« PreviousContinue »
can be done to purpose in self-examination. This will appear if we attend, either to the importance, or to the difficulty of the exercise.
The point at issue is of inconceivable importance. In an inquiry on the result of which our property or life depended, we would naturally be serious; but here the subject of inquiry is far more interesting. It involves our everlasting welfare. The question is nothing less than, Are we the friends or the enemies of God; the children of his love, or the objects of his indignation? It is, as it were, an anticipation of the proceedings of the general judgment, so far as refers to ourselves; and, if this does not require seriousness, what does?
But the exercise is not only important, but also difficult. The difficulty of the duty arises partly from natural, but principally from moral causes. The study of ourselves is attended with a variety of obstacles. It is with the mind as with the eye: With perfect ease it observes external objects; but it is not without a good deal of contrivance and exertion that it can be rendered the object of its own contemplation. The physical difficulties are small, however, compared with the moral ones. We are disposed to think too favourably of ourselves, and are unwilling to be persuaded of disagreeable truth. Evidence, which would prove quite conclusive in another person's case, is considered as by no means satisfactory in our own. We easily assume that to be true which we wish to be true, and conclude that to be false which we wish to be false.
Hence the necessity of the second temper which we mentioned, impartiality. This is a qualification essentially requisite in a judge. We must be willing to hear all that is against us, as well as all that is for us. We must not allow ourselves to act the part of an advocate, by bringing forward palliations, excuses, or defences. We must not, when the evidence wears an alarming
appearance, desist from the inquiry. We must determine, at all events, to get at the truth, the whole truth. A partial self-examination is worse than no self-examination at all. It hardens prejudice; it perpetuates self-deception.
3d, In order to carry on with success a course of self-inquiry, the assistance of the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary. It is a radical principle of the Christian institution, that all right thinking and feeling, in reference to religion and morals, originate in the operation of the Spirit of God. We cannot think a good thought as of ourselves.. "Without Christ" and his Spirit, we can do nothing." The reason why so many of our attempts at religious duty turn out to no purpose, or worse than no purpose, is, that we are not duly impressed with a sense of the necessity of divine influence, and not sufficiently attentive to the appointed means of obtaining it.
The assistance of the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary, in order to successful self-examination. He alone is perfectly acquainted with our character. knows not only our actions, but their causes. the forming thought, the rising desire, the latent intention. "He searches all things." He has, in the Scriptures, furnished us with the means of trying ourselves; but he must fix our attention, and irradiate our judgment, to enable us to make a right use of these
To obtain his assistance, we are commanded to be instant in prayer: "If ye, being evil," says our Lord, "know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father, who is in heaven, give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?" Let then our prayers ascend frequent and fervent before the throne of God, for the enlightening influence of the Holy Ghost; which alone can dissipate the clouds of pre
judice and self-deception, so apt to envelope the mind when engaged in the investigation of its own moral state. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
III. A very brief illustration of a few of the motives which urge to the performance of the duty of self-examination, shall conclude the Discourse. The express command of God, the reasonable nature of the exercise, and its advantageous consequences, all urge us to engage in it.
1st, The authority of God requires us to engage in self-examination. A clear revelation of the will of God is the most powerful motive to duty which can be urged on a rational, dependent, immortal being. This is not wanting in the present instance. The words in the text are most express: "Let a man examine himself." Nor less explicit are the words of the same inspired writer upon another occasion: "Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith, try your ownselves: What! know ye not your ownselves, that if Christ Jesus be not in you, then are ye reprobates ?” -Besides these explicit injunctions of self-examination, its obligation is implied in almost every precept which has a reference to religious duty. How can we repent, how can we turn from our backslidings, or grow in grace, unless we know our own state and character? and how are we to acquire a knowledge of these but by self-examination?
2d, Can any thing be more reasonable than that a man should examine himself? What exercise is more suited to his nature as a rational being? "The proper knowledge of mankind is man.” Even the Heathen sage was so impressed with a sense of the reasonableness and importance of self-knowledge, that he assert
ed that the maxim "KNOW THYSELF" was the suggestion of the Divinity.-Why was the power of reflection given to man, but that it might be improved?
It is reasonable that a man should examine himself, not merely because he is by his nature fitted for this exercise, but because it is absolutely necessary to prevent him from falling into dangerous mistakes. Vast multitudes, from neglecting this duty, not only impose on others, but deceive themselves. While strangers to the Christian character, they lay claim to the present consolations and the future reward, which belong exclusively to its possessors. Lulled asleep in false security, they dream of nothing but peace and happiness, till "in hell they open their eyes, being in torment." Does not the very possibility of our committing such a mistake, make self-examination in the highest degree reasonable?
3d, Numerous and important advantages naturally flow from self-examination. In the Holy Scriptures we find appropriate instructions given to mankind, according to their various characters; but to derive advantage from these instructions, we must know under what class we are to rank ourselves. To a man who knows himself, the word of God must be very useful. To a man who does not know himself, it can be but of little, or rather of no use.
Self-examination can do no harm. If all is safe, the knowledge of this cannot produce insecurity. If we are in hazard, the knowledge of this does not increase the danger. But this is not all. Self-examination is in every case calculated to do good. Are we still strangers to the power of religion? A conviction of this is a probable means of rousing us to consider the things which belong to our peace. To be convinced of danger is requisite, in order to our "fleeing for refuge to the hope set before us in the gospel." Multi
tudes are thoughtless about conversion, because they flatter themselves they are converted already; whereas a sense of their awfully hazardous situation, resulting from an impartial and honest inquiry, is of all things the most likely to produce that serious concern, which, by the blessing of God, often issues in "repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ."
Are we really religious? Surely it must be good for us to know that we are so. To make our calling and election sure, is equally our interest and our duty. A good man, uncertain about his state, must be unhappy, and unhappy in proportion to his goodness. On the other hand, how delightful to know that God loves us, and that nothing can separate us from his love; to know that all the blessings of grace, and of glory, are secured to us by an inviolable tenure; to know that "all is ours, whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas, or life, or death, all is ours, for we are Christ's, and Christ is God's!" Neglect of self-examination is a sin, which to a Christian carries its punishment in its bosom ; and "in keeping the commandment" in the text "there is great reward."
Never is self-examination more necessary than in the prospect of observing the Lord's supper. From what has been said in a former discourse, it is plainly requisite to enable us to resolve the question, whether or not we have a right to engage in this service,— whether an approach to the Lord's table on our part, would be honourable to our Saviour, or advantageous to our own souls? "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” says the apostle. Communicating then is sin to every one who engages in it, without an enlightened conviction of its being his duty to do so,-and this he cannot have, unless by serious self-inquiry he has discovered that he is indeed a Christian.