The Young Lady's Guide to the
Development of Christian Character
by Harvey Newcomb, 1843
In view of the positive injunctions of Scripture, no
argument is necessary to show that self-examination is a duty. Paul says,
"Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves."
But, if the word of God had been silent upon the subject, the importance of
self-knowledge would have been a sufficient motive for searching into the
secret springs of action which influence our conduct. A person ignorant of
his own heart is like a merchant who knows nothing the state of his
accounts, while every day liable to become a bankrupt; or like the crew of a
leaky vessel, who are insensible to their danger. The professed follower of
Christ, who knows not whether he is a true or false disciple, is in a
condition no less dangerous.
Although we may be Christians without the assurance
of our adoption, yet we are taught in the Holy Scriptures that such
assurance is to be attained. Job, in the midst of his affliction,
experienced its comforting support: "I know," says he, "that my
Redeemer lives." David says, with confidence, "I shall be satisfied
when I awake with your likeness." Paul expresses the like assurance: "I
know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that
which I have committed unto him against that day." All Christians are taught
to expect the same, and exhorted to strive after it: "And we desire that
everyone of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of
hope, unto the end." "Let us draw near with a true heart, in full
assurance of faith." "Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, then
have we confidence toward God." "He who believes on the Son of God
has the witness in himself." "For you have not received the spirit of
bondage again to fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption, whereby
we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that
we are the children of God." "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby you
are sealed unto the day of redemption."
But, as gold dust is sometimes concealed in the sand,
so grace in the heart may be so mingled with remaining corruption, that we
cannot clearly distinguish its motions. It might not be for the benefit
of a person of such low attainments in the divine life to receive an
assurance of God's favor until these corruptions have been so far subdued as
to give the principle of grace the ascendency. Hence God has wisely directed
that the sure evidence of adoption can be possessed only by those who have
made such progress in holiness as to be able to discern the fruits of the
Spirit in their hearts and lives. The witness of the Spirit must not
be sought in any sudden impulses upon the mind—but in the real work of grace
in the heart, conforming it to the image of God. Even if God should indulge
us with such impulses or impressions, they would not be certain evidence of
our adoption, because Satan can counterfeit experiences of this kind. Hence
we may account for the strong confidence which is sometimes expressed
by young converts who afterwards fall away.
But when the image of God can be seen in our hearts and
lives, we may be certain that we are his children. That this is the
true witness of the Spirit, may be inferred from the passage last quoted.
When this Epistle was written, it was the custom of princes to have their
names and images stamped upon their seals. These seals, when used, would
leave the impression of the name and image of their owners upon the wax. So,
when God sets his seal upon the hearts of his children, it leaves an
impression of his name and image. The same thing may be intended in
Revelation, where Jesus promises to give him that overcomes "a white stone,
and in the stone a new name written."
A figure somewhat similar is also used in the third
chapter of Malachi. Speaking of the Messiah, the prophet says, "He shall sit
as a refiner and purifier of silver." A refiner of silver sits over the
fire, with his eye steadily fixed upon the precious metal in the crucible,
until he sees his own image in it, as we see our faces in the mirror.
So the Lord will carry on his purifying work in the hearts of his children,
until he sees his own image there. When this image is so plain and clear as
to be distinctly discerned by us, then the Spirit of God bears witness with
our spirits that we are his children.
As love is the most prominent and abiding fruit of
the Spirit, it may be the medium through which the union between God and the
soul is seen, and by which the child of God is assured of his adoption. A
strong and lively exercise of a childlike, humble love may give a clear
evidence of the soul's relation to God as his child. "Love is of God; and
everyone that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that loves not, knows
not God; for God is love." As God is love, the exercise of that holy
principle in the heart of the believer shows the impression of the divine
image. "God is love; and he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in
him." Hence the apostle John says, "We know that we have passed from
death unto life, because we love the brethren." But, if this love is
genuine, it will regulate the emotions of the heart, and its effects will be
visible in the lives of those who possess it. The same apostle says, "By
this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep
his commandments." So that, in order to have certain evidence of our
adoption into the blessed family of which Jesus is the Elder Brother, all
the fruits of the Spirit must have grown up to some degree of maturity.
From the foregoing remarks, we see the great importance
of self-examination. We must have an intimate acquaintance with the
operations of our own minds, to enable us to distinguish between the
exercise of gracious affections, and the selfish workings of our own hearts.
And, unless we are in the constant habit of diligent inquiry into the
character of our emotions, and the motives of our actions, this will be an
exceedingly difficult matter. The Scriptures specify several objects for
which this inquiry should be instituted, namely—
I. To discover our SINS, that we may come to Christ
for pardon, and for grace to subdue them.
David prays, "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." The prophet Jeremiah says, "Let us
search and try our ways, and turn again unto the Lord." This
examination should be a constant work. We should search into the motives of
our actions, and examine our pious feelings, to know, if possible, whether
they come from the Spirit of God, or whether they are a fire of our own
kindling. We must be cautious, however, lest, by diverting our attention
from the truth, to examine the nature of the emotions produced by it, we
should lose them altogether. This can better be determined afterwards, by
recalling to recollection these emotions, and the causes which produced
them. If they were called forth by correct views of truth, and if they
correspond, in their nature, with the descriptions of gracious affections
contained in the Bible, we may safely conclude them to be genuine.
But, as we are often under the necessity of acting
without much deliberation; as we are so liable to neglect duty; and as every
duty is marred by so much imperfection—it is not only proper, but highly
necessary, that we should have stated seasons for retiring into our closets,
and calmly and deliberately reviewing our conduct, our pious exercises, and
the prevailing state of our hearts, and comparing them with the word of God.
There are two very important reasons why this work should be performed at
the close of every day. 1. If neglected for a longer period, we may forget
both our actions and our motives. It will be very difficult for us
afterwards to recall them, so as to subject them to a thorough examination.
2. There is a great propriety in closing up the accounts of every day.
"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Every day will bring with it
work enough for repentance. Again, when we lie down—we may awaken in
eternity! What, then, will become of those sins which we have laid by for
the consideration of another day? Let us, then, never give sleep to our eyes
until we have searched out every sin of the past day, and made fresh
application to the blood of Christ for pardon.
This is, indeed, a very difficult work; but, by frequent
practice, it will become less so. By sitting down in your closet, after
finishing the duties of the day, and seriously and prayerfully engaging in
this exercise, you may try your conduct and feelings by the rules laid down
in the word of God. You may thus bring to remembrance the exercises of your
heart, as well as your actions, and be reminded of neglected duty, and of
those great practical truths which ought ever to be kept before your mind.
You may bring up your sins, and set them in order before you, and discover
your besetting sins. You may be led to the exercise of penitence, and be
driven anew to the cross of Christ for pardon, and for strength to subdue
indwelling corruption. Whenever you discover that you have exercised any
correct feeling, or that your conduct has in any respect been conformed to
the word of God, acknowledge with gratitude his grace in it, and give him
the glory. Wherein you find you have been deficient, confess your sin before
God, and apply afresh to the blood of Christ, which "CLEANSES from all sin."
But be cautious that you do not put your feelings of regret, your tears and
sorrows, in the place of the great sacrifice of Christ. Remember that no
degree of sorrow can atone for sin; and that only is godly sorrow
which leads to the blood of Jesus. Any peace of conscience obtained from any
other source must be false peace. It is in believing, only, that we
can have joy and peace.
You will find advantage from varying this exercise. When
we frequently repeat anything in the same form, we are in danger of
acquiring a careless habit, so that it will lose its effect. Sometimes take
the ten commandments, and examine your actions and motives by them. And, in
doing this, you will find great help from the explanation of the
commandments, contained in the "Assembly's Shorter Catechism." This shows
their spirituality, and brings them home to the heart. Again, you may take
some portion of Scripture which contains precepts for the regulation of the
conduct, and compare the actions of the day with them. Or you may take the
life of Christ as a pattern, compare your conduct and motives with it, and
see whether in all things you have manifested his spirit. But do not be
satisfied until the exercise, however performed, has taken hold of the
heart, and led to penitence for sin, and a sense of pardon through the blood
of Christ, which accompanies true contrition; for "the Lord is near unto
those who are of a broken heart, and saves such as are of a contrite
II. Another object of self-examination may be, to
ascertain the reason why the Lord does not answer our PRAYERS.
This reason may generally be found in ourselves.
I know of but two exceptions. One is, when the thing we ask is not agreeable
to the will of God. The other is, when the Lord delays to answer our
prayers for the trial of our faith.
The obstacles which exist in ourselves, to prevent his
granting our requests, are generally some of the following:
1. We may be living in the practice of some sin, or the
neglect of some duty. "If I regard iniquity in my heart," says the Psalmist,
"the Lord will not hear me." "He who turns away his ear from hearing the
law, even his prayer shall be abomination." We may weep day and night on our
knees before God; yet, if we are living in the habitual neglect of duty, or
if any sin cleaves to us for which we have not exercised repentance and
faith in the atoning blood of Christ, we have no reason to expect that he
will hear our prayers.
2. We may not be sufficiently humble before God. "Though
the Lord is high, yet has he respect unto the lowly; but the proud he
knows afar off." "God resists the proud, but gives grace unto the
humble." "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you
up." "Whoever exalts himself shall be abased; and he who humble himself
shall be exalted." Hence, if our hearts are proud, and we refuse to humble
ourselves before God, he will not answer our prayers.
3. We may not desire the things we ask that God may be
glorified, but that it may serve our own selfish gratification. "You ask,
and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your
lusts." When we ask with such motives, we have no right to expect that God
will hear our prayers.
4. We may not be asking in faith. "But let him ask in
faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea,
driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall
receive anything of the Lord." "Without faith, it is impossible to
5. We may be exercising an unforgiving temper; and if so,
the Lord has declared that he will not hear our prayers. (Matt. 18:35; Mark
When, therefore, you have been for some time praying for
any particular object, without receiving an answer, carefully examine
yourself with reference to these points, and wherein you find yourself
deficient, endeavor, in the strength of Christ, immediately to reform. If
your circumstances will permit, set apart a day of fasting and prayer for
this object. And, if the answer is still delayed, repeat the examination,
until you are certain that you have complied with all the conditions of the
III. Another object of self-examination is, to
ascertain the cause of AFFLICTIONS, whether spiritual or temporal.
If the Lord sends distress upon us, or hides
from us the light of his countenance—he has some good reason for it. By
reading the book of Haggai, you will discover the principles upon which God
deals with his people; and there he says, "In the day of adversity
consider." If, therefore, the work of your hands does not prosper, or if
the Lord has withdrawn from you his special presence, be sure that something
is wrong: it is time for you to "consider your ways." In the book referred
to, the Lord informs the Jews of the cause of their poverty and distress.
They had not built the house of God. He also tells them that the silver and
the gold are his, and that he will bless them as soon as they do their duty.
We are as dependent upon God's blessing now—as his people were then. If we
withhold from him what he requires of us for advancing the interests of his
kingdom, can we expect temporal prosperity? If we refuse to do our duty, can
we expect his presence? These, then, should be the subjects of inquiry, in
such circumstances. In such cases, also, it may be very proper to observe a
day of fasting and prayer.
IV. Another object of self-examination is, to know
whether we are true Christians. "Examine
yourselves whether you be in the faith." This is a very important inquiry.
It is intimately connected with every other, and should enter more or less
into all. In order to prosecute this inquiry, you must make yourself
acquainted with the evidences of Christian character. These are clearly
exhibited in the Holy Scriptures. Study the Bible diligently and
prayerfully, for the purpose of ascertaining the genuine marks of saving
grace. You may also find benefit from the writings of men of great personal
experience, who have had much opportunity of observing the effects of true
and false religion. In particular, I would recommend to you the careful
study of President Edwards's "Treatise on Religious Affections." He was a
man of great piety, who had attained to the full assurance of hope.
He had also passed through a number of revivals of religion. The work of
which I speak contains a scriptural view of the evidences of the new birth;
and also points out, with great clearness and discrimination, the marks of
false religion. He distinguishes between those things which may be common
both to true and false religion, and those which are the certain marks of
true conversion. But, in reading this work, especially the first part of it,
you need, perhaps, to be cautioned against discouragement. While you allow
the truth its most searching effect upon your heart, do not allow it to
drive you to despair. You will, however, find the latter part of the book
more encouraging. In the former part, where he is pointing out the marks of
false religion, of selfishness, and of spiritual pride—it would seem as if
none could escape being stripped of all their claims to true religion; but,
in the latter part, where he describes the effects of true piety, the marks
of humility, etc., the reading of it will be likely to discover to you the
marks of a saving change, if you have any.
Self-examination, for this object, should be habitual. In
reading the Bible, in meditation, in hearing the word—wherever you see an
evidence of Christian character, inquire whether you possess it. But you
ought, also, frequently to set apart seasons for the solemn and prayerful
consideration of the important question, "Am I a Christian?" A
portion of the Sabbath may be very properly spent in this way. You should
enter upon this work with the solemnities of the judgment day before you.
The Scriptures furnish abundant matter for self-examination. Bring the
exercises of your heart, and the conduct of your life, to this unerring
standard. You will also find much assistance in this exercise by the use of
the following tracts, published by the American Tract Society: No. 21,
entitled "A Closet Companion;" No. 146, entitled "Helps to
Self-Examination;" and No. 165, entitled "True and False Conversions
distinguished." You have likewise probably noticed several chapters in
Doddridge's "Rise and Progress" admirably adapted to this object. I mention
these because it is advantageous frequently to vary the exercise. Take time
to perform the work of self-examination thoroughly, bringing to your aid all
the information you can obtain from these and other sources—varying the
exercise at different times, that it may not become superficial and formal.
I have prepared some questions, in my little work
entitled "The Closet," both for the general purpose of inquiring as
to the main question whether we are Christians, and also for particular
occasions, as the close of the day, Sabbath evening, before communion, etc.,
to which I must refer you, instead of pursuing this part of the subject
further, in this place.
Should you, at any time, come to the deliberate
conclusion that you are resting upon a false hope, give it up, but do not
abandon yourself to despair. Go immediately to the cross of Christ!
Give up your heart to him, as though you had never come before. There is no
other way. This is the only refuge, and Jesus never sent a soul empty away.
"The one who comes to me I will never cast out." Persevere, even though you
find scarce evidence enough to give a faint glimmering of hope. Continually
renew your repentance and faith in Christ. Diligence in self-examination may
be a means of growth in grace; and if you are really a child of God, your
evidences will increase and brighten, until you will be able to indulge "a
good hope through grace." "For, in due time, we shall reap, if we faint
not." And "The path of the just is as the shining light, that shines more
and more unto the perfect day."
V. Another object of self-examination is, to ascertain
whether we are prepared to approach the Lord's table.
"But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of
that bread, and drink of that cup." Here the duty of self-examination,
before partaking of the Lord's supper, is evidently taught. And, in the next
verse, we are told what is requisite to enable us to partake of this
ordinance in an acceptable manner. It is, that we have faith to discern the
Lord's body. A backslider in heart, even though a real Christian, is not
prepared to partake of this spiritual feast, without renewing his repentance
and faith. In this examination, two subjects of inquiry present themselves.
1. "Am I a Christian?" 2. "Am I growing in grace?" In regard to the first of
these inquiries, enough has already been said. To answer the second, you
will need consider, 1. Whether you were living in the exercise of gracious
affections at the last communion; 2. Whether you have since made any
progress in the divine life. For questions, I must again refer you to "The
If you have time to keep a journal, you may find some
advantage from reviewing it on such occasions. It will aid your memory, and
help you to give your past life a more thorough examination. You will
thereby be the better able to judge whether you are making progress. It
should, however, be written solely for your own private use, without the
remotest idea of having it ever seen by others; or else it may become a
snare to you. But, however unfit this examination may find you, do not let
Satan tempt you to stay away from the Lord's table. It is your duty to
commemorate his dying love. It is your duty, also, to do it with a suitable
preparation of heart. Both these duties you will neglect by staying away. In
doing so, you cannot expect God's blessing. But set immediately about the
work of repentance. Come to the cross of Christ, and renew your
application to his atoning blood. Give yourself away to God anew, and
renew your covenant with him. In doing this, he will bless your soul; and
the Lord's table will be a season of refreshing. But, if this preparation be
heartfelt and sincere, its fruits will be seen in your subsequent life.
Remember who has said, "be faithful unto death—and I will give you the crown