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28 February, 2013

Christian Progress - Part 7

John A James, 1853

2. Distress is sometimes felt in consequence of mistaking a clearer view and deeper sense of depravity, for an actual increase of sin. This is by no means an uncommon case. The young Christian seems sometimes to himself to be growing worse, when in fact it is only that he sees more clearly what in fact he really is. In the early stages of true religion we have usually but a slender acquaintance with the evil of our sin or the depravity of our heart. The mind is so much taken up with pardon and eternal life, and even, indeed, with the transition from death to life, that it is but imperfectly acquainted with those depths of deceit and wickedness which lie hidden in itself. And the young convert is almost surprised to hear older and more experienced Christians talk of the corruptions of their nature. It is almost one of the first things one would suppose they would feel, yet it is one of the last they effectually learn, that true religion is a constant conflict in man's heart—between sin and holiness.

At first they seem to feel as if the serpent were killed—but they soon find that he was only asleep—for by the warmth of some fiery temptation, he is revived and hisses at them again, so as to require renewed blows for his destruction. Nothing astonishes an inexperienced believer more than the discoveries he is continually making of the evils of his heart. Corruptions which he never dreamt to be in him, are brought out by some new circumstances into which he is brought. It is like turning up the soil, which brings out worms and insects that did not appear upon the surface. Or to vary the illustration, his increasing knowledge of God's holy nature, of the perfect law, and the example of Christ, is like opening the shutters, and letting light into a dark room, the filth of which the inhabitant did not see until the sunbeams disclosed it to him.

3. Sometimes the young convert is discouraged, because he does not increase as fast as he expected; and supposes because he does not accomplish all, and as speedily as he looked for, that he does not advance at all. The expectations of young Christians are sometimes as irrational as the child's who sowed his seed in the morning, and went out in the evening to see if it was above ground. The recent convert sometimes imagines that sanctification is easy to work. He imagines that advance is a thing to be accomplished by a succession of strides, if not, indeed, by one bound after another. But the remains of old Adam within him soon prove too strong to allow this unimpeded course of Christian progression. 

He knew he had difficulties to surmount—but he calculated on getting over them with ease—that he had enemies to conflict with—but then he hoped to go on by rapid victories from conquering to conquer. He is disappointed—and now imagines he makes no way at all. But why should he so hastily decide against himself? All growth is slow, and that is slowest of all which is to last the longest. The mushroom springs up in a night—so did Jonah's gourd—and in a night it perished! The oak requires centuries for its coming to perfection.

4. Some mistake by supposing they do not advance at all because they do not get on so fast as some others. We would by no means encourage neglect, indifference, or contentment with small measures of grace. On the contrary, we urge the greatest diligence. We say go on unto perfection. They who are contented with what grace they suppose they have, give fearful evidence that they have none at all. To be self-satisfied is to be self-deceived. Still, as in nature so in grace, all do not grow with equal rapidity, or advance to equal strength and stature. I

t is so with flowers in a garden; trees in a plantation; children in a family; boys at school; ships at sea; or travelers upon the land. There is progress in all—but in different degrees. Yet of which of all these can it be said, they make no advance because they do not advance as fast as the foremost. The use we should make of the superior attainments of the more eminent of God's servants is neither to envy them, nor to discourage our hearts—but to find in them a stimulus and an encouragement to seek larger measures of faith and holiness for ourselves.