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Acts xxiv. 16.
And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience poid
of offence toward God and toward men.
ON PURITY OF CONSCIENCE.
As the life of man at the longest is but very short, and at the best very uncertain, as it is only an introduction or prelude to our existence; and as an awful eternity is advancing upon us with a rapid progress-it must appear evident to every thinking mind that the principal, the only business of life should be to secure our eternal concerns, to live now as we shall wish to have done when we come to die--for we are assured, that as we sow now, we shall reap hereafter-“ if we sow « to the flesh, we shall of the flesh reap corrup“tion; but if we sow to the spirit, we shall of " the spirit reap life everlasting.” My text points out the only way in which a man and a christian can live happily, die comfortably, and
secure eternal life and felicity—the only way
length of our days, in whom alone we live, and move, and have our being”—and that gratitude and affection we are bound to pay on account of what he has already done, still continues to do, and has given us the assurance of doing for us in the time to come. These blessings, which thus call for all the returns we are able to make are being itself, with all its attending comforts and enjoyments daily, constant preservation in being and happiness—and redemption from misery and wrath, through the mediation and meritorious death and intercession of his son Jesus Christ; and secondly, we observed, that to have a conscience void of offence toward man, was from a principle of unfeigned charity toward our brethren of mankind, to live in the habitual practice of all the duties we owe one another according to the various stations and relations in which we stand to each other, as parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and friends, as the children of the same common father, the objects of the same gracious and universal providence, as the candidates and heirs of the same glorious immortality—and to live in the performance of these duties is to live in conformity to that short transcript of the moral law, delivered to us by our Lord himself, in these words: “ Thou shalt " love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and “ with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, " and thy neighbour as thyself.” And here it may naturally be enquired, how is the conscience to be thus maintained void of offence, by what means are we thus to approve ourselves the true children and servants of God, “ without rebuke, « blameless and harmless in the midst of a crook“ ed and perverse nation, and shine as lights in “ the world”—by our own natural powers? by our own conduct and strength? by our own wisdom and righteousness? by no means. The apostle to the Hebrews fully and satisfactorily answers this important enquiry---" The blood of Christ, who “ through the eternal Spirit offered himself with“ out spot unto God, alone can purge our con“ sciences from dead works to serve the living “ God."--This and this alone can make us alive unto holiness, and entitle us in the end to eternal life.
I had likewise entered upon the second general head; namely, to illustrate the happiness of having a good conscience, and the misery of a contrary state.
In order to do which, we proposed to consider the state of the righteous and the wicked; of the person possessed of a good conscience, and a person haunted with a guilty conscience, under the following views; first, When
both are placed in circumstances of worldly happiness and prosperity; this has been already considered, and I now proceed to the second, namely, When they are placed in circumstances of trouble and distress; and thirdly, When they are placed in the view, in the near prospect of death, judgment, and eternity.
Secondly then, we shall regard them as both placed in circumstances of trouble and distress. Perfect happiness is wholly inconsistent with the notion of a state of probation such as ours is in this life, it being the express will and appointment of our heavenly Father that“ through ma“nifold tribulations we should enter into the “ kingdom of God.” Accordingly we see that the just are afflicted with troubles, many and various; for God bestows good and evil, happiness and misery in this world, not as rewards and punishments, but as proofs and trials. Hence we sometimes see vice triumphant and flourishing, piety depressed and persecuted; which made the psalmist give way to a fretful and envious spirit when he saw the prosperity of the wicked :
They are not' troubled” says he, “ like other
men, neither are they plagued like other men.” But at present we are to suppose both to be placed in the same distressful situation; and what