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[It is easy to mistake alms-deeds for Christian liberality. But the Apostle cautions us against all such mistakes a--Nothing is truly Christian but what proceeds from love to God as reconciled to us in Christ Jesus, and is done for the advancement of his glory ---] 2. A word of encouragement

[Abound in this duty, and it shall bring a rich reward --]

a ver. 18. We should draw forth not our money only, but our soul, to the hungry. Isai. lviii. 10, 11.

b 1 Tim. vi. 18, 19.

MMCCCCL.

A GOOD AND EVIL CONSCIENCE.

1 John iii. 20, 21. If our heart condemn us, God is greater

than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.

IN the description given us of the day of judgment, we are informed that the Judge will be seated on his throne; that certain books will be opened ; and that sentence will be passed on every one according to what was recorded in them. Such a tribunal there is, already erected in the bosoms of men. Conscience is seated there as supreme judge: it keeps an account of every day's transactions : it summons men to its bar: it exhibits the record before their eyes; and, in perfect correspondence with their actions, it passes on them its authoritative sentence. Thus it anticipates the future judgment, and forces men to read in its decisions their final doom. To this effect the Apostle speaks in the passage before us; in elucidating which, we shall shew, I. How far the testimonies of our conscience may

be depended onThe testimonies of conscience are not always just

[With many there is a sleepy conscience, which suffers men to go on in their own ways without shame, and without

a Rev. xx. 12.

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remorse. So inactive and so callous is this faculty within them, that it is justly represented as “seared with a hot iron ". Indeed, if it were not thus with them, how could they go on so cheerfully as they do, in an open course of sin, or in a wilful neglect of God?

With many also there is a partial conscience. They discern what is wrong in others, but not in themselves: or they notice some evils, but not others. Herod would not violate his oath; but he would murder a prophet. And the Pharisees would not put into the treasury the money that was the price of blood; but they would persist in persecuting the innocent Jesus even unto death d. And such a conscience have many amongst ourselves : it would be clamorous if they were to commit some flagrant enormity; while it bears no testimony at all against secret lusts, or against any evils which are sanctioned by an ungodly world.

With some also there is an erroneous conscience. St. Paul " thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesuse," and would have stood condemned in his own mind, if he had not laboured to the uttermost to extirpate the Christian name.

And our Lord has told us that many would “ think they did God service by killing” his faithful followers'. Doubtless there are many who, both in civil and religious actions, are instigated by (what we may call) a good principle, while yet a clearer view of their duty would represent those actions in a very different light.

There is also with many a scrupulous conscience. They both do and forbear many things from a sense of duty, when the things themselves are altogether indifferent in the sight of God. Thus it was with those who were afraid to eat meats that had been offered to idols, or who observed the times and seasons that had been prescribed in the Mosaic law. Superstition indeed is less common in this age : yet wherever the mind is tinctured with it, there will arise many occasions of condemnation or acquittal in a man's own mind, when the sentence passed is altogether founded in an ignorance of Christian liberty, or Christian duty.

Hence it is evident that conscience may condemn when it ought to acquit, and acquit when it ought to condemn.]

Its sentence, however, is always just, when it accords with the Holy Scriptures

[The Scriptures are an infallible standard, to which every thing may be referred, and by which its quality may be determined. In order therefore to ascertain whether the testimonies

bi Tim. iv. 2.
• Acts xxvi. 9.

c Matt. xiv. 9.
f John xvi. 2.

d Matt. xxvii. 3--6, 20,
8 Rom. xiv. 2, 3, 5, 6.

of conscience be just, we should try them by this touchstone. We should learn from the sacred volume what are the leading features of conversion; what is essential to the Christian character; and what, though wrong in itself, will consist with real integrity. When we have thus attained an adequate knowledge of the rule of duty, and our conscience judges by that rule in estimating our conduct, then may we safely acquiesce in its determinations, and conclude it to be right, whether it acquit or condemn.

There is, however, and ever must be, more credit due to its sentence when it condemns, than when it acquits; because, in condemning, it may have respect to any single act, and found its sentence on that, without the smallest danger of mistake: but, in acquitting, it must comprehend the whole circle of a Christian's duty, and testify that, on the whole, there is no allowed deviation from it. Here therefore is great scope for error; insomuch that St. Paul himself, though he knew of no allowed evil in himself, would not be too confident respecting his state; but committed himself to the judgment of a merciful and gracious Godh.]

To procure a just attention to its voice, we proceed to shew, II. The benefit and comfort of having its testimony

in our favourNothing is more terrible than an accusing conscience. Its testimonies are, 1. A source of present distress

[When God gives it a commission to scourge a man, it executes the office with great effect. How did it increase the troubles of Joseph's brethren'; and torture the soul of the unguarded Dariusk; and appal the impious Belshazzar, so that his knees smote one against the other!! How did it make Felix tremble on the seat of judgment m! and Judas actually to become his own executioner! When it operates with a just and salutary influence, it will force the most obdurate to cry out with anguisho, and the most confident to weep with great bitterness P.

Many amongst ourselves perhaps have felt its stings, till we have groaned in our spirit, and even “ howled upon our bed," anticipating, and almost tasting, the bitterness of hell itself 9.]

h 1 Cor. iv. 3, 4. i Gen. xlii. 21. k Dan. vi. 18-20. I Dan. v. 6.

m Acts xxiv. 25. n Matt. xxvii. 5. o Acts ii. 37. and xvi. 29, 30.

p Luke xxii. 62. Heb, x. 27.

2. A pledge of eternal misery

[When conscience is enlightened, it sees innumerable abominations in the heart: and when sanctified, it feels an utter abhorrence of what it does see. But yet “God is greater than our hearts” both in respect of penetration to discover sin, and of holiness to hate it. He "knoweth all things” that have been done amiss, and that too, with all the particular aggravations that have attended every omission of duty, and every commission of iniquity. Not our actions only, but our very thoughts, are " sealed up in his bag,” to be brought forward against us at the last day". The present testimonies of conscience are a previous and preliminary sentence, declaring now upon few and partial grounds, what God himself will hereafter declare on a complete review of our whole lives.

We say not indeed that there is no room for repentance: God forbid: the accusations of conscience are the voice of God within us, calling us to repentance: and the most guilty conscience that ever tormented the soul of man, may in an instant be purged by the blood of Jesus %: but if conscience summon us to its bar, as God summoned Adam and Cain to answer for their conduct", its decisions shall be ratified in the day of judgment, unless they be reversed through penitence and faith in Christ: what it “ binds on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and what it looses on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.”]

Nothing, on the other hand, is a richer blessing than a good conscience: its testimonies are, 1. A source of unspeakable comfort

[St. Paul tells us that he found this to be a well-spring of happiness within him; “ Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world u.” Indeed, such a testimony is a continual feast to every one that enjoys it. Having an inward witness of our own sincerity, we may hearts before God," we may “have boldness of access to him with confidencey," we may “ ask of him what we will, and it shall be done unto us?." Such a testimony inspires a "confidence towards God” in every thing that relates to our present or future welfare; it fills the soul with a " peace that passeth all understanding," “ a joy that is unspeakable and glorified.” How desirable then is it to be able now to appeal to God, like

assure our

r Job xiv. 17. s Heb. x. 22. and 1 John i. 7. t Gen. iii. 9. and iv, 9, 10.

u 2 Cor. i. 12. X ver. 19. y Eph. iii. 12.

ver. 22

z

Job, “ Thou knowest that I am not wicked a ;" or with Peter, “Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love theeb!" And how blessed to say with Hezekiah in a dying hour, “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight © !”] 2. An earnest of eternal happiness

[The witness of our conscience is, in fact, the witness of the Spirit of Godd: for it is the result of a divine illumination, whereby we discern the agreement of our experience with the word of God, and of a divine communication, rendering that agreement an occasion of joyful confidence. What then can this be but a foretaste of that bless which shall be consummated in heaven? In this view these divine communications may be considered as “ the first-fruits of the Spirit,” and “the earnest of the Spirit;” because they are, as it were, the beginnings of heaven in the soul, and they assure to us a complete and everlasting possession of it. Even in the day of judgment itself this holy confidence will remaine: they who possess it now, will go forth with joy to meet the bridegroom; "they will stand before him with great boldness?,” and, assured of their relation to him, will exclaim, “ This God is our God for ever and ever."] INFER

1. How careful should we be in every part of our conduct !

[Every thing we do is written in the book of God's remembrance; and our own consciences will hereafter, if not now, attest the truth of God's testimony. How anxious then should we be, that every day and every hour should record something good, rather than what will distress us in the day of judgment! Let us then beg of God to "put truth in our inward parts:" let us exercise ourselves day and night to keep

conscience void of offence both towards God and man8" and let us say with Job, “ My heart shall not reproach me as long as I live h.”]

2. How attentive should we be to the voice of conscience!

[Conscience, if we would listen to it, would tell us many plain and wholesome truths'. If we would submit to its

a

a Job x. 7.

b John xxi. 17. c Isai. xxxviii. 3. d Some think these are two distinct witnesses : but perhaps this is the more just view of the matter. See Disc. on Rom. vii. 16. e 1 John iv. 17.

f Wisd. v. 1.

& Acts xxiv. 16. h Job xxvii. 6.

i Rom. ii. 15.

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