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to his holy ones, and therefore were no just cause for doubting of his good estate. His consciousness of sincerely loving the divine law, was an infallible evidence of the renovation of his heart, and of his reconciliation to God and title to pardoning mercy. All true christians do as really love God and his holy law, as the apostle did, and they may be as conscious of their holy affections as he was, and of course may know, as he did, that they are in a state of grace and favor with God. It is upon this ground that real christians are required to make their calling and election sure. This they all are capable of doing, and if they neglect to do it, they are guilty of refusing to be comforted, and of withholding from God that gratitude and praise, which his distinguishing grace demands. As they have experienced the grace of God in truth, so they ought to renounce their unreasonable doubts and fears, and to rejoice in a well grounded hope of eternal life.
Finally, this subject calls upon all to inquire what manner of spirit they are of. The great propensity of mankind to mistake the nature of their moral exercises, and to judge too favorably of themselves, renders self examination not only proper, but highly necessary. If Christ's first disciples had occasion to examine what spirit they were of, there is reason to think that all other persons have much more occasion to look into their hearts, and inquire whether they have not been guilty of much self deception, which is both criminal and dangerous. And if they would discover the truth upon this serious and interesting subject, let them answer some such questions as the following
Have you an inquisitive spirit respecting the nature of your religious affections, and the true state of your minds? There are many who are very inquisitive about other things, but have no inclination to acquire self knowledge. They think much and say much about others, who appear to be destitute of vital piety and even moral honesty, while they totally neglect to call themselves to an account, and examine their own internal views and feelings. But it is characteristic of good men to make diligent search, and commune with their own hearts.
Have you this habitual desire to search and try yourselves by the infallible rules which God has given you for this purpose? Or do you live in the total or habitual neglect of this salutary and necessary duty? A true answer to this query will tend to determine whether you are in a state of nature or a state of grace, and whether you are growing, or declining christians.
Have you examined yourselves impartially? If you examine your hearts ever so frequently, without an impartial and sincere desire to know what they are, you may only increase your self deception, and become more and more ignorant of your true state and character. It is to be feared, that many first entertain, and afterward support, their hope of being the subjects of a saving change, by a partial and selfish opinion of their religious views and feelings. Their hope originated from a self righteous spirit, and the same spirit governs them in their self examination. They have never been willing to know the truth, and never will know it, unless they examine themselves with more impartiality. It concerns you, therefore, to inquire whether you have had a sincere desire to know your own hearts, and have examined them with a real willingness to discover the nature of your affections, and the true state of your souls.
Have you been so much acquainted with the natural deceitfulness of your hearts, as to find the need of critical and frequent self examination ? Many have such a good opinion of their own hearts, as never to call their goodness in question, which is an unhappy sign that they have never known their native and total depravity. Real christians know, by painful experience, that their hearts are by nature deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. They have found the folly and danger of trusting in their good desires, intentions, and resolutions. They have known, to their sorrow, that their hearts are like a deceitful bow, always bent to backsliding. This has led them to realize the necessity of watching and examining their hearts with great diligence and impartiality. Has your experience, then, of the deceitfulness of your hearts led you to the frequent and faithful performance of this duty?
Have you used all the proper means in your power to discover your spiritual state, and the nature of your religious experiences? Perhaps you have been seriously affected by the word or providence of God. Perhaps you have seen your exposedness to eternal destruction, and felt great anxiety to escape the wrath to come. And perhaps you have been convinced of your just desert of that everlasting punishment which you feared. But, after all, have you become reconciled to the justice of God in your condemnation? Have you cordially embraced the offers of life, and taken God for your supreme portion? If you have not exercised such love and submission to God, and such dependence upon sovereign grace, your fears and convictions can afford you no just foundation to think that you have passed from death unto life, and become the heirs of salvation. Now, have you compared your views and feelings with the marks of grace in the word of God? Have you read the best books you could find upon experimental religion ? Have you conversed freely with judicious christians of your acquaintance ? And have you earnestly prayed that God would search your hearts, and not suffer you to deceive yourselves in the great concerns of your souls ?
Finally, have you ever come to a decision respecting your spiritual state? Many choose to live in doubt, rather than to come to a fair and satisfactory conclusion, whether they are or are not the true friends of God. This is a dark mark. Real christians are willing to know the truth, whether it be in their favor or against them. They sincerely desire to know whether they are in the path that leads to heaven, or in that which leads to destruction. If they find evidence, that God has formed them vessels of mercy, they desire to give up themselves publicly to his service, and to walk worthy of their high and holy calling, and to lead others to glorify their heavenly Father. Have you then come to a decision, and found your path clear to do your whole duty ?