John Angell James, 1853
NATURE of Christian Progress
What is it to make progress in
godliness? Progress is not only 'mere action', but a moving forward. A
door turning upon its hinges is in a state of motion, but it never advances.
A chariot moving upon wheels is not only in action, but goes onward. The
conduct of some people in religion resembles the former—there is action but
no advancement—they move, but it is on hinges, not on wheels. They go
through, perhaps, even with regularity, the exercises of devotion, both
public and private. They may be mechanically exact and punctual, still they
do not go forward. There are
two ways of setting forth the nature
of Christian progress–
1. The RETENTION and manifestation of piety in various
situations. By representing the young
convert retaining his first views, feelings, and conduct with consistency
after his profession has been made, and then carrying them with him into
future life and all its various conditions, scenes, duties, and relations.
Life itself is progressive and ever-changing. Imagine the case of a youth
who receives his first religious impressions and assumes a religious
character while at home with his parents. To prepare for future life,
he leaves his father's house either as an apprentice or a shopman. In too
many cases, a change of scene produces a change of character, and religion,
under the influence of the unfavorable circumstances in which he may now be
placed, or by the power of temptation, declines—if it is not altogether
abandoned. But in the case I am supposing, the youth holds fast his
integrity, and amid irreligious and scoffing companions, maintains his
steadfastness and consistency. He bears opposition and insult with firmness,
fortitude, and meekness. Here is progress. There may be no great increase of
knowledge or of holiness, but what he had has been exposed to hard trials
and has surmounted them, and this itself is growth, and great growth too.
So of a daughter who remains at home—her
profession may have been assumed when very young, before her heart was
susceptible of the corrupting influence of the world. The time arrives when
the child passes into the girl and the girl into the young woman. In this
transition, when she feels the desire of companionship, when her society is
courted, and she is invited to parties and amusements—we often see sad
instances of declension. Seriousness is gone, and little else than a mere
profession is left. But in the case of real progress, the purpose to serve
the Lord is unmoved, the resolve to come out from the world and be separate
is unshaken. There is the same earnestness, seriousness, and decision as
ever. Company, flattery, peer-pressure, produce no alteration of conduct or
character. There is a solicitude not how near she can come to the
world and yet not be of it; but how far she may recede from
it—without affected singularity, unnecessary precision, or a violation of
the courtesies of life. She is the same simple-minded Christian, the same
decided follower of the Lamb, amid the development of womanhood, as she was
in her teens. This is progress, great progress. To retain her
first love amid this change of circumstances is advance, because it has been
put to a new test, and has honorably passed the ordeal.
A similar remark may be made in reference to the
influence of our religion on the different relations of life. When
young people, who have parents living, are converted to God—it is of course
their duty to let their religion influence them as children. True religion
does not only make us better towards God—but better towards man! And he who
is really made better towards God—will infallibly be made better towards
man! If we are not improved in our conduct towards our
fellow-creatures—there is a moral certainty we are not improved towards our
Creator! There is progress when the great change is proved—by people being
made better husbands or wives; better parents or children; better masters or
servants. It is a beautiful growth of godliness, when social excellence and
all its blessed fruits are seen springing out of the stem of piety. Oh, to
see the prodigal son brought back by true religion to his father's arms and
home; or the unkind husband won back by his piety, to the woman whom he had
oppressed and insulted; or the faithless servant, like Onesimus, reclaimed
by his conversion from dishonesty and injustice. Show me the professing
Christian whose social character is as unlovely after profession as it was
before, and though there may be an increase of knowledge and of some other
things connected with religion—there is no progress.
Then, when the youth arrives at manhood, and carries his
true religion with him also into business, and amid all its cares,
temptations, and perplexities, holds fast his personal godliness, and unites
the Christian tradesman with the Christian professor, letting his light so
shine before men that they, seeing his good works, glorify God, there
is progress! For alas, alas, how many who while in the capacity of a servant
maintain a conscience void of offence both towards God and man, and keep up
a regard to the one thing needful—lose nearly all the power of religion
either as a principle or a taste, when plunged into the anxieties and snares
Have not many women, who, while young and unmarried, and
unencumbered with domestic cares, were earnest in piety—become careless,
lukewarm, and indifferent, when surrounded with the scenes and occupied with
the solicitudes of a wife, a mother, and a keeper of the home? This,
however, is not always the case, as our biography of godly women can amply
testify. It is a beautiful sight to behold the young wife and mother
retaining her attention to true religion in all its earnestness and
spirituality—and thus qualifying herself for her new situation by all the
power of that godliness which she gained in single life. Here is eminent
Also, what VICISSITUDES affect us in this
world! Some are raised to PROSPERITY from low circumstances, and lose
their religion little by little in the ascension—until it is all gone by the
time they reach the summit! Rarely has it happened that men have not been
the worse for prosperity; rarer still that they have been the better for it.
What an advance in godliness has he made, who retains his decision, his
earnestness, his spirituality, his humility—amid the rising tide of wealth,
and who is the same man in spirit after his success, as he was before it.
And so with ADVERSITY, to bear it with meek submission to
the will of God; to endure chastisement with all patience and joyfulness; to
appear cheerful amid surrounding gloom; hopeful amid desponding
circumstances; happy in God when there is nothing else to make us happy! He
who does this has indeed made great advances in the divine life.
But perhaps what we have hitherto considered does not so
completely bring out the idea of progress as another method of
representation, since it is rather the progress of the Christian with
religion—than in it; the retention and manifestation of piety in
various situations—rather than the increase of piety itself. Still it is a
necessary and most important part of the subject. We now therefore take up
this latter view of the subject.
2. The INCREASE of piety itself.
There ought to be a growth in everything that constitutes personal
godliness. And as all true religion is based on KNOWLEDGE, there
should be an increase of this. Defects here, as we have already shown, were
the occasion of the apostle's rebuke to the Hebrews. The increase of
knowledge was much in the apostle's prayers for the churches. Ephes.
1:17-23, 3:18-19; Philip. 1:9; Col. 1:9. In all these passages, to which it
is hoped you will turn, you will see how earnest Paul was that his converts
should advance in knowledge. Apart from, or without this, there can be but
slow advances in anything else. This is clear from the apostle's
exhortation, "Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and
Savior Jesus Christ." Thus you see growth in grace and growth in knowledge
are inseparably connected. Light is essentially necessary to natural
vegetation; so it is to that which is spiritual. Young converts are
sometimes so taken up with religious feeling and doing, as to
forget the importance even in reference to these, of knowing. By a
growth in knowledge then, we mean an increasing understanding of the
contents of the Word of God, and of their true meaning—a real advance in
acquaintance with biblical truth. Not only an acquaintance with systems of
religious opinion, but with the design and meaning of the books, and
chapters, and texts of Scripture—an ever-growing disposition and ability to
read the Sacred Word with intelligence, discrimination, and
There are three or four matters which may be considered
the very substance of the Bible, and with which every Christian should make
himself as familiar as his time and circumstances will allow. The
Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, as God-man, Mediator; or
"God in Christ reconciling the world to himself," is the grand theme of the
Bible. It was dimly shadowed forth under the Old Testament, and is clearly
revealed in the New. Christ is the alpha and omega of Revelation. You cannot
understand the Bible if you are ignorant of this. The true and proper
DIVINITY of Christ's person is the cornerstone of Christian doctrine.
Compare Psalm 102:25-27, with Heb. 1:10; Psalm 45:6, with Heb. 1:8; Isaiah
6. with John 12:37-41; Isaiah 45:23, 24, with Rom. 14:9-11. Read, also,
Matt. 18:20; John 1:1, 10-14; 8:56-58; 10:30; 14:8-10; 17:5; 20:28; Rom.
9:5; Philip. 2:5-11; Col. 1:16; 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1; 1 John 5:20; Rev.
1. These are only a portion of the Scriptures that testify the true and
proper divinity of our Lord. Do give yourselves time and leisure to turn to
them, to study them, to treasure them up in your mind.
But it is Christ as MEDIATOR, also you are to
consider, uniting in a way we cannot comprehend, the divine and human nature
in his one glorious person. As Mediator he died in the sinner's stead as his
substitute, and by his death upon the cross made an atonement for the
sinner's transgressions. How clearly, how gloriously, how unanswerably does
the doctrine of atonement shine forth in that wonderful passage, Rom.
3:24-26. There, atonement is declared to be the very end of Christ's
incarnation and death. Three times, in the compass of two verses, is it
declared, that the demonstration of God's justice is the end of
Christ's sufferings unto death. The whole gospel scheme is a manifestation
of mercy, in a way of righteousness. In redemption God shows love to us in a
way that eclipses neither the glory of his character, his laws, nor his
government. Understand well the design of Christ's death, of that mysterious
economy of a vicarious sacrifice—that it was to harmonize the salvation of
the sinner with the honor of God—and this could only be done by an
At the same time understand well the doctrine of
ATONEMENT. This means that Jesus Christ having died in the place and stead
of guilty man, it is for the sake and out of regard to his death as the
meritorious consideration, that God pardons the sinner, and by which scheme
of Divine wisdom and mercy, the same purpose in regard to justice and to the
maintenance of the principles of moral government will be accomplished, as
the punishment of the sinner would have done. And it is in this view that we
see the connection between the divinity of Christ and the doctrine of
atonement. The sacrifice of one who was a mere man, or a creature however
highly exalted, could not be as clear a display of God's public justice as
the punishment of the whole multitude of pardoned sinners would have been.
There required a sacrifice of a very peculiar nature. Here we have it, in
Christ. He was truly and properly man, that he might suffer and die, which
God could not do; he was God, and thus the sufferings of the manhood
acquired from his divinity a character of infinite merit and worth. For a
proof of this doctrine we refer you to Isaiah 53. To the whole Levitical
law, as compared with the epistle to the Hebrews, especially to Leviticus
16, compared with Heb. 9, 10. Read also Matt. 20:28; Rom. 5:9 to end; 1 Cor.
15:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 1:18, 20; 2"24; 1 John, 4:10; Rev. 1:5. These
Scriptures are only a few of what might be selected to set forth the
doctrine of the atonement; a doctrine not only momentous as an article of
faith, but infinitely precious as a basis of hope.
Another subject which it is immensely important for a
young Christian to understand is God's method of bestowing the blessings of
salvation upon the sinner—that is, the doctrine of JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH.
Who are the people that will receive salvation, and what is the way in which
they receive it? This has been plainly set forth in the former treatise—mean
"The Anxious Inquirer after Salvation, Directed and Encouraged." By the
doctrine of justification by faith, we mean, that when a sinner is convinced
of his transgression, is truly penitent, and believes in the testimony of
the gospel that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son
that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,"
he is pardoned, received to the Divine favor, and entitled to eternal
life—not on account of his own sentiments, feelings, actions, or anything
of his own—but entirely for the sake of the blood and righteousness of
our Lord Jesus Christ, which are in such sense imputed to him, that he
receives the full benefit of them, as if they were his own!
Justification by faith is the answer to that momentous
question, "How shall man be just with God?" And the reply is, not by works
of his own, but by faith in the work of another, that is Christ. He must
have a righteousness in which to stand before a righteous and holy, as
well as a merciful, God. He has no such righteousness of his own. "Christ
is the end of the law for righteousness unto him who believes." "He is
made unto him righteousness." This is justification—the same in substance as
pardon—with this difference—that the word pardon simply expresses only the
blessing we receive, while the word justification includes the idea of the
way in which it comes to us—that is, by righteousness. There is also this
difference, justification signifies our entrance upon the state of
pardon or adoption, and can take place but once—pardon may be often repeated
towards one who is in this condition of acceptance.
It is of much consequence to a right understanding of
divine truth, and to the proper growth in knowledge and in grace, to observe
and ever maintain the distinction between justification and
sanctification. The fall brought in two evils upon man—guilt
upon his conscience, whereby he lost God's favor, became loathsome in his
sight, and subject to his wrath! The fall also brought depravity into
his nature, whereby he lost God's image, and became earthly, sensual, and
devilish. To be restored to bliss, in other words to be saved, he needs to
have his guilt pardoned, and his nature renewed. This is provided for in the
gospel scheme of redemption. By the blood and righteousness of Christ, our
sins are pardoned; and by the work of the Holy Spirit our hearts are
renewed, our nature changed, and our lives sanctified. The work of the
Spirit begins in regeneration, and is carried on in
The difference, therefore, between justification and
sanctification is very great and obvious, and must ever be maintained in our
views. Justification is the work of Christ for us; sanctification the
work of the Spirit in us—justification is perfect at once;
sanctification is progressive—justification is before sanctification, and
sanctification is the fruit of justification. Consequently the evidence of
our justification is in our sanctification. All the first joy and peace of
the sinner must come to him by justification—but his peace, joy, and
bliss as a pardoned believer must flow in great measure from his
sanctification. Justification is in order to sanctification, rather than
sanctification in order to justification. These remarks may seem to some to
be mere theological technicalities. But they are not so. They enter into the
very vitalities of personal godliness. For the study of the doctrine of
justification—and it ought to be a subject of study, deep study, and
progressive understanding, the following portions of Scripture should be
devoutly perused– Isaiah 43; Jer. 33:15, 16; Rom. 3, 4, 5, 10; 1 Cor. 1:30,
31; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 2, 3, 4; Phil. 3.
These are the chief matters to be investigated in
perusing the Word of God. Not that the attention is to be exclusively
confined to these subjects. Nothing in the Bible is unworthy the attention
of a Christian. The ancient and interesting histories of the books of Moses,
and the subsequent chronicles of the Jewish nation; the lofty devotions of
the Psalmist; the Proverbs of Solomon; and the sublime and beautiful books
of the Prophets—should also be studied; for "all Scripture," and this
expression refers to the Old Testament, "is given by inspiration of God, and
is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in
righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto
all good works."
It is not only, however, in the doctrinal or historical
parts of the Word of God that the young Christian is to increase his
knowledge. In Scripture, there is no knowledge which is purely academic—all,
all is practical. Every part is "a doctrine according to godliness." It is
declared in the passage just quoted, to be the design of the Bible, "that
the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
Truth is but a means to an end, and that end is holiness. Every one of us
ought to study our Bibles with that prayer upon our lips, "Sanctify me by
your truth; your word is truth." We should grow in our knowledge of the
character of God, that we may resemble it. We should grow in the
understanding of the law, that we might be conformed to it. We should grow
in the understanding of the example of Jesus, that we might be more like
him. There should be a conviction that we are not yet as perfect in what we
should be. A desire to know merely to know, is curiosity; but a
desire to know in order to do, is sanctity.
There ought, then, to be progress in knowledge. No
Christian should be satisfied with mere rudimentary understanding of
Scriptural truths. And yet the great bulk seek for nothing more. It is
really humiliating and painful to preachers to find how little, in the way
of imparting knowledge, is effected by all their sermons. No students seem
satisfied with so little increase of ideas—as those who profess to be in the
school of Christ. Usefulness, happiness, and true piety are thus hindered.
And not only so, but true religion itself is stunted and starved, and its
luster diminished. And even they who do read and think, peruse only,
or chiefly—the works of men. Never was there an age when Bibles were more
widely circulated, and never an age when they were less read! Magazines,
periodicals, and books of all kinds have come in upon us like a flood, which
in many cases has almost swept away the Bible. After all, it is Bible truth
from its own source that is the 'concentrated nutriment' of the divine life;
and it will be found that they are usually the strongest, healthiest, and
most rapidly growing of the children of God, who live most upon the sincere,
that is, the pure and "unadulterated" milk of the Word of God. The works of
men are very useful in their place when they lead us to the Word of God; but
too many people allow themselves to be kept away by them, from the fountains
of pure truth. For the growth of the church of God generally, it needs to be
led back more to the sacred Scriptures!
Decision of character
must be strengthened. At first many a true Christian is a little hesitating
and halting. His opinions are fluctuating. His purposes are irresolute. His
steps are faltering. He is timid—afraid of the laughter of some, and the
frowns of others. He is fearful of being made the subject of embarrassing
remarks, and especially of critical and cynical remarks. He cannot encounter
reproach bravely. He is not yet bold enough to say, "Laugh on! None of these
things move me! My mind is made up!"
Sometimes he is too careful of his worldly interests. He
is a little too flexible and compliant. He makes concessions which
'consistency of principle' forbids. Friendships have too much power over
him. He has not acquired grace yet to assert manfully his independence.
Hence he is in great danger. This state of mind is perilous in the extreme.
If he does not grow out of it, it will grow upon him. He is
likely to draw back, and to give up all.
See, then, the importance of his immediately seeking to
grow in firmness, resoluteness, determinateness. This was the first
thing which the apostle enjoined next to belief—"Add to your faith virtue,"
or as the word signifies, "courage," courage to assert and maintain your
principles before all observation, and against all opposition. Put on at
once the courage of a hero, and the steadfastness of a martyr. Prove that
piety is itself the most heroic spirit in the world. Acquire more and more
of the courage which dares to be singular in holiness. Be more insensible to
the world's favor, frown, or smile. True religion does not encourage or
foster a haughty spirit of independence or a total disregard of the world's
opinion—but it does teach us so to respect the testimony of the Bible and
the dictates of conscience, so as to disregard all censures or remarks that
are opposite to these. The tree in its growth strikes its roots deeper and
deeper into the earth, and thus strengthens the hold it has upon the soil—so
that it is far less likely to be blown down by the raging winds. In like
manner let your conviction strike deeper and deeper into the truth, so as
that you shall not be thrown down by the conflicting opinions or the stormy
passions of men!
FAITH is susceptible to
growth. It was the prayer of the apostles, "Lord, increase our
faith!" And we read continually in the Bible of "strong" and "weak faith."
Faith may be considered either as general, or believing the whole
word of God, which is the faith spoken of in the eleventh chapter of the
Hebrews; or particular, as having respect to the person and work of Christ.
As regards the former, there is ample room in most minds for growth.
Difficulties, after the first impressions and convictions are over, soon
arise and present themselves to the young and inexperienced Christian, and
often multiply in his path. He is perplexed and knows not how to get rid of
them. He is sometimes staggered. His mind is uncomfortable. Now, it is
obviously his duty and equally his privilege to put aside these obstacles.
Of course he should pray for divine grace, and, in the language already
quoted, should say, "Lord, increase my faith." But this is not all he should
do. He should read as well as pray. His mind should grow in acquaintance
with the evidence of divine revelation. He should ponder upon the miracles
of Christ and his apostles—the accomplishment of prophecy in the person and
work of the Savior—the success of the gospel in its first ages by fishermen,
not only without, but against, the powers of the earth—the sublime doctrine
and pure morality of the Bible, the lofty views it gives of God, and its
correct representations of human nature, the power it has in not only
changing the society, but doing this by the renovation of the individual
man—the miserable condition of humanity beyond the range and influence of
Christianity, showing the need men have of a Scriptural revelation.
Now all these should become the subject of deep thought
and reflection, by which the opposing difficulties will appear light and
little. Such studies are too much neglected by many people, who are
contented to take their religion upon trust—or to go on their way perplexed
by the flippant cavils of infidelity which are so common in this age of
skepticism and unbelief. True it is, that their own conversion ever will be
the strongest evidence of the truth of revelation to the great mass of the
people; yet an acquaintance with the historic proofs of Christianity, will
be of great service, and yield great pleasure in their religious course.
But there must be a deep solicitude to grow in that
special faith which has direct reference to the Savior and his work.
Christ is the chief object proposed to the sinner in the New Testament. The
eye that sweeps round the whole circle of divine truth must rest in him as
the center. Faith is confidence, and confidence may be weak, partial, and
wavering; or it may be undivided, firm, and settled. The young Christian,
though convinced that Christ is the only ground of hope and the only source
of salvation, though upon the whole resting upon him and expecting all
things from him, is not yet brought, perhaps—to that full and entire turning
away from everything else, and that full and entire resting on the Lord
Jesus which an intelligent and strong faith requires. He looks much to his
frames and feelings, and his various experiences; as a consequence, his
peace rises and falls on this thermometer. A little more freedom in prayer,
or enjoyment under a sermon, or elasticity of feeling in his ordinary
course, raises him to the mount; while a little less sinks him to the
valley. His opinion of his state is as variable as his emotions, and to a
considerable extent is decided by them. Thus, his course is an alternation
of gloom and gladness.
What does all this indicate—but that the eye is not upon
Christ but upon self? What does it prove—but that faith in Jesus is weak and
wavering? That the mind does not yet see so clearly his finished work as the
ground of hope and source of joy as it should do? The soul is not yet weaned
from self-righteousness, but is almost unconsciously to itself, going about
"to establish its own righteousness," if not of works, yet of feelings. Now
faith will as certainly take us off from dependence upon the latter as upon
Nor is this all, for the weak believer is looking about
to many other things for strength and holiness, instead of Jesus. It does
not yet see so clearly as it should do, that "He is made of God unto
us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." 1 Cor.
1:31. Friends, ordinances, self-imposed rules of conduct, are all appealed
to with this petition, "help me." And in proper measure and season, it is
quite right to use these helps; but not to the neglect of faith in Jesus.
A Christian who has grown in faith has risen above this,
and is enabled to say, and to rejoice as he says it, "I now see that all
fullness of blessing is in Christ, and that it is from that fullness I am to
receive, and grace for grace. I am now weaned from self, and am no longer
looking to it for anything but conviction and condemnation—but am looking
wholly and always to Jesus. My justification, sanctification, consolation,
stability, and perseverance, are all from him, just as all the sap which
supports the life and promotes the fruitfulness of the branch is derived
from its vital union with the tree. Being safely built upon him as my
foundation, I mingle nothing with his work, and find continual matter of
rejoicing. Whatever view I take of his person and work, whether I think of
his divinity or perfect humanity; his atonement, intercession, or
example—comfort presents itself. Grace has made me willing to live out of
myself, upon the fullness of Jesus. In him I have what I want, all
This is strong faith, and what an advance from that
feeble, fluctuating confidence which marked the first stages of religious
experience. This is true evangelical confidence, to look for joy, holiness,
strength; and to look for all from Christ. Then is faith settled and strong
when we are brought to say, "For me to live is Christ," or as it might be
rendered, Christ is my life.
HOLINESS is an essential
part, yes, the very essence, of personal godliness. This was the image of
God in the soul of man at his creation, which man lost by the fall, and
which it is the design of the work of redemption to restore. Gen. 1:26-27,
compared with Ephes. 4:22-24. Are we predestinated, it is that we
might be holy. Ephes. 1:4. Are we called, it is with a "holy
calling." 1 Thes. 4:7; 2 Tim. 1:9. Are we justified freely by God's
grace, it is that we might be holy. Titus 3:7-8. Are we afflicted, it is
that we might be partakers of God's holiness. Heb. 12:10. The whole work of
Christ has its end in holiness. He "loved the church, and gave himself for
it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the
word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having
spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without
blemish." Ephes. 5:26-27; Titus 2:11-14.
It is a very low and unworthy idea of the design of
Christ's death, to conceive of it as only intended to save men from hell.
His gracious purpose, in addition to this, was to make them sons of God, and
bright and glorious resemblances of their divine Parent. Holiness was the
bliss of Paradise before Adam fell—holiness will constitute the bliss of
heaven. All the inhabitants of glory are holy; all its occupations are holy;
all its influence is holy. Hence the indispensable necessity of holiness in
the Christian character, and the growth of holiness in the Christian life.
But what is holiness? The purification of the
heart by the Spirit of God from the love of sin—and the life from the
practice of it. But this is only a negative view of it, there is also a
positive one. Holiness is the love of God, for his own sake; and the love of
man, for God's sake. It is the separation of the soul from the works of the
flesh—and the substitution in their place of the fruits of the Spirit. Gal.
5:19-26. It is that blessed work by which the wilderness of an unrenewed
heart, where grow the briar and the bramble, the thorn and the nettle—is
changed into the garden of the Lord, which bears the fruits of
righteousness. Isaiah 55:13.
It is obvious that this is susceptible of all
degrees, and therefore of continued increase. One man may be holier than
another, and the same man may be holier at one time than another. Take, for
example, any one single lust either of the flesh or of the mind; any one
besetting sin—the gradual mortification of that is a growth in grace. If a
man has less pride, or covetousness, or malice, or impurity of imagination,
than he had at one time—and more of the opposite disposition, there is
progress. Now, there is great need to say to the recent convert, "Follow
after holiness," for he is so likely to be taken up with the joy of
pardon and the peace of faith as somewhat to forget the necessity of
sanctification. At first his views of sin are both defective and
superficial. Many things in practice are wrong which he does not at first
think to be so; and of the depravity of his heart be has very faint
notions at all; while also he sees but little of the exceeding sinfulness of
sin in general. He must therefore, seek to increase in the love of God, the
hatred of all sin, and the entire consecration of his heart and life to the
service of God.
While God is calling to him out of heaven, and saying,
"Be holy, for I am holy," he must reply by sincere and earnest prayer,
"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean—wash me, and I shall be whiter
than snow. Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me."
Psalm 51:7, 10. Be not satisfied then, without a growth in holiness of which
you shall yourself possess the most entire consciousness, and which shall be
equally evident to others. Holiness is happiness, and the more you have of
the former the more you will undoubtedly enjoy of the later. Enter more and
more fully into the bliss of finding the life of God in the soul continually
increasing in vigor and in operation.
It is a sign of growth in holiness when the mind is not
only more enlightened in the nature, evil, and existence of sin in general;
but when we become more aware of little sins which did not formerly
strike us; when the eye of the mind is more 'microscopic', and can detect
sins which we formerly did not see, and especially when we are more
affected by them. When also we are more solicitous to find out such
unknown sins; when we search for them ourselves, taking the candle of the
Lord, and going down into the depths of our own heart to bring to light what
we did not before discover, and when not being satisfied with our own
searching, we carry the matter to God, and in the language of David pray
thus, "Search me, O God, and know my thoughts; try me, and know my ways; and
see if there be any wicked way in me." When we are afraid of committing
little sins—sins of ignorance, sins of omission, and of carelessness; when
the soul is so anxious to be holy as that it would not have even secret
faults kept within it; when the conscience, like the pupil of the eye,
becomes so tender that it cannot bear the slightest touch—this, this is
growth in holiness. Blessed is that soul which is thus assimilating more and
more closely to the image of God.
Spirituality of mind and heavenliness of affection
are essential elements in true piety—"to be spiritually-minded is life and
peace." And it is also the state and character of the Christian to live with
his thoughts, affections, and aspirations—all centering in God and heaven.
How strong an expression is that of the apostle, and how little is it known
by the generality of professors, "Since, then, you have been raised with
Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right
hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you
died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." Col. 3:1-3. Pause,
reader, and ponder upon this impressive language. This is the mind of
a real Christian. This is the experience of a child of God. It is to
this that renewing grace is designed to bring us. What do you know of this
spiritual renovation, this strange mixture of death and life in the same
soul; this holy paradox? Ah, what?
Know and understand that vital piety is something more
than an abstinence from crimes, vices, and external sins; yes, and something
more than the practice of the conventional virtues of the world—and also of
the church. It is a spiritual, heavenly mind—an unearthly disposition. The
thoughts and affections, by a holy spontaneity, rise up and flow to God,
like the ebullition of a spring, without external force or instrumentality.
Divine things possess an attraction which of themselves draw the soul
towards them. There is no necessity for sermons, or books, or places, or
occasions—to engage the mind and heart that way. There is an inward taste
which, like any other taste—is itself a predisposition for them. The soul,
of its own accord, self-moved, self-drawn, goes to Christ, to God, to
heaven. This is growing in grace, and increasing with all the
increase of God. This is walking more and more by faith—when spiritual,
divine, invisible objects acquire a greater power over the soul—when there
needs but the slightest touch to set the mind in spiritual motion, and the
Christian feels increasingly that his element is devotion, and his native
air the atmosphere of piety.
The Christian Temper is
one great part of true religion—and by this, as distinguished from what has
gone before, I mean the passive virtues and amiable affections
of the heart; or what is called "the meekness and gentleness of Christ." Or
to refer to another term so often employed by the apostle, I mean the LOVE
so beautifully described in the thirteenth chapter of the first epistle to
the Corinthians. It is of immense importance that everyone beginning the
divine life should study both that chapter and our Lord's sermon upon the
mount. These portions of Holy Writ fully and intentionally describe and set
forth the Christian temper. Young professors, and indeed old ones
too, sadly forget that LOVE is the very essence of the Christian spirit—it
is the very soul of practical religion—a love that represses the strong
passions of the heart and the boisterous conduct of the life—a love that
makes us cautious against giving offence, and backward to receive it—a love
that renders us forbearing and forgiving—a love that produces a calm,
even-tempered mind—a love which speaks in soft, kind, and gentle speech—a
love that dreads the infliction of pain and covets the communication of
"O divine and heavenly love—offspring of that glorious
Being of whom it is said, 'God Is Love'—you of whom the Lord Jesus Christ
was but an impersonation and embodiment; you that are another name for the
gospel, and the very end and fullness of the law; you benevolent and gentle
spirit, how little is your nature understood and your claims admitted, not
only in the world—but in the church; when shall your sway be felt by all who
profess to bow to your scepter—but who now withhold from you their
allegiance, and exhibit so little of your rule?" How peaceful and amiable;
how courteous and affable; how tender and sympathetic; how courteous and
obliging—would this love make us to all around. What lovely specimens of
Christianized humanity, and what attractive recommendations of it, would
this make us! Here, here, is the spirit in which to make progress.
Too many have no idea of the subjection of their temper
to the influence of true religion. And yet what is changed if the temper is
not; or of what use is any other change? If a man is as angry, malicious,
resentful, sullen, moody, or morose, after his supposed conversion as before
it—what is he converted from or to? "Let the mind of Jesus be in you," said
the apostle—and in another place, "If any man has not the spirit of Christ,
he does not belong to Christ." Now, the mind of Jesus was loving, kind,
meek, gentle, and forgiving; and unless we have these virtues we have not,
cannot have, the mind of Jesus. We must not take up the idea that temper is
so constitutional, a thing so unconquerable, that we may as well think to
alter the shape and complexion of our body, as to attempt to change the
natural temper of the mind. It can be improved—it has been in
millions of instances—it must be. We must all of us grow more and
more in the "whatever things are LOVELY." We must set out in the Christian
career with the determination, through grace, to eradicate the briar and
bramble, the thorn and the nettle—those lacerating and stinging shrubs—and
to plant in their room the ornamental fir, the odoriferous myrtle, and the
There is perhaps no sign of growth more decisive, nor
anything more desirable in itself, than
the union of increasing
holiness—with a wider view of Christian liberty.
These two are sometimes dissociated, and we see, on the one hand—liberty
degenerating into licentiousness; and, on the other hand—righteousness
sinking into bondage. The freedom of the one is privilege in opposition to
duty; the thraldom of the other is duty to the neglect of privilege. Many an
old, but corrupt professor, has abjured the obligations of the moral law,
that he might enjoy, as he supposes, "the liberty with which Christ makes
his people free," while many a young one has placed himself in spirit under
the yoke of the ceremonial code, and brought himself into a slavery
repugnant to the free and generous spirit of the gospel. It is as undoubted
a fact that "where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty," as that
there is holiness. Both passages in the same context are equally true, where
it is said, "There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus," but
then "they walk not after the flesh but after the spirit." "For the law of
the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made them free from the law of sin
and death." This is in order "that the righteousness of the law might be
fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit." Rom.
8:1-4. How beautifully liberty and holiness are balanced in this passage.
And how important is the exhortation of the apostle, "Brethren, you have
been called to liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion of the flesh."
By liberty, then, we understand, not only a freedom from
the yoke—but also of the spirit, of the ceremonial law—the spirit of
a child in opposition to that of a slave. In other words, serving God in a
spirit of love, which casts out tormenting fears. Young Christians, who are
not yet so enlightened and so settled in what are called the doctrines of
grace, or of free justification through the righteousness of Christ—are a
long time troubled with a legal spirit. There is a kind of superstitious
scrupulousness in little things; things which are prescribed by human
authority, or invented by human ingenuity, or borrowed from human examples;
but not prescribed by the Word of God. In the early stages of religious
experience there is often an unenlightened and sickly tenderness of
conscience, an excessive and shrinking sensibility, which not only subjects
its possessor to a deprivation of lawful comforts and a large amount of very
unnecessary pain—but which also incapacitates him for the vigorous and
efficient discharge of duty. A man always hesitating, and fearing, and
trembling, lest he has failed to execute in some minute particular the will
of God, even when his intentions were the most pure and his efforts the most
diligent and faithful, is but ill prepared either to enjoy his privileges as
a child of God—or for encountering the various events and changes of the
Christian life. He will experience little of that "joy of the Lord, which is
our strength," and go on his way in heaviness. He is the last to whom we
would look for an illustration of that scripture—"Great peace have those who
love your law, and nothing shall offend them."
We should cultivate a filial spirit that shall enable us,
amid our numberless imperfections and failings, all of which must be mourned
and resisted, still cheerfully to enjoy our Christian privileges, and to
persevere in the way of duty, not doubting that we shall be sustained with
power from on high to lead a holy life; and that through the grace of God,
and the merits of Christ, all our deficiencies and errors will be mercifully
forgiven, and we shall find acceptance at the last. I know very well that
the tendency of many is, in these days, to extend too widely, rather than to
contract too narrowly, the circle of Christian liberty; but in these cases,
there is a proportionate diminishing of holiness. The conduct is as little
scrupulous in neglecting the weightier matters of the law, as it is in
overlooking the lesser matters of human imposition. There cannot be a darker
sign for any person than to be forever complaining of the strictness of true
religion, and endeavoring to relax the bonds of spiritual obligation under
the notion of enjoying Christian liberty.
It is a striking mark of progress in the divine life when
we are brought to adopt, in intelligence and good faith, the apostle's rule
of conduct for himself—"All things are lawful unto me—but all things are not
expedient; all things are lawful for me—but I will not be brought under the
power of any." 1 Cor. 6:12. Instead of claiming, as many do, indulgence for
acts in themselves unlawful, because they are supposed to be beneficial in
their effects, Paul was not content even with the positive lawfulness of
actions, unless to this was superadded a manifest tendency to the production
of good, setting in no case these two qualities of morality and expediency
in opposition to each other, much less making the inferior to overbalance
that which is of greater force and value; but refusing to take a step when
they did not coincide. He did not resolve, "I will perform those things that
are expedient though they be not lawful; but I will not venture even upon
lawful actions, if they be not expedient." Here is progress, indeed, when
with enlarged views of Christian liberty, there is at the same time an
increasing disposition to make that liberty subservient to our own holiness,
and also the well-being of others.
Christian activity is
essential to Christian consistency. The injunctions to this are so numerous
as to be interwoven with the whole texture of Scripture. This is set forth
by two very striking metaphors, where Christ told his disciples they were to
be "the light of the world," and "the salt of the earth," than which nothing
can be more instructive or impressive. They are to illuminate the moral
darkness, and purify the corruption by which they are surrounded. It is one
end of their conversion, for no man is converted only for himself. Hence
said Christ to Peter, "And when you are converted strengthen your brethren."
Every truly regenerated person is, and should consider himself, another
chosen, appointed, and prepared instrument for the world's conversion. God
works by means and instruments, and these are not exclusively confined to
the ministers of the gospel. There are many ways in which every real
Christian can, without invading the ministerial office, or stepping out of
his place, do good to others. This is required by the law, which commands us
to love God, for can we love him and not desire that others should do so
too? Equally also by that other great commandment, which requires us to love
our neighbor as ourselves; for can we really love him and not seek to do him
all the good we can? Read the following Scriptures with great care and
attention, Matt. 5:42-48; Rom. 10:6-13; 14:7, 9; Gal. 6:6-10; Phil. 2:4, 15,
16, 21; Heb. 13:16; 1 John 4:10, 11.
Young converts should have a clear understanding, a deep
conviction, and a very powerful impression of this, that they are called not
only to holiness and happiness—but also to usefulness; and should
also perceive that no small part of the two first depends upon carrying out
the last. Yet they are not always so disposed. They are sometimes so much
taken up with the enjoyment of their own personal religion and Christian
privileges, as to sit down in luxurious ease and indolently enjoy the
happiness to which they are brought. But let them know and remember, that
one of the strongest evidences of our own salvation, is a deep concern and a
vigorous activity for the salvation of others. Every true believer
should begin his religious course with an intelligent purpose to lay himself
out for usefulness, according to his abilities, his means, his situation,
his resources, and his opportunities. He cannot be a Christian, who, in the
spirit of the first murderer, asks, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Benevolence
must enter very largely into the constitution of every real Christian. And
like every other part of the Christian character, it must be ever growing.
He must be useful, and do good as a young man, with even limited means and
opportunities. He must first be active in that way to which he is most
adapted. Then he must look out for something else; for nothing is so
suggestive and inventive as benevolence. His sphere of activity must
continually widen, as his experience becomes established, his knowledge
increases, his observation extends, and his resources accumulate.
Nothing progresses more rapidly in a heart set upon doing
good, than an ability to be useful. They who at first are timid, shy,
awkward, in such efforts, soon acquire courage, expertness, and efficiency.
It is a sad sight to see the heart contracting, the hand growing slack, and
the foot heavy and slow, as the means and opportunity for doing good are
multiplied. On the other hand, how beautiful a scene is it to witness the
professor becoming more and more both of the Christian and of the
philanthropist, as years roll on; until he realizes the description of the
Psalmist, where he says, the righteous "shall bring forth fruit in old age,
they shall be fat and flourishing." Psalm 92:14.
And what is the crowning grace, the finishing stroke of
beauty, and the brightest ray of glory in the Christian character?
"It is this among other things, and high among them too, which distinguishes
Christianity from all the wisdom of the world both ancient and modern, not
having been taught by the wise men of the Gentiles—but first put into a
discipline, and made part of true religion, by our Lord Jesus Christ; and
who chiefly proposes himself as our example, by exhibiting in his own
perfect character the twin sisters of meekness and humility. Everything—our
ignorance, our weakness, our sins, and our follies prescribe to us, that our
proper dwelling place is low in the deep valley of humility. We have only to
compare our present spiritual condition, I will not say with the holy God,
the holy Jesus, or the holy angels—but with holy Adam before his fall, to
see how low we have sunk, and how entirely by the fall we have lost all
ground and all excuse for pride. We have only to look at human nature in
general—all corrupt as it is—or study it in our own selves as its epitome;
we have only to look back at what we were before conversion, or to look in
and see how imperfect even in our converted state we still are; we have only
to consider how strong are our resolutions, and how feeble and broken have
been their performance; how many the temptations by which we have been
assailed, and with what success against ourselves—to see most abundant cause
for humility. You may read for injunctions to this virtue—Prov. 15:33;
18:12-22:4; Mic. 6:8; Luke 14:11; Col. 3:12; 1 Peter 5:5. But all these
injunctions and all possible motives to this grace are bound up in the
example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember that the blessed Savior has done
more to prescribe, and transmit, and secure this grace, than any
other; his whole life being a great, continued descent from the glorious
bosom of his Father, to the womb of a poor maiden; to the form of a servant;
to the likeness and miseries of sinful flesh; to a life of labor; to a state
of poverty; to a death of malefactors; to the grave of death; and to the
intolerable calamities which we deserved; and it were a good design, and yet
but reasonable, that we should be as humble in the midst of our greatest
imperfections and basest sins, as Christ was in the midst of his fullness of
the Spirit, great wisdom, perfect life, and most admirable virtues." (Jeremy
The same author has given us the following signs
of humility. "If you would try how your soul grows, you shall know
that humility, like the root of a goodly tree, is thrust very far into the
ground, by these goodly fruits, which appear above ground.
1. The humble man trusts not to his own discretion—but in
matters of concernment relies rather upon the judgment of his friends,
counselors, or spiritual guides.
2. He does not stubbornly pursue the choice of his own
will—but in all things lets God choose for him, and his superiors in those
things which concern them.
3. He does not murmur against commands.
4. He is not inquisitive into the reasonableness of
indifferent and innocent commands—but believes their command to be reason
enough in such cases to exact his obedience.
5. He lives according to a rule, and with compliance to
public customs, without any affectation or singularity.
6. He is meek and indifferent in all accidents and
7. He patiently bears injuries.
8. He is always unsatisfied in his own conduct,
resolutions, and counsels.
9. He is a great lover of godly men, and a praiser of
wise men, and a censurer of no man.
10. He is modest in his speech, and reserved in his
11. He fears, when he hears himself commended, lest God
make another judgment concerning his actions, than men do.
12. He gives no pert or saucy answers, when he is
reproved, whether justly or unjustly.
13. He loves to sit down in private, and, if he may, he
refuses the temptation of new honors.
14. He is ingenuous, free, and open, in his actions and
15. He mends his fault, and gives thanks, when he is
16. He is ready to do good offices to the murderers of
his fame, to his slanderers, backbiters, and detractors—as Christ washed the
feet of Judas.
17. And is contented to be suspected of indiscretions, so
before God he may be really innocent, and not offensive to his neighbor, nor
slack to his just and prudent interest."
Such is the grace, and such its signs, in which it is the
duty of every Christian to be continually progressing. It is not
infrequently the case that young converts in the ardor of their first love
are self-confident, and sometimes a little high-minded. They are unduly
exalted in their own estimation by the strength of their feelings and the
liveliness of their frames, and are almost ready to wonder at, and to
censure, the lowly confessions of others far older in the Divine life than
themselves. They seem already to realize, in their own estimation, the
beautiful language of the prophet, and mount up with wings as eagles; they
run and are not weary, and walk and are not faint. Their spiritual pride,
like the worm striking the young plant, eats into the heart of the young
believer, and where it does not destroy the principle of life, sadly impairs
Let, therefore, the early professor be duly aware of this
tendency and watch against it. Let him recollect that as humility may be,
and has been, compared to the roots of the tree, while other graces are its
fruits; the latter must be expected in abundance only as the former strike
downwards deeper and deeper into the earth. Surely it might be supposed
there is no one grace in which the soul would be more disposed or find it
easier to grow than this, since every day as it passes gives us greater and
greater knowledge of ourselves and shows us how little cause there is for
"If we need any new incentives to the practice of this
grace, I can say no more—but that humility is truth, and pride is a lie—that
the one glorifies God, the other dishonors him; humility makes men like
angels, pride makes angels to become devils; that pride is folly, humility
is the temper of holiness and excellent wisdom; that humility is the way to
glory, pride to ruin and confusion—humility makes saints on earth, pride
undoes them—humility beatifies the saints in heaven, and 'the elders throw
their crowns at the foot of the throne;' pride disgraces a man among all the
societies of earth—God loves one, and Satan solicits the cause of the other,
and promotes his own interest in it most of all. And there is no one grace,
in which Christ propounded himself imitable so signally as in this of
meekness and humility—for the enforcing of which he undertook the condition
of a servant, and a life of poverty, and a death of disgrace; and washed the
feet of his disciples, and even of Judas himself, that his action might be
turned into a sermon to preach this duty, and to make it as eternal as his
own story." (Jeremy Taylor)
And now, we may ask, Are there not certain points of
resemblance between natural growth and progressive holiness, which deserve
notice? We apprehend there are, and principally the following—
1. Growth is the order of the natural world for all
life, whether in vegetables, brutes, or human beings. Growth, as we have
said, is the law of healthful life.
2. Growth is dependent upon means used to promote
it. The child grows in strength and stature by his mother's milk; animals in
much the same way; and trees and vegetables by all the processes and
supplies of agriculture and the influences of the heavens and the soil. So
is it with true religion in the soul—there cannot be advance without the
appropriate means, both in kind and measure. These will be the subject of
the next chapter.
3. Growth in other things is proportionate in all
the parts which belong to them. If the roots, stem, and branches of a tree
all grow together—the tree is in a sound state. If it be a child, all the
limbs grow proportionately, and the body, and also mind, keep pace with each
other. Disproportion produces monstrosities. If, for instance, the head be
larger than the body, or the limbs smaller; or if the mind is
childish while the body is advancing to the period of youth or manhood, in
either of these cases there is deformity. So it is in true religion. The
Christian grows in knowledge, faith, and holiness together. There is, or
should be, no spiritual deformity or monstrosity.
4. Growth is very gradual in all life, not
excepting the Christian. No plant becomes a tree; no child a man; all at
once. So is it with the Christian.
5. Growth is perceptible, not, indeed, in its
principles—but in its effects. In the case of a tree or shrub—he who sees it
when first planted, and looks at it some years afterwards, will perceive
progress. So of a new-born babe, growing into a child of two years' old. So
of a young convert—he who converses with him at his first awaking, and a
year or two after his conversion, will perceive an increase of knowledge,
and decision, and comfort, and holiness. This, however, will sometimes be
more clearly perceived by others, than by the Christian himself.
The child is not at the time sensible of his own
growth—and it often, yes generally, requires to look back and compare what
he is now with what he recollects himself to have been, to convince him of
his growth. And so it is with the spiritual babe.
"A healthy child," says John Brown, in his admirable
exposition of the epistle of Peter, to which I am indebted for several of
the preceding remarks, "grows without thinking much about its growth. It
takes its food and exercise, and finds that it is growing in the increase of
its strength, and its capacity for exertion. And an analogous state is, I
believe, the healthiest state of the spiritual new-born bade. While
self-examination, rightly managed, is very useful, a morbid desire of the
satisfaction of knowing that we are improving, is in danger of drawing the
mind away from the constant employment of the means of spiritual nourishment
and health. The best state of things is where, in the healthy vigorous state
of the spiritual constitution, ready for every good work, we have the
evidence in ourselves that we are growing; and when that is lacking,
application to the sincere milk of the word will do a great deal more than
poring into ourselves to find either proof that we are growing or not
This is very true, very judicious, and very important—but
then it must not be abused and allowed to degenerate into an utter
carelessness about our spiritual state, nor abate that holy jealousy over
ourselves, and that just concern to grow in grace; without which declension,
and not progress, will be our condition. It is quite true that our chief
solicitude should be not to neglect—but diligently to use, all the means of
progress; rather than an attempt to be perpetually measuring the ground over
which we have passed. A child who does not grow, who finds his years rolling
on and adding nothing to his stature, soon becomes anxious about it, and
inquires into the cause of his remaining in his dwarfish littleness. And
when, therefore, the child of God, or one that professes to be such, makes
no advance, perceptible either to himself or others, it is quite time for
him to begin to be anxious, to inquire what has stopped his progress, and to
apply afresh to all the appointed means for his spiritual advancement.
ADDRESS TO THE READER
You now see what is meant by progressive religion. You
cannot be ignorant of this important subject, nor plead ignorance for the
neglect of it. You see clearly it is not merely an uninterrupted round of
ceremonial observances; nor merely an acquisition of knowledge, though these
things may comport with it—but that it is an advance in faith and holiness.
Do you understand this matter, and apprehend clearly its nature as
well as its necessity? Does that one impressive word growth, growth,
stand out clearly defined, luminously seen, impressively felt, before you?
If so, immediately enter upon a course of self-scrutiny—diligent, impartial,
close examination—to ascertain if there be this progress in you.
Again enter into your closet, shut the door, and commune both with your own
heart and with God, and say, as in his sight—
Am I as really in earnest as I once was?
I have changed my situation, do I retain my religion, and
have I carried into new circumstances and relations, my former earnestness?
Am I advancing in my knowledge of the Scriptures and the
great truths of religion, gaining clearer and more distinct apprehensions of
Am I more decided, and resolute, and settled, in all my
religious convictions and godly habits, than I was at first?
Is my faith stronger and more influential, and am I less
troubled with doubts and fears than I was?
Am I really holier than I was? Have I gained greater
power over my corruptions?
Am I more spiritual and heavenly, more full of devout
thoughts and affections?
Do I improve in my temper by becoming more meek, gentle,
forgiving, and kind?
Have I learned to combine more of the generous and free
spirit of Christian liberty with an equal advance in holiness?
Am I more anxious about universal and unvarying
consistency of conduct?
Is it more and more my concern to be active and useful?
Withal, do I increase in humility? Have I a deeper and
deeper sense of my own shortcomings, and a growing disposition to think
better of others, and lowlier of myself?
Test yourself, very searchingly, by such questions as