5. The fifth duty wherein we are to offer violence to ourselves, self-examination; a duty of great importance: it is a parleying with one’s own heart, Psalm lxxxvii. 7. ‘I commune with mye own heart.’ David did put interrogatories to himself. Self-examination is the setting up a court in conscience and keeping a register there, that by strict scrutiny a man may know how things stand between God and his own soul. Self-examination is a spiritual inquisition; a bringing one’s self to trial. A good Christian doth as it were begin the day of Judgment here in his own soul. Self-searching is a heart-anatomy. As a Chirurgeon, when he makes a dissection in the body, discovers the intestina, the inward parts, the heart, liver, and arteries, so a Christian anatomizeth himself; he searcheth what is flesh and what is spirit; what is sin, and what is grace, Psalm lxxvii. 7. ‘My spirit made diligent search:’ As the woman in the Gospel did light a candle, and search for her lost groat, Luke xv. 8. so conscience ‘is the candle of the Lord,’ Prov. xx. 27. A Christian by the light of this candle must search his soul to see if he can find any grace there. The rule by which a Christian must try himself, is the Word of God. Fancy and opinion are false rules to go by. We must judge of our spiritual condition by the canon of Scripture. This David calls a ‘lamp unto his feet,’ Psalm cxix. 105. Let the word be the umpire to decide the controversy, whether we have grace or no. We judge of colours by the sun. So we must judge of the state of souls by the light of Scripture.
Self-examination is a great, incumbent duty; it requires self-excitation; it cannot possibly be done without offering violence to ourselves. 1. Because the duty of self-examination in itself is difficult: 1. It is actus reflexivus, a work of self-reflection;it lies most with the heart. ‘Tis hard to look inward. External acts ofreligion are facile; to lift up the eye to Heaven, to bow the knee, to read aprayer; this requires no more labor than for a Catholic to tell over his beads;but to examine a man’s self, to turn in upon his own soul, to take the heart asa watch all in pieces, and see what is defective; this is not easy. — Reflective acts are hardest. The eye cansee everything but itself. It is easy to spy the faults of others, but hard tofind out our own. (more…)
3. The third duty wherein we are to offer violence to ourselves, is in prayer. Prayer is a duty which keeps the trade of religion flowing. When we either join in prayer with others, or pray alone, we must use holy violence; not eloquence in prayer, but violence carries it. Theodorus, speaking of Luther, ‘once (says he) I overheard him in prayer: but, (good God), with what life and spirit did he pray! It was with so much reverence, as if he were speaking to God, yet with so much confidence, as if he had been speaking to his friend.’ There must be a stirring up of the heart,
1.To prayer. 2. In prayer.
1. A stirring up of the heart to prayer, Job xi. 13. ‘If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands toward him.’ This preparing of our heart by holy thoughts and ejaculations. The musician first tunes his instrument before he plays.
2. There must be a stirring up of the heart in prayer. Prayer is a lifting up of the mind and soul to God, which cannot be done aright without offering violence to one-self. The names given to prayer imply violence. It is called wrestling, Gen. xxxii. 24. and a pouring out of the soul, 1 Sam. i. 15. both of which imply vehemency. The affection is required as well as invention — The apostle speaks of an effectual fervent prayer, which is a parallel phrase to offering violence.
Alas, how far from offering violence to themselves in prayer, 1. That give God a dead, heartless prayer. God would not have the blind offered, Mal. i. 8; as good offer the blind is as offering the dead. Some are half asleep when they pray, and will a sleepy prayer ever awaken God? Such as mind not their own prayers, how do they think that God should mind them? Those prayers God likes best which come seething hot from the heart.
1. We must provoke ourselves to reading of the word. What an infinite mercy it is that God hath honoured us with the Scriptures! The barbarous Indians have not the oracles of God made known to them; they have the golden mines, but not the Scriptures which are more to be desired ‘than much fine gold,’ Psalm xix. 10. Our Savior bids us ‘search the Scriptures’, John v.39. We must not read these holy lines carelessly, as if they did not concern us, or run over them hastily, as Israel ate the passover in haste; but peruse them with reverence and seriousness. The noble Bereans did ‘search the Scriptures daily,’ Acts xvii.11. The Scripture is the pandect of divine knowledge; it is the rule and touchstone of truth; out of this well we draw the water of life. To provoke to a diligent reading of the word, labor to have a right notion of Scripture.
Read the word as a book made by God Himself. It is given ‘by divine inspiration’ 2 Tim. iii.16. It is the library of the Holy Ghost. The prophets and apostles were but God’s amanuenses or notaries to write the law at his mouth. The word is of divine original, and reveals the deep things of God to us. There is a numen, or sense of deity engraven in man’s heart and is to be read in the book of the creatures; quaelibet herba Deum; but who this God is, and the Trinity of persons in the Godhead, is infinitely, above the light of reason; only God Himself could make this known. So for the incarnation of Christ; God and man hypostatically united in one person; the mystery of imputed righteousness; the doctrine of faith: what angel in heaven, who but God himself, could reveal these things to us? How this may provoke to diligence and seriousness in reading the word which is divinely inspired. Other books may be written by holy men, but this book is indicted by the Holy Ghost. (more…)
1. He must offer violence to himself — This self-violence consists in two things:
1. Mortification of sin.
2. Provocation to duty.
1. Offering violence to one’s self, in a spiritual sense, consists in mortification of sin: Self is the flesh; this we must offer violence to. Hierom,, Chrysostom, and Theophilact, do all expound taking Heaven by force, the mortifying of the flesh; the flesh is a bosom traitor; it is like the Trojan horse within the walls which doth all the mischief. The flesh is a sly enemy; at first it is dulce venenum, afterwards scorpio pungens, it kills by embracing. The embraces of the flesh are like the ivy embracing the oak; which sucks out the strength of it for its own leaves and berries: So the flesh by its soft embraces, sucks out of the heart all good, Gal. v. 17. The flesh lusteth against the spirit. The pampering of the flesh, is the quenching of God’s spirit. The flesh chokes and stifles holy motions: the flesh sides with Satan and is true to its interest. There is a party within that will not pray, that will not believe. The flesh inclines us more to believe a temptation than a promise. There needs no wind to blow to sin when this tide within is so strong to carry us thither. The flesh is so near to us, its counsels are more attractive: no chain of adamant which binds so fast as the chain of lust. Alexander, who was victor mundi, conqueror of the world, was captious vitiorum, led captive by vice. Now a man must offer violence to his fleshly desires if he will be saved, Col. iii. 5. ‘Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth.’ The mortifying and killing sin at the root, is when we not only forbear the acts of sin, but hate the inbeing. Plurimi peccata radunt non eradicant. Bern.
Nay, where sin has received its deadly wound, and is in part abated, yet the work of mortification is not to be laid aside. The Apostle persuades the believing Romans to ‘mortify the deeds of the flesh, Rom. viii.13. In the best of saints there is something which needs mortifying; much pride, envy, and passion; therefore mortification is called crucifixion, Gal. v. 24. which is not done suddenly: every day some limb of the ‘body of death’ must drop off. Nothing harder than a rock, (saith Cyrill), yet in the clefts thereof some weed or other will fasten its roots. None stronger than a believer, yet do what he can, sin will fasten its roots in him, and spring out sometimes with inordinate desires. There is always something needs mortifying. Hence it was St. Paul did ‘beat down his body,’ by prayer, watching, and fasting, 1 Cor. ix. 27.