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TEXT: II Corinthians 13:5
SUBJECT: Baxter on Self-Examination #3
Tonight, with God's blessing, we'll finish our study of Richard Baxter on Self-Examination. Self-examination is just what it sounds like: Taking a look at yourself for signs of good health or bad. What you examine, of course, is not your body, but your soul. To see how it is in the light of God's Word.
Thus far, we've looked at seven ways to better examine yourself. Now, we'll add five more, the Lord willing.
And so, if you want to examine yourself.
CHOOSE A GOOD TIME FOR IT
When is the right time to examine yourself? Many people would say, "Any time"! That sounds very pious-but it just isn't so. "To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose". There's a time to examine yourself and a time not to! Baxter gives three times to not examine yourself.
"Remember that in melancholy and weakness of understanding, you are not fit for the casting up of so great of accounts".
"Suffer not your mind to wander in confusion, but drive on until you reach some conclusion".
If my experience is anything like normal, then choosing the wrong time to examine yourself is a big problem. These are the times I'm most apt to examine myself: When I'm depressed, when I'm guilty, and when I don't have the time or energy to do a good job (such as when I'm at church or lying in bed).
Would you want your doctor to examine you when he's sunk in despair? If he did, he'd think every pimple was cancer, every cough was TB, and every rash was leprosy! If you don't want your body examined by a doctor who's hit rock bottom, why would you examine your soul when you are?
Would you want him to examine you when he's in a hurry? When he's just dying to get away for lunch? Or to go to bed after eighteen hours on duty? Of course you wouldn't. He'd be in no shape to give you a good exam. And neither are you when you've got no time or energy. Self-examination takes time, energy, and attention, if you haven't got them, put it off until you do. (But then, of course, make sure you find the time, etc.) .
If you want to examine yourself better, choose a good time for it. That's Number One.
BE FAIR ABOUT IT.
If you were Jewish, would you want to be tried by a Nazi? No, because you'd be guilty before the trial began. The man is prejudiced against you. Or, on the other side, if you were a district attorney prosecuting a criminal, would you want the judge to be his mother? No, because she'd be prejudiced in his favor. In short, a partial judge guarantees a wrong verdict.
We all know this in criminal or civil law. But we tend to forget it when it comes to trying ourselves before God. We come to examine ourselves with our minds already made up-for good or bad.
"If you would judge the state of your heart, do not come to the trial with a prejudice either good or bad. Let not self-love on one hand, or fear, on the other, pervert your judgment. Some men cannot see the clearest evidence of their Unsanctified hearts because self-love will allow Them to believe nothing bad or sad about themselves. Others, through fear, can believe nothing good or comforting."
If a judge is to be fair, he's got to know two things: the Law and the facts of the case. In examining yourself, you've got to know the same things. You've got to know what God wants you to do and whether you've done it or not.
Most people are unfair in their judgment. Most of them are just way too loose, thinking God wants nothing more of them than to "be nice". And because they are nice (most of the time), they feel pretty good about themselves.
Others go to the opposite extreme. They think God is so demanding that nothing they do is ever good enough! They tend to doubt their salvation or to feel guilty about themselves all the time.
The former are prejudiced in the own favor; the latter are biased against themselves. And, therefore, neither one gives a proper verdict.
If you want to examine yourself with profit, you've got to be fair. Not too easy on yourself. Or too hard. That's Number Two.
DON'T BE STRICTER THAN GOD
Believers want to glorify God and abase themselves. This is a proper, of course. The Bible says so. But in doing this, we often make God harder than He is. We make Him unhappy with anything less than perfection (or the nearest thing to it).
But is this how God is? How He really is? Is the Lord so demanding that everything we do is unacceptable to Him? That everything is riddled with sin so that "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags before Him?"
If we're trying to justify ourselves to God by good works, then-yes-our best works are condemned. But, if we're trying to please our Father through Christ, then-no-our imperfect works are not "As an unclean thing to Him". The Bible says just the opposite. Philippians 4:18 is a good example:
"The gifts you sent a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God".
Were the gifts perfect? No. Could they have given more? Or more from the heart? Of course they could have. Yet-despite the imperfections-they are.what? "Stinking to God-but He puts up with them anyway?" No. They're a "sweet-smelling aroma" to Him. Does He "tolerate" them-but just barely? No. He "accepts them" and is "well-pleased" by them.
Don't be stricter than God! Don't make Him look like a Cosmic Meany to your kids! As though He takes pleasure in finding faults and yelling, "Not good enough!"
"Some look so much at the glory of perfection which they lack, that their present grace seems like nothing to them."
This is especially true when it comes to faith. Serious-minded believers are so worried about traces of unbelief that they can't see the true faith they have.
"Mistake not the nature of true faith as though it were such a trust in Christ as to always have a quiet mind. They think they have no faith when they lack this peace of mind".
Would to God that we all had enough faith to remove mountains! But we don't-most of us don't, at least.
But it's good to know that "little faith" is still faith. And that faith still justifies the sinner and makes him acceptable to God for Christ's sake.
If you want to examine yourself better, don't be stricter than God. That's Number Three. If He accepts your little faith and impure works, you accept them too! Let the Pharisees keep the standards high, "This Man receives sinners". That's Number Three.
KEEP GOD'S GRACE IN MIND
In one way self-examination is different than a physical exam. In the physical, I want the doctor to keep an eye on me only. But, in the examination of my soul, I've got to keep one eye on me and the other on Christ.
If I look only at myself, I despair. But, if I look at myself-and Christ at the same time, then I can rejoice that "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound".
"When you cannot reach assurance [think of] the sufficiency of Jesus Christ our Mediator and the gift of pardon that is offered in the Gospel".
The believer should never examine himself as he is. But only as he is in Christ!
Some will say this is too optimistic. But it isn't; it's realistic. For the believer is-objectively is and will always be-"In Christ". And therefore-as Martin Luther said-
"Simultaneously sinful and just".
That's Number Four: If you want to examine yourself better, put one eye on yourself and the other on Christ.
PUT SELF-EXAMINATION TO GOOD USE
What is self-examination for? It's not for torturing yourself (though at time it may be painful). It's not for controlling people (though some pastors put it to that use). No, self-examination is for holiness.
You look at yourself in order to confess your sins and.do better next time!
"Let all of your discoveries lead you to further duties. If you find any cause of doubt, let it quicken you to diligence in removing it. Stop not at the bare knowledge of your present state, as if it had no more to do".
That's it for our study of Self-examination. Let me underline the main points:
Do these things. And the love of God be with you. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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