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of past faults are pre-eminently dangerous, unless followed by vigorous resolu tion to do better for the future. Spiritual activity carried on in hearty reliance upon the Son of God will scatter numerous delusions, obviate the causes of future regret, enable us to redeem the time, and possibly retrieve, in some measure, the losses of the past.
III. Post-mortem wisdom ought to prompt merciful consideration for others. It is generally confessed that a sense of our own mistakes disposes as to look with some patience upon failings which are serious, and more injurions than our own. This is very necessary, as the faculty of condemnation is usually in great vigour ; and occasionally there are irritating circumstances in the conduct of others which provoke emphatic censure. There is no need to swing to the other extreme, and palliate the faults we observe and regret. It is simply weakness, in such cases, to call “ darkness light, and light darkness,” and to ignore the boundaries of right and wrong. It is sometimes an immense vexation to see a youth at school, who has the first assistance the land can supply, wasting his time in frivolity, and only ingenious in deception and being clever against himself. It is a lamentable thing to behold & modern "prodigal son" abusing his wealth, and turning the gold and silver which might be ministers of beneficence into demons of swift destruction. It is deplorable to behold one who enters the marriage-state with heedlessness and perversity to reap the harvest of a life-long misery, and feel the incessant upbraidings which spring from a foolish choice. It is well to consider our mistakes in the past, and ourselves, "lest we also be tempted," and fail like others. St. Peter probably remembered that fearful night when Christ was alone, and there was no voice to plead for Him before the unjust judges, none to vindicate His innocence, and attest His unwearied love to the Jewish people ; yet there was one that, in à spasm of fear, denied Him with oaths and curses. His memorable fault would incline him to deal gently with those who had yielded to the force of temptation. He came forth from failure, repentanco, and restoration, to counsel those who were struggling against evil ; like an Alpine climber trying to ascend, yet often slipping back, needed the enencouragement and advice of one who had passed through a special experience. To none could more wisely be given the charge “Feed my lambs” than to one who had failed, and been restored by “ the Shepherd and Bishop of souls.”
IV. It supplies a warning against unwise delay to repent and believe. There is a general impression that those who have long been acquainted with Gospel truths, but have not heartily believed them, have a vague resolution to decide for Christ and themselves at some future and convenient time. If this be so, it reminds us that there is nothing so perilous as such a design, if design be the proper word for so delusive a state of mind. It assumes that the future will be as we, in our self-love, may arrange its successive events. The scheme may probably take this shape : after many years of ardent worldliness, increase of wealth, growth of respect and honour, there will be the calm placid evening of life, when the sun will set without clouds, wind, or hurricane. Then there will be a meek surrender of the soul to Christ, through repentance, and afterwards a peaceful transit to the heaven where are gathered those that have lived martyrs' lives and died a martyr's death. Against all this imaginary outline, it may be said that there is a Supreme Will, which has the ordering of the future, and instead of a long and prosperous life, may settle the affecting question of our probation tomorrow. Habits of delay and excuse may from threads of silk become bands of iron, and the heart may become firm as a stone, as hard as a piece of the “nether millstone." It was the wont of preachers in former days to represent the wicked as dying with pangs of remorse and loud outcries for mercy. Such cases seldom occur. Most men die as they live ; and those who see numerous deaths in hospitals discern very little difference between the deaths of the righteous and the wicked. Asaph said of the ungodly, “ There are no bands in their death, and their strength is firm.” The approach of death is the advance and triumph of disease, which often numbs the brain, closes the avenues of the senses, and makes thought, prayer, and resolution almost an impossibility. Apart from the shocking folly of giving all the vigour of life to the world, and offering the ruins and débris of our existence to the Son of God, who died in inexpressible sorrow for us, the danger is immeasurably great. It is not for us to limit the Divine mercy ; and it is not for us to renounce our common-sense in the questions of religion. There is one alarming example in Scripture which shows us how God looks at a worldly life. Our Lord speaks of a man whose ground brought forth plentifully, and who proposed to pull down his barns and build greater. He never thought of pining orphans and distressed widows. He never considered the question of the tithes he had to pay to priest, Levite, and the poor. He did not devise liberal things, and propose to offer in the temple-courts the sacrifices of the “firstlings of his flock and the fat thereof," where he would bow, and with profuse gratitude would confess that all things came from God, and of His own he had given Him. No! he luxuriated in the prospect of self-indulgence. Eternal Justice sent the stern ministers of retribution to treat him as a felon, because he proposed to rob God all his life, then to die and be buried with all the signs and ceremonies of social respectability. Such an example presents post-mortem wisdom in its deepest and most awful aspect.
V. It urges the need of prayer for the gift of Divine Wisdom. True godliness is often described as wisdom, and signifies the adaptation of means to ends, 80 that there shall be a noble life here, and a kind of natural transition to a higher life at the termination of our earthly pilgrimage. James urges us to seek wisdom, with the encouragement that the “Father of Lights” will bestow the gift without upbraiding us with our past errors and mistakes. There are many other parts of Scripture which encourage and justify prayer for this blessing. Certainly there are some occasions in life when it is preeminently necessarywhen we should hail some voice from heaven, or some sign from the Urim and Thummim, to settle the anxious questions which press upon us. No such communication shall we receive. Indeed, during the time of the Jewish Law oracular responses and voices from heaven were only vouchsafed when there was a national crisis, or the anxiety of some
eminent servant of God made such direction specially needful. It is scarcely
J. S. BRIGHT.
The Discipline of the Couscience. The Apostle Paul makes much of conscience. No word which relates to human duty stands out more prominently in his speeches and writings; and when he does not use the word itself, it is often quite plain that he is speaking of conscience and dealing with it.
He makes much of it for himself. ' Men and brethren,” he says in his speech to the council, “I have lived in all good conscience before God to this day." Writing to the Corinthians, he says, “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, and more abundantly to you-ward.” “I thank God,” he writes to Timothy, “whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience." Above all prejudice, or inclination, or passion, or sense of interest, he had enthroned conscience in his soul as the vicegerent of God.
He makes much of it for others. He tells Timothy that “the end of the commandment is charity out of a good conscience ;” he charges him to “hold fast faith and a good conscience ; and in the same epistle he counsels the deacons to hold “the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience."
He declares it to be his great aim in all his work to deal with the conscience : "Commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.”
Of all calamities he deemed none greater than a perverted conscience. He speaks very solemnly and with the strongest disapproval of some who had “their conscience seared with a hot iron," and of others whose “mind and conscience were defiled."
Arraigned before the Roman governor Felix, at Cæsarea, and accused by his enemies the Jews, it was part of his defence, “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.” Every word is expressive. He “exercises himself”—puts himself under discipline, into training; he does this “always ; ” his endeavour is that he may have a conscience not just silenced but “void of offence ;” and this not only " toward God” but also “toward men.” No doubt these words were put on record, not merely that we might know what kind of man Paul was, but that we might adopt what he thus says as the ruling principle of our own life.
There is first to be noted the comprehensiveness of the endeavour. It is possible for us to have a one-sided conscience; and separating what are called religious duties-the duties we owe immediately to God-from those which we owe to men, we may deem the one all that is required, and suffer ourselves entirely to neglect the other. There have been men who have done this, and there are such men to-day. One makes a conscience of his religion, such as it is, attending scrupulously to its minutest observances, but attaching very little importance to what he owes to men. Another thinks only of what he owes to men, and takes scarcely any thought of what he owes to God. Now there is to be no such selection or preference as this. We are to seek to have a clear, puro, approving conscience toward both God and men.
Duty to God and duty to men are always more or less closely interwoven, and whatever we owe to men is pre-eminently due to God; for it is His authority which renders it binding, and we are to give account of it to Him. Still there is a clear distinction. Conscience toward God requires that we love Him, that we worship Him, that we reverence His Word, that we regulate our whole life by respect to His will, and that the great aim of all we do is to promote His praise. This is “ conscience toward God.” On the other hand there must be “ conscience toward men conscience impelling us to the faithful discharge of every duty which we owe one to another. We are to make a conscience of everything—a conscience of domestic duties; and husband and wife, parents and children, masters and servants, must bring conscience to bear on everything involved in their respective relationships. We must make a conscience of business ; and behind the counter, and in the market, in every matter of bargain and sale, and in all that concerns the mode in which our business is transacted, our rule must be not interest, or convenience, or the practice of others, but conscience. We are to make a conscience of citizenship, discharging every trust in the spirit of a manly independence, and obeying every law of the State which does not contravene the law of God. In one word, we are to bring conscience to bear on everything which our fellow-men have a right to expect from us, and which God has commanded us to do.
Good old Thomas Fuller says in his own quaint and racy style : “ There be five kinds of conscience afoot in the world. First, an ignorant conscience, which neither sees nor saith anything, nor beholds sin in a soul, nor repents of it. Secondly, a flattering conscience, whose speech is worse than silence
itself; which, though seeing sin, soothes men in the continuing thereof. Thirdly, the seared conscience, which hath neither sight, speech, nor sense in men that are past feeling. Fourthly, a wounded conscience, frighted with sin. · The last and best is a clear conscience, pacified in Christ Jesus. Of these the fourth is incomparably better than the three former, so that a wise man would not take a world to change with them. Yea, a wounded conscience is rather painful than sinful ; an affliction ; no offence; and is the ready way, at the next remove, to be turned into a quiet conscience."
To every man “yet in his sins” God's word bears a message, the intent of which is to arouse the conscience. It recalls to him the sins of the past, and as it arraigns him before God it says to him, " Thou art guilty-so guilty as to deserve everlasting death.” But then it speaks to him of forgiveness, gladdening him by the assurance that believing in the Lord Jesus he will be thenceforward, as it regards all that evil past, “void of offence toward God.” At the same time the Holy Spirit renews the conscience, delivering it from its deadness and perversion and defilement; for the “new heart,” which is the great promise of the new covenant, includes alike the will and the affections and the conscience. Still all is not done in respect to the conscience even when this great change has been wrought most effectually. There can be no doubt whatever that it had been so wrought in Paul; and yet he tells us that it was his constant endeavour “to have a conscience void of offence ;” “ "Herein," he says, “ do I exercise myself." The word expresses the idea of vigorous discipline, like that of the athlete in training for some contest which will try his bodily powers to the utmost, or like that of the student bent on intellectual eminence. No conscience ever keeps itself clear without effort and discipline. What is the “. exercise then to which every one of us must subject his conscience?
The first exercise of conscience must be in endeavouring to ascertain the will of God. The conscience is not our teacher. It reveals to us nothing of either truth or duty. The office of conscience is to approve or condemn the right or the wrong of a man's own actions ; but the right and the wrong must be ascertained from another source, that is, from the Word of God, announcing His will as our supreme ruler. Here then is the first work of conscience-to bring us with open minds to the Divine Word, that we may know what is the truth we are to believe, and what is the duty we are to do. But who does not know, from his own experience, what a lurking unwillingness there often is to know our duty, and how frequently we allow passion and interest and prejudice to warp both judgment and conscience? Sometimes, too, there arise cases in which, whilst clearly understanding the great principles of duty, it is still a difficult thing to know how they are to be applied. The claims which present themselves on either hand are so conflicting and so nicely balanced that we are for a time at least sorely perplexed. View the matter in one aspect and this course seems to be the right one ; take another view of it and we are led to an opposite conclusion. A great exercise for conscience this! And yet it may be confidently affirmed that the man who is sincerely and prayerfully desirous to know what is right, and who takes up God's Word with an honest heart, ready to accept its guidance