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clear to perform them. But when they grow in knowledge and grace, they intuitively see what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God, which they ought to follow. Hence says Solomon, “A wise man's heart is at his right hand.” And again, “A wise man's heart discerneth both time and judgment.” And again, “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand bis way.” This Solomon knew, by happy experience; for while he was growing in knowledge and grace, he prayed for a wise and understanding heart, and his request was abundantly answered. In consequence of having such a heart, he found less difficulty in knowing, and less reluctance in doing his duty. Growing saints are ready to hear the voice of God in his word and providence, and to run in the way of his commandments, with peculiar pleasure and delight. And the more readily they discern, and the more cheerfully they perform the various duties devolved upon them, the more sincere and acceptable are all their services in the sight of God.
It is, finally, of great importance that christians should make continual advances in knowledge and grace, to prepare them for the closing scene of life. They are every day drawing nearer and nearer to the time of their decease, when they must leave this world, and
of all the earth. If they neglect to improve their minds in knowledge and their hearts in holiness, they may expect to live in bondage, and die in darkness and distress; for christians commonly die very much as they live. But if they make it their business to perfect holiness in the fear of God, and to go from strength to strength in their journey towards heaven, they may humbly hope to triumph over death and the grave, and be able to say, “O death! where is sting? O grave! where is thy victory?" It appears from the sacred history of growing şaints, that their hopes
and prospects grew brighter and brighter, the nearer they approached to the confines of death and eternity, Hear the last words of David. “Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire.” Hear also the language of Paul, whose growth in grace enabled him to say, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give me at that day and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” The more christians grow in knowledge and grace, the better they are prepared to perform their last great act on the stage of life, to the glory of God, to the honour of religion, to their own joy, and to the benefit and consolation of those whom they leave behind.
IMPROVEMENT. 1. If knowledge be necessary to promote the growth of grace; then the most instructive preaching must be the most profitable. Many are fond of making a distinction between sentimental and practical preaching, and consider the latter as much more useful than the former. They insinuate, that christians at this day, do not need to be instructed in the doctrines of the gospel, but only to be quickened and animated to the practice of the duties of religion and morality. But there is reason to believe, that saints as well as sinners, at this day, stand in great need of being instructed in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This knowledge lies at the foundation of all true devotion, and true devotion lies at the foundation of all
practical piety and christian morality. The great and essential truths of the gospel feed and nourish a holy heart, and directly tend to promote every christian grace
and moral virtue. And so far as divine truth tends to promote holiness of heart, just so far it equally tends to promote holiness of life. Christ was a sentimental preacher. In his sermon on the mount, he explained and enforced the great doctrine of disinterested love, which distinguishes all true religion from false, and strikes at the root of some of the most dangerous errours, not only of the Scribes and Pharisees, but of professing christians at the present day. Paul, the first and great apostle of the Gentiles, tells them, that he determined to know nothing among them, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. In his epistles to the Romans, to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Hebrews we find, that in order to promote the growth of grace in true believers, he dwells abundantly upon the great and fundamental doctrines of christianity. And he rejoiced in the thought that he had note shunned to declare all the counsel of God, nor kept back any thing that was profitable in his preaching. It is sentimental and instructive preaching, that is best suited to quicken, comfort, and reprove real saints; and to undeceive self-righteous and self-deceived hypocrites. One reason why so many prefer what they call practical preaching to sentimental, is because they do not love the soul-humbling, and self-denying doctrines of the gospel. They hate to hear preachers explain and inculcate the doctrines of divine decrees, of divine sovereignty, of divine agency, of special grace, and of the continued influence of the holy Spirit in the performance of every duty. They are much better pleased to hear discourses upon external duties, than upon internal graces. But though sentimental preaching be not
their spiritual affections, they are apt to imagine, that they are all pure and holy. All these affections, however, are distinguishable, and growing christians learn by experience to distinguish them. The more they increase in knowledge and grace, the more clearly they discern the difference between holy affections, and all others which bear the nearest resemblance of gracious exercises.
By growing in grace, they experience a growing sense of their constant and absolute dependence upon the divine Spirit for all right affections. They lean less to their own understanding; trust less to their own hearts; and depend less upon their own resolutions and strength. They find more sensibly, that they are not sufficient of themselves to think any thing as of themselves; but that their sufficiency is of God. 'They are convinced by experience, that the preparation of their beart and the answer of their tongue is of the Lord, They feel more and more disposed to acknowledge God in all their ways, and to rely upon his gracious aid and influence in every duty.
Their growth in grace gives them a growing sense of their vileness and unworthiness in the sight of God. The more holy they are, the more clearly they discern the beauty of holiness and the deformity and turpitude of sin. As Job grew in grace by passing through the furnace of affliction, he felt an increasing sense of his moral imperfection and vileness in the sight of God, to whom he said, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” A clear view of the holiness and majesty of God, had a similar effect upon the holy heart of Isaiah, who said, “Wo is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of
unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts.” The apostle Paul, while pressing forward towards sinless perfection, had a deep and growing sense of his remaining depravity, and moral turpitude. “O wretched man that I am, said he, who shall deliver me from the body of this death.” David often sighed and groaned under a sense of his sin and guilt. Though growing saints really increase in holiness; yet the more grace they have, the more clearly they discern their remaining corruptions, and the more they Joath and abhor themselves for them.
Hence growing christians have a growing sense of the grace of God in their salvation. The more they grow in the knowledge of their Lord and Saviour Jesas Christ, and the clearer views they have of the divine character, and of the divine law, and of the difference between nature and grace, the more they are astonished at the great things which bave been done for them. They are ready to adopt the grateful language of the apostie, “By the grace of God, we are what we are." They are astonished at the grace of God, in providing a Saviour; at the grace of Christ in dying for them; and atthe grace of the holy Spirit in subduing their stubborn hearts, and continuing to carry on a work of sanctification in them. The whole scheme of redemption appears to be full of the riches of divine grace.
Hence growing christians have a growing desire to bring forth fruits of righteousness. In whatever station they are fixrd; in whatever business they are employed; in whatever condition they are placed; they feel more and more disposed to lay out themselves, to promote the glory of God and the good of mankind. The growth of grace produced this effect in Abraham, who left his country and friends, and offered up his Son, for the glory of God; it produced this effect in