By Octavius Winslow
“…Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still”—Psalm 4:4.
It will be acknowledged by every spiritual and
reflecting mind that the tendencies of the age are not the most favourable to
the calm, solemn, holy duty of self-communion. We are fallen upon times of great
religious, as well as worldly activity and excitement. So strong and rushing,
indeed, is the tide, that there exists a fearful and fatal liability in those
who profess to walk with God, as did Noah and Enoch, to neglect entirely one of
the most essential and effectual helps heavenward—the due, faithful, and
constant examination of the spiritual state and condition of their own hearts.
To the consideration of this vitally-important subject—a subject so intimately
entwined with our progress in the divine life—let us now address ourselves. The
Divine precept is emphatic—“Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be
still;” or, as it is rendered in another and a beautiful version of the Psalms,
“Commune with your own heart in your chamber, and be still?”—The Book of Common
Prayer. Both renderings are good, but perhaps the latter conveys more distinctly
and impressively the idea of retirement for self-communion. “Come, my people,
enter thou into thy chambers,” is the invitation of God to His Church. Like to
this is the Saviour’s exhortation—“When thou prayest, enter into thy closet.”
With everything but themselves the great mass of human beings by whom we are surrounded are in the closest communion. Man is in communion with nature in its glories, with science in its wonders, with art in its triumphs, with intellect in its attainments, with power in its achievements, with the creation in its attraction. There is but one object with which he holds no rational, sacred, and close communion,—from which, though the nearest and the most important, he seems the most widely isolated; that object is—himself! He studies not the wonders of his being, the spirituality of his nature, the solemnity of his relations, the accountability of his actions, the immortality of his destiny. He thinks not of himself, and of death, and judgment, and eternity at the same moment. He will examine and prepare himself for worldly preferment, but his state as a moral being, his position as a responsible being, his future as an accountable and deathless being, absorbs not a moment, awakens not a thought, inspires not an aspiration of his soul! What a fearful verification of and comment upon the word of God, “DEAD IN TRESPASSES AND IN SINS!” But the saints of God present another and a widely-different class. The religion of Jesus, while it is designed to disarm man of selfishness, and, when enthroned supremely upon the heart, ennobles and expands it with the “expulsive power of a new affection,” yet concentrates his most serious, devout, and earnest consideration upon himself. “Man, know thyself,” becomes a heathen maxim, in its highest and noblest sense, Christianized. It is of the utmost moment, then, that the saint of God should be kept in perpetual remembrance of this sacred duty of self-communion: its neglect entails immense spiritual deterioration and loss; its observance will, more than all other engagements—for it stimulates to activity all others—effectually advance the soul in its heavenward course. Self-communion is the topic which will now engage our thoughts—may we give to it the devout and earnest consideration which a subject so closely intertwined with our personal advance in heavenly meetness demands! Oh that this chapter of our work may be written and read under the especial anointing of God the Holy Ghost! Let us endeavour to ascertain what this sacred duty involves.
Know Your True Spiritual State Before God.
In the first place, my beloved reader, commune with your own heart, to know its true spiritual state as before God. This will bring under your review the subject of conversion—a state which many take for granted without scriptural evidence of the fact; a great question in the matter of salvation, which, to speak after the manner of the schoolmen, too many beg—they assume the existence of their personal conversion without proof. And yet how vast the consequences of the most momentous question they take for granted! There is no statement clearer in God’s Word than this, that to enjoy heaven we must become heavenly. God cannot cease to be God; therefore He could not make us, like Himself, perfectly happy, unless He made us, like Himself, perfectly holy. The Holy Ghost must make us new creatures—the subjects of a nature that is Divine—in order to fit us for the enjoyment of a heaven that is pure. The questions, then, which we must weigh are—Have I passed from death unto life? Has my heart been convinced of sin? Am I a subject of the new birth? and from a state of insensibility to objects, and feelings, and hopes that are spiritual, eternal, and divine, have I been quickened by the regenerating Spirit to walk with God, and before the world, in newness of life? These are personal and serious questions, which must not, which cannot, be evaded without imperilling all that is most dear and precious to your everlasting well-being. Oh, give to your eyes no slumber until the subject of the new birth has awakened in your mind the profoundest thought. It is spoken by Him who is the Truth, and it is written by Him who is the Spirit of Truth, “Unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Heaven or hell is suspended upon the issue! My reader! are you sensible that within you all things have been made new? that, whereas once you were blind, now you see? that your heart is in sympathy with objects that are spiritual, with enjoyments that are holy, with engagements that are heavenly?—in a word, that your views of sin and self, of God and of Christ and of the gospel, are radically, essentially changed, and that you seem to yourself the subject of a new-born existence, and the occupant of a new-created world?
Know The Existence and Condition of the Love
of God in Your Own Heart.
Commune with yourself to ascertain the existence and condition of the love of God in your heart. Enmity or love to Jehovah characterize us; there is no modified state between these extremes. A careful inspection of our hearts as to this principle will enable us correctly to decide our spiritual condition before the Lord. Do you love God because He is holy? His law, because it is righteous? His government, because it is divine and just? His ways, because they are wise, and right, and sure? Do you love Him for sending His Son into the world to save sinners? Do you love Him as a Father, as a Friend, as a God in covenant relation? How stands your heart, O believer! with God as to its love? What is the warmth and vigour and ardour of your affections? Do you so love God in Christ as, under its constraining influence, to do what He commands, to yield what He asks, to go where He bids, to hate what He hates, and to love what He loves; yea, to embrace Him with an affection simple, single, and supreme, oblivious, if need be, of every other claimant, and satisfied, if so He willed it, with Him alone? Oh, what is the state of your love to Jesus—frigid, selfish, inconstant; or, glowing, self-denying, fixed? You ask how your love to Christ may be tested and increased? Test it by obedience; “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Increase it by a more close, believing dealing with Christ’s love to you. Your love to Christ will never increase by feeding upon itself. You must light your torch of affection at the altar of Calvary. You must go there, and learn and believe what the love of Jesus is to you: the vastness of that love,—the self-sacrifice of that love,—how that love of Christ laboured and wept, bled, suffered, and died for you. Can you stand before this love—this love so precious, so great, so enduring, so self-consuming, so changeless, and know that for you was this offering, for you this cross, for you this agony, for you this scorn and insult, for you this death, and feel no sensibility, no emotion, no love? Impossible! Sit not down, then, in vain regrets that your love to God in Christ is so frigid, so fickle, so dubious; go and muse upon the reality, the greatness, the present intercession of the Saviour’s love to you, and if love can inspire love, then methinks that, while you muse, the fire will burn, and your soul shall be all in flame with love to God. "The Lord direct your heart into the love of God.”
“Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Know Your Own Heart as to its Views of, and
Feelings towards the Lord Jesus Christ.
Commune with your own heart as to its views of, and its feelings towards, the Lord Jesus. The great question, which decides so much is, “What think you of Christ?” Is it with you a reality that Christ died for sinners? Do you fully credit the promise by which God has engaged to accept through His sacrifice and intercession all who believe in His name? Do you believe Him to be divine, accept His obedience as justifying, and His death as sacrificial? Has it pleased God to reveal His Son in you? Is He precious to your heart? And do you receive Him, trust in Him, follow Him, and hope to be with Him for ever, as all your salvation and all your desire? You ask me how you may come to a right conclusion in the matter. You long, you yearn, you pray to know whether or not you love Christ, are one of His disciples, and shall certainly be with Him where He is. But why doubt it? Is the matter so difficult? If your mind were filled with admiration of a being, could you question the emotion thus awakened? If your heart were captivated by an object of superior intellect and beauty,—and that object, towards which the yearning and clinging of your affection went forth in a warm and ceaseless flow, became supremely enthroned in your sympathy and regard, would the fact admit of a moment’s doubt? Would you call in question the existence, the reality, or even the intensity of your love? Impossible! The higher and more momentous question of your attachment to Christ admits of a yet easier solution. Do I love Jesus? Is He the object of my supreme admiration and delight? Is He the chosen, the preferred, the supreme Being of my warmest affection? Is He precious to my soul? And am I trusting believingly, and exclusively, and without mental reservation, as a sinner utterly undone, self-abhorred, and self-condemned, to His atoning sacrifice? And still you hesitate! And yet you doubt! It is still a problem which you tremble to solve! You think of your sinfulness, your unworthiness, of the taint and flaw and unloveliness of all you are doing, of your faint love, of your weak faith, of your doubtful sincerity, and then you shrink from the thought of claiming an interest in Christ, and resign yourself to the conviction that your salvation is an utter impossibility—that you are not, and never will be, saved! But to take a closer view of the matter. Upon what ground do you base this hesitation and justify this self-exemption from the great salvation? It is not for your worth that you are saved, but for Christ’s worth. It is not on the ground of your personal merit that you are justified, but on the ground of Christ’s merit alone. It is not upon the plea of your fitness, your tears, your confessions, your prayers, your duties, that God forgives and accepts you, but simply and exclusively upon the one plea of the Saviour’s sacrifice. The BLOOD of Christ pardons, the RIGHTEOUSNESS of Christ justifies you, and this is all that you require, or that God demands. The great work is all done—it is not to be done. It is complete, finished, accepted, sealed. And you, as a lost sinner, without holiness, without strength, without one plea that springs from what you are, have nothing to do. Believe, and you are saved. Believing is not doing, it is not meriting, it is TRUSTING—it is the simple exercise of a faith in Christ which God gives, and which the Holy Ghost produces in the heart; so that your salvation, from beginning to end, is entirely out of yourself, in another. With what clearness and emphasis has the Spirit of truth set forth this: “By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified,” (Gal. 2:16.) “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness,” (Rom. 4:5.) All your own works, until your faith embrace the Lord Jesus, are “dead works,” and dead works never took a soul to heaven! You need as much the ATONING BLOOD to purge you from dead works as to purge you from deadly sins. Hear the words of the Holy Ghost—“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from DEAD WORKS to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:14.) And still you ask, “What then must I DO to be saved?” Do! I answer—NOTHING! All is done, completely and for ever done! Blessed, O thrice blessed be God! Christ has done it all—paid it all—endured it all—suffered it all—finished it all—leaving you, O sin-burdened, anxious, trembling, hesitating soul, nothing to do, and only to believe. Will not this suffice? Will you demur a moment longer to commit yourself to Christ, to lay your soul on Jesus, to accept the salvation, the heaven, the crown, the eternal life He proffers you as the free bestowments of His grace? Your sins, countless as the stars, are no barrier to your salvation if you but believe in Jesus. Your transgressions, deep as scarlet and as crimson, shall not be of too deep a dye if you but plunge into the fountain of Christ’s blood. His delight, His glory is to receive sinners—to receive you. And the moment you cease to give over doing, and begin only to believe, from that moment your soul rests from its labour, you enter into peace, and are for ever saved!
“Nothing, either great or small,
Nothing, sinner, no;
Jesus did it, did it all,
Long, long ago.
“When He from His lofty throne
Stoop’d to do and die,
Everything was fully done;
Hearken to His cry—
“‘It is FINSH’D!’ Yes, indeed,
Finish’d every jot.
Sinner, this is all you need;
Tell me, is it not!
“Weary, working, burden’d one,
Why toil you so!
Cease your doing; all was done
Long, long ago.
“Till to Jesus’ work you cling
By a simple faith,
‘Doing’ is a deadly thing—
‘Doing’ ends in death.
“Cast your deadly ‘doing’ down—
Down at Jesus’ feet;
Stand ‘IN HIM,’ in Him alone,
Know the Ruling Principles of Your Actions.
Commune with your own heart touching its ruling principles of action. It is a law of our moral being that the human heart must be governed by some all-controlling, all-commanding principle,—some secret potent spring that moves and regulates the entire powers of the soul. What is the ruling principle of your heart? Have you examined yourself to know? Beware of self-treachery, the most easy and the most fatal of all species of deception. There are many deceitful things in the world. The wind is deceitful, the ocean is deceitful, the creature is deceitful, but the human “heart is deceitful above all things,” and in nothing, probably, more so than in the principles and motives which govern and sway it. Oh, it is appalling to think what self-idolatry and self-seeking and self-complaisance may reign in our hearts, prompt and govern our actions! How carefully and nicely may we adjust our sail and shape our course to catch the soft breath and win the low murmur of man’s approbation and acclaim, as we float on the bosom of the stream, while ostensibly we are doing all for God! But, retreating to my chamber, let me, in solitude, self-scrutiny, and prayer, commune with my own heart. Laying bare, as with the deepest incision of the knife, its spiritual anatomy before God,—my motives, purposes, and aims,—can I say, “Lord! sinful though I am, the chief of sinners, yet do I desire to be ruled in my life by Thy Word, to be governed in my principles by Thy fear, to be constrained in Thy service by Thy love, and to make Thy honour and glory the end of all I do.” Thus ruled and swayed, how fragrant and acceptable to Him your lowliest service, your meanest offering! It may be but the “widow’s mite” you have cast into the treasury—to Him it is more costly than the jewelled diadem. It may be but a “cup of cold water” you have offered to a disciple in His name—to Him it is as beauteous and sparkling as the crystal river which flows from beneath His throne. It may be a service for Christ you have done, imperfect in itself and trying to your spirit, unrecognized and unrewarded by others; yet, the tribute of your heart, in harmony with His will, and promotive of His glory, this box of precious ointment which you have broken shall fill earth with the fragrance of your love, and heaven with the music of Christ’s praise.
Know the Heavenly Tendencies of Your Own
Commune with your own heart, and ascertain its heavenly tendencies,—whether the shadows of time or the realities of eternity have the ascendancy. Let no child of God deem such a scrutiny needless. The Word of God is replete with exhortations to the Church to set its affections on things above and not on the earth; to seek first the kingdom of God; to have its conversation in heaven. Encompassed as we are by earth, blinded by objects of sense, weighed down by human cares and anxieties, we need to be watchful against their secular influence upon our minds. It is good, therefore, to retire to our chamber and examine the spiritual barometer of the soul, to adjust the balance of the affections, and to see that divine and eternal realities are obtaining a growing ascendancy and pre-eminence. How distinct and impressive the precept,—“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”—“Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed.”—“Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.”
Know Your Own Heart as to its Real and
Habitual Fellowship with God.
Commune with your own heart as to its real and habitual fellowship with God. Do we pray? What is the character of our prayers? Do we pray in the Spirit? Is our prayer communion? Do we walk with God as a Father, and with Christ as our best Friend? And is the throne of grace the sweetest, holiest, dearest spot to us on earth? For the want of this honest communion with our heart, there is often an essential defect in our communion with the heart of Jesus. Our hearts grow so cold that we are insensible to the warmth of His. There is so little self-examination touching prayer, that our devotions glide into a cold, abstract formality, and petitions and supplications which should be as swift arrows shot from the bow of faith entering into the presence of God, congeal in icicles upon our lips. Oh, look well to the state of your heart in the matter of prayer—it is the true, the safest test of the spiritual condition of your soul. See that your devotions are the utterances of the Spirit, sprinkled with atoning blood, and offered in the lowly, loving spirit of adoption, the breathing of a child to God as your Father. This is “fellowship,” and all other is but the name.
Know Your Progress in the Divine Life.
Commune with your own heart as to your progress in the divine life. It is impossible to know correctly the distance we are on our heavenward way, the stages we have travelled, the points we have reached, without self-communion. The mariner examines his ocean-chart, the traveller the milestones of the road, to mark the progress he has made homewards; how much more necessary this for the voyager to eternity, for the traveller to the heavenly Zion! Everything in nature is advancing—nothing stationary. Progress is the universal law of the universe. Is the renewed soul—the heavenly traveller—alone to stand still? Is the living water, welled within the soul of the regenerate, alone to be stagnant? Is the kingdom of grace alone exempt from the operation of this law of progress? Let your inquiry then be—How high is my sun in the moral heavens? How near is it to its glorious setting? How far am I from the haven whither my soul longeth to be, sheltered from storm and billow in eternal safety and repose? “Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed,” (Rom. 13:11.)
And, then, as to the dealings of our heavenly Father, how close should be our self-communion! God deals with us that we might deal with ourselves, and then with Him. An affliction often recalls our thoughts and sympathies and care from others, and concentrates them upon our more neglected self. “They made me the keeper of the vineyard, but mine own vineyard have I not kept.” Why has the Lord, perhaps, taken you apart from the activities of life, from the duties of your family, and from the religious engagements which have been so exciting and absorbing? Just that in this lone hour, in this quiet chamber, on this bed of sickness and reflection, you might be the better schooled in the much-neglected duty of self-communion. God would have you now ascertain the why and the wherefore of this present discipline: what backsliding this stroke is to correct; what sin this chastening is to chide; what declension this probing is to discover; what neglected duty this rebuke is to make known; what disobeyed command this rod is to reveal. Oh, how needed and wholesome and precious is self-communion now! Never, perhaps, before has your heart been laid open to such inspection, subjected to such scrutiny, submitted to such tests. Never have you been brought into such close contact with yourself; never has self-communion appeared to you so needed, so solemn, and so blessed as in this quiet chamber. Ah, much-abused, much-neglected heart! how have I allowed thee to wander, to be enanmoured, enchained, won, and possessed by others! How has thy spiritual verdure withered, how have thy fresh springs dried, thy beauty faded, and thy strength decayed! How cold, how inconstant, how unfaithful, how unkind hast thou been to thy best, thy dearest, thy heavenly Friend! But for the restraints of His grace and the constraints of His love, and the checks of His gentle corrections, whither, oh, whither wouldst thou have gone? I thank thee, Lord for Thy discipline—for the shaded path, the severed tie, the lonely sorrow, the loving, lenient correction that recalls my heart to Thee!
Know the State of Your Heart Touching the
Spirit of Thanksgiving and Praise.
Commune with your own heart to ascertain its state touching the existence and exercise of the spirit of thanksgiving and praise. There is scarcely any part of our religious experience that receives less attention and insight than this. And in consequence of its neglect, we lose much personal holiness, and God much glory. Praise is as much an element of our Christianity, as distinctly a duty and a privilege, as prayer. And yet how little of it do we exhibit! We are so absorbed by the trials and discouragements of the Christian pilgrimage as to overlook its blessings and its helps. We dwell so much upon the sombre coloring of the daily picture of life as to be insensible to its brighter hues. But did we deal more with the good and less with the evil; did we weigh our mercies with our trials; were we to reflect that if one sorrow is sent, how much heavier a sorrow that one may have prevented,—if one trial comes, how much greater that trial might have been,—and that when the Lord sends us one discomfort, or permits one reverse, He sends us many comforts, and crowns our arms with many victories,—that there is not a dispensation of His providence, whatever its form and complexion, that is not a vehicle of mercy, that does not breathe a beatitude,—that the blessing of God, the smile of Jesus, and the voice of the Spirit’s love, are in every event and incident and circumstance of our history,—then, what a more thankful, praiseful spirit should we cherish! how should we examine our hearts to discover and expel thence the lurking spirit of murmur and rebellion and fretting against the Lord! how should we uplift every window, and remove every vail that would admit the beams of God’s goodness entering and penetrating every recess, and lighting up the entire soul with the sunshine of mercy, and making it vocal with the music of praise! I have exhorted you, beloved reader, to cultivate self-communion as to the matter of prayer; with equal point and earnestness do I exhort you to this holy duty as to the matter of praise. There exists a serious defect in the Christianity, a sad lack in the religious experience of many of the Lord’s people touching this holy exercise. The Lord has declared, “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me.” And the holy apostle, speaking by the Spirit, exhorts, “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with THANKSGIVING, let your requests be made known unto God.” And in another place we learn how comprehensive is this precept, “Giving THANKS always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Eph. 5:20.) Thanks always for ALL things! Then I am to cultivate a feeling of gratitude and to breathe a spirit of praise for all that my God and Father pleases to send me. I am always to be in a thankful, praiseful spirit for all the dispensations of His providence and grace. What a holy state will my soul then be in! What happiness will it ensure to my heart, and what a revenue of glory will accrue to God! How will it lighten my burdens, soothe my cares, heal the chaffings of sorrow, and shed gleams of sunshine upon many a lonely, dreary stage of my journey. I am too little praiseful. I am looking only to the crossing of my will, to the disappointment of my hopes, to the foil of my plans, to what my Father sees fit to restrain and withhold, and not to the mercies and blessings, bright as the stars which glow and chime above me, and numerous as the sands of the ocean upon which in pensive sadness I tread; therefore it is that while those stars chant His praise, and those sands speak His goodness and power, I alone am silent! And yet, my Father, there is nothing in Thyself nor in Thy dealings which ought not to inspire my deepest gratitude and praise to Thee!
“I thank Thee, O my God, who made
The earth so bright;
So full of splendour and of joy,
Beauty and light;
So many glorious things are here,
Noble and right!
“I thank Thee, too, that Thou hast made
Joy to abound;
So many gentle thoughts and deeds
Circling us round,
That in the darkest spot on earth
Some love is found.
“I thank Thee more that all our joy
Is touch’d with pain;
That shadows fall on brightest hours;
That thorns remain;
So that earth’s bliss may be our guide,
And not our chain.
“For Thou who knowest, Lord, how soon
Our weak heart clings,
Hast given us joys, tender and true,
Yet all with wings,
So that we see, gleaming on high,
“I thank Thee, Lord, that Thou hast kept
The best in store;
We have enough, yet not too much
To wish for more;
A yearning for a deeper peace,
Not known before.
“I thank Thee, Lord, that here our souls,
Though amply blest,
Can never find, although they seek,
A perfect rest;
Nor ever shall, until they lean
On Jesus’ breast!”
Know with Certainty your Possession of Heart
If, my beloved reader, there is one caution which I would urge with deeper emphasis of meaning and solemnity of spirit than another, it is this—be not satisfied without the clearest evidence of the personal possession of HEART-RELIGION. In nothing does there exist a greater tendency, a more easy road to fatal self-destruction than in this. The substitutes for heart-religion are so many and subtle, that without the closest scrutiny and the most rigid analysis of religious feeling and action, we may be betrayed, unsuspectingly to ourselves, into the gravest error. You may be religious—very religious—conscientiously religious, and yet be destitute of vital RELIGION. Denominational partisanship is not—religion. Religious activity is not—religion. You may be the warm promoter and patron of that which is Christian and philanthropic and useful in its nature,—the school, the asylum, the bazaar, the society,—and yet not possess RELIGION! You may aid in the building of churches, in the appointment of ministers, in the securing of endowments, in the sanitary, moral, and intellectual well-being of a community, and still be destitute of VITAL RELIGION. You may submit to the rite of baptism, may go to the Lord’s table, may take upon you in any form the vows of God, and yet remain without a changed heart and a renewed mind. All this which I have been describing is but religious still life—the mere galvanism, the simulation, the counterfeit of vital godliness—a wretched copy of the original! Examine yourself by these tests: Do I know that my sins are pardoned through Christ? Have I peace with God in Jesus? Am I living in the enjoyment of the Spirit of adoption? Have I in my soul the happiness, the joy, the consolation, the hope which heart-religion imparts? Or—solemn thought!—am I endeavouring to quiet my conscience, to stifle self-reflection, to divert my thoughts from my unsatisfactory, unhappy condition and state of mind by the religious substitutes and subterfuges with which the present age so profusely abounds, and which, with those who are ensnared by them, pass for real spiritual life? Oh, commune faithfully with your own heart touching this matter!
Directions as to the Manner in which Self
Communion is to be Engaged.
A few directions as to the manner of engaging in this solemn duty of self-communion:—A spiritual work, we must, in its engagement, seek earnestly the aid of the Holy Spirit. He alone can enable us to unlock the wards, to unravel the mystery, and to penetrate into the vailed depths of our own heart. We need the knowledge, the grace, the love of the Spirit in a task so purely spiritual as this. Let us, then, betake ourselves to the Holy Ghost, invoke His power, supplicate His grace, and seek His renewed anointing. Our hearts His perpetual home, enshrined there in the new creation He has formed for Himself, He is better acquainted with them than we are ourselves, and is prepared to aid us faithfully and successfully to discharge this difficult and humbling task of self-communion. “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things.” This divine anointing will essentially assist you in an experimental knowledge of yourself.
Blend communion with Christ with self-communion. Let converse with your own heart be in unison with converse with the heart of God. Endeavour to realize that in this sacred engagement God is with you, His thoughts towards you thoughts of peace, and the feelings of His heart the warm pulsations of His love. Associate all views of yourself with this view of God: that whatever discoveries you arrive at of waywardness and folly, idolatry and sin,—however dark and humiliating the inward picture,—not a frown of displeasure shall glance from His eye, nor a word of reproach breathe from His lips. Oh, do you think that He will join in your self-accusation? that because you loathe, and abhor, and condemn yourself, He will likewise loathe, abhor, and condemn you? Never. Listen to His words:—“Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Bending low at His feet, in penitential acknowledgment of sin, in the holy act of self-communion and prayer, no atmosphere shall encircle and embrace you but the atmosphere of Divine forgiving love.
I venture to suggest another and the most important direction in this work of self-communion,—Commune with your own heart, looking fully to the cross of Christ. Without this, self-examination may induce the spirit of bondage. It should never be entered upon but upon the principles, and in the spirit of the gospel. It is only as we deal closely with the Atonement, we can deal closely with sin. It is only as we deal faithfully with the blood, that we can deal faithfully with our own hearts. Overwhelming were the revelations of a rigid self-scrutiny but for the hold faith maintains of the sacrifice of Christ—the close, realizing apprehension it has of the cross of Jesus. You must commune with Christ’s heart and your own heart at the same moment! Looking at Jesus in the face, you will be enabled to look your sins in the face; and as your love to Him deepens, so will deepen your sin and self-abhorrence. As has been beautifully remarked, “for one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ;” no dark discovery will then sink you to despair. Ah, how little we deal with the heart of our Lord! We find finite depths of iniquity in our own, but we forget the infinite depths of grace that are in His. Ours is cold and fickle in its love and constancy—His is overflowing with a love as changeless and immutable as His being. Oh, then, take every discovery you make in this humbling task of self-scrutiny to Christ. Remember that if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus, every sin and infirmity and deficiency you discover, Christ has died for, He has shed His blood for, and has for ever put away; and that, repairing anew to His atonement and His grace, you shall have your iniquities subdued, and your conscience purified, and your soul reinstated in a sense of pardon and Divine acceptance. It is beneath the cross alone that sin shall be seen, hated, conquered, and forsaken. Sin, guilt, unbelief, impenitence, cannot live a moment under the sacred shadow of the cross of Christ. Drag your foe there, and it is slain. Go there, my soul, and weep, mourn, and love; and in communing with thine own heart, oh, forget not the yet deeper, closer communion with the heart of Jesus!
We will group together a few of the hallowed BLESSINGS that result from this habit of self-communion. In the first place, it will help to keep you acquainted with the true state of your soul. By this daily survey you will know how matters stand between God and your own conscience. Sin shall not seek supremacy, and you not know it; the world will not obtain an ascendancy, and you not be conscious of it; the creature will not become idolatrous, and you not be suspicious of its encroachment; Christ will not grow less in your estimation and love, and you remain insensible to the change. Self-communion will keep you whole nights upon your watch-tower, and the foe shall not surprise you. The duty, too, will increasingly deepen the conviction of your individuality. You will feel it to be a solemn privilege to commune with your own heart; and thus your own responsibility—a fact so lamentably overlooked—will appear in its proper and impressive light. How few indulge in this searching inquiry into the state of their own hearts, lest their self-esteem should be lowered! “Hence it is that we meet continually with persons possessed of great shrewdness and sagacity in all other matters who are most lamentably ignorant of themselves. Many have obtained an extraordinary knowledge of mankind in general, and can discover at once the weak points of every individual, but are pitiably blind to every one of their own infirmities: it is amusing to observe that of all persons within the circle of their acquaintanceship they are perhaps the only parties to whom their own failings are unknown”—M’Cosh. Prosecuting honestly and vigorously this self-research, you will have less time and still less inclination to examine and judge your fellows. Vain and officious attempts to penetrate and unvail the hearts of others will give place to the yet more neglected, important, and humbling work of examining, unvailing, and searching your own heart. Oh that all who profess the name of the Lord Jesus were more deeply concerned about the spiritual condition of themselves as in the sight of God! There would then be less censoriousness and uncharitableness, less judging the motives and condemning the actions of others, and more humility, kindness, and love in the Church of God. Commune with your own heart, and leave to others the solemn responsibility and duty of communing with theirs. To their Master they stand or fall. Enter into your chamber, and in the solemn, the awful stillness of an hour spent alone with God, deal with your own heart and be still. This work faithfully done, you will emerge thence too much filled with astonishment and condemnation at the discoveries you have made of your own self, to examine, judge, and condemn others!
Self-communion, too, will greatly conduce to growth in personal holiness. The eye will be more concentrated upon the seat of evil, the sentinel of your heart will be more wakeful, and sin and temptation will have less power to surprise and overcome you. It will also promote true humility. Self-communion will lead to self-acquaintance, and this in its turn will dispel those vain delusions and conceits with which the flattery of others may have inflated us. Alas that there should be so much religious flattery and compliment—the most ensnaring and injurious of all species of adulation—among professors of religion! Here is the antidote—self-knowledge! This will turn the fine edge of the fatal weapon—self-communion! The too fond and partial opinion of your graces, your spiritual attainments and your usefulness, expressed by others, will leave you unscathed if you are found in much communion with your own heart in your chamber. Few spiritual engagements, too, will more vigorously promote in your soul the yet higher and more solemn one of prayer. To know in some degree ourselves,—the heart, whose infirmities others see not, nor even suspect, but which we know to be so vile,—is to impel us to prayer. Once more, how precious will Jesus grow with growing self-communion! How will it endear His atonement, His grace, yea, Himself, to the heart! That engagement which deepens the conviction of our own sinfulness, helplessness, and need, which discovers to us taint and flaw and imperfection in the “hidden part,” the fountain all poisoned and impure, must deepen our sense of the infinite worth and preciousness of the Saviour. Whither can we look with one gleam of hope but to His blood and righteousness? That sacrifice offered once for all, that divine atonement, that perfect work, that righteousness that raises us above all demerit into the sunshine of God’s presence, the light of which reveals not a speck upon us, just meets our case, quells our fears, and assures us of divine acceptance. Surely, then, the closer the acquaintance we form with ourselves, whilst it throws us upon the Saviour, must render Him an object increasingly precious to our hearts. Dealing closely with our own selves in the time of God’s dispensations will elucidate much that is obscure, explain much that is mysterious, and soothe much that is painful and sad. When the Psalmist was sorely tried in his soul, when his sore ran in the night and ceased not, when his soul refused to be comforted, and his spirit was overwhelmed, when he was so troubled that he could not speak, then came the remedy: “I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with, mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.” And when from this process of self-communion,—searching into all the thousand memories of God’s past loving-kindness and faithfulness laid up in the heart,—he arose, he arose a victor over all his dark forebodings, and gloomy fears, and depressing sorrows; his faith confirmed in the truth that the Lord never casts off His people, that His promise fails not for evermore, that He had not forgotten to be gracious, nor in anger had shut up His tender mercies. Is thy heart searching for one spring of comfort, for one ray of hope, for one throb of love in this the long, dreary night of thy sorrow? Search, O child of God! for thou shalt find some stored remembrance there of God’s past faithfulness and love, and this shall be a token to thee that all that the Lord thy God has been to thee, He is now, and will be for ever. “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.”
“Be still!” Let communion with your own heart soothe it to perfect peace and repose, calm in the assurance that nothing shall separate it from God’s love,—that the government of all worlds and all beings and all things is upon Christ’s shoulders,—that your heavenly Father is causing all things in your individual history to work together for good,—and that you may wait with confidence, quietness, and cheerful composure the issue of the night of gloom and tears which now enshrouds your soul within its gloomy pavilion. “SEARCH ME, O GOD, AND KNOW MY HEART: TRY ME, AND KNOW MY THOUGHTS: AND SEE IF THERE BE ANY WICKED WAY IN ME, AND LEAD ME IN THE WAY EVERLASTING.”
“And what am I? My soul awake,
And an impartial survey take;
Does no dark sign, no ground of fear,
In practice or in heart appear?
“What image does my spirit bear?
Is Jesus form’d and living there?
Say, do His lineaments divine
In thought, in word, and action shine?
“Searcher of hearts! oh, search me still;
The secrets of my soul reveal;
My fears remove, let me appear
To God and my own conscience clear!
“Scatter the clouds which o’er my head
Thick glooms of dubious terrors spread;
Lead me into celestial day,
And to myself myself display.
“May I at that blest world arrive
Where Christ through all my soul shall live,
And give full proof that He is there,
Without one gloomy doubt or fear!”
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