By Walter L. Surbrook
Text: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves, how ye not your own selves, bow that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" -- II Cor. 13:5.
In case you are suffering from physical illness or a nervous breakdown, you are not safe during that time to conduct a close, personal, spiritual examination. The intricate connection and delicate relation between the nervous system and spiritual life is so close that often the spiritual buoyancy and religious feelings are greatly hindered and subdued by a loss of nerve energy. This class of individuals, however, is an exception to the rule. Practically everyone else is perfectly safe to scrutinize his spiritual condition at any time.
In this text the apostle urges that you examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. The inference is that there is a possibility of having once been in the faith and having enjoyed the fellowship of the Spirit, but to have drifted out of this relationship until you are worshipping only by memory. The text makes it clear that there is an experience in which a man knows definitely, positively, and beyond every shadow of a doubt, that he is in the faith; but he may drift out of this precious experience and not be conscious of it until he gets alone with God and his own conscience, when by a close examination he discovers that he has slid backward, having forfeited and lost the sweet experience of his first love.
You will notice that this text is directed to the church at Corinth. Corinth was a cosmopolitan seaport town and, as in every other maritime town, the inhabitants were a heterogeneous mass of nationalities. Almost every known race was represented and the lowest classes of society dwelt there. Some of these men in the church at Corinth had been saved out of the basest forms of sin, and out of the lowest stratum of society. Not only had they experienced a radical internal change, but a drastic external change.
Now, in substance the apostle says to these men who had been saved out of the vilest of sin, "Brethren, examine yourselves and see whether you are in the faith. Get alone with God and your own heart, and conduct an examination with your soul, for there is a possibility that you are not now enjoying as much of God and as much grace as you did in other days." Now I appeal to you, if there was a possibility of these men, who had experienced such a marvelous transformation, drifting back, though they were hardly conscious of it, how much greater danger is there that we likewise may drift back and just live a nice, smooth, even life like a lot of people who are otherwise good people but not spiritual. It is not enough to be good; you must be spiritual? In our spiritual life there is a great danger of losing the sweet, tender fellowship of the Spirit. It is easy, after we have experienced in our hearts the buoyancy and liveliness of the Spirit, to lose the conscious communion and anointings of His presence and live merely by memory, without God. We can become, in our spiritual life, like a railroad engine with lots of steam. The engineer pulls the throttle and the engine rushes down the track at sixty miles an hour. The fire can then all be put out, the water and steam allowed to escape, but that engine will run on for several miles on the momentum attained when it had the fire. Brethren, examine yourselves and see whether you are running on present fire or on the momentum attained in other days.
In this message I want to draw an analogy between a physical and a spiritual examination. When you go to a medical doctor's office he judges one of two things: either that you have come for help for yourself or you have come for help for some one else. In his years of study, he has been trained to examine individuals by two methods. There are two classes of symptoms which he follows: the first is objective, or outward symptoms; the second is subjective, or internal symptoms. First, let us notice some of the objective symptoms. When you approach the doctor, one of the first things he observes is:
I. YOUR STRENGTH. He notices whether you have a quick, easy step, or whether you are weak and staggering. Now permit me to make the application. Let me ask you about your spiritual strength. Do you enjoy the spiritual vigor that you enjoyed when you were first converted? A man said to me some months ago, "I know I do not get blessed as much as formerly, but I have more faith." What nonsense What ultra foolishness! When you have lost the blessing, your strength and faith have departed with it. When Samson was in Divine favor and had the strength of God on him, he went down the mountain to visit his sweetheart, and a lion roared against him. I imagine that, as the lion approached, Samson threw back his shoulders, as his eyes flashed fire, and said, "Come on, I am thirsty for lion's blood, I am hungry for lion's meat;" and he tore him to pieces. Samson was physically what God expects us to be spiritually. When Samson was in the days of his spiritual strength he was so peculiar that even his wife did not understand him; but after he lost God he became so common that everybody understood him. As long as you are in the faith and filled with the Holy Spirit, you will not only be a terror to hell, but you will be so peculiar, under the anointings of God, that many of your friends will not always understand you. Your peculiarities will not be the result of your pet notions or eccentricities, but of your obedience to the Holy Spirit.
Do you meet the lions of difficulty now with the same courage and fortitude that you used to meet them, or has there been a weakening in your strength? Do you find yourself now cringing, bowing, and yielding where you used to have the victory? If you do, hurry to the secret place of prayer; get alone with God and examine yourself; locate your trouble, and let God restore to you the faith and spiritual strength of other days.
II. HEALTHY COLOR. The next thing the doctor notices in his examination is the color of your skin. He looks to see whether you have a good, clear, healthy color, or whether your complexion is pale, sallow and sickly. One's complexion is determined by what he eats and drinks, and how he eats and drinks it. How about your spiritual color and tone? What you eat and drink spiritually is determining your spiritual color.
When you are indwelt by the Spirit of God you will feel like Joshua and Caleb did when they came back from Canaan. The ten Holiness-fighting liars trembled and said, "There are ferocious giants up there and we will be as grasshoppers in their sight." Joshua and Caleb said, "Of course there are giants, but they will make bread for us." They did not look pale, act sickly, nor tremble in the presence of those giants; but they felt as David did when he said he could run through a troop and leap over a wall. How about your spiritual color? Do you possess a complexion as healthy as in other days? If not, eat more of the Bread of Life.
III. EYES. The next thing the doctor notices is your eyes. He looks to see whether they are clear and bright, possessing the luster of life, or whether they are dull. Now let me make the application and ask you about your spiritual vision. Is your spiritual vision as clear as in other days? Do you see things in God as clearly as formerly? Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit is come He will take the things of Christ and show them unto you. Does He do it? Is your vision clear, or is it foggy and cloudy? Is the Bible still a new book to you? Do its promises glisten, and sparkle like a Kimberley diamond, or has it lost its luster so that it amounts to no more to you than does any ordinary book? You once saw things in it that blessed your soul, brought tears to your eyes and shouts of praise to your lips; but do you see any of those things now? Is your vision clear, or has it been dimmed by the lack of prayer or the deceitfulness of riches and the cares of this life? IV. TONGUE. The doctor will then ask to see your tongue. He wants to know whether there is anything on it or not. Thus he can tell the condition of your digestive organs, etc. Let me ask you about your tongue. How do you use it? Does your use of it cause you to grow spiritually, or does it hinder you? I am informed that a lady came to Uncle Bud Robinson. He asked her how she was getting along in her soul. She said, "I have leaked out." He said, "Yes -- you have had your mouth open again."
How do you use your tongue? Is there something on it? Is your spiritual taste dulled? How is your spiritual appetite? Do you relish the old-fashioned, rugged Gospel preaching as formerly? Years ago you would go miles and miles to a revival or to a camp meeting. How about it now? Honestly, do you hug up as close to rugged Gospel preaching as in other days, or have you lost a relish for it? Has something hindered your enjoyment of the truth? Possibly there is something on your tongue. Maybe it is your preacher; maybe it is some member of your church. Occasionally an individual gets a whole church on his tongue and it is no wonder he cannot relish spiritual things.
I was invited to preach one Sunday morning for a pastor and, before I preached, a mixed quartet sang. I enjoyed the singing; it was beautiful and I marveled at the splendid, clear, rich voice of the lady who sang soprano.
After I had finished preaching, the pastor said, "Will you preach again for me tonight? If you will, I will announce it and we will have a good crowd".
I bowed my head, prayed a moment, and the Spirit gave me a text. I said, "Yes, I will preach." He announced it, and then took me home to dinner. While his wife was preparing a splendid meal, he asked if I enjoyed the quartet. I replied that I did.
He then said, "That woman who sang the soprano is one of the best members in my church. I would hate to see her come to the altar."
I do not know why he said that, for I was a stranger in his church; but that night we had a very good crowd, and I poured out my soul in the message the Holy Spirit had given me. When I opened my altar call, behold! the first soul to come to the altar was that soprano singer who the pastor said was one of his best members. I must confess to you I was somewhat embarrassed. I immediately remembered his statement concerning her. For several minutes I suffered no small amount of chagrin. I reproached myself; I accused myself of preaching too close and too straight.
Three or four others came to the altar, but when this woman came I lost all heart to pull the altar call. She kneeled, wept, and prayed for several moments; then the pastor got down and talked with her, and she went on praying again. I took a little courage, and yet I was suffering because I had his best member at the altar. After several minutes she broke through, got up with a shout, laughed, cried, and rejoiced. When she became silent and said to the pastor, "Brother ___, may I say a word?"
He said, "Certainly".
She turned around to the congregation and said, "I have a confession to make. I am of a jealous disposition. I have criticized every one of you. I have talked about you. If any of you seemed to have a little success in anything you attempted, I was jealous. I am sorry for the way I have criticized you and I want you to forgive me
Brethren, I want you to know that the devil left me immediately and I said, "From this time on, by the grace of God, I will preach what the Holy Spirit lays on my heart".
This woman, who her pastor had thought was the best member in his church, had the whole congregation on her tongue. It is no wonder she could not enjoy or relish close, rugged Gospel preaching. Whom do you have on your tongue?
I am well acquainted with a lady who got her pastor on her tongue. She did not say a great deal, she might have said more; but while professing everything in the catalog, she had her pastor on her tongue. He had not done everything to suit her and she talked about him. One day she went to a meeting where her pastor was not present. But God was present and the Spirit of the Lord searched her out. She found herself at the mourners' bench, weeping and groaning. As she prayed, the Lord anointed her eyes with eyesalve and she discovered she had her pastor on her tongue. She arose, went to the pastor's home, got him out of bed, humbly confessed, and begged his forgiveness. Immediately, God came back and the victory was sweet and precious again. Brother, if you do not have the relish for rugged Gospel preaching that you did ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago, there is a reason for it. Get alone with God, let the Holy Spirit search you out, and if you have somebody on your tongue, God will be faithful to show it to you.
V. HE NOTICES HOW YOU ACT, AND MAY ASK YOU SOME QUESTIONS. The doctor then looks you over with a few glances and notices your actions, to discern whether you are strong and normal, or weak and subnormal. Let me ask you now about your conduct. How do you act when not invited to preach, or when you aspire to an office and some one wins over you by a very little margin? Suppose you are seeking to become Sunday School Superintendent or Class Leader and you really feel that you are qualified better than the other individual who is a prospective opponent in the race; but when the vote is taken he is elected and you lose. Do you come to Sunday School then just as faithfully as if you had been elected? Or do you stay home and criticize him and secretly wish in your heart that he would fail? If so, you need not profess to be in the faith.
If you are a member of the church board and things do not go just as you think they ought, how do you act? Do you flare up and say, "Well, brethren, you can have my resignation," then pick up your hat, walk out, and not come back for weeks? Is that a sample of the kind of Holiness in which you have confidence?
Suppose the brethren want to paint the church or get another kind of song book and they all seem to he pretty well agreed. But you have your idea and it is different from others. Do you make them feel embarrassed by the spirit you manifest and the way you act? Or do you have enough grace and magnanimity that you can say, "Well, brethren, I do not agree with you. I believe we ought to do this or that differently; but you can count on me, I will pay my share?"
Suppose the pastor leaves for a day or two and appoints some one to lead the prayer meeting, some one whom you think is not as well qualified as you are to take charge of this service. When you come to the meeting, do you "amen" the other fellow, boost him, and pray that God will bless him so that the meeting will be a success, or do you sit back and secretly wish that he would fail? How do you act? Are your actions a good example of what Holiness will do for an individual?
Thus far the doctor has been taking only objective, or outward symptoms. If he thinks your condition requires it, he may now take some of your subjective, or internal symptoms.
I. HE TAKES YOUR PULSE.
One of the first internal symptoms he will take, perhaps, is by placing his finger on your pulse. If your heart is beating regularly, about 70 to 75 beats per minute, he knows you are all right. But if it has dropped down to 54 or 60, or if it is beating from 90 to 100, he knows at once that there is something wrong. How is your spiritual pulse beating? When you were first converted, your spiritual pulse would throb and beat over a lost world. It would urge you to go back into the crowd and get hold of some friend or relative, or, occasionally, a stranger, and get him down to the altar. When he got through you would go after another. It was because your pulse throbbed and beat over a lost world. Does it still pulsate as it did then, or have you become so staid and fixed in your religious profession that you never invite anybody to the altar? Do you carry the burden and soul concern for lost men that you formerly did? You saw times, a few years ago, when you would be driven to a place of secret prayer and to your knees, again and again, to weep and pray over lost souls. Is it that way now, or are those days gone forever?
II. HE TAKES YOUR TEMPERATURE.
The doctor will now take his thermometer and slip it under your tongue, wait a moment, take it out, and read it. If it registers 98 3-5, or 99, he says, "Why, you are all right; your temperature is perfectly normal." If he finds it 100 or 101, he will, perhaps, give you a little medicine and send you home advising you to drink plenty of water and telling you that you will be all right. But if he finds your temperature 93 or 94 he is alarmed. He will say, "Why, you are a sick man; you ought to be in bed." He either puts you to bed at once, or rushes you to the hospital where you can get special attention.
During the World War when the "flu" scourge broke out, I had five patients at one time whom I was nursing. Four of them pulled through and got well in a few days, but the fifth one lapsed into double pneumonia and became a very sick young man. I nursed him under the doctor's care for seven long weeks. Sometimes his fever would go up until I had to keep cold packs on his head, open his window when it was zero weather in January, and bathe his body with cold water to keep his temperature down. His fever would rage high, and then drop a few degrees, to rise again in a few hours. In the midst of his delirium I was as calm and as composed as any nurse could be. I was not at all alarmed, but rather enjoyed my work. Every two hours I would take a record of his pulse, his temperature, and his respiration. When the doctor came he would look at my sheet, prescribe more medicine, give advice as to nursing, and then leave.
One day he came in, looked over my records and said, "Mr. Surbrook, your patient's fever is going to break in a day or two, and, when it does, watch that you do not lose him." One morning I arose early, placed the thermometer under his tongue, took his temperature and found that it was subnormal. I shook the thermometer down, for I thought I had not left it in his mouth long enough. I placed it back again and waited ample time for it to give a good register. When I took the thermometer out the second time, it showed he was very much subnormal, I immediately closed the window, piled more covers on the bed, started a fire in his room, and got hot packs around his body, for I was alarmed. I had seen his temperature soar to about 105 but I was not disturbed. Now when it dropped to subnormal, I was alarmed, One can stand five degrees' rise in his temperature more easily, and with less danger, than he can stand two degrees' fall below normal.
I am quite the same way with people spiritually. I am not afraid of fanaticism or wildfire, for God knows we are getting so tame now there is little danger of it. I am not alarmed when I see a man who seems to demonstrate a little to excess. But, brethren, I must confess to you that I get alarmed over people who have been blessed and whose souls have bubbled up with the joy of God and who could shout "Amen" to close, rugged preaching, but who are now as silent as moonlight to the same Gospel. Brethren, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. I know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?"
The original word here translated "reprobate" can also be translated "counterfeit" -- except Jesus Christ is in you, you are counterfeit. I hold in my hand a dollar bill. What makes that bill genuine? Some one says, "It is the fact that it was made at Washington." That is not it! Another states, "It is the serial number." That is not it! Another answers, "It is the fine, hair-like fibers that are woven into the paper that make it genuine." That is not it! Another guesses, "It is the dyes and the colored ink that have been used in making the bill." That is not it! There is only one thing that makes this bill genuine, and that is the fact that in the United States Treasury at Washington one silver dollar has been deposited. That, and that only, makes it genuine! If it were not for that silver dollar in the Treasury at Washington, this piece of paper would be of no more value than any other piece of paper of like dimensions. So it is with you, my friend. It is not a question of your church membership or lack of membership, neither is it a question of your profession which may be represented by the dollar bill, while Christ may be represented by the silver dollar. As the silver dollar must be back of the paper money to make it genuine, so Christ must be back of you, as your security, or you are counterfeit. Jesus Christ reigning in your heart, without a rival, is the only thing that can make you a genuine Christian!
"Try us, O God, and search the ground
Of every sinful heart;
Whate'er of sin in us is found,
O bid it all depart.
"Help us to help each other, Lord,
Each other's cross to bear;
Let each his friendly aid afford,
And feel his brother's care.
"Help us to build each other up;
Our little stock improve;
Increase our faith, confirm our hope,
And perfect us in love.
"Then when the mighty work is wrought
Receive Thy ready bride:
Give us in Heaven a happy lot
With all the sanctified."
-- Charles Wesley