By J.C. Ryle
"Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. ).
The subject of the text which heads this page is one that ought to be deeply interesting to every true Christian. It naturally raises the questions: "Do we grow in grace?" "Do we get on in our religion?" "Do we make progress?"
To a mere formal Christian I cannot expect the inquiry to seem worth attention. The man who has nothing more than a kind of Sunday religion—whose Christianity is like his Sunday clothes, put on once a week, and then laid aside—such a man cannot, of course, be expected to care about growth in grace. He knows nothing about such matters. They are foolishness to him (1 Cor. ). But to everyone who is in downright earnest about his soul, and hungers and thirsts after spiritual life, the question ought to come home with searching power. Do we make progress in our religion? Do we grow?
The question is one that is always useful, but especially so at certain seasons. A Saturday night, a communion Sunday, the return of a birthday, the end of a year—all these are seasons that ought to set us thinking and make us look within. Time is fast flying. Life is fast ebbing away. The hour is daily drawing nearer when the reality of our Christianity will be tested, and it will be seen whether we have built on "the rock" or on "the sand." Surely it becomes us from time to time to examine ourselves and take account of our souls? Do we get on in spiritual things? Do we grow?
The question is one that is of special importance in the present day. Crude and strange opinions are floating in men’s minds on some points of doctrine, and among others on the point of growth in grace as an essential part of true holiness. By some it is totally denied. By others it is explained away and pared down to nothing. By thousands it is misunderstood and consequently neglected. In a day like this, it is useful to look fairly in the face the whole subject of Christian growth.
As we consider this subject, I want to make mention of the reality, the marks or signs, and the means of growth in grace. I do not know you, into whose hands this text may have fallen. But I am not ashamed to ask your best attention to its contents. Believe me, the subject is no mere matter of speculation and controversy. It is an eminently practical subject, if any is in religion. It is intimately and inseparably connected with the whole question of sanctification. It is a leading mark of true saints that they grow. The spiritual health and prosperity, the spiritual happiness and comfort of every true–hearted and holy Christian, are intimately connected with the subject of spiritual growth.
1. The REALITY of religious growth
That any Christian should deny the reality of religious growth is at first sight a strange and melancholy thing. But it is fair to remember that man’s understanding is fallen no less than his will. Disagreements about doctrines are often nothing more than disagreements about the meaning of words. I try to hope that it is so in the present case. I try to believe that when I speak of growth in grace and maintain it, I mean one thing, while my brethren who deny it mean quite another. Let me therefore clear the way by explaining what I mean.
When I speak of growth in grace, I do not for a moment mean that a believer’s interest in Christ can grow.
I do not mean that he can grow in safety, acceptance with God or security. I do not mean that he can ever be more justified, more pardoned, more forgiven, more at peace with God, than he is the first moment that he believes. I hold firmly that the justification of a believer is a finished, perfect and complete work and that the weakest saint, though he may not know and feel it, is as completely justified as the strongest. I hold firmly that our election, calling and standing in Christ admit of no degrees, increase or diminishing. If anyone dreams that by growth in grace I mean growth in justification, he is utterly wide of the mark and utterly mistaken about the whole point I am considering. I would go to the stake, God helping me, for the glorious truth, that in the matter of justification before God every believer is complete in Christ (Col. 2:10). Nothing can be added to his justification from the moment he believes, and nothing taken away.
When I speak of growth in grace, I only mean increase in the degree, size, strength, vigor and power of the graces which the Holy Spirit plants in a believer’s heart. I hold that every one of those graces admits of growth, progress and increase. I hold that repentance, faith, hope, love, humility, zeal, courage and the like may be little or great, strong or weak, vigorous or feeble, and may vary greatly in the same man at different periods of his life. When I speak of a man growing in grace, I mean simply this—that his sense of sin is becoming deeper, his faith stronger, his hope brighter, his love more extensive, his spiritual–mindedness more marked. He feels more of the power of godliness in his own heart. He manifests more of it in his life. He is going on from strength to strength, from faith to faith and from grace to grace. I leave it to others to describe such a man’s condition by any words they please. For myself I think the truest and best account of him is this—he is growing in grace.
Part 2 tomorrow