The close of one year and the opening of another is commonly seen as a time for self-review. Certainly, we need to go into another year with our eyes open – spiritually. “We must keep a jealous eye on ourselves”, said Jonathan Edwards. He was speaking about the necessity of self-examination. A spiritual love for the Lord will have a holy jealousy of betraying His honour in the least way. There will be a careful, earnest desire to avoid all that offends. Thus, we must (as Edwards puts it) “pry into our own hearts and ways”.
Although we may think it strange to consider jealousy in a good light, Scripture does speak of a holy jealousy. As James Durham says (speaking about Song of Solomon 8:6): “in a good sense, jealousy is the highest degree of love, or love at its height”. One aspect of it is “a deep measure of grief, mixed with love” when anything hinders the enjoyment of that love. In relation to love towards Christ, it must be obvious that what hinders the enjoyment of that love most is our own sin. To be jealous of ourselves in this context is to be zealous against sin.
This points us to our own hearts. Yet, it is easy to focus on outward things in ourselves and others when we are trying to assess what has spiritual value. Since these things are visible we can easily be drawn into giving them primary importance. Outward obedience is vital but we deceive ourselves if we think it can substitute or compensate for inward obedience.
It is easy to have a critical even a jealous eye on the outward conduct of others. There is a danger of this leading to being blind to the condition of our own hearts. As Edwards puts it: “Men can more easily see faults in others than they can in themselves. When they see others out of the way, they will presently condemn them”. Yet “perhaps they do, or have done, the same, or the like themselves, and in themselves justify it”. Or it may be that because they are prone to focus more on outward things they fail to see the inward workings of the same sin on their own hearts. They may see it in the outward conduct of others yet may excuse or indulge the roots of it in their own hearts. Or perhaps they ignore spiritual declension in their hearts. “Men can discern motes in others’ eyes, better than they can beams in their own”.
Edwards also speaks about the general readiness that there is to have our conscience misinformed. If our consciences are misinformed our hearts and lives will certainly be mistaken and misdirected. Part of this readiness is an inclination to make our principles fit in with our practice or the practice of others with whom we are associated. This happens in doctrine, worship and practical areas. It is what happens in reality though many are reluctant to acknowledge it. This approach is, of course, back to front. We must draw our principles from the Scriptures and then make our practice conform to them.
Sadly, many often find it easier to make the Scriptures fit in with their own preferences and customs. Yet it is a great mistake to define what “ought to be” on the basis of what “is”. No doubt in many things we all offend in things to which we are blind. We need to bring everything constantly to the standard of God’s Word and submit our consciences to it. If not, we are trusting in the rightness of our own ways and hearts. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts” (Prov. 21:2). “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered” (Prov. 28:26).
This is to keep a holy jealous eye on ourselves. Here is a watchword for the coming year. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). We also need to hear with fresh ears the familiar counsel of Scripture as we set out into a new year. “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5-6).
Matthew A Vogan