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But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
- 2 Peter 3:18.
I MUST conclude this Course of Lectures by giving converts instructions on the subject of Growth in Grace. I shall pursue the following method, showing:
I. What grace is, as the term is here used.
II. What the injunction to "grow in grace" does not mean.
III. What it does mean.
IV. The conditions of growth in grace.
V. What is not proof of growth in grace.
VI. What is proof of growth in grace.
VII. How to grow in grace.
I. WHAT GRACE IS.
Grace is favor. The word is often used in the Bible to signify a free gift.
II. WHAT TO "GROW IN GRACE" DOES NOT MEAN.
It does not enjoin the gradual giving up of sin. Strange to tell, it would seem that some have so understood it; but we are nowhere in the Bible commanded to give up sin gradually, we are everywhere commanded to give it up instantly and wholly.
III. WHAT IT DOES MEAN.
It enjoins upon us the duty of growing in the favor of God, of growing in His esteem - in a worthiness of His favor.
IV. CONDITIONS OF GROWTH IN GRACE.
1. Growth or increase in anything implies a beginning. Growth in the favor of God implies that we have already found favor in His sight, that we are already indebted for grace received, and that we are already in grace, in the sense of having a place among His favored ones.
2. Consequently, growth in grace implies that we have already repented of our sin, have actually and practically abandoned all known sin. It cannot be that we are in favor with God if we are still indulging in known sin against Him. Being in favor with God implies, of course, that we are pardoned and favored by Him, for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Pardon is favor, and implies the renunciation of rebellion against God. The conditions of the Divine favor, as revealed in the Bible, are repentance and abandonment of all known sin, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. I said, as a condition of growth in grace we must have the commencement of grace; in other words, we must be already Christians, must be in a state of acceptance with God, must have accepted Christ, so far as He is understood, must be in a state of obedience to all the recognized will of God. Without this, we cannot be in a state of grace, or in the favor of God. But being in this state, there is room for everlasting growth. As we know more of God, we shall be capable of loving Him more, of having a more universal and implicit confidence in Him. And there can be no end to this while we have any being, either in this or any other world. Our love and confidence in Him may be complete, so far as we know Him. This love and confidence will secure His favor; but there will be no end to our growth in knowledge of Him, and, consequently, there is room for eternal growth in grace. The more we love God, the more we believe, the more we know of Him, if we conform to this knowledge, the more God must be pleased with us, the higher shall we stand in His favor, and more and greater gifts He will continue to bestow upon us.
3. Of course, growth in the knowledge of God is a condition of growth in His favor. We might grow in knowledge, without growing in His favor, because we might not love and trust Him in accordance with this increased knowledge. But we cannot love and trust Him more perfectly, unless we become more perfectly acquainted with Him. If our love and faith keep pace with our growing knowledge, we must grow in His favor. But growth in knowledge must be a condition of growth in love and faith.
4. Growth in the knowledge of God, as revealed in Christ Jesus, must be a condition of growth in His favor. It is in and through Christ Jesus that God reveals Himself to man. It is in Christ Jesus that we get the true idea of the personality of the infinite God. Hence, the text says: "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
True conversion to God involves the consecration of ourselves and of all that we have to Him, so far as we understand what is implied in this. But, at first, converts are by no means aware of all that is involved in the highest forms of consecration. They will soon learn that there are certain things that they did not think of, and that they did not give up to God. At first, perhaps, all that was in their thought was, to lay their naked soul upon the altar, and give up their whole heart to God. But soon they may learn that they did not think of all their possessions, of everything that was dear to them; they did not surrender all, leaving "not an hoof behind"
(Exodus 10:26). They surrendered all of which they thought, but they were not fully enlightened, they did not think, nor could they think, at the time, of every appetite, passion, inclination, of every desire and affection, and of everything dear to them, in the whole creation, to make a thorough surrender and delivery of these to God.
To gain such knowledge is a work of time; and growth in the favor of God is conditioned on making a full surrender and consecration to God of everything we are, and have, and desire, and love, as fast as these objects are presented to thought. As long as we exist, and knowledge increases, there is no doubt that we shall be called upon to grow in grace, by consecrating to God every new object of knowledge, of desire, and of affection, that we may come to know, and desire, and love, to all eternity.
As you get new light, you must enlarge your consecration from day to day, and from hour to hour, or you will cease to grow in grace. Whenever you stop short, and do not lay and leave everything that you are, that you possess, or that you love, upon the altar of consecration, that moment you cease to grow in grace. I pray you to let this saying sink deep into your hearts.
6. Another condition of growth in grace is intense earnestness and constancy in seeking increased religious light, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. 84 You will gain no effectual religious light except by the inward showing and teaching of the Holy Spirit. This you will not obtain unless you continue in the true attitude of a disciple of Christ. Remember, He says: "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:33). He will not, by His Holy Spirit, be your Divine Teacher unless you renounce self, and live in a state of continual consecration to Him. To obtain and preserve the teachings of Christ, by the Holy Spirit, you must continually and earnestly pray for this Divine teaching of the Spirit, and watch against resisting and grieving Him.
7. Another condition of growth in grace is a constant conformity to all the teachings of the Holy Spirit, keeping up with our convictions of duty and with our growing knowledge of the will of God.
8. A more and more implicit faith in God is a condition of growth in grace.
By implicit, I mean an unreasoning faith, a confidence in God's character so profound that we trust Him in the dark as well as in the light, as well when we do not understand the reasons of His dealings with us, or of His requirements, as when we do; a faith like that of Abraham, who "staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief" (Romans 4:20), though the thing promised seemed irrational and impossible. An implicit faith is an unwavering, unquestioning faith, a state of mind that will rest in God, in His promises, in His faithfulness, in His love, whatever appearances may be and however trying and apparently unreasonable His commands or providential dealings may be. Abraham's faith is often commended in the Bible. God had promised him a son, but did not give him the promised seed until he was a hundred years old, and Sarah was ninety. But nevertheless, Sarah was past age, and he as good as dead, he believed that God was able to fulfill His promise. Then, when he had received his beloved son, with the assurance that this was to be his heir, and that through him the promise was to be fulfilled through all generations, God tried his faith severely, by commanding him to offer his Isaac as a burnt sacrifice. Yet he obeyed, without the least hesitation, believing "that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead" (Hebrews 11:19). He made all his arrangements to obey this trying command, with such calmness that neither Sarah nor Isaac suspected that any such thing was in contemplation. This was an instance of the exercise of implicit faith.
Growth in grace, or in the favor of God, is conditioned upon growth in implicit confidence in Him.
9. A more thoroughly sanctified sensibility is a condition of growth in the favor of God. By the sensibility, I mean that department of our nature that feels and desires, to which belongs all that we call desire, affection, emotion, feeling, appetite, passion, inclination, lust. The sensibility is an involuntary power, and moral actions and qualities cannot, with strict propriety, be predicated of it. The states of the sensibility have moral character only as they derive it, directly or indirectly, from the action of the will. The nature of man, as a whole, in his depraved condition, is in a very unlovely state, and although the will may be given up to God, the sensibility may be in such a state as to be very unlovely in the sight of One that looks directly upon it, and knows perfectly every excited desire, passion, inclination, lust. It is through the sensibility, mainly, that we are assailed with temptations. It is through this that the Christian warfare is kept up. The Christian warfare consists in the battle of the will with these various appetites, passions, inclinations, and lusts, to keep them in subjection to the will of God. If the will maintains its integrity, and cleaves to the will of God, the soul does not sin in its battle with the excited states of the sensibility. But these rebellious inclinations embarrass the will in the service it renders to God. To keep them under occupies much time, and thought, and strength. Hence the soul cannot render to God so complete a service, while exerting the full strength of the will to subjugate these inclinations, as it otherwise might and would render.
These appetites, passions, and inclinations, although not sinful in themselves, have been regarded and spoken of as indwelling sin. Strictly, they cannot be sin, because they are involuntary. But they are often a great hindrance to our growth in the favor of God. "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would"
(Galatians 5:17). This means that we cannot do for God what we otherwise would, because we have to battle so much with the states of the sensibility, to keep them under. As the sensibility becomes more and more subdued and in harmony with the will's devotion to God, we are left free to render to God a more unembarrassed service. Therefore, the more thorough the sanctification of the sensibility, the more thoroughly we are in favor with God.
10. A growing thoroughness and universality of consecration, of spirit, soul, and body, is the condition of more and more growth in the favor of God. It is common, at first, for the steadfastness of the will's devotion to God to be overcome by the clamor of the excited appetites, passions, and inclinations, or by the various states of the sensibility. Whenever the will yields to these excited states, you sin. But, in such cases, the sin is not willful, in the sense of being deliberate and intentional; it is rather a slip, an inadvertency, a momentary yielding under the pressure of highly excited feeling. Nevertheless, this yielding is sin. However excited the states of the sensibility may be, if the will does not yield, there is strictly no sin. Still, while the will is steadfast, maintaining its consecration and obedience to God, the appetites originating in the body, and the various inclinations of the soul, which inhere in the sensibility, may be so ajar, in such confusion, and in such a state of morbid development, that the soul may be unfitted for the employments and enjoyments of heaven.
11. Hence, the taking on of a greater fullness of the Divine nature is a condition of growth in the favor of God. Both the will and the sensibility of God must be in a state of utmost perfection and accord. All of His desires and feelings must be in perfect harmony with His intelligence and His will. Not so with us, in our state of physical depravity. The depravity of sensibility must be physical, because it is involuntary. Still, it is depravity, it is a lapsed or fallen state of the sensibility. This lapsed department of our nature must be recovered, sanctified, or completely restored to harmony with a consecrated will, and an enlightened intelligence, or we are never fitted for heaven. As we become more and more the partakers of the Divine nature, and of the Divine holiness, we are more fully sanctified in spirit, soul, and body, and of course grow more and more in the favor of God.
12. A greater and more all-pervading fullness of the Holy Spirit's residence is another condition of growth in the favor of God. You cannot have it too thoroughly impressed upon you that every step in the Christian life is to be taken under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The thing to be attained is the universal teaching and guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that in all things you shall be led by the Spirit of God. "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16). "If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live"(Romans 8:13). "To be carnal minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace" (Romans 8:6). Always remember, therefore, that to grow in grace, you must grow in the possession of the fullness of the Holy Ghost in your heart.
13. A deeper personal acquaintance with the Lord Jesus Christ, in all His official work and relations, is a condition of growth in grace. His nature, work, and relations are the theme of the Bible. The Bible presents Him to us in a great variety of relations. In my "Systematic Theology" 85 I have considered some sixty or more of these official relations of Christ to the human race, and these are presented rather as specimens and illustrations than as covering the whole ground of His relations to us. Now, it is one thing to know Christ simply on paper, and as spoken of in the Bible, by reading or hearing of Him, and quite another thing to know Him personally, in these relations. The Bible is the medium of introduction to Him personally. What is there said of Him is designed to lead us to seek after a personal acquaintance with Him. It is by this personal acquaintance with Him that we are made like Him. It is by direct, personal intercourse with His Divine mind that we take on His image. "We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18). "Faith cometh by hearing" (Romans 10:17) and faith secures for us a personal acquaintance with Christ. Christ has promised to manifest Himself personally to those who love and obey Him. Do not stop short of securing this personal manifestation of Christ to your souls.