A Discourse of Self-Examination, pt. 2

by Stephen Charnock (1628-1680)

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith: prove your own selves. Know ye not your ownselves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? (II Cor. 13:5, AV).

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (II Cor. 13:5, NIV).

(At the end of the previous study, Mr. Charnock told us why self-examination is a necessary duty. Here he speaks of the diligence required for self-examination)

2. ’Tis a duty that requires diligence and care. That which is of infinite consequence in the state of your souls, ought not to be built upon sandy and slight foundations. ’Tis called communing with a man’s own heart (see Ps. 4:4). Not a slight glance and away, but a sweeping and looking with a candle (see Luke 15:8), wherewith every cranny and chink is pried into. There are many parts of the body hidden with fat, so there must be careful removing of several things to come at them: a searching for some precious filings of gold in a heap of dust. An employing all the faculties of the soul in a diligent search: "My spirit made diligent search" (Ps. 77:6). ’Tis expressed by counting: "I thought on my ways" (Ps. 119:59), he looked over the acts of his soul, one by one. The heart is called the "inward parts" or depths of the belly (see Prov. 20:7), as the bowels are folded together in many coats and coverings, that they are not easily come to; so the heart of man if full of devices.

(1). Diligence is requisite, because the work is difficult. ’Tis no easy matter to be acquainted with ourselves. The soul is not well acquainted with its own features, and preserves not the species of itself. We ‘behold our faces in a glass, and soon forget what manner of men we are" (James 1:23-24). As man is apt to know anything but himself; so it is more easy for him to know anything than himself, as the eye sees everything but itself. There must be diligence to discern the rational workings of our soul, to know whether we truly understand such a thing, or really and firmly will such a good. The judgment of man is corrupted, and misrepresents things like a cracked glass. We can more easily judge of a bodily than of a spiritual disease; because the understanding which should judge of the state of the soul is sickly and ill affected itself. Our wills also being so changeable, sometimes set on one thing, and sometimes flitting to another, the spiritual workings of them are not so readily discernable. This work is done by a reflex act; and reflex acts in sprituals, as well as naturals, are weakest and more languishing, whereas direct acts are more powerful and vigorous. Where grace is small, and corruptions many, it must be hard to discern it, as it is for an eye to discern a small needle, especially if in the dust and rubbish. The roots of sin also lie deep, like Achans wedge of gold in the earth, not easily to be found without good directions. Lust lies in secret corners; there is a deceitfulness of it, subtle evasions, and specious pretences: consideration is requisite to the discerning of them. External acts discover themselves; but the inward acts of the soul, which are the surest evidences, are not discernable without a diligent inspection. The natural inconstancy and levity of our spirits divert us, and the streams of our corruptions cloud and bemist us, and control our endeavors in self-examination, that we cannot sometimes any more fixedly behold the motions of grace, than we can see the beams of the sun in a black and mourning sky.

(2.) Diligence is requisite, because man is naturally unwilling to this duty. He would live anywhere but with himself, think of anything but himself; delights most in those things which hinder him from a consideration of his own state. Men are more willing to have their minds rove through all the parts of Nature, than to busy themselves in self-reflection; would read any book or relation, rather than the history of their own heart. We are nearest to ourselves physically, and furthest from our own selves morally. Men whose titles are cracked and unsure, are loathe to have them tried before the judge, and come under the siftings of conscience. Ever since the fall we run counter to God: ’tis the property of the Divine Nature first to know himself, and then to know other things; but we are cross, would know any other thing, but not ourselves, would read others, and not so much as spell ourselves. We naturally abhor any actions wherein we may be like God, though they are the most proper operations for our souls, and suitable to the nature of them, as reflex acts are. There being in us a contrariety to God and His Law, to God and His Gospel, there results from thence an unwillingness in us to bring our hearts under the examination of conscience, that power which acts by authority and deputation from God. And when grace eggs us on at any time to the performance of the duty, do not our hearts hang back, and our corruptions check us in it? Satan is no mean instrument in this; he is said to blind the world, that they might not know their state. He hath lost his likeness to God in his primitive happiness, and ever since envies man the recovery of that likeness, which is possible to man, and impossible to himself; and therefore diverts him from a glance towards it, and endeavours after it, the first step to which is self-reflection.

The unwillingness to do this duty ariseth,

[1.] From carnal self-love. ’Tis natural to man to think well of himself, and suffer his affections to bemist or bridle his judgment. A biased person cannot be a just judge. Every man is his own flatterer, and so conceals himself from himself. Very few that are uncomely in body, or deformed in mind, but think themselves as handsome and honest as others. David so loved himself that he saw nothing of his sin, but was fair in his own eyes, till Nathan roused him up, by telling him, "Thou art the man" (II Sam. 12:7). Every man would be "right in his own eyes" (Prov. 16:2). Every Blackamore fancies himself to have a comely colour. This self-love keeps men off from this work, for fear they should behold their own guilt, and their souls be stung with anguish. Men that are bankrupts are loathe to cast up their accounts, lest it should appear to them that they are undone. Some are loathe to see their ugly faces in a glass. Conscience awakened by this duty, bites and stings. And men are loathe to impair their own ease; because they would escape the din of an accuser in their own bosoms. They turn fugitives from their own hearts, and would rather go to hell in a feather-bed, than to Heaven in a fiery chariot. While man seeks nothing more than himself in a sinful way, he conceals himself and flies furthest from himself in a reflexive way.

[2.] From Presumption and Security. Some walk as securely, as if there were no heaven, and it concerned them not; others walk as presumptuously, as though they were heirs apparent unto it, and yet have no title. Many will have a false persuasion of their faith and interest in Christ at the last day (see Matt. 7:22), and cry, "Lord, Lord." And the foolish virgins will knock as confidently, and expect entrance to the feast as well as the wife. They will not believe but they have a title to heaven, till Christ Himself clap the door upon them, and manifest the contrary. Had they raked in their own souls, and been plain dealers with themselves, they could not but have found themselves in a lost condition. Those that thus presume, cannot endure to hear of the differences between hypocrisy and sincerity; how far a cast-away may go in religion. This was the reason the Pharisees were such enemies to Christ, because he raked in their consciences; they could never come near Him, but he brought some indictment against them of hypocrisy. As Tertullian called heretics, "Lucifuge Scripturarum", because they would not be cured of their errors; so are such men also afraid to bring their hearts to the test of the Word, because they would not be cured of their false presumptions. As Ahab hated Micaiah, so these their own consciences, because they expect to hear that from them which they think evil, and cannot have such a view of themselves in that glass, as they desire to have.

(3.) Diligence is requisite, because man is hardly induced to continue in this work. That self-love which makes them unwilling to enter upon it, renders them unfit to make any progress in it. When we do begin it, how quickly do we faint in it? How soon are our first glances upon ourselves turned to a fixedness upon some slight object? Every mans heart is like an unruly horse, that will be going out of the way, if there be not resolution to check it in its first starts, and bring things to a judicial trial. The heart itself is so light and fluttering, that it wants the stability of grace to fix it in the trial of grace.

(4.) Diligence is requisite, because we are naturally apt to be deceived, and to delude ourselves. Our natural blindness and dimness render us liable to mistake, and our deceitful heart may sing a requiem to us while we are fools. We have a subtle enemy that lies in wait for us, who can transform himself into an angel of light, and disguise his serpentine hissings to make them appear like the breathings of the Spirit. If Adam in innocence, who had an ability to discern his methods, was deluded by him, much more may we be deceived by him in a state of corruption, when our hearts naturally have his stamp, and are inclined to take his part, and join with him in a self-deceit: "The heart of man is deceitful" (Jer. 17:9). ’Tis the great impostor and cheat of the world, the anti-Christ within us, the deceiver of our souls, as the great anti-Christ is called the deceiver of the nations. How apt are we to take upon trust what our heart first speaks! James and John could tell Christ that they were able to "drink of His cup", and no question they meant as they spoke (see Matt. 20:22), but had it come to a trial, they would not have endured to sip of it; and the issue manifested it, they turned their backs upon him as well as the other disciples. The Israelites, had they tried themselves by their present resolution, "All that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee, we will hear and do it" (Deut.5:27), might have subscribed themselves as pious as any in the world; they spoke no other than they meant. But God had a further inspection into them than they had into themselves: "Oh that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep my commandments always!" (Deut. 5:29). Natural conscience is often silenced by a pretence and show; and man is naturally apt to make his own corrupt judgment, sometimes also his passion, the standard of good and evil; and not only to frame grace according to his own affections, but a God also: "Thou thought’st that I was altogether such an one as thyself" (Ps. 50:21). The apostle intimates it in that signal mark of caution, when he presseth a truth to which natural conscience will subscribe, that "neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor covetous, nor drunkards, shall inherit the kingdom of God" (I Cor. 5:9). "Be not deceived", saith he; even in these things, men may deceive themselves with false hopes, much more in moral righteousness. Many boast themselves rich in spirituals, when they are really poor; so did Laodicea think herself rich, when God gave her another inventory of her estate, that she was "poor and miserable, and blind and naked" (Rev. 3:17). There is too much resting in the world upon outward privileges, and often beggars conceit themselves princes because they dream of scepters. How many extend their hopes as far as their wishes, and these as far as a fond fancy and imagination!

(5.) Diligence is necessary, because to be deceived in this is the most stinging consideration. To drop into hell when a man takes it for granted that he is in heaven, to dream of a crown on the head when the fetters are upon the feet, will double the anguish. ’Tis better for a rich man to dream that he is a beggar, for when he awakes, his fears vanish; than for a beggar to dream that he is rich, for when his dream ends, his sorrow begins. The higher the false conceit, the lower do men sink when they fall; the higher men’s expectations of heaven are without ground, the more stinging is their loss of it. To have vain hopes, till God puts us into the scale and weighs us, will be a miserable disappointment. For a man to deceive himself aggravates this, as self-murder is accounted a greater sin than the murder of another, because it is against that charity to ourselves, which is the copy and rule of charity to another. For Jesus told us: "Thou shalt ove thy neighbor as thyself" (Matt. 19:19).

(6.) Diligence is necessary, because many have miscarried for want of it. Thousands that have thought themselves in the suburbs of heaven, have been cast down to the depths of hell. If all should be saved that think they shall be saved, the strait way would be that which leads to hell: for what man is there almost that does not confidently believe he shall be happy? How many dream they are going to paradise, and when they awake, find themselves in the devil’s arms?

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