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The very nature of the subject leads us, in a sense irresistibly, to the adoption of this doctrine. The regeneration of the Christian, is his moral infancy. If we suppose him to live through even a moderate period after he is renewed, it is incredible that his holiness should not increase in strength. The evangelical powers (if I may call them such) as certainly increase by the progress of time, and by successive exercise, as the natural powers. Indeed, the increase of the natural powers is of course an increase of those which are evangelical. Every illumination of the mind, every new degree of capacity which it acquires by thinking, for more just and comprehensive thought renders the intellect more vigorous for every future exertion. The word of God is to the Christian the chief object of intellectual investigation. The truths which it reveals are those on which he especially loves to dwell, and about which his mind is peculiarly enlightened by successive inquiry. It is here that his capacity is enlarged, and his intellectual strength increased.
In a manner equally natural, his affections also improve in then energy. Parents love their children more intensely, because they have loved them long. In the same manner friendship is continually strengthened by time; and in the same manner all our other affections. What is true of these is equally true of evangelical affections. They also in their own nature become more firm, more vigorous, more operative, from the mere fact that they are often exercised. So far as experience teaches us, or reason is able to divine, all the powers of intelligent beings, by a common law, increase in their strength whenever they are regularly exercised.
With these dictates of reason those of the Scriptures perfectly harmonize. Were this not the fact, however plain the conclusions of reason might seem, they would probably fall short of satisfying a solicitous inquirer into this subject. By the Scriptures every question concerning religion is to be decided; and happily the decision in the present case is complete. There we are taught, that the good seed,' the word of God, when sown in good ground, springs up and bears fruit thirty, sixty, and an hundred fold.' There we are informed, that Christians abound more and more' in the various graces of the Gospel; that the faith of the Thessalonians' grew exceedingly that the love of every one of them abounded' towards
their fellow saints; and that the faith of the Romans increased in such a manner as to be spoken of throughout all the world.'
The prayers of St. Paul also for his fellow-christians; prayers dictated, as you well remember, by the Spirit of God; perfectly coincide with this scheme. The Lord,' said he to the Thessalonians, make you to increase, and to abound, in love one toward another, and toward all men.' To the Colossians he says, ' We do not cease to pray for you, that ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom, and spiritual understanding; that ye may walk worthy of the Lord, unto all well pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.' Of the same tenour are his petitions for Christians of other churches.
With these declarations and prayers, the commands given us in the Scriptures concerning this subject entirely agree. Giving all diligence,' says the apostle Peter, add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity.' And again, Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.' This thing I do,' says St. Paul to the Philippians, forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ.' 'Brethren, be followers together of me.' Generally, it may be observed, that the precepts and exhortations given by St. Paul to the several churches, are of the same nature; the great object of them being to promote the advancement of Christians in holiness.
Finally: Of this advancement, thus made the subject of declarations, prayers, and precepts, the Christian is amply assured by promises abundantly found in the Scriptures. If he faithfully endeavour to improve himself in the divine life, if he humbly and fervently ask the blessing of God upon his labours, he knows that on the one hand the grace of God will be sufficient for him ;' and on the other, that this Almighty friend will never leave him, nor forsake him.' That holy and good Spirit, the immediate Author of all his spiritual blessings, will dwell in him, will lead him, will help his infirmities; and finally and safely conduct him to the possession
of his heavenly inheritance. Thus, while he faithfully waits on the Lord,' he will renew his strength; will run, and nót be weary; will walk, and not faint.'
The truth of the doctrine under consideration may now be considered as removed beyond every doubt; if indeed any doubt can be supposed to have arisen concerning the subject. Still it is of no small importance that we not only receive the general proposition, but understand also the, particulars of which it is constituted; the things of which this improvement of the Christian character consists. I observe therefore,
1. That the Christian increases in divine knowledge. Particularly, he will improve in the knowledge of God. By this I do not intend that he will advance in the philosophical knowledge of this great and glorious Being. In this knowledge he indeed may, and usually will, increase; and so may multitudes of those who are not Christians. The knowledge here intended is especially of a spiritual nature; that which is called by Solomon, the knowledge of the Holy;' the knowledge which our Saviour declares to be 'eternal life;' the knowledge which is possessed only by those who love God, and is essentially derived from their affection to him. As the Christian reads the Bible, which will ever be one of his favourite employments, he will find God, the great subject of it, everywhere exhibited to his view; and exhibited continually in lights ever varying from each other. In the succession, and in the comparison, of an endless multitude of passages, all of them diverse, and all of them instructive, he will continually gain new apprehensions of the greatness and wisdom, the goodness, mercy, and truth of the Being from whom he derived his own existence, and from whom he received all his blessings.
These apprehensions will be enlarged and improved by his attention to the works of creation and providence. The works of God are always full of instruction to those who read and love his word. Every person who peruses the Psalms with attention, must have observed how much instruction, and what elevated affections and purposes, David acquired from this source. Here, like David, every devout mind will see clearly elucidated the truth, reasonableness, and wisdom of very many Scriptural doctrines; the propriety, and excellence of very many precepts; the cogency of very many motives to
his duty; and the fulfilment of very many predictions and promises. These, in innumerable instances, although unregarded by men of this world, will force themselves hourly and irresistibly on the eye of the Christian; for they are all congenial with his wishes, hopes, and designs, and to dwell upon them will be his peculiar delight.
The dispensations of God to himself, his family, his friends, and his country, will in a peculiar manner cast a new light over all these interesting subjects. Whatever immediately concerns ourselves and ours, becomes of course an object of our minute attention. As it is more thoroughly studied, so it is necessarily better understood, than the same things contained in dispensations to others. In our own blessings and afflictions many exhibitions are made to us of the character of God, and many proofs of his wisdom, goodness, and truth are realized, which will hardly be derived from any other source. Here our Maker is seen in a thousand lights of providential care and kindness, as our Preserver and Benefactor; as the proper object of ultimate hope and confidence, of which we should have known little or nothing from any other source. At the same time this knowledge is deeply endeared to us, or solemnly impressed, by the events which disclose it; and is therefore deeply felt and long remembered. Hence it becomes á part of our current thoughts, and is ready to be applied on every proper occasion to every useful purpose. In this manner the mind becomes enriched with a train of the most useful views, solid arguments, and important doctrines, which raise it from its former level to a nobler elevation on the scale of intelligent being, and furnish it for higher enjoyment and more extensive usefulness in the kingdom of its Maker.
In a similar manner Christians improve in the knowledge of their duty. All the duty of the Christian is originally learned from the Scriptures. As his acquaintance with this sacred volume enlarges, the precepts which comprise the whole of his duty are more and more known, remembered, compared, and made to elucidate each other. These from time to time he applies to his own practical concerns; and thus, as they pass under his eye from day to day, he learns more accurately the nature, extent, and spirituality of the precepts themselves, and the safest and best modes of applying them
to the conduct of his life. In this manner the scriptural precepts may be said to be always at hand, always ready for use, so as to guide him safely and happily in many cases where others would be compelled to struggle with doubt and perplexity.
It ought to be added, that the knowledge of the Christian, acquired immediately from Scripture and from his own experience, is greatly increased by the conversation of his fellowchristians, and by the valuable books written by wise and good men concerning the subjects of religion.
Finally Christians greatly improve in the knowledge of themselves.
The importance of self-knowledge is so obvious, that the ancient heathen considered the precept which enjoins it as having descended from heaven. They were not deceived: for the Scriptures directly require us to examine ourselves,' to prove ourselves,' and to know ourselves.' A part of this knowledge, and that indispensable, is conveyed to us in the sacred canon; and this the Christian makes more and more his own, by continually searching for it in that invaluable book. But indispensable as this knowledge is, it is comparatively of little importance to the Christian, until he has learned its proper import, by applying it to his own spiritual condition, to the discovery of his true character, to the detection of his sins, to the investigation of his duty, to the excitement of his fears, to the establishment of his hopes, the alleviation of his sorrows, and the increase of his joys. This knowledge the Christian can gain only by self-examination; by looking daily into his heart, by scrutinizing his life, and by comparing all that he thinks, and feels, and says, and does with the rules of his duty prescribed in the word of God.
In this manner the best of men will learn that they are in many respects widely different beings from what an ordinary and gross attention to this part of their duty would induce. them to believe. They will discern that they commit many sins, where otherwise they would suppose themselves guilty of few; that many actions, which they have before thought innocent, are really sinful; that sinful actions are much more criminal than they have been accustomed to believe; that their virtuous actions are fewer, less meritorious, and less acceptable to God, than they have been ready to suppose; and