« PreviousContinue »
of their conduct, it would condemn every thing they do as altogether criminal and displeasing to God. It is, therefore, wholly owing to the partial manner of their consulting conscience, that they vainly imagine they are doing God service, while they are living in the habitual commission of sin. This great and dangerous delusion Solomon describes as a solemn warning to all those, who are walking in a serious and conscientious road to destruction. “Every way of man, says he, is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.”
And again he says,
“There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death."
5. If conscience be entirely distinct from the heart and every other power of the mind; then sinners grow worse instead of better, under the strivings of the Spirit. The Spirit of God, in striving with sinners, only sets their natural faculties in motion, and awakens conscience to do its office. But while the conscience convinces sinners of their guilt and danger, their hearts naturally rise in direct and sensible opposition to God. This was the experience of Paul, under the convictions of conscience, according to his own account. “I had not known sin but by the law; for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” While Paul was under the strivings of the Spirit, he not only saw his past sinful. ness; but found that his corrupt heart took occasion from the light and conviction of conscience, to rise into higher and more sensible opposition to God. Sin revived, and he died. Nor was this a singular
case. All sinners appear to themselves to sin faster under conviction, than they ever did in a state of spiritual ignorance and stupidity. And this appearance is no vain delusion, but a most alarming reality. For the light and conviction of conscience, instead of restraining and softening their hearts, only serve to draw forth their corruptions, and aggravate their guilt. And though an increasing sense of danger and guilt, makes them earnestly seek to please God, by every outward act of duty and devotion; yet their hearts continually wax worse and worse, until they are effectually subdued, by special grace.
6. If conscience be a distinct and essential faculty of the mind; then no sinner is beyond the reach of con. viction. Some sinners appear to be entirely stupid, and seem to bid defiance to the arrows of conviction. But though they have stifled, yet they have not destroyed conscience. They still carry that faithful wit. ness in their breast, which is able to discover all their guilt, and to destroy all their peace. God can easily awaken their conscience to do its office; and whenever he does command his vicegerent to speak in his name, they will find themselves to be in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity. All sinners, therefore, are equally liable to conviction. Those, who sin in secret, where they imagine no eye can see them, are constantly exposed to the reproach and condemnation of conscience, which alone is instead of a thousand wit. nesses. Those, who deny the divinity of the Scrip. tures, the existence of the Deity, and even the moral and immutable distinction between virtue and vice, cannot always maintain their criminal stupidity; but must sooner or later find themselves to be men, and feel the remorse of a guilty conscience. And those, who stifle and impose upon conscience, by the outward appearances of virtue and religion, may be thoroughly convinced of their real hypocrisy and total corruption of heart. Though sinners of this class seem to be the most out of the reach of conviction; yet they have sometimes been awakened to see their delusion, and to realize their danger and guilt. Here Paul naturally occurs, as a remarkable instance. For a long time, he deceived and pacified conscience, by the purity of his life. For, as touching the righteousness of the law, he was entirely blameless. But when the commandment came, sin revived, and he died. His awakened conscience condemned him, not only for his injurious conduct towards Jesus of Nazareth and his faithful followers; but for all his shining virtues and self-righteousness, which had well nigh proved his ruin. His conviction was extremely sudden, unexpected, and pungent. From the highest of false zeal and self-confidence, it threw him helpless and hopeless at the foot of divine sovereignty. This is a solemn warning to all sinners, and more especially to self-righteous sinners, not to deceive and impose upon conscience. For the longer they resist and stifle its motions, the more power they will give it, to disturb their peace, destroy their hopes, and fill their souls with insupportable anguish and distress.
7. If it be the proper office of conscience to reprove all evil exercises and sinful actions, then it is impossible that sinners should live an easy and quiet life. As they never have a conscience void of offence, so they never have a solid foundation for inward peace and serenity of mind. Though they are surrounded with the blessings of providence, and enjoy the esteem and applause of fallible men; yet they are continually subject to inward reproach and self-condemnation. Their
. 155 heart and conscience are always at variance. And though they endeavor to stifle the voice of conscience, yet it often assumes its sovereign right, to accuse and condemn them, in spite of their hearts. Hence they live, a most unhappy and restless life. They travel with pain all their days. A dreadful sound is in their
A fire not blown consumeth them. In the midst of laughter, their hearts are sorrowful. Yea, there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. They are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. · 8. If conscience will always approve of a sincere and upright heart; then those who live a virtuous and holy life, must necessarily be happy. Accordingly we read, “A good man shall be satisfied from himself.” And again, “The ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” Those who live in the practice of virtue and religion, have a conscience void of offence, which yields them that peace, which the world cannot give, and which the world cannot take away. Though the Apostles and primitive christians were generally despised and opposed; yet they found a perpetual source of comfort and joy in the peace and approbation of their own conscience. And if we only live the same holy and devout life which they lived, we may also humbly and confidently say as they said: "Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincer. ity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have our conversation in the world." Amen.
MAN'S ACTIVITY AND DEPENDENCE ILLUSTRA
TED AND RECONCILED.
PHILIPPIANS ii, 12, 13. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in
both to will and to do of his good pleasure. THOUGH a perfect harmony runs through all the doctrines of the gospel; yet to discover and point out this harmony, is, in many cases, a very arduous task to perform. It is extremely difficult to reconcile many truths with each other, which, separately and independently considered, are plain and obvious to every person. To escape this difficulty the preachers of the gospel too often treat some of the most important articles of christianity in a manner totally disjointed and unconnected. When they consider the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ, they slide over the duty of universal obedience to the divine commands, When they treat of the renovation of the heart, they decline inculcating the obligation of sinners to repent and believe the gospel. And when they handle the subject of divine agency upon the hearts of believers, they avoid urging the practice of those virtues and graces, which flow from the sanctifying influences of the divine Spirit. But the inspired Apostles adopt a different mode of instruction. They represent the doctrines of the gospel in their proper and intimate connexion; in order to place them in the most clear and advantageous light. This appears in the words I have read. ;“Work out your own salvation with fear