Growth in Grace
'But grow in grace' (2 Pet. 3:18).
True grace is progressive, of a spreading and growing nature. It is with grace as with light; first, there is the crepusculum, or daybreak; then it shines brighter to the full meridian. A good Christian is like the crocodile. Quamdiu vivet crescit; he has never done growing. The saints are not only compared to stars for their light, but to trees for their growth (Is. 61:3; Hos. 14:5). A good Christian is not like Hezekiah's sun that went backwards, nor Joshua's sun that stood still, but is always advancing in holiness, and increasing with the increase of God (1 Cor. 3:6).
In how many ways may a Christian be said to grow in grace?
(1) He grows vigore, in the exercise of grace. His lamp is burning and shining: therefore we read of a lively hope (1 Pet. 1:3). Here is the activity of grace. The church prays for the blowing of the Spirit, that her spices might flow forth (Cant. 4:16).
(2) A Christian grows gradu, in the degree of grace. He goes from strength to strength, from one degree of grace to another (Ps. 84:7). A saint goes from faith to faith (Rom. 1:17). His love abounds more and more (Phil. 1:9).
What is the right manner of a Christian's growth?
(1) It is to grow less in one's own eyes. 'I am a worm, and no man' (Ps. 22:6). The sight of corruption and ignorance makes a Christian grow into a dislike of himself; he vanishes in his own eyes. Job abhorred himself in the dust (Job 42:6). It is good to grow out of conceit with one's self.
(2) The right manner of growth is to grow proportionately, to grow in one grace as well as another (2 Pet. 1:5). To grow in knowledge, but not in meekness, brotherly love, or good works, is not the right growth. A thing may swell and not grow; a man may be swelled with knowledge, yet may have no spiritual growth. The right manner of growth is uniform, growing in one grace as well as another. As the beauty of the body consists in a symmetry of parts, in which not only the head grows, but the arms and breast; so spiritual growth is most beautiful, when there is symmetry and proportion, and every grace thrives.
(3) The right manner of growth is, when a Christian has grace suitable to his several employments and occasions; when corruptions are strong, and he has grace able to give check to them; burdens are heavy, and he has patience able to bear them; temptations fierce, and he has faith able to resist them. Then grace grows in the right manner.
Whence is it that true grace cannot outgrow?
(1) It is proper for grace to grow; it is semen manens [an enduring seed], the seed of God (1 John 3:9). It is the nature of seed to grow: grace does not lie in the heart, as a stone in the earth, but as seed in the earth, which will spring up, first the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear.
(2) Grace cannot but grow, from its sweetness and excellence. He that has grace is never weary of it, but would have more. The delight he has in it causes thirst. Grace is the image of God, and a Christian thinks he can never be enough like God. Grace instills peace; a Christian, therefore, strives to grow in grace that he may grow in peace.
(3) Grace cannot but grow, from a believer's ingrafting into Christ. He who is a scion, ingrafted into this noble, generous stock, cannot but grow. Christ is so full of sap, and vivifying influence, that he makes all who are grafted into him, grow fruitful. 'From me is thy fruit found' (Hos. 14:8).
What motives or incentives are there to make us grow in grace?
(1) Growth is the end of the ordinances. Why does a man lay out cost on ground, manure and water it, but that it may grow? The sincere milk of the word is given, that we may grow thereby (1 Pet. 2:2). The table of the Lord is on purpose for our spiritual nourishment and increase of grace.
(2) The growth of grace is the best evidence of the truth of it. Things that have no life will not grow: a picture will not grow, a stake in the hedge will not grow; but a plant that has a vegetative life grows. The growing of grace shows it to be alive in the soul.
(3) Growth in grace is the beauty of a Christian. The more a child grows, the more it comes to its favour and complexion, and looks more ruddy; so, the more a Christian grows in grace, the more he comes to his spiritual complexion, and looks fairer. Abraham's faith was beautiful when in its infancy, but at last it grew so vigorous and eminent, that God himself was in love with it, and crowned Abraham with this honour, to be the 'father of the faithful.'
(4) The more we grow in grace, the more glory we bring to God. God's glory is more worth than the salvation of all men's souls. This should be our design, to raise the trophies of God's glory; and how can we do it more, than by growing in grace? 'Hereby is my Father glorified, if ye bring forth much fruit' (John 15:8). Though the least drachm of grace will bring salvation to us, yet it will not bring so much glory to God. 'Filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are to the praise of his glory' (Phil. 1:11). It commends the skill of the husbandman when his plants grow and thrive; it is a praise and honour to God when we thrive in grace.
(5) The more we grow in grace, the more will God love us. Is it not that which we pray for? The more growth, the more God will love us. The husbandman loves his thriving plants; the thriving Christian is God's Hephzibah, or chief delight. Christ loves to see the vine flourishing, and the pomegranates budding (Cant. 6:11). He accepts the truth of grace, but commends the growth of grace. 'I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel' (Matt. 8:10). Would you be as the beloved disciple that lay in Christ's bosom? Would you have much love from Christ? Labour for much growth, let faith flourish with good works, and love increase into zeal.
(6) We need to grow in grace. There is still something lacking in our faith (1 Thess. 3:10). Grace is but in its infancy and minority, and we must still be adding a cubit to our spiritual stature. The apostles said, 'Lord, increase our faith' (Luke 17:5). Grace is but weak. 'I am this day weak, though anointed king' (2 Sam. 3:39). So, though we are anointed with grace, yet we are but weak, and had need arrive at further degrees of sanctity.
(7) The growth of grace will hinder the growth of corruption. The more health grows, the more the distempers of the body abate; so in spirituals, the more humility grows, the more the swelling of pride is assuaged, the more purity of heart grows, the more the fire of lust is abated. The growth of flowers in the garden does not hinder the growing of weeds, but the growing of the flower of grace hinders the sprouting of corruption. As some plants have an antipathy, and will not thrive if they grow near together, as the vine and the bay tree, so, where grace grows, sin will not thrive so fast.
(8) We cannot grow too much in grace; there is no nimium, no excess there. The body may grow too great, as in the dropsy; but faith cannot grow too great. 'Your faith groweth exceedingly' (2 Thess. 1:3). Here was exceeding, yet not excess. As a man cannot have too much health, so not too much grace. Grace is the beauty of holiness (Ps. 110:3). We cannot have too much spiritual beauty; it will be the only trouble at death, that we have grown no more in grace.
(9) Such as do not grow in grace, decay in grace. Non progredi in via est regredi [Not to go forward in the Christian life is to turn back]. Bernard. There is no standing in religion, either we go forward or backward. If faith does not grow, unbelief will; if heavenly-mindedness does not grow, covetousness will. A man that does not increase his stock, diminishes it: so if you do not improve your stock of grace, your stock will decay. The angels on Jacob's ladder were either ascending or descending: if you do not ascend in religion, you descend.
(10) The more we grow in grace, the more we shall flourish in glory. Though every vessel of glory shall be full, yet some vessels hold more than others. He whose pound gained ten, was made ruler over ten cities (Luke 19:17). Such as do not grow much, though they lose not their glory, they lessen it. If any shall follow the Lamb in whiter and larger robes of glory than others, they shall be such as have shone most in grace here.
Use: Lament the want of growth. Religion in many is grown into a form and profession only: this is to grow in leaves, not in fruit. Many Christians are like a body in an atrophy, which does not thrive. They are not nourished by the sermons they hear. Like the angels who assumed bodies, they ate, but did not grow. It is to be suspected where there is no growth, there wants a vital principle. Some instead of growing better, grow worse; they grow more earthly, more profane (2 Tim. 3:13). Evil men proficient in pejus, shall wax worse and worse. Many grow hell-ward--they grow past shame (Zeph. 3:5). They are like some watered stuffs, which grow more rotten.
How shall we know whether we grow in grace?
For deciding this question, I shall show I. The signs of our not growing; II. of our growing.
I. The signs of our not growing in grace, but rather falling into a spiritual consumption.
 When we have lost our spiritual appetite. A consumptive person has not that stomach to his meat as formerly. Perhaps, Christian, thou canst remember the time when thou didst hunger and thirst after righteousness, thou didst come to the ordinances with such a stomach as to a feast; but now it is otherwise, Christ is not so prized, nor his ordinances so loved. This is a sad presage that grace is on the declining hand; and thou art in a deep consumption. It was a sign that David was near his grave when they covered him with clothes and he got no heat (1 Kings 1:1). so, when a person is covered with the warm clothes of ordinances, and yet has no heat of affection to spiritual things, it is a sign that he is declining in grace.
 When we grow more worldly. Perhaps we once mounted into higher orbs, we set our hearts on things above, and spake the language of Canaan; but now our minds are taken off from heaven, we dig our comfort out of the lower mines, and with Satan compass the earth. This is a sign we are going down the hill apace, and our grace is in a consumption. It is observable when nature decays, and people are near dying, they grow more stooping; and truly, when men's hearts grow more stooping to the earth, and they can hardly lift up themselves to a heavenly thought; if grace be not dead, yet it is ready to die (Rev. 3:2).
 When we are less troubled about sin. Time was when the least sin grieved us, as the least hair makes the eye weep; but now we can digest sin without remorse. Time was when we were troubled if we neglected closet prayer; now we can omit family-prayer. Time was when vain thoughts troubled us; now we are not troubled for loose practices. Here is a sad declension in religion; and truly grace is so far from growing that we can hardly perceive its pulse to beat.
II. The signs of our growing in grace.
 The first sign of our growing, is, when we have got beyond our former measures of grace. It is a sign a child thrives when he has outgrown his clothes. That knowledge which would serve us before will not serve us now; we have a deeper insight into religion, our light is clearer, our spark of love is increased into a flame; there is a sign of growth. That competency of grace we once had is too scanty for us now; we have outgrown ourselves.
 When we are more firmly rooted in religion. 'Rooted in him, and established:' the spreading of the root shows the growth of the tree (Col. 2:7). When we are so strongly fastened on Christ, that we cannot be blown down with the breath of heretics, it is a blessed sign of growth. Athanasius was called Adamas ecclesiae, [the Adamant of the Church], an adamant that could not be removed from the love of the truth.
 When we have a more spiritual frame of heart. (1) When we are more spiritual in our principles; when we oppose sin out of love to God, and because it strikes at his holiness. (2) When we are more spiritual in our affections. We grieve for the first rising of corruption, for the bubbling up of vain thoughts, and for the spring that runs underground. We mourn not only for the penalty of sin, but for its pollution. It is not a coal only that burns, but blacks. (3) When we are spiritual in the performance of duty. We are more serious, reverent, fervent; we have more life in prayer, we put fire to the sacrifice. 'Fervent in spirit' (Rom. 12:11). We serve God with more love, which ripens and mellows our duty, and makes it come off with a better relish.
 When grace gets ground by opposition. The fire, by an antiperistasis, burns hottest in the coldest season. Peter's courage increased by the opposition of the high priest and the rulers (Acts 4:8, 11). The martyr's zeal was increased by persecution. Here was grace of the first magnitude.
What shall we do to grow in grace?
(1) Take heed of that which will hinder growth, as the love of any sin. The body may as well thrive in a fever, as grace can where any sin is cherished.
(2) Use all means for growth in grace. 1st. 'Exercise yourselves unto godliness' (1 Tim. 4:7). The body grows stronger by exercise. Trading of money makes men grow rich; so the more we trade our faith in the promises, the richer in faith we grow. 2ndly. If you would be growing Christians, be humble Christians. It is observed in some countries, as in France, the best and largest grapes, which make wine, grow on the lower sort of vines; so the humble saints grow most in grace. 'God giveth grace to the humble' (1 Pet. 5:5). 3rdly. Pray to God for spiritual growth. Some pray that they may grow in gifts. It is better to grow in grace than gifts. Gifts are for ornament, grace is for nourishment. Gifts edify others; grace saves ourselves. Some pray that they may grow rich; but a fruitful heart is better than a full purse. Pray that God would make you grow in grace, though it be by affliction (Heb. 12:10). The vine grows by pruning. God's pruning-knife is to make us grow more in grace.
How may we comfort such as complain they do not grow in grace?
They make mistake; for they may grow, when they think they do not, 'There is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches' (Prov. 13:7). The sight Christians have of their defects in grace, and their thirst after greater measures of grace, make them think they do not grow when they do. He who covets a great estate, because be has not so much as he desires, thinks himself to be poor. Indeed Christians should seek after the grace they want, but they must not therefore overlook the grace they have. Let Christians be thankful for the least growth. If you do not grow so much in assurance, bless God if you grow in sincerity; if you do not grow so much in knowledge, bless God if you grow in humility. If a tree grows in the root, it is a true growth; so if you grow in the root-grace of humility, it is as needful for you as any other growth.