The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘self-examination

The turn of the year

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The turn of the year is a good time to look back and to look ahead. In times past, many healthy Christians would use significant seasons – the new year, for example, or a birthday, or the anniversary of one’s conversion (if known) – to pause and to ponder the course of their lives. It was for them, and could be for us, a season of searching self-examination. It was a means of doing their souls much good. There are sermons and books by men like Stephen Charnock, Henry Scudder and Jonathan Edwards, designed to prompt and assist in this process.

It is unlikely that you will simply find the time to engage in such activity. You will have to make the time. You will need deliberately to think about your ways and turn your feet back to God’s testimonies (Ps 119.59). I would encourage you to make and take the time necessary, to invest the energy required, in such a season. The following outline might help.

To begin with, there must be review. Those who keep a diary or journal might find that flicking through the entries helps refresh the memory. For others, it might be as simple as looking back over a year of calendar entries. We ought to look beyond a mere record of activity, and think about the ebbs and flows of the year, the spiritual realities that underpin the outward engagement. Where was I? What was I doing? How was I doing? What battles did I fight? What defeats did I suffer or what victories did I win? In what service did I engage? But there are also plans for the future. What lies ahead? Perhaps more of a preview, this, or at least a review of your intentions and expectations. What are the opportunities before you? What distinct challenges or particular privileges do you anticipate? What battles must you fight? Where have you been beaten back but intend to forge ahead?

This element is not mere rehearsal. We must also reflect on our life. We must think over those questions. We must ponder carefully the manner and motives of our walking through this fallen world. What are the high points and the low points? Have we made progress? Are there patterns of sin that have been entrenched or besieged? Will you, in future days, assault such sins? If so, when and how? Are there habits of righteousness that have been strengthened or undermined? Will you, in the coming year, pursue such habits? If so, by what means and with what strength? Like John Newton, we have come through many dangers, toils and snares, and many more lie ahead. What has been and what will be the overall tenor of my life? How has the Lord dealt with me, and how have I dealt with the Lord? How could or should that change, from my side, in the days ahead. Consider that you are a year closer to death, and every day carries you closer to the giving of an account and, for the saints, a reward. Are you stepping, day by day, closer to glory?

With such substance in your heart, you will find much in which to rejoice. It is vitally important that you do so. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Thes 5.16-18). Perhaps it has been a year of serious trials. If so, Christian, God has never left you or forsaken you. You have never been separated from him; you have not fallen out of his hands; he has made all things work together for good for you. Perhaps there have been painful chastisements. If so, believer, it is because God loves you and treats you like a son. If you have been wise, you will have learned God’s statutes through your affliction. No doubt there have been incalculable blessings, measured first against your true deservings. As creatures, you have been given life and breath and all things. As sinners, God has not removed his grace from us. As sons, he has lavished good things upon us in measures that the most generous earthly father cannot begin to match. How good God has been to us! What mercies has he shown to you? What blessings have been poured out? How much pain and sorrow has been withheld from you, how much of pleasure and profit has been dispensed? If you are not a believer, you have been spared death and hell, and – even by virtue of reading such an article as this – have been reminded that the Lord is patient and longsuffering, and now calls all men everywhere to repent, holding out Christ to the repenting sinner.

And we must repent. The finest saint you know is a mass of corruption. Whatever progress you have made this year, you have not attained perfection. Far from it! Your reflective review, if honest, must reveal a host of sins of omission and a horde of sins of commission. By the first, we refer to all those things that you should have done but have failed to do. By the second, we mean all those things you ought not to have done but nevertheless have done. What a fearful catalogue of transgression is the best life! Now is a time to heap up all your sins and iniquities and transgressions and come again to the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness, to the cleansing flood which makes the foulest clean. We must come to the God who says that though our sins are scarlet, he can make them as white as snow. It is the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses us from all trangression. Now is a good time for deep and honest soul-searching, to examine ourselves in the mirror of the Word and come humbly and honestly before the Lord, seeking mercy and forgiveness. Such a spirit is itself a test of our spiritual state: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1Jn 1.8–10)

It is also a good season to reorient ourselves. We are fools if we imagine that our sense of eternity is not constantly being eroded in a world which lives for the here and now. A flood of distractions and diversions constantly demands our attention, and we lose sight of the things which are eternal. We hear, each day, countless carnal sermons. The world is badgering us to think, speak and act in a way acceptable to the unconverted crowd. Now is a good time to draw back a little from that rushing tide, to slip into an eddy and ask about the direction of our lives. What principles guide us? What precepts govern us? What patterns do we follow? Again, the psalmist thought about his ways and turned his feet back to God’s testimonies. There was a sense not only that he had, at points, departed from the way, but that he intended to get back into the way. Have you been listening to much to the voices that charm but deceive? By what standards will you now judge and by what system will you now travel?

Then, with all this in mind, resolve to walk with God and work for God. This cannot be a matter of mere human strength. It must be a dependent determination. Think again of how often the poet of Psalm 119 weaves together his absolute dependence on God and his absolute determination in God. Consider some sample statements: “With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!” (v10); “I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart” (v32); “Revive me according to Your lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth” (v88). Will you blend such elements in your heart and life? Will you cry out to the Lord to make his Word a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (v105), and commit to restrain your feet from every evil way, that you may keep his word (v101)? Too many will enter upon the new year with vague desires that perhaps the Lord will make things better. Many are marked by a pietistic passivity that wishes to be holy but will not work for holiness. The true child of God recognises that without Christ he can do nothing, but that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. We must abide in Christ to bear fruit. We must seek the fruit of the Spirit as we abide in Christ.

You can see that such a process is not the matter of a moment. We need to set aside time for such an engagement, to review from our Bibles our way in and through this world. We must wrestle to look at time – past, present and future – through the lens of eternity. We must be rigorously honest, however painful such honesty might be. We must be profoundly humble, however troubling such humility might be. We must turn again to God in Christ, and gaze upon him until we see things as they are, and not as we or others might wish them to be. If we do this, we should not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2Cor 4.16-18). With such a perspective, we can sing with the old poet, Augustus Toplady,

Kind Author, and Ground of my hope,
Thee, Thee, for my God I avow;
My glad Ebenezer set up,
And own Thou hast helped me till now.
I muse on the years that are past,
Wherein my defence Thou hast proved;
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
A sinner so signally loved!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Sunday 31 December 2017 at 09:43

Posted in Christian living

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John Fletcher’s self-examination

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The Wesleyan preacher and theologian John Fletcher of Madeley drew up a series of questions for self-examination. I found them a helpful stimulus.

  • Did I awake spiritual, and did I keep my mind from wandering?
  • Have I got nearer God this day in times of prayer, or have I given way to a lazy idle spirit?
  • Has my faith been weakened or strengthened this day?
  • Have I this day walked by faith?
  • Have I denied myself in all unkind words and thoughts?
  • Have I made the most of my precious time, as far as I was able to?
  • Have I kept my heart pure?
  • What have I done for God’s people?
  • Have I spent money on myself when I might have used it for the cause of God?
  • Have I governed well my tongue this day?
  • In how many instances have I denied myself?
  • Do my life and conversation adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 24 August 2015 at 08:18

Spurgeon looks within

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Spurgeon, in his autobiography, writes as follows:

I have found, in my own spiritual life, that the more rules I lay down for myself, the more sins I commit. The habit of regular morning and evening prayer is one which is indispensable to a believer’s life, but the prescribing of the length of prayer, and the constrained remembrance of so many persons and subjects, may gender unto bondage, and strangle prayer rather than assist it.

To say I will humble myself at such a time, and rejoice at such another season, is nearly as much an affectation as when the preacher wrote in the margin of his sermon, “Cry here,” “Smile here.” Why, if the man preached from his heart, he would be sure to cry in the right place, and to smile at a suitable moment; and when the spiritual life is sound, it produces prayer at the right time, and humiliation of soul and sacred joy spring forth spontaneously, apart from rules and vows.

The kind of religion which makes itself to order by the Almanack, and turns out its emotions like bricks from a machine, weeping on Good Friday, and rejoicing two days afterwards, measuring its motions by the moon, is too artificial to be worthy of my imitation.

Self-examination is a very great blessing, but I have known self-examination carried on in a most unbelieving, legal, and self-righteous manner; in fact, I have so carried it on myself. Time was when I used to think a vast deal more of marks, and signs, and evidences, for my own comfort, than I do now, for I find that I cannot be a match for the devil when I begin dealing in these things. I am obliged to go day by day with this cry,—

“I, the chief of sinners am,
But Jesus died for me.”

While I can believe the promise of God, because it is His promise, and because He is my God, and while I can trust my Saviour because He is God, and therefore mighty to save, all goes well with me; but I do find, when I begin questioning myself about this and that perplexity, thus taking my eye off Christ, that all the virtue of my life seems oozing out at every pore.

Any practice that detracts from faith is an evil practice, but especially that kind of self-examination which would take us away from the cross-foot, proceeds in a wrong direction.

Amen.

Thanks, Pyros.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 17 May 2011 at 22:09

“I would not put my Christ to shame”

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Hampstead L.M.

I would not put my Christ to shame,
By living with an empty name;
Not lightly with the righteous sit
But prove at last a hypocrite.

[ It’s not the battle that I fear
But secret ties to sins too dear;
Some lust that will not bow the knee
But takes the throne where Christ should be. ]

A rebel heart for sin a womb:
A polished bowl, a whitewashed tomb,
That wears its righteousness outside –
Within the horrors still abide:

A sinful habit not confessed;
A cherished passion much caressed;
A wanton glance of gross desire
That gathers fuel for the fire.

A mind in filthiness immersed;
The path of folly much traversed;
Sin’s passing pleasures not released;
Deep-hid iniquities increased.

[ Here in the secret place you look,
Each human heart an open book,
Each thought and intent of the mind
Is plain to you, though men are blind. ]

So search me, Lord, my actions try,
If sin will not then I must die –
The whole of life a battlefield,
And everything to Jesus yield.

So as I go – within, without –
Let all things show there is no doubt:
No lie, no show, no veil, no sham,
What I profess be what I am:

The true wheat from the holy seed,
And not a damned but gilded weed,
Christ’s striving servant through and through,
And prove at last a Christian true.

©JRW

See all hymns and psalms.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 28 August 2010 at 21:13

For self-examination

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A. W. Pink offers some questions for self-examination with regard to worldliness:

First, what are the objects before your mind in times of recreation? What do your thoughts most run upon?

Second, what are the objects of your choice? When you have to decide how to spend an evening or the Sabbath afternoon, what do you select?

Third, which occasions you the most sorrow, the loss of earthly things, or lack of communion with God?

Which causes greater grief (or chagrin), the spoiling of your plans, or the coldness of your heart to Christ?

Fourth, what is your favorite topic of conversation? Do you hanker after the news of the day, or to meet with those who talk of the “altogether lovely” One?

Fifth, do your “good intentions” materialize, or are they nothing but empty dreams? Are you spending more or less time than formerly on your knees? Is the Word sweeter to your taste, or has your soul lost its relish for it?

A. W. Pink, Profiting from the Word (Banner of Truth, 1970)

I snaffled these from The Reformed Baptist Trumpet.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 13 August 2010 at 20:55

Gardiner Spring on “Christian Character” available again

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Gardiner SpringGardiner Spring’s classic work on The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character is one of the most careful and discerning short works on the marks of true Christianity.  Clearly standing in the tradition of Edwards’ Religious Affections and Alexander’s Thoughts on Religious Experience it remains an outstanding treatment of those things which in and of themselves are no sure indications of having passed from death to life, and those things which invariably mark, in some degree, a true child of God.

Solid Ground Christian Books have recently republished this title.  It has apparently been edited and updated.  To be frank, that does not always improve some of these classics, and it is to be hoped that – in this instance – the editor has done less harm and more good.  As long as all is intact, this would prove an excellent addition to the library of pastors who do not have their own copy, and a very useful means of men and women examining their own souls to know whether or not they have a true hope of heaven.

For more of Spring, including a brief review of elements of this book, see this post on “What is a true Christian?

(By the way, Spring is one of those authors of whom – with my limited knowledge – I would presently say, “If he wrote it, you will not suffer by reading it.”)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 3 November 2009 at 20:31

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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