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since. It is the corrupt fountain, sending forth so many impure and filthy streams. No man, says good Archbishop Leighton, commits any offence, either against God or his fellow creatures, but it is in some way to profit and please himself; so that the sum of what God requires in his law, is the reformation of our love, which is the commanding passion of the soul, and wheels all the rest about with it, in good and evil. Self, says the venerable Mr. Charnock, is the great Antichrist, the usurper both of the rights of God and man; so that what is called a living in sin in one place, is called living to self in another. (Rom. vi. 2. 2 Cor. v. 15.) Start back, oh my soul, with horror and aversion, when thou readest the black list of characters following the text: Covetous, boasters, proud, &c., and this at their head; Lovers of their ownselves! Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
"Emptied of earth, I fain would be,
Nothing, save Jesus, would I know!
Constrain my soul thy sway to own:
Detach from sublunary joys
JOHN Viii. 9.
Being convicted by their own conscience.
THE principal object I have in view from this text,
is to point out the difference between those convictions which arise from a man's own conscience, and those which are impressed by the Spirit of God.-Previous to this, it may be necessary to set before you some important distinctions, with respect to conscience itself.
1. Conscience may be considered, either as ignorant or enlightened. The former being vitiated by error, or corrupted by prejudice, is a very unsafe guide in matters of religion. It may condemn the most excellent virtues, and canonize the most execrable vices; lead into endless mistakes, and precipitate into the most destructive courses. Hence the jews persecuted the christians, thinking that they should do God service; and the christians, from the same principle, have persecuted one another. But an enlightened conscience, freed from corrupt influence, and acquainted with the rule of duty; rightly distinguishing between the things that differ, and approving those that are most eligible, is a very great blessing this the apostle calls a good conscience. Heb. xiii. 18.
2. As unnecessarily scrupulous, or daringly presumptuous. The former makes an inclosure where God makes none, subjecting a man to continual anxiety and distress; he trembles every step he takes, and that which is not sinful in itself often becomes a sin to him. This the apostle calls a weak conscience, (1 Cor. viii. 7. x. 12.) which is easily wounded, but not easily healed. On the contrary, a licentious, or daringly presumptuous conscience, affords no time for deliberation or reflexion; but rushes on precipitately in an evil course, bidding defiance both to the laws and vengeance of heaven. Its language is, " I shall have peace, though I add drunkenness to thirst." Deut. xxix. 19.
3. As pure or defiled. A pure conscience is one that is purged by the blood of Christ. Holding, says the apostle, the mystery of faith in a pure conscienceHaving our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience. The same blood that pacifies the conscience by removing the guilt of sin, also purifies it by breaking its power, and washing away its stain. A filthy or polluted conscience, of which the apostle also speaks, is a conscience contaminated with sin; laying no restraint upon the brutal appetites, neither checking the motions to evil, nor reproving for it. 1 Tim. iii. 9. Heb. x. 22. 1 Tim. i. 15
4. As tender or seared. A tender conscience is a faithful monitor in a man's own breast: it performs its office with readiness and impartiality, inforces the divine commands, trembles at the divine threatenings, discovers danger at a distance, and shews the most proper methods to avoid it. It is the candle of the Lord, searching the inward parts of the belly. (Prov. xx. 27.) Whereas a stupified or seared conscience is free from distressing apprehensions, and stands unshocked on the brink of the most dreadful precipices. They have made their heart as an adamant stone, which
resists the efforts of the carver, and is not easily fashioned into any regular figure. Zech. vii. 12.
5. As peaceable or troublesome. A calm and peaceable conscience, arising from pardoned guilt, and mortified corruptions, is one of the greatest mercies on this side heaven. It will arm us against the keenest censures, and most virulent reproaches; support under the most agonizing sufferings, and fortify against the fears of death. This is our rejoicing, says the apostle, the testimony of our conscience. On the contrary, an accusing, disquieting conscience, is a worm at the root of all our comfort: it mingles gall and wormwood with our most pleasant food, and is the beginning of all sorrows. We can hardly form an idea of a worse situation, than that of a poor creature overwhelmed with a sense of guilt, and whose conscience is let loose to upbraid and reproach him. The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmities; that is, his common infirmities, outward grievances of any kind; but a wounded spirit who can bear! Prov. xviii. 14.
6. As natural or renewed. There is a natural conscience, which does not entirely neglect its duty, but performs it in a very imperfect manner. Thus it is said of the heathens, that they have the work of the law written in their hearts, their consciences also bearing them witness, and their thoughts in the mean while accusing, or else excusing one another; that is, approving what was well done, and condemning what was done amiss. But then there is an awakened or renewed conscience, which performs its functions in a much more perfect and acceptable manner: it neither connives at sin, nor starts back from duty.-Now the conscience here spoken of, is not the latter, but the former; a mere natural conscience, awakened for a time by the terrors of the law, or some alarming providence, but soon returning to its former remiss and sleepy state again.
Let us now proceed to enquire, Wherein consists the difference between those convictions which arise from a man's own conscience, and those which are impressed by the Spirit of God.
There is a great difference, no doubt, even in spiritual convictions: some are sudden and instantaneous. (Acts ii. 37.) When they heard this, they were pricked in the heart. The word of the Lord was quick as well as powerful. Others are more gradual, and gather strength by little and little. The latter are like the dawn of the morning, increasing more and more: the former, like a flash of lightning, quick in its motions, yet clear in its manifestations. Some are more open and visible, disordering the whole frame, and productive of the most bitter outcries. Thus the psalmist speaks of his roaring all the day long. Others are more gentle and easy: no trembling of the limbs, no distortion of the countenance, no noise of axes and hammers: but God opens the heart as he did that of Lydia. In a word, some are of long continuance: Ephraim was an unwise child, he tarried long in the place of the breaking forth of children. Some continue years under soul-distress, crying out with David, How long, oh Lord, wilt thou forget me, for ever! whilst to others the pangs of the new-birth are shortened. God heals almost as soon as he wounds, and creates peace almost as soon as he speaks trouble. Thus we find the jailor, in the same night, despairing and exulting, ready to lay violent hands upon himself, and in a transport of holy joy. But spiritual convictions may, generally speaking, be distinguished from those that are merely natural; or the influence of the Spirit in conviction from the workings of a man's own conscience, by such things as these:
1. Natural convictions respect only the guilt of sin; spiritual convictions are attended with a deep and painful sense of inherent filth and pollution.