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Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1993—Volume 6:11


SELF-EXAMINATION AS IT
RELATES TO ASSURANCE*

 JAMES H. BROOKES[1]

  It may be asked whether there are not certain evidences of conversion found in the Scriptures. Undoubtedly there are, but they are not given that we might derive from them the assurance of salvation. It was never intended that we should receive assurance by believing ourselves to be Christians, but by believing that Christ[2] is our all-sufficient Saviour. 

Look at any of the evidences of regeneration mentioned in the Bible, and a moment’s reflection will convince you that they were not designed to furnish assurance for which so many sad hearts are longing and striving.

 Take, for example, the text, “Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” (1 John 4:7). This cannot give assurance, for there is not a Christian in the world whose love does not fall far below the measure of his desire and his duty.

 Take the text, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” (1 John 3:14.) This cannot give assurance, for there is no test to decide who are the brethren, and no standard to determine how fervent our love must be, or how far it must extend in covering the faults of those who claim to be Christians.

 Take the text, “He that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him.” (1 John 3:24.) This cannot give assurance; for every true Christian, unless deluded by Satan, will confess that he fails to observe them in many particulars; that when he would do good evil is present with him; and that ‘no mere man, since the fall, is able, in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God; but doth daily break them, in thought, word, and deed.” Whatever purpose, therefore, these evidences may serve, it is a self-righteous and fruitless task to look to them for assurance.

 Still, it may be urged that we are commanded to examine ourselves. But not, I reply, to discover whether we are Christians. 

In the first passage where this command is given the context plainly shows that the examination refers only to the question whether the disciples of Christ were pursuing a course of conduct unbecoming those who came to the Lord’s table. “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (1 Cor 11:28). The question of personal salvation is not at all involved; but they were exhorted to examine their ways, and put from them, as the dear children of God, detected evil; ‘for if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” (1 Cor 11:31). 

In the second passage we read, ‘Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith” (2 Cor 13:5), but here again the context clearly shows that the question under discussion was about the apostle’s right to exercise his high office, and not at all about personal salvation. ‘Since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me,” he says, ‘examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith”: for the fact that they were in the faith was conclusive proof that Christ had owned his ministry, and therefore that he was not an imposter in claiming to be an apostle.[3] Self-examination as conducted in the manner and to attain the ends for which it is usually urged is the most painful and profitless exercise that can engage the soul, and I would confidently appeal to the experience of every conscientious and intelligent Christian to testify whether this is not true. If you expect to get assurance in this way, you might as well expect to get health by looking at disease, to get light by looking at darkness, to get life by looking at a corpse. 

Self -judgment is quite another thing, and daily should we consider our ways; not to find a ground of assurance, but to confess and forsake all that is evil as judged by the Word of God.

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* This voice from the nineteenth century is excerpted from Chapter XX of The Way Made Plain (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967), 293-95. Reprint from Philadelphia: American Sunday-school Union, 1871.  

[1] James H. Brookes, D. D. (1830-1897) was pastor of Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church, St. Louis, MO. The Brookes Bible Institute of St. Louis was named in his honor. Dr. Brookes was a prolific writer, having authored more than 200 booklets and tracts. He was the editor of The Truth, and was a well-known Bible teacher. One of his very influential students was C. I. Scofield, editor of the popular Scofield Reference Bible (1909, 1917, revised as the New Scofield Reference Bible 1967). Brookes was also a key leader in the famous prophetic conferences of 1878 and 1886.

[2] Italicized words were written in all capitals in the original. Ed.

[3] Brookes was much influenced towards grace, dispensationalism and other prophetic themes by Anglo-Irish Bible teacher and writer, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). He allowed Darby to occupy his pulpit when in St. Louis on a number of occasions. Darby taught the same: ‘But am I not desired to examine myself, whether I am in the faith? No. What then says 2 Cor 13:5: ‘Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith?’ etc. Why, that if they sought a proof of Christ speaking in Paul, they were to examine themselves, and by the certainty of their own Christianity, which they did not doubt, be assured of his apostleship. The apostle’s argument was of no value whatever, but on the ground of the sanctioned certainty that they were Christians. But I have dwelt longer on this than I had any purpose; but the comfort of souls may justify it. It is connected with man’s seeking, from the work of the Spirit of God in him, that which is to be looked for only from the work of Christ.” Excerpted from “Operations of the Spirit of God,” The Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, edited by William Kelly. Reprint, 1972 (Winschoten, Netherlands: H. L. Heijkoop), 3:76.

See the last book review this issue (pp. 85-86) for a review of a newly-translated biography of J. N. Darby.