« VorigeDoorgaan »
themselves as at the crisis of their fate. They are arrived at the division of the road; and accordingly as they turn to the right hand or to the left, they advance towards heaven, or draw nigh unto hell ; afearful consideration, and calculated, if any thing will do it, to make young people serious and earnest in their resolutions to set out right.
• What shall I do to inherit eternal life?' was the question asked. The answer given was, “Keep the commandments.' What God's commandments are, and how they are to be kept, you will for the most part know sufficiently ; your conscience will not often fail of informing you. The point for you to endeavour, is to hold close to the dictates of conscience and the sense of duty, whatever passions, whatever inclinations, whatever allurements of pleasure strive to tempt and draw you aside from it; or however much the invitation of companions or the example of the world might seem to afford encouragement for so doing. Keep constantly in your minds this short maxim ; that resolution at your age for a few years, is probably to fix your character for life, and your fate for ever. Young men and young women, think not that it is too early to be religious. Take heed; for whether you would ensure yourselves against the greatest of all dangers, the danger of being cut off in the midst of your sins, from which no age, no health, no constitution is a security or protection ; whether you will take warning by the thousands and tens of thousands, who, having been drawn at an early age into vicious courses, have never all their lives got out of them; whether you will credit those who have gone before you in the path of life, as to the danger of once yielding to temptations of sin, or will believe indeed your own eyes and observations as to the same thing; whether you would avoid that bitter repentance, those sore struggles which every sinner must undergo before he can possibly bring himself back to the right way, which are always painful, and often, it is to be feared, unsuccessful, that is, are not sufficiently persisted in ; whether, finally, you hope to reach, as you proceed in life, that holiness of heart and temper which the steady practice of virtue produces, and which is sure of receiving from God a crown of proportionable glory and happiness in heaven ; whichever of these considerations move and prompt you to a life of religion, begin it in time ; hold fast your innocency; step into the right way. Look not aside to the guilty indulgences which many take delight in ; they will fail you, they will forsake you ; they will ruin you both soul and body, both your comforts in this world and your salvation in the next. Religion has great things in store for you; it will fill you with peace and joy, and hope and courage to your latest moment; and it will place you amongst the blessed in heaven, in the presence of your Father and redeemer.
THE DUTY OF SELFEXAMINATION.
I CORINTHIANS XI. 31.
For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
It is true that these words, together with the exhortation two verses before, · Let a man examine himself,' are spoken particularly of the Lord's supper. The Corinthians having strongly abused that institution, and lost sight of its religious nature entirely, St Paul here bids them consider and reflect with themselves what they were about, what they were going upon, when they come together to eat the Lord's supper. I think, nevertheless, that these words may in the present day be taken in a general sense, because whatever reason there was for the Corinthians to examine themselves and judge themselves in relation to coming to the sacrament, there is the same or greater reason for the duty in every other part or point of obligation in which we are apt to go wrong. St Paul says, ‘if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged;' but as a man cannot judge without first examining himself and making a search into his own heart, I shall take occasion from these words to treat of the duty of selfexamination, in which duty there are three things to be considered; its use, its neglect, and the seasons for it.
Now as to its use, for it is seldom a pleasant task, and therefore, unless useful, one would decline it, the end of all religion is a good life; but a good life is no such easy thing to be compassed. We stand in need of all the aids and helps which we can procure either from religion or our own reason. Experience proves
that they are all often too little. Now of all the instrumental parts of religion, there is none in its nature so likely, none that in fact, I believe, does influence men's behaviour so effectually, as this one of selfexamination; as it is in the first
place a man's own doing, what the man does for himself. And in religion, as in many other things in the world, what a man does for himself is of much more avail than what others do, or can do for him. In every religious ordinance, in baptism, in the Lord's supper, in public worship, in reading, in hearing, there is the ministry of others; but in the business of selfexamination, every man is his own minister. He must do it for himself and not another. The other services may be perhaps gone through with a small share of thought and attention; but this is properly and entirely the business of thought.
Secondly; selfexamination, from the nature of it, is private, which is a circumstance of consequence.
I do not mean to dispute or undervalue the use or obligation of public worship, or of public ordinances; but I do say, that for influence and effect upon a man's self, there is nothing comparable to what passes in private. There is no hypocrisy, for there is no one to see you.
There is no restraint; no being tied down to forms, which, be they ever so good, cannot reach every man's private and particular circumstances. There is nothing to disturb or take off your attention. For which reason the impression is always the deepest which a man fastens upon himself in his own meditations. But upon the subject of the use of selfexamination, the fact itself may be relied upon; for I believe that it may be said of selfexamination with the same truth that it was said of prayer, that selfexamination will either make us leave off sinning, or sin will make us leave off selfexamination. It is an exercise, which, if honestly persisted in, will make the worst man in the world grow better; consequently, the generality of us, who are mixed characters, composed of some good with a great deal of bad, will be sure of amending and improving ourselves by it. Our good properties will be strengthened and increased, and our bad ones gradually got rid of.
I have said that any sinful course, if not got the better of, makes a man tired of selfexamination. It perfectly resembles a case which is common enough in life. When a man's worldly affairs go wrong, when they grow perplexed and involved, and are become desperate and irretrievable, we can never find that they look into their books, or try to settle their accounts.
People in these circumstances have been known never to have looked into a book, or kept an account, for years before they failed. Now I would ask whether their affairs went on the better for never looking into, whether the danger was the less for shutting their eyes against it, whether they were longer before they failed, whether they failed in less debts, or whether people were more lenient towards them, or whether their friends were the better for their conduct? And I would also ask, whether, if it had been possible to have retrieved their fortunes, it would have been done any other way than by taking up and searching into their accounts ? Now this case and that of a sinner are perfectly similar; except in one circumstance, that a man's worldly affairs are often so far deranged, that no future care or diligence could restore them; whereas the sinner's condition is never desperate, while there is life.
This is all to show the use of selfexamination. The next inquiry is into the proper subject of it. And upon this head I shall confine myself to a small part of what might be delivered, in order that this small part may be remembered. Now every one that has attended at all to mankind, has observed, and very justly, that the better part of both our virtues and vices are habits; that it is the habit of this or that sort of behaviour or discourse, and not one or two, or a few single acts of virtue or of vice, which constitute the character. The truth is, we are all the servants of our habits, governed much more by habit than by reason, or argument, or reflection ; that is to say, ten actions of our lives spring from habit, for one that proceeds from deliberation. There is no living in the world without falling into habits. Since then we must fall into some habit or other, and since our moral character, our good or bad life, and by consequence, our happiness or misery hereafter, depend upon the choice and formation of our habits, upon the good or bad ones getting possession of us, it leaves the chief and principal business of selfexamination to watch our habits, to mark what evil custom is growing upon us, to descry the first setting in of a vicious habit, and break it off before it becomes strong and inveterate. The management of our habits is all in all, the end of religion, and the great business of life ; and as these are to be managed only when they are young and pliant, at least ordinarily speaking, it becomes of the last importance from time to time to review our conduct, to seek out what new habit is stealing upon us, whether it is fit or not to be tolerated ; if not, then we know our enemy, and we know our work; we know in what quarter to keep watch, and where to turn our force and resolution. A man who does not do regularly something of this sort, but thinks it unnecessary or too troublesome, will find himself entangled, before he is conscious of it, in some pernicious habit or other, which he will live to lament as the greatest calamity of his life, but possibly may never live to break through. When a Christian retires, therefore, to the business of selfexamination, I will suppose his first care will be to inquire and look back upon the state of his habits; to inquire how it stands with them, whether growing better or growing worse, what new ones are stealing upon him, whether he has been able of late to manage and discipline the old ones.
Now it may give a sort of method to his examination, to remind him that there are habits of acting, habits of speaking, and habits of thinking; and that these all must be taken into the account and estimated. In his habits of acting, such for example as drunkenness, he will ask himself whether his excesses of late in that way have been more or less frequent; whether his ardor after such indulgences be not grown stronger than he remembers it to have been. If he finds the inquiry turning out against him, that such a habit is insensibly advancing, though ever so slowly, upon him, as I said before, he knows his enemy and his business; he knows that if he does not get the better of such a habit in its infancy, it will be in vain to contend with it when fastened and confirmed. He may repeat the same process with respect to all other licentious vices, whether he has fled from opportunity and temptation, or whether he has not courted and sought out for them; whether he has the command and mastery of his passions, or they of him ; whether the guilt and danger, and final conse
1 quence of any criminal pursuit are as much in his thoughts as formerly, or less, or at all; whether the remorse and accusation of his conscience be not wearing away by such arguments, as are to be found in justification of them only by practising a little selfdeceit. If a man deal faithfully with himself, he will learn the truth of his spiritual condition, and where in any respect he finds matters growing worse, there, if he have his salvation at heart, he will take the alarm, and apply all the diligence, and all the resolution he is possessed of. When he has done with the class of licentious vices, he may turn to the class of mercenary vices, whether his selfinterest and worldly concerns be not more in his mind than any thing else, and whether it is not more and more there ; whether overreaching tricks and contrivances are not more frequent with him than heretofore, and less thought of; whether he be not sliding into some unlawful dishonest course of gain, of unfair dealing, or of unfair concealment; whether he has been able to forego profit for conscience sake; in a word, whether his honesty has stood firm and upright. And let him apply to these inquiries that very just and affecting observation of St John. If our