The Duty and Benefits of Self-Examination
2 Corinthians 13:5: ‘Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realise that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?’
It is much easier and it is certainly more pleasant to judge other people than ourselves. The so-called ‘super-apostles’ were demanding proof that Christ was speaking through Paul (v.3). They were examining him! So with these words Paul turns to them and the congregation in Corinth and says, ‘Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.’ There are members of every congregation who are the self-appointed judges of sermon and preacher, but every true sermon stands in judgment upon us. When you open J.C.Ryle’s book entitled Practical Religion (Banner of Truth, 1998), which is a companion volume to his better known book entitled Holiness, the first paper you will read there is on this very theme of self-examination. The paper is entitled ‘Self-Inquiry’, and the text which J.C.Ryle chose leading him to open up that theme is Paul’s words to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of God and see how they are doing’ (Acts 16:36). ‘Were their members continuing steadfast in the faith? Were they growing in grace? Were they going forward, or standing still? Were they prospering, or falling away?’ (Practical Religion, p.l). The ‘super-apostles’ wanted everyone to focus on the apostle Paul, and make judgements about him, privately expressing how sad it was about him, wagging their heads, because the apostle always felt he was right about everything, but Paul wanted to know about them, and all the professing Christians in Corinth. How were they all doing? Many had started so well. Were they going on as well as they had started? Let every one of them examine himself to see whether he was in the faith or not.
C.H. Spurgeon uses four pictures to explain self examination to us. Firstly, the schoolmaster : he has been teaching a boy for a year and now comes the final annual examinations. ‘How much has gone in? How much have you been studying? How much work have you done? Has there been progress?’ This is one reason for self-examination: Christ once invited us, ‘Learn of me for I am meek and lowly of heart.’ Have we been learning? Secondly, the regimental sergeant-major: he has been instructing and drilling the recruit and now he is summoned to the parade ground for the inspection. The sergeant major does not look down from his office window. He marches up and down the ranks of men and scrutinises each one of them. Then he looks at them as they do their drill. So we examine and test ourselves intimately. Thirdly, the lawyer: the witness is in the box and now you cross-examine him. ‘Were you there? Did it really happen just as you said it did?’ Question your heart back and fore. Fourthly the traveller: of course there are the popular places where the crowds of tourists gather, and you must visit them. But the true traveller will go off the beaten track and he will explore the valleys and the hidden coves. So it is our private life, the inner life of the imagination and mind where so many of our troubles begin that we will also investigate.
1. SELF-EXAMINATION IS DIFFICULT
Of course, many unavoidable aspects of the Christian life are difficult. Constant personal prayer is difficult. Repentance is difficult. Mortifying remaining sin by the power of the Spirit is difficult. Witnessing to people humbly and earnestly is difficult. Being contented in whatever state we are in is difficult. Submitting to the decrees of God is difficult. Tithing is difficult. Loving your neighbour as yourself, and loving your enemy, and forgiving seventy times seven – all such activities are difficult. In other words, it is tough to be a true Christian. Self-examination is simply another difficulty.
It is difficult because it means examining your inner life. Who can know his own heart? Are these feelings natural or are they the work of the Holy Spirit? The heart is deep. Eternity is there. It is unsteady and deceitful because of remaining sin. Again, is it difficult because of our love of ease. There is that character in the book of Proverbs – the sluggard – and in each heart here a sluggard lives, and we fools are seeing to it that he stays alive. Now no sluggard likes to be rebuked for his slothfulness. Again, it is difficult because of all the winds that blow around us, especially in the professing church, and they have their own influence upon us. Let’s look at some of them:
Many professing Christians deplore self-examination, even in the clear light of Scripture. They have one message: ‘Look to Jesus!’ That single monotonous theme; it is like the call to the faithful going out relentlessly from the minaret day after day. But there will come a time when those who hear it will begin to ask themselves, ‘Am I indeed looking unto Jesus?’ There are men who deplore self-examination because they think that it must lead to introspection, and depression. They suggest that the inevitable consequence of doing what in our text the Holy Spirit himself tells Christians to do is that they will lose their assurance and become floundering doubters. Why should that be so? If we are beloved by God from before the foundation of the world, washed in the precious blood of Christ and indwelt by the Spirit of God may we not hope to find some evidences for this in our hearts and lives? If we readily behold mountains of grace in others may we not hope to find molehills of grace in ourselves?
It was on July 22, 1838, George Muller was in his garden and reading the verse, ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today and for ever’ and he was applying those words to himself and his own circumstances. What did that truth mean for him? Was he appropriating this Jesus to himself? Was he a real beneficiary of the immutable Lord Jesus? That is self-examination. Very soon he came to this conclusion, ‘Jesus in his love and power has hitherto supplied me with what I have needed for the orphans, and in the same unchangeable love and power he will provide me with what I may need for the future.’ Then a flood of joy came into his heart. He recorded all that in his journal for that day. Self-examination in the light of the Word of God brought him assurance.
Self-examination is discouraged by those whose faith is focused in the sacraments – in baptism, and in confirmation, and in Holy Communion. ‘If you have been baptized, and confirmed as being a Christian by the bishop placing his hands on your head, and if you are going regularly to communion then all is well,’ men are persuaded. I heard a woman calling in on a Christian radio phone-in and telling the experts that she was unsure whether she was a believer or not. ‘Have you been baptized?’ asked one of the ministers, and when she said she had been, then he assured her that she was safe. ‘You have been baptized into Christ,’ he told her. So for him this problem of whether you are a Christian or not was solved by a priest having administered the sacrament with the correct formula, not by examining herself in the light of the Bible to see whether she was in the faith of the Scriptures. But Philip baptised a man from Samaria called Simon who later offered the apostles money to purchase the ability to lay his hands on people and they would receive the Holy Spirit. Peter told him that he had no part nor share in this ministry, that his heart was not right with God and he needed to repent of his wickedness and pray to God. ‘Perhaps,’ Peter added, God ‘will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart’ (Acts 8:22). There was nothing automatic and permanent about the status in which baptism had placed Simon.
Again, there are many evangelicals whose slogan is ‘Don’t trouble untested assurance.’ They would not behave in that way concerning anything else, and certainly the world wouldn’t. When a boat is launched it goes through trials at sea for months before it takes its first passengers on board. If men have some uncertainty about their health they would visit their doctor for an examination. They would describe the symptoms and ask for a check-up. If men are going to buy a horse they will want to try it for a few days to be sure that it has the temperament and strength of which the salesman is boasting. If their car were making a strange noise they would take it to the garage mechanic. If they were going on a journey abroad they would check up on their travel documents, passport, visa and health insurance. They will examine their plants and then write letters to the gardening experts in the Saturday papers. They will take their pets to a vet after they have examined them. Men examine everything, but how strange that religious men will never examine their own faith in the light of the Bible.
These are the men who are so upset if a true believer expresses some momentary concern: ‘She heard this preacher and she experienced some uncertainties whether she was indeed born again. Horror!’ Why should that be so awful? Doubts have never damned anyone, but sinful presumption has damned many. The Scripture often says, ‘Let no man deceive you . . . let no man deceive himself . . . be not deceived.’ Isn’t that in the Bible for a purpose? What would you think of a doctor who told every single patient who came to see him that everything was fine with their health? ‘You are covered by the National Health Service,’ this quack tells each of them. He would be the last doctor you would recommend anyone to visit. You want truth from your doctor not bland assurances. Through the course of a year one campaign after another is launched to warn people about different diseases. These campaigns instruct men and women how to examine their own bodies, to look out for and discover the first symptoms of a life-threatening disease. ‘Examine yourselves. Test yourselves. These are the things to look for . . .’ Even the world is speaking of the value of self-examination. Shall not those who come into the orbit of New Testament Christianity pay heed when we are told by the spokesmen of Jesus Christ to examine ourselves?
The only thing that can be harmed by biblical self-examination is the counterfeit, and we want to spot that, don’t we? If you are working on the rota in the Christian Bookshop and a stranger gives you a fifty pound note to buy a 50 penny birthday card wouldn’t you put that note under a special light, or run a pen over it, or hold it up to the light and see if there was a watermark in it, or at least feel it and examine it very carefully? You don’t want to lose fifty pounds to a mean thief do you? If the note is fine that exercise harms no one, but if you fail to examine that counterfeit note, then fifty pounds has been stolen from the shop.
So it is with the preaching of self-examination. The only one who will lose any permanent peace is the spurious believer, and all of us want such a person to be awakened. Think how the Lord Jesus awakened a religious man called Nicodemus by telling him he had to be born again. Of course if preachers are setting the standard too high, or making unscriptural distinctions, or unnecessarily troubling the godly, may the Lord make them aware of it. Let me use this comparison: we would all be unhappy with a young zealot working in the Book Shop who went through the palaver of examining every five pound note any regular customer of the shop gave him by placing it under a special light and marking it with a special pen and by holding it up to the light and elaborately feeling it before he accepted it from us as a genuine Bank of England note. Very soon we would be offended. ‘Doesn’t he know us? Surely he believes that we are not people printing bank-notes on our photocopiers?’ So would the church grow concerned if with inordinate frequency this theme of self-examination occurred in the preaching, if the suggestion seemed to come from the pulpit that the preacher believed very few in the congregation were in a state of grace. Let’s beware of turning every sermon to the theme of self-examination. But that is hardly a practical danger in British evangelicalism. It is more in danger of lulling people to sleep by a failure to place before people the marks of true faith.
The apostle John said, ‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life’ (1 John 5:13). What things did he write to them to assure them of this knowledge? Did he talk about making a decision? Being baptised? Having his hands placed on their heads? That they knew a summary of Christian teaching like the Apostles’ Creed? None of those things. John gave them a series of tests by which they were to examine their lives. He said it was by keeping God’s commandments that we know that we are God’s people. He said that it was in loving the brethren we know that we have passed from death to life. He said that it was in overcoming temptation that we know that we have been born again. He spoke to their consciences about such marks of having a true saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Without such searching preaching there are going to be bigger congregations but there will also be giant compromise. The spirit of the world will have entered the church. The Lord Jesus warned his disciples about this early on in his ministry. He told them that if the salt loses its savour it is good for nothing.
2. SELF EXAMINATION IS A DUTY
The Word of God tells us very plainly to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith. ‘Test yourselves!’ it urges us. Why are Hebrews chapters 4 and 6 found in the New Testament if it were not important for us to look at our lives? Why did the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount warn us not to have a religion like the Pharisees if it weren’t to make us ask ourselves, ‘Do I have pharisaic religion?’ When we’re invited to come to the Lord’s Supper, the apostle says, ‘A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup’ (1 Cor. 11:28). What sins does he have to confess? Is his hope still in the name of the Lord Jesus alone? Does he feel unworthy to come, but does he know that all his worth in the sight of God is found in who Christ is and what he has done? There was the weeping woman convinced that she could not come to the Supper because of her sins, and the presiding minister, John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan, set the plate with the bread under her nose and said to her, ‘Take it! It’s for sinners!’ Do we feel our sins but treasure the grace that is greater than all our sins in the Saviour? That is the goal of self-examination. The Word of God tells us to examine ourselves . . . and then to come to the Table.
If we have to confess Christ before men how can we do that unless we are sure we belong to him? If we are to rejoice for evermore how can we rejoice until we know that we have good reason to do so? Would the Scripture tell us to examine and test ourselves if it were not certain that the result of that exercise would be knowledge of our true state, and assurance of our salvation? Such confidence is attainable (whatever the Roman church might say) and that is why the Bible commends to us self-examination. The Bible does not tell us to go to the homes of the elect and preach the gospel only to them, because before faith we have no way of knowing who the elect might be. So the Bible tells us to preach the gospel to all the world. The Bible does not tell us to examine Scripture and discover the date of the second coming because all the scholars in the world for two thousand years have searched Scripture with their toothcombs and still are nowhere nearer knowing when the world will end. That knowledge has not been revealed and it is unattainable. The Bible does not say, ‘Ask God to show you what a sinner you are,’ because you could not bear that knowledge. God will show you as much of your sin as is good for you, to humble you but not to destroy you. Such things as comprehensive views of my sin are unattainable, and God would tantalise and mock us if he told us to do them. But he tells us to examine and test ourselves to see whether we are in the faith because in this way we can come to the conclusion, ‘Yes, we are believers.’ Jacob could say with a simple confidence that the Lord God had appeared to him at Luz and blessed him. David could say, ‘The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God and my strength.’ Paul could say, ‘I know whom I have believed,’ and ‘he loved me and gave himself for me.’ John could stand in solidarity with all the Christians reading his first letter and say on behalf of every one of them, ‘We know we have passed from death to life.’
If God has commanded us to do something then it must be for our good, not for our distress. There must be countless benefits that will come to us from doing whatever God says. If he tells us to take up our cross and deny ourselves and follow him, then that must be for our good. If he tells us to pluck out the right eye or cut off the right hand then that must be for our good. If he tells us to hate our mother and father and brother and sister and husband and wife and children then that must be for our good. If self-examination is going to lead to assurance that we are loved by God then one effect will be that our witnessing is going get stronger – how can we speak to others of our Saviour if we are uncertain whether we have him or not?
If God has commanded us to examine ourselves then that is one way he determines we shall be delivered from self-deception. The Lord tells us that on the day of judgment many will say to him, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name driven out demons and performed many miracles?’ But Jesus will tell them they were self-deceived. ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers.’ Is there not one single person in this congregation who is self-deceived? Then it must be the only congregation in the world to be so favoured. Will there not be one person in this congregation who will take that prediction of Jesus Christ seriously and say to himself, ‘Then maybe I am deceived. I had better check what I believe, and how I behave.’ I am saying that God has prescribed self-examination as a preservative against false hopes.
This is a very personal activity. I can remember two boys both getting onto a scales in a railway station and putting a big old penny in and weighing themselves together. I suppose they were going to divide the weight in half to find out what each of them weighed, but as they looked like a junior Laurel and Hardy the half weight was not accurate for either of them. We are not to blend with others and find others in the congregation who are worse than ourselves and gain any comfort from that. How is it between me and God? When he puts me in the balances does he find that I am wanting?
Surely it is impossible to avoid passing some judgement on ourselves. I pass judgement on every sermon I’ve preached and I know there’s not been a message I’ve given that I knew could not have been improved. We pass judgment on our work, on our labours, on our achievements as parents, on our tastes and skills. Imagine a person who felt they were perfect in everything! We know such people and it is impossible to tell them anything. They are the best drivers, conversationalists, painters, Baptists, and cooks in the town. Their taste in music, books, politics, sport is exemplary – so they believe. They never pass judgment on themselves. Aren’t you afraid for such people? Isn’t the mature person seeking to grow in wisdom and grace and understanding? We stand in front of the mirror each day and we brush our hair and we put on certain clothes and we examine our appearance. How do we look? Isn’t it possible to do that without either vanity or depression? Of course. But shouldn’t we look deeper than that? Isn’t there an inner life – the life of God in the soul of man? Is it characterised by love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control? Are they totally absent from your inner life? No Christian will answer No. Isn’t that the life of true beauty? Don’t you wish your life were characterised by more of those graces? That healthy desire for more comes from true self-examination.
3. THERE ARE DANGERS IN SELF-EXAMINATION
Our main focus is on the Lord Jesus Christ our great prophet, priest and king who is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by him. But if that main focus begins to centre on our own frames and feelings then we are in danger. Robert Murray M’Cheyne urges us to take seven looks at Christ for every glance at our sin. There is a dynamic in Scripture that wherever we are warned of self-deception and urged to examine ourselves then words of the most tender grace and mercy to sinners are found right next to them. See here in our text. What is to be the result of examining and testing ourselves? It is, he says, to come to this fresh realisation: ‘Do you not realise that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test.’ What is the purpose of his writing these words, ‘that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority – the authority the Lord gave me for building you up’ (v.10). Then his concluding words for these same people whom he has told to examine themselves, ‘May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’ (v.14). His longing is that on every single one of them this glorious blessing of God may rest.
So it is in those fearful chapters in Hebrews where the apostle writes of all that may be attained while falling short of a saving relationships with God, he quickly takes his readers away and comforts them. He has given them a glimpse, and that is enough: ‘Even though we speak like this, dear friends’, he says, ‘we are confident of better things in your case – things that accompany salvation’ (Heb. 6:9). When Christ cuts us he heals us. So we come to church to be searched by our Saviour. We are happy if the Great Physician has a scalpel in his hand because he will bind up our wounds and strengthen us by anything he does with us.
It is not enough to point out the danger of being extreme. There are ditches on both side of the path to heaven. One ditch is presumption, and self-examination is God’s appointed means of delivering us from that. But there is another ditch called despair, and God will not use his warnings about presumption as a means of driving us into despair. That is what the devil will do. We are to have an equal horror of both dangers. If we do then we are right in the centre of the path to glory.
Sometimes Christians are tired because of the stress of their jobs. They have been ill, or there are particular problems in their families. There is a natural heaviness at periods like that. Doubts and discouragement at such times are natural phenomena, not the witness of the Spirit. Think of David Brainerd’s occasional bouts of heaviness. Some of that was due to the illness he was suffering from – tuberculosis – that caused his death as a young man. He had a melancholic temperament in a way that another sufferer of tuberculosis, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, did not have. There is practical guidance about such cases in the New Testament. John tells us we may ‘set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. (For) God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything’ (1 John 3:19, 20). Our hearts and feelings are not infallible guides. They may mislead us. The hymnist tells us that he dare not trust the sweetest frame. He wholly leans on Jesus’ name.
Again, Satan would like to present us with a list of our sins over many years, to drive us to despair and bitter regrets. He will recall things we had forgotten and remind us of the follies and offences of earlier days. He does this to paralyse us. He is like that party of men who dragged the adulterous woman to Jesus. They wanted her blood, but the Lord Jesus did not condemn her. Think of the wonder of that! Those sins that make you groan and sigh, the Lord Jesus knows about them, but he does not condemn you for them. You can scarcely believe it, but it is true. There is no condemnation for those particular sins because you have long repented of them and his blood covers them. I think of my sins as a minister and preacher. I can hardly believe that he will never bring them up to shame me for them. Satan will. He will come when we are at our lowest, and he will seize on one bad fall. ‘What about that?’ Satan will say. But that is not the Lord’s doing. He loves us too much to do that. Would you go to your husband when he is sick, or under pressure because of his job, or bearing a load of troubles, and at that time remind him of his sins? Satan does that – not the Lord.
Christ loves us and mixes comforts with his insistence that we examine ourselves. For example, he speaks to the seven Churches of Asia and he makes them examine themselves as the body of Christ. There are things that are wrong in most of them, but he begins virtually every analysis with words of praise. The Lord Jesus commends each church. In other words, self-examination is not to the end of demoralising us, but strengthening areas of weakness. That is not Satan’s way of dealing with Christians. He will call ‘sin’ what is not sin to bring us low. When Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress is walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death he has all these foul thoughts. They haven’t come from his own heart. They have been scattered there by Satan. Being tempted by lust and anger and self-pity and pride is not in itself sinful. The Saviour was himself tempted in all points as we are. It is cherishing the thought, taking it aboard, dwelling on it and going with it, that is sinful. It is when we are hearing the Word of God that Christ particularly speaks and convicts us. He points out our sin, and at that moment we confess it, and we ask God to forgive us. He is telling us things to be dealt with, and he will encourage us to find his grace sufficient to keep coming to him and keep confessing those sins which so easily beset us.
4. AN APPROACH TO SELF-EXAMINATION
We are constantly setting before you the glories of Christ’s finished work of redemption, and the great benefits of being in a state of grace. Now that must result in all of us asking such questions as these, ‘And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Saviour’s blood? Died he for me? How may I be sure that I possess saving faith? How can I know whether I am a child of God or not?’ There is not one verse in the Bible that has the name ‘Geoff Thomas’ written in it but there are many verses that describe for me true believers, how they live, what they believe, what they think about God and themselves. Am I living like them? It seems to me there is no way of getting assurance if we neglect such a duty.
i] We live differently from the world. We do not live perfect lives, but we live new lives. The apostle Peter is describing the life of the convert and he says, ‘he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God’ (1 Pet. 4:2). Here is a Christian and his goal is to do the will of God. That is his ambition. He never achieves it perfectly, but he would! Peter goes on to speak of this man’s old cronies who are scornfully watching him with some incomprehension: ‘They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you’ (1 Pet. 4:4).
There is a challenge here. Is our own life different? Is it what Paul calls in Romans 6 ‘a newness of life’? Is it a life that seeks to do the will of God? Has there occurred any transformation in point of behaviour as a result of our Christian profession? Is our life, in the broadest sense, risen and elevated? Is there some purity and majesty? Yesterday I received the little quarterly paper called the Vision of Europe. It is published by the European Missionary Fellowship and the current edition contains the testimony of a lady called Rosa Viera from Paio Pires in Portugal. She has become a Christian and she concludes with these words, ‘God has completely changed my life – so many are the blessings he has poured out on us. My home today is nothing like it used to be. The long and the short of it is that today there is much love to one another at home. We daily put all our matters into the hands of God.’ There is newness of life in that Christian home.
Now I am asking you to examine yourselves not in point of feelings, not in point of gift, but in point of Christian conduct, in point of Christian love and Christian purity, which would tell men that your life has been touched by the power that made the world, that your life has been affected by the power which raised our Lord from the dead. Are our lives different from what our unregenerate lives were? Are our lives different from those who still constitute the mass, the unregenerate world? Do they think it strange that you do not live as they live, and maybe they heap any abuse on your head? Do they tease you, and is that teasing sometimes sharp? Does this argue that in you now there is working the Almightiness of the Lord God? As we face the temptations of this life, does the way that we emerge declare that we have faced and overcome them by the power of an Omnipotent Creator? As we undergo whatever his will may hold for us of suffering, do we have the courage and patience that would argue that the Lord has held us up with his own strength, and made over to us the resources of his own power?
Do we long for the will of God to be done in our lives, effectively, so that it is done not by our own strength but by the power of the living God? Do we seek to live by the Sermon on the Mount, and by the great sections of the New Testament letters, by Romans 12 and Ephesians 5 and 6? I am not asking for perfection. I am asking for newness of life, and a different life.
ii] We are given a zeal for doing good works. Isn’t this the effect of the grace of God entering our lives, that we become actually zealous in good works? The Christian is someone ‘created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’ (Eph. 2:10). God’s grace is his sanctifying power. It is not God showing men the way. It is not God beseeching men to do good works, or God pleading with us and pointing out to us what he wants us to do in the life of his Son. It is God himself putting forth his power to make it absolutely certain that some changes are going to be effected in our lives and conduct. Henceforth there is going to be a new pattern of kindnesses shown, journeys made, services rendered, feet washed and dried, prisons visited, the sick helped, and the hungry fed. In the true Christian there is not going to be one initial volcanic explosion of good works which is going to last about a month and then the Christian just lies dormant for decades. God has prepared in advance for our whole life to be spent in doing good works, and he provides the energy and resources to accomplish this, so that the Christian can say, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’
It has been profitable to read Brian Edwards’ account of his years of marriage to his wife Barbara (Horizons of Hope, Day One, 2000). She had chronic rheumatoid arthritis, and after thirty-five years of marriage she died on November 16, 1998. Increasingly he needed to do more and more for her, including preparing their meals and clearing up afterwards. She became totally dependent upon him and he was given grace to abound in good works towards her. That was his great privilege. But how zealous had she been for good works over many years in spite of her physical handicap. On the night she died Brian wrote in his diary, ‘Only I know just how wonderful a wife and mother Barbara was. Her patient endurance, deep love for the Lord and longing to serve him. Thank you Lord, for Barbara.’ We sometimes wonder how we would cope if we or our spouses developed a serious illness. God would enable us to be still zealous in good works.
iii] We are given a new attitude to sin. Let me approach this by way of the hymns we most love to sing. When we sing ‘Amazing grace’ we really mean it when we say that it saved a ‘wretch like me.’ That is not poetry for us. When we sing ‘Beneath the cross of Jesus’ we really mean it when we say that we confess two wonders, his glorious love and our own worthlessness. When we sing ‘Jesus, lover of my soul’ we really mean it when we sing, ‘Vile and full of sin I am.’ When we sing ‘Rock of ages’ we mean it when we sing, ‘Foul, I to Thy fountain fly, Wash me Saviour or I die.’ We have seen something of the splendour and majesty and glory of God. The cherubim hide their eyes in his presence and they sigh, ‘Holy! Holy! Holy!’ Eternal light, in whom is no darkness at all!
Our sin meant that God the Son must become incarnate. He must become the Lamb of God. ‘Was it for sins that I had done He groaned upon the tree?’ Yes. He bore my sins in his own body on the tree.
For what you have done His blood must atone;
The Father hath punished for you His dear Son.
The Lord in the day of His anger did lay
Your sins on the Lamb and He bore them away.
The dying of Jesus Christ makes our whole attitude to sin different.
Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed,
Son of man and Son of God.
What is your estimate of your own sin? Do you seek to mortify remaining sin? Have you declared war on it? Do you take it seriously? When you sin do you plead the merit of the blood of Christ to wash the stain away?
iv] We are given a new attitude to Jesus Christ. We have the most exalted and most stupendous view of him. We have the grandest, and greatest, and maximal possible view of Christ. For us he is the Son of God. We did not always see him like this. We judged him to be a great man and a good man and wonderful prophet, but God has intervened and given us not religion, nor feelings, nor marvellous experiences, but a whole new insight into Jesus Christ. He has transformed our beliefs and ideas about Jesus of Nazareth. He has printed indelibly on our conscience a few elementary momentous convictions regarding Mary’s boy-child. God has persuaded us that Jesus is God’s own Son. I believe that there is nothing more foundational to a Christian than this. This is the great end of self-examination that we fall again before him and confess, ‘My Lord and my God! This is the first question that we ask people who say they are Christians: ‘What do you think of Jesus?’
When men came to John the Baptist they wanted John the Baptist to talk to them about John the Baptist. But John the Baptist would have none of it. John the Baptist said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ He was pointing away from himself. So is the Christian church. It is pointing primarily to the Lamb in the midst of the throne. A Christian makes the most stupendous claims on behalf of his Saviour. I believe in his pre-existence, that he has always been, that he was in the beginning, that he never came into being. I believe that he is the Maker of heaven and earth, that he designed every leaf, that he plotted the flight-path of every comet, that he upholds the whole universe by the word of his power, that every physical and chemical bond in the cosmos has been fashioned and maintained by the Lord of glory. I believe that our mathematics and physics, as applied to the universe, describe the thought patterns of the eternal Jesus Christ.
I believe that one day he will come again and that he will pull this whole universe apart, atom by atom, molecule by molecule, and that he will put it all together again as a new heaven and earth. I believe that one day you and I will stand before him face to face, and give an account, and from him receive our destinies. I believe that in him we meet ultimate and absolute and final reality. I believe that he is God; the only God there is; in him is the fulness of God; the whole form of God and the whole glory of God is found in Jesus Christ; he may be more, but he is not less. I believe in the greatness of Jesus, the unique grandeur of the Lord Jesus, the incomparable magnificence of Jesus of Nazareth.
Who is He in yonder stall,
At whose feet the shepherds fall?
‘Tis the Lord, O wondrous story,
‘Tis the Lord, the King of glory.
At his feet we humbly fall;
Crown him crown him Lord of all.
(Benjamin R. Hanby)
Self-examination is intended to lead us to him. Paul says, ‘Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?’ (v.5) The end of our examination is to bow before him, believing in our hearts and confessing with our lips that he is God. So you see how gracious and saving a means of grace is true self-examination.
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