The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

The touchstone of sincerity

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John FlavelMy father put me on to this.  It is taken from John Flavel writing on “The Touchstone of Sincerity: or, The Signs of Grace, and Symptoms of Hypocrisy,” in The Works of John Flavel (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1968) 5:599.

Flavel says that sincerity lies at the heart of true religion.  However, it is easy for sensitive Christians to torture themselves unnecessarily.  They imagine that they are far worse than they actually are and therefore fail to recognise the grace and sincerity that God has actually worked in them.  Sin remains in the best of the saints.  Every Christian struggles with particular sins; we tend to be slow and dull in fulfilling our Christian duties; fears and doubts perplex us at times; and, hypocrisy and sinful motives still plague us.  John Flavel suggests that many of our problems about discerning whether we are genuine or not would be resolved if we sat down and in a calm spirit gave an honest answer to each of the following six questions.

  1. Do I seek the approval of God as I live out my life, as I pray, as I worship, as I do good works?  Or do I seek principally the approval and applause of men?  Think of Paul whose aim was ‘not as pleasing men, but God’ (1Thes 2.4; Col 3.23).
  2. What restrains me from committing sin?  Is it the fact that my sinning would bring shame and reproach on me now and place my soul in danger and bring me distress in the future?  Or is it because I fear God and therefore hate sin because it is against him?  Think of Joseph (Gen 39.9) and compare with Psalm 19.12-13 or 119.113.
  3. Do I rejoice to see God’s work advancing in the world and his glory promoted by other men and women?  Or do I have reservations and regrets because I have no share in the credit and honour of it?  Again, think of Paul (Phil 1.18).
  4. Although some Christian duties are hard to carry out and require much self-denial, do I nevertheless desire to fulfil those duties?  In my heart do I sincerely desire to do all the will of God, even though I am unable to follow that pattern perfectly?  David was a man whose heart was set on doing all God’s will (Ps 119.4-6).
  5. Am I an ‘all-weathers’ Christian?  Am I sincerely determined to pursue Christ and holiness even if I face opposition and adversity?  Or do I conduct myself in such a way that I am overly-concerned to protect myself and play safe?  Is there a secret reserve in my heart that holds me back from hazarding all for Christ?  This is contrary to the practice of the saints (e.g. Ps 106.3; 44.17-19; Rev. 22.11).
  6. What is my attitude to secret sins and secret duties?  Do I make no conscience of committing secret sins and neglecting secret duties?  Or am I conscientious in following the rules and patterns of integrity laid out in God’s word?  (See Ps 19.12 again and also Mt 6.5-6).

Flavel concludes: “A few such questions solemnly propounded to our hearts, in a calm and serious hour, would sound them, and discover much of their sincerity towards the Lord.”

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 28 August 2009 at 23:08

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