|« Prev||Sermon II. Preached January 18, 1690.||Next »|
2 Corinthians, iv. 2.
Commending ourselves to every man’s conscience.
THAT which we have in hand of the several things observed to you from the text and context, is, That the great things of religion do carry with them a self-recommending 51evidence to the consciences of men. And we have shewn, first, what that principle is, here called conscience. And, secondly, have touched upon the proof of the assertion.
The principle itself which is to be applied and appealed to, was considered as to its prospect and retrospect. As to the former, it is the business of conscience to see before us, to discern the way we are to go. If a man do not, with good conscience, proceed in his way; if he go wavering, and with a suspenseful mind, and in continual doubt, shall I, in so doing, do right or wrong? Such an one can never steer his course acceptably to God, or comfortably to himself; and, according to its retrospect, conscience is to make a stand, look back upon the way that a man hath taken, and thereupon make its judgment; whether he hath done aright, or wrong, in either respect, conscience is to judge; to judge of practice both as to what is done, and what is to be done; and it is principally conscience, in reference to its prospect, that we have to do with it here; though it is one and the same principle that doth both; and the turn is quick and easy, from looking forward to what we are to do, to looking backward to see what we have done; and to see what may belong to us by way of reward, or by way of penalty hereupon.
And so we proceed to prove the assertion; and here again you were told, that both such things as are within the disco very of natural light, and which relate to religion; and such things too, as are super-naturally revealed one way or other, come to have this self-recommending evidence to the consciences of men; and this we proposed to prove to you, by some instances, upon which such an appeal is to be made to conscience itself, which is the clearest and most convictive way of proving any thing in the world; when we therein speak to the very inward sense of a man’s own mind. And we propounded to give instances, under these four heads; to wit, of truths, or precepts, of prohibitions, and of judgments, or Divine determinations concerning what is due unto a person, as he is found complying, or not complying, with the divine preceptive will, in point of penalty or reward.
We did propose to give instances of truths which concern—1st. The beginning of all things.—2ndly. The apostacy of man.—3rdly. His redemption by Christ;—and 4thly. The final issue of all things. And as to the two 52first of these, you had instances the last day. Now to go on,
3. To instance somewhat concerning the redemption of man by Christ; as that man, being in so lost and forlorn a condition, God did send his own Son down into this world to be a Redeemer and Saviour to him. This is a thing, not evident at first sight; it was not upon the first proposal discovered; it is not as soon as we hear it evident to any of us; but it may admit to be clothed with that evidence wherewith it must recommend itself to the consciences of such as shall consider. There is enough to make it plain, both who he was that came under the notion of a Redeemer into this world, and what he came for; that doing the part of a Redeemer, was really the design and end of his coming.
1. Who he was. That he was what he gave himself out to be, the Son of God; that he came down as a God, to dwell awhile in this world among men, having made himself like us, and become one of us. Though this, I say, was not evident at first view, there was enough to make it evident; that is, that he who was spoken of, under the name of the Son of God, a thousand years before he came, accordingly came about such a time which was foretold: any man that should consider it, must needs say, In my conscience this is so; this is the Son of God. Psalm ii. 6. “I will declare the decree, thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.” This was said one thousand years before he came: and whereas, it was so plainly said, he should come about such a time as he did, within the time of the second temple: and that he did appear under such a character as could agree to none but this very person; when he came, his glory immediately shone as “the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John i. 14. It sparkled round about wherever he came, in whatsoever he spake, in whatsoever he did. We beheld his glory, as the glory of the only begotten of the Father: this could be no other but the Son of God; this could not but speak itself; and this still cannot but speak itself in the consciences of those that do consider; and that he afterwards was testified unto, by a voice from heaven, from the excellent glory, again and again, in the hearing of a competent number, and at some other time, of very numerous witnesses;—This is my Son, my beloved Son, hear him; I recommend him to you, I set him over you, I make him arbiter of all your affairs; attend him, submit to him, 53(hearing him imports so much.) This must speak in every conscience of considering men: this is very true, that he must be the Son of God! He that wrought such wonders in the world; restoring (upon all occasions as they occurred to him) hearing to the deaf, sight to the blind, soundness to the maimed, and life to the dead, even by a word speaking: all these things being purposely recorded, that we might know that this Jesus was Christ, the Son of God; and that by believing, we might have life through his name. John xx. 31. He certainly was the Son of God. Here is sufficient evidence that doth speak the thing to any man’s conscience that doth consider;—yea, he that did display such beams of His Majesty and Glory, living in flesh, that even the devils themselves were constrained to do him homage, under that notion, “the Christ, the Son of the living God;” surely this must tell any man’s conscience, this cannot but be so, it must be so; he, whose death in the circumstances of it, (the sun darkened, the earth shaken, the graves opened,) extorted an acknowledgment from that Pagan Captain; “Verily, this is the Son of God:” He that afterwards was declared to be the Son of God, with power, by the spirit of holiness that raised him from the dead; upon all this, the matter speaks itself to the consciences of considering men;—this cannot but be the Son of God. And then,
2. That this great Person, this glorious Person, should die (as we know he did) upon a cross; that certainly speaks the end of his coming into the world, as a Redeemer; it could not be that one who was so plainly demonstrated to be the Son of God, should die for his own fault, or otherwise, than by his own consent, when it had been the easiest thing in the world to him to have avoided that fate, of dying like a malefactor on a cross. He had legions of angels at his command, and ways enough to have warded off the blow: it was neither by his default, nor without his consent, that he did die; this speaks itself evidently to every conscience of man. Then what was it for? It could be upon no other account than to redeem and save lost sinners; so that the design is thus generally evident; that is, is capable of being evidenced, made evident to any conscience of man that doth consider; and more especially, that he died to procure the pardon of sin for poor sinners; died that they might be exempted and saved from the necessity of dying, that is, eternally: and that he died to recover men from under the power of sin, nothing is in 54itself more evident, if you consider this in the place wherein it stands, and which belongs to it in the series of gospel doctrine: that is, it can never be, that so great, so wise, so holy a person as the Son of God was, should die to procure pardon for men, and yet leave them slaves to lust and sin. it is evident to every conscience of man, that if he died to save sinners, he died to sanctify, as well as pardon them, and that he was exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins both together. Acts v. 31. That his dying could not but have that design; that “he bare our sins in his body on the tree; that we, being dead to sin, should live unto righteousness.” 1 Peter ii. 24. Being healed, by his stripes, of the wounds, and distempers, and diseases, that infested our spirits; and this all carried so much evidence with it, that (as the apostle saith to the Galatians) they must be bewitched, that do not see and look into the inmost verity that lies in such truth; the very inwards of that truth. There is a centre of truth, a centering of truth, and if you do not refer the beams of that truth to the centre they proceed from, truly they are insignificant little things, and as little capable of subsisting apart, as the beams of the sun would be, cut off from the sun. You must make a rational design of this whole business, suitable to the wisdom of a Deity, and suitable to the vast comprehension of a Divine mind, or you do nothing. Then, I say, look upon these things as they do refer to one centre and juncture of Divine truth; and all runs into this, That Christ died upon this account, and with this design, that he might pardon and transform men together; that he might pardon them and renew them; pardon them and make them new creatures; pardon them, and divest them of the old man, and put on them the new man; for can any considering conscience of man admit the thought, that he died for sinners to procure them pardon, leaving them enemies to God as they were; leaving them with blind minds as they were; leaving them with natures poisoned with enmity and malignity against the Author of their beings as they were, and yet design these persons to blessedness? That were, to design an impossible thing; to design that man, or that sort of men, to a blessed state in heaven, that have at the same time, an hell within them. One that hath not an holy nature, hath hell within him. This speaks itself to any conscience of man that doth but consider;—do but think, and you must say, In my conscience it must be so; so that, if any do not subject their 55souls to the design of that gospel that hath revealed this to them; it may be said to them, Oh! foolish creatures, that you should not believe this truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth crucified among you; (Gal. iii. 1.) that have had such a representation of a crucified Christ, and never made it your business to know for what,—what was the design of it. I pray what did it finally aim at, but to Christianize the world, so far as his design should extend and have its effect? That is, to turn them into the image of that Christ, that was crucified for them; to make them pure, and holy, and heavenly creatures, and devoted to God as he was. And as the apostle adds here,—“If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:” if so plain a gospel as this, that carries such evidence with it to the consciences of men, cannot yet be understood, it shews what a dreadful character these souls lie under; these must be struck with a penal blindness, and with a diabolical blindness withal, which is equivalent with this phrase of being bewitched; “in whom the God of this world hath blinded the eyes of them that believe not,” as the next words are in the 4th verse of this chapter.
And so much, therefore, concerning the design of redemption by the Son of God, who came down into this world upon this account, may be represented with that evidence, as to command any conscience of man that considers, into an assent: This cannot but be so, in my conscience this is so. And then,
4. Concerning the final issue of all: there is such truth shining, as must needs strike conscience, if it be attended to; it is clothed with that evidence, or easily admits to be, as must overpower the consciences of men into an assent. As,
1. Concerning the final issue of things; that this present state of things shall have an end. Any body that considers, cannot but say, in my very conscience it cannot but be so, it must be so: things are not to run on always sure as they now do. This state and posture of things certainly is not to be eternal; for is it a likely thing, that God will perpetuate his own dishonour, that he will have the generations of men in a continual succession to rise up one after another, full of alienation and estrangement from the Author of their being, and always to live upon the earth, while they live, to no other purpose than to express their contempt of him that gave them breath? Will not this have an end? Sure any conscience of man must need say, This 56state of things will have an end. 1 Peter iv. 7. So that when this truth is spoken to us; “The end of all things is at hand,” is approaching; (to that fore-seeing Spirit, that spake those words, and whose breath they were, me end of all things is at hand, just at hand;) there is no conscience of man that allows itself to think, but must think so it will be, and this state of things cannot last always: though w are taught that while things do continue thus, it is with design, and it is from patience; and that design shall be accomplished, and that patience must have its limits and bounds. We are told it is not from negligence, but from patience; it is not that God doth neglect or disregard the state of things; it is not from supine ossitancy, but divine patience. Why, in my very conscience, this is true, must every one say that considers; He that hath made such a world as this, and been the immediate Author of such a sort of intelligent creatures in it, who are to have immediate presidence and dominion here in this present lower world; it is not to be imagined that he doth neglect the creatures that he hath made, and made after his own image; stamped with his own likeness; it is not likely he should be indifferent how they live, what they do, and what their posture and dispositions towards him are: any man that thinks, must needs say this is very true, it is God’s patience, not his negligence, that such a sort of creatures are so long, from age to age, suffered to inhabit this world, and breathe upon this earth. Therefore, when it is told us from the divine word, “The Lord is not slack concerning the promise of his coming, as some men count slackness; but is patient and long suffering towards sinners, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance;” (2 Peter iii. 9.) such truth, when it is laid before us, is so con-natural, so agreeable to the very conscience of man, that he must say, This sure is true, it falls within my mind; my mind gives it, it cannot be from negligence, or unconcernedness; but from wise designing patience, that things run on in this course so long. And then, again,
2. This cannot but be evident concerning the end of all things, to those that consider, that sure their end will be glorious, suitable to their glorious beginning and glorious Author; that God will, in putting an end to things so like himself, and so, as it is worthy of God, there is no doubt but he will: any conscience of man must needs say so. God will do at length like himself; men have done all 57this while like themselves; they, like men, have transgressed, and perpetuated, to their utmost, their rebellions in this World against their rightful Lord; thus they have been in all things while doing like men; and God will at length do like God, no doubt but he will. There can be in him no variableness, nor shadow of turning; His nature alters not; He is the I Am, and is what he is; and, therefore, there will be an issue of all things, that will demonstrate, to all apprehensive creatures, the glory of the great Lord of heaven and earth; even to the highest, and in ways most suitable to himself; that is, it shall go well with all that have been sincere lovers of him—devoted to him, studious to please him; that valued his favour, and despised it not as the most do; but for the rest, this world, the stage of their wickedness, where they have been sinning from age to age, is reserved on purpose for the perdition of ungodly men; and reserved unto fire for that end and purpose. 2 Peter iii. 7. That things will end thus, as to all those that know not God, and were in conspiracy against him and his Messiah; saying, “Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their cords from us.” Psalm ii. 3. And that never turned, never made their peace; that the day that comes for them, it must be to consume them in the common ruin, when the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements melt with fervent heat, and the earth and all things therein be consumed and burnt up; for this world is reserved unto fire, for the perdition of ungodly men, as we see the expressions are. 2 Peter iii. 7. And thus are they to have their perdition in those flames, that is, that the fire of the Almighty, which will at last catch hold of this world, whereby the heavens shall be shrivelled up as a scroll, and pass away with great noise; then it will be seen, that both ways God hath done like himself; he hath done suitably to an excellent, great, and glorious majesty, long despised by the work of his own hands.
Now, when these things come to be represented, they do carry in them that evident appearance of verity and truth, that more than very similitude, that every conscience of man must say, These things are very agreeable to truth, cannot but be true. There is a con-naturalness between the soul of man and truth, between the mind of man, the conscience of man that is to judge of truth, so that any must say that consider, It cannot but be thus; in my very conscience it will be so. Then to go on,58
2. To the next head, that of precepts; wherein, as in reference to the former, it was the business of conscience to discern of truth and falsehood; so in reference to this, it will be the business of conscience to discern of right and wrong; but here we shall only mention those two great comprehensive precepts,—“Thou shall love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might, and with all thy mind, and shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Deut. vi. 5. Matt. xxii. 37. Precepts (as our Herbert said of them) as dark as day; having no more of darkness in them, than is in the brightest day, or the clearest light. What? do not these approve themselves to every conscience of man? that He who is most good, and contains in himself all excellency, all perfection, all glory, all blessedness; and which he is ready to communicate to receptive capable subjects, should be loved by me with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my might, and with all my mind; for in my heart and conscience, it ought to be so, any conscientious man will say.
And then, that he whom God hath set in a certain order and rank as a fellow creature; a creature of the same order, having the same nature that I have, and the same natural capacities, both as to knowledge and enjoyment, should be loved by me as myself: Do not my fellow creatures of the same order deserve as much love as I do deserve? And, therefore, can it be a reasonable thing that I should cut off myself from the community to which I do belong? That order of creatures in which I am and live, only within a private course of my own, apart from the rest of mankind? It cannot be, I must love my neighbour as myself; whatsoever there can be in my nature, that must draw and attract love, must be in them that have the same nature, that have the same capacities that I have; so that every one that considers, must say, this is true, even to the light and sense of my own conscience; thus it ought to be; this is the very right of the case; and he that laid this law upon me, doth by this law require no more than the very nature of the thing requires.
But then considering that apostate, lapsed creatures cannot arrive hither to this loving of God above all, with all the heart, all the soul, all the might and mind; neither can there be that redintegration of kind dispositions and affections, mutually towards one another, that is required in that other precept; having all lapsed and fallen, without 59a reparation and renewal of their frames, without having their frame repaired towards God and towards one another; this makes the Gospel necessary to come in, in reference to fallen lost creatures. This was the original duty of man, and still is incumbent upon him as a just duty; but he can not come at it till there be a reparation and renewal of his nature; and for this the gospel (as was hinted) doth contain prescriptions, or a proscribed course. Now as to God, the gospel runs upon duty, suitably to our lost state, under two heads, Repentance towards God, and Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; this law lying with its eternal invariable obligation upon all intelligent nature, upon every reasonable creature,—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.”—Aye, so I ought, saith conscience, but I have not done it, I have been a rebel against him; a thing very inconsistent with dutiful love. I have been a stranger and an alien to him, alienated from the life of God; a very inconsistent thing with communion love, with conversible love. What then is to be done? here is no returning to my duty and pristine state again, for a fallen creature, for one that hath degenerated and been in a state of enmity and rebellion against God, (as I have been,) but by Repentance. I can never come to love again till I repent. Here is that, therefore, which the gospel does injoin in the first place,—Repentance towards God. I was under an obligation to him, as I was the work of his hands; and as a reasonable creature, I was to love him with all my heart, soul, might, and mind, and I have been a rebel to him, and an enemy against him; but through his grace I repent of it; I repent of it with all my heart, and with all my soul. And by repentance, it is, that the soul is to return into the exercise of this vast all-comprehending love, towards the all-comprehending good; it comprehends all our duty towards him, who comprehends in himself all excellencies, majesty, glory, and felicity. Now will not any considering man’s conscience say to this, It cannot but be so; that he who was under so natural an obligation to love God with all his heart, soul, might, and mind; and hath been disloyal, an enemy, and false to him, and a rebel against him, ought to repent of it? In my very conscience he ought; every man that considers will say so. What? Have I been a traitor to him that gave me breath, and shall I not repent of it? or doth that gospel enjoin me a wrongful thing that calls me to repentance? And shall I not be a vile creature if, being so called, I will never repent; 60but bear within me an impenitent heart, an heart than can not repent, as that fearful expression is, Romans ii. 14? The words carry that in them, which may affright a congregation, and strike the hearts of all that hear them with terror. An heart that cannot repent! A heart that could sin, that would offend and affront God, but that cannot repent; repentance is hid from it! To the sense of any man’s conscience, this is an horrid creature that hath been an offender all his days, but will never repent. The gospel calls him to repentance; the gentle alluring voice of the gospel; but he will not repent. This carries evidence with it to the consciences of men, what there is of right, and what there is of wrong, in this matter.
And so for Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, doth not the thing carry evidence with it to the consciences of men, That he who is to make up (upon such terms as you have heard) that which otherwise must have been an everlasting breach between God and the sinner, should not have the soul, when called thereto in the gospel, and being now in its return to God, take him in its way, and pay a dutiful homage to him whom God hath set over all the affairs of lost souls, to be to them a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins? But in order thereunto, here it must be begun, for the poor soul thus to own him in the high authority of his office. This is the homage, which is in sum, the meaning of faith in Christ; the paying deference to him whom God hath set over all the affairs of souls; that is, by resigning themselves up to him: that is the homage that you owe him. And herein lies the substance of faith,—gospel-faith, self-resignation, a self-surrender, whereby you put yourselves absolutely into the hands of Christ, and own his high authority, as he is a Prince and a Saviour. And is not this the most reasonable thing in all the world? Doth not every conscience of man say so when he considers, If ever I will be reconciled to God, it must be by the blood of Christ: and he hath an office over this lost world, founded in his blood? And shall I not come and pay my deference to him at the footstool of that throne which God hath set up for him? When he hath said to the Son, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever,” shall not I come and pay my homage to this Son of God, at that throne? (Psalm iv. 5.) the Redeemer’s throne; and say, Lord, being now convinced of this state of my case, and being reduced to this, to bethink myself of returning to God, and I know there is no coming at him, 61but by thee; and this throne is set up in the way for returning souls; I therefore come and pay my homage at this throne; that is, I come and resign my soul, give up myself, put myself into thy hands to be under thy conduct: thou didst die the just for the unjust to bring them unto God; and now I come to thee to be brought, I submit to thy authority, I commit myself to thy grace. This is faith, gospel faith, and can any thing more approve itself to the conscience, than the right and equity or doing so? Is it not a righteous thing, and a just thing, that this law should be laid upon returning sinners? If you go to God immediately,—No, saith he, go and do homage to my Son; there is no coming to me, but in him; and when you do so, when you thus receive the gospel, take hold of the gospel covenant, take him for Lord and Christ, and resign and give up yourselves. This sums up that duty, and the subservient duty of repentance towards God, as the way that leads to the end. And see now, whether the gospel of our Lord, both as to the truths of it, and as to the precepts of it, do not carry with it a self-recommending evidence unto the consciences of men.
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