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and their thoughts the mean while accusins, or even (1. cusing,”' acquitting, defending them; n και απολογούμενων, (Rom. ii. 14, 15.) But the Christian Rule of right and wrong is the Word of God, the writings of the Old and New Testament; all that the Prophets and “holy men of old” wrote " as they were moved by the !loly Ghost;” all that Scripture which was given by inspiration of God, and which is indeed profitable for doctrine, or teaching the whole will of God; for reproof of what is contrary thereto; for correction of error, and for instruction, or training us up in righteousness, (2 Tim. iii. 16.)
This is a lantern unto a Christian's feet, and a light in all his paths. This alone he receives as his rule of right or wrong, of whatever is really good or evil. He esteems nothing good, but what is here enjoined, cither directly or by plain consequence; he accounts nothing evil but what is here forbidden, either in terns, or by undeniable inference. Whatever the Scripture neither forbids nor enjoins, either directly or by plain consequence, he believes to be of an indifferent nature; to be in itself neither good nor evil; this being the whole and sole outward rule whereby his conscience is to be directed in all things.
7. And if it be directed thereby, in fact, then hath he“ the answer of a good conscience toward God.” “A good conscience" is what is elsewhere termed by the Apostle, “a conscience void of offence." So, what he at one time expresses thus, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day; ” (ilcts xxiii. 1 ;) he denotes at another, by that expression, “ Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man.” (Cha. xxiv. 16.) Now in order to this there is absolutely required, first, a right understanding of the Word of God, of his “holy, and acceptable, and perfect Will ” concerning us, as it is revealed therein. For it is impossible we should walk by a rule, if we do not know what it means. There is, secondly, required (which how few have attained :) a true knowledge of ourselves; a knowledge both of our hearts and lives, of our inward tempers and outward conversation : seeing, if we know them not, it is not possible that we should compare them with our rule. There is required, thirdly, an agreement of our hearts and lives, of our tempers and conversation, of our thoughts, and words, and works, with that rule, with the written Word of God. For, without this, if we have any conscience at all, it can be only an evil conscience. There is, fourthly, required, an inward perception of this agreement with our rule: And this habitual perception, this inward consciousness itself, is properly a good conscience; or, in the other phrase of the Apostle, “a conscience void of offence, toward God and toward man.”
8. But whoever desires to have a conscience thus void of offence, let him see that he lay the right foundation. Let him remember, “other foundation" of this “can no man lay, than that which is laid, even Jesus Christ.” And let him also be mindful, that no man buildeth on him but by a living faith; that no man is a partaker of Christ, until he can clearly testify, “ The life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God; in him who is now revealed in my heart; who “ loved me, and gave himself for me.” Faith alone is that evidence, that conviction, that demonstration of things invisible, whereby the eyes of our understanding being opened, and divine light poured in upon them, we “see the wondrous things of God's law,” the excellency and purity of it; the height, and depth, and length, and breadth thereof, and of every commandment contained therein. It is by faith that, beholding “the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” we perceive, as in a glass, all that is in ourselves, yea, the inmost motions of our souls. And by this alone can that blessed love of God be “shed abroad in our hearts,” which enables us so to love one another as Christ loved us. By this is that gracious promise fulfilled unto all the Israel of God, “ I will put my laws into their minds, and write (or engrave) them in their hearts ;” (Heb. viii. 10;) hereby producing in their souls an entire agreement with his holy and perfect law, and “ bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."
And, as an evil trec cannot bring forth good fruit, so a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit. As the heart therefore of a believer, so likewise his life, is thoroughly conformed to the rule of God's commandments; in a consciousness whereof, he can give glory to God, and say with the Apostle, “This is our rejoicing, 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."
9.“ We have had our conversation :” The Apostle in the original expresses this by one single word, avespa nuev; but the meaning thereof is exceeding broad, taking in our whole deportment, yea, every inward as well as outward circumstance, whether relating to our soul or body. It includes every notion of our heart, of our tongue, of our hands, and bodily members. It extends to all our actions and words ; to the employment of all our powers and faculties ; to the manner of using every talent we have received, with respect either to God or man.
10. “We have had our conversation in the world;" even in the world of the ungodly: not only among the children of God; (that were comparatively a little thing ;) but among the children of the Devil, among those that lie in wickedness, év tw normgiv, in the wicked one. What a world is this ! How thoroughly impregnated with the spirit it continually breathes ! As our God is good, and doeth good, so the god of this world, and all his children, are evil, and do evil, (so far as they are suffered,) to all the children of God. Like their father, they are always lying in wait, or “ walking about, seeking whom they may devour;” using fraud or force, secret wiles or open violence, to destroy those who are not of the world; continually warring against our souls, and by old or new weapons, and devices of every kind, labouring to bring them back into the snare of the Devil, into the broad road that leadeth to destruction.
11. “We have had our (wholc] conversation,” in such a world, “in simplicity and godly sincerity.” First, in Simplicity : This is what our Lord recommends, under the name of a “single eye.” “The light of the body,” saith he, " is the eye. If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” The meaning whereof is this: What the eye is to the body, that the intention is to all the words and actions : if therefore this eye of thy soul be single, all thy actions and conversation shall be “full of light,' of the light of heaven, of love, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
We are then simple of heart, when the eye of our mind is singly fixed on God; when in all things we aim at God alone, as our God, our Portion, our Strength, our Happiness, our exceeding great Reward, our All, in time and eternity. This is simplicity ; when a steady view, a single intention of promoting his glory, of doing and suffering his blessed Will, runs through our whole soul, fills all our heart, and is the constant spring of all our thoughts, desires, and purposes.
12. “We have had our conversation in the world," Secondly, Win godly Sincerity." The difference between simplicity and
sincerity seems to be chiefly this: Simplicity regards the intention itself, Sincerity the execution of it; and this sincerity relates not barely to our words, but to our whole conversation, as described above. It is not here to be understood in that narrow sense, wherein St. Paul himself sometimes uses it, for speaking the truth, or abstaining from guile, from craft, and dissimulation ; but in a more extensive meaning, as actually hitting the mark, which we aim at by simplicity. Accordingly, it implies in this place, that we do, in fact, speak and do all to the glory of God ; that all our words are not only pointed at this, but actually conducive thereto; that all our actions flow on in an even stream, uniformly subservient to this great end; and that, in our whole lives, we are moving straight toward God, and that continually; walking steadily on in the highway of holiness, in the paths of justice, mercy, and truth.
13. This sincerity is termed by the Apostle, godly sincerity, or the sincerity of God; EiAixpivelgev; to prevent our inistaking or confounding it with the sincerity of the heathens ; (for they had also a kind of sincerity among them, for which they professed no small veneration ;) likewise to denote the object and end of this, as of every Christian virtue, seeing whatever does not ultimately tend to God, sinks among “ the beggarly elements of the world." By styling it the sincerity of God, he also points out the Author of it, the “Father of Lights, from whom every good and perfect gift descendeth ;” which is still more clearly declared in the following words, “Not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God.”
14. “ Not with fleshly wisdom :" As if he had said, “We cannot thus converse in the world, by any natural strength of understanding, neither by any naturally acquired knowledge or wisdom. We cannot gain this simplicity, or practise this sincerity, by the force either of good sense, good nature, or good breeding. It overshoots all our native courage and resolution, as well as all our precepts of philosophy. The power of custom is not able to train us up to this, por the most exquisite rules of human education. Neither could I Paul ever attain hereto, notwithstanding all the advantages I enjoyed, so long as I was in the flesh, in my natural state, and pursued it only by fleshly, natural wisdom.'
And yet surely, if any man could, Paul himself might have attained thereto by that wisdom ; for we can hardly conceive any, who was more highly favoured with all the gifts both of
nature and education. Besides his natural abilities, probably not inferior to those of any person then upon the earth, he had all the benefits of Icarning, studying at the L'niversity of Tarsus, afterwards brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, a person of the greatest account both for knowledge and integrity, that was then in the whole Jewish nation. And he had all the possible advantages of religious cducation, being a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee, trained up in the very straitest sect or profession, distinguished from all others by a more eminent strictness. And herein he had “profited above many” others, “ who were bis equals” in years, “ being more abundantly zealous" of whatever he thought would please God, and “as touching the right cousness of the law blameless." But it could not be, that he should hereby attain this simplicity and godly sincerity. It was all but lost labour; in a deep, piercing sense of which he was at length constrained to cry out, “ The things which were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ : Yca, doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." (Phil, iii. 7,8.)
15. It could not be that ever he should attain to this, but by the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” our Lord; or, “ by the grace of God,”-another expression of nearly the same import. By “the grace of God” is sometimes to be understood that free love, that unmerited mercy, by which I a sinner, through the merits of Christ, am now reconciled to God. But in this place it rather means, that power of God the Holy Ghost, which “worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure." As soon as ever the grace of God in the former sense, his pardoning love, is manifested to our souls, the grace of God in the latter sense, the power of his Spirit, takes place therein. And now we can perform, through God, what to man was impossible. Now we can order our conversation aright. We can do all things in the light and power of that love, through Christ which strengtheneth 15. We now have “the testimony of our conscience,” which we could never have by Neshly wisdom, “ that in simplicity and godly sincerity, we have our conversation in the world.”
16. This is properly the ground of a Christian's Joy. We may now therefore readily conceive, how be that hath this testimony in himself rejoiceth evermore. “Aly soul," may he say, “ Jothi magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoiceth in God my Saviour." I rejoice in hini, who, of his own unmerited love,