« PreviousContinue »
By the exhortation in the text, the apostle advised the Corinthians, instead of enquiring after the proof of Christ in him, to examine whether they were in Christ themselves ; intimating to us this truth, that they are usually most backward to examine faithfully the state of their own souls, who are most forward to enquire critically into the spiritual state and condition of their brethren.
“ You seek a proof of Christ in me,” says the apostle, but he adds, as a more proper line of conduct for them, “ Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith ; prove your own selves; know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you except ye be reprobates ?"
There are weighty and important reasons, to support this exhortation, in application to all professing Christians.
1. It is practicable. It may be known by us, whether we are in the faith. If we are not, we certainly may know it; and if we arc, assurance of it is attain able. Many seem practically to declare, that they can determine what other people are ; whether they are in the faith : and in some instances, indeed, a very probable judgment or opinion, may be formed : but surely, persons must be under much better advantages, to prove an:1 ascertain, what they themselres are.
Certain knowledge cannot be had respecting others, but of ourselves it may. Of others we judge, only by their fruits ; if these are bad, we may know indeed, that the tree or heart is bad ; but external fruits may appear to be good, in many instances, where the heart is not, and we may be deceived. Bilt with respect to ourselves, we can judge of our internal exercises and motives of action.
That we may know whether Christ be in us, and that an assurance of a personal interest in Christ is attainable by Christians, is evident from the history
we have in Scripture, of particular saints. It appears to have been a common attainment. Noah; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and others, were assured of the divine favor, by express revelations Job said, “ I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that I shall see him for myself, and not another." Christ informed his disciples, of the certainty of their salvas tion; and said that he did this to the end, that their joy might be full. The apostle Paul said, “ I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him, against that day.”
It would be endless to notice all the places, in which the apostle speaks of himself, in the lan, guage of full assurance.
That assurance is attainable by Christians, is evident also, from the nature of the covenant of grace ; and God's declared end, in the ordering of it. The covenant is ordered in all things and sure. The promises are full and often repeated, and exhibited in various ways ; and there are many witnesses, and many seals ; and God has confirmed it with an oath. His design in all this, he assures us, is that the heirs of the promises may have an undoubting hope, and sulljoy, in an assurance of their future glory. “Wherein," says the apostle, “ God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath ; 'that by two immutable things in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge, to lay hold on the hope cet before us." But all this would be in vain, as to giring strong consolation to the saints, and a hope of future glory, if a knowledge of their being interested in these sure promises were not in ordinary cases attainable.
However sure the divine promises may be, yet they cannot give strong hope and com-* fort, to any particular person, unless he has evia dence that they are ipade to him. And in vain is
provision made in Christ, that believers wight be made perfect, as to the conscience, as signified by the apostle, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, if assurance of fveedom from the guilt of sin is not attainable. I only add, that Christians are expressly commanded to know their state ; to give diligence to the full assurance of hope ; to give all diligence to make their calling and election sure ; and in the words of our text, it is spoken of, as an argument of something very blameable in Christians, not to know whether Christ be in them or not. “Know ye not your own selves, how that Christ is in you, except. ye be reprobates ?". This then is a consideration, which shows the reasonableness and importance of the command, to examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith, viz. that it is firacticable. It may be known by us, whether we are in the faith. A full assurance of hope is attainable.
JI, A knowledge of our state, so as to have a rational confidence, can be obtained in no other way.
Some have imagined, that persons may have a knowledge of their state, and be assured that they are in the favor of God, without any particular examination, or bringing their affections and exercises to any test, to prove them.
They suppose that they may know that they are the children of God, by the Spirit of God, witnessing with their spirit, by some special impulse, or by applying some text of scripture to them : as, “ Be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee" : or by some dream, in which the Saviour seems to come to them, and speak comfortably to them; and in various other similar ways.
But a 'confidence of being in the favor of God from such grounds, is a wicked presumption. When persons appear to be confident in this way, and on such a foundation, it is a very strong evidence that
they are unacquainted with their hearts ; have never seen the plague of them ; and are yet in the galt of bitterness, and in the bond, of iniquity. As it is necessary
to possess faith, a faith which works by love, purifies the heart, and overcomes the world, in order to justification in the sight of God ; so to be rationally assured of our justification, we must, by careful examination, and proving ourselves, find the evidence of such a faith, in the genuine fruits and effects of it. On the supposition that we have a true faith, and a saving knowledge of Christ, yet we cannot know that we know him, or are savingly united to him, only by careful self-examination, and proving our ownselves, by the test which he has appointed. Without this, a conclusion that we are the children of God, is mere presumption.
III. In this way, and in this only, i. e. by carefully examining and proving ourselves, can we gain satisfaction, as to our preparation for attending on the special and sealing ordinances of Christ's house. It is not required, indeed, that persons should refrain from an attendance on these ordinances, 'till they have obtained an undoubting knowledge, that they are in the faith, and the true children of God. But it is certain, that a preponderating, or prevailing hope must be obtained ; and how can this be obtained, without examining and proving ourselves by the word of God ?
Particular self-examination is incumbent on Christians, also, who have been long established in their hope, with respect to such a particular occasion ; the nature, import, and design of the ordinance, and their own present and actual preparation to attend upon it. “ Let a man esamine himself,” says the apostle, “and: so let him eat :" i. e. let him come after a careful self-examination has given him a fresh view, of the design of the ordinance ; an encreasing desire for communion with God, and his people therein ; and a
hope of his own preparation to come, discerning the Lord's body.
IV. Without a compliance with the exhortation, to examine and prove ourselves, and in this way obtaining a comfortable, well-grounded hope of our acceptance with God, we cannot receive comfort from the promises, nor in so free and filial a manner appro.ch the throne of grace, and have communion with God in his ordinances, even on supposition that we are real Christians.
As the hope of the Christain is of a purifying nature, and is as an helmet, and as an anchor to the soul, so in such degree, as the assurance of hope is attained, may we expect there will be an increase of animation and comfort, in all divine ordinances.
This day, my brethren, and the remainder of the present week, are a very proper time, for the practice of the duty inculcated in the text.
If we are expecting the next sabbath, to partake of the symbols of the body and blood of the Son of God, thereby professing ourselves to be in the faith, and that Christ is in us, the hope of glory, it becomes us to remember the divine direction, « Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body."
And if any of us are not expecting to do this, not being the professed friends of Christ, it becomes such to examine whether they are his friends or not; to prove and know themselves, whether they are in the faith ; and not let so important a question lie undecided and neglected, as whether they are qualified to observe the command of the Saviour'; that last and dying command to all his true friends, " this do in remembrance of me;" a command and institution, given with a special view to the comfort and quickening of his people. With a desire to