By Hannah Whitall Smith
A great objection made against those who promote this life of faith is that they do not teach growing in grace. According to them, the soul arrives in one moment at a state of perfection which cannot advance. All the scriptures that point toward growth and development are ignored by this teaching. I want to present what Scripture says about growth. I also want to discuss the condition the soul must be in so that growth can take place.
The text most frequently quoted is 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Now, this text expresses exactly what we who teach this life of faith believe to be God's will for us and what He has made possible for us to experience. We fully accept all the commands and promises concerning our growing up into Christ in all things, until we come "unto a perfect man unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). We rejoice that we do not have to continue being babes in Christ, only needing milk. We rejoice that we can develop into needing strong meat, skilful in the word of righteousness and able to discern good and evil. No one would grieve more than we at the thought of a Christian life with no advancement.
We believe in a growth that continually produces maturity. We believe in a development that brings forth ripe fruit. We expect to reach the aim set before us. If we do not find ourselves heading toward it, we feel sure there must be something wrong in our ;'growing". No parent would be satisfied with the growth of his child if day after day and year after year he remained the same helpless babe he was in the first months of his life. And no farmer would feel comfortable if his grain would stop short at the blade and never produce the ear or the full corn in the ear.
To be real, growth must be progressive. The days and weeks and months should bring an increase of maturity in the thing growing. But is this the case with a large part of what is called growth in grace? Doesn't the Christian who most longs and works after this growth find, too often, that he has not come far in his Christian experience? He often recognizes that his zeal, his devotedness, and his separation from the world are not as definite or complete as when his Christian life first began.
Grow In Grace
I was once urging a group of Christians in the duty and privilege of an immediate and definite step into the "land of promise," when a lady of great intelligence interrupted me with what she evidently felt to be a complete rebuttal of all I had been saying. She exclaimed, "Ah! but, Mrs. Smith, I believe in growing in grace." "How long have you been growing?" I asked. "About twentyfive years," was her answer. "And how much more unworldly and devoted to the Lord are you now, than when your Christian life began?" I continued. She answered, "I am afraid not very much." And with this answer her eyes were opened to see that her way of growing had not been successful.
The trouble with her and with others like her is simply this: they are trying to grow into grace, instead of in it. The children of Israel, wandering in the wilderness, are a perfect picture of this sort of growing. They were travelling for forty years, taking many weary steps, and finding little rest from their wanderings. Yet, at the end of it all, they were no nearer the promised land than they were at the beginning. When they started on their wanderings at Kadesh Barnea, they were at the borders of the land, and a few steps would have taken them into it. When they ended their wanderings in the plains of Moab, they were also at its borders. However, now there was a river to cross. All their wanderings and struggles in the wilderness did not put them in possession of one inch of the promised land. In order to get possession of this land, it was necessary first to be in it. In order to grow in grace, it is first necessary to be planted in grace. When once in the land the Israelites' conquest was rapid. When once planted in grace, the growth of the spiritual life becomes vigorous and rapid beyond all thinking. For grace is a most fruitful soil, and the plants that grow therein are plants of a marvelous growth. They are tended by a divine Husbandman and are warmed by the Sun of Righteousness, and watered by the dew from heaven. Surely it is no wonder that they bring forth fruit, "some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold" (Matthew 13:8).
What is meant buy growing in grace? It is difficult to answer this question because so few people have any conception of what the grace of God really is. To say that it is free unmerited favour only expresses a little of its meaning. It is the unhindered, wondrous, boundless love of God, poured out upon us in an infinite variety of ways without measure. Although we do not deserve it, grace comes from His measureless heart of love.
I sometimes think an entirely different meaning is given to the word "love" when it is associated with God. We seem to think that divine love is different and selfseeking and distant, concerned about its own glory, and indifferent to the fate of others. But if human love was ever tender, self-sacrificing, and devoted, it would suffer gladly for its loved one. It would willingly pour itself out in lavish abandonment for the comfort or pleasure of its object. However, divine love is then infinitely more tender, selfsacrificing, and devoted. It is eager to lavish its best of gifts and blessings upon the objects of its love. Put together all the tenderest love you know, the deepest and strongest you have ever felt, heap upon it all the love of all the loving human hearts in the world, multiply it by infinity, and you will begin perhaps to have some faint glimpses of the love and grace of God!
In order to "grow in grace,'' the soul must be planted in the very heart of this divine love, enveloped by it, steeped in it. The soul must give itself to the joy of it, and must refuse to know anything else. Day by day the soul must entrust everything to the care of this divine love and must not doubt that all will be well ordered.
Growth Without Anxiety
Growth in grace is opposed to growth by self-effort or legality of every kind. It is to put our growing, as well as everything else, into the hands of the Lord, and leave it with Him. It is to be so satisfied with our Husbandman and with His skill and wisdom, that not: a question will cross our minds concerning His methods of treatment and cultivation. It is to grow as the lilies grow, or as the babies grow, without care and without anxiety. He who has planted us, has made us to grow.
Surely this is what our Lord meant when He said, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Matthew 6:28,29). Or, when He says in Matthew 6:27, "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" There is no effort in the growing of a baby or of a lily. The lily doesn't toil or spin, it doesn't stretch or strain, it doesn't make any effort to grow, it is not even conscious that it is growing. But through the nurturing care of God, the care of the gardener, the heat of the sun, and the falling of the rain, it grows and buds and blossoms into the beautiful plant God meant it to be.
The result of this sort of growing in the Christian life is sure. "Even Solomon in all His glory," our Lord says, "wax not arrayed like one of (God's lilies)." Solomon's clothing cost much in work and money. However, though we may work hard trying to make beautiful spiritual garments for ourselves, and though we may work hard in our efforts to gain spiritual growth, we shall accomplish nothing. For no man by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature, and no array of ours can ever equal the beautiful dress with which the great Husbandman clothes the plants that grow in His garden of grace and under His fostering care. If I could make each of my readers realize how utterly helpless we are in this matter of growing, I am convinced a large part of the strain would be taken out of many lives at once.
Imagine a child possessed of the worry that he would not grow unless he made some personal effort to do so. Suppose he tried to use a combination of ropes and pulleys to stretch himself up to the desired height. He might, it is true, spend his days and years in a weary strain. There would be no changing the fact that "No man by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature." His weary efforts would be only wasted, and might even actually hinder the longawaited end. Neither a child nor a lily is ever found doing such a vain and foolish thing as trying to grow. But I fear many of God's children are doing exactly this foolish thing. They know that they ought to grow, and they feel within them an instinct that longs for growth. But instead of letting the divine Husbandman care for their growing, as it is surely His business to do, they try to accomplish it themselves. Consequently, they waste their energies and find themselves not growing at all.
What we all need is to "consider the lilies of the field" and learn their secret. Grow, by all means, dear Christians, but grow in God's way. See to it that you are planted in grace, and then let the divine Husbandman cultivate you in His own way and by His own means. Put yourselves out in the sunshine of His presence and let the dew of heaven come down upon you. See what the results will be. Leaves and flowers and fruit must come in their season, for your husbandman is skilful and He never fails in His harvesting. Only see to it that you do not hinder the shining of the Sun of Righteousness, or the falling of the dew from heaven. The thinnest covering may serve to keep off the sunshine and the dew, causing the plant to wither. So the slightest barrier between your soul and Christ may cause you to dwindle and fade as a plant in a cellar or under a bush. Keep the sky clear. Receive the blessed influences your divine Husbandman may bring to bear upon you. Bask in the sunshine of His love. Drink of the waters of His goodness. Keep your face upturned to Him as the flowers do to the sun. Look, and your soul will live and grow.
Abide In The Vine
Someone may be thinking that, after all, we are not inanimate flowers but intelligent human beings with personal powers and personal responsibilities. This is true. The important difference is that what the flower is by nature, we must be by an intelligent and free surrender. To be one of God's lilies means an interior abandonment of the rarest kind. It means that we are to be infinitely passive and infinitely active also. We are to be passive regarding self, and we are to be active regarding our attention and response to God. It is very hard to explain this and be understood. But it means that we must lay down all the activity of the creature and must let only the activities of God work in us, through us, and by us. Self must step aside to let God work. Therefore, you do not have to make any effort to grow, but let your efforts concentrate on this that you abide in The Vine. The divine Husbandman who has the care of the Vine will care also for you who are His branches. He will prune and purge and water and tend you, so that you will grow and bring forth fruit. Your fruit will remain, and like the lily, you will find yourself arrayed so glorious that Solomon's apparel will be nothing compared with it.
What if you seem to be planted at this moment in a desert soil, where nothing can grow! Put yourselves completely into the hands of the good Husbandman, and He will begin at once to make the desert blossom as the rose. He will cause springs and fountains of water to start up out of its sandy wastes. For the promise is sure, that the man that trusts in the Lord "shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit" (Jeremiah 17:8).
It is the great prerogative of our divine Husbandman that He is able to turn any soil, whatever it may be like, into the soil of grace, the moment we put our growing into His hands. He does not need to transplant us into a different field. Right where we are, with just the circumstances that surround us, He makes His sun to shine and His dew to fall upon us. He transforms the very things that were our greatest hindrances to the most blessed means of our growth. I don't care what the circumstances may be, His wonderworking power can accomplish this. We must trust Him with it all. We can trust. And if He sends storms, or winds, or rains, or sunshine, all must be accepted at His hands with the most unwavering confidence that He, who has undertaken to cultivate us and to bring us to maturity, knows the very best way of accomplishing His end.
Let yourselves grow. Leave it all to the care and management of the Husbandman. No difficulties in your case can baffle Him. If you will only put yourselves completely into His hands, and let Him have His own way with you, nothing in your past life can mar the perfect work that He will accomplish. His own gracious promise to His backsliding children assures you of this. In Hosea 14:47 He says, "I will heal their backsliding. I will love them freely: for Mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olivetree, and his smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under His shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be a, the wine of Lebanon." And again He says: "Be not afraid. . .for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the figtree and the vine do yield their strength. . .And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten....And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and My people shall never be ashamed" Joel 2:2226).
Contentment In Growth
Oh that you could know just what your Lord meant when He said, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin." Surely these words give us the picture of a life and growth far different from the ordinary life and growth of Christians-a life of rest and a growth without effort. Yet, a life and a growth crowned with glorious results. We may be assured that all the resources of God's infinite grace will be brought to bear on the growing of the tiniest flower in His spiritual garden as certainly as they are in His earthly creation. As the violet abides peacefully in its little place, content to receive its daily portion without concerning itself about the wandering of the winds, or the falling of the rain, so must we rest in the present moment as it comes to us from God. We must be contented with our daily portion, without anxious thought as to anything that may be whirling around us in God's glorious universe, sure that all things will be made to "prosper" for us.
This is the kind of "growth in grace" in which we who have entered into the life of full trust, believe a growth without care or anxiety. A growth which does actually grow, which blossoms out into flower and fruit, and becomes like a "tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper" (Psalms 1:3). And we rejoice to know that there are growing up now in the Lord many such plants who are "beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord (being changed) into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
They grow so rapidly and with such success because they are not concerned about their growing and are hardly conscious that they do grow. It is enough for them that their Lord has told them to abide in Him and has promised that if they do abide in Him, they will certainly bring forth much fruit. They are only concerned with their part- abiding. They are content to leave the cultivating, growing, training, pruning, to their good Husbandman, who alone is able to manage these things. You will find that such souls are not engaged in watching self, but in "looking unto Jesus" (Hebrews 12:2). They do not "toil and spin" for their spiritual garments, but leave themselves in the hands of the Lord to be arrayed as it may please Him. Formerly they tried to be not only the garden but the gardener as well, and tried to fulfil the duties of both. Now they are content to be what they are- the garden only and not the gardener. They are willing to leave the gardener's duties to the divine Husbandman. Their interest in self is gone, transferred over into the hands of another. Christ alone is seen to be all in all.
Let us look at the subject practically. We all know that growing is not a thing of effort, but is the result of an inward lifeprinciple of growth. All the stretching and pulling in the world could not make a dead oak grow. A live oak grows without stretching. It is plain that the essential thing is to get within you the growing life, and then you cannot help but grow. And this life is the "life hid with Christ in God,'' the wonderful divine life of an indwelling Holy Spirit. Be filled with this, dear believer, and whether you are conscious of it or not, you must grow, you cannot help growing. Do not trouble about your growing, but see to it that you have the growing life. Abide in the Vine. Yield yourself up utterly to His lovely control. Put your growing into His hands as completely as you have put all your other affairs. Do not concern yourself about it. Do not even think it. Do not, as children do, keep digging up your plants to see if they are growing. Trust the divine Husbandman absolutely and always. Accept each moment as it comes to you from His dear hands, as being the needed sunshine or dew for that moment's growth. Say a continual "Yes" to your Father's will. And finally, in this, as in all the other cares of your life, "Be careful for nothing; but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God that passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4 :6, 7) .
If your "growth in grace" is of this sort, you will surely know, sooner or later, a wonderful growing. You will come to understand what the Psalmist meant when he said, "The righteous shall flourish like the palmtree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing" (Psalm 92: l 2 l 4) .