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WHAT SAYS CONSCIENCE? Every one of us has a conscience. We read of it in the Bible, its power is known by experience, and it often speaks with great force. The important question in every case is, What does it say? It may have the voice of a friend; it may be our stern accuser. It can administer sweet consolation. Its condemnations may be fearful. It can enlighten the dark dungeon, or can cause the brightest of earthly prospects to seem as the region of the shadow of death. It can give ease on the rack, or plant thorns on a pillow of down. It can render our death peaceful, or make it miserable. Moreover when it speaks, it is in the name of God.
We read in the Bible of various states in which the conscience may be, and which we witness, in point of fact, among men. Thus the conscience may be hardened or insensible. Nothing seems to make any impression on it. This state may exist in various degrees, and allowance must be made for the measure of light which may have penetrated the understanding. But it is an awful fact, tbst even after much knowledge and many religious privileges, the conscience may become "seared with
a hot iron.” Its cries have been silenced, and its alarms overcome with less and less difficulty, till there seems to be no feeling. This is seen in persons who have been regular attendants upon the ministry of the gospel, but who have resisted the most powerful appeals to their hearts. Every repetition of such appeals does but increase the hardness. It is seen in the highest degree in those who have had considerable impressions made on them by God's word, but have afterwards so far succeeded in overcoming them all, as to plunge headlong into open wickedness. It then seems as if they had reached the state in which the apostle says, “ It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance.” Men have listened to the faithful preaching of God's word with deep feeling and many tears. But after backsliding, and hardening their hearts even to the commission of the worst of crimes, it appeared as if no further impression could now be made upon them; not even by the same truths, and in the certain prospect of very shortly appearing before God to answer for the things which they have done. With the language and the forms of religion, but without sorrow for the past, or any fear for the awful future about to break upon them, they have seerned given over to judicial blindness and obduracy.
When the conscience is so far awake that it may be called an accusing conscience, there is some ground for hope, though as yet no safety. It is a common case that men seem to sit without feeling, when, “if one know them, they are in the terrors of the shadow of death.” Conscience can make a coward even of the bravest. Why was Belshazzar terrified at the mysterious handwriting on the wall? He knew not what it meant. Why might it not have been some token of the Divine approbation? Herod belonged to the sect of the Sadducees, who maintained that there is no resurrection. Why, then, when he heard of the fame of Jesus, did he say immediately, “ It is John whom I beheaded, he is risen from the dead?” Why did Felix tremble before the prisoner at his bar, whose religion he believed to be a vulgar superstition, when Paul “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come ?” “Oh, sir,” said a man to a minister, “while I neglected the worship of God and profaned his sabbaths, my conscience was a hell to me." Few wicked men are free from accusations within. How often have murderers sought out the officers of justice, saying they would rather suffer death than bear any longer the accusations of their own consciences! How often is the same state of mind manifest in those who, though they have not openly violated the moral law, yét, with an enlightened understanding, are painfully conscious that they have neglected the “ great salvation” offered them in the gospel, and that their hearts are yet
WHAT SAYS CONSCIENCE ?
conscience is sometimes seen, when there flashes upon the mind something like a right view of the exceeding evil of sin, and of the just displeasure of a holy God on account of it, without any perception of, or faith in, the great remedy which Divine love has provided. Language cannot paint the horrors that are then sometimes felt. The nurse of Voltaire is well known to have said, that for all the wealth of Europe she would never attend the death-bed of another infidel; and physicians have stated that they had witnessed such extreme horrors of mind in dying infidels that they hoped they might never be summoned again to attend such sufferers.
But evil as the human heart is by nature, and hardened and dark as it often is through sin, it may be softened and enlightened so as to become the seat of a peaceful conscience. A man shall be acutely sensible of the evil of sin. He shall have a lively apprehension of the anger of God revealed against it; he shall know that he deserves it; and yet he shall be at peace. We read in the Bible of hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience,” which rest with faith on the all-sufficient atonement of the Righteous One, in whom God is well pleased, and for whose sake he can completely pardon and justify even the ungodly : “ Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This state of mind is not one of a fancied security resulting from a notion of comparative innocence of life, or of the value of sincere but imperfect repentance; but it springs from a cali yet firm reliance upon the substitution of a Surety, who “ áppeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself”-an evergrowing consciousness that in and through him the God of the universe is our God and Father for ever and ever-that he is already guiding us with his counsel, and that he will hereafter receive us to glory. With this peaceful conscience is connected the conscience void of offence : “Herein do I exercise myself,” says St. Paul, “ to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.” This is what is elsewhere called a tender conscience. It consists in a sensibility in regard to sin, a fear of displeasing God, and a desire to discharge every duty aright: indwelling sin is a burden; continual confession is made to Him who "is faithful and just to forgive;" with joyful hope of being where “there shall in no wise enter anything that defileth.”
From this state of conscience arises the greatest happiness to which any one can attain in the present world. Witness the apostle Paul, when, in the expectation of a violent death, he could say, “I know whom I have believed ;" and also, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown
of righteousness.” “I have not so lived," said bishop Jewel, " that I am ashamed to live longer; neither do I fear to die, because we have a merciful Lord. A crown of righteousness is laid up for me. Christ is my righteousness. This day, quickly, let me see the Lord Jesus.” “I bless God,” said Dr. Watts, “ that I can lay my head on my pillow at night, without the slightest anxiety whether I wake in this world or another.” What holy triumphs of peace and joy were these! Look throughout the records of all past generations, and tell, if you can, when the conscience of any one was horror-stricken because he had depended upon the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, and had served God faithfully. What, then, reader, is your reply to the question-What does your conscience say ?
Perhaps the case is plain, and yours is not a peaceful conscience, because your heart is not “sprinkled from an evil conscience.” It may be in one or other of the states first mentioned. If it be a hardened conscience, be sure of this--that your danger is not at all less because you are insensible to it. A man sleeping in a house on fire is not in the least more secure, because he is unconscious of his peril. The door of escape is still open to you; but slumber not a moment longer, lest destruction come upon you and the day of repentance be gone for ever: “ He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
But is yours an accusing conscience ? You are uneasy. You know all is not right. You sometimes tremble at the thought of death, judgment, eternity. You have a dread of a sudden attack of disease, or of any of the accidents of life, lest they should summon you without preparation into the presence of your Judge. And so they might. Where would be your hope then? Of this be sure, that any fears you may have as to the number or the evil of the sins you have committed, are not groundless; that any apprehensions you may entertain of the anger of a just God are not without foundation : “Who knoweth," says the psalmist, ' the power of thine anger ? even according to thy fear; so is thy wrath,” Psa. xc., 11. As if he had said, let the sinner enlarge his fears to the utmost, thy just wrath will exceed them all. There is but one course left to you. Hesitate not. Hear the gracious call of Christ, “ Come unto me,-and I will give you rest.” “ Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace.” Receive him as your only and all-sufficient Saviour : * Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." And so shall your “heart be sprinkled from an evil conscience; " and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus.
THE UNGRATEFUL GUEST. It is related in ancient history that there was in the army of Philip, king of Macedon, an officer who had earned for himself many marks of the royal favour. Having once embarked for a distant voyage, the ship had not long left the port before it was overtaken by a violent storm, which drove it on shore a total wreck. The officer was cast on the beach, helpless, naked, and scarcely with the signs of life. Near this spot lived a humane man, who, hearing of the stranger's condition, hastened to his relief. He saw him ready to perish; he had compassion on him, and bore him to his home. There he laid him on his own bed, cherished and comforted him with the tenderness of a brother, and for forty days supplied him with all that his weak and wounded condition required. The officer was earnest in expressing gratitude to his deliverer and benefactor. He assured him that he had great interest with the king, and that he would not fail to obtain from the royal bounty that noble return which such benevolence well merited.
At length the officer was completely restored, and being liberally supplied by his kind friend with money for his journey, he hastened to depart. But he had looked with an eye of envy on the possessions of the man who had preserved his life, and as he