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1. LET A FIXED TIME BE SET APART, before you receive the communion, FOR THIS DUTY. It is a duty that cannot be discharged incidentally, or in a moment, nor without some self-denial and resolution. Something has already been said on this subject; * but, with reference to that exarvination, which is always desirable when we from time to time receive the Lord's Supper, some farther remarks may be made.
Dr. Owen gives the following sensible directions on this point ;
“ Take care that 'the time to be spent in preparation, neither entrenches on the occasions of the outward man, nor on the weakness of the inward man. If it does, they will be too hard for us. There is a double direction in Scripture; one is, God will have mercy and not sacrifice. When the observance of sacrifices sensibly entrenches on duties of mercies, God does not require it. The other is, bodily exercise profiteth little. ' When we assign so long a time as wearies our spirits, and observe the time, because of the time, it is bodily exercise; and when the vigour of our spirits is gone, it is not a sacrifice in which God delights. Prudence is here required.”
Yet on the other hand he remarks, “ Let not the time allotted be so short, as to be unmeet for going through the duty effectually. Men may be ready to turn their private prayers into a few ejaculations, and going in or out of a room, may serve them for preparation for the most solemn ordinance. This has lost us the power, the glory, and the beauty of our profession, which are greatest and brightest when Chris
* See Chap. ix.
tians are most exact in preparation for their duties. After particular sins and mercies, or before particular duties, we should also add a more solemn preparation."
It is impossible to give any rule as to the length of time that should be given. The obligation of persons varies with their situations and circumstances; but we apprehend even those most limited for time, might, by due efforts, even if the time were redeemed from sleep, (in which they would only copy the highest example, Luke vi, 12.) give at least an hour to this duty, on some day previous to that on which they receive the Lord's Supper. Those of more leisure might give several hours. Give such time as, consistently with your other duties, you can spare; but let the time in every case be so employed, not as a task but as a blessing ; not merely as a requirement, but as a privilege and advantage. Indeed you may be assured, as the result of the experience of many, that the more close, and faithful, and diligent you are in self-examination, the more comfort and benefit you are likely in the result to receive.
But it may be asked, Is a man never to receive the Lord's Supper, without a minute and particular selfexamination. We may distinguish between the younger Christian, in his first approach to this holy table, and the more advanced Christian, steadily persevering in the ways of God. In our early reception of the Lord's Supper, great care and attention in preparation is of peculiar importance and benefit. But an advanced Christian who has known and loved the truth for many years, and gradually been growing in grace, has to a certain degree an habitual preparation. Should he
unexpectedly find the Lord's Supper to be administered, we doubt not he would receive it with much advantage, without any other than this habitual preparation of mind. Yet éven to him we are persuaded it would be profitable to enquire into the course of his conduct, since he last received; and to him the season of retirement and self-reflection, to which this ordi. nance calls us, is a matter of great and incalculable benefit.
Yet beware of formality and self-righteousness. The author cannot but fear that the general use of “ the Week's Preparations," however well intended by those who published them, or those who read them, tends to build up a person in a fancied worthiness and righteousness of his own, which is supposed to fit him to receive those spiritual blessings which the Gospel shews are freely given to the unworthy; or else tends to sink him into a mere formal act without spirit, life, or benefit.
A second general direction that may be useful is this, CONSIDER THE HOLY SCRIPTURES AS THE GREAT TEST BY WHICH YOU ARE TO TRY YOURSELF. They are the only true standard of self-examination; the touchstone which discovers at once the character of the metal. But as the sacred volume is far too large to be gone through at any particular time, we would recommend the following plan which has been found useful. When you endeavour to ascertain if you repent of sin, read the 51st Psalm, and compare the state of your own views and feelings with those of penitent David. When you examine whether you have a lively faith, read the 11th of Hebrews, and notice there the effects of true faith, and enquire how
your faith influences
you try your state of mind as to a sense of God's mercy, read the 103d Psalm, and compare your affections with those of the grateful Psalmist. When you would ascertain the state of your soul as to its desires towards God, read with this view, Psalm 63, or 84. When you wish to learn your true character as to charity, read the 13th of the 1st of Corinthians, and thus discover your real state. The ten commandments, the 15th, 24th, 26th, 119th, and other Psalms, the Beatitudes, (Matt. v,) and the whole sermon on the mount, the 1st Epistle of St. John, and many other parts of the Scriptures, might be mentioned as peculiarly adapted to this purpose. By thus comparing your state with the most practical and spiritual parts of the word, and varying those parts from time to time, you try yourself by a perfect and infallible standard. Several specimens of questions for self-examination on this plan, are given in this chapter.
It has also been found advantageous when reading practical books, such as Doddridge's Rise and Progress, Beveridge's Private Thoughts, Leighton's Works, Alleine's Alarm, Walker's Christian, Hall's Christian laid forth, and similar practical treatises, to make use of them as a means of self-examination, noting down what strikes your mind as displaying your true character before God. The sermons which you
hear every Sunday, furnish you with another test by which to try yourself. A point of enquiry that may often advantageously occupy our attention, is our fidelity in our peculiar circumstances, and in the discharge of relative duties. What does my situation require? What are my difficulties, temptations, and
dangers ? How do I fulfil my duty as parent or child; husband or wife, master or servant, minister or hearer, brother or sister, poor or rich, in public or in private? Here is a large and very important subject for profitable self-examination.
One more general direction may be added--CONDUCT THIS EXAMINATION IN THE SPIRIT OF PRAYER. If this be neglected, self-examination may only prove a mean of delusion and danger to your immortal soul. We are all prone to think well of, and to justify ourselves. The heart is deceitful above all things, and Satan is ingenious to suggest to our minds many excuses for our misconduct. We are prone also to think little of the evil of sin, and. to refer to the false standard of what others are doing, rather than what the Bible requires. Sometimes also we are tempted to write hard and bitter things against ourselves. Self-examination under such influences may only tend to deceive us; to harden us; or to sink us into despair. It may thus fix us in our errors with increased strength. Fervent prayer is the true remedy for this. God who searches the heart, discovers its true character to those who pray to him to shew them to themselves. Observe how David prays-examine me, () Lord, and prore me ; search one, and know my thoughts; look well if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Ps. xxvi, 2; cxxxix, 23, 24.
The advantages of occasionally reducing to writing the results of this self-examination, are, that it more impresses your own mind at the time, and it may be easily referred to afterwards. Why should not the Christian find as much advantage in making from time to time an accurate estimate of the state of his heart,