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ness to the world and all selfish interests, and by an enlarged and sincere good will to all men; but especially by a tender solicitude for the prosperity of Zion, and an anxious desire for the salvation of men.
This has sometimes been denominated the state of contemplation ; because in it the meditations of the Christian are much occupied with heavenly things. The glory of the invisible world makes a deeper and more constant impression on his mind than formerly, and his thoughts are often elevated to delightful contemplations of the heavenly state. The aged saint, who has become mature in grace, and whose faith has grown strong, spends much of his time, by day and by night, in meditating on that “rest which remains for the people of God.” In this exercise his soul is frequently absorbed, and he is fired with an intense desire “to be absent from the body and present with the Lord.;" yet his submission to the divine will, and his desire to promote the glory of Christ on earth, will not permit him to be impatient. He is willing to wait, even in the midst of suffering, until his change come. How beautiful, how lovely, how venerable, is old age, thus laden with the fruits of piety; and like a shock of corn fully ripe, waiting to be gathered into the garner of the Lord! When the veteran soldier of the cross is unable to perform any more active service for his Master, he still watches about the doors of the sanctuary ;-he still lifts up his withered and trembling hands in prayer for the peace of Jerusalem. He is ever waiting for the consolation of Israel ; and when the Saviour appears by some remarkable manifestation of favour to his church, he can exclaim with Simeon of old, “ Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation."
And often, when the vigour of the mental faculties begins to fail, the flame of piety continues to burn brightly; and, on a dying bed, such Christians exhibit a spectacle, than which there is nothing more lovely and interesting on this side heaven. Calm submission, humble confidence, holy aspirations, the kind emotions of benevolence, and the sublime joy of the Divine favour, often render the chamber of death like the vestibule of the temple above. Who, then, would not join in the prayer, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his ?”
A few brief reflections shall bring this discourse to a close.
1. It appears from what has been said, that in some stages of the Christian's progress, the growth of grace, when it actually takes place, is not easily ascertained. It is, therefore, reasonable to believe, that some pious persons fall into mistakes on this subject, and judge that they are losing ground, when in fact they are slowly advancing. Because their first fervours have abated, and because they are much more conscious of indwelling sin than when they first believed, they draw the conclusion that they have been, all the time, growing worse : whereas, true religion has been taking deeper root in their hearts, and their knowledge of themselves and of divine truth, is greatly enlarged, and has become much more distinct.
2. It is also evident, from what has been said, that there may be a great display of zeal, much attention to the externals of religion, much liberality in contributing to the support and spread of the gospel, and much appearance of sanctity, when there has been no real advancement in piety. The reason
is, because all these external acts, and all this show of piety, may be produced by other motives than the lively exercise of grace in the heart. sons ought to be esteemed pious by men, where no contrary evidences appear : but often, " that which is highly esteemed among men, is an abomination in the sight of God;" for man must judge according to the outward appearance, but the Lord searcheth the heart.
3. Some Christians grow to much higher stature than others. In most, however, in our days, the advancement in piety seems to be small, compared with what we have reason to believe it was in the times of the apostles, and in some other periods of the church. No doubt there are some now who become eminent in piety; but the general standard of piety is apparently low. Few professors, in our churches, have attained to that state of settled peace, and calm submission to the will of God, which was described as the last stage in the Christian's progress towards perfection.
4. It is impossible to say how much the comfort and usefulness of most of the pious is diminished, by their failing to make greater progress in the divine life. The difference between a lively, growing Christian, and one who makes little or no advancement, is as great as between a healthy and a diseased body. The motives to growth in grace are, therefore, of the strongest possible kind.
Finally, upon a review of the past, every one of us must be sensible, that if we had improved our privileges, and exercised greater diligence and vigilance, our advancement would have been far greater than it now is. What Christian can look back without severely reproaching himself, on account of his slothfulness and carelessness ? All may not have backslidden, but in all there has been often a criminal remissness Many have to lament most sad declensions, and some, disgraceful falls, by which the conscience has been wounded and religion dishonoured.
In view of this subject, therefore, all Christians are called upon to bumble themselves before God, in deep penitence, on account of their unfruitfulness
; and to resolve, that in time to come, they will more faithfully and vigorously strive TO GROW IN GRACE.
MEANS OF GROWTH IN GRACE.
2 PETER, iii. 18.–Grow in grace. Having, in the preceding discourse, considered the nature of growth in grace, I propose now to inquire,
II. By what means this growth inay be promoted.
The exhortation of the text evidently supposes that something must be done by us. The mere idle wishing for the object will never effect it. Means must be used ; diligence must be exercised. I would, therefore, endeavour to explain what is requisite, in order that we may fulfil the duty here enjoined, and may obtain the blessings connected with its due performance.
Perhaps there is no method by which we shall be able to obtain more distinct and satisfactory ideas on this subject, than by considering the analogy which exists between growth in grace and the natural growth of the human body, from infancy to mature age. Suppose, then, the inquiry to be made, By what means may an infant be most successfully preserved in health, and caused to grow to the full stature and strength of a man? Every one upon reflection would answer,
1. That the first and principal thing requisite, must be a suíficient supply of wholesome and suitable nutriment. Now, the same thing is true in regard to the child of grace. He must receive, from time to time, spiritual food adapted to his state of advancement. As in the natural life, milk is given to babes, and strong meat to full-grown men, so Paul teaches us, that in the spiritual life the analogy holds good ; and Peter employs the same allusion, and moreover informs us, what that food is which is figuratively called milk. “* As new born babes." says he,“ desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.”
This subject is also treated a large, by the Supreme l'eacher. “ I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is that bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh. - Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life ; - for my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”
We learn, then, that the word of God is the proper food of the spiritual man, and that the excellency of the word and its adaptation to nourish the soul, are owing to its exhibiting Jesus Christ, and him crucified, to the believer's faith. It is in every sense true, “ that the just shall live by faith ;'and the whole virtue and efficacy of faith is derived from its Object.
The means, therefore, to be used constantly, to promote growth in grace, is the reading and hearing of the word. There can be no growth in grace without the word, any more than of the body without food. Here we have the object of every pious affection, and the motive to every holy act. Faith rests on the word ; the excellence and beauty which enkindle our love are found in the word of God, and nowhere else; and hope could not exist, were it not for the firm promises with which the Scriptures abound. The sacraments are also means of promoting the hidden life of the believer ; especially, the Lord's supper is eminently calculated to nourish piety in the heart ; but the sacraments would be useless without the word. Their import cannot be known, but as it is exhibited by the word.
He, therefore, who would grow in grace, must be conversant with the holy Scriptures. He should turn over the sacred pages by day and by night, and should not merely read and hear, but take pains to understand. But with regard to many who are unskilful in the word of life, how can they understand unless some one teach them ? Young Christians, especially, need instruction as much as children, and for this reason the ministry has been ordained. “ And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists and teachers, 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 the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Christ's charge to Peter was, “ Feed my sheep-feed my lambs ;" and that of the apostle Paul to the elders of Ephesus, “ Feed the flock of Christ which is among you.” It appears, then, that it belongs to the office of the ministry to furnish requisite nutriment for the support and growth of the people of God; and this provision is contained in the word of God, which they should clearly exhibit and rightly divide, so that each one may receive his portion in due season. And as God will certainly give efficacy to his own ordinances, when properly used, we may expect to derive from the authorized administration of the word and sacraments, such supplies of light and strength, as will enable us to grow in grace.
But as food will not nourish unless it is digested, so the mere hearing or reading of the word, will not cause us to advance in the divine life, unless we diligently meditate on the truths brought to our knowledge. Sacred meditation is a duty often mentioned in the Bible, and is one of great importance to enable the soul to grow in grace.
It is needful that we should frequently abstract our thoughts from this world, and all its concerns, and fix them steadily and intensely on divine things. In order that truth should produce on the mind its full effect, it must not only be apprehended, but kept in the view of the mind, for a considerable time. Cursory thoughts of God and divine things make only a transient impression ; but when, by devout meditation, these interesting objects are held up to view, the soul will perceive more and more of their beauty and importance, until often it will be completely absorbed in their contemplation : and such seasons of meditation are not only delightful, but leave a deep and salutary impression on the heart. And the more frequently such seasons occur, the more easy does it become to withdraw the soul from earth, and fix it on heavenly things ; and our relish for this exercise will so increase, that instead of feeling the duty to be a burden, we shall esteem it our highest privile:+; so that it will sometimes require selfdenial to break off from our sacred meditations to attend on the performance of other duties Christians who are much in the habit of meditation under the guidance of the divine word, cannot but increase in grace; for, in this employment, every holy affection is enkindled ;-we obtain nearer views of Christ and of heaven, and learn to feel that we are strangers and pilgrims on earth, and that our home and our treasure are above.
It is the unhappiness of most professors, that they are so much involved in worldly occupations, that they find no suitable time for divine meditation : but is not the importance of the end to be gained, sufficient to make it proper and reasonable to redeem time for this purpose? Would it not be expedient, in imitation of our Lord, often to rise “ a great while before day,” that we might, without interruption, enjoy the benefit of holy contemplation? The hour will arrive, when we shall be forced to relinquish the world, and then, when we look back, we shall certainly be of the opinion, that that time was best improved, which was spent with God, and in preparation for eternity.
And here, I would remark, that whole days occasionally devoted to prayer and meditation, especially when joined with fasting, have been found eminently serviceable in promoting growth in grace. More progress
progress is some
times made in one such day of exclusive devotion to personal religion, than in weeks and months spent in the common way.
2. Another thing considered essential to the promotion of bodily health and vigour, is exercise. By this means every part of the body is rendered strong and active, and acquires its proper size and use. A child confined to one spot, and hindered from exercising its limbs, would be retarded in its growth, and be incapable of performing the most common actions of life. Without proper exercise, no one could run or walk with steadiness and agility, nor use his hands to any useful purpose. And here also, the analogy between the natural and spiritual life is complete. Exercise is as necessary to the inward as to the outward man. If the principle of spiritual life be not frequently and vigorously exercised, it will necessarily be weak and sickly. Even if any particular grace be not excited and brought into action, there will be a corresponding defect in the Christian character. As, therefore, we perform many actions merely for the sake of exercising the body, so we should seek opportunities of giving exercise to every virtue of the Christian life. This object should be kept daily in view, and steadily pursued; and where there is proper vigilance, there can be no want of occasions for bringing into act, all holy dispositions. Every person we meet, every event which occurs, will furnish opportunity for some pious or benevolent exercise. And in this view, even those incidents which in themselves are unpleasant, may be turned to a good account. Do we fall into the company of profane and wicked men ? here is occasion given to exhibit some part of the Christian character, or to exercise some Christian grace. Do we meet with reproach and ill usage? well, let the spirit of Christian meekness and forbearance, or forgiveness, now be displayed. Are we suffering under bodily pain? then, let us learn to exercise patience and fortitude.
It has often been remarked, that benevolent affections are greatly strengthened by repeated exercise. The man who relieves the distressed, or supplies the wants of the poor, will be more ready to perform these works of mercy, after having done so a thousand times, than when first called upon to discharge that duty. It has sometimes been matter of surprise, that they who have already given most to forward public and benevolent objects, are always most prompt to contribute on any new occasion. But this is the natural and genuine effect of exercise. He, whose benevolence is often exerted, will ever be found to delight in doing good; and, when he has money to spare, he will find no way of spending it so agreeable, as to make it instrumental in promoting some benevolent object. And so strong may this feeling become, that it will be the most cogent motive to engage a man to put forth all his energy
of mind and body, to procure the means of advancing the cause of religion.
But why need I dwell on this subject ? for who is unacquainted with the power of habit ? And what is habit, but a readiness and propensity to perform some action, induced by a repetition of that action? How great would be our moral improvement, if virtuous habits were as commonly cherished by exercise, as those which are vicious ? But there are, also, habits of piety. A man may, by repeated exercise, form the habit of devotion ; he may form the habit