A Discourse of Self-Examination, pt. 1
by Stephen Charnock (1628-1680)
The apostle having blamed the Corinthians for some enormities among them, and knowing there were some that had not repented of them, comes now to a conclusion to his Epistle, and assures them, that if he should come again to them, he would not spare them, but be sharp against them with his ecclesiastical censures. And as for such who had not been guilty of those crimes, yet had mean thoughts of the apostle, and would have some eminent proof of his apostleship, or of Christ speaking in him (vs. 3); he refers himself to them, and makes them the judges of it, whether they had not found the mighty operation of Christ in him. For although Christ’s being crucified evidenced His being subject to the infirmities of man, and the penalty of the Law; yet His resurrection, and His glory is an evidence of the power of God in Him, and with Him: so though I be weak, yet you yourselves bear arguments in you; and therefore "examine your own selves", and try whether there be not a mighty change wrought in your souls, "whether you are not in the faith", and quite other men than you were; if you find not such effects, assure yourselves, you are not yet in the state of true Christianity.
Some understand this of Christ being in them in regard of the miraculous gifts, the gifts of miracles, tongues, and healing; and understand by faith here, a faith of miracles, which was a special gift, and very resplendent in the primitive church. But that does not seem to be the sense of it; for the possessing such gifts is not a sign of election, nor the want of them a presage of reprobation, or a testimony of insincerity. Miracles may be wrought by those that have not a justifying and saving faith. Judas had the same commission with the rest of the apostles at Christ’s first sending them out in the time of his life; and we may well conjecture that miracles were wrought by him, as well as by his colleagues, in that employment. Besides, it cannot be manifested that those gifts were bestowed upon every member of the primitive church; but only upon some called out by God for that purpose. And if by faith be understood here a faith of miracles, whereby they should try themselves whether Christ was in them, those that had not that gift conferred upon them, had no evidence of their being in Christ; or at least had not so illustrious an evidence as the others had, who outstripped the rest of their brethren in those miraculous powers. The gift of miracles was an evidence that Christ was in those instruments, in regard of His power, but true faith only is an evidence that Christ is in a man in regard of His grace.
"Examine yourselves"—Tempt yourselves. The word tempting is sometimes taken for trying, as when God is said so tempt Abraham, in commanding him to sacrifice his son, to know or make known to him that he feared God (see Gen. 22:1,12).
"Prove yourselves"—Try yourselves as goldsmiths do metals; prove yourselves that you may know experimentally what is in you.
The phrase speaks diligence in this work; the repetition intimates both diligence and frequency; what is not known in one act, may be known in repeated acts. Self-examination is a duty in all cases, the repetition speaks necessity; it implies also men’s natural backwardness to it.
"Know you not your ownselves"—It implies the folly and unreasonableness of the neglect of it, also the possibility and easiness upon a due and diligent inquiry, to know whether Christ be in us or no.
"How that Christ is in you"—Whether the power of Christ hath not wrought in you to the transforming your soul.
"Unless you be reprobates"—The Apostle does not understand by the word reprobates, such as are eternally rejected by God, as reprobates are opposed to the elect. Those that had not Christ in them at that time, might have him afterwards, the work of conversion being daily promoted in the Church; but "reprobates", i.e. counterfeit, adulterate, not yet purified and refined from your dross; or, unless you are unapproved or void of judgment, or unexperienced in the ways of Christ. And he puts a diminutive term, "unless" you be somewhat and in part insincere: Or it may go further, and the apostle might mean thus: If after the power of Christ, which hath appeared so gloriously among you, you find no strong operation in your own souls towards him, you have reason to suspect that you are not owned by him, that he may give you over to yourselves.
In this verse, observe,
1. The duty expressed: "Examine yourselves. Prove yourselves."
2. The matter of it: "Whether you be in the faith."
3. The enforcement and motive: "Except you are reprobates."
Doctrine: Self-examination is a necessary duty belonging to everyone in the Church, and requires much diligence in the performing of it.
Hence some observe, that when it is expressed, that God created man in His own image, "In the image of God created He him" (Gen. 1:27, AV), the word is Elohim, which is a name of God belonging to His judicial acts, which imply trial and examination: in the image of Elohim created He him, i.e. with a power of self-trial and self-judging. This self-examination is an exact and thorough search into a man’s self, an exquisite consideration in what posture he stands to God. The word is the rule, a glass wherein we see God’s will; and conscience is the examiner, that is, the glass wherein we see our lives, and the motions of our hearts: and which, by the help of the word, does dissect and open the soul to itself.
I shall not prosecute this doctrine fully, only lay down some conclusions:
1. ’Tis a necessary duty, in regard to our comfort. What good does it do a man to hear that a Christ is sent to redeem, that a ransom is paid, that sin is pardonable, hell avoidable, Heaven attainable upon the conditions of faith, and not know whether he hath so advantageous a grace in him, which only entitles him to such glorious privileges? What comfort in Christ, in His meritorious passion, in His triumphant resurrection and ascension, in His prevalent intercession, unless we know that by faith we are united to Him, and consequently have an interest in all the gracious fruits of His different states of humiliation and exaltation? If we can find this grace in our souls, what a joy unspeakable does result from thence? Christ as a King will protect my soul, Christ as a Priest hath expiated my sins, Christ as a Prophet will remove my ignorance, my soul was in His mind upon the cross, my concerns are in His breast in Heaven, my name is enrolled in the register of His subjects.
(1) Because there are common graces. As there is an outward and inward call, so there is an outward profession, and an inward transformation. There are some virtues come from the hand of God as Creator, and some immediately from the Spirit as a renewer; some common virtues for the preservation of humane society, and some special graces for the fabric of an invisible Church. There is an acceptation of the Law for an outward practice, without and affection to the Lawgiver, or an esteem of the spirituality of the Law itself. There is a sanctification in opposition to Judaism, or Paganism, or some erroneous opinion, which is common to those that may apostatize (see Heb. 10:29). The Apostle calls the Church of Corinth saints "called to be saints" (see I Cor. 1:2), saints by vocation outwardly, not all saint by a new vocation inwardly.
(2) Because there are counterfeit graces. There is much false coin in the world, washed pewter, and gilded brass; there are sepulchers garnished outwardly, and full of rottenness and stench within; there are many that want not their artifices in religion, as well as in common converse. Good things may be imitated, when thay are not rooted. The Apostle speaks of a "dead faith" (see James 2:26), which is like the carcass of a man without life; a faith that deserves no more the name of faith than a carcass does the title of a man, when the enlivening and principal part is fled. There is a "repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18), which supposeth a dead repentance, such as Ahab’s humiliation, like marble sweating tears in moist and rainy weather, without any mollifying of the natural hardness; or Judas his sorrow, raised by the fire in his conscience, not like Peter’s by a spiritual influence of his Master. There is a "lively hope" (I Pet. 1:3) which supposeth a dead hope; there is a "lively stone" (I Pet. 3:5) which implies that there are lifeless stones that are not inwardly fitted and prepared for the spiritual building. The building upon the rock and the sand might have the same beauty, form, and ornaments, but not the same foundation; one was stable and the other tottering. There is a "repentance towards God" (Acts 20:21) when the dishonor of God afflicts us, which implies there is a repentance towards ourselves, when the danger of our own persons starts a pretended sorrow for sin. There is a faith that is sound and lasting, a faith that is temporary and perishing, a faith that starts up like a mushroom in a night, and withers at the next scorching temptation; there is a faith common with devils, and a faith proper to Christians; there is a faith of Christ, and a faith in Christ.
(3). Because every man is in a state of grace or nature. There is a state of grace (Rom. 5:1), and a state of wrath (Eph. 2:3). The world is made up of receivers of Christ, or rejecters of Him, true subjects to God, or rebels against Him. There are two families: the family of God, and the family of the devil. The visible Church was not without its distinction; the Ark contains unclean as well as clean beasts; there is a Cain in Adam’s family, a Ham in Noah’s Ark, an Ishmael in Abraham’s house, and a Judas in our Savior’s retinue; and at the last day, the whole world will be distinguished into only two kinds, of sheep and goats. ’Tis necessary therefore to inquire whose we are, whether we belong to the God of Heaven, or the god of this world; whether we have the renewed image of God, or still retain the old stamp of the devil.
(This study will continue, D.V., in the next issue.)