The Christianity which I call fruit-bearing, that which shows its Divine origin by its blessed effects on mankind – the Christianity which you may safely defy unbelievers to explain away – that Christianity is a very different thing. Let me show you some of its leading marks and features.
(1) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always taught the inspiration, sufficiency, and supremacy of Holy Scripture. It has told people that God’s Word written is the only trustworthy rule of faith and practice in religion, that God requires nothing to be believed that is not in this Word, and that nothing is right which contradicts it. It has never allowed reason, a person’s mind, or the voice of the Church, to be placed above, or on a level with Scripture. It has steadily maintained that, however imperfectly we may understand it, the Old Book is meant to be the only standard of life and doctrine.
(2) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always taught fully the sinfulness, guilt and corruption of human nature. It has told people that they are born in sin, deserve God’s wrath and condemnation, and are naturally inclined to do evil. It has never allowed that men and women are only weak and pitiable creatures, who can become good when they please, and make their own peace with God. On the contrary, it has steadily declared a person’s danger and vileness, and their pressing need of a Divine forgiveness and satisfaction for their sins, a new birth or conversion, and an entire change of heart.
(3) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always set before people the Lord Jesus Christ as the chief object of faith and hope in religion, as the Divine Mediator between God and humanity, the only source of peace of conscience, and the root of all spiritual life. It has never been content to teach that He is merely our Prophet, our Example, and our Judge. The main things it has ever insisted on about Christ are the atonement for sin He made by His death, His sacrifice on the cross, the complete redemption from guilt and condemnation by His blood, His victory over the grave by His resurrection, His active life of intercession at God’s right hand, and the absolute necessity of simple faith in Him. In short, it has made Christ the Alpha and the Omega in Christian theology.
(4) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always honored the Person of God the Holy Spirit, and magnified His work. It has never taught that all professing Christians have the grace of the Spirit in their hearts, as a matter of course, because they are baptized, or because they belong to the Church, or because they partake of Holy communion. It has steadily maintained that the fruits of the Spirit are the only evidence of having the Spirit, and that those fruits must be seen, – that we must be born of the Spirit, led by the Spirit, sanctified by the Spirit, and feel the operations of the Spirit, – and that a close walk with God in the path of His commandments, a life of holiness, charity, self-denial, purity, and zeal to do good, are the only satisfactory marks of the Holy Spirit.
Summary ► Such is true fruit-bearing Christianity. Well would it have been for the world if there had been more of it during the last nineteen centuries! Too often, and in too many parts of Christendom, there has been so little of it, that Christ’s religion has seemed extinct, and has fallen into utter contempt. But just in proportion as such Christianity as I have described has prevailed, the world has benefited, the unbeliever has been silenced, and the truth of Divine revelation been acknowledged. The tree has been known by its fruit.
a. One mark of growth in grace is increased humility. The man whose soul is growing feels his own sinfulness and unworthiness more every year. He is ready to say with Job, "I am vile," and with Abraham, "I am dust and ashes," and with Jacob, "I am not worthy of the least of all Your mercies," and with David, "I am a worm," and with Isaiah, "I am a man of unclean lips," and with Peter, "I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Job 40:4; Gen. 18:27; 32:10; Ps. 22:6; Isa. 6:5; Luke 5:8). The nearer he draws to God and the more he sees of God’s holiness and perfections, the more thoroughly is he sensible of his own countless imperfections. The further he journeys in the way to heaven, the more he understands what Paul meant when he says, "I am not already perfect," "I am not meet to be called an apostle," "I am less than the least of all saints," "I am chief of sinners" (Phil. 3:12; 1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:8; 1 Tim. 1:15). The riper he is for glory, the more, like the ripe corn, he hangs down his head. The brighter and clearer is his light, the more he sees of the shortcomings and infirmities of his own heart. When first converted, he would tell you he saw but little of them compared to what he sees now. Would anyone know whether he is growing in grace? Be sure that you look within for increased humility.
b. Another mark of growth in grace is increased faith and love towards our Lord Jesus Christ. The man whose soul is growing finds more in Christ to rest upon every year and rejoices more that he has such a Savior. No doubt he saw much in Him when first he believed. His faith laid hold on the atonement of Christ and gave him hope. But as he grows in grace, he sees a thousand things in Christ of which at first he never dreamed. His love and power, His heart and His intentions, His offices as Substitute, Intercessor, Priest, Advocate, Physician, Shepherd and Friend, unfold themselves to a growing soul in an unspeakable manner. In short, he discovers a suitableness in Christ to the wants of his soul, of which the half was once not known to him. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increased knowledge of Christ.
c. Another mark of growth in grace is increased holiness of life and conversation. The man whose soul is growing gets more dominion over sin, the world and the devil every year. He becomes more careful about his temper, his words and his actions. He is more watchful over his conduct in every relation of life. He strives more to be conformed to the image of Christ in all things and to follow Him as his example, as well as to trust in Him as his Savior. He is not content with old attainments and former grace. He forgets the things that are behind and reaches forth unto those things which are before, making "Higher!" "Upward!" "Forward!" "Onward!" his continual motto (Phil. 3:13). On earth he thirsts and longs to have a will more entirely in unison with God’s will. In heaven the chief thing that he looks for, next to the presence of Christ, is complete separation from all sin. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increased holiness.
d. Another mark of growth in grace is increased spirituality of taste and mind. The man whose soul is growing takes more interest in spiritual things every year. He does not neglect his duty in the world. He discharges faithfully, diligently and conscientiously every relation of life, whether at home or abroad. But the things he loves best are spiritual things. The ways and fashions and amusements and recreations of the world have a continually decreasing place in his heart. He does not condemn them as downright sinful, nor say that those who have anything to do with them are going to hell. He only feels that they have a constantly diminishing hold on his own affections and gradually seem smaller and more trifling in his eyes. Spiritual companions, spiritual occupations, spiritual conversation appear of ever–increasing value to him. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increasing spirituality of taste.
f. One more mark of growth in grace is increased zeal and diligence in trying to do good to souls. The man who is really growing will take greater interest in the salvation of sinners every year. Missions at home and abroad, efforts of every kind to spread the gospel, attempts of any sort to increase religious light and diminish religious darkness—all these things will every year have a greater place in his attention. He will not become "weary in well–doing" because he does not see every effort succeed. He will not care less for the progress of Christ’s cause on earth as he grows older, though he will learn to expect less. He will just work on, whatever the result may be—giving, praying, preaching, speaking, visiting, according to his position—and count his work its own reward. One of the surest marks of spiritual decline is a decreased interest about the souls of others and the growth of Christ’s kingdom. Would anyone know whether he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increased concern about the salvation of souls.
Christ is our life; and our growth in spiritual life is Christ increasing within us. It is as utterly impossible to cherish a holy desire, to conceive a heavenly thought, to perform a good action, to conquer a single infirmity, or to baffle a solitary temptation, apart from a direct communication with Christ; as for the lungs to expand without air, or light to exist without the Sun. Oh, yes! Christ is increasingly precious to the believer. The absence from His beatific presence- distance from His blest abode- the vicissitudes of life- the fluctuations of time- the advance of infirmities- the increase of anxieties and cares- and the formation of new friendships, do not render the Savior less precious to the believing soul.
Other objects often lose their attraction, their desire to interest, or their power to charm us, by the lapse of years; but JESUS is that glorious object who grows more precious to the heart in time, as His capacity unfolds of making us supremely happy; and in eternity will become increasingly the object of our love, and the theme of our song, and the source of our bliss, as growing ages unveil His loveliness, His glory, and His grace!
Beloved reader, is Jesus increasingly precious to your soul? Each day's history, each day's trial, each day's sin, each day's need, should endear the Savior to your heart, because in each and all of those circumstances you should have direct and close dealings, daily and personal transactions, with Christ! You cannot cultivate an intimacy with Christ and not be enamored of His beauty, charmed with His graciousness, and absorbed with His love!
Be cautioned against an eclipse of the Savior! Let no object come between your heart and Christ! Do not be presumptuous when in high spiritual frames, nor be depressed when in low ones. Do not let your conscious shortcomings, failures, and stumblings estrange your affections from Jesus. Nor allow pride or carelessness to insinuate itself, if the Lord confers upon you some especial favor or proof of His regard.
I ask whether it is wise to speak of faith as the one thing needful, and the only thing required, as many seem to do nowadays in handling the doctrine of sanctification. Is it wise to proclaim in so bold, naked, and unqualified a way as many do that the holiness of converted people is by faith only, and not at all by personal exertion? Is it according to the proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it.
That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness; that the first step towards a holy life is to believe on Christ; that until we believe we have not a jot of holiness; that union with Christ by faith is the secret of both beginning to be holy and continuing holy; that the life that we live in the flesh, we must live by faith in the Son of God; that faith purifies the heart; that faith is the victory which overcomes the world; that by faith the elders obtained a good report—all these are truths which no well instructed Christian will ever think of denying. But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith. The very same apostle who says in one place, “the life that I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,’ says in another place, “I Fight,” “I run,” “I keep under my body”; and in other places, “let us cleanse ourselves,” “Let us labor,” “Let us lay aside every weight.”
Moreover, the Scriptures nowhere teach us that faith sanctifies us in the same sense and in the same manner that faith justifies us! Justifying faith is a grace that “worketh not,’ but simply trusts, rests, and leans on Christ (Rom. 4:5). Sanctifying faith is a grace of which the very life is action: it worketh by love,” and, like a mainspring, moves the whole inward man” (Gal. 5:6).
Without controversy, in the matter of our justification before God, faith in Christ is the one thing needful. All that simply believe are justified. Righteousness is imputed “to him that worketh not but believeth” (Rom. 4:5). It is thoroughly scriptural and right to say, “Faith alone justifies.” But it is not equally scriptural and right to say, “Faith alone sanctifies.” The saying requires very large qualification. Let one fact suffice. We are frequently told that a man is “justified by faith without the deeds of the law” by St. Paul. But not once are we told that we are “sanctified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
I must deprecate, and I do it in love, the use of uncouth and newfangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification. I plead that a movement in favour of holiness cannot be advanced by new-coined phraseology, or by dis-proportioned and one-sided statements, or by over-straining and isolating particular texts, or by exalting one truth at the expense of another…and squeezing out of them meanings which the Holy Ghost never put in them… The cause of true sanctification is not helped, but hindered, by such weapons as these. A movement in aid of holiness which produces strife and dispute among God’s children is somewhat suspicious. ~ J.C. Ryle