Growing in Grace

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
~ 2 Peter 3:18

The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:
~ Psalm 92:12, Hosea 14:5, Malachi 4:2, Ephesians 4:15, 2 Thessalonians 1:3, 1 Peter 2:2

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
~ 2 Peter 1:3, 2 Peter 1:8, 2 Peter 2:20

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
~ John 17:3, 2 Corinthians 4:6

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
~ Ephesians 1:17, Philippians 3:8, Colossians 1:10, Colossians 3:10

Sanctification is a Progressive Work, by John Owen. The following excerpt from Book Four, Chapter Two, “The Nature of Sanctification and Gospel Holiness Explained” — which is section under his work, “Pneumatologia”, Or “A Discourse Concerning The Holy Spirit”.

Sanctification described, with the nature of the work of the Holy Spirit in this; which is progressive — The way and means by which holiness is increased in believers, especially by faith and love, whose exercise is required in all duties of obedience; and also those graces whose exercise is occasional — The growth of holiness expressed in an allusion to that of plants, with an insensible progress — Renders grace in this to be greatly admired; and is discerned in the corresponding work of the Spirit in sanctification and supplication — Objections against the progressive nature of holiness are removed.

Having passed through the consideration of the general concerns of the work of sanctification, I will, in the next place, give a description of it, and then explain it more particularly in its principal parts. And I will do this only under this express caution: that I do not hope or design at the same time to represent the life, glory, and beauty of it, nor to comprise all things that eminently belong to it; I will only set up some way-marks that may guide us in our progress, or future inquiry into the nature and glory of it. And so I say that —

Sanctification is an immediate work of the Spirit of God on the souls of believers, purifying and cleansing their natures from the pollution and uncleanness of sin, renewing in them the image of God, and thereby enabling them, from a spiritual and habitual principle of grace, to yield obedience to God, according to the tenor and terms of the new covenant, by virtue of the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Or more briefly: It is the universal renovation of our natures by the Holy Spirit into the image of God, through Jesus Christ.

Hence it follows that our holiness, which is the fruit and effect of this work as terminated in us, comprises the renewed principle or image of God worked in us; and thus it consists in a holy obedience to God by Jesus Christ, according to the terms of the covenant of grace, from the principle of a renewed nature. Our apostle expresses the whole more briefly yet — namely, He that is in Christ Jesus is a new creature, 2Cor 5.17; for he expresses in this both the renovation of our natures, the endowment of our natures with a new spiritual principle of life and operation, with actings towards God that are suitable to this new creature. I will take up the first general description of it, and in the consideration of its parts, I will give some account of the nature of the work and its effects. And then I will distinctly prove and confirm the true nature of it, in which it is opposed or called into question.

1. It is, as proven before and confessed by all, the work in us of the Spirit of God. It is our renovation by the Holy Ghost, by which we are saved. And it is a real, internal, powerful, physical work, as we abundantly proved before, and will more fully confirm afterward. He does not make us holy only by persuading us to be holy. He does not just require us to be holy, propose motives for holiness, convict us of the necessity of holiness, and thereby excite us to pursue and attain it — though he does this also, by the word and its ministration. It is too high an impudence for anyone to pretend to own the gospel, and yet deny a work of the Holy Ghost in our sanctification; and therefore, both the old and new Pelagians did and do avow a work of the Holy Ghost in this. But what is it that they really ascribe to him? They ascribe merely the exciting our own abilities, aiding and assisting us in and to the exercise of our own native power. When all is done, this leaves the work our own and not his, and the glory and praise of it must be ascribed to us. But we already sufficiently proved that the things promised by God, and effected, are really worked by the exceeding greatness of the power of the Spirit of God; and this will be made still more particularly apparent afterward.

2. This work of sanctification differs from the work of regeneration, just as it does on other accounts, but especially on account of the way it is worked. The work of regeneration is instantaneous, consisting in one single creating act. Hence it is not capable of degrees in any subject. No one is more or less regenerate than another; everyone in the world is absolutely so, or not so, and that is equally, even though there are degrees in their state for other reasons. But this work of sanctification is progressive, and it allows for degrees. One may be more sanctified and more holy than another, who is yet truly sanctified and truly holy. It is begun at once, and carried on gradually. This observation is of great importance, and if rightly weighed, it will contribute much light to the nature of the whole work of sanctification and holiness. And so, I will divert in this chapter to such an explanation and confirmation of it, that it may give an understanding and furtherance in this.

In the Scripture, an increase and growth in sanctification or holiness is frequently enjoined of us, and frequently promised to us. So the apostle Peter says by way of command, 2Pet 3.17-18, “Do not fall,” do not be thrown down, “from your own steadfastness; but grow,” or increase, “in grace.” It is not enough to not decay in our spiritual condition, or to not be diverted and carried away from a steady course in obedience by the power of temptations; but what is required of us is an endeavour after improvement, an increase, a thriving in grace — that is, in holiness.

And compliance with this command is what our apostle commends in 2Thes 1.3 — namely, the exceeding growth of their faith, and the abounding in their love; that is, the thriving and increasing of those graces in them, which is called “increasing with the increase of God,” Col 2.19; or with the increase in holiness which God requires, accepts, and approves, by supplies of spiritual strength from Jesus Christ our head.

The work of holiness, at its beginning, is like a seed cast into the earth — namely, the seed of God, by which we are born again. And we know how seed that is cast into the earth grows and increases. Being variously cherished and nourished, its nature is to take root and spring up, bringing forth fruit. So it is with the principle of grace and holiness. It is small at first, but being received in good and honest hearts — made so by the Spirit of God, and nourished and cherished there — it takes root and produces fruit. And both of these — the first planting and the increase of it — are equally from God by his Spirit. “He that begins this good work also performs it until the day of Jesus Christ,” Phi 1.6. And he does this in two ways:

First, By increasing and strengthening those graces of holiness which we have received and have been engaged in exercising. There are some graces whose exercise does not depend on any outward occasions; but in their actual exercise, they are absolutely necessary to the least degree of the life of God: such are faith and love. No man does or can live to God, except in the exercise of these graces. Whatever duties men may perform towards God, if they are not enlivened by faith and love, then they do not belong to that spiritual life by which we live to God. And these graces are capable of degrees, and so they are capable of increase. For so we read expressly about little faith Mat 14.31 and great faith,Mat 8.10 weak faithRom 14.1 and strong faith.Rom 4.20 Both are true faith and they are the same in their substance, but they differ in degrees. So also there is fervent love,1Pet 4.8 and love that is comparatively cold.Mat 24.12 These graces, therefore, in carrying on the work of sanctification, are gradually increased. So the disciples asked our Savior to increase their faith, Luke 17.5 — that is, to add to its light, confirm it in its assent, multiply its acts, and make it strong against assaults, so that it might work more effectively in difficult duties of obedience. They had a special regard for this, as evident from the context, for they pray for this increase of faith on the occasion of our Savior’s enjoining them to frequently forgive their offending brethren — it is a duty that is not at all easy, nor pleasing to our flesh and blood. And the apostle prays for the Ephesians, that they may be “rooted and grounded in love,” Eph 3.17. That is, that by the increase and strengthening of their love, they may be more established in all the duties of love.

Because these graces are the springs and spirit of our holiness, it is in their increase in us that the work of sanctification is carried on, and universal holiness is increased. And this is done by the Holy Spirit in several ways:

First, By exciting these graces to frequent actings. Frequency of acts naturally increases and strengthens the habits from which they proceed; and these spiritual habits of faith and love are, moreover, by God’s appointment. They grow and thrive, in and by their exercise, Hos 6.3. The lack of this exercise is the principal means of their decay. And there are two ways by which the Holy Spirit excites the graces of faith and love to frequent acts:

(1.) He does it morally, by proposing suitable and seasonable objects for them. He does this by his ordinances of worship, especially by the preaching of the word. In proposing to us God in Christ, the promises of the covenant, and other proper objects of our faith and love, these graces are drawn out into their exercise. This is one principal advantage we have by attending to the dispensation of the word in a due manner — namely, that by presenting to our minds those spiritual truths which are the object of our faith, and by presenting to our affections those spiritual good things which are the object of our love, both of these graces are drawn out into frequent actual exercise. We are greatly mistaken if we suppose that we have no benefit by the word beyond what we retain in our memories, even though we should labor for that also. Our chief advantage lies in the excitation which is given to our faith and love by it, to their proper exercise. These graces are kept alive by this; for without preaching, they would decay and wither.

In this, the Holy Spirit “takes the things of Christ, and shows them to us,” Joh 16.14-15. He represents them to us in the preaching of the word as the proper objects of our faith and love, and so he brings to remembrance the things spoken by Christ, Joh 14.26. That is, in the dispensation of the word, the Spirit reminds us of the gracious words and truths of Christ, proposing them to our faith and love. And in this lies the secret profiting and thriving of believers under the preaching of the gospel, which maybe they are not aware of themselves. By this means, many thousands of acts of faith and love are drawn out whereby these graces are exercised and strengthened; and consequently holiness is increased. And the word, by the actings of faith being mixed with it, as in Heb 4.2, increases holiness by its incorporation.

(2.) The Spirit does it really and internally. He dwells in believers, preserving in them the root and principle of all their grace by his own immediate power. Hence all graces in their exercise are called “The fruits of the Spirit,” Gal 5.22-23. He brings them forth from the stock that he has planted in the heart.

And we cannot act any one grace without his effectual operation in this: “God works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure,” Phi 2.13; — that is, there is no part of our wills, singly and separately from Him in obedience, that is not the operation of the Spirit of God in us, so far as it is spiritual and holy. The Spirit is the immediate author of every good or gracious acting in us; for “in us, that is, in our flesh” (and of ourselves, we are but flesh), “there dwells no good.” This is why the Spirit of God, dwelling in believers, effectively excites and stirs up their graces to frequent exercise and actings, by which they are increased and strengthened. There is nothing in the whole course of our walking before God that we ought to be more careful about, than not grieving, not provoking, this good and holy Spirit, for which he should withhold his gracious aids and assistance from us. Therefore, this is the first way by which the work of sanctification is gradually carried on: by the Holy Ghost exciting our graces to frequent actings, by which these graces are increased and strengthened.

Secondly, The Spirit (increases holiness in us) by supplying believers with experiences of the truth, and of the reality and excellence of the things that are believed. Experience is the food of all grace, which it grows and thrives upon. Every taste that faith obtains of divine love and grace, or of how gracious the Lord is, adds to its measure and stature. Two things, therefore, must briefly be declared: (1.) That the experience of the reality, excellence, power, and efficacy of the things that are believed, is an effectual means of increasing faith and love; and (2.) That it is the Holy Ghost which gives us this experience.

(1.) For the first, God himself expostulates with the church how its faith came to be so weak, when it had so great an experience of him, or of his power and faithfulness: Isa 40.27-28, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? How, then, can you say that God has forsaken you?” And our apostle affirms that the consolations which he experientially received from God, enabled him to discharge his duty towards others in trouble, 2Cor 1.4. For in this we prove, or really approve of (as being satisfied in), “the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God,” Rom 12.2. And this is what the apostle prays for on behalf of the Colossians, 2.2.

I may say that someone who does not know how faith is encouraged and strengthened by special experiences of the reality, power, and spiritual efficacy upon the soul, of the things believed, was never made a partaker of any of them. How often David encourages his own faith and the faith of others from his former experiences! These were also pleaded by our Lord Jesus Christ to the same purpose, in his great distress, Psa 22.9-10.

(2.) No other consideration is needed to evince that the Holy Ghost gives us all our spiritual experiences, but this: that all our consolation consists in these experiences. It is his work and office to administer consolation to believers, because he is the only Comforter of the church. Now, he administers comfort in no other way than by giving to the minds and souls of believers a spiritual, sensible experience of the reality and power of the things we believe. He does not comfort us by words, but by things. I know of no other means of spiritual consolation; and I am sure that this one never fails. Give a soul an experience, a taste, of the love and grace of God in Christ Jesus, and whatever that soul’s condition may be, it cannot refuse to be comforted. And hereby the Spirit “sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts,” Rom 5.5, by which all graces are cherished and increased.

Thirdly, He does it by working immediately an actual increase of these graces in us. I have shown that these are capable of improvement, and of an addition of degrees to them. Now, they are originally the immediate work and product of the Spirit of God in us, as has been abundantly evinced. And as he first works and creates them, so he increases them. Hereby those who are “feeble become as David,” Zec 12.8; that is, those whose graces were weak, whose faith was infirm, and whose love was languid, will become strong and vigorous by the supplies of the Spirit, and the increase given by him. Promises are multiplied to this purpose in the Scripture, which we principally consider in our constant supplications. The schoolmen, after Austin, call this “Gratiam corroborantem;” that is, the working of the Holy Spirit in the increasing and strengthening of grace received. See Eph 3.16-17; Col 1.10-11; Isa 40.29. And this is the principal cause and means of the gradual increase of holiness in us, or of carrying on the work of sanctification, Psa 138.8.