"Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves." 2 Corinthians 13:5
It is only by scrutinizing the heart, that we can know it. It is only by knowing the heart, that we can reform the life. Any careless observer indeed, when his watch goes wrong, may see that it does so by casting an eye on the dial plate; but it is only the jeweler who takes it to pieces and examines every spring and every wheel separately, and who, by ascertaining the precise causes of the irregularity, can set the machine right, and restore the obstructed movements. Dr. Barrow has remarked, that "it is a peculiar excellency of human nature, and which distinguishes man from the inferior creatures more than bare reason itself, that he can reflect upon all that is done within him, can discern the tendencies of his soul, and is acquainted with his own purposes."
Nothing more plainly shows us what weak, vacillating creatures we are — than the difficulty we find in fixing ourselves down to the very self-scrutiny we had deliberately resolved on. Like the worthless Roman Emperor, we retire to our closet under the appearance of serious occupation, but might now and then be surprised, if not in catching flies — yet in pursuits nearly as contemptible. Some trifle which we should be ashamed to dwell upon at any time, intrudes itself on the moments dedicated to serious thought; recollection is interrupted; the whole chain of reflection broken, so that the scattered links cannot again be united. And so inconsistent are we, that we are sometimes not sorry to have a plausible pretense for interrupting the very employment in which we had just before made it a duty to engage. For lack of this heart acquaintance, we remain in utter ignorance of our inability to meet even the ordinary trials of life with cheerfulness; indeed, by this neglect, we confirm that inability.
We have appetites to control, imaginations to restrain, tempers to regulate, passions to subdue; and how can this internal work be effected, how can our thoughts be kept within due bounds, how can a proper balance be given to the affections, how can the heart of man be preserved from continual insurrection, how can this restraining power be maintained — if this capacity of discerning, if this faculty of inspecting — is not kept in regular exercise? Without constant discipline, imagination will become lawless, conscience an disgraced rebel.
This inward eye, this power of inspection, is given us for a continual watch upon the soul. On an unremitted vigilance over its interior motions, those fruitful seeds of action, those prolific principles of vice and virtue — well depend both the formation and the growth of our moral and religious character. A superficial glance is not enough for a thing so deep — an unsteady view will not suffice for a thing so wavering, nor a casual look for a thing so deceitful as the human heart. A partial inspection on any side, will not be enough for an object which must be observed under a variety of aspects, because it is always shifting its positions, always changing its appearances. "The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Jeremiah 17:9
We should examine . . .
not only our conduct, but our opinions;
not only our faults, but our prejudices;
not only our propensities, but our judgments.
Our actions themselves will be obvious enough — it is our intentions which require the scrutiny. These we should . . .
follow up to their remotest springs,
scrutinize to their deepest recesses, and
trace through their most perplexing windings.
And lest we should in our pursuit wander in uncertainty and blindness, let us make use of that guiding clue, as furnished by his word and by his Spirit, for conducting us through the intricacies of this labyrinth. "What I do not know — teach me," should be our constant petition in all our researches.
Nor must the examination be occasional, but regular. Let us not run into long arrears, but settle our accounts frequently. Little articles will run up to a large amount, if they are not cleared off. Even our best days, as we may choose to call them, will not have passed without furnishing their faults and sins . . .
our deadness in devotion,
our eagerness for human applause,
our care to conceal our faults, rather than to correct them,
our negligent performance of some relative duty,
our imprudence in conversation,
our inconsideration and selfishness,
our driving to the very edge of permitted indulgences,
let us keep these — let us keep all our numerous items in small sums. Let us examine them while the particulars are fresh in our memory; otherwise however we may flatter ourselves that lesser evils will be swallowed up by the greater ones — we may find when we come to settle the grand account, that they will not be the less remembered for not having been recorded.
In the discharge of this necessary and important duty, the Christian should remember that every day he lives, he has . . .
a God to glorify,
a soul to save,
repentance to perform,
a Savior to believe and imitate,
a body to mortify through the Spirit,
graces and virtues to nurture by earnest prayer,
sins to weep over and forsake,
mercies and deliverances to be thankful for,
a Hell to avoid,
a Paradise to gain,
an eternity to meditate upon,
time to redeem,
a neighbor to edify,
works of charity to perform,
a world to fear, and yet to conquer,
demons to combat,
passions to subdue,
perhaps, death to suffer, and judgment to undergo!
And all these must be met and performed in the grace of Christ, and not in your own strength, which is perfect weakness.
There is a spurious sort of self-examination, which does not serve to enlighten, but to blind. A person who has left off some notorious vice, who has softened some shades of a glaring sin, or substituted some outward religious forms in the place of open sin — looks on his change of character with pleasure. He compares himself with what he was, and views the alteration with self-delight. He deceives himself by taking his standard from his former conduct, or from the character of still worse men — instead of taking it from the unerring rule of scripture. He looks rather at the dishonor than the sinfulness of his former life — and being more ashamed of what is disreputable, than grieved at what is wicked — he is, in this state of shallow reformation, more in danger in proportion as he is more respectable. He is not aware that it is not having a fault or two less, that will carry him to Heaven — while his heart is still glued to the world and estranged from God.
How necessary then it is that the Christian should minutely examine his motives and actions — that he should constantly say, with the Royal Psalmist, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:23-24
In discharging this duty, the Christian will be greatly assisted, by attending to the following simple guidelines:
1. Let a fixed time be set apart every morning and evening for this purpose. It is impossible to give any rule as to the length of time that should be given. The obligations of persons vary with their situations and circumstances; but let us give as much time, as, consistently with our other duties, we can spare — and let the time in every case be so employed, not as a task — but as a blessing; not merely as a requirement — but as a privilege and advantage. For the more close, faithful, and diligent you are in self-examination — the more comfort and benefit you are likely to receive in the end.
2. Consider the Holy Scriptures, as the great test by which you are to try yourself. They are the only true standard of self-examination — the touchstone which discovers at once the character of the metal. By comparing your state with the most practical and spiritual parts of God's word, and varying those parts from time to time — you try yourself by a perfect and infallible standard.
3. Conduct this examination in the spirit of Prayer. Prayer is the guide to self-knowledge, by prompting us to look after our sins, in order to pray against them. Prayer is a motive to vigilance, by teaching us to guard against those sins which, through self-examination, we have been enabled to detect.
4. Beware of formality and self-righteousness. Although it is our bounden duty to guard against the commission of sin, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world — yet it is not our watchfulness against sin, or our performance of any religious duty, however good in itself, which constitutes us as genuine Christians. For after all we have done or can do, we are but unprofitable servants. We should hate sin, because it is hateful in the sight of God. We should seek to be delivered from sin's dominion by earnest prayer, and depend alone for salvation on the merits and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is emphatically styled the Lord our Righteousness — for all dependence upon our own good works will only prove a means of delusion and danger to our souls.
A PRAYER BEFORE SELF-EXAMINATION.
Holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, who searches the heart and tries the innermost thoughts — I beseech you now to assist me in looking into my own heart, and my own life. Feeling and acknowledging that my heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, I beseech you to show me to myself. Enable me to try myself by the standard of your holy word, and discover the true state of my soul. Grant me . . .
repentance for all my past sins,
lively faith in Jesus Christ the only Savior from sin,
deep humility before you, and
such tempers and dispositions as are fit for those who assemble around the table of our gracious Redeemer. These things I ask for his name's sake.
QUESTIONS FOR SELF-EXAMINATION.
1. Have I this morning sought of the Lord his special grace and protection for the day?
2. Am I going forth in my own strength — or simply looking to God alone to help and deliver?
3. Am I so sensible of my own weakness, as ever to watch and pray?
4. Am I living by faith in a daily and simple dependence upon God?
5. Do I constantly remember that I am accountable to God for a right improvement of the talents entrusted to me?
6. Have I determined to devote myself this day for the glory of God?
7. Are all the faculties of my soul engaged to render affectionate, intelligent, sincere, and resolute service?
8. Have I resolved, in the strength of God, to forsake all sins, however dear to me — particularly my besetting sin, whether it be pride, envy, malice, covetousness, impurity, fear of man, or any other sin?
9. Is it my constant desire to abstain from the very appearance of evil, and to keep myself unspotted from the world?
1. Did I this morning make my resolutions to walk closely with God, in dependence on his gracious assistance?
2. Have I this day put up petitions against my besetting sins?
3. What sins have I committed, and what duties have I omitted, today?
4. What mercies have I received this day — Answers to prayer — Deliverance from evil — Common or remarkable blessings?
5. What have I done this day for the glory of God or the good of my fellow-creatures? What opportunities have I neglected of promoting them?
6. Have I been enabled this day willingly to take up my cross?
7. Have I been watching today against the first risings of pride and worldly-mindedness? Have I guarded against the appearance of evil?
8. Have I kept up a lively and humble dependence upon the Divine influence, in the duty and emergencies of the day?
9. With what success have I encountered the sins to which my circumstances or constitution most incline me?
10. Have I been looking to Jesus as my righteousness, my strength, and my example?
11. How have I improved my time this day?
Have I made any progress in religion?
Have I thought of Death and Judgment?
Have I walked with God?
12. Have I this day tried to mortify sin?
13. Have I prayed, and how?
Have I read I the Scriptures, and how?
1. Do I think much and frequently of God — and am I zealous for his glory?
2. Do I enjoy communion with God when I pray to him, or desire this?
3. Do I strive to become like him?
4. Am I actively desiring and seeking the good of all around me, even as I desire my own?
5. Is my love to others, like that of Christ to me?
6. Have the miseries of others called forth compassion and efforts to relieve them?
7. Am I seeking the salvation of my fellow-creatures?
8. Is sin hateful to me? Do I loathe it as the worst of all evils?
9. Have I a habitual mourning for sin?
10. Have I deeply felt my corruption and guilt before God?
11. Do I believe that the Gospel is the appointed and only complete way of salvation?
12. Do I rest on the only hope of forgiveness — redemption through the blood of Christ?
13. Am I so believing in Jesus, as to rely upon him as my Savior?
14. Am I truly grateful to God for his great salvation?
15. Am I evidencing this, by a care to please him in all things?
16. Am I humble and lowly in mind, affection, and conversation?
17. Do the sufferings of Christ for sin, affect my heart with godly sorrow?
18. Am I patient under crosses, trials, and injuries — and willing to suffer reproach for Christ's sake?
19. Do I quietly submit to God's afflictive dispensations?
20. Do I hunger and thirst after righteousness?
21. Do I earnestly desire to obtain that righteousness which is through faith in Christ?
22. Am I laboring to spread the Gospel of Peace?
23. Do I seek to know God more myself, and to diffuse his knowledge through the world?
24. Have I resigned myself to the will of God — to do and suffer his pleasure?