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The easily-besetting sin which formerly held them in bondage, and which with abhorrence they had long abandoned, may obtain a fresh victory over them. Or some other temptation, which they least suspect or dread, may vanquish them, and “ bring them into captivity to the law of sin which is in their members.”
The mischief resulting from such falls is incalculable. If they are of a public and scandalous nature, they will bring great dishonour on the Redeemer's cause; wound their own souls, and strip them of their peace; grieve the hearts of the godly; strengthen the prejudices of unbelievers against the gospel; and open their mouths to blaspheme that holy name by which we are called. Or, should they be of the most private or secret kind, and be hid from the knowledge of their most intimate friends ; still their consequences must be painful and distressing to themselves. All their spiritual comfort for a season shall be taken away, and the deepest and most pungent anguish of heart shall be experienced. Their summer shall be turned into winter, their light into darkness, and their joy into sorrow. Instead of cheering progress in the way to the heavenly Zion, their career shall not only be arrested, but they shall be hurried backward. And thus will it continue with them till God has chastised them for their sinful relapse, and brought them, in deep repentance and a humble sense of their own insufficiency, to exercise greater vigilance and more steady reliance on his promised help.
Such then are some of the most common hinder
ances to growth in grace. Warned by this exposure of them, let it be your care, my dear reader, to watch against their pernicious influence. Flee from those of them which it is in your power to avoid ; and steadfastly resist the temptation, presented by others of them, to which you are inevitably exposed. For
purpose, habitually rely on the all-sufficient grace of Christ, for “ he giveth power to the faint, and to them who have no might he increaseth strength.” And, while on the one hand, you guard against known danger; on the other, be active in improving those means which God has appointed for promoting your advancement in holiness. To some of these I shall endeavour to direct your attention in the following chapter.
But should you already have discovered in yourself the symptoms of spiritual decline, let it be your first concern to ascertain the particular cause, or causes, from which it has originated. Whether it be any of the above-mentioned, or some other, as soon as you know it, determinedly set yourself against its farther wasting inroads. watch against every known preventive of growth in grace, in a peculiar manner set yourself in opposition to that which already has done you so much injury. Humbly confess to the Lord, and mourn over that iniquity. Plead for renewed intimations of forgiveness, and communications of wisdom and strength; and endeavour to double your diligence, in redeeming time, and improving your talents, during the short remainder of life.
MEANS OF PROMOTING GROWTH IN GRACE.
1. To grow in grace, you must increase in the knowledge of Christ, as revealed in the scriptures.—2. Be regular in attending the public ordinances of religion.-3. Be frequent in commemorating Christ's death.-4. Be carefol to sanctify the Lord's day in private. —5. Frequently engage in religious meditation.-6. Often practise self-examination.—7. Abound in prayer, especially ejaculatory prayer.—8. Exercise habitual watchfulness.-9. Frequently converse with them who fear the Lord.-10. Often visit them who are in affliction, and on a death-bed.-11. Peruse often the memoirs of emi. nent saints. — 12. Daily recognise the hand of God in his providential dispensations.-13. Occasionally set apart some time for a full and particular inquiry into your progress in holiness, and your preparation for eternity.
That the Holy Spirit is the great efficient agent in producing growth in grace, has already been stated.* Not only does he implant the divine seed, when he regenerates the soul ; but he also waters and nourishes it by his unseen influences, and causes it to spring up till it bring forth fruit to eternal life. But in every stage of this process towards maturity, he usually works by means. Far from teaching his people to fold their arms and to sit down in indolence, expecting that he will do all, because they can do nothing effectually themselves; he expressly commands their co-operation in the use of these means which he has prescribed :
66 Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to do, of his good
* Chapter viii. sect. 3.
While they follow his instructions, by diligently employing these means, he encourages 'them to expect from him all needful assistance. But when they indulge in sloth or self-sufficiency, he apprizes them that he will leave them to feel their own weakness, and chastise them for their sin.—To these means of promoting growth in grace, and the manner in which they should be employed, I shall now direct your
attention. 1. One of these means is, increasing in the knowledge of Christ, as revealed in the 'scriptures.- This is particularly mentioned by the apostle Peter. Immediately after his exhortation, “grow in grace," he subjoins, “ and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”+ Just as if he had said, “I beseech you, that in the diligent use of all proper means, you earnestly endeavour to grow in grace ; and, for this purpose, especially study to acquire an increasing acquaintance with the person and work, the doctrines and ordinances, the commandments and promises, of our blessed Redeemer.”
The peculiar suitableness of this charge must be obvious to every one, who has attentively considered this subject. In the case of all who are favoured with the sacred scriptures, and who are capable of reading and understanding them, the communication of divine influences to their soul, for their advancement in holiness, is inseparably connected with increasing religious knowledge. Gross ignorance of divine truth, and saving grace, can no more exist in
• Phil, ii, 12, 13.
1 2 Pet. iii. 18.
the same individual, than light and darkness can dwell in the same place. Equally impracticable is it, that the Christian who is stationary in his religious knowledge, can be advancing in holiness. Nothing but the blindest enthusiasm can induce any man to believe the contrary. Increasing acquaintance with scripture truth is an invariable accompaniment of growth in grace ; and is to be accounted one of the sources from which it springs,—one of the most important means by which it is promoted. Though much knowledge of divine things may be acquired, where it is followed by little Christian fruitfulness yet the contrary never can happen. All therefore who would make progress in growth in grace must increase “in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
Now, as this knowledge is contained in the Bible, it is by the diligent perusal of this holy volume that it is to be obtained. If you, my reader, desire to make progress in conformity to the image of Christ, and in meetness for the heavenly inheritance, occupy much of your time in reading and studying those lively oracles of God. Read them frequently, every day searching them as in quest of hid treasure. Read them with holy reverence as the word of the living God. Read them with child-like docility of spirit, humbly submitting in all things to their divine authority. Read them with earnest attention, diligently endeavouring to understand their import. Read them with fervent prayer, that your eyes may be opened to behold the wonderful things which they contain. Read them with