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inquiries. Rather, have not most of those writers puzzled the cause; “darkening counsel by words without knowledge;” perplexing a subject, plain in itself, and easy to be understood ? For, set aside but hard words, and every man of an honest heart will soon understand the thing.
4. God has made us thinking beings, capable of perceiving what is present, and of reflecting or looking back on what is past. In particular, we are capable of perceiving whatsoever passes in our own hearts or lives; of knowing whatsoever we feel or do; and that either while it passes, or when it is past. This we mean when we say, Man is a conscious being: he , hath a consciousness, or inward perception, both of things present and past, relating to himself, of his own tempers and outward behaviour. But what we usually term Conscience, implies somewhat more than this. It is not barely the knowledge of our present, or the remembrance of our preceding life. To remember, to bear witness either of past or present things, is only one, and the least office of Conscience: its main business is to excuse or accuse, to approve or disapprove, to acquit or condemn.
5. Some late writers indeed have given a new name to this, and have chose to style it a Moral Sense. But the old word seems preferable to the new, were it only on this account, that it is more common and familiar among men, and therefore easier to be understood. And to Christians it is undeni. ably preferable, on another account also; namely, because it is scriptural; because it is the word which the wisdom of God hath chose to use in the Inspired Writings.
And according to the meaning wherein it is generally used there, particularly in the Epistles of St. Paul, we may understand by Conscience, A faculty or power, implanted by God in every soul that comes into the world, of perceiving what is right or wrong in his own heart or life, in his tempers, thoughts, words, and actions.
6. But what is the Rule whereby men are to judge of right and wrong? whereby their conscience is to be directed ? The rule of Heathens, as the Apostle teaches eslewhere, is “the law written in their hearts.” “These," saith he, “not having the soutward) law, are a law unto themselves : who show the work of the law (that which the outward law prescribes written in their heart; [by the finger of God;] their conscience also bearing witness, (whether they walk by this rule or not,)
and their thoughts the mean while accusing, or cren ex. cusing,” acquitting, defending them ; x20 Q707.07.2lesywv. (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 doctrinc, 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 bis rule of right or wrong, of whatever is really good or evil. He este is nothing good, but what is here cujoined, citler directly or by plain consequence; he accounts nothing evil but what is here forbidden, either in terms, 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 cvil; 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 terined by the Apostle, “a conscience void of offence.” So, what lie at one time expresses thus, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day;” (Acts 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.” (Chap. 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 tree 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, avespaonuev; 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 motion 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 mongw, 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 (whole) 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 whercof 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, "in 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; EtAixpsveice ev; 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 siocerity, 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, nor 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