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21 February, 2013

Christian Progress - Part 3

Written by John A. James, in 1853

4. In some people there is a growing knowledge of their CORRUPTIONS, and perhaps, an increase of lamentation over them, unattended by any disposition or effort to mortify them—and yet this growing light into the depravity of their nature, and this real vexation, for so it may be called, rather than godly sorrow, leads to no proportionate mortification of sin. There can be little doubt that many do know more and more of the plague of their own hearts, and are made continually more sorrowful by it, who content themselves with venting their unavailing regrets, and make no progress in removing the evils they deplore, and yet conclude that this growing self-knowledge is an evidence of growing piety. 

So it would be if it were followed up by 'amendment of life'. "Godly sorrow works repentance," that is reformation. And that sorrow is not godly sorrow, however pungent it may be, and however miserable it may make the man—which does not produce reformation. Many a holy Christian is made more and more holy with less of misery on account of sin, just because his grief, whether greater or less, leads to amendment; than he who, whatever may be his mortification of feeling, does not carry it on to a mortification of sin.
What would we say of a housewife who made herself continually miserable about the disorder and uncleanness of her house—but who took no pains to rectify the confusion and to cleanse the filth? 

It is to be greatly feared that very many professors of religion satisfy themselves with being made unhappy by the knowledge and experience of their sins. They are loud in their lamentations, ample in their confessions, and seemingly profound in their humiliations. But there the matter ends. They who heard their self-abasing acknowledgments yesterday—see them no better today. They are like some chronic invalids, whose diseases arise, in great measure, from their own self-indulgence , who are ever complaining of their ailments, and ever lamenting, as well as continuing, their harmful habits—but who will never exercise that self-denial which is the only way to restoration, and who yet imagine it is a sign of growing attention to their health, because there is an increasing disposition to lament their sickness and to confess their imprudence.

5. A very common error is to mistake a growth of SECTARIANISM, for an increase of grace. Perhaps there is no delusion more common than this. Ecclesiastical polity and sacramental observances, as matters of divine revelation, are both of some importance; yet it is perfectly clear, from the testimony of Scripture, that they are of less consequence in the divine life, than faith, hope, and love. "The kingdom of God is not food and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." Rom. 14:17. "In Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love." Gal. 5:6. 

If these passages mean anything, they teach us the entire subordination of what is ceremonial—to what is spiritual. To see a person more interested in, and more zealous for, some ritual observance, than the cultivation of charity—attaching more importance, both as matter of experience and controversy, to baptism and the external form of the church, than to the doctrines of justification, regeneration, and sanctification—marks a state of mind very different from that which is inculcated by the precepts, and manifested in the conduct, of the sacred writers. 

The great object of the apostles was to cherish in their converts the spirit of faith and the practice of holiness. Yet we very often see a different line of conduct, both in the teachers and professors of religion in the present day, by many of whom an extraordinary zeal is manifested for either established or unestablished churches, as the case might be; and for a more elaborate or a more simple ceremonial, while little concern is felt or expressed to inculcate "the fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." Gal. 5:22.

We not infrequently see young professors, when their first concern about religion is over, taking up with the ardor of eager novices these secondary matters, and becoming zealots for supporting, defending and propagating them. This is sometimes especially apparent in those who have lately transferred themselves from one section of the universal church to another. Proselytes, as if to prove the sincerity of their conviction, and reconcile themselves to their new party, usually, in supporting their novel opinions, excel in zeal those by whom these notions have been long held. 

A change of this kind has, in some cases, effected a complete transformation of character, and they who were before all torpor, are now all activity and energy; not, indeed, for the great fundamental truths on which all Christians agree—but for those minor matters on which they differ. Churchmen, that as such were dull and lethargic, have, on becoming dissenters, been all life and energy, not so much for faith, love, and holiness—but for nonconformity. While on the other hand dissenters, who, while such, were supine and inert, on entering the established church, have become the zealous advocates and propagators of perhaps even high-church principles.

Let not people of this description mistake such sectarianism for advancement in the divine life. This holy vitality has reference rather to the principles on which all are agreed, than to those minor matters on which they differ. A mighty furor for religious forms, or a most impassioned zeal for religious establishments, may comport with very little vital godliness; yes, the former may go far to enfeeble the latter. Instead therefore of such a state of mind indicating progress, it manifests a retrogression. 

The man has become more of a dissenter or churchman—but perhaps less of a spiritual, humble, and simple-minded Christian. It is the human element in their religion, not the divine, that has strengthened; the shell that has thickened, not the kernel that has enlarged. There has been motion—but it is a lateral one from the straight line, not a progress in the right direction. It is a going backwards—from primary to secondary matters. A disfiguring growth has swelled upon the tree—but the tree itself has been hindered and not helped in its advance.