The GOSPEL TRUTH
INSTRUCTIONS FOR YOUNG CONVERTS
by Charles G. Finney
[edited by William Allen]
GROWTH IN GRACE
Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. II Peter 3:18
The term "grace" is used in the Bible in several different senses. Grace, in God, is synonymous with beneficence. It is underserved favour. In men, grace means holiness; that is the sense in which it is used in the text; and to grow in grace is the same as to grow in holiness, or to increase in conformity to God.
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY GROWING IN GRACE.
To grow in grace is to increase in a spirit of conformity to the will of God, and to govern our conduct more and more by the same principles that God does. God has one great absorbing object which controls everything He does. It is the promotion of His own glory by seeking to fill the universe with holiness and happiness. He does this by exhibiting His own character. And our object should be the same: to exhibit the character of God more and more, to reflect as many of the rays of the image of God as possible. That is, we must aim constantly to be more and more like God. In other words, it is to obey more and more perfectly and constantly the law of God.
II. WHAT GROWTH IN GRACE DOES NOT MEAN.
It does not mean that gradual giving up of sin. Strange to tell, it would seem that some have so understood it; but we are nowhere in the Bible commanded to give up sin gradually, we are everywhere commanded to give it up instantly and wholly.
III. CONDITIONS OF GROWTH IN GRACE.
1. Growth or increase in anything implies a beginning. Growth in the favour of God implies that we have already found favour in His sight, that we are already indebted for grace received, and that we are already in grace, in the sense of having a place among His favoured ones.
2. Consequently, growth in grace implies that we have already repented of our sin, have actually and practically abandoned all known sin. It cannot be that we are in favour with God if we are still indulging in known sin against Him. Being in favour with God implies that we are pardoned and favoured by Him, for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Pardon is favour, and implies the renunciation of rebellion against God.
3. Growth in the knowledge of God is a condition of growth in His favour. We might grow in knowledge, without growing in His favour, because we might not love and trust Him in accordance with this increased knowledge. But we cannot love and trust Him more perfectly, unless we become more perfectly acquainted with Him. If our love and faith keep pace with our growing knowledge, we must grow in His favour.
4. Growth in the knowledge of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, must be a condition of growth in His favour. It is in and through Jesus Christ that we get the true idea of the personality of the infinite God.
5. Growth in grace is conditioned on increasing knowledge of what is involved in entire consecration to God. True conversion to God involves the consecration of ourselves and of all that we have to Him, so far as we understand what is implied in this. But, at first, converts are by no means aware of all that is involved in the highest forms of consecration. They will soon learn that there are certain things that they did not think of, and that they did not give up to God. At first, perhaps, all that was in their thought was to lay their naked soul upon the altar, and give up their whole heart to God. But soon they may learn that they did not think of all their possessions, of everything that was dear to them.
To gain such a knowledge is a work of time; and growth in the favour of God is conditioned on making a full surrender and consecration to God of everything we are, and have, and desire, and love, as fast as these objects are presented to thought.
6. Another condition of growth in grace is intense earnestness and constancy in seeking increased religious light by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. You will gain no effectual religious light except by the inward showing and teaching of the Holy Spirit. This you will not obtain unless you continue in the true attitude of a disciple of Christ. Remember, He says, "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple." Luke 14:13. He will not, by His Holy Spirit, be your Divine Teacher unless you renounce self, and live in a state of continual consecration to Him.
7. Another condition of growth in grace is a constant conformity to all the teachings of the Holy Spirit, keeping up with our convictions of duty and with our growing knowledge of the will of God.
8. A more and more implicit faith in God is a condition of growth in grace. By implicit, I mean an unreasoning faith, a confidence in God's character so profound that we trust Him in the dark as well as in the light, as well when we do not understand the reasons of His dealings with us, or of His requirements, as when we do; a faith like that of Abraham, who "staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief" Romans 4:20; though the thing promised seemed irrational and impossible.
9. A more thoroughly sanctified sensibility is a condition of growth in the favour of God. By the sensibility, I mean that department of our nature that feels and desires, to which belongs all that we call desire, affection, emotion, feeling, appetite, passion, propensity, lust. The sensibility is an involuntary power, and moral actions and qualities cannot, with strict propriety, be predicted of it. The states of the sensibility have moral character only as they derive it, directly or indirectly, from the action of the will.
The nature of man, as a whole, in his depraved condition, is in a very unlovely state, and although the will may be given up to God, the sensibility may be in such a state as to be very unlovely in the sight of One that looks directly upon it, and knows perfectly every excited desire, passion, propensity, lust. It is through the sensibility, mainly, that we are assailed with temptations. It is through this that the Christian warfare is kept up.
The Christian warfare consists in the battle of the will with these various appetites, passions, propensities, and lusts, to keep them in subjection to the will of God. If the will maintains its integrity, and cleaves to the will of God, the soul does not sin in its battle with the excited states of the sensibility. But these rebellious propensities embarrass the will in the service it renders to God. To keep them under, occupies much time, and thought, and strength. Hence the soul cannot render to God so complete a service, while exerting the full strength of the will to subjugate these propensities, as it otherwise might and would render.
These appetites, passions, and propensities, although not sinful in themselves, have been regarded and spoken of as indwelling sin. Strictly they cannot be sin, because they are involuntary. But they are often a great hindrance to our growth in the favour of God. "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." Gal. 5:17. This means that we cannot do for God what we otherwise would, because we have to battle so much with the states of the sensibility, to keep them under. As the sensibility becomes more and more subdued and in harmony with the will's devotion to God, we are left free to render to God a more unembarrassed service. Therefore, the more thorough the sanctification of the sensibility, the more thoroughly we are in favour with God.
10. A growing thoroughness and universality of consecration, of spirit, and body, is the condition of more and more growth in the favour of God. It is common, at first, for the steadfastness of the will's devotion to God to be overcome by the clamour of the excited appetites, passions, and propensities, or by the various states of the sensibility. Whenever the will yields to these excited states, you sin. But, in such cases, the sin is not willful, in the sense of being deliberate and intentional; it is rather a slip, an inadvertency, a momentary yielding under the pressure of highly excited feeling. Nevertheless, this yielding is sin.
11. Hence, the taking on of a greater fullness of the Divine nature is a condition of growth in the favour of God. Both the will and the sensibility of God must be in a state of utmost perfection and accord. All of His desires and feelings must be in perfect harmony with His intelligence and His will.
Not so with us, in our state of physical depravity. The depravity of the sensibility must be physical because it is involuntary. Still, it is depravity, it is a lapsed or fallen state of the sensibility. This lapsed department of our nature must be recovered, sanctified, or completely restored to harmony with a consecrated will, and an enlightened intelligence, or we are never fitted for heaven. As we become more and more the partakers of the Divine nature, and of the Divine holiness, we are more fully sanctified in spirit, soul, and body, and of course grow more and more in the favour of God.
12. A greater and more all-pervading fullness of the Holy Spirit's residence is another condition of growth in the favour of God. You cannot have it too thoroughly impressed upon you that every step in the Christian life is to be taken under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The thing to be attained is the universal teaching and guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that in all things you shall be led by the Spirit of God.
13. A deeper personal acquaintance with the Lord Jesus Christ, in all His official work and relations, is a condition of growth in grace. His nature, work, and relations are the theme of the Bible. The Bible presents Him to us in a great variety of relations. In my "Systematic Theology" I have considered some sixty or more of these official relations of Christ to the human race, and these are presented rather as specimens and illustrations than as covering the whole ground of His relations to us.
Now it is one thing to know Christ simply on paper, and as spoken of in the Bible, by reading or hearing of Him, and quite another thing to know Him personally, in these relations. The Bible is the medium of introduction to Him personally. What is there said of Him is designed to lead us to seek after a personal acquaintance with Him. It is by this personal acquaintance with Him that we are made like Him. It is by direct, personal intercourse with His mind that we take on His image.
Christ has promised to manifest Himself personally to those who love and obey Him. Do not stop short of securing this personal manifestation of Christ to your souls. Your growth in grace will depend upon this. Think not of stopping short of personally knowing Christ, not only in all these relations, but in the fullness of these relations.
Do not overlook the fact that the appropriation of Christ, in each of these relations, is a personal act of faith. It is a putting on of the Lord Jesus Christ, a taking of Him as yours, in each of these relations, as your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; as your Prophet to teach you, your King to govern you, your High Priest to atone for you, your Mediator, your Advocate, your Strength, your Saviour, your Hiding Place, your High Tower, your Captain and Leader, your Shield, your Defence, your Exceeding Great Reward. In each of these relations, and in all other of His official relations, you need to appropriate Him by faith so as to secure to you personal intercourse with Him in these relations. Growing in a personal acquaintance with Him, in these relations, is an indispensable condition of growth in His favour.
IV. SOME THINGS THAT ARE NOT PROOF OF GROWTH
1. Growth in knowledge is not conclusive evidence of growth in grace. Some degree of knowledge is indispensable to our being in favour with God; and growth in knowledge is a condition of growth in grace; but knowledge is not grace, and growth in knowledge does not constitute growth in grace. A person may grow ever so much in knowledge, and yet have no grace at all.
2. It is not certain evidence that an individual grows in grace, because he grows in gifts. A professor of religion may increase in gifts, that is, he may become more fluent in prayer, and more eloquent in preaching, or more pathetic in exhortation, without being any more holy.
3. It is not proof that a person grows in grace because he thinks he is doing so. If he keeps Christ before him, in His fullness, as his standard, he will doubtless always, at least in this state of existence, have but a low estimate of his own attainments. While at the same time, if he sets before himself the Church, or any member of the Church, as a standard, he will be very likely to form a high estimate of his progress in religion, and be very well satisfied with himself.
V. WHAT IS PROOF OF GROWTH IN GRACE
1. An individual who grows in grace is more and more actuated by principle, and less and less by emotion or feeling. I do not mean that such a person has less feeling, but that he acts less under the influence of feeling or emotion. He does things, less because he feels so, and more because it is right.
Converts should know that the way to call emotion or feeling into exercise, is to engage, from principle, in the performance of duty; and that whenever a man engages in the performance of duty from a regard to the authority of God, he may expect, in this way, to call into exercise those feelings for which young converts are so apt to wait. A growing regard to the authority of God, a strengthening of the purpose of obedience, a more firm and constant adherence to what is right, and to what God requires because it is right, at once constitutes, and is an evidence of, growth in grace.
2. Another important evidence of growth in grace is more love to God. By this I do not mean that there will be in all cases a conscious increase of emotions of love to God. But that there will be a strengthening of real attachment to God's character and government.
I do not mean by this that increasing love to God will lead individuals to use carnal weapons, in building up or defending His government; but that if they are true friends to God, the longer they live under His government, the more confidence they have in Him, and the more attachment to Him. This increased attachment will evince itself in a growing veneration for all the institutions of religion, for the Sabbath, and all the commands of God.
3. Another evidence of growth in grace is increased love to men as well as love to God. Growing Christians show by their lives that they become continually more and more inclined to do good to men. Young converts are apt to be chiefly influenced by a special and partial regard to individuals; their relations, or their former companions or neighbours.
As they increase in piety, they feel more and more a desire that the world should be converted to God. They have more and more heart-breaking agony at the dreadful state of men in their sins. And their views and affections rise and expand, until they feel like God: their bowels of compassion yearn for all men that they might repent and be saved.
4. Those who grow in grace feel more and more self-loathing. They have greater humility and self-abasement. I suppose the saints will increase in this to all eternity. I see nothing in this inconsistent with the happiness of heaven. To all eternity, as the ages roll round, the saints will feel constantly, more and more, how much they deserve to be sent to hell for their wickedness. Growing Christians more and more loathe themselves and wonder how God could have spared such wretches.
5. An increased abhorrence of sin is another mark of growth in grace. When a person feels day by day less and less disposed to compromise with sin, with any sin, in himself, or in others, it is a sign that he is growing in grace. Is it so with you, beloved? Have you daily less and less fellowship with sin in any shape, in yourself and in others? Do you feel more as God feels towards sin?
6. He who grows in grace has less relish for the world. He has less and less desire for its wealth, its honours, its pleasures. A desire for these has less and less influence, as a motive in his mind. He seeks wealth and honour only as instruments of glorifying God, and of doing good to men.
A person who is growing in grace becomes less and less desirous of worldly company and worldly conversation, and reading worldly books and newspapers. You see a growing Christian engaged in holiness, and you will find he will seize hold of the most spiritual books to read. He will love the company and conversation of the most spiritual Christians. He will relish, and if possible attend, the most pungent and searching spiritual preaching.
7. Increased delight in the fellowship of the saints, is another evidence of growth in grace. The growing Christian loves to unite with others in acts of devotion, and other religious exercises.
8. He who grows in grace finds it more and more easy to exercise a forgiving spirit, and to pray for his enemies. There is nothing in which men, who are in their natural state, more resemble the devil, than in their harbouring angry and revengeful feelings towards those who have injured them. If a person is growing in grace he will find it more and more easy to forgive, and that is costs him less trouble to get over supposed injuries, so as to be able to pray. Can you forgive the greatest injuries at once, so that nothing of the kind can come up between you and God to hinder your prayers?
9. Becoming more and more ready to bestow property is a sign of growth in grace. If a person is growing in grace he will be more and more ready to give, and willing to give ALL that is in his power. He will rejoice to be called on. He will give more and more yearly. If he gives from right motives he will be glad when he has given. And the more he gives the more he loves to give. His giving will be part of his religion, and he will grow in it just as in prayer.
10. He will feel less and less any separate interest. It is a great thing, in regard to growth in grace, to feel that all you have is Christ's, and that you have absolutely no separate interest in living, or in dying, or in holding property, or children, or character. This is a great and solemn lesson to learn. Persons who grow in grace feel that their time, talents, property, life itself, have value, only in their relation to Christ's kingdom.
11. It is an evidence of growth in grace when a person becomes more willing to confess faults to men. This is a point often hard to learn. Men are willing to confess to God, because they have not so far to stoop to do this. But to confess fully and frankly to men is a great stoop for a proud heart. But when they grow in grace, they would just as soon confess a fault, and confess it frankly, to a servant, or an enemy, or the lowest member of society, as to the most exalted individuals. Do you know this? If you cannot do this, be sure you are not growing in grace, if you have any grace.
12. Growing in grace raises a person more and more above the world. The growing saint regards less and less either the good or ill opinions of men.
13. If you grow in grace you must expect very frequent and agonizing conflicts with Satan. Satan has very little trouble with those Christians who are not spiritual, but lukewarm, and slothful, and worldly minded. And such do not understand what is said about spiritual conflicts. Perhaps they will smile when such things are mentioned. And so the devil lets them alone; they do not disturb him, nor he them. But spiritual Christians, he understands very well, are doing him a vast injury, and therefore he sets himself against them. Such Christians often have terrible conflicts. They have temptations that they never thought of before: blasphemous thoughts, atheism, suggestions to do deeds of wickedness, to destroy their own lives, and the like. And if you are spiritual, you may expect these terrible conflicts.
14. Another evidence of growth in grace, is an increasing weanedness from the world.
15. Less temptation to sins of omission, is another evidence of growth in grace.
16. A growing tranquility under sudden and crushing disasters and bereavements, is an evidence of growth in grace.
17. Less temptation to dwell upon, and to magnify our trials and troubles, to think of them, and speak of them to others, is evidence that we think less of self, and accept our trials and troubles with more and more complacency in God, and consider them as "light afflictions."
18. A growing and realizing confidence in the wisdom, benevolence, and universality of the providence of God, a state of mind that sees God in everything.
19. When we find ourselves more and more readily impressed and affected, quickened and stimulated by religious truth, and when we find an increasing harmony in the action of all our powers, intellectual, voluntary, and sensitive, in accepting, and resting in, the whole will and providence of God, however afflictive they may be at present, we have evidence that we are growing in grace.
20. A growing jealousy for the honour of God, for the purity and honour of His Church, for the rights of God, and for the rights of all men, is evidence of growing in conformity to God, and of growing in His favour.
VI. HOW TO GROW IN GRACE
1. Fulfill the conditions noticed under the third head of this lecture.
2. Young converts should watch against their besetting sins, such as levity. This is the besetting sin of many persons, and unless they place a tenfold watch at the door of their lips, they will never grow in grace. Once yielding to a spirit of levity may grieve the Holy Spirit and put out your light for a day; and giving way once, but makes way for a repetition; so that unless you begin with decision and continue with great prayer and watchings, to keep down the spirit of levity, you are undone.
3. Censoriousness. Young converts are particularly in danger of this. They enter upon religion full of ardour, and they are soon amazed at the coldness and apathy of old professors of religion. And so they are liable to say hard and censorious things about them.
But they ought to learn carefully to distinguish between the deep principles of ripe Christians, and the lively feelings of young converts. And whatever may be their sober judgment about the state of others, young converts ought to be very careful what they say of them. Do not speak censoriously of any; if you do, you grieve away the Holy Spirit, and you will not grow in grace.
4. Anger. How many Christians are injured by letting their temper rise. If they be women, they fret at their servants. Men fret at their clerks, or at those who are in their employment; or they get angry with the government, or with their neighbours; they go to finding fault in some way or other, that shows they do not watch their temper. How can they grow in grace?
5. Pride. Guard against pride and vanity in all their forms. Be very careful never to purchase an article of dress, or furniture, or anything calculated to foster vanity in your mind. Woman! You are going to buy a hat; be careful not to get one that will make you think of it when you wear it. Alas! how much pains some people take to foster their own bad passions. The devil might go to sleep in regard to some Christians; he has no need to lie in wait to tempt them &endash; they tempt themselves.
6. Selfishness in all its forms. Here is the great root of all the difficulty. This is the foundation, the fountain, the substance, and sum total, of all the iniquity under heaven. Watch here; look out constantly; see where self comes out in your conduct, and there set a guard. If you are making a bargain, see to it that you do not act from selfish motives. Deal just as you would if you were dying. Do as you would be done by.
7. Sloth. This is an evil enough to ruin the world. How many converts stop and decline by sloth. In plain terms, they get lazy; like idle servants, they saunter about as if they had nothing to do, they will not take hold of the work, they are mere eye-servants, unprofitable enough, a moth in the church.
8. Envy. If you see others going ahead of you in prosperity, in influence, in talents, examine your feelings, and see whether you are pleased at it. If the sight gives pain, beware!
9. Ambition. By this sin angels fell, and it is impossible to grow in grace without suppressing it.
10. Impure thoughts. We are so much under the influence of sensible objects, that unless we watch diligently, before we are aware, we are perverted with impure thoughts. It is necessary to make a covenant with our eyes, and with our ears too, and all our senses, or they will prove the inlet of temptation and sin. If you find yourself in danger, turn your thoughts away instantly.
11. Another direction for growing in grace is, take care to exercise all the Christian graces. Exercise yourself especially in those things where you find yourself most deficient.
12. Exercise decision of character. In nothing is decision of character so indispensable as in religion. To walk with God a man must walk contrary to the course of the world. He must face public sentiment and go abreast, not unfrequently, of the opinions of all the world, and nearly of all the church. If, on the one hand he can be awed by opposition, or, on the other, courted by smiles and flattery, he will be certain not to make headway, and stem the tide that is bearing him away from God. Very few persons exercise sufficient decision to maintain a spirit of prayer. No person can enjoy the spirit of prayer, who does not maintain a conscience void of offence, towards God and man. He must be willing to know, and do, all his duty.
A man must maintain great firmness of purpose, and great decision of character, to be undeviating in the performance of secret duties. Men are so apt to neglect secret prayer and private duties, when they do not at the time feel disposed to engage in them, that without uncommon energy of character, even the form of private duties will be more or less punctually attended to, according to the state of feeling in which the Christian finds himself at the time.
13. To grow in grace a man must possess great meekness. Meekness is patience under injuries. In such cases he must learn to possess his soul in patience. When he is reviled, he must learn not to revile again. And if he is persecuted, to threaten not.
14. Remember that every step of progress must be made by faith and not by works. Every step of progress in the Christian life is taken by a fresh and fuller appropriation of Christ by faith, a fuller baptism of the Holy Spirit.
VII. SOME THINGS THAT ARE EVIDENCES OF DECLENSION.
1. The person who grows weary of being asked to give for promoting the kingdom of Christ is evidently declining. He says, "Now I think I have given about enough, there seems to be no end to it, and I mean to stop; there are so many agents constantly begging, it is time to break it up." If you hear a man talk in that style, depend upon it he is either a hypocrite, and has never given from right motives at all, or he is a backslider, and is declining rapidly in piety.
2. Becoming backward to converse on the subject of religion, and particularly to converse on spiritual and experimental, and heart-searching points, is evidence of declension. Young converts, when they are in the ardour of their first love, delight to pour out their hearts in spiritual conversation; and when they lose their relish for this, you may be sure they are declining in piety.
3. When a person is less disposed to engage in the duties of devotion, public, social, or private, it is a sign of declension. If he does not love so well to pray, and read his Bible, and draw near to God, he must be declining in piety.
4. Taking more delight in public meetings than in secret communion with God, is another evidence of a declining state. Those who enjoy religion, enjoy themselves nowhere so well as in secret with God.
5. Feeling less delight in revivals of religion, is a sad token of declension. The young convert delights in revivals. How eagerly he seeks to know where there are revivals. How he dwells on such blessed outpouring of the Spirit of God. But when he declines in piety, he becomes less anxious to know about revivals.
6. A person that becomes captious about measures used in promoting revivals, is in a declining state. If you find yourself growing very much afraid of the measures that good men pursue, and that God owns and blesses, for promoting revivals, you are evidently declining.
VIII. HOW TO ESCAPE FROM A STATE OF DECLENSION.
1. You must admit the conviction that you are in a state of declension.
2. Apply to yourself all that God says to backsliders, just as if you were the only individual in the world in that condition.
3. Find out the point where you began to decline. See what was the first cause of your backsliding, and give that up. You will often find this first cause where you did not expect it, in some thing which you called a little matter, or that you tried to make yourself believe was not a sin.
God will always hold you at arm's length, and will frown upon you when you pray, unless you search out and remove the cause of your declension. Give up your idols.
4. Be careful to apply afresh to the Lord Jesus Christ, for pardon, and peace with God. Go to Him just as you did at first, as a guilty, condemned sinner, more deserving of hell than ever. Apply to this fountain, which is set open in the House of David for sin and uncleanness. Confess your sin fully, and forsake them, and thus return to God, and He will have mercy on you, and will heal your backslidings, and remember your iniquities no more.
See why revivals cease. When there is a revival, and Christians are awake, and get a certain point, and then are carried no further, the revival will cease of course. There are but few persons that grow in grace. I have no doubt that if persons would do as they might, and give the attention to it that they ought, the generality of professors of religion might grow more in six months than they do now in all their lives. If the church is kept advancing, the revival will not cease. If the instructions given, and the measures used, keep the church going ahead, and the young converts growing in grace, the revival will go on.
INSTRUCTIONS TO CONVERTS
Feed My lambs. John 21:15
These words were addressed by the Lord Jesus to Peter, after he had denied Him and had professed repentance. Probably one of the designs which Jesus had in view in suffering Peter to sin so awfully, was to produce a deeper work of grace in his heart, and thus fit him for the peculiar duty to which He intended to call him, in laying the foundations of the Christian Church, and watching over the spiritual interests of the converts.
In this lecture I am going to discuss the manner in which young converts should be treated, and the instructions which should be given to them.
I. SEVERAL IMPORTANT POINTS CONCERNING THE HOPES OF YOUNG CONVERTS.
1. Nothing should be said to them to create a hope. Nothing should ordinarily be intimated to persons under conviction, calculated to make them think they are converted.
It is best to let their hope or belief that they are converted spring up spontaneously in their own minds. Sometimes it will happen that persons may be really converted, but owing to some notions which they have been taught about religion they do not realize it. Their views of what religion is, and its effect upon the mind, are so entirely wide of the truth, that they do not think they have it. Suppose they do not see it at once; they break down lower than ever, and then they will come out so clear and decided, that they will know where they are.
2. When you see persons expressing a hope, and yet expressing doubts too, it is generally because the work is not thorough; they need breaking up. They are still lingering in the world, or they have not broken off effectually from their sins, and they need to be pushed back, rather than forward. If you see reason to doubt, or if you find that they have doubts, most probably there is some good reason to doubt.
Sometimes persons express a hope in Christ, and afterwards remember some sin that needs to be confessed to men; or some case where they have slandered, or defrauded, where it is necessary to make satisfaction, and where either their character, or their purse, is to be deeply implicated that they hesitate, and refuse to perform their duty. This grieves the Spirit, and brings darkness over their minds, and justly leads them to doubt whether they are truly converted.
If a soul is truly converted, it will generally be found where there are doubts, that on some point they are neglecting duty. They should be searched as with a lighted candle, and brought up to the performance of duty, and not suffered to think they are Christians until they do it. Ordinarily, it is proper just there to throw into their minds some plain and searching truth, that will go through them, something that will wither their hopes like a moth. Do it while the Spirit of God is dealing with the, and do it in a right way, and there is no danger of its doing harm.
By such a mode of treatment, I have often known people of the crookedest and most hateful natural character so transformed in the course of a few days, that they appeared like different beings. You would think that the work of a whole life of Christian cultivation had been done at once. Doubtless this was the intent of the Savior's dealing with Peter.
II. SOME POINTS CONCERNING MAKING A PROFESSION OF RELIGION.
1. Young converts should, ordinarily, offer themselves to some church of Christ immediately. They should not wait. If they set out in religion by waiting, most likely they will always be waiting, and never do anything to much purpose. If they are taught to wait under conviction, before they give themselves to Christ; or if they are taught to wait after conversion, before they give themselves publicly to God by joining the Church, they will probably go halting and stumbling along all their lives. The first thing they should be taught always is, never wait when God has pointed out your duty.
2. Sometimes persons who are known to entertain a hope, dare not make a profession of religion for fear they should be deceived. I always deal decidedly with such cases. A hope that will not warrant a profession of religion is manifestly worse than no hope, and the sooner it is torn away the better. Shall a man hope he loves God, and yet dares not obey Jesus Christ? Preposterous! Such a hope had better be given up at once.
III. THE IMPORTANCE OF GIVING RIGHT INSTRUCTIONS TO YOUNG CONVERTS.
Ordinarily, their Christian character through life is moulded and fashioned according to the manner in which they are dealt with when first converted. There are many who have been poorly taught at first, but have been afterwards reconverted, and if they are then properly dealt with, they may make good.
But the proper time to do this is when they are first brought in, when their minds are soft and tender, and easily yield to the truth. Then they may be led by a slender thread, if they think it is the truth of God. And whatever notions in religion they then get, they are apt to cleave to forever afterwards.
IV. SOME THINGS WHICH SHOULD NOT BE TAUGHT TO YOUNG CONVERTS
1. "You will not always feel as you do now." When the young convert is rejoicing in his Savior, and determining to live for the glory of God and the good of mankind, how often he is told this. Thus preparing his mind to expect that he shall backslide, and to not be much surprised if he does. This is just the way the devil wants young converts dealt with: to have older Christians tell them, "Your feelings will not last, by and by, you will be as cold as we are." It has made my heart bleed to see it.
Such doctrine as this is the very last thing that should be taught to young converts. They should be told that now they have only begun the Christian life, and that their religion is to consist in going on in it. They should be taught to go forward all the time, and grow in grace continually. Do not teach them to taper off their religion. "The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more to the perfect day." Now, whose path is that which groweth dimmer and dimmer until the perfect night?
2. "Wait until you get strength, before you take up the cross." This is applied to various religious duties. Sometimes it is applied to prayer, as if prayer were a cross. I have known young converts to be advised not to attempt to pray in their families, or in meetings. "Wait until you get strength." Just as if they could get strength without exercise. Strength comes by exercise. You cannot get strength by lying still. To talk to a convert about neglecting Christian action until he gets strength, is absurd. If he wants to gain strength, let him get to work.
3. Young converts should not be made sectarian in their feelings. They should not be taught to dwell upon sectarian distinctions, or to be sticklish about sectarian points. They ought to examine these points at a proper time, and in a proper way, and make up their minds for themselves, according to their importance. But they should not be taught to dwell upon them, or to make much of them in the outset of their religious life. Otherwise there is great danger that their whole religion will run into sectarianism. I have seen most sad and melancholy exhibitions of the effect of this upon young converts.
V. SOME THINGS WHICH SHOULD BE TAUGHT TO YOUNG CONVERTS.
1. Young converts should be taught to distinguish between emotion and principle in religion. Do you understand me? I am going to explain what I mean, but I want you to get hold of the words, and to have them fixed in your minds.
By emotion, I mean that state of mind of which we are conscious, and which we call feeling: an involuntary state of mind that arises naturally when we are in certain circumstances or under certain influences. There may be highly wrought feelings, or they may subside into tranquility, or disappear entirely. But these emotions should be carefully distinguished from religious principle.
By principle, I do not mean any substance or root or seed implanted in the soul. But I mean the voluntary decision of the mind, the firm determination to do one's duty, and to obey the will of God, by which a Christian should always be governed.
When a man is fully determined to obey God, because it is right he should obey God: I call that principle. Whether he feels any lively religious emotion at the time or not, he will do his duty cheerfully, and readily, and heartily, whatever may be the state of his feelings. This is acting upon principle and not from emotion.
Young converts should be carefully taught, when duty is before them to do it. However dull your feelings may be, if duty calls, DO IT. Most likely the very emotions for which you wait will spontaneously arise when you begin to do your duty. If the duty be prayer, for instance, and you have not the feelings you would wish, do not wait for emotions before you pray, but pray, and in doing it you are most likely to have the emotions for which you were inclined to wait, and which constitute the conscious happiness of religion.
2. Young converts should be taught that in turning to God, they have renounced the ownership of all their possessions, and of themselves, or if they have not done this they are not Christians. They should not be left to think that anything is their own: time, property, influence, faculties, bodies or souls. "Ye are not your own." All belongs to God.
When they submitted to God, they made a full surrender of all to Him, to be ruled and disposed of at His pleasure. They have no right to spend one hour as if their time were their won. No right to go anywhere, or to do anything, for themselves, but should hold all at the disposal of God, and employ all for the glory of God. If they do not, they ought not to call themselves Christians, for the very idea of being a Christian is to renounce self and become entirely consecrated to God.
3. Teach them to cultivate a tender conscience. I have often been amazed to find how little conscience there is, even among those we hope are Christians. And here we see the reason of it; their consciences were never cultivated. They have not even a natural conscience. They have dealt so rudely with their conscience, and resisted it so often, that it has got blunted, and does not act.
It is astonishing to see how much the conscience may be cultivated by a proper course. If rightly attended to, it may be made so pure, and so powerful, that it will always respond exactly to the Word of God. Present any duty to such a Christian, or any self-denial, or suffering, and only show him the Word of God, and he will do it without an objection. In a few months, if properly taught and attended to, young converts may have a conscience so delicately poised that the weight of a feather will turn it. Only bring a "Thus saith the Lord," and they will always be ready to do that, be it what it may.
4. Young converts should be taught to pray without ceasing. That is, they should always keep a watch over their minds, and be all the time in a prayerful spirit. They should be taught to pray always, whatever may take place. For the want of right instruction of this point many young converts suffer loss and get far away from God.
Sometimes it happens that a young convert will fall into some sin, and then he feels that he cannot pray, and instead of overcoming this, he feels so distressed that he waits until the keen edge of his distress passes away. Instead of going right to Jesus in the midst of his agony, and confessing his sin out of the fullness of his heart, and getting a renewed pardon, and peace restored, he waits until all the keenness of his feelings has subsided, and then his repentance, if he does repent, is cold and halfhearted. Let me tell you beloved, never do this; but when your conscience presses you, go then to Christ, confess your sin fully, and pour out your heart to God, and the Spirit may come upon you at once, and lead your heart out in prayer, and all the dark clouds will pass away.
5. Young converts should be faithfully warned against adopting a false standard in religion. They should not be allowed to fall in behind the old professors of religion, or to keep them before their minds as a standard of holy living. They should always look at Christ as their model. Not just aiming at being a good Christian as the old church members; but they should aim at being holy, and not rest satisfied until they are as perfect as God. The Church has been greatly injured for want of attention to this matter.
6. They must be taught not to aim at comfort, but usefulness in religion. There are a great many spiritual epicures in the churches, who are all the while seeking to be happy in religion, while they are taking very little pains to be useful. They much rather spend their time in singing joyful hymns, and pouring out their happy feelings in a gushing tide of exultation and triumph, then to spend it in agonizing prayer for sinners, or in going about and pulling dying men out of the fire. They seem to feel as if they were born to enjoy themselves. But I do not think that such Christians show such fruits as to make their example one to be imitated.
Such was not the temper of the apostles, they travailed for souls, and laboured in weariness and painfulness, and in deaths oft, to save sinners. Ordinarily, Christians are not qualified to drink deeply at the fountain of joy. In ordinary cases, a deep agony of prayer for souls is more profitable than high flights of joy. Let young converts be taught plainly not to calculate upon a life of joy and triumph. They may be called to go through fiery trials; Satan may sift them like wheat. They must go forward, not calculating so much to be happy as to be useful; not talking about comfort but duty; not desiring flights of joy and triumph, but hungering and thirsting after righteousness; not studying how to create new flights of rapture, but how to know the will of God and do it. They will be happy enough in heaven. There they may sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb. And they will in fact enjoy a more solid and rational happiness here, by patiently devoting themselves to do the will of God.
7. They must learn to say, NO! This is a very difficult lesson to many. See that young woman; formerly she loved the gay circle, and took delight in its pleasures; she joined the church, and then found herself aloof from all her old associates. They ask her not now to their balls and parties, because they know she will not join them; and perhaps they keep entirely away for a time, for fear she should converse with them about their souls.
But, by and by, they grow a little bold, and some of them venture to ask her just to take a ride with a few friends. She does not like to say, No! They are her old friends, only a few of them are going, and surely a ride is so innocent a recreation, that she accepts the invitation. But now she has begun to comply, the ice is broken, and they have her again as one of them.
It goes on, and she begins to attend their social visits, "Only a few friends, you know," until by and by, the carpet is taken up for a dance; and the next thing, perhaps, she is gone to a sleigh ride on a Saturday night, and comes home after midnight, and then sleeps all the forenoon on the Sabbath to make up for it, perhaps Communion Sabbath too. All for the want of learning to say, No! Go a little further without learning to say, No! and you are undone. If you do not wish to hang up the cause of Christ to scorn and contempt, learn to resist the beginnings of temptation.
8. It is of great importance that young converts should be taught to be strictly honest. I mean more by this than perhaps you think. It is a great thing to be strictly honest. It is being very different from the world at large, and different even from the great body of professors of religion. The holiest man I ever knew, and one who had been many years a Christian and a minister, once made the remark to me, "Brother, it is a great thing to be strictly honest, upright, straight in everything, so that God's pure eye can see that your mind is perfectly upright." Alas, alas! how little conscience there is. How little of that real honesty, that pure, simple uprightness, which ought to mark the life of a child of God.
9. Teach them that religion does not consist in raptures, or ecstasies, or high flights of feeling. There may be a great deal of these where there is religion; but it ought to be understood that they are all involuntary emotions, and may exist in full power where there is no religion. They may be the mere workings of the imagination, without any truly religious affection at all. I have known one person almost carried away with raptures, by a mere view of the natural attributes of God, His power and wisdom, and yet the person had no religion. Religion is obedience to God, the voluntary submission of the soul to the will of God.
10. They should be made to understand that nothing which is selfish is religion. Whatever desires they may have, and whatever choices and actions they may put forth, if, after all, the reason of them is selfish, there is no religion in them.
Nothing is acceptable to God, as religion, unless it be performed heartily, to please God. No outward action has anything good, or anything that God approves, unless it is performed from right motives and from the heart.
Young converts should be taught fully and positively that all religion consists in obeying God from the heart. All religion consists in voluntary action. All that is holy, all that is lovely in the sight of God, all that is properly called religion, consists in voluntary action, in voluntarily obeying the will of God from the heart.
11. Young converts should be taught that the duty of self-denial is one of the leading features of the Gospel. They should understand that they are not pious at all, any further than they are willing to take up the cross daily, and deny themselves for Christ.
Jesus Christ exercised self-denial to save sinners. God the Father exercised self-denial in giving His Son to die for us, and in sparing us, and in bearing with our perverseness. The Holy Ghost exercises self-denial in condescending to strive with such unholy being to bring them to God. The angels exercise self-denial in watching over this world. The apostles planted the Christian religion among the nations by the exercise of self-denial. And are we to think of being religious without any self-denial.
12. Young converts, by proper instructions, are easily brought to be "temperate in all things." Yet this is a subject which is greatly neglected in regard to converts, and is almost lost sight of in the churches. There is a vast amount of intemperance in the churches. I do not mean intemperate drinking, in particular, but intemperance in eating, and in living generally. There is in fact but little conscience about it in the churches, and therefore the progress of reform in the matter is so slow. Until Christians have a conscience on this subject, and be made to feel that they have no right to be intemperate in anything, they will make but little progress in religion.
13. They should be taught to have just as much religion in all their business, as they have in prayer, or in going to meeting. They should be just as holy, just as watchful, aim just as singly at the glory of God, be just as sincere and solemn, in all their daily employments, as when they come to the throne of grace. If they are not, their Sabbath performances will be an abomination.
14. They should aim at being perfect. Every young convert should be taught, that if it is not his purpose to live without sin, he has not yet begun to be religious. What is religion but a supreme purpose of heart or disposition to obey God? If there is not this, there is no religion at all. If any are prepared to say they are perfect, let them prove it. If they are so, I believe they will show it by their actions, otherwise we can never believe they are perfect.
But it is the duty of all to aim at being perfect. It should be their constant purpose to live wholly to God, and obey all His commandments. They should live so, that if they should sin it would be an exception, an individual case, in which they act contrary to the fixed and general purpose and tenor of their lives. They ought not to sin at all, they are bound to be as holy as God is; and young converts should be taught to set out in the right course, or they will never be right.
15. They should be taught to exhibit their light. If the young convert does not exhibit his light, and hold it up to the world, it will go out. Let him use what he has; let him hold up his little twinkling rush-light, boldly and honestly, and then God will pour in the oil and make him like a blazing torch. But God will not take the trouble to keep a light burning that is hidden. Why should He? What is the use?
16. They should be taught how to win souls to Christ. Converts should be taught particularly what to do for this, and how to do it; and then be taught to live for this end as the great leading object of life. The great object for which Christians are converted and left in this world, is, to pull sinners out of the fire. If they do not effect this, they had better be dead. Young converts should be taught this as soon as they are born into the kingdom of God.
VI. HOW YOUNG CONVERTS SHOULD BE TREATED BY THE CHURCH.
1. Old professors of religion ought to be able to give converts a great deal of instruction, and they ought to give it.
2. Young converts should not be kept back behind the rest of the church. How often it is found that old professors of religion will keep the young converts back behind the rest of the church, and prevent them from taking any active part in religion, for fear they should become spiritually proud. Whereas, the very way to make young converts humble and keep them so, is to put them to their work and keep them there. That is the way to keep God with them, and as long as He is with them, He will take care of their humility.
3. They should be watched over by the church, and warned of their dangers, just as a tender mother watches over her young children. Young converts do not know the dangers by which they are surrounded; the devices of the devil, the temptations of the world, the power of their own passions and habits, and the thousand forms of danger they do not know; and if not properly watched and warned, they will run right into danger.
4. Be tender in reproving them. When Christians find it necessary to reprove young converts, they should be exceedingly careful of their manner in doing it.
Many persons, under pretence of being faithful, as they call it, often hurt young converts by such a severe and overbearing manner, as to drive them away, or perhaps crush them into despondency and apathy. Young converts have but little experience, and are easily thrown down. They are just like a little child when it first begins to walk. The churches ought to take up every stumbling-block, and treat them in such a way as to make them see that if they are reproved Christ is in it, and then they will receive it as it is meant, and it will do them good.
VII. SOME OF THE EVILS OF DEFECTIVE INSTRUCTION.
1. If not fully instructed, converts will never be fully grounded in right principles. If they have right fundamental principles, this will lead them to adopt a right course of conduct in all particular cases. In forming a Christian character, a great deal depends on establishing those fundamental principles which are correct on all subjects.
2. If young converts are rightly instructed and trained, it will generally be seen that they will take the right side on all the great subjects that come before the church. It is curious to see how ready young converts are to take right ground, on any subject that may be proposed. See what they are willing to do for the education of ministers, for missions, moral reform, for the slaves. If the great body of converts from the late revivals had been well grounded in Gospel principles, you would have found in them throughout the churches, but one heart and one soul in regard to every question of duty that occurs. Let their early education be right, and you have got a body of Christians that you can depend on. If this had been general in the Church, how much more strength there would have been in all her great movements for the salvation of the world.
3. If young converts are not well instructed they will inevitably backslide. If their instruction is defective, they will probably live in such a way as to disgrace religion. The truth, kept steadily before the mind of a young convert, in proper proportions, has a natural tendency to make him grow up into the fullness of the stature of a perfect man in Jesus Christ. If any one point is made too prominent in the instruction given, there will probably be just that disproportion in his character.
The Church is guilty for her past neglect in regard to the instruction of young converts. Instead of bringing them up to be working Christians, churches have generally acted as if they did not know how to employ young converts, or what use to make of them. If the Church had only done her duty in training up young converts to work and labour for Christ, the world would have been converted long ago.
Young converts should be trained to labour for Christ, just as carefully as young recruits in any army are trained for war. Suppose a captain in the army should get his company enlisted, and then take no more pains to teach, train, and discipline them, than are taken by many pastors to train and lead forward their young converts. Why, the enemy would laugh at such an army. Call them soldiers? Why, as to any effective service, they don't know what to do nor how to do it, and if you bring them up to the CHARGE, where are they? Such an army would resemble the church that does not train her young converts. Instead of being trained to stand shoulder to shoulder, they feel no practical confidence in their leaders, no confidence in themselves, and they scatter at the first shock of battle.
And so it must continue, until the Church shall train up young converts to be intelligent, single-hearted, self-denying, working Christians. The plan is to train a body of devoted Christians, who know how to pray, and how to converse with people about their souls, and how to attend anxious meetings, and deal with enquirers, and how to SAVE SOULS.
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