James Smith, 1859
"Let a man examine himself" 1 Corinthians 11:28
These are two extremes apparent among professors of religion, some are always in doubt and fear, never satisfied of their adoption, or for long, rejoicing in their union with Christ: others are satisfied with the slightest evidences, and go on securely making sure that they are right. Such are too secure. To such the apostle would say, "Examine yourself whether you are in the faith." To be always in an unsettled state is wrong—but never to examine ourselves, in order to be sure that we are right, is equally so. Let us for a few moments, attend to this business of self-examination; and we propose three questions—
First, Into what should we examine?
Into the foundation of our hope, on what we are building for eternity? That we have some foundation, there can be no doubt—but is it God's foundation? That we are resting on something there can be no question—but are we resting on Christ, and on his finished work alone? Have we been stripped of everything of our own? Have we been brought away from all dependence on anything we have done, or can do; anything we have felt, or can feel? For it is as wrong to build on the work of the Spirit within us, as to build upon works done by us. The person, obedience, and sacrifice of Jesus alone, is the foundation God has laid for us to build our hopes upon.
Then, from what does our satisfaction and pleasure arise? Does our satisfaction arise from what the Lord Jesus has done for us, and what the Holy Spirit has wrought within us? Or, in other words, Do we feel a solid satisfaction within, arising from the persuasion, that Christ has procured us a title to glory by his obedience unto death; and the Holy Spirit has made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light? And, is communion with God, a sense of our acceptance with God, and being actively employed for God, a source of pleasure to us?
Again, what do we possess to prove the reality, the vitality of our religion? Have we the life of God in our souls? Does that life aspire to be like God, and urge us to seek deeper and deeper fellowship with God?
Have we spiritual light? That light which discovers to us more and more our own depravity, our need of Jesus, and the emptiness and vanity of this present evil world.
Have we living faith? The faith which looks to Christ for all, goes to Christ with all, and consecrates the person, his talents, and possessions, entirely to Christ.
Have we a good hope through grace? An expectation of sharing with Christ, in all his future glory, simply through free grace. An expectation, raised by the promises, resting on the perfect work of Jesus, and saving us from apostasy and desperation.
Have we peace with God? Peace which flows from reconciliation, proves our justification, and prepares us to brave the difficulties, and encounter all the troubles of our earthly pilgrimage.
Have we love to God? Love to God for his love to us, for all the blessings he has conferred upon us, and for the bright prospects he has opened before us. Love to God in Christ, for his divine excellencies, pre-eminent beauty, and intrinsic glories.
Once more, have we the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts? Have we received the Spirit as the Comforter, testifying of Christ unfolding the excellency of Christ, and witnessing to our interest in Christ? If any man has not the Spirit of Christ, in some measure, or degree—he is none of his.
These then are the points into which we should examine.
Second, By what should we examine ourselves?
By the word of God, which is the infallible standard of right and wrong.
Let us look at the promises, to whom are they addressed? To those, who seek the Lord—who hunger and thirst after righteousness— who mourn in Zion—who are peace-makers—the meek—the poor and needy—who endure temptations—who overcome enemies and oppositions, who are faithful unto death.
Look at the descriptions given of the Lord's people. They are a poor and an afflicted people. They thirst for God, for the living God. They live by the faith in the Son of God, they walk by faith, and by faith they stand. They worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. They bear fruits, even the fruits of holiness, and the fruits of the Spirit.
Look at the precepts. They do not come up to these—but they approve of them, admire them, and even delight in the law of God after the inward man.
We are not to condemn ourselves, if we do not find all the evidences set forth in the word; nor should we rest satisfied, if we do not find any. The work of the Spirit, is a progressive work. Besides which, there are seasons when our evidences are beclouded. At one time, we may be rejoicing in our adoption, and singing on the heights of Zion; at another time, we may be covered with a cloud, and have scarcely one evidence left. There are seasons, when, if it were not said, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren;" we would have no confidence at all.
We must not therefore judge hastily or rashly—but examine
ourselves cautiously, and carefully, by God's most holy word. This then is
the rule of judgment, the light by which we are to examine ourselves.
Third, When should we examine ourselves?
Before we take it for granted that we are Christians, or appropriate to ourselves the children's property. If we claim to be considered Christians—then let it be as the result of a close examination of the state of the heart and life; and of a careful comparing of ourselves with God's word.
Let us examine ourselves, before we make a public profession of Christ. If we profess to be Christ's, and publicly take upon ourselves the name of Christ, and identify ourselves with the cause of Christ—we should be prepared to give everyone that asks us, a reason of the hope that is in us, with meekness, and with fear.
Faith in Christ, is an essential prerequisite to the profession of Christ. So when we come to the Lord's table, we should examine ourselves whether we be his disciples or not; whether we have his yoke on us, his Spirit within us, and can discern his body in the elements set before us.
And if laid on the bed of affliction, or tried in any particular way: it is well to search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.
When death is in immediate prospect, self-scrutiny is very befitting, that we may be able to rejoice in the Lord, face the foe with dauntless courage, and move onward towards eternity, looking with confidence to Jesus.
Beloved, have you examined yourself? Have you come to a satisfactory conclusion? It so, let not every little trial or doubt, or suspicion, lead you to question your standing. On the other hand, if there are dark signs, if you can indulge in any sin, if you can allow the lusts of the flesh to reign, or if you can enjoy the world, its pleasures, pursuits, and vanities—then we say to you solemnly, "Examine yourself." Either you are a Christian, or you are not. Everything depends on the right solution of this question. If in Christ, you will resemble Christ, and are saved by Christ. If you have no resemblance to Christ, you are without Christ, and have neither part nor lot in his salvation.