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The Necessity of Self-Examination, pt. 8
by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
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).
Self-examination respecting the families to which we belong.
Examine yourselves, whether you do not live in some way of sin in the families to which you belong. There are many persons who appear well among their neighbours, and seem to be of an honest, civil behaviour in their dealings and conversation abroad; yet if you follow them to their own houses, and to the families to which they belong there you will find them very perverse in their ways there they live in ways which are very displeasing to the pure all-searching eyes of God. You have already been directed to examine your conversation abroad, you have been directed to search the house of God, and to see if you have brought no defilement into it; you have been directed to search your closets, to see if there be no pollution or provocation there; be advised now to search your houses, examine your behaviour in the families to which you belong, and see what your ways and manners are there.
The houses to which we belong are the places where the generality of us spend the greater part of our time. If we respect the world as a man’s sphere of action, a man’s own house is the greater part of the world to him, i.e. the greater part of his actions and behaviour in the world is limited within this sphere. We should therefore be very critical in examining our behaviour, not only abroad, but at home. A great proportion of the wickedness of which men are guilty, and that will be brought out at the day of judgment, will be the sin which they shall have committed in the families to which they belong.
Therefore inquire how you behave yourselves in the family relations in which you stand. As those relative duties which we owe towards the members of the same family belong to the second table of the law, so love is the general duty which comprises them all. Therefore,
(1.) Examine yourselves, whether you do not live in some way which is contrary to that love which is due to those who belong to the same family. Love, implying a hearty good will, and a behaviour agreeable to it, is a duty which we owe to all mankind. We owe it to our neighhours, to whom we are no otherwise related than as they are our neighbours; yea, we owe it to those who stand in no relation to us, except that they are of mankind, are reasonable creatures, the sons and daughter of Adam. It is a duty that we owe to our enemies, how much more then do we owe it to those who stand in so near a relation to us as a husband or wife, parents or children, brethren or sisters!
There are the same obligations on us to love such relatives as to love the rest of mankind. We are to love them as men; we are to love them as our neighbours, we are to love them as belonging to the same Christian church, and not only so, but here is an additional obligation, arising from that near relation in which they stand to us. This is over and above the other. The nearer the relation, the greater is the obligation to love. To live in hatred, or in a way that is contrary to love, towards any man, is very displeasing to God; but how much more towards one of the same family! Love is the uniting band of all societies, “and above all these things, put on charity which is the bond of perfectness.” (Colossians 3:14.)
The union in love in our own family should be so much the stronger, as that society is more peculiarly our own, and is more appropriated to ourselves, or is a society in which we are more especially interested. Christ saith, “I say unto you, whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hellfire” (Matt. 7:22). If this be true concerning those who are our brethren only as men, or professing Christians, how much more concerning those who are of the same family! If contention be so evil a thing in a town among neighbours, how much more hateful is it between members of the same family! If hatred, envy, or revenge, be so displeasing to God, towards those who are only our fellow-creatures, how much more provoking must it be between those that are our natural brothers and sisters, and are one bone and flesh! If only being angry with a neighbour without a cause be so evil, how much sin must needs be committed in those broils and quarrels between the nearest relations on earth!
Let every one inquire how it is with himself. Do you not in this respect allow yourselves in some way of sin? Are you not often jarring and contending with those who dwell under the same roof? Is not your spirit often ruffled with anger towards some of the same family? Do you not often go so far as to wish evil to them in your hearts, wish that some calamity would befall them? Are you not guilty of reproachful language towards them, if not of revengeful acts? Do you not neglect and refuse those offices of kindness and mutual helpfulness which become those who are of one family? Yea, are there not some who really go so far, as in some degree to entertain a settled hatred or malice against some of their nearest relation? — But here I would particularly apply myself,
[1.] To husbands and wives. Inquire whether you do not live in some way of sin in this relation. Do you make conscience of performing all those duties which God in His word requires of persons in this relation? or do you allow yourselves in some ways which are directly opposite thereto? Do you not live in ways that are contrary to the obligation into which you entered in your marriage-covenant? The promises which you then made are not only binding as promises which are ordinarily made between man and man, but they have the nature of vows or promissory oaths; they are made in the presence of God, because they respect him as a witness to them; and therefore the marriage-covenant is called the covenant of God; Proverbs 2:17: “which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God.” When you have vowed that you will behave towards those to whom you are thus united, as the word of God directs in such a relation, are you careless about it, no more thinking what you have promised and vowed, regardless how you perform those vows? Particularly, are you not commonly guilty of bitterness of spirit towards one another, and of unkindness in your language and behaviour? If wrath, and contention, and unkind and reproachful language, be provoking to God, when only between neighbours, what is it then between those whom God hath joined together to be one flesh, and between whom He hath commanded so great and dear a friendship to be maintained? See Ephesians 5:28, 29: “So ought men to love their wives, as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.” And Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it.”
It is no excuse at all for either party to indulge bitterness and contention in this relation, that the other party is to blame, for when was there ever one of fallen mankind to be found who had no faults? When God commanded such an entire friendship between man and wife, He knew that the greater part of mankind would have faults; yet He made no exception. And if you think your yoke fellows have faults, you should consider whether you yourselves have not some too. There never will be any such thing as persons living in peace one with another, in this relation, if this be esteemed a sufficient and justifiable cause of the contrary. It becomes good friends to cover one another’s faults: Love covers a multitude of faults: “Hatred stirreth up strife; but love covereth all sins.” (Proverbs 10:1). But are not you rather quick to spy faults, and ready to make the most of them. Are not very little things often the occasion of contention between you? Will not a little thing often ruffle your spirits towards your companions? And when any misunderstanding is begun, are you not guilty of exasperating one another’s spirits by unkind language, until you blow up a spark into a flame?
Do you endeavour to accommodate yourselves to each other’s tempers? Do you study to suit each other? or do you set up your own wills, to have your own ways, in opposition to each other, in the management of your family concerns? Do you make it your study to render each others lives comfortable? Or is there not, on the contrary, very often subsisting between you a spirit of ill will, a disposition to vex and cross one another? Husbands do sometimes greatly sin against God, in being of an unkind imperious behaviour towards their wives, treating them as if they were servants; and (to mention one instance of such treatment in particular) laying them under unjust and unreasonable restraints in the use and disposal of their common property; forbidding them so much as to dispose of any thing in charity, as of their own judgment and prudence. This is directly contrary to the word of God, where it is said of the virtuous wife, (in Proverbs 31:20) that “she stretcheth out her hand to the poor, yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.” If God hath made this her duty, then He hath given her this right and power because the duty supposes the right. It cannot be the duty of her who hath no right to dispose of any thing, to stretch forth her hand to the poor, and to reach forth her hands to the needy.
On the other hand, are not the commands of God, the rules of His word, and the solemn vows of the marriage covenant, with respect to the subordination which there ought to be in this relation, made light of by many? Ephesians 5:22. “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” (Also Colossians 3:18). What is commanded by God, and what hath been solemnly vowed and sworn in His presence, certainly ought not to be made a jest of; and the person who lightly violates these obligations, will doubtless be treated as one who slights the authority of God, and takes His name in vain.
(This study will continue in the next issue.)