The Christian Inlook
"Surely You desire truth in the inner parts; You teach me wisdom in the inmost place." Psalm 51:6
There are those who teach that the Christian should never look within—but instead, be constantly occupied with Christ. To the superficial, that may sound very spiritual—yet in reality, it is most absurd and certainly will not stand the test of Holy Writ. To declare that I must never look within—is only another way of telling me that I must never examine myself. When I look in a mirror, I do not see myself—but merely my body: that body is but the house in which the real me dwells. That distinction is drawn by the Holy Spirit Himself in a passage, which at once, makes known to us the relative importance of attending to the outward or to the inner man. Bidding Christian wives to be winsome to their unbelieving husbands, He says to the wives, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." (1 Peter 3:1-4).
With rare exceptions, it will be found that those men and women who spend so much money and devote so much time to their clothes and personal appearance, are very empty-headed—like some shops which make a big display in their windows—but have little on their shelves. The same holds good religiously and spiritually. The Pharisees were most punctilious in seeing to it that their hands were clean from ceremonial defilement—yet within were "full of dead men's bones, and of all impurity" (Matthew 23:27). And in Christendom today, there are thousands of professors against whom little charge could be brought—so far as their outward lives are concerned—but whose hearts are totally neglected and an abomination unto the eyes of the Holy One. To bring our external deportment into harmony with the revealed will of God is not sufficient.
He holds us accountable for what goes on inside, and requires us to keep check upon the springs of our actions, the motives which inspire, and the principles which regulate us. "Behold [give attention], You desire truth in the inward parts" (Psalm 51:6).
It is true that we are bidden to run the race set before us "looking unto Jesus" (Hebrews 12:1-2); yet that presents only one angle and aspect of our duty. We are also required to "commune with" our own hearts (Psalm 4:4), to keep our hearts "with all diligence" (Proverbs 4:23). Christ has enjoined us, "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap!" (Luke 21:34).
Not look within!—how else can we make conscience of coldness of affection, the swellings of pride, the risings of rebellion, wandering thoughts while engaged in holy duties, evil imaginations which defile the mind?
Not look within!—then how shall we "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit" (2 Corinthians 7:1), or even discover our need of such cleansing?
Not look within!—how then shall I be able to ascertain whether I possess that poverty of spirit, mourning for unholiness, meekness, hungering and thirsting after righteousness and purity of heart, upon which the Savior pronounces His benediction?
It is also true that the Christian needs to be on his guard against becoming too introspective. The secret of a sound and healthy spiritual life—lies in preserving the balance between its subjective and objective sides. Salvation indeed comes to the soul by looking outside and away from one's self—unto "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Yet the soul will not look unto Him until it has been made sensible of its depravity and lost condition: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32).
And let it not be forgotten that salvation itself is both objective and subjective, for it consists not only of what Christ did FOR His people—but also of what He (by His Spirit) does IN them; and in fact, the former can only be discovered by us personally through the latter. I have no evidence whatever of my justification apart from my regeneration and sanctification. The one who can say, "I am crucified with Christ" (judicially), can also add, "Christ lives in me" (experimentally). Living by faith in Him—is the proof that He "loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
The privilege and duty of the believer is, first, to look outside of himself unto Christ—and draw from His fullness; and second, to attend unto matters within himself—so that his heart is a fit abode for Christ. Thus, in the Song of Solomon, we find Him saying, "A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse"—God's people collectively; and therefore, each of them individually; and then, He goes on to speak of the plants and fruits growing therein, which to Him are "pleasant" (Song 4:12-16). It is a figure of the regenerate soul, in contrast from that of the unregenerate, whose heart is likened unto a vineyard utterly neglected and "all grown over with thorns, and nettles" (Proverbs 24:30-31).
Now, a garden needs much care and attention; and so does the heart, if Christ is to dwell in it by faith. Accordingly, we find the believer praying to the Spirit (under the figure of the wind—compare John 3:8) for His help. He beseeches the chill "north wind" to kill the pests—and of the warm "south wind" to ripen the fruits. Then he invites his Beloved to "come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits" (Song 4:16), an invitation to which He graciously responds (Song 5:1).
In the Song of Solomon 6:13, a further figure is employed: "What will you see in the Shulamite? [the Spouse on earth]. As it were the company of two armies." That is what the Christian sees as he looks within and searches himself, there are two opposing forces:
indwelling depravity—and implanted holiness;
native corruption—and communicated grace;
the flesh—and the spirit;
the weeds—and the flowers,
the pests—and the fruits, in the garden.
At first, the believer is horrified and terrified by the strong predominance of the former, and is made to doubt whether a miracle of grace has been wrought within him. But if he apprehends what is so plainly taught in passages like Romans 7:15-25, Galatians 5:17, and Philippians 3:12-13, he will neither be surprised nor dismayed. And if he duly ponders such injunctions as Romans 12:16, 2 Corinthians 7:1, and Colossians 3:5—his duty will be clear. SELF must be denied, the cross taken up, sin resisted, lusts mortified—as weeds must be pulled up (again and again!), pests fought—and the graces of the new man tended, nourished, and developed—if the garden of his heart is to be fit for an honored Guest to be invited into and regaled.
This inward looking, this self-examination and self-discipline accomplish two chief ends:
First, it humbles the believer into the dust before God—a most beneficial experience and necessary daily—if pride and self-righteousness are to be subdued. As the believer makes an increasing discovery of the original corruptions of his soul, as he traces the subtle workings of sin, as he sees it defiling all his best efforts—he cannot but cry, "Unclean, unclean!" (Lev 13:45) and groan, "O wretched man that I am!" (Romans 7:24).
Second, it deepens his assurance and draws out his soul in praise. For as he looks into the mirror of God's Word, and sees himself both naturally and spiritually, as he compares each of his features with the portrait which the Spirit has drawn of both the sinner and the saint—he discovers his identity therewith. As he finds within himself a loathing of sin and self, a hunger and thirst after righteousness, pantings after God and conformity to Christ—he perceives these are what the Spirit has wrought in him; and as he traces the workings (feeble and spasmodic though they are) of faith, hope, love, meekness, perseverance; he learns that the root of the matter is within him, and he exclaims, "I thank God through Jesus Christ" (Romans 7:25).
Thus, as the Christian looks within—two principal things will be beheld:
First, his fallen nature—and the more he examines it in the light of Scripture and by the enabling of the Spirit—the more will he perceive its vileness, recognize to what a fearful extent it influences his character and conduct, until he loathes himself and marvels that a holy God has not long since banished him to Hell! And my reader, if you are a stranger to such feelings or sentiments—then it is clear you are yet dead in trespasses and sins!
Second, his new nature—and the more he examines his inner man in the light of Scripture and by the power of the Spirit, the more should he be assured that God has "begun a good work" (Philippians 1:6) within him. The very fact that he perceives his corruptions and laments over them—is proof that he is no longer dead in sin. The consciousness and evidence he has, that there is now within that which causes him (though often unsuccessfully) to strive against sin and confess his failures to God; and that he sincerely desires and diligently endeavors to please God in all things—is sure evidence that a principle of grace has been communicated to his soul.
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life!" Psalm 139:23-24