Are you a Christian?
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Your growth in grace will depend upon this. Think not of stopping short of personally knowing Christ, not only in all these relations, but in the fullness of these relations. Do not overlook the fact that the appropriation of Christ, in each of these relations, is a personal act of faith. It is a putting on of the Lord Jesus Christ, a taking of Him as yours, in each of these relations, as your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; as your Prophet, to teach you, your King, to govern you, your High Priest, to atone for you, your Mediator, your Advocate, your Strength, your Savior, your Hiding place, your High Tower, your Captain and Leader, your Shield, your Defense, your Exceeding Great Reward. In each of these relations, and in all other of His official relations, you need to appropriate Him by faith so as to secure to you personal intercourse with Him in these relations. Growing in a personal acquaintance with Him, in these relations, is an indispensable condition of growth in His favor.
V. SOME SIGNS THAT ARE NOT PROOF OF GROWTH.
1. Growth in knowledge is not conclusive evidence of growth in grace.
Some degree of knowledge is indispensable to our being in favor with God; and growth in knowledge, as I have shown, is a condition of growth in grace; but knowledge is not grace, and growth in knowledge does not constitute growth in grace. A person may grow ever so much in knowledge, and have no grace at all. In hell, they cannot but grow in knowledge, as they grow in experience, and in the knowledge of God's justice. But there, their growth in knowledge but aggravates the guilt and misery of hell. They know more and more of God and His law, and their own guilt, and the more they know, the more wretched they are. From their increased knowledge they never learn piety.
2. It is not certain evidence that an individual grows in grace, because he grows in gifts. A professor of religion may increase in gifts, that is, he may become more fluent in prayer, and more eloquent in preaching, or more pathetic in exhortation, without being any more holy. We naturally increase in that in which we exercise ourselves. And if any person often exercises himself in exhortation, he will naturally, if he makes any effort or lays himself out, increase in fluency and pungency.
But he may do all this, and yet have no grace at all. He may pray ever so engagedly, and increase in fluency and apparent pathos, and yet have no grace. People who have no grace often do so. It is true, if he has grace, and exercises himself in these things, as he grows in grace, he will grow in gifts.
No person can exercise himself in obeying God, without improving in those exercises. If he does not improve in gifts, it is a true sign he does not grow in grace. But, on the other hand, it is not sure evidence that he grows in grace because he improves in certain exercises, for he will naturally improve by practice, whether he is a Christian or a hypocrite.
3. It is not proof that a person grows in grace because he thinks he is doing so. One may be very favorably impressed with regard to his own progress in religion, when it is evident to others that he is not only making no progress, but is, in fact, declining. An individual who is growing worse and worse, is not ordinarily well aware of the fact. It is not uncommon for both unrepentant sinners and Christians to think they are growing better, when they are growing no better.
This results from the very nature of the case. If any person is growing worse, his conscience will, for the time being, become more and more seared, and his mind more and more dark, as he stifles conscience and resists the light. Then he may imagine he is growing better, just because he has less sense of sin; and while his conscience continues to sleep he may continue under the fatal delusion. A man will judge of his own spiritual state as he compares himself with a high or low standard. If he keeps Christ before him, in His fullness, as his standard, he will doubtless always, at least in this state of existence, have but a low estimate of his own attainments. While at the same time, if he sets before himself the Church, or any member of the Church, as a standard, he will be very likely to form a high estimate of his progress in religion, and be very well satisfied with himself. This is the reason why there is such a difference in people's views of their own state arid of the state of the Church. They compare themselves and the state of the Church with different standards.
Hence, one takes a very humbling view of his own state, and complains of that of the Church; another thinks such complaints of the Church censorious, for to him the Church appears to be doing very well. The reason why he does not think the Church cold, and in a low state, is that
VI. WHAT IS PROOF OF GROWTH.
1. The manifestation of more implicit and universal trust in God is an evidence of growth in grace. The exercise of greater and more implicit confidence, as I have said, is the condition of growing in the favor of God.
The manifestation of this implicit and universal confidence is proof that this growing confidence exists, and is, therefore, satisfactory evidence of growth in the favor of God. If you are conscious in your own soul that you do exercise more implicit and universal confidence in God, this is conclusive proof to you that you are growing in grace, and as you manifest in your life, and temper, and spirit, this growing confidence, you prove to yourself and to others that you are growing in the favor of God. For as you grow in implicit confidence in Him you must grow in His favor.
2. Another evidence of growth in grace, is an increasing weanedness from the world. The will may be in an attitude of devotion to God, while the world's seductive charms very much embarrass the healthy action of the Christian life. As the soul becomes crucified and dead to the world, it grows in the favor of God.
3. Less reluctance of feeling, when called to the exercise of self-denial, is an evidence of growth in grace. It shows that the feelings are becoming less and less despotic, that the will is getting more the mastery of them, that the sensibility is getting more into harmony with the devotion of the will and the dictates of the intelligence.
4. Less temptation to sins of omission, is another evidence of growth in grace, e.g., less temptation to shun the cross, to neglect unpleasant duties; less temptation to indolence, to the shirking of responsibility, to neglect of prayer, to reading the Scriptures, and. to private and family devotions; in short, less and less temptation to shun the performance of any duty is evidence of growth in grace. These temptations consist in the excited states of the sensibility. As these become less in strength and frequency, we learn that our sensibility is becoming more completely subjugated to the law of the intelligence and the decisions of the will, and consequently, that the work of the sanctification of the spirit, soul, and body is progressing, and that therefore we are growing in the favor of God.
5. A growing intensity and steadiness of zeal in promoting the cause of God, is evidence of growth in the favor of God. Sometimes Christian zeal is comparatively cool, at other times deep and intense; sometimes it will be steady, at other times fitful and evanescent. As Christians grow in piety, their zeal becomes deep, intense, and steady, and as you are conscious of this, and in your life and spirit give evidence of it to others, you have, and give, proof that you are growing in the favor of God.
6. Losing more and more the consciousness of self, and respect to self, in every action of life, is an evidence of growth in the favor of God. Some have so much consciousness of self in everything, and so much respect to self in everything they say and do, as to be embarrassed in all their Christian life, whenever they attempt to act or speak in the presence of others. As they lose this self-consciousness, and have less respect to self, their service of God becomes more free and unembarrassed, and they are all the better servants by how much less they think of self. Sometimes young converts cannot speak or pray, or perform any public duty, without being either proud or ashamed, as they think themselves to have performed their duties with more or less acceptance to those around them.
While this is so, their piety is in a feeble state. They must lose sight of their own glory, and have a single eye to the glory of God, to find acceptance with Him. But as they lose sight of self, and set God always before them, having an eye single to His glory they grow more and more in His favor.
7. Consequently, a growing deadness to the flattery or censure of men, is an evidence of growth in grace. Paul had grown in grace so much that he counted it a light thing to be judged of man, he only sought to commend himself to God (1 Corinthians 4:3, 4). As you find yourself growing in this state of deadness to the flatteries or censures of men, you have evidence that you grow in grace.
8. A growing cordiality in the acceptance of the whole will of God is evidence of growth in His favor. Some rebel against His will as revealed in His Word and in His providence. Others, under trying circumstances, will barely tolerate His will; but those who are growing in grace find it more natural to embrace His whole revealed will with greater and greater cordiality.
9. Growing calmness and quietness under great afflictions give an evidence of growth in the favor of God. There is evinced a more explicit faith, a fuller and more cordial acceptance of the will of God, as revealed in these afflictions; the soul is shown to be more steadily and firmly at anchor upon its rock, Christ.
10. A growing tranquillity under sudden and crushing disasters and bereavements, is an evidence of growth in grace. The more tranquil the soul can remain, when sudden storms of providence come upon it, sweeping away loved ones, and blighting earthly hopes, the greater is its evidence of being under the particular favor of God. The tranquillity is both a result and an evidence of the favor of God.
11. Growing patience under much provocation, is an evidence of growth in the favor of God.
12. "Longsuffering with joyfulness" (Colossians 1:11) is an evidence of growing in favor with God. When you cannot only tolerate, but accept, the will of God, as revealed in calling you to suffer; and especially when you can accept these sufferings, and endure them long and with joyfulness, you have evidence that you are growing in the favor of God.
13. A growing cordiality and joyfulness under crosses and disappointments and severe pain, is evidence of growth in the favor of God.
14. An increasing deadness to all that the world has to offer, or to threaten, is an evidence of growth in the favor of God.
15. A growing repose in, and satisfaction with, all the allotments of Providence, is evidence of growth in grace.
16. Less temptation to murmur or repine at any allotment of Providence, is evidence of growth in grace.
17. Less temptation to fret, when we are crossed or disappointed in any respect, is an evidence of growth in grace.
18. Less and less temptation to resentment, and the spirit of retaliation, when we are in anywise insulted or abused, is evidence that the sensibility is becoming more and more thoroughly subdued, and consequently, that we are growing in favor with God.
19. Less temptation to dwell upon, and to magnify our trials and troubles, to think of them, and speak of them to others, is evidence that we think less and less of self, and accept our trials and troubles with more and more complacency in God. It is sad to hear some professedly good people, dwelling ever upon, and magnifying, their own troubles and trials. But, if they grow in grace, they will think less and less of these, and be more inclined to think of them as "light afflictions." The more we grow in grace, the less stress we lay upon the evils we meet with in the way. Said a good man to me once, who was really passing through what the world would call very severe trials and afflictions (he had lost a beloved wife, and his children had died one after another): "I have many mercies, and few afflictions." When, under such circumstances, a man can say, "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage" (Psalm 16:6) he has the most satisfactory evidence that he is growing in the favor of God. For this state of mind is both a result and an evidence of the favor of God.
21. Less and less anxiety and carefulness about the events of Providence, and especially about the things that nearly and deeply affect ourselves, is evidence of growth in grace. This is an evidence of a broader and more implicit faith, of a more submissive will, and of a diminishing tendency to self- seeking; and is, therefore, an evidence of growing favor with God.
22. Being less and less disturbed and troubled by the events of life, especially those that go counter to our own plans, and hopes, and expectations, and desires, and that thwart our most cherished aims, is an evidence of growth in grace.
23. A growing and realizing confidence in the wisdom, benevolence, and universality of the providence of God, a state of mind that sees God in everything, is evidence of growth in grace. Some minds become so spiritual that they hardly seem to reside in the body, but appear continually to perceive the presence of God in every event, almost as if they were disembodied, and beheld God face to face. They seem to dwell, live, move, and have their being, rather in the spiritual than in the natural world. They are continually under such a sense of the Divine presence, agency, and protection, as hardly to appear like inhabitants of earth. They are a living, walking mystery to those in the midst of whom they dwell. The springs of their activity are so Divine, their life is so much hidden in God, they act under influences so far above the world, that they cannot be judged by the same standards as other men. Carnal minds cannot understand them. Their hidden life is so unknown and so unknowable to those who are far below them in their spiritual life, that they are necessarily regarded as quite eccentric, as being mystics or monomaniacs, as having very peculiar religious views, as being enthusiasts, and perhaps fanatics. These persons are in the world, but they live above the world. They have so far escaped from the pollutions that are in the world, that they can truly and understandingly say, with Paul: "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Galatians 6:14). Such persons are evidently growing in the grace of God.
24. Being less and less disposed to dwell upon the faults and foibles of others, is an evidence of growth in grace.
25. Being less and less disposed to speak severely, or to judge uncharitably of others. A growing delicacy, or tenderness, in speaking of their real or supposed faults, behind their back, is an evidence of growth in grace.
26. An increasing reluctance to regard or treat any one as an enemy, and an increasing ease and naturalness in treating them kindly, in praying for them heartily, and in efforts to do them good, is an evidence of growth in grace.
27. Less and less temptation to remember an injury, and the abatement of all desire to retaliate when injured, is an evidence of growth in grace.
28. A growing readiness and cordiality in forgiving and burying an injury out of sight, and a kind of moral inability to do otherwise than seek the highest good of those who have injured us most deeply, is an evidence of growth in grace.
29. When we find in our own experience, and manifest to others, that it is more and more natural to regard all men as our brethren, especially to drop out of view all sectarian discriminations, all ideas and prejudices of caste, and of color, of poverty, and of riches, of blood relation, and of natural, rather than of spiritual ties, and to make common cause with God, in aiming to do good to all men, to enemies and friends alike, we have then ourselves, and give to others, the highest evidence of our growing in the favor of God.