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SERMON VII.1010   Preached March 8, 1690.

2 Corinthians, iv. 2.

Commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

WE have considered the words, according to what they import in themselves, and we have it now in hand to consider them, according to that reference which they bear to those of the foregoing verse. “Therefore, seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not;” whence we have collected,—That the application which the faithful ministers of Christ do make to the consciences of men in the sight of God, affords them very great relief and encouragement to go on with an unfainting vigour and resolution in their work; and we proposed to show that it is so, upon a double account, to wit, the convictiveness, and the sincerity of it: the convictiveness of it towards them, and the sincerity of it towards God. We have hitherto been shewing you how encouraging it is upon the former account, in respect of the convictiveness of the thing; and so it is, encouraging upon a two-fold more particular account.

1st. As thereby there is very great hope conceived of conversion. And,

2dly. As hereby a testimony is, however, gained to the great God and our Lord Jesus Christ in the very consciences of men. The former was fully insisted on; and now I go on further, to the second, to wit, That the convictiveness of such application tends to gain a testimony to our great God and Saviour in their very souls. And this is a very encouraging thing, an heart strengthening thing, to a serious faithful minister of Christ, that he shall hereby gain such a testimony in men’s consciences for God and his blessed Son. They will be obliged to acknowledge and own, that the great truths of the gospel, upon which the principal weight and stress is laid, as to their salvation, do carry a clear and convictive evidence with them; and that they are required to believe nothing to this purpose, which is not most evidently true; but 111must be forced to say,—I think, in my very conscience, these things are so; they are as they are represented; I am not imposed upon; there is no fraudulency or artifice used to disguise things, or to make them seem otherwise than they are. And thus it is also with the things we are to do, and we are warned to avoid, as by no means to be done; and likewise, the constitutions and judgments we find settled and declared in the gospel concerning them, that do well, and them that do ill, and that are to be the last measures of the final judgment, are all most unexceptionably equal and righteous; we have nothing to say against them, and so, concerning the whole frame and design of the gospel, that it is wisely adapted to its end; that it carries that efficacy with it, when once it takes hold of conscience, that men must say, Here is a power not to be withstood; we cannot resist the power and spirit where with such and such things are spoken; things come to us in the evidence and demonstration of the Spirit and of power; they must say there is kindness and love beyond all that could be expected or conceived in the whole frame and contrivance of it: here is manifestly a design to pluck souls out of death, to reduce backsliders unto God, to save lost creatures from perishing; and upon the whole, therefore, here must be a testimony gained to the truth of God, to his authority, to the equity and reasonableness of his laws and sanctions, to his wonderful wisdom, which he hath shewn in methodizing things so as the gospel acquaints us, in order to the recovery and salvation of souls; and to his kindness, goodness, and mercifulness, towards poor perishing sinners, beyond all that could have entered into the heart of man to expect. It is plain, that when such applications are made immediately, directly, and properly to conscience, such a testimony is gained to the great God and Saviour in all these respects.

And now it is evident, that this cannot but be an encouraging thing to every serious faithful minister of Christ; for you must consider (as they will do) to whom they do belong; they consider whose they are, and whom they are obliged to serve: and if these two things be eyed and looked upon together; to wit, that glorious Lord to whom they are related, and their most entire devotedness and fidelity to him: these two things concurring, cannot but make such encouragement as this arise naturally from the above-mentioned ground.

I. It is to be considered, that the Lord, to whom they 112are related, he is infinitely more than all this world; the whole creation is but a tittle, a nothing to him, his honour and glory are more worth than all things. If all this world, as it was raised up out of nothing, were presently to be reduced to nothing again, that is, a thing little to be mattered, in comparison, if we bring it into comparison with the glory of this great name: which glory will shine satisfyingly to itself, even to all eternity, whatsoever should become of this created sphere and universal thing; consider this in the state of their case. And then, consider,

2. That in the temper of their minds, there must be entire devotedness and fidelity to this great Lord: and so as the glory of his name is a greater thing in itself than all things besides, so it must be to them; because, with their relation to this great Lord, there is conjunct that most entire affection and devotedness to him, that whatever be comes of all things else, this must always be principal in their eye, the glory of the great Lord: you find, therefore, that this is the main design they drive at, and are obliged to do in all their ministrations; that is, that there be such convictions upon the consciences of men, as from whence a glory may result, “a glorious testimony unto God in Christ,” saith the Apostle, (speaking of his own labours in the ministry,) “according to my expectation, and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, (that my heart should never sink through shame, nor through fear,) but that, with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.” Phil. iii. 17-20. If one had said to him, What need you toil and harass yourself in such labours, and to run such hazards as you do, in a continual course? What are you to gain by it? Gain, saith he, why I shall gain my point. I shall gain my great design, the only thing I am solicitous for, and the only thing, in comparison, that I aim at; that is, that Christ may be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death; whether I live, or whether I die, all is one to me; I am content to run through a thousand deaths for the glory of that name;—that that name may be glorified in my living and dying. Here is a continual glory arising to that name out of this application to men’s consciences, when all men, out of conviction of conscience, must be forced to own and acknowledge the truth, and authority, and righteousness, the power, wisdom, and goodness, which are all comprehended in this great name; 118and therefore, it is, that the ministers of Christ are to make this a measure to themselves, in all their ministrations, to direct them to this very end and mark; that is, the bringing men under such convictions, that a just testimony may result to this great name,—the name and honour of their glorious Lord. The Apostle’s reasonings do most evidently imply this, which you find he useth in that 14th chapter of his former Epistle to these Corinthians, verse 24; he is there directing and ordering how they should order, manage, and methodize their ministrations, so as that they might be most apt to convince; that they should prefer plain instructive words, before strange tongues, though that might very much amuse, and gain to them (it may be) a great deal of applause, that such and such could speak in assemblies so many languages; but, (saith the apostle,) when the business of instruction by prophecy, (as the word must there be used, and it is frequently, when that is attended to,) if there comes in one that is unlearned, such an one is convinced of all, and judged of all; and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest, and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth. This, (saith the apostle,) I must have all your ministrations directed unto; you must aim at this, to carry things so, that the hitherto Pagan world, (as they shall have opportunity to observe and know what things are taught among you,) from the plain evidence of the things, may be judged and condemned in their own spirits, and may be brought down on the knee, to fall and kneel, and confess God is in the midst of this people; God is in these ministrations of a truth: you must order things so, that this end may be effectually obtained, observably gaining a testimony to God out of the consciences of those you shall have to do with; and if this be any one’s end, upon which his heart is set, upon which he is principally intent, according as his success is, in order to this, his great and principal end, so will his encouragement be, and the strength and vigour of his spirit in prosecuting his work: according as his labour is either more actually successful, or hopeful, accordingly is his spirit raised up and kept up within him in his work; and this is a thing which carries its own proper right with it, whether it do fall in with the conversion of souls, or whether it be severed from it.

(1.) If it fall in with it, it adds the greater weight to it, for the poising and bearing up a man’s spirit in his work; 114for then this testimony ariseth so much the more clearly, and so much the more fully, when it proceeds at once from the concurrence of an enlightened mind and convinced conscience; and also, a renewed changed heart, when it is the sense of the mind, and of the heart, together. Oh, how joyful and raised a testimony do convinced and converted ones bear to the truth, and righteousness, and authority, and wisdom, and power, and grace of God in Christ? When hearts are won, with what complacency do they then celebrate all the glories that have shone forth to them with efficacy and success, through the gospel dispensation? What pleasure do they take to speak highly of his great name, whose power they have felt, whose light they have seen, whose grace they have tasted of, in and by this dispensation? But then,

(2.) If these should be severed, yet so much the greater thing is a testimony to the great God, and his Christ: that there is in that case, more to poise and weigh up the spirit of a faithful servant of Christ, than there can be in the want of the other, to sink and press it down. These two things being compared with one another, the glorious testimony that is borne to this name, and the actual infelicity of a soul, which hath refused to be happy, and did peremptorily choose the way to perdition, that takes hold of hell, and leads down to the chambers of death; so much a greater thing is the former of these, than the latter, that there is more to buoy up the spirit of a faithful servant of Christ in his ministerial work, than there can be to press and sink it down.

And so, upon that former account; to wit, the convictiveness of such an application to the conscience, doth very great encouragement arise to those that are faithful in their work of preaching the gospel, to go on with unfainting vigour in it, as this convictive application to conscience, both is the way to the conversion of souls; and also, as it tends to gain a testimony to the name of God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

But then, as we have to consider to this purpose the convictiveness of this application to conscience, so we have to consider well in the next place,

3. The sincerity of such application to conscience: we apply and commend ourselves to the consciences of men, in the very sight of God, under the eye of God; he sees our aim and design, and our whole transaction, from step 115to step, from point to point; there is no thought in our minds, no word in our mouths to this purpose, but comes all under his immediate notice and cognizance; and hence ariseth our strength and vigour in our work, hence it is we faint not; we serve our Lord Christ, we serve the great God, to whom we have devoted ourselves under his own eye. To the sincere, it is a great consolation their sincerity is known; one may serve a man in great sincerity, and yet never be understood, for he cannot look into the thoughts, he cannot discern the intention and bent of the heart: but when every thing lies open (as we know it doth) to his immediate view, with whom we have to do, and for whom we are concerned, this is a very encouraging thing to the sincere to know that it is known. It escapes not the especial notice of his eye, in whose approbation and complacency we are most of all concerned; for hereupon, these two most encouraging things do most necessarily succeed and follow;—1st. That by this, their sincerity, they are directly and immediately in a good posture towards God, so as to receive the highest encouragement from him. And, 2dly. They are consequentially, by most manifest and direct consequence, in a good state towards men; so as at least, from them not to receive any hurtful or sinking discouragement: I say, it puts their affairs into a good posture towards God, from whom they are to have the highest encouragement; and it puts them consequentially into so good a posture towards men, as that, from thence, they shall receive no hurtful, heart-dejecting, or heart-sinking discouragement. As to God, 1st. As to the former, the posture and state wherein it puts their affairs towards God, is, 1st. They are sure of acceptance. And, 2dly. They are sure of reward; be the success of their ministration what it will or can be supposed to be, or the worst that can be supposed.

They shall be accepted with God, and shall not lose their reward, whatever the issue of their labour be. Some scriptures do conjoin these together, or give us good ground upon which to apprehend the certain conjunction of them, that they are not severed one from another, as in the nature of the thing we are sure they cannot be. Do but observe to this purpose that known and famous place, Isaiah xlix. 5. It is spoken directly and principally of our great Lord himself; but it is applicable, in a subordinate sense, most justly unto all that do serve under him. In the third verse of that chapter, it is said, “Thou art my 116servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” And verse 4th. “I have laboured in vain; I have spent my strength for nought and in vain.” That name of Israel is put upon him, as sometimes, elsewhere, the name of Jacob is, as signifying Christ-mystical, and comprehending all his people with him and in him. “Then I said, I have laboured in vain; yet, surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God. And now saith the Lord, that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob to him: Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength.” I shall not stay to dilate (as I might with much point) upon this scripture. Again, look back to the 2nd chapter of this epistle, where our text lies, and you will see, from the 14th verse onward, much to this same purpose. The apostle speaks of the pleasant savour which the faithful ministers of Christ do carry with them in their ministrations, or in respect to the gospel which they dispense, both in reference to them that are saved, and in reference to them that perish. “Thanks be to God, (saith he,) which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, (and they that triumph in Christ are far from fainting,) and maketh manifest by us, the savour of his knowledge in every place: for we are to God, a sweet savour of Christ in them that are saved, and in them that perish. To the one, we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other, we are the savour of life unto life.” It is true that we are so; a sweet savour of God in Christ to the one and the other, or in reference to the one and the other. And where there is a certain acceptation, there is a certain reward, which, when our Lord himself did eye, we are not disallowed to eye, you may be sure; “for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despised the shame, and is sat down at the right hand of God.” Heb. xii. 3. That great and eminent servant of his, Moses, it is recorded of him, not as a blemish, but to his honour, that he had respect to the recompence of reward. Heb. xi. 7. And the apostle Paul tells concerning himself, when he avowed himself to be the apostle and servant of Jesus Christ, (as in the beginning of his epistle to Titus,) he adds, “in hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, hath promised;” as if he would, by that answer an inquiry, which (it may be) some, who had heard of his name, might wonderingly make, What should be the matter that Paul, that wise man, that 117learned man, that man so strenuous an assertor of Judaism, and so devoted to the strictest sect of Pharisaism, should suffer himself to be imposed upon, so as to espouse the despised Christian name and interest? He, it seems, is become a minister of the gospel of Christ, a servant of him that was crucified at Jerusalem not long ago, as a common malefactor; how comes such an one as Paul to espouse that interest and profess that name? Why, I do it, (saith he,) “in hopes of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, hath promised.” Here is enough to keep me from fainting and sinking in this work, may a faithful minister of Christ say, notwithstanding whatsoever of labour and toil it carries in it; and, notwithstanding whatsoever inconvenience it may draw after it; it is all in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, hath promised. And they know their Master and Lord that employs them, that he who will not suffer so mean a thing as a cup of cold water, to a disciple, in the name of a disciple, to lose its reward, will never let a devoted life, spent in his service, and in an endeavour of serving that great design of his, which his heart doth so appear to be always set upon the saving of souls, to lose a correspondent reward: therefore, such sincerity, in applying to the consciences of men in the sight of God, knows who sees it, who judgeth of it, carries in it encouragement enough, directly God-ward, and Christ-ward, from whom they are encouraged, and principally concerned to expect and seek it. But,

As to men. 2dly. It carries enough in it by consequence, to fortify them against every thing of discouragement from men. What is there from men to discourage? principally two things, reproach and danger. They may be liable to reproach, but sincerity is a guard against it. “According to my earnest expectation, and my hope,” (saith the Apostle,) “that in nothing I shall be ashamed.” Phil. i. 20. And so in the words immediately before the text, “We have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty or shame, (as the word may be rendered;) not walking in craftiness, or handling the word of God deceitfully, out by manifestation of the truth commending,” &c. And, as in the close of the 2nd chapter of this epistle, “We are not as many which corrupt the word of God,” (adulterate it caupoinzeing it,) “but as of sincerity, as of God speak we in Christ.” We do nothing we need to be ashamed of, as long as we do but apply ourselves about such things as carry their own evidence in them to the consciences of 118men. Our work admits well enough to be done above board; we need seek no corner, no darkness, no shadow of death, wherein to lie hid; we may well go open faced in all that we do; we have no other design, but to convince men, and bring them back from their destructive ways, and finally, become instruments of their being safe and happy.

And then for any thing of danger; it is true, they may be liable thereto, even from them whom they do convince: convictions do sometimes work that unnatural way, that is, to enrage, to exasperate; we read of some who were pricked to the heart, who cried out thereupon, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Acts ii. 37. We read of others cut to the heart by that sermon of the first martyr, Stephen. Acts vii. 54. And they, thereupon, immediately gnash their teeth; and their business is to gather up stones, and stone him to death. This, it is true, may be, and admit it to be so, the sincere desire of his glory for whom they so expose themselves in their ministration, approving itself to his very eye, carries enough in it to fortify them against the most formidable appearances of this kind. The apostle makes this supposition, even of running the hazard of a fiery trial; when he is exhorting them that speak, “To speak as becomes the oracles of God.” 1 Peter iv. 11. And with this same design, that our great Lord, for whom we speak, may be glorified, may have a glorious testimony arising to him. “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the. ability that God giveth; that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” And the very next words are, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial, which is sent to try you;” never be concerned for yourselves, though there be danger of a fiery trial incurred, if you can but be conscious to yourselves of your own sincerity, that you speak as becomes the oracles of God, with this design, that God and our Lord Jesus may be glorified.” And so doth the transaction of all this affair, in the sight of God, carry with it a great matter of encouragement; that is, sincerity puts our affairs directly into the best posture that can be wished, towards God and Christ; and leaves them not in so ill a posture towards men, as that any thing should be feared from them, or can possibly arise from them, to cause dejection or despondency of spirit, in any one who is with such sincerity engaged in this great work.

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Use. Therefore, now briefly to apply all:—there are sundry things, which it is obvious to collect and gather from all that hath been said to this point, that may be very useful and instructive to us. As,

1. That such as are sincerely, and with due seriousness, engaged in the work of the ministry, they cannot but be solicitous about the issue of their work, how it will succeed, what will become of it; they do, (it is true,) through the mercy of God, go on in their work without fainting, as it is their business to apply themselves to the consciences of men, in the sight of God; but yet, with very great concern; for what do they apply themselves to the consciences of men about? It is about things upon which their salvation depends,—it is, that they may not be lost. “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” We consider them as perishing creatures, if our gospel should be hid from them; therefore, we make it our business to apply ourselves to their consciences, in the sight of God, that it may not be hid. And hence is our not fainting; it shews in those that do seriously concern themselves, and serve Christ in the work of the ministry: there is great solicitude about the issue of their work, lest souls should miscarry and be lost under it.

2. We may collect, that the true reason of this solicitude is the uncertainty of the issue; they do not know how matters will succeed with them about whom they are concerned. It may be life, it may be death; it may be they will be saved, it may be they will be lost; some may be the one, some may be the other. Seeing that they need sup port against fainting, it shews that they are solicitous, and whence their solicitude doth arise, and what is the true cause of it; and though it is true indeed, there is support from the consciousness of their own sincerity, and from the aptitude of such means as they use, that souls may not be lost; yet, all this while, the Dubiousness and uncertainty of the event doth so much deject them, and make them liable to fainting, that they reckon it a very great mercy that they do not faint: “therefore, having such a ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not.” It is the mercy of God to us that we sink not, nor faint in our work, to think how little hold is taken upon the consciences of men, and how apt men are to run counter to the conviction of their own consciences. It is God’s great mercy we do not faint, and quite give off, and say, we will never speak in this name more, to be so little heard, regarded, attended 120to, and complied with in the design of all that we say, And again,

3. We may gather hence, that God hath so graciously ordered the matter, that the very cause of a faithful minister’s solicitude shall yield him the matter of his relief; that is, his sincerity, his applying himself to the consciences of men in the sight of God. It is a man’s sincerity in this case, that makes him be concerned, for they that are insincere, will never be concerned; they care not what becomes of their hearers, if they can but discourse plausibly an hour when they must, they are little further concerned. But then, (I say,) observe the goodness of God, that from the same thing, whence their concern comes, their relief comes; that is, their sincerity; if they were not sincere, they would not be concerned: but, because they are sincere, thereby they are relieved, they transact all in the sight of God; and so, the same thing that gives them trouble, gives them relief.

4. We may further gather hence, that where there is the least need of relief, there is the least to be had. They have no need of relief against any solicitude, and heart-affecting concern, about the issue and success of their work, who are not sincere in it; and thereupon they have not that relief which otherwise would arise in this case. These things do measure one another: where no relief is needful, none is had. They need no relief, where there is no concern; and they have none, because they are not sincere. And again,

5. It is plain, that the safety of souls that do attend upon the gospel dispensation, and the comfort of their ministers, do very much depend upon the same thing; that is, the successfulness of the application to conscience in the sight of God. If conscience be first convinced, and those convictions be complied with, and answered in the inclination of the heart, and course of the outward practice, such souls are safe and happy; and, according to the prospect and appearance that can be had hereof, those who are engaged in this great design of saving them, are relieved and comforted so much abundantly the more; their fullest consolation, and the salvation and happiness of the souls they are concerned for, meet in the same point. And therefore, again,

6. If any do miscarry under the gospel, by which, and in the ministration whereof, applications are still made to their consciences in the sight of God, they perish under a 121double guilt, as having not only been accessary to their own ruin, but to the discouragement, as much as in them lies, of those in their work, that were intent upon saving them. And this is a double guilt, guilty of their own ruin, and guilty of the sorrow and solicitude, and afflicting care and grief, of them that would have saved them. And that this consideration doth not weigh nothing, you may plainly see, in that such use is made of it, as we find else where. This apostle urgeth the Christians, Philipp. ii. 16. that they would demean themselves, “as sons of God without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom they lived, and shined as lights in the world:” that, as light was, through the word of God in the gospel, let into their consciences, it might shine through again in their conversations, that they might hold forth the word of life; and why? upon what design or consideration? “That we may be comforted,” that we may rejoice, as not having run in vain, or laboured in vain. Whatsoever greater weight there was to be in the consideration of their own salvation, and eternal well-being, this consideration also was not without its weight; it cannot be said of it, that it had no weight. That we may rejoice, too, and rejoice with you, in the day of Christ, as not having run in vain, or laboured in vain. But, in the last place,

7. We may further collect, that, if there be a final disappointment as to any, so that (as the expression is after the text) they come at length to be “lost;” and here is the utmost cause given, that can be given from men, of discouragement and heart-fainting to the ministers of Christ; yet all doth proceed from men’s baffling their consciences: these dreadful consequences do result from thence. If men would but use their consciences, and be true to their consciences; if they would but receive the truth whereof conscience is convinced, and comply with the precepts and rules that conscience doth discern the equity and necessity of, all would be well; we should be comforted, and you would be saved. But if neither of these be, you see whence all proceeds; it is from baffling of conscience, from either it’s not admitting of conviction, or it’s not complying with conviction that v hath been admitted. Therefore, I shall shut up all with this only double word of counsel; that is,

1. That you labour to keep conscience always awake, and bring it awake to such attendances upon the dispensation of the preaching of the gospel; labour aforehand to pre-engage conscience; tell your souls beforehand, when 122you are to come to such an assembly as this, O my soul, thou art going to a place where thy conscience is to be dealt withal, and in the sight of God! there is a great transaction to lie between thee and some or other servant of Christ, and the whole business is managed under the divine eye; then say to thy conscience, Awake! awake! be in a prepared posture, in a ready posture: let me not carry conscience slumbering, conscience dreaming, conscience in a deep sleep, unto such an ordinance, but labour to have it awake, in order hereunto: and that it may be so, urge upon it those former heads. That you may bring wakeful consciences to these holy assemblies, from time to time, you are very much concerned to keep them awake all the week long: if, from day to day, and from morning to night, you will buy and sell without conscience, and eat and drink without conscience, and manage your affairs in your families without conscience, then it is likely you will come without conscience, or with a drowsy slumbering conscience, on the Lord’s day, to the assembly too; you will find conscience on those days as you use it on other days. And then,

2. When you are under these holy assemblies, and particularly under the ministration of the gospel, labour then to keep conscience in actual exercise, endeavour that your consciences may go along with all that is said, and put them on giving their assent, their actual assent: take it from them, that so you may be (as it were) preaching to yourselves all the while the minister is preaching to you; that conscience may be preaching over and over again; that there may be an echo within from conscience, repeating the very voice of the minister in your own hearts; and if this were done, if there were such a conscientious attendance upon this holy ministration, with respect to the eye that observes you, as well as us, and a design all along driven to one and the same purpose, to approve ourselves to that eye, we might hope somewhat would come of our having the gospel so long continued among us, and of having our holy assemblies, with so much freedom to resort unto. But if nothing of this be, but still conscience must be kept asleep from duty to duty, there is nothing to be said, but that hereafter it will awake for torment.

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