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The apostle, having prayed that the Philippians “ might be filled with the fruits of righteousness," subjoined, according to the uniform language of the New Testament, “which are through Jesus “ Christ to the glory and praise of God.” Our fruitfulness is utterly insufficient to justify us, or recommend us to the divine favour: and we are not allowed, in any degree, to court the applause of men, in the performance of good works ; nor do real believers allow themselves to do it. But “ the fruits of the Spirit,” produced by his sacred influence, from the hearts of fallen creatures, as the happy effects of the incarnation and redemption of Christ, presented through his intercession, and, as it were, sprinkled with his blood ; and as conducive in all respects to the glory of God; must be well-pleasing in his sight. We are consecrated “ a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices, ac
ceptable to God through Jesus Christ:"* " and “ herein our heavenly Father is glorified, when we “ bring forth much fruit."*—This consideration leads us to inquire more particularly into the reasons which induced the apostle to pray thus for his people: and on what account that “growth in grace,” which has been described, is so greatly to be desired.
* 1 Pet. ii. 5.
+ John xv. 8.
It is observable, that no petitions are offered by the apostle, in the passage referred to, for prosperity, deliverance from persecutors, or even for spiritual consolation. In general, it is not proper to pray unreservedly for temporal comforts, in behalf of ourselves or others; for they are of so ambiguous a nature, that we cannot tell whether they would prove blessings or not. John indeed wishes his beloved Gaius may “ be in “ health, and prosper, even as his soul prospered.” A singular example; and a petition which must be reversed to suit the case of many professed Christians. No doubt St. Paul prayed that his people might be delivered from “ the tribulations “and persecutions which they endured :” and that “ their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love:” but, when he expressly set himself to point out the things, which he principally requested in their behalf, in order to direct them in seeking the best blessings for themselves, he was silent on these topics. We may therefore observe,
I. That growth in grace is necessary in order to the believer's abiding consolation, and assurance of hope. It may probably have occurred to the reader, that assurance of an interest in Chirst, and of everlasting life through him, has not been expressly mentioned as essential to growth in grace, or strength of faith: but, as we are exhorted “to
give all diligence, that we may make our calling « and election sure;" and“ that we may possess
the full assurance of hope unto the end ;"* we may
2 Pet. i. 10.
properly consider genuine confidence, as the effect of increasing faith and sanctification. Without a measure of holiness there can be no warranted comfort, or “ assurance of hope.” Strong cordials, indeed, given to a man in a high fever, may produce a transient exhilaration, while they increase the disease: but proper medicines tend to restore health, which will be accompauied with pleasing sensations, of a superior and a more permanent nature. Now sin is the distemper of the soul: so long as pride, malice, lust, covetousness,
other vile passion, prevails in the heart, no salutary comfort can be derived from the promises or privileges of the gospel ; except as they allure aman from his present seducing and destructive pursuits, by shewing him that far greater blessings are attainable. But, when a humble, meek, pure, and heavenly disposition is produced ; when knowledge, love, submission, and spirituality diffuse their benign influence, subjugating every corrupt passion, and moderating every attachment to earthly objects; the believer consequently feels peace and comfort : while the joys, which on some occasions fill and transport the soul, in an extraordinary manner, are chiefly reserved for times of sharp conflict, heavy trials, or hard services.
All our genuine consolations spring from the influences of the Holy Spirit, opening to us the treasures of redeeming love, applying to our consciences the blood of sprinkling, exciting holy affections in our hearts, and giving us earnests of heavenly felicity. They are therefore inseparably connected with the exercise of repentance, faith, love, hope, 'and gratitude, and indeed almost wholly consist in them: while every kind or degree of sin, even in our tempers or desires, “ grieves” and “ quenches the Spirit of God," and interrupts our comforts ; till renewed humiliation, and application for mercy, through the blood of Christ, restore our peace. It must therefore be evident, that “growth in grace" powerfully tends to establish peace, hope, and joy in God; a
peace of God which passeth understanding,” a
joy unspeakable and glorious.” We ought to value these consolations above all the riches and pleasures of the world, and to desire the abundant enjoyment of them from day to day : but we should not expect, or allow ourselves to wish, for it, except through the medium of increasing sanctification: and fruitfulness. Upon the most mature deliberation, the prudent Christian will not hesitate to pray, that the loss of wonted consolations may chastise his folly, if he grow lukewarm, careless, or worldly: and that, if the only wise God see, that withholding present comfort will promote his growth in grace, he may be sanctified and not comforted, rather than comforted and not sanctified. Present joys are of short continuance, but increasing holiness is the recovery of health, and the preparation for future and eternal felicity. Our Lord hath commanded us to “seek first the king“ dom of God and his righteousness;" and then “ all other things will be added to us :” but numbers by inverting this order come short of salvation, and soon lose their idolized worldly objects. In like manner, many professors of the gospel are so eager to obtain assurance, that they seek it in the first place ; instead of first seeking to grow
in grace, and to bring forth the fruits of righteousness, leaving it to the Lord to give them comfort ; and to cause them to “ abound in hope by the
power of the Holy Ghost," in his appointed time and way : and thus many are buoyed up in vain confidence, or amused with delusive joys; and others continue feeble, sickly, and dejected, during the greatest part of their lives. Various methods have indeed been devised to afford them relief and consolation ; but they have merely a transsient effect : for the child who does not grow is not healthy, and being unhealthy will be uncomfortable, whatever may be done to cheer its spirits by cordials, to quiet it by opiates, or feast it with delicacies, or to amuse it by toys and finery.
II. “ Growth in grace" is most desirable, in order that the Lord Jesus may be glorified in us, and by us.—When Christ appeared on earth, all those who saw the men, whom he had restored to the use of their senses and limbs, recovered to health, or raised from the dead, would have reason to exclaim with astonishment, ‘See what
Jesus of Nazareth hath done! how wonderful ‘is his power ! how great his love! how many, • how stupendous, how beneficent his miracles !' While the monuments of his divine compassion, and authority over all nature, would be ready to say to all around them ; 'He, whom the rulers ‘ and scribes despise and seek to destroy, restored
my limbs, my understanding, or my life. Thus would he be honoured by them, and in them.
When they, who profess the doctrines of the gospel, and avouch Christ to be their . God and Saviour, make it incontestably evident, that their