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Commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
THESE words, joined with what goes before, run thus: “therefore, seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not: but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but, by manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience.” The import of this text and context is exceeding plain. The Apostle gives an account in them of his way in managing that work of the ministry, wherein he was engaged; that is, that his way of managing thereof was suitable to his end; his method to the design he drove at: he gives in the whole verse a double account of his way in managing his ministerial work—A negative account, and a positive.
1. A negative one, we have nothing to do in it, (as if he had said,) with the things of dishonesty or shame. Those things we have renounced; those hidden things that are wont to be accompanied with the pungent stings of shame and disgrace, (if they should not be hid.) That is, we have nothing to do with any thing whereof we have cause to be ashamed. Let them hide themselves and their designs, and work in the dark; let them wear masks and vizards, and transact their affairs under ground, and with all possible privacy, who drive designs that they have reason 40to be ashamed of; whose business is either to trifle, or to do hurt; whose designs are either too low or little for wise men, or too base for good men. We, for our parts, design nothing but the service of God, the honour of Christ, and (as that which is subservient to these) the welfare of men. This is all that we aim at, that we may serve God, honour Christ, and bring in as many souls as we can unto him. We intend no worse to the world and the inhabitants of it, than to our utmost to make them good and happy Christians in this world, and glorious creatures in another world.
And, therefore, all we have to do may very well be transacted above ground, and upon the square; we have no occasion to walk in craftiness, to use fraudulent arts or tricks; our business requires it not; nor do we need to handle the word of God deceitfully: we do not falsify (so the word signifies) it, disguise it, clothe it with other colours; for as it naturally looks with its own, it serves our purpose best of all, if we give it no other appearance or representation, than that which is still genuine and most proper to itself. We do none of these things that are mentioned in the former part of the verse. And then comes,
2. The positive account in the latter part of the verse. “By manifestation of the truth,” we make it our business to commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. Where the last of these words do sufficiently express that sense which I design to insist upon in some following discourses. And herein, we see there is a principle in man, (here called conscience,) that renders him, in some measure, capable of judging what is proposed to him in the name of God, or under the notion of divine,—whether as such it ought to be received, or refused as not such. And here we have it signified to us, that there is in the great things of God, contained in the gospel, or which the gospel revelation doth suppose, a self-recommending evidence, by which such things do (as it were) approve themselves to that principle: and he lets us see that the faithful preachers of this gospel have the whole business directly and immediately lying with the consciences of men; or that they are to apply themselves to that principle in man called conscience. And further, that this treaty with the consciences of men is to be managed under divine inspection, under the eye of God.
And this being the import of the words considered in themselves; if also you consider them in their relation to 41what goes before; so the import of the context, and of them, as they fall into it, will be most plain. In the close of the foregoing chapter, the Apostle having spoken above of the gospel ministration, as contra-distinguished to that of the law, and most highly excelling it in point of light, and in point of efficacy; both of them glorious things, and in respect whereof, he calls it the ministration of glory; so that, though that of mount Sinai was very glorious, yet this did so much excel it in glory, that the very glory of that was no glory, in comparison of the glory of this; for that by it, we, as in a glass (he so concludes the chapter) beholding the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. That as is not similitudinis but identitatis; it doth not signify likeness, but sameness: that is, there is so transforming a work wrought by the glory of the Lord shining through the glass, as doth speak its author to be the Spirit; such a work is done as none but the Divine Spirit could do; so that any one might see there was such a transformation wrought, as by the Spirit of the Lord is wont to be wrought; the Spirit doth like itself, as itself, it works as a Divine Almighty Spirit might be expected to do in this case. This is the account which he gives of the ministry, wherein he was engaged.
Now, in the beginning of this next chapter, it runs thus;—having received such a ministry as this, (so apt and so animated to serve its proper end and purpose,) “as we have received mercy, we faint not;” he resolves the vigour, and fortitude, and undauntedness of his heart in this great work, that was put into his hands, into the nature and kind of this ministry wherewith he was intrusted; considered in its own aptitude to serve its end, as it was managed and replenished with power and efficacy from the Divine Spirit. Having such a ministry, we faint not, we go on with all vigour and resolvedness imaginable in our work. And, thereupon, renounce all the hidden things of dishonesty, we go on with open face, as being well assured we shall be owned in our work one way or another; and make it our business hereupon, to apply ourselves immediately and directly to the consciences of men in the sight of God. And these several things, upon the whole, may be observed and taken up for our instruction and use from this portion of scripture.
1. that the great things of the gospel, or of religion in 42general, do carry with them a self-recommending evidence to the consciences of men.
2. That the business of the faithful ministers of this gospel lies, first and most immediately, in a transaction with men’s consciences about these things.
3. That this transaction with men’s consciences about such things, is to be managed in the sight of God, under the inspection of the Divine Mind. And,
4. That thereupon, such as are engaged with uprightness and fidelity in this work, have the most vigorous and unfainting resolution and fortitude in it.
I begin with the first.
1st. Doctrine. That the great things of the gospel, or of religion, do carry with them a self-recommending evidence to the consciences of men. Here,
1. It will be requisite to say somewhat concerning the principle of conscience. And,
2. Then to evince the truth of the assertion, that the great things of the gospel, or religion, do carry with them a self-recommending evidence to men’s consciences.
1. It is requisite to be said concerning conscience, thus much briefly; to wit, that it is a principle which is to be appealed to about such matters; and this doth, in the general notion of it, import an ability to judge, a certain dijudicative power. And it must be looked upon according to a double reference which it bears;—1st. To the matter which it is to judge about. And, 2ndly. To the Supreme Ruler under whom it is to judge, such things being to be judged of in the sight of God; for the latter of these references we shall come to speak to it under another observation: but for the former, we are to consider of it now.
Conscience, it doth import a power of judging, or an ability to judge about such and such matters; but what those matters are, we are more particularly to consider. In the general, it is matter of duty about which conscience is to judge; or such things in reference whereunto we are one way or other under obligation to do, or not to do. And so it is the actions of men, that conscience is to judge about; as they are measurable by laws and rules to which they are properly and truly obliged. And so our actions may be considered two ways—either as to be done, or as done. And they come under the judgment and cognizance of conscience, both ways—either as to be done, or as done; and so the judgment of conscience is two-fold, either concerning 43things, or concerning ourselves; for conscience hath both its prospect and its retrospect:—its prospect, that is, as it is to see our way before us, and to judge for us, Am I to do this, or am I to do that, or am I to let it alone; and decline doing such and such things? Here is the prospect of conscience; it is to discern and make a judgment aforehand, concerning the way that we are to take, to see our way for us. And then it hath its retrospect; when we come to make a stand, and look back upon our former course in general, or upon this or that particular action, Have I done well, or have I done ill? have I held a strict and regular course? or have I made a wrong or false step?
Now for conscience under this latter notion; that is, for the retrospect of conscience, I have had occasion to speak to it at large, in the hearing of many of you, from another scripture, that of 2 Cor. i. 12. This is our rejoicing, the testimony of our conscience;—here is the exercise of conscience in reference to what is past, in reference to a course transacted already. So that you may plainly see our present subject doth not lead us to consider conscience under that notion at all; but only to consider it according to its prospect, as it doth prospicere. As it looks forward to discern and make a judgment;—Is such a course to be taken? or are such and such things directed to be complied with, yea or no?
And so the matter of which conscience is to judge is of this kind; to wit, what we are to do, or our actions as they are future, or to be done, must be taken with a latitude; so as not barely or chiefly to concern our external actions, the actions of the outward man; no, nor merely or only to concern those actions of the inward man, that proceed immediately from the will, and from the affections, and from the executive power in the first rise of it; but also so as to comprehend, and take in too, the actions of the mind and understanding;—all this is within the compass of this matter, about which, conscience is to be exercised. We are not to consider what is to be done by the reflective faculty, but what is to be done by the directive faculty, the mind and understanding itself; that is, whether such and such things propounded to us, be to be assented to, yea or no. This is as much matter of conscience as any thing else; that is, the assenting or not assenting of our minds and understandings to such and such things; supposing they are things in reference whereunto we come under obligation; 44suppose that they are not such things wherein, we are left at liberty to judge and think as we please, as we are in multitudes of theological speculations, wherein we are not laid under a law, as a main duty, to know, and understand, and observe, and mind such things. But this refers to such things wherein our giving our assent so and so, it is made matter of duty; or in reference whereunto, we are laid under an obligation. All that doth come as much within the compass of that matter, wherein conscience is to Judge as any thing else: that is, these acts of our minds, which are to be exerted and put forth immediately there, as they are part of our duty, about which we are accountable at last; so they are matters of conscience, and in reference whereunto conscience must, and ought to have too, a present exercise before hand. Am I so or so to assent, or am I not? Thus, by manifestation of the truth, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
And so much is all that we need to say concerning the former of these heads, the principle that is to be applied unto, and to which the things or religion do, by a self-recommending evidence, approve themselves.
2. The second thing we nave to do, is to evince and clear this to you, that there is such a self-recommending evidence in the things of religion, by which they become approved, or do approve themselves to the very consciences of men. And here, that you may understand this aright, what it is that I am to prove and make out to you,—you are not to take it thus, as though every thing that lies within the compass of truth, and which we are accordingly to embrace and close with, were self-evident; so as at first sight it must necessarily beget a conviction in a man’s judgment and conscience, that it ought to be entertained and closed with; that is not the meaning; every thing in religion that hath competent evidence with it, hath not that primary evidence as immediately, as soon, as it is heard and proposed, to command the mind to close in with it. But the meaning is this, that whereas there are some things of that kind that carry their own light so apparently m them as to captivate the mind into a present consent; there are many other things that are capable of being clothed with that light, or having that evidence added to them, by which they also may be enabled to recommend themselves. Every truth, is not a first truth; but there is nothing which God hath made it necessary to the salvation of our souls 45to give entertainment unto; but that, if it be not evident in itself, it is capable of being so evidenced, as that it may, by that evidence (at least) that shall be added thereto, come to recommend itself to men’s consciences, unless they be men so under the power of a vitious prejudice, and abandoned by God for their indulgence thereunto, that (as it follows in the next words) the gospel is only hid to them, because they are lost. “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” And it is hid to them for having rebelled and sinned against the light of it so long; and this being the point, we come now to make it out to you, that the great things of religion, which we are to give entertainment to, as necessary to our final welfare and blessedness, they are things that carry with them such a self-recommending evidence to the consciences of men; they carry it with them, either as being primary self-evident truths, or as being capable of being evidenced by such things as are so; that is, either by their own light, or by such a light as may be imparted to them, and wherewith they may fairly admit to be clothed.
And the way of proving this, will be fittest and most proper, by giving instances; by instancing to you in divers of the most important things which we are required to give entertainment to, in order to our final salvation and blessedness;—and so to submit the matter to your own judgment, whether these things do not recommend themselves to conscience, yea or no; which is the best and most effectual way of proving any thing, when the inward sense of our mind is immediately directed to; we appeal to that immediately, so that you have the judgment in your own breast or bosom, concerning this or that thing. Is it not clear, doth it not speak itself in my own conscience?
And the instances I shall give, will be especially under these four heads;—to wit, 1st. Of Truths.—2ndly. Of Precepts.—3rdly. Of Prohibitions; and 4thly. Of Judgments.
1. Of Truths, you must understand that I am only going to give instances under each of these heads; otherwise, you must suppose that the whole body of theology would be the subject of our present discourse, as every thing would come in here that belongs to the substance of a theological treatise. And that (as I was saying) I may instance, first, in truths propounded to us, they will be of two sorts,—Positive and Argumentative;—Positive, those that we simply lay down; or Argumentative, those that in the way of argumentation may be annexed to the former, 46either, first, as reasons to prove them; or, secondly, as inferences and deductions proved by them. And this order and reference, which one truth may have to another, we are not to understand it so, as if there must be constantly that methodical relation, or a relation in that method; for the relation may be transposed, according as this or that particular discourse may be. But I shall give you instances of these together, or as now they may be represented to relate to one another; and so shall briefly instance to you;—1st. In those truths that do concern the original of all things.—2ndly. That do concern the apostacy and fall of man.—3rdly. Some that do concern the redemption by the Son of God; and 4thly. Some that do concern the final issue of all things.
1 For those that do concern the original of all things, take these,
(1.) That this world, (look upon it as one system, one complexion,) it is all a made thing.
This whole universe, it is all a made thing; why sure, either this hath such light with it, that any conscience of a considering man must presently say, it is true, in my conscience it is true; or it will easily be made evident. It is one of the great things (as being of natural revelation) that is mightily insisted upon by philosophers, as fundamental to all things else. You find that so the Deity was proved by the apostle in that text we so lately insisted on, Rom. i. 20. “The invisible things of God, even his eternal power and godhead, are clearly seen by the things that are made;” by this whole entire scheme and frame of made things. “By faith, we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.” Heb. xi. 2. Thus largely too doth the apostle discourse the efficiency of the Creator, Acts xvii. in a very great part of that chapter. And so the account is given in the very beginning of that revelation of the mind of God to man contained in the Bible. Gen. i. 1. It begins with the beginning of all things. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And so too doth that gospel, John i. 12. wrote by the Evangelist John: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God: by him were all things made that were made.” Now this is a matter that will let its light appear, if you will but revolve it a little in your minds, and think of it; for you manifestly see that all this world is full of changes; but there can be no change of a necessary Being; of a self-existing Being; 47what exists necessarily, and of itself, must be always as it is; whence that goes for a maxim with all that have set themselves to consider, Eternum non patitur novum: That which is eternal, admits of no innovation, nothing of new in it. And the matter would yet carry more convictive and clearer evidence to those that are less apt or less used to the exercise of thoughts, if they would but bring it to their own case; that is, suppose it be told you in particular, you are a creature, you are a made thing; let this be said to any body that hath the use of the ordinary understanding of a man with him, and it presently strikes the conscience; it is very true, I, in my own conscience, judge it true, I am a made thing. If any should hesitate at it, do but take a turn or two in thinking, and the matter would strike you with fresh light again and again. Why, what? Do not ye know that you hare been in being but a little while? It is but so many years ago, and you were not; no such one as you was heard of in the world. Whatsoever began to be, must be a made thing. You did but lately begin to be, it is plain then you have been made; for nothing could of itself begin to be, or arise out of nothing of itself. That strikes every man’s conscience that considers. Do not you, in your consciences, think and judge, that if nothing were in being, nothing could ever be in being? It is impossible that any thing should arise up of itself out of nothing. Therefore, if you begin to be, you are a made thing. And then,
2ndly. There are truths that will belong to this, by way of revelation and deduction. As then,
(1.) You have a Maker; every made thing must have a maker; do not your consciences tell you that this is true? In my conscience this is true, if I be a made thing, then I must have a maker. And then, again,
(2.) You may collect what kind of maker that must be; what kind of thing am I? I said, (among other things be longing to me,) there is a power of thought belonging to me; I have then a spiritual intellectual nature belonging to me; and therefore, certainly, such excellencies as I have in me, and as I find the rest of the creation hath in it, must be in the Maker of them all, much more eminently, and much more transcendently. And, therefore, as the apostle speaks, when he had said from a pagan,—“In him we live and move, and have our being; and we are all his offspring;” he immediately subjoins. Acts xvii. 28, 29. 48“For as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto silver and gold, or stone graven by the art of man.” If there be such and such things that are the effects of an invisible divine power of the Godhead; that is, if there be intellectual and spiritual beings, then he must be such an one: and then we are no longer (saith the apostle) to amuse and mislead ourselves with the foolish misconceit of a golden deity, or of a wooden and stone deity. The deity must be such a being as hath such excellencies belonging to it, as we find are in his offspring. We find he hath an offspring of an intelligent and spiritual nature, and therefore, sure, such must he be. And again,
(3.) It will be further recollected, that if I am a made thing, a creature, and thereupon, have a maker, I have also an owner too, as well as a maker; he that made me, must be my owner and proprietor; and to him I must belong, and in his power I am; and I must be at his disposal; and he may do with me what he will, and I am to do with myself only what he will have me do. Doth this not also strike conscience? Doth not this approve itself to every conscience of man? Am I a made thing? Then he that made me, owns, and he is to use me as his own. And again,
(4.) Am I a made thing, and do therefore appear to have a maker, and to have an owner? Then I have a ruler too; one that is to prescribe to me, and give me laws; to tell me what I am to do, and what not, through the whole of my course. This speaks to every conscience of man; every man that will use conscience in the case, must needs say, In my conscience, this is true; it cannot but be true. And again,
(5.) If I have such a maker, one that is the author and original of my life and being to me; he that is the author, must be the end of it; he that is the first to me, must be the last also. I am a creature, and a made thing; I did not come of myself into the world; and what could not be by itself, must not be for itself. Will not any man’s conscience say this is true? Is not conscience smitten with light in this case? Methinks this doth recommend itself to my very conscience. I, that could never have come by myself into this world; I must not live in it for myself; it is inconsistent with the state of a creature to be its own end. Thus, in this kind, you may find there are things that 49concern the original of all things, that do by their own light recommend themselves to the consciences of men. And then,
2. Concerning the apostacy of man. To instance briefly therein man is a fallen creature; he is not in the state that was original to him or primitive, or wherein he was made. This, (one would think,) in the first speaking or hearing, should strike conscience with its own light; but if it should not with any that are more stupid and less considerate, let men but refer themselves to their own original state and nature, consider their nature abstract, and then compare themselves with what they may easily discern and find of their present state and case.
The most general consideration that you can have of, or concerning your own nature is, I am a sort of creature, that can think, that can use thoughts well; do but look to your present state, the common state of men according to that representation and description that is given us of it; “all the imaginations of the thoughts of man’s heart are only evil, and that continually.” Gen. vi. 5. What? can any man imagine that God did make a thinking creature; endowed a creature with a power of thought, originally from the beginning, to think nothing but what was evil, and continually evil? And let but men see whether this be not a true account of themselves, that the scripture gave so long ago. If they would but inspect and look into themselves, would they not be inforced to say, Have I not thoughts full of vanity, full of earthliness, full of impurity, from day to day? And, unless they be imposed and thrust in upon me, am I not a stranger to serious thoughts, to divine thoughts, to heavenly thoughts? Therefore the matter will again strike conscience with its own light. I am not only a creature, but a fallen creature; sure God never made me such a creature as I am become, as I have made myself; a creature, endowed with o noble intellectual powers, to debase myself; to make so sublime a thing, as an intelligent immortal mind, perpetually to grovel in the dust, and enslave itself to sensual and brutal lusts, and to mean and base designs that time measureth; and to leave myself to sink and perish eternally at length; so that to this very soul and spirit, for want of being employed about a good suitable to itself, and means and methods of compassing that, nothing but misery can be its portion. The thing speaks itself; I am a fallen creature, and as long as this continues my posture, and the state and temper of my mind and spirit, I may see the 50matter will issue ill at last. I am a degenerate creature, especially if it be considered how the stream and current of my thoughts and affections run out towards other things, as they stand in competition with the eternal, ever-blessed God; for can any man think God made a creature to despise himself? To neglect himself, and to prefer the most despicable vanities before himself, when he hath made him capable of knowing, minding, adoring, and serving him? Thence also it would be collected, I may hence judge, whether also my present state is a safe state, or a bad state. It is a lamentable thing to be a fallen creature, fallen from its pristine excellency; and it may easily be collected hence, it is an unsafe state; for if I am fallen low already, I am still liable to fall lower; and I cannot tell whether I may fall, how low I may sink, and what finally will become of me; for I am falling lower and lower all the while I am a stranger to God, and a vassal to sensual inclinations. And I here again appeal, doth not all this speak to conscience? And doth not every one find in himself somewhat to which all this doth approve itself, and commend itself; so that he must needs say, In my very conscience this is true? I cannot now run through what I have to say hereupon. Pause hereupon a little, and consider what this is like to come to at last. If a man do, in a stated continual course from day to day, and from year to year, run counter to the judgment of his own conscience; if he lives continually a rebel against conscience, (for that is to be a rebel against God too,) what will it come to? Oh! might that be but seriously considered of, sure it would be of use to us, to bring us to a suitable disposition to hear of other things that will be of the greatest following concernment to us, in order to our future and eternal welfare.
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