Stacks Image 905



On growth in Holiness.

IF a person is holy, how can he be more holy? If he is perfectly holy, how can he increase in holiness? These are questions, which are frequently asked, and which it is desirable satisfactorily to answer.

That a thing may be perfect in its nature, and yet be susceptible of growth or advancement in degree, is, I suppose, a matter of common observation. An oak, when it first rises above the surface of the ground, is so small and weak, that it may be easily trodden under foot; and yet it is as really and truly an oak, as when it subsequently stands forth in the strength and stature of an hundred years. A human being is in his nature as much a human being in the period of infancy, as in the subsequent expansion and growth of manhood. And so consider a man in relation to any intellectual power of the mind, or in relation to any appetite or affection of the mind, and the same view may very properly be taken. A person is a reasoner, for instance; he understands perfectly the principles and process of reasoning, and he may be able to apply the principles and process perfectly in a given case, and yet under the favorable influence of the law of Habit, he may much increase the promptness and facility, and consequent perfection, in the operations of this mental faculty. Again, an intemperate man may become perfectly temperate, and yet we all know the general fact, that one, who is thus entirely reformed from intemperance, is more likely to be overcome by temptation in the earlier periods of his reformation, than when subsequently the temperate principle has acquired growth and strength.

And we may not only say in general terms, that there may be a growth in perfection, but may assert further, that the thing which is most perfect, if it be susceptible of growth at all, will have the most sure and rapid growth. Which grows most and in the best manner, the flower which is whole and perfect in its incipient state, or that which has a canker in it, or is otherwise injured and defective in some of its parts? Which will grow the most rapidly and symmetrically, the child which is perfect in its infancy, or one which is afflicted with some malformation? Illustrations and facts of this kind seem to make it clear that the spiritually renovated state of mind, which is variously called holiness, assurance of faith, perfect love, and sanctification, may be susceptible of growth or increase. It is not only evident that there is no natural or physical impossibility in it, but, as has been intimated, we may go farther, and lay it down as a general truth, that perfection in the
nature of a thing is requisite to perfection in degree. And accordingly, although it is possible for a person who is partially holy to grow in holiness, a person who is entirely holy, although he may be assailed by unfavorable influences outwardly, will grow much more. The obstacles to growth in holiness will not only be much less in the latter case than in the former; but that inward vitality, which is necessary to the greatest expansion and progress, will possess a positive and effective power, unknown under other circumstances.

(II.) — These views not only commend themselves to common observation and the lights of human reason, but we remark, in the second place, that they are also fully in accordance with what we are taught in the Scriptures. We learn in relation to John the Baptist, that he was filled with the Holy Ghost from his birth, and that consequently he was sanctified from that early period. But when we contemplate him in after life, in the temptations and labors he underwent, in his faithful preaching, in his stern rebukes of wickedness in high places as well as low, in his imprisonment, and in the general growth and expansion of his matured and consecrated powers, can there possibly be any difficulty in ascribing to him a growth in holiness? Does not the opposite idea, viz., that in the degree of holiness he was not more advanced than at the period of his birth, carry an absurdity upon the very face of it? And we may remark further, that it is expressly said of him, "And the child grew, and waxed STRONG IN SPIRIT." The Savior also was holy from the very beginning of his existence. There was no one power, either of body or mind, that was not fully sanctified. But it was said of him, in terms similar to those applied to John the Baptist, Luke 9: 40: "And the child grew, and WAXED STRONG IN SPIRIT, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him." And again it is said of him, in the same chapter, "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." What is the meaning of this increase of strength in spirit? And how could be increase in the favor of his heavenly Father, if, with the increase of his expanding powers, there was not also a corresponding growth in holy love? The Scriptures every where speak of growth. They do not recognize the idea of standing still; and all those passages, which require growth in grace and religious knowledge, are as applicable after the experience of sanctification as before. "Let us, therefore, as many as be PERFECT be thus minded." Philip. 3: 15. Be thus minded in what respect? The answer is found in the preceding verse, viz., to "press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." "Be ye, therefore, perfect," says the Savior, "as your Father in heaven is perfect." This remarkable and most impressive command evidently implies two things. The first is, that we should be perfect in our sphere; that is to say, in our perceptions, our feelings, and our purposes, to the full extent of our capability. And the second is, that we should continually expand, in accordance with that law of increase which is a part of the nature of every rational being, our capacity of feeling and of knowledge, whatever it may be. And in doing this, (that is to say, on the supposition of its being done,) we fulfill the command absolutely, so far as the
nature of our mental exercises is concerned; and fulfill it by approximation, or continual expansion and growth, so far as relates to their degree. It is thus with the angels in heaven. They are holy; but are always growing in holiness. In the nature of their exercises they are like their heavenly Father, and perfect as he is perfect; but in relation to the degree of their exercises, they can be said to be perfect only in availing themselves of every possible means of approximation and growth. Growth, therefore, continual advancement, is the unalterable law of all created, holy beings. And hence it is further said in the Scriptures, in expressions that are full of weighty import, "For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath." Matt. 13: 19.

(III.) — Some persons may admit the fact of growth in holiness after the experience of full sanctification, and still be in some degree of perplexity as to the
manner of it. We proceed, therefore, in the third place, without promising to remove this perplexity altogether, to enter into some explanations upon this topic. Evangelical holiness, it will be recollected, is nothing more nor less than perfect love. Love is based, in part, upon knowledge, and is necessarily based upon it. It is entirely evident, that we can never love an object of which we have no knowledge; and it is equally so, that, in proportion as our knowledge extends, we have a wider intellectual basis for the action of this principle. And accordingly every new manifestation of God's character, every new exhibition of his attributes, every additional development of his providences, will furnish new occasions for accessions of love. It is the privilege, therefore, of a person perfected in love, and consequently a holy person, to increase in holiness in exact proportion with his increase in knowledge.

Again, it is well known that there is a great law of our mental nature, termed the law of HABIT. The law is, that increased facility and strength of mental action results from repetition or practice. There does not appear to be a power of the mind, either intellectual or sensitive, which may not feel the influence of this law. And according to this law, every exercise of love, when the exercises are continuously successive, will give place to another, which is increased in strength. And hence a holy being, (not one who is holy to day and sinning tomorrow, and so on alternately,) but a holy being, who continues to be so, will necessarily go on from one degree of strength to another. And we may add, by way of illustration, that it seems to be the same here, as it is in regard to depravity. Our theologians assure us, that man is by nature
entirely depraved. But they also agree in asserting, that entireness of depravity does not preclude the idea of growth in depravity. They admit that the law of habit strengthens the intensity of the depraved element. A depraved man is more depraved than a depraved child; and a depraved devil is more depraved than a depraved man. If theologians generally propound as sound doctrine the idea of growth in the matter of depravity, when the depravity is entire, it would be difficult to show its unsoundness in the matter of holiness.

And there is another important consideration. There are grounds for the remark, that we may indirectly increase the strength of holy emotions and desires, by a removal of the various obstacles which oppose and obstruct their exercise. The speed of a vessel or of a railroad car depends not only upon the amount of the propelling power, whatever that power may be, but also, in part, upon the number and greatness of the obstacles to be overcome. If the obstacles are many and great, the speed will be less. Now the sanctified person is continually acquiring knowledge, not only in relation to the great and adorable object of his perfected love, but also in relation to his own physical and intellectual infirmities, the nature of temptations, and the subtle arts of the adversary of souls. In these infirmities, temptations, and evil arts, he finds very serious obstacles to his progress in holiness. But every day's experience, under the instructions and guidance of the Holy Spirit, teaches their nature and diminishes their power. He learns where his weakness is, and understands better than he did at first how to counteract it. He knows the artifices of the adversary, the insidious manner of his approaches, and the way in which he can be resisted and defeated. And the result of this knowledge is, that many serious obstacles, which existed before and which perplexed his progress, are removed. His increased knowledge of the character of God, the influence of the law of habit, the imparted influences of the Holy Spirit, have their natural and unobstructed effect, and accelerate, as they would not do under other circumstances, the ascendant flight of the soul.

These considerations evidently show, that the idea of growth in holiness, when the heart is already sanctified to God, is not an unreasonable one. On the contrary, it would seem on any principles of reason applicable to the case, that the growth of a sanctified soul in holiness would be much more rapid than that of a soul but partially sanctified. The testimony of those, who have arrived at the state of assurance of faith and perfected love, confirms these views. Their testimony is, that, after having reached this state, their growth in grace is much more rapid and sure than it was before. They are conscious of increased power against temptation, and of an increase of union with the divine will, to an extent unknown in their previous experience. What growth, then, must there be in angel minds, which are neither obstructed by inward nor by outward evils in their progress! What expansion with each revolving day! What increased intensity of desire! What higher and more triumphant energies of love !

In conclusion, we exhort those, who are sanctified to the Lord, to grow abundantly in holiness. Of two persons, both of whom are truly, holy persons, one may grow in holiness more rapidly and surely than another. This is an important fact, and one that is often overlooked. The difference of growth in holiness, after the experience of sanctification, seems to us to depend, next to believing and earnest application for divine assistance, upon growth in KNOWLEDGE. Little claim has any one to the character of a holy person, who is willing to be ignorant. We have not reference in this remark to the mere knowledge of natural things, which oftentimes perplexes rather than promotes the inward life, but to religious knowledge; to any thing and every thing which throws light upon the character, providences, and the will of God; and to whatever illustrates the character, relations, and moral and religious duties of man. Holiness, considered in its full extent, is a great study; and he only, who is willing to be a diligent and faith-full student, will understand it. Hence we are told in the second epistle of Peter, that God hath given us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, " through the KNOWLEDGE of him that has called us to glory and virtue; " and are directed. in the same chapter to add "to our faith virtue, and to virtue KNOWLEDGE.