Self-searching Beneath the Cross
George Everard, 1877
To be pleasing to God is the main desire of each faithful believer.
To have a single eye,
to be genuine and true-hearted in serving the Master,
to keep a conscience void of offence —
such will ever be your object if you have known the grace of God in truth. And for this there needs self-scrutiny — an honest wish to know what you are, and what are your failures. "Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts — and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23, 24.) "How many are my iniquities and sins? Make me to know my transgression and my sin." (Job 13:23.) "That which I see not, teach me. If I have done iniquity, I will do so no more." (Job 34:32.)
Such prayers and desires as these, will often arise in the heart where the Spirit of God dwells.
For many reasons it is our truest wisdom frequently to speak to ourselves as to the path we are treading, and to lay bare our inmost thoughts before the eye of the most High God.
Let me remember the sinfulness, the deceitfulness, the treachery of the human heart. It has its countless lurking places of evil. "The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" (Jeremiah 17:9.) "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool." (Proverbs 28:26.)
Let me remember that sin concealed, shuts the ear of God to prayer. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." (Psalm 66:18.)
Let me remember that undiscovered evil is the root of all the terrible falls of professing Christians. The sin has been permitted to take up its abode within, and then by and by breaks out in the form of some gross and open transgression! Secret sins lead to presumptuous sins. (Psalm 19:12, 13.) Sin is like a fire smouldering in some secret recess or hidden flue, which at length bursts forth, burning down the house, perhaps causing the death of some of those within. It is like the snake concealed in the grass — and yet whose bite is deadly.
I will remember too the ingratitude of sin. It is rebellion against the King who tenderly loves those beneath his sway.
When an Emperor of Russia, whose life had been devoted to the good of his subjects, heard of an insurrection in a distant province of his realm, he heaved a sigh, and said, "They do not know me." Just so, if men but knew the love and mercy of our God — they would be ashamed to reject His authority and trample His laws beneath their feet.
But sin is not only rebellion against a King, but it is turning against the kindest parent. It is like the sin of Absalom who was plotting against his father's life, while his father was giving charge to his soldiers not to touch a hair of Absalom's head. Our Father is kind and forbearing to the unthankful and the evil — and yet men forsake His laws and, if they could, would cast His throne down to the ground!
I will remember also the infection of sin. It spreads far and wide. As a man going about with some infectious distemper might easily convey it to hundreds and thousands around — so is it with the sinner. Any cherished sin may prove fatal to others, as well as to myself. My example may prove injurious to very many with whom I mingle. "O that I could bury my wicked influence with me," said a young man on his death-bed, who grieved over the evil he could never undo.
Neither may I forget that whether or not I am careful to search myself — God searches me through and through. "All things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." (Hebrews 4:13.)
The remembrance of all this will be helpful to me:
it will quicken me in this duty of self-examination;
it will make me really anxious to know the uttermost of the evil that is in me;
it will bring me low before the mercy-seat, in true confession and humiliation for my sin.
But what is the right position for this? Not before the eye of a fellow-creature; not beneath the awful heights of Sinai — but beneath the cross of Christ shall I best learn to know my sin aright.
For in the presence of Him who was crucified for me, I learn how fearful is the character of sin. Sin is . . .
the knife that slew my best friend;
the nail that pierced His hand;
the spear that wounded His side;
the scourge that bruised Him;
the thorn that marked His brow.
With this sight before me . . .
let me hate my sin with deadly hatred;
let me never cloak or excuse it, though in the most subtle form;
let me abhor the very shadow, the very approach of evil;
let me keep at the utmost distance from that which crucified my Lord.
And in thus desiring to know my sin and its exceeding evil — there is a thought of consolation. I need not lose my peace, because I cannot always grieve for sin as I would. Perhaps I feel that the language of the Confession with reference to past sins, "the remembrance of them is grievous, the burden intolerable," goes beyond that which I can realize. But the Lord knows my desire, and He accepts it. And the more I keep near to Jesus, the more shall I grieve over the evil I have done, and grow in humility before God.
For another reason, too, to keep near the cross, to be looking up in humble faith to the dying Redeemer — is the best position for me to occupy in recalling my sin.
Beneath the cross of Jesus, I also see the completeness and the all-sufficiency of my sin's remedy. However great the evil I discover, help and salvation is close at hand. I can never despair, while I gaze on Him who was wounded for my transgressions and who bore my sins in His own body on the tree. As I look up to Him I know that He can cover and He can conquer them; he can give pardon and power; for He, the Crucified One, is now the exalted One; and He can support, and sanctify, and save evermore those who look to Him.
In what way shall I conduct this search?
What guidance will be most profitable?
By what standard shall I prove and try my ways?
The whole volume of God's Word, and every part of it may be used for this purpose. But I will name a few of those points more especially needful to be considered.
I may take from time to time each of the Ten Commandments with the light thrown upon them in the New Testament. Though the condemnation of the law is past to those in Christ — yet it is still to be to them, a rule of life. And the various precepts given on Sinai, as in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, may assist us in applying the great law of love to the details of the Christian life.
I must consider how far I am striving to honor God and to do His will in the different relationships of life.
In the world of commerce, in the house of business, in buying and selling, in payment of debts, in all my transactions with reference to money, in my dealing with the property of others — am I guided by the plain rules of truth and justice? Do I invariably speak the truth, and do unto others as I desire they would do unto me?
In society, in fellowship with friends, in seasons of recreation, when I mingle with those I know or with strangers — am I watchful that my influence should be for good? Do I try to turn the scale, where I can, in favor of kindliness, a hopeful view of eternal realities, a higher tone of conversation? Do I strive to check anything that borders on evil? Does my presence in any way tend to keep down lightness, and frivolity, and evil speaking, and the like?
In the Church of God, what am I doing? Am I an element of help and blessing in the Lord's House? Do I engage my heart to approach God? Do I worship Him in spirit and in truth? Do I receive the Word with meekness and readiness, searching the Scriptures for confirmation of that which I hear? Do I join heartily in the songs of praise? Do I pray earnestly in behalf of my Pastor and of the congregation? Do I render all the assistance in my power, by gifts and personal labor, to advance the kingdom of Christ?
In my own home, am I living out, day by day, the life of Christ? Am I bringing all the little details of common life, to the test of Christ's holy example? Do I ask myself again and again, "What would Jesus do if He were in my place?" Do I make a conscience of the smallest mutters? Am I earnest and thorough in all the work I have to do? Am I doing my duty faithfully as a parent or a child — as a brother or a sister? If I have those younger than myself around me — am I careful that my daily life and conversation is such that they may safely copy? Am I guilty of the neglect or omission of any plain duty? Do I redeem the time from indolence and sloth and profitless reading? Am I striving to add to the happiness of each member of the family? Do I readily yield to others when it may do good? Do I sacrifice my own pleasure and comfort, if by this means I may adorn the doctrine of Christ? Do I carry the sunshine of cheerfulness about with me? Do I watch against evil tempers, and sullenness, and repining, a clouded brow, and fretfulness, and fault-finding?
In my own heart, has Christ possession of the throne? Is His Word and will supreme? Or is any idol set up there? Ambition, love of praise, sight-seeing, craving after riches, the world's pleasure, display in dress — is any one of these taking the rule of my heart and life?
What are my motives of action? Do I strive to put self down — and do all things for the love of Christ and for the glory of God? Do I act from Scriptural principle — or from the impulse of the moment? What is the bent of my thoughts when I am most free for quiet meditation? Are they earthward — or heavenward?
Is it my desire to keep in the lowest place? Whatever talents God may entrust to my care — do I realize that I am but a steward and must give account for them all? Do I go often to the Savior's footstool, and learn to follow Him in meekness and humility of heart? Do I trample beneath my feet all pride and vain glory and self-sufficiency, and act and feel as a little child towards my Father in Heaven?
Such self-examination may be very helpful to me. Let it only be genuine and sincere — let it be carried on as beneath the eye of my Father and in sight of a crucified Savior — for then it will not lead me to despair, however sinful I am, but to more hearty and continual dependence on Christ. In spite of all failure and short-coming and sin, if I humble myself and trust only in Christ, there can be no condemnation. I am accepted in the Beloved and justified from all things. The ample folds of the righteousness of my Surety covers my every spot and stain. And I know that Christ will perfect that which He has begun — He will not forsake the work of His own hands. His Spirit will rest upon me and cleanse me from evil and corruption. The old man in me shall be subdued more and more, and the new man — that which is born from above — shall grow day by day. Therefore will I watch and pray, and commit my soul to His faithful keeping.
Search, try, O God, my thoughts and heart,
If mischief lurk in any part;
Correct me where I go astray,
And guide me in Your perfect way.
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be opened, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden — cleanse the thoughts of my heart by the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit. Examine me, O Lord, and prove me, and make me to know the evil that dwells in me — make me to be an Israelite indeed in whom is no deceit. Let my heart be sound in Your statutes, that I be not ashamed. O God, I beseech You, root out every covetous desire, and deliver me from pride and ambition, and the love of this present world. Teach me to hate every false way, and make me to love Your testimonies more than gold or precious stones. Save me from the crafts and assaults of the devil, and keep me ever in Your fear. Guard and protect me in the hour of temptation, and make me more than conqueror through Christ. O merciful Father, forgive, I beseech You, whatever You have seen in me contrary to Your will. Pardon anything of deceit and hypocrisy, through the Savior's blood. Grant that henceforth, my love may abound yet more and more in knowledge. May I approve the things that are excellent, and be sincere and without offence until the day of Christ. Fill me with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of God.
O Lord, regard me with Your favor, and fulfill these my humble petitions, for Jesus Christ's' sake. Amen.