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of self-denial; of spiritual-mindedness ; of penitence ; and, in short, of every good work.
But the neglect of exercising Christian virtues and dispositions has, on the other hand, a baleful tendency, and is altogether inconsistent with a growing state of piety. If you would grow in grace, then, you must be an active Christian; but
your activity must commence in right motives of heart. Many are active in external things, while secret ambition and vain glory are the principles which in them are increased by exercise. But let us “ exercise ourselves unto godliness,” and in every species of benevolence, and also in the mortification of the sin that dwells within us. Thus shall we grow in every grace, and glorify God by bearing much fruit, and every variety of good fruit. According to the affectionate and earnest exhortation of Paul to the Corinthian believers, let us“ be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
3. A third thing necessary to the growth of the body, is a salubrious atmosphere. Nearly as much depends on good air, for the health of the natural life, as on wholesome food. Where the atmosphere is impregnated with pestilential vapours, it is difficult to escape disease, and much more so to increase in health and strength. Parents, who are solicitous about the welfare of their children, will place them, if possible, in a pure air. Well, there is a moral as well as a physical atmosphere. This is formed by the sentiments and character of society. Man must be connected, by social intercourse, with his fellow-men. The Christian religion does not require, nor even permit us, to go out of the world to avoid the wicked. And who is exempt from the influence of the prevalent opinions and practices of those around him ? But we find a great difference in different situations in the world. For, while some places have their whole moral atmosphere corrupted, so that no one can breathe it without the danger of being poisoned, others are comparatively safe and salubrious. When you enter some families, you are immediately sensible that you are walking on hallowed ground: every thing indicates that the fear of God is in that house ; and even the profane, when they enter, are overawed with some degree of reverence for the holiness which reigns there. But how different is the fact in regard to other dwellings! The same observation may be made respecting different towns and villages. Where the influence of religion is predominant, every one feels the benefit, who is not abandoned to vice. But, alas! how few are the places in which this happy state of things exists ! How does iniquity almost every where abound! This prevalence of corruption is, no doubt, one principal reason why there is no more growth in piety among Christians. They are weak and sickly because they breathe a tainted atmosphere. While we see the men of this world sagacious in the selection of places of residence where health may be enjoyed, and where the circumstances are favourable to their prosperity in other respects, we seldom discover in Christians a similar wisdom in relation to their spiritual improvement. • The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” Lot, smitten with the beauty and fertility of the land, pitched his tent “even unto Sodom," and there he abides. No wonder, then, that in such a place his righteous soul is vexed from day to day-no wonder that he makes slow progress in grace-no wonder that his family become infected with the love of sinful pleasure-and no wonder, that being allied to the wicked inhabitants of that voluptuous town, most of them perish in the common destruction. Even his wife is set up as a perpetual memorial of the danger of looking back with sinful desire or regret upon the pleasures of the wicked.
There is a prevalent evil in our country, which is so common, that it seems to be but little noticed. It is the practice of many professors, of leaving places, where Christian society and the ordinances of the gospel are enjoyed, to dwell in the new settlements, without making any provision for the supply of their spiritual wants; influenced, altogether, by a regard to worldly profit. In those desolate regions, it often occurs, that months and years pass over their heads, without the hearing of one gospel sermon.
Their children grow up, nearly as wild and irreligious as the heathen in their neighbourhood ; not even enjoying, in many cases, the benefits of a common school. How, I would ask, will such persons be able to answer for the irreparable injury done to their families, by removing them far away from the house of God, and all the public means of grace? The question may be asked, whether a man who happens to reside where evangelical preaching is not heard, ought to change his residence, so as to live under the sound of the gospel ? I would answer, assuredly ; unless he has a reasonable ground of hope, that he can be personally useful to the people where he dwells, or can be instrumental in procuring the establishment of the means of grace among them. For what is the body to the soul ? What comparison is there between growth in riches, and growth in grace ? And who can be excused for exposing to eternal death, the souls of those committed to his care, for the sake of procuring for them a larger share of earthly property? If we would grow in grace, we must live within reach of the means of grace. Let Christians look well to this matter, in choosing their residence, and also in disposing of their children, for the purposes of education, or for acquiring a trade or profession. And I would say, further, when you have choice of preachers, or are about to call a pastor, see that you have regard to the spiritual welfare of your soul, and the souls of your families, in making your selection.
4. But as the spiritual life, as well as the natural, is subject to various diseases, in providing for its health and growth, we must have respect to medicine, as well as to food, exercise, and air. We know, that in regard to the body, if disease prey on the vitals, food, however nutrtiious, will answer no purpose in promoting growth ; until, by appropriate reniedies, the malady is healed. And the same is true with respect to the soul. When diseased, it requires medicine ; and it is matter of gratitude, that our Great Physician has, for the most part, reserved these salutary applications to himself. Pastors, indeed, by a wise and tender application of the discipline of the church, may prevent and cut off many evils. Private rebuke, in Christian love, would often be medicinal to the erring Christian. But that process which is most common and effectual to recover such a soul, is to cause it to pass through the furnace of affliction. Because of the salutary effect of afflictions, in awakening the conscience, exciting to prayer, weaning us from the world, and breaking and humbling our hearts, they are a part of that provision which Christ has made for his disciples ; and are accordingly prouised, in close connexion with the sweetest blessings which he bestows. As gold is not only tried in the fire, but purified from its dross, so the believer comes out of the furnace often greatly improved. Let no one, therefore, think strange,"concerning the fiery trial.” “ Through much tribulation we inust enter into the kingdom.” “ In the world ye shall have tribulation.” These trials we are not to seek, but leave the application of them to our faithful Redeemer. But although it is not ours to employ this means of advancement in piety, yet, when we are cast down into the vale of sorrow, it is incumbent on us to improve these afflictive dispensations, and to esteem them among the most effectual means of growing in grace.
" No chastisement for the present is joyous, but grievous, yet afterwards it worketh the peaceable fruits of righteousness in them who are exercised thereby.” When was it known, that a backslider was reclaimed without the severity of the rod ? And where do we behold religion in its highest exercise, and loveliest appearance, but in aflliction? Therefore, one speaking from deep experience said, “ It is good for me that I have been afflicted; for before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept thy word.” When, therefore, O Christian, you enjoy this powerful means of healing the diseases of the soul; consider the benefit which may accrue to you, and yield not to weak despondency, nor to excessive sorrow; but with vigour set yourself to make such improvement of God's dealings with you, as may eventuate in your abundant growth in grace.
5. There is one thing more which demands our attention, in considering the means of growing in grace; and that of more importance than all the rest ; for without it, all other means will be useless. You will readily understand that I speak of the influences of the Holy Spirit ; with which I connect importunate, persevering prayer, as the means appointed by God, for obtaining those sanctifying influences. Of what avail would be the husbandman's ploughing and sowing, if the early and latter rain should be withheld ? And what would be the efficacy of all our reading, and praying, and meditating, and fasting; and of all our trials and afflictions, if the Spirit of God should be withdrawn? By the Holy Spirit, we obtain light, and faith, and indeed every good thought which ever arises in our minds ; “ for we are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God," “ who worketh in us both to will and to do of his own good pleasure.” But the promise of the Spirit does not supersede the use of the ordinary means of grace ;-it gives them all their worth and efficacy. And as this rich gift of God, this sum of all “ good things,” is particularly and solemnly promised in answer to prayer, I have chosen to consider this powerful means, in this place. Without prayer, the spiritual life cannot exist, much less can it grow. Prayer is the breathing of the “ new man” after God; it is the instrument by which we resist every enemy, and acquire every blessing. The
prayer of faith removes mountains. It unlocks the treasures of grace, and brings into the soul that blessed peace, which Christ promised to his disciples before he left them. But when we have declared, that the promise of the Spirit is made to prayer, with the strongest possible assurances of its being answered, we have said every thing; for that heart into which the Comforter comes, and takes up his abode, possesses the pledge, the earnest, and the seal of every blessing, in earth and heaven, which can be of real benefit to the Christian. “ All things,” says Paul, “are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come ; all are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's.”
Now, Christian, having set before you a view of the means necessary to be used to promote growth in grace, what remains but that you, without delay, apply yourself, with increasing diligence, to the work before you ? As this is a gradual progress, and as much of your time has already run to waste, it is urgently necessary, that you work while it is called to-day; especially, as, for aught you know, your remaining time may be very short. Aged Christian, when you look back on the race which
have run, have you not much reason to bewail your past negligence ? Do you not now see and feel, that many golden opportunities have been suffered to pass away without improvement ? In regard to the past, however, nothing can be done, but to repent. Yet from the loss sustained in time past, we may derive a powerful motive to make every exertion to grow in grace, during the short period that yet remains. Let us, then, loosen our worldly attachments ;-let us place the grave and all the solemn realities which lie beyond it, full before our eyes ;-and let us " give all diligence to make our calling and election sure.”
It is, dear brethren, high time for us to have all doubts resolved on this momentous subject. Doubt, as well as positive guilt, will be a troublesome companion on a death-bed. As you come near to your Father's house, then, let your thoughts fix on those numerous mansions which Christ has gone to prepare for his humble followers. We shall soon have no more concern with this world; why then should we be guilty of the folly of setting our affections
And, to younger Christians, let me say affectionately, if you cannot find, in the aged examples for imitation, yet surely if you listen to our experience, you may derive from us, lessons of warning. When we see you pressing forward, with all your sails expanded, we wish you a prosperous voyage ; but when we reflect on the hidden rocks and quicksands which lie in your course, we cannot but fear for your safety; especially, when we behold so many wrecks on every side.
Finally, I would say to all Christians, of every age, and of every condition, if you would be useful in life, and if you would be eminently happy, both here and hereafter, GROW IN GRACE. Amen.
THE LONG FORBEARANCE OF GOD TOWARD SINNERS. 2 PETER, iii. 9.-The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some
men count slackness; but is long-suffering to-us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
WICKED men, in the days of the apostle Peter, perceived that Jehovah long delayed to punish sin. This delay encouraged them to hope, that He would never punish it. The apostle viewed the subject in a very different light. He was as forward as themselves to notice and acknowledge the “ long-suffering of God,”-the delay of Justice to smite the sinner. But a very different construction did he put upon the divine forbearance. God had not forgotten his threatenings; but, “ unwilling that any should perish,” He was waiting, in His long-suffering to-them-ward," for transgressors to “ turn from their evil ways."
It is the object of this discourse, to illustrate the affecting truth, THAT GOD WAITETH LONG FOR SINNERS TO REPENT.
I. At all the different stages of life, through which they pass, God waiteth for sinners to repent and obey his commands.-Men are capable of obeying God, when they are very young. Obedience to His commands is the work of the heart; and every body knows, that a little child is capable of exercising the affections of the heart. When little children, then, are capable of knowing, that there is a God; that He is their heavenly Father ; that He is great, and wise, and good, they are capable of fearing Him, of loving Him, of obeying Him. And at every step of their course through life, from childhood to youth; from youth to manhood ; from manhood to old age ;-from the cradle to the grave, they are capable of obeying God; and at every step of this course, God is waiting for them to repent and devote themselves to his service.
For the sake of illustration, let it be said, that, at four years of age, a child is capable of repentance and obedience to the injunctions of the Bible. When the sun rises on the day, that makes him four years old—that makes him capable of religious affections and doings—God looks down upon him, and waits for his repentance. Hour after hour slides away, until mid