« AnteriorContinuar »
the voice of his own Spirit interceding within him; and his prayers are not only followed, but even prevented with an answer.
2dly, A second instance, in which this confidence towards God does so remarkably shew itself, is at the time of some notable trial or sharp affliction. When a man's friends shall desert him, his relations disown him, and all dependencies fail him, and, in a word, the whole world frown upon him; certainly it will then be of some moment to have a friend in the court of conscience, which shall, as it were, buoy up his sinking spirits, and speak greater things for him than all these together can declaim against him.
For as it is most certain, that no height of honour, nor affluence of fortune, can keep a man from being miserable, nor indeed contemptible, when an enraged conscience shall fly at him, and take him by the throat; so it is also as certain, that no temporal adversities can cut off those inward, secret, invincible supplies of comfort, which conscience shall pour in upon distressed innocence, in spite and in defiance of all worldly calamities.
Naturalists observe, that when the frost seizes upon wine, they are only the slighter and more waterish parts of it that are subject to be congealed; but still there is a mighty spirit, which can retreat into itself, and there within its own compass lie secure from the freezing impression of the element round about it. And just so it is with the spirit of a man, while a good conscience makes it firm and impenetrable. An outward affliction can no more benumb or quell it, than a blast of wind can freeze up the blood in a man's veins, or a little shower of rain soak into his heart, and there quench the principle of life itself.
Take the two greatest instances of misery, which, I think, are incident to human nature; to wit, poverty and shame, and I dare oppose conscience to them both.
And first for poverty. Suppose a man stripped of all, driven out of house and home, and perhaps out of his country too, (which having, within our memory, happened to so many, may too easily, God knows, be supposed again,) yet if his conscience shall tell him, that it was not for any failure in his own duty, but from the success of another's villainy, that all this befell him; why then, his banishment becomes his preferment, his rags his trophies, his nakedness his ornament; and so long as his innocence is his repast, he feasts and banquets upon bread and water. He has disarmed his afflictions, unstung his miseries; and though he has not the proper happiness of the world, yet he has the greatest that is to be enjoyed in it.
And for this, we might appeal to the experience of those great and good men, who, in the late times of rebellion and confusion, were forced into foreign countries, for their unshaken firmness and fidelity to the oppressed cause of majesty and religion, whether their conscience did not, like a fidus Achates, still bear them company, stick close to them, and suggest comfort, even when the causes of comfort were invisible ; and, in a word, verify that great saying of the apostle in their mouths; We have nothing, and yet we possess all things.
For it is not barely a man's abridgment in his external accommodations which makes him miserable; but when his conscience shall hit him in the teeth, and tell him, that it was his sin and his folly which brought him under these abridgments. That his present scanty meals are but the natural effects of his former over-full ones. That it was his tailor, and his cook, his fine fashions, and his French ragouts, which sequestered him; and, in a word, that he came by his poverty as sinfully as some usually do by their riches; and consequently, that Providence treats him with all these severities, not by way of trial, but by way of punishment and revenge.
The mind surely, of itself, can feel none of the burnings of a fever ; but if my fever be occasioned by a surfeit, and that surfeit caused by my sin, it is that which adds fuel to the fiery disease, and rage to the distemper.
2dly, Let us consider also the case of calumny and disgrace; doubtless, the sting of every reproachful speech is the truth of it; and to be conscious, is that which gives an edge and keenness to the invective. Otherwise, when conscience shall plead not
. guilty to the charge, a man entertains it not as an indictment, but as a libel. He hears all such calumnies with a generous unconcernment; and receiving them at one ear, gives them a free and easy passage through the other : they fall upon him like rain or hail upon an oiled garment; they may make a noise indeed, but can find no entrance. The very whispers of an acquitting conscience will drown the voice of the loudest slander.
What a long charge of hypocrisy, and many other base things, did Job's friends draw up against him! but he regarded it no more than the dunghill which
he sat upon, while his conscience enabled him to appeal even to God himself; and, in spite of calumny, to assert and hold fast his integrity.
And did not Joseph lie under as black an infamy, as the charge of the highest ingratitude and the lewdest villainy could fasten upon him ? Yet his conscience raised him so much above it, that he scorned so much as to clear himself, or to recriminate the strumpet by a true narrative of the matter. For we read nothing of that in the whole story: such confidence, such greatness of spirit, does a clear conscience give a man; always making him more solicitous to preserve his innocence, than concerned to prove it. And so we come now to the
Third, and last instance, in which, above all others, this confidence towards God does most eminently shew and exert itself; and that is at the time of death. Which surely gives the grand opportunity of trying both the strength and worth of every principle. When a man shall be just about to quit the stage of this world, to put off his mortality, and to deliver up his last accounts to God; at which sad time, his memory shall serve him for little else, but to terrify him with a sprightful review of his past life, and his former extravagances stripped of all their pleasure, but retaining their guilt. What is it then, that can promise him a fair passage into the other world, or a comfortable appearance before his dreadful Judge, when he is there? Not all the friends and interests, all the riches and honours under heaven, can speak so much as a word for him, or one word of comfort to him in that condition; they may possibly reproach, but they cannot relieve him.
No, at this disconsolate time, when the busy tempter shall be more than usually apt to vex and trouble him, and the pains of a dying body to hinder and discompose him, and the settlement of worldly affairs to disturb and confound him; and, in a word, all things conspire to make his sick bed grievous and uneasy: nothing can then stand up against all these ruins, and speak life in the midst of death, but a clear conscience.
And the testimony of that shall make the comforts of heaven descend upon his weary head, like a refreshing dew or shower upon a parched ground. It shall give him - some lively earnests and secret anticipations of his approaching joy. It shall bid his soul go out of the body undauntedly, and lift up its head with confidence before saints and angels. Surely the comfort, which it conveys at this season, is something bigger than the capacities of mortality; mighty and unspeakable, and not to be understood, till it comes to be felt.
And now, who would not quit all the pleasures, and trash, and trifles, which are apt to captivate the heart of man, and pursue the greatest rigours of piety and austerities of a good life, to purchase to himself such a conscience, as, at the hour of death, when all the friendships of the world shall bid him adieu, and the whole creation turn its back upon him, shall dismiss his soul, and close his eyes with that blessed sentence, Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord !
For he, whose conscience enables him to look