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neither tell whether God be his friend or his enemy, or rather he has shrewd cause to suspect him his enemy, and cannot possibly know him to be his friend. And this being his case, he must live in ignorance and die in ignorance; and it will be hard for a man to die in it, without dying for it too.
And now, what a wretched condition must that man needs be in, whose heart is in such a confusion, such darkness, and such a settled blindness, that it shall not be able to tell him so much as one true word of himself! Flatter him it may, I confess, (as those are generally good at flattering, who are good for nothing else,) but, in the mean time, the poor man is left under the fatal necessity of a remediless delusion: for in judging of a man's self, if conscience either cannot or will not inform him, there is a certain thing called self-love that will be sure to deceive him. And thus I have shewn, in four several particulars, what is to be done, both for the getting and keeping of the conscience so informed, as that it may be able to give us a rational confidence towards God. As,
1. That the voice of reason, in all the dictates of natural morality, ought carefully to be attended to by a strict observance of what it commands, but especially of what it forbids.
2. That every pious motion from the Spirit of God ought tenderly to be cherished, and by no means checked or quenched either by resistance or neglect.
3. That conscience is to be kept close to the rule of the written word.
4thly and lastly, That it is frequently to be examined, and severely accounted with.
And I doubt not but a conscience thus disciplined, shall give a man such a faithful account of himself, as shall never shame nor lurch the confidence which he shall take up from it.
Nevertheless, to prevent all mistakes in so critical a case, and so high a concern, I shall close up the foregoing particulars with this twofold caution.
First, Let no man think that every doubting or misgiving about the safety of his spiritual estate, overthrows the confidence hitherto spoken of. For, as I shewed before, the confidence mentioned in the text, is not properly assurance, but only a rational, well-grounded hope; and therefore may very well consist with some returns of doubting. For we know, in that pious and excellent confession and prayer, made by the poor man to our Saviour, in Mark ix. 24, how in the very same breath in which he says, Lord, I believe; he says also, Lord, help my unbelief. So that we see here, that the sincerity of our faith or confidence will not secure us against all vicissitudes of wavering or distrust; indeed no more than a strong athletic constitution of body will secure a man always against heats, and colds, and rheums, and such like indispositions.
And one great reason of this is, because such a faith or confidence as we have been treating of, resides in the soul or conscience as an habit. And habits, we know, are by no means either inconsistent with, or destroyed by, every contrary act. But especially in the case now before us, where the truth and strength of our confidence towards God does not consist so much in the present act, by which it exerts itself, no, nor yet in the habit producing this act, as it does in the ground or reason which this
confidence is built upon; which being the standing sincerity of a man's heart, though the present act be interrupted, (as, no doubt, through infirmity or temptation it may be very often,) yet, so long as that sincerity, upon which this confidence was first founded, does continue, as soon as the temptation is removed and gone, the forementioned faith, or affiance, will, by renewed, vigorous, and fresh acts, recover and exert itself, and with great comfort and satisfaction of mind give a man confidence towards God. Which, though it be indeed a lower and a lesser thing than assurance, yet, as to all the purposes of a pious life, may, for ought I see, prove much more useful; as both affording a man due comfort, and yet leaving room for due caution too; which are two of the principal uses that religion serves for in this world.
2. The other caution, with reference to the foregoing discourse, is this ; Let no man, from what has been said, reckon a bare silence of conscience in not accusing or disturbing him, a sufficient argument for confidence towards God. For such a silence is so far from being always so, that it is usually worse than the fiercest and loudest accusations; since it may, and for the most part does, proceed from a kind of numbness or stupidity of conscience, and an absolute dominion obtained by sin over the soul; so that it shall not so much as dare to complain or make a stir. For, as our Saviour says, Luke xi. 21. While the strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace. So, while sin rules and governs with a strong hand, and has wholly subdued the conscience to a slavish subjection to its tyrannical yoke; the soul shall be at peace, such a false peace as it is; but for that very cause worse a great
deal, and more destructive, than when, by continual alarms and assaults, it gives a man neither peace nor truce, quiet nor intermission. And therefore it is very remarkable, that the text expresses the sound estate of the heart or the conscience here spoken of, not barely by its not accusing, but by its not condemning us, which word imports properly an acquitment or discharge of a man upon some precedent accusation, and a full trial and cognizance of his cause had thereupon. For as condemnation, being a law term, and so relating to the judicial proceedings of law courts, must still presuppose an hearing of the cause, before any sentence can pass; so likewise in the court of conscience, there must be a strict and impartial inquiry into all a man's actions, and a thorough hearing of all that can be pleaded for and against him, before conscience can rationally either condemn or discharge him: and if indeed upon such a fair and full trial he can come off, he is then rectus in curia, clear and innocent, and consequently may reap all that satisfaction from himself, which it is natural for innocence to afford the person who has it. I do not here speak of a legal innocence, (none but sots and Quakers dream of such things,) for, as St. Paul says, Galat. ii. 16. by the works of the law shall no flesh living be justified: but I speak of an evangelical innocence; such an one as the economy of the gospel accepts, whatsoever the law enjoins; and though mingled with several infirmities and defects, yet amounts to such a pitch of righteousness, as we call sincerity. And whosoever has this, shall never be damned for want of the other.
And now, how vastly does it concern all those who shall think it worth their while to be in earnest
with their immortal souls, not to abuse and delude themselves with a false confidence? a thing so easily taken up, and so hardly laid down. Let no man conclude, because his conscience says nothing to him, that therefore it has nothing to say. Possibly some never so much as doubted of the safety of their spiritual estate in all their lives; and if so, let them not flatter themselves, but rest assured that they have so much the more reason a great deal to doubt of it now.
For the causes of such a profound stillness are generally gross ignorance, or long custom of sinning, or both; and these are very dreadful symptoms indeed to such as are not hell and damnation: proof. When a man's wounds cease to smart, only because he has lost his feeling, they are nevertheless mortal for his not seeing his need of a chirurgeon. It is not mere, actual, present ease, but ease after pain, which brings the most durable and solid comfort. Acquitment before trial can be no security. Great and strong calms usually portend and go before the most violent storms. And therefore, since storms and calms (especially with reference to the state of the soul) do always follow one another; certainly of the two it is much more eligible to have the storm first and the calm afterwards : since a calm before a storm is commonly a peace of a man's own making; but a calm after a storm, a peace of God's.
To which God, who only can speak such peace
to us, as neither the world nor the devil shall be able to take from us, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.