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and the everlasting flames? Dost thou not tremble as Felix, when thou hearest of them? Methinks thy heart, whenever thou meditatest of that day, should meditate terror; and thou shouldst even be "a terror to thyself, and to all thy friends."
I have shown thee the danger of this state of ignorance; let me next proceed to show thee the remedy. First, That it is possible by self-examination, to come to some degree of certainty about our state.
Secondly, I will state to you the hindrances that keep men from self-examination and from assurance. Thirdly, I will lay down some motives to persuade you to self-examination.
Fourthly, I will give you some directions for performing self-examination.
Lastly, I will lay down some marks out of Scripture, by which you may examine yourselves, and so come to some degree of certainty, whether or not you are among the people of God for whom this rest remains.
The Possibility of knowing our State by Self-exami
First, I shall show you that it is possible by selfexamination, to come to some degree of certainty about our state.
I. Scripture tells us, we may know, and that many saints before us have known, their justification and future salvation, John xxi. 15-17; Rom. viii. 16, 17, 35-39; 2 Cor. v. 1; Eph. iii. 12; 1 John ii. 3, 5: iiì. 14, 24; iv. 13; v. 19. I refer you to the places for the sake of brevity.
II. The Scripture would never make such a wide difference between the righteous and the wicked, the children of God, and the children of the devil, and set forth so largely the happiness of the one and the misery
of the other, if a man could not know which of these two estates he is in.
III. To what purpose should we be so earnestly urged to examine, and prove, and try ourselves, whether we be in the faith, and whether Christ be in us, or we are reprobates, if we cannot attain to some degree of certainty in the matter? 1 Cor. xi. 28, and 2 Cor. xiii. 5. Why should we search for that which cannot be found?
IV. How can we obey those precepts which require us to rejoice always, 1 Thess. v. 16; to call God our Father, Luke xi. 2, to long for Christ's second coming, Rev. xxii. 17-20, and to comfort ourselves with the prospect of it, 1 Thess. iv. 18, which are all the consequences of assurance? Who can do any of these heartily, that is not in some measure sure that he is a child of God?
Of the Hindrances of Self-Examination.
Secondly, I shall proceed to show you the hindrances of self-examination.
Here we shall consider,
I. The Impediments to Self-examination.
II. The Causes of Self-deception.
III. The Causes of doubting among Christians.
Impediments to Self-examination.
I. We cannot doubt but Satan will do his part, to hinder us from examining ourselves. If all the power he has can do it, or all the means and instruments which he can raise up, he will be sure, above all things, to keep you from this duty. He is loath the godly should have that joyful assurance and that advantage
against corruption, which the faithful performance of self-examination would procure them. And as to the ungodly, he knows, that if they should honestly engage in this exercise, they would be likely to find out his deceits, and their own danger, and so escape him. How could he get so many millions to hell willingly, if they knew they were going thither? They would think every day a year till they were out of danger; and whether they were eating, drinking, working, or whatever they were doing, the thoughts of their danger would be ever in their mind, and this voice would be ever sounding in their ears, "Except ye repent and be converted, ye shall surely perish." The devil knows well, that if he cannot keep men from trying their state, and knowing their misery, he will hardly be able to keep them from repentance and salvation.
He therefore labours to keep them from a searching ministry; or to keep the minister from helping them to search; or to take off the edge of the word, that it may not pierce their hearts; or to turn away their thoughts from it; or in some way to prevent its operation, and the sinner's obedience.
II. Wicked men are great hindrances to others examining themselves. Their example hinders much. When a poor sinner sees all his friends and neighbours do as he does, and live quietly in the same state with himself, yea, the rich and learned as well as others, this is a great temptation to him to sleep on in his security. The worldly discourse of these men, also takes away the thoughts of his spiritual state, and makes the understanding drunk with their earthly delights, so that if the Spirit had previously excited in his heart any jealousy of his state, or any purpose to try it, this soon quenches all. Besides, God scarcely ever opens the eyes of a poor sinner, to see the danger of his state, but presently his friends and acquaintance are ready to flatter him, and settle him again in the quiet possession of his former peace. "What!" say they, "do you make a doubt of your salvation, who have 'ived so well, and have done no body any harm, and have been beloved by all? What do you think has
become of all your forefathers? And what will become of all your friends and neighbours, that live as you do? Will they all be damned? Shall none be saved, think you, but a few strict precisians? If you hearken to them, they will drive you to despair. Are not all men sinners? And did not Christ die to save sinners? Never trouble your head with these thoughts, but believe you shall fare as well as others." Thus do they follow the soul that is escaping from Satan, with endless cries, till they bring him back. Oh! how many thousands have such charms lulled asleep in deceit and security, till death and hell have awakened and informed them better!
Let me entreat you to consider, that it is Christ, and not your fathers or mothers, your neighbours or friends, who shall judge you at last; and if Christ condemn you, they cannot save you; and, therefore, common reason may tell you, that it is not from the words of men, but from the word of God, that you must draw your comfort and hopes of salvation. When Ahab would inquire among the multitude of flattering prophets, it proved his death. They can flatter men into the snare, but they cannot tell how to deliver them out of it. Oh! take the counsel of the Holy Ghost,"Let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience: be not ye therefore partakers with them ;" but "save yourselves from this untoward generation."
III. The greatest hindrances to self-examination are men's own hearts.
1. Some are so ignorant, that they know not what self examination is, nor what a minister means when he persuades them to try themselves; or they know not that there is any necessity for it: but think every man is bound to believe that God is his Father, and that his sins are pardoned, and that it would be a great fault to have any doubt of it; or they do not think that assurance can be attained, or that there is any such great difference between one man and an
other, but that we are all Christians, and therefore need not trouble ourselves any further.
2. Some are so possessed with self-love and pride, that they will not so much as suspect any danger to themselves. They are like a proud tradesman, who scorns the advice of his friends, to examine into the state of his affairs, lest he should become bankrupt; or as some fond parents who have an over-weening opinion of their own children, and will not believe or hear any evil of them. This foolish self-love hinders many from suspecting and trying their state.
3. Some are so guilty that they dare not try themselves. They are afraid that they will find their state unsound, and therefore they dare not search into it; and yet they dare venture a more dreadful trial.
4. Some are so much in love with sin, and have so much dislike to the ways of God, that they dare not venture on the trial of their state, lest they should be forced from the course which they love, to that which they hate.
5. Most men are so taken up with their worldly affairs, and are so busy in providing for themselves and their families, that they plead a want of time to attend to the concerns of eternity.
6. Most men are so slothful, that they will not be persuaded to be at the pains which are necessary to know their own hearts. It requires some labour and diligence to do the work thoroughly, and they will rather venture all, than take so much trouble.
7. But the most common and dangerous impediment is that false hope commonly called presumption, which bears up the hearts of most men, and keeps them from suspecting their danger.
Thus you see how many difficulties must be overcome, before a man can closely set about examining his own heart.