We live in an age of special spiritual danger. Never perhaps since the world began was there such an immense amount of mere outward profession of religion as there is in the present day. A painfully large proportion of all the congregations in the land consists of unconverted people, who know nothing of heart-religion, never come to the Lord’s Table, and never confess Christ in their daily lives. Myriads of those who are always running after preachers, and crowding to hear special sermons, are nothing better than empty tubs, and tinkling cymbals, without a bit of real vital Christianity at home. The parable of the sower is continually receiving most vivid and painful illustrations. The way-sidehearers, the stony-ground hearers, the thorny-ground hearers abound on every side.
The life of many religious people, I fear, in this age, is nothing better than a continual course of spiritual dram-drinking. They are always morbidly craving fresh excitement; and they seem to care little what it is if they only get it. All preaching seems to be the same to them; and they appear unable to “see differences” so long as they hear what is clever, have their ears tickled, and sit in a crowd. Worst of all, there are hundreds of young unestablished believers who are so infected with the same love of excitement, that they actually think it a duty to be always seeking it. Insensibly almost to themselves, they take up a kind of hysterical, sensational, sentimental Christianity, until they are never content with the “old paths” and, like the Athenians, are always running after something new. To see a calm-minded young believer, who is not stuck up, self confident, self-conceited, and more ready to teach than learn, but content with a daily steady effort to grow up into Christ’s likeness, and to do Christ’s work quietly and unostentatiously, at home, is really becoming almost a rarity! Too many young professors, alas, behave like young recruits who have not spent all their bounty money. They show how little deep root they have, and how little knowledge of their hearts, by noise, forwardness, readiness to contradict and set down old Christians, and over-weaning trust in their own fancied soundness and wisdom! Well will it be for many young professors of this age if they do not end, after being tossed about for a while, and “carried to and fro by every wind of doctrine,” by joining some petty, narrow-minded, censorious sect, or embracing some senseless, unreasoning crotchety heresy. Surely, in times like these there is great need for self-examination. When we look around us, we may well ask, “How do we do about our souls?”
JC Ryle (1816-1900), Practical Religion
Not to grow is to remain in your sin and pollution. Would you who have been washed in the blood of Christ, have become partakers of the spirit of sanctification, are the children of God, have become the bride of the holy Jesus – will you continue in your sorrow and remain in your pollution? Oh, let it not be thus! Be no longer disobedient to God your Father. Disentangle yourself from the bondage of pollution, expel sin, and flee from it. The more you grow, the more you will distance yourself from sin; and the more you distance yourself from sin, the more you will grow.
The more one grows, the more the image of God will become manifest, and the more likeness to God there will be – for that is the perfection held before us. You already do grieve, however, that you are so far from God, and with all your desire you long to be near to God. It is your only and all-satisfying comfort to live in blessed communion with God. Of all this there is a small beginning in you and there is the certainty that this suggested perfection is to be attained. Would you not then pursue that which you love so much; would you not then make this your objective and endeavor to come closer to achieving this? Yes, it has already been prepared for you and God stands ready to give it to you. He holds it, so to speak, in His hand and calls you but to come in order that what is behind you and “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”.
The more one grows, the more pleasing he will be to God. A father is delighted when his children grow, and one rejoices when he observes the growth of trees he has planted. Since, however, God takes pleasure in the growth of His children, having regenerated them by his will and according to the Word of His truth, and since He delights Himself in the garden and the trees which He himself has planted there, should we then not endeavor to be pleasing unto the Lord and to become “His pleasant plant” (Isa 5:7)?
God is glorified by our growth, for therein it becomes apparent that He is neither a barren nor a howling wilderness to His children, but that He is good, benevolent, faithful, holy, and omnipotent. The Lord will grant many comforts to those who grow, so that they will find much delight and joy in their growth.
Wilhelmus A. Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service Vol. 4
Fourthly, world conformity enters the picture here. Believers still have a desire for the things of the world under the cover and pretense that they are lawful, necessary, and fitting – even though the real motive is love for the world. The world and the spirit are enemies, and the one is always intent on expelling the other; they are a mutual impediment to each other, and therefore we must either fully yield to the world, or must yield fully and entirely to grace. As long as we halt between two opinions, and as long as we attempt to join together Christ and Belial, so long shall we make no progress. A bird which as been fastened to the earth will fall back to the earth when it wants to fly upward. Thus, he who wishes to fly heavenward must divorce himself from the world.
Wilhelmus A. Brakel, A Christian’s Reasonable Service Vol 4
But, sir, is the bare observing and doing of these things sufficient for keeping of this commandment perfectly?
Oh no! The first commandment must be understood in all the rest, that is, the obedience to the first commandment must be the motive and final cause of our obedience to the rest of the commandments, otherwise it is not the worship of God, but hypocrisy, as I touched before; wherefore, neighbour Nomologista, though you have done all the duties the Lord requires in this commandment, and avoided all the sins which he forbids, yet, if all this has been from such grounds, and to such ends, as I told you of in the conclusion of the second commandment, and not for the love you bear to God, and the desire you have to please him, you come short of keeping this commandment perfectly.
Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity
Having ascribed glory to God, which is his due, Psalm 29:2 we must next take shame to ourselves, which is our due, and humble ourselves before him in the sense of our own sinfulness and vileness; and herein also we must give glory to him, Joshua 7:19 as our Judge, by whom we deserve to be condemned, and yet hope, through Christ, to be acquitted and absolved.
In this part of our work, we must acknowledge the great reason we have to lie very low before God and to be ashamed of ourselves when we come into his presence and to be afraid of his wrath, having made ourselves both odious to his holiness and obnoxious to his justice.
Anyone who comes to grips with the issues raised in The Marrow of Modern Divinity will almost certainly grow by leaps and bounds in understanding three things: the grace of God, the Christian life, and the very nature of the gospel itself. I personally owe it a huge debt.