MISTAKES Concerning Christian Progress
Suppose a man were on a journey which was of considerable importance to all his temporal interests, on which it was every way desirable he should be going forward with all convenient speed. Imagine also that through some ignorance of the country, or through his lack of acquaintance with his rate of speed, he should conclude that he was advancing towards his destined point, while at the same time, though in constant activity, he was making no progress—but only wandering about in bye-lanes and crossroads, and still remaining near the spot from whence he started. In such a case, he might lose the end and purpose of his journey.
Now, there is something like this in the course of some people in regard to religion. They are in motion—but not in progress! The mistakes on this subject are very numerous, and require great pains in those who have to teach, to point them out; and also attention on the part of all who have any solicitude about their spiritual welfare, in order to be acquainted with them. The temptations of the father of lies, aided by the deceitfulness of the human heart, originate many very injurious errors concerning our spiritual condition, and lull us into a state of complacency, where we ought to be deeply solicitous and somewhat alarmed.
A. I will first enumerate and correct some mistakes of those who think they are making progress in godliness, but in reality are standing still, or declining.
1. It is not an infrequent case for people to conclude they are advancing, because they are not, in their own view of their case, actually receding. They do not see any outward and visible signs of backsliding. They have fallen into no grievous sin, and have brought no blot upon their character, nor discredit upon their profession. They are not conscious of any known departure from the way of rectitude, and have not fallen from their steadfastness. Their usual round of duties is performed, and they have not subjected themselves, by any part of their conduct—to rebuke or censure. All this may be so, and yet there may be no progress. Is it enough to stand still on our path? Would it satisfy the man on the journey just alluded to, if he could merely say, "I am not going backwards?" Would this prove he was advancing? It may be said, and we have already said it, that in one sense not to advance is to recede. But were it not so, surely to stand still is not to go forward. Have you more knowledge, more holiness, more love, more spirituality, than you had? Is your growth at all perceptible, though it be in ever so small a degree?
Do not compare yourselves with some who are rapidly going back, and imagine that in relation to them you are going forward, while you are standing still. Have you ever, when traveling in a steam carriage, while your own railway train was stopping at the station, and another was passing slowly in a contrary direction, imagined that it was you that were in progress? So is it in this case. You may be quite at rest, while, compared with others going back, you seem to be in motion forwards.
2. Some estimate progress by the TIME they have been in motion. Suppose a person unacquainted with the rate of speed of a ship at sea, and not understanding the influence of contrary winds, and the process of getting slowly on by tacking, were to calculate thus, "We have been so many hours or days at sea, and we must therefore be so far on our voyage." Suppose the man on the above journey to have fallen asleep, or loitered away his time—and then, taking out his watch, were to calculate that because he has left home so many hours, he must be getting on very well. Is there nothing like this in some professing Christians? It is so many months or years since they took up their religious profession. They have been all this while regular attendants at public worship, and communicants at the Lord's Supper. They have heard already innumerable sermons, and read many good books. They have outlived the novelties of a religious life, and the ways of God are now familiar to them. How can it be doubted, they say, that they who have been so long on the road, are advancing?