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or is it something which only acts when acted upon ? Let us leave these speculations for facts. Here we cannot be deceived. Every individual knows that there is a principle within him-call it what you may—an active principle, an inward witness, which testifies to the good or ill of human conduct. It is upon this principle, and through its intervention, that Christ speaks directly to the heart of every sinner. Have you never felt alarmed at the consequences of neglect or of sin ? Have you never had a serious impression that you ought to serve and love God ? Have you never had a foreboding fear of the threatened doom of the sinner? What is it that
produced these impressions ? You had not been acted on by an external impulse. Conscience, or what I hope you will understand me as meaning, the Spirit of the living God striving with you through the medium of that faculty called conscience—conscience, for the most part, works silently and unseen by every eye; but yet its effects are frequently visible. There is, indeed, a restlessness in the sinner's mind, which is oftentimes seen to work in his outward appearance, and shows to every observer that his heart is not at peace; but, generally speaking, the pangs of conscience are secretly preying upon the sinner's soul, at the very moment when he would wish to appear before men in perfect peace. The voice of conscience is most distinctly audible in his ear, and speaks most powerfully at those times, when no other voice can be heard; in the solitary hour of night, when reflection compels the unwilling soul to look with horror into its real state; in the hour of necessary and painful retirement from other scenes, when business is over and pleasure gone; when the mind
is again brought to feel those pains, that inward dismay and terror at itself which worldly pursuits and pleasures for a little while had lulled to rest. But the voice of conscience is most powerful against the sinner in the day of sickness and bodily decay; when the world begins to fail ; when death is known and felt to be at hand; when the unseen world, for which no effectual preparation hath been made, seems near. Then, in times such as these, the sinner suffers all the pangs of a guilty conscience; then arise bitter forebodings of what is to come; then is he convinced of the exceeding sinfulness of sin; then, at last, is he forced to confess, in the agonies of remorse, for a life wasted in the eager pursuits, in the unhallowed pleasures of this present evil world, that all hath been unto him but vanity and vexation of spirit.
Let it not be objected to the convincing power of conscience, that many who make no hesitation in breaking the laws of God, yet live without any sense of sin or any remorse. Sinners do oftentimes
appear to be at peace, but, for the most part, it is only the appearance: for “the wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest.” No human eye can ever look into the deep recesses of the heart. If it could, many a dreadful terror would be seen, where all now appears peace and serenity. Many a fearful looking for of judgment could be discovered in those who now appear calm and quiet. If, indeed, the sinner has become so hardened in his sins as to feel no pang and to know no sorrows for the past, still sinning against God without the fear of his judgment, it is but the melancholy proof of a judicial hardness of his heart. He has reason to fear that the Holy Spirit, who alone can convince of sin, has departed
from him. And then, though conscience may sleep in this world, it will not sleep for ever. It will be awakened with tenfold horror in the world to come. But, my brethren, mysterious as the dispensation is, we cannot confine the knocking of the Spirit to the medium of conscience; there are still more direct appeals; the absolute access of the Holy Spirit to the sinner; a matter which is one of experience, not of description.
Let me be permitted to ask you if you have felt any of these things? In the midst of your sins, or the midst of your neglects, which amount to sins, have your minds never been directed to a serious apprehension of the consequences ? Have you never thought that you ought to love and serve, and devote yourselves to God? Have your minds never been rendered uneasy ? Has the darkness and stillness of the night never witnessed to some serious reflections? Has sickness never awakened one pang, or the prospect of death one fear? Ah, brethren, in every apprehension, in every serious reflection, in every fear, the Holy Spirit was striving with your souls. Christ was at your hearts, knocking with reiterated earnestness. Mysterious as all spiritual communications are, and must ever be, still Christ was there. He did not let the matter rest with the influence his word might exert; he did not let the matter rest with the influence which a preached Gospel might exert, nor with the influence which the dispensations of his providences, prosperous or adverse, might exert; but he came to your hearts by the more direct application of his Spirit, and if you have still refused to admit him, you will be without
When Christ thus knocks at your hearts, brethren, by his word, by his ministers, by prosperity or by adversity, or by his Spirit, admit him; put him not off; your present and future welfare depends on his admission, when he speaks to your hearts by either of these methods. I caution you as a friend, in the language of the Scriptures, “ See that ye refuse not him that speaketh, for if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape if we refuse him that speaketh from heaven, whose voice once shook the earth. But now has he promised, saying, Behold, I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.” And what will ye do in that day, brethren, if you have perseveringly kept Christ from your hearts ? Notwithstanding all his efforts, will you then charge on him the blame of your perdition? Will he not then call
your opportunities? He will tell you of the instances in which he knocked at your hearts. He will point you to the persuasive yet silent eloquence of his written word. He will call to remembrance the unnumbered faithful exhortations which you have received through the medium of the Gospel ministry. He will point to your dispensations of prosperity with which he permitted you to be surrounded; and he will point to you the dispensations of afflictions in which, when the heart was more softened, he had assailed in mercy. He will remind you of the influence of his Spirit, which has visited you in vain. Surely, surely, the sinner's blood will be on his own head, and the throne of the Saviour be guiltless.
Sinner, sinner, thou art thine own destroyer; for time and again he has called, and you have refused;
he has stretched out his hand, and you have disregarded; and if in the eternal world you have to eat of the fruit of your own ways, and to be filled with your own devices, you may, you must charge it to the time, when with a heedless, thoughtless, and ruinous ingratitude, you turned Christ from your door. He came mighty and willing to save, but you despised him, you insulted him, you shut the door against him. Wo, wo, in eternity for that man or woman against whom that crime stands charged in the book of remembrance. But now there is a special voice; it comes in the “pestilence which walketh in darkness, and the destruction which wasteth in the noon-day;” and its language is, prepare to . meet thy God. Oh heed it, I beseech you, sinner, and repent. Heed it, people of God, and renew your devotedness. This day truly humble yourselves, truly repent, truly hang on sovereign mercy. From various instances there is reason to believe that God will hear, and oh what blessings will come on thousands of souls, if God, when he hears the prayers and sees the repentance of the people, causeth the cloud now big with vengeance to pass over.
It has let a few drops fall already, but it may pass over. People of God, be faithful, and on the dark cloud the rainbow may soon be painted. Sinner, repent, and iniquity shall not be your ruin—“Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish.” Christ now knocks; turn him, oh turn him not away, lest when you knock he refuse to answer, and you be lost for ever.