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GROWING IN GRACE
Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
IF these words, and indeed the nature and contents of all this wonderful chapter, were not penned by Simon Peter, they were composed by his “double” in the spirit. Their hearts are fashioned alike. The writer of this counsel has had Simon Peter’s experience, and he is possessed by Simon Peter’s penitence, and he shares Simon Peter’s trembling confidence and hope. If some firmly authenticated and altogether non-suspicious letter of the great apostle were to fall into my hands, this is the kind of matter, and this the manner, which I should expect in its intense and impetuous pages. I should expect much about pitfalls and snares, much about finely attired and specious seductions, much about secret treachery, cowardly denial, and open revolt. I should expect strong and jubilant evangels, proclaiming the capacity of frail and fragile man to 335become the loyal and bosom friend of God Almighty. I should expect glorious vistas of distant possibility, bright and alluring, the ultimate bourn of human life in fellowship with the Divine. All these I should expect from the hands and lips and heart of this great apostle—once impulsive, and cowardly, and disloyal, but now recovered, emboldened, glorified in the recreating power of the Holy Ghost. And they are all here, messages full of heartening, serious with warning, kindling with inspiration, and all of them culminating in this cheery word of sanctified Christian optimism, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Yes, it is Simon Peter, or his “double,” the man who had the two-fold experience of weeping bitterly in the cold twilight of the betrayal morning, and of gazing, with hungry, loving eagerness into the reconciled countenance of the risen Lord.
Well, here in my text there is suggested a marvellous dignity, the supreme prerogative and endowment of human-kind, our capacity to receive the Divine. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Let us humanise it. To grow in a thing implies that I have the power to acquire it. Acquisition implies susceptibility, power of reception. When a man counsels me to grow, 336he suggests that I am in possession of a germinal aptitude, in the development of which the growth consists. “Grow in Art, and in the knowledge of the Masters of Art!” Such counsel implies that I possess initial artistic instincts, a certain elementary sensitiveness, which will respond to the revelations of each succeeding stage in the unfolding apocalypse of form and colour. If I am to grow in the grace and knowledge of Turner I must fundamentally possess the primal instincts of which the ultimate Turner is made. Growth implies a germ, an initial bias or tendency, an original aptitude or gift. And if I am to “grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ,” the consoling and inspiring suggestion is this, that I am not passive and ungifted like a splint from a planet, or a mineral in the mine, but that to me has been given an original capability, an innate possibility of holding commerce with the infinite God. We are fragments of Divinity!
Here then, I start with this glorious and marvellous implication, that the children of men have the power to apprehend and to growingly appropriate the “things” of the Spirit of God. Let us look at the capacity. “Grow in grace” We have the capacity to receive the Divine energy, to receive it more and more; to so grow in the appropriation of it that we are at last 337“filled with the fulness of God.” For Grace is an energy; it is the Divine energy; it is the energy of the Divine affection rolling abundantly to the shores of human need. Oh, it is this, and much more than this! Its manifold wealth eludes the span of human speed, and refuses to be defined. Grace is indefinable. Dr. Dale, with his strong hands and yet most exquisite touch, endeavoured to express its secret in a pregnant phrase, but he laid down his pen in despair. “Grace,” he says, “is love which passes beyond all claims to love. It is love which, after fulfilling the obligations imposed by law, has an unexhausted wealth of kindness.” Yes, it is all that; but when we have said all that, the half hath not been told. It reminds me of an experience in my life a little while ago. Some minister of the Cross, toiling in great loneliness, among a scattered and primitive people, and on the very fringe of dark primeval forests, sent me a little sample of his vast and wealthy environment. He sent it in an envelope. It was a bright and gaily-coloured wing of a native bird. The colour and life of trackless leagues sampled within the confines of an envelope! And when we have made a compact little phrase to enshrine the secret of grace, I feel that, however fair and radiant it may be, we have only got a wing 338of a native bird, and bewildering stretches of wealth are untouched and unrevealed. No, we cannot define it. Who can define an Alp? We may describe the varying aspects of a mountain, some of its ever-changing moods; we can add feature to feature, characteristic to characteristic, but we can never say that we have exhausted the significance of its wealthy face. And so it is with grace. We may have glimpses of its features and varying moods. Even when we can not construe its ultimate secret, we may describe when we cannot define. Now that is just what the New Testament permits us to do. It gives us a glimpse here, and a glimpse there, and we can put bit to bit, feat Lire to feature, until we are overwhelmed with the glory of the revelation of God’s redeeming grace! Let us put them together. Grace is energy. Grace is love-energy. Grace is a redeeming love-energy. Grace is a redeeming love-energy ministering to the unlovely, and endowing the unlovely with its own loveliness. Wherever I see grace at work in the Christian Scriptures it is ever a minister of purity, and joy, and song and peace. Cast your eyes over these! “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Like as you have seen the shore littered with filth and refuse, and the infinite deep has rolled in, and gathered up the uncleanness into its own 339purifying flood! “We have good hope through grace.” Like as the light in the lighthouse burns clear and steadily through the night, because of the unfailing and carefully administered supplies of oil, so the light of a cheery optimism burns strong and calmly in the night of life, because of the unfailing supplies of grace! “Singing with grace in your hearts unto the Lord.” Didn’t I say that grace is the mother of song? Grace makes a light and nimble atmosphere; the soul becomes buoyant, and breaks into music as instinctively as the bird sings in the soft airs of the dawn. All this is the work of the love-energy of the Eternal God, and the evangel is this, that to you and me is given the capacity to receive it, to grow in it, to appropriate it more and more, to more and more become its home. “He giveth grace for grace,” until every tissue and function in body, mind, and soul are saturated and sanctified in its redeeming ministry. “Grow in grace!”
“And in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Then we have not only capacity to receive the Divine energy, but capacity to perceive the Divine character. Gifts of reception are succeeded by gifts of perception. We are to “grow in knowledge” too. I heard a great Bible student say the other day—he is a 340man of most delicate spiritual insight, and has worked and walked with his Lord for many years—and he was speaking among a few familiar friends, and he said, “I feel as if I have only investigated a small garden-bed, and there’s a continent still before me!” Have we not all shared his feelings? Is there a minister worth his salt who, as his experience broadens and deepens, does not realise that he has only touched the hem of his Master’s garment, and that the more glorious intimacy is all before him? Yes, so far as the Lord Jesus is concerned we have all pottered about a little garden-bed, with a continent awaiting us. But do not let us be despondent or afraid. We must not measure ourselves by the size of the garden-bed, but by the possibilities of the continent. We are not scaled to the size of the garden-bed; we are scaled and endowed to the ultimate demands of the continent. “Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known!” The continent is to be as familiar to us as the garden-bed. We can “grow . . . in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Does not that sound continental, that great, all-comprehensive name—Lord—Saviour—Jesus—Christ? Into the secrets, the deep, bright mysteries of that most wonderful name we are to enter, little by little, and we are to 341apprehend and appreciate things which have been “hidden from the foundations of the world.” Our capacity may at present be infantile, but infantile capacity is real, and the undeveloped germ carries in its heart the promise and power of its own prime. Caliban may be dark and imprisoned in contrast with the enlightened and appreciative Paul, but Caliban is a Paul in embryo, and even Paul himself, while he walked the ways of time, had but the comprehension of a babe in comparison with many a poor peasant who had “left his native lea” and had awakened amid the unveiled secrets of the Eternal day. Yes, we can grow; it is our dignity and our privilege to grow; we can grow “in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” “Now are we the sons of God,” aye, even now! And to what shall we grow? “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” What then? “We know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” For what superlative glories we are made! Let us even now wear our crowns as kings and queens.
How, then, can we increase our capacity for God? How may we best “grow in grace and knowledge,” in the two-fold gifts of reception and perception? I only know three ways; but I think they are all-inclusive, and they would 342bring a man at length into “the measure of the fulness of the stature of Christ.” You will not be surprised when I mention, as the first means of growth, the ministry of fervent prayer. That is an old counsel, almost threadbare by incessant reiteration, but we can no more ignore it than we can ignore the fresh air when we are reckoning up the conditions of physical health. When I speak of prayer I am thinking of a very active and businesslike thing. I think of something far more than speech; it is commerce with the Infinite. It is the sending out of aspiration, like the ascending angels in the patriarch’s dream; it is the reception of inspiration, like the descending angels that brought to the weary pilgrim the life and light of God. When we pray, we must drink in, and drink deeply, quietly, consciously, deliberately, the very love-energy of the Eternal God. Marvellous is the ministry of that inspired and inspiring grace! Shall I tell you how I heard one man speak of another man a little while ago? The one of whom he spake had appeared weary and worn, and dark, tired lines were pencilled here and there upon his face. And this weary man knelt and prayed! “And,” said my friend, “when he rose from his knees, I saw for the first time the significance of Pentecost! The weariness had gone! The dark care-lines were 343wiped out! His face was all aglow with a renewed flame! And I verily believe that if my own heart had been pure enough I should have seen a radiant nimbus enveloping his exalted head!” What had the weary man been doing on his knees? He had been growing in grace, and therefore in the knowledge of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
And the second means of growth is found in the ministry of honourable and consecrated labour. If we could not “grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” while we earn our daily bread, life would be very largely a dark and fruitless waste. But if the hours of labour afford a congenial season for spiritual growth, then life presents a vast and glorious opportunity. It was while the Man of Nazareth was yet working at the carpenter’s bench that we are told “He increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” “In favour”—our very present word “grace”: the love-energy of the Eternal streamed into His soul while He engaged in the lowly toil of a humble village craftsman. The business of the little day was so done that at the same time it was commerce with the Infinite! Every business transaction was so scrupulously pure and honourable as to afford a dwelling-place for the Holy Spirit of the Eternal God! While He 344earned His daily bread He was drawing into His hungry heart the very bread of life. He and His Father were inseparable partners in the making of a household chair, or in the fashioning of a yoke for the ox of the field. Was not that, too, the restful boast of Stradivari?
This is my fame—
When any master holds,
’Twixt chin and hand a violin of mine,
He will be glad that Stradivari lived,
Made violins, and made them of the best.
The masters only know whose work is good:
They will choose mine: and, while God gives them skill,
I give them instruments to play upon,
God choosing me to help Him.
The man who goes out to his labour in the morning in that spirit, must and will grow in grace and knowledge, and he will find that the common path of duty is even now “close upon the shining tableland to which our God Himself is sun and moon.”
And the third means of growth is to be found in the ministry of unselfish service. In the sphere of the spirit, expenditure is ever the condition of expansion. We get while we give. We grow while we serve. “He that would be great among you let him be your minister.” “He giveth grace to the humble.” Aye, it is along that path that we come upon the crown 345jewels of the King of Kings. “He that loseth his life shall find it.” The man who goes out to serve his brother shall meet his God, and shall be partially transfigured into the Saviour’s likeness: he shall pass into ever richer acquisitions of grace, and he shall be taken into the deeper secrets of his Lord.
Printed by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury
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