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16 December, 2012

The Reality Of Religious Growth - Part 2

Grow in Grace part 2
J.C. Ryle

One principal ground on which I build this doctrine of growth in grace is the plain language of Scripture. If words in the Bible mean anything, there is such a thing as growth, and believers ought to be exhorted to grow. What says Paul? "Your faith grows exceedingly" (2 Thess. 1:3). "We beseech you . . . that you increase more and more" (1 Thess. 4:10). "Increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10). "Having hope, when your faith is increased" (2 Cor. 10:15). "The Lord make you to increase . . . in love" (1 Thess. 3:12). "That you may grow up into Him in all things" (Eph. 4:15). "I pray that your love may abound . . . more and more" (Phil. 1:9). "We beseech you, as you have received of us how you ought to walk and to please God, so you would abound more and more" (1 Thess. 4:1). What says Peter? "Desire the sincere milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 2:2). "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18). I know not what others think of such texts. To me they seem to establish the doctrine for which I contend and to be incapable of any other explanation. Growth in grace is taught in the Bible. I might stop here and say no more.

The other ground, however, on which I build the doctrine of growth in grace, is the ground of fact and experience. I ask any honest reader of the New Testament whether he cannot see degrees of grace in the New Testament saints whose histories are recorded, as plainly as the sun at noonday. I ask him whether he cannot see in the very same people as great a difference between their faith and knowledge at one time and at another, as between the same man’s strength when he is an infant and when he is a grown–up man. I ask him whether the Scripture does not distinctly recognize this in the language it uses, when it speaks of "weak" faith and "strong" faith, and of Christians as "new–born babes," "little children," "young men," and "fathers"? (1 Pet. 2:2; 1 John 2:12–14.) I ask him, above all, whether his own observation of believers nowadays does not bring him to the same conclusion? What true Christian would not confess that there is as much difference between the degree of his own faith and knowledge when he was first converted, and his present attainments, as there is between a sapling and a full–grown tree? His graces are the same in principle; but they have grown. I know not how these facts strike others; to my eyes they seem to prove, most unanswerably, that growth in grace is a real thing.

I feel almost ashamed to dwell so long upon this part of my subject. In fact, if any man means to say that the faith and hope and knowledge and holiness of a newly–converted person are as strong as those of an old–established believer and need no increase, it is a waste of time to argue further. No doubt they are as real, but not so strong; as true, but not so vigorous; as much seeds of the Spirit’s planting, but not yet so fruitful. And if anyone asks how they are to become stronger, I say it must be by the same process by which all things having life increase—they must grow. And this is what I mean by growth in grace.

I want men to look at growth in grace as a thing of infinite importance to the soul. In a more practical sense, our best interests would be met with a serious inquiry into the question of spiritual growth.

a. Let us know then that growth in grace is the best evidence of spiritual health and prosperity. In a child or a flower or a tree we are all aware that when there is no growth there is something wrong. Healthy life in an animal or vegetable will always show itself by progress and increase. It is just the same with our souls. If they are progressing and doing well, they will grow.

b. Growth in grace is one way to be happy in our religion. God has wisely linked together our comfort and our increase in holiness. He has graciously made it our interest to press on and aim high in our Christianity. There is a vast difference between the amount of sensible enjoyment which one believer has in his religion compared to another. But you may be sure that ordinarily the man who feels the most "joy and peace in believing" and has the clearest witness of the Spirit in his heart is the man who grows.

c. Growth in grace is one secret of usefulness to others. Our influence on others for good depends greatly on what they see in us. The children of the world measure Christianity quite as much by their eyes as by their ears. The Christian who is always at a standstill, to all appearance the same man, with the same little faults and weaknesses and besetting sins and petty infirmities, is seldom the Christian who does much good. The man who shakes and stirs minds and sets the world thinking is the believer who is continually improving and going forward. Men think there is life and reality when they see growth.

d. Growth in grace pleases God. It may seem a wonderful thing, no doubt, that anything done by such creatures as we are can give pleasure to the Most High God. But so it is. The Scripture speaks of walking so as to please God. The Scripture says there are sacrifices with which "God is well pleased" (1 Thess. 4:1; Heb. 13:16). The husbandman loves to see the plants on which he has bestowed labor flourishing and bearing fruit. It cannot but disappoint and grieve him to see them stunted and standing still. Now what does our Lord Himself say? "I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Husbandman." "Herein is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be My disciples" (John 15:1, 8). The Lord takes pleasure in all His people, but specially in those that grow.

e. Let us know, above all, that growth in grace is not only a thing possible, but a thing for which believers are accountable. To tell an unconverted man, dead in sins, to grow in grace would doubtless be absurd. To tell a believer, who is quickened and alive to God, to grow, is only summoning him to a plain scriptural duty. He has a new principle within him, and it is a solemn duty not to quench it. Neglect of growth robs him of privileges, grieves the Spirit and makes the chariot wheels of his soul move heavily. Whose fault is it, I should like to know, if a believer does not grow in grace? The fault, I am sure, cannot be laid on God. He delights to give more grace; He "has pleasure in the prosperity of His servants" (James 4:6; Ps. 35:27). The fault, no doubt, is our own. We ourselves are to blame, and none else, if we do not grow.

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