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GROWTH IN GRACE IS TO BE DESIRED. 1 Pet. ii. 1–3. Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all
guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby ; if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.
A STRANGE opinion has obtained amongst some, that there is no such thing as growth in grace. But the whole tenour of Scripture, from one end of it to the other, proclaims the contrary. We will go no further than to the passage before us, and to the context connected with it. In the beginning of his epistle, the Apostle had spoken of Christians as “ begotten by God the Father to a lively hopea." To stir them up to walk worthy of their high calling, he says to them, “ Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end, as obedient children; not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts in your ignorance; but, as he who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation ; because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy b." This injunction he enforces by a great variety of arguments. He urges, first, the consideration, that God the Father will judge them according to their works"; then, that they have been redeemed by God the Sond; and then, that they have been born of God the Holy Ghost, through the instrumentality of the preached word, which unalterably inculcates and requires holiness. From these premises he deduces the exhortation in our text: “ Wherefore, as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby ; if so be ye have tasted, (or as it should rather be translated, since ye have tasted,) that the Lord is gracious." Here the idea is kept up of their being children of God, though children but newly born; and they are urged to desire and feed upon that blessed provision which God has made for them in his word, and which alone can secure their growth in the divine life.
C 1 Pet. i. 17.
a 1 Pet. i. 3.
b 1 Pet. i. 13–16.
The words, thus viewed, will lead us to consider, I. The character of God's children
Many are the descriptions given of them in the Holy Scriptures; but there is not one in all the inspired volume more simple or more accurate than this : “ They have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” This, I say, is, 1. Their universal experience
[There is not a child of God in the universe to whom this character does not belong. The very instant that a child is born of God, this is his experience. Indeed it is of " new-born babes” that it is spoken. As to their knowledge of God, his nature, his perfections, his purposes, it may be extremely limited and imperfect. Even of the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of " the exceeding riches of God's grace as displayed in him," they may know but little: but they have * tasted that the Lord is gracious," and they do assuredly know it by their own happy experience. If the person be young or old, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, he has learned this, and knows it, and feels it in his inmost soul. He has heard of the Saviour; he has sought for mercy through him; and he has received into his soul a sense of God's pardoning love and mercy in Christ Jesus: and in this he does rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. He may indeed have received but a taste: but a taste he has received: and it is “sweeter to him than thousands of gold and silver.” The most uncivilized savage, when born of God, is in this respect on a footing with the most enlightened philosopher: he has believed in Christ; and he “makes Christ all his salvation, and all his desire."] 2. Their exclusive distinction
[Simple as this is, there is not a creature upon the face of the whole earth of whom it can with truth be predicated, but of one who has been “begotten of God,” and “ born again of the Holy Spirit.” Others may be very wise and learned, and may be able to descant with accuracy upon all the deep things of God. They may in words and in profession greatly magnify the grace of God: but they have never had a taste of it in their own souls. And the reason is plain: they have never felt their undone state by nature: they have never been sensible of the immense load of guilt which they have contracted by their own actual transgressions. Consequently, they have never trembled for fear of God's wrath, nor with strong crying and tears sought deliverance from it through the atoning blood of Jesus. Hence the grace of God has never been extended to them; and consequently they have never “ tasted that the Lord is gracious." " They, as I have before said, may descant learnedly upon the subject of divine grace; but their discussions proceed from the head only, and not from the heart. As a man who has never tasted honey, however conversant he may be with its qualities, has no just conception of its flavour, so none but he who has experienced the grace of God in his soul can know really what it is. He knows it, because he has tasted it: and others know it not, because they have not tasted it.]
The Apostle addressing these declares to them, II. Their duty
He teaches them,
1. What they are to put away, as injurious to their welfare
[The unconverted man, though he may appear righteous before men, is in reality full of the most abominable evils. He may not indulge in any gross sins; but he is full of “ malice" towards those who have injured him in any tender point; and would feel gratified, rather than pained, at any evil that should befall him. His whole converse with mankind, too, is for the most part little better than one continued system of " guile and hypocrisy," which are the two chief constituents of what is called politeness. If a rival surpass him in any thing on which his heart is set, and gain the honours which he panted for, he will soon find that the spirit which is in him lusteth to “ envy.” Moreover, whether he be more or less guarded in his general conversation, he will find in himself a propensity to "evil speaking," as if he felt himself more elevated in proportion as others are depressed. Now these dispositions are more or less dominant in the natural man, as St. Paul has strongly and repeatedly declared' --- and, after a person is converted to the faith of Christ, he needs to watch and pray against them with all imaginable care: for as inveterate disorders in the constitution will impede the growth, and destroy the vigour, of the body, so will these hateful dispositions “ war against," and, if not subdued and mortified, prevail to the destruction of, the soul. These things therefore must be "put away."]
Eph. ii. 3. Tit. iii. 3.
2. What they must seek after, as conducive to their growth
[As “ the word is the incorruptible seed of which they are born," so is it the food, upon which, as “ new-born babes,” they must subsist. In the inspired volume, they have truth without any mixture of error. The writings of men take partial views of things, and all more or less savour of human infirmity. Nor can the soul live upon them. If we have read a human composition two or three times, we are weary of it: but this is not the case with the word of God: that is ever new, and ever sweet to the taste of a regenerate soul. A little infant affects nothing so much as its mother's breast. From day to day it prefers that before every thing else that can be offered to it: and it thrives with that, better than with any food that human ingenuity can devise. So in the " sincere" and unadulterated “milk of the word,” there is something more sweet and nutritious, than in all other books in the universe. In the inspired volume, God is presented to the soul under such endearing characters; the Lord Jesus Christ is set forth in such glorious views; the precepts, the promises, the threatenings, the examples, are all so harmoniously blended; in short, truths of every kind are conveyed to the mind with such simple majesty and commanding force, that they insinuate themselves into the whole frame of the soul, and nourish it in a way that no human composition can. This therefore we should desire, in order to our spiritual growth. We should read it, meditate upon it, delight ourselves in it: we should embrace every truth contained in it; its precepts, in order to a more entire conformity to them; its promises, in order to the encouragement of our souls in aspiring after the highest degrees of holiness. In short, we should get it blended with the whole frame and constitution of our souls, so that, to all who behold us from day to day, our growth and profiting may appear: nor should we be satisfied with any attainment, till we have arrived at “ the full measure of the stature of Christ.”] Let me further IMPROVE this subject, 1. In a way of inquiry
[I am not now about to inquire, Whether you have made a great proficiency in the divine life, but Whether you have ever begun to live, or whether you are yet“ dead in trespasses and sins?" In all the book of God, there is not a more simple, or more decisive test, than in the words before us. The extent of your knowledge or attainments is at present out of
the question. The only point I wish to ascertain is this ; “ Have you been born again ?" If you have not made any progress in the divine life, are you “as new-born babes ?” Have you been brought, as it were, into a new world? and are you living altogether in a new way? I do not ask whether, in “passing from death unto life," you have experienced any terrors of mind; or whether the change has been so sudden, that you can fix on the time when it commenced? but this I ask, Whether you have attained such views of Jesus Christ, that he is become truly “ precious to your soulsh?" You cannot but know, that, however you may have been accustomed to call Christ your Saviour, you have not really found any delight in him in past times. But if you have been “ born again of the Spirit," a change has taken place in this particular, and you have been made to feel your obligations to him, and to claim him as “the Friend, and the Beloved of your soul.” I entreat you to examine carefully into this matter; for, if this change have not taken place within you, ye are yet in your sins. Oh, reflect on what our blessed Lord has so solemnly and so repeatedly affirmed; “ Verily, verily, I say unto you, that except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of Godi.” If you ask, What shall I do to attain this experience? I would say, Search out your sins, in order that you may know your need of Christ; and then go to him as the friend of sinners, who casts out none who come unto him. In a word, I would refer you to the words of our text, as contained in the 34th Psalm, from whence they are taken; “ O taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man that trusteth in him."] 2. In a way of affectionate exhortation,
[You have reason, I will suppose, to believe that you have been born again; and that, though of no great stature in the divine life, you are new-born babes. If this be so, you have more reason to be thankful than if you were made possessors of the whole world: and I therefore call upon you to bless and magnify the Lord with your whole souls. But be not contented to continue in a state of infantine weakness, but seek to grow up into the stature of “ young men, and fathers!.” Some imagine that, as children, they may stand excused for the smallness of their attainments; but this is a grievous error. See with what severity St. Paul reproved the Corinthian converts for their want of progress in the divine life. Their continuing babes in their attainments proved them to be yet carnal, instead of spiritual; and prevented his feeding them with
h ver. 7.
i John iii. 3, 5.