Part 5 - Self-examination
Psalm lxxxvii. 7. 'I commune with mye own heart.' David did put interrogatories to himself. Self-examination is the setting up a court in conscience and keeping a register there, that by strict scrutiny a man may know how things stand between God and his own soul. Self-examination is a spiritual inquisition; a bringing one's self to trial. A good Christian doth as it were begin the day of Judgment here in his own soul. Self-searching is a heart-anatomy.
As a Chirurgeon, when he makes a dissection in the body, discovers the intestina, the inward parts, the heart, liver, and arteries, so a Christian anatomizeth himself; he searcheth what is flesh and what is spirit; what is sin, and what is grace, Psalm lxxvii. 7. 'My spirit made diligent search:' As the woman in the Gospel did light a candle, and search for her lost groat, Luke xv. 8. so conscience 'is the candle of the Lord,' Prov. xx. 27. A Christian by the light of this candle must search his soul to see if he can find any grace there. The rule by which a Christian must try himself, is the Word of God. Fancy and opinion are false rules to go by. We must judge of our spiritual condition by the canon of Scripture. This David calls a 'lamp unto his feet,' Psalm cxix. 105. Let the word be the umpire to decide the controversy, whether we have grace or no. We judge of colours by the sun. So we must judge of the state of souls by the light of Scripture.
Self-examination is a great, incumbent duty; it requires self-excitation; it cannot possibly be done without offering violence to ourselves. 1. Because the duty of self-examination in itself is difficult: 1. It is actus reflexivus, a work of self-reflection;it lies most with the heart. 'Tis hard to look inward. External acts of religion are facile; to lift up the eye to Heaven, to bow the knee, to read a prayer; this requires no more labor than for a Catholic to tell over his beads; but to examine a man's self, to turn in upon his own soul, to take the heart as a watch all in pieces, and see what is defective; this is not easy. -- Reflective acts are hardest. The eye can see everything but itself. It is easy to spy the faults of others, but hard to find out our own.
it hides a multitude of evil,' Prov. x.12. A man looking upon himself in Philautae speculo, in the glass of self-love, his virtues appear greater than they are, and his sins less. Self-love makes one rather excuse what is amiss than examine it.
As examination is in itself difficult, so it is a work which we are very hardly brought to. That which causeth a backwardness to self-examination,is,
Consciousness of guilt. Sin clamours inwardly, and men are loathe to look into their hearts lest they should find that which should trouble them. It is little pleasure to read the hand writing on the wall of conscience. Many Christians are like tradesmen who are sinking in their estates; they are loathe to look over their books, or cast up their accounts, lest they should find their estates low: so they are loathe to look into their guilty heart, lest they should find something there which should affright them; as Moses was affrighted at the sight of the rod turned into a serpent.
Men are hardly brought to this duty because of foolish, presumptuous hopes: they fancy their estate to be good, and while they weigh themselves in the balance of presumption, they pass the test. Many take their salvation on trust. The foolish virgins thought they had oil in their lamps, the same as the wise, Matt. xxv. -- Some are not sure of their salvation, but secure. If one were to buy a piece of land, he would not take it upon trust, but examine the title. How confident are some of salvation, yet never examine their title to Heaven.
Men are not forward to examine themselves, because they rest in the good opinions of others: how vain this is! Alas, one may be gold and pearl in the eye of others, yet God may judge him reprobate silver: others may think him a saint, and God may write him down in his black-book. Judas was looked upon by the rest of the Apostles as a true believer: they would have given their hands to this certificate; yet he was a traitor. Standers by can but see the outward carriage; they cannot tell what evil is in the heart. Fair streams may run on the top of a river, but vermin may lay at the bottom.
Men are hardly brought to examine themselves, because they do not believe Scripture. The Scriptures saith, 'The heart is deceitful above all things,' Jer. xvii. 9. -- Solomon said there were four things too wonderful for him, that he could not know. Prov xxx. 19. He might have added a fifth. The way of a man's heart. The heart is the greatest impostor; it will be ready to put one off with seeming grace, instead of saving. The heart will persuade that a slight tear is repentance; a lazy desire is faith. Now because the generality of people do not believe that there is such fallacy in their hearts, therefore they are so slow to examine them. This natural backwardness in us to self-reflection, should cause us to offer the more violence to ourselves in making a thorough investigation and search of our hearts.
O that I might prevail with Christians to take pains with themselves in this great work of examination. Their salvation depends on it. It is the note of an harlot; she is seldom at home, Prov. vii. 11,12. 'Her feet abide not inher house; now is she without, now in the streets.' It is a sign of an harlot-professor, to be always abroad, spying the faults of others; but is never at home with his own heart. Oh let us try our hearts, as we try gold, by the touch-stone. Let us examine our sins, and finding out this leaven, burn it. Let us examine our grace, whether it be of the right kind. One went into the field to gather herbs, and he gathered wild gourds, and then death was in the pot, 2Kings iv. 40. So many think they have grace, the right herb; but it proves a wild gourd, and brings death and damnation. That we may offer violence to ourselves in this great business of examination, let these few things be seriously weighed.
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Christian should "Test" themselves in the faith.
If we will not try ourselves, God will try us. He will examine us, as the chief captain did Paul, by scourging, Acts xxii. 24. He will ask the same question as Christ, 'whose is this image and superscription?' And if we cannot show him His own image, he will reject us.
There is secret corruption within which will never be found out but by searching. There is in the heart (as Austin said) hidden pollution. When Pharaoh's steward accused Joseph's brethren of having the cup, they durst have sworn they did not have the cup in their sack. Little doth a man know what atheism, pride, and uncleanness is in his heart until he searcheth.
The great advantage will accrue to us: the benefit is great whichever way things turn. If upon examination we find that we have not grace in truth, then the mistake is discovered, and the danger prevented. If we find that we have grace, we may take the comfort of it. How glad was he that had 'found the pearl of great price?' He that upon search finds that he hath but the minimum quod sic, the least degree of grace, is like one who has found his box of evidences; he is heir to all the promises, and in a state of salvation.
And that we may go on the more successively in this work, let us desire God to help us to find out our hearts, Job xxxiv. 32. 'That which I see not teach thou me.'-- Lord, take off the veil; shew me my heart; let me not perish through mistake, or go to hell with hope of Heaven.
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