Page images

an increased acquaintance with the Bible, and acts on the knowledge thus acquired, his Christian character progresses and be comes more fully developed.

Secondly, we may expect progression and continued development, because the Christian increases in spiritual strength, and thus has more power to perform his duty and to resist temptation. If we look at natural life and examine its characteristics we find that a few persons remain always physically weak and helpless. They increase in years and grow in size, but not in strength. The muscles enlarge, but there is very little increase of physical power; they continue dependent on those around them, and perhaps on arriving at manhood are nearly as helpless as when infants. Usually, such persons are idiots as well as weaklings. A feeble mind is connected with a feeble body. Again, there are persons who grow physically strong and have the full use of their muscular powers, who yet remain mentally weak, and pass their lives in a state of imbecility. But these cases are exceptions to the general rule. In every one of them we know that there is something radically wrong causing this feebleness of body or mind; for the general law is, that food and exercise develop muscular power, from infancy to manhood; and that the use of the intellectual faculties expands the mind, causing it to grow stronger and stronger, and increasing its ability to grasp those special matters to which it gives particular attention.

So, also, the use of Christian privileges and the exercise of religious duties develop and expand the Christian character, so that it is less difficult to resist temptation. Duties become easier. It is affirmed of wisdom, i. e., true religion, “Her ways are ways of pleasantness.' This is true! But it is also true, that the young

Christian sometimes finds his duties trying, and the path of self-denial painful. Stimulated by his new-found love to Christ, he is willing to make sacrifices and to relinquish what he once loved. Yet he sometimes realizes that while the spirit is willing the flesh is weak. But by faithfulness in the performance of these duties, he grows stronger and stronger, till that which was once hard and difficult becomes easy and pleasant, and he can say, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” “I delight to do thy will, O my God.” And he can sometimes add, “ We glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope ; and hope maketh not ashamed: because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Rom. 5: 3—5.)

In such circumstances, it is less difficult to resist temptation. We are exhorted in the Scriptures, “Giving all diligence, 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.” (2 Pet. 1: 5—7.) And it is added, “For if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” (2 Pet. 1: 10.) Thus by the practice of Christian duties, and the participation of Christian privileges, we lose our relish for the things we once loved, increase in spiritual strength, and are continuously perfecting our Christian character. Thereby we may expect the progressive and continued development of Christian character, from the increased experience of communion with Christ. At first the believer's hope is comparatively feeble. We say comparatively, because we are aware that there are differences in this respect. In many cases, the commencement of a hope in Christ is very weak, while in others it is more decided in its character. Some young Christians think that their hope is very strong indeed. But we have no hesitation in saying, that whatever it may be at first, it is comparatively feeble to what it may become. A man taught by the Holy Spirit that he is a sinner, trusts in Christ, because he has a realization of his personal danger; and learns that Jesus Christ died to save him. This is his only hope, his last resource, the single way of deliverance from ruin. But he has had no experience of the blessedness of this trust

, and he cannot realize the wondrous personal results which will follow in consequence of this act of faith ; " as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Cor. 2 : 9.)

He has been deeply anxious concerning his state, and it may be has been filled with terror and alarm lest eternal ruin should

overtake him. Now, “being justified by faith, he has peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5: 1,) and he finds that it is a “peace which passeth all understanding. " He enters into his closet that he may pray to his Father; and in a fuller sense than he expected, he finds his Father there and receives a rich blessing from his gracious hand. He reads the Word of God and meditates thereon, and God speaks directly to him through this word so that he understands it better than ever before; and finds it the special truth which he needed. He listens to the preaching of the gospel, and that preaching unfolds new views of truth, and his soul is fed thereby. He meditates on the works of God, and again God reveals himself to him in a special manner. He attends to some duty which he expected would be irksome, but he finds that it is pleasant, for the Holy Spirit is near, aiding him in its performance. While engaged in the general business of life, he is constantly looking to God for guidance, he seeks in every thing to glorify God; and he feels with reference to every thing which he does, “Even this is for God.”

He has aid in circumstances of trial. Difficulties come upon him, and sorrows weigh down his spirits. It may be that business arrangements which looked fair, grievously disappoint his expectations. Perhaps his own familiar friends are estranged, or his Christian brethren too readily believe some evil report concerning him, and therefore treat him as a transgressor. Sickness may enter his family, or may lay himself aside from active employment, disarrange his plans and interfere with his temporal prosperity; or death may bereave him of dearly loved ones, perhaps stroke after stroke coming in quick succession. But in these or other heavy trials God sustains him; and though his heart is sore and his anguish great, he can exercise implicit trust and confidence in God. Knowing that “all things work together for good to them that love God,” he can say in the midst of these trials, “ Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” (Heb. 3: 18.)

He has deliverances from temptation. Perhaps this comes upon him with powerful force, and he trembles under it. It may be a temptation to indulge in some former evil habit, or it may be something before unthought of. Either way, while he hates the sin, he may be sorely pressed by the temptation. But God manifests his delivering power. He resists the devil; and the devil flees from him; and he understands the force of that statement concerning Jesus Christ, “For in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Heb. 2: 18.) He realizes in his own experience that “ The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation.” Thus his hope grows stronger and is the necessary result of his increased and varied experience. These seasons of communion with God are repeated; this aid in circumstances of trial and difficulty is frequently afforded, and these deliverances from temptation recur again and again.

The hope of the Christian is strengthened because he is getting nearer the end of his journey. Once he was only at its commencement. All before him was strange and untried. He knew only by report what difficulties he should encounter, and only by faith, the help he should receive. But now he has passed over a large portion of the pathway, and all along it he has found grace to help him in time of need. All the promises of God have been in Christ, “yea, and in him, Amen." (2 Cor. 1: 20.) Thus he has more confidence that he shall finally overcome through Jesus Christ. He is able to trust more fully in Christ : and he believes that all through his journey help will be afforded him. He believes that Jesus is able to keep him from falling, and to present him faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. And in this confidence, he exclaims,

“His love, in time past, forbids me to think

He'll leave me at last, in trouble to sink.”

He now has clearer views of heaven. When he first believed in Jesus Christ as his Saviour, he received not only a knowledge of sins forgiven, but also a hope of heaven. Yet that home of the Christian seemed a long way off; now it seems nearer and he thinks of it more as his home. John Bunyan has well illustrated this in his “ Pilgrim's Progress.” When the pilgrims had escaped from Doubting Castle and had reached the Delectable mountains, the shepherds on these mountains shewed them

many things and finally took them to the top of the high hill called Clear, and gave them the perspective glass to look at the gates of the Celestial City. But before this, they had seen the men whose eyes had been put out by Giant Despair, stumbling among the tombs; and the last thing they had looked at was the door on the side of a hill which they were told was a by-way to Hell, and this having excited their fears, the remembrance of it caused their hands to shake so that“ they could not look steadily through the glass, yet they thought they saw something like the gate and also some of the glory of the place.” But when these same pilgrims reached the land of Beulah, they were “out of the reach of Giant Despair, neither could they from this place so much as see Doubting Castle. Here also they were within sight of the City they were going to,” and “here they heard voices from out of the City, loud voices, saying, “Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh ! Behold, his reward is with him!' . . and drawing near to the City, they had yet a more perfect view of it.” In these circumstances, whatever difficulties may present themselves to the Christian, he can say, “ The Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. He is rear that justifieth me; who will contend with me?” (Isa. 50: 7, 8.) Such a Christian has grown “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.”

But if, as we assert, it is both reasonable and scriptural to expect this progressive and continued development, it may be asked how we account for the prevalence of the opposite opinion, and for the fact that so large a number of professors of religion make very little progress, and continue comparatively feeble. We think that there are many things which will prevent spiritual growth and development, and that wherever these are ·hindered, the opinion will be encouraged that they are not to be expected. We will name some of them. Prominent is the neglect to make a public profession of faith in Christ.

This is one of the first temptations that assail young Christians, and it is pressed on them by specious reasoning. They have seen many, after making a public profession, grow cold, or live inconsistent


« PreviousContinue »