The Nature of Spiritual Growth
It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make man better be:
Or standing long an oak three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald and sere:
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May,
Although it fall and die that night—
It was the plant and flower of Light.
In small proportions we just beauty see:
And in short measures life may perfect be.
God gave the increase.
—1 Corinthians 3:6—
Nor of the will of the flesh.
Not of works, lest any man should boast.
It is the gift of God.
While there is no growing into holiness, there is, praise the Lord, a blessed growth in it.
- Entire sanctification prepares for growth by removing the chief inward hindrances. As weeds in a growing crop hinder its growth, so the carnal mind hinders spiritual progress. With the existence of the carnal mind there is always more or less of mixed motives and mixed measures of grace and double-mindedness. The inner man, desiring right, sees the existence of another law, warring in its nature, against his better self. Entire sanctification removes this inward trouble, so that the graces of the Spirit are unmixed in their quality and free in their movements. Growth then becomes natural, rapid, and in harmony with the normal order of the soul.
- Growth in holiness is in measure, not in kind. This is an important distinction to be observed. Many people who do not have the experience of heart cleansing think we teach that “Christian perfection” means “absolute perfection.” It is a mistake. Only God is absolute. We are to have His kind of love and purity, but never His measure of these qualities. Entire sanctification is the completion of separating sin from the soul. It reaches the state of the heart, and cleanses away the inherited sin. Beyond that the act of sanctifying cannot go. Growth goes forward continuously. The work of sanctifying reaches an end and is complete. Sanctification and growth cannot therefore be the same.
- There is growth in knowledge. We are all undergraduates. We are in a state of progress as to all things to be learned which make for our peace. Increased light means wider ranges of experience, greater effectiveness in life’s practical duties, and higher octaves of enjoyment. Better acquaintance with Jesus brings sweeter and better realized companionship. Past victories bring renewed courage. Indeed all life’s on-going, when abiding in the order of God, is an ascending scale. “It shines more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18).
- Growth in holiness is reasonable and possible, because all our powers are improvable and our capacities expansive. God made us that way. One of the most unreasonable and silly objections made to holiness is that while in the enjoyment of the blessing one “cannot grow any more, or learn any more.” It is a libel on the nature that utters it. God makes no grace that fetters the soul in its progress, either in knowledge or love. We do not, even yet, know what we shall be.2 We scarcely touch the shores of our possibilities. Growth of knowledge is to be perpetual, and grace must keep pace with it. The experience of all wholly sanctified souls is that they never grew so fast in all their lives as since they entered into this grace. Their progress in divine life is marked, positive, radical, constant and permanent.
- Growth is demanded of us. The law of receiving is use or lose. In the use of grace we always find need for more grace. Love calls for more love. Faith calls for faith. One day’s work opens a field for more work than was done today. One meeting calls for another and the next for a half dozen. So we are to go from strength to strength—there is no standstill. The unused gift passes away, and the used gift always matures interest the longer we work the investment. On such a foundation Peter enlarges on the text he gives us at the close of his sermon. Compare 2 Peter 3:18 with 2 Peter 1:5-11.3
Growth In, Not Into, Holiness
Grow in grace,
and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
—2 Peter 3:18—
(Read also Leviticus 26:3-13.)4
The Apostle says, “Grow in grace.” We can grow in the use of it, in the measure of it, and in our love and enjoyment of it. Israel in Canaan serves as examples of all this. At first they scarcely knew what to do with themselves. They were in the land, it was theirs, it had fruit, and herds, and rich stores; but they had at first little or no access to, or benefit from, any of its resources. They were not used to its soil, or climate, or its ways of agriculture. Never had the generation fed on that kind of diet. It was all new to them. They had to learn how to use the blessings into which they had entered.
This is always true of persons entering the Canaan of perfect love. About all we knew at first was that we “were over” Jordan into God’s Promised Land. How new it all seemed! How new even the Bible was! How strange the world around us! We never had gone that way before. Beyond us, stretching away like the hills of Palestine before the Jewish armies, lay our untried years. Their unknown history contained wider ranges of experience and a world of unexpected testing and blessing. We were to learn by victory at our Jericho’s, and defeat at our Ai’s. We were indeed in a big country, and scarcely knew what to do with it. Growth in the knowledge of it, and growth as to how to use and enjoy it, were as yet unsolved problems. In fact “growth in grace and knowledge” were essential to possession.
The figure of crossing over into Canaan also teaches another lesson: namely, every Israelite knew that the entrance into Canaan was something very different from the entrance into the wilderness. It was not nor could it be the same. If any one of them insisted before Joshua that they made both the Red Sea and Jordan crossing at once, he would certainly have been considered very ignorant of geography, if nothing else. It is still so. No man acquainted with spiritual geography is “off” enough to claim the spiritual crossing at justification and sanctification are the same. The waters crossed are not the same. The countries on either side are not the same. The conditions of the people are entirely different. No foe followed at the fords of Jordan. At the Red Sea enemies were on both sides and the country was not theirs. At Jordan no enemies were in sight, and the hills on both sides were home fields of the promised land. The work, condition, and character of the people in the wilderness, and in Canaan, were very separate and distinct from each other. In the first instance, the people were going to Mt. Sinai, to learn. In the second they were going up into their real Canaan to conquer, occupy, and possess it. In the first they fed on the temporary manna; and in the second on “the old corn of the land” (Joshua 5:11,12).
No, no; the two crossings are not and never can be the same. Nor is the climate the same. So evident is this that one hardly need draw a contrast. And yet, even to this day, there are those so blind they cannot, or will not, acknowledge they see it.
Here also we find a complete answer to those who assert that “a soul in the experience of holiness can’t grow any more, has no further need of the means of grace,5 can’t pray the Lord’s prayer,” etc. If Israel had nothing to learn after crossing the Jordan, then there might be some excuse for such statements. If Israel had no need of the use of “means” at Jericho, Ai, and the battle of the kings, then might we stop to consider such objections. But how different is the history of life in the land! Our experience of holiness teaches us that we need the constant use of the means of grace. We need daily acquaintance with the land, and also experimential knowledge of how to live there. Canaan’s fruits are not the same as those which grew in Egypt. Its agriculture is different. Its climate is of a different order. These things are all true spiritually. Advanced knowledge is essential to life in the land. Holiness people who persist in dwelling by the Jericho fords never possess the land. Holiness means continued advance! There is no stand-still place, where there is nothing either to learn or to do; nor is there any spiritual health where no exercise is required. In the life of holiness, loaves of bread do not grow on trees, ready-made; nor the grapes yield their juices without the wine press. Means are as much in vogue in Canaan as in the wilderness. Holiness is no sinecure6 calling. Its law is “If any work not, neither let him eat.”7 Its very law demands growth in grace, use of means and honest toil. Without these it can never possess the goodly land of God’s inheritance. Holiness is intensely practical, active, rational. It requires reason, wisdom, strength and environment, each to yield their highest service. Its primal law is “grow in grace and knowledge.”8
Growth in knowledge implies growth in grace. It is a law of our being and of our order of being that we learn for some purpose. We learn to do, not simply to know. When we learn that which we do not turn into practice, God arranges that it is taken away. Knowledge and practice are twins that always go together, or else come to grief. So evident is this law, that we do not need to elaborate it here. The evident order of God for every soul is, Keep your walk up to the border of your light.
Another law of the soul’s nature and environment is that every legitimate aspiration and desire of the soul has for it an appropriate sphere and orbit. If we have love, there is something to love. If we have desire to learn, there is a field for the exercise of that gift. If there is the power to reverence, there is that to be revered. If there is ability to foresee danger and a desire and power to protect ourselves, then there is something to avoid. Is there endowment to appreciate, admire, enjoy, to go out beyond the bounds of the present, and power for conquest and enlargement? Then all these have their proper fields of operation and advancement.
Applying these laws to the newly converted soul, what do we find? We see power to love, and a God to love. We find need of knowledge, but with it a Bible is put into the hands. We find that person unskilled in the active duties of Christian living, but with a wide school for everyday practice. There are desires for more. There are actual possibilities of falling away and making total shipwreck of the faith.9 There are capacities for work, and a field for the same, and a great need of labor. We also find life begun, but that life yet in much feebleness. The outlines of the Divine image seem to be given with years of detail yet unwrought. There are great wants as yet incapable of being translated into expression. Like a babe in natural life, there is a canvas for a character, but the painter has not yet come. No colors are yet laid on. Not nearly all is there that will be, and yet the picture is begun. That canvas will not of itself grow into a face. It has nothing within it to make color out of, though it has a place for color to be put on. So a regenerate soul has the framework of a house, but there is as yet no completed home.
We want now to apply these principles to the subject in hand, that is, holiness. We make these observations:
- The very nature of the newly born soul demands progress and advance.
- Within it are the inborn desires for holiness, and outside are the means adapted to that end. This desire, and this external provision for its fulfillment are contemporary with its coming into life. In this sense, holiness begins with regeneration.
- The very impulse of this nature is to come into the full realization of all its desires and aspirations. It has love, and it wants the full enjoyment of the object of its devotion. So strong is its desire in this direction that it will instinctively oppose that which hinders it. The very moment, therefore, that it discovers the existence of carnality, there is a conflict. It matters not what theories of teaching the convert may have had, he will at once oppose the common enemy to his love of Jesus. It is the law of love to protect itself, and to oppose whatever endangers its interests. From its nature, every soul that loves God recognizes the carnal mind as enmity to that love, and at once prays for deliverance. All souls who come up out of Egypt expect to go into Canaan. They are brought out that they might be brought in. Thus it is that young converts, in their earliest love, instinctively want to go on into holiness, and never think of opposing it, till some renegade spy who has brought back “an ill report” prejudices their minds against it.
- Neither the inward desire, nor the inward life, is a creator; they are only makers. A Creator forms out of nothing that which has no existence. A maker is a manufacturer, fashioning what he desires out of material already created. The soul may want that which it has not, but it cannot create it. Its hope of obtaining what it desires lies in its relation to Him who can bring into existence that which is not. Thus it is that the soul itself cannot produce grace which it has not. It may use love so as to get more love, but it cannot create love. It may use the power to learn so as to gain more knowledge, but it cannot bring into being the ability to learn. It may use its gifts of sight to see its need of holiness, and yet in no way can it produce the grace, though through God’s help it may obtain it just as it received all the other graces it possesses, namely, as a bestowment of God’s love.
Hence, the newly converted soul sees plainly its need of holiness, but sees at the same time, lying directly in its pathway, the old snag of carnality. Its hope lies not in growing that old rock out of the channel, but in its cooperation with a power outside of itself which is mighty to save.
(Continued in Part 5)
- The text itself is public domain. The original book, How They Grow, was transcribed by Jim Kerwin, biographer of Isaiah Reid, and co-edited and emended with Denise Kerwin. Annotations and emendations are copyright © 2011 by Jim Kerwin along with his other contributions to the online, print, and e-book versions of Isaiah Reid's How They Grow. ↩
- The allusion is to 1 John 3:2. ↩
- The Apostle Peter ends his second epistle (“the close of his sermon,” as Isaiah puts it) by exhorting us to “Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). But he started building to that conclusion in the opening verses of his letter (1:5-11) by rallying us to diligently “add” things—to grow!— in our spiritual life:
5And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. 8For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9But he that lacks these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and has forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. 10Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: 11For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-11).
- Leviticus 26:3-13 —
3If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them; 4Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. 5And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. 6sup>And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land. 7And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. 8And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. 9For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish My covenant with you. 10And ye shall eat old store, and bring forth the old because of the new. 11And I will set My tabernacle among you: and My soul shall not abhor you. 12And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be My people. 13I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright.
- The “means of grace,” loosely defined, are the various corporate expressions (such as communion, baptism, and the preaching and teaching of God’s truth) and private disciplines (such as prayer, Bible reading, and fasting) which help us to grow in spiritual life. ↩
- Sinecure: a position or office that requires little or no work. The word was used initially of an ecclesiastical office that paid handsomely (a benefice), but required no effort (was sine cūrā, “without care”) on the part of the officeholder. From the 17th century Latin phrase beneficum sine cūrā. ↩
- The reference is to 2 Thessalonians 3:10. ↩
- An allusion to (and near quote of) 2 Peter 3:18. ↩
- The allusion is to 1 Timothy 1:19. ↩