Consider the connections between the following: " Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established" (4:26). " For the ways of man are before the eyes (Angels) of the Lord, and He pondereth all his goings" (5:21). " Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts" (21:2). " Her ways are moveable...lest thou shouldest ponder the path of life" (5:6). Surely we are being taught that we ought to examine our path in life, bearing in mind that we will naturally think there is nothing wrong with it, because God examines it; our self-examination must mirror His. This is also taught in 1 Cor. 11:28-31; if we examine / judge / condemn ourselves now in our self-examination, God will not have to do this to us at the day of judgment. The spirit of man is in this sense the candle of the Lord, searching the inner recesses of a man's life (Prov. 20:27); i.e. there is a link between a man's examination of his own conscience, and the Lord's examination of him. And yet if we are in the ways of the flesh, those ways are " moveable" , always leading on to something else, something new, and therefore this militates against self-examination; " her ways are moveable..lest thou shouldest ponder the path of life" . The implication is that being in the way of the flesh means in itself that you won't examine yourself; whilst those in the way to life, ponder the path of their feet (4:26). This has been proved true time and again in the experience of weak believers; life has a way of ever presenting new, pressing problems. Her ways are moveable. And in the rush of the world, no time is left for serious self-examination. And so the downward spiral deepens. The path of the weak believer, by its very nature, stops him from true self-examination: " There is a way which seemeth right unto a man; but the end thereof are the ways of death" (14:12); " all a man's ways seem innocent to him" (16:2 NIV). It should be noted that these verses do not mean that self-examination is impossible; they mean that for the man who is on the road to death, self-examination is impossible. A disinterest in analyzing what road we are on will lead us to death at the end: " He that despiseth his ways shall die" (19:16). The crucial importance of life and living, of the every day decisions we make, the ways of thinking we slip into; the crucial, eternal importance of all this is easily overlooked. " The way of a fool is right in his own eyes" (10:15); " The way of the wicked is as darkness; they know not at what they stumble" (4:19).
Real self-examination is painful- it has to be. It's no half hearted moment of introspection as , e.g., we prepare to partake of the bread and wine at communion. The parallelism of Prov. 20:27,30 suggests that the stripes of our "wounds" cleanse away evil and affect "the inward parts"- and yet "the spirit of man", as the Lord's candle, searches "all the inward parts". Rigorous self-examination reveals ourselves to ourselves; and yet so do trials and "wounds". This is how tough real self-examination has to be- it should have the same effect as painful trials, revealing the same things which they do.
On the other hand, serious self-examination is part of the road to the Kingdom; it will characterize every successful believer: " The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way" (14:8); " the prudent man looketh well to his going" (14:15); " whoso is preserving his soul, is watching his way" (16:17 YLT); " A wicked man puts up a bold front (" hardeneth his face" , AV); but an upright man gives thought to his ways" (21:29 NIV). This last reference suggests that a lack of self-examination is associated with a hardness, a brazenness, which is the result of a refusal to face up to the real issues of personal spirituality and our very personal relationship with God. It is more than possible to drift through the Christian experience with no thought at all for these things. We live in a world which is anaesthetized to the possibility of personal sin, a world which drifts, only criticizing those who dare to criticize, a world which dare not think about tomorrow, a world without any sense of responsibility, with no fear of God and His judgment before their eyes. Inevitably, we will be affected by this spirit. Self-examination is perhaps what we are most urgently in need of in these last days; a real self-knowledge, a true humility, a real sense of where we are going, and of the utter impossibility of travelling two roads.
" I am the way" , the Lord Jesus said, possibly with His mind on the one great way of Proverbs. The whole way of life which leads to the Kingdom, the things we do, our deepest thoughts, our daily decisions; these are all " the way" which leads to the Kingdom; and yet Christ is " the way" . This clearly means that all these things, the very essence of our being, the fibre of our thought processes, the basis of all our works; must be the Lord Jesus Christ. The fact God’s ways and principles are unchanging encourage our self-examination; for there is always the rock of God and His way against which to compare our ways. The Lord Jesus is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Prov. 5:6 puts the opposite case to us: “Lest thou shouldest ponder the path of life, her ways [the way of folly] are moveable, that thou canst not know them”. Time and again one sees the personal moral breakdown of those who turn away from accepting God’s word as the ultimate touchstone of truth and human behaviour.
Because "a man's goings are of the Lord, how then can a man understand his own way?" (Prov. 20:24). Because ultimate self-knowledge isn't possible, the whole difficulty of self-examination drives us back to grace; the element of uncertainty in our own self-examination is necessary, because otherwise we would not be grace centred, and would be tempted to rely upon our own purity as a basis for salvation, rather than God's grace.
Reflection on the tragic brevity of human life is a sure fillip to our realization that there's no third road. The Law taught this; a man had to bring a burnt offering, of his own voluntary will, in symbol of his own dedication to his God. It was to be consumed by the flames of the Christ-altar, until all that was left was a pile of ashes. And he was to see in this a parable of his own life; totally consumed in service, until at the end, we're left a pile of ashes. We are as water spilt upon the gound that cannot be gathered again. The Man we follow is the supreme example. He knew himself that " the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up" (Ps. 69:9); the same Hebrew word is used as in Lev. 6:10: " take up the ashes which the fire hath consumed" . Even in his life, he felt that he had reached this point of total consumption (Jn. 2:17). One day, if the Lord doesn't return, you will die. And your children will. So will I. One day someone (somewhere, on this lonely planet) will chisel D-U-N-C-A-N H-E-A-S-T-E-R on a gravestone. Probably many of you wouldn't be at my funeral. In time, all those I've known, those I've loved, loved in the Truth, the hands I've shaken, everything my eyes have seen, the streets I'm familiar with, the things I've created and destroyed, will all be gone. We only pass through life once. This alone gives rise to self-examination. Already, we want to stop thinking about it. Our nature and our world programs us to shy away from the ultimate realities. I was once in a children's hospital in Russia. I saw a teddy bear lying near a dustbin. The thought flashed through my mind: 'A little boy maybe really loved that teddy, and now he's dead, and teddy's thrown away'. And my mind, right on the ball, forbad me to think that. We are programmed to shy away from the ultimate realities, in the same way as men hid their faces from the terror and dastardly horror of the crucifixion of God's Son (Is. 53:3), and as " none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding" to realize the idiocy of worshipping a piece of wood as an idol (Is. 44:19). But all these things are all too tragically true- on a human level. But we, through the Truth, really do have the hope of sweet resurrection to eternal days, that is where our road leads. The Truth is the only thing. There's nothing like the Truth. Let's give ourselves to it with all we have. We almost hear the frustration of both God and Elijah when they pleaded with Israel: " How long halt ye between two opinions? If Yahweh be God, then follow (Heb. to walk, go in the way of) Him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word" (1 Kings 18:21). How long will we halt between the two paths, never facing up to the choice? It's an agony to God, as was Laodicea's " neither hot nor cold" attitude. I sometimes wonder if say 90% of our prayer, our Bible reading, our spiritual activities, are all wasted because we are only half hearted about it. We don't (often) pray the prayer of dominant desire, or (often) read or (often) break bread with that spirit of total, total dedication and concentration. You must have, as I do, those all too fleeting moments of grasping the logic, the wonder, the imperative urgency of the fact there's no third way; that total devotion is the only choice. Cling on to those moments. Organize your life decisions around this spirit. Look well to the path of your feet. One day, we will run in this path and never be weary, we will walk in it and not faint, we will renew our strength (Is. 40:27,31). The last days will make our choice all the more evident: we either receive the mark of the beast and ultimately face torture and the wine of God’s wrath; or we refuse it and face Babylon’s wrath (Rev. 13:16,17; 14:9,10). Now is the time for self-examination.
And remember. At the day of judgment, nobody will be passive and indifferent. Everyone will want to be accepted. All of us who come there will see there is only one way we want. Self-examination will be the order of the day. The virgins will knock on the door and plead for it to be opened. The first century Jews will say " Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Lk. 13:35). They will want to be on Messiah's side then. None of us will be vacillating between total commitment and the lazy drifting of our human nature. And our judgment seat is going on now, today. “This splitting of the decision between only two alternatives may seem an over-simplification: we fondly think of ourselves as faced with a continuous range of possibility over which to decide, but in the ultimate that range may be broken down into a number of discrete two-way choices, each one a decision between good and evil” (1).