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INCREASE OF GRACE.
THE PATH OF THE JUST IS AS THE SHINING LIGHT, HAT SHINETE MORE AND MORE UNTO THE PERFECT DAY.
PROVERBS iv. 18.
In the last Discourse I considered at large the fourth consequence of regeneration. I shall now proceed to examine two other consequences of this great change in man, commonly termed, increase of grace, and perseverance to the end.
In the text the progress of the renewed man in holiness of character, is compared to the dawning light of the morning; which, barely perceptible at first, increases by gradations also barely perceptible, until the sun, ascending above the horizon, sheds over the face of the earth the full beams of day.
By this image we are naturally taught the following things :
I. That the holiness of the Christian is a beautiful object
1. The holiness of the Christian is a beautiful object.
The views which David, who uttered the instructions contained in this chapter, and which Solomon, who under the influence of inspiration repeated them to us, formed of this evangelical subject, are sufficiently manifested in the text. It is here compared to the most beautiful of all the objects in the natural world, presented to us in the most beautiful form ; viz. the light of the sun succeeding the darkness of the night, and advancing, through a most elegant and delightful progress, to the splendour of the perfect day. What this illustrious object is in the natural system, the holiness of the Christian is in the moral system.
In a similar manner it is spoken of throughout the Scriptures. It is styled by Christ the pearl of great price.' It is said by David to be ' more precious than thousands of gold, and of silver.' It is said by Job, that it cannot be gotten for gold ; that silver shall not be weighed for the price thereof; that it cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, the precious onyx, or the sapphire ; that no mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls; that the price of wisdom is above rubies;' and that its fame has been repeated in the regions of death and destruction. It is styled by Moses 'the beauty and glory of God' himself. • Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children: And let the beauty of the Lord our God be
us.' In conformity to these declarations, those who possess this character are styled, the excellent of the earth, in whom God delights ;'-'chosen ;- --wise;'_children of God ;'-followers of Christ;'--' born of the Spirit;'-'the precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold;'
_children of light; • heirs of God; and brethren of Christ.' In all these appellations, the moral beauty, the loveliness of mind possessed by Christians, as it appears to the eye of God, is strongly conspicuous; and its inestimable value is exhibited in the most forcible terms of which language is capable.
When we consider this subject in its own proper nature, and as viewed by human reason, we cannot but acknowledge the justice of the scriptural representations. The Spirit iafused into man at his renovation has been heretofore exhibited as the only voluntary source of happiness. This being admitted, as by unbiassed reason it must be, no other words can adequately describe either the excellence, the beauty, or the loveliness of this disposition. Its value is of course proportioned to the good of which it is the spring; and to this no limits can be affixed. In whatever degree it exists, and how
ever humble it may be, it still partakes of the common nature. The gold may exist in particles of dust ; still it is gold; and superior, both in value and lustre, to all the dross in the uni
He who consecrates his faculties, however small they may be, to the glory of God and the good of the intelligent creation, possesses the angelic character; and is not an angel only because his powers are inferior, and his disposition mixed, and hitherto imperfect.
But there is something still to be added to the beauty of the Christian character. The Christian, as has been úniformly taught in these Discourses, is in this world imperfectly holy. From his remaining sin arise to him many circumstances incompatible with a state of perfection. Many temptations, many difficulties, and many sorrows spring up in his progress towards heaven, which a glorified spirit cannot know. In his struggles with these, in the resolution with which he meets and encounters his spiritual enemies, in his contentions with • the last of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,' in his steady dependence on God, in his faithful prayers for divine aid ; in his patience, submission, and fortitude under sufferings, in his firm faith in the divine promises, and in his cheerful resignation of himself into the hands of God, there is often manifested a beauty and amiableness of character which is probably seen in no other world beside this, but which must be approved and admired in every world where wisdom is allowed to decide.
In all the meek and lowly virtues of the Christian character there is something pre-eminently delightful and endearing. I know not whether there is any character more strikingly beautiful and lovely than that of a penitent. Children, it seems to me, never interest us so deeply by any amiableness, and are never regarded with such peculiar endearment, as when they come to us with an ingenuous, cordial sorrow for their faults, a cheerful confession, and unfeigned designs of amendment. Such in a peculiar degree is the charming aspect of Christian penitence. On it the High and Lofty One, who inhabiteth eternity,' has declared himself pleased to • look,' and over it the joy of heaven is exquisitely enhanced.
II. The holiness of the Christian increases as he advances The very nature of the subject leads us, in a sense irresistibly, to the adoption of this doctrine. The regeneration of the Christian, is his moral infancy. If we suppose him to live through even a moderate period after he is renewed, it is incredible that his holiness should not increase in strength. The evangelical powers (if I may call them such) as certainly increase by the progress of time, and by successive exercise, as the natural powers.
Indeed, the increase of the natural powers is of course an increase of those which are evangelical. Every illumination of the mind, every new degree of capacity which it acquires by thinking, for more just and comprehensive thought renders the intellect more rigorous for every future exertion. The word of God is to the Christian the chief object of intellectual investigation. The truths which it reveals are those on which he especially loves to dwell, and about which his mind is peculiarly enlightened by successive inquiry. It is here that his capacity is enlarged, and his intellectual strength increased.
In a manner equally natural, his affections also improve in then energy. Parents love their children more intensely, because thev have loved them long. In the same manner friendship is continually strengthened by time; and in the same manner all our other affections. What is true of these is equally true of evangelical affections. They also in their own nature become more firm, more vigorous, more operative, from the mere fact that they are often exercised. So far as experience teaches us, or reason is able to divine, all the powers of intelligent beings, by a common law, increase in their strength whenever they are regularly exercised.
With these dictates of reason those of the Scriptures perfectly harmonize. Were this not the fact, however plain the conclusions of reason might seem, they would probably fall short of satisfying a solicitous inquirer into this subject. By the Scriptures every question concerning religion is to be decided ; and happily the decision in the present case is complete. There we are taught, that the good seed, the word of God, when sown in good ground,' spriags up and bears fruit thirty, sixty, and an hundred fold. There we are informed, that Christians abound more and more' in the various graces the Gospel; that the faith of the Thessalonians' grew exceedingly.' that the love of every one of them abounded' towards their fellow saints; and that the faith of the Romans increased in such a manner as to be " spoken of throughout all the world.'
The prayers of St. Paul also for his fellow-christians; prayers dictated, as you well remember, by the Spirit of God; perfectly coincide with this scheme. The Lord,' said he to the Thessalonians, ' make you to increase, and to abound, in love one toward another, and toward all men.' To the Colossians he
ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom, and spiritual understanding ; that ye may walk worthy of the Lord, unto all well pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God. Of the same tenour are his petitions for Christians of other churches.
With these declarations and prayers, the commands given us in the Scriptures concerning this subject entirely agree.
Giving all diligence,' says the apostle Peter, add to your faith, virtue ; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience ; and to patience, godliness ; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity. And again, Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.' This thing I do,' says St. Paul to the Philippians, ' forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ. · Brethren, be followers together of me.' Generally, it may be observed, that the precepts and exhortations given by St. Paul to the several churches, are of the same nature; the great object of them being to promote the advancement of Christians in holiness.
Finally: Of this advancement, thus made the subject of declarations, prayers, and precepts, the Christian is amply assured by promises abundantly found in the Scriptures. If he faithfully endeavour to improve himself in the divine life, if he humbly and fervently ask the blessing of God upon his labours, he knows that on the one hand the grace of God will be sufficient for him ;' and on the other, that this Almighty friend “will never leave him, nor forsake him. That holy and good Spirit, the immediate Author of all his spiritual blessings, will dwell in him, will lead him, will help his infirmities; and finally and safely conduct him to the possession VOL. III,