LETTER XX. Self-Examination.
"Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith: prove your own selves."—2:COR.13:6.
MY DEAR SISTER,
In view of the positive injunction of Scripture, above quoted, no argument is necessary to show that self-examination is a duty. 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 not 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. And, as the heart is deceitful above all things, it becomes a matter of the utmost importance that we should certainly know that we are the children of God. Although we may be Christians, without the assurance of our adoption, yet we are taught in the Holy Scriptures, that such assurance is attainable. Job, in the midst of his affliction, experienced its comforting support. "I know," says he, "that my Redeemer liveth." David says with confidence, "I shall be satisfied, when I awake with thy likeness." Paul also expresses the same 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 every one 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 condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God." "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself." "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption."
But, as gold dust is sometimes concealed in the sand, so grace in the heart may be mingled with remaining corruption, so 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 an ascendency over all the faculties of the soul. Hence God has wisely directed that the sure evidence of adoption can be possessed only by those who have made such eminent 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 the brightest 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, maybe 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 overcometh "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 glass. So the Lord will carry on his purifying work in the hearts of his children, till 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 every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth 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 that dwelleth in love, dwelleth 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:
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 every action, and thoroughly examine every religious feeling, to know, if possible, whether it comes from the Spirit of God, or whether it is 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 afterward, 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 religious 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 awake 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 till we have searched out every sin of the past day, and made fresh application to the blood of Christ for pardon. I know this is a very difficult work; but, by frequent practice, it will become less so. I have prepared several sets of questions, from which you may derive some aid in the performance of this duty. 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 easily besetting sins. You may be led to exercise penitential sorrow of heart, 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 "cleanseth 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. 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 our 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 till 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 nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit."
I have inserted several sets of questions for every day in the week, differing in length, to prevent monotony, and to accommodate those occasions when you have more or less time.
QUESTIONS FOR SATURDAY EVENING.
How was my heart improved by the last Sabbath? How have I since improved the impressions I then received? What vows did I then make? How have I performed them? What progress have I made in the divine life? What conquests have I made by the grace of God over sin? What temptations have I encountered? What victories have I gained? What falls have I suffered? What lessons have I learned by them? What improvement have I made in divine knowledge? What good have I done? What was my frame of mind, on Monday, Tuesday, &c. (specifying and considering each day by itself.) What meetings have I attended? How was my heart affected by them? What business have I done? Was it all performed to the glory of God? Do I now hail the approach of the Sabbath with delight? Or do I indulge a secret regret that my worldly schemes should be interrupted by this hallowed season of rest?
QUESTIONS FOR SABBATH EVENINGS.
Did I yesterday make all needful preparations for the holy Sabbath? What was my frame of mind, on retiring to rest, at the close of the week? When I awoke, on this holy morning, towards what were my first thoughts directed? How did I begin the day? What public or private duties have I neglected? What has been my general frame of mind this day? With what preparation did I go to the sanctuary? How were my thoughts occupied on the way? What were my feelings, on entering the house of God? What was my general frame of mind, while there? What my manner? Have I felt any sensible delight in the exercises of public worship? With what feelings did I join the devotional exercises of singing and prayer? In what character did I view the preacher? As whose message did I receive the word? For whom did I hear—for myself, or for others? Was the word mixed with faith? How much prayer did I mingle with hearing? What evidence have I that it was attended by the Holy Spirit to my heart I Did I indulge wandering thoughts, in any part of the public services? How much progress have I made, in overcoming these heart-wanderings? How were my thoughts occupied on my return from public worship? [With what preparation did I go to the Sabbath-school? When I went before my class, what were my feelings in regard to their souls, and my own responsibility? How was my own heart affected with the truths contained in the lesson? What direct efforts have I made for their conversion? What general efforts to impress their minds with the truth? What prayers have I offered in their behalf? What have been my motives for desiring their conversion?] How much time have I spent this day in my closet? What have been my feelings in prayer? What in reading God's word? What in meditation? Have I felt and acknowledged my dependence upon the Holy Spirit for every right exercise of heart? What discoveries have I had of my own guilt and helplessness, and my need of a Saviour? How has Jesus appeared to me? What communion have I enjoyed with God? How have I felt, in view of my sins, and of God's goodness to me? What have been my feelings, on coming anew to the cross of Christ? Have I, at any time this day, indulged vain or worldly thoughts? Have I sought my own ease or pleasure? Have I engaged in worldly or unprofitable conversation? Do I now feel my soul refreshed, and my strength renewed, for the Christian warfare?
QUESTIONS TO BE USED IN SELF-EXAMINATION AT THE CLOSE OF EVERY DAY IN THE WEEK.
To be used when time is very limited.
With what feelings did I compose myself to sleep last night? How were my thoughts employed during the wakeful hours of the night? What were my feelings on awaking? How did I begin the day? With what feelings and spirit have I engaged in the various devotions of the day? How have I enjoyed my hours of leisure? How have I performed the business of the day? What has been the spirit of my intercourse with others? What errors or what sins have I committed, in thought, word, or deed? What spiritual affections have I experienced, and what has been their effect upon me since? Have I made any progress in the Christian race?
To be used on ordinary occasions.
With what frame of spirit did I close the last day? Upon what were my thoughts occupied during the wakeful hours of the night? What were my first emotions, as I awoke this morning? How did I begin the day? What communion have I held with God, in secret, this day? For whom have I lived? What has been my frame of spirit, while engaged in the employments of the day? What tempers have I exercised, in my intercourse with others? What temptations have I encountered? What has been the result? What conflicts have I had with my own corruptions? What progress have I made in subduing them? What trials have I experienced? How have I borne them? Have I felt my dependence upon God for everything? Have I indulged undue anxiety about the affairs of this world? Have I murmured at the dispensations of Providence? Have I indulged self-complacency or self-seeking? What views have I had of myself? How did they affect me? What discoveries have I made of the divine character? How have I been affected by them? Have I felt any longing desires after conformity to the divine image? How has my heart been affected with my short-comings in obedience and duty? Has this driven me to Christ? Have I found pardon and peace in him? What sense of the divine presence have I maintained through the day? What spirit of prayer have I exercised this day? What has been the burden of my petitions? Why have I desired these things? How constant and how strong have been these desires? How often and how fervently have I carried them to the throne of grace? How have I felt in regard to the interests of Zion, the salvation of souls, and the glory of God? How have I felt towards my Christian brethren? Have I spoken evil of any, or listened with complacency to evil speaking? Have I exercised harshness, or an unforgiving temper, towards any? What have I done for the glory of God, or the good of my fellow-creatures? Have I watched over my heart, my tongue, and my actions? Have I maintained spirituality of mind through the day?
Dr. Doddridge's Questions.
"Did I awake as with God this morning, and rise with a grateful sense of his goodness? How were the secret devotions of the morning performed? Did I offer my solemn praises, and renew the dedication of myself to God, with becoming attention and suitable affections? Did I lay my scheme for the business of the day wisely and well? How did I read the Scriptures, or any other devotional or practical piece which I afterwards found it convenient to review? Did it do my heart good, or was it a mere amusement? How have the other stated devotions of the day been attended, whether in the family or in public? Have I pursued the common business of the day with diligence and spirituality, doing everything in season, and with all convenient despatch, and as 'unto the Lord?' Col.3:23. What time have I lost this day, in the morning, or the forenoon—in the afternoon, or the evening? (for these divisions will assist your recollection;) and what has occasioned the loss of it? With what temper, and under what regulations, have the recreations of this day been pursued? Have I seen the hand of God in my mercies, health, cheerfulness, food, clothing, books, preservation in journeys, success of business, conversation, and kindness of friends, &c.? Have I seen it in afflictions, and particularly in little things, which had a tendency to vex and disquiet me? Have I received my comforts thankfully, and my afflictions submissively? How have I guarded against the temptations of the day, particularly against this or that temptation, which I foresaw in the morning? Have I maintained a dependence on divine influence? Have I 'lived by faith on the Son of God,' (Gal.2:20,) and regarded Christ this day as my teacher and governor, my atonement and intercessor, my example and guardian, my strength and forerunner? Have I been looking forward to death and eternity this day, and considered myself as a probationer for heaven, and, through grace, an expectant of it? Have I governed my thoughts well, especially in such or such an interval of solitude? How was my subject of thought this day chosen, and how was it regarded? Have I governed my discourses well, in such and such company? Did I say nothing passionate, mischievous, slanderous, imprudent, impertinent? Has my heart this day been full of love to God, and to all mankind? and have I sought, and found, and improved, opportunities of doing and getting good? With what attention and improvement have I read the Scriptures this evening? How was self-examination performed the last night? and how have I profited this day by any remarks I then made on former negligences and mistakes? With what temper did I then lie down and compose myself to sleep?"
To be used when you have more time than usual.
Did I last night compose myself to sleep with a sweet sense of the divine presence? Did I meditate upon divine things in the wakeful hours of the night? When I awoke this morning, did my heart rise up with gratitude to my merciful Preserver? Did I remember that I am indebted for life, and health, and every enjoyment, to the sufferings and death of my dear Redeemer? Did I renewedly consecrate my spared life to his service? And have I lived this day for God, and not for myself? Have I denied self, whenever it has come between me and duty? Have I indulged a self-seeking spirit? Have I refused to make any personal sacrifice, whereby I might glorify God, or do good to others? Has my heart been affected with any discoveries of the infinite loveliness of the divine perfections? Have I had a view of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the corruptions of my own heart in particular? Has this driven me from resting upon anything in myself, to put my trust alone in Christ? Have I felt any longing desires after conformity to the divine image? Have I felt any delight in the law of God? Has my heart been grieved to see that I fall so far short of keeping it? Has my soul been filled with joy and peace in believing in Christ? Have I felt a lively sense of the divine presence continually? Have I maintained a cheerful, serene, and peaceful temper of heart?
Have I studied the word of God with an earnest desire to know present duty? Have I neglected or delayed to perform any duty when it has been made known? Have I felt that God was speaking to me through his word? Have I sought the aid of the Holy Spirit? Have I read God's word with a prayerful spirit? Have I read it with self-application? Have I felt any sensible delight while reading it?
Have I spent any time in heavenly meditation? Was this exercise performed in a prayerful spirit? Did the truth I was contemplating deeply affect my own heart? Have my thoughts been habitually directed towards heavenly things?
Have I observed my regular seasons of prayer? Has my frame of spirit been, lively, and my thoughts collected, in this exercise? Have I felt my dependence upon the Spirit of God? Have I earnestly and sincerely desired the things for which I have asked? Have I desired them for the glory of God, or for the gratification of myself? Have I laid hold of the promises of God? Have I maintained a constant spirit of prayer? Have I sent up frequent ejaculations to God? In all my approaches to the throne of grace, have I come with a suitable preparation of heart? Has a sense of the divine presence filled me with holy awe and reverence? Has my heart been drawn out to God with filial affection and humble confidence, through Jesus the Mediator? Have I felt my need? Have I humbled myself low before God? Have I not regarded iniquity in my heart? Have I felt an humble submission to the will of God?
Have I watched over my heart continually, against the temptations of Satan? Have I indulged wandering thoughts, during any of the devotional exercises of the closet? Have I watched over my fancy, and kept under my imagination? or have I suffered it to wander without control?
Have I exercised a proper control over all my appetites, desires, and passions? Have I used all diligence to improve my mind, that I might be capable of doing more for the glory of God, and the good of my fellow-creatures? Have I sought the aid of the Holy Spirit in this, also? Have I felt continually that my time is not my own? Have I employed every moment of the past day in the most profitable manner? Have I felt the pressure of present obligation?
Have I neglected any opportunity of doing good, either to the souls or bodies of others? Have I been modest, unobtrusive, and courteous, in all I have done and said? Have I been prudent and discreet in all things? Have I first sought the direction of God, and then entered upon these duties in a spirit of prayer?
Have I glorified God in my dress? Have I been influenced, in this respect, by the pride of appearance? Have I wasted any time at the toilet?
Have I felt any emotions of love for Christians? Has this love arisen from the image of Christ manifest in them; or from their friendship for me, and the comfort I have enjoyed in their society? Have I refused to make personal sacrifices for their benefit? Have I felt any love for the souls of sinners? What has this led me to do for their conversion? Have I exercised any feelings of compassion for the needy? What has this led me to do for them?
Have I manifested a morose, sour, and jealous disposition towards others? Have I been easily provoked? Have I been irritated with the slightest offences or crosses of my will? Have I indulged an angry, fretful, peevish temper? Have I spoken evil of any, or listened with complacency to evil-speaking? Do I now harbor ill-will towards any being on earth? In all my intercourse with others, have I manifested a softness and mildness of manner, and a kind and tender tone of feeling? Or have I indulged in harshness and severity, pride and arrogance? Have I exercised forbearance towards the faults of others? Have I from my heart forgiven them? Have I esteemed myself better than others? Have I felt the secret workings of spiritual pride? Have I engaged in trifling and vain conversation, or in any other manner conformed to the spirit of the world? Have I maintained Christian sincerity in all things? When in company, have I improved every opportunity of giving a profitable direction to conversation? Have I improved every opportunity to warn impenitent sinners? Have I gone into company, without first visiting my closet? Have I been diligent and faithful in the business of the day? Have I done the same to others as I would wish them to do to me?
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 him from 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 that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination." We may weep day and night, on our knees, before God, all our lives; 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, he will not hear our prayers.2. We may not be sufficiently humble before God. "Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly; but the proud he knoweth afar off;" "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." "Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted." Hence, if our hearts are proud, and we refuse to humble ourselves deeply 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 minister to our own gratification. "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye 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 wavereth, 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 please God." 5. We may be exercising an unforgiving-temper; and, if so, the Lord has declared that he will not hear our prayers. Mark 11:25, 26. Mat.18:35.
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 promises.
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. 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 this book 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, under 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 Christians. "Examine yourselves whether ye 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 thoroughly acquainted with the evidences of Christian character. These are clearly exhibited in the holy Scriptures. Study the Bible diligently for this purpose; and, wherever you discover a mark of Christian character, inquire whether you possess it. 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' 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.
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 this is not sufficient. You ought 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;" and likewise from a little work entitled "Are you a Christian?" by Rev. Hubbard Winslow. You have also 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. The subject of true and false conversion is continually undergoing discussion; and those who feel truly anxious to know the foundations upon which they rest will not fail to avail themselves of every approved treatise on the subject. But, above all, study the Bible diligently and prayerfully, for the purpose of ascertaining the genuine marks of saving grace; take time to perform the work of self-examination thoroughly, bringing to your aid all the information you can obtain from these sources—varying the exercise, at different times, that it may not become superficial and formal.
I have also prepared some questions for this purpose, which you will find below. In these questions, I have not aimed at covering the whole ground of Christian experience, so much as to bring before the mind, in connection, some of the most prominent passages of Scripture relating to the evidences of Christian character. Nor have I taken particular pains to prevent the questions from involving each other; as we may detect our deficiencies on the same points the more readily by having them held up in a variety of views. The chief design of these questions will be lost, if you do not examine the passages of Scripture referred to. Some of the traits of character here presented may not be certain evidence of piety; while, in other cases, a person may be a Christian while possessing the graces mentioned in a much less degree than they are here represented. It is not necessary, where time is limited, to go through the whole of these questions at once; and probably in most cases it will be found more edifying to take up a portion of them at a time.
AM I A CHRISTIAN?
1. Let me examine as to my views of Sin. Have I beheld sin with an abhorrence far greater than the delight it ever gave me? Has that abhorrence arisen from an apprehension of the evil consequences to which it has exposed me, or of its odious nature, and its exceeding sinfulness as committed against God? Ps.51:4. Isa.1:2-4. Have I had a full apprehension of my own exceeding sinfulness? Ps.51:4. Isa.1:5, 6. Eph.2:1-3. Have I felt my sins to be an insupportable burden? Ps.38:2-7. Have I ceased attempting to justify myself? Job 40:4. Luke 18:11-14. Have I utterly despaired of all help from myself? Rom.3:20. Have I abandoned all attempts to establish my own righteousness, by resolutions of amendment and future obedience? Rom.9:32.10:3. Have I exercised sincere and heartfelt sorrow on account of my sins? Ps.38:17, 18. Has this been the sorrow of the world which worketh death? 2:Cor.7:10, l.c.2 Sam.17:23. Matt.27:3-5. Acts 8:24. Or has it been godly sorrow, which worketh repentance not to be repented of? 2:Cor.7:9-11. Has my heart been broken, contrite, and humble, under a sense of my sins against God? Ps.34:18.51:17. Isa.57:15. Has this sense of sin emptied me of myself, and begotten a deep poverty of spirit? Isa.66:2.:Matt.5:3. Has it led me to feel my unworthiness of God's favor? Gen.32:10. Luke 15:19.18:13, 14. Have I been filled with shame and self-loathing, on account of the exceeding greatness of my sin, considered under a view of the infinite purity and awful majesty of the great Jehovah, against whom it has been committed? Ezra 9:6. Job 42:1-6. Jer.31:19. Ezek.16:63.
2. As to my views of the government of God. Do I acquiesce in the government of God as a most wise, most just, and most righteous government? Rev.15:3, 4. Do I cordially, cheerfully, and without reserve, yield myself, as a moral and accountable being, to the authority of God, as the moral Governor of the universe? Rom.6:13.12:1. Do I feel no reserve in my heart, making first the condition that I may be saved? Do I humbly acquiesce in the justice of God, in the eternal punishment of the wicked? Do I include myself in this, thereby "accepting the punishment of my sin"? Levit.26:40, 41. Am I sure that this feeling is not produced by the secret consciousness that it is an evidence of a gracious state? Jer.17:9. If all hope of salvation were suddenly taken away from me, would my heart still acquiesce in the justice of the sentence of condemnation?
3. As to my faith in Christ. Have I ceased from my own works, and, as a heavy-laden sinner, come to Christ for rest? Heb.4:10. Matt.11:28. Have I seen him to be, in all respects, a complete Saviour, just such as my ruined and lost condition requires? 1:Cor.1:30. Gal.3:13.4:3-5. Col.1:19.2:3, 10. Have I heartily given up all for him? Matt.10:37. Luke 14:26, 33. Phil.3:7-10. Have I cheerfully taken up my cross and followed him? Luke 14:27. Do I now consider myself as no more my own, but the Lord's, by the purchase of the Redeemer's blood? 1:Cor.6:19, 20. Do I therefore make it my constant and highest aim to glorify God with my body and spirit which are his? 1:Cor.6:20.10:31. Have I through him become dead to sin, but alive to God? Rom.6:11. Have I crucified the flesh, with its affections and lusts? Gal.5:24. Have I become dead also to the world, not seeking my portion in its riches, honors, pleasures, or pursuits? Gal.2:20.6:14.1 John 2:15. Have I utterly despaired of acceptance with God in any other way than by the mediation of Christ? Acts 4:12. Heb.10:26, 27. Have I cordially sought reconciliation with God through the blood of Jesus? Col.1:20-22. Does my hope of salvation rest solely and alone in the righteousness and atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ? Rom.3:22-26. Do I receive him as my Prophet, submitting my will entirely to the teachings of his word and Spirit? Deut.18:15. Heb.1:1, 2.2:1-3. Do I receive him in his office of Priest, trusting in the atonement he has made, and committing my case to him, that he may intercede for me, before the offended Majesty of heaven? Heb.4:14, 15.7:26, 8:1, 9:11, 12, 24, 25. With humble confidence in his intercession, do I come boldly to the throne of grace? Heb.4:16. Do I cordially submit to him in his office of King? Ps.2:6.45:1.:Isa.9:6, l.c. Acts 5:31. Do I yield my heart unreservedly to his authority, making it my constant aim to bring into captivity every thought and action to the obedience of Christ? Matt.11:29, 30. John 15:14. Rom.6:16.2 Cor.10:5. Whenever I fall into sin, do I seek to ease my conscience by reformation and forgetfulness, or do I apply afresh to Christ, as the only propitiation for sin? 1 John 2:1, 2. Do I find peace of conscience and spiritual joy in believing in Jesus? Rom.5:1.8:1.14:17.15:13.1 Pet.1:8. Am I united to Christ as the living branch is to the vine? John 15:1. Do I look to my union with him, as the branch to the vine, for spiritual nourishment, strength and life? John 15:4. Phil.2:12, 13. Heb.13:21. Do I realize the danger of self-confidence? Prov.28:26. Mark 14:29-31, 68-71. Rom.11:20.1 Cor.10:12. Do I realize to what my union with Christ entitles me? Rom.8:17. In view of this union, do I feel a filial spirit of adoption towards God as my father? Ps.103:13, 14. Rom.8:15, 16. Gal.4:4-7.1 John 3:1, 2. Does this union with Christ lead me to feel a union of spirit with all his disciples? John 17:21.1:Cor.12:12-29. What sympathy does this lead me to exercise towards them? Rom.12:15.1 Cor.12:26.1 John 3:17. Is Christ precious to my soul? 1:Pet.2:7, f.c. Do I see a moral beauty and excellence in him above all created intelligences? Ps.45:1, 2.:Ca.5:9-15. John 1:14. Col.2:3, 9. Heb.1:3. How am I affected with the contemplation of his sufferings for the salvation of my soul? 2:Cor.5:14, 15.
4. As to my love to God. Do I take God for my supreme and eternal portion? Ps.16:1-11.73:25, 26.119:57. Lam.3:21. Is he the object of my highest love? Mark 12:30. Am I willing to relinquish whatever comes in competition with him as an object of my affection? Mark 10:37-39. Do I prefer his favor and dread his power above that of all other beings? Ps.36:7.43:3.89:6-8. Deut.10:12. Ps.30:5.33:8.88:6-8. Jer.10:7. Do I derive comfort in my afflictions by making him my refuge? Ps.9:9.57:1.59:16. Jer.16:19. When my soul is under the hidings of his countenance, can I enjoy any other good? Job 29:2-5. Ps.38:1-10. Do I experience any ardent longings after his spiritual presence with my soul? Ps.42:1, 2.61:1, 2. Do I feel any earnest desires after conformity to his image? Matt.5:6. Rom.8:29.1 Cor.15:49.2 Cor.3:18.4:4. Col.3:10. Ps.17:15. Do I delight in the moral law of God, as a transcript of his holy character? Ps.37:31.119:70, 72, 77, 79, 113, 131. Rom.7:12, 22. Do I feel grieved when I see his law disregarded? Ps.119:136, 158. Do I make his will the rule of my life? 1 John 5:3. Do I earnestly strive to bring my heart and life into complete conformity to his will? Phil.3:7-14. Do I love his word? Ps.19:7-11.119:11, 16, 82, 162, 172. Do I find delight in meditating upon it? Ps.1:2.119:148. Do I delight in the ordinances of his house? Ps.26:8.36:8.122:1.84:10. Do I delight in the Sabbath, anticipating its return with desire, hailing it with joy, and engaging in its duties with sweet satisfaction; Isa.58:13, 14. Do I delight in secret communion with God, in prayer and praise? Ps.5:2, 3.55:16, 17.88:13.116:2.138:1, 2.146:1, 2.147:1.148. Do I love the children of God, as bearing his image? 1 John 4:20.5:1. Is my soul ever moved with sweet emotion in contemplating the infinite moral perfections of God? Ps.30:4.96:9. Do I delight also in his natural perfections, as appertaining to the Supreme Ruler of the universe? Ps.96:1-13.97:1-12. Do I feel this delight in his character, independent of the idea that he is my friend? Hab.3:17, 18. Am I sure that even this emotion is not produced by the secret thought that the exercise of it is an evidence of my being his friend?
5. As to my Christian character in general. Do I realize my dependence upon the Holy Spirit for every right feeling and action? John 14:16, 17. Rom.8:9, 13, 14. Isa.26, 12. Are the fruits of the Spirit manifest in my heart and life? Gal.5:22-24. Have I mortified my members which are upon the earth, and put off the works of the flesh? Gal.5:19-21. Col.3:5, 8. Have I put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge, after the image of him that created him? Col.3:10. Do I manifest my love to my brethren by a readiness to make sacrifices of personal feeling, interest, and enjoyment, to promote their welfare and happiness? 1 John 3:14-17. Do I manifest my love for all mankind, by doing good to all as I have opportunity? Do I feel an unalterable desire for the conversion of their souls? Rom.9:1, 2. Am I willing to make personal efforts and sacrifices to promote this object? Do I heartily and earnestly offer the prayer,—"Thy kingdom come," doing and giving all in my power to promote it? Is the same mind in me, in these respects, that was in Christ Jesus? Phil.2:4-8. Rom.15:2, 3. Do I truly feel that it is more blessed to give than to receive? Acts 20:35 Do I strive, as much as in me lies, to live in peace with all, and to promote peace among all men? Ps.34:14. Matt.5:9. Rom.12:18.2 Cor.13:11. Heb.12:14. James 3:17. Do I seek the peace of Zion, avoiding every unnecessary offence, and even sacrificing my own feelings for the sake of the peace of the church? Ps.122:6. Rom.14:19-21.1 Cor.7:15.8:13.14:33. Eph.4:3.1 Thess.5:13. Am I-long-suffering and patient under injurious treatment? 1:Cor.13:4, 7. Do I exercise a spirit of forbearance towards the faults of others, forgiving injuries and offences? Mark 11:25. Eph.4:2.:Col.3:13. Do I put away all envy and jealousy from my bosom—not seeking occasion of offence by putting the worst construction upon the conduct of others—not expecting great things for myself, and not being displeased when I am passed by with apparent neglect? Rom.12:16.1 Cor.13:4, 5, 7. Jer.45:5. Eph.4:2.:Col.3:12. Do I not think of myself more highly than I ought to think? Rom.12:3, 16. Do I in lowliness of mind esteem others better than myself? Phil.2:3. Am I-self-willed, headstrong, determined to have my own way? or am I ready to prefer the judgment of my brethren, and submit to them, when I can do it conscientiously? Eph.5:21.1 Peter 5:5. Am I tender of spirit, kind, gentle, and courteous, in my intercourse with others? 1:Thess.2:7.2 Tim.2:24. Titus 3:2. James 3:17. Eph.4:32. Col.3:12.1 Peter 3:8. Have I put on meekness, not being easily provoked to the indulgence of resentful feelings? 1:Cor.13:5. Have I put away from me all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil-speaking, with all malice, not rendering evil for evil, nor railing for railing? Eph.4:31.1 Pet.3:9. Do I love my enemies, bless them that curse me, and seek the good of those who strive to injure me? Matt.5:44. Rom.12:14, 20. Do I recognize the hand of God in the daily blessings of this life? James 1:17. Do I likewise recognize his hand in the little perplexities and trials of every-day life? Do all my trials subdue and chasten my spirit, working in me patience, experience, and hope? Rom.5:3, 4. Heb.13:6-11. Am I content with such things as the Lord gives me, day by day, not taking anxious thought for the morrow, nor disquieting myself for the future? Matt.6:25-34. Phil.4:11.1 Tim.6:8. Heb.13:5. Does my faith lead me to look at the things that are unseen, and set my affections on things above, and not on things on the earth? 2:Cor.4:16-18. Col.3:1, 2.
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Remember, this is a fearful question. Your all is at stake upon it. But, if at any time you 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. "Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise 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, till you will be able to indulge "a good hope through grace." "For, in due time, we shall reap, if we faint not."
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 in lively exercise 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. To aid you in these inquiries, I have prepared the following questions, which may be varied according to circumstances:
The last time I partook of this ordinance, did I meet the Lord at his table, and receive a refreshing from his presence? Did I there renew my covenant vows? Have I kept my vows? Have I since lived not unto myself, but unto God? Have I enjoyed more of the presence of God? Have I lived a life of faith and prayer? Have I been daily to the cross of Christ for pardon and strength? Have I maintained continually a deep and lively sense of divine things? Have I lived a life of self-denial? Have I obtained any conquests over indwelling sin? Have I made any progress in subduing the unholy tempers of my heart? Has my will been brought more entirely to bow to the will of God, so that I have no will of my own? Has my love increased? Do I feel more delight in contemplating the divine character, in reading his word, in prayer, in the ordinances of his house, &c.? Do I feel more intense longings of soul after conformity to his image? Have I any deeper sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin? Do my own sins in particular appear more aggravated? Do I think less of myself? Does a sense of my own vileness and unworthiness humble me low before God? Does this lead me to see my need of just such a Saviour as Jesus? Am I now disposed to cast my all upon him? Has my love for Christians increased? Do I feel any more compassion for dying sinners? Has this led me to do more for their conversion? Have I abounded more in every good word and work? Have the fruits of the Spirit increased in my heart and life? Have I been more faithful in all the relations of life? Do I perceive any growing deadness to the world? Does my relish for spiritual things increase, while my taste for earthly delights diminishes? Do I see more and more my own weakness, and feel a more steady dependence upon Christ? Do I feel increasing spirituality in religious duties? Do I feel increasing tenderness of conscience, and maintain more watchfulness against sin? Do I feel greater concern for the prosperity of the church and the conversion of the world? Am I becoming more meek and gentle in spirit, less censorious, and less disposed to resent injuries? Am I more ready to receive reproof from others, without anger or hardness of feeling?
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. However, this is a dangerous experiment, as it is difficult to divest ourselves of the idea that we are writing for the perusal of others; and this furnishes many temptations. 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 pardoning 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 repentance and preparation be heartfelt and sincere, its fruits will be seen in your subsequent life.
I have now completed my intended series of letters. I have endeavored to present the Christian character, and the duties required of the followers of Christ, in the light of God's word. I know, however, that I have done it with much imperfection. But, do not rest with the mere mechanical performance of the duties here recommended. Do not engage in any of them with the hope of meriting God's favor. Use them only as the means of promoting your spiritual progress; depending on the Holy Spirit, through the blood and merits of Christ, to sanctify your heart. For it is very possible for you to observe all these things, and yet deceive yourself. Remember that true religion is a deep work of grace in the heart, changing the bent and inclination of the soul, and giving a new direction to all its faculties. O may you so live that Jesus shall say to you, as to the church at Thyatira, "I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works and THE LAST TO BE MORE THAN THE FIRST." Take also his exhortation to the church at Smyrna: "BE THOU FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH, AND I WILL GIVE THEE A CROWN OF LIFE."
Your affectionate Brother.