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2 PETER iii. 18.
Grow in grace.
AMONG the subjects which have given rise to a great variety of controversies in the Christian church, are those which relate to our sanctification by the Holy Spirit; that grace of God, which the Scriptures represent as indispensably necessary to enable us to work out our salvation. Few professed Christians, if any, totally deny the necessity of this aid. Many lower its importance, by overrating the natural powers of man in his present state; and some virtually renounce it, by rejecting the divinity and personality of the Holy Ghost. Yet even these do not, in general, deny that some divine help may be requisite, or that it is actually bestowed ; though great diversities of opinion are entertained as to the extent of its influence on
the human mind, and its compatibility with the exercise of those inherent faculties, which are common to all mankind.
The difficulties relating to this doctrine might perhaps have been less vehemently agitated, had its advocates been always content to adhere to the plain declarations of Scripture. When attempts are made to philosophize upon such a subject, numerous topics will present themselves on which no certain information may be attainable. To reconcile the Divine operation with man's free agency, to explain how that which is divine can be otherwise than irresistible, or that which is human can render ineffectual that which proceeds from an omnipotent power, are perplexities which probably our finite intellects are not competent to unravel. But our inability to remove these in no wise affects the truth or certainty of the doctrine itself. Although we know not how spirit acts either upon matter or mind; or how impressions can be made upon our faculties, without a consciousness on our part whence they proceed; yet the impossibility or the incredibility of the thing cannot thence be reasonably inferred. It is enough to reason from the Psalmist’s analogy, “ He that made the eye,
shall he not see ? And he that made
“ the ear, shall he not heara?” He that formed the understanding and the will of man, shall He not be able to impress upon both, or either, (even without our perception of the agency,) wisdom, discernment, and strength ? Our consciousness of the communication may be no more necessary to the production of the effect, than a metaphysical knowledge of the mind, or a physiological knowledge of the body, is requisite to our exercise of the intellectual or animal functions. The effect may ensue, we know not how: and if God in his own word affirm that it ensues by his agency, who shall prove the negative ?
But these are not inquiries which it is my present intention to pursue. The Apostle's exhortation in the text suggests a more simple and a more practical view of the subject. It is restricted to one main consideration, our growth in grace ; that our attainments in holiness, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, are gradual and progressive ; a subject well adapted to give us sober and rational conceptions of this essential article of our faith; capable also of being established by the clearest Scripture-proofs, and applied as a preservative against some dangerous errors and delusions.
a Psalm cxiv. 9.
“ The path of the just,” says Solomon, “ is as the shining light, that shineth more and “ more unto the perfect day b.” This corresponds, not only with St. Peter's injunction in the text, but with his representation of the Christian character as combining an assemblage of excellent qualities, the result of habitual practice :-“ giving all diligence, add “ to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, know
ledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and “ to temperance, patience; and to patience,
godliness ; and to godliness, brotherly kind
ness; and to brotherly kindness, charity. “ For if these things be in you,
and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be “ barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of
our Lord Jesus Christ." St. Paul's instructions are to the same effect :-“ Finally, “ brethren, whatsoever things are true, what
soever things are honest, whatsoever things
are just, whatsoever things are pure, what“ soever things are lovely, whatsoever things “ are of good report ; if there be any virtue, “ and if there be any praise, think on these “.things d.” Nor did St. Paul consider himself, even at a very advanced period of his ministry, as having yet attained to Christian. perfection; but “forgetting those things which
• Prov, iv. 18. C2 Pet. i. 5-8.
d Pbil. iv. 8.
were behind, and reaching forth unto those “ which were before,” he “pressed towards “ the mark for the prize of the high calling “ of God in Christ Jesus e.” He exhorts also the Corinthians “ so to run that they might “ obtainf;" and he prays for the Philippians, “ that their love might abound yet more and “ more in knowledge and in all judgment; “ that they might approve things that are ex
cellent; that they might be sincere and “ without offence till the day of Christ ; being “ filled with the fruits of righteousness, which
are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God.”
These authorities sufficiently prove that our sanctification, though the work of the Holy Spirit, is the gradual result of habitual exercise in what is good. They prove also, that the degree of perfection at which we may arrive has no definite limits, but is to go on increasing as long as this state of probation continues. It is true, that even with this promised aid no one may hope to attain an absolute freedom from sin.
things we offend all.” Yet this unavoidable imperfection is not incompatible with our continuance in a state of grace. The sure test of our being in that state is an habitual e Phil. iii. 13, 14.
“ In many
g Phil. i. 9–11.
fi Cor. ix. 24.