by Cornelius Tyree, 1859
Means to be used for the attainment of the piety
Having pointed out the leading features of the religion that evidences its truth, and converts the world; having seen the particulars in which it must appear, and then seen how it operates in converting mankind; the question now arises—how can such a standard of practical religion be reached? Says an objector, such a type of religion is most desirable and important—but it is impracticable for the mass of professors, too refined and difficult for the generality of the friends of Christ; and many laboring under this mischievous mistake, have contented themselves with just as much religion as is 'customary'. They aim to encumber themselves with no more than will allow them to carry the world along with them to heaven. They desire and strive for no more religion than will keep them out of the world of woe.
Never did the unbelieving heart frame a more unscriptural objection. Millions of Christians environed with far more difficulties, and far fewer advantages than Christians have now, have more than reached the standard we are here pleading for. If Christians would only arise from their sluggish repose and go about the matter in the right way, they would find it much easier to be whole-hearted Christians, than to work out that difficult problem—how near perdition's edge they can approach, and yet reach the heavenly world.
God has promised all needed help. he is willing to grant the Spirit's influences. In Christ, our Master and Model, all fullness dwells. Hence, eminent piety is within the reach of all. The piety of Moses, Daniel, and Paul, is as much our imperative duty as it is our glorious privilege. Let no one pronounce elevated piety impracticable until he has, in God's own prescribed way, made the experiment. But how, it is most pertinent to inquire, can such a type of religion he reached?
1.In order to the exhibition of the religion of Christ in our tempers and conduct, there must be implanted in the soul the principle of true piety. A man must be pious in the sight of God, before he can appear so in the sight of man. As in nature, so in grace, no effect can exceed its cause. In religion there are two fundamental propositions equally true and important; one is, as there can be no pious principle, unless it is followed by pious practice. Likewise, there can be no pious practice unless it is preceded by pious principle. A man's life cannot be in habitual contradiction to his bias. A good tree cannot be made to bear evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree be made to bear good fruit.
You may, by pruning off the dead limbs and loosening and fertilizing the earth around the roots of the stunted, withered tree, resuscitate it, and make it fruit-bearing. But no matter how much you may dig about and enrich the roots of the dead tree, no matter how propitious the sunbeams and showers may be, it will remain dead. The best food and the best nursing in the world cannot make the dead infant live and grow. Before, in either case, there can be growth and improvement, there must exist that mysterious thing we call life. So with the case in hand. Man by nature, "is dead in trespasses and in sin." Before there can be any external religious improvement, he must be quickened by the power of God, and have imparted to his soul, spiritual life. Life of any kind must come from God. There is no innate germ of goodness in man which he can cultivate and develop into piety, until man has been born again of the Spirit; until he has had imparted to him by the Holy Spirit, that sublime principle of life which Jesus Christ died to procure, all efforts to form a pious character is but feeding death and cultivating sterility.
Just here thousands are fatally erring. They are attempting to raise a superstructure of practical godliness, without first laying the foundation of "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." No observance of the means of grace, no prayers, no self-denial, no efforts, no compliance with divine ordinances, can make a man in reality and in appearance, pious—until he has, by faith in the great atonement, "passed from death unto life." It is as unscriptural as it is illogical, to suppose there can be any attainments made in practical religion, until there has been exercised in the person and work of Christ, a penitential faith. In piety a man will go just as far as he believes—and no further. His zeal, holiness, humility, prayerfulness, happiness, and usefulness—will be just in proportion to the strength of his faith.
Why are there so many professors who are dead while they have a name to live? Why are there so many others that reflect so faintly the image of Christ? In fine, why is the religion of the mass of modern Christians so partial, fickle, and indistinct? It is because many have no saving faith, no realizing conviction of the truth and importance of sacred things. In others there is a feeble, flickering, faltering faith, and the consequence is that such are feeble, dwarfish Christians doing no good, and finally saved "so as by fire." And then in all ages a few have been eminently and strikingly pious. Such were the primitive Christians. Such were Luther, Menno, Newton, Fuller, Pearce, Scott, Judson, and a army of others, both in the ministry and in the laity.
Now, what was it that so shaped, molded, and directed the spirits and conduct of these men? What made them the wonder and the hope of the world? What was the secret of their vast superiority over the mass of Christians in practical piety, and consequently in point of usefulness? Do you think that educational or domestic or social or national influences made them what they were? No! They attained their eminence in holiness and usefulness, says one, because of their incessant, earnest prayerfulness. But what made them so prayerful? Says another, their eminence in piety is ascribable to their diligence and self-denials. But what influence made them so industrious and self-denying? Says another, their boldness rendered them so conspicuous in the cause they professed. But what inspired them with such boldness? Says another, their ardent love for Christ and souls shaped their characters, and gave them their influence. True—but what induced them to love Christ and souls so intensely? Their model characters and power for good, says still another, are attributable to their great spirituality. Very true—but what imparted to them their spirituality? The great principle that transformed and ennobled their characters, that impelled them to their mighty achievements for God, was their strong FAITH in the person, cross, presence, and promise of Jesus Christ. Their faith in God was the first of their graces, and the source of the rest. Their prayerfulness, their diligence, their boldness, their labors of love, were but the embodiment of their faith in their crucified, risen, reigning Lord.
The truth is, not only is FAITH the great instrumentality by which our relations to God's law and government are adjusted, by which our sins are forgiven and our natures changed—but it is the great inward principle that prompts to holiness of life. And if this be so, then, in order to pious improvement, we must seek an increase of our faith. Let us begin with the cause of the evil. Let us repent of the great sin of unbelief. We must not rest contented while our convictions of the truth and importance of the gospel are cold and inoperative. We must strive and pray and meditate until the great facts of Christianity become to us engrossing realities. Jesus Christ must be so received and trusted in as to be to us, not merely a historical personage—but as a living, enveloping, present Savior. We must beg God so to purge from the soul's eye the films and mists of unbelief, that we may discern distinctly and realizingly the way of salvation. Faith must grow until it becomes "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Dear reader, covet a strong faith in the Lord Jesus—more than gold, or fame, or pleasures. Only have faith in Christ, and you have everything else. Your resources then are as exhaustless as God Himself. Faith in Jesus is true religion. Faith is the all-inclusive germ which involves within it every other grace.
If then you would attain Christlike piety, see to it that your faith is of the right kind, and then it grows exceedingly. See to it that it is not an affair that you transact with Christ at your conversion—but that it is a life-long habit. Be able to say, "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God." Then the plant of grace will be in a good soil.
2.A second means of elevating the standard of personal piety is a more distinct recognition of and a more earnest dependence on the agency of the Holy Spirit. Christians, in their efforts to grow in grace and impart grace, practically ignore the Spirit's personality and agency. It may be well questioned whether our defective and erroneous views of the Spirit's office and work are not the grand cause of our puny piety and inefficiency. Luther accomplished the great Reformation of the sixteenth century by bringing out, explaining, defending, and proclaiming the death of Christ as the only means of the sinner's justification before God. Now, before the church of Christ will ever rise up to that high stand of holiness which the exigencies of the world so imperatively demand, there must be effected a second great reformation in regard to the work of the Spirit. By all means let us maintain and depend on the death of Jesus, as the only means of taking away our guilt and securing to us a right and title to heaven. But it is equally as important that we maintain and depend on the agency of the Holy Spirit, to renew our natures and transform us into the likeness of Christ. What Christ did for us becomes effectual in our salvation, because it is followed by the Spirit's working in us.
What Christ wrought for us was done unsolicited and unasked. Not so with the Spirit. Those who most covet, seek, and prize the helps of this heavenly agent, generally have vouchsafed unto them the largest measure of His gracious influences. The Scriptures show that indolence, prayerlessness, and unholy tempers grieve and repel the great Sanctifier; and on the other hand, prayerfulness, activity, and holy tempers invite and secure His presence and agency. So that the great law of obtaining the Spirit is that we toil, watch, and pray, as if we could make ourselves holy; and at the same time that we depend upon, and pray for the Spirit's influences as if all absolutely depended on this celestial agent.
The indispensableness of an increased measure of the Spirit's influences in order to spiritual growth will appear if you consider the nature of spiritual progress, and the obstacles in the way. There are very many inward and outward difficulties in the way of pious improvement, which in our own unaided strength we can no more overcome than we can create a new star, or hurl the sun from its orbit. In this work, without God we can do nothing. Without the direct aids of the Spirit, the best Christian on earth, with all his attainments, would never overcome another sin, never gain another triumph over the world, never demolish another idol, nor escape another snare of Satan. Can we, amid so many counter-influences, nourish and develop the germ of spiritual life? Can human might resist the heart's depraved tendency, the world's current, and Satan's wiles? Without the Spirit's gracious helps we may become refined, moral, and in one sense know and believe the truth; but without His helps there cannot be created in us and developed through us, the principles of grace. No power in the universe, except that of the Holy Spirit, can make a New Testament Christian. Genuine piety is just as much His workmanship as the creation of the physical world. We know this doctrine is liable to misapprehension and abuse; still no truth is more plainly revealed in the Scriptures, and the great requisite in order to become a full-grown, vigorous Christian, is a deep practical persuasion of our dependence on the promised Spirit.
Let all our endeavors after a fuller possession and development of the Christian principle, be put forth with a penetrating conviction of our need of the promptings and leadings of the Spirit. Let us fear grieving him more than we would fear the frown or all creation. Let us watch and pray against every feeling, word, and act, that would in the least restrain His presence and quench His influences. Let us cultivate the tempers, speak the words, and do the things that will invite and secure His continued indwelling. Should we provoke Him to abandon us, let us search and fast, and pray, and repent—until He reenters and fills our bosoms with His tranquilizing joys. When there are difficulties to be overcome, trials to be borne, temptations to be resisted, or duties to be performed—let us go to God with the faith and simplicity of little children, and ask Him for His Spirit to help in these times of need.
Have you a besetting sin that stunts your spiritual growth and impairs your pious influence? Ask for the Spirit, that you may see the guilt of it; mourn over it and be enabled to forsake it. Are you in darkness? Ask the Father in the name of the Son, for the Spirit, that you may be taught of God and guided into all truth. Are you wavering, weak, and cast down? Secure the indwelling of the Comforter, and you will be confirmed, strengthened, and encouraged.
We give it as the result of much thought, that in order to a more thorough exemplification of the gospel, we must more distinctly recognize, more firmly believe in, and more earnestly seek an increased measure of the influences of the Holy Spirit.
3.In order to pious growth, the soul must receive constant nourishment. Appropriate food is not more essential to the growth and vigor of the natural infant, than it is to the spiritual infant; and what is the nourishment in which the soul grows and thrives? Not science, not ethics, not the opinions of men—but "the truth as it is in Jesus." Of young converts the Apostle Peter says, "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby."
It has been said, it matters not what a man believes, or whether he believes anything, so that he does what is right. As well say, it matters not what a man eats, or whether he eats at all, so that he lives. We can no more live and grow spiritually without eating the "living bread which came down from heaven," than we can live and grow bodily without eating wholesome food. Error is just as hurtful to the soul, as poison is to the body. Hence no more should that minister be called a bigot, who is greatly anxious that his people should believe only the truth of God, than the physician who contends for wholesome diet.
But the SCRIPTURES do not necessarily and unconditionally become spiritual nutriment to our souls.
(a.) They must be read.An unread Bible is a clear sign of a low state of piety. To suppose that one can make attainments in grace, without a knowledge of God's word, is to suppose that the end can be reached without the means. Such a supposition depreciates and makes void the word of life.
We suppose, however, most professors read the Scriptures. But few can be found in Protestant churches who have not read them through. The deficiency is in the manner in which they are read. It is our deliberate conviction that one of the reasons why Christians make such slow and interrupted progress in piety, is the coldness, inattention, irreverence, formality, and prayerlessness, with which the Bible is perused. Hence we say,
(b.) Again, that in order to make the Scriptures the means of our sanctification and pious growth, they must be read with devout meditation.The best and most nutritious food taken into the stomach, without undergoing the process of digestion, becomes harmful. Before it can be incorporated into the body, it must undergo this indispensable process. So the truth of God received into the head, or slumbering in the memory without being "marked, learned, and inwardly digested," not only contributes nothing to the moral growth of the soul, but becomes "a savor of death unto death." During the day the cow browses hither and thither, and gathers into her stomach a mass of appropriate, yet undigested food. When nightfall comes, she lies down, regurgitates that food, at her leisure masticates it, and fits it for nourishment. So let the child of grace have his eyes and ears open, and gather from the Scriptures, from the pulpit, from providence and nature, into the repository of his memory, the truth of God; and then let him, during the "night watches," like David; or "at eventide," like Isaac; or during a season set apart for the purpose, take that truth and ponder it, pray over it, and thereby convert it into spiritual nourishment for his soul. In this way the great facts and doctrines of the gospel will no longer be dead events in the annals of the past, and dry abstractions for speculations—but will be radiant realities—shaping and controlling the feelings, sentiments, and conduct.
See that eminent saint who stands distinguished in all the country around, for his sanctity, benevolence—and as one who walks with God. He reached this elevation by habitually and seriously pondering sacred things. If you go back into his history for the last twenty years, you would find that those moments that others waste in frivolous thinking and listless mindlessness, he employed in heavenly meditation.
In sanctifying through the truth, God works no miracles, violates no law of our mind. Truth transforms and molds us into the image of its Author, just in proportion as it impresses us; and it impresses us just in proportion as it is digested. Some Christians are ever reading and hearing the truth—and are none the better for it. Why is this? Because the truth makes no impression! And why does the truth fail to do this? Because it is read and heard listlessly. How many while away many of their best hours in moving the eye mechanically and formally over God's Book, without ever entering into its meaning. Never will such grow in piety until this habit is broken. The Scriptures themselves are emphatic on this point. "Search the Scriptures!" "Take heed how you hear." "Consider what we say, and the Lord give you understanding in all things." "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip." "Therefore don't be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." "Think on these things."
Reader, would you become an intelligent, well-proportioned disciple of Christ? Then ponder the truths of the gospel until your views of them are clear, discriminating, and affecting. Think on these things until you can distinguish between law and gospel.
Would you have your faith become strong—your hopes bright—and your character beautified with the graces of the Spirit—think it not enough that you can weep at a description of the Savior's sufferings—but dwell on the theme until you have clear and impressive views of the connection between His death and
your salvation. Would you become more and more like Christ, and more the admiration and hope of the would? Then consider the doctrines and promises of the gospel—until your very soul takes their character and mold—until they are incorporated into the economy of your moral nature. In no other way will you ever grow in grace. You will never become eminent Christians upon easier terms; and you will grow in the piety of Christ, just in proportion as you sincerely pursue this course.
(C.)In order to have the Scriptures become food and principle unto your soul, they must be studied in prayerful dependence on the Spirit's influences. The Bible is a revelation from God unto us. Before the truth is revealed into us, the same Spirit that inspired it, must take it from the written page and give it a penetrating power. The Bible is all needed external light; before it can become the means of spiritual growth unto us, the Spirit must give us internal vision for that light. Without the Spirit's teachings, one may know the Scriptures intellectually—but not savingly. No one ever read and studied himself into a saving knowledge of God's truth. There is a seal to God's Book that nothing but the Holy Spirit can take away. There is a film in the way of a converting, sanctifying view of the truth—that nothing but the Holy Spirit can remove. There is a mystery and repulsiveness that, to a carnal mind, invest the peculiar doctrines of the Bible—that nothing but the light of the Holy Spirit can dispel. There is a relish requisite to a profitable study of the Scriptures—that nothing but the Holy Spirit can impart. It is only when the Spirit who inspired the sacred text, takes it from the page and breathes it into the heart, that we can comprehend its meaning, be touched by its beauty, stirred by its remonstrances, animated by its promises, take complexion from its motives, and directions from its prescriptions.
(d.) The Scriptures must also be studied with the profoundest reverence, in order to produce in us the fruits of holy living. The Bible is as much a communication from God, as if we had seen His hand writing it on the face of the heavens. It is not Moses, Isaiah, David, Daniel, Matthew, Like, John, Paul, and Peter, writing to us—but God writing to us through these men! Remember, whenever your eye traces its pages, you are pondering ideas that from eternity existed in the mind of Jehovah! Remember, when you open its pages you are holding an interview with your Maker, Lawgiver, and Savior—as to how you are to escape hell and reach heaven! When the time comes to peruse the oracles of God, you should put your mind into a solemn frame, put away all worldly thoughts, and give it in charge to your soul to "hear what God the Lord will speak." Such a state of mind, habitually maintained toward the word of God, will much conduce to its molding and transforming the life and character.
(e.)You will not read the word of God to practical purpose, unless you study it with a profound teachableness. One of the great hindrances to the full power of God's truth over the heart and life of believers, is systems previously imbibed from human sources. Vast numbers, among even Protestants, derive their religious opinions from other than the divinely accredited rule of faith and practice. Some, by their own reasons, first determine what God should and what He should not require of His creatures; and then appeal to the Scriptures for confirmation of their self-devised systems. Others read the Bible to judge and try it, by the views they inherited from their parents. And then, what hundreds approach God's Book, preoccupied with and committed to the standards of their churches. Human creeds had been subscribed to before the Bible was opened. If all these creeds, systems, and opinions, were tried by the Scriptures and not the Scriptures by them, then they would not be so productive of mischief. How many books have been written to make the Bible countenance and support doctrines and practices emanating from human authority! How much learning, logic, talents, and exegesis have been brought in contribution to make the Scriptures accredit and indorse dogmas that are not only unscriptural—but anti-scriptural.
Now, such readers not only depreciate and despise the word of God; they not only adopt principles which, in their development, would render the word of God needless; but must, from the nature of the case, be themselves partial believers and doers of the word. With far different views must we study the word of God—to be essentially sanctified and improved thereby. To be enlightened and stirred by the lively oracles, we must go to them, not for advice—but for law. We must read, not to dictate—but to learn and obey. There must be that openness to conviction, that freedom from biases and presuppositions that will prompt us as we open the Divine Volume to pray, "Speak, Lord, Your servant hears." "Lord, what will You have me do?"
Under the abiding conviction that all we can know—as to what will please, and what will displease God—is revealed in His word, let us peruse it with the previous prayerful determination that we will believe whatever it says, and do whatever it commands us. Let it be the firmest purpose of the mind, that as book after book, and chapter after chapter, and verse after verse, comes under review, we will, in prayerful dependence on the Spirit's aid—seek to know the will of God, and believe it, love it, and contend for it—however crossing to our own feelings and views, or the feelings and views of the world. Such a reader of the Bible will certainly grow in piety. He takes the very attitude to please God and make full proof of the saving power of His truth.
(f.)To have the truth of God produce in our mind, heart, and life its designed effect, it must be read and heard with self-application. The Bible is a message from God to us individually. It isolates every man from every other, and imposes on him the obligation, and then offers him the means and the motives to read, believe, and be holy. It makes piety an individual transaction between its Author and the sinner. Hence it is a solemnly responsible thing to read the Bible. We never close its pages the same moral beings we were when we opened them. We have either been impressed more deeply with its saving character and mold—or its sacred truths have hardened and made us more indifferent. When then we open the Scriptures, there is no time nor scope for amusement or self-delight. As portion after portion comes under review, the question should be—What bearing has this truth on my heart and condition? If the Bible is a communication from my Maker, telling me how I may regain His lost favor and be admitted into His heavenly kingdom, then let me constantly compare myself with and examine myself by its requisitions, for fear I might be deceived in my right and title to heaven.
Self-deception in religion is most common, most easy, and most fatal. Let me then, as I go through God's book, test myself by its truths, lest at the last day in reply to the query, "Lord, have I not professed Your name, and done many things for Your cause?" I meet the cutting repulse, "Depart from me, you accursed one, I never knew you." Nor is it enough that I guard against delusion. For God's glory and the world's good, I should "go on unto perfection." This cannot be done unless I am in the habit of applying the truth of God to my own business and bosom.
Am I reading of the sufferings of Christ? Let me question myself as to whether I have a saving insight into those sufferings. Am I reading of repentance and faith? Let me not stop to bewilder myself as to how these graces can be both God's gifts and the sinner's duties—but send home to my conscience the great question—Have I, in the scriptural sense of the terms, exercised "repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ?" Does the subject of baptism come under review? Let me question my soul solemnly whether I am carrying out the great practical design of this ordinance. Do I read a threatening? Let me stop, and with fear and trembling find out whether I amn liable to the danger. Do the promises present themselves? Can I claim them? Do I come across reproofs? The question must be settled whether I am censurable. Does the next chapter contain a description of the character and the reward of the righteous? I should deeply ponder whether I am such, that I may claim his reward.
In this way the child of grace will not only be a reader and hearer—but "a doer of the truth." Every time he reads through Scriptures in this manner, he will have made advancement in spirituality. In this way the truth becomes to him nutritious, strengthening, transforming principles. In fine, this is one of the secrets of becoming a full-grown New Testament Christian. Without it the soul will be impoverished and the character defective.
(g.)We say again, in order to bring ourselves fully under the saving effects of the truth of God, we must study it ourselves, as it is revealed in the oracles of God. Many, even among Protestants, only study truth second-handed. If they enter the temple of truth at all, it is leaning on some favorite interpreter or preacher, who is looked to to tell them how the responses of the sacred oracles are to be taken. They take their religious opinions on trust from their church. They are contented only to view truth in the light it has been placed by some good man.
Now, such a custom is not only unfavorable to the cultivation of piety—but it is to adopt, with the name of Protestants, one of the worst errors of popery. To receive our religious opinions from any uninspired individual, no matter how learned, wise, and pious he may be, without testing them by the word of God—is to invest that individual with the attribute of infallibility. To adopt our religious views from man without searching the Scriptures to see if these things are so, is to call that man master, and thereby prostrate our intellect and conscience at the foot of human authority. Moreover, there is not a doctrine in the Bible about which good men have not entertained diverse and conflicting views. Hence we can have no assurance that the views we imbibe from human authority are scriptural. All may be wrong—but all cannot be right.
And it should also be borne in mind that the Scriptures, for all practical purposes, are plain and obvious. To understand them and be saved by them, it is not needful that we should be learned, or dig and dive. Like the precious gold gleaming near the earth's surface, the way to believe, be holy, and reach heaven—shines on the very face of the Scriptures. A child may see and understand it. Nowhere else is the way of salvation as plain as it is in the divine Scriptures. For practical ends, the Bible is of all religious books the plainest. The man of common sense can understand it in this sense just as well as the learned divine. The expositions that learned men give of the Scriptures are valuable, often, as helps. Light shed upon the sacred text, from whatever source, should be accepted. But let the individual inquirer have the independence to bring them all to the test of "the law and testimony." Let him determine to see with his own eyes.
Since he has a mind and God's word is sufficiently plain, let him see to it that no commentary of church, minister, divine, or parent shall be received as true, any further than he perceives they accord with the Scriptures. We hold, that to be Christians in the right sense of that appellation, our creed must be, not what Calvin wrote, Luther said, or our church believes; not what the best men or most men say—but what God has said.
It is said that Alexander the Great once visited Diogenes the Cynic while he was basking in the sunbeams in his tub. The great monarch was so delighted with the serenity of the philosopher, that he said,
Diogenes! I am so charmed with you, that you need but ask and I will give you anything, to the half of my kingdom." The philosopher replied "Please your majesty, I have only one favor to ask, and that is that you stand aside from between me and the sun, in whose beams I am now enjoying myself." So let the seekers after God's will say to the creeds and creed-makers, to the Luthers and Caivins, the Wesleys and the Fullers, to the sects and even the pastors—Stand aside from between us and the sunbeams of Scriptural revelation. We need not the hand lamps of your systems, when the bright sun of God's Scriptures shines on us!
"To the law and to the testimony." In God's light let us seek light. From the pure fountain of truth let us derive all our doctrinal views; by its decisions let us resolve all our doubts; to its standard let us bring and test our pious state and experience; and by its directions let us shape all our plans and regulate all our interaction with the world. Arid then, in the broadest sense, the truth will become unto us " the power of God unto salvation," producing in our minds right sentiments, in our hearts right dispositions, and in our lives right actions.
4. Another most important means of pious growth, is EXERCISE.God made no creature of any kind, to be idle. And in activity they grow and glorify him. The strongest, most robust trees, are those that grow, not in shaded valleys—but on wintry heights, where they are rocked by the storms and scathed by the thunders. Why are the muscles so fully developed in the brawny arm of the blacksmith? Because it is his daily business to ply the huge hammer to the ringing anvil. Suppose a mother should confine her infant to the crib, never allow it to make an effort to crawl, nor see the light of the sun. Such a child would not only not grow—but would become greatly unhealthy. How does it learn to crawl, and then to walk? By repeated attempts. In its first attempts it falls, and falls again; receives wounds perhaps; does the mother forbid further attempts? No! She kisses and caresses it, and encourages it to try again and again, until, to the joy of both parent and child, it can walk without wearying, and run without fainting.
Whose limbs are strong with the greatest strength; on whose cheeks does health bloom the ruddiest, and whose spirits are most buoyant and cheerful? Is it the man who chains himself to sedentary habits, always breathes the close atmosphere of the heated room, and lounges perpetually on couches of luxurious ease? No! But the man who, despite of winter's cold and summer's heat, rises early and passes the day in athletic exercises. He is the vigorous, healthy, happy man.
Now, the same principle governs in grace. The man who grows in grace is not the man who shuts himself out from the world, and spends all his time in reading and meditation—though these are vastly important in their place—but the man who, in imitation of his Master's example, goes "about doing good." Perhaps the greatest defect in the piety of other ages, was that they pursued salvation too much as an insulated, selfish concern. Their piety was too dreamy and abstract. In truth, many of these, who have been held up to the world as paragons of piety, were mere religious recluses, rather than Christians after the New Testament pattern. The cloister is not the place to attain spiritual manhood and vigor. Do you think that such Christians as Paul, Brainard, Martyn, and Judson, could have been trained in the soft, shady recesses of the closet? No! And we say to all Christians of both sexes, that if they would attain unto the stature of full grown men and women in Christ, they must go out of themselves in efforts to do good.
Do you ask—where, and about what you should employ yourself as a Christian? Why, in aiming at the correction of the world within, and the world without. Only have a mind to work, and you will, in every possible situation, find work to do for Christ. Do you ask—what can I do? The whole heathen world, nearly, is still unconverted. In your own land and country, are tens of thousands, sunk in the deepest ignorance, and the slaves of the vilest sins. In your own families are those who are Christless and hopeless. The youth of your community are to be brought into the Sunday-School and trained for the church and heaven. Bibles are to be circulated, tracts distributed, the poor, sick, and dying are to be visited and aided, the burdens of your brethren are to be borne, the ignorant taught, the wicked warned, and the bewildered guided to Christ. You never go about without having it in your power to do something for Christ and souls. There is not a day in the year in which you may not, in some way, spread the empire of Christ.
Now, every effort you make to do good, every exertion you put forth to spread the cause of God—either directly or indirectly, tends to strengthen and develop your own piety. Every time you exercise the gracious affections—you strengthen and spiritualize them. Every prayer you offer up for yourselves and others—increases the spirit and confirms the habit of devotion. Every time you trust the promises of God—your faith in God becomes stronger and more influential. Every time you restrain your inordinate passions—you make fresh attainments in Christian temperance. We say that faith produces godly
works. It is also true that works produce faith. How can the beneficent, active Christian be faithless—when he is constantly witnessing the triumphs of the gospel over men's hearts and lives? Every new conversion that he instrumentally effects—is an visual verification of the divinity of the gospel. Can he doubt, when God actually seconds and blesses his efforts to the salvation of others?
Christian! do understand this matter. Your faith in the atoning cross of Christ, first as a principle, prompts you to good works; and then efforts put forth, not only save souls—but strengthen your faith, intensify your love, and brighten your hopes. Upon this principle, in watering others—we ourselves are refreshed. In this way efforts to dispel darkness from other minds and other lands—scatter cloud's from our own souls. In caring and doing for the happiness of others—we open in our own bosoms a pure fountain that will flow on when the heavens are no more. The best way to sanctify and refine our own hearts and characters—is to go out of ourselves and exert our powers, mortal and immortal, to save others.
It is by forgetting this principle that many pastors fail to improve the piety of their members. They censure, they scold, complain, and lecture; they preach on the great facts, doctrines, and promises of the gospel, and still their membership are comfortless, useless, and lukewarm. And why? Mainly because they are idlers in the vineyard of God. Verily this will never do. The members of our churches must be put to work for Christ, or they will not only not grow in grace—but grow in worldliness until expulsion will be inevitable. Action! action! must be the bannered motto of every church—or its members will remain spiritual dwarfs. Let pastors generally do what the pastors of the German Baptist churches have done: find for each member a post of activity, and keep them at it, and then the needed reformation will commence.
5.Another means of spiritual improvement, is constant attention to the details of piety. The world's history shows that all men who have been eminent for success in any department of life, have been men of painstaking detail. How do men ordinarily become wealthy? By prudence and economy in little things. Pounds are gained by saving the pence. How do men become learned? Not by one magic, mental effort—but by toiling on through years, doing a million of little mental drudgeries. What was one of the great secrets of that power by which Napoleon conquered all Europe? It was his power of detail. While his plans were vast, accurate, and daring, the part that every marshal, legion, captain, and company was to act—was so arranged as to subserve to victory.
So with the Apostle Paul, the greatest and most successful man for good that God has ever made. His principles, plans, and efforts, were world-wide. He did more for the world's conversion than any man that has lived; and yet in all his sermons and epistles, in all his efforts to save himself and others, there was a ceaseless circumstantial attention to every character, every need, and every duty.
So, too, with the Son of God while on earth. The beauty, glory, and efficacy of His character, consist in His having done great things occasionally, and attended constantly to the little incidents and duties of life. While the Redeemer now and then raised the dead, cast out devils, stilled the sea—at the same time, the most painstaking pastor never equaled Him in filling up and adorning the small occasions and details of life.
And how is a great, beautiful, symmetrical character, such as Washington's, formed? They do not leap suddenly into maturity. Such characters are formed by long years of restraint, watchfulness, prudence, experience, and detailed virtues. Valuable characters are built up like valuable houses; first laying the foundation in principle, then adding virtue to virtue, adjusting principle to duty, supplying wisdom from experience, until it appears in its maturity.
Now all this applies with peculiar force to spiritual growth. In piety, advances in general are made, by advances in particular. We can only attain piety in the aggregate by acquiring its details. We do not reach spiritual manhood by serving God in great things, on great occasions. We do not become Christlike by being baptized, attending revivals, resisting great temptations, and performing great duties. The process by which our pious characters improve is the same as that by which they deteriorate—little by little, step by step. One might as well attempt to read without attending to the combination of letters and the formation of syllables, as to learn the art of holiness without cultivating the individual graces and duties of which holiness consists. "For as words are the result of letters and syllables properly combined, so holiness is but the aggregate of individual graces harmoniously blended."
Do you wish your spiritual garden to flourish, bloom with beauty, and yield fruit? Be often in it, rooting up the noxious weeds of sin, and watching and watering the flowers of each grace. Dig about, fertilize, prune, prop, and water with care the vine of each virtue, and you will attain to great Christian excellence. Is your faith growing weak? Make it a point to have it increased by prayer to God and meditation on His word. Have you declined in love to Christ? Rest not until it is kindled into a flame again, by thinking of His love to you. Have you fallen into the habit of reading and hearing the truth of God formally and coldly? Make no truce with your conscience until this heart-hardening and Spirit-grieving habit is broken, and the word of God is read and heard attentively, solemnly, and experimentally.
Is some besetting sin gaining the mastery over you? Make it your business to strive, watch, and pray against that sin until it is overcome. Are you deficient in Christian meekness, gentleness, and forbearance? Study the character of the adorable Savior, until in these respects you have imbibed His spirit and copied His example. Have ill feelings found a place in your heart towards someone? Be self-accuser until those feelings are dislodged from your bosom, and you have forgiven him. Do your thoughts wander in prayer? "Watch unto prayer," hold them to their duty by the curbing power of the will, until you acquire the difficult, yet indispensable habit of having your thoughts and feelings correspond with, and prompt your words in prayer.
In fine, by comparing yourself with scriptural precepts and examples, aim to find out all your defects in principle and in practice. And then, in God's strength and for God's glory, make the correction in every case. In this way you will grow, though slowly yet steadily, not disproportionately—but symmetrically and essentially.
By patient effort, make it the business of your life to overcome and abandon individual sins, and to acquire individual graces. "Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity." Now bring your diligence and prayers to bear on the correction of an evil habit—now to chasten an evil temper; then to uproot a false principle and establish a true one. Today marshal the soul's forces, and implore divine help to meet an affliction with patience; and tomorrow to bear wrongs with meekness and losses with resignation. Search the Scriptures with care, resist temptations with firmness, enjoy the blessings of life with moderation, examine the heart with scrutiny, and discharge all the little duties of life with diligence, and by so doing you will grow in piety rapidly, harmoniously, and beautifully.
6. Another most important means of pious improvement is WATCHFULNESS.Within us and around us are thousands of influences adverse and fatal to pious growth. Of all plants ever grown, the 'plant of grace' requires the most care and watchfulness. Its enemies infest the earth and the air. Hence he who would advance in piety must constantly keep his eyes and ears open. He must, daily look within and around fixedly. He must tread along the narrow way with a cautious step, examining every doubtful thing by the standard of the Word. How often are we overcome by the tempter—from prayerless inattention! How vigilant must we be, what haste must we make, how early and prompt must we be in all our plans and undertakings to overcome the great enemy of our souls!
The command, "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation," which Christ delivered in the gloomy garden of Gethsemane, should be heeded and obeyed by all who would be holy. Watch the first approaches of Satan and the occasions of his temptations. Every victory be gains over you increases his power, and diminishes your strength to resist him. Watch the motions and suggestions of the Spirit—or you may fail to secure his heavenly helps. Watch for opportunities for doing good—they invigorate the Christian graces. Watch the indications of divine providence. When these are observed, they increase one's faith and school him for usefulness and heaven.
Watch the heart, for "out of it are the issues of life." As is the heart, so will be the life and conduct. The character is the embodiment of the feelings and sentiments of the heart, be they right or wrong. There can be no growth in grace unless an attentive, scrutinizing eye is kept upon the movements of the heart. Hence, watch against evil thoughts; they, when indulged in, diffuse the chills of death through the soul and can no more comport with spiritual vigor than paralysis can comport with bodily activity.
Watch against the risings of pride and ambition. By these angels fell. They must be suppressed, or all hope renounced of reaching the shining height. Watch against anger, malice, and revenge. These repel from the bosom the blessed Sanctifier, and open the soul to the devil, with his black train of guilt and woe. Watch against all rising of selfishness. This is the grand root of all sin. Unchecked, it will root all piety out of the soul, and cause it to disappear from the conduct. Watch against impure imaginations. These pollute the soul, and render it averse to all pious duties.
Guard also most vigilantly your habits. Watch against habits of sloth. This evil will cut the sinews of our spirituality, and bind us down to earth. Watch, for the devil is watching to tempt and ruin you. The redeemed on earth and in heaven, God the Judge of all the earth, and Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant—are watching with intense solicitude your struggles after holiness.
7. In order to reach a high grade of piety you must live by SYSTEM.No man ever succeeded in anything important without system and organization. In all God's works there is perfect order. One reason why some Christians make such meager attainments in piety, is that they live at random. Like a ship on the ocean, without chart, compass, or destination—they are driven about by every wind of doctrine, and every wave of influence. The Christian of rule and principle, like the ship governed by its chart and compass, with a bold front and swelling canvas, moves along the voyage of life safely, to the haven of eternal repose.
One great governing principle of the disciple of Christ should be, that his piety must be first—first in order of time, and first in importance; everywhere and under all circumstances; that every other interest is to be secondary to the service of Christ; that if time falls short, the duties of the body and time are to yield to those of the soul and eternity. Living by this great rule, will simplify the life and give all its concerns a pious tendency. By adopting this principle, one will be guided in every perplexity and uncertainty; know what he should pursue and what he should shun. Let me first know that a Christian has committed himself to this high gospel principle, and I will tell, with prophetical certainty, what he will do in every emergency. He will have time for piety. He will rise early, redeem the time, and be regular in his habits of devotion. He will be regular in his habits of studying the word of God, and in his attendance in the house of prayer. He will be "diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." He will have a mind and time to work for the Lord. He will be the staunch friend of Sunday-Schools and revivals. In every issue between the powers of darkness and light, he will be on the side of light—diligently and boldly vindicating the truth.
We would then lay an emphasis on system, as a means of pious growth. All who have attained eminence in piety—had a place for every duty—and a duty for every place. How did Baxter write so many books, preach so many sermons, and visit so constantly a large congregation? By systematic industry. So, only have a time and place for all your duties, pious and worldly, and be prompt in discharging them; only determine to meet in their order the claims of God, your neighbor, and your soul—and you will have made rapid progress in correcting irreligious, and in forming pious habits.
8. There can be no permanent pious improvement without PERSEVERANCE.From the nature of the case there must be retrogression—or a perpetual lifelong warfare. Piety is not like a piece of carpentry, that we may suspend for a while, and then return and resume it at the same stage of forwardness. But piety is like a voyage up a rapid stream—the moment we cease to ply the oar we are driven backward. In piety, not to proceed, is to draw back. It was a maxim of one of the mightiest of the ancient generals, to regard "nothing done, while there remained anything more to do." By acting on this motto, Caesar subjugated the known world. Amid all who shine in the annals of redemption, none have copied so nearly the example of his Master, as the Apostle Paul. No other Christian has made such high attainments in piety; and one of the great secrets of his spiritual eminence, was his being governed in serving Christ by the same motto that Caesar was in war. The means by which be reached his high standard of holiness he gives in these beautiful words "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark four the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
Up to the time he wrote these words, he had done more to save the world than all other men. He had surpassed all others in personal piety; yet all this be deemed unworthy of recollection—but pressed on to still greater attainments in grace and usefulness.
In no other way, and upon no easier terms, can we reach the scriptural standard of piety. Half-hearted, sluggish exertions will never avail. Some sick people may get well without taking medicine. Some soils will produce crops without cultivation. Now and then a man gets a fortune without industry. But since the fall of Adam no one has ever become holy without perpetual vigilance, perpetual prayerfulness, perpetual reference to the will of God—without perpetual self-restraint and attention to the eye of Him who sees in secret.
All Scripture and experience go to show that in order to attain holiness, one must covet and pursue it more than riches, honors, and pleasures—and be willing to forego everything for it. The mighty care must be fixed upon the heart from morning until night—swallow up everything else, and lead to ceaseless diligence. It must be the firmest purpose of the soul—that sin shall not have the dominion over us. And if overcome by it, we must renew the conflict with increased prayerfulness and vigor, until we are victorious. Thirty years employed in mortifying a bad passion, and correcting a bad habit, should not be regretted.
9. In summary, there must be earnest attention on all the means of grace. Other good books must not be read less—but the Scriptures more frequently and solemnly. Nothing must prevent us from repairing daily to our closets, where we must get down at the feet of our God and agonize and wrestle until He grants us a greater measure of His Spirit's influences. While at our daily business we must form the habit of breathing forth, at intervals, ejaculatory prayer. Such petitions, with the quickness of thought, shoot beyond the stars and bring down grace to help in every time of need. On every Lord's day, unless prevented by pressing necessity, go to the house of God, and while there, listen as for your life. In this way every service and sermon will strengthen in you the principles of grace. allow nothing to keep you from the meetings for prayer and bible study, that would not keep you from the bed of a dying child. Such meetings, when regularly attended, will contribute to the formation of your pious character.
Permit no sense of unworthiness to keep you from the stated communions. In the penitential reception of these simple emblems, there is obtained a sight of the sin-pardoning, soul-subduing cross—which is found nowhere else. When you associate with judicious Christian friends, unbosom to them your difficulties and temptations. Their advice and instructions, and the accordance of their experience with your own, will greatly encourage you in the conflict after holiness and heaven. Keep on hand and read daily a portion of such books as Doddridge's Rise and Progress, Baxter's Saints' Rest, and James's Christian Professor. Such books, when attentively read, quicken the conscience, impress the heart, and inform the mind.
Seek the companionship of the pious. Often put the question to yourself: Am I answering the end of my creation? Am I carrying out the end of my redemption? Is the world receiving any benefit from my sojourn in it? Have seasons for deep fixed meditation on God, His character, government, kingdom, and on your obligations to Him. As though the judgment were tomorrow, guard against every sinful thought, word, and action. By anticipation, place yourself frequently before the judgment-seat of Christ, and go over the whole of that tremendous process. Let your thoughts often dart forward to those endless ages which will follow that solemn day.
Cultivate the habit of seeing and adoring God in nature and in providence, as well as in His Word. Read His hand and acknowledge His goodness in the seasons, in the fruitful showers, in the refreshments of sleep, and the pleasure of friendship. Hold communion with God in common things. Let the rich gifts of nature remind you of their Giver. In this way the ordinary mercies, scenes, and events around you will become mighty helps and incentives to pious growth. By thus attending to the means of grace—they will become channels of grace to the soul.