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when it is not vitiated with error, or corrupted by prejudice. It is true, it is sometimes scrupulous to an excess, stumbling at a straw, and making crimes where God has made none; and at other times in a state of stupefaction: but whenever it acts with liberty, free from restraint, it speaks faithfully and plainly; and especially a renewed conscience does so. It may fall asleep; but it will awake again : nay, though it sleep with respect to motion and operation, yet not with respect to notice and observation. So that when it does not actually call us to an account, yet it is making preparation for it. It is a witness that will not be bribed: like its Master, it accepts of no man's person. It deals impartially with the monarch and the slave: and though it may sometimes speak amiss, yet never contrary to its judgment. When the hand-writing upon the wall told Belshazzar that he should die, conscience at the same time told him that he was not fit to die. When Paul preached to Felix of temperance, righteousness, and judgment, conscience told him that he had been oppressive in his measures, immoderate in the use of the creatures; and therefore that judgment would go against him, which testimony of his conscience threw him into a fit of trembling.
5. It is a loud witness. It has a voice that will make both heaven and earth to hear, and which pierces into the inmost recesses of the soul. Those who are so deaf that they cannot hear the sound of the loudest thunder, yet shall hear the voice of conscience. It may be said of it as it is of the voice of God: it is terrible, and full of majesty. Cain found it so when he said, Every one that meeteth me will kill me my punishment is greater than I can bear. The cry of conscience was as loud as that of his brother's blood. Judas thought it so when he threw down the thirty pieces of silver, bought a halter, and went and hanged himself. How loud does conscience
sometimes speak in a time of affliction, and on a sick and dying bed! Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee. Thy wickedness is bitter : it reacheth unto the heart. The law speaks aloud; and conscience is but the echo of its voice. The law thunders, and so does conscience. The law speaks by terrible things in righteousness, and conscience does the same. The law says, The soul that sinneth it shall die and conscience says, Thou art the man! Many endeavour to drown the voice of conscience in riot and luxury, by drinking and gaming, the cares of the world, and the hurry of business; but their efforts will be ineffectual. When God bids it speak, it will speak to purpose; and those who would not hear the voice of parents, ministers, providences, or even of the divine word, yet shall hear the voice of
6. It is a sufficient witness. It will silence all pleas and excuses, put an end to all subterfuges and evasions, and leave a man self-judged and self-condemned. It is instead of a thousand witnesses. It is sufficient now there is no refuting its testimony, or setting aside its verdict; and it will be so at the last day. It will bear down all opposition: and as it pronounces for or against us, we must stand or fall. If it approves, God will approve if it condemns, God will condemn. It will then tell a man of all the duties he has neglected, and the sins he has committed; the opportunities he has lost, the sermons he has despised, the convictions he has stifled, and the resolutions he has broken. It will come upon him like a devouring enemy, and tear him in pieces: it will fall upon him like a mighty mill stone, and crush him to powder. So that it may be said of an accusing condemning conscience, as the men of Bethshemesh said of the great God; "Who can stand before it!" A wounded spirit who can bear! Hence, wicked men fly from solitude, and cannot
bear to be alone, lest conscience should seize the opportunity, and set their sins in all their glaring colours before their face.
7. It will be an eternal witness for the godly, and against the wicked. If all other witnesses were dead, yet conscience still lives, and will hereafter bear its testimony unrestrained and uncontrouled. When the sinner's mouth is stopped, the mouth of conscience will be open, and opened wider than it was before. The man without the wedding garment had nothing to say to his judge; but conscience had something to say to him: nay, it was the voice of conscience that made him speechless. This is that worm which never dies, but will be still tormenting. Its language will be, Son, remember! What bitter remorse, and se vere reflections have some felt in this world! But these are nothing to what will be experinced in the next. And this, oh sinner, will be to ETERNITY .... to all ETERNITY! What dreadful soliloquies are those in Prov. v. 12. How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof! I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to them that instructed me: I was almost in all evi!, in the midst of the congregation and assembly! What a state of complicated misery must that be when not only all about a man, but all within him, will aggravate his torment, and increase his distress!
3. Conscience being such a witness as has been described, though terrible to the wicked, must be a very comfortable one to the people of God. It either gives peace or pain; either puts on a pleasing aspect, and discovers good will; or puts on a frowning countenance, and shews its displeasure. It is every man's judgment upon himself; yet subject to the righteous judgment of God. When conscience therefore is a man's friend, and he can say with Job, My heart shall not reproach me as long as I live, such a one enjoys a continual feast, and has within him a spring
of pleasures truly noble, rational, and divine. He is, as the inspired writer expresses it, satisfied from himself. He can despise the censures of his friends, and calumnies of his enemies; has confidence towards God, can bear up with christian fortitude under the greatest afflictions, and look death in the face without terror. This is our rejoicing, (says the apostle) the testimony of our conscience. Conscience bore witness to their uprightness and integrity, and the divine Spirit confirmed that testimony. 2 Cor. i. 12.
What has been said, affords us the following hints of instruction:
1. Let us take care of sinning against conscience. It is an enemy that no bolts nor bars can keep at a distance. Better to be haunted with evil spirits, than an evil conscience. Ten thousand reproaches, racks, tortures, deaths, are not so bad as an accusing conscience whereas large estates, sumptuous palaces, the smiles of great men, and the favour of princes, are not so desirable as an approving one. The approbation of a man's own conscience, next to the good will of God, is the greatest blessing that he can enjoy on this side of heaven. When conscience pays a visit to the dying sinner, it says, Thou hast often grieved and wounded me; and now I will return grief for grief, wound for wound! Thou art wretched and miserable, ruined and lost!' But to the dying saint, it says, 'Be of good cheer, thy Redeemer liveth; thy warfare is accomplished; thy sin is pardoned enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!'
2. Let us endeavour to keep conscience tender; then attend to its motions, and hearken to its remonstrances. Let us cherish it as a friend; dread it as an enemy. Some think that a tender conscience is a weak one; but it is a sign of their weakness to think so. Tenderness of conscience is its perfection. God takes notice of it. (2 Chron. xxxiv. 7.) Tecause thine heart was tender, thine eyes shall not see all the
evil that I will bring. A tender conscience is a healthy one; so that it is not excessively or unnecessarily scrupulous.
3. Above all, let us have our hearts purged from an evil conscience, by the blood of Christ. This faculty, as well as others, is defiled, and we should seek to have it purified. If Christ speaks peace, and then conscience speaks it, we may be sure that peace is upon a solid foundation.
In a word, let wicked men remember, that if conscience be ever so silent now, it will be vociferous enough at the great day. As the spectre said to Brutus, "I will meet thee at Philippi;' o conscience says to the sinner, I will meet thee at the judgment seat!' Let good men, who at times suffer much from the lashes of their own consciences, learn the importance of having always a conscience void of offence, both towards God and towards men and then if our hearts condemn us not, we shall have confidence towards God. 1 John iii. 21.
Conscience stand forth, and bring thy charge
Of duties carelessly performed,
In thy great Master's name declare
Tho' crimes on crimes like mountains rise,
I'll fly the swifter to the Cross,