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TEXT: II Corinthians 13:5
SUBJECT: Baxter on Self-Examination #1
Tonight, with the Lord's blessing, we'll take up a new Puritan study; it's called Richard Baxter on Self-Examination. Baxter was an English pastor who lived from 1619 to 1691. Like everyone else, he had his weaknesses. But, it when it comes to practical living for Christ, nobody's a better counselor than he.
Before we get into the "hows" and "whys of self-examination, let's define the term and set its goals.
To examine yourself means to carefully and honestly look at your life for signs of spiritual health or sickness. Its goals are peace of mind and holiness.
You ought to examine yourself. The Bible says so-here-and other places too. Psalm 139 is a good reference,
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me into the way everlasting".
Like other good things, self-examination may be overdone. I've known Christians who are fixated on themselves-their sins, their weaknesses, their feelings, and so on. Are you that way? You are-if you think more about yourself than you do about Jesus Christ and other people.
When I was a boy, I learned an acronym that has been very helpful. I haven't practiced it too well, but I have remembered it. When it comes to thinking, remember the letters, J-O-Y. "Jesus, others, yourself". Think of Him first, them second, yourself third. And you'll be all right.
Do you remember what "self-examination" is? Can you name its goals? Should you do it? Can you overdo it?
Do you want to examine yourself? If you do, Richard Baxter can help you. He has a lot to say on the subject; let's get to some of it tonight.
IF YOU WANT TO EXAMINE YOURSELF BETTER, STAY AT IT.
The Puritan says,
"Let watchfulness over your heart and life be your continual work. Never grow careless or neglectful of yourself. As an unfaithful servant may deceive you-if you look after him only now and then- so may a deceitful heart. Let it be continually under your eye".
Richard's illustration is very helpful here. Some workers are very responsible. Tell them what to do and they'll do it without supervision. But others aren't. They have to be watched every second.
I wish your heart were like the good worker. But it isn't. Jeremiah 17:9 says it is "Deceitful above all things and desperately wicked".
That means you've got to keep a close eye on it-every day. "Now and then" won't do. Self-examination is a daily discipline. No matter how busy you are during the day-or how tired at night-you've got to evaluate yourself. What did you do right? What did you do wrong? Thank God for the former; confess the latter.
Proverbs 4:3 says,
"Keep the heart with all diligence".
It's been said, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance". That's right, of course. And holiness comes no cheaper.
When you know you've committed a sin, confess it to the Lord instantly. Whether you feel guilty or not. Confess it then and there. This will catch many sins. At bedtime, go over the day in your mind and confess the ones you missed.
Conscience is like a credit card. The longer you wait to pay it off, the bigger it gets. That's Number One.
IF YOU WANT TO EXAMINE YOURSELF BETTER, GO TO CHURCH.
"Live in the light as much as possible. I mean under a faithful pastor and among wise and mature Christians, for they will be telling you what you .should be and do, along with detecting your errors. In the light, you are not likely to be deceived".
This speaks for itself. When a church is healthy, the Word of God is taught from the pulpit. That word is "Profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness". Listening to good sermons is good for your soul. If you don't hear them here-go somewhere else!
But, of course, church isn't a One Man Show. Others can help you too. Maybe a lot more than the pastor. The Book of Hebrews commands every believer to "Watch over" his brethren and to "Exhort" them. You're not saved by the Church. But the Church is a means of grace. It's one way the Lord communicates His mercy to us. It's not indispensable, but it is important. The believer who doesn't go to church or doesn't participate in its life does himself more harm than he does the church.
If you want to improve your self-examination, involve yourself in the life of the church. It's good for you. That's Number Two.
IF YOU WANT TO EXAMINE YOURSELF BETTER, LISTEN TO PEOPLE WHO CRITICIZE YOU.
We all have blind spots. They can be pointed out by other people, but only if we listen. If you want to become holier, you will listen. Even if the person who tells you isn't very nice about it. Baxter says,
"Discourage not those who would admonish or reprove you, nor neglect their opinion of you. No, not the railings of an enemy, for he may tell You in anger what you need to hear and give You some light in judging yourself".
Criticism is like Nyquil. It's good for you, but awfully hard to swallow! To help you take criticism better, let me remind you of a few things you're prone to forget:
That's Number Three: If you want to examine yourself better, listen to criticism. Psalm 141 says,
"Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil; Let my head not refuse it".
IF YOU WANT TO EXAMINE YOURSELF BETTER, ASK A CLOSE AND GODLY FRIEND TO HELP YOU.
The art of friendship has been pretty much lost. We have lovers, colleagues, and buddies galore-but very few friends. It's a great loss. For friends can talk to you with a knowledge and an honesty others can't.
If you have a close friend (providing he's brave and mature), put him to work for your soul. Ask him about your faults and listen to him when he does. Baxter says,
"If you have so happy an opportunity, engage some close friend to watch over you, and tell you plainly of all that is amiss in you. But deal not so hypo- critically as to do this and then be angry when he performs his trust and discourage him by your pride and impatience".
This friend could be your wife or husband. He could be someone who lives on the other side of the world. It doesn't matter who he is.
But only that he knows and loves you well enough, to tell you The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth".
If you have this kind of friend, thank God for him and put him to use. If you don't, pray for one. And if it's hard to make friends, just remember the Proverb,
"To have friends, a man must show himself friendly".
That's it for tonight. It's your duty to examine yourself. And also your privilege. Now get to it. For in the power and wisdom God gives you. And in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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