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Commending ourselves to every Man’s Conscience in the sight of God.
THE matter is in itself so obvious, that this self-recommendation is not thus spoken of the persons, personally considered, but with reference to their work of dispensing the gospel of Christ, and holding forth the great things contained in it: that that laid our ground fairly enough in view, for that which I mainly intended to insist upon from these words, and that is;
That the great things of religion do carry in them a self-recommending evidence to the consciences of men. And here, having shewn you what is meant by conscience, what that principle is that is to be applied unto, appealed unto, in this work of ours; we come to evince to you the 62truth of the thing, that there is that self-recommending evidence in the great things of religion, even to the very consciences of men. We propounded, (as you know,) to prove it by instances, and we have proved it,
1. By instances under the head of truths, or the doctrines unto which assent is to be given; and we have proved it.
2. By instances under the head of precepts, duties, enjoined to be done;—and now we shall farther prove it.
3. By instancing in prohibitions of sin to be avoided; and in them you will find the same recommending evidence to men’s consciences, if such prohibitions, as do but come under your notice, be considered a little; as that general one, “Oh, do not that abominable thing which I hate.” (Jer. xliv. 4.) What convictive light doth it carry to every conscience of man, that allows himself to think and consider? I, a creature, the work of God’s own hand, in whose power and pleasure it was, whether I should ever be or not be, whether ever I should draw a breath, or see the light in this world, yea or no; that I being lately sprung into being, by his pleasure and vouchsafement, should allow myself despitefully to do the thing he hates, and that he hath declared himself to hate? How can this, (if men do think,) how can it but strike conscience? What f to spite the God of all grace; Him, whose nature is love itself, goodness itself, kindness? For me to do the thing that I know he hates, how is it possible but this should recommend itself to conscience, if men do not shut the eye and stop the ear of conscience, that it shall not be allowed to discharge any part of its proper office and work?
But to descend to more particular prohibitions, there the thing will be still plain; do not live after the flesh, if you do, it is mortal to you; “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.” (Rom. viii. 13.) What evidence doth this carry with it to conscience? Take the prohibition and the inforcement together, as we should do in the former instances; Do not this, do not the thing I hate. When we do know ourselves to be a sort of compound creatures, made up of flesh and spirit, can we be ignorant which is the nobler part? Can any man’s conscience allow him to think, that flesh ought to rule; that it belongs to the baser flesh to be the governing thing? “Do not walk after the flesh;” doth not the thing carry its own evidence with it, that we should not; that the mind and spirit should not be enslaved to so base a thing as flesh?
Again, “Do not grieve the Spirit of God, do not quench 68the Spirit; (1 Thess. v. 9.) What evidence doth this carry with it to any conscience of man? Our own hearts tell us, if we consider, we need a guide in this wilderness; we need an enlightener, we need a sanctifier, we need a quickener, we need a comforter within, an internal one of all these. What? Is it reasonable to think; doth not the matter speak itself to our consciences; when it is said to us, whatsoever ye do, do not grieve the Spirit? (Eph. iv. 3.) You are lost if you do; what desolate creatures will ye be if you do! What forsaken wretches! You will run yourselves into a thousand miseries and deaths, if you be forsaken of that Spirit; your end can be nothing but perdition, if you be not under the constant conduct of that Spirit. I might preach to you thus, upon as many several texts as I give you instances in this case, to shew the truth of this one thing, how God doth speak to men’s consciences in the gospel-dispensation.
When again he saith to men, love not this world, nor the things of this world; If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him; (1 John ii. 15.) that is, do not so love this world, as thereby to stifle, as thereby to exclude the love of God, that it shall and can have no place in you. Doth not this carry its own light with it, its own evidence? What a foolish wretch art thou that thinkest this world can be to thee, in the room and stead of God! Can this world be a God to thee? Can this world fill up God’s vacant places? What a pitiful sorry God wilt thou find it in a few years or days? Thou who dost turn God out of thy soul, and wilt have it filled and replenished only with this world, doth not this carry with it conviction to conscience? What can, if this do not?
Again, do not take more care for this temporal life, than for spiritual and eternal life; or to give it you in the words of our Saviour, “Labour not for the meat that perisheth; but for that which endureth to life eternal, which the Son of Man shall give.” John vi. 27.
Doth not this carry its own evidence to you with it? That is, when I know I have but a short temporal life; which, do what I can, will soon come to an end; and there is an eternal state of life which must come after wards. I know I am a creature made for eternity, and for an everlasting state. Doth not this carry its own evidence with it, when I am forbid to take more care for this mortal life, than for life eternal? When I am forbidden to make 64more solicitous provision for this perishing life, than an immortal life? Doth not the reason of the thing speak itself in my conscience? But I go on,
4. To the last head which I proposed to give instances of. We have gone upon divine truths, divine precepts, divine prohibitions; we shall only instance further, upon the head of divine judgments, or judicial determinations. I cannot call what I intend by a fitter name, or nearer to that of the apostle, who knowing the judgment of God, that they who do such things are worthy of death,—here is the divine judicial determination, de debito retributionis, what is justly to be retributed to those that are found to disobey the stated known rules of his government. His judgments in this sense, they are a light that goeth forth; Hosea vi. 5. (to borrow that expression;) they carry their own convictive evidence with them to the consciences of men. Hosea vi. 5. How equal they are! take those two in the general, that we have confronted to one another. “Say ye to the righteous, it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings; Woe unto the wicked, it shall be ill with him; for the reward of his hands shall be given him.” Isaiah iii. 10, 11. Doth not this speak itself, that when we know the world is divided into good and bad, into righteous and wicked, it should fare ill with them that did ill, and well with them that did well? Doth not this carry its own evidence with it to conscience, that God should render to every man according to his works; that is, the course of his work, and, consequently, the habitual inclinations from whence they proceed; every thing working as it is, and men working, as they are, either according to what by nature they were, or according to what by grace they are become; so they ought to be judged? When we know the world is divided into two parts, under two great parents, as the apostle calls them the children of God, and the children of the devil, herein are the children of God manifest, and the children of the devil. 1 John iii. 10. These two families, these two sorts of posterities, do divide the world to every man’s sense, and the world being so divided, is it to be expected that God should deal with his own children and the devil’s children alike? Let conscience be appealed to in this case: they that live here all their days in this world under the law, and according to the dictates of the prince of the darkness of this world, despising God, hating his ways, throwing him out of their thoughts, making it only their design to please themselves, and do the devil’s 65work, when we know there is such a sort of men in this world, and that there is another sort that have given up themselves to God in Christ, have taken hold of Christ and of God in him, to be theirs; being born, “not of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God;” (John i. 13.) as all they that do receive Christ are. When we know, I say, there is such a contradistinction between a race and a race, a family and a family, can any man in his conscience expect that God should deal with all alike? And therefore, when you have particular determinations to the particular distinguishing characters of the one sort, and of the other, the equity and reasonableness of the determination cannot but speak itself in every man’s conscience that doth consider the case. As, for instance, the love of Christ: it is determined on the one hand; “Grace be upon all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” Ephes. vi. 21. And, on the other hand, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha;” (1 Cor. xvi. 22.) an execrable thing, an accursed thing, till the Lord come to plead his own cause and quarrel himself. To what conscience of man doth not the equity of this determination or distinguishing judgment appear and recommend itself? What! do we think (when men must have their final felicity from the blessed Judge, if ever they be happy) that he is to dispense equally to them that love him, and to them that hate him? And so, when the business of obedience to his gospel, the laws of his kingdom, is mentioned as the contra distinguishing character to that of disobedience and rebellion. He will be “the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him,” Hebrews v. 9; and will come in flaming fire to take vengeance on them that obey him not. 2 Thess. i. 8. Doth not this distinguishing judgment approve itself to any man’s conscience? That when every man must be beholden for this salvation to Christ the eternal Son of God, into whose hands and power this world is put, the whole universe, indeed, all the affairs of heaven and earth; do you think he will make no difference at the last between them that obeyed him, subjected themselves to that vast just power of his; and they that lived in continual rebellion against him, and defiance to his power and authority?
And so, if we should take the determination which is given us, concerning the stated method of God’s final procedure in that which is called the day of wrath, and the revelation of his righteous judgment; to wit, that to them 66who, by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, he will give eternal life; (Rom. ix. 7.) such as, by patient continuance in well doing, do steer their course answerable to so high an hope and expectation of honour, glory, and immortality, said God: nothing but eternal glory and blessedness will answer the enlargedness of the capacity, desires, and aspirings, of these souls; they shall have their seeking. These are a sort of souls that breathe after nothing but the celestial glory and felicity, being refined from the mixture, dross, and baseness, of this earth: no terrene good will satisfy them, or serve their turn; for they are all for heaven, all for glory, and immortality: I will give them eternal life. This is the judgment that is made aforehand; eternal life shall be theirs. But then there is another sort, that are contentious, and will not obey the truth; Rom. ii. 8, 9 that is, that are contentious against the truth they should obey, and that should govern them: no, they will not be governed by truth; they will be governed by lust, by terrene inclinations, which bear them downwards towards this earth: “Indignation and Wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man: it will be upon them, every soul of them, that do evil, whether Jew or Gentile; because there is no respect of persons with God, Romans ii. 11. What can more approve itself to the judgment of conscience than this determination doth? Yea, God hereupon makes his appeal to men: Are not my ways equal? Ezek. xviii. 25-29. Be you, your very conscience itself, in the judgment seat, and Jet that pronounce, Are not my ways equal? what conscience of man but must submit here, and fall in with the choir of them that say, “Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways.” Rev. xv. 3. There is nothing to be said against all this; every conscience of man must yield and submit to God in this case.
It remains to say somewhat by way of use.
1. We learn hence, that upon the whole, there cannot but be much sinning against light in this world; and especially under the gospel, where there are those so clear, evident, and convictive things, that are insisted upon so much from time to time, which even make their own way to men’s consciences; though through them they do not make their way to their more abstracted hearts. Do but appeal to yourselves; what are the things that you hear of in these assemblies from one Lord’s day to another? Are they not the 67things as I have now given you instances in, and in former discourses? Do not you hear of such things most? And do not these things speak themselves in your very consciences? Yet, is it not apparent that the course and tenor of men’s lives run counter to the tendency of all these things? Oh, then, how apparent and insolent sinning against light is there among us in our days! A fearful thing to think of! that men should in their consciences know that such and such things are true; and that, if they be true, they must be considerable; if they be true, they are as important truths as can be thought of; and yet they will not think of them. They know such and such things are commanded; but they never set themselves about them. Such and such things are forbidden, but they take no care to avoid them. Such and such judgments are fixed and determined by the righteous will of God, and they take no care; have no forethought to make a title clear to the reward that is promised, or to avoid the penalties threatened. What sinning against light is all this? And what is the issue of all this like to be?
2. You may further see hence, that if man be so capable a creature, through his having that principle settled in him of judging of things; to wit, truths, precepts, prohibitions, divine determinations, or judgments, as you have heard, then he is as capable a creature, by the same principle, of judging of himself, and of his own case hereupon. I pray consider it, it is one and the self same principle by which I am first to judge, Is such a thing a part of divine truth, and to be received accordingly? and afterwards to judge, Have I received it accordingly; yea or no? And so, in reference to the other several heads, it is but the same principle that I am to use, and put in exercise, both ways. If I am a creature capable of judging of truth, of duty, of sin, of desert in general; then I am capable of judging some what of the state of my own case hereupon, in reference to all these. And pray let that be considered only in the way to what is further to be considered.
3. It is, then, a very strange kind of stupidity, that men do not more generally lay themselves under judgment, one way or another, when they have this principle in them, that is so capable of doing, and the proper direct use whereof (at least) is to do it. It is strange that men should spend all their days amidst the light by which they must be finally judged, and never go about such a thing as the forming of a preventive judgment concerning themselves. And 68yet we are told that this is the only way of escaping the severity of a destructive doom at last from the supreme Judge. “Judge yourselves, and ye shall not be judged.” That people should pass away their days, and under a gospel, and never find time (as it is, God knows, with too many) to ask themselves the question, Into what sort and class of men am I to cast myself? There are those that do belong to God as his own children, the members of his family, his special domestics. Am I of that family, or am I not? Do I belong to God, or do I not (Do the characters of a righteous person or a wicked one belong to me? Am I one that fears God, or, one of them that fear him not? That love him, or that love him not? Am I (in short) a regenerate person, or an unregenerate? A convert, or an unconverted one? It is strange how men can dream away their time under a gospel as we live, and never ask themselves such questions as these are, in reference to so great and important a case; let one day come and go after another, and take it for granted that things are well, without ever inquiring. To what purpose, I pray, is there such a principle in the souls of men (as conscience, when this signifies nothing? It is thus tied and chained up from doing any thing of its proper business in their souls. If it be brought into true light, (as it may be with some, if their case do infer so,) it will speak comfortably to them, if their case doth admit it. But if you have no converse with your own consciences, have nothing to do with them, never converse with them, never commune with them, they never speak to you one way or other; you have neither comfort from them, nor are awakened by them. But again,
4. We further note to you, that sure, upon the whole matter, man is become a very degenerate creature. The state of things with men living under the gospel, gives so much the more clear and certain judgment of the state of things with men more generally and indefinitely considered; for if they that live under the gospel, notwithstanding the clearer representation of things there which are of the greatest concernment to them, and the most earnest inculcation of such things by them who have that part incumbent on them to open and preach the great things of the gospel among them; I say, if among these there Be so deep a somnolency, the spirit of a deep sleep poured out; if even these men are generally unconcerned, and do not care what becomes of their souls, and what the state of things is between God and them, certainly, upon the whole matter, 69man must needs be a very degenerate creature, to have such a principle of conscience in him to so little purpose, so much in vain, which was designed in his original and instituted state to be his guide and conductor all along through the whole of his course; but now-a-days it doth not, for the most part, or at least not in reference to men’s greatest concernment, the state of their affairs and case God-ward, and as things lie between them and him. And again,
5. We may learn wherein the degeneracy of man doth generally and principally consist and lie, and what is the most mortal ail and evil that hath befallen men by the fall; that is, the interruption and breach of the order between the faculties, that which should lead and guide, and those which should obey and follow: here lies the principal maim and hurt of the soul by the fall; it lies in this chiefly, that the order is battered and broken between faculty and faculty, between the practical judgment (which is the same with conscience) and the executive power, which should act and do according to the dictate of that judgment or conscience: here is the maim; it doth not lie so much in this, a mere ignorance, or (suppose that) in a mere inaptitude to know, or an incapacity of knowing the things that are needful to be known; but it lies chiefly in this, that the things we do know, they signify no more with men, than if they knew them not; the inferior powers do not obey and follow the superior: as, for instance, now, among us, who believe the Bible to be the word of God, and who do profess the Christian name, take a man that is under the dominion of this or that particular lust in his nature, it is plain this lust carries him against a thousand texts of scripture; what will a text of scripture signify to a man that is under the violent hurry or impetuosity of a lust? Though conscience tells him, at the same time, this is a divine word, a divine dictate; this word is from God, and it speaks like itself in my conscience, that it is a divine word. Alas! how little doth a text, or multitudes of texts of scripture, prevail in such a case, when a man’s heart is carried by the power of such a lust? “The lusts of your fathers ye will do,” (John viii. 44.) as our Saviour told the Jews; so that is the true state of man’s case, naturally: a degenerate creature he is; and herein lies his degeneration, or principal maim, that he hath got by his fall; the order is broken between the faculties, insomuch, that now a man’s knowing, or having the notion of this or that thing to be done, 70or not to be done, signifies no more to him, than if there were no such notions, no such knowledge; when there is a competition between the judgment of conscience, and an inclination of heart, you may lay a thousand to one on the side of the inclination, that carries it: here is our maim, and it is fit we should understand, and needful we should consider, where it is, and what is our hurt by the fall: we see our way, but have no inclination to go in it; we see what we should do, but we do not do it; tike here in the poet,—“Video meliora proboque deteriora sequar;”—the same maim that Pagans have complained of, I see the better, and do the worse. It were a sad case if we should lie under such a evil as this is, and never know it, never take notice of it, where our hurt lies, and where our cure must be wrought. And that is the next thing,
6. I would infer, to wit, wherein regeneration most principally lies: when a man understands what it is to be degenerate, he will the better know what it is to be regenerate; it must lie in this, in the exalting the law of the mind into its proper dominion and government, the placing that upon the throne which is to beget a man, spirit of spirit; whereas, before, he was only begotten flesh of flesh; for when flesh is a ruling and governing nature, then the man is called flesh; but when the spirit is become the ruling and governing thing, (which is the new nature,) then he is called spirit; and he is made spirit before he ought to be called so. And this is the effect of regeneration, the creating of a man’s spirit again, that is restoring him to himself. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” John iii. 6. When a man’s light becomes a vital thing, a powerful efficacious thing, then he is a child of light. “You were darkness, now are ye light in the Lord; walk as children of light.” Ephes, v. 8. And we are never to look on ourselves as regenerate, till it comes to this; till the Divine Spirit have exalted our spirits into their proper dominion; till there be a principle begotten that shall make divine discoveries significant; when it may be said, “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made us free from the law of sin and death.” Romans viii. 2. And thereupon we may infer,
7. That a degenerate and an unregenerate man is a miserable creature; as he is a most depraved creature, so he is a most wretched creature; for, take the state of his case, as things are with the unregenerate man, his soul is the 71seat and stage of a continual war, to no purpose. Indeed, the soul of a saint in this world is the seat of war, but it is a war to a good purpose; a war wherein he finally prevails, and wherein he is habitually victorious all along. But the soul of an unregenerate man is he seat of war in vain; for the right principle is always worsted, perpetually worsted; there is not a war as there is in the regenerate, in the faculties taken separately and apart, as in the very heart itself, and in the will itself. The regenerate person hath a war; there is a love to God, with its opposite; but that love is the prevailing inclination: there is faith with unbelief; but then faith is habitually prevailing in the regenerate person. In the unregenerate person there is no such thing as faith in the heart, love in the heart; but a total unbelief, a total enmity, and total fearlessness of God, and a total vacancy of desire after him, and delight in him; but there is light in his conscience: his conscience tells him God is worthy to be loved, worthy to be desired, worthy to be delighted in, but there is nothing in his heart correspondent, so that this soul is a continual seat of war, in vain, and to no purpose; for the bent of his heart always carries it against the light of his mind and conscience; so that, although he doth acknowledge in his conscience that God is the chief good, he always keeps off from him; that he is the highest authority, yet he always disobeys him; never fears him, never stands in awe of him; as such, therefore, this sort of creature is a miserable creature, he is a creature composed for torment, having a principle in him that always tells him what he should do, but no principle to enable him so to do; so that continually he doth against what he should do. This is as much as is possible to be made for torment; but then remember, it is self-composed; you have made yourselves so: if this be the case with any of us, we have fought against the grace and Spirit of Christ, by which this sad case should have been redressed: and we have habituated ourselves to a course of living after the flesh, by which flesh hath got dominion over conscience; whereupon conscience can never come to rule it, but dictates to it always in vain. Again,
8. They are very happy souls in whom there is a reconciliation brought about between the light of their consciences and the temper and inclination of their hearts, by the conforming of the latter to the former. This creates an heaven within them, when a poor soul sees its way, and walks in it; sees that God ought to be loved, and he loves 72him; that he ought to be trusted, and trusts in him; that he ought to be delighted in, and delights in him: this is heaven on this side heaven, this is heaven under heaven, when conscience is the governing thing in his whole conversation; so that he doth not consider, Wherein shall I advantage myself by this and this negociation and affair? increase my estate and my condition in this world? He doth not, finally, and ultimately, consider that, but how shall I manage this affair to please God, so as I may approve myself to him, and so as that my own heart and conscience shall not reproach me about it? O happy man that walks by this rule! This is the new creature’s rule; they that walk according to it, peace shall be upon them, and mercy upon the Israel of God. Gal. vi. 16. When a man hath been busy about his affairs, he may be abroad all day, and can come home and visit his tabernacle at night, and not sin. Job v. 24. Oh blessed thing! What can be the meaning of that? Can any man suppose it a sin to go home to his own house? No, but that he can visit his tabernacle without conscience of sin. I have kept a good conscience this day, blessed be God: it may be I have met with temptations, to be in a debauch by those that would have insulted over the weakness of my flesh; it may be I have, but God hath kept me. Blessed be God, now I can visit my tabernacle without sin, and lay me down in rest and peace; I can visit my tabernacle without spot, without any such spot. What a blessed thing is it, when God brings about that reconciliation between him and them, and where the peace is kept and continued between a man and his own conscience, not by stupifying of conscience, (a fearful thing that is,) but by the conforming of a man’s, heart and inclinations and ways thereunto.73
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