Examine yourselves 2. Cor. 13:5.
Self-examination is inevitable for God’s people and necessary for all of us, for our heart is “like a cheating tradesman, which will put one off with bad wares, settling for seeming grace, instead of saving,” preached Thomas Watson to his flock. “Therefore make up your spiritual accounts daily; see how matters stand between God and your souls (Ps. 77:6). Often reckonings keep God and conscience friends. Do with your hearts as you do with your watches, wind them up every morning by prayer, and at night examine whether your hearts have done true all that day, whether
the wheels of your affections have moved swiftly toward heaven.”
The right standard of self-examination is rooted in the armour of God rather than in the armour of men (Eph. 6). Not the opinions of men, but the touchstone of God’s Holy Word and attributes must be our examination textbook; for, as Robert Leighton truthfully expounds:
“Men compare themselves with men, and readily with the worst, and flatter themselves with their comparative bitterness. This is not the way to see spots, to look into the muddy streams of profane men’s lives; but look into the clear fountain of the Word, and there we may both discern and wash them; and consider the infinite holiness of God, and this will humble us to the dust.”
Focusing on God’s Word and perfections, let us ask for honest grace to examine the genuineness of our conversion with such questions as these:
Do I possess only a hypocritical conversion like Judas, who followed Christ for three years only for self-profit, typically condemning Mary’s ointment-pouring on behalf of the poor, while Scripture tells us that the real cause was “not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and bare what was put” in the treasurer’s bag entrusted to him (Jn. 12:6)?
Do I have only a head conversion like the five false virgins, who could claim the same confession, same expectation, same clothing, and same outward walk of life as the five wise, though lacking the oil of the Spirit?
Do I harbour only a carnal conversion like Orpah, who could walk and talk with her God-fearing mother-in-law even to the border of Moab, though her love for the world drove her back to worldly idols at the final climax of separation?
Do I only maintain a fruitless conversion such as Christ complained of in Luke 6:46, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” or as Paul uncovers in Titus 1:16, “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate”?
Do I only cling to a good works conversion like Paul prior to his Damascus journey: “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the Aurch; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” [Phil. 3:5-6)?
Do I embrace only a conversion of reformation like Saul who possessed another heart but not a new heart, or like millions today
who mistake the outward transition from tavern to church for the saving operations of the Spirit?
Do I cherish only a legalistic conversion like the Pharisees, of whom Christ defyingly answered their mocking challenge concerning blindness, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth” (John 9:41)?
Do I only exercise a holier-than-thou conversion like the Israelites God speaks against in Isaiah 65:5, “Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day”?
Do I pursue only a lip conversion, being one of the hypocrites Christ condemns in Matthew 15, “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (w. 7-8)?
Do I entertain only an external conversion like the majority of Nineveh’s inhabitants, lacking true heart-repentance all the while?
Do I only carry a pious conversion like Ahab, who rent his clothes, fasted, lay in sackcloth, walked softly, and humbled himself, though it was all before man instead of under God (1 Ki. 21:27)?
Do I engender only an emotional conversion like Esau, who sought a place of repentance with tears though yet lacking the godly repentance that needs not to be repented of?
Do I embody only an affliction conversion like Pharaoh, confessing my guilt only under sore trials?
Do I only retain an impressionistic conversion like Simon the sorcerer, being caught under the spell of miraculous happenings rather than in the net of God’s gospel grace?
Do I only grasp a temporary conversion like Lot’s wife, seeming to be on the narrow way to Zoar though my heart remains in Sodom?
Do I only sustain a slavish conversion like Balaam, trembling before God’s attributes and fearing death and hell, though a stranger to childlike fear of God?
Does my life savour only a “heavy” conversion for the sake of heaviness, seeking deliverance in misery and misery in deliverance? Is my conversion only church-made, preacher-made, or office bearer-made rather than God-made? Do I clutch to a self-centred conversion which always begins, continues, and ends with my own experiences? Am I controlled by a providence conversion rather than Word-centred regeneration, so that an answer to prayer in the minister’s choice of a text means more to me than the Spirit’s inward acts of grace? Am I only supported in heaven’s journey by a text or psalm verse conversion, without a corresponding change of life? Do
I cling to a sick-bed, death-bed, or funeral conversion, forgetting that the devil makes more converts than God at such places, using serious thoughts to deceive many?
All such so-called conversions, being false, call us to serious and laborious self-examination; for our heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9) Eternity hinges on the serious question of whether or not we are partakers of the only true conversion, which results in the soul’s experiential knowledge of being without God in the world; being full of sin and iniquity, being condemned by God’s attributes, and the spirituality and curse of the law; being helpless and hopeless to convert or save itself; being cut off from everything in and of self, and standing in desperate need for Jesus Christ and Him crucified;
and realizing both deliverance applied and gratitude revealed. In sum, “this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” (Jn. 17:3).
Also God’s people sorely neglect habitual self-examination in general today. Daily, prayerful, and serious self-discovering questions are, for the most part, a series of soul-interrogations which stimulate historical interests more than imitable and practical searchings. Almost unheard of are examples of personal soul-interrogations such as these five questions Philip Henry regularly asked himself:
1. Can I choose to undergo the greatest suffering rather than commit the least sin?
2. Can I embrace Christ with His cross?
3. Can I work for God, though there be no wages?
4. Can I swim against the stream, be good in bad times and places?
5. Can I pull out right eyes for Christ and cut off right hands for Him?
I know, true believer, we are apt to use the vain excuse that God alone can grant us true self-examination; nevertheless, does not the oft-repeated truism, “When the outward form is gone, all is gone,” also hold true for self-examination? Indeed, it is not surprising that the twin comforts of Divine examination and self-examination are more often feared than relished among Jehovah’s sheep in our generation. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith.”
Rev. J. R. Beeke
First published in the American Banner of Truth and reprinted by kind permission of the author.