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Commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
WE have considered the words according to what, in themselves, they do import, and it remains now only to consider them (as we also proposed to do) in the reference to which they bear to the foregoing verse. “Therefore, as we have received this ministry, we faint not, but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, commending ourselves.” And so it appears very plain that this course which the servants of God have held, in managing their ministerial work, to apply themselves directly therein to the consciences of men, hath been one of their great preservations against fainting in their work; so that they have 100pursued it with so much the more vigour and resolution upon this account, that herein they have made it their business to recommend themselves in the very sight of God to the consciences of men. And so we have this observation, as hath been already told you.
4th Doctrine. That the faithful ministers of the gospel, from their applying in their work to the very consciences of men, have very great encouragement to go on in it without fainting. And hence it will be requisite only,
1. To shew, briefly, what this fainting means. And then,
2, To shew you how great an encouragement against it this is; to wit, their applying themselves all along directly to the very consciences of men, even in the sight of God.
1. What this not fainting meaneth. Fainting (as was told you) is two-fold, as is obvious to all, either bodily, or mental; and it is manifest, this is mental fainting that is here disclaimed and disavowed, such as we find mentioned in Hebrews xii. 3. “Lest ye be weary and faint in your minds.” Our minds do not faint in our work, while we are enabled to recommend ourselves in it to every man’s conscience in the sight of God; and that fainting of the mind is again two-fold, it signifies either sloth or laziness, or else despondency and dejection of spirit: the word rendered fainting, hath this double import in the other places of scripture, where we find the same word used: “Our Lord spake a parable to such a purpose, to teach us to pray always, and not to faint.” Luke xviii. at the beginning. That we neither grow slothful in it, nor despond upon it, so, be not weary of well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Gal. vi. 9. If you do not grow worse, if you do not suffer yourselves to be seized with a spirit of sloth, and if you do not yield to a desponding spirit. Now to be encouraged in our spirits doth include the opposite of these; for by how much the more there is of holy fortitude in any man’s soul, so much the more there will be of lively and active vigour accompanying and going along with it.
And it is the design of the Apostle in this negative expression, to conjoin both these, fortitude and diligence, in opposition to despondency and sloth; and that there doth arise a very great spring of such enlivening vigour and fortitude, from this very reflection, that the faithful ministers of Christ may have upon the course of their 101procedure in their work, viz., That they have constantly all along in it, made it their business to recommend themselves to the consciences of men in the sight of God. That is the thing. I am now,
2. To make out unto you, (having shewn you what this not fainting meaneth;) and this encouragement (which, from our applying ourselves to the consciences of men we do receive) will appear to be different, or to arise to us in different ways, according to the different consideration we may have of the thing itself, this application to conscience in the sight of God; that may be considered two ways, either in the effect or in the design.
In the effect; the immediate effect I mean, and that is the conviction of conscience. The immediate effect of such application to conscience, is, the conviction of conscience; and the design thereof, that imports our steady aimings at this thing, to fasten conviction on men’s consciences, as much as is possible to us: the former of these, therefore, speaks the convictiveness of this application to conscience, and the latter speaks the sincerity of it. The former is grounded on, and referred to, the former words in the text, “commending ourselves to every man’s conscience;” and the latter refers to the latter words, “in the sight of God;” for as the convictiveness of this application terminates upon conscience itself: so sincerity herein terminates upon God, or upon the eye of God, who is the only judge of sincerity; hereupon these are the two things that are so very encouraging in this case, the convictiveness of this application to conscience, and the sincerity of it.
1. The convictiveness of it; that is, a very encouraging, enlivening, fortifying thing to the heart of a serious minister, and one who is faithful in his work, and that from a two-fold account; to wit, as considering such a conviction of the consciences of men, (for we are now considering the effect and the aptitude of this application to produce and work it;) I say, considering this conviction of men’s consciences,—1st. As the direct way to their conversion. And 2ndly, As that which however gains for the great God a testimony in their own very souls.
1st. It is a mighty encouraging thing, as it is the direct way to their conversion. If men be convinced, if the words of the gospel do once take hold of their consciences, this leads to conversion, it hath a tendency thitherward; and though we do not know that we convince the consciences 102of men; we do not certainly know it, but when we arc told; we sometimes are told, some do come to us, and own their convictions, and declare them to us; yet if we do but hope from the very evidence of what we see, that conscience is taken hold of, that some conviction is impressed on the consciences of them that hear us; this hope invigorates, enlivens, animates us, helps somewhat against fainting in our work. “Having this hope,” (saith the Apostle in the close of the foregoing chapter, and referring to the self-same thing,) “we use great boldness of speech;” we read it plainness of speech, boldness it signifies; having this hope, we use great parressy, we use great freedom of speech; we speak as men that do expect to prevail, as those that look not to be baffled, nor to be disappointed in what we are designing in this matter, in our treaties and transactions with the souls, and especially with the consciences of men. We use great freedom of speech, having this hope, saith he; and so, in the following chapter, knowing the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men; we persuade men, and are made manifest to God, and we trust, also, we are manifest in your consciences. 2 Cor. v. 11. We trust we are, we hope we are, manifest in your consciences; and, therefore, we persuade with so much the more vigour, and so much the more earnestness, as apprehending, as trusting, and hoping, that you do in your consciences believe the things to be true, and real, and important, that we deal with you about: and that this must needs be a very enlivening thing, and tends much to animate a serious minister of Christ, and one who is in good earnest with his work, will appear if you do but consider these two things;—1st. What reason a man hath to hope, that conviction of conscience may end in conversion. And 2ndly. Consider how encouraging a thing this hope of conversion must itself be. These two things are distinctly to be considered, to make out our present purpose.
1. There is reason to hope, that when conviction hath taken hold of men’s consciences, it may end in conversion; and so the hope of this, arising from the very plain evidence of things, that there is some conviction wrought in the minds and consciences of men, it gives ground to a farther hope, to an higher hope; if they become convinced more may become of it. If our blessed Lord Jesus Christ hath by this means made way into their consciences, it is, to be hoped he will find a way into their hearts; and sure 103hope of converting souls is not altogether without ground, if we may hope that there are convictions wrought in the mind and conscience, and that upon these several accounts, to wit,
(1.) This is the only way by which, ordinarily and according to the constitution of human nature, the hearts of men are accessible. They are accessible but this way, that is, through their convinced consciences:—they are not otherwise accessible, than as light is let into their consciences, by which they may discern the truth, the greatness, the importance, the necessity of the things themselves that we deal with them about. And,
(2.) This is the gaining of a soul in part, the convincing of his conscience, the design is an entire conquest of the whole soul; this is a work that consists of parts, and is to be done by parts; and when the conscience is won, here is part of this work done, and there is so much the less behind; there is less to do than if men’s consciences were not in the least apprehensive as yet what they were to believe, or what they were to do in order to their being saved.
(3.) The very leading part, the introductive part of the work is done, when this is done; when conscience is convinced about the great things proposed to men in the gospel; so that they say, I do in my conscience apprehend this to be reasonable, just, and necessary, which I am required to do by the same gospel; when this (1 say) is done, the leading introductive part of the work is done. As in going about to take a rebel-garrison, there is a mighty thing done if a port be gained, and especially if the noblest port belonging to such a garrison be taken. And it is the Apostle’s similitude afterwards in this Epistle, 2 Cor. x. 4, 5. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strong holds, and the subjecting every thought and imagination to the obedience of Christ.” The conscience or practical judgment is subjected, so that we have an end of men’s counter-risings; they have nothing in their judgment to oppose, their imaginations they are gained, their notions, their thoughts, their apprehensions are certified and set right in these points. This is now a great thing, for it is the leading thing, and the introductive thing, in order to the work of conversion. The judgment, which, (I say) in reference to matters of practice, is conscience; that is the leading faculty, and when once that is gained, and a conquest is obtained over that, it is as if, in the 104taking (as was said) of a rebel garrison, the counter-scarp is won, or the great port-royal is won, which is a great thing. And,
(4.) Not only when conscience is convinced is the soul so far won, gained, subdued, and brought under; but it is also turned against the rest that hold out, as if in the taking of some principal fortress; besides tht5t the opposition, from what part is gained ceaseth, suppose a battery be placed there against the rest that stands out; and this is the case, when conscience is once brought under conviction by the power and evidence of the great things of the gospel; here is a battery placed against an obstinate will, against perverse inclinations, against unruly, tumultuous affections and passions; so that now the man is made to batter himself if conscience be once convinced; but if there be an inclination in the sinner still to persist, and go on in his way of sin, he doth it at his own peril, and even at his own peril from himself, for a convinced conscience will infer this, that he must be continually battering himself, and galling himself, and shooting arrows and darts against himself.
And when the matter is once brought to this, there is some hope in the case that the sinner will turn, is like to turn, for there is not only so much of his strength gone for persevering in a sinful course, but it is turned and bent against him. Christ hath now got a party within him, and the colours of our great Lord and Redeemer are displayed in the fort-royal, he is then demanding entrance into the soul. Let the everlasting gates of the soul fly open, that the King of Glory may enter in; the kingdom of God is nigh, just at the door, even at the very door, when conscience is convinced about the great things of the gospel, the very port is taken, and the ensigns of our glorious Lord displayed there, so that it must require a great deal of obstinacy against him; now that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Christ are so very near at the door, and the voice of the summons sounds at the gate, Sinner, surrender now to thy rightful Lord, yield or perish. If this be said to him, and he is convinced already, I have no other way but to yield or die, and there is hope of safety in yielding; this carries a great appearance that conversion is towards, the matter is drawing to a blessed issue with such a poor soul. And,
(5.) When conscience is thus gained and won upon by so immediate direct application to it in the management f this work, the way is now open for the intromitting 105and setting in whatsoever considerations besides may be of any use towards the bringing of the soul to a surrender and compliance with the Lord Jesus; that closure with him wherein the work of conversion doth most formally consist and lie; a turning to the Lord, as the expression is in the close of the foregoing chapter. If conscience be convinced, then is here way made for terrible considerations to be let in upon the soul. And if conscience be convinced, here is way made for most comfortable considerations to be let in upon the soul too; the way is open to reach and apply both these great principles of fear and of hope, which are mighty engines, by which the souls of men are turned this way or that: here are all the tremendous considerations that can be thought of, for which way is open, if conscience be convinced, lam a sinner, a guilty creature, I lie obnoxious to Divine justice and revenge every moment; indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, they are my portion; nothing else is due to me. And then, at the same time, if conscience be convinced of the truth of the gospel, here is an open way made for all consolatory considerations that might move the principle of hope; Christ is represented as ready to receive a returning soul. The sinner must be supposed to believe, in his own conscience, that it is most certainly true, Christ will not reject a poor soul that throws itself at his feet, as ready to perish: “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” In my conscience, must the sinner say, I believe this is true: he would never have come down into this world, and become man, and have died on a cross, to save sinners, if he would throw away a soul that returns to him, and casts itself upon him: I believe, in my conscience, this is true, that as I am lost if I come not to a closure with the Son of God in believing, so I cannot but be safe if I do. Again,
(6.) There is reason for this hope that such convictions may end in conversion, because that very ministry that is thus directed to conscience, that is levelled at conscience, and hath done it with such effect already, is the ministration of the Holy Ghost, the ministration of the Spirit and life, as it is largely discoursed in the foregoing chapter throughout, and which makes the apostle say, “having this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not.” This ministry; what ministry? Not a dead letter, but an animated ministry; that is, (as it were,) the very vehicle of life and spirit; therefore, we faint not; therefore, we go 106on with all the vigour which a lively hope can give us in our work; as if he should have said, Why should we not hope to prevail, when we apply ourselves to the spirits of men, of creatures that can understand, that can use thought? Our business doth not lie with stocks, and stones, and brutes; but we apply ourselves to the very consciences of men, the very spirits of men; and we do it under the conduct of the Divine Spirit, whose ministration it is that is put into our hands; why then should we not hope to prevail? Why should we not hope, that they that come unconverted, should go away converted, at least if we can prevail upon them so far as that they are once brought to admit of conviction? And yet,
(7.) There is further reason for this hope, from what hath been done already in the same way, and by the same agency. We have read of thousands that have fallen under the power of this ministry; thousands at once, as in that, Acts ii. 37, who have been pierced to the very heart, and cried out; “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Heart doth comprehend and take in conscience there; the governing faculty, together with the governed, as is usual in scripture, to take heart in that latitude. A serious faithful servant of Christ in this work hath reason to argue thus; Quicquid fieri potuit potest. That which hath been done, and by the same agency, that method which hath succeeded to so happy purposes before, the like may be done again in the same way, by the same agency, and in the same method, why should not we expect, why should not we hope for it? especially if we add,
(8.) Lastly, that this ministry, in connection with the same power and presence, is promised to be continued to the end of the world: “Go and teach all nations;” I appoint you to go and make my claim to all the creation; for all power is given me, both in heaven and earth; and go you and teach all nations; disciple them, proselyte them to me; gather in the world, lay my claim for me, and in my name, to all the world, and tell men every where what I am, the Redeemer, and what I have, by my blood, the price of that redemption, purchased, even an absolute dominion and power over all the world; I died, and was buried, and rose again, that I might become Lord both of living and dead. All power hereby is consigned and made over to me, and by virtue of that power, I commission you: go forth every where, and challenge the world, upon that account, to submit to me, their rightful Lord. And 107herein lies being converted, when the hearts of men are brought seriously to do so, to recognize the Redeemer’s right, and to make an absolute surrender and resignation of their souls to him, and to God through him. Now this ministry, and thus attended, is promised to continue to the end of the world: “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; and lo! I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” We know very well those particular persons were to shut up their time with that age, and yet this work was always to go on till the end of time, and through all ages: and why should not we expect, who come with the same authority and commission, but that when we do, in the business of this ministry, apply ourselves directly to the consciences of men in the sight of God, there should still be some success, even as long as this world lasts, and as long as this ministry lasts, why should we not always hope? But then,
2. Supposing there be ground for such an hope, that our applying ourselves to the consciences of men, so as to convince them, may end in conversion, how doth it appear this hope is encouraging? If there be reason for this hope, is there any reason to be assigned why this hope should give courage, vigour, and liveliness, to those that are employed in this work? The evidencing that there is, will rest upon two things; 1st. that the faithful ministers of Christ do very seriously desire the conversion of souls; and, 2dly, that the hopefulness of what a man desires cannot but be a very enlivening thing to the spirit of any man. Let these two be put together, and it evidenceth our present purpose; that is, that the serious ministers of the gospel do desire the conversion of souls, and that the hopefulness of any thing that a man desires, must needs be very reviving and consolatory to him.
1. The former of these doth sufficiently speak itself; and I doubt not, in all your consciences, you never knew any minister of Christ, whom you had any reason to look upon as serious in his work, but you could not but apprehend him very much to desire the conversion of souls: for,
(1.) It is the very end of their office. How can it be but we must desire to reach the end for which our very office itself is appointed, and for which we were put into it?
(2.) The desire of the conversion of souls, it is nothing else but spiritualized humanity; that is, supposing we do believe a future state, or (as the apostle expresseth it in the 108next chapter) do in any measure understand the terrors of the Lord, the tenors of the judgment day, which is there referred to; “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; knowing therefore the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men. And herein we are manifest unto God, and we trust, also in your consciences.” You must suppose if we should understand and know any thing of the terrors of the Lord, and of a judgment day, that we must desire the conversion of souls: you will not look upon as so inhumane creatures, that we should have a prospect before our eyes, of so dreadful a destruction as unconverted souls will certainly fall into, and not desire their escape, not desire they may fly “from the wrath to come;” effectually so to fly as to escape that wrath. And again,
(3.) It is a required conformity to our blessed Lord, in whose name we come to you, whom we find to have been a mighty lover of souls. Did not his descent into this world testify it? Was not his death upon the cross the most significant? And is not the remembrance of it a standing testimony hereof? And how can we bear his name, and sustain to be called the ministers of Christ, and not mightily desire the conversion of souls? And,
2. If we do, then the hope of it cannot but be a very enlivening and encouraging thing. The hopefulness of what a man desires, and hath his heart set upon, carries the most invigorating power with it that any thing can be supposed to do. For,
(l.) It is very plain, despair of any design or undertaking, damps all endeavours. No man can rationally endeavour that whereof he hath no hope. It sinks a man’s spirit to be engaged in a work in which, from time to time, he can hope to do nothing, as common experience and the reason of things do speak. And,
(2.) On the other hand, it is very plain, that hope is the great engine which keeps the world in motion, and at work every where: it is the spring of all action all the world over, and of every kind whatsover; the intelligent world, I mean. No man propounds an end to himself, but the hope of effecting it is the very thing that sets him and keeps him on work through the whole course of that endeavour that is requisite to it. The merchant trades in hope; yea, and (go to the very meanest employment) the ploughman ploughs in hope, and sows in hope, that he may be partaker of his hope. And sure we are not in our work to deviate from the common rules that guide all mankind in every undertaking 109whatsoever, and that doth influence them throughout that undertaking. Why are not we (think you) to plough in hope, and sow in hope, that we may be partakers of our hope?
Then, these two things being evident, that it is in the eyes of serious ministers of Christ a desirable thing; and that they that do seriously desire it, must needs be very much encouraged in their design and endeavour of it, when it doth appear to them an hopeful thing; so far as there is hope that the conviction that is taking hold of the consciences of men, may end in their conversion. Then this apprehension must needs contribute a great deal to their not fainting in their work, who are in good earnest engaged in it. I might add,
(2.) That it is an encouraging thing, an heart-strengthening thing, thus to apply ourselves to the very consciences of men in the pursuit of this work, that however it will be as to the former thing, yet we are sure to gain, in men’s consciences, a testimony for the great God. If conscience be but convinced, if we can so far recommend ourselves to the consciences of men, as that they come to be convinced, this is truth, this is duty, here lies my danger, there lies my hope. If men are in their consciences convinced of these things, and yet will go on in their destructive ways in the paths that lead down to the chambers of death, we have gained this, however, that, if they will go on, if they will perish, it will be a testimony for God in their own consciences. And this will be a great thing; for, as it follows presently after, in the 5th verse of this chapter, “we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus sake.” Not ourselves finally, but only ourselves your servants for Jesus sake; and therefore his interest and his concernment must be greatest and highest in our eye: it is to him, therefore, we owe the principal deference and highest honour. And there will be a convincing testimony for him in your very consciences, whether you turn or not turn. If we can but prevail so far, in applying to conscience, as to convince it, you will go down with conviction into the place of torment, and thereby a testimony will be gained for our glorious Lord, that his overtures were all easy, all reasonable, all kind, and all indulgent: and this is a great thing we shall have gained, though it be but secunda post naufragium tabula. It is a consolation, though it be a consolation against a sad case, a very sad case, that any should descend to perdition, from under the gospel, with convinced consciences.
But no more of this at present.110
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