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christians often eonstrue it so. A sense of their inconsistency clouds their minds, and weakens their former hopes of their gracious state, and sometimes reduces them to the borders of despair, not only for days, but for weeks, and months, and even for years. Some who appear to be, and are eminent christians, have suffered their interrupted and inconsistent exercises to plunge them into a most gloomy and disconsolate state. This is wrong, as David says he was, when his soul refused to be comforted.” This inconsistency of contradictory exercises is peculiar to christians, and one thing which distinguishes them from sinners; and therefore, instead of being an evidence against them, is an evidence in their favor. They ought to ask why it is thus with them. And the true answer is, because they are imperfect christians, as all christians are; and inconsistent christians, as all christians are. The misconstruing this evidence of grace, is very hurtful to sincere professors, as it disturbs their peace, weakens their hands, and reproaches religion. But this mistake, probably, has a greater and more unhappy effect upon sincere non-professors, and prevents their performing a very important duty for a long time. How many such persons have entertained a well grounded hope of a renovation of heart, and have acknowledged that they have entertained a hope of being reconciled to God, but yet have found such an inconsistency in their views and feelings at different times, that they continue to live in doubt, and in neglect of duty! They are entreated to consider the nature of christian, perfection, which is always attended with more or less inconstancy and inconsistency, and draw a just conclusion from it. Or else they never will, and never can, obey Christ's new and dying command.
7. If the imperfection of christians consists in the inconstancy of their holy affections, then sinners are perfectly sinful; for they constantly exercise selfish and sinful affections. Every imagination of the thoughts of their heart is evil, and only evil continually. They never have the love of God in them. All their moral exercises are a constant, uninterrupted train of sinful exercises, which are so many transgressions of the law of God. What an amazing train! How must they appear in the sight of God! How fast are they treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath! What is their delay of duty, but an act of continued rebellion? What saves them from complete destruction, but abused mercy ?
- What excuse can they have, for not becoming christians ? God commands, Christ calls, the church invites, their own interest for eternity calls imperatively. Let them hear these solemn calls, obey, and live. VOL. V.
SERMON L X XI.
THE GROWTH OF GRACE.
Bot grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ
2 PETER, iii. 18.
The apostles were solicitous, not only to convert men to the belief and profession of Christianity, but to build them up in their most holy faith. They often visited the churches which they had planted, to look into their state, and to rectify whatever they found amiss in their sentiments or practice. And when they could not consistently visit them, they frequently wrote them very friendly and occasional epistles, in which they meant to instruct them in some particular doctrines, or warn them against some particular errors, or solve some particular cases of conscience, or exhort them to constancy and perseverance in their christian course. But Peter, in writing to christians in general, seems to have but one great object in view, and that is, to urge upon them the importance of their growing in grace, which would afford them the best support under their trials, and the best security against all the snares and seductions of their spiritual enemies. The conclusion of this last epistle is agreeable to the whole tenor of both. “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Christians are still in a state of moral imperfection, and exposed to the subtile devices of the great adversary of their souls, and to the snares and temptations of the present evil world. The injunction in the text applies with all its force, to the feeble and humble followers of Christ, at this day. They need to make continual advances in grace, and in that knowledge which is conducive to their spiritual strength and edification. There is the same connection between knowledge and grace, that there is between means and ends. It is not to be expected that christians will grow in grace, unless they grow in the knowledge of Christ, as he is revealed in the gospel. This, therefore, will be the leading sentiment in the present discourse :
That christians must grow in knowledge, in order to grow in grace. I shall,
I. Consider what is meant by their growing in grace.
II. Consider why they must grow in knowledge in order to grow in grace.
III. Show the importance of their growing in both these respects.
I. We are to consider what is meant by their growing in grace. The word grace is used in various senses in scripture. It sometimes signifies the love of God to all mankind in sending his Son to die for them. It sometimes signifies his peculiar love to those whom he renews and sanctifies by the influences of his Holy Spirit. And it sometimes signifies the love, the faith, the repentance, and all the holy affections of true believers or real christians. In this sense, the apostle uses the word grace in the text. He supposes that all who håve cordially embraced the gospel, have begun to live in the exercise of holy affections, and he exhorts them to grow in grace and press forward in their christian course. The question now is, How shall they perform this duty ? This leads me to say,
1. They must exercise grace more constantly. It is generally and justly supposed that the best of christians, in their present state of imperfection, are not always in the actual exercise of grace. Whether there can be any such thing as grace, without exercise, I shall not stand to consider; but supposing the common opinion to be true, that christians are not always in the exercise of grace, it must be allowed that they ought to exercise grace more constantly; which is actually growing in grace. For the more constantly and uninterruptedly they exercise purely holy affections, the more they conform to the divine will, and do really advance in the divine life. They follow the example of the apostle Paul, while growing in grace and pressing forward towards the mark of sinless perfection. So far as they fail in the constancy of their gracious exercises, just so far they fall short of that moral perfection, which is their indispensable duty. If they let their thoughts wander with the fool's eyes to the ends of the earth, their gracious affections will certainly be interrupted, and vain thoughts and evil affections will creep into their hearts. Some christians, who are circumspect and watchful, and keep their hearts with diligence, have many more right affections than others, who are in a low and declining state of religion. They carry about with them the spirit. of the gospel, and pursue their secular concerns, as well as perform their religious duties, with gracious sincerity. Whether they eat, or drink, or whatever they do, they mean to do all to the glory of God. They live as seeing Him who is invisible, and endeavor to keep themselves in the fear of the Lord all the day long. This is what all christians ought to do, to grow in grace, and make progress in a holy and devout life.
2. Uniformity, as well as constancy, is implied in growing in grace. By uniformity is meant the the exercise of all the various christian graces. These are numerous, according to the vast variety of objects with which christians are surrounded, and the great variety of circumstances in which they are placed. Want of uniformity is a very great and common imperfection of christians. They are often like Ephraim, “a cake not turned.” They are sound in some respects, but unsound in other respects. Their beauties are mixed with blemishes. They may be devout in their religious performances, but not so serious and circumspect in their common intercourse with the world. They may be very conscientious in some points, but more lax and inconsiderate in matters of equal, or higher importance. Some seem to have more love to God, than to man; while others seem to have more love to man than to God. Some shine in one grace,
and some in another; while very few shine in all the beauties of holiness. But Christ was uniform as well as constant in the exercise of every species of holy affections. And his followers ought to have grace for grace, and be as uniform as he was in exercising right affections, on all occasions and under all circumstances. This the apostle Peter plainly intimates is necessary in order to grow in grace. “ And
6 beside this, giving all diligence, 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. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren, nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." The more uniform christians become in their holy affections, the more they grow in grace, and the nearer they approach to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.
Proficiency in one grace will not atone for deficiency in another; and therefore every christian ought to be. come more and more uniform, as well as constant, in every christian
While christians maintain constancy and
uniformity in their gracious affections, they will increase in fervency and activity in every duty. Their coldness, and backwardness, and unfruitfulness, always arise from the want of constancy and uniformity in their holy exercises. Let them only become constant and uniform in their love to God and man, and they will be pure as God is pure, and completely obey his command,“ to grow in grace.”
II. We are next to inquire why growth in knowledge is necessary in order to the growth in grace. This necessary connection between grace and knowledge, is plainly intimated in • the text. “ Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." God has always employed knowl. edge as the most proper means to promote holiness in the hearts of his people. He has given them his written word, and appointed men to feed them with knowledge and understanding. And he has done this for the very purpose of promoting their spiritual edification and growth in grace. Accordingly we read, “ He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." Some, however, have thought and said, that knowledge is of little or no advantage to christians, and rather tends to obstruct, than to promote vital piety. It is, therefore, a pertinent and important inquiry, why knowledge is necessary to the spiritual edification of christians. Here it
Here it may be observed, 1. That knowledge tends to increase their obligations to grow in grace. The knowledge of duty always increases an obligation to do it. Christ said to those who heard his instructions, “ If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin.” The apostle asserts that “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." The truth of these declarations is founded upon the tendency of knowledge, to oblige every person to act as well as he knows. The more christians know of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the greater is their obligation to be conformed to his character and will. And could they have a clear, connected, and comprehensive view of all that he has done, and will do, for the glory of God, the salvation of sinners and the good of the universe, their obligations to grow in grace would be in exact proportion to their extensive knowl. edge. All christians know by their own experience, the tendency of knowledge to increase their moral obligation to duty. The more knowledge they receive from the word or the provi