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30. Especially is it true, when we find ourselves very cordial and full-hearted in making great sacrifices for those that hate us, and having a willingness to lay down our lives for the promotion of their eternal salvation, that we have evidence of growth in grace.
31. Still more especially, when we find ourselves less and less inclined to account anything a sacrifice that we can do for God, or for the souls of men. When we can account our lives not dear unto us, if called to lay them down to save the souls of enemies; when, for the joy of saving them, we can "endure the cross, and despise the shame," or any sacrifice that we are called to make, we have evidence that we are growing in favor with God.
32. Again, when we find ourselves more and more inclined to "count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations" (James 1:2), and when we are disposed to look upon our trials, vexations, losses, and crosses in such a light as to lay less and less stress upon them, we have evidence that we are growing in patience, and therefore in favor with God.
33 When we find less and less reluctance to making full confession to those whom we have injured, when with increasing readiness we lay our hearts open to be searched, when we take home conviction of wrong-doing, when, in such cases, we cannot rest till we have made the fullest confession and reparation within our power, and when to "own up," and confess, and make the fullest satisfaction, is a luxury to us, rather than a trial and a cross, we have evidence that we are growing in the favor of God.
34. When we are more and more impressed and affected by the mercies of God, and by the kindnesses of our fellow-men and those around us, when we more deeply and thoroughly appreciate manifestations of kindness in God, or in any one else, when we are more and more humbled and affected by these kindnesses, and find it more and more natural "to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly" (Micah 6:8), and live gratefully, we have evidence that we are growing in favor with God.
35. When we find ourselves drawn, with increasing earnestness, to follow on to know more of the Lord, we have evidence of growth in grace.
36. When we find ourselves more and more readily impressed and affected, quickened and stimulated by religious truth, and when we find an increasing harmony in the action of all our powers, intellectual, voluntary, and sensitive, in accepting, and resting in, the whole will and providence of God, however afflictive they may at present be, we have evidence that we are growing in grace.
37. A growing jealousy for the honor of God, for the purity and honor of His Church, for the rights of God, and for the rights of all men, is evidence of growing in conformity to God, and, of course, of growing in His favor.
VII. HOW TO GROW IN GRACE.
1. Fulfill the conditions noticed under the fourth head of this Lecture.
2. Remember that every step of progress must be made by faith, and not by works. The mistakes that some good men have made upon this subject is truly amazing. The custom has been almost universal, to represent growth in grace as consisting in the formation of habits of obedience to God. Now, it is quite surprising that so many good men have fallen into this mistake. The fact is, that every step of progress in the Christian life is taken by a fresh and fuller appropriation of Christ by faith, a fuller baptism of the Holy Spirit. As our weaknesses, infirmities, besetting sins, and necessities are revealed to us, by the circumstances of temptation through which we pass, our only efficient help is found in Christ, and we grow only as we step by step more fully appropriate Him, in one relation or another, and more fully "put Him on" (Romans 13.: 4). As we are more and more emptied of self-dependence, as we more and more renounce all expectation of forming holy habits by any obedience of ours, and as by faith we secure deeper and deeper baptisms of the Holy Ghost, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ, more and more thoroughly, and in more of His official relations, by just so much the faster do we grow in the favor of God. Nothing can be more erroneous and dangerous than the commonly received idea of growing in grace by the formation of holy habits. By acts of faith alone, we appropriate Christ, and we are as truly sanctified by faith as we are justified by faith. In my "Systematic Theology," in pointing out the conditions of entire or permanent sanctification, I have noticed some sixty of the official relations of Christ, as I have before said, and have there insisted, as I here insist, that growth in holiness, and consequently, in the favor of God, is secured only by fresh, fuller, and more thorough appropriations of Christ, in all these official relations. If you would grow in grace you must do it through faith. You must pray in faith for the Holy Spirit. You must appropriate and put on Christ through the Holy Spirit. At every forward step in your progress, you must have a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit through faith.
1. We see, from this subject, the vast importance of rightly instructing young converts. In many cases, they have very little instruction suited to their experience and degree of Christian intelligence. By some, such views are taken of the Perseverance of the Saints, that it is assumed that babes in Christ will grow without nursing, and without that sincere milk of the Word, by means of which they must grow. Some, taking it for granted that they need instruction, unwittingly give them false instruction, and set them to work outwardly and zealously, without paying much regard to the strengthening and developing of the inward life. They do not teach them how to appropriate and live on Christ as their life, but continually press them to "do their duty, to labor for God, and labor for souls," while not sufficiently impressing upon them the idea that their doing is of no account, unless it proceeds from the life of God in their own souls. The result of this is a bustling, outward activity, while the inward spiritual life is decaying. This must end in disgust at one's own want of heart, and a settling back into apathy and neglect.
2. Sometimes there is a mistake made in the opposite direction. They are taught to rest in Christ, in such a sense as to take on a type of quietism and antinomian inactivity. They are exhorted to exercise faith, but they are not earnestly impressed with the conviction that it must be a faith that works, and works by love, that purifies the heart, and overcomes the world. The result is, they do nothing in religion. Sinners are allowed to sleep on in their midst, and go to hell, and they make no effort to save them.
3. We see the importance of a Holy Ghost anointed ministry. The great want of the Church is a minister so thoroughly anointed by the Holy Ghost as to know how to lead the Church onward and upward, to the, fullest development of Christian piety. In order to instruct converts, and keep the Church progressing in holiness, the minister must progress himself. He must be a truly living, growing Christian. I have good reason to know that the Churches in many places are deeply pained by the want of living piety and growth in their ministers. Their ministers are intellectual, literary, philosophical, theological, in their teaching, but they are sadly deficient in unction. They have but little power with God or with man.
They instruct the intellect to a certain extent, but they do not meet the wants of the heart. Converts starve under their preaching. They preach an intellectual, rather than a spiritual Gospel They preach religion as a theory, a doctrine, a philosophy and not as a real living experience. It is often exceedingly painful to hear ministers preach who manifestly do not know what they say, or whereof they affirm They speak of religion as an inward sentiment, instead of heart devotion to God; as an emotion, a feeling instead of an all-embracing and efficient love, a voluntary state and attitude of the mind, from which necessarily proceeds a holy life. They speak of faith as; mere intellectual state or conviction, and not as an act of trust, and of committal of the whole being, to do and suffer all the will of God. They speak of repentance as if were a mere involuntary sorrow for sin They do not teach that repentance is a change of mind toward God, a renunciation of the self-seeking spirit, and a turning of the whole mind to God. They speak of holiness as if it were a state utterly unattainable in this life. Indeed, I say it with sorrow, but I must say it, the teaching of a great many ministers is but a stumbling block to the Church. Under their instruction, converts do not, and cannot get so established in grace as to be greatly useful, or to live lives that are honorable to Christ. Just think that in the Nineteenth Century ministers preach to converts that they must grow in grace by works. Be heaven and earth amazed at this! Such teachers do not know how to grow in grace themselves. Shall I be accounted harsh if I say: "They be blind leaders of the blind"?
4. We see the reason of so much backsliding. Converts will of course backslide who are led by false instruction. If, on the one hand, they are set to work out sanctification by works, their works will soon become dead works, and not be the result of that faith that works by love. If, on the other hand, they are crammed with abstract notions and doctrines, and taught to rest in an antinomian faith, they will sink into supineness and inactivity. I fully believe that in nearly all cases where there has been disastrous reaction after a revival, it has been owing to the want of timely and proper instruction. But to be timely and proper, it must be anointed instruction.
5. The Theological Seminaries need to pay vastly more attention to the growth in grace of their students. They need a professor of experimental religion, who has experience and power enough to press them along into those higher regions of Christian experience which are essential to their being able to lead the Church on to victory. It is amazing to see how little effort is made to cultivate the heart of young men studying for the ministry. 86 We must have a change in this respect. A much higher standard of Christian experience must be required as a condition of ordination. It is painful to see how carefully men will be examined in regard to their intellectual attainments, while the accounts they give of their Christian experience will barely allow us to hope that they have been converted.
6. I have never been present at the examination of a candidate for ordination where anything more than simple evidence of conversion was required of him. I never heard them questioned touching their progress in Christian experience, and regarding their spiritual ability to lead the flock of God into green pastures and beside still waters. I never heard them questioned in a manner that manifested the slightest conception of what are the indispensable spiritual qualifications of a man who is to stand forth as the leader and spiritual instructor of the Church of God. More hours are spent in ascertaining the intellectual attainments of a candidate than minutes to ascertain his spiritual and experimental attainments. The whole examination will plainly indicate that the ordaining body lay very little stress on this part of a minister's education. Is it any wonder that the Church of God is so feeble and inefficient, while the leaders and teachers are, many of them, mere children in spiritual knowledge, while a ripe Christian experience is made no part of the indispensable education of a minister? Why, this is infinitely more dangerous and ridiculous than to entrust men to lead an army in the field, while they merely understand mathematics, and never have had any training or experience in military matters.
In this respect, too, there must be a great change. Churches should refuse to ordain and receive pastors, unless they are fully satisfied of their having made much progress in Christian experience, so as to be able to lead on, and keep the Church awake.
They should insist upon the education of his heart as well as his head; upon his ability to take young converts, and conduct them on to those deep experiences that will make them stable and efficient workers in the cause of God. Think of Theological Seminaries, where the leaders of the Church of God are taught that sanctification or growth in grace is attained by works and not by faith! Tell it not in Gath! Alas for Zion, when her great and good men fall into such mistakes!