A Discourse of Self-Examination, pt. 3

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).

(We continue this study. In this issue, Mr. Charnock speaks on

the application of this verse.)

  1. The Use.

1. If this be our duty to examine ourselves, then the knowledge of our state is possible. If we are to examine ourselves, we may then know ourselves. Reflection and knowledge of self is a perogative of a rational nature. We know that we have souls by the operations of them. We may know that we have grace by the effects of it, if we be diligent; as we may know by the beams of the sun that the sun is risen, if we shut not our eyes. Grace chiefly lies in the will, and it discovers itself in actions. The more raised any being is, the more active it is. The being of a God is known by the effects of His power in the world, and the being of faith is known by the operations of it in the heart and life. Though gold and that which is gilt be like in appearance, yet the true nature of each of them may be discerned by the touchstone. Hypocritical grace is like true grace, but it is not the same. Sincerity may be known. If we cast but a glance upon our hearts in any word or action, we may know whether we mean as we speak or do, or whether we have any by-ends in it. The discerning of habitual sincerity, is not so easy as the knowledge of an integrity in a particular act: Yet if we keep a due watch over the motions of our hearts, and the actions of our lives, as they come upon the stage, and consider what their ends are, it will not be so difficult to know ourselves. ’Tis impossible a man’s will should steal by him in all the actions it produceth, and a man be ignorant and insensible of it. The spirit and conscience of a man may know such things as are in it; both the habits it hath, and particular motives to this or that act: "The spirit of a man that is in him, knows the things of a man" (II Cor. 2:11; AV). If men would be more inward in conversing with their own hearts, they might have an acquaintance with the concerns of their souls, as their sense hath with outward objects. There can be no sufficient reason given why the understanding should not as well know the acts of the soul and will, as the acts of the sense, and the motions of the body. We know our particular passions, and the exercise of them. There is no man that fears a danger, or loves an amiable object, but he knows his own acts about them, as well as the object of those acts. If a man have faith and love, why should he not be as able to know the acts of faith and love, as to know the acts of his particular affections? This is easy, if we did live more with ourselves, and oftener exercise that prerogative of reflection, which we have above beasts. ’Tis difficult indeed in regard of our corruption: as the Law is said to be weak, not in itself, it was able to answer the end for which God appointed it, and man by the endowments of His Creation was able to observe it; but it became weak to make men happy, and man impotent to conform to it "through the flesh" (Rom. 8:3), by the entrance of corruption. ’Tis the same corruption of man which renders this knowledge of himself difficult. He lives too much abroad out of his own soul, and too little within, other wise there is no doubt but he may know his own will, and the habitual inclination of it.

2. How foolish is the neglect of this duty! How many ramble about the world acquainting themselves with their own hearts, or considering whether Christ be in them? What advantage can there be in the knowledge of other things, if we know not whether there be any operations of grace in our own souls? How few give themselves the opportunity of a serious retirement? How unreasonable is it to rest satisfied with ungrounded hopes of heaven, to call ourselves citizens of Jerusalem above, and have no copy of our freedom to show, nor any living witness in us to bear testimony for us? ’Tis against nature to desire to be in any company rather than our own, to endeavor to know everything in the world rather than ourselves, which is the first object of knowledge: should that reason which God hath given us, more excellent than the nature of the beasts, be employed about examining everything but ourselves?

III. Use of the Exhortation.

’Tis our highest advantage to know what should become of our souls in eternity. Is it a small thing to be within the verge of the wrath of God? And is not the knowledge of this necessary if we be in such a case, that we may avoid it? Or is it a small thing to be an heir of heaven? Are justification, adoption, acceptation, small privileges, faith, love, repentance, small graces? Is not the knowledge of them necessary, that we may have the comfort of them? May not some convenient space of time be every day spent in this? May I not say as Christ to His disciples, "Can you not watch one hour?" Can you not spare one hour for so great and necessary a work? Let us enter therefore into the bosom of our heart, and see whether we have a true faith, such as Abraham’s: whether it be such a lively faith that hath freed our souls in part from the mud of our corruptions; whether it be a faith resting upon Christ for salvation, without giving indulgence to the least offence to Him; such a faith that purifies the heart, reforms the life, enflames the soul with a love to God, causing us to rejoice in Him, and in any further degree of conformity to Him; whether it engenders in us a serious desire, and a suitable endeavor to obey Christ; such a faith that relies upon His promises without slighting His precepts.

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