Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)
"Commune with your own heart upon your bed" (Psalm 4:4). This is a Divine command, but it receives very little attention today from the great majority of professing Christians, and that to their immeasurable harm for every command of God is designed for our good, and is disregarded to our loss. Were we more genuinely convinced of the importance and value of self knowledge, and governed by a due esteem of it, and did we but prosecute it rightly, we would make it our duty and business to become better acquainted with our hearts and their workings, and be delivered from many of the evil effects of self ignorance. But alas, God still has to say, as He did of old, "My people do not consider" (Isaiah 1:3).
Self knowledge is that acquaintance with ourselves which reveals to us what we are and do, and what we ought to be and do in order to our living usefully here and happily hereafter. The means of it is self examination in the light of Holy Scripture. The purpose of it is self government: "Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). It consists principally in the knowledge of our souls, which is attained by a particular attention to their various faculties, dispositions, and workings.
A man's soul is properly himself: Matthew 16:26 and compare Luke 9:25. The body is but the house, the soul is the tenant which indwells it. Other knowledge is very apt to make a man conceited, but a growing knowledge of himself will keep the Christian humble. It is the lack of self knowledge which is the occasion of so much pride. "If a man (through self ignorance) think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself" (Gal. 6:3). The Lord Jesus upbraided His disciples with their self ignorance when He said, "You know not what manner of spirit you are of" (Luke 9:55). The more ignorant we are of ourselves, the readier we are to condemn others; but the better acquainted we are with ourselves, the slower shall we be in rashly censuring others for the same crimes of which we are guilty: Romans 2:1, 21, 22.
A true knowledge of ourselves cannot be acquired without diligent and frequent self examination. To this duty there exists in human nature a strong repugnance, so that by most it is greatly neglected. But when it is attempted, we are in much danger of being misled by self love and prejudice. To acquire any true knowledge of ourselves a good degree of honesty and impartiality is essentially requisite. But an honest desire to arrive at the truth is not the only prerequisite to self knowledge: the mind must be enlightened in regard to the standard of rectitude to which we ought to be conformed: the Word of God should dwell richly in us, and by its principles and precepts we must form all sentiments respecting ourselves.
Beware of the common illusion of forming your estimate of yourself from the favorable opinion of those around you. They cannot know the secret principles from which you act; and flattery may have much influence in leading them to speak in your favor. We may often learn even from our enemies and calumniators what are the weak points in our characters. They are discerning in detecting faults, and, generally, have some truth for what they allege against us. We may, therefore, derive more benefit from the sarcasms of our foes than from the flattery of our friends.
We need to become acquainted with our frailties and deficiencies, that we may know where our weakness lies; otherwise, like Sampson, we are likely to expose ourselves to numerous temptations and troubles. Every man has his weak side, and every wise man knows where it is, and will be sure to keep a double guard there.
Yet our limitations and incapacities can only be discovered by a considerable degree of self-acquaintance. How often have we attempted things beyond our reach and assayed to do things out of our powers; we were blind to our deficiencies through self ignorance. It has been truly said, "A wise man as well as a fool has his foibles: but the difference between them is, that the foibles of the former are known to himself and concealed from the world, while the foibles of the other are known to the world and concealed from himself."
We need to know our talents and capacities, and how they may be improved to the greatest advantage. What money, time, and labor have been wasted through people trying to learn and master that for which they had no talentómusic, art, languages, etc. How many have aimed to be preachers who were never qualified by God for such a calling. These are illustrations, perhaps, of more extreme cases, but the same principle is active in all of us. Just as each organ in the body has its own particular office to discharge, so each Christian has his own individual place to fill; and the sooner he discovers what his real place is, the better. A wise man, instead of aspiring after talents he has not, will set about cultivating those he has: "Every man has his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that" (1 Cor. 7:7).
We need to know our constitutional sins. With some people this is easy, with others more self examination is required. The reason for this is that the besetting sins of some are more open and flagrant, while with others they are more secret and unsuspected. Every person has some particular turn or cast of mind which distinguishes him from others as much as the particular constitution of his body, and their individual traits naturally tend to certain kinds of sin. Some are more prone to sloth, pride, selfishness, envy, malice, self-indulgence. For one not to know his prevailing sin is great self ignorance. A man who is engaged in the study of himself must be willing to know the worst of himself.
We need to know what are our most dangerous temptations. He who is properly acquainted with himself has discovered in what circumstances he is in greatest danger of sinning. This is a point which needs to be examined thoroughly. Consider in what company you are apt to lose possession and government of yourself and on what occasions you become most vain and unguarded. Flee that company and avoid those occasions if you would keep your conscience clear. It is of first importance in order to self knowledge and self government to be acquainted with all the avenues of sin and to observe how it is we are most led into it, and to set reason and conscience to guard those passes. No man can sincerely pray that God will not lead him into temptation if he takes no care himself to avoid it.
The benefits of self knowledge are too numerous for us to mention. We single out one: the man who knows himself best knows wherein he most needs to deny himself. The great duty of self-denial, which Christ so expressly requires from His followers, has been mistaken and abused, not only by the Papists with their penances and fasts, but by Protestants in instances of voluntary abstinence and unnecessary austerities. Such people are very apt to be too censorious against those who indulge themselves (temperately) in the use of things indifferent. Each believer must learn his own danger points, and guard against everything that would assail them. Each must learn what it is which he or she most needs to abstain from. (For most of the above we are indebted to a little work by John Mason.)