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Are You Growing in Grace?

 

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My “Principles of Sanctification” class at RTS Jackson reads J.C. Ryle’s classic, Holiness. Ryle always aims to reach the heart of his reader.

Among the marks of growing in grace, he writes, is increase in love.

The man whose soul is ‘growing’ is more full of love every year – of love to all men, but especially love toward the brethren. His love will show itself actively in a growing disposition to do kindness, to take trouble for others, to be good-natured to everybody, to be generous, sympathizing, thoughtful, tender-hearted, and considerate. It will show itself passively in a growing disposition to be meek and patient toward all men, to put up with provocation and not stand upon rights, to bear and forbear much rather than quarrel. A growing soul will try to  put the best construction on other people’s conduct, and to believe all things and hope all things, even to the end. There is no surer mark of backsliding and falling off in grace than an increasing disposition to find fault, pick holes, and see weak points in others. Would anyone know if he is growing grace? Then him look within for increasing love.”

– J.I. Packer. Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J.C. Ryle (Wheaton:
Crossway, 2002), 193-194. (The book includes the full text of the first edition of Ryle’s Holiness.)

 

“All doctrine is useless until . . .”

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I shall complete a three month series in 1 Thessalonians. Like many other preachers, my favorite book of the Bible is the one I am preaching. This letter of Paul is no exception. Calvin, Simeon, and Stott were particularly helpful advisors as I worked through the text, and I put their books back on my shelves with thanksgiving for each man’s piety, skill, and wisdom.

When in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, the apostle writes: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” we obtain insight into how Paul the pastor prayed for his congregation. He sought from God their sanctification, protection, and perseverance.

On sanctification Calvin comments: Paul “knowing that all doctrine is useless until God engraves it, as it were, with his own finger upon our hearts, beseeches God that he would sanctify the Thessalonians.” And sanctification will only be “pure and entire when [a man] thinks nothing in his mind, desires nothing in heart, and does nothing with his body, except what is approved by God.”

We pray without ceasing for God’s sanctifying grace.

Labor to be clothed with humility

Thomas Brooks reflects on humility:

“Labor to be clothed with humility. Humility makes a man peaceable among brethren, fruitful in well-doing, cheerful in suffering, and constant in holy walking (1 Pet. 5:5). Humility fits for the highest services we owe to Christ, and yet will not neglect the lowest service to the [most ordinary] saint (John 13:5) . . . Humility  can weep over other men’s weaknessses, and joy and rejoice over their graces. Humility will make a man quiet and contented in the [lowliest] condition, and it will preserve a man from envying  other men’s prosperous condition (1 Thess 1:2,3). Humility honors those that are strong in grace and puts two hands under those that are weak in grace (Eph. 3:8). . . Ah! were Christians more humble, there would be less fire and more love among them than now is.”

– Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 1652 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2011), 209-11.

The Duties and Services Christ Requires

“It is a sad and dangerous thing to have two eyes to behold our dignity and privileges, and not one to see our duties and services. I should look  with one eye upon the choice and excellent things that Chris hath done for me, to raise up my heart to love Christ with the purest love, and to joy in Christ with the strongest joy, and to lift up Christ above all, who hath made himself to be my all; and I should look with the other eye upon those services and duties that the Scriptures require of those for whom Christ hath done such blessed things, as upon that of the apostle: ‘What, know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God? and ye are not your own: for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

– Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 1652 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2011), 122.

When We Pray to Grow in Every Grace

When we pray to grow in every grace, the Lord hears and answers, but not in the way we might imagine, much less want. John Newton’s poem is full of personal experience and pastoral wisdom. God grants what we need most, and, in the end, we are satisfied.

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, his face.

’Twas he who taught me thus to pray,
And he, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once he’d answer my request;
And by his love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with his own hand he seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds,* and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in me.

_____

* On gourds: see Jonah 4 in the King James Version.

If You Would Have a Peaceful Conscience

“If we would have a peaceful conscience in our religion, let us see that our views of saving faith are distinct and clear. Let us beware of supposing that justifying faith is anything more than a sinner’s simple trust in a Saviour, the grasp of a drowning man on the hand held out for his relief. – Let us beware of mingling anything else with faith in the matter of justification. Here we must always remember that faith stands entirely alone. A justified man no doubt will always be a holy man. True believing will always be accompanied by godly living. But what gives a man an interest in Christ, is not his living, but his faith. If we would know whether our faith is genuine, we do well to ask ourselves how we are living. But if we would know whether we are justified by Christ, there is but one question to be asked. That question is, ‘Do we believe?'”

– J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Vol 1. 1869. (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2012), 103.

Lord, Increase Our Faith!

“Faith is at the root of all that is good; and unbelief, of all that is evil. According to our faith will every grace be found within us. Look at a person in a state of departure from his God: to what is his condition owing? There is ‘in him an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.’ Look at persons anxious to attain the highest grace, so as to be able to forgive their brother, not seven times, but seventy times seven: for what do they pray? an increase of love? no; but of faith: ‘Lord, increase our faith.’”

– Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae: Philippians to 1 Timothy (vol. 18; London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1833), 316.