God has assigned to each creature his station and measure of perfection, having created in each creature the inclination to be in that station and to strive for perfection. Heavy objects have a downward inclination, whereas fire is inclined to go upward, and the sparks of fire rise upward to float away. A fish seeks out the water, a bird chooses the air, and other animals seek out dry ground. As soon as a seed germinates, the plant will not rest until it has attained its proper height and size. As soon as a living creature is born, it will seek for food in order that he might grow. This is also true for spiritual life. As soon as a believer has been regenerated, he will be dissatisfied with the feeble measure of grace he possesses, and will at once be desirous to grow—yes, would desire to be perfect at once. This is so typical for a believer, that whoever does not have this smarting desire is no true believer.
Our attempt to understand the essence of a given matter will be in vain if we do not first of all know what this essence is. Therefore, we shall 1) show that growth is common to all believers, 2) show what the nature of spiritual growth is, 3) call man to examine himself to ascertain whether he is growing or not, 4) subsequently exhort everyone to strive for growth, 5) warn for obstacles which impede one's growth, and 6) identify those means which are subservient unto growth.
That it is natural for a believer to grow—a truth which is to be impressed upon your heart—is evident for the following reasons:
First, God promises that He will cause His regenerated children to grow. "Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall —Vol. 4, Page 140— flourish in the courts of our God" (Ps 92:13); "I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon" (Hos 14:5-6); "Ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall" (Mal 4:2). God's promises are in truth, and He who has declared them will also perform them. Let the godly person remind the Lord of this.
Secondly, it is the very nature of spiritual life to grow. Wherever the principle of this life is to be found, it can be no different for it must grow. "But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Prov 4:18); "The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger" (Job 17:9). This refers to the children of God, who are compared to palm and cedar trees (Ps 92:12). As natural as it is for children and trees to grow, so natural is growth for the regenerated children of God.
Thirdly, the growth of His children is the goal and objective God has in view by administering the means of grace to them. "And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints ... that we henceforth be no more children ... but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head" (Eph 4:11-15). This is also to be observed in 1 Pet 2:2: "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." God will reach His goal and His Word will not return to Him void; thus God's children will grow in grace.
Fourthly, it is a duty to which God's children are continually exhorted, and their activity is to consist in a striving for growth. That it is their duty is to be observed in the following passages: "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 3:18); "He that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still" (Rev 22:11). The nature of this activity is expressed as follows: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after" (Phil 3:12). If it were not necessary for believers to grow, the exhortations to that end would be in vain.
Fifthly, this is also conveyed by the difference in believers in regard to their condition and the measure of grace. In the church there are children, young men, and fathers. "I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father" (1 John 2:13). It is in grace as it is in nature: first a child, —Vol. 4, Page 141— then a young man, and after that a father. All this proves it to be a certainty that it is neither the mere duty nor that it would be merely a good thing for the godly to grow, but it is their nature. Thus, those who do not manifest any growth are not believers. Hereby the unconverted ought immediately to be convinced that as yet it is not well with them. Furthermore, this can, first of all, be of comfort to God's children regarding the grace they possess, and they can already in the beginning be stirred up to strive for spiritual growth.
Spiritual growth is a gracious work of God in the regenerate whereby they increase in both habitual and actual grace.
Spiritual growth is a work of God. The spiritual life of the regenerate proceeds from God, who has caused them to be regenerated according to His will. The preservation of that spiritual life in them is also from God, who, by His power, preserves them by faith unto salvation. If that were not so, they would lose it a thousand times in one day. Likewise the increase and growth of spiritual life also proceed from God. Believers, by reason of the spiritual life within them, cannot of themselves bring about anything unless this were at all times joined by the preceding, cooperating, and pursuant power of the Holy Spirit. "Without Me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5); "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do" (Phil 2:13). The persons referred to here are already regenerate, and yet these words are said of them. Since it is God who grants, preserves, and activates life, it is likewise He alone who causes life to increase. "Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish" (Ps 92:13); "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength" (Isa 40:29). The disciples therefore prayed, "Increase our faith" (Luke 17:5).
The Lord causes spiritual life to grow by granting an increased measure of His Spirit. The water which Ezekiel witnessed coming out of the sanctuary, continually increased. First it came to the ankles, then to the knees, then to the loins, and after that it could not be passed over (Ezek 47:1-5). Elisha desired a double portion of the spirit of Elijah and received it (2 Kings 2:9). On the day of Pentecost the apostles were filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:4). As God, in the realm of nature, causes trees and herbs to grow by way of rain and sunshine, He likewise does so in spiritual life. He does so by means of:
(1) the Word, that is, the sincere milk (1 Pet 2:2);
(2) prayer (Ezek 36:26-27,37);
(3) providing us with examples of those who have a greater —Vol. 4, Page 142— measure of the Spirit, whereby we may perceive that there is more to be had than we personally possess, and whereby we are thus stirred up to emulate them (Phil 3:17);
(4) trials and tribulations (2 Cor 4:17);
(5) prosperity, physical (Acts 3:8) as well as spiritual (Neh 8:11).
Those who grow are the regenerate. That which does not exist can neither be increased nor decreased. Growth presupposes the presence of life. Some die shortly after having been regenerated—such as the thief on the cross and others who are converted upon their deathbed. The life such persons have received has the propensity toward growth, but lacks time, and it is at once made perfect.
Some grow rapidly and are "as plants grown up in their youth" (Ps 144:12). They grow by the day, so that everyone observes it and is amazed. However, the Lord will occasionally take such away after a short season, and for them it is true what is written in the apocryphal book of Wisdom:
But though the righteous be prevented with death, yet shall he be in rest. For honourable age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is measured by number of years. But wisdom is the gray hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age. He pleased God, and was beloved of Him: so that living among sinners he was translated. Yea, speedily was he taken away, lest that wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul. For the bewitching of naughtiness doth obscure things that are honest; and the wandering of concupiscence doth undermine the simple mind. He, being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time: for his soul pleased the Lord: therefore hasted He to take him away from among the wicked (Wisdom 4:7-14).
Some remain small; they do grow somewhat, but do not make much progress. Also in nature all men are not equally tall; there are giants, men of medium height, and dwarfs. This is also the case here. Some remain feeble, having but little life and strength. This can be due to a lack of nourishment, living under a barren ministry, or being without guidance. It can also be that they naturally have a slow mind and a lazy disposition; that they have strong corruptions which draw them away; that they are without much strife; that they are too busy from early morning till late evening, due to heavy labor, or to having a family with many children, and thus must struggle or are povertystricken. Furthermore, it can be that they either do not have the opportunity to converse with the godly; that they do not avail themselves of such opportunities; or that they are lazy as far as reading in God's Word and prayer are —Vol. 4, Page 143— concerned. Such persons are generally subject to many ups and downs. At one time they lift up their heads out of all their troubles, by renewal becoming serious, and they seek God with their whole heart. It does not take long, however, and they are quickly cast down in despondency—or their lusts gain the upper hand. Thus they remain feeble and are, so to speak, continually on the verge of death. Some of them occasionally make good progress, but then grieve the Spirit of God and backslide rapidly. For some this lasts for a season, after which they are restored, but others are as those who suffer from consumption—they languish until they die. Oh, what a sad condition this is!
Some progress steadily—which is not to imply that they have no opposition. It occurs only rarely that someone increases in strength by a wise conduct relative to the truth; and, without much strife and many comforts. Rather, they generally increase in the way of strife, since vigilance is present; and by the exercise of faith, fasting, prayer, reading, spiritual fellowship, the sharing of their gifts and graces with others, they overcome everything and proceed in the strength of the Lord Jehovah. They are those who from children become young men and then men and fathers in Christ. Since, however, such differ greatly as far as strife, intermittent seasons of backsliding, and the vicissitudes of life are concerned, they neither all attain the same measure of strength nor grow until their death. It can happen that a godly person who has become a man in Christ becomes weak spiritually in his old age when everything physical begins to weaken—yes, that prior to his death he falls into a particular sin, as is to be observed in David, Asa, Solomon, and Hezekiah. Therefore, one needs to pray most earnestly, "Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth. Now also when I am old and grey-headed, O God, forsake me not" Ps 71:9,18. Someone has expressed this in this sweet verse:
Qui me servasti puerum, juvenemque virumque:
Nunc fer opem misero, Christe benigne! seni.
Thou hast fed and preserved me;
First as a child, then as a young man, and now in old age;
However, help me now, oh Lord,
In my gray old age.
Oh, cause me to proceed prudently,
And to stand firm for the truth as a rock.
Let my last time be my best time;
Let my life be one of peace and my end a joyous one.
Datheen adds the following poem:
Lord, when I shall be old and cold,
And weak and full of sorrow,
Then do not cast me away!
Exalted Lord, also when I am wretched above measure,
Then do not forsake me!9
However, some proceed steadfastly until their death. "They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing" (Ps 92:14). Thus, the Lord grants to each of His children their own measure of growth, the one more and the other less. The smallest one is as much His child as the greatest among them, and He loves the little ones as much as the mature ones. He will bring the one as well as the other into heaven.
Spiritual growth occurs in reference to habitual grace as well as actual grace. We shall first consider spiritual growth in reference tohabitual grace.
(1) The increase in gifts to edify others (even if the use of these gifts is of increased benefit to others) is not evidence of growth if such activity does not proceed from habitual grace being in the soul. As such, an unconverted person can then excel a gracious person.
(2) It is also no indication of growth if someone increasingly refrains from sin, and becomes more eminent in the exercise of all manner of virtues, while in the meantime there is no improvement in the virtuous disposition of the heart. In external things the natural man can excel the truly godly person. Thus, one who has but a small measure of habitual grace can in this respect far excel him who has a greater measure ofhabitual grace. This is simply due to much activity proceeding from his nature and but little from continual union with Christ and making use of Him daily unto justification. One who does not continually strive to live in a reconciled relationship with God, and thus makes no daily use of Christ as His Surety, has but a small measure of purity in his sanctification.
(3) Spiritual growth also does not consist in receiving many comforts from the Lord, there being a greater measure of holiness at the time when this comfort is experienced. At such a time one is being carried and drawn forward. This is similar to a man carrying a child, and like a man taking a child by the hand who is willing to walk, thus causing the child to walk more rapidly than he would be —Vol. 4, Page 145— able to do in his own strength. The Lord refreshes His children at times in this manner, but when He puts them back on their own feet, they have but little more strength than was previously the case.
However, spiritual growth first of all consists in the increase of spiritual light. This is not an external knowledge of the literal sense of the Word of God, for the converted and unconverted have this in common—yes, the latter can even excel the former in this. Rather, there is an increase in spiritual light. Such a person understands the spirituality of the truths, that is, in their essential and spiritual nature. This light has an inherent warmth and ignites the soul in love, renders one fruitful, and brings spiritual truths into the soul, so that whatever is true in the Word also becomes true within. This light enables them to see God more clearly in His attributes and works—not only external to themselves but also within themselves. When there is less light in a room, only large objects and any obvious filth can be discerned. When the sun shines its rays brightly into a room, however, we shall see in those rays a multitude of dust particles which previously were not visible. Such is also true here. The more we see of God, the more we shall perceive the pollution of our heart. Spiritual growth consists in the increase of such light. "But grow ... in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 3:18); "I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning" (1 John 2:13); "Now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself" (Job 42:5-6).
Secondly, spiritual growth consists in more persistent and steadfast fellowship with God. Union with God constitutes the life, joy, and salvation of the soul. The unconverted are entirely without this, a regenerate person has but a small beginning of this, and he who may be a father in Christ has a larger measure. This is the essential issue, and everything is contingent upon it. One who receives a larger measure of grace receives this, both in larger measure and in greater steadfastness. The disposition of the heart is Godward, and the thoughts will be focused upon God. He will pray, yearn for, desire after, and speak with the Lord. His heart will be fixed upon the Lord, and he will rest, rejoice in, and glorify Him. In such a frame he lies down, sleeps, and awakes, while still being with Him. His thoughts will then not gravitate toward earthly and vain things, but to his God. He will immediately be aware of any estrangement or darkness setting in. It will without delay cause grief, and he will not be able to rest until intimate and humble communion with the Lord has been restored. This is the epitome of his felicity. "Nevertheless I am continually with thee" (Ps 73:23); —Vol. 4, Page 146— "But it is good for me to draw near to God" (Ps 73:28). The more the latter is true for a person, the more he grows.
Thirdly, spiritual growth consists in making use of Christ with more understanding and a greater measure of faith. Growth which does not center in Christ is no spiritual growth. He who is of the opinion that he only needed Christ at the outset of his spiritual life and that he is now beyond that and thus leaves Christ alone, only focusing upon holiness—or if he solely makes use of Christ as an example for holiness—has gone astray and regresses more than he progresses. He who lives, lives in Christ "who is our life" Col 3:4, and he who grows, grows in Christ. "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him: rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith" (Col 2:6-7); "But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph 4:15-16). Christ is the vine, believers have been grafted into this vine, and continually draw sap from this vine. They live and grow by means of the sap from this vine, and they never progress so far that they have no need of the vine, Christ (Rom 6:5). "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit" (John 15:5). We grow in Christ when we continually unite ourselves with Christ by faith as our Surety unto justification; that is, if we continually make use of Him as the way and as the High Priest to go unto God by Him. This means that we shall neither dare nor are able to approach unto God except through Him, being acquainted with God's majesty, holiness, and our own sinfulness. We shall furthermore understand that it is unbecoming Godward and us-ward to have fellowship with God apart from Him. Furthermore, we grow when we do not consider God's attributes in and of themselves, but rather as they manifest themselves in Christ, and as such reflect upon us. This is the work of angels, and the more a person increases in grace, the more he will exercise himself in this. All this constitutes growth, and he who does not grow in this respect is not growing—however much this may appear to be so and he may imagine himself to be increasing in other things. Such growth is worth little.
Fourthly, spiritual growth consists in a purer sort of engagement. The more we increase, the more we shall take note of the manner in which we engage ourselves. We shall then find no delight in our conduct if it is not governed by a holy objective; that is, not having —Vol. 4,
Page 147— ourselves in view, but doing all to the honor of God 1 Cor 10:31, in the presence of God Gen 17:1, in obedient submission to God and His will Eph 6:6, in love 1 Cor 13:1, in the fear of God Job 31:23, and in believing union with Christ and through Christ with God (Heb 1:6). We shall thus do everything out of God, for God, and unto God. This is what is meant by our deeds being "wrought in God" (John 3:21). Thus, spiritual growth does not only consist in doing much, but in doing it well.
Fifthly, spiritual growth also consists in an increased manifestation of grace. Habitual graces cannot be restrained from manifesting themselves, but will break forth as actions. When a believer is actively engaged in mortifying sin and intent upon the practice of a virtue, this will beget a frame of heart which opposes all sin and is inclined toward all virtues. The heart will become increasingly virtuous, and thus a good heart will bring forth good deeds, and the exercise of good deeds will improve the frame of the heart. When a godly person grows, he not only grows in one virtue, but in all. He does not first totally mortify the one sin before proceeding with the next. He also does not first learn one virtue, and having learned that, move on to another; rather, it transpires simultaneously. He does indeed focus more on the one sin and on the one virtue more than the other. He is also frequently more victorious with the one sin and virtue than with the other. At the same time he gains in spiritual-mindedness and thus prevails over all sins and unto all virtues. Nevertheless, the one sin will retain more vigor than the other, and the one virtue will be exercised less than the other.
First, there is growth when one becomes concerned about more sins and desires more virtues. At the very outset of spiritual life we generally are mostly aware of sin—and particularly of a given sin or sins—which are our most besetting sins into which we fall most frequently. We shall then consider it to be a great accomplishment if we have not committed this sin or these sins on a specific day. When we grow spiritually, however, we become aware of more sins and will strive more against them—not only against external but also against internal sins. This will also pertain to both our neglect and deficiency in the performance of virtues. In the evening one will ask, "Have I abstained from my besetting sins?" One will ask, "Have I also committed other sins? What good have I performed in this day and in what manner have I performed it?" When we grow we shall also exercise more virtues than was previously the case— both in regard to the first and the second table of the law. —Vol. 4, Page 148— Then we shall bear much fruit (John 15:5). "At our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits" (Song 7:13); "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).
Secondly, there is growth when we persevere upon encountering powerful opposition. Such is true when we are able to let the fiery darts of the wicked be deflected by the shield of faith, and when we do not permit inward strife to hinder and detract us from the performance of our duties toward God and our neighbor, thus conquering the wicked one (1 John 2:13). We grow when we are able to avoid those situations which generally cause us to fall, or, if we must be in them, we conduct ourselves better than was previously the case. We grow when worldly charm no longer entices us, but when it has lost its charm so that it is no longer esteemed, no more advantage is seen in it, and it has lost its appeal. This means that neither by flattery, nor by threats, nor by actual or verbal persecution shall we allow ourselves to be detracted from our godliness. We grow when, by reason of the fear of and love for God, we can more easily resist sinful lusts which stir within, and upon falling arise all the more readily—yes, as a result of falling become stronger and more careful. We grow, when in spite of all opposition, we persevere, rather than that we be drawn away.
Thirdly, there is spiritual growth when we proceed with the practice of virtue with more wisdom, determination, faith, and zeal. The initial zeal of the believer is mixed with many natural passions. At that time we shall act illadvisedly, and, in one way or the other go beyond our boundaries. We then know neither when nor how to act. We shall be either in good or low spirits and be either active or passive. A minor event will readily cast us down, and faith, hope, and love will easily succumb. However, after frequent stumblings, falling and rising again, we then begin to walk more steadfastly, rely more upon the Lord Jesus by faith—even when the Lord hides Himself, and the feelings, which the Christian is so intent upon having, depart. We then, nevertheless, persevere in the way which we have chosen and in our seeking. Falling into sin is much more grievous than before, but we nevertheless do not disown our state so readily. We rely more upon the Word and
shall unreservedly put our trust in it. We know in whom we have believed and become better acquainted with how God deals with His children, knowing that the Lord will again cause the darkness to disappear. We become more steadfast in our conduct, more careful with our words, and more thoughtful in our conduct. A wisdom which is —Vol. 4, Page 149— both humble and meek will increasingly shine forth. We shall not be disturbed when we neither receive love nor esteem from others, being well satisfied to live with God alone. We shall then have a love which goes out to the godly and to all men—in a manner appropriate to each individual—and it shall be manifested. With composed zeal we do what we know to be our duty. We speak when we must speak and are silent when we must be silent, and in the performance of our duty we shall neither allow ourselves to be hindered by our own inability, nor by the pride, wisdom, goodness, or wickedness of men. We become more and more weaned from the creature. The love of Christ constrains, and the hope of glory motivates to be active. If we fall, we rise again, and if we have not conducted ourselves well in other respects, we then strive for improvement. We take hold of the strength of the Lord and charge through all opposition, and shall thus proceed from strength to strength.
You who either read or hear this read, examine yourself in light of this. What do you now say of yourself? Are you growing or are you not growing? Bring yourself into the presence of God who knows your heart and who will judge you. Do not flatter yourself with vain imaginations, and do not bypass your heart. On the other side, do not deny your growth if there has been some, for it is not your work, but the result of the grace of God. If you may perceive some growth, it will greatly comfort and strengthen you; if not, it ought to motivate you to seek true conversion or zeal to make progress in this matter. To that end, do not hesitate to read that which has been said once more and to examine yourself in that mirror. Has your spiritual light increased? Do you have a more continual and steadfast fellowship with God? Do you make use of the Lord Jesus with more understanding and a greater measure of faith? Are you more upright in your dealings? Has the scope of your engagement increased regarding sins and virtues? Do you persevere more upon encountering strong opposition? Do you proceed with more wisdom, determination, faith, and zeal? What do you say for yourself? Do not focus upon a brief time span, but compare yourself as to who you were prior to your conversion and the present, and since your conversion and the present. Do not deny grace because you are ambitious to achieve a certain level of grace, nor in the way of ingratitude, by not considering what you have received—as if it were your own work and you should already have made more progress. You will thus grieve and chide yourself more, rather than being joyful. Therefore, judge yourself in a realistic manner.
(1) Some may perhaps have become convinced of not only having failed to make any progress, but rather that they never even have had any grace, and that until now they have only been a run-along. All their activity has only been a product of their mind and natural zeal.
(2) Some will perceive that they are progressing in sin, and are adding the one sin to the other; that they are progressing from one evil to the other; that their sinning has reached a higher level; and that with highly elevated shields they battle against the Lord and say, so to speak: "We do not desire to hear Thee." Contrary to all light and conviction, they break through, and, in an ungodly manner, engage in wickedness and render sin exceedingly sinful. They become more and more insensitive in their commission of sin, having seared their conscience with a hot iron, so that they commit all manner of sin all the more intently.
(3) Some will remember their first spiritual emotion, the first time they became aware of their duty, their first conviction and prayer, and their desisting from sin for a season. In spite of all that, however, they willingly departed from that way again, and as a dog they have turned to their own vomit; and as a washed sow to their wallowing in the mire (2 Pet 2:22). It may be that they have been hardened, or that they think, "Woe unto me! What have I done! What have I departed from! If only I had those first motions again!"
(4) Some may possibly have good thoughts about themselves, be of the opinion that they wish to continue in this way, that they will thus be saved, and that nothing more is necessary. They do not wish to be that particular in their walk; they leave that to the hair-splitters. Oh, who will deliver such?
Oh, that someone would be sensibly convinced and receive a deep impression of his wretched condition, for all your righteousnesses will be deemed to have no value, as they did not proceed from your inner inclination. Indeed, all the illumination and conviction from which you have departed and which you have resisted will aggravate your judgment and condemnation if you do not repent, and in the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the heathen than for you. They will stand up against you and justify your condemnation. Oh, consider all this, become sensible, and repent; for to be under conviction is the primary means unto conversion. Then there is still hope, for Christ still calls you. Why then would you die?
From the foregoing many of those who are truly gracious will —Vol. 4, Page 151— perceive that they have indeed backslidden, and that they are as the congregation of Ephesus, to whom the Lord Jesus says, "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love" (Rev 2:5). I wish that the following words would be applied to their heart: "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works" (Rev 2:5). We shall speak of this in the following chapter. There are, however, gracious souls who in truth have not backslidden, and who, nevertheless, are of the opinion that they are backsliding, thus doubting their entire spiritual state. For they think: "Growth is peculiar to God's children, but I am a backslider, and thus I am not a child of God." However, it ought to be known:
(1) That many are not capable of perceiving their own growth. They do not remember their previous condition, and thus are not able to judge about their present condition. At that time they were as yet without understanding about the spiritual nature of their propensities and actions, and therefore they only focused on their preceding vehement emotions, with which, if they had them under the current circumstances, they would presently not be pleased.
(2) That growth cannot be measured by what we were yesterday, the day before yesterday, or a month ago. Rather, we are to compare ourselves with what we were at the outset of our spiritual life and what we are now; we would then be able to discern our growth.
(3) That a godly person has his spiritual winters. Just as a tree appears to be barren and dead in the winter, one will nevertheless be able to perceive that it has grown when comparing it to the time that it was first planted. A child of God grows in the same fashion—even though he has his winters.
(4) That a tree occasionally grows more in one branch and then again in another branch. A child of God grows likewise—sometimes more in the one area and then again in the other. Even if he does not grow as much in that wherein he previously flourished, he therefore cannot say: "I am not growing." He now grows either more in the root, in breadth, or in another branch.
(5) That when we say that growth is peculiar to God's children, it is to be understood as a normal habitual tendency. Such is true for men or for trees when planted in suitable soil, from which they can extract suitable nourishment, and when receiving an adequate amount of rain and sunshine. A believer can at times be deprived of suitable nourishment, or of rain and sunshine. He can even become ill or meet with an accident. Would an ill child, or he who has met with an accident, say, "I am not human, for I do not grow?"
(6) That we sometimes have fellowship with other Christians —Vol. 4, Page 152— who grow much more than we do. They have had a later start, and now they have already passed us by. From this one could draw the erroneous conclusion: Since others grow more and more quickly than I do, I am consequently not growing.
(7) That we now have eyes which are more spiritual and have a stronger desire for greater things. Since these stronger and more elevated desires are not fulfilled, we can therefore not conclude that we are not growing. On the contrary, we are to conclude from this that we are indeed growing as our light and desires are increasing.
(8) That the godly generally believe that they are regressing. Well, let that be as it may, for that is nevertheless a sign that they have grown.
For if one had neither life nor growth, one would also not be able to regress. Let us then assume that you are not as serious-minded as at the beginning, that you cannot pray as fervently and with as many tears, and that you now occasionally fall into sin from which you could desist at that time. However, at that time you were more motivated by a fear for perishing and all this was accompanied by natural emotions. The opportunity for given sins was then not there, and you were not tried and tempted by the enemies as you are now. I therefore conclude that you have not regressed; or if you have truly backslidden, there has nevertheless been life and growth. And if these have been there, they are still there, for He who has begun that good work in you will also finish it. If, however, you compare yourself with composure to what we have said, you will not dare to say that you have backslidden, but you will be convinced that you have grown; that you have more light, faith, intimate and familiar communion with God; and that there is more love, steadfastness, more comprehensiveness, and more fervor in all your conduct than was previously the case. Therefore, acknowledge the grace which you have and rejoice over it; and may this in turn stir you up.
Even though many among the converted come to the conclusion that they do not grow, it is nevertheless true that they do not grow as much as they ought to. How many blessed means they have! There is the precious Word of God, the sincere milk; there are spiritual and faithful ministers who have excellent gifts and are inclined to lead everyone by the hand; and there are eminent examples which ought to stimulate all to emulation. How little they benefit from this, however, and how little growth there is by many! One must frequently be amazed—and many are amazed about themselves—that they do not grow more. Thus they rightfully —Vol. 4, Page 153— rebuke themselves, for it is indeed their own fault. They think: "What is the cause of all this?" My answer is: "You are the cause."
First, there is at times the secret and carnal thought that one shall nevertheless be saved, for if one has grace— whether to a smaller or greater degree—salvation will ensue upon this. This is God's promise to the regenerate, and thus growth is not that essential. My response is that this proceeds from the flesh, for the principle of grace is of a different nature. Yes, even if growth were not essential, the spiritual nature is nevertheless inclined toward growth. It is the life and delight of this nature, and it knows that this is pleasing to God. Therefore, away with this sinning at the expense of grace.
Secondly, many are hindered by their unbelief and think, "I am not a child of God anyhow; I have no grace. Why should I strive for growth?" Such are always occupied with finding evidences of their regeneration. At times their conclusion is this: "I am not converted; believers are entirely different from what I am." And thus they go on despondently and desist from spiritual activity. Occasionally they do come to the conclusion, "Indeed, I have grace," and thus are invigorated in their walk. It does not last long, however, and they again begin to doubt, and by renewal begin to examine themselves. Such are like a mason who, having laid the foundation, proceeds to build, but then begins to doubt whether he has indeed laid the foundation and consequently turns everything upside down and begins anew—a little while later repeating the same procedure.
Thirdly, many are too despondent to make progress, for they perceive so many vices in themselves. They are conscious of the many virtues they ought to have and this causes them to be at their wit's end. Furthermore, they deem all their efforts to have been fruitless until now and believe that all will be in vain in the future. Sin is too prevalent and the manifestations of virtues are too weak. They know not what to do and thus their hands become feeble. Instead, they ought to consider that he who overcomes one sin and perseveres in one virtue accomplishes this by reason of a virtuous disposition, and that this is at the same time applicable to all sins and all virtues.
Fourthly, world conformity enters the picture here. Believers still have a desire for the things of the world under the cover and pretense that they are lawful, necessary, and fitting—even though the real motive is love for the world. The world and the Spirit are enemies, and the one is always intent on expelling the other; they are a mutual impediment to each other, and therefore we must —Vol. 4, Page 154— either fully yield to the world, or must yield fully and entirely to grace. As long as we halt between two opinions, and as long as we attempt to join together Christ and Belial, so long shall we make no progress. A bird which has been fastened to the earth will fall back to the earth when it wants to fly upward. Thus, he who wishes to fly heavenward must divorce himself from the world.
Fifthly, many are hindered in their walk solely by laziness. Just as it is true in the natural realm that the soul of the sluggard is desirous, but has nothing, since his hands refuse to labor, so it is in the spiritual realm. We indeed desire to be in an elevated spiritual frame and to grow as a palm tree, but we are not willing to exert any effort—and thus we also do not receive it. Effort is required here—consisting in prayer, fasting, watchfulness, meditation, and the engagement in spiritual warfare. The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force. Therefore, you who are desirous of attaining the end must also be desirous to use the means. When the bride remained upon her comfortable bed and made many excuses for not arising and giving entrance to the bridegroom, he departed and left her empty. Therefore, leave your bed while others are sleeping. Seek, and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you, pray and you shall receive; and thus you will experience that this work is not as difficult as you are currently considering it to be. In the beginning it may be somewhat unpleasant, but it will soon become sweet when you will perceive how sweet the rewards are upon but a little effort.
Therefore, Christians, to the task! Strive to grow in both habitual and actual grace, for:
First, your spiritual state is as yet imperfect and you have but a small beginning of life. If in all that we begin to undertake we strive for completion, should you then remain stationary at the starting point? The greater and more glorious perfection is, the more desirous we should be to attain it, the more earnest our endeavors should be, and no trouble should be spared to achieve this.
Secondly, not to grow is to remain in your sin and pollution. Would you who have been washed in the blood of Christ, have become partakers of the Spirit of sanctification, are the children of God, have become the bride of the holy Jesus—will you continue in your sorrow and remain in your pollution? Oh, let it not be thus! Be no longer disobedient to God your Father. Disentangle yourself from the bondage of pollution, expel sin, and flee from it. The —Vol. 4, Page 155— more you grow, the more you will distance yourself from sin; and the more you distance yourself from sin, the more you will grow.
Thirdly, the more one grows, the more the image of God will become manifest, and the more likeness to God there will be—for that is the perfection held before us. You already do grieve, however, that you are so far from God, and with all your desire you long to be near to God. It is your only and all-satisfying comfort to live in blessed communion with God. Of all this there is a small beginning in you and there is the certainty that this suggested perfection is to be attained. Would you not then pursue that which you love so much; would you not then make this your objective and endeavor to come closer to achieving this? Yes, it has already been prepared for you and God stands ready to give it to you. He holds it, so to speak, in His hand and calls you but to come in order that He may place the crown of perfection upon you. Therefore, forget what is behind you and "press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:14).
Fourthly, the more one grows, the more pleasing he will be to God. A father is delighted when his children grow, and one rejoices when he observes the growth of trees he has planted. Since, however, God takes pleasure in the growth of His children, having regenerated them by His will and according to the Word of His truth, and since He delights Himself in the garden and the trees which He Himself has planted there, should we then not endeavor to be pleasing unto the Lord and to become "His pleasant plant" Isa 5:7?
Fifthly, God is glorified by our growth, for therein it becomes apparent that He is neither a barren nor a howling wilderness to His children, but that He is good, benevolent, faithful, holy, and omnipotent. This is evident from the fact that He fulfills His promises to them, preserves them in the midst of all enemies, causes them even to grow in the midst of all manner of storms, pours out His Spirit upon them, and reveals the invisible things to them. And those who grow are rendered fit to honor and glorify Him. Therefore, you who desire to live to the honor and glory of your God, to be trees of righteousness that He might be glorified Isa 61:3, and are desirous to declare the Lord's glory—having been formed by Him for that purpose—strive for growth, for herein is God "glorified, that ye bear much fruit" (John 15:8).
Sixthly, the Lord will grant many comforts to those who grow, so that they will find much delight and joy in their growth. The Lord promises that He will manifest Himself to them and make His abode with them. He will grant them an increasing measure of grace, —Vol. 4, Pag
156— fill them with His Spirit, and cause them to increase even more. "Every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit" (John 15:2); "They ... shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Isa 40:31). Therefore, you who find delight in these promises—which is your desire, children of God—do not remain stationary, do not be satisfied with the condition in which you are, do not teeter on the brink of spiritual failure, but be resolved to charge ahead and to make progress. I repeat: The reward is commensurate with the labor performed.
He who is therefore desirous to make progress:
(1) Let him be intent to do so with valiant courage. Let him take hold of the strength of Christ as his own and thus proceed in the strength of the Lord. Let him be fully resolved wholly to exert himself, to yield to nothing, and to spare no labor or effort to be assured of the perfection to be attained hereafter, and to grow in this present state. "Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart" (Ps 31:24).
(2) Proceed with a joyful willingness, rejoicing in the resolution itself, the end to be attained, and that you will charge through your enemies. Willingly engage yourself in this work and in the fact that you will proceed that much more prosperously. "Serve Him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind" (1 Chron 28:9).
(3) Should not be too distraught about sustained wounds, nor be despondent about his falls, for these will occur frequently. If these render you inactive, causing you to give up in discouragement, you will not make much progress. Rather, you are to arise time and again. Make a new beginning every morning and do so especially every sabbath. Persevere in your resolve and focus on the reward. If much opposition comes, stand firm as a rock, resist it with force, and charge through it. They who are for you are more than they who are against you, and you have the promise that the Lord will raise up those who are bowed down and will grant them new strength.
(4) Continually feed upon the Word of God for by this one grows. Be continually in prayer in order that you might continually be strengthened and supported by the Spirit of the Lord—for you are weak and will not prevail in your own strength. Continually exercise faith so that you may continually be united with Christ and apply the promises to yourself. You will thus purify the heart by faith, overcome the world, and resist the devil. While thus —Vol. 4, Page 157— engaged, you will soon experience that you are progressing and increasing in strength.
(5) Should continually be engaged in battle against all sins and be in the practice of all virtues. However, be especially vigilant against your besetting sin—that chief sin—by which you are most frequently tempted and into which you most frequently fall, which will trigger all other sins and turn everything upside down within. Make a covenant to oppose those sins, conduct days of fasting to that end, flee all opportunities for sin and when they present themselves, cast them away from you as rapidly as you remove fire from your clothing. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor 15:58).
Excerpt from The Christians Reasonable Service