The Christian Soldier; or Heaven Taken by Storm (Part 5, by Self-examination)
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.
2. Examination of a man’s self is difficult, because of self-love. Asignorance blinds, so self-love flatters. Every man is ready to think the bestof himself. What Solomon saith of love to our neighbour is most true of self-love;’it hides a multitude of evil,’ Prov. x.12. A man looking upon himself in Philautae speculo, in the glass of self-love,his virtues appear greater than they are, and his sins less. Self-love makesone rather excuse what is amiss than examine it.
2. As examination is in itself difficult, so it is a work which we arevery hardly brought to. That which causeth a backwardness to self-examination,is,
1. Consciousness of guilt.Sin clamours inwardly, and men are loathe to look into their hearts lest theyshould find that which should trouble them. It is little pleasure to read the hand writing on the wall of conscience.Many Christians are like tradesmen who are sinking in their estates; they areloathe to look over their books, or cast up their accounts, lest they shouldfind their estates low: so they are loathe to look into their guilty heart,lest they should find something there which should affright them; as Moses wasaffrighted at the sight of the rodturned into a serpent.
2. Men are hardly brought to this duty because of foolish, presumptuoushopes: they fancy their estate to be good, and while they weigh themselves inthe balance of presumption, they pass the test. Many take their salvation ontrust. The foolish virgins thought they had oil in their lamps, the same as thewise, Matt. xxv. — Some are not sureof their salvation, but secure.If one were to buy a piece of land, he would not take it upon trust, butexamine the title. How confident are some of salvation, yet never examine theirtitle to Heaven.
3. Men are not forward to examine themselves, because they rest in thegood opinions of others: how vain this is! Alas, one may be gold and pearl inthe eye of others, yet God may judge him reprobatesilver: others may think him a saint, and God may write him down inhis black-book. Judas was looked upon by the rest of the Apostles as a truebeliever: they would have given their hands to this certificate; yet he was atraitor. Standers by can but see the outward carriage; they cannot tell whatevil is in the heart. Fair streams may run on the top of a river, but verminmay lay at the bottom.
4. Men are hardly brought to examine themselves, because they do notbelieve Scripture.The Scripturessaith, ‘The heart is deceitfulabove all things,’ Jer. xvii. 9. — Solomon said there were four things toowonderful for him, that he could not know. Prov xxx. 19. He might have added afifth. The way of a man’s heart.The heart is the greatest impostor; it will be ready to put one off withseeming grace, instead of saving. The heart will persuade that a slight tear isrepentance; a lazy desire is faith. Now because the generality of people do notbelieve that there is such fallacy in their hearts, therefore they are so slowto examine them. This natural backwardness in us to self-reflection, shouldcause us to offer the more violence to ourselves in making a thoroughinvestigation and search of our hearts.
O that I might prevail with Christians to take pains with themselves inthis great work of examination. Their salvation depends on it. It is the noteof an harlot; she is seldom at home, Prov. vii. 11,12. ‘Her feet abide not inher house; now is she without, now in the streets.’ It is a sign of an harlot-professor,to be always abroad, spying the faults of others; but is never at home with hisown heart. Oh let us try our hearts, as we try gold, by the touch-stone. Let usexamine our sins, and finding out this leaven, burn it. Let us examine ourgrace, whether it be of the right kind. One went into the field to gatherherbs, and he gathered wild gourds,and then death was in the pot, 2Kings iv. 40. So many think they have grace, the right herb; but it proves awild gourd, and brings death and damnation. That we may offer violence toourselves in this great business of examination, let these few things beseriously weighed.
1. Without self-examination we can never know how it is with us. If weshould die presently, we cannot tell to what coast we should sail; whether tohell or Heaven. It is reported of Socrates, when he was going out of theworld, he had this speech, I am now to die,and the gods know whether I shall be happy or miserable. That manwho is ignorant of the state of his soul, must needs have the trembling at the heart, as Cain had a shakingin his flesh. By a serious scrutiny of our hearts, we come to know to whatprince we belong, whether to the prince ofpeace, or the prince of the air.
2.If we will not try ourselves, God will try us. Hewill examine us, as the chief captain did Paul, by scourging, Acts xxii. 24. He will ask the same questionas Christ, ‘whose is this image and superscription?’ And if we cannot show himHis own image, he will reject us.
3. There is secret corruption within which will never be found out butby searching. There is in the heart (as Austin said) hidden pollution. When Pharaoh’s steward accused Joseph’sbrethren of having the cup, they durst have sworn they did not have the cup intheir sack. Little doth a man know what atheism, pride, and uncleanness is inhis heart until he searcheth.
4. The great advantage will accrue to us: the benefit is greatwhichever way things turn. If upon examination we find that we have not gracein truth, then the mistake is discovered, and the danger prevented. If we findthat we have grace, we may take thecomfort of it. How glad was he that had ‘found the pearl of great price?’ Hethat upon search finds that he hath but the minimumquod sic, the least degree of grace, is like one who has found his box of evidences; he is heir to all thepromises, and in a state of salvation.
And that we may go on themore successively in this work, let us desire God to help us to find out ourhearts, Job xxxiv. 32. ‘That which I see not teach thou me.’– Lord, take off the veil; shew me my heart;let me not perish through mistake, or go to hell with hope of Heaven.