by The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY
GROWTH IN GRACE.
TEXT.--"Grow in grace." 2 Peter iii. 18.
THIS evening I must conclude all that I have to say at present on the subject of Revivals. There are several other subjects which I designed to discuss, but have not had time. It is possible that I may resume the subject in the fall if I live to return to the city, according to my present intention. One of the subjects which I fully intended to discuss, was that of EVANGELISTS, the importance of having such a class of ministers to be employed in revivals--their relation to the church and the ministry, the manner in which they are to be received and treated, both by pastors and churches, and the principles on which they ought to govern themselves in discharging the appropriate duties of their office. But at present, I have concluded that it would be better to conclude this course of lectures with a sermon on
GROWTH IN GRACE.
The term grace is used in the Bible in several different senses. When applied to God its meaning is not the same as when applied to man. Grace, in God, is synonymous with beneficence. It is undeserved favor. This is the sense in which the term is used by theologians in reference to God. In men, grace means holiness, that is the sense in which it is used in the text, and to grow in grace is the same as to grow in holiness, or to increase in conformity to God. In discussing this subject, I design to pursue the following order:
I. Show what is meant by growing in grace.
II. Mention some things which are not evidences of growth in grace.
III. What are some of the evidences of growth in grace.
IV. Show how it is to be done, or in what way Christians may grow in grace.
V. Mention some of the evidences of a decline in piety or grace.
VI. How to escape or recover from a state of decline in piety.
I. What is meant by growing in grace?
To grow in grace is to increase in a spirit of conformity to the will of God, and to govern our conduct more and more by the same principles that God does. God has one great absorbing object, that controls every thing he does. It is the promotion of his own glory by seeking to fill the universe with holiness and happiness. He does this by exhibiting his own character. And our object should be the same, to exhibit the character of God more and more, to reflect as many rays of the image of God as possible. That is, we must aim constantly to be more and more like god. To do this more and more is to grow in grace. In other words, it is to obey more and more perfectly and constantly the law of God. That is growing in grace, becoming more holy, or obey God more fully and constantly.
II. I will mention some things that are not evidences of growth in grace, although they are sometimes supposed to be such.
1. It is not a 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 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 evidence that he grows in grace, because he improves in certain exercises, for they will naturally improve by practice, whether he is a sinner or a hypocrite.
2. Growing in knowledge is not evidence of growth in grace. Knowledge is indispensable to grace, and growth in knowledge is essential to growth in grace, but knowledge in 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 no doubt they grow in knowledge but never in grace. Their growth in knowledge constitutes 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. They have more and more experience of God's wrath, but they never learn piety from it.
3. It is not evidence that a person grows in grace, because he things he is doing so. A person may be favorably impressed with regard to his 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 is not ordinarily sensible of the fact. It is common for both impenitent sinners and those who are pious to think they are growing better, when they are no better. This is so, from the nature of the mind, as any one who will attend to the philosophy of the mind can see. If a person is growing worse, his conscience will become more and more seared, and his mind more and more dark, as he stifles conscience and resists light. Then he may think he is growing better, just because he has less and less sense of sin, and while his conscience continues to sleep, he may continue under a fatal delusion.
It is manifest that where a professor get the idea that he is growing rapidly in grace, it is a suspicious circumstance. To grow better implies a more clear and distinct knowledge of the breadth of God's law, and a growing sense of the sinfulness of sin. But the more clean an individual's views become of the standard, the lower will be the estimate which he forms of himself, because the clearer will be his views of the distance at which he still is from that pure and perfect standard of holiness to which God requires him to conform all his conduct. If he compares himself with a low standard, he will think he is doing pretty well. This is the reason why there is such a difference in people's views of their own state, and of the state of the church. The compare themselves and the state of the churches with different standards. Hence, when one complains of the church, and thinks his brethren are cold, another thinks it censorious, and thinks it strange that the other should find so much fault with the church, when they appear to him to be doing pretty well.--The reason why he does not think the church is cold is that he is cold himself, and he does not feel his own state because he does not judge by the right standard, for he does not look at his life in the light of God's holy law. If a person shuts his eyes, he does not see the defilement on his person, and may think he is clean while to all around he appears to be loathsome. I have always observed this to be true, that when persons are making, in reality, the most rapid advances in holiness, they have the most debasing views of themselves, and the humblest sense of their state. I do not mean, that those who understand the subject, and who know what are evidences of growth in grace, may not by reasoning or by comparing their present with their former views, feelings, and character, come to the conclusion that they are growing in grace. But that, if they should determine simply by their present views of what they are, and what God requires, if they should not reason on the subject, they would come to the conclusion that they were growing worse and worse. Individuals who were making rapid progress have often felt so, because they saw more and more clearly the standard with which they are to compare themselves. But yet, if they understand well what growth in grace is, and what are the evidences of it, when they set themselves down to reason about the matter, they may become convinced that they are growing in grace, although at the same time they will feel more and more humbled under a sense of their sins.
III. I will mention some things that are evidences of growth in grace.
1. When an individual finds he has more singleness of heart and more purity of motive in his conduct, it is evidence that he is growing in grace. I will explain what I mean. Even religious men are apt to be influenced in their conduct by a variety of motives, and some of them may be merely selfish. These motives together make up the complex whole that influences the individual to do a certain act. For instance, suppose a man is asked to give money to build a church in some particular place. He may have a variety of reasons for doing it. He may wish to see a more respectable house there on some account, or it may be so located that if built it will increase the value of his property, or he wishes to be thought liberal, or it may be an object with him to obtain the favor of that church and people. All or any of these may have some influence in determining his mind, and still, after all, a motive of greater weight than the whole may be a desire to save souls and to build up the kingdom of God. Here it is easy to see that some of the considerations which make up the complex whole, are selfish, and so far are wrong and wicked. Now sinners are only selfish in all that they do. And when men are converted, although their leading object is to glorify God and save souls, yet when they are young in the Christian life, and weak in religion, ignorance and the force of habit will still keep them more or less under the influence of private considerations, and they will be exceedingly apt to perform right things from wrong motives. To grow in grace is to grow in purity of motive, more and more to exclude selfish reasons, and to act more exclusively from a regard to the glory of God.
You that are here can tell whether from year to year your motives are more single, more pure, more free from selfishness. How is it? Are you growing more and more free from selfishness? Do you act more with a single reference to God's glory, leaving self more and more out of view?
2. An individual who grows in grace is more and more actuated by principle, and less and less by emotion or feeling. I do not mean that such a person has less feeling, but that he acts less under the influence of feeling or emotion. He does things less because he feels so, and more because it is RIGHT. By principle, I do not mean a seed, or sprout or root, or any thing created and put into the soul. It is all nonsense to talk about such kind of holiness, or such a principle as that. By principle in contradistinction from feeling or emotion, I mean a controlling determination in the mind to do right.
Young Converts are seldom actuated at first so much by principle, but are borne along by the tide of their feelings, and unless they feel deeply, it is sometimes difficult to get them to act as they ought. But if they grow in grace, they will learn to go forward, and obey the commandments of God, whatever their feelings may be. Young converts are apt to imagine that all religion consists in emotion or feeling, and that whatever regard a man may have to the authority of God, however much regard he may have to what is right, still his conduct is not acceptable unless it be done under the full tide of emotion. He will therefore often wait till these emotions first exist in his mind, before he addresses himself to the performance of duty. But converts should know that the way to call emotion or feeling into exercise, is to engage, from principle, in the performance of duty. And that whenever a man engages in the performance of duty, from a regard to the authority of God, he may expect in this way, to call into exercise those feelings for which young converts are so apt to wait. A growing regard to the authority of God, a strengthening of the purpose of obedience, a more firm and constant adherence to what is right, and to what God requires because it is right, at once constitutes, and is an evidence of, growth in grace.
3. Another important evidence of growth in grace is more love to God. By this I do not man that there will be in all cases a conscious increase of emotions of love to God. But that there will be a strengthening of real attachment to God's character and government. This may be illustrated by the operation of a growing attachment to our country, or to our families. Very young persons are apt to have but little love for their country. But as they grow older, and have more experience, if the government is good, their attachment to it increases, until in the decline of life you will see an aged patriot with h is crutch and his gun, ready to turn out and hobble to the field of battle, to repel the invaders of his country's peace. I do not mean by this that increasing love to God leads individuals to use carnal weapons, in either building up or defending his government.--But that if they are true friends to God, the longer they live under his government, the more confidence they have in him, and the more attachment to him. An this increased attachment will evince itself in a growing veneration for all the institutions of religion, for the Sabbath, and for all the commands of God.
It is true, where there is growth in principle, there is commonly a proportionate increase of feeling. But this is not always so. There may be various causes for the mind's exercising less of felt emotion, while it actually increases in the strength of holy principle. But let there be no mistake on this subject. I have said that by principle I mean a regard to what is right, and a fixed determination to do that which is duty. Let no one say, therefore, while he neglects his duty, and his heart is cold, that he is growing in principle, although he has less feeling than others. To grow in principle is to grow in obedience. And it is in vain for a man who neglects his duty, to profess to be growing in grace.
4. Another evidence of growth in grace is when a person increases in love to men as well as to God. Growing Christians show by their lives that they become continually more and more inclined to do good to men. Their hearts become more and more enlarged in benevolence to all men. Young converts are apt to be chiefly influenced by a special and partial regard to individuals, their relations, or their former companions or neighbors. But as they grow in grace these circumstances make less and less difference in their feelings, towards their friends and towards others. Their hearts expand, they have more and more feeling for the heathen, and for all the world. As they increase in piety, they feel more and more a desire that the world would be converted to God. They have more and more heart-breaking agony at the dreadful state of men in their sins. And their views and affections rise and expand, until they feel, like God, their bowels of compassion yearn for all men that they might repent and be saved.
Beloved does it appear so to you? I this your state of mind? Are you more and more weighed down with the idea that men are going to hell? And have you greater and greater desires that the world should be converted to God?
5. Those who grow in grace feel more and more self-loathing. They have greater humility and self-abasement. I suppose the saints will increase in this to all eternity. I see nothing in this inconsistent with the happiness of heaven. It seems to me that to all eternity as the ages roll round, the saints will feel constantly, more and more, how much they deserve to be sent to hell for their wickedness. As they see the development of God's government, and the displays of his infinite goodness, they will be more and more impelled to exclaim, "O how wicked I was, what an infinite wretch, how much I deserve to lie in hell rather than be in heaven." It is so here in this world. Growing Christians more and more loathe themselves, and wonder how God could have spared such wretches. Job, when he was in darkness, justified himself throughout. He declared that his prayer was pure, and that he did not deserve these calamities. And God had said he was a perfect and an upright man. He did not mean that Job was perfectly sinless, for it was not true that he was perfect in this sense. But God meant to say, he was sincere. This is the meaning of the word perfect here. And it is generally the meaning of it in the Bible. He meant to say that Job was honest in religion. Job remained in this darkness, and all the while justifying himself, for a long time, but by and by he had clear views of God, and all his self-justification was gone, and he cried out, "I have heard of thee by hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Such deep self-abasement was the natural result of clear views of God.
So it was with Isaiah. I have been confounded when I have heard some persons talk of their purity, and of being entirely pure from their sins, and of being perfect. They must have vastly different views of themselves from what Job and Isaiah had. What did Isaiah see? He says, "I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim; each one had six wings, with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, Holy, HOLY, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." What was the effect of a view of God on his mind? "Wo is me!" said Isaiah, "Wo is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!" Hear that man saying that he is perfect, that he is pure from his sins. Is he? I ask again, Is he? I doubt that man. What! When Isaiah had but a glimpse of God, and of heaven, it was so holy that he was overwhelmed, he could not endure it, his self-abasement was so great that until an angel took a live coal from off the altar and touched his lips, and assured him his sins were forgiven, he was in despair. This is the natural result of having a clear view of God. It makes a person sink down in self-abasement lower, and LOWER, and LOWER, so that when he comes into the presence of God, he wants to find a place so infinitely low before God, words cannot express it.
Beloved, do you know any thing of this? Do you grow in grace in this respect? Do you feel day by day as if you wanted to get lower and lower in the dust before God? Have you ever felt so that you could say in truth, as President Edwards did: "O that I could get infinitely low before God!"
6. An increased abhorrence of sin is another mark of growth in grace. When a person feels day by day less and less disposed to compromise with sin, with any sin, in himself or in others, it is a sign that he is growing in grace. Is it so with you, beloved? Have you daily less and less fellowship with sin in all shapes, in YOURSELF and in others? Do you feel more as God feels towards sin?
7. He who grows in grace has less relish for the world.--He has less and less desire for its wealth, its honors, its pleasures. A desire for these things has less and less influence, as a motive, in his mind. He seeks wealth and honor only as instruments of glorifying God and of doing good to men.
A person who is growing in grace becomes less fond of worldly company and worldly conversation, and reading worldly books, or newspapers. You see a growing Christian engaged in holiness, and you will find he cares very little for intelligence of any kind, unless it has a bearing some way or other, upon the kingdom of God. You will find him rather seeking after the most spiritual things he can get hold of. He will seize hold of the most spiritual books to read. He will love the company and conversation of the most spiritual Christians. He will relish, and if possible attend the most pungent, and searching spiritual preaching.
8. Increasing delight in the fellowship of the saints, is another evidence of growth in grace. The growing Christian loves to unite with others in acts of devotion, and other religious exercises, and loves to enjoy religious intercourse. Do you know what this is, beloved? Do you increase in these?
9. He who grows in grace finds it more and more easy to exercise a forgiving spirit, and to pray for his enemies. There is nothing in which men, who are in their natural state, more resemble the devil, than in their harboring angry and revengeful feelings toward those who have injured them. A young convert often finds it hard to forgive. When he feels himself injured, very often he finds he cannot pray. Now if he lets it rankle in his bosom, till he gets angry, it is most likely he will backslide. He does not mean to be angry, but if he does not heartily forgive the one that he thinks has done him wrong, it will run on till darkness fills his soul, and his revengeful feelings will destroy his religion. If a person is growing in grace, he will find it more and more easy to forgive. He will find that he is less apt to lay up any thing against another, and that it costs him less trouble to get over supposed injuries, so as to be able to pray. Do you find this to be so, you who hear me to night; is it easier for you to forgive, can you forgive the greatest injuries at once, so that nothing of the kind can come up between you and God, to hinder your prayers?
10. Growing more charitable is an evidence of growth in grace. I do not mean by charitable, that he should be more ready to believe every body a Christian who professes to be so. But he is more ready to ascribe a person's apparently wrong conduct to mistake, or misapprehension, or some other cause, than to direct evil intention. Nothing more satisfactorily show the Christian. If you find an individual inclined to put the best construction on actions, whenever they are susceptible of two constructions; as, for instance, if an act appears on the face of it to be unkindness or neglect, and the individual is apt to think it was not designedly wrong, but only done through a mistake, or some other motive of that kind, you have evidence that such a person is growing in grace.
11. Having less and less anxiety about worldly things is an evidence of growth in grace. A growing Christian will more and more perfectly obey the command, "Be careful for nothing," that is, Be not anxious, "but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." All anxiety about the world is wicked. Persons who grow in grace have more and more confidence in God, and less and less love for the world, and of course will be less liable to feel anxiety about worldly things.
12. Becoming more ready to bestow property is a sign of growth in grace. If a person is growing in grace he will be more and more ready to give, and willing to give ALL that is in his power. He will rejoice to be called on. He will give more and more yearly. If he gives from right motives he will be glad when he has given. And the more he gives, the more he loves to give. His giving will be a part of his religion, and he will grow in it just as in prayer. Now you know, the more a person prays, the more he loves to pray. Do you find this evidence that you are growing in grace? Is it more and more a pleasure to you to give, according to your ability, for every good object, according as you have opportunity? Do you give according to your ability, or do you give only just as much as is necessary to keep up appearances?
13. He feels less and less as if he had any separate interest. It is a great thing, in regard to growth in grace, to feel that all you have is Christ's, and that you have absolutely no separate interests, no private interest in living, or in dying, or in holding property, or children, or character. "Whether we live, we live unto the Lord, and whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord's." This is great and solemn lesson to learn. Persons who grow in grace feel that their time, talents, property, life itself, have value, only in their relation to Christ's kingdom.
14. It is an evidence of growth in grace where a person becomes more willing to confess faults before men. It is a great thing to be ready to confess to men. It is a point often hard to learn. Men are willing to confess to God, because they have not so far to stoop, to do this. But to confess fully and frankly to men is a great stoop to a proud heart. But when they grow in grace, they would just as soon confess a fault, and confess as frankly, to a servant, or an enemy, or the lowest member of society, as to the most exalted individual. Do you know this? Do you feel it less and less painful to confess a fault? There is no man who knows his own heart, that has not found a struggle necessary to bring his mind to confess to individuals. A man can confess to God, but many cannot without a struggle confess a fault to a friend, or a servant, or an enemy. But as he grows in grace, he will become ready to confess, if he has done wrong to any body, yes, to the entire universe. If he is perfectly humble, he will be willing to confess, if all the universe should hear. If you cannot do this, be sure you are not growing in grace, if you have any grace.
15. Growing in grace raises a person more and more above the world. The growing saint regards less and less either the good or ill opinions of men. He feels that it is of little importance, only as it may affect his usefulness. I do not mean by this, that a person should have a proud contempt for the opinions of his fellow men. He may feel and manifest this, and instead of having more evidence of weanedness from the world, he will have evidence of his consummate pride. But if a person is growing in grace, only let him see his DUTY, and he will not turn aside although public opinion should be all against him. He will not do, or omit to do, any thing, but from a regard to the glory of God. The frowns or the flatteries of the world will not be taken into the account when he sees his duty. It is amazing to see how much of what appears to be religion, is, after all, a mere obsequious yielding to public opinion, instead of yielding obedience to God. Public opinion requires that those who have made a profession of religion should do so and so, and therefore they do so.
IV. I am show you how to grow in grace.
This is a highly important subject to young converts, that they should know how it is done.
1. They should watch. They should watch against their besetting sins.
(1.) Levity. I need not enlarge on this any farther than to say, that it is the besetting sin of many persons, and unless they place a tenfold watch at the door of their lips, they will never grow in grace. Once yielding to a spirit of levity, may grieve the spirit and put out your light for a day, and giving way once, but makes way for a repetition, so that unless you begin with decision and continue with great prayer and watchings, to keep down the spirit of levity, you are undone.
(2.) Censoriousness. Young converts are particularly in danger of this. They enter upon religion full of ardor, and they are soon amazed at the coldness and apathy of old professors. And they have room to be amazed. Heaven and earth are amazed at the manner in which old professors lay stumbling blocks before young converts. And it is no wonder that young converts, when they see such things, should imagine, in the warmth of their feeling, that such professors have no religion. And so they are liable to say hard and censorious things. But they ought to learn carefully to distinguish between the deep principles of ripe Christians, and the lively feelings of young converts. If they keep this in mind, they will not be so likely to misjudge. And whatever may be their sober judgment about the state of others, young converts ought to be very careful what they say of them. Don't keep talking about the faults of others. Do not speak censoriously of any. If you do, you will grieve away the Holy Spirit, and you will not grow in grace.
(3.) Anger. How many Christians are injured by letting their temper rise. If they are women, they fret at their servants. Men fret at their clerks, or at those who are in their employ, or they get angry with the government, or with their neighbors, go to finding fault in some way or other, that shows they do not watch their temper. How can they grow in grace?
(4.) Pride. Guard against pride and vanity in all their forms. Be very careful never to purchase any article of dress, or furniture, or any thing calculated to foster vanity in your mind. Woman, you are going to buy a bonnet, be careful not to get one that will make you think of it when you wear it. Alas! how much pains some people take to foster their own bad passions. The devil might go to sleep, in regard to some Christians; he has no need to lie in wait to tempt them, they tempt themselves, they are doing the very things that are calculated to puff them up with pride. Such foolishness is enough to make them the ridicule of Satan. Young females, young men, be careful, watch against this. In how many places has this been the history. During the winter a revival, many converted, all engaged; spring comes, and somebody sets them all agog from some new fashion, and then where is your prayer-meetings? Here are these young converts taken in the snare, and all gone off to worship the goddess of fashion. I mean that by degrees the young ladies and others are drawn of from conversation and thinking upon religion, to conversing and thinking of something new in dress or equipage, or some vain thing that eats up their spirituality, and leaves them in great darkness.
(5.) Selfishness in all its forms. Here is the great roof of all the difficulty. The is the foundation, the fountain, the substance and sum total of all the iniquity under heaven. Watch here, look out constantly, see where self comes out in your conduct, and there set a guard. If you are making a bargain, see to it that you do not act from selfish motives. Deal just as you would do if you were dying. do as you would be done by.
If you find you are disposed to act selfishly, show down the gate, stop there. If you are about to deal in any other way than you would if God stood visibly before you--STOP. The devil is in that bargain. You will never grow in grace unless you are exceedingly on your guard against self in your bargains. If you find this mighty self coming in to interfere, bid him to stand away. "Stand away, self, you are not to speak here, I am doing business for God." You cannot grow in grace, until you stop the mouth of this "self."
(6.) Sloth. This is an evil, great enough to ruin the world. How many converts stop and decline by sloth. In plain terms they get lazy. Like idle servants, they saunter about as if they had nothing to do, but will not take hold of the work, they are mere eye-servants, unprofitable enough, a moth to the church.
(7.) Envy. If you see others going ahead of you in prosperity, in influence or in talents, examine your feelings, and see whether you are pleased at it. If the sight gives you pain, or make you uneasy, beware.
(8.) Ambition. By this sin angels fell, and it is impossible to grow in grace without suppressing it.
(9.) Impure thoughts. We are so much under the influence of sensible objects that unless we watch diligently, before we are aware, we are perverted with impure thoughts. It is necessary to make a covenant with our eyes, and with our ears too, and all our senses, or they will prove the inlet of temptation and sin. If you find yourself in danger, turn your thoughts away instantly. If you let your mind run on, it is impossible you should avoid impure thoughts. Here is the responsibility, the will can control the thoughts, you can think of one thing or you can think of another, as you please, and thus control your emotions, and therefore you are responsible for them. Let an individual suffer his thoughts to dwell on a subject, and cannot but be affected by it, and he is responsible for the effect because he can govern his thoughts. In all such cases, I tell you, GO AWAY, turn of your mind, or impure thoughts will fester in your soul, till they prove a gangrene.
2. Another direction for growing in grace, is, Take care to exercise all the Christian graces. If a little child does not exercise its facilities, it will never be any thing but a child.
Rock it in a cradle till it grows to man's size, and it is still in a state of babyhood. It is impossible that the muscled should have strength but by exercise. It is equally impossible that the graces of a Christian should grow and have strength, if they are not exercised. Here I wish to suggest a thought for you to dwell upon. The soul thinks by using the brain, just as it sees by using the eyes, or hears by using the ears. And the brain needs exercise, in order to have strength, just as much as any other part of the body. What is it that gives power to the mind that studies. The exercise of the brain. Any power of the mind, intellectual or moral, increases by exercise. You know that the more you use your arm, the more powerfully you can use it, and with the more ease. See that musician, how he moves his fingers on his instrument, with what precision, and almost with the rapidity of thought. So it is with the mind that uses the brain. By exercise it gains the brain so entirely under control, that it can throw itself at once into any act, exercise, or attitude, and is never at a loss, or taken by surprise. Just so with the Christian graces, they must grow and be cultivated by exercise. It is just as absurd to expect that the mind can readily and powerfully throw itself into them, without practice, as to expect that it shall throw itself readily and powerfully into any intellectual operation without practice.
Exercise yourself especially in those things where you find yourselves most deficient, whether the defect arises from your previous habits, or constitutional temperament, or circumstances of life. If you are exposed to a particular sin, guard there. If you are deficient in a particular grace, exercise that.
(1.) Suppose you are naturally worldly minded, and in danger of being carried away by the love of the world. Shut down the gate, and determine that you will on no account add to your wealth, or lay field to field. Do nothing of the kind.
What would you think of any body who should go to reclaiming a drunkard by filling his cellar with wine and all sorts of tempting liquors? You would say he was deranged. Not a particle more beside himself that is that professor of religion, who knows he is inclined to love the world, and yet will go on adding to his wealth. He needs no devil, he tempts himself, he takes the most effectual course to destroy himself. If you are tempted to indulge a worldly spirit, pour out more and more, give often, give liberally, give heartily, bountifully, increase your gifts, give to every object, give away every thing you have on earth, if that is necessary to knock on the head this hateful spirit. Relieve yourself from the temptation to hoard up the wealth of this world. Carry this out, and you will find that the more you give, the more you gain advantage, and your soul will grow in grace.
(2.) Suppose you are in danger of being flattered and lifted up with pride. As a reasonable being you are bound to know this, and be on your guard. There is a woman who has a husband, doating on her, and wants to dress her up like a graven image and worship her. Be firm and say, "I am not going to be worshipped. I worship God myself, and will not be an idol for man." I have known some Christian women, who, when asked how they could wear such and such expensive dresses, say, "O, it is to please my husband, he is a worldly man, and loves to see me wear them, and he can afford it, and so I gratify him." Suppose now he should build a temple, and set up an altar in it, and then wish you to stand up there and be his goddess, and let him offer incense, and some one should say, "How is this? I thought you professed to worship Jehovah, and do you stand up here to be worshipped yourself?" You should reply, "O, I do it to please my husband, he is an ungodly man, and wishes to do so, and I like to gratify him, I hope in this way to lead him along, and retain an influence on his mind, that in God's time I hope to make him a Christian." Why, you have just as much right to say this, as you have to be decked out in all this gaudy drapery of fashion, and made an idol of in the way you are. REMEMBER, you are a servant of Jesus Christ, and you have no right to yield to any mortal, that authority which belongs to HIM. And besides, this pretence of doing it to please your husband, is, in nine cases out of ten, all a sham. You do it to please yourself. Beware. If you are inclined to be proud, guard against it as against the gates of death.
(3.) If you find that you are reluctant to confess your faults, break right over it, and confess to every body that you have injured. Practice it on all occasions, till you get the victory. Victory will come at last, if you are thorough. But there is no other way to get the upper hand of your evil propensities. If you indulge the feeling, you are just as certainly ruined, as a man who loves liquor is sure to become a drunkard, if he continues to drink. If he does not deny himself of every thing that can intoxicate or excite his appetite, he is gone. So with you, if you do not resist where you are exposed, you will just as surely go to hell as there is a hell.
5. Exercise decision of character. In nothing is decision of character so indispensable as in religion. In nothing else are there so many influences bearing against a man, and so many things that are calculated bearing against a man, and so many things that are calculated to turn him back from his purpose. To walk with God a man must walk contrary to the course of this world. He must fact public sentiment, and go abreast, not unfrequently, of the opinions of all the world, and nearly of all the church. If on the one hand, he can be awed by opposition, or on the other courted by smiles and flattery, he will be certain not to make headway, and stem the tide that is bearing him away from God. Very few persons exercise sufficient decision to maintain a spirit of prayer. No person can enjoy the spirit of prayer, who does not maintain a conscience void of offence, towards God and man. He must be willing to know, and do, all his duty. If he draws back from doing what he sees to be duty, or if he neglects to search and know what his duty is, he cannot enjoy the spirit of prayer. But most men are so much the creatures of public sentiment, so easily deterred by enemies, or kept away from duty by the flatteries and persuasion of friends, that they grieve the Spirit of Good, get into a temporizing, man-pleasing, man-fearing spirit, that dishonors God, and freezes the soul. A man must maintain great firmness of purpose, and great decision of character, to be undeviating in the performance of secret duties. Men are so apt to neglect secret prayer and private duties, when they do not at the time feel like engaging in them, that without uncommon energy of character, even the form of private duties will be more or less punctually attended to, according to the state of feeling in which the Christian finds himself at the time.
6. To grow in grace, a man must possess great meekness.
Meekness is patience under injuries. If a man suffers himself to be fretted by opposition, and thrown into a passion by obstacles that are thrown in his way, he may rest assured that Satan will manage to keep him in such a state of mind, that he will by no means grow in grace. A want of meekness is a sad defect in Christian character. A spirit to resent every thing is extremely unlovely, unchrist-like, and wicked. And perhaps there are few things that more disarm professors of religion, and nullify their influence as Christians, than a disposition to fret. If a Christian does his duty, he must take it for granted that he will meet with opposition. And as long as the church is in such a state at it now is, he must expect often to receive the most determined opposition from those from whom much better things ought to have been expected. In such cases he must learn to possess his soul in patience, and let patience have its perfect work. When he is reviled, he must learn not to revile again. And if he is persecuted, to threaten not.
Many individuals seem to attach great importance to their own reputation, and suppose themselves obliged to defend their own character, for the honor of religion. I am afraid of this spirit. It seems to me exceedingly unlike the spirit of Christ, who made himself of NO REPUTATION. He was reviled and slandered, and all manner of evil spoken against him, and yet he seems to have manifested no disposition to spend his time in going about, hunting up the authors of those slanders. He never acted as if he supposed that his honor, or the success of his gospel, required him to do so. And why the servant should be thought his master, I do not know.
V. I will mention some things that are evidences of declension.
Those of you who were present at the last lecture will recollect that I preached on backsliding, and in the course of it mentioned several things that are evidences of backsliding, or declension. I will now mention several others, that ought to be kept in view, as evidences of declension.
1. The person who grows weary of being asked to give for promoting the kingdom of Christ, is evidently declining. He says, "Now I think I have given about enough, there seems to be no end to it, and I mean to stop; there are so many agents constantly begging, it is time to break it up." You hear a man talk in that style, depend upon it he is either a hypocrite, and has never given from right motives at all, or he is a backslider, and is declining rapidly in piety. It is plain, that where a man gives from right motives, the more he gives, the more he loves to give. This holds just as true in regard to giving, as praying. If you find a man sick of giving to promote the kingdom of Christ, are you to call that man pious? Suppose he should get sick of praying, and say, "There is no end to this, I may as well stop first as last, for I go on in this way, by and by I shall have to pray all the days of my life." Would any body pretend to give him the character of a pious man?
2. Becoming backward to converse on the subject of religion, and particularly to converse on spiritual and experimental, and heart searching points, is evidence of declension. Young converts, when they are in the ardor of their first love, delight to pour out their hearts in spiritual conversation. They love to talk of the things of the kingdom. And when they lost their relish for this, you may be sure they are declining in piety.
3. When a person is less disposed to engage in the duties of devotion, public, social, or private, it is a sign of declension. If he does not love so well to pray, and read his Bible, and draw near to God, he must be declining in piety.
4. Taking more delight in public meetings than in private duties and secret communing with God, is another evidence of a declining state. Those who enjoy religion enjoy themselves nowhere so well as in secret. If you find it necessary to have the excitement of a meeting to stir up your feelings and created an interest in devotion, it is certain you are declining.
5. Feeling less delight in revivals of religion, is a sad token of declension. The young convert delights in revivals. How eagerly he seizes the newspaper to see where there are revivals. How he dwells on such blessed outpourings of the spirit. But when he declines in piety, he becomes less anxious to know about revivals. Revival intelligence no longer gives him joy, or causes such bounding of heart, as it once did. When you see a professor of religion uninterested in accounts of revivals and in hearing of the conversion of sinners, be sure he is in a state.
6. A person that becomes captious about measures used in promoting revivals, is in a declining state. If you find yourself growing very much afraid of the measures that good men pursue, and that God owns and blesses, for promoting revivals, you are evidently declining. If your heart was set on the object, then so long as you saw the object was gained, and sinners were brought in, the particular means by which it was done would give you no manner of concern unless they were manifestly wicked, and certainly you would not be disposed to take it for granted that they are wicked and unscriptural. But where you see people, I do not care who they are, beginning to be suspicious and captious and fretful about the means by which revivals are carried on, their heart is in a bad state. I do not mean to speak it unkindly, or disrespectfully, but I say it is a simple matter of fact that it is so. Men never act in this way when they are greatly engaged in promoting an object. They do not spend all their strength in finding fault with the means. See that man who is deeply engaged in carrying on an electioneering campaign. Do you find him captious about measures? What does he ask? "Is our candidate elected?" Not, "Was the vote carried by new or old measures?" You would laugh at any man who should pretend to be zealously engaged in promoting a cause, if his first question and greatest concern was about the measures, and if he lost all his interest in the event unless it was accomplished by new or old measures. No doubt the devil laughs, if they can laugh in hell, to hear a man pretend to be very much engaged in religion, and a great lover of revivals, and yet all the time on the look-out for fear some new measures would be introduced. Such conduct is not natural, and people will not believe such professions of zeal for revivals.
VI. I am to show how to escape from a state of declension.
1. You must admit the conviction that you are in a state of declension. One of the greatest difficulties with backsliders is to make them feel that they are backsliders. You continually hear them making excuses. They will not admit that they are in this sad state. When the condition of the backslider is described ever so plainly, they are exceedingly lo[a]th to admit that it means them. And until they admit this, there is no remedy.
2. Apply to yourself all that God says to backsliders, just as if you were the only individual in the world in that condition.
3. Find out the point where you began to decline. See what was the first cause of your backsliding, and give that up. You will often find this first cause where you did not expect it, in some things which you called a little matter, or that you tried to make yourself believe was not a sin. Multitudes have been kept down in this way, and perhaps have been trying hard for sanctification while holding on to some darling idol or some sensual indulgence. I knew a man who stood out in defending the use of tobacco, till it became a lust that eat out his spirit of prayer. Using some soft word, calling it a comfort or a medicine, or even baptizing it by a Christian name, and calling it a blessing of Providence, will not answer. God does not call it so. How many keep themselves in a state of decline and pretend not to know why it is so: "O, no, I cannot tell why I should be so long in the dark;" when they are laying out God's money to indulge their own appetite or pride. God will always hold them at arm's length, and will frown upon them when they pray, unless they search out and remove the cause of their declension.
4. Give up your idols. Whatever you find occupies your thoughts and calls you off from serving God, get rid of it, if you can. If it is an article of property, dispose of it in some way, give it away, sell it, burn it, away with it, rather than have it stand between you and God.
5. Be careful to apply afresh to the Lord Jesus Christ, for pardon and peace with God. Go to him as you did at first, as a guilty, condemned sinner, more deserving of hell than ever. Apply to this fountain, which is set open in the house of David for sin and uncleanness. Confess your sins fully, and forsake them, and thus return to God, and he will have mercy on you, and will heal your backslidings, and remember your iniquities no more.
1. There is no such thing as standing still in religion.
People talk as if religion was something they could cover up and keep, just as people cover up fire to keep it when they want to go to sleep, and then when they wake up in the morning, find a good bed of coals, all ready to kindle up again. This is all a mistaken idea. Religion is not such a kind of thing as they suppose. Religion consists in obedience to God. And when a man has no obedience he has no religion.
2. The idea that persons grow in grace during seasons of declension, is abominable. I have often heard people say, that it is necessary that revivals should pass away, in order to give religion time to take deep root. Nothing can be more ridiculous than to suppose a person can be making advances in religion, when in a state declension. Their whole progress is the other way.
3. There are but few persons that do grow in grace.
It is astonishing to see how little the generality of professors grow in grace. I have no doubt, that if persons would do as they might, and give the attention to it that they ought, the generality of professors might grow more in six months than they now do in all their lives. They might do more to counteract and remove all that is bad and to cultivate all that is good. One great reason why people do not grow in grace, is the erroneous idea they have of religion itself. Religion has been too much looked upon as something separate from obedience to God. And hence people set themselves down in inaction, and wait for God to do a work in them, instead of setting themselves at work to obey God. This notion of physical depravity, and physical regeneration, and physical sanctification is the great curse of the church. It leads Christians astray, and hinders their growth in grace. How many, instead of setting themselves resolutely to obey God, and setting their faces as a flint against all sin, with a determination to break up all old habits and associations, by repeated acts of resistance, passively commit themselves to the stream, and expect to be wafted home to glory in this lazy way, without the trouble of a conflict.
5. We see the great fault of ministers.
How much they are to blame. How little pains they take to train up young converts. Go now over the ground where there have been some of the greatest revivals, and what will you see? Instead of finding the young converts built up in their most holy faith, growing in grace, and adorning the doctrine of God our Savior, you hear all, old and young, complaining of general coldness.
"O 'tis a time of great stupidity, our church seems to be fast asleep, I do not know what we are coming to." Whereas, if ministers had only gone to work, when there was a revival, and when young converts were brought in, had trained them up to work, taught them how to grow in grace, pointed out their dangers, rebuked their sins in season an in love, they might still have been growing Christians, an honor to Christ, and the strength of the cause, and the revival might have been prolonged, and souls converted, to this day. Now where is their blood, and at whose hands will it be required? One great reason why ministers do so little to make young converts grow in grace, is because they grow so little in grace themselves. I say it in kindness, but my duty requires that I should say it plainly to my brethren. Their studies are intellectual, and of course their progress is intellectual, and often they do not grow in grace, as it is necessary they should, in order to lead the church forward in Christian experience. They do not go into the subject at all lengths so that they can come forth from the very depths of spiritual experience, and teach the church. I do not mean to say, that this is so with all Ministers, but it is evidently so with many.
6. Unless ministers grow in grace, it is impossible for the church to grow. Ministers may preach the truth, but they will not enter into the experience of Christians, so as to meet their wants, or tell them what to do in their various spiritual circumstances, or warm them of their danger, or tell them how to meet or escape it. The minister must have experience, or he will be a blind leader of the blind. Like people like priest, is a maxim founded on principles of correct philosophy.
7. Great pains should be taken by young ministers to grow in grace.
I have found that many young men have been stopped from entering on a preparation for the ministry by witnessing the experience of others in this respect. Others have been drives to the conviction that they must stop studying or lose their piety. There is no need of this, if they would start right. O that I could make all you men hear this. There is no necessity that young men, preparing for the ministry, should decline. And yet how many do we find, that come out of college with hearts as hard as the college walls, and by the time they are through the seminary, their piety is well nigh all gone. They may keep up certain appearances because they are ministers, when it is manifest to all that their piety is nearly extinct. This is a grievous thing, but it needs to be told. If I could come in contact with the young men preparing for the ministry, and found them not growing in grace, I would advise them by all means to stop studying, and give up all idea of entering the ministry, unless they would recover their spirit of growing piety. They will only do hurt. They are worse than no ministers.--They will lead the church back, rather than forward. The church will follow the minister, and if the minister leads them back from God, they had better have no minister. The churches must be on their guard against this evil. I would tell young men, firmly but kindly, not to be ministers, unless they are growing Christians.
When Christians generally shall feel this, and shall watch over young men, and when young men shall feel this watch of the church in every step of their path, pressing them up to duty, and urging them to be holy, then there will be a set of ministers to convert the world. Do you see in our seminaries of learning any great effort to cultivate the moral feelings of young men? I appeal to every young man who has been there. The race is an intellectual one. The excitement, the zeal, are all for the intellect. The young man who enters the lists, from the nature of the case, soon loses the firm tone of spirituality. And if he does not take the alarm in time, and break up his habits, he will lose his piety. His intellect improves, and his heart lies waste. While in college, he is sensible that he does not feel right, but he says to himself, "When I come to study theology, then I shall wake up and be all piety."
But alas! when he comes to take up theology in a cold abstract way he finds his spirituality as little promoted as if he was studying Euclid. Then he goes on, learns to write a pretty sermon, and to stand and gesture according to rule, and preach his cold, formal writing, that has no more of God in it than the molten calf. The reason is, he has no Holy Ghost.--God is not with him, nor is it possible that he should be, when he has more brains than heart. How can such a ministry convert the world? There must be a general understanding on this subject. The Education Society must see to it, the ministers must see to it, the churches must see to it, young men themselves must see to it, and must be made to feel that the church has her eye on them, and expects them to maintain deep piety, or the world never can be converted.
7. It is just as indispensable in promoting a revival, to preach to the church, and make them grow in grace, as it is to preach to sinners and make them submit to God. Many seem to think that if they can only get people converted, the whole ground is gained, and that they will grow in grace of course without any special aid. But the fact is, that young converts will no more grow in grace, without being properly preached to, than sinners will turn to God without being preached to. The truth, in the hands of the Holy Ghost, is just as essential to the one as to the other. If he converts a sinner, it is by employing truths preached, which are adapted to that. And if he causes a convert to grow in grace, he must employ truths preached, which are adapted to that. The perseverance of the saints depends just as entirely upon having truth adapted to his state, as the repentance of a sinner depends on having truth adapted to his state. Until Christians give up entirely the idea of a physical religion, and understand that sanctification consists in obeying the truth, the church never will go along. There has been an oversight of this subject, in many protracted meetings, where almost all the preaching has been aimed for the conversion of sinners. In such meetings, at least half the preaching would be to the church. And it should be adapted to their state. The church must be preached to, where they are, just as sinners must be preached to where they are.
8. See why revivals cease.
When there is a revival, and Christians are awake, and get to a certain point, and then are carried no farther, the revival will cease of course. If the church is kept advancing, the revival will not cease. If the instructions given, and the measures pursued, keep the church going ahead, and the young converts growing in grace, the revival will go on. Let the minister keep pouring in the truth where they are, let him know fully, from time to time, the state of the church, and find out just what they need, and treat them thoroughly, and not suffer them to stand still for the want of being searched, and probed, and urged along in their course, and the revival may gain strength and power all the time. If the means could be made to bear upon the church, and upon the young converts, to keep them out of the way of sinners, and to keep them continually advancing in holiness, the revival would never cease.
O, brethren, I wish you had patience, and I had strength enough to go on farther. There are so many points I wished to dwell upon before I closed this important subject. But if the Lord spares my life, I hope to have another opportunity of bring them before you, when I return to the city in the fall.
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