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GROWTH IN GRACE.
The apostle Paul was evidently a man of strong passions and peculiar sensibility; and, being by divine grace exceedingly filled with love to the Lord Jesus, and to the souls of men, his mind was affected with the most lively emotions of joy or sorrow, hope or fear, according to the tidings which he received from the churches with which he had any peculiar connexion. At one time he complains that he has no rest in his flesh,” “ is filled with heaviness,” and “can no longer “ forbear;" and that “ he writes out of much “ affliction and anguish of heart, with many “ tears : at another he declares, that he “is filled “ with comfort, and is exceedingly joyful in all his “ tribulation, being comforted by the faith" of his beloved children; “ for now,” says he,“ we live, if ye
stand fast in the Lord." He seems indeed to intimate that these were “ things which concerned “his infirmities :” and doubtless this sanguine disposition requires much correction and regulation by divine grace; but, when it is thus tempered and counterbalanced by proportionable humility, wisdom, patience, and disinterestedness, it may be considered as the main spring of a Christian's activity; especially when employed in the sacred ministry. As these united qualifications certainly conduced very much to the apostle's extraordinary usefulness, they also render his epistles peculiarly interesting to us, in all our inquiries concerning the best method of promoting the enlargement and prosperity of the church, and the edification of the disciples of the Lord Jesus.
Among other peculiarities of his manner, it especially suits our present purpose to notice the animated glow of joy and affection, with which he addresses his Christian brethren. Thus, when writing to the Philippians, he abruptly breaks forth, “ I thank my God upon every remembrance “ of you ; always in every prayer of mine for you “all, making request with joy." From the same fulness of heart he afterwards adds, “ Many walk, “ of whom I have told you often, and now tell you “even weeping, that they are the cnemies of the
cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose
god is their belly, whose glory is in their shame; who mind earthly things.”*
There are, alas! too many professors of the gospel in most places, whose conduct would constrain a believer, of far less gracious sensibility than holy Paul, to weep at every recollection of them ; but there are others also, on whose account we ought “ to bless God without ceasing, whilst we remem“ ber their work of faith, and labour of love, and “ patience of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.”+
- Phil. iii. 18, 19.
+ 1 Thess. i 3.
Every faithful and affectionate pastor, therefore, will find cause for alternate sorrow and joy, while he reflects on the people among whom he hath been called to labour, and on all others, with whom he has any acquaintance.
But, while the apostle saw great cause for thankfulness on account of what the Lord had done for the Philippians, yet he was equally disposed to pray for them continually; not only, lest they should decline in zeal and diligence, but likewise that they might make still greater progress in every thing pertaining to genuine Christianity. “For God,” says he, " is my record, how greatly “I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. “ And this I
your love may
abound yet " more and more, in knowledge and in all judgment; “ that ye may approve things that are excellent; “ that ye may 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.”* And in the subsequent parts of the epistle, he copiously and pathetically exhorts them to follow after all those very things, for which he had most fervently prayed in their behalf.
These remarks on the writings of St. Paul may suggest some reflections, which are suited to introduce the subject of this treatise. A great part of that obscurity and confusion, which pervade the discourses of many persons on religious topics, arises from inattention to the different characters of those, concerning whom the sacred writers
Phil. i. 8-11,
speak, or to whom they address their instructions. In all endeavours to do good to the souls of men, it is especially necessary that we should “ rightly “ divide the word of truth,” and apply it to the heart and conscience, according to the various characters and situations of the persons addressed : for the portion which suits one may be wholly improper for another; even as the same medicine cannot be suited to different persons labouring under diseases of a contrary nature. If, therefore, the wise attention of the sacred writers to this important concern be overlooked by their readers, there will be the greatest reason to fear, lest they should wrest even the words of inspiration to their own destruction.
Every man, who will take the pains to examine, must be convinced, that the apostles addressed themselves to idolaters, careless sinners, bigoted Jews, proud Pharisees, profane scoffers, or hypocritical perverters of the gospel, in a manner adapted to their several cases ; that they employed very different language, and used far other topics, when they were instructing serious inquirers, encouraging broken-hearted penitents, or “restor
ing, in the spirit of meekness, such as had “ been overtaken in a fault;" and that they brought forward instructions and exhortations of a different nature, when they wrote to established believers, or to those who had newly embraced the gospel, and were full of zeal, but in danger of being misled by false teachers, or drawn aside by manifold temptations.
It is, therefore, evident that the exhortations of the apostles, and their prayers for the progress of
their people in holiness, are entirely consistent with the doctrines of grace, for which they in other parts most zealously contend: seeing they have an exclusive reference to persons, who, “having been “ justified by faith, had peace with God through “our Lord Jesus Christ;" “ in whom they had “ redemption through his blood, even the forgive“ness of their sins, according to the riches of his “ grace.” For the Lord had “saved them, and “ called them with an holy calling, not according “ to their own works, but according to his own purpose
grace, given them in Christ Jesus “ before the world began;" and the security of the new covenant engaged to them, that they should “ be kept by the power of God, through faith unto “ salvation.” In imitation, therefore, of this example, and with a most zealous attachment to the same doctrines, the ministers of Christ should now also exhort those, whom, with heart-felt satisfaction, they regard as true believers, to follow after every
branch of that holiness, which the apostles most pathetically recommended to their beloved children: and assuredly we are deeply criminal, if we cease to pray for them in the same manner, for the same blessings, and in a similar spirit.
The ensuing treatise, being especially intended for the benefit of those who make a credible profession of the peculiar doctrines of the gospel, nothing will be spoken of those doctrines, in a way of explanation or argument; and very little addressed to such as do not believe them. The particular subject of inquiry will be, In what that growth in grace, and progress in the divine life, consists, to which the apostles so strenuously and