Growth in Grace
William Nicholson, 1862
"We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring." 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4
How important it is to "let our light so shine"! that others may take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus. Where true religion exists, it will show itself. And when this is the case . . .
the Church is honored,
the wicked see the excellency of true religion,
and God is glorified.
The Church at Thessalonica was in a very prosperous state, and happy would it be if churches at the present day could be so addressed. But alas! many churches present a very different aspect!
I. What Are the Indications of Growth in Grace?
In reference to the Thessalonians, their spiritual progress was manifested:
1. By their faith grew more and more.
2. By the love each one was increasing.
3. By their perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials they were enduring.
Let these three indications be considered in order, and regarded as the fruits by which it will be known who are Christ's disciples. It is evident from the phraseology in the text, and from many other passages, that sanctification is progressive. "Grow in grace," etc. "Add unto your faith virtue," etc., 2 Peter 1:5; 3:18.
It is like the kingdom of Heaven in the world, which is compared to a grain of mustard seed, also to leaven.
Real Christians, then, go from strength to strength in Zion. As time advances, their souls advance in holiness. The longer they live to enjoy the means of grace, the stronger becomes their faith — the more vigorous their hope and love, etc. etc.
Spiritual progression, too, is visible. Men saw it in the Thessalonians — the Apostles heard of it; it was a beautifully pleasing growth that attracted the gaze of the multitude. It was so genuine and brilliant, that the Apostles proclaimed it to other churches, verse 4.
1. Their faith grew more and more.Faith is an important principle. In the exercise of faith, the Christian life commences. Faith . . .
lays hold on Christ,
receives pardon and acceptance with God,
receives adoption into his family,
and fellowship with himself.
But faith is a constant and progressive grace; it commences the Christian life — and, instrumentally, it consummates it, when it is lost in sight. But it has to do with every intervening state of conflict and trial, through which the Christian is called to pass. See Hebrews 11. Faith's progress, and its strength, may be ascertained especially during those seasons.
This growth in faith will be evidenced in the following ways:
(1.) Growth in faith will be evidenced by a proper attention to all those exercises by which faith will be increased. The glorious Gospel of the blessed God will be delighted in and constantly studied. The character of Christ, his works, his love, his sacrifice, etc., will be constantly investigated, in order to grow more "in the knowledge of Jesus Christ." Growth of faith depends upon the accumulation of knowledge. The ministry of the word will be constantly attended; the Bible will not be a neglected book. See Psalm 1:2, 3; Proverbs 6:20-23. The Scriptures will be treasured in the memory. Colossians 3:16. Christian fellowship also tends to the advance of faith.
(2.) Growth in faith will be evidenced by an increasing acquaintance with the mind of God, as revealed in the Scriptures. Reading, hearing, studying, and conversing about Christ, must lead to the acquisition of Divine knowledge. We may be led to believe the Gospel in one day, but it will take some time to become rooted and grounded, etc., or to be able to say, "I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day!" 2 Timothy 1:12.
We may believe what is true from being told that it is so; but this will be of little advantage, unless we perceive the authority on which it rests, etc. And this is of the utmost importance in these days of infidelity and scepticism to be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us.
(3.) Growth in faith will show itself by increasing attachment to the doctrines of Christianity, and a disposition to advocate and defend them. This was evidenced by Paul. "He was determined not to know anything but Jesus Christ and him crucified." "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world!" Galatians 6:14. He loved the doctrines of Christianity so as to fear no frowns, nor to dread even death. "I am set for the defense of the Gospel."
Christ is precious to believers, and they love him, and will defend his truth — the doctrines of the Gospel.
(4.) Growth in faith will show itself by a full consecration of body and soul to promote the Redeemer's kingdom in the world. He who died for us expects this. It is eminently the work of faith to spread the cause of Christ, and an evidence that faith is alive, and progressing. Hence the Apostles were willing to spend, and be spent for Christ. The talents of the mind, and the contribution of money, etc., will not be withheld.
(5.) Growth in faith will be manifested by increasing deadness to the world. The more faith discovers of the beauty and glory of the Savior, and the splendors of that heavenly country to which the Christian is bound — the more worthless will this world appear. "Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith!" 1 John 5:4
2. The love of the Thessalonians towards each other abounded.Where faith grows, love will abound, for faith works by love. Not only the love of some few of them, but of every one to each other, did abound. Growth in faith and brotherly love are connected together as cause and effect. The same principle which produces attachment to the truth, will attach Christians to one another for the truth's sake. Christ is the center of union; all who love him are taught of God to love one another.
The abounding of brotherly love implies the existence of union and harmony. There was no discord. They loved one another not in word only, in deed and in truth. Christians may live agreeably together and love as friends, but to love as brethren is quite another thing. They may love each other, because they are of the same mind — but not on account of their being of the mind of Christ. Or suppose true brotherly love may exist — yet it may not "abound."
OBSERVE: Brotherly love is universal, and not partial; it loves all the brethren.
Brotherly love is sympathetic; it "Rejoices with those who rejoice; and mourns with those who mourn." Romans 12:15.
Brotherly love is discriminating; it searches out the brother in distress.
Brotherly love is active, and not merely notional.
Brotherly love is pitying, and actually relieves the needs of others. It does good to the household of faith.
3. The Thessalonians had also great patience in all their trials,verse 4th, and this was an evidence of increasing piety — it is to be like Christ. If we faint in the day of adversity, our strength is small. Faith believes that all things work together for good, to those who love God. Faith anticipates future rest and glory through grace, and patience calms the mind, and waits for the promise. "Be patient, brethren, for the coming of the Lord draws near." Faith lays hold of this promise.
II. All Progress in the Divine Life must Be Attributed to the Grace of God.
This the Apostle intimates when he speaks of being "bound to thank God, as it is fit." All that is evil belongs to ourselves — all that is good comes from God; it is he who works all our works in us. Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 2:13. It is evident that these Christians had at first felt their faith, etc., to be so weak that they had felt their own insufficiency to promote their spirituality. They acknowledged God as alone able to increase it, and earnestly prayed to him for it; "Lord, I believe — help my unbelief." "Lord, increase our faith."
Thanks must be given to God; for it is fitting. Nothing must be ascribed to the creature. The Apostle did not praise them; he thanked God. And those who, like him, have felt themselves to be "the chief of sinners, will, to their dying hour, feel bound to thank God for the power of his grace on themselves.
III. The Important Influence of this Growth in Grace.
1. It will glorify God, verse 12; see John 15:8. To the world it shows what religion can do. By their devotedness to seek the salvation of men, and the happiness of their brethren, God must be glorified.
2. By this growth in faith, the cavils of infidels are checked, and the foolishness of their systems is exposed.
3. It is very encouraging to faithful ministers of the Gospel, showing they labor not in vain, etc. How distressing to their minds, when people for years sit under their ministry and make no progress! Hebrews 5:11. On the contrary, see Romans 1:11, 12; Acts 11:23.
4. Making no progress, produces doubt and fear. Hence the slothful, the formal, in Zion — have, in their serious moments, painful anxiety. How different they are from what they should be!
True Christians advance — they grow up in the image and likeness of Jesus. Proverbs 4:18; 1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 1:5-8.
5. If progress is not made, the soul must be declining and going backward. There is no standing still in the race, or in the fight.
If we grow not in faith and love, the seeds of indifference and unbelief will grow in their place — and choke the word, rendering it unfruitful.