« AnteriorContinuar »
is right, it equally tells us, that we ought to pursue it; or if it tell us that a certain mode of conduct is wrong, it' equally tells us, that we ought to avoid it. As conscience always speaks with equal authority, whether enlightened or unenlightened; so we are always bound' to obey it, whether enlightened or unenlightened. There is no propriety, nor occasion, to disputé the au thority of conscience, since it will always bear us out, in obeying its dictates from a sincere intention. For if conscience ever discovers, that we have submitted to1 it when it dictated wrong; it will justify our cordial submission, and pronounce it an act of duty. It is, indeed, impossible to put a case, in which it would be right to counteract conscience. For, it is extremely absurd to suppose, that we both ought and ought not1 to do the same action. If there could be an instance, in which we ought not to obey the dictates of cons science, it is evident, that in such an instance,” we * ought not to follow any other guide. To suppose, therefore, that we ought not to follow the dictates of an erroneous conscience, is to suppose, that when ever our conscience becomes erroneous, we cease to be under moral obligation, and of course, cease to be moral agents.
4. It appears from what has been said upon a clear conscience, that men may be highly criminal in doing those things, which they imagine conscience really re- ́ ́ quires. They often consult conscience with great partiality. They consult it with respect to their external 3 conduct, without consulting it with respect to their internal motives. And in all such cases, they may externally obey the voice of conscience, while they in ternally disobey it. This appears to have been the ground of Paul's deception, while he was persecuting the church of Christ. He said to Agrippa, "I-verily
thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme: and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities." While Paul was doing these things, his conscience seemed to justify his conduct; but it afterwards condemned him for being such a vile and malevolent persecutor. The truth of the case appears to be this. Paul considered Christ as a real impostor, and his followers as deluded fanatics, who were endeavoring to subvert the laws and religion of their country. And so long as he viewed them in this light, he verily thought it was his duty to oppose and destroy them, agreeably to the law respecting idolaters. But he never consulted conscience, with respect to the motives of his conduct, or the temper of mind from which he acted. And this was the sole cause of his deception. Had he inquired of conscience whether he ought to oppose and persecute christians from a cruel and malevolent spirit, his conscience would have forbidden him to act from such a selfish and malignant heart. He deceived himself by imposing upon conscience. And moral sinners, at this day, deceive themselves in the same manner. They verily think they are conscientiously doing their duty, while they are pursuing their honest callings, and externally obeying the divine commands. They have the testimony of conscience, that they are doing those things which they ought to do. But if they would only consult conscience, with respect to the selfish motives
of their conduct, it would condemn every thing they do as altogether criminal and displeasing to God. It is, therefore, wholly owing to the partial manner of their consulting conscience, that they vainly imagine they are doing God service, while they are living in the habitual commission of sin. This great and dangerous delusion Solomon describes as a solemn warning to all those, who are walking in a serious and conscientious road to destruction. "Every way of man, says he, is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts." And again he says, "There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death."
5. If conscience be entirely distinct from the heart and every other power of the mind; then sinners grow worse instead of better, under the strivings of the Spirit. The Spirit of God, in striving with sinners, only sets their natural faculties in motion, and awakens conscience to do its office. But while the conscience convinces sinners of their guilt and danger, their hearts naturally rise in direct and sensible opposition to God. This was the experience of Paul, under the convictions of conscience, according to his own account. "I had not known sin but by the law; for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." While Paul was under the strivings of the Spirit, he not only saw his past sinfulness; but found that his corrupt heart took occasion. from the light and conviction of conscience, to rise into higher and more sensible opposition to God. Sin revived, and he died. Nor was this a singular
case. All sinners appear to themselves to sin faster under conviction, than they ever did in a state of spiritual ignorance and stupidity. And this appearance is no vain delusion, but a most alarming reality. For the light and conviction of conscience, instead of restraining and softening their hearts, only serve to draw forth their corruptions, and aggravate their guilt. And though an increasing sense of danger and guilt, makes them earnestly seek to please God, by every outward act of duty and devotion; yet their hearts continually wax worse and worse, until they are effectually subdued, by special grace.
6. If conscience be a distinct and essential faculty of the mind; then no sinner is beyond the reach of conviction. Some sinners appear to be entirely stupid, and seem to bid defiance to the arrows of conviction. But though they have stifled, yet they have not de stroyed conscience. They still carry that faithful wit. ness in their breast, which is able to discover all their guilt, and to destroy all their peace. God can easily awaken their conscience to do its office; and whenever he does command his vicegerent to speak in his name, they will find themselves to be in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity. All sinners, therefore, are equally liable to conviction. Those, who sin in secret, where they imagine no eye can see them, are constantly exposed to the reproach and condemnation of conscience, which alone is instead of a thousand wit nesses. Those, who deny the divinity of the Scriptures, the existence of the Deity, and even the moral and immutable distinction between virtue and vice, cannot always maintain their criminal stupidity; but must sooner or later find themselves to be men, and feel the remorse of a guilty conscience. And those,
who stifle and impose upon conscience, by the outward appearances of virtue and religion, may be thoroughly convinced of their real hypocrisy and total corruption of heart. Though sinners of this class seem to be the most out of the reach of conviction; yet they have sometimes been awakened to see their delusion, and to realize their danger and guilt. Here Paul naturally occurs, as a remarkable instance. For a long time, he deceived and pacified conscience, by the purity of his life. For, as touching the righteousness of the law, he was entirely blameless. But when the commandment came, sin revived, and he died. His awakened conscience condemned him, not only for his injurious conduct towards Jesus of Nazareth and his faithful followers; but for all his shining virtues and self-righteousness, which had well nigh proved his ruin. His conviction was extremely sudden, unexpected, and pungent. From the highest of false zeal and self-confidence, it threw him helpless and hopeless at the foot of divine sovereignty. This is a solemn warning to all sinners, and more especially to self-righteous sinners, not to deceive and impose upon conscience. For the longer they resist and stifle its motions, the more power they will give it, to disturb their peace, destroy their hopes, and fill their souls with insupportable anguish and distress.
7. If it be the proper office of conscience to reprove all evil exercises and sinful actions; then it is impossible that sinners should live an easy and quiet life. As they never have a conscience void of offence, so they never have a solid foundation for inward peace and serenity of mind. Though they are surrounded with the blessings of providence, and enjoy the esteem and applause of fallible men; yet they are continually subject to inward reproach and self condemnation. Their