Moses, he is enabled to count “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of the world, and the afflictions of God's people, preferable to the momentary pleasures of sin, enduring as one who sees him that is invisible.”

If we consider faith as including the idea of dependence, or committing ourselves to the Lord's hands, in credence and confidence; the increase of it is inseparable from growth in grace. The convinced sinner discovers, perhaps gradually, that he has no resources in himself, and possesses no ability of escaping the wrath to come : but, hearing of the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, and of the encouragements and promises of the new covenant, he applies for the grace of his free salvation, and submits to give God all the glory. As his views enlarge, he more expressly intrusts his soul and all his eternal interests into the hands of Christ, according to the nature of his redemption, and the offices he sustains ; and expects the supply of all his wants from his unsearchable riches. Thus he learns “ to live by the faith of the Son of God," and as consciously deserving of wrath alone, to expect every blessing as the purchase of his blood and the gift of his grace. He has not as yet, however, obtained a very deep acquaintance with the intrinsic evil of sin, the aggravations of his own iniquities, the deceitfulness and desperate wickedness of the human heart, or his own helpless and exposed condition : so that, attending diligently on every means of grace, he hopes speedily to rise superior to every temptation, and to feel himself advancing in holiness every day; and in this he commonly experiences a mortifying disappointment, even when actually growing in grace. For he continually discovers evil in his heart and duties, which he did not at all suspect, and has painful experience of his own weakness and folly. Many a sharp conflict and conscious relapse into evil tend to convince him that “ he can do nothing of himself;" and he escapes well if he be not so baffled by temptation, as to act inconsistently in some degree before men, whilst the Lord'“ humbles him, and proves him, and shews him what is in his heart, to do him good at the latter end." Deut. viii. 2. In this way, however, after a course of years, when he has really grown in grace, and is justly regarded as an established, honourable, and fruitful Christian ; he is so far from feeling less need of supplies from the Saviour's fulness, that he depends on him more simply and explicitly for every thing, than he did at his first acceptance of his salvation. He more entirely “counts all but loss, that he may win Christ and be found in him, and in his righteousness ;” and continually seeks forgiveness of his daily sins, and the acceptance of his daily services, by faith in his blood. He now considers the inclination, ability, and opportunity, of doing good works, as so many gifts from the God of grace, increasing more and more his obligations to him; and is deeply conscious, that he hath not duly improved his talents : so that he has great cause to be humbled on account of his unfaithfulness, but none to be proud of those things which never were his own: he is also entirely sensible, that he cannot perform any good work in future, or withstand the temptations' which obstruct his progress, without supplies of wisdom and strength day by day, out of that same fulness, from which he has so long been accustomed to

receive. Thus his growth in grace is connected with proportionable simplicity in the exercise of faith : while our Lord plainly declares, that the habitual simplicity and energy of faith in him, secures the growth of grace in all other particulars, when he says, “ He that abideth in me, the same bringeth forth much fruit."

The consistent believer learns always to consider every object, that surrounds him, in its relation to the providence, the moral government, or the salvation of God; and this induces a constant dependence on him, even in the common affairs of life. He “acknowledges God in all his ways:" he relies on him to incline the hearts of those with whom he is concerned to act properly towards him ; Neh. i. 11. to succeed his undertakings, to protect him in danger, to supply his wants, and to comfort and deliver him in trouble. He depends on the perfections and providence of God to fulfil his promises in these respects, as far as conducive to his good; being assured that not a sparrow falls to the ground without his Father's notice and design. He considers the power of God as engaged to restrain the malice and rage of Satan, to moderate his trials, and to preserve him from circumstances of overwhelma · ing temptation; as well as his grace to strengthen holy affections and give energy for resistance. Thus he passes through one difficulty after another; conscious of his weakness, but relying on the Lord for strength and protection; he casts his care on him, and " in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, makes his requests known to God :" while his experience of the Lord's faithfulness and attention to his prayers tend to increase his faith, and encourage the confidence of his dependence, without anxious alarms or distrustful solicitudes. And this prepares him for at length passing through the valley of the shadow of death “without fearing any evil;" hoping that the Lord will then be with him, as his guide, guard, and comforter, and at last receive him to his eternal glory.

The increase of faith in this respect must be a most important part of growth in grace, as it produces a calm, submissive spirit in the most perilous and distressing seasons; when the hearts of unbelievers, and even of the weak in faith, “ are shaken like the trees by the wind :" it induces an habitual intercourse, in the spirit of adoption, between the redeemed sinner and his reconciled God and Father; as he now walks with God in humble confidence, and reverential fear: it secures a man from seeking relief in trouble by indirect means, and renders him watchful against every thing that would interrupt his communion with God, by which his present comfort and hopes of future felicity are principally maintained. And, on the other hand, as he grows in grace he will attain to greater simplicity of dependence on God, which will render him less dependent on men and on second causes; he will be less affected by the fluctuating appearances of external affairs, “ his heart being fixed, trusting in the Lord;" and will more uniformly consider all creatures as his instruments of judgment or of mercy, of correction or of comfort ; and remember that “all things work together for good to them that love God.” Thus it appears, that growth in grace, as to the various particulars comprised in the Apostle's prayer for the Philippians, will certainly be accompanied with deeper humility, stronger faith; and more entire reliance on God in all things pertaining to this life, and to that which is to come.

It cannot therefore, be doubtful, in what a believer's growth in grace consists. When a man abounds more and more in all the varied exercises of holy love ; when this love is directed and regulated by increasing knowledge, wisdom, and judgment : when he acquires by exercise, under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, the habit of prudently examining and accurately distinguishing between things that differ, abhorring the evil, and cleaving to the good more entirely and heartily from day to day: when he grows more known and approved for sincerity and integrity in all his professions and engagements, and more singly devoted to God, as he advances in years; when

mes more and more circumspect in his words and works, that he may inadvertently fal himself, or cause others to stumble; and more fer

prayer to be preserved from bringing any reproach on the gospel, to

Id of his course : when he grows more abundantly fruitful in the works 01 sughteousness; while at the same time he lies lower before God, in deep humility, and is more willing than ever to be abased among men; when he acts more and more habitually with the invisible God and the eternal world before his mind; and relies more entirely on the mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, who thus becomes more precious to his soul: and when his dependence on the providence of God is more uniform, and accompanied with greater composure, submission and constancy in the path of duty; when this is the case, nothing material to the Christian character seems wanting ; the various holy dispositions and affections, resulting from regeneration, are advancing to maturity in just proportion and coincidence ; and the believer is evidently ripening for the work, worship, and joy of heaven. We might easily branch out the subject more diffusely; but it is presumed, the attentive reader will perceive, that nothing can be selected as another distinct part of growth in grace, which is not fairly reducible to some of the particulars that have been recapitulated.

CONCLUSION.

an

The apostle having prayed that the Philippians "might be filled with the fruits of righteousness," subjoined, according to the uniform language of the New Testament, “ which are through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.” Our fruitfulness is utterly insufficient to justify our persons, or recommend us to the Divine favour ; and we are not allowed to court the applause of men, in the performance of our good works : but when they are considered as “the fruits of the Spirit,” produced by his sacred influence on the hearts of fallen creatures; as the happy effects of the incarnation and redemption of Christ; as presented through his intercession, being as it were sprinkled with his blood; and as conducive in all respects to the manifestation of the glory of God in the salvation of sinners; we shall readily perceive that they must be well pleasing in his sight. We are thus consecrated holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ ;” and “hereby he is glorified, when we bring forth much fruit.”—This consideration leads us to inquire more particularly into the reasons which induced the apostle to pray thus for his people ; and on what account that growth in grace, which hath been described, is so greatly to be desired.

It is observable that we have met with no petition for prosperity, deliverance from persecutors, or even spiritual consolation. Indeed it is not proper to pray unre

nreservedly for any temporal comforts in behalf of ourselves or others; for they are of so ambiguous a nature, that we cannot tell whether they would prove blessings or not: though John wishes his beloved Gaius may “ be in health, and prosper, even as his soul prospered !” A singular example ! and a petition that must be reversed to suit the case of many professed Christians! No doubt Paul did pray that his people might be delivered from “ the tribulations and persecutions which they endured:” and that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love:" but when he expressly set himself to point out the things which he principally requested in their behalf, in order to direct them in seeking the best blessings for themselves, he was silent on these topics: knowing that he needed not to remind them to ask for temporal deliverances or inward consolations, (if they indeed prayed at all;) and that these latter would certainly follow, if they obtained the blessings which he especially desired for them.' We may therefore observe,

is

1. That growth in grace is necessary in order to the believer’s abiding consolation, and assurance of hope. It may probably have occurred to the reader, that assurance of an interest in Christ, and of everlasting life through Him, has not been expressly mentioned as essential to growth in grace or strength of faith: but as we are exhorted “ to give all diligence to make our calling and election sure ;” and “ that we may possess the full assurance of hope unto the end :" we may therefore consider genuine confidence as the effect of increasing faith and sanctification, 2 Pet. i. 10. Heb. vi. 10–12. Without a measure of holiness there can be no warranted comfort or assurance of hope. Strong cordials, indeed, given to a man in a high fever, may produce a transient exhilaration while they increase the disease : but proper medicines tend to restore health, which will be accompanied with more pleasing sensations, and of a more permanent nature.—Now sin is the distemper of the soul; and while pride, malice, lust, covetousness, or any other vile passion, prevails in the heart; no salutary comfort can be derived from the promises or privileges of the gospel, except as they allure a man from his present seducing and destructive pursuits, by showing him that far greater blessings are attainable. But when a humble, meek, pure and heavenly disposition is produced ; when knowledge, love, submission, and spirituality diffuse their benign influence, subjugating every corrupt passion, and moderating every attachment to earthly objects,-the believer consequently feels peace and comfort: while the joys which on some occasions fill and transport the soul in an extraordinary manner, are chiefly reserved for times of sharp conflict, heavy trials, or hard services.

All our genuine consolations spring from the influences of the Holy Spirit, opening to us the treasures of redeeming love, applying to our consciences the blood of sprinkling, exciting holy affections in our hearts, and giving us earnests of heavenly felicity. They are therefore inseparably connected with the exercise of repentance, faith, love, hope, and gratitude : while every kind or degree of sin, even in our tempers or desires, grieves and quenches the Spirit of God, and interrupts our comforts; till renewed humiliation, and application for mercy through the blood of Christ, restore our peace. It must therefore be evident, that growth in grace is inseparably connected with established peace, hope, and joy in God; a peace of God which passeth understanding ;” a “joy unspeakable and glorious.” We ought to value these consolations above all the riches and pleasures of the world, and desire the abundant enjoyment of them from day to day: but we should not expect or allow ourselves to wish for it, except through the medium of increasing sanctification and fruitfulness. Upon the most mature deliberation, the prudent Christian will not hesitate to pray that the loss of wonted consolations may chastise his folly, if he grow lukewarm, careless, or worldly: and that, if the only wise God see that withholding present comfort will promote his growth in grace, he may be sanctified and not comforted, rather than comforted and not sanctified. Present joys are of short continuance, but increasing holiness is the recovery of health, and the preparation for future and eternal felicity. Our Lord hath commanded us to “ seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness;" and then “ all other things will be added to us;" but numbers by inverting this order come short of salvation, and soon lose their idolized worldly objects. In like manner, many professors of the gospel are so eager to obtain assurance, that they seek it in the first place; instead of first seeking to grow in grace and to bring forth the fruits of righteousness, leaving it to the Lord to give them comforts, and to cause them to “ abound in hope by the power of the Holy Ghost,” to his appointed time and way; and thus many are boistered up in vain.contidence, or amused with delusive joys: and others continue feeble, sukly, and dejected, during the greatest part of their lives. Various methods have indeed been devised to afford them relief and consolation ; but they have merely a transient effect : for the child that does not grow, is not healt'ıy, and being unhealthy, will be uncomfortable, whatever may be done to cheer its spirits by cordials, to feast it with delicacies, or to amuse it by toys and finery.

« הקודםהמשך »