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Growing in Grace
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Expository Sermons on 2 Peter.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from October 1946 to March 1947. It was originally printed in 1948-1950. The current publication is in 1999.
What are these conditions that are essential to growth, to life and to development in every realm? Let me just note them for you. First and foremost we put food and drink and air. That is true in the natural realm, and I say it is equally true in the spiritual realm. As growth physically is impossible without food and drink and air, so in the same way spiritual growth is equally impossible without corresponding food and drink and air, in a spiritual sense. Think of a babe growing, think of a little animal growing, think of a plant growing. You will find it is absolutely true, there must be food, there must be drink, there must be air. What does all this mean in a spiritual sense? Well, it sounds very elementary, yet how often do we forget these things, and how prone we are to neglect them! There are certain things I must partake of if I am to grow in grace. What are these things?
First and foremost there is this Book. Here is the food of the soul---`As new born babes,' says Peter in his first Epistle, `desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby.' Peter has been saying it all along. If I do not feed on this Book, well then I simply cannot grow. There is no need to argue about this matter. You will find invariably that the people who do not grow in grace are the people who are neglecting to read their Bible. On the other hand the people who have grown have been regular daily students of this Book. It is the food of the soul provided by God Himself. What else? Prayer! In prayer one not only comes into communication with God, one receives the life of God. In waiting upon God, one receives of Him. Each one of these things, obviously is worthy of a sermon in itself---I am only giving them as general headings here.
Next to that the `means of grace'---attendance on the preaching of the Word, partaking of the Lord's Supper---these likewise are the food of the soul. Go back again to the great periods in the history of the church and you will find invariably that at such times men took every advantage, every opportunity, of attending upon the means of grace. John Wesley, for instance, used to say that he always observed that the people who failed to attend his preaching service at five o'clock in the morning were always those who failed to grow in grace. It was one of his cardinal signs and tests---the means of grace. What else? Well, meditation, thinking about the soul, pausing in this busy, loud and raucous world to remind ourselves that we are `here today and gone tomorrow', that there is within us that which is immortal and eternal, that God has given us something that was meant for Himself. Meditating upon this, meditating upon ourselves and our growth in grace, our relationship to God, thinking about death and the judgment and eternity---how vital this is! Then, the reading of books which will help us to grow in grace, books about people, biographies, the history of revivals. I do not know what your experience is, but I find these things are essential, and invariably as I read about saintly men of God, as I read about the periods of revival, as I read books that help me to understand these things, I feel my soul is being fed. This is the food of the soul.
What is the next great principle? It is that I must avoid everything that is harmful to the life and the growth of my soul. If you do not protect an infant from infectious fevers he is not likely to grow. In terms of the garden, if you do not weed your gardens the weeds will take up the sustenance and your plant will cease to grow. It is exactly the same in the Christian life. If I want to grow, I must avoid everything that is harmful to my spiritual life. I will not insult you by staying to emphasise this principle. You will find it everywhere in Scripture. If we are friends of the world we cannot be friends of God. If I want to grow in grace, I clearly must avoid things that are opposed to that life, and the mind and the way of the world are definitely opposed to it. Reading the newspaper, I find, does not help me to grow in grace very much, with its insinuations and suggestions, with its advertisements of that which is low, with the prominence which it gives to that which is opposed to the life of Christ. Likewise so much of the literature which we have in the world, and so much of its amusements and pleasures, are inimical to our growth. It is for Christians to work out these things for themselves. We all know what hinders our communion with God. The principle is this: knowing that, being aware of that, which stands between me and this life, I must cut it out. I have no time for it, I must keep myself in an atmosphere that is not a hindrance to the life of my soul.
The next great principle is exercise. It is not enough to have the right food. It is not enough to avoid that which is harmful. If there is to be growth the life must be exercised. Take the babe, take the growing animal---if you confine them and prevent them from moving and developing there will be no growth. What does this mean to the Christian? It means positive Christian living. It means putting into practice what I claim to believe; it means active Christian work; it means taking an interest in the propagation of the Gospel. It is as we exercise ourselves in that way that we shall find ourselves growing in grace. If our interest in these matters remains on the intellectual level, and if we do nothing about it, we shall find, I think, that we shall cease to grow.
What is the next principle? It is rather an odd one, and yet a very vital one. Food and drink and avoiding that which is inimical, exercise, and next---rest! How often this is forgotten---rest! Take that infant---if he is not given the right amount of rest, even though you are giving him the right food, and though you are avoiding that which is inimical, he will not thrive. Rest is of tremendous importance; the right amount of sleep and rest to the plant is vital; you must not be fussing about it constantly, it must be left alone. You remember how our Lord put it in the parable of the farmer that sowed his seed and then rested and rose night and day. How vital this is in the realm of the soul and spirit. If you haven't a quiet mind, you will not grow. You may be reading your Bible very diligently, but if your mind is not at rest and at peace you won't grow. There are some poor people who spend their time trying to grow in grace by continually praying to God, but who do not succeed. There are people also who suffer from what we may call spiritual mumps and measles---they develop that pained expression on their faces, they are always full of questions; they do not understand why God does this, they cannot fathom why God does that. Now how can we obtain this rest? The great principle is, to realise that we are justified by faith, and live by faith. We must realise that we do not make ourselves Christians. We must know something about this rest of faith, and when we cannot understand, we must say `I don't know, but I believe God works, and all things work together for good to them that love Him.' We must learn to rest and recline in the arms of God, and believe where we cannot prove; and without cultivating that aspect of rest and a quiet mind, there will be no true growth.
But let me just mention the last principle---it is the principle of discipline. In other words, having recognised all those other things, I must be regular in my carrying out of them. I must not read my Bible and pray spasmodically, I must do it constantly. I must avoid that which is evil all the time, reckoning there is no such thing as a spiritual holiday. I must be regular and constant. And in addition I must inspect myself and my life, and overhaul myself constantly. In other words, I must indulge in self-examination. Now in order to show what I mean by self-examination let me read, as I close, a list drawn up by the saintly John Fletcher of Madeley in the eighteenth century in order that he might show the simple people over whom he was vicar how they might examine themselves. These, he says, are the questions you can ask yourselves, in order:
1. Did I awake spiritual, and was I watchful in keeping my mind from wandering this morning when I was rising?
2. Have I this day got nearer to God in times of prayer, or have I given way to a lazy, idle spirit?
3. Has my faith been weakened by unwatchfulness, or quickened by diligence this day?
4. Have I this day walked by faith and eyed God in all things?
5. Have I denied myself in all unkind words and thoughts? Have I delighted in seeing others preferred before me?
6. Have I made the most of my precious time, as far as I had light, strength and opportunity?
7. Have I kept the issues of my heart in the means of grace, so as to profit by them?
8. What have I done this day for the souls and bodies of God's dear saints?
9. Have I laid out anything to please myself when I might have saved the money for the cause of God?
10. Have I governed well my tongue this day, remembering that in a multitude of words there wanteth not sin?
11. In how many instances have I denied myself this day?
12. Do my life and conversation adorn the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
That, according to Fletcher, is the way to examine ourselves. We take these questions seriously, we realise we have a soul, a spiritual life, and we are anxious that it should grow, and having observed those conditions of growth we make certain that we observe them all by just asking ourselves questions similar to these day by day.
That is the Protestant method of growing in grace. Realising that God has given us the gift of life, realising that certain conditions are essential to the preservation and the increase in life, we must practise them, and as we do so we shall find that we are `growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ'.
God in His grace grant us this wisdom and enable us thereby to grow. Amen. [236-240]
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