Winter Afore Harvest or the Soul's Growth in Grace

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Puritan Board Doctor
A sermon by J. C. Philpot:

Preached at Providence Chapel, Oakham, on Lord’s Day Morning, 20th August, 1837.

"For afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect, and the sour grape is ripening in the flower, he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches. They shall be left together unto the fowls of the mountains, and to the beasts of the earth: and the fowls shall summer upon them, and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them." Isa 18:5-6​

No one, I think, who reads the Word of God with an enlightened eye can deny that there is contained in it such a doctrine as growth in grace. Peter says expressly, "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" 2Pe 3:18. The faith of the Thessalonians was said "to grow exceedingly" 2Th 1:3. And thus we read of degrees of faith, from "little faith" Mt 6:30, "weak faith" Ro 14:1, faith "as a grain of mustard seed" Mt 17:20, to "great faith" Mt 15:28, "strong faith" Ro 4:20, "fullness of faith" Ac 6:8, and "full assurance of faith" Heb 10:22.

Figures also and comparisons are made use of in the Word of truth which clearly point to the same doctrine. Thus the divine life is compared sometimes to the course of the sun: "The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" Pr 4:18; sometimes to the growth of corn, "first the blade, then the ear, after that, the full corn in the ear" Mr 4:28; sometimes to the increase of the human body, as commencing with "new-born babes" 1Pe 2:2, and advancing on to "little children", "young men" and "fathers" 1Jo 2:12-14; sometimes to a race, where the runner "forgets those things which are behind, and reaches forth unto those things which are before" Php 3:13. The very idea indeed of life implies advance, growth, progress, increase. Lambs grow up into sheep, vine buds into vine branches Joh 15:5, slips into trees Isa 17:10 Isa 61:3, sons into fathers 1Ti 1:18 1Ti 5:1. Christians are not gate-posts, but palm trees and cedars Ps 92:12; not loungers on half-pay, but soldiers warring a good warfare 1Ti 1:18; not idlers at home on armchairs and sofas, but travellers and pilgrims seeking a country; not careless, and at ease, like Laish and Moab Jud 18:7 Jer 48:11, but pressed out of measure by trials and temptations, so as at times to despair even of life 2Co 1:8. Their grand distinguishing mark then is, that they grow; and, therefore, absence of growth implies absence of life. Hypocrites, indeed, may grow in hypocrisy, Pharisees in self-righteousness, Arminians in fleshly perfection, dead Calvinists in head-knowledge, proud professors in presumption, self-deceivers in delusion, and the untried and unexercised in vain confidence. But the dead never grow in the divine life, for "the root of the matter" is not in them Job 19:28.

But the question at once arises: "What is growth in grace? What is its nature, and in what does it consist? Is it the same thing as what is usually called ’ progressive sanctification’? and is it meant thereby that our nature grows holier and holier, and our heart purer and purer? Does growth in grace imply that besetting sins gradually become weaker, temptations less powerful, the lust of the flesh less seducing; and that our Adam nature, our old man, is improved and transmuted into grace, as the crab tree of the hedge has, by long and patient cultivation, become changed into the apple tree of the garden?" No, by no means. Painful experience has taught me the contrary, and shown me that progressive sanctification has no foundation in the Word of God, and no reality in the hearts of His people.

The answer, then, to the question, "What is growth in grace?" is contained, I believe, in the text, and I shall therefore endeavour to unfold it in an experimental manner according to the ability which God may give me. The text speaks of three distinct stages in divine life, Spring, Harvest, and an intermediate state between the two which we may call Winter. We shall indeed find as we proceed that the Spring is divided into two stages, the latter of which we may term Summer; and thus growth in grace is compared to the advance of the seasons in the year. But there is this remarkable difference between the natural and the spiritual seasons, between growth in nature and growth in grace, that the succession of seasons is not the same in each. Nature commences with blooming spring, advances on to glowing summer, ripens into yellow harvest, and dies away in dreary winter. Grace, according to the line of experience that I am about to describe, commences with Spring -with "the bud", and "the flower of the sour grape". Thence it advances on to Summer, when "the bud is perfect", and "the sour grape is ripening in the flower". Does not Harvest immediately follow? Alas! no. "Afore the harvest" another seasons comes. Between summer and it, Winter -a long dreary winter intervenes. Thus, the order of seasons in the divine life is not spring, summer, harvest, winter: but spring, summer, winter, harvest.

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Puritan Board Freshman
Thank you for this sermon. I first read it in 1972 when I was reading a lot of Philpot. He is always searching and encouraging at the same time. There is a depth in his ministry that few can equal.

Yours in Christ,
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