John A James, 1853
ADDRESS TO THE READER
Reader, this is an unspeakably important chapter for you to ponder. You must not pass from it in haste—but linger, and muse longer and deeper. You must now take up the candle of the Lord, as I have said, and go down into the very depths of the soul, to search its hidden recesses. Nor should you trust to your own inspection and scrutiny. Like David, you should earnestly pray to God to search you, and reveal your real state to you. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life." He knew how prone we are to self-love and self-deception; how sin lies hidden in the folds of the heart's deceit, and therefore he begged the trial and scrutiny of eyes more piercing and less partial than him own. So must you. We are all liable to judge too favorably of our own case. Do, do, consider the fatal, the dreadful, the eternal consequences of a mistake on this subject.
Oh, the idea of imagining we are going on to heaven, when step by step we are advancing to hell! Is this possible? It is! And the very possibility should awaken our alarm. Is it probable? It is! And this should increase our alarm. Is it certain? It is! And this should raise still higher our anxiety. Is it common? It is! And this should carry our solicitude to the highest pitch. What did Christ say on this matter? Read with awe and trembling. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" Matthew 7:21-23. Read, I say, this passage in which our Lord with his own hand, sounds the alarm through the whole church. Ought you not to examine? Is not there need of it? Is it not all but madness to go on without it? Mistake! What in such a matter as salvation? Mistake! What in a matter in which an error will require, as I have often said, an eternity to understand, and an eternity to deplore it!
Are you quite sure this is not your case? Take up the subject, then, and put the following questions to your soul.
Am tolerably sure that I am truly converted to God? Am tolerably sure that I am a real Christian?
If I am a true Christian, am I really an advancing one—or am I mistaking a declining state for an advancing one?
Am I mistaking a lengthened time of profession—for a genuine growth in grace?
Am I putting an increase of knowledge, and of ability to talk about religion—in place of an increase of holiness?
Does it satisfy me to grow in knowledge and lamentation of my corruptions—without mortifying them?
Am I mistaking sectarianism—for true piety? Am I mistaking attachment to some preacher—with love to the truth? Am I mistaking zeal for some favorite doctrine—with real love for the gospel?
Is my mortification of sin confined to some one corruption, which interest, ease, or reputation may require me to surrender; or is it directed against all sin?
Is my religion a mere excitement of the emotions, and my growth only a greater excitability; or is my will more and more determined for God, my conscience more tender, and my life more holy?
Inquire, I beseech you, into these things. Be determined, by God's grace, to know the real state of your soul, and to be under no mistake. Be this your prayer, "O God of truth, you who search the hearts and examine the thoughts of the children of men, you know I would not for ten thousand worlds be deceived about my spiritual state.
You know me through and through. Make known to me what I really am in your sight. Painful as it would be to find out that I have been deceiving myself, this would be infinitely better than for me to go on in error until the mistake is past being rectified. I want to know my real state. Even if I am a Christian, and yet mistaking declension for progress, I wish to know this also. Let my spiritual insight be clear, my self-acquaintance be accurate. Do not allow me to deceive myself—as regards my spiritual progress or decline.