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and minute inquiry, they too are found deceiving themselves with the mere semblance of piety. What they deem sure proofs of their Christian discipleship, may have an imposing similarity to the features of God's children. But when tried by the word of God, and tried with requisite judgment and discrimination, their unsoundness is detected. They are found to be mere counterfeits of the sterling coin of heaven. And were such persons qualified to distinguish the former from the latter, and to make the trial with necessary diligence and impartiality, they would see their delusion, and be driven with alarm from their false confidence.
This ignorance of their spiritual state, which is so common among professing Christians, is not confined to those who are self-deceivers. On the strictest and most extensive inquiry it will be found, that, among genuine believers, the number who have clear views of the evidences of their regeneration, and assurance of their saving interest in Christ, is small indeed. Some of this description, blessed be God,
. are occasionally to be found. But it is by no means the common attainment of those who are generally, and we think justly, regarded by all who best know them, true and eminent saints. It happens not unfrequently that such persons do not themselves enjoy the comfort of seeing this. Though all of them earnestly desire to reach assurance, yet too many of them are not able to say that they have it in possession.
The question naturally occurs here, To what are
we to ascribe this prevalent,—-exceedingly prevalent, ignorance and error, respecting their spiritual state, among those who have a Christian profession? That they are exceedingly common will not admit of a doubt. And that they relate to a matter which is of universal and superlative importance, can be denied by no man. How then shall we account for the fact that so few among the avowed followers of Christ, possess clear and scriptural views of their real character and prospects for eternity?
To this question it is not enough to say, that it arises from the extreme difficulty of the inquiry,an inquiry, accounted by some, altogether impracticable. That it is difficult is most readily granted. And that the difficulties with which it is accompanied are both numerous and formidable, is not denied. But great as they are, they are not insurmountable, as I shall endeavour to show in the following chapter. Were this the case, no man would be commanded by God to search and know his state, and prospects for eternity, and encouraged to expect that his investigation shall be crowned with success. Were this the case, no man could be blamed for mistaking his character, and continuing under the ruinous power of self-deception. The former of these, however, is explicitly commanded in the sacred volume, and the latter reprehended and condemned.
The grand cause of this uncertainty and delusion among those who are not true Christians, is sloth,the want of diligent endeavours clearly to understand the scripture marks of genuine godliness, and to ex
amine their heart and life by them. How few of such persons can lay their hands on their hearts, and appeal to the omniscient Jehovah that they have tried their character frequently, diligently, and patiently, by the marks contained in the Bible, descriptive both of the righteous and the wicked; and yet cannot determine whether they are the friends or the enemies of Christ ? Many of them have never even once in good earnest engaged in this duty. Though they may again and again have attempted something like self-examination ; yet it was so limited, superficial, and hastily despatched, that they could not arrive at a clear and convincing result. To the truth of this charge too many must plead guilty. Their consciences must tell them, that never, on any occasion, have they spent one entire hour in this exercise. And what is more, some of them may not have employed even that short time in this work, during the whole of their life. Such persons, there
, fore, instead of complaining of its difficulty, ought rather to condemn themselves for their own indolence. Were they carefully to study the manner in which it ought to be performed, and to address themselves to it with determined and persevering application, the deepest and most thorough-paced formalist among them, could not long remain in utter uncertainty or mistake, respecting his spiritual condition.
Nor are the genuine children of God to be exempted from the charge of sloth, in regard to the duty of self-examination. None of them, it is true, can be total strangers to it; for this of itself is no
inconsiderable evidence of a heart unrenewed by the Spirit of God. Yet there is reason to suspect, in these cases in which they are long under darkness, doubts, and fears respecting their state, that this duty is not performed with suitable care and diligence, or at least, not with judgment and discrimination. The neglect of it for a season, or the improper observance of it, though there was no other obstruction, must hinder them from seeing the work of grace in themselves, and consequently subject them to gloom and sorrow. Various other causes may operate in producing this effect, as we shall afterwards mention.* But it is sufficient to state here, that this is one cause, and a very common one, of the spiritual darkness and uncertainty of many Christians. Did they better understand the difficulties connected with self-examination, and the manner in which it may be successfully performed; and were they habitually to live in its frequent observ. ance, their doubts and uncertainty would vanish, and they would obtain comforting views of the good work of the Holy Spirit in their soul.
With the view, therefore, of impressing on your mind, my reader, the duty and importance of speedily knowing your character, I solicit your attentive and serious perusal of the following considerations. And, O that the Spirit of God would render them instrumental in exciting you, and all under whose eye they may come, to diligent and impartial selfexamination !
• See Chapter II.
1. God has expressly commanded this duty.--The Spirit of God, addressing the church at Corinth, by the apostle Paul, thus plainly, and urgently, and repeatedly charges them, “ Examine yourselves whether
ye be in the faith ; prove your own selves : know
your own selves, how that Jesus Christ
who tries metals by the touchstone, or by chymical analysis, to ascertain whether they be pure, or adulterated; the members of this church are thus earnestly required by Paul to examine, and thoroughly prove themselves, that they may know whether they are approved of the Lord, or rejected. -Another charge, of the same kind, is addressed to the churches in Galatia ; “If a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth him. self. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another."+ The apostle here plainly admits the fact, that professed believers might practise the most dangerous self-deception, by imagining that
+ Gal. vi. 3, 4.
* 2 Cor. xiii. 5.