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counter evidence that they are not in a state of grace. It is only an evidence of their moral imperfection, which will cleave to them as long as they live in this world. Though Peter's conscience testified that he was extremely criminal in denying his Master, yet it equally testified that he loved Christ supremely. For when Christ put the question : “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” the testimony of his conscience enabled him to say in simplicity and godly sincerity, “Lord, thou knowest all things, ihou knowest that I love thee." Though christians may and ought to mourn and weep bitterly as Peter did, when their conscience condemns them for dishonoring Christ, yet they may rejoice, when conscience testifies that they love him supremely. Real christians have no right to walk in darkness and go mourning all the day long, through fear that they are not christians. Their duty is to consult the testimony of conscience; “ that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, they have had their conversation in the world." And this is true, and ought to make them rejoice.
2. If conscience will always testify to christians what is right if they consult it, then they may always know their duty. Conscience is always an infallible guide respecting duty, when it is properly consulted. There are a vast many plain cases of duty which conscience imperceptibly dictates, without any deliberate or formal consultation. But there are not a few dark, doubtful, or difficult cases of duty, when christians find themselves in need of a sure guide. In all such cases, they may infallibly know their duty, if they sincerely desire and impartially seek to know it. Their conscience is always with them, and able and ready to direct them if they will only properly consult it. Paul would not have thought that he ought to do many things against the name of Jesus, if he had duly consulted his conscience. Christ exhibited infallible evidence that he was the promised Messiah ; and had Paul consulted his conscience while reading the predictions concerning Christ in the Old Testament, it would have convinced him that he ought not to have viewed him as an impostor, and opposed him as such. Or if he had consulted conscience when he heard Stephen's dying discourse, he would not have thought that he ought to aid and countenance the persecutors of that sincere follower of Christ. He was, as he afterwards found himself to be, highly criminal in not knowing his duty in respect to Christ and his sincere followers. Christians, as well as others, frequently say that they wish to know their duty in certain cases, but cannot determine what it is. Sometimes they cannot determine whether it is their duty to attend to public wor
ship. Sometimes they cannot determine whether it is their duty to relieve an object of charity. And sometimes they cannot determine whether it is their duty to promote an object of public utility and importance. They find a great many such difficult cases, in which they cannot discover their duty. But this is a great mistake. For if they would only sincerely desire to know their duty and impartially consult conscience, it would dictate their duty and remove their difficulty. It is their duty either to act, or not to act in all such cases, and conscience would infallibly decide the question, if they would properly seek its guidance and direction. As a general rule, it is the duty of christians to do what is the most self-denying. And this is the principal reason why they are so negligent and reluctant to consult conscience. For conscience always bears testimony against all selfishness, and in favor of true self-denial, or disinterested benevolence. The truth is, christians always may, and consequently ought, to know their duty. They are always to blame if they do not consult conscience in difficult cases, or if they act contrary to its infallible dictates.
3. If the conscience of christians approves of them for doing their duty, then they live the happiest life of any men in the world. The testimony of their conscience in their favor affords the purest, the highest, and most permanent source of happiness. This source of happiness is peculiar to real christians, who alone enjoy it. The men of the world, amidst all their worldly possessions, hopes and enjoyments, never have the approbation of conscience ; for though they do many things that are right, yet they never do any thing from right motives. They never act in christian simplicity and godly sincerity, but with fleshly wisdom, and from selfish and sinister motives, which their conscience, when it does its office, always disapproves and condemns. But all real christians do those things which are not only externally, but internally, right; for which they have the approbation of conscience, and the approbation of God, and expect to have, and shall have, the approbation of the whole intelligent creation. And what can be a source of higher and purer satisfaction and self-enjoyment than this, under all circumstances of life, whether prosperous or adverse ? All real christians may adopt the language of the text. Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we have acted with christian simplicity and godly sincerity, which affords us that peace which the world can neither give nor take away. But are there any other men that can justly adopt this language? Can they say from their own experience that the ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace? and that in keeping God's commandments there is great delight? Can they say that their conscience ever testified to their godly sincerity and gracious motives in any thing they have ever done? Do they ever derive comfort, consolation and joy, in reflecting upon their inward views, desires and designs, more than in reflecting upon their external conduct? Or does not a critical examination of the real motives of their external conduct always weaken and diminish their comfort and satisfaction, rather than increase it? It was the pure, sincere, godly motives of their conduct, that afforded the primitive christians the solid and permanent ground of their joy and rejoicing. And this is true in respect to all real christians at this day. The approbation of their conscience affords them a source of joy and self-enjoyment, that all the men of the world are destitute of, and strangers to. Though they often suffer more evils and trials than the men of the world, still it is true that they enjoy more happiness. The approbation of conscience gives them more solid peace and real felicity than the men of the world can or do ever derive from the approbation of ignorant and partial admirers of their apparent virtue and prosperity. For their conscience tells them that if their admirers only knew their internal views and motives of conduct, they would despise and contemn them. But it is not so with real christians whom the world despise ; for they have the testimony of conscience that the world would approve them, if they only knew their internal views and motives of action. And this makes them feel very indifferent whether the world applaud or reproach them. At least, the apostle Paul felt so; for he says to the Corinthians, “ With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment.”
4. If the conscience of christians always approves of all their christian simplicity and godly sincerity in acting, then they never need to be afraid to do their duty. Though they may often expect to meet with the frowns of the world in doing their duty, yet so long as they enjoy the approbation of conscience and the approbation of God, they need not fear the disapprobation of the world; for they enjoy that peace which the world cannot give nor take away. They may always assure themselves that they shall be more happy in doing their duty than in neglecting it; and that the more constantly and faithfully they do their duty, the more they shall promote their happiness, both in time and in eternity. This the primitive christians believed, and acted accordingly. The testimony of their own conscience gave them courage and resolution to pursue the path of duty, through the most formidable difficulties, trials and dangers. And they enjoined it upon all the followers of Christ to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as they knew that their labor should not be in vain in the Lord. And the apostle Peter put the question to their conscience: “ Who is he that will harm
be followers of that which is good ?" Christians have a peculiar and endearing motive to do their duty, notwithstanding all the frowns and flatteries of the world: I mean the motive of their own present, future, and eternal happiness. The approbation of their conscience assures them of the approbation of God, and the final approbation, not only of all good men, but of all bad men,
The fear of man bringeth a snare, and good men are entangled in this snare oftener, perhaps, than in any other in the world. They are extremely apt to fear losing the favor, as well as incurring the displeasure of the enemies of the gospel. Peter denied his Master through fear of his enemies. And Paul tells him that he had dissembled in preaching the gospel, through fear of those who heard him. How often do christians neglect some of the duties which they owe to God and man, through a servile fear of those whom they ought not to fear! And how often do they neglect the duty which they owe to one another, through fear of meeting the disapprobation of those whose approbation they ought to have! How often do they fear the disapprobation of their fellow men, more than the disapprobation of their own conscience! This is a groundless as well as a sinful fear. It destroys their present and future peace. If they wish to be happy and rejoice, let them secure the approbation of their own conscience in doing their duty. There is an inseparable and infallible connection between duty and happiness, which cannot be destroyed. Happiness is to be enjoyed in the faithful discharge of duty, and the more faithful christians are in doing their duty, the more happy they will finally and for ever be.
5. If the conscience of christians testifies in their favor when they do their duty, then it as faithfully testifies against all their short comings, and criminal deficiences, and moral imperfections. The conscience of christians is far more apt to do its office than the conscience of sinners. They forbid it to speak; but christians more or less allow and invite it to speak, in reproof as well as in approbation. And to this it is owing that christians are vastly more burdened with sin than the men of the world. They silence their conscience as much as possible, lest it should disturb their groundless peace. But christians desire to know what is wrong, as well as what is right, in their hearts and conduct. For they have the same simplicity and godly sincerity in repenting of their neglect, as in performing their duty.
They sincerely desire to know what manner of spirit they are of, and pray to God to search and try them. For they know that if they regard iniquity in their hearts, the Lord will not hear their prayers nor approve their conduct.
6. If conscience approve of actions that are right in themselves when they are done in christian simplicity and godly sincerity, but does not approve of any external actions which flow from fleshly wisdom and selfish and sinful motives, then we may discover the great source of self-deception in sinners. They consult conscience only in respect to their external conduct, which is often right and amiable, simply considered, and such as conscience says is right; and from this they conclude that they have the approbation of conscience, which gives them peace, and lulls them in the most dangerous security. In this way Saul justified himself when Samuel condemned him. In this way the amiable young man in the gospel justified himself, in saying that he had kept all the divine commands. In this way Paul made himself believe that touching the law he was altogether blameless. In this way all the Scribes and Pharisees trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. And in this same way sinners endeavor to make their conscience speak in their favor, by judging partially in respect to their external conduct, while their internal views and motives are not subinitted to the infallible decision of that faithful judge. We hear all descriptions of men of the world speak of doing their duty, as much as christians, though they never did an act of duty in their life. This is self-deception, because sinners do not mean to hear the truth from their conscience, nor from any other quarter. They are blindly pursuing the path to ruin. This is infinitely dangerous. They are entreated to hear and obey the infallible dictates of conscience. Conscience will sooner or later speak, and divide them from the righteous, and make them take their proper place.