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furnished with nerves. It is easily distinguishable from a scrupulous conscience; for they are real sins by which the former is offended, whereas those which the latter dreads are imaginary. This often strains at a gnat, and swallows a camel; but a tender conscience holds sin in abhorrence, when it presents itself in its most specious forms. Such was the conscience of the Psalmist, when he hated every false and wicked way, and esteemed God's precepts concerning all things to be right.*
In the fifth place, Conscience may be distinguished into awakened and hardened. When we speak of an awakened conscience, the epithet supposes it to have been previously asleep, and such is its state in a great part of mankind. I do not mean that ils powers are absolutely dormant, for there are few who are not occasionally at least admonished and reproved by it; but that in general it does not perform its office with firmness and fidelity, but leaves the sinner in a great measure ignorant of his own character. It is said to be awakened, when it is roused, by the word of God or the dispensations of Providence, to the faithful performance of its duty; when it not only remonstrates against our present sins, but recals the past to remembrance; when it accuses and condemns the guilty man, and anticipates the ratification of its sentences at the tribunal of God. A hardened conscience is without feeling. It has lost its power through a long course of transgression, so that it opposes no obstacle to the sinner, gives no warning, denounces no threatening, but permits him to do as he pleases. The mind is so blinded, that it does not perceive the difference between good and evil, or the heart is so callous, that the perception makes no impression upon it. In this state conscience is sometimes said to be cauterized, from the Greek word xzutupiasc, which signifies, to brand or burn with a hot iron. It is used in the First Epistle to Timothy, and is translated "seared with a hot iron,''† the metaphor being founded upon the effect of hot iron, in rendering the part of the body insensible to which it has been applied. Some, however, understand it to mean that the consciences of the persons spoken of are spotted or marked with sin, as if they had been branded. Be this as it may, the idea commonly suggested by a seared conscience is, that it has lost all feeling.
In the last place, not to multiply particulars, Conscience may be distinguished into good and bad. The first has been defined to be a conscience, the judgments of which are conformable to the standard of duty, and which approves of our conduct. The epithet, however, is sometimes used, not to express the conformity of its judgments to the standard, but simply its approbation. In this sense, although a man should be in an error, he has a good conscience when he has acted according to his ideas of duty. It is probable that Paul affixed this meaning to the term, when he said to the Jewish Council, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day,” for his words seem to refer to his whole past life; and in that part of it which preceded his conversion, he could be said to have had a good conscience, only because he was then sincere, and faithfully obeyed its dictates, however erroneous. By a bad conscience is sometimes meant a conscience which judges falsely, pronouncing sin to be duty and duty to be sin, and which consequently absolves when it should condemn, and condemns when it should absolve. But at present a bad conscience signifies an accusing conscience, and it is called bad, not because its judgments are erroneous, but because it torments the sinner, and inflicts upon him the agonies of remorse. Such a conscience disquiets a man in the midst of profound external peace; it makes him tremble when there is no visible danger; it covers him with shame by his own reflections, although to all around him his guilt is unknown.
Ps. cxix. 128.
+ 1 Tim. iv, 2.
* Acts xxiii. 1.
A look, which perhaps means nothing, but which he interprets as significant, quells his confidence; he is discomposed by an accidental word, which seems to glance at his secret crimes. Conscience has made many cowards.
I now proceed to speak of peace of conscience. I begin with observing, that there is a state of mind which resembles it, but ought not to be confounded with it, because it is totally different in its nature and its consequences. I, mean a state of security, which excludes fear and disquietude, and may therefore be called peace, but differs from the peace which I am about to consider, as it rests upon no solid foundation, and is the effect, not of religion, but of confirmed habits of sin, and misconceptions of the character of God.
In some cases it is the effect of atheistical principles, or of principles which are equivalent to atheism. If a man has persuaded himself that there is no God, or that the Being whom we call God pays no regard to the actions of his creatures; that the soul is mortal as well as the body; and that there is no state of retribution beyond the grave; it is easy to see that this man will be exempt from the apprehensions which agitate other men, and will enjoy a kind of peace very different from the peace of religion.
Another cause of security is the power of sin, by which the voice of conscience has been silenced, and the mind fixed solely upon the business and the pleasures of the world, so that other subjects engage no share of its attention. The law of God and the future state, death and judgment, are entirely forgotten; or, if they should accidentally occur to the mind, they produce no effect, or an effect so slight, that it is instantly obliterated.
Sometimes security is the consequence of false ideas of the mercy of God; of a persuasion that he is so merciful, that he will not animadvert upon the failings of his creatures, and that, if they only pray to him now and then to forgive them, they shall undoubtedly be pardoned.
At other times, security arises from a false estimate of their own character; and this may take place in two different ways. Men may imagine that they have fulfilled the demands of the law perfectly, or at least to such an extent as is necessary to their acceptance with God. Many a self-righteous man has lived and died without fear, in the flattering thought that he had made peace with his Maker by his obedience. Of this description was the Pharisee in the parable, who “ thanked God that he was not like other men.” Again, men who profess to believe that we cannot be justified by works, may be secure, through the groundless persuasion that they are possessed of the faith by which an interest is obtained in the righteousness and salvation of Christ. They have faith, but it is dead while they suppose it to be living. Hence, they conclude that they are in favour with God, and have nothing to fear from the dreadful threatenings denounced against sinners.
From these causes, a great part of mankind pass their time in complete apathy, or experience only occasional misgivings of mind.
Is there no such thing as true peace of conscience? Yes; it is a precious blessing which God bestows upon his people, and which flows from the privileges formerly considered. There is a peace which Jesus Christ has bequeathed as an invaluable legacy to his disciples; there is a peace with which the God of peace “ fills them in believing;"'* there is a peace which "passes all understanding, and keeps their minds and hearts through Jesus Christ;”+ there is a peace which the world can neither give nor take away. It consists in an assurance that God is no longer angry with them; that he will not reckon with them for their sins; that he has freely pardoned them; that he has received them into favour; that he will protect and bless them, and give them eternal rest in the world to come. None can estimate the value of this blessing but those who enjoy it. It is a continual feast; it is the joy and sunshine of the soul. Although we could claim the whole world as our heritage ; although its crowns of glory were ours, and its delights crowded around to minister to our wishes, without this peace we should be miserable; but it is the solace of the soul, amidst the external evils which are so much dreaded, poverty, affliction, persecution, and contempt. To him who enjoys this privilege, we may justly apply the vain boast of the poet concerning his just man, that the rage of the multitude, the threatenings of tyrants, the commotions of the elements, the fall of the world itself, could not dismay him. Impavidum ferient ruinæ.* With an approving conscience, and God as his friend, what has he to fear?
* Rom. xv. 13.
+ Phil. iv. 7.
Peace of consciencé is founded upon peace with God. Now, peace with God is inseparably connected with the blessings of justification and adoption, which, in one point of view, may be considered as the same privilege under different aspects. As we are naturally enemies to God, so he is an enemy to us, for “he is angry with the wicked every day.” A reconciliation, therefore, is necessary, and it has been effected by the atonement of Christ. When the pardon of sin, and restoration to the Divine favour, which are offered in the Gospel, are humbly and thankfully received by the sinner; when he draws near to God through Jesus Christ, confessing his guilt and unworthiness, and imploring his mercy; the reconciliation of which the foundation was laid by the blood of the cross, is completed. God enters into covenant with the sinner, and assures him that “ he will be no more wroth with him, nor rebuke him."
When this important fact is known to the believer, peace of mind ensues. Who shall lay any thing to his charge? Justice is appeased; the demands of the law are satisfied; God has forgiven him, and conscience has therefore no accusation to bring. The memory of his past sins is not obliterated, and when he thinks of them, he is overwhelmed with shame and sorrow; but the reflection does not alarm him. He has nothing to fear. Conscience summoned him to the tribunal of the Sovereign Judge; but there he was acquitted, and it is henceforth silent. The believer obtains this peace by the contemplation of the mercy of God, of the all-sufficient merit and prevalent intercession of Christ, and of the promises confirmed with an oath; in all which, he sees an inviolable security that he shall not “come into condemnation.” He obtains it by the assistance of the Spirit, “ bearing witness with his spirit that he is a son of God," forming in him the characters by which the members of the heavenly family are distinguished.
This leads me remark, that peace of conscience is also connected with the privilege of sanctification. Although God has fully pardoned believers, and will never cast them off, yet he sometimes suspends the sense of his favour, for the chastisement of their sins. In such cases they are disquieted and distressed, as we learn from the history of the saints, David, and Asaph, and Heman, who says, “ While I suffer thy terrors, I am distracted.”+ Their guilt, which was cancelled, presents itself again; and, having lost for a time an assurance of the love of God, they experience their former fears. Hence, it appears that their peace will bear a proportion to their diligence and success in the eultivation of holiness. I do not mean that any of their good works are so perfect that conscience will find nothing to accuse; but that the more believers abound in them, the evidence will be clearer of the sincerity of their faith, and God will testify his approbation of them by manifestations of his love. This is obviously imported in the following exhortation : “Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be
with you."* The apostle John teaches the same doctrine in several passages of his first Epistle, and particularly in the following words : “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not,”—that is, if it bear testimony to the sincerity of our love and obedience," then have we confidence toward God.”+ Paul points out the connexion between holiness and peace of mind, when he says, “ Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world.”
Peace of conscience flows from peace with God. It is maintained by faith in Christ, whose blood will cleanse us from our daily sins, and by a careful study to please God in doing his will. “Great peace have they that love thy law, and nothing shall offend them.”S This is the reward which God bestows at present upon the righteous. They find that there is profit in serving him. The heavenly calm within is a more precious recompense than outward prosperity, which smiles deceitfully, and is often followed by a storm. “ The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever."'ll
From what has been now said, it appears that religion is not that gloomy anxious service which it is frequently conceived to be. If it imposes restraints and demands sacrifices, it compensates these by the happy state of mind which it excites. In order more fully to illustrate this point, I proceed to speak of spiritual joy, which is another native consequence of the privileges which have been considered. . The Scriptures make frequent mention of it; and it is represented as distinct from peace, although closely connected with it. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the atonement," or reconciliation.
Joy is that delighted, elevated state of mind, which arises from the possession of present, and the anticipation of future good. Both these causes contribute to the joy of Christians.
First, They have an interest in Christ, to whom they are united by faith, as the branches are united to the vine, and the members of the body to the head. He is the source of their privileges and hopes, and hence they are sometimes represented as rejoicing in him alone. “ Whom having not seen, ye love, and in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”It The state into which they have been admitted by divine grace, is safe and honourable, for they are justified by the sentence of the Supreme Judge, and sanctified by the Spirit of holiness ; but they are men compassed with infirmities, carrying about with them the remains of depravity, often falling into sin, and chargeable with defects in all their duties. It seems impossible, therefore, that their minds should be tranquil and cheerful, because conscience, which in them is faithful and tender, must cause disquiet by its accusations and remonstrances. And certainly their peace would be liable to perpetual disturbance, and their joy would soon give place to sorrow, if its continuance depended upon themselves. It is their connexion with Jesus Christ, which realizes what might otherwise be pronounced to be impracticable, and accounts for what at first view appears utter y incredible,—that they who are daily offending may yet daily rejoice. The view of his atonement, as we formerly remarked, brings relief to their minds, and for the sake of their Redeemer, God continues to behold them with a pleasant countenance. No interruption takes place of the friendly intercourse between him and them; and it is maintained with ineffable kindness on his part, and with the highest delight upon theirs. When they sin, their Advocate appears for them before the throne of heaven, and pleading his own merits in their behalf, preserves the reconciliation unbroken. Looking to themselves, they find innumerable causes of fear and despondency; but looking to him, they perceive solid grounds of confidence and joy. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin."
* 2 Cor. xiii. 11.
+ 1 John ï. 18–21.
1 2 Cor. i. 12.
& Ps. cxix. 165.
Secondly, Another source of the joy of believers is the relation in which God stands to them. Upon his favour the happiness of intelligent creatures obviously depends God is the most glorious Being in the universe, in whom every possible perfection resides, all that is great and fair is assembled. The contemplation of his character, therefore, as exhibited in the Gospel, in which condescension is associated with majesty, grace to the unworthy with unspotted purity and inflexible justice;—the contemplation of a character so amiable and so august, which displays the harmony of qualities which seemed to be for ever opposed, looking with a benignant aspect upon man, is calculated to awaken high emotions of admiration and delight. . Accordingly, we find the saints earnestly requesting a manifestation of it, in preference to all the splendid shows and bewitching pleasures of the world. “ One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.”† How transporting the thought to believers, that this glorious Being is their own by a peculiar and intimate relation; is not only the object of their worship and love, but the inexhaustible and everlasting source of their felieity! “ The Lord is my portion, saith my soul, therefore will I hope in him.” I There they possess
all that their hearts can desire, and more than tongue can express. “ They are satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and their mouths praise him with joyful lips."'S There is no good thing which they may despair of obtaining; for the riches of his goodness are pledged to supply their wants, and the fulness of heaven itself is but a part of what he is able to bestow. Are they in solitude, forsaken by the world and by their friends? God is always near, to cheer their lonely hours with sweeter enjoyments than those of friendship and love. Do the afflictions of the present life come upon them? While they are assured that these shall not separate them from his love, they can trace the footsteps of their Father in the darkness and the tempest, and discern wisdom and goodness in apparent disorder and severity ; they kiss the rod which is wielded by his gracious hand, and welcome the stripes which promote the health of their souls. As soon as a man can look upon the God of salvation as his own, and this is the privilege of those who have been admitted into a state of gracethe scenery around assumes a new aspect, and displays charms which never before met the eye. He beholds every where objects of pleasing admiration, and causes of heart-melting gratitude. Nature shines with the glory of its Maker. Mercies acquire a sweeter relish; afflictions lose half their bitterness; life rises in value, as the gift of love for purposes of infinite importance; death is divested of its terrors; the present is the seed-time of grace, and the future is the harvest of glory. In short, he enjoys God in every thing, and every thing in God.
A third source of joy to believers, who have been reconciled to God by the death of his Son, is the inhabitation of the Spirit of grace. I must not stop to
* 1 John i. 7.
+ Ps. xxvii. 4.
Lam, iii. 24.
$ Ps. lxiii. 5.