Self Examination

Notes for an Extemporaneous Sermon By James P. Cooper

And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye..  LUK 6 41-42

The text for today was taken from the version of the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Luke, and it speaks eloquently to the importance of self-examination as a necessary part of everyone’s spiritual life.  The context of our text is that it comes just after the Lord taught the apparently difficult and frequently misunderstood doctrine that we should Judge not, and you shall not be judged.  Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.  (LUK 6:37) But the Writings tell us that this passage also teaches about the importance of self-examination:  These things man is able to explore in himself, but he cannot do so in others; for the ends of everyone’s affection are known to the Lord alone.  This is the reason why the Lord said:- Judge not, and you shall not be judged; condemn not, and you shall not be condemned (LUK vi.  37) [AC 3796:3]

This is a clear warning to us in all that follows:  Our natural tendency is to hear about self-examination, and think of all the other people whom we think should get busy—but that is the kind of judgment we are forbidden to make.  The judgment we must make is the one that says, “I need to find the evils in my own character and get to work on them in a systematic fashion.”

This is exactly what is meant by our text:  We are so busy examining the speck in our neighbor’s eye that we neglect the plank in our own.  The Lord’s teaching is clear:  We have to look to our own evils first before we are entitled to comment on others.

The Lord confirmed this teaching when He told the crowd that was so eager to stone the woman taken in adultery, He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.  (JOH 8:7)

Acknowledging General Sinfulness is not sufficient.  Anyone can say this:  Confessing to General Sinfulness is a device to attempt to deceive God, and to avoid actually confronting an evil—because to confront it means 1) that it exists, and 2) you now have to do something about it. This makes us uncomfortable because it requires us to change.

AC 8390 …regards universal acknowledgment in the place of self-examination.

Hereditary Evils are inclinations, not actual evils.  At this time, heredity is so complex it contains inclinations to every evil.  Only account for what is your own evil by your own free choice. Those who are working on their evils are forgiven the occasional relapse.

Self-examination for fantasy as well as reality.  Not only deeds and thoughts, but what he would do if he did not fear law and disgrace.

AC 2982e  He who wants to know the quality of his trust, let him explore in himself the affections, and the ends, and also the exercises of the life.

DP 278  Not only deeds and thoughts, but what he would do if he did not fear law and disgrace.

Why bother?  Who doesn’t know that they have sins?

AC 1909:2 Everyone can see the quality of life he possesses, provided he explores the quality of his own end.

Knowledge of sin alone does not help unless used to compare one’s life to the law.   Until you take sin PERSONALLY you cannot get rid of it.  You must get it out where you can see it, see that it is your own problem (and not try to blame it on someone else), see what unhappiness it brings, and then get RID of it. Then you can begin to take worship seriously, personally because it now relates to your personal situation, your life.  It is no longer in the abstract.

There are exceptions.  Infants and children up to about 20 years of age.  The date varies with the passage, but the concept is that there cannot be damnation until the rational is fully developed and engaged in the deliberate choice of evil.
The simple, and those not capable of reflection.  Those with no fear of God. Those who are sick in mind and body. Those who fervently believe in salvation by faith alone.

AR 531:7 The Reformed have a deep-seated aversion to actual repentance, which is so great that they cannot compel themselves to examine themselves.

Truths are the key.  If we continue to ingest truths and fail to use them, they will eventually kill the mind as surely as undigested food kills the body.

Self-examination is critical for our spiritual lives. We need to do it for ourselves.  Unless we search ourselves for hidden evils, they will lie within like malignant tumors, eventually bursting forth. It is far better to discover them and root them out early.

We can help others as well.  Through active listening.  It has always been amazing to me how simple conversations so often seem to solve problems.  I have often wondered if in the process of formulating our problem into words to tell to another, we bring it down to a size that we can picture and defeat.  This formulation of our problems is one of the key uses of prayer in the process of regeneration as well.  An undefined problem is impossible to solve.  A defined problem has edges and handles and dimensions that can be dealt with.

Often the biggest help when you don’t say anything.  It seems our job is to comfort not to solve.

CL 529e If a man examines himself once or twice a year…

It is sufficient to set him on the path to heaven.  The difficulty is that we can sit here in church and understand the truth of it but what do we do about it?  The only one who can make us do anything is we, ourselves. True spiritual freedom is self compulsion.

But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?  Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like:   He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock.  And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.   But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell.  And the ruin of that house was great.  AMEN.

Lessons: ISA 1:6,16-18,20, LUK 6:37-42, TCR 525

True Christian Religion 525.

No man in the Christian world can be without recognition of sin, for everyone is taught from infancy what evil is, and from childhood what the evil of sin is. All youths learn this from parents and teachers, also from the Decalogue (which is the primary instruction given to all within Christendom), also, in their subsequent progress, from preaching at church and instruction at home, and in fullness from the Word; and furthermore from the civil laws of justice, which teach the same things as are taught in the Decalogue and other parts of the Word. For the evil of sin is no other than evil against the neighbor, and evil against the neighbor is also evil against God, which is sin. But recognition of sin effects nothing until a man examines the actions of his life, and sees whether he has secretly or openly done any such thing. Until then, there is nothing but knowledge, and what the preacher then says is a mere sound going in at the left ear and out at the right, and finally it becomes a mere matter of thought and something devout in the breathing, and with many merely imaginative and chimerical. But it is wholly different if man, according to what he recognizes as sin, examines himself, discovers something in himself, says to himself, “This evil is a sin,” and from fear of eternal punishment abstains from it. Then what has been said in churches in the way of instruction and devotion is first received by both ears, is communicated to the heart, and from a pagan the man becomes a Christian.

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