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History Column

Growth in Grace

Dr. Ch.Finney

1. When an individual finds he has more singleness of heart and more purity of motive in his conduct, it is evidence that he is growing in grace. I will explain what I mean. Even religious men are apt to be influenced in their conduct by a variety of motives, and some of them may be merely selfish. These motives together make up the complex whole that influences the individual to do a certain act. For instance, suppose a man is asked to give money to build a church in some particular place. He may have a variety of reasons for doing it. He may wish to see a more respectable house there on some account, or it may be so located that if built it will increase the value of his property, or he wishes to be thought liberal, or it may be an object with him to obtain the favor of that church and people. All or any of these may have some influence in determining his mind, and still, after all, a motive of greater weight than the whole may be a desire to save souls and to build up the kingdom of God. Here it is easy to see that some of the considerations which make up the complex whole, are selfish, and so far are wrong and wicked. Now sinners are only selfish in all that they do. And when men are converted, although their leading object is to glorify God and save souls, yet when they are young in the Christian life, and weak in religion, ignorance and the force of habit will still keep them more or less under the influence of private considerations, and they will be exceedingly apt to perform right things from wrong motives. To grow in grace is to grow in purity of motive, more and more to exclude selfish reasons, and to act more exclusively from a regard to the glory of God.
You that are here can tell whether from year to year your motives are more single, more pure, more free from selfishness. How is it? Are you growing more and more free from selfishness? Do you act more with a single reference to God’s glory, leaving self more and more out of view?
2. 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. By principle, I do not mean a seed, or sprout or root, or any thing created and put into the soul. It is all nonsense to talk about such a kind of holiness, or such a principle as that. By principle in contradistinction from feeling or emotion, I mean a controlling determination in the mind to do right.
Young Converts are seldom actuated at first so much by principle, but are borne along by the tide of their feelings, and unless they feel deeply, it is sometimes difficult to get them to act as they ought. But if they grow in grace, they will learn to go forward, and obey the commandments of God, whatever their feelings may be. Young converts are apt to imagine that all religion consists in emotion or feeling, and that whatever regard a man may have to the authority of God, however much regard he may have to what is right, still his conduct is not acceptable unless it be done under the full tide of emotion. He will therefore often wait till these emotions first exist in his mind, before he addresses himself to the performance of duty. But 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.
3. 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. This may be illustrated by the operation of a growing attachment to our country, or to our families. Very young people are apt to have but little love for their country. But as they grow older, and have more experience, if the government is good, their attachment to it increases, until in the decline of life you will see an aged patriot with his crutch and his gun, ready to turn out and hobble to the field of battle, to repel the invaders of his country’s peace.
I do not mean by this that increasing love to God leads individuals to use carnal weapons, in either 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. And this increased attachment will evince itself in a growing veneration for all the institutions of religion, for the Sabbath, and for all the commands of God.
It is true, where there is growth in principle, there is commonly a proportionate increase of feeling. But this is not always so. There may be various causes for the mind’s exercising less of felt emotion, while it actually increases in the strength of holy principle. But let there be no mistake on this subject. I have said that by principle I mean a regard to what is right, and a fixed determination to do that which is duty. Let no one say, therefore, while he neglects his duty, and his heart is cold, that he is growing in principle, although he has less feeling than others. To grow in principle is to grow in obedience. And it is in vain for a man who neglects his duty, to profess to be growing in grace. 

(To be continued)