Let us examine and test our ways, and turn back to the LORD.
act aright. He may or may not be able to explain the mysteries of the human heart, of the Divine government. But it is most important that he should repent and turn unto the Lord.
I. THE CONDITION OF REPENTANCE. The unreflecting and careless will not repent. There are two conditions necessary to such an attitude of mind.
1. Those afflicted because of sin should search themselves. To take a favourable view of self is natural; but truth and justice require that every man should look below the surface, should explore his inmost nature. Thus the springs of action, its hidden motives, will be brought to light.
2. They should consider against whom they have sinned. It was a profoundly just exclamation of David, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned!" We may indeed wrong our fellowmen, but we sin against our Creator and Lord. Conduct must be looked at in this light, in order that it may lead to repentance.
II. THE NATURE OF REPENTANCE. This exercise of the heart is accompanied with sorrow for sin, but it consists mainly
(1) in turning away from sin, and
(2) in turning unto the Lord.
This involves the seeking of pardon and acceptance, and the acceptance by faith of the Divine terms of mercy.
III. THE PROOF OF REPENTANCE. This may be said to consist in:
1. The hatred and loathing of the evil in which the sinner in his impenitence took pleasure,
2. The love and pursuit of holiness as pleasing unto God. - T.
I. The work of self-examination has this advantage, that it is A REAL, PERSONAL ACT; and in religion what a man does for himself is of much more avail than what others do or can do for him. Other religious actions may be "gone through," as it were, with little thought and attention; but self-examination, if performed at all, is performed with the mind; with a real application of the faculties to the matter in hand.
Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
II. Self-examination is a PRIVATE WORK. The public ordinances of religion have their place and value. But the religious improvement of the heart is entirely dependent on what passes in private; I mean, is measured by that. What a man is in private, that he is; and it is in the personal interviews with our Maker that the critical transactions of our religious history are performed.
III. Self-examination is A REHEARSING OF THE JUDGMENT DAY, for it is a having the soul up before conscience, and conscience is God's voice in the heart. But in the judgment day, we are instructed to believe that there shall be a bringing forth to the light of each man's every action, in its detail and particular, and (which is much to be observed) in its motive and inward cause. Now these are the things which cannot be discerned without much of careful consideration and thought. The case, in short, is this, — in order to repentance we must know what we have to repent of; for it were a mere trifling with our Maker to use the language of contrition when not really thinking of the things which we have done in disobedience to Him and disregard of His holy will. Keep short accounts with thy soul; the dealers of this world can teach thee thus much. A heathen found out thus much. "Let not sleep," said Pythagoras, "fall upon thy soft eyelids, until thou hast first gone over thrice the actions, all and each of them, of the day; asking thus, Where have I transgressed? what good have I done? and what duty have I left undone?"
IV. The practice of this careful and periodical self-examination will most assuredly SOFTEN AND HUMANISE THE CHARACTER IN REGARD OF THE SOCIAL INTERCOURSES OF LIFE; making him who is diligent in such practice, gentle and merciful and forgiving toward his fellow creatures. The slight, the disrespect, the unthankfulness, and forgetfulness of promises, — just the things which are taken so unkindly between man and man, which constitute the sting of injury, and alienate between heart and heart, — are the very same which we find that we have to ask our Heavenly Father, having experienced at our hands, not to resent, but to forgive; for mercy's and for Christ's sake, to forgive. Therefore the self-examiner is a merciful man.
V. And lastly, he is — what each one of us would desire to be, but what the neglecter of self-examination will hardly be — A PROFITABLE ATTENDANT ON THE SERVICES OF THE CHURCH. And he is so for this reason; that having considered his ways, he knows what he has to confess when he comes into his Maker's presence. The visits to God's house are stages in his life, are steps from earth to heaven, to him whose thoughts have been rightly employed during the interval between his visits there; whose one confession speaks to his former confession, and (may be) rebukes it, but with a sweet rebuke, for it is administered at the footstool of a merciful and forgiving God.
(C. P. Eden, M. A.)
I. THE EXHORTATION. How awfully affecting the description in Lamentations 2:5-17. Yet with all this, the great mass of the people remained hard and impenitent. Ah, how little is it in the power of any judgment to turn the heart. It is under this conviction that the prophet calls them to deep searchings of heart.
1. The prophet includeth himself, "Let us." So Daniel 9:4, 5. Have we not invariably found the most spiritual are the most ready to take the low place?
2. Remark the expression, "Our ways." It is one of the deepest incentives to self-condemnation, humiliation before God, and holiness d heart, to mark diligently, prayerfully, watchfully, all the way by which we have been brought. Let us note down our mercies, pray to have them continually on our hearts, on our lips; this is no small part of the precept. But it refers principally to "search and try the ways" in which we are walking. Am I in the way? What a question! How important the answer. Walking in Jesus, the way of pardon, the only way of salvation, of holiness, of happiness, the only way to God, and heaven, the abode of God. And how am I walking in this way? By faith? in dally repentance? in real, sincere, and honest obedience? happily? If not, why am I not?
3. The expression implies difficulty in the act of obedience to the precept, "Let us search and try our ways." Much is required to its accomplishment.(1) Sincerity is needed (Jeremiah 17:9). Ah, what heavenly sincerity, honesty, integrity, are required to investigate motives, try principles, decide practice.(2) Quiet is needed. A piece of gold cannot be discerned in the unquiet waters of a turbid stream, so the graces of the Spirit cannot be clearly discerned in the defilements of an unquiet spirit.(3) Time is required. The viper sin that coils, and coils, and coils beneath the verdure of the grass, cannot be seen in a moment's glance.(4) Faith, too, is needed, laying the hand on the head of Jesus, or there is no fair review.(5) Filial repentance is required. Legal repentance only extenuates the sin.(6) Above all. there must be much real, fervent, persevering prayer (Psalm 139:23, 24).
II. THE BLESSED CONSEQUENCES OF SEARCHING OUR WAYS AND TURNING TO THE LORD. A man may, without this, be admired, courted, applauded, followed; as a minister he may draw crowds, as a man, be flattered to the skies; but never can he be a spiritually-minded man, a close walker with God, a happy, holy, and consistent Christian. This inestimable good is bound up in it. It is the certain, the necessary consequence. It is the mode of the Divine operation, the order of the Divine Spirit (James 4:8). It is so in the first approach of the sinner to God (Isaiah 55:7). It is so in every after approach (Jeremiah 3:1). The sinner is called to consider his ways (Haggai 1:5). Real consideration leads to repentance (Ezekiel 18:28). It is the breath of spiritual life, it is the germ of the new creation, the spark of heavenly fire.
(J. H. Evans, M. A.)I. THE ADVANTAGES THAT BY ARISE FROM IT. There is no possibility, either of viewing a bad action, in a full light, without abhorrence, or of weighing its consequences without terror. Wickedness, therefore, always banishes thought, and piety and virtue encourage it. A good man, far from being driven to hide his inward condition from himself, though he find many things that want still to be amended, yet finds at the same time, so many, which, through the aid of God's Holy Spirit, are already grown, and daily growing better, that he feels no joy equal to that of his heart telling him what he is. Therefore the Psalmist speaks of self-amendment as the immediate fruit of self-inspection (Psalm 119:59, 60). Nor doth it only excite in us good resolutions, but furnishes directions how to put them in practice. Reflection will show us, and nothing else can, by what defect within, or what opportunity without, each of our faults got ground in our breasts: and which is the way to root it out again. Another use of searching frequently into our past ways, is to preserve ourselves from the secret approach of future dangers. All these are general advantages flowing from the practice of self-inspection. But in many cases it hath yet a more especial good influence. A distinct knowledge of ourselves will greatly secure us from the iii effects of flattery, which would persuade us that we are what we feel we are not; and enable us to bear unjust reproach, thinking it a very small thing that we should be judged of man's judgment, when we can reflect with comfort that He who judgeth us is the Lord. Experience of our infirmities will teach us humility, and move us to compassion and forgiveness (Galatians 6:1). Experience where our strength, as well as our weakness lies, will show us how we are best able to serve God and our fellow creatures; what we may attempt, what will be too much for us. And strict observation of our own hearts will qualify us, beyond all things, to give useful cautions to others, and direct their steps in the right way.
II. SOME RULES TO BE OBSERVED FOR CONDUCTING IT PROPERLY. Of these the fundamental one is, that we consider it as a religious duty; perform it as in the presence of God; and earnestly beg Him to show us in a true light to ourselves (Psalm 19:12). Let us therefore neither be too tender, nor too proud, to bear inspecting our hearts and lives: and, that we may bear it well, let us learn to moderate, if we have need, the uneasiness which it may give us. For every passion that we have may be raised so high as to defeat its own end. And though we can dislike nothing so justly as our faults; and very few dislike them near enough; yet if we dislike ourselves for them too much to have patience to think of them, and mend them; that runs into a new fault: and we should check ourselves for it, mildly indeed, but very carefully; considering well both our natural frailty, and our Maker's goodness: but especially the promises of forgiveness and grace, which He hath recorded for our use in His Holy Word; not in order to reconcile us at all to sin, but in a reasonable degree to ourselves. And how mortifying soever a needful examination may still prove, it is surely worth while to support the most painful reflections for the present, when it will secure us a succession of pleasing and happy ones ever after. Nor must we examine only into the weak and suspicious parts of our characters and conduct: but those which procure us the most applause from others and ourselves: for want of which, even vices, a little disguised, may pass upon us for great virtues; and we may be doing, with entire satisfaction, what we should abhor, if we understood it right. Nor are these general grounds of caution the only ones; but every person will find, on inquiry, particular reasons for being watchful and distrustful of himself, in some point or other; arising, perhaps, from unhappy experience of failures, at least from conviction of the dangers, incident to his natural disposition, age, employment, company; and, which is a matter of no small consideration, rank in the world. For they, above all, should be careful m searching their own breasts, whose higher condition subjects them most to flattery, and removes them farthest from hearing censure.
(Archbishop Secker.)I. ITS USEFULNESS.
1. Teaches us to know ourselves.
2. We discover our sins.
3. Provides good company and comfortable employment.
II. ITS NEGLECT MISCHIEVOUS.
1. Hardens the heart.
2. A daily increase of sin.
3. Renders a man the more unwilling to reckon with himself.
III. DEMANDS DILIGENCE.
1. There is a natural reluctance to attend to the duty.
2. Many sins not easily discovered, unless diligent search is made.
3. A convenient time should be set apart for the work.
4. Affliction a time for heart searching.
5. Let not the difficulty of the work discourage you.
6. A work that must be often repeated.
IV. LEADS TO REPENTANCE. "Turn again to the Lord." Sin is an aversion and turning away from God; repentance is a returning to Him.
1. Repentance must be speedy.
3. Resolute and steadfast.
Turn again to the LordI. THE NATURE OF REPENTANCE. — that repentance which is "unto salvation, and which needeth not to be repented of."
1. Repentance presupposes a knowledge of our previous condition. Before we can sincerely turn to the Lord, we must be sensible of our alienation from Him. They who have never felt the weariness and wretchedness of their natural state; who have never, in any measure, experienced the misery and guiltiness of their sins, are still destitute of that very knowledge which must precede the exercise of scriptural repentance. Nay more, this sense of sin and sinfulness must be no mere general and theoretic opinion — no mere notion; but a heartfelt conviction of entire and aggravated sinfulness, humbling the sinner in the dust, and depriving him of all fancied righteousness in the judgment of his own conscience. Combined with this, there must be also some measure of acquaintance with the character and perfections of that God with whom the sinner has to do.
2. Godly sorrow has its seat in the affections. It is heartfelt grief, a real and poignant sentiment of anguish on account of sin; and whilst the soul of the repentant sinner does mourn over the bitter consequences of sin, yet his mourning is not confined to the evils resulting from his iniquity. There will be in the heart that truly seeks the Lord a commencement, at all events, of hatred to sin, a sense of its hideousness and deformity.
3. Where the soul hath really sought the Lord as He is to be found, there will be manifested the Spirit's presence in efforts at a holy, a spiritual and heartfelt conformity with the whole will of God.
4. Whilst the child of God experiences all this in turning from sin, he is called further to beware of regarding his repentance as in itself worthy of God's acceptance; our very righteousnesses are even as filthy rags in the presence of Him who sitteth on the throne, and our repentance not only flows from the imparted grace of God, but at best can be acceptable in God's sight only through the mediation of the Beloved.
5. The believer is further called on to feel that repentance is not proper, simply to the first stage of his spiritual existence; that it holds not only an elementary place in practical Christianity, but belongs to the whole currency of his life on earth. Alas! when is the believer free from sin?
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENTS TO REPENTANCE HELD OUT TO US BY GOD. This is a wide field; the Lord has not been sparing in the manifestation of such encouragement. Does not the very existence of the Bible proclaim that God waiteth to be gracious? Instead of selecting a series of striking invitations from the fertile pages of the Divine record, I would rather seek to place before you a few of the great truths which are embodied in the numerous and very varied appeals to man's conscience contained in Scripture.
1. The foremost of these truths is the fact of God's mercy. Not only do all the gifts of His hand bespeak a wondrous forbearance, a marvellous compassion, but we owe our very existence, amid our sins, to the compassion of the Eternal: we are all of us living monuments of His mercy; "because His compassions fail not," therefore are we not consumed. God has not, however, limited the manifestation of His mercy to the mere preservation of our guilty race, and the bestowal of multiplied temporal blessings. "God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son," etc.
2. The justice of God furnishes under the Gospel dispensation the strongest of all encouragements to the exercise of this grace. Nor is there any paradox in the assertion. In Christ, mercy and truth meet together, God's righteousness and the sinner's peace are made to embrace each other.
3. The disquieted and dispirited sinner may be apt to exclaim, of what service are all the encouragements to repentance, when repentance itself involves in its very exercise feelings which I do not possess, and which I know not how to obtain? There have issued from the mercy seat the promises, the full, clear, and reiterated promises of all needful grace. It is in God Himself that our succour lies.
III. THE PRACTICAL BEARINGS OF THESE CONSIDERATIONS ON THE CONDITION AND CONSCIENCES OF MEN.
1. I would address myself, first, to the followers of Christ, those who have known what it is "to turn unto the Lord"; who have been quickened by His Spirit in the inner man, and "having the Son," "have life," life indeed, life eternal. I would call upon them to recognise not merely the duty, but the precious privilege of repentance. Let him that standeth or that "thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall." We are never more in need of grace than just when we think best of ourselves. Self-complacency is the sure token of backsliding from the Lord.
2. With regard to those who have never yet experienced true repentance, who may perhaps regret their sins at times when the evils flowing from sin are felt by them, but whose regrets have been vain and fruitless — the mere sorrow of the world that worketh death — I would beseech them, with all earnestness, to "turn unto the Lord." In resisting the call to repentance, the sinner is not simply putting away from him the only way of peace and happiness, he is resisting, madly resisting, the expressed mind of God — God's holy commands; and whether he be a profligate or a man of decent life; whether an avowed atheist or a professed Christian; whether he defy God or turn away to the things of this world in besotted infatuation, his course, in either case, is in direct opposition to the will of God.
(L. H. Irving.)
(J. C. Ryle.)
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