Christian Progress

John Angell James, 1853

NATURE of Christian Progress

What is it to make progress in godliness? Progress is not only 'mere action', but a moving forward. A door turning upon its hinges is in a state of motion, but it never advances. A chariot moving upon wheels is not only in action, but goes onward. The conduct of some people in religion resembles the former—there is action but no advancement—they move, but it is on hinges, not on wheels. They go through, perhaps, even with regularity, the exercises of devotion, both public and private. They may be mechanically exact and punctual, still they do not go forward. There are two ways of setting forth the nature of Christian progress–

1. The RETENTION and manifestation of piety in various situations. By representing the young convert retaining his first views, feelings, and conduct with consistency after his profession has been made, and then carrying them with him into future life and all its various conditions, scenes, duties, and relations. Life itself is progressive and ever-changing. Imagine the case of a youth who receives his first religious impressions and assumes a religious character while at home with his parents. To prepare for future life, he leaves his father's house either as an apprentice or a shopman. In too many cases, a change of scene produces a change of character, and religion, under the influence of the unfavorable circumstances in which he may now be placed, or by the power of temptation, declines—if it is not altogether abandoned. But in the case I am supposing, the youth holds fast his integrity, and amid irreligious and scoffing companions, maintains his steadfastness and consistency. He bears opposition and insult with firmness, fortitude, and meekness. Here is progress. There may be no great increase of knowledge or of holiness, but what he had has been exposed to hard trials and has surmounted them, and this itself is growth, and great growth too.

So of a daughter who remains at home—her profession may have been assumed when very young, before her heart was susceptible of the corrupting influence of the world. The time arrives when the child passes into the girl and the girl into the young woman. In this transition, when she feels the desire of companionship, when her society is courted, and she is invited to parties and amusements—we often see sad instances of declension. Seriousness is gone, and little else than a mere profession is left. But in the case of real progress, the purpose to serve the Lord is unmoved, the resolve to come out from the world and be separate is unshaken. There is the same earnestness, seriousness, and decision as ever. Company, flattery, peer-pressure, produce no alteration of conduct or character. There is a solicitude not how near she can come to the world and yet not be of it; but how far she may recede from it—without affected singularity, unnecessary precision, or a violation of the courtesies of life. She is the same simple-minded Christian, the same decided follower of the Lamb, amid the development of womanhood, as she was in her teens. This is progress, great progress. To retain her first love amid this change of circumstances is advance, because it has been put to a new test, and has honorably passed the ordeal.

A similar remark may be made in reference to the influence of our religion on the different relations of life. When young people, who have parents living, are converted to God—it is of course their duty to let their religion influence them as children. True religion does not only make us better towards God—but better towards man! And he who is really made better towards God—will infallibly be made better towards man! If we are not improved in our conduct towards our fellow-creatures—there is a moral certainty we are not improved towards our Creator! There is progress when the great change is proved—by people being made better husbands or wives; better parents or children; better masters or servants. It is a beautiful growth of godliness, when social excellence and all its blessed fruits are seen springing out of the stem of piety. Oh, to see the prodigal son brought back by true religion to his father's arms and home; or the unkind husband won back by his piety, to the woman whom he had oppressed and insulted; or the faithless servant, like Onesimus, reclaimed by his conversion from dishonesty and injustice. Show me the professing Christian whose social character is as unlovely after profession as it was before, and though there may be an increase of knowledge and of some other things connected with religion—there is no progress.

Then, when the youth arrives at manhood, and carries his true religion with him also into business, and amid all its cares, temptations, and perplexities, holds fast his personal godliness, and unites the Christian tradesman with the Christian professor, letting his light so shine before men that they, seeing his good works, glorify God, there is progress! For alas, alas, how many who while in the capacity of a servant maintain a conscience void of offence both towards God and man, and keep up a regard to the one thing needful—lose nearly all the power of religion either as a principle or a taste, when plunged into the anxieties and snares of trade.

Have not many women, who, while young and unmarried, and unencumbered with domestic cares, were earnest in piety—become careless, lukewarm, and indifferent, when surrounded with the scenes and occupied with the solicitudes of a wife, a mother, and a keeper of the home? This, however, is not always the case, as our biography of godly women can amply testify. It is a beautiful sight to behold the young wife and mother retaining her attention to true religion in all its earnestness and spirituality—and thus qualifying herself for her new situation by all the power of that godliness which she gained in single life. Here is eminent progress.

Also, what VICISSITUDES affect us in this world! Some are raised to PROSPERITY from low circumstances, and lose their religion little by little in the ascension—until it is all gone by the time they reach the summit! Rarely has it happened that men have not been the worse for prosperity; rarer still that they have been the better for it. What an advance in godliness has he made, who retains his decision, his earnestness, his spirituality, his humility—amid the rising tide of wealth, and who is the same man in spirit after his success, as he was before it.

And so with ADVERSITY, to bear it with meek submission to the will of God; to endure chastisement with all patience and joyfulness; to appear cheerful amid surrounding gloom; hopeful amid desponding circumstances; happy in God when there is nothing else to make us happy! He who does this has indeed made great advances in the divine life.

But perhaps what we have hitherto considered does not so completely bring out the idea of progress as another method of representation, since it is rather the progress of the Christian with religion—than in it; the retention and manifestation of piety in various situations—rather than the increase of piety itself. Still it is a necessary and most important part of the subject. We now therefore take up this latter view of the subject.

2. The INCREASE of piety itself. There ought to be a growth in everything that constitutes personal godliness. And as all true religion is based on KNOWLEDGE, there should be an increase of this. Defects here, as we have already shown, were the occasion of the apostle's rebuke to the Hebrews. The increase of knowledge was much in the apostle's prayers for the churches. Ephes. 1:17-23, 3:18-19; Philip. 1:9; Col. 1:9. In all these passages, to which it is hoped you will turn, you will see how earnest Paul was that his converts should advance in knowledge. Apart from, or without this, there can be but slow advances in anything else. This is clear from the apostle's exhortation, "Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Thus you see growth in grace and growth in knowledge are inseparably connected. Light is essentially necessary to natural vegetation; so it is to that which is spiritual. Young converts are sometimes so taken up with religious feeling and doing, as to forget the importance even in reference to these, of knowing. By a growth in knowledge then, we mean an increasing understanding of the contents of the Word of God, and of their true meaning—a real advance in acquaintance with biblical truth. Not only an acquaintance with systems of religious opinion, but with the design and meaning of the books, and chapters, and texts of Scripture—an ever-growing disposition and ability to read the Sacred Word with intelligence, discrimination, and self-application.

There are three or four matters which may be considered the very substance of the Bible, and with which every Christian should make himself as familiar as his time and circumstances will allow. The Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, as God-man, Mediator; or "God in Christ reconciling the world to himself," is the grand theme of the Bible. It was dimly shadowed forth under the Old Testament, and is clearly revealed in the New. Christ is the alpha and omega of Revelation. You cannot understand the Bible if you are ignorant of this. The true and proper DIVINITY of Christ's person is the cornerstone of Christian doctrine. Compare Psalm 102:25-27, with Heb. 1:10; Psalm 45:6, with Heb. 1:8; Isaiah 6. with John 12:37-41; Isaiah 45:23, 24, with Rom. 14:9-11. Read, also, Matt. 18:20; John 1:1, 10-14; 8:56-58; 10:30; 14:8-10; 17:5; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Philip. 2:5-11; Col. 1:16; 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1; 1 John 5:20; Rev. 1. These are only a portion of the Scriptures that testify the true and proper divinity of our Lord. Do give yourselves time and leisure to turn to them, to study them, to treasure them up in your mind.

But it is Christ as MEDIATOR, also you are to consider, uniting in a way we cannot comprehend, the divine and human nature in his one glorious person. As Mediator he died in the sinner's stead as his substitute, and by his death upon the cross made an atonement for the sinner's transgressions. How clearly, how gloriously, how unanswerably does the doctrine of atonement shine forth in that wonderful passage, Rom. 3:24-26. There, atonement is declared to be the very end of Christ's incarnation and death. Three times, in the compass of two verses, is it declared, that the demonstration of God's justice is the end of Christ's sufferings unto death. The whole gospel scheme is a manifestation of mercy, in a way of righteousness. In redemption God shows love to us in a way that eclipses neither the glory of his character, his laws, nor his government. Understand well the design of Christ's death, of that mysterious economy of a vicarious sacrifice—that it was to harmonize the salvation of the sinner with the honor of God—and this could only be done by an atonement.

At the same time understand well the doctrine of ATONEMENT. This means that Jesus Christ having died in the place and stead of guilty man, it is for the sake and out of regard to his death as the meritorious consideration, that God pardons the sinner, and by which scheme of Divine wisdom and mercy, the same purpose in regard to justice and to the maintenance of the principles of moral government will be accomplished, as the punishment of the sinner would have done. And it is in this view that we see the connection between the divinity of Christ and the doctrine of atonement. The sacrifice of one who was a mere man, or a creature however highly exalted, could not be as clear a display of God's public justice as the punishment of the whole multitude of pardoned sinners would have been. There required a sacrifice of a very peculiar nature. Here we have it, in Christ. He was truly and properly man, that he might suffer and die, which God could not do; he was God, and thus the sufferings of the manhood acquired from his divinity a character of infinite merit and worth. For a proof of this doctrine we refer you to Isaiah 53. To the whole Levitical law, as compared with the epistle to the Hebrews, especially to Leviticus 16, compared with Heb. 9, 10. Read also Matt. 20:28; Rom. 5:9 to end; 1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 1:18, 20; 2"24; 1 John, 4:10; Rev. 1:5. These Scriptures are only a few of what might be selected to set forth the doctrine of the atonement; a doctrine not only momentous as an article of faith, but infinitely precious as a basis of hope.

Another subject which it is immensely important for a young Christian to understand is God's method of bestowing the blessings of salvation upon the sinner—that is, the doctrine of JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH. Who are the people that will receive salvation, and what is the way in which they receive it? This has been plainly set forth in the former treatise—mean "The Anxious Inquirer after Salvation, Directed and Encouraged." By the doctrine of justification by faith, we mean, that when a sinner is convinced of his transgression, is truly penitent, and believes in the testimony of the gospel that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life," he is pardoned, received to the Divine favor, and entitled to eternal life—not on account of his own sentiments, feelings, actions, or anything of his own—but entirely for the sake of the blood and righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ, which are in such sense imputed to him, that he receives the full benefit of them, as if they were his own!

Justification by faith is the answer to that momentous question, "How shall man be just with God?" And the reply is, not by works of his own, but by faith in the work of another, that is Christ. He must have a righteousness in which to stand before a righteous and holy, as well as a merciful, God. He has no such righteousness of his own. "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness unto him who believes." "He is made unto him righteousness." This is justification—the same in substance as pardon—with this difference—that the word pardon simply expresses only the blessing we receive, while the word justification includes the idea of the way in which it comes to us—that is, by righteousness. There is also this difference, justification signifies our entrance upon the state of pardon or adoption, and can take place but once—pardon may be often repeated towards one who is in this condition of acceptance.

It is of much consequence to a right understanding of divine truth, and to the proper growth in knowledge and in grace, to observe and ever maintain the distinction between justification and sanctification. The fall brought in two evils upon man—guilt upon his conscience, whereby he lost God's favor, became loathsome in his sight, and subject to his wrath! The fall also brought depravity into his nature, whereby he lost God's image, and became earthly, sensual, and devilish. To be restored to bliss, in other words to be saved, he needs to have his guilt pardoned, and his nature renewed. This is provided for in the gospel scheme of redemption. By the blood and righteousness of Christ, our sins are pardoned; and by the work of the Holy Spirit our hearts are renewed, our nature changed, and our lives sanctified. The work of the Spirit begins in regeneration, and is carried on in progressive sanctification.

The difference, therefore, between justification and sanctification is very great and obvious, and must ever be maintained in our views. Justification is the work of Christ for us; sanctification the work of the Spirit in us—justification is perfect at once; sanctification is progressive—justification is before sanctification, and sanctification is the fruit of justification. Consequently the evidence of our justification is in our sanctification. All the first joy and peace of the sinner must come to him by justification—but his peace, joy, and bliss as a pardoned believer must flow in great measure from his sanctification. Justification is in order to sanctification, rather than sanctification in order to justification. These remarks may seem to some to be mere theological technicalities. But they are not so. They enter into the very vitalities of personal godliness. For the study of the doctrine of justification—and it ought to be a subject of study, deep study, and progressive understanding, the following portions of Scripture should be devoutly perused– Isaiah 43; Jer. 33:15, 16; Rom. 3, 4, 5, 10; 1 Cor. 1:30, 31; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 2, 3, 4; Phil. 3.

These are the chief matters to be investigated in perusing the Word of God. Not that the attention is to be exclusively confined to these subjects. Nothing in the Bible is unworthy the attention of a Christian. The ancient and interesting histories of the books of Moses, and the subsequent chronicles of the Jewish nation; the lofty devotions of the Psalmist; the Proverbs of Solomon; and the sublime and beautiful books of the Prophets—should also be studied; for "all Scripture," and this expression refers to the Old Testament, "is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."

It is not only, however, in the doctrinal or historical parts of the Word of God that the young Christian is to increase his knowledge. In Scripture, there is no knowledge which is purely academic—all, all is practical. Every part is "a doctrine according to godliness." It is declared in the passage just quoted, to be the design of the Bible, "that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." Truth is but a means to an end, and that end is holiness. Every one of us ought to study our Bibles with that prayer upon our lips, "Sanctify me by your truth; your word is truth." We should grow in our knowledge of the character of God, that we may resemble it. We should grow in the understanding of the law, that we might be conformed to it. We should grow in the understanding of the example of Jesus, that we might be more like him. There should be a conviction that we are not yet as perfect in what we should be. A desire to know merely to know, is curiosity; but a desire to know in order to do, is sanctity.

There ought, then, to be progress in knowledge. No Christian should be satisfied with mere rudimentary understanding of Scriptural truths. And yet the great bulk seek for nothing more. It is really humiliating and painful to preachers to find how little, in the way of imparting knowledge, is effected by all their sermons. No students seem satisfied with so little increase of ideas—as those who profess to be in the school of Christ. Usefulness, happiness, and true piety are thus hindered. And not only so, but true religion itself is stunted and starved, and its luster diminished. And even they who do read and think, peruse only, or chiefly—the works of men. Never was there an age when Bibles were more widely circulated, and never an age when they were less read! Magazines, periodicals, and books of all kinds have come in upon us like a flood, which in many cases has almost swept away the Bible. After all, it is Bible truth from its own source that is the 'concentrated nutriment' of the divine life; and it will be found that they are usually the strongest, healthiest, and most rapidly growing of the children of God, who live most upon the sincere, that is, the pure and "unadulterated" milk of the Word of God. The works of men are very useful in their place when they lead us to the Word of God; but too many people allow themselves to be kept away by them, from the fountains of pure truth. For the growth of the church of God generally, it needs to be led back more to the sacred Scriptures!

Decision of character must be strengthened. At first many a true Christian is a little hesitating and halting. His opinions are fluctuating. His purposes are irresolute. His steps are faltering. He is timid—afraid of the laughter of some, and the frowns of others. He is fearful of being made the subject of embarrassing remarks, and especially of critical and cynical remarks. He cannot encounter reproach bravely. He is not yet bold enough to say, "Laugh on! None of these things move me! My mind is made up!"

Sometimes he is too careful of his worldly interests. He is a little too flexible and compliant. He makes concessions which 'consistency of principle' forbids. Friendships have too much power over him. He has not acquired grace yet to assert manfully his independence. Hence he is in great danger. This state of mind is perilous in the extreme. If he does not grow out of it, it will grow upon him. He is likely to draw back, and to give up all.

See, then, the importance of his immediately seeking to grow in firmness, resoluteness, determinateness. This was the first thing which the apostle enjoined next to belief—"Add to your faith virtue," or as the word signifies, "courage," courage to assert and maintain your principles before all observation, and against all opposition. Put on at once the courage of a hero, and the steadfastness of a martyr. Prove that piety is itself the most heroic spirit in the world. Acquire more and more of the courage which dares to be singular in holiness. Be more insensible to the world's favor, frown, or smile. True religion does not encourage or foster a haughty spirit of independence or a total disregard of the world's opinion—but it does teach us so to respect the testimony of the Bible and the dictates of conscience, so as to disregard all censures or remarks that are opposite to these. The tree in its growth strikes its roots deeper and deeper into the earth, and thus strengthens the hold it has upon the soil—so that it is far less likely to be blown down by the raging winds. In like manner let your conviction strike deeper and deeper into the truth, so as that you shall not be thrown down by the conflicting opinions or the stormy passions of men!

FAITH is susceptible to growth. It was the prayer of the apostles, "Lord, increase our faith!" And we read continually in the Bible of "strong" and "weak faith." Faith may be considered either as general, or believing the whole word of God, which is the faith spoken of in the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews; or particular, as having respect to the person and work of Christ. As regards the former, there is ample room in most minds for growth. Difficulties, after the first impressions and convictions are over, soon arise and present themselves to the young and inexperienced Christian, and often multiply in his path. He is perplexed and knows not how to get rid of them. He is sometimes staggered. His mind is uncomfortable. Now, it is obviously his duty and equally his privilege to put aside these obstacles. Of course he should pray for divine grace, and, in the language already quoted, should say, "Lord, increase my faith." But this is not all he should do. He should read as well as pray. His mind should grow in acquaintance with the evidence of divine revelation. He should ponder upon the miracles of Christ and his apostles—the accomplishment of prophecy in the person and work of the Savior—the success of the gospel in its first ages by fishermen, not only without, but against, the powers of the earth—the sublime doctrine and pure morality of the Bible, the lofty views it gives of God, and its correct representations of human nature, the power it has in not only changing the society, but doing this by the renovation of the individual man—the miserable condition of humanity beyond the range and influence of Christianity, showing the need men have of a Scriptural revelation.

Now all these should become the subject of deep thought and reflection, by which the opposing difficulties will appear light and little. Such studies are too much neglected by many people, who are contented to take their religion upon trust—or to go on their way perplexed by the flippant cavils of infidelity which are so common in this age of skepticism and unbelief. True it is, that their own conversion ever will be the strongest evidence of the truth of revelation to the great mass of the people; yet an acquaintance with the historic proofs of Christianity, will be of great service, and yield great pleasure in their religious course.

But there must be a deep solicitude to grow in that special faith which has direct reference to the Savior and his work. Christ is the chief object proposed to the sinner in the New Testament. The eye that sweeps round the whole circle of divine truth must rest in him as the center. Faith is confidence, and confidence may be weak, partial, and wavering; or it may be undivided, firm, and settled. The young Christian, though convinced that Christ is the only ground of hope and the only source of salvation, though upon the whole resting upon him and expecting all things from him, is not yet brought, perhaps—to that full and entire turning away from everything else, and that full and entire resting on the Lord Jesus which an intelligent and strong faith requires. He looks much to his frames and feelings, and his various experiences; as a consequence, his peace rises and falls on this thermometer. A little more freedom in prayer, or enjoyment under a sermon, or elasticity of feeling in his ordinary course, raises him to the mount; while a little less sinks him to the valley. His opinion of his state is as variable as his emotions, and to a considerable extent is decided by them. Thus, his course is an alternation of gloom and gladness.

What does all this indicate—but that the eye is not upon Christ but upon self? What does it prove—but that faith in Jesus is weak and wavering? That the mind does not yet see so clearly his finished work as the ground of hope and source of joy as it should do? The soul is not yet weaned from self-righteousness, but is almost unconsciously to itself, going about "to establish its own righteousness," if not of works, yet of feelings. Now faith will as certainly take us off from dependence upon the latter as upon the former.

Nor is this all, for the weak believer is looking about to many other things for strength and holiness, instead of Jesus. It does not yet see so clearly as it should do, that "He is made of God unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." 1 Cor. 1:31. Friends, ordinances, self-imposed rules of conduct, are all appealed to with this petition, "help me." And in proper measure and season, it is quite right to use these helps; but not to the neglect of faith in Jesus.

A Christian who has grown in faith has risen above this, and is enabled to say, and to rejoice as he says it, "I now see that all fullness of blessing is in Christ, and that it is from that fullness I am to receive, and grace for grace. I am now weaned from self, and am no longer looking to it for anything but conviction and condemnation—but am looking wholly and always to Jesus. My justification, sanctification, consolation, stability, and perseverance, are all from him, just as all the sap which supports the life and promotes the fruitfulness of the branch is derived from its vital union with the tree. Being safely built upon him as my foundation, I mingle nothing with his work, and find continual matter of rejoicing. Whatever view I take of his person and work, whether I think of his divinity or perfect humanity; his atonement, intercession, or example—comfort presents itself. Grace has made me willing to live out of myself, upon the fullness of Jesus. In him I have what I want, all I want."

This is strong faith, and what an advance from that feeble, fluctuating confidence which marked the first stages of religious experience. This is true evangelical confidence, to look for joy, holiness, strength; and to look for all from Christ. Then is faith settled and strong when we are brought to say, "For me to live is Christ," or as it might be rendered, Christ is my life.

HOLINESS is an essential part, yes, the very essence, of personal godliness. This was the image of God in the soul of man at his creation, which man lost by the fall, and which it is the design of the work of redemption to restore. Gen. 1:26-27, compared with Ephes. 4:22-24. Are we predestinated, it is that we might be holy. Ephes. 1:4. Are we called, it is with a "holy calling." 1 Thes. 4:7; 2 Tim. 1:9. Are we justified freely by God's grace, it is that we might be holy. Titus 3:7-8. Are we afflicted, it is that we might be partakers of God's holiness. Heb. 12:10. The whole work of Christ has its end in holiness. He "loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." Ephes. 5:26-27; Titus 2:11-14.

It is a very low and unworthy idea of the design of Christ's death, to conceive of it as only intended to save men from hell. His gracious purpose, in addition to this, was to make them sons of God, and bright and glorious resemblances of their divine Parent. Holiness was the bliss of Paradise before Adam fell—holiness will constitute the bliss of heaven. All the inhabitants of glory are holy; all its occupations are holy; all its influence is holy. Hence the indispensable necessity of holiness in the Christian character, and the growth of holiness in the Christian life.

But what is holiness? The purification of the heart by the Spirit of God from the love of sin—and the life from the practice of it. But this is only a negative view of it, there is also a positive one. Holiness is the love of God, for his own sake; and the love of man, for God's sake. It is the separation of the soul from the works of the flesh—and the substitution in their place of the fruits of the Spirit. Gal. 5:19-26. It is that blessed work by which the wilderness of an unrenewed heart, where grow the briar and the bramble, the thorn and the nettle—is changed into the garden of the Lord, which bears the fruits of righteousness. Isaiah 55:13.

It is obvious that this is susceptible of all degrees, and therefore of continued increase. One man may be holier than another, and the same man may be holier at one time than another. Take, for example, any one single lust either of the flesh or of the mind; any one besetting sin—the gradual mortification of that is a growth in grace. If a man has less pride, or covetousness, or malice, or impurity of imagination, than he had at one time—and more of the opposite disposition, there is progress. Now, there is great need to say to the recent convert, "Follow after holiness," for he is so likely to be taken up with the joy of pardon and the peace of faith as somewhat to forget the necessity of sanctification. At first his views of sin are both defective and superficial. Many things in practice are wrong which he does not at first think to be so; and of the depravity of his heart be has very faint notions at all; while also he sees but little of the exceeding sinfulness of sin in general. He must therefore, seek to increase in the love of God, the hatred of all sin, and the entire consecration of his heart and life to the service of God.

While God is calling to him out of heaven, and saying, "Be holy, for I am holy," he must reply by sincere and earnest prayer, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean—wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me." Psalm 51:7, 10. Be not satisfied then, without a growth in holiness of which you shall yourself possess the most entire consciousness, and which shall be equally evident to others. Holiness is happiness, and the more you have of the former the more you will undoubtedly enjoy of the later. Enter more and more fully into the bliss of finding the life of God in the soul continually increasing in vigor and in operation.

It is a sign of growth in holiness when the mind is not only more enlightened in the nature, evil, and existence of sin in general; but when we become more aware of little sins which did not formerly strike us; when the eye of the mind is more 'microscopic', and can detect sins which we formerly did not see, and especially when we are more affected by them. When also we are more solicitous to find out such unknown sins; when we search for them ourselves, taking the candle of the Lord, and going down into the depths of our own heart to bring to light what we did not before discover, and when not being satisfied with our own searching, we carry the matter to God, and in the language of David pray thus, "Search me, O God, and know my thoughts; try me, and know my ways; and see if there be any wicked way in me." When we are afraid of committing little sins—sins of ignorance, sins of omission, and of carelessness; when the soul is so anxious to be holy as that it would not have even secret faults kept within it; when the conscience, like the pupil of the eye, becomes so tender that it cannot bear the slightest touch—this, this is growth in holiness. Blessed is that soul which is thus assimilating more and more closely to the image of God.

Spirituality of mind and heavenliness of affection are essential elements in true piety—"to be spiritually-minded is life and peace." And it is also the state and character of the Christian to live with his thoughts, affections, and aspirations—all centering in God and heaven. How strong an expression is that of the apostle, and how little is it known by the generality of professors, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." Col. 3:1-3. Pause, reader, and ponder upon this impressive language. This is the mind of a real Christian. This is the experience of a child of God. It is to this that renewing grace is designed to bring us. What do you know of this spiritual renovation, this strange mixture of death and life in the same soul; this holy paradox? Ah, what?

Know and understand that vital piety is something more than an abstinence from crimes, vices, and external sins; yes, and something more than the practice of the conventional virtues of the world—and also of the church. It is a spiritual, heavenly mind—an unearthly disposition. The thoughts and affections, by a holy spontaneity, rise up and flow to God, like the ebullition of a spring, without external force or instrumentality. Divine things possess an attraction which of themselves draw the soul towards them. There is no necessity for sermons, or books, or places, or occasions—to engage the mind and heart that way. There is an inward taste which, like any other taste—is itself a predisposition for them. The soul, of its own accord, self-moved, self-drawn, goes to Christ, to God, to heaven. This is growing in grace, and increasing with all the increase of God. This is walking more and more by faith—when spiritual, divine, invisible objects acquire a greater power over the soul—when there needs but the slightest touch to set the mind in spiritual motion, and the Christian feels increasingly that his element is devotion, and his native air the atmosphere of piety.

The Christian Temper is one great part of true religion—and by this, as distinguished from what has gone before, I mean the passive virtues and amiable affections of the heart; or what is called "the meekness and gentleness of Christ." Or to refer to another term so often employed by the apostle, I mean the LOVE so beautifully described in the thirteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians. It is of immense importance that everyone beginning the divine life should study both that chapter and our Lord's sermon upon the mount. These portions of Holy Writ fully and intentionally describe and set forth the Christian temper. Young professors, and indeed old ones too, sadly forget that LOVE is the very essence of the Christian spirit—it is the very soul of practical religion—a love that represses the strong passions of the heart and the boisterous conduct of the life—a love that makes us cautious against giving offence, and backward to receive it—a love that renders us forbearing and forgiving—a love that produces a calm, even-tempered mind—a love which speaks in soft, kind, and gentle speech—a love that dreads the infliction of pain and covets the communication of happiness.

"O divine and heavenly love—offspring of that glorious Being of whom it is said, 'God Is Love'—you of whom the Lord Jesus Christ was but an impersonation and embodiment; you that are another name for the gospel, and the very end and fullness of the law; you benevolent and gentle spirit, how little is your nature understood and your claims admitted, not only in the world—but in the church; when shall your sway be felt by all who profess to bow to your scepter—but who now withhold from you their allegiance, and exhibit so little of your rule?" How peaceful and amiable; how courteous and affable; how tender and sympathetic; how courteous and obliging—would this love make us to all around. What lovely specimens of Christianized humanity, and what attractive recommendations of it, would this make us! Here, here, is the spirit in which to make progress.

Too many have no idea of the subjection of their temper to the influence of true religion. And yet what is changed if the temper is not; or of what use is any other change? If a man is as angry, malicious, resentful, sullen, moody, or morose, after his supposed conversion as before it—what is he converted from or to? "Let the mind of Jesus be in you," said the apostle—and in another place, "If any man has not the spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." Now, the mind of Jesus was loving, kind, meek, gentle, and forgiving; and unless we have these virtues we have not, cannot have, the mind of Jesus. We must not take up the idea that temper is so constitutional, a thing so unconquerable, that we may as well think to alter the shape and complexion of our body, as to attempt to change the natural temper of the mind. It can be improved—it has been in millions of instances—it must be. We must all of us grow more and more in the "whatever things are LOVELY." We must set out in the Christian career with the determination, through grace, to eradicate the briar and bramble, the thorn and the nettle—those lacerating and stinging shrubs—and to plant in their room the ornamental fir, the odoriferous myrtle, and the fruitful vine.

There is perhaps no sign of growth more decisive, nor anything more desirable in itself, than the union of increasing holiness—with a wider view of Christian liberty. These two are sometimes dissociated, and we see, on the one hand—liberty degenerating into licentiousness; and, on the other hand—righteousness sinking into bondage. The freedom of the one is privilege in opposition to duty; the thraldom of the other is duty to the neglect of privilege. Many an old, but corrupt professor, has abjured the obligations of the moral law, that he might enjoy, as he supposes, "the liberty with which Christ makes his people free," while many a young one has placed himself in spirit under the yoke of the ceremonial code, and brought himself into a slavery repugnant to the free and generous spirit of the gospel. It is as undoubted a fact that "where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty," as that there is holiness. Both passages in the same context are equally true, where it is said, "There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus," but then "they walk not after the flesh but after the spirit." "For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made them free from the law of sin and death." This is in order "that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit." Rom. 8:1-4. How beautifully liberty and holiness are balanced in this passage. And how important is the exhortation of the apostle, "Brethren, you have been called to liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion of the flesh." Gal. 5:13.

By liberty, then, we understand, not only a freedom from the yoke—but also of the spirit, of the ceremonial law—the spirit of a child in opposition to that of a slave. In other words, serving God in a spirit of love, which casts out tormenting fears. Young Christians, who are not yet so enlightened and so settled in what are called the doctrines of grace, or of free justification through the righteousness of Christ—are a long time troubled with a legal spirit. There is a kind of superstitious scrupulousness in little things; things which are prescribed by human authority, or invented by human ingenuity, or borrowed from human examples; but not prescribed by the Word of God. In the early stages of religious experience there is often an unenlightened and sickly tenderness of conscience, an excessive and shrinking sensibility, which not only subjects its possessor to a deprivation of lawful comforts and a large amount of very unnecessary pain—but which also incapacitates him for the vigorous and efficient discharge of duty. A man always hesitating, and fearing, and trembling, lest he has failed to execute in some minute particular the will of God, even when his intentions were the most pure and his efforts the most diligent and faithful, is but ill prepared either to enjoy his privileges as a child of God—or for encountering the various events and changes of the Christian life. He will experience little of that "joy of the Lord, which is our strength," and go on his way in heaviness. He is the last to whom we would look for an illustration of that scripture—"Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing shall offend them."

We should cultivate a filial spirit that shall enable us, amid our numberless imperfections and failings, all of which must be mourned and resisted, still cheerfully to enjoy our Christian privileges, and to persevere in the way of duty, not doubting that we shall be sustained with power from on high to lead a holy life; and that through the grace of God, and the merits of Christ, all our deficiencies and errors will be mercifully forgiven, and we shall find acceptance at the last. I know very well that the tendency of many is, in these days, to extend too widely, rather than to contract too narrowly, the circle of Christian liberty; but in these cases, there is a proportionate diminishing of holiness. The conduct is as little scrupulous in neglecting the weightier matters of the law, as it is in overlooking the lesser matters of human imposition. There cannot be a darker sign for any person than to be forever complaining of the strictness of true religion, and endeavoring to relax the bonds of spiritual obligation under the notion of enjoying Christian liberty.

It is a striking mark of progress in the divine life when we are brought to adopt, in intelligence and good faith, the apostle's rule of conduct for himself—"All things are lawful unto me—but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful for me—but I will not be brought under the power of any." 1 Cor. 6:12. Instead of claiming, as many do, indulgence for acts in themselves unlawful, because they are supposed to be beneficial in their effects, Paul was not content even with the positive lawfulness of actions, unless to this was superadded a manifest tendency to the production of good, setting in no case these two qualities of morality and expediency in opposition to each other, much less making the inferior to overbalance that which is of greater force and value; but refusing to take a step when they did not coincide. He did not resolve, "I will perform those things that are expedient though they be not lawful; but I will not venture even upon lawful actions, if they be not expedient." Here is progress, indeed, when with enlarged views of Christian liberty, there is at the same time an increasing disposition to make that liberty subservient to our own holiness, and also the well-being of others.

Christian activity is essential to Christian consistency. The injunctions to this are so numerous as to be interwoven with the whole texture of Scripture. This is set forth by two very striking metaphors, where Christ told his disciples they were to be "the light of the world," and "the salt of the earth," than which nothing can be more instructive or impressive. They are to illuminate the moral darkness, and purify the corruption by which they are surrounded. It is one end of their conversion, for no man is converted only for himself. Hence said Christ to Peter, "And when you are converted strengthen your brethren." Every truly regenerated person is, and should consider himself, another chosen, appointed, and prepared instrument for the world's conversion. God works by means and instruments, and these are not exclusively confined to the ministers of the gospel. There are many ways in which every real Christian can, without invading the ministerial office, or stepping out of his place, do good to others. This is required by the law, which commands us to love God, for can we love him and not desire that others should do so too? Equally also by that other great commandment, which requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves; for can we really love him and not seek to do him all the good we can? Read the following Scriptures with great care and attention, Matt. 5:42-48; Rom. 10:6-13; 14:7, 9; Gal. 6:6-10; Phil. 2:4, 15, 16, 21; Heb. 13:16; 1 John 4:10, 11.

Young converts should have a clear understanding, a deep conviction, and a very powerful impression of this, that they are called not only to holiness and happiness—but also to usefulness; and should also perceive that no small part of the two first depends upon carrying out the last. Yet they are not always so disposed. They are sometimes so much taken up with the enjoyment of their own personal religion and Christian privileges, as to sit down in luxurious ease and indolently enjoy the happiness to which they are brought. But let them know and remember, that one of the strongest evidences of our own salvation, is a deep concern and a vigorous activity for the salvation of others. Every true believer should begin his religious course with an intelligent purpose to lay himself out for usefulness, according to his abilities, his means, his situation, his resources, and his opportunities. He cannot be a Christian, who, in the spirit of the first murderer, asks, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Benevolence must enter very largely into the constitution of every real Christian. And like every other part of the Christian character, it must be ever growing. He must be useful, and do good as a young man, with even limited means and opportunities. He must first be active in that way to which he is most adapted. Then he must look out for something else; for nothing is so suggestive and inventive as benevolence. His sphere of activity must continually widen, as his experience becomes established, his knowledge increases, his observation extends, and his resources accumulate.

Nothing progresses more rapidly in a heart set upon doing good, than an ability to be useful. They who at first are timid, shy, awkward, in such efforts, soon acquire courage, expertness, and efficiency. It is a sad sight to see the heart contracting, the hand growing slack, and the foot heavy and slow, as the means and opportunity for doing good are multiplied. On the other hand, how beautiful a scene is it to witness the professor becoming more and more both of the Christian and of the philanthropist, as years roll on; until he realizes the description of the Psalmist, where he says, the righteous "shall bring forth fruit in old age, they shall be fat and flourishing." Psalm 92:14.

And what is the crowning grace, the finishing stroke of beauty, and the brightest ray of glory in the Christian character? HUMILITY. "It is this among other things, and high among them too, which distinguishes Christianity from all the wisdom of the world both ancient and modern, not having been taught by the wise men of the Gentiles—but first put into a discipline, and made part of true religion, by our Lord Jesus Christ; and who chiefly proposes himself as our example, by exhibiting in his own perfect character the twin sisters of meekness and humility. Everything—our ignorance, our weakness, our sins, and our follies prescribe to us, that our proper dwelling place is low in the deep valley of humility. We have only to compare our present spiritual condition, I will not say with the holy God, the holy Jesus, or the holy angels—but with holy Adam before his fall, to see how low we have sunk, and how entirely by the fall we have lost all ground and all excuse for pride. We have only to look at human nature in general—all corrupt as it is—or study it in our own selves as its epitome; we have only to look back at what we were before conversion, or to look in and see how imperfect even in our converted state we still are; we have only to consider how strong are our resolutions, and how feeble and broken have been their performance; how many the temptations by which we have been assailed, and with what success against ourselves—to see most abundant cause for humility. You may read for injunctions to this virtue—Prov. 15:33; 18:12-22:4; Mic. 6:8; Luke 14:11; Col. 3:12; 1 Peter 5:5. But all these injunctions and all possible motives to this grace are bound up in the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember that the blessed Savior has done more to prescribe, and transmit, and secure this grace, than any other; his whole life being a great, continued descent from the glorious bosom of his Father, to the womb of a poor maiden; to the form of a servant; to the likeness and miseries of sinful flesh; to a life of labor; to a state of poverty; to a death of malefactors; to the grave of death; and to the intolerable calamities which we deserved; and it were a good design, and yet but reasonable, that we should be as humble in the midst of our greatest imperfections and basest sins, as Christ was in the midst of his fullness of the Spirit, great wisdom, perfect life, and most admirable virtues." (Jeremy Taylor)

The same author has given us the following signs of humility. "If you would try how your soul grows, you shall know that humility, like the root of a goodly tree, is thrust very far into the ground, by these goodly fruits, which appear above ground.

1. The humble man trusts not to his own discretion—but in matters of concernment relies rather upon the judgment of his friends, counselors, or spiritual guides.

2. He does not stubbornly pursue the choice of his own will—but in all things lets God choose for him, and his superiors in those things which concern them.

3. He does not murmur against commands.

4. He is not inquisitive into the reasonableness of indifferent and innocent commands—but believes their command to be reason enough in such cases to exact his obedience.

5. He lives according to a rule, and with compliance to public customs, without any affectation or singularity.

6. He is meek and indifferent in all accidents and chances.

7. He patiently bears injuries.

8. He is always unsatisfied in his own conduct, resolutions, and counsels.

9. He is a great lover of godly men, and a praiser of wise men, and a censurer of no man.

10. He is modest in his speech, and reserved in his laughter.

11. He fears, when he hears himself commended, lest God make another judgment concerning his actions, than men do.

12. He gives no pert or saucy answers, when he is reproved, whether justly or unjustly.

13. He loves to sit down in private, and, if he may, he refuses the temptation of new honors.

14. He is ingenuous, free, and open, in his actions and discourses.

15. He mends his fault, and gives thanks, when he is admonished.

16. He is ready to do good offices to the murderers of his fame, to his slanderers, backbiters, and detractors—as Christ washed the feet of Judas.

17. And is contented to be suspected of indiscretions, so before God he may be really innocent, and not offensive to his neighbor, nor slack to his just and prudent interest."

Such is the grace, and such its signs, in which it is the duty of every Christian to be continually progressing. It is not infrequently the case that young converts in the ardor of their first love are self-confident, and sometimes a little high-minded. They are unduly exalted in their own estimation by the strength of their feelings and the liveliness of their frames, and are almost ready to wonder at, and to censure, the lowly confessions of others far older in the Divine life than themselves. They seem already to realize, in their own estimation, the beautiful language of the prophet, and mount up with wings as eagles; they run and are not weary, and walk and are not faint. Their spiritual pride, like the worm striking the young plant, eats into the heart of the young believer, and where it does not destroy the principle of life, sadly impairs its growth.

Let, therefore, the early professor be duly aware of this tendency and watch against it. Let him recollect that as humility may be, and has been, compared to the roots of the tree, while other graces are its fruits; the latter must be expected in abundance only as the former strike downwards deeper and deeper into the earth. Surely it might be supposed there is no one grace in which the soul would be more disposed or find it easier to grow than this, since every day as it passes gives us greater and greater knowledge of ourselves and shows us how little cause there is for pride.

"If we need any new incentives to the practice of this grace, I can say no more—but that humility is truth, and pride is a lie—that the one glorifies God, the other dishonors him; humility makes men like angels, pride makes angels to become devils; that pride is folly, humility is the temper of holiness and excellent wisdom; that humility is the way to glory, pride to ruin and confusion—humility makes saints on earth, pride undoes them—humility beatifies the saints in heaven, and 'the elders throw their crowns at the foot of the throne;' pride disgraces a man among all the societies of earth—God loves one, and Satan solicits the cause of the other, and promotes his own interest in it most of all. And there is no one grace, in which Christ propounded himself imitable so signally as in this of meekness and humility—for the enforcing of which he undertook the condition of a servant, and a life of poverty, and a death of disgrace; and washed the feet of his disciples, and even of Judas himself, that his action might be turned into a sermon to preach this duty, and to make it as eternal as his own story." (Jeremy Taylor)

And now, we may ask, Are there not certain points of resemblance between natural growth and progressive holiness, which deserve notice? We apprehend there are, and principally the following—

1. Growth is the order of the natural world for all life, whether in vegetables, brutes, or human beings. Growth, as we have said, is the law of healthful life.

2. Growth is dependent upon means used to promote it. The child grows in strength and stature by his mother's milk; animals in much the same way; and trees and vegetables by all the processes and supplies of agriculture and the influences of the heavens and the soil. So is it with true religion in the soul—there cannot be advance without the appropriate means, both in kind and measure. These will be the subject of the next chapter.

3. Growth in other things is proportionate in all the parts which belong to them. If the roots, stem, and branches of a tree all grow together—the tree is in a sound state. If it be a child, all the limbs grow proportionately, and the body, and also mind, keep pace with each other. Disproportion produces monstrosities. If, for instance, the head be larger than the body, or the limbs smaller; or if the mind is childish while the body is advancing to the period of youth or manhood, in either of these cases there is deformity. So it is in true religion. The Christian grows in knowledge, faith, and holiness together. There is, or should be, no spiritual deformity or monstrosity.

4. Growth is very gradual in all life, not excepting the Christian. No plant becomes a tree; no child a man; all at once. So is it with the Christian.

5. Growth is perceptible, not, indeed, in its principles—but in its effects. In the case of a tree or shrub—he who sees it when first planted, and looks at it some years afterwards, will perceive progress. So of a new-born babe, growing into a child of two years' old. So of a young convert—he who converses with him at his first awaking, and a year or two after his conversion, will perceive an increase of knowledge, and decision, and comfort, and holiness. This, however, will sometimes be more clearly perceived by others, than by the Christian himself.

The child is not at the time sensible of his own growth—and it often, yes generally, requires to look back and compare what he is now with what he recollects himself to have been, to convince him of his growth. And so it is with the spiritual babe.

"A healthy child," says John Brown, in his admirable exposition of the epistle of Peter, to which I am indebted for several of the preceding remarks, "grows without thinking much about its growth. It takes its food and exercise, and finds that it is growing in the increase of its strength, and its capacity for exertion. And an analogous state is, I believe, the healthiest state of the spiritual new-born bade. While self-examination, rightly managed, is very useful, a morbid desire of the satisfaction of knowing that we are improving, is in danger of drawing the mind away from the constant employment of the means of spiritual nourishment and health. The best state of things is where, in the healthy vigorous state of the spiritual constitution, ready for every good work, we have the evidence in ourselves that we are growing; and when that is lacking, application to the sincere milk of the word will do a great deal more than poring into ourselves to find either proof that we are growing or not growing."

This is very true, very judicious, and very important—but then it must not be abused and allowed to degenerate into an utter carelessness about our spiritual state, nor abate that holy jealousy over ourselves, and that just concern to grow in grace; without which declension, and not progress, will be our condition. It is quite true that our chief solicitude should be not to neglect—but diligently to use, all the means of progress; rather than an attempt to be perpetually measuring the ground over which we have passed. A child who does not grow, who finds his years rolling on and adding nothing to his stature, soon becomes anxious about it, and inquires into the cause of his remaining in his dwarfish littleness. And when, therefore, the child of God, or one that professes to be such, makes no advance, perceptible either to himself or others, it is quite time for him to begin to be anxious, to inquire what has stopped his progress, and to apply afresh to all the appointed means for his spiritual advancement.


You now see what is meant by progressive religion. You cannot be ignorant of this important subject, nor plead ignorance for the neglect of it. You see clearly it is not merely an uninterrupted round of ceremonial observances; nor merely an acquisition of knowledge, though these things may comport with it—but that it is an advance in faith and holiness. Do you understand this matter, and apprehend clearly its nature as well as its necessity? Does that one impressive word growth, growth, stand out clearly defined, luminously seen, impressively felt, before you? If so, immediately enter upon a course of self-scrutiny—diligent, impartial, close examination—to ascertain if there be this progress in you. Again enter into your closet, shut the door, and commune both with your own heart and with God, and say, as in his sight—

Am I as really in earnest as I once was?

I have changed my situation, do I retain my religion, and have I carried into new circumstances and relations, my former earnestness?

Am I advancing in my knowledge of the Scriptures and the great truths of religion, gaining clearer and more distinct apprehensions of spiritual things?

Am I more decided, and resolute, and settled, in all my religious convictions and godly habits, than I was at first?

Is my faith stronger and more influential, and am I less troubled with doubts and fears than I was?

Am I really holier than I was? Have I gained greater power over my corruptions?

Am I more spiritual and heavenly, more full of devout thoughts and affections?

Do I improve in my temper by becoming more meek, gentle, forgiving, and kind?

Have I learned to combine more of the generous and free spirit of Christian liberty with an equal advance in holiness?

Am I more anxious about universal and unvarying consistency of conduct?

Is it more and more my concern to be active and useful?

Withal, do I increase in humility? Have I a deeper and deeper sense of my own shortcomings, and a growing disposition to think better of others, and lowlier of myself?

Test yourself, very searchingly, by such questions as these.