Christian Progress

John Angell James, 1853


It might be supposed, that 'progress' would be its own motive. Who need to be admonished to proceed in a course on which they have entered, which leads to wealth? Do the men who have gone to the gold fields, and who have begun to find the precious metal, need to be stimulated to go forward? And yet we do find that even in relation to some earthly objects of pursuit, and valuable ones, too, where self-denial, sacrifice, and surrender of present gratification for future benefit is required—much persuasion is sometimes necessary to keep the person in continuous exertion for the attainment of the desired good. If he has lost his health by excess in the indulgence of appetite, either in the way of eating, drinking, or any other lust of the flesh, and by medicine and moderate diet and other restraints, he is beginning to recover, how necessary in some cases, is perpetual exhortation, to induce him to refrain from excess, and to persevere in the denial of his appetite. How earnest we must be in setting before him all the motives which ought to have weight with him in leading him to abstain from whatever is injurious to his health.

So is it in true religion. A person just commencing his attention to this momentous concern has so many hindrances both from within and without to stop his progress, that he needs to be urged forward by the voice of affectionate entreaty. He must be appealed to by all that can be brought to bear upon his judgment, heart, and conscience. He is like a man just awaking out of a deep and heavy slumber, about whom the drowsiness still hangs, and who is strongly inclined to fall back again upon his pillow and relapse into stupor. You must speak loudly to him, and even shake him with some degree of violence, and compel him to rouse himself and keep himself awake. Such is really the condition of a recently awakened sinner. I now therefore present the motives which apply to his case for making progress.

I. The first motive to Christian progress is the DANGER OF DECLENSION. I may even add to this the proneness to declension. The progress of the sinner is like that of a stone rolling down hill, which has a continual tendency to go by itself, and by every revolution to increase its speed and momentum—that of a believer is the progress of a stone up hill, which has not only a considerable force to be overcome by great effort—but which when this effort is suspended, tends to roll back again. The stone in either case does not, cannot stand still—but by the laws of matter and motion must keep going backward, unless prevented by actual effort. This is impressive, and deserves very serious consideration. If the young disciple does not advance, he will in all probability go backward.

Declension after we have once made a profession, or have been awakened to solicitude, is really a very fearful thing. It is most affecting and alarming to see a person once deeply convinced of sin, seriously anxious about salvation, professedly obtaining peace through faith in Christ, and commencing a course of practical godliness—either falling again into sin or sinking into predominant worldliness. Has not this sad spectacle been often witnessed? Have we not seen this in people who at one time seemed to have such love to Christ that it might have been fitly called the love of their espousals? They scarcely wished for any other pleasure than that which was enjoyed in communion with Jesus and with his saints; his name was as ointment poured forth; and they loved his very image. The exercises of private prayer, the perusal of the Holy Scriptures, and the public ordinances of the sanctuary were waited for with eager expectation. The company of those only who were like-minded was selected, and the promotion of the cause of God was the enterprise which most interested them. They had often made solemn resolutions before the Lord, and had often said, "Your vows, O God, are upon me."

And what, and where were they afterwards? Alas, how changed! All their former resolutions were broken, and all their habits changed. Their first love subsided into lukewarmness, and at last into absolute coldness and indifference. Prayer was omitted; public worship neglected; the Bible never opened; the company of the saints forsaken; the love of pleasure gained the ascendancy; and in some cases, open sins that had been forsaken, were again practiced! The poor backslider himself sometimes has conscience enough left to be made miserable by its reproaches and stings, while they who had formerly known him in his better days, lament over his change, and exclaim in bitterness of heart, "Alas, how fallen!"

The sins of such a person have peculiar aggravations. They are committed after the most solemn vows and engagements; and against clearer light. They are without any provocation on the part of God. "What iniquity," said God to the Jews, "have your fathers found in me that they are gone far from me?" Jer. 2:5. A question which is addressed also to every backslider, and which ought to cut him to the very soul, and stir every spring of sensibility and self-abhorrence. Did the backslider find him a hard Master? Was the way of obedience a rugged path, through a barren wilderness and a land of drought? Sins after profession are attended with circumstances of peculiar and horrid ingratitude. After God has poured out upon us his Spirit, taken us by the hand, and led us to repentance and the beginning of a religious course—then to turn away from him, and refuse any longer to be under his guidance—how basely thankless is all this!

Such departures from God are expressive of the most extreme folly, as well as wickedness. They who commit them, once professed to be happy in serving the Lord. They had seemed to have found rest in Christ. They were no longer running up and down in the world, saying, "Who will show us any good," but had found happiness in true religion. Their judgment was convinced; their heart was satisfied; their conscience was quiet; their whole soul was at peace. But now by turning back again to sin or to the world, they cast all this away! And they cannot now enjoy the pleasures of sin or the world as they once did. They now sometimes feel they have made a foolish bargain, and have exchanged liberty for drudgery and slavery; fears of conscience for bitter remorse; joyfulness of heart for sorrow and anguish. It is a being weary of the government of the Prince of peace, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light—and putting their necks under the iron yoke of Satan, which crushes them to destruction!

Such conduct also causes the ways of godliness to be spoken ill of. It has the same effect upon many as the ill report of the spies who were sent to survey the land of Canaan, which discouraged the people, caused them to murmur and rebel, and was the occasion of their perishing in the wilderness. The backslider thus perpetrates a double mischief—his conduct is infectious and tends to corrupt those who already believe, while it discourages those who do not. It says to them, "I have tried the paths of wisdom, and do not find her paths as I was told and expected—to be paths of pleasantness and peace." This is a fearful contradiction of God's word, a dreadful calumny upon true religion, and in effect an ungodly blasphemy against God. Such is the sin of declension and backsliding, and if it goes on to apostasy, then how fearful! Read what the apostle has said on this subject. Heb. 6:5-9. Let every young disciple turn to the passage, read the words, and tremble. And no less solemn is the language of the apostle Peter, 2:21-22.

It is not only possible—but probable, that some who shall read this work, will be found by it in various stages of declension already. Some who have consciousness enough of their situation, and even occasional regret enough to borrow the poet's lament–

"Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord;
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and his Word?

"What peaceful hours I once enjoyed,
How sweet their memory still;
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill."

To such I would say, instantly take alarm and tremble at your danger! Let the words of God sound like thunder in your ears, "If any man draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him!" He will be a man whom God ceases to regard with approbation. His displeasure, instead of his delight, rests upon him. He marks every footstep backward with reproach and disgust. Can you bear to think of this? "Can your heart endure and your hands be strong" in such a situation? Perhaps the declension is yet slight, only like a speck of disease, like the beginning of consumption, curable if taken in time—but fatal if allowed to go on to after-stages. But in whatever degree the declension may have taken place, it should excite solicitude and lead to immediate efforts for recovery. The counsel delivered by our Lord to the church at Ephesus should be hearkened to with solemnity, and followed without delay; "Remember from whence you are fallen, and repent and do your first works." It is not enough to know that you are declining; nor merely to lament it. Complaining alone will not effect a cure. We may sigh and go backward to the last period of our lives. Our chief solicitude must be to recover lost ground. In order to this there must be deep contrition and profound humiliation before God. In such a state we must begin as we did originally, with conviction of sin. The backslider must return through the valley of humiliation. There is no other way back for the wanderer. It will be well to inquire diligently after the cause of the declension. What was it that led you astray? Here begin in the way of return. The point where you left the road, is of course the point at which you must return to it. If it were a sin of neglect, instantly take up the omitted duty. If it were a sin of evil practice, immediately put it away.

It will perhaps be somewhat difficult to recover your standing; for as we have said, declension is a down-hill progress—but the way of return is all up-hill. You will perhaps be ashamed, afraid, and somewhat reluctant, to go back. He who ungratefully and ungenerously leaves a friend, feels some shyness and backwardness to return, and say, "I have sinned, forgive me?" So is it with the backslider towards God. But mark his love, where, even to backsliding Israel, who had so often gone away from him, he said, "O Israel, return unto the Lord your God; for you have fallen by your iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord—say unto him, take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously—so will we render the offerings of our lips. I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely—for my anger is turned away from him." Hosea 14:1, 2, 4. And to convince you how ready God is to receive you, let me refer you to that wonderfully pathetic passage, where God is represented as a loving father, overhearing the confession and lamentation of his penitent child, and lavishing upon him the fondness of his paternal heart. Jer. 31:18-20. What heart can stand out against the melting pathos of this wonderful passage? What backslider need now fear to return to the Lord?

II. It should be most impressively felt that spiritual progress is COMMANDED and EXPECTED by God. We now refer you back to the commands which are given in the second chapter; and would especially fix your attention on those which enjoin you to seek after perfection. This is a subject which a young Christian should thoroughly understand—but which few do either understand or consider. Misconceptions on this subject are fatal to growth. The verb, "be perfect," and the noun, "perfection," are of such frequent occurrence in the New Testament, that the subject to which they refer ought to engage the close and serious attention of every professing Christian. There can be no doubt that these terms are sometimes employed by the sacred writers in a comparative sense, as signifying high degrees, eminence, or completeness of parts. In Hebrews 6:1, perfection signifies the more sublime, enlarged, spiritual, and complete views of Christian doctrine, as opposed to first principles. In 1 Cor. 2:6, and Phil. 3:15, "to be perfect," means to be far advanced in knowledge.

But there are other places where it is unquestionably to be understood in its unqualified sense, as intending absolute and sinless perfection, such are 2 Cor. 7:1. "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." So again Heb. 13:21, "Make you perfect in every good work." There can be no doubt that in these passages the apostle means entire freedom from sin, an absolutely spotless holiness.

"The apostle does not say," to quote the comment of Barnes, "that this perfection has ever been attained, or is attainable, in this world; nor does he say that it has not been. He only urges the obligation to make an effort to be entirely holy; and this obligation is not affected by the inquiry whether any one has been, or has not been, perfect. It is an obligation which results from the nature of the law of God, and his unchangeable claims upon the soul. The fact that no one has been perfect does not relax the claim; the fact that no one will be perfect in this life, does not weaken the obligation—it proves only the deep and dreadful depravity of the human heart, and should humble us under the stubbornness of our sin and guilt. The obligation to be perfect is one that is eternal and unchangeable. The unceasing and steady aim of every Christian should be perfection: perfection in all things—in the love of God, of Christ, of man; perfection of feeling, words, and plans, and dealings with man; perfection in prayers and submission to the will of God. No man can be a Christian who does not sincerely desire it, and who does not constantly aim at it. No man is a friend of God who can acquiesce in a state of sin, and who is satisfied and contented that he is not as holy as God is holy. And any man who has no desire to be perfect as God is, and who does not make it his daily study and constant aim to be perfect as God is perfect, may set it down as demonstratively certain, that he has no true religion. How can a man be a Christian who is willing to acquiesce in a state of sin, and who does not desire to be just like his Master and Lord?"

This is strong and impressive language, and requires the very devout, serious, and solemn consideration of all who are beginning the divine life, as showing them what is to be their aim, their study, and their endeavor—even to be perfect in every good work. Young converts see no perfection in others; they hear it said by Christians there is no perfection; they feel none in themselves; and therefore never dream that it is their duty to seek after it; and thus conciliating themselves to all kinds and degrees of imperfections, begin and continue with a very low state of piety.

I believe that infinite mischief is done to the souls of men; that the profession of godliness is much disparaged and dishonored—and the luster of the church dimmed; by a prevalent forgetfulness, and in some quarters a denial, that it is our duty to go on unto perfection. Many are tolerating all kinds and degrees of imperfection, under the plea that none are absolutely perfect. Young disciples have been taught as one of their first lessons in theology, that since absolute perfection is not attained in this life, it is useless to seek after it, and that they may be very good Christians, even while indulging many known corruptions.

I would not for the world be misunderstood; I would not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. I would not say anything to cast a stumbling-block in the way of the feeblest lamb in all the flock of Christ; and yet I would be equally solicitous to guard them against self-deception. What I say then, is this—not that all imperfections are evidence of an unconverted state—but that the intentional indulgence of them, knowing them to be such, under the notion that a great amount of imperfection is compatible with a state of grace, is an evidence of an unconverted state. Not that the possession of perfection is essential as an evidence of sincerity—but a desire and pursuit after perfection.

III. Christian Progress is a bright evidence of sincerity. Growth, as we have already remarked, is the proof of life. Dead things do not grow. There are few minds among professors of religion in which the question does not, and none in which it ought not, with deep anxiety, sometimes to arise, "Am I, or am I not, a child of God?"

Now surely the transition from death to life; the change from an unregenerate to a converted state; the ceasing to be an enemy to God by wicked works, and becoming his child by filial love and obedience, cannot be a change of so trivial, superficial, and indistinguishable a nature as not to be ascertained without great difficulty. It might be supposed to be easily recognized where it really exists. True it is, that the change is in some cases more marked than in others. Where the conversion is sudden, and is a turning from actual vice, or awful infidelity, or even from flagrant heresy—it is more apparent, and more easily determined by consciousness, than where it is the gradual formation of religious character in people previously correct in their general conduct, and brought up under religious instruction. It is in these latter cases that doubts and fears about sincerity must be expected more frequently and painfully to occur. It is, therefore, in these cases that progress is indispensable as an evidence of sincerity. For it must be recollected that even in these, growth is as essential to life as in the others.

Grace never finds in nature a subject for which there is need of little to be done. There may be very beautiful wild flowers blooming, or very good fruits growing in the wilderness, yet even these can be carried on to much higher beauty, and much richer flavor, by the culture of the greenhouse and the hothouse. When the young disciple can say, "True, I have not to compare, as the effect of God's converting grace, a virtuous with a wicked life. I have not to contrast a present godly belief with a former blaspheming infidelity. But I find an increasing loosening from many of my former tastes. The love of worldly pleasure, which even at my commencement of a religious life was strong in me, is evidently weakened; and I find piety more and more the source of my happiness. If a growing conscientiousness to avoid little sins, and to practice small duties, be a proof of sincerity, I rejoice to say I have this. As regards besetting sins, I have reason to believe these are far more mortified than they were, and temptations to them have less power over me. My temper, once so irritable and impetuous, is subdued; and I find it more easy to govern my tongue. My prejudices towards those who differ from me in religious opinions have been softened by the influence of Christian charity. If these things be evidence of sincerity, I am no self-deceiver; for I can certainly perceive in myself these marks of progress."

Here I will present a passage of Holy Scripture, which it is of importance every young disciple should "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest." The apostle Peter thus exhorts, "therefore, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure." 2 Peter 1:10. The things to be made sure are our "calling and election." God's choice of us, manifested by his converting us; in other words, our spiritual character and spiritual safety. To make this sure, or certain, cannot have reference to God, for no act of ours can make more certain anything he does. Nor can it refer to the things themselves, for if a man be really chosen and called of God, nothing that he can do, can make these more certain. It must therefore refer to ourselves. God treats us as rational and moral agents, and what may be absolutely certain in his mind, from his mere purpose that it shall be so—is to be proved to us only by evidence and the free exercise of our own powers.

The meaning therefore of this passage is, that we are to obtain evidence that this is our condition. And how are we to obtain it? The celebrated Cudworth, in his sermon on the text, "Hereby do we know that we know him if we keep his commandments," has the following remarks upon the passage from Peter, which I am now considering, "He who builds all his comfort upon an ungrounded persuasion that God from all eternity has loved him, and absolutely decreed him to life and happiness, and seeks not for God really dwelling in his soul—builds his house upon a quicksand, and it shall suddenly sink and be swallowed up. We are nowhere commanded to pry into these secrets—but the wholesome counsel and advice given us is this, 'to make our calling and election sure.' We have no warrant in Scripture to peep into these hidden rolls and volumes of eternity, and to make it the first thing we do, when we come to Christ—to spell out our names in the stars, and to persuade ourselves that we are certainly elected to everlasting happiness, before we see the image of God in righteousness and true holiness shaped in our hearts. God's everlasting decree is too dazzling and bright an object for us at first to set our eyes upon. It is far easier and safer for us to look upon the rays of his goodness and holiness, as they are reflected in our hearts, and there to read the mild and gentle characters of God's love to us, in our love to him, and our hearty compliance with Heaven's will; as it is safer for us, if we would see the sun, to look upon it's reflection here below in a pail of water, than to cast up our daring eyes to the body of the sun itself, which is too radiant and scorching for us. The best assurance anyone can have of his interest in God, is doubtless the conformity of his soul to God. When our heart is once turned into a conformity with the mind of God; when we feel our will conformed to his will, we shall then presently perceive a spirit of adoption within ourselves, teaching us to say Abba, Father. We shall not then care for peeping into those hidden records of eternity, to see whether our names are written there in golden characters; no, we shall find a copy of God's thoughts concerning us written in our own breasts. There we may read the character of his favor towards us; there we may feel an inward sense of his love to us, flowing out of our hearty and sincere love to him. And we shall be more undoubtedly persuaded of it, than if any of those winged watchers above, that are prying to heaven's secrets, should come and tell us that they saw our names enrolled in those volumes of eternity."

IV. Christian Progress is its own reward. From what wretchedness is the advancing Christian protected. He has not the unhappiness which in many, if not in most cases, declension brings upon its subject. But as pain is still a sign of life, though a suffering one, even this is better than the insensibility of death. In the case just mentioned, the individual still retains some considerable tenderness of conscience, some religious sensibility, without being supposed to be hankering after the amusements of the world. But I am now speaking of those who are almost entirely dead to godly feelings, and strongly inclined to gaiety, yet in some measure held in check by the last lingering remains of true religion. They are still professors—but find their profession only a clog and a hindrance to their pleasures. They see its inconsistency with their tastes and occasional enjoyments, and find it as a 'drop of bitter' in their cup of gratification. Sometimes they wish they had never made a profession of religion. They are morose and ill-tempered with themselves forever thinking of being Christians, and until they are led to abandon it altogether, which at length they are brought to do, they are checked by it, much to their annoyance, in their course. This is a wretched state of mind, it spoils its possessor both for the world and for true religion.

But these are only the negative side of the pleasure of growth—we turn therefore to the positive. And here we would remark, that progress in anything on which we have set our hearts, is always agreeable—and this applies especially to true religion. Viewed in its true nature, it unites the highest dignity with the purest pleasure. The ways of godliness are ways, not only of pleasure and paths of peace—but of honor and renown. Can anything be loftier, nobler, sublimer, than a growing conformity to the image of God? To see a stronger and a stronger resemblance to God in our soul? To behold the moral attributes of the Divine nature fixed with a deeper and a deeper coloring on the character—what to this is the pleasure of the artist in seeing the correct likeness of some great monarch, or some wonderful genius, growing under his hand upon the canvas? How exalted is the pleasure of true piety—it is the bliss of angels, the happiness of spirits made perfect, yes, the joy of God's own heart. It is enjoyed under the smile of conscience, and conscience is undoubtedly the great repository and storehouse of all those pleasures that can afford any solid refreshment to the soul. When the conscience is calm, serene, and smiling, then the man perfectly enjoys all things—and what is more, himself; for the conscience is calm, serene, and smiling—before he can enjoy anything else. Godliness is a pleasure that never satiates nor wearies. Can the lover of worldly pleasure say this? With him how short is the interval between a pleasure—and a burden.

But we may descend to a few details. How delightful is it to grow in KNOWLEDGE. With what a passion for this are some minds possessed. And if such be the value of secular knowledge, how much greater the worth of that which is divine. Can anything be more delightful than to be ever finding out some new meanings, some fresh beauties in the Word of God? For the spiritual astronomer to discover some new star in the skies of inspiration; or for the spiritual botanist to come upon some new flower in the fields of revelation?

But take also the trio of graces set forth by the apostle—FAITH, HOPE, LOVE—and here again we say, to grow in each and all of these is to advance in happiness. FAITH is the first source of all true joy to the Christian. "In whom believing," says the apostle, "we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." Faith looks abroad upon the whole field of revelation, in all of whose facts, doctrines, precepts, invitations, and promises, it finds so many various objects of delight. But it concentrates its attention on Christ and heaven. It looks with wonder, gratitude, and love, on the cross, and then passes on with similar feelings to the crown of glory. To grow in faith is therefore to grow in bliss, and to put up the prayer, "Lord, increase our faith," is only in other words to say, "Lord, increase our happiness." Here we see the reason why so many professing Christians go mourning all their days—their faith is so weak—and it is of momentous consequence for every young Christian at his very outset in the divine life to understand that faith is the branch, of which joy is the blossom, and holiness the fruit.

Much the same strain of remark may be made in reference to HOPE. It is easy to see that all hope must be pleasant from its very nature. This is the case with even worldly expectations. Poets have sung "The Pleasures of Hope," and experience has justified and echoed the strain. The apostle in describing the Christian state of mind in reference to this object, speaks of it as "Rejoicing in hope." Rom. 12:12. Which is but a repetition of what he had said before, "And rejoice in hope of the glory of God."

LOVE is another of the component parts of true religion mentioned by the apostle, to advance in which is to advance in happiness. God is love, and He is also the blessed God; and He is the blessed God, because He is love. It is impossible it should be otherwise. All the malevolent feelings are productive of misery to the subject of them. For this reason, Satan, whose nature is unmixed malignity, must be the subject of unmixed misery. No happiness can dwell in that bosom from which all benevolence is expelled; while no misery can be found in that bosom from which all malevolence is cast out. Perfect love casts out, not only fear—but wretchedness. Let anyone read the description of love in the epistle to the Corinthians, and say if the grace there described must not contain the very elements of bliss.

And is not growth in HOLINESS equally delightful? Holiness is our spiritual health, as sin is our disease. How beautiful and how well worthy our attention and adoption for ourselves was the prayer of the apostle for Gaius, "Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers. Health, and especially growing health, is one of the most delightful sensations we can experience. To feel the tide of energy flow back to its forsaken channel; and the depressed frame become, amid the beauties of nature and the breezes of heaven, more and more buoyant, the step more elastic, the appetite more keen, and the power of exertion more vigorous. This is to experience in some cases almost a type of the resurrection. But even this does not equal the joy of growing in grace, of returning and increasing spiritual health.

V. Christian progress adds to the credit and redounds to the honor of true religion generally. The world expects that increase is one part of the Christian's duty and profession. Our phraseology and the language of Scripture are well known to those who are not godly, and who make no pretensions to be so. They hear us preach, and pray, and talk—about growth in grace; about our light shining more and more unto the perfect day; about our running the Christian race; and other matters of a like kind. They very naturally take us at our word, and knowing that all these figures of speech import progress, they look for it, and expect to see it, and are disappointed if they do not see it. When they observe those inconsistencies, which prove that we are either not going forward—but ever going back, they taunt us with the sarcasm, "Where is your advancement?" "Is this your growth?" "Is it thus you improve?" In all other matters, or most others, they do see progress in this world's affairs—and ought to see it in true religion. It adds to the credit of any system of medical practice, or of any individual practitioner, when under their treatment the health of the patient is restored. It also it redounds to the honor of a school-master or a teacher of any kind when his pupils make great and rapid advance in what they are taught. While on the contrary, it discredits both of these, when there is no improvement. And it must be the same with true religion!

Yet is there no occasion given by the conduct of many, for some such reflections on the part of worldly people as these, "Every system which professes to lead onward those who are under it, proves its excellence for this purpose, by its results. And in most we do see a manifest advance in those who place themselves under it. We see boys growing in knowledge at school; apprentices advancing in acquaintance with their business; and young tradesmen becoming more and more clever in secular affairs. It ought, of course, to be so in true religion. The people who profess it, have the Bible in their own hands; they go to church or chapel every Sunday with great regularity; they take the sacrament; and in many other things make great ado about their religion. Now with all these means, opportunities, and advantages, for personal improvement and spiritual culture—what exemplary people ought they to be. These people tell us that it is one of their principles to grow in grace. What evident, conspicuous improvement ought therefore to be seen in them? And yet, real godliness seems to be almost the only thing in which men do not make progress, if we may judge by their conduct. What increase of knowledge may take place in their minds we cannot tell; nor how often they pray in their families or in their closets—but forming our opinions by their outward conduct and visible character, their light of holiness does not shine brighter and brighter before men. We have known some of them many years, and have watched them closely, though not unfairly, much less malignantly—but we must confess we see very little, if any improvement in them. No, in some things, they have even gone back, and are worse than they were when they first made a profession of religion."

Dreadful reproach! Alas, alas, how just in application to some, as well as dreadful! Let it be the deep solicitude of everyone who has the least regard for the honor and credit of the gospel, to roll this reproach away, by presenting a character in which all the beauties of holiness shall be continually coming out in bolder and more striking relief. How would it raise not only the gospel—but the church of Christ, in public estimation, if men looked up to it as a school where the pupils were ever studying how to advance in all that can make them acceptable to God, and useful to man. What reverence would it secure for the minister of the gospel, and what respect for his ministrations, if by him and by others, it were seen that all who profess to have been converted by his preaching, were beheld engaged in an arduous struggle against all that is evil, and continually making attainments in all that is good.

VI. And is it not a powerful motive to grow in grace—to consider that our present attainments in true religion, have a connection with, and will have an influence upon, our heavenly and eternal state. There is a much closer relation between our present selves in this world, and our future selves in the next—than most people are aware of. "What a man sows, that shall he also reap," both in quality and quantity. It is not possible to set out in the Christian profession with a more instructive or impressive idea than this—life is the seed time for eternity. It is a common way to think of heaven and hell, as if they were two states where all are equally happy in the one, or miserable in the other; whatever may have been their attainments in holiness, or their deeds of wickedness. That all the righteous will be in heaven, and that all will be perfectly happy there, is quite true. As regards the general sources of heavenly felicity, these will be open alike to all; but this does not suppose that in many particulars, there will not be an endless variety.

We know too little of the future state to specify these matters; we walk by faith. "It does not yet appear what we shall be." There are, no doubt, innumerable sources of delight, and varieties of employment, of which we can now form no more conception than we can of the exercises and pleasures of a sixth sense. There may, and in all probability will be social gradations of rank; diversities of post, place, and service; and higher and lower degrees of honorable distinction. For these a proportionate and diversified fitness may be required. One man may be more qualified for some high place and honorable service in the heavenly world than another; and that which constitutes the qualification for this higher place, may be, not so much great intellectual powers in our earthly state—but more eminent piety. It is not the man of large yet unsanctified understanding, that is qualified for heaven—but the man of sanctified heart. It is moral and spiritual excellence that is the fitness for the inheritance of the saints in light. And whatever may be the measure of his intellectual capacity, he is the most fit for heaven, who is most holy. If this be true, many an eminently holy peasant or common laborer, will be higher in glory than the less holy philosopher or scholar; and many a youthful Christian cut off in the morning of his days—but carried away in the full blossom of distinguished piety, be found more qualified to serve God in some high place above, than the aged professor of low and small degrees of personal godliness. Is it to be conceived God will deal out the same commendation upon the very feeble and too worldly-minded professor, who may be after all a sincere Christian—as upon the spiritually-minded, heavenly, self-denying, and consistent Christian?

But the sources of our heavenly bliss will not be all from without—but also from within. Even on earth, "a good man is satisfied from himself." He carries, in his holy dispositions, the springs of his own felicity about with him. And so will it be in heaven. It is not only where, and with whom, we shall be—but what we shall be, that will make us happy. And eminent piety here will, in all likelihood, prepare us for a larger capacity of holiness and happiness there. The holiness and happiness of the least saint in heaven will be as perfect as that of the highest archangel, or the chief of the apostles—but the capacity for this perfection may, and must be, immeasurably larger in the one case than the other! A teacup may be as full to overflowing as a cistern, yet how much greater is the fullness in the one case than in the other? Here then is the connection not only of a state of grace—but of the actings of grace, with a state of glory. It is not only that one leads to the other; not only that one prepares for the other; but that one is proportionate to the other. It is probable that there is not one holy act, or motive, or desire, or volition of our whole lives, that has not some bearing upon our eternal character and happiness. God deals with us as regards the eternal world, not only according to our state, whether we are righteous or wicked—but according to our actings in that state.


Is your heart susceptible of the power of a motive in anything? Is there anything below or above the skies that motivates you? Do you really know what a motive means? If so, surely, surely, you must feel the force of these I have now presented. Must not the stone of an unrenewed heart remain in your soul—if you are insensible to the power and attractions of these inducements? If these things fail to impress you and impel you, you would remain stationary and indifferent beneath a voice or a vision from heaven, or a messenger from the burning pit. If these things do not stimulate you, I would despair of the power of an angel's harp or a demon's groan. After reading these pages, are you at all excited to desire to advance? Say, does the fire kindle, does the glow diffuse throughout your soul at the idea of what is here presented? If not, let me try again, not by new motives—but by recalling those which are here enumerated.

Does not the dread of declension, backsliding, apostasy, terrify you?

Shall not the command of God impel you?

Will not the hope of gaining a sweet and blessed evidence of salvation, lead you to seek after progress?

Does not the experience you have already had, though it may be in a small degree, of the reward which advancement yields—induce you to go forward?

And then what shall be said of the fact that our degrees of grace will regulate our degrees of glory? Has this no motive power for your soul? What! are you so dull, so earthly, so insensible to the felicities, honors, and distinctions of heaven—as to feel little holy ambition to have some high place there?