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* Built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the
- A FEW WORDS TO YOUNG MEN ABOUT CONSCIENCE.
BY THE REV. C. M. BIRRELL. As my purpose is to offer some practical hints, and not to attempt a general moral dissertation, I will not detain you, reader, with any definitions of conscience. I will not quarrel with those who claim for it the place of an independent faculty, nor with those who style it a moral sense ; and still less, perhaps, with those who maintain that it is simply the judgment exercised in the department of morals. It will be enough merely to call your attention to the unquestioned fact, that every one of us is so constituted as to be capable of noticing the rightness or wrongness of a thing. This capacity is born with us, and we cannot divest ourselves of it. Education may influence, but it does not create it. The instructions of the Bible may give it purity, but it existed before a word of that book was penned; and the sacred writers everywhere presuppose and appeal to it. Its operations, therefore, are of everyday occurrence, and must be familiar to all persons. When it is proposed, for example, to perform an action-say a transaction in business—we ask ourselves, Is it easy or difficult, does it promise to be profitable or unprofitable ? and by the side of these we find the inquiry insinuating itself, Is it right or wrong? The answer to that last question indeed is often so emphatic as to overpower all the other considerations. We say, “ It is quite within our ability, and is sure to be lucrative ; but it is dishonourable, and therefore it must not be attempted.”
Now, are these conscientious decisions always on the side of truth? Some maintain that they are. I have known persons, when charged with moral impropriety, defend themselves on the ground that their conscience did not accuse them of the evil : implying that they could not have done wrong, simply because no testimony was borne against them by that stern witness. But there is here a practical fallacy. It may be true that conscience, when in its just position, points to the right; but every man has to ascertain how far his conscience approximates to that position before he can safely accept its utterances. You construct a sun-dial. It has a firm stone pedestal, its face is correctly marked with the hours, and its gnomon is secured in its proper place. When the sun shines, the time is of course correctly indicated. But in a little while the soil sinks at the foundation. Nothing more has occurred. The pedestal, the face, the goomon, all are there as on the day the instrument was first erected. But its position in relation to the sun is changed, and its information, in consequence, is fatally vitiated.
The dial is the conscience. Sometimes the whole stratum of society sinks, and throws every individual out of position. Fifty years ago, the number of persons in England who thought it wrong to maintain slavery was extremely small. It is a familiar fact, that Mr. Newton, after he became a Christian, sailed in command of a slave-ship, and could see no evil in transporting, through incredible
miseries to miseries yet deeper, thousands of men with rights and eternal prospects like his own. That could not have been right then which is wrong DOM; for truth is immutable. The opinion of ages had acted on the foundations of the universal conscience, and his participated in the general obliquity.
Then there are displacements peculiar to particular situations—to particular trades and professions. Men will do that in their places of business, under cover of usage and example, which they would not for the world do in the bosom of their families; and they will do that in a circuitous manner, through their agents, which they could not do in their own persons without such compunction as would unnerve their arm. The iniquity of these things is often suspected by both master and servant. The master says, “I should have more peace of mind were I to put an end to this dishonesty ; but since every one in my connection does the same, I could not live.” He does not see that it would be better for him to die. The servant says, “ The falsehoods I utter, or act, on 'Change, or across the counter, are mine, though done for my employer; why should I damn myself to enrich him? But then where can I go? All are alike." He has not confidence in Him whose voice it is that is reverberating through his soul
To maintain, therefore, that we are right merely because our consciences do not oppose us, is absurd, so long as we are unable to show that they have suffered no violence at our hands, and have not been perverted by the influence of others. If the commander of a ship-to seek the aid of another figure opens the glass of his chronometer, and twists round the indices, or if, having left it open, it had been altered by some persons in his absence, and he had not taken the pains to verify its testimony by those astronomical observations which were within his reach, so that he has come to a false reckoning, and to the destruction of the lives and property under his charge, would it be enough for him to assert that he had scrupulously based his calculation on the showing of that chronometer? One. of the most truthful men that ever lived shall answer the question by the verdict which he pronounced upon himself. “I verily thought," said Paul,” that I ought"—the word expresses moral obligation, obediènce to the voice of conscience-" to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” But did he hold himself innocent ? No. There were means of rectifying that decision which he had not used; and his sentence is“I am the least of the apostles, chat am not worthy to be called an apostle. because I persecuted the Church of God."
There are a thousand facts lying about us every day in the course of God's natural government of the world, which show that fearful consequences follow not only from intentional opposition to right, but from the mere absence of vigilance and inquiry; and it cannot be doubted that the majority of personis are going wrong, not because they are in open warfare with their consciences. which, in fact, have been brought over to their side, but because they have no taken pains to have their condition rectified.
It may now be asked how a perverted conscience can be restored ; and it question, certainly, is, to any man, of greater importance. It is not necessary to search far for the true standard. It is not the opinion of society, 10 individual inclination, nor anything affected by time, country, or argument. Whoever admits the being of God must see that His will is necessarily the rule of action to every intelligent creature. The sense of right, blended with every man's moral nature, is an expression of that will in its relation to humar. conduct-and a fuller and less variable announcement of it he has given in ko written law, and above all in the life and death of his own Son.
But allow me, here, to diverge from abstract statements to a parable. I. give you some easily imagined incidents in the life of a young man.
He was placed in the service of a master of high character: a character of spotless integrity and of singular kindness. No situation ever had greater pritleges, but his mind became embittered, and he tried to convince himself that he was treated unfairly. He at last brought himself to the point of committing injustice, and eventually carried on a system of base dishonesty. The crimes of this unhappy person could not be concealed. He was convicted and thrown into prison. There his condition might have been most rigorous ; but it was softened by the most sedulous attention of a friend, who, regularly
as the sun rose on each day, sent him such food as he had been accustomed - to, and showed him such a variety of delicate attentions as might have
reminded him of better days, and comforted him with the assurance that, fallen as he was, he was thought of tenderly by some one. But when he found that the person who did for him these services was no other than his former master, though he took all that was sent to him, he lost no opportunity of exhibiting indifference and contempt. I am ashamed to mention this. You may think the human heart could not be so unrelenting, nor the conscience so bereft of sensi bility ; but I am compelled to say it was true. In the meantime the case came up for adjudication, and the crime was pronounced capital. When told that he must die, he received the intelligence with horror; but with no regret for his dishonesty, and none for his ingratitude. One morning, a messenger entered his cell and put into his hands a paper from government, offering him, on a simple condition, immediate liberty. He was thunderstruck, and asked why this had been done? He was told that another person had proposed to die in his room, and had actually done so. “Who is it ?” he cried. " Come and see," was the answer. He looked on the dead body of his master!
Did that penetrate him? Did that reach the seat of life in his heart? Did that give power to his conscience? Did it? you ask me. I ask you: Does it? For it is of you I have spoken. I have told the secret of your life. You have acted towards your Master in heaven with injustice; you have been condemned to die; while death lingers he visits you with goodness and touching kind. nesses. Unrepelled by your indifference, and resolved to assault your heart with the whole force of love, he throws himself between you and eternal destruction : he dies that you might live. It is he, and he only, who yields to the legitimate influence of this great fact, whose conscience is raised up from its prostrate condition, and placed in such a relation to the Sun of righteous. ness as to give forth just decisions.
But as constant vigilance will, even then, be necessary, let me humbly counsel you, reader, to keep out of temptation whenever you can. Unnecessary exposure 18 no proof of valour. “It is,” perhaps, “ magnificent, but it is not war.” Our Lord, who knew our nature, has desired us never to court, but always, if possible, to decline a conflict. “Pray ve," said he, “that ye enter not into temptation.” Study, then, the barometer of your soul, and, when a gale is indicated, run for shelter.
If, however, you find yourself in the midst of temptation before you are aware, seek to act on previously established principles. Be decided and absolute. If your passions should plead that a peculiar case has happened; that concessions may be safely made; that there is not so much evil in the matter as was supposed, answer that it may be so, but that the question cannot then be opened, for that you never deliberate in the presence of an armed force. What a different aspect the same thing presents when viewed within and beyond the range of temptation! How justly the great poet of human life has said :
“ Between the first motion and
The acting of a dreadfal thing, all the interim is
But, relying on the ever present Leader, never doubt that victory will come in the end. You may often have resolved and fallen, and are now ready to despise yourself and give up hope. The laugh of the world quells you; the force of old habits frightens you; the ten thousand subtleties of the devil make you tremble. But all that is great and good and strong is on your side. The adversary aims to wear you out, but every day's hardship augments your strength. The struggle of to-day makes you more fit for the struggle of to-morrow. Bear up, soldiers, through your seasoning time-God be with you in your secret conflicts—the day is coming wben you will trust your Lord more, and find that your enemy is a coward, who, when resisted, flees from you. Let us meet beyond the river, and in the land of promise we shall celebrate the love of Him who brought us through flood and field !
THE SUGGESTIVE QUESTION.
BY THE REV. JOHN cox.
« Did I not see thee in the garden with him?"-John xviii. 26.
“ Him," « The Garden," " Thee." The chiefly directed. His history that night had Lord Jesus! Gethsemane! Peter! What | been most eventful. He had showed much subjects are these for our meditation; and ignorance-made many mistakes-omitted they are all brought before us in a simple to obey his Lord's commands. He exhiquestion, which, though put by an obscure bited the extreme of rashness and cowardice, individual, yet is very suggestive, and had and, to crown all, had just uttered a fearful an important bearing on the after-life of untruth. He is still on the inclined plane, him to whom it was addressed. Most pro. and the question now before us will send bably, as “the kinsman of Malchus" put him still lower down. It is humiliating, the question to the quailing Peter, he pointed but profitable, to watch his sad declension his finger towards the illustrious Person Let us endeavour to apply this history to whom he had helped to arrest. “HIM" ourselves, and to improve it for our good. yes, there He stands, forsaken yet faithful. | We observe, « Alone,” even as he had foretold, yet at- / I. That the professed followers of Christ tached as firmly as ever to the cause he so are well known and closely watched. Like lovingly espoused. There he stood, cogi. Peter they have professed faith in Christ, tating over and fulfilling those wondrous and declared their attachment to his words which the trembling lyre of Isaiah They have been with Jesus in various en had sung ages before. The loving One, the gagements, and he has helped them (if in Lamb of God, the meek, the innocent, the de deed they are his people) in many trying voted One, stands bound ready for the sword circumstances. Their profession is puble of justice and the altar-flame of holy wrath. and their avowed object is quite opposit
“The garden," he had just come from to that of the rest of the world. They ham thence. There he had prayed his mighty declared war against sin and Satan, an prayer; poured forth his mysterious have solemnly professed that it is the blood - sweat; received communications intention to derote their lives to the caus from heaven; evinced his Almighty power of truth and holiness. To mortify sin, OTEX and steadfast love! O wondrous garden, come the evil one, spread truth, save souls, ge where love so unparalleled was manifested, safely and honourably to heaven, and take 1 but over which such deep mystery still many with them as they can, is their avorte hovers, who can lift that veil of mystery ? intention. There are many who are oppose who tell all the causes for those agitated | to all these things, who have heard it a movements, strong cries, and that unutter said, and who are watching to see how able anguish? Surely it is dark through it will be carried out in the practice of th “ excessive brightness" of love.
confessors. If they find such professors i But it is to Peter our thoughts must be l any wrong position, or association, or pus
guit, they will not scruple to say, “Did , now have communion with Christ. “They we not see thee at the house of God, the are called into the fellowship of God's Lord's table, the crowded public assembly, Son." They go to the garden and the cross the prayer-meeting? How do these things to meditate on his sorrows and death, to agree with your ardent pursuit after the trace the hand of God therein, and to things of time, your evident satisfaction receive the blessings which come to with some of our pleasures ?” They see in them therefrom. They go there to learn such things a practical denial of previous the harmony of God's perfections, to see associations and professions. Oh! it is sad the evil of sin, and to obtain strength to when the wicked and worldly can convict overcome it. In this communion they find God's people of untruthfulness by their peace; for they realise that all which Christ own actions.
did is placed to their account. They rise II. We learn that past experience or from the cross to the throne, and have enjoyments, however exalted, will not alone communion with the Saviour in his reward, be a sufficient preservation from sin. Peter and with the Father in his delight in him, had been with Jesus on the sea, had heard and thus find true satisfaction. They have his voice stilling the storm, and felt his also communion with Christ in his designs grasp saving him from sinking; he had and aims; seeking to be what he purposes been on the glory-lit heights of Tabor, at they should be; and hence comes conthe ever-to-be-remembered tomb of Laza formity. They have also fellowship with rus, at the feast of love in the large upper the Lord in his expectations, and thus room, and in "gloomy, glorious Geth. abound in hope. What lofty subjects are semane;" yet he said, " I do not know the these to commune with Christ about ! man." What a terrible power bath sin What the Lord has done, is doing, and will even over those whom the Lord hath saved do; what he was, is, and is to be, are all and blessed, if they are left to themselves ! | set before them by the Holy Spirit, the What an infatuation, what a spell, sin can glorifier of Christ. What blessed effects exert! How it can hide from view what result to the communing soul! But those the soul once thought could never be for who, by communion with the Lord, are gotten! (2 Peter i. 9). Faith, gratitude, enriched with peace of conscience, rest of love, seem all for a time swallowed up. A heart, similarity of tastes and aims, and fearful obliviousness has come over the abounding hope, will be sure to be the soul. It ceases to feel the attraction of its objects of Satan's bitter malice. Around glorious Centre, and becomes apparently them his fiery darts will fly, for thema "a wandering star.” Sadder, still sadder, his subtlest snares will be laid. These grows the thought, when we call to mind temptations may be gross sins, or fearful how many who have said “Lord, Lord," blasphemies; they may be long continued, "who have wondered at his gracious renewed again and again. Or the temptawords,” who “received the word with joy, tion may not come in the form of a vigorand believed for awhile” have lost all, ous assault, but be of a “sapping and
gone back, and walked no more with mining" character. The enemy may come him.” All their knowledge, gifts, feelings, with padded feet. “The flesh may steal profession, carried away before the flood of silent marches.” The wheels of the artilFemptation. Oh, terrible! to think of such lery of hell may be covered over with a soft Dersons reviewing on a hopeless dying-bed, substance, so as not to be heard. How or from a despairing eternity, the triumphs true is all this of such sins as pride, coveti sin over a bright early profession. “With ousness, sloth, forgetfulness! Let us watch, lim,” but not in Him. Let us all see to it yea, set a double watch, after seasons of
at our religion is one of union, and let us communion; or when we have been owned er listen to Him who saith,“ Abide in me.” of God in service. “Satan (says Gurnal)
III. Special privileges are frequently loves to push God's people into the dirt, ucceeded by peculiar temptations. Peter with their best clothes on.” This leads to me out from being in the garden with the last observation :hrist, to fall into the snare of Satan. IV. Our grand concern should be prerue, he had not improved that garden vention of successful temptation, or immeene; he did not understand it, or watch diate recovery if it has succeeded. We d pray, as he was commanded; but still cannot prevent temptation, but we may, was a memorable season, and doubtless | with God's help, prevent its success. Ponuch thought upon afterwards. Believers der well the teaching of 1 Cor. x. 12, 13 :