J.C. Ryle

B. Childress
May 1 2009 08:00 AM

    "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

                                                                            II Peter 3:18

The subject of the text which heads this page is one which I (J.C. Ryle) dare not omit in this volume about holiness.  It is
one that ought to be deeply interesting to every true Christian.  It naturally raises the questions:  Do we grow in grace?  
Do we get on in our religion?  Do we make progress?

To a mere formal Christian I cannot expect the inquiry to seem worth attention.  The man who has nothing more than a
kind of Sunday religion - whose Christianity is like his Sunday clothes, put on once a week, and then laid aside - such a
man cannot, of course, be expected to care about "growth in grace."  He knows nothing about such matters.  "They are
foolishness to him" (I Corinthians 2:14).  But to every one who is in downright earnest about his soul, and hungers and
thirsts after spiritual life, the question ought to come home with searching power.  Do we make progress in our religion?  
Do we grow?

The question is one that is always useful, but especially so at certain seasons.  A Saturday night, A Communion
Sunday, the return of a birthday, the end of a year - all these are seasons that ought to set us thinking, and make us
look within.  Time is fast flying.  Life is fast ebbing away.  The hour is daily drawing nearer when the reality of our
Christianity will be tested, and it will be seen whether we have built on "the rock" or on  "the sand."  Surely it becomes us
from time to time to examine ourselves, and take account of our souls?  Do we get on in spiritual things?  Do we grow?

The question is one that is of special importance in the present day.  Crude and strange opinions are floating in men's
minds on some points of doctrine, and among others on the point of "growth in grace," as an essential part of true
holiness.  By some it is totally denied.  By others it is explained away, and pared down to nothing.  By thousands it is
misunderstood, and consequently neglected.  In a day like this it is useful to look fairly in the face the whole subject of
Christian growth.

In considering this subject there are three things which I (J.C. Ryle) wish to bring forward and establish:

    I.    The reality of religious growth.  There is such a thing as "growth in grace."

    II.   The marks of religious growth.  There are marks by which "growth in grace" may be known.

    III.   The means of religious growth.  There are means that must be used by those who desire "growth in grace."

I (J.C. Ryle) know not who you are, into whose hands this paper may have fallen.  But I am not ashamed to ask your
best attention to its contents.  Believe me, the subject is no mere matter of speculation and controversy.  It is an
eminently practical subject, if any is in religion.  It is intimately and inseparably connected with the whole question of
"sanctification."  It is a leading mark of true saints that they grow.  The spiritual health and prosperity, the spiritual
happiness and comfort of every true hearted and holy Christian, are intimately c connected with the subject of spiritual

I.  There is such a thing as growth in grace.

That any Christian should deny this proposition is at first sight a strange and melancholy thing.  But it is fair to
remember that man's understanding is fallen no less than his will.  Disagreements about
doctrines are often nothing
more than disagreements about the meaning of words.  I (J.C. Ryle) try to believe that when I speak of "growth in grace"
and maintain it, I mean one thing, while my brethren who deny it mean quite another.  Let me therefore clear the way by
explaining what I mean.

When I (J.C. Ryle) speak of "growth in grace," I do not for a moment mean that a believer's interest in Christ can grow.  I
do not mean that he can grow in safety, acceptance with God, or security.  I do not mean that he can ever be more
justified, more pardoned, more forgiven, more at peace with God, than he is the first moment that he believes.  I hold
firmly that the justification of a believer is a finished, perfect, and complete work; and that the weakest saint, though he
may not know and feel it, is as completely justified as the strongest.  I hold firmly that our election, calling, and standing
in Christ admit of no degrees, increase, or diminution.  If anyone dreams that by "growth in grace" I mean growth in
justification, he is utterly wide of the mark, and utterly mistaken about the whole point I am considering.  I would go to the
stake, God helping me, for the glorious truth, that in the matter of justification before God every believer is "complete in
Christ" (Colossians 2:10).  Nothing can be added to his justification from the moment he believes, and nothing taken

When I (J.C. Ryle) speak of "growth in grace," I only mean increase in the degree, size, strength, vigor, and power of the
graces which the Holy Spirit plants in a believer's heart.  I hold that every one of those graces admits of growth,
progress, and increase.  I hold that repentance, faith, hope, love, humility, zeal, courage, and the like, may be little or
great, strong or weak, vigorous or feeble, and may vary greatly in the same man at different periods of his life.  When I
speak of a man "growing in grace," I mean simply this - that his sense of sin is becoming deeper, his faith stronger, his
hope brighter, his love more extensive, his spiritual-mindedness more marked.  He feels more of the power of godliness
in his own heart.  He manifests more of it in his life.  He is going on from strength to strength, from faith to faith, and from
grace to grace.  I leave it to others to describe such a man's condition by any words they please.  For myself I think the
truest and best account of him is this - he is "growing in grace."

One principal ground on which I build this doctrine of "growth in grace" is the plain language of Scripture.  If words in the
Bible mean anything, there is such a thing as "growth," and believers ought to be exhorted to "grow."  What says St.
Paul?  "Your faith groweth exceedingly" (II Thessalonians 1:3).  "We beseech you brethren, that ye increase more and
more" (I Thessalonians 4:10).  "Increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:10).  "Having hope, when your faith
is increased" (II Corinthians 10:15).  "The Lord make you to increase in love" (I Thessalonians 3:12).  "That ye may
grow up into him in all things" (Ephesians 4:15).  "I pray that your love may abound more and more" (Philippians 1:9).  
"We beseech you, as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and
more" (I Thessalonians 4:1).  What says St. Peter?  "Desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby" (I
Peter 2:2).  "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18).  I know not what
others think of such tests.  To me they seem to establish the doctrine for which I contend, and to be incapable of any
other explanation.  Growth in grace is taught in the Bible.  

The other ground, however, on which I build the doctrine of "growth in grace," is the ground of fact and experience. I ask
any honest reader of the New Testament whether he cannot see degrees of grace in the New Testament saints whose
histories are recorded, as plainly as the sun at noonday?  Cannot he see in the very same persons as great a
difference between their faith and knowledge at one time and at another, as between a man's strength when he is an
infant and when he is a grown-up man?  I ask him whether the Scripture does not distinctly recognize growth in grace in
the language it uses when it speaks of "weak" faith and "strong" faith, and of Christians as "newborn babes," "little
children," "young men," and "fathers"? What true Christian would not confess that there is as much difference between
the degree of his own faith and knowledge when he was first converted, and his present attainments, as there is
between a sapling and a full-grown tree?  His graces are the same in principle; but they have grown.  I know not how
these facts strike others: to my eyes they seem to prove, most unanswerably, that "growth in grace" is a real thing.

If any man means to say that the faith, and hope, and knowledge, and holiness of a newly converted person are as
strong as those of an old-established believer, and need no increase, it is waste of time to argue further.  No doubt they
are as real, but not so strong - as true, but not so vigorous - as much seeds of the Spirit's planting, but not yet so
fruitful.  And if anyone asks how they are to become stronger, I say it must be by the same process by which all things
having life increase - they must grow.  And this is what I mean by "growth in grace."

Let us turn away from the things I have been discussing to a more practical view of the great subject before us.  I want
men to look at "growth in grace" as a thing of infinite importance to the soul.  I believe, whatever others may think, that
our best interests are concerned in a right view of the question - Do we grow?

    (a)  Let us know then that "growth in grace" is the best evidence of spiritual health and prosperity.  In a child, or a
    flower, or a tree, we are all aware when there is no growth there is something wrong.  Healthy life in an animal or
    vegetable will always show itself by progress and increase.  It is just the same with our souls.  If they are
    progressing and doing well, they will grow.

    (b)  Let us know, furthermore, that "growth in grace" is one way to be happy in our religion.  God has wisely linked
    together our comfort and our increase in holiness.  He has graciously made it our interest to press on and aim
    high in our Christianity.  There is a vast difference between the amount of sensible enjoyment which one believer
    has in his religion compared to another.  But you may be sure that ordinarily the man who feels the most "joy and
    peace in believing," and has the clearest witness of the Spirit in his heart, is the man who grows.

    (c)  Let us know, furthermore, that "growth in grace" is one secret of usefulness to others.  Our influence on
    others for good depends greatly on what they see in us.  The children of the world measure Christianity quite as
    much by their eyes as by their ears.  The Christian who is always at a standstill, to all appearances the same
    man, with the same little faults, and weaknesses, and besetting sins, and petty infirmities, is seldom the Christian
    who does much good.  The man who shakes and stirs minds, and sets the world thinking, is the believer who is
    continually improving and going forward.  Men think there is life and reality when they see growth.

    (d)  Let us know, furthermore, that "growth in grace" pleases God.  It may seem a wonderful thing, no doubt, that
    anything done by such creatures as we are can give pleasure to the most high God.  But so it is.  The Scripture
    speaks of walking so as to "please God."  The Scripture says there are sacrifices with which "God is well pleased"
    ( I Thesssalonians 4:1; Hebrews 13:16).  The husbandman loves to see the plants on which he has bestowed
    labor flourishing and bearing fruit.  It cannot but disappoint and grieve him to see them stunted and standing still.  
    Now what does our Lord himself say?  "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman."  "Herein is my
    Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples" (John 15:1, 8).  The Lord takes pleasure in
    all his people - but specially in those that grow.

    (e)  Let us know, above all, that "growth in grace" is not only a thing possible, but a thing for which believers are
    accountable.  To tell an unconverted man, dead in sins, to "grow in grace" would doubtless be absurd.  To tell a
    believer, who is quickened and alive to God, to grow, is only summoning him to a plain scriptural duty.  He has a
    new principle within him, and it is a solemn duty not to quench it.  Neglect of growth robs him of privileges, grieves
    the Spirit, and makes the chariot wheels of his soul move heavily.  Whose fault is it if a believer does not grow in
    grace?  The fault, I am sure, cannot be laid on God.  He delights to "give more grace"; he "hath pleasure in the
    prosperity of his servants" (James 4:6; Psalm 35:27).  The fault, no doubt, is our own.  We ourselves are to
    blame, and none else, if we do not grow.

II.  There are marks by which growth in grace may be known

Let me (J.C. Ryle) take it for granted that we do not question the reality of growth in grace and its vast importance. So
far so good.  But you now want to know how anyone may find out whether he is growing in grace or not?  I answer that
question, in the first place, by observing that we are very poor judges of our own condition, and that bystanders often
know us better than we know ourselves.  But I answer further, that there are undoubtedly certain great marks and signs
of growth in grace, and that wherever you see these marks you see a "growing" soul.

    (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 thy mercies" - and with David, "I am a worm"
    - and with Isaiah, " am a man of unclean lips" - and with Peter, "I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Job 40:4; Genesis 18:
    27; 32:10; Psalm 22:6; Isaiah 6:5; Luke 5:8).  The nearer he draws to God, and the more he sees of God's
    holiness and perfection, 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 St. Paul means 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"
    (Philippians 3:12; I Corinthians 15:9; Ephesians 3:8; I Timothy 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 toward 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 (Philippians 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.

    (e)  Another mark of "growth in grace" is increase of charity.  The man whose soul is "growing" is more full of love
    every year - of love to all men, but especially of love toward the brethren.  His love will show itself actively in a
    growing disposition to do kindnesses, to take trouble for others, to be good-natured to everybody, to be
    generous, sympathizing, thoughtful, tenderhearted, and considerate.  It will show itself passively in a growing
    disposition to be meek and patient toward all men, to put up with provocation and not stand upon rights to bear
    and forbear much rather than quarrel.  A growing soul will try to put the best construction on other people's
    conduct, and to believe all things and hope all things, even to the end.  There is no surer mark of backsliding and
    falling off in grace than an increasing disposition to find fault, pick holes, and see weak points in others.  Would
    anyone know if he is growing in grace?  Then let him look within for increasing charity.

    (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 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.

Such are the most trustworthy marks of growth in grace.  Let us examine them carefully, and consider what we know
about them.  I can well believe that they will not please some professing Christians in the present day.  Those high-flying
religionists, whose only notion of Christianity is that of a state of perpetual joy and ecstasy - who tell you that they have
got far beyond the region of conflict and soul humiliation - such persons no doubt will regard the marks I have laid down
as "legal," "carnal," and "gendering to bondage."  I cannot help that.  I call no man master in these things.  I only wish
my statements to be tried in the balance of Scripture.  And I firmly believe that what I have said is not only scriptural, but
agreeable to the experience of the most eminent saints in every age.  Show me a man in whom the six marks I have
mentioned can be found.  He is the man who can give a satisfactory answer to the question, DO WE GROW?

III.  The means that must be used by those who desire to grow in grace.

The words of St. James must never be forgotten:  "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh
down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17).  This is no doubt as true of growth in grace as it is of everything else.  It is
the "gift of God."  But still it must always be kept in mind that God is pleased to work by means.  God has ordained
means as well as ends.  He that would grow in grace must use the means of growth.

This is a point, I (J.C. Ryle) fear, which is too much overlooked by believers.  Many admire growth in grace in others,
and wish that they themselves were like them.  But they seem to suppose that those who grow are what they are by
some special gift or grant from God, and that as this gift is not bestowed on themselves they must be content to sit still.  
This is a grievous delusion, and one against which I desire to testify with all my might.  I wish it to be distinctly
understood that growth in grace is bound up with the use of means within the reach of all believers, and that, as a
general rule, growing souls are what they are because they use these means.

Cast away forever the vain thought that if a believer does not grow in grace it is not his fault.  Settle it in your mind that
a believer, a man quickened by the Spirit, is not a mere dead creature, but a being of mighty capacities and
responsibilities.  Let the words of Solomon sink down into your heart:  "The soul of the diligent shall be made fat"
(Proverbs 13:4).

    (a)  One thing essential to growth in grace is diligence in the use of private means of grace.  By these I
    understand such means as a man must use by himself alone, and no one can use for him.  I include under this
    head private prayer, private reading of the Scriptures, and private meditation and self-examination.  The man who
    does not take pains about these three things must never expect to grow.  Here are the roots of true Christianity.  
    Wrong here, a man is wrong all the way through!  Here is the whole reason why many professing Christians never
    seem to get on.  They are careless and slovenly about their private prayers.  They read their Bibles but little, and
    with very little heartiness of spirit.  They give themselves no time for self-inquiry and quiet thought about the state
    of their souls.

    It is useless to conceal from ourselves that the age we live in is full of peculiar dangers.  It is an age of great
    activity, and of much hurry, bustle, and excitement in religion.  Many are "running to and fro," no doubt, and
    "Knowledge is increased" (Daniel 12:4).  Thousands are ready enough for public meetings, sermon hearing, or
    anything else in which there is "sensation."  Few appear to remember the absolute necessity of making time to
    "commune with our hearts, and be still" (Psalm 4:4).  But without this there is seldom any deep spiritual
    prosperity.  I suspect that English Christians two hundred years ago read their Bibles more, and were more
    frequently alone with God, than they are in the present day.  Let us remember this point!  Private religion must
    receive our first attention, if we wish our souls to grow.

    (b)  Another thing which is essential to growth in grace is carefulness in the use of public means of grace.  By
    these I (J.C. Ryle) understand such means as a man has within his reach as a member of Christ's visible church.  
    Under this head I include the ordinances of regular Sunday worship, the uniting with God's people in common
    prayer and praise, the preaching of the Word, and the sacrament of the Lord's supper.  I firmly believe that the
    manner in which these public means of grace are used has much to say to the prosperity of a believer's soul.  It is
    easy to use them in a cold and heartless way.  The very familiarity of them is apt to make us careless.  The
    regular return of the same voice, and the same kind of words, and the same ceremonies, is likely to make us
    sleepy, and callous, and unfeeling.  Here is a snare into which too many professing Christians fall.  If we would
    grow, we must be on our guard here.  Here is a matter in which the Spirit is often grieved and saints take great
    damage.  Let us strive to hear the old truths preached, with as much freshness and appetite as in the year we
    first believed.  It is a sign of bad health when a person loses relish for his food; and it is a sign of spiritual decline
    when we lose our appetite for means of grace.  Whatever we do about public means, let us always do it "with our
    might" (Ecclesiastes 9:10).  This is the way to grow!

    (c)  Another thing essential to growth in grace is watchfulness over our conduct in the little matters of everyday
    life.  Our tempers, our tongues, the discharge of our several relations of life, our employment of time - each and
    all must be vigilantly attended to if we wish our souls to prosper.  Life is made up of days, and days of hours, and
    the little things of every hour are never so little as to be beneath the care of a Christian.  When a tree begins to
    decay at root or heart, the mischief is first seen at the extreme end of the little branches.  "He that despiseth little
    things," says an uninspired writer, "shall fall by little and little."  That witness is true.  Let others despise us, if they
    like, and call us precise and overcareful.  Let us patiently hold on our way, remembering that "we serve a precise
    God,"  that our Lord's example is to be copied in the least things as well as the greatest, and that we must "take
    up our cross daily" and hourly, rather than sin.  We must aim to have a Christianity which, like the sap of a tree,
    runs through every twig and leaf of our character, and sanctifies all.  This is one way to grow!

    (d)  Another thing which is essential to growth in grace is caution about the company we keep and the friendships
    we form.  Nothing perhaps affects a man's character more than the company he keeps.  We catch the ways and
    tone of those we live and talk with, and unhappily get harm far more easily than good.  Disease is infectious, but
    health is not.  Now if a professing Christian deliberately chooses to be intimate with those who are not friends of
    God and who cling to the world, his soul is sure to take harm.  It is hard enough to serve Christ under any
    circumstances in such a world as this.  But is doubly hard to do it if we are friends of the thoughtless and
    ungodly.  Mistakes in friendship or marriage-engagements are the whole reason why some have entirely ceased
    to grow.  "Evil communications corrupt good manners."  "The friendship of the world is enmity with God" (I
    Corinthians 15:33; James 4:4).  Let us seek friends that will stir us up about our prayers, our Bible reading, and
    our employment of time - about our souls, our salvation, and a world to come.  Who can tell the good that a
    friend's word in a season may do, or the harm that it may stop?  This is one way to grow.

    (e)  There is one more thing which is absolutely essential to growth in grace - and that is regular and habitual
    communion with the Lord Jesus.  In saying this, let no one suppose for a minute that I am referring to the Lord's
    Supper.  I mean nothing of the kind.  I mean that daily habit of intercourse between the believer and his Savior,
    which can only be carried on by faith, prayer, and meditation.  It is a habit, I fear, of which many believers know
    little.  A man may be a believer and have his feet on the rock, and yet live far below his privileges.  It is possible to
    have "union" with Christ, and yet to have little if any "communion" with him.  

    The names and office of Christ, as laid down in Scripture, appear to me to show unmistakably that this
    "communion" between the saint and his Savior is not a mere fancy, but a real true thing.  Between the
    "Bridegroom" and his bride - between the "Head" and his members - between the "Physician" and his patients -
    between the "Advocate" and his clients - between the "Shepherd" and his sheep - between the "Master" and his
    scholars - there is evidently implied a habit of familiar intercourse, of daily application for things needed, of daily
    pouring out and unburdening our hearts and minds.  Such a habit of dealing with Christ is clearly something more
    than a vague general trust in the work that Christ did for sinners.  It is getting close to him, and laying hold on him
    with confidence, as a loving, personal Friend.  This is what I mean by communion.

    Now I believe that no man will ever grow in grace who does not know something experimentally of the habit of
    "communion."  We must not be content with a general orthodox knowledge that justification is by faith and not by
    works, and that we put our trust in Christ.  We must go further than this.  We must seek to have personal intimacy
    with the Lord Jesus, and to deal with him as a man deals with a loving friend.  We must realize what it is to turn to
    him first in every need, to talk to him about every difficulty, to consult him about every step, to spread before him
    all our sorrows, to get him to share in all our joys, to do all as in his sight, and to go through every day leaning on
    and looking to him.  This is the way that St. Paul lived:  "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of
    the Son of God."  "To me to live is Christ" (Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:21).  It is ignorance of this way of living
    that makes so many see no beauty in the book of Canticles [Song of Solomon].  But it is the man who lives in this
    way, who keeps up constant communion with Christ - this is the man, I say emphatically, whose soul will grow.

I leave the subject of growth in grace here.  I (J.C. Ryle) hope to convince my readers that the subject is one of vast
importance.  Here I will conclude with some practical applications.

    (1)  Some know nothing whatever about growth in grace.  They have little or no concern about religion.  A little
    proper Sunday church going or chapel going makes up the sum and substance of their Christianity.  They are
    without spiritual life, and of course they cannot at present grow.  Are you one of these people?   If you are, you
    are in a pitiable condition.

    Years are slipping away and time is flying.  Graveyards are filling up and families are thinning.  Death and
    judgment are getting nearer to us all.  And yet you live like one asleep about your soul!  What madness!  What
    folly!  What suicide can be worse than this?

    Awake before it be too late; awake, and arise from the dead, and live to God.  Turn to him who is sitting at the
    right hand of God, to be your Savior and Friend.  Turn to Christ, and cry mightily to him about your soul.  There is
    yet hope!  He that called Lazarus from the grave is not changed.  He that commanded the widow's son at Nain to
    arise from his bier can do miracles yet for your soul.  Seek him at once: seek Christ, if you would not be lost
    forever.  Do not stand still talking, and meaning, and intending, and wishing, and hoping.  Seek Christ that you
    may live, and that living you may grow.

    (2)  This book may fall into the hands of some who ought to know something of growth in grace, but at present
    know nothing at all.  They seem to have "settled on their lees" (Zephaniah 1:12).  They go on from year to year
    content with old grace, old experience, old knowledge, old faith, old measure of attainment, old religious
    expressions, old set phrases.  Like the Gibeonites, their bread is always moldy, and their shoes are patched and
    clouted.  They never appear to get on.  Are you one of these people?  If you are, you are living far below your
    privileges and responsibilities.  It is high  time to examine yourself.

    If you have reason to hope that you are a true believer and yet do not grow in grace, there must be a fault, and a
    serious fault somewhere.  It cannot be the will of God that your soul should stand still.  "He giveth more grace."  
    He "takes pleasure in the prosperity of his servants"  (James 4:6; Psalm 35:27).  It cannot be for your own
    happiness or usefulness that your soul should stand still.  Without growth you will never rejoice in the Lord
    (Philippians 4:4).  Without growth you will never do good to others.  Surely this want of growth is a serious
    matter!  It should raise in you great searchings of heart.  There must be some "secret thing" (Job 15:11).  There
    must be some cause.

    Resolve this very day that you will find out the reason of your standstill condition.  Probe with a faithful and firm
    hand every corner of your soul.  Search from one end of the camp to the other,  till you find out the Achan who is
    weakening your hands.  Begin with an application to the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Physician of souls, and ask
    him to heal the secret ailment within you, whatever it may be.  Begin as if you had never applied to him before,
    and ask for grace to cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye.  But never, never be content, if your soul
    does not grow.  For your peace's sake, for your usefulness's sake, for the honor of your Maker's cause, resolve
    to find out the reason why.

    (3)  This book may fall into the hands of some who are really growing in grace, but are not aware of it, and will not
    allow it.  Their very growth is the reason why they do not see their growth!  Like Moses, when he came down from
    the mount from communing with God, their faces shine.  And yet, like Moses, they are not aware of it (Exodus 34:
    29).  Such Christians, I grant freely, are not common.  But here and there such are to be found.  Like angels'
    visits, they are few and far between.  Happy is the neighborhood where such growing Christians live!  To meet
    them and see them and be in their company is like meeting and seeing a bit of "heaven upon earth."

    If there is any one feature about a growing soul which specially marks him, it is his deep sense of his own
    unworthiness.  He never sees anything to be praised in himself.  He only feels that he is an unprofitable servant
    and the chief of sinners.  It is the righteous, in the picture of the judgment day, who say, "Lord, when saw we thee
    an hungered, and fed thee?" (Matthew 25:37).  Extremes do indeed meet strangely sometimes.  The conscience-
    hardened sinner and the eminent saint are in one respect singularly alike.  Neither  of them fully realizes his own
    condition.  The one does not see his own sin, nor the other his own grace!

    The sum and substance of that I can say to growing Christians is to be found in two sentences:  "Go forward!"
    "Go on!"

We can never have too much humility, too much faith in Christ, too much holiness, too much spirituality of mind, too
much charity, too much zeal in doing good to others.  Then let us be continually forgetting the things behind, and
reaching forth unto the things before (Philippians 3:13).  The best of Christians in these matters is infinitely below the
perfect pattern of his Lord.  Whatever the world may please to say, we may be sure there is no danger of any of us
becoming "too good."

Let us cast to the winds as idle talk the common notion that it is possible to be "extreme" and go "too far" in religion.  
This is a favorite lie of the devil, and one which he circulates with vast industry.  No doubt there are enthusiasts and
fanatics to be found who bring evil report upon Christianity by their extravagances and follies.  But if anyone means to
say that a mortal man can be too humble, too charitable, too holy, or too diligent in doing good, he must either be an
infidel or a fool.  In serving pleasure and money, it is easy to go too far.  But in following the things which make up true
religion, and in serving Christ, there can be no extreme.

Let us never measure our religion by that of others, and think we are doing enough if we have gone beyond our
neighbors.  This is another snare of the devil.  Let us mind our own business.  "What is that to thee?"  said our Master
on a certain occasion:  "Follow thou me"  (John 21:22).  Let us follow on, aiming at nothing short of perfection.  Let us
follow on, making Christ's life and character our only pattern and example.  Let us follow on, remembering daily that at
our best we are miserable sinners.  Let us follow on, and never forget that it signifies nothing whether we are better than
others or not.  At our very best we are far worse than we ought to be.  There will always be room for improvement in us.  
We shall be debtors to Christ's mercy and grace to the very last.  Then let us leave off looking at others and comparing
ourselves with others.  We shall find enough to do if we look at our own hearts.

Last, but not least, if we know anything of growth in grace, and desire to know more, let us not be surprised if we have
to go through much trial and affliction in this world.  I firmly believe it is the experience of nearly all the most eminent
saints.  Like their blessed Master, they have been "men of sorrows, acquainted with grief" and "perfected through
sufferings" (Isaiah 53:3; Hebrews 2:10).  It is a striking saying of our Lord, "Every branch in me that beareth fruit, my
Father purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit" (John 15:2).  It is a melancholy fact, that constant temporal
prosperity, as a general rule, is injurious to a believer's soul.  We cannot stand it.  Sickness, and losses, and crosses,
and anxieties, and disappointments seem absolutely needful to keep us humble, watchful, and spiritual minded.  They
are as needful as the pruning knife to the vine, and the refiner's furnace to the gold.  They are not pleasant to flesh and
blood.  We do not like them, and often do not see their meaning.  "No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous,
but grievous: nevertheless, afterward, it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness"  (Hebrews 12:11).  We shall find
that all worked for our good when we reach heaven.  Let these thoughts abide in our minds, if we love growth in grace.  
When days of darkness come upon us, let us not count it a strange thing.  Rather let us remember that lessons are
learned on such days which would never  have been learned in sunshine.  Let us say to ourselves, "This also is for my
profit, that I may be a partaker of God's holiness.  It is sent in love.  I am in God's best school.  Correction is instruction.  
This is meant to make me grow."

Now would it not be well to look within, and put to our souls a simple question?  In religion, in the things that concern our
peace, in the great matter of personal holiness, are we getting on?  DO WE GROW?

Holiness, by J.C. Ryle, Copyright 2007, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.