John Angell James final thoughts on The True Christian and self-examination.
“Am I a sincere Christian-or only a professor?”
Ask, then, afresh, and with deep solemnity at the close of the present, or at the beginning of the next year, the momentous question, “Am I a sincere Christian-or only a professor?” Set apart an additional hour, to inquire into this great subject. O what are all other questions compared with this, but as the small dust of the balance? By all the value you bear for your soul, or your soul’s salvation, I entreat you in the most solemn manner, to take up this matter, and spread it before the Lord in prayer. Take the following questions as a test-
Have you a consciousness that you really believe in Jesus Christ, and are depending upon him, and him alone, for salvation? 1 John 5:10.
Do you bring forth the fruits of faith, which are the fruits of the Spirit, as set before us by the apostle? Gal. 5:6, 22-25. Acts 15:9. 1 John 2:15; 5:4.
Do you love God supremely, practically, habitually? 1 John 5:1-3.
Do you love the children of God, for God’s sake? 1 John 3:14.
Are you complying with the apostle’s direction in 2 Peter 1:5-10? On what principles do you act-those of the world or of the Bible? What is your predominant object, time or eternity-the world or salvation? 1 Cor. 4:18. Do you deny yourself for Christ’s sake, or are you seeking only self-gratification? Matt. 16:25, 26.
How do you employ your talents of property, intellect, influence? For God or self? Rom. 14:7-9. 1 Cor. 6:20. Phil. 1:21.
How do you bear your afflictions? With submission or repining? Rom. 5:3. For a more minute and lengthened test of religious character, I refer you to my work, entitled, “The Christian Professor,” where, in the chapter on “The Self-deceived Professor,” you will find much to direct and caution you.
But I will now suppose the great question settled, and that you have no serious reason to doubt that you are “in the faith;” still you have to examine into the degree and state of your religion-for it may be very defective, where it is real. In what condition then are you come to the close of the year? You were exhorted at the commencement of it, to make it a year of improvement, and great increase of holiness. Have you done so?
Has the exhortation of your pastor been complied with? Have you sought and obtained an increased effusion of divine influence? Has the heavenly shower come down in its season? Have the dispensations of Providence, both in a way of judgment and mercy, been sanctified? Have you improved well your sabbaths, fifty-two more of which have been numbered to you? Where is the fruit of all the sermons you have heard? What are you the better for the renewed culture you have enjoyed? I dare challenge you, and ask you if I have remitted anything of my labor, fidelity, and anxiety for your welfare. Yes, have I not added to it? Have I sought to please you or to PROFIT you? Have I shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God? Am I not clear from the blood of all of you, if unhappily you should perish?
Well, my dear friends, examine your conduct during the past year. Inquire how you have sustained your various relations, and have discharged your various duties. Masters and mistresses, have you been kind to your servants, just as to their wages, watchful over their souls? Servants, have you been honest, diligent, obedient, respectful, devoted? Fathers, have you kept up family religion with punctuality, seriousness, and affection, being careful of the spiritual welfare of your children? Children, have you been obedient, loving, dutiful? Tradesmen, have you been just, generous, true, faithful to your covenants, and considerate of your work-people? You rich, have you been liberal, humble, heavenly? You poor, have you been contented, submissive, trustful? You aged, have you been cheerful, weaned from the world, a godly example to the young? You young, have you been modest, active, useful? As professors, have you been careful to avoid little sins, to maintain a tender and enlightened conscience, a brotherly feeling, and a spirit of charity? All these topics should become matter of self-examination-here is a wide field of inquiry; traverse it all. You must come behind in no duty, but go on unto perfection.
Do not think, however, that self-examination is only an occasional duty. It should precede every approach to the Lord’s table, “Let a man examine himself,” says the apostle, “and so let him eat.” It should be interwoven with all our reading of the Scriptures, and hearing of the gospel; and, indeed, with the whole series of our actions. It should be a nightly exercise at the close of each day. Pythagoras, a heathen philosopher, said to his disciples, “Let not sleep seize upon your senses before you have three times recalled the conversation and accidents of the day.” Seneca, another pagan, said, “At night, when the light is removed, and all is hushed and still, I make a scrutiny into the day, and hide nothing from myself.” And now hear the language of a Christian bishop, on the necessity of this evening exercise, “If we consider the disorders of every day-the multitude of idle worlds; the great portions of time spent in vanity; the daily omissions of duty; the coldness of our prayers; the indifferences of our spirit in holy things; the uncertainty of our secret purposes; our deceptions and hypocrisies sometimes not known, very often not observed by ourselves; our lack of charity; our not knowing in how many degrees of action and purpose every virtue is to be exercised; the secret adherances of pride, and too forward complacency in our best actions; our failings in all our relations; the niceties of difference between some virtues and some vices; the secret indiscernible passages from lawful to unlawful in the first instances of change; the perpetual mistakings of permission for duty, and licentious practices for permission; our daily abusing the liberty God gives us; our unsuspected sins in managing a life certainly lawful; our little greedinesses in eating, and surprises in the proportions of our drinkings; our too great freedoms and fondnesses in lawful loves; our aptness for things sensual, and our deadness and weariness of spirit in spiritual employments; beside an infinite variety of cases of conscience that do occur in the life of every man, and in all communions of every life-then shall we find that the productions of sin are incredibly numerous and increasing, and the computations of a man’s life intricate and almost inexplicable; and, therefore, it is but reason we should sum up our accounts at the foot of every page-I mean that we call ourselves to scrutiny every night, when we compose ourselves to the little images of death.”
By this frequent examination, we shall prevent little sins from growing into great ones, and acts from becoming habits; we shall stop the accumulation of those minor transgressions, which, if they do not become greater ones, diminish the luster of our profession, interrupt our peace, and prey upon our spiritual strength; we shall increase the tenderness of our conscience, promote our watchfulness, make our confession minute, our repentance particular, and greatly advance our holiness.
And now, dear brethren, “yield yourselves to God” afresh at the commencement of another year, “as those who are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” “I beseech you by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service; and be not conformed to this world , but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, that acceptable and perfect will of God.” Rom. 12:1, 2. “As strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” 1 Pet. 2:12. “Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear, forasmuch as you know you were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” 1 Pet, 1:17-19.
Resolve, by God’s grace, this shall be the holiest year, and the most useful one, of your whole life; then will it be the happiest; and even though it should be the last, it will be to your emancipated spirit as the year of release, of jubilee, and eternal salvation!