A CHECK TO AN UNGOVERNED TONGUE: Part Five, The Malignancy of Scoffers

Taken and adapted from, “THE MISCELLANEOUS WORKS OF THE REV. MATTHEW HENRY” Volume I
Published in 1833.

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Scoffing at religion and godliness, and jesting with sacred things, is another evidence of an ungoverned tongue.

By the commonness of this sin, in this loose and degenerate age of ours, it appears that we live in the dregs of time; for the Scripture speaks expressly that in the last days, those corrupt and perilous times, there should arise scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 2 Pet. 3:3. Profane people, when they set up for wits, think they cannot better show their wit than in endeavoring to justify their profaneness.

To show you the evil of it, consider,

1   The malignant principles whence it flows. When there is in their heart a habitual contempt of divine things, and an antipathy to them, a reining enmity to the power of godliness vents itself, and holds itself up in jest and banter. When men are resolved not to make themselves serious with the things of God, they will make themselves merry with them, and think they gain their point if they can but turn godliness off with a jest. Being pleased to make the subject of their laughter looked upon as a just object of contempt. They endeavor to represent the Word of God as a sham, heaven as a fool’s paradise, and hell as merely the creature of a disordered imagination. Therefore, by playing upon the things of God, and turning them into burlesque; they sport themselves with their own deceptions. But it will prove, like the Philistines’ making sport with Samson, that it will eventually prove too strong for them, and their profane mirth will be a prologue to their own ruin. Be ye not mockers lest your bands be made strong, Isa. 28:22.

2   The mischievous consequences that flow from it. You who thus make a jest of holy things, though you make a light matter of it, ought to consider what you do, and what will he in the end hereof. Think what an affront you hereby put upon the blessed God, imputing folly to infinite wisdom, and vilifying him who is the fountain of honor. Think what an injury you hereby do to religion, and how much you serve the interest of the devil and his kingdom, as those who are retained of counsel in his cause. Does it seem like a light thing to you, that you are not only wicked yourselves, but will you do what you can to make others wicked too, that you may, besides your own torments hereafter, share in the torments of all the souls you help to ruin? Think how you will answer it at the great day, and what bitter reflections you will then make upon your daring impieties of this kind, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven to execute judgment upon all, for all their hard speeches spoken against him.

It is better to reflect, and repent, and reform now, while there is a possibility of your reconciliation to the God you have provoked, than to be forced to remember it in hell to your utter confusion, in a state of endless and hopeless separation from God.

A CHECK TO AN UNGOVERNED TONGUE: Part Four, Making a Mockery of God When We Use His Name As a By-Word

Taken and adapted from, “THE MISCELLANEOUS WORKS OF THE REV. MATTHEW HENRY” Volume I
Published in 1833.

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The common, careless using of the blessed name of God, without due application, is another instance of the ill government of the tongue, which needs a check.

Many who never curse or swear, yet allow themselves in the taking of God’s name in vain, and either know not, or consider not, the evil of it, and the dishonor done (though not intended) to God by it. When you use those forms of speech, which are properly expressive of a pious ejaculation, in a light and careless manner, and to any other purpose than their genuine and original signification, which appears by your way of speaking not to be intended, but something else, you profane that which is sacred, and alienate to a common use that which appears to have been dedicated to God, and has holiness to the Lord written on it. To say, “O Lord,” when you mean no more but “I am hurt;” and “God knows,” when you mean no more but “I do not know;” and “God bless me,” when you mean no more but “I am surprised;” and “God help you,” when you mean no more but “I pity you,” or any the like, is certainly taking the name of the Lord your God in vain, and to no purpose, that is, to no good purpose.

Now will you who accustom yourselves to this language consider this…

1   That it is a great affront to the God of heaven. You hereby make his blessed name a by-word, and put that slight upon it which you would not bear to be put upon your own names. That is a great example which the bishop of Sarum tells us was observed of the honorable Mr. Boyle, that he never mentioned the name of God but with a discernible stop or pause in his discourse, in token of a reverence for that glorious and fearful name, and to leave room for a devout thought. Great and serious things ought to be spoken of with great seriousness, and they are abused if they are prostituted to a common use.

2   That it is certainly a breach of the law of the third commandment, which is very express. Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, and it is backed with a threatening that the Lord will not hold them guiltless that do so, in which certainly more is implied than is expressed; it is supposed that many such will hold themselves guiltless, and think they do no harm, and others will hold them guiltless, but God will severely reckon with them, for he is a jealous God.

3   That it is a great profanation of the holy ordinance of prayer. The better any thing is, the worse it is when it is corrupted. There is nothing better than the devout and serious mention of the name of our God as there is occasion, nothing better than pious addresses to God when the heart goes along with them; but if this degenerate into a mockery, if the dead carcass hereof only is retained, and there is no spirit or life in it, if there be not so much as an outward solemnity and decorum observed, but the manner of using those good words plainly shows and avows it, that there is nothing pious and devout intended by them, it is in effect a banter upon prayer, turns it into burlesque and ridicule, and is exceeding offensive to God and good men.

It will be hard to use those words seriously, when they should be used so, when you have so often used vainly when you should not; and what comfort can you expect in prayer, when you are serious and need the comfort of it, if at other times you use the words of prayer thus lightly and profanely.

And now, shall I prevail with you to never to mention the name of God but with seriousness, and in a holy and reverent manner? Say not that you are so used to these expressions that you cannot leave them; resolution, by the grace of God, will change the dialect. Can you completely commit your lives for Christ if you will not leave off sinful, and inconsiderate words for him? One would think this is a small piece of self-denial. Let the fear of God rule in your hearts, and always maintain a holy awe and reverence of him, and then out of the abundance of that the mouth will speak of him with reverence, and will not dare to speak otherwise.

The description which the Scripture gives of hypocrites, (Isa. 48:1.) is, that they make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth; but the description of true saints is, that they think on God’s name, Malachi  3:16. Act with reason, and either think of what you say, or do not say what you do not think of.

A CHECK TO AN UNGOVERNED TONGUE: Part Three, The Outrageous Evil of Lying

Taken and adapted from, “THE MISCELLANEOUS WORKS OF THE REV. MATTHEW HENRY” Volume I
Published in 1833.

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Lying is another of the outrageous evils of an ungoverned tongue, and a very pernicious one.

It has been said of some, that though they do not swear yet they will lie; it is to be feared there are those, of whom it is too true; and let them bear their own burthen; but let not those, who would not for a world do either, suffer for the same; nor let swearers think it will in the least excuse their sin, that there are liars who are no swearers. It is certain they are both damning sins, and either of them persisted in will undoubtedly be the ruin of the sinner. But if we may guess at one sin by another, it is more probable, (as I hinted before,) that they who make no conscience of swearing will not stick at lying; and we may charitably hope, unless we know the contrary, that they who dread a profane oath, will be as much afraid of telling a willful lie.

Let me, therefore, in God’s name, seriously apply myself to those who (as the prophet speaks) have taught their tongue to speak lies, Jer. 9:5. For there is an art in it, whether they be such lies as seem to do good, or such as are directly intended to do hurt, or such as are idle, and intended neither for good nor hurt. If they are lies, they are sins against God. And all liars shall have their portion in the bottomless pit, if they repent not; and the nice distinction, with which they think to justify, or at least excuse, themselves, will prove, in the great day, but a refuge of lies, which the hail will sweep away, Isaiah 28:17.

A few words, one would think, may serve for the conviction and discovery of these sinners. Surely you need not be told what lying is; your own consciences will tell you, if they be not seared, or bribed, or forbidden to deal plainly with you.

In your bargains and contracts, if you say that either for selling the dearer, or buying the cheaper, which you know to be false, it is a lie. Yet how common is it, in the multitude of those words, for the seller to call the commodity good and cheap, and to aver that he gave so much for it, when he knows that it is neither so nor so! And the buyer in his bidding will call that worthless and dear which he has no reason to call so, and will say he can buy it cheaper elsewhere, when he does not know that he can. It is nothing, it is nothing, says the buyer; but when he is gone away, then he boasts of a good bargain, not considering that he was helped to it by a lie, Prov. 20: 14.

In your excuses which you make, either to superiors or equals, if you deny, extenuate, or conceal a fault, by representing a thing otherwise than it was, though you may gain your point, and not be so much as suspected of falsehood, yet the guilt is there, nevertheless. When you are charged with any neglect or injury, you are ready to say you did not know, or did not remember, that which you are conscious to yourselves you did know, and did remember; you plead that you thought or intended so and so, when really you did not think or intend any such thing. These are the common refuges of those who are culpable, because the profession of a man’s thoughts and purposes is not easily disproved. But though men cannot convict us of falsehood in those professions, he that searches the heart can. Men may be shammed with a frivolous excuse, but God is not mocked.

In your commendations of yourselves or others, if you give a better character than you know there is cause or ground for; if you boast of a false gift, and represent your abilities, possessions, and performances, to greater advantage than they deserve, and then the truth will bear witness, though these may pass for innocent hyperboles with those who take the same liberty themselves, yet your own consciences will tell you, if they be faithful, that hereby you add the sin of lying to the sin of pride, than which there are not two sins that God hates more.

In your censures, if you put false constructions upon the words and actions of your neighbors, making a great crime of that which was nothing, or next to nothing, unjustly aggravating faults, and making them worse than really they are, or representing that as certain, which is but suspected and doubtful, much more, if it should prove that you lay to men’s charge things that they know not, hereby you involve yourselves in a double guilt, falsehood and uncharitableness.

In your promises, if you engage that you will do so or so, pay such a debt, or finish such a piece of work within such a time, or do such a kindness for your friend, when either you do not at all intend it, or foresee you cannot perform it, or afterward take no care either to fulfil the promise when it is in the power of your hand, or if disabled to do that, in due time to recall it, hereby there is guilt contracted. Either the promise should not have been made, or it should have been kept.

In your common reports, and the stories you tell fur discourse sake, and the keeping up of conversation, if you report that as true and certain which you know to be otherwise, and do not make conscience of representing everything as near as possible lo the truth, and to your own sober thoughts, you became transgressors.

Sure there need not many words to persuade you to repent of this sin of lying, and carefully to watch against it for the future, and all appearances of it.

Consider how contrary it is to God; it is a breach of his law, it is a defacing of his image, for he is the God of truth; and it exposes us to his wrath, for lying lips are an abomination to the Lord. Consider how conformable it is to the devil, and how much it makes you to resemble him, for he is a liar, and the father of it. It is an injury to your brother, not only to the particular person, who, perhaps, is wronged by it, but to human society in general. And it will be the ruin of your own precious souls, if you persist in it. They who thus do the works of the devil, shall have their portion with the devil and his angels.

A lie is soon told, and perhaps as soon forgotten, and a light matter made of it; but the punishment of it will be everlasting, in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, out of which there is no redemption.

A CHECK TO AN UNGOVERNED TONGUE: Part Two, The Madness of Evil Cursing

Taken and adapted from, “THE MISCELLANEOUS WORKS OF THE REV. MATTHEW HENRY” Volume I
Published in 1833.

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Cursing is near akin to profane swearing…

...and it is the common companion of it, and is another of the exorbitances of an ungoverned tongue. Cursing is wishing evil to ourselves or others, absolutely or conditionally; a sin exceeding sinful; as great an instance of the corruption and degeneracy of the human nature, and as sure an evidence of the reigning power of Satan in the soul, as any other whatsoever. Nothing is more naturally the language of hell than this. To show you the evil of it, I will only recommend two things to your thoughts:

1  Consider, what a brutish piece of madness it is to curse yourselves.

If you do it absolutely, it is of the same nature with self-murder; wishing harm to yourselves is in effect doing it; and is a breach of one of the first and great laws of nature, that of self-preservation. If you do it conditionally, it is of the same nature with profane swearing, and incurs the same guilt, with this additional stain, that it is not only a mocking of God’s government, by a ludicrous appeal to him, but a defying of his judgment, a challenge to the Almighty to do his worst.

O the daring presumption of these sinners, sinners against their own heads, their own souls! The devils begged of our Savior, whose power they were not ignorant of, not to torment them before the time; but these presumptuous wretches, as if they thought their judgment lingered, and their damnation slumbered too long, pull vengeance down upon their own heads, and pray to God to damn them; and they need not fear but they shall be heard, for so shall their doom be, themselves have decided it. They challenge the devil to take them, and he is ready enough to seize his prey. But, shall I ask you, are the arrests of devils, and the flames of hell, such delectable things that you should court them? Or are they only the creatures of fancy and imagination, that you should make so light of them? Be not deceived, God’s judgment is not a jest, nor hell a sham; if you persist in this impious contempt of divine revelation, you will feel too late what you would not believe in time.

If you have no regard to God, nor any concern for his honor, yet have you no good-will to yourselves, nor any love to your own souls? Is it not enough that you are doing that every day which deserves damnation, but will you be solicitous to demand sentence against yourselves? It is but a moderate curse with you to wish yourselves hanged, yet, I have read of a person of quality in our own nation, who, coming to die upon the gallows for murder, publicly reflected upon it with bitter regret, that he had accustomed himself to that wicked imprecation, “and now,” says he, “I see the Lord is righteous.”

But as if this were a small matter, you challenge God to damn you, and the devil to take you: and what if God should say “Amen” to the next curse, and immediately order death to fetch you, and hell to receive you? What if the devils should be ready at the next call, and take you presently? And can thine heart endure, or your hands be strong, when God shall deal with you? Art you able to dwell with devouring fire, and to inhabit everlasting burnings?  Do you know the power of God’s anger? Is your eternal salvation of such small account with you, that you are willing to pawn it upon every trifling occasion, and to imprecate the loss of it, if such or such a thing be not so, which it is very possible may prove otherwise? How dare you thus provoke the Lord to jealousy, whilst you can not pretend to be stronger than he? 1 Cor. 10:22. Woe unto you that thus desire the day of the Lord! You know not what you do, for the day of the Lord, whatever it is to others, will be to you darkness, and not light, Amos 5: 18.

2  Consider what diabolical malice it is to curse others.

It is the highest degree of hatred, nor can anything be more contrary than this to the royal law of love and charity. He who prays to God to damn his neighbor, plainly intimates that he would do it himself if he could; and if he who hates his brother is a murderer, surely he who thus curses him is the worst of murderers, he is Abaddon—a destroyer.

That tongue is doubtless set on fire of hell, which is for sending everybody thither at a word, and which, by cursing men who are made after the similitude of God, would set on fire the whole course of nature, and is an advocate for the devil, that roaring lion which seeks to devour precious souls, James 3:6, 9.

Must the righteous God be summoned to execute your angry resentments, and called upon to destroy those whom he sent his own Son into the world to save, and to whom he is waiting to be gracious? Because you are out of humor, must all about you be sunk and ruined presently? As a madman in his frenzy throws about him firebrands, arrows, and death, so is he who curses his neighbor; nay, perhaps his wife, his child, his friend; and says, “Am not I in passion?” or, “Am not I in sport?” have you no other way of signifying your displeasure (if it be just) but by the imprecation of evil, the worst of evils, which bear no proportion at all to the offence given?

Put this case close to your own heart. When you wish your child, or servant, or neighbor hanged, confounded or damned, or sent to the devil, either you mean as you say, or not. If you do not wish it, (as I charitably hope you do not,) you are guilty of a manifest falsehood, and must own yourself a liar: if you do really wish it, (and what wickedness is it that will not enter into the heart of a furious man?) you cannot but acknowledge your self-guilty of the most barbarous and inhuman malice imaginable. So that every curse proves you a willful transgressor, either of the law of truth, or of the law of love, two as sacred laws, and which have as much of the image of the law-maker, as any mankind is bound by.

Consider further, that the curses you are so liberal of will not hurt those against whom they are levelled; you do but show your ill-will; for as the bird by wandering, and the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come, Prov. 26: 2. But they will certainly return upon your own head, to your confusion, As he loved cursing so let it come unto him: —into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones, Ps. 109:17, 18. They who are called to inherit the blessing, are commanded to bless and not to curse, Rom. 12:14. Believe it, sirs, curses are edge-tools, which it is dangerous playing with.

In your furious and outrageous cursing of the brute creatures, or that which is inanimate and in capable of the harm you wish it, what is wanting in malice is made up in folly and absurdity; like that which the apostle calls the madness of Balaam, when he wished he had his sword to kill his own ass with. By such silly nonsensical curses as you sometimes throw about in your passion, ‘you make it to appear, that with your religion you put off common sense.

You are men, you are rational creatures; speak with reason then, and act with reason, and be you not as the horse and the mule, that have no understanding; as natural brute beasts made to be taken and destroyed.

A CHECK TO AN UNGOVERNED TONGUE: Part One, The Evil Wickedness of Taking God’s Name in Vain

Taken and adapted from, “THE MISCELLANEOUS WORKS OF THE REV. MATTHEW HENRY” Volume I
Published in 1833.

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[It was brought to my attention by a Christian scholar as to Charles Spurgeon thoughts about Matthew Henry and his Commentary on the Bible; who he describes; “First among the mighty for general usefulness we are bound to mention the man whose name is a household word, MATTHEW HENRY. He is most pious and pithy, sound and sensible, suggestive and sober, terse and trustworthy. You will find him to be glittering with metaphors, rich in analogies, overflowing with illustrations, superabundant in reflections.”  Having read Matthew Henry’s Commentaries for many years, and donating my own 1843 and 1844 volumes of his commentaries for a worthy cause, I can concur. Yet how many have read some of his other works?  This series of posts will deal with the tongue. A subject that is as timely as it is timeless. And if you find yourself with some spare time for devotions, read some of his other works as well. –MWP]

The criminal we are now dealing with, is pronounced by an inspired writer, “An unruly evil, full of deadly poison,” –James 3: 8.

…and, which is a very great discouragement to any attempt for the reformation of it. It is there said, “That the tongue can no man tame:” not that it is impossible for men to govern their own tongues, but it is extremely difficult, and next to impossible, to reclaim and reform the extravagances of other people’s tongues. And yet, though no man can tame this unruly evil, doubtless, the almighty grace of God can. With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible; even this. And that grace; though not tied to any methods in its operations, yet, ordinarily, makes use of the endeavors of men, as means to accomplish and effect its purposes.

Against this Goliath, therefore, we go forth to battle, though armed only with a sling and a stone, in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom it hath defied; leaving the success of the attempt to him who made man’s mouth, and is alone able to new-make it, as he certainly does, wherever he gives a new heart.

And we will first mention particularly the most common and daring extravagances of an ungoverned tongue, and severally show the evil of them; designing and endeavoring thereby to confirm the innocent, and, especially, to reform the guilty: and then we will, in some general directions, offer something toward the cure of these epidemical diseases. And God grant that this labor may not be altogether in vain!

I   Profane swearing is one of the common transgressions, or rebellions rather, of an ungoverned, ill-governed tongue. A sin so common, that in most places it is become the vulgar dialect of all sorts of persons, with whose poisonous breath the air itself seems to be infected; and yet a sin so exceeding sinful, that the tongue is therein set against the heavens, (Ps. 73:9) insults over and tramples upon that which is most sacred and honorable.

The malignity of this sin lies especially in the prostituting of that solemn appeal, which by an oath is made, to God’s knowledge and justice, to the most impertinent and trivial purposes. Devout and religious swearing, when we are duly called to be sworn, is an ordinance of God, whereby we give unto him the glory due unto his name, as an omniscient, true, and righteous God. Profane swearing is a scornful and insolent contempt of that ordinance, treading it under foot, as a common thing, and thereby doing despite to him, for whose honor it is intended. It is a sacrilegious alienating of those forms of speech which are consecrated to the glory of God, and turning them to a profane and wicked use; like Belshazzar’s polluting the vessels of the temple, by gracing his drunken revels with them, which filled the measure of his iniquity. It is trifling and jesting with that, which in its own nature is awful and reverend, and which ought at all times to be treated and attended to with the greatest seriousness.

Some accustom themselves wholly to this language of hell; all their discourse is corrupted by it. They cannot talk with you about business, nor tell you a story, nor give you an answer to the most common question, but almost every other word must be an oath. It is so familiar to them, that it passes altogether unregarded; charge them with it, and they will tell you in the next breath, they do not know that they swore.

Others, with whom it is not altogether so common, yet think it no harm now and then, when they are in a passion, or speak earnestly, or when they are in company with those to whom they know it is agree able, to “rap out an oath,” (as they call it,) and perhaps, to multiply oaths; and by these frequent acts, at length they contract a habit, and become as bad as the worst. It may be, some swear under pretense of gaining credit, nobody will believe them unless they swear what they say; and I know no wise man will believe them the sooner for it; for he that can dispense with the sin of profane swearing, which he gets nothing by, I fear will not boggle much at the sin of willful lying; especially, when anything is to be got by it. Others swear under pretense of striking an awe upon their inferiors, nobody will fear them unless they swear at them; that is, they would rather be dreaded and shunned, as roaring lions and ranging bears, than respected and honored as wise, sober, and religious men, who make conscience of what they say and do, even when they are ever so much provoked.

And there are many who are such hearty well-wishers to this sin, that though they have not yet learned to swear distinctly, and in plain English, for fear of the censure, either of the law, or of their friends, or of their own consciences, yet they venture to lisp this language, and have the Shibboleth of an oath, upon every occasion, at their tongue’s end. Though it be not swearing at large, and in express terms, it is the abridgment of it; it is swearing in short-hand. They have learnt to contract wicked words, and to disguise them by half words, which, as they have the resemblance of profane swearing, take rise from it, and border upon it; are bad words, and at the best, are idle words, for which they must give account in the judgment; and being more than yea, yea, and nay, nay, more than bare affirmations and negations, they come of evil, Mat. 5:37. No wise man will say he knows not what, or that which has no sense at all; and no good man will say that which he knows has the appearance of evil, and borders upon a bad sense.

And now, O that this paper might seasonably fall into the hands of the swearer, the common swearer, and the more cautious one, and might (by the blessing of God) be an effectual and happy means to convince and reform both the one and the other, before the flying roll which carries the curse (which we read of as the swearer’s doom, Zech. 5:3, 4.) come into their houses, or, which is worse, into their souls, to consume them : that is a roll which cannot be slighted and thrown by, as I suppose this paper will.

You ask sometimes, “What evil there is in swearing?” Why so much ado should be made about a common form of speech, and a man made an offender for a word. You plead, that it hurts nobody, words are but wind. But you will not say so, if you can but be persuaded seriously to weigh the following considerations, and to fix them in your minds:

1   Consider what an enmity there is, in profane swearing, to the Blessed God, and what an indignity is done by it to his glorious and fearful name. Would it not be justly interpreted a very high affront to a magistrate, though a man like yourselves, if you should send for him in all haste, to keep the peace, to decide a controversy, to seize a criminal, or to do any act of his office; and when he comes, it is all ludicrous, and a jest, and you intend nothing but to make a fool of him, and to expose him and his authority to contempt and ridicule? How would such an intolerable abuse be resented among men, especially if it were often repeated! Yet just such an affront, a daring affront, does the insolent swearer put upon God Almighty ; making his truth, justice, and omniscience to attend all the extravagances of an ungoverned passion and an unbridled tongue.

And the affront is so much the worse, because it reflects upon his government, profanes his crown, disgraces the throne of his glory, vilifies his judgment seat, and attempts to make it mean and contemptible, and thereby to render it questionable.

And is there no harm in this? Whence can this proceed but from that carnal mind which is enmity against God, and from a rooted antipathy to him, and to his dominion? To this poisonous fountain the

Psalmist traces all these bitter streams, (Ps. 139:20). “Thine enemies take thy name in vain.” It cannot be imputed either to the lusts of the flesh, or the lusts of the eye, or the pride of life; this is a forbidden fruit that neither is good for food nor pleasant to the eye, nor at all to be desired to make one wise, or bespeak one so; the sinner is not led to it by the love of pleasure, or the hope of any gain or reward; it can, therefore, proceed from nothing else but a spirit of contradiction to God Almighty, a contempt of his honor, and a hatred of his government This sin, as much as any other, seems to have taken occasion from the commandment, and to have pat forth itself purposely in defiance of the divine law; so that it may be questioned whether there would have been such a sin as profane swearing, if it had not been prohibited by the third commandment Now this renders the sin exceeding sinful, and adds rebellion to it; and the swearer being a transgressor without cause, (as the Psalmist speaks, Ps. 25:3) is a sinner without excuse, and sins purely for sinning sake.

And do you think, O man, whoever you are that thus affronts the majesty, ridicules the government, and defies the judgment, of the eternal God, that you shall go unpunished? Be not deceived, God it not mocked. He is jealous for the honor of his own name, and will not see it trampled upon and made a by-word, as it is by every profane swearer. You would resent it, if your names should thus be turned into a proverb, and jested with by every idle fellow; and what then will God do for his great name, which is thus abused? Shall he not visit for these things? Shall not his soul be avenged on such sinners as these? Yes, no doubt, when the day of recompense comes; for, he has said, Vengeance is mine, I will repay. Nemo me impune lacessit —No one provokes me with impunity!

2  Consider what an evidence it is against yourselves, that you have no fear of God before your eyes. Though you should indeed neither fear God nor regard man, yet why should you hang out a sign to give notice of this to everyone who passes by! What need you declare your sin as Sodom, and thus publicly proclaim the devil king in your souls? Is it not enough, that you harbor in your hearts a secret enmity to God and godliness, but dare yon thus avow the quarrel, and openly wage war with heaven? Dare you thus bid defiance to all that is sacred, and wear the livery of Satan’s family? Is it not enough that your hearts are graceless, and you yourselves in the interest of the kingdom of darkness, but you must be industrious to let the world know this? Thy wisdom fails thee, indeed, if (like the fool Solomon describes) when thou walkest by the way, thou thus sayest to everyone that thou art a fool, Eccl. 10: 3.

Shall I beg of you to consider this a little: You are called Christians; your baptism, which I take it for granted you have not renounced, entitles you to that worthy name ; you live in an age and place wherein it is your honor to be called by that name; it will do you neither credit nor kindness to have your Christianity disproved; nay, you would take it as an affront to have it questioned; this you would have looked upon as a thing so certain, that “As I am a Christian” must pass for an oath with you, or vehement assertion; which gives just cause to suspect that you have little value for your Christianity, since you are so willing to pawn it, as you do other sacred things, upon every trifling occasion. But while thus you boast of your Christianity, you do with your own tongues disprove it by your common swearing, and plainly give yourselves and your profession the lie. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. I see not how it is possible that such a daring contempt of God’s sovereign authority, and sacred name, as profane swearing (especially where it is commonly used) most certainly is, can consist with the reigning fear and love of God in the heart, and that sincere regard to the glory and honor of God, which are necessary to denominate a man a true Christian.

When Peter was charged with it as a crime, that he was a disciple of Christ, he took this method to make it appear that he was not, he began to curse and to swear, Matt. 26:74. His speech indeed betrayed him to be a Galilean; but this manner of speech betrayed him to be none of the followers of Christ, for none of them used to curse and swear; all that knew anything of their Master, and his life and doctrine, would certainly conclude so. When Peter therefore cursed and swore, he did as effectually deny his Master, as when he said, “I know not the man”: It was but once that Peter was thus guilty, and many a bitter tear it cost him; let none, therefore, make Peter’s example an excuse for their swearing, unless they intend, as he did, to signify thereby that they disown Christ, and their Christianity; and since they are resolved not to be ruled by their religion, they disclaim all hopes of benefit by it. I have that charity for you, as to believe that you will not do this professedly, and, therefore, you should be so just to yourselves, as not to do that which amounts to it, and which is capable of such a construction, and which, the apostle tells us, endangers our falling into condemnation, James 5:12. While there is a possibility of your being heirs of heaven, and of the inheritance of the saints in light, prove not yourselves the children of hell, by your speaking the language of that kingdom of darkness.

3  Consider what an injury it is to those with whom you converse. You think it does no harm to others, because it does not hurt them in their bodies, goods, or good name; but is harm done to the souls of others no harm? Nay, is it not the worst harm you can do them? If those who hear you swear be wicked, their hearts are hardened by it, and their hands strengthened, that they may not turn from their evil way; from your poisonous breath they take their infection, and add this to all their other sins. And is it no harm to propagate sin, and to support the devil’s interest, as his agents, and factors for hell? Yes, it is harm to them who are thus, by your means, instructed and confirmed in wickedness; and you will find it harm to you too, when you shall bear the iniquity of those who by your example are taught and encouraged to swear. To what a height will your account rise, when you shall be to answer for all the sins you have thus been accessary to! Which, though it aggravate your sin, yet will not excuse those who have learnt this evil from you, nor lessen their account; for they also shall die in their iniquity.

If they who hear you swear have the fear of God in their hearts, and any concern for his glory, their hearts are grieved, and their hands weakened. It may be, that they have not courage to reprove you for it, but it troubles them, and saddens their spirits, to hear God’s name dishonored, and his sovereignty thus insulted, and to see you thus sell your souls, and all your valuable birthrights, for less than a morsel of meat. It spoils the pleasure of their conversation with you, makes them shy of your company, and, perhaps, dull and uneasy in it; such an affliction it is to them to hear you swear. When David had mentioned those who take God’s name in vain, he immediately adds, “Do I not hate them, am not I grieved because of them?” Ps. 139:21. Though now perhaps you make a light matter of this, and rather take a pride and pleasure in thus creating vexation to a good man; yet, shortly, you will find it had been better that a mill-stone were hanged about your neck, and you cast into the sea, than that you should willfully offend one of Christ’s little ones. They are the words of our Lord Jesus, and we are sure no word of his shall fall to the ground.

Besides this, is it no harm to bring the curse of God into your house, which shall consume it? Is it no harm to add to the measure of the nation’s guilt, and to increase God’s controversy with it? Because of swearing, the land mourns, (Jer. 23:10) the land of your nativity, and is it nothing to you that you contribute to its grief, and to the reproach which this, as other sins, puts upon any people? Prov. 14:34.

4  Consider, how very frivolous all your pleas in defense of this sin are, and how unbecoming one who pretends reason. When your own consciences sometimes rebuke you for it, and admonish you to reform, you shift off these convictions with such trifling excuses as you would be ashamed to oiler in any other case. I cannot think of more than two things that you can allege in your own defense, and they have neither of them so much as the color of an excuse; while there is all that intrinsic malignity in the sin which we have already showed you, and God has declared he will not hold you guiltless.

Be persuaded, therefore, to break off all intimate society and conversation with those, who not only do such things, but have pleasure in them that do them; and with David, (Ps. 119:63.) be companions with those that fear God and keep his precepts, and then you will find it no hard matter (by the grace of God) to break off this wicked practice, however much you have been accustomed to it; and to forbear that language which you know is so provoking to God, so displeasing to all good men, and so destructive to the peace and welfare of your own souls.

Set a double watch before the door of your lips, that you thus offend not. Abstain from all appearances of this sin; avoid temptations to it. If gaming have ensnared you in it, either never play at all, or fix it as a principle, that as there is no gain, so there is no game, worth a profane oath. Keep up a dread of the sin, which certainly you will do if you truly repent of it. Tremble to hear others swear. Learn to pray, and then you will not be so apt to swear.

The Singularity of the Gospel

Taken and adapted from, “Discovering Christ in Galatians, Christ Our Kinsman Redeemer
Written by, Don Fortner

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“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” –Galatians 1:6-10

It is utterly astonishing to a believer that anyone, having heard and having professed to believe the gospel of God’s free, sovereign, saving grace in Christ, could be enticed to abandon it for another gospel (Which is no gospel at all!) of legality, works, or a mixture of grace and works (Rom. 11:5-6) But that is exactly what had happened in Galatia. Paul’s purpose in writing this epistle was to expose and reprove those as heretics who attempt to mix the works of men with the work of Christ, and to establish God’s elect in the gospel of God’s grace and glory in Christ.

False teachers had crept into the Galatian churches perverting the gospel of Christ. While professing to be followers of Christ, they sought to mingle the works of the law with faith in Christ. They were persuading the people to abandon the gospel Paul had taught them, adding to faith in Christ the works of the law. The apostle Paul had taught them that Christ crucified is the only, all-sufficient, and effectual Savior of men, and that faith in him is the only way we can receive his finished salvation (Rom. 5:11). He had proved the truth of all his declarations by miracles. These Galatians professed to believe the gospel as it was preached and confirmed by the apostle. They had been so thankful for Paul bringing the gospel to them that they received him as an angel of God, and would have, had it been possible, plucked out their own eyes and given them to him. Yet, within a short time, these converts were induced by the eloquent discourses of false teachers to renounce Paul and the gospel of Christ, and to receive in its place a message contrary to the glorious gospel Paul had taught them. Therefore, he wrote this letter by divine inspiration, filled with indignation, sorrow, and astonishment.

One Gospel

Here Paul declares that there is only one gospel and he proceeds to show the singularity of that gospel. This message is one of dogmatism, finality, and authoritarianism, which is a rare message in our day of broadminded compromise. Our generation is taught not to believe anything, not really. One certainly is not to be dogmatic about anything. But the gospel of Christ is, in its very essence, a non-compromising, authoritarian message of absolutes. The very reason for the flourishing of Christianity in the pagan Roman world in which it was born was the non-compromising spirit of our forefathers in the faith. Rather than relinquishing or adding to one article of faith, they would die! We must return to this dogmatism about the gospel.

The church is in desperate need of a clarion message ringing once again from her pulpits. There is too much silence regarding the message that passes for the gospel in this day. There is only one gospel. It must not be altered. It must not be mixed and diluted with human conjectures. We must uphold the gospel in its purity. Men are in a helpless, hopeless, mad dash to hell; and they will not be rescued unless Christ, the crucified Redeemer, sovereignly bestows his grace upon them. The gospel is “good news” from heaven of how that God sent his Son to save his people. It is the declaration of what God has done for sinful, helpless humanity. It is never a proposition. It is a declaration, a declaration of redemption accomplished by Christ.

The Galatian Christians had been seduced from the pure gospel of God’s grace to a gospel mixed with God’s grace and man’s merit. Such a gospel is really no gospel (good news) at all, but a perverted system of self-righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 1:19-22; 2:8-23). The gospel is a declaration of what God has done for sinners in the person of his Son, apart from anything done by men. Anything other than a declaration of God’s work is a perversion of the gospel. Paul here calls upon them to return to, and maintain the gospel in its purity.

Amazement

It was Paul’s custom to give grateful acknowledgement of divine grace bestowed upon those he addressed, whereby they had been enabled to grow in knowledge, faith, and love. It was very common for him to express his inner satisfaction with the work of God upon them, and to give forth a prayer that they may continue to persevere in the faith. That is what we might expect to find at this point in his epistle. But, in this epistle to the Galatians, we are confronted with the exact opposite. What we find here is not satisfaction, but overwhelming amazement and painful perplexity.

The first thing we see in this book is their removal from the gospel. A Change had taken place among them, and this disturbed their spiritual father. As a rule Paul was a very tolerant man. He showed great tolerance in his epistles to the Corinthians, who had behaved so shamefully in so many ways. He showed great tolerance in writing to the Philippians about those preachers who, because of envy, opposed him (Phil. 1:15-18). He was usually very tactful and expressed words of encouragement before dealing with faults and failures.

But here the very essence of the gospel is at stake. God’s glory and man’s salvation is the issue; and here there is no place for tolerance. The Galatians were in the process of apostasy. They were forsaking liberty in Christ for the bondage of Moses. Paul was utterly amazed. He says, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (v. 6).

Theirs was not merely changing theological positions. They were abandoning Christ, who in his grace and mercy had called them, and turning to another gospel, which was different from his in its very essence.

“Called You”

By and large, Paul appears to have been convinced that those to whom he was writing had been truly born of God, called by the effectual, irresistible power and grace of God the Holy Spirit to life and faith in Christ. The One who had called them was Christ himself. It was Christ from whom they were in danger of turning, not just Paul. There is a general call and an effectual call. The Lord Jesus Christ calls sinners by his Spirit in a general way, externally, whenever the gospel is proclaimed to them. This call is made effectual by the power of God. The efficacy of the gospel call is ascribed to all three Persons of the Trinity, though specifically it is a part of the mediation of Christ (John 10:2-3, 16; Rom. 1:6). The Galatians were replacing the gospel of Christ with another gospel and were being removed from Christ.

The gospel of Christ is “good news” from a far land. It is the message of grace from God in heaven for men of the earth. It is a message of what God has done and is doing for sinners in Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:19-21). It is a message of salvation alone in Christ. He is the Door. He is the Way. He is the Truth. He is the Life. In all that concerns the salvation of sinners, from start to finish, “Christ is all” (1 Cor. 1:30). The gospel is not good advice, but good news, the good news of Christ’s finished work whereby he has made all God’s elect accepted with God. It is the good news of redemption, forgiveness, justification, reconciliation, and sanctification accomplished by the blood of Christ, our crucified Substitute (Rom. 5:10-11; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; Eph. 1:6-7; Col. 1:12-14; Heb. 1:1-3; 9:12; 10-14).

“Another Gospel”

Neither the Galatians nor their Judaizing teachers had openly denied the gospel. Heretics are almost always more subtle than that. They did openly deny the gospel, but their perversion of the gospel (adding obedience to the Mosaic Law to the finished work of Christ) was a total denial of it (Gal. 5:1- 4).

Martin Luther was right when he wrote, “They made good works, which are the effect of justification, its cause.” But the Galatian error extended beyond the subtle evil of mixing works with grace in the matter of justification. Paul addresses that issue in chapters one and two. But, in chapter three, he deals with an even more subtle and more bewitching form of the heresy, that had been embraced by many at Galatia, and is embraced almost universally today. That is the mixing of grace with works in the accomplishment of sanctification (Gal. 3:1-3).

It is a hazardous thing to tamper with the gospel of Christ. It must neither be abridged nor enlarged. Any gospel that makes righteousness before God to be dependent upon the works or will of man is no gospel at all. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 10:4). Christ is all our righteousness. He is our Righteousness in redemption, in justification, and in sanctification.

Neither our faith, nor our works make us righteous before God. By faith in Christ we receive the righteousness he accomplished for us. By our works, our obedience to our God, we manifest the righteousness he has wrought in us by his Spirit.

“Accursed”

As Satan transformed himself into an angel of light, his ministers transform themselves into ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:3, 13-15). These “deceitful workers,” as Paul calls them, beguile the souls of men, persuading them that they can make themselves righteous before God (or at least contribute something to the work), and thereby teaching them not to trust Christ as “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jer. 23:6; 33:16). It is for this reason that Paul uses the strong, bold language of verses eight and nine to denounce all who preach any other gospel.

“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Verses 8-9).

Here the apostle tells us how those who corrupt the gospel ought to be regarded. He includes himself and all others in this stern, clear word of condemnation. If anyone comes preaching any gospel other than the gospel of full, complete, effectual redemption and eternal salvation in and by Christ alone, let him be forever consigned to hell.

The revelation of God is final, complete, and perfect. It cannot be improved upon. Christ is God’s final Word to men (Heb. 1:1-3). He is the full revelation of the Father. He came on a mission to perform the work of redemption. He has finished the work. The Book of God is final. It tells us his whole revealed will. It reveals the totality of his work. The Word of God alone has authority in his house (Isa. 8:20; Rev. 22:18-19). The gospel is final, revealing Christ, only Christ, and Christ alone as the Savior of our souls (Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:10-11).

Those who would pervert the gospel, those who preach another gospel, which is no gospel at all, are to be regarded as accursed men (2 John 10-11). We should be very cautious in charging any man with preaching another gospel. But when anyone comes preaching another Christ and another gospel, (anyone who preaches that salvation is to any degree or at any one point dependent upon what you do rather than upon what God does) our responsibility is crystal clear. We must not acknowledge them as God’s servants. We must not receive their instruction. And we must not be partakers of their evil deeds by assisting them in any way.

Men or God?

In verse ten Paul states plainly that as the servant of God he could not concern himself with pleasing men. “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” He did not try to persuade (that is conciliate) men, or make the gospel appealing to men. All such efforts arise from corrupt motives and result in the destruction of men’s souls, not the salvation of them. Paul never courted the favor of men. He was concerned about the favor of God. It was not his ambition to impress, please and win the favor of men. He was concerned for and motivated by the glory of God. His only principle of life was to please his one Master, Christ Jesus the Lord. The simple fact is, no one can have two masters (Matt. 6:24). Any man who, for the sake of human favor, or out of fear for human resentment, will keep back any part of sacred truth is not the servant of Christ.

Those who teach believers to live by law misuse the law (1 Tim. 1:8-9), and attempt to place upon God’s people an oppressive yoke of bondage that no man can bear. Let us use the law lawfully. We must never allow ourselves to be brought back under the bondage of the law from which Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1-4). To do so is to abandon all hope of salvation, for it is to abandon Christ altogether. Let us hold forth the gospel in its purity.

It is the work of Christ, which alone saves sinners. The church of God has no other purpose for existence. We have no other mission.

Signs, and Practical Directions on How to Grow in Grace

Taken and adapted from, “Practical Directions How to Grow in Grace and Make Progress in Piety”
Written by, Archibald Alexander (1772-1851)

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When there is no growth, there is no life…

We have taken it for granted that among the regenerate, at the moment of their conversion, there is a difference in the vigor of the principle of spiritual life, analogous to what we observe in the natural world; and no doubt the analogy holds as it relates to growth. As some children who were weak and sickly in the first days of their existence become healthy and strong, and greatly outgrow others who commenced life with far greater advantages, so it is with the ‘new man’. Some who enter on the spiritual life with a weak and wavering faith, by the blessing of God on a diligent use of means, far outstrip others who in the beginning were greatly before them.

It is often observed that there are professing Christians who never appear to grow, but rather decline perpetually, until they become in spirit and conduct entirely conformed to the world, from whence they professed to come out. The result in regard to them is one of two things; they either retain their standing in the Church and become dead formalists, ‘having a name to live while they are dead’—’a form of godliness, while they deny the power thereof’—or they renounce their profession and abandon their connection with the Church, and openly take their stand with the enemies of Christ, and not infrequently go beyond them all in daring impiety. Of all such we may confidently say, ‘They were not of us, or undoubtedly they would have continued with us.’ But of such I mean not now to speak further, as the case of back-sliders will be considered hereafter.

That growth in grace is gradual and progressive is very evident from Scripture; as in all those passages where believers are exhorted to mortify sin and crucify the flesh, and to increase and abound in all the exercises of piety and good works. One text on this subject will be sufficient: ‘Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.’ And this passage furnishes us with information as to the origin and nature of this growth. It is knowledge, even the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Just so far as any soul increases in spiritual knowledge, in the same degree it grows in grace. Persons may advance rapidly in other kinds of knowledge, and yet make no advances in piety, but the contrary. They may even have their minds filled with correct theoretical knowledge of divine truth, and yet its effect may not be to humble, but to ‘puff up’. Many an accurate and profound theologian has lived and died without a ray of saving light. The natural man, however gifted with talent or enriched with speculative knowledge, has no spiritual discernment. After all his acquisitions, he is destitute of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. But it should not be forgotten that divine illumination is not independent of the Word, but accompanies it. Those Christians, therefore, who are most diligent in attending upon the Word in public and private, will be most likely to make progress in piety.

Young converts are prone to depend too much on joyful points of reference, and love high excitement in their devotional exercises; but their heavenly Father cures them of this folly, by leaving them for a season to walk in darkness and struggle with their own corruptions. When most sorely pressed and discouraged, however, He strengthens them with might in the inner man. He enables them to stand firmly against temptation; or, if they slide, he quickly restores them, and by such exercises they become much more sensible of their entire dependence than they were at first. They learn to be in the fear of the Lord all the day long, and to distrust entirely their own wisdom and strength, and to rely for all needed aid on the grace of Jesus Christ. Such a soul will not readily believe that it is growing in grace. But to be emptied of self-dependence, and to know that we need aid for every duty, and even for every good thought, is an important step in our progress in piety. The flowers may have disappeared from the plant of grace, and even the leaves may have fallen off, and wintry blasts may have shaken it, but now it is striking its roots deeper, and becoming every day stronger to endure the rugged storm.

One circumstance attends the growth in grace of a real Christian which renders it exceedingly difficult for him to know the fact, upon a superficial view of his case, and that is, the clearer and deeper insight which he obtains into the evils of his own heart. Now this is one of the best evidences of growth; but the first conclusion is apt to be, ‘I am growing worse every day; I see innumerable evils springing up within me which I never saw before.’ This person may be compared to one shut up in a dark room where he is surrounded by many loathsome objects. If a single ray of light be let into the room, he sees the more prominent objects; but if the light gradually increases, he sees more and more of the filth by which he has been surrounded. It was there before, but he did not perceive it. His increased knowledge of the fact is a sure evidence of increasing light.

Hypocrites often learn to talk by rote of the wickedness of their hearts; but go to them and seriously accuse them of indulging secret pride or envy or covetousness or any other heart sins, and they will be offended. Their confessions of sin are only intended to raise them in the opinion of others, as truly humble persons; and not that any should believe that corruption abounds within them.

Growth in grace is evinced by a more habitual vigilance against besetting sins and temptations, and by greater self-denial in regard to personal indulgence. A growing conscientiousness in regard to what may be called minor duties is also a good sign. The counterfeit of this is a scrupulous conscience, which sometimes haggle at the most innocent gratifications, and has led some to hesitate about taking their daily food.

Increasing spiritual mindedness is a sure evidence of progress in piety; and this will always be accompanied by deadness to the world. Continued aspirations to God, in the house and by the way, in lying down and rising up, in company and in solitude, indicate the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by whose agency all progress in sanctification is made.

A victory over besetting sins by which the person was frequently led away, shows an increased vigor in the renewed principle.

Increasing solicitude for the salvation of men, sorrow on account of their sinful and miserable condition, and a disposition tenderly to warn sinners of their danger, evince a growing state of piety.

It is also a strong evidence of growth in grace when you can bear injuries and provocations with meekness and when you can from the heart desire the temporal and eternal welfare of your bitterest enemies.

An entire and confident reliance on the promises and providence of God, however dark may be your horizon, or however many difficulties environ you, is a sign that you have learned to live by faith; and humble contentment with your condition, though it be one of poverty and obscurity, shows that you have profited by sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Diligence in the duties of our calling, with a view to the glory of God, is an evidence not to be despised.

Indeed there is no surer standard of spiritual growth than a habit of aiming at the glory of God in everything. That mind which is steady to the main end gives as good evidence of being touched by divine grace as the tendency of the needle to the pole proves that it has been touched by the magnet.

Increasing love to the brethren is a sure sign of growth; for as brotherly love is a proof of the existence of grace, so is the exercise of such love a proof of vigor in the divine life. This love, when pure, is not confined within those limits which party spirit circumscribes, but overleaping all the barriers of sects and denominations, it embraces the disciples of Christ wherever it finds them.

A healthy state of piety is always a growing state; that child which grows not at all must be sickly. If we would enjoy spiritual comfort, we must be in a thriving condition. None enjoys the pleasures of bodily health, but they who are in health. If we would be useful to the Church and the world we must be growing Christians. If we would live in daily preparation for our change, we must endeavor to grow in grace daily.

The aged saint, laden with the fruits of righteousness, is like a shock of corn fully ripe, which is ready for the garner; or like a mature fruit which gradually loosens its hold of the tree until at last it gently falls off. Thus the aged, mature Christian departs in peace.

As growth in grace is gradual, and the progress from day-to-day imperceptible, we should aim to do something in this work every day. We should die daily unto sin and live unto righteousness. Sometimes the children of God grow faster when in the fiery furnace than elsewhere. As metals are purified by being cast into the fire, so saints have their dross consumed and their evidences brightened, by being cast into the furnace of affliction. ‘Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which shall try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you’, but rejoice, because ‘the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, shall be found unto praise, and honor, and glory’.

PRACTICAL DIRECTIONS HOW TO GROW IN GRACE AND MAKE PROGRESS IN PIETY.

1. Set it down as a certainty that this object will never be attained without vigorous continued effort; and it must not only be desired and sought, but must be considered more important than all other pursuits, and be pursued in preference to everything else which claims your attention.

2. While you determine to be assiduous in the use of the appointed means of sanctification, you must have it deeply fixed in your mind that nothing can be effected in this work without the aid of the Divine Spirit. ‘Paul may plant and Apollos water, but it is God that giveth the increase.’ The direction of the old divines is good: ‘use the means as vigorously as if you were to be saved by your own efforts, and yet trust as entirely to the grace of God as if you made use of no means whatsoever’.

3. Be much in the perusal of the Holy Scriptures, and strive to obtain clear and consistent views of the plan of redemption. Learn to contemplate the truth in its true nature, simply, devoutly, and long at a time, that you may receive on your soul the impression which it is calculated to make. Avoid curious and abstruse speculations respecting things unrevealed, and do not indulge a spirit of controversy. Many lose the benefit of the good impression which the truth is calculated to make, because they do not view it simply in its own nature, but as related to some dispute, or as bearing on some other point. As when a man would receive the genuine impression which a beautiful landscape is adapted to make, he must not be turned aside by minute inquiries respecting the botanical character of the plants, the value of the timber, or the fertility of the soil; but he must place his mind in the attitude of receiving the impression which the combined view of the objects before him will naturally produce on the taste. In such cases the effect is not produced by any exertion of the intellect; all such active striving is unfavorable, except in bringing the mind to its proper state. When the impression is most perfect, we feel as if we were mere passive recipients of the effect. To this there is a striking analogy in the way in which the mind is impressed with divine truth. It is not the critic, the speculative or polemic theologian, who is most likely to receive the right impression, but the humble, simple-hearted, contemplative Christian.

It is necessary to study the Scriptures critically, and to defend the truth against opposers; but the most learned critic and the most profound theologian must learn to sit at the feet of Jesus in the spirit of a child, or they are not likely to be edified by their studies.

4. Pray constantly and fervently for the influences of the Holy Spirit. No blessing is so particularly and emphatically promised in answer to prayer as this; and if you would receive this divine gift, to be in you as a well of water springing up to everlasting life, you must not only pray, but you must watch against everything in your heart or life which has a tendency to grieve the Spirit of God. Of what use is it to pray, if you indulge evil thoughts and imaginations almost without control? or if you give way to the evil passions of anger, pride and avarice, or bridle not your tongue from evil speaking? Learn to be conscientious; that is, obey the dictates of your conscience uniformly. Many are conscientious in some things and not in others; they listen to the monitor within when it directs to important duties; but in smaller matters they often disregard the voice of conscience, and follow present inclination. Such cannot grow in grace.

5. Take more time for praying to ‘the Father who is in secret’, and for looking into the state of your soul. Redeem an hour daily from sleep if you cannot obtain it otherwise; and as the soul’s concerns are apt to get out-of-order, and more time is needed for thorough self-examination than an hour a day, set apart, not periodically but as your necessities require, days of fasting and humiliation before God. On these occasions, deal faithfully with yourself. Be in earnest to search out all your secret sins and to repent of them. Renew your covenant with God, and form holy resolutions of amendment in the strength of divine grace. If you find, upon examination, that you have been living in any sinful indulgence, probe the festering wound to the core; confess your fault before God, and do not rest until you have had an application of the blood of sprinkling. You need not ask why you do not grow, while there is such an ulcer within you. Here, it is to be feared, is the root of the evil.

Sins indulged are not thoroughly repented of and forsaken; or the conscience has not been purged effectually, and the wound still festers. Come to ‘the fountain opened for the washing away of sin and uncleanness’. Bring your case to the great Physician.

6. Cultivate and exercise brotherly love more than you have been accustomed to do. Christ is displeased with many of His professed followers, because they are so cold and indifferent to His members on earth, and because they do so little to comfort and encourage them; and with some, because they are a stumbling block to the weak of the flock, their conversation and conduct not being edifying, but the contrary. Perhaps these disciples are poor and in the lower walks of life, and therefore you overlook them as beneath you. And thus would you have treated Christ Himself, had you lived in His time; for He took His station among the poor and afflicted; and He will resent a neglect of His poor saints with more displeasure than He would of the rich. Perhaps they do not belong to your party or sect, and you are only concerned to build up your own denomination. Remember how Christ condescended to treat the sinful woman of Samaria, and the poor woman of Canaan, and remember what account He has given of the last judgment, when He will assume to Himself all that has been done, or neglected to be done, to His humble followers. There should be more Christian conversation and friendly intercourse between the followers of Christ. In former days, ‘They that feared the Lord spoke often one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written for them that feared the Lord and thought upon his name.’

7. If you are in good earnest to make greater progress in piety, you must do more than you have done for the promotion of God’s glory and of Christ’s kingdom on earth. You must enter with livelier, deeper feeling into all the plans which the Church has adopted to advance these objects. You must give more than you have done. It is a shame to think how small a portion of their gains some professing Christians devote to the Lord. Instead of being a tithe, it is hardly equal to the single sheaf of first-fruits. If you have nothing to give, labor to get something. Sit up at night and try to make something, for Christ has need of it. Sell a corner of your land and throw the money into the treasury of the Lord. In primitive times many sold houses and lands and laid the whole at the apostles’ feet. Do not be afraid of making yourself poor by giving to the Lord or to His poor. His word is better than any bond, and He says, ‘I will repay it.’ Cast your bread on the waters, and after many days you will find it again. Send the Bible—send missionaries—send tracts to the perishing heathen.

8. Practice self-denial every day. Lay a wholesome restraint upon your appetites. Be not conformed to this world. Let your dress, your house, your furniture, be plain and simple, as becomes a Christian. Avoid vain parade and show in everything. Govern your family with discretion. Forgive and pray for your enemies. Have little to do with party politics. Carry on your business on sober, judicious principles. Keep clear of speculation and surety-ships. Live peaceably with all men as much as in you lies. Be much in ejaculatory prayer. Keep your heart with all diligence. Try to turn to spiritual profit every event which occurs, and be fervently thankful for all mercies.

9. For your more rapid growth in grace, some of you will be cast into the furnace of affliction. Sickness, bereavement, bad conduct of children and relatives, loss of property or of reputation, may come upon you unexpectedly and press heavily on you. In these trying circumstances, exercise patience and fortitude. Be more solicitous to have the affliction sanctified than removed. Glorify God while in the fire of adversity. That faith which is most tried is commonly most pure and precious. Learn from Christ how you ought to suffer. Let perfect submission to the will of God be aimed at. Never indulge a murmuring or discontented spirit. Repose with confidence on the promises. Commit all your cares to God. Make known your requests to Him by prayer and supplication. Let go your too eager grasp of the world. Become familiar with death and the grave. Wait patiently until your change comes; but desire not to live a day longer than may be for the glory of God.

If we are on the watch we may often find good things when they were least expected. It is seldom that I consult an almanac for any purpose, but wishing the other day to see when the moon would change, I opened the calendar at the current month, and the first thing which struck my eye was the heading of a paragraph in the very words which I had selected as the subject of this essay—’Hindrances to Growth in Grace’. Of course I perused the short paragraph, and I was so well pleased with what I read that I resolved to take it for my text—and here it is, word for word:

The influence of worldly relatives and companions;
embarking too deeply in business;
approximations to fraud for the sake of gain;
devoting too much time to amusements;
immoderate attachment to a worldly object;
attendance on an unbelieving or unfaithful ministry;
languid and formal observance of religious duties;
shunning the society and religious converse of Christian friends;
relapse into known sin;
non-improvement of graces already attained.

Now all this is very good and very true. The only objection is that several of the particulars mentioned should rather be considered as the effects of a real declension in religion than merely as hindrances to growth; although it is true that nothing so effectually hinders our progress as an actual state of backsliding.

It seems desirable to ascertain, as precisely as we can, the reasons why Christians commonly are of so diminutive a stature and of such feeble strength in their religion.

When people are truly converted they always are sincerely desirous to make rapid progress in piety; and there are not lacking exceeding great and gracious promises of aid to encourage them to go forward with alacrity. Why then is so little advancement made? Are there not some practical mistakes very commonly entertained, which are the cause of this slowness of growth? I think there are, and will endeavor to specify some of them.

First, there is a defect in our belief in the freeness of divine grace. To exercise unshaken confidence in the doctrine of gratuitous pardon is one of the most difficult things in the world; and to preach this doctrine fully without verging towards antinomianism is no easy task, and is therefore seldom done. But Christians cannot but be lean and feeble when deprived of their proper nutriment. It is by faith that the spiritual life is made to grow; and the doctrine of free grace, without any mixture of human merit, is the only true object of faith. Christians are too much inclined to depend on themselves, and not to derive their life entirely from Christ. There is a spurious legal religion, which may flourish without the practical belief in the absolute freeness of divine grace, but it possesses none of the characteristics of the Christian’s life. It is found to exist in the rankest growth, in systems of religion which are utterly false. But even when the true doctrine is acknowledged in theory, often it is not practically felt and acted on.

The new convert lives upon his own understanding and frame of reference rather than on Christ, while the older Christian is still found struggling in his own strength and, failing in his expectations of success, he becomes discouraged first, and then he sinks into a gloomy despondency, or becomes in a measure careless. At that point the spirit of the world comes in with resistless force. Here, I am persuaded, is the root of the evil; and until religious teachers inculcate clearly, fully, and practically, the grace of God as manifested in the Gospel, we shall have no vigorous growth of piety among professing Christians. We must be, as it were, identified with Christ—crucified with Him, and living by Him, and in Him by faith, or rather, have Christ living in us. The covenant of grace must be more clearly and repeatedly expounded in all its rich plenitude of mercy, and in all its absolute freeness.

Another thing which prevents growth in grace is that Christians do not make their obedience to Christ comprehend every other object of pursuit. Their religion is too much a separate thing, and they pursue their worldly business in another spirit. They try to unite the service of God and Mammon. Their minds are divided, and often distracted with earthly cares and desires which interfere with the service of God; whereas they should have but one object of pursuit, and all that they do and seek should be in subordination to this. Everything should be done for God and to God. Whether they eat or drink they should do all to His glory. As the ploughing and sowing of the wicked is sin, because done without regard to God and His glory, so the secular employments and pursuits of the pious should all be consecrated, and become a part of their religion. Thus they would serve God in the field and in the shop, in buying and selling and getting gain—all would be for God. Thus their earthly labors would prove no hindrance to their progress in piety; and possessing an undivided mind, having a single object of pursuit, they could not but grow in grace daily. He whose eye is single shall have his whole body full of light.

Another powerful cause of hindrance in the growth of the life of God in the soul is that we make general resolutions of improvement, but neglect to extend our efforts to particulars. We promise ourselves that in the indefinite future we will do much in the way of reformation, but are found doing nothing each day in cultivating piety. We begin and end a day without aiming or expecting to make any particular advance on that day. Thus our best resolutions evaporate without effect. We merely run the round of prescribed duty, satisfied if we do nothing amiss and neglect no external service which we feel to be obligatory. We resemble the man who purposes to go to a certain place, and often resolves with earnestness that he will someday perform the journey, but never takes a step towards the place. Is it at all strange that that person who on no day makes it his distinct object to advance in the divine life, at the end of months and years is found stationary? The natural body will grow without our thinking about it, even when we are asleep, but not the life of piety, which only increases by and through the exercises of the mind, aiming at higher measures of grace.

And as every day we should do something in this good work, so we should direct our attention to the growth of particular graces, especially of those in which we know ourselves to be defective. Are we weak in faith? Then let us give attention to the proper means of strengthening our faith and, above all, apply to the Lord to increase our faith. Is our love to God cold and hardly perceptible, and greatly interrupted by long intervals in which God and Christ are not in all our thoughts? Let us have this for a daily lamentation at the throne of grace—let us resolve to meditate more on the excellency of the divine attributes, and especially on the love of God to us—let us be much in reading the account of Christ’s sufferings and death, and be importunate in prayer, until we receive more copious effusions of the Holy Spirit; for the fruit of the Spirit is love, and the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost who is given unto us. And so we should directly aim at cultivating and increasing every grace; for the divine life, or ‘new man’, consists of these graces, and the whole cannot be in health and vigor while the constituent parts are feeble and in a state of decay.

The same remarks are applicable to the mortification of sin.

We are prone to view our depravity too much in the general, and under this view to repent of it, and humble ourselves on account of it; whereas, in order to make any considerable progress in this part of sanctification, we must deal with our sins in detail. We must have it as a special object to eradicate pride and vain glory, covetousness, indolence, envy, discontent, anger, etc. There should be appropriate means used, suited to the extirpation of each particular vice of the mind.

It is true, indeed, that if we water the root we may expect the branches to flourish; if we invigorate the principle of piety, the several Christian virtues will flourish. But a skillful gardener will pay due attention both to the root and the branches; and, in fact, these graces of the heart are parts of the root, and it is by strengthening these that we invigorate the root. The same is true as it relates to the remaining principle of sin. We must strike our blows chiefly at the root of the evil tree; but those inherent vices which were mentioned, and others, should be considered as belonging to the root, and when we aim at their destruction particularly and in detail, our strokes will be most effectual.

I shall mention at present but one other cause of the slow growth of believers in piety, and that is the neglect of improving in the knowledge of divine things.

As spiritual knowledge is the foundation of all genuine exercises of religion, so growth in religion is intimately connected with divine knowledge. Men may possess unsanctified knowledge and be nothing the better for it; but they cannot grow in grace without increasing in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Being,’ says Paul, ‘fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.’ ‘Grow in grace,’ says Peter, ‘and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Jonathan Edwards remarks that the more faithful he was in studying the Bible, the more he prospered in spiritual things. The reason is plain, and other Christians will find the same to be true.