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A Topical Study:
The Necessity of Self-Examination, pt. 1
by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
[Here, we begin another study on self-examination. This one is by the famous American evangelist, Jonathan Edwards]—Ed.
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. (Ps. 139:23-24, AV).
This psalm is a meditation on the omniscience of God, or upon his perfect view and knowledge of everything, which the psalmist represents by that perfect knowledge which God had of all the psalmist’s action—his down-sitting and his uprising; and of his thoughts (so that He knew his thoughts afar on); and of his words: “There is not a word in my tongue,” says the psalmist, “but thou knowest it altogether” (Ps. 139:4). Then he represents it by the impossibility of fleeing from the divine presence, or of hiding from Him so that if he should go into heaven, or hide himself in hell, or fly to the uttermost parts of the sea, yet he would not be hid from God; or if he should endeavour to hide himself in darkness, yet that would not cover him, but the darkness and light are both alike to Him. Then he represents it by the knowledge which God had of him while in his mother’s womb: “My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book all my members were written” (Ps. 139:15-16).
After this the psalmist observes what must be inferred as a necessary consequence of this omniscience of God, viz. that He will slay the wicked, since He seeth all their wickedness, and nothing of it is hid from Him. And last of all, the psalmist improves this meditation upon God’s all seeing eye, in begging of God that He would search and try him, to see if there were any wicked way in him, and lead him in the way everlasting.
Three things may be noted in the words.
1. The act of mercy which the psalmist implores of God towards himself, viz. that God would search him. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts” (vs. 23).
2. In what respect he desires to be searched, viz. “to see if there were any wicked way in him” (vs. 24). We are not to understand by it, that the psalmist means that God should search him for His own information. What he had said before, of God’s knowing all things, implies that He hath no need of that. The psalmist had said, in the second verse, that God understood his thought afar off, i.e. it was all plain before Him, He saw it without difficulty, or without being forced to come nigh, and diligently to observe. That which is plain to be seen, may be seen at a distance.
Therefore, when the psalmist prays that God would search him to see if there were any wicked way in him, he cannot mean that he should search that He Himself might see or be informed, but that the psalmist might see and be informed. He prays that God would search him by His discovering light that He would lead him thoroughly to discern himself, and see whether there were any wicked way in him. Such figurative expressions are often used in Scripture. The word of God is said to be a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Not that the word itself discerns, but it searches and opens our hearts to view, so that it enables us to discern the temper and desires of our hearts. So God is often said to try men. He doth not try them for His own information, but for the discovery and manifestation of them to themselves or others.
3. Observe to what end he thus desires God to search him, viz. “That he might be led in the way everlasting” (vs. 24), i.e., not only in a way which may have a specious show, and appear right to him for a while, and in which he may have peace and quietness for the present, but in the way which will hold, which will stand the test, which he may confidently abide by forever, and always approve of as good and right, and in which he may always have peace and joy. It is said, that “the way of the ungodly shall perish,” (Psalm 1:6). In opposition to this, the way of the righteous is in the text said to last forever.
(This study will continue, D.V., in the next issue.)