2 Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know you not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you…
I. Self-examination is A NECESSARY DUTY belonging to every one in the Church, and requires much diligence in the performing of it.
1. It is a necessary duty, in regard of our comfort. 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? It is necessary(1) Because there are common graces. There is an acceptation of the law for an outward practice, without an affection to the lawgiver, or an esteem of the spirituality of the law itself.
(2) Because there are counterfeit graces. There is much false coin in the world. Good things may be imitated, when they are not rooted. The apostle speaks of a dead faith (James 2:26). There is a repentance unto life (Acts 11:18) which supposeth a dead repentance.
(3) Because every man is in a state of grace or nature. There is a state of grace (Romans 5:1); a state of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). It is necessary, therefore, to inquire whose we are.
2. It is 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. It is called communing with a man's own heart (Psalm 4:4). Not a slight glance and away: sweeping and looking with a candle (Luke 15:8), wherewith every cranny and chink is pried into.
(1) Diligence is requisite, because the work is difficult. It is no easy matter to be acquainted with ourselves. The judgment of man is corrupted, and misrepresents things. 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, not easily to be found without good directions.
(2) Diligence is requisite, because man is naturally unwilling to this duty. 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 loth to have them tried before the Judge and come under the siftings of conscience. Ever since the fall we run counter to God. Satan is no mean instrument in this; he is said to blind the world that they might not know their state. This unwillingness ariseth —
(a) From carnal self-love. It is natural to man to think well of himself, and suffer his affections to bridle his judgment. 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. Every blackamore fancies himself to have a comely colour. And this self-love keeps men off from this work, for fear they should behold their own guilt, and their souls be stung with anguish.
(b) From presumption and security.
(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 slighter object!
(4) Diligence is requisite, because we are naturally apt to be deceived, and to delude ourselves. 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.
(6) Diligence is necessary, because many have miscarried for want of it.
II. 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 prerogative 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. Grace chiefly lies in the will, and it discovers itself in actions. 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 exercises 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?
2. How foolish is the neglect of this duty!
III. USE OF EXHORTATION. It is our highest advantage to know what should become of our souls in eternity. I shall, lastly, give you some directions about this duty of self-examination.
1. Acquaint yourselves with those marks that are proper only to a true Christian. Overlook all those that are common with the hypocrite, such as outward profession, constant attendances, some affections in duties. Let us not judge ourselves by outward acts: a player is not a prince because he acts the part of a prince. But we must judge ourselves by what we are in our retirements, in our hearts. He only is a good man, and doth good, that doth it from a principle of goodness within, and not from fear of laws, or to gain a good opinion in the world. Grace is of that nature that it cannot possibly have any by-end. As it is the immediate birth of God, so it doth immediately respect God in its actings. Let us examine first the truth of grace, and afterwards the height of grace. A little of the coarsest gold is more valuable than much of the finest brass. See how the habitual frame and inclination of the heart stands. One sound and undeniable mark is better than a thousand disputable ones.
2. Let us make the Word of God only our rule in trials. This is the only impartial friend we can stick to, and therefore it ought to be made our main counsellor. It is safe for us to take that rule which God Himself will take.
3. Take not the first dictates of conscience. He that trusts his own heart is a fool (Proverbs 28:26), i.e., without a diligent inquisition it is not wisdom to do so; but he that walks wisely shall be delivered: he that makes a strict inquiry into it shall be delivered from its snares and his own fears. It is a searching, examining, proving our hearts that is required, not taking them at the first word. There may be gold at the top and dross at the bottom.
4. In all implore the assistance of the Spirit of God. Natural conscience is not enough in this case, there must be the influence of the Spirit. It is God's Interpreter that can only show unto a man his righteousness (Job 33:23). The sun must give light before the glass can reflect the beams.
5. Let us take heed that while we examine our graces and find them, our hearts be not carried out to a resting upon them. We may draw some comfort from them, but must check the least inclination of founding our justification upon them. Graces are signs, not causes of justification.
6. In case we find ourselves not in such a condition as we desire, let us exercise direct acts of faith.
Parallel VersesKJV: Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?