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would proceed without confusion, or delay, attend to this plain direction,-always have the materials ready before-hand, by which you may try yourself.
Though the sacred scriptures, at large, are calculated to assist in self-examination ; yet there are particular portions of them, obviously better adapted to this end than others. Some of these, therefore, should be carefully selected, marked, and studied. A few passages of this kind are mentioned in the subjoined note.* And to furnish suitable marks, founded on the word of God, and to assist in their application, is the design of chapter Fifth, in the following pages.
4. You ought to choose a proper time.-Neither the business of the world, nor the state of your mind, makes every time alike suitable for this exercise. Sometimes your secular concerns may have multiplied on your hands, and may press upon you so urgently, that you may have scarcely any leisure, on week days, for its observance. On such occasions also, the mind is commonly too much engrossed with these earthly cares and pursuits, to be easily called away from them a sufficient length of time, to perform profitably and satisfactorily the work of a thorough self-examination. And frequently, from other causes, which either greatly delight or distress the mind, it may be so much agitated, as totally to unfit it for this important and difficult exercise. Every person who has attended to his own feelings, must know this by experience. He must have been conscious, that, on many occasions, he could not command his mind to engage steadily in matters pertaining to the body; and much less in deciding a question relating to the dearest and eternal interests of the soul.
** Mat. v. 3–12. ; vi. 13. ; John iii. 3—8, 36.; viii. 31, 32.; xii. 35. ; xiv. 21. ; Rom. vi, 1–22. ; viii. 1-17.; 1 Cor. xii, 1–7; 2 Cor. v. 17. ; Gal. iv. 6.; V. 22—24. ; Eph. ii. 1–5. ; iv. 22–24.; 1 Pet. ii. 7. ; 1 John i 5–7. ; ii. 3–6. ; iii. 10.; iv. 7-11., &c. &c.
One of your first concerns, therefore, ought to be, to fix on a time when you are freest from the bustle and pressure of worldly engagements; and when your mind is least elated with tempting pleasures, or embarrassed with vexing cares. Particularly you ought to embrace a time, when your soul is seriously impressed with religious thoughts, and with the prospects of death and eternity ; such as, the evening of the Lord's day, or the season of trying affictions and bereavements.
Of all periods of frequent occurrence, there is none so well adapted for the performance of this duty, as the evening of the Lord's day. On this day your hands are freed from ordinary secular occupations. On this day your mind is tranquillized by the general pause from business, and the solemn stillness of all around. On this day, by your attendance on the public ministrations of the gospel, your thoughts are called away from the world, and directed to the concerns of eternity; and some degree of seriousness and devoutness of spirit is experienced. On this day you can easily command an hour in the evening, to retire by yourself, and to commune with your own heart, as in the sight of the Lord. On the evening of this hallowed day, therefore, you ought to em
ploy some portion of your time in this momentous scrutiny, regarding it a sacred and seasonable opportunity to know your state and prospects for eternity.
Besides, the season when either you yourself, or those who are dear to you, are tried with afflictions, or when death has bereaved you of beloved kindred or acquaintance, is well fitted for the observance of this duty. Such painful allotments of Providence have a tendency to fill the mind with thoughtfulness, -to show the vanity of all sublunary enjoyments, and the necessity of choosing a portion which cannot be lost. When visited with such trials, therefore, regard them as the voice of Heaven addressing you,
Now, thus saith the Lord of hosts, Consider your ways."
5. You ought to seek a suitable place of retirement. Our blessed Lord requires his disciples to observe this rule, in performing the duty of secret prayer : “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”+ He instructs them to observe this secrecy, not only in opposition to the proud ostentation of the Pharisees; but chiefly for their own advantage,--to guard them against the noise and interruptions to which they might be exposed. The same reasons for retirement and seclusion from society, apply with equal, or even with greater force, to the duty of self-examina
+ Matth. vi. 5.
tion. We may mentally engage in secret prayer, in the midst of our family; but it would scarcely be practicable for us there to examine our spiritual state. This requires both much tranquillity, and patient and repeated trial ; and consequently, both privacy, and considerable length of time.
Every person, who has made the attempt, knows how difficult it is to keep the mind long fixed in selfexamination, even in the most quiet and retired situation. How much more difficult must it be, amid the noise and bustle of a family ? Every word which is spoken, and every action or little incident which takes place, must be apt to disturb the thoughts, and to prevent their steady and vigorous application. The mind unavoidably must be less or more occupied, with what engages the eye, or the ear. For any person, therefore, to attempt this duty, in such circumstances, is highly improper -Let me suppose that any of you had a piece of business to accomplish, on which much of your worldly interests depended. Would you deem it sufficient to employ a little time for its execution, while your mind was occupied with other inferior engagements, or apt to be disturbed by the different speeches and labours of those around? Rather, would you not seek a place, where for a time, with calm deliberation, you might direct to it your undivided attention? The application is obvious.It must be of great advantage, therefore, that you perform this duty in a place of retirement, where, as much as possible, you may be free from all external annoyance.
Having thus called your attention to these directions, preparatory to self-examination, I shall now endeavour to point out the manner in which this duty should be performed.
1. This exercise should always be commenced with a deep sense of your inability to perform it aright, without the aid of the Spirit of God; and with fervent prayer
for his assistance. Without the illumination and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can perform no duty, in a way acceptable to God, and beneficial to ourselves. On this account we are expressly commanded not to attempt any one of them, in our own strength; but to look up to God for his promised aid in every step of duty. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." “ In every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” * If this be incumbent in every duty, in a peculiar manner it must be so, in those which are specially important and difficult. Of this kind is the work of self-examination. There is not a religious exercise in which we can engage, in which we are in such hazard of deceiving ourselves, and in which self-deception may be attended with such dangerous consequences. A mistake here, as it relates to our entire character and prospects for eternity, may sooth us into a fatal security, and make us dream of peace, till we awake in everlasting misery.
* Prov. iii. 5, 6.; Phil. iv. 6.