Adapted from a Sermon by J.C. Ryle
"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 3:18
The subject of our verse this morning is one that ought to be deeply interesting to every true Christian. It naturally raises the questions, Do we grow in grace? Do we get on in our religion? Do we make progress?
Now to a mere formal Christian these questions simply mean nothing at all. The man who has nothing more than a kind of Sunday religion—whose Christianity is like his Sunday clothes, put on once a week, and then laid aside—such a man cannot, of course, be expected to care about “growth in grace.” He knows nothing about such matters. “they are folly to him.” (1 Cor. 2:14.) —But to everyone who has been awakened to see the reality about his soul, and hungers and thirsts after spiritual life, the question ought to come home with searching power. Do we make progress in our religion? Do we grow?
The question is one that is always useful, but especially so at certain seasons. A Saturday night, the return of a birthday, the end of a year—all these are seasons that ought to set us thinking, and make us look within. Time is quickly flying by. Life is fast ebbing away. The hour is daily drawing nearer when the reality of our Christianity will be tested, and it will be seen whether we have built on “the rock” or on “the sand.” Surely it is good for us from time to time to examine ourselves, and take account of our souls. Do we make progress in spiritual things? Do we grow?
To bring forward and establish this subject, I would call your attention to three things:
I. The reality of religious growth. There is such a thing as “growth in grace.”
II. The marks of religious growth. There are marks by which “growth in grace” may be known.
III. The means of religious growth. There are means that must be used by those who desire “growth in grace.”
If you care about your soul, this subject deserves your best attention. It is no mere matter of speculation and controversy. It is an eminently practical subject, if any is in religion. It is intimately and inseparably connected with the whole question of “sanctification.” It is a leading mark of true saints that they grow. The spiritual health and prosperity, the spiritual happiness and comfort of every true-hearted and holy Christian, are intimately connected with the subject of spiritual growth.
I. The first point to establish is this: That there is such a thing as growth in grace.
That any Christian should deny this proposition is at first sight a strange and sad thing. But it is fair to remember that man’s understanding is fallen no less than his will. Disagreements about doctrines are often nothing more than disagreements about the meaning of words. So let us begin then by clearing the way by explaining what exactly is meant here by growth in grace.
First, negatively, “growth in grace” does not for a moment mean that a believer’s interest in Christ can grow. It does not mean that he can grow in safety, acceptance with God, or security. It does not mean that he can ever be more justified, more pardoned, more forgiven, more at peace with God, than he is the first moment that he believes. The justification of a believer is a finished, perfect, and complete work; and the weakest saint, though he may not know and feel it, is as completely justified just as much as the strongest. Our election, calling, and standing in Christ can in no way increase or diminish. And so “growth in grace” in no way means growth in justification. The glorious truth is, that in the matter of justification before God, every believer has “been made complete” in Christ.” (Col. 2:10. NASB) Nothing can be added to his justification from the moment he believes, and nothing taken away.
And in second place, positively, “growth in grace” only means increase in the degree, size, strength, vigour, and power of the graces which the Holy Spirit plants in a believer’s heart. Every one of those graces can grow, progress, and increase. Repentance, faith, hope, love, humility, zeal, courage, and the like, may be little or great, strong or weak, vigorous or feeble, and may vary greatly in the same man at different periods of his life. “Growing in grace,” simply means this—that his sense of sin is becoming deeper, his faith stronger, his hope brighter, his love more extensive, his spiritual-mindedness more marked. He feels more of the power of godliness in his own heart. He manifests more of it in his life. He is going on from strength to strength, from faith to faith, and from grace to grace. This is what is meant by “growing in grace.”
One principal ground on which this doctrine of “growth in grace” is based, is the plain language of Scripture. If words in the Bible mean anything, there is such a thing as “growth,” and believers ought to be exhorted to “grow.”
What says the apostle Paul? “Your faith is growing abundantly.” (2 Thess.1:3) “Increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10.) “Our hope is that as your faith increases.” (2 Cor. 10:15.) “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love.” (1 Thess. 3:12.) “We are to grow up in every way into him .” (Eph. 4:15.) “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more.” (Phil.1:9.) “We ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” (1 Thess. 4:1.)
What says the apostle Peter? “Long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” (1 Pet. 2:2.) “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 3:18.)
These texts plainly establish the doctrine before us this morning. Growth in grace is clearly taught in the Bible.
The other ground, however, on which the doctrine of “growth in grace” can be shown is the ground of fact and experience. Any honest reader of the New Testament can see degrees of grace in the New Testament saints whose histories are recorded, as plainly as the sun at noon-day.—can see in the very same persons as great a difference between their faith and knowledge at one time and at another, as between the same man’s strength when he is an infant and when he is a grownup man.—And the Scripture clearly recognises this in the language it uses, when it speaks of “weak” faith and “strong” faith, and of Christians as “newborn infants,” “little children,” “young men,” and “fathers”? (1 Pet. 2:2; 1 John 2:12-14.)
And the observation of believers, now-a-days, leads to the same conclusion.—What true Christian would not confess that there is as much difference between the degree of his own faith and knowledge when he was first converted, and his present attainments, as there is between a sapling and a full-grown tree? His graces are the same in principle; but they have grown. All these facts show most clearly that “growth in grace” is a real thing.
If anyone wants to insist to say that the faith, and hope, and knowledge, and holiness of a newly-converted person, are as strong as those of an old-established believer, and need no increase, it is a waste of time to argue further. No doubt they are as real, but not so strong—as true, but not so vigorous—as much seeds of the Spirit’s planting, but not yet so fruitful. And if anyone asks how they are to become stronger, the answer is that it must be by the same process by which all things having life increase—they must grow. And this is what is meant by “growth in grace.”
Let us turn away from these things to a more practical view of the great subject before us. Let us look at “growth in grace” as a thing of infinite importance to the soul. Our best interests are concerned in a right view of the question—Do we grow?
(a) Let us know then that “growth in grace” is the best evidence of spiritual health and prosperity. In a child, or a flower, or a tree, we are all aware that when there is no growth there is something wrong. Healthy life in an animal or plant will always show itself by progress and increase. It is just the same with our souls. If they are progressing and doing well they will grow.
(b) Let us know, furthermore, that “growth in grace” is one way to be happy in our religion. God has wisely linked together our comfort and our increase in holiness. He has graciously made it our interest to press on and aim high in our Christianity. There is a vast difference between the amount of sensible enjoyment which one believer has in his religion compared to another. But you may be sure that ordinarily the man who feels the most “joy and peace in believing,” and has the clearest witness of the Spirit in his heart, is the man who grows.
(c) Let us know, furthermore, that “growth in grace” is one secret of usefulness to others. Our influence on others for good depends greatly on what they see in us. The children of the world measure Christianity quite as much by their eyes as by their ears. The Christian who is always at a standstill, to all appearances the same man, with the same little faults, and weaknesses, and besetting sins, and petty infirmities, is seldom the Christian who does much good. The man who shakes and stirs minds, and sets the world thinking, is the believer who is continually improving and going forward. Men think there is life and reality when they see growth.
(d) Let us know, furthermore, that “growth in grace “pleases God. It may seem a wonderful thing, no doubt, that anything done by such creatures as we are can give pleasure to the Most High God. But so it is. The Scripture speaks of walking so as to “please God.” The Scripture says there are sacrifices which are “pleasing to God.” (1 Thess. 4:1; Heb. 13:16.) The vinedresser loves to see the plants on which he has bestowed labour flourishing and bearing fruit. It cannot but disappoint and grieve him to see them stunted and standing still. Now what does our Lord Himself say? “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.”—”By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:1, 8.) The Lord takes pleasure in all His people—but specially in those that grow.
(e) Let us know, above all, that “growth in grace” is not only a thing possible, but a thing for which believers are accountable. To tell an unconverted man, dead in sins, to “grow in grace” would doubtless be absurd. To tell a believer, who is made alive to God, to grow, is only summoning him to a plain Scriptural duty. He has a new principle within him, and it is a solemn duty not to quench it. Neglect of growth robs him of privileges, grieves the Spirit, and makes the chariot wheels of his soul move heavily. Whose fault is it if a believer does not grow in grace? The fault cannot be laid on God. He delights to “give more grace;” He “delights in the welfare of his servants.” (James 4:6; Psa. 35:27.) The fault, no doubt, is our own. We ourselves are to blame, and no one else, if we do not grow.
II. The second thing to establish is this: There are marks by which growth in grace may be known.
Let me take it for granted that we do not question the reality of growth in grace and its vast importance.—So far so good. But do you now want to know how any one may find out whether he is growing in grace or not? In the first place, it should be observed that we are very poor judges of our own condition, and that bystanders often know us better than we know ourselves. But in addition, there are undoubtedly certain great marks and signs of growth in grace, and wherever you see these marks you see a “growing“ soul. Here are some of these marks:
(a) One mark of “growth in grace” is increased humility.
The man whose soul is “growing,” feels his own sinfulness and unworthiness more every year. He is ready to say with Job, “I am of small account,”—and with Abraham, I am “dust and ashes,”—and with Jacob, “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love,—and with David, “I am a worm,”—and with Isaiah, “I am a man of unclean lips,”—and with Peter, “I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Job 40:4; Gen.18:27; 32:10; Ps. 32:6; Isa. 6:5; Luke 5:8.) The nearer he draws to God, and the more he sees of God’s holiness and perfection, the more thoroughly is he aware of his own countless imperfections. The further he journeys in the way to heaven, the more he understands what the apostle Paul means when he says, “Not that I … am already perfect,”—“I am … unworthy to be called an apostle,”— “I am the very least of all the saints,”—“I am the foremost” of sinners.” (Phil.3:12; 1 Cor. 15:9; Ephes. 3:8; 1 Tim. 1:15.) The riper he is for glory, the more, like the ripe corn, he hangs down his head. The brighter and clearer is his light, the more he sees of the shortcomings and infirmities of his own heart. When first converted, he would tell you he saw but little of them compared to what he sees now. Would anyone know whether he is growing in grace? Be sure that you look within for increased humility.
(b) Another mark of “growth in grace” is increased faith and love towards our Lord Jesus Christ.
The man whose soul is “growing,” finds more in Christ to rest upon every year, and rejoices more that he has such a Saviour. No doubt he saw much in Him when first he believed. His faith laid hold on the atonement of Christ and gave him hope.—But as he grows in grace he sees a thousand things in Christ of which at first he never dreamed. His love and power—His heart and His intentions—His offices as Substitute, Intercessor, Priest, Advocate, Physician, Shepherd, and Friend, unfold themselves to a growing soul in an unspeakable manner. In short, he discovers a suitableness in Christ to the needs of his soul, of which the half was once not known to him. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increased knowledge of Christ.
(c) Another mark of “growth in grace” is increased holiness of life and conversation.
The man whose soul is “growing” gets more dominion over sin, the world, and the devil every year. He becomes more careful about his temper, his words, and his actions. He is more watchful over his conduct in every relation of life. He strives more to be conformed to the image of Christ in all things, and to follow Him as his example, as well as to trust in Him as his Saviour. He is not content with old advancements and former grace. He forgets the things that are behind and reaches forward to those things which are ahead, making “Higher!” “Upward!” “Forward!” “Onward!” his continual motto. (Phil. 3:13.) On earth he thirsts and longs to have a will more entirely in unison with God’s will. In heaven the chief thing that he looks for, next to the presence of Christ, is complete separation from all sin. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increased holiness.
(d) Another mark of “growth in grace” is increased spirituality of taste and mind.
The man whose soul is “growing” takes more interest in spiritual things every year. He does not neglect his duty in the world. He discharges faithfully, diligently, and conscientiously every relation of life, whether at home or abroad. But the things he loves best are spiritual things. The ways, and fashions, and amusements, and recreations of the world have a continually decreasing place in his heart. He does not condemn them as downright sinful, nor say that those who have anything to do with them are going to hell. He only feels that they have a constantly diminishing hold on his own affections, and gradually seem smaller and more trifling in his eyes. Spiritual companions, spiritual occupations, spiritual conversation, appear of ever-increasing value to him. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increasing spirituality of taste.
(e) Another mark of “growth in grace” is increase of charity.
The man whose soul is “growing” is more full of love every year—of love to all men, but especially of love towards the brethren. His love will show itself actively in a growing disposition to do kindnesses, to take trouble for others, to be good-natured to everybody, to be generous, sympathizing, thoughtful, tender-hearted, and considerate. It will show itself passively in a growing disposition to be meek and patient toward all men, to put up with provocation and not stand up for his rights, to bear and forbear much rather than quarrel. A growing soul will try to put the best construction on other people’s conduct, and to believe all things and hope all things, even to the end. There is no surer mark of backsliding and falling off in grace than an increasing disposition to find fault, pick holes, and see weak points over others. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increasing charity.
(f) One more mark of “growth in grace” is increased zeal and diligence in trying to do good to souls.
The man who is really “growing” will take greater interest in the salvation of sinners every year. Missions at home and abroad, efforts to increase religious light and diminish religious darkness—all these things will every year have a greater place in his attention. He will not become “weary in well-doing” because he does not see every effort succeed. He will not care less for the progress of Christ’s cause on earth as he grows older, though he will learn to expect less. He will just work on, whatever the result may be—giving, praying, preaching, speaking, visiting, according to his position—and count his work its own reward. One of the surest marks of spiritual decline is a decreased interest about the souls of others and the growth of Christ’s kingdom. Would anyone know whether he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increased concern about the salvation of souls.
Such are the most trustworthy marks of growth in grace. Let us examine them carefully, and consider what we know about them. They likely will not please some professing Christians in the present day. Those whose only notion of Christianity is that of a state of perpetual joy and ecstasy—who tell you that they have got far beyond the region of conflict and soul-humiliation—such persons no doubt will regard the marks that have been laid down as “legal,” “carnal,” and “enslaving.” That cannot be helped. Only let these statements be tried in the balance of Scripture and I firmly believe that what has been said is not only Scriptural, but accords with the experience of the most eminent saints in every age. The one in whom the six marks can be found is the one who can give a satisfactory answer to the question, do I grow?
III. The third and last thing I want to bring to your attention is this:—The means that must be used by those who want to grow in grace.
The words of the apostle James must never be forgotten: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:17.) This is no doubt as true of growth in grace as it is of everything else. It is the “gift of God.” But, still, it must always be kept in mind that God is pleased to work by means. God has ordained means as well as ends. He that would grow in grace must use the means of growth.
This is a point which is often too much overlooked by believers. Many admire growth in grace in others, and wish that they themselves were like them. But they seem to suppose that those who grow are what they are by some special gift or grant from God, and that as this gift is not bestowed on themselves they must be content to sit still. This is a terrible delusion. It should be clearly understood that growth in grace is bound up with the use of means within the reach of all believers, and that, as a general rule, growing souls are what they are because they use these means.
Be careful not to think that if a believer does not grow in grace it is not his fault. Settle it in your mind that a believer, a man made alive by the Spirit, is not a mere dead creature, but a being of mighty capacities and responsibilities. Let the words of Solomon sink down into your heart: “the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” (Prov. 13:4.)
(a) One thing essential to growth in grace is diligence in the use of private means of grace.
That is such means as a man must use by himself alone, and no one can use for him; such as private prayer, private reading of the Scriptures, and private meditation and self-examination. The man who does not put effort into these three things must never expect to grow. Here are the roots of true Christianity. Wrong here, a man is wrong all the way through! Here is the whole reason why many professing Christians never seem to progress. They are careless and lazy about their private prayers. They read their Bibles but little, and with very little heartiness of spirit. They give themselves no time for self-examination and quiet thought about the state of their souls.
It is useless to conceal from ourselves that the age we live in is full of peculiar dangers. It is an age of great activity, and of much hurry, bustle, and excitement. Many are running to and fro, no doubt, and knowledge is increased. (Dan. 12:4.) Thousands are ready enough for public meetings, sermon-hearing, or anything else in which there is “sensation” or excitement. Few appear to remember the absolute necessity of making time to “ponder in their hearts … and be silent.” (Psalm 4:4.) But without this there is seldom any deep spiritual prosperity. Remember this point! Private religion must attended to, if we want our souls to grow.
(b) Another thing which is essential to growth in grace is carefulness in the use of public means of grace.
That is, such means as a man has within his reach as a member of Christ’s visible Church. Here is included the ordinances of regular Sunday worship, the uniting with God’s people in common prayer and praise, the preaching of the Word, and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The manner in which these public means of grace are used has much to say to the prosperity of a believer’s soul. It is easy to use them in a cold and heartless way. The very familiarity of them is apt to make us careless. The regular return of the same voice, and the same kind of words, and the same ceremonies, is likely to make us sleepy, and callous, and unfeeling. Here is a snare into which too many professing Christians fall. If we would grow we must be on our guard here. Here is a matter in which the Spirit is often grieved and saints suffer great loss. Let us strive to attend to the public means of grace with as much freshness and appetite as in the year we first believed. It is a sign of bad health when a person loses relish for his food; and it is a sign of spiritual decline when we lose our appetite for the means of grace. Whatever we do about public means, let us always do it “with our might.” (Eccles.9:10.) This is the way to grow!
(c) Another thing essential to growth in grace is watchfulness over our conduct in the little matters of everyday life.
Our tempers, our tongues, the carrying out of our several relations of life, the way we spend our free time—each and all must be vigilantly attended to if we wish our souls to prosper. Life is made up of days, and days of hours, and the little things of every hour are never so little as to be beneath the care of a Christian. When a tree begins to decay at root or heart, the mischief is first seen at the extreme end of the little branches. Let others despise us, if they like, and call us precise and over-careful. Let us patiently hold on our way, remembering that we serve an all-knowing God, that our Lord’s example is to be copied in the least things as well as the greatest, and that we must “take up our cross daily” (Luke 9:23) and hourly, rather than sin. We must aim to have a Christianity which, like the sap of a tree, runs through every twig and leaf of our character, and sanctifies all. This is one way to grow!
(d) Another thing which is essential to growth in grace is caution about the company we keep and the friendships we form.
Nothing perhaps affects a man’s character more than the company he keeps. We catch the ways and tone of those we live and talk with, and unhappily get harm far more easily than good. Disease is infectious, but health is not. Now if a professing Christian deliberately chooses to be intimate with those who are not friends of God and who cling to the world, his soul is sure to take harm. It is hard enough to serve Christ under any circumstances in such a world as this. But it is doubly hard to do it if we are friends of the thoughtless and ungodly. Mistakes in friendship or marriage-engagements are the whole reason why some have entirely ceased to grow. “Bad company ruins good morals..” “Friendship with the world is enmity with God.” (1 Cor. 15:33 James 4:4.) Let us seek friends that will stir us up about our prayers, our Bible-reading, and our employment of time—about our souls, our salvation, and a world to come. Who can tell the good that a friend’s word in season may do, or the harm that it may stop? This is one way to grow.
(e) There is one more thing which is absolutely essential to growth in grace—and that is regular and habitual communion with the Lord Jesus.
The daily habit of interaction between the believer and his Saviour, which can only be carried on by faith, prayer, and meditation. It is a habit of which many believers know little. A man may be a believer and have his feet on the rock, and yet live far below his privileges. It is possible to have “union” with Christ, and yet to have little if any “communion” with Him. But, for all that, there is such a thing.
The names and offices of Christ, as laid down in Scripture, show unmistakably that this “communion” between the saint and his Saviour is not a mere abstraction, but a real true thing. Between the “Bridegroom” and his bride—between the “Head” and His members—between the “Physician” and His patients—between the “Advocate” and His clients—between the “Shepherd” and His sheep—between the “Master” and His scholars—is evidently implied a habit of familiar interaction, of daily application for things needed, of daily pouring out and unburdening our hearts and minds. Such a habit of dealing with Christ is clearly something more than a vague general trust in the work that Christ did for sinners. It is getting close to Him, and laying hold on Him with confidence, as a loving, personal Friend. This is what is meant by communion.
To know something experimentally of the habit of communion is essential to a person’s growth in grace. We must not be content with a general orthodox knowledge that justification is by faith and not by works, and that we put our trust in Christ. We must go further than this. We must seek to have personal intimacy with the Lord Jesus, and to deal with Him as a man deals with a loving friend. We must realize what it is to turn to Him first in every need, to talk to Him about every difficulty, to consult Him about every step, to spread before Him all our sorrows, to get Him to share in all our joys, to do all as in His sight, and to go through every day leaning on and looking to Him.
This is the way that the apostle Paul lived: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.” “To me to live is Christ.” (Gal. 2:20; Phil.1:21.) It is ignorance of this way of living that makes so many see no beauty in the book of The Song of Songs. But it is the one who lives in this way, who keeps up constant communion with Christ—this is the one whose soul will grow.
We leave the subject of growth in grace here. Far more might be said about it but hopefully enough has been said to convince you that the subject is one of vast importance.—Let us close with some practical applications.
(1) Perhaps some are hearing these words who know nothing whatever about growth in grace.
They have little or no concern about religion. A little proper Sunday church-going makes up the sum and substance of their Christianity. They are without spiritual life, and of course they cannot, at present, grow. Are you one of these people? If you are, you are in a pitiable condition.
Years are slipping away and time is flying. Graveyards are filling up and families are thinning. Death and judgment are getting nearer to us all. And yet you live like one asleep about your soul! What madness! What folly! What suicide can be worse than this?
Awake before it be too late; awake, and arise from the dead, and live to God. Turn to Him who is sitting at the right hand of God, to be your Saviour and Friend. Turn to Christ, and cry mightily to Him about your soul. There is yet hope! He that called Lazarus from the grave is not changed. He that commanded the widow’s son at Nain to arise from his bier can do miracles yet for your soul. Seek Him at once: seek Christ, if you would not be lost for ever. Do not stand still talking, and meaning, and intending, and wishing, and hoping. Seek Christ that you may live, and that living, you may grow.
(2) Some may be hearing these words who ought to know something of growth in grace, but at present know nothing at all.
They have made little or no progress since they were first converted. They seem to be “stagnant in spirit.” (Zep.1:12.) They go on from year to year content with old grace, old experience, old knowledge, old faith, old measure of attainment, old religious expressions, old set phrases. They never appear to make progress. Are you one of these people? If you are, you are living far below your privileges and responsibilities. It is high time to examine yourself.
If you have reason to hope that you are a true believer and yet do not grow in grace, there must be a fault, and a serious fault somewhere. It cannot be the will of God that your soul should stand still. He “gives grace to the humble.” He “delights in the welfare of his servant.” ( James 4: 6; Ps. 35:27.) It cannot be for your own happiness or usefulness that your soul should stand still. Without growth you will never rejoice in the Lord. (Phil. 4:4.) Without growth you will never do good to others. Surely this lack of growth is a serious matter! It should raise in you great searchings of heart. There must be some cause.
Resolve this very day that you will find out the reason of your standstill condition. Probe with a faithful and firm hand every corner of your soul. Search from one end of the camp to the other, till you find out the Achan who is weakening your hands. Begin with an application to the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Physician of souls, and ask Him to heal the secret ailment within you, whatever it may be. Begin as if you had never applied to Him before, and ask for grace to cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye. But never, never be content, if your soul does not grow. For your peace sake, for your usefulness sake, for the honour of your Maker’s cause, resolve to find out the reason why.
(3) Some may hear these words who are really growing in grace, but are not aware of it, and will not admit it.
Their very growth is the reason why they do not see their growth! Their continual increase in humility prevents them feeling that they are progressing. Like Moses, when he came down from the mountain from communing with God, their faces shine. And yet, like Moses, they are not aware of it. (Ex. 34:29.) Such Christians are not common. But here and there such are to be found.
If there is any one feature about a growing soul which specially marks him, it is his deep sense of his own unworthiness. He never sees anything to be praised in himself. He only feels that he is an unprofitable servant and the chief of sinners. It is the righteous, in the picture of the judgment-day, who say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?“(Matt.25:37.) Extremes do indeed meet strangely sometimes. The conscience-hardened sinner and the eminent saint are in one respect singularly alike. Neither of them fully realizes his own condition. The one does not see his own sin, nor the other his own grace!
But is there nothing to be said to growing Christians? Is there no word of counsel for them? The sum and substance of all that I would say is to be found in two sentences: “Go forward!” “Go on!”
We can never have too much humility, too much faith in Christ, too much holiness, too much spirituality of mind, too much charity, too much zeal in doing good to others. Then let us be continually forgetting the things behind, and reaching forward to what lies ahead. (Phil. 3:13.) The best of Christians in these matters is infinitely below the perfect pattern of his Lord. Whatever the world may please to say, we may be sure there is no danger of any of us becoming “too good.”
Let us cast aside the common notion that it is possible to be “extreme” and go “too far” in religion. This is a favourite lie of the devil, and one which he circulates energetically. No doubt there are enthusiasts and fanatics to be found who make Christianity look bad by their extravagances and follies. But if any one means to say that a mortal man can be too humble, too charitable, too holy, or too diligent in doing good, he must either be an infidel or a fool. In serving pleasure and money it is easy to go too far. But in following the things which make up true religion, and in serving Christ, there can be no extreme.
And let us never measure our religion by that of others, and think we are doing enough if we have gone beyond our neighbours. This is another snare of the devil. Let us mind our own business. “What is that to you?” said our Master on a certain occasion: “You follow me.” (John 21:22.) Let us follow on, aiming at nothing short of perfection. Let us follow on, making Christ’s life and character our only pattern and example. Let us follow on, remembering daily that at our best we are miserable sinners. Let us follow on, and never forget that it means nothing whether we are better than others or not. At our very best we are far worse than we ought to be. There will always be room for improvement in us. We will be debtors to Christ’s mercy and grace to the very last. Then let us not look at others and compare ourselves with others. We will find enough to do if we look at our own hearts.
Last, but not least, if we know anything of growth in grace, and desire to know more, let us not be surprised if we have to go through much trial and affliction in this world. It seems to be the experience of nearly all the most eminent saints. Like their blessed Master they have been “men of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” (Isa.53:3) It is a striking saying of our Lord, “every branch that does bear fruit my Father prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2.) It is a sad fact, that constant worldly prosperity, as a general rule, is hurtful to a believer’s soul. We cannot stand it. Sickness, and losses, and crosses, and anxieties, and disappointments seem absolutely necessary to keep us humble, watchful, and spiritual-minded. They are as needful as the pruning knife to the vine, and the refiner’s furnace to the gold. They are not pleasant to flesh and blood. We do not like them, and often do not see their meaning. “All discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Heb. 12:11.)
We will find that all worked for our good when we reach heaven. Let these thoughts dwell in our minds, if we love growth in grace. When days of darkness come upon us, let us not count it a strange thing. Rather let us remember that lessons are learned on such days which would never have been learned in sunshine. Let us say to ourselves, “This also is for my profit, that I may be a partaker of God’s holiness. It is sent in love. I am in God’s best school. Correction is instruction. This is meant to make me grow.”
We leave the subject of growth in grace here. I hope enough has been said to set some to seriously think about it. All things are growing older: the world is growing old; we ourselves are growing older. A few more summers, a few more winters, a few more sicknesses, a few more sorrows, a few more weddings, a few more funerals, a few more meetings, and a few more partings, and then—what? Why the grass will be growing over our graves!
Now would it not be well to look within, and put to our souls a simple question? In religion, in the things that concern our peace, in the great matter of personal holiness, are we progressing?
Are we growing?