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Commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
WE have had occasion several times of considering the context; “We all with open face beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord; so ends the foregoing chapter. “Therefore, (so begins this chapter,) 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 in the sight of God.” You know what observations have been recommended to you from this portion of scripture, principally from these last words, but relatively considered, as well as absolutely. As,
1. That there is such a principle in every man, as that of conscience, unto which the great things of religion do carry with them a self-recommending evidence.
2. That the business of the gospel ministry doth lie very principally in a transaction with the very consciences of men.
3. That this transaction is to be managed in the sight of God. And,
4. That from all this proceeds, in very great part, the unfainting vigour and resolvedness of faithful ministers in their work.
We have insisted upon the first of these; we will now proceed as far as we can with the rest, and begin with the next in order; which is,
2d Doctrine. That the great business of the gospel ministry doth very principally lie in a transaction with men’s conscience. We are here to shew you, 1st. wherein this transaction lies; and, 2dly, to shew that the work of the ministry lies in it, and must so do very principally.74
1st. Wherein this transaction with the consciences of men doth lie. Why,
1. In dealing with men about such things chiefly as do most directly come under, and as are most apt to take hold of their consciences; in insisting (I say) chiefly upon such things as are most likely to fasten upon conscience, and take hold of that.
2. In endeavouring to set such things in as clear light as may be, to represent them as advantageously as we can, that conscience may have nothing to do but to discern the very evidence of the things. This is plain, this is clear: to represent things so that at first sight they may be assented and submitted unto as much as in us lies. And,
3. To appeal hereupon to conscience about it; that is our business, recommending ourselves to every man’s conscience; that is what we have to do, provocare, to call unto conscience: Come, do thy part; see if there be not evidence in this and that truth; see if there be not equity in this or that precept; see if there be not wickedness or danger in this or that sin; see if there be not righteousness and reasonableness in this or that judgment or determination, that we find recorded in the word, and pronounced in reference to such and such cases. These (you know) were the four heads instanced in, to let you see the things of religion that do carry in them a self-recommending evidence to the consciences of men. Our business must be to appeal to conscience about such things; to call upon it to do its office, to judge and pronounce, Are not these things so? And,
4. To endeavour to awaken conscience, supposing it drowsy and somnolent, as God knows, it is too much with the most; when we have appealed to conscience, to appeal again, as that petitioner did to that great prince: “1 appeal from thee,” said she.—“From me? (said the prince.) Whither will you appeal?”—“I appeal (said she) from you, asleep: you were asleep just now, while I was telling my story: I appeal from you asleep, to you awake.” So we are to appeal from conscience to conscience; from conscience asleep to conscience awake. That must be our business, to endeavour, as much as in us is, to awaken conscience to the exercise of its office in that great business, that we recommend ourselves to it about. And,
5. To answer what we can the cavils and foolish counter-reasonings of carnal hearts against truth and against duty, or in favour of any way of sin, that the litigating humour 75may (as much as in us is) be repressed, and men’s spirits be subdued, that they may have no more to say; but that their mouths may be stopped, and they laid under a restraint to lie down silenced and convinced before the Lord. And,
6. To urge conscience to its final answer, to its determination upon the whole, as there is such a thing as an answer of conscience to be finally given in particular cases, that we may apply ourselves to men about. And if conscience be rectified and sanctified, and sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, it will be brought at length to give a good answer, a complying answer, a yielding answer; as that which the apostle speaks of: “A like figure whereunto (having spoken of the ark before, that saved Noah and his household from perishing in the universal inundation) even baptism doth now save us; not the putting away the filth of the flesh, (not the external sign,) but the answer of a good conscience towards God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter iii. 21. The main and principal thing that we do apply ourselves to men, and the consciences of men, about, is, to bring them back to God; that is, whereas the bond was broken between God and men, we would fain have them under new bonds, we would fain there should be a redintigration, that they may come into a covenant relation to God, through Christ, again; of such a covenant entered into between God and the returning souls of men, baptism was a seal; the confirmation. It is not the external part of baptism that will avail a man any thing, not the washing away the filth of the flesh; why, will not that do? No, but that whereunto baptism is to seal; that is, the answer of a good conscience. When sinners are dealt withal, Come, will you yet have God to be your God,—God the Father, Son, and Spirit, to be your God? And the soul is brought at length to yield a ready, free, complying answer; ‘Aye, with all my heart.’ This is that will save a man; this brings him as into an ark, to save him from the common deluge of wickedness and wrath that do overwhelm this world. Then he is safe, then he is in the ark; that is, when his conscience hath given a complying answer, with a sincere conscience, I do take God to be my God. The sign (it may be) that was applied many years ago, avails nothing, without the thing signified: but if the thing signified do come to obtain, to take place, here is one that takes God to be his God; then the business is done; then the man is safe, when the sign before applied is now answered and filled up; there is that 76which is correspondent to it; the soul is now won, and brought to give its answer; the covenant stands between God and it, it is a sealed covenant; and so is such an one marked out for safety and preservation from the common ruin. And this is that which we have to deal with the consciences of men about, to bring them to a final answer. Sinner, wilt thou still live without God in the world? Wilt thou still wander from God? go astray from God? Dost thou still think it safe to live in estrangement from God, and neglect of him? never thinking of worshipping him, trusting on him, loving him, and delighting in him, from day to day? Or wilt thou yet at length be brought, upon the many applications that have been made to thy conscience, to answer, with a sincere conscience, Now I am willing, from my very soul, that God shall be mine; and I will be his in and through Christ. It is herein that our transaction doth receive its happy issue. This is the issue we drive at to bring conscience to a final answer, if it be possible, ‘I am won, I am overcome; I do answer, in my very conscience; I judge it best and safest, most equal, most dutiful, and most comfortable, to fall in with the gospel offer, and take God in Christ, for my God.’ But,
2dly. Why must our business thus lie in a transaction of men’s consciences? To that I shall need to say very little, because the things speaks itself. That is,
1. That there being this principle in man, which signifies nothing else but a power to judge in such matters, relating to such practices as shall be laid before him. And,
2. The objects carrying in themselves (as you have heard) a self-recommending evidence to this principle, nothing remains, nothing is left, but that in the course of our ministry, in the way of our dealings with men’s souls, that we do thus apply ourselves, do thus deal with this principle of conscience. Touching these objects, it is the office of conscience to judge of things, and the things themselves carry with them an evidence that comes under the notion, cognizance, and judgment of conscience; even by that very light wherewith they are clothed, and therefore the matter speaks itself; our business must lie there or nowhere; if we do not in these matters apply ourselves to the consciences of men, and treat with them, we had as good talk with stones and pillars.
Therefore I shall leave that, and speak somewhat to the third observation, the use of which too will best fall in afterwards together.77
3rd Doctrine.—This transaction with the consciences of men must be in the sight of God, there it must be made. I shall here briefly shew, 1st, what this means; and, 2ndly, why it must be so.
1st. What meaneth that such a resolution should be taken, and such a course held, we will transact, and do transact with the consciences of men in the sight of God? What can the meaning of that be? Why,
1. Negatively, the meaning of it is not, barely, that God shall see, or will see, how this transaction is managed. That is not all that is meant by it, for it is very manifest that the import of this speech holds forth to us somewhat electively done in this matter; but God’s seeing us is not a thing subject to our’s, or any man’s choice, he will see whether we will or no; and if that were all that were resolved in the case, it were to resolve God’s part, and not our own part; and this were idle and foolish for us to do; he will do his own part, and this in particular; he will see, look on, and behold whatsoever we do, and whatsoever you do. “All things are naked and manifest to his eye, with whom we have to do.” (Heb. iv. 12.) And, therefore, it were a piece of very impertinent officiousness for us, to take upon us to determine and resolve, that God should see what we do in this matter, should look upon you and us, and see how the transaction between us and your consciences is ordered, that he shall take notice of it; that cannot be the thing meant; as if any man should say, I will do such or such a thing in the light of the sun; nobody will understand the meaning of that to be, I will make the sun shine, or cause the sun to shine while I do such a thing: he can resolve nothing, but in reference to his own act, and in reference to his own part. And so it is here, it is only in reference to our own part, that we resolve such a transaction in the sight of God. Therefore, positively,
2. There is a part or act of our own implied in this, that we will do such and such a thing, and this in particular in the sight of God. And what is that? That is, we will appeal to the sight of God, and to his judgment, about what we do in this matter. And this is a thing electively and voluntarily done, as a matter of choice, that we will appeal to his eye: it is true, it is no matter of choice that God will see, but it is matter of choice that we will appeal to that eye of his. And this is the great character of sincere ones, often mentioned in scripture; 78that is, that as they know God beholds and sees them in every thing, so they do study and labour to approve themselves to his eye, and (as it were) invocate his observation. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm cxxxix. 23, 24.) It was a dignostick of sincerity, that was enjoined as a test upon Abraham; “I am God all-sufficient, walk before me, and be perfect or upright.” (Gen. xvii. 1.) Walk before me, walk so as apprehending my inspection, and so as to approve thyself to the observation of mine eye, through thy whole course; and with this, there is a conjunction mentioned of his uprightness; implying that to be a dignostick of this: “Walk before me and be upright;” walk as in my sight, (as only the upright man will do,) and therein shew thyself an upright man. So the Psalmist, “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm cxvi. 9.) I will studiously approve myself, through the whole of my walking, unto the view and judgment of his observing eye. And so it is said of them who do truly, or that do the truth, that they bring their deeds to the light, “that they may be manifest that they are wrought in God.” (John iii. 21.) They do willingly expose their deeds to be viewed in the light, from the secret consciousness that there is a divine power and presence with them that doth help them on in their way and course: and this, they desire, should be made manifest, that they do not live at the common rate; that they do not walk as men, (as the expression is, 1 Cor. iii.) That it may be seen that their course is managed in the power of a divine principle, that their works are wrought in God. Here is an elective appeal all along to the divine eye; which hypocrites and unsound persons would decline and shun even to the uttermost; “they will not come to the light, lest their deeds should be reproved.” (John iii. 20.) And when it is said, “there is no darkness or shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity can hide themselves,” it implies, fain they would keep in the dark from the eyes of the looker upon the ways of men, who sees their goings. They are for the night, for a corner, for darkness, but they can find none; they vainly seek it, though this be the wish of their hearts, as the poet expresseth it, “Da mihi noctem, da mihi nubem;” Oh for a cloud, Oh for a dark night! We do appeal to the consciences of men, in the sight of God; we appeal to his eye voluntarily and 79freely desiring him to be judge when we deal and treat with men upon this account, whether we do not sincerely desire their best good, and highest glory, in this negociation of ours. This, therefore, is the plain meaning of doing what we do in this case “in the sight of God;” that is, as electively appealing to the eye of God, in the transaction and management of this affair.
And so there are now two parts manifestly distinguishable; that is, God’s part looking on, and man’s part in appealing to his observing eye, and expressing a desire of his complacency in reference to those things he is looking upon; but then, as to our own part, or man’s part, wherein we are concerned, which lies under our present consideration, that you may also see is two-fold; that is, there is the preacher’s part, and there is the hearer’s part: it is the former of these that is directly here meant; and the latter implicitly and by consequence.
1. The former is meant directly, that is, they whose business it is, as ministers of the gospel, to treat and deal with the souls of men; their part is directly there expressed, to appeal to the eye of God, concerning their own integrity and the uprightness of their aims, in all the applications they make from him, and upon his account to souls. But then,
2. The hearer’s part is implied; not as that in reference whereto we can undertake, but as that in reference whereto we do and must endeavour; that is, that they also may be brought to appeal to the eye of God, in this transaction that is between us and their consciences. This is that we must endeavour. As,
1. We must endeavour to make them sensible of the divine presence, in which we are at such times as these. That is incumbent upon us on our part, that we engage you as much as in us is, to do your part; that is, to appeal jointly with us to the eye of God, about that for which we appeal to you and your consciences; our business must be to make you apprehensive and sensible, that we are in the presence of God; that there is a divine eye inspecting us, looking upon us: we must put you in mind of this, that we speak, and you hear in the presence of God: and under the observation of his eye, his piercing eye is upon us, he sees with what mind and design the speaker preacheth; he observes with what temper and disposition of mind every hearer heareth. This we are to our utmost to make you apprehensive of. And,80
2. Supposing deviations and wanderings, (to which we are always too prone,) we must summon you into the divine presence, so as to let the matter we deal with you about, be transacted as in that presence: we must deal with you as upon such a supposition as this, It is an easy thing for you to put off a man that speaks to you?—you think you may boldly and safely slight the words of a poor mortal man: but we must have you into the presence of God, and all this affair must be transacted as under his eye. If you do disregard what a poor mortal man saith to you, come, let you and I go before the Lord now, here he is upon the throne; pray, let him have the hearing of the controversy between you and us; give him the hearing of it, let him see the state of the case, submit the matter between us to his judgment, whether you ought not to receive such and such truths, whether you ought not to comply and yield to the authority of such and such precepts, and whether you ought not to dread and shun to the uttermost such and such sins. Pray, let the great God have the hearing of the business; we summon you into his presence, and would not have you regard us in what we say, but him. And if we should go to particular instances; it may be, there are such and such sins that divers of you have been from time to time admonished of, and it hath been all in vain; you would never give us the hearing; we have spoke (as it were) to the wind. Suppose a licentious young man have given up himself to walk in the way of his own heart; and we have reasoned the matter with such, and debated it with them, whether it were not safer for them to be under the divine government, to walk according to divine prescriptions, than follow the hurry and impetus of sensual inclinations; telling them this will be your death, this will be your ruin, this you will rue for another day; but they will not hear us. Then we only say in this case, ‘Come, and let you and I go before the Lord;’ and let the matter be reasoned out in his sight, or in his hearing, and let him judge between you and us, whether you ought not to hearken, whether it will be fit for you, a creature, to oppose the will of your Creator; one that was raised out of the dust but the other day, to oppose your appetite and inclination to his authority, to his wisdom, to his good, and righteous, and holy will? Do but try, and see what courage and confidence you can have, thus to give the cause to your own will, fancy, and humour, against his will, wisdom, and authority; now you 81are brought before his throne, and now the matter comes to be transacted immediately as under his eye, between, you and a poor messenger of his, that he employs in his work; and so, though we can only directly do our own part in this business, as appealing to conscience under God’s eye; we must likewise put you upon your part, that is, must summon you, and draw you in with us, into such an. appeal to God, when we are dealing with your consciences in their souls’ concerns.
Now, by this time, I hope you see what this transaction with the consciences of men, as in the sight of God doth mean. And if.
2ndly. You would know why it must be thus, why this transaction should be with the consciences of men in the sight of God, manifold reasons presently offer themselves. As,
1. It is his work that we are employed in, his business that we go about, when we speak to men to turn and live, when we would have them repent and believe the gospel; when we would have you come back to God, and pay your homage unto him, it is his work that we are doing all this time. And why should we not, as much as it is possible, aim and endeavour, that we may see how his work is done? That is, that we bring you under his eye as much as in us is.
2. We go about this work of his continually in his name. It is his work, and done in his name; by his authority we continue in it, being sent of him. Why should not what is done in his name, be done under his eye, even of our own design and choice, as much as is possible, on the one hand and the other? For whatsoever we are to do, we are to do in the Lord’s name; we that speak, are to speak in the Lord’s name; you that hear, are to hear in the Lord’s name, or hear what is spoken in his name. And why should it not be a matter of choice with us, that all be transacted as under his eye and in his sight? And,
3. He hath equal power over us, and over you; his power obtains alike over all; and where we are sure his power is alike over all, why should we not all endeavour alike to walk under his eye, and labour to approve ourselves to his ye, under which all are? And,
4. He perfectly knows all matters of fact that do belong to this transaction; and, therefore, since we are sure he 82doth, it is better that we consider it, and accordingly, study to approve ourselves to his inspection, he doth know all the matter of fact; he knows my thoughts, and all your thoughts, throughout this whole transaction, on such a day, and at such a time as this. And,
5. He is the only competent judge of the matter of right; whether you or I do right or wrong, in reference to what is spoken and heard. And lastly,
6. To be sure, he will be the final judge; it is good for us to consent and agree to it, that he shall be the present judge, and that then this transaction be carried on designedly under his eye; he will be the judge at last, when the secret of all hearts shall be laid open, and there is no declining his judgment; certainly, therefore, it is the wisest and best course, as much as possible by consent, and willingly to bring things under his eye, and notice now; and endeavour to approve all this transaction to the inspection, the present inspection of that eye, the final judgment whereof we cannot avert.
And so way is made for somewhat of use, in reference to this two-fold observation, that we have thus far insisted on: many things might be said, but for present take this.
We may see by all this what the case is like, of them that live long disobedient to the voice of the gospel, under which they live. See a little and judge of the state of their case and affairs, They that live statedly under the gospel, must be supposed to have many applications made to their consciences, for that is the very business of the gospel, immediately to apply itself to the very consciences of men; for you that have lived long under the gospel, (whether successfully or unsuccessfully,) there have been many applications made to your consciences, by those that have been employed in this work about matters of the highest importance and concern; you had best consider with what success and with what effect; but if it hath been with little, that is, if hitherto you have disobeyed the voice of that gospel, under which you have so long lived, it cannot but have been with very great regret, many turns and reclamations of your consciences: if conscience were not a capable principle of judgment, when it is applied unto, when appeals are made to it,—it would be the vainest thing in all the world to talk of commending ourselves to the consciences of men, in the sight of God, as the apostle 83here speaks. Why to their consciences? It were as good do it to any thing else as conscience,—if conscience be not a principle susceptible of conviction, when it is applied unto. Therefore now let it be considered, that conscience is a judge wherever it hath place and is applied unto; it doth (as it were) keep its power; and, indeed, it is capable of sustaining several parts: where there is a judicature, there is a registry too; and it is as well capable of recording things as of judging them. It may be, many have made it their business to slur and blot the records that are kept in the court of conscience. But that is a vain thing, this shall all come into view again. Every time that thou hast come, with a vain heart, into the presence of God; every time thou hast offered here the sacrifice of a fool; every time thou hast come like such an one, with thine eyes in the ends of the earth, when they should have been, intent upon the Divine Majesty, to pay thy homage to him, every time thou hast opposed resolution against conviction of conscience, thou wert convinced in thy conscience, certainly there must be a change, and a reformation; things must not be with me as they have been; it is not a right way I have been, but thou hast resolved I will not reform,—I will live as I have lived, do as I have done: every time that Christ hath been offered to thee, and thou hast refused him, and he hath had cause to complain, as in the prophet, “My people would not hearken to my voice; Israel would have none of me.” (Psalm lxxxi. 11.) They that call themselves mine, profess themselves Christians; call themselves by my name, would have none of me; every time thou hast been urged, If thou wilt have life, thou must have the Son; “he that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son, hath not life.” (John v. 12.) Come, (saith God,) wilt thou have my Son? Thou hast not said yea; thy heart hath not consented; and that is all one as if thou hast said, No; when the thing hath not been done so often, hast thou been recorded a refuser of the Son of God? thy conscience hath been convinced over and over, I ought to receive the Son of God; this command being brought to me from heaven, to believe in his name; that is, to resign myself to him, and submit myself to him; but I never did, I never have; this is a most fearful case, that there ever should be such records in a man’s conscience against him; to which there have been continual additions, from Lord’s day to Lord’s day, through 84a long tract of time, and yet my course hath been the same. Notwithstanding all the reclamations of conscience, there hath been no reformation in my heart, none in my life; I am just the same as I was seven or ten years ago; so many convictions of conscience yet to be answered, for they never have been yet. Oh, think of the state of their affairs that have lived long under the “gospel, disobedient to it. Conscience hath been still applied to, and appealed to in the sight of God, under his eye and notice; and yet there hath been no consent, no compliance given; “Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.” (Rom. xiv. 22.) That carries a dreadful intimation, Cursed is he that condemneth himself in that thing which he alloweth; that he alloweth. It was a good thing to have accepted the Son of God, to have turned to God, and come to an agreement with him in and by his Son, and to have broken off every evil way, and to have betaken myself to a strict and regular course of walking with God, a very good thing! What a cursed thing, a dismal thing is it then to condemn oneself in the thing which he alloweth? I allow all this to be good, and so am self-condemned for not doing it. “If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts.” (1 John iii. 29.) When a man is condemned in his own heart; when he hath a judgment in his conscience about any matter, indefinitely considered, and his practice runs counter, so as to bring himself unawares, under the judgment of it. “Thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest, for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemneth thyself.” (Rom. ii. 1.) Which is spoken in reference to what was said in the foregoing words,” Who, knowing the judgment of God, that they who commit such things, are worthy of death, not only do the same, but take pleasure in those that do them.” (Rom. i. last verse.) They know that judgment; it stands as a judgment, and a righteous one in their view; they themselves have judged this judgment to be right. Thou art then inexcusable, O man, that judgest in what thou judgest; thou hast judged such and such a way to be evil, and such and such a determination in reference thereunto to be righteous, and yet by doing that thing, thou dost run thyself under such a judgment and doom. Oh! what an inexcusable creature art thou!85
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