Spiritual Growth

Col. 1:9,10.---'For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray and make request for you, that ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will in a spiritual wisdom and understanding, to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.'

The Scriptural conception of the saintly character and career is that of an ever-increasing strength and joyfulness. So far this is in agreement with the general law. It has been said, there are some that never grew, but were cast; yet, as a rule, the normal person grows mentally in power and resource. Occasionally a youthful saint may astonish us by his completeness of character and exceptional ripeness of experience; but the law of the spiritual life is that we go from strength to strength.

Looking back on my boyhood, I can interpret the religion of a boy and to show the boy in his struggle to get through the jungle and to find the trail of life. . . . My outside life was just like that of any healthy, growing boy. But looked at from within it was mostly an invisible battle. More real than the snow fort which we stormed amid a flight of snowballs until we dislodged the possessors or it, was this stronghold of an enemy, who was dislodged only to come back into his fort stronger than ever, so that my assaults seemed fruitless and vain. I then began to be haunted by the idea that I could never really like myself, that is, be satisfied, until I was every bit good, while all the time this attainment seemed an almost hopeless quest. The result was that I had, in this period, moments of wonderful happiness when I thought of the future life, and imagined myself an inhabitant of the heavenly city, followed by other times of depression, when I saw myself as I really was---far from heavenly in nature, and as unangelic as boys usually are. I kept up a vague hope, which I sometimes put into a prayer, that by some miraculous event I might be made good, and so have the struggle done with---that, in a word, I might anticipate heaven, and find out here what it was like to be every bit good and do now the kind of things I should do when I got to be truly an Heavenly Host. I can credit many who helped me realize---not by what they said, but by what they did---that this goodness of character which I was after is not something miraculous that drops into a soul out of the skies, but rather something which is formed within as one faithfully does his set tasks, and goes to work with an enthusiastic passion to help make other people good.

Many sincere Christians, while conscious of much in their life that is genuinely good, are distressed to find it so faint; they are almost as deeply abased by the sight of their virtues as pained by the evidence of their faults. Victor Hugo says of Queen Anne, "No quality of hers attained to virtue, none to vice." Whatever we may say of ourselves concerning the latter, we have reason enough to lament the faintness of the former. We often need to pray: Forgive our faults, forgive our virtues, too, those lesser faults, half-converts to the right.

But this need not always be. It is delightfully possible that the graces of today so sadly lacking in the glow and glory of life may become full of the bloom and sweetness of perfection.

Philosophers with little sympathy of Christian doctrine generally have yet believed in the perfectibility of human nature; although their idea of perfection is not that of our Lord and His Apostles. 'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.' 'A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.' 'Walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing.' It was not of such a perfection that they dreamed. The pessimistic philosophers degraded man to prevent him from imagining that he could have any relation to God, and to discourage him from entertaining a high moral ambition; while the more enthusiastic optimists never proposed for emulation a moral ideal much beyond the level of the best existing manhood. But the New Testament boldly relates us to God, and demands that we mirror His perfection; it also relates us to the Son of Man, in whom the Divine ideal of manhood is realized, and requires that we 'walk worthily' of His sublime character and ministry. An ever-increasing intensity and fruitfulness of Christian life is possible, and it is our duty to strive unceasingly for the fullness of the blessing.

How immense the distance between the algae, the seaweed, the lowest form of plant life, and the Victoria Regia of the Amazon, whose leaves may be sixty feet across, and whose flower may be measured by the yard! And how immense the distance between the spiritual status of one Christian and another, or between the experience of the same Christian at different times! So sharply are some Christians contrasted that it is difficult to believe they belong to the same spiritual order; yet they do, only the one appears in strength and glory, the other in apathy and unloveliness. So widely contrasted is the experience of the individual believer at different times that he can hardly regard himself throughout as in the one state of grace; yet he is, the distinction being between different times of experience, times with fullness of life and the stagnation of times in challenged season.

The origin of the Christian character is a new heart and a new spirit, and all development begins with that inward renewal, a renewal in the spirit of the mind. The culture of character may be attempted on other lines, prompted by different motives, dominated by independent models; but such culture is not Christian. Revelation teaches that character is based on a spiritual principle, a principle of life, and its growth in power and beauty implies a fuller expression of that life. It is therefore vain to seek the ennoblement of the outer life unless we are careful vigorously to maintain the interior life. 'I am the true vine. . . . Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.' Christ is absolutely essential to the realization of all the high, far-off excellence of which we have an intuition and to which we sincerely aspire. In His presence we must dwell, His beauty contemplate, His merit trust, His love share, and in His steps we must follow. As the vine is everything to the branch, so fellowship with Christ is everything to the aspiring soul.

We must grow in the knowledge of Christ. 'To walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.' To increase in the knowledge of Christ is to increase in the knowledge of God; He is the only true, saving, vivifying source of such knowledge. How prone we are to think that we already know Christ, when indeed we only know something about Him! There are many degrees of knowledge, and we have not fully learned Christ until we know Him and the power of His resurrection. The tourist who, guide-book in hand, hurries through the Vatican galleries, may flatter himself that he knows the immortal masterpieces, and for the rest of his life talk as if he did, but he does not know them as a person who has "dwelt upon them" intently and sympathetically "thousands of times." So, if we are to attain to the knowledge of Christ, a thousand times must we engage our thought and affection, and each time it will be with fresh wonder and admiration.

We must grow in the faith of Christ. Accepting Him as 'the way, the truth, and the life,' it is essential that we confide increasingly in Him as such. hen in the midst of trouble and mystery our souls will experience a deeper calm, being content to ask Him fewer anxious questions. But having confessed our sin with the sighings of a contrite heart, let us once for all, and with growing conviction, trust in His grace, expect His utmost salvation; and as he has given us solemn assurances for the great future, we may with unshaken faith boldly face death and the grave, resting upon His word of promise.

We must grow in the love of Christ. How continually the Apostles dwell upon this! To realize in our Savior more vividly the goodwill of God to His creatures, His unfailing kindness and faithfulness, His eternal mercy and grace, until our heart glows responsively, this is to grow in the holiest passion of Divine love; and herein is plenty of room to grow.

That the Kingdom of God be fully set up in our heart and life must be our commanding thought, our supreme purpose, our constant endeavor. The neglect of the spirituality of life while busy with many things means the decay of character, with all the sad experiences which that decay implies. In every department of life the cooperation of man secures the growth and glory of the soul. A controversy amongst theologians, once acute, is still revived from time to time. it turns upon the question as to whether sanctification is gradual or instantaneous, whether it is attained by one definite act or by a more or less prolonged striving: some holding that in a favored hour, by an act of consecration and faith, the believer scales the heights of purity and joy; while others contend for the ascent by degrees through the sanctification of the discipline of life. May not both theories be true? Not so long ago it was the dogmatic assertion of the evolutionist that a new species of plant was the result of a long series of minute and imperceptible modifications, and that anything of the nature of a leap was unthinkable; but now, sudden, inexplicable variations in plant life are generally recognized, and it seems likely that the science of the future will find a place for both explanations. Why may not the evolution of character comprehend the two rival methods of sanctification---the act of faith and the habit of faith, the discipline of many days and experiences and the sudden vision and uplifting that puts all life on a higher plane and brings into it a purity, power, and joyousness that it never knew before?

Full consecration may in one sense be the act of a moment, and in another the work of a lifetime. It must be complete to be real, and yet, if real, it is always incomplete; a point of rest, and yet a perpetual progression. Suppose you make over a piece of ground to another person. From the moment of giving the title-deed, it is no longer your possession; it is entirely his. But his practical occupation of it may not appear all at once. there may be waste land which he will take into cultivation only by degrees. Just so it is with our lives.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha