What is the ordinary history of the multitudes of professing Christians? Something which they call – rightly or wrongly is not the question for the moment – “conversion,” then a year or two, or perhaps a month or two, or perhaps a week or two, or perhaps a day or two, of profound earnestness, of joyful consecration, of willing obedience – and then back swarm the old ties and habits and associations. Many professing Christians are cases of arrested development, like some of those monstrosities that you see about our pavements – a full-grown man in the upper part with no under limbs at all to speak of, aged half a century, and only half the height of a ten-year-old child.
Are there not multitudes of so-called Christian people in all our churches and communities like that? I wonder if there are any of them here tonight who have not grown a bit for years, whose deeds yesterday were just the same as their deeds today, and so on through a long, dreary, past perspective of un-progressive life, the old sins cropping up with the old power and venom, the old weak bits in the dike bursting out again every winter and, at each flood, after all tinkering and mending, the old faults as rampant as ever, the new life as feeble, fluttering, spasmodic, uncertain.
They grow, if at all, by fits and starts, after the fashion, say, of a tree that every winter goes to sleep and only makes wood for a little while in the summer time. Or, they do not grow even as regularly as that, but there will come, sometimes, an hour or two of growth, and then long dreary tracts in which there is no progress at all, either in understanding of Christian doctrine or in the application of Christian precept; no increase in conformity to Jesus Christ, no increase or realizing their hold on His love, no clearer or more fixed and penetrating contemplation of the unseen realities than there used to be long, long ago.
How many of us are babes in Christ when we have gray hairs upon our heads and when, for the time, we ought to be teachers, have needed that one should teach us again which be the first principles of the oracles of God?
Oh, dear friends, it seems to me, sometimes, that that notion of the continuous growth in Christian understanding and feeling and character, as attaching to the very instance of the Christian life, is clean gone out of the consciousness of half the professing Christians of this day. How far our notions about church fellowship and reception of people into the church, and the like, have to do with it, is not for me to discuss here. Only this I cannot help feeling, that if Jesus Christ came into most of our congregations nowadays, He would not, and could not, say what He said to these poor people at Thyatira: “I know your last works are more than your first.” – Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), from a sermon on Revelation 2.19.