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pure from all sin: For in many things we offend all, says St. James: ch. iii. 2. But these sins of daily weakness and sudden surreption, as they are usually small sins and scarce discernible, so are they no obstructions to a Clear Conscience; no more than the moats of the sun-beams are obstructions to a clear day. As for those quotidian weaknesses and sins of daily infirmity, they neither leave guilt nor defilement upon the conscience of God's children: but, as their more foul sins are done away, by particular acts of repentance; so these are done away, by a general state of repentance, which state the children of God are always in: and there is also a constant out-flowing of the blood of Christ and of the mercy of God upon the soul, to remove the guilt and filth of those sins as we fall into them. Then is the conscience clear, when, all former sins being pardoned to us, we daily labour to please God: though it be with manifold imperfections and weaknesses, this doth not hinder but that our consciences may be both pure and peaceable; while we thus sincerely strive to keep ourselves from all wilful and from all presumptuous sins, our consciences are clear, notwithstanding the sins of daily infirmity. So says the Psalmist, Psal. xix. 13.
Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins then shall I be
upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.
That is the first thing: Conscience is clear, when it is free from all known and wilful sins.
ii. Then a man hath a Clear Conscience, WHEN IT IS NOT
JUSTLY BURDENED WITH THE GUILT OF SIN.
I say, not justly burdened; because, sometimes, we may burden ourselves without cause, when God hath already forgiven us. Many times, through temptations and desertions, God's children reflect back upon their old sins with new troubles, and rip up their old wounds and make them bleed afresh. They remember against themselves, what God hath forgotten; and, with great terrors, accuse and condemn themselves, for what God hath already remitted to them.
Here I shall lay down Two things.
That every Quiet Conscience is not a Clear Conscience. That every Troubled Conscience is not an Evil Conscience.
1. Every Quiet Conscience is not a Clear Conscience.
Some are lulled asleep in security; and their consciences are Vol. Hi. on
quiet, merely because they are insensible: it may be, they have so harrassed aod wasted their consciences by dreadful sins, so often mortally wounded them, that now they have not strength enough to become quarrelsome and troublesome; and this they call Peace: indeed, it is such a peace as Galgathus reproaches the Romans with in Tacitus; when they had laid all waste, then they called it Peace: so these sinners think they have good and peaceable consciences, because they do not menace, torment, and worry them; and, alas! how can they? their consciences are murdered: there is no sense nor life left in them. This is no Peace, but a mere Solitude and Desolation of Conscience, and, yet, believe it too, these quiet and peaceable consciences will not be long so: at the hour of death, or if not then the next moment after death, these peaceable consciences will be startled out of their sleep, and will roar so loud, that heaven and hell shall hear them. As, in still weather, many times, matter is gathering for a storm; so, while conscience seems so still and quiet, it is only gathering matter for a tempest, that will one day pour upon your heads. And, oh, how grievous will it be, when those consciences, that never gave them an 111 word before, shall on a sudden drag them before the tribunal of God, and there bitterly accuse them of those horrid sins that once they seemed to take no notice of, and call for the severest execution of divine wrath and vengeance upon them! And, possibly, many, that speak of the peace of their consciences, do not find it so neither: they are as far from a peaceable conscience, as they are from a raving and a raging conscience. A raving conscience soon discovers itself in hellish despair: but there are many, whose consciences do not rave, and yet are never quiet: they give them many a secret twitch and gird at the very heart, not outwardly discernible by others: as thunder rumbles long in the entrails of a cloud, that never breaks forth into dreadful and terrible cracks; so a man may have a rumbling and a grumbling conscience, a conscience that may murmur and scowl upon him, and yet- he may carry it as if all were calm and serene within him: however, though all within may be quiet, yet a quiet conscience may be a polluted conscience; as a standing puddle may be as foul as the raging sea, when it casts out its mire and filth.
2. As every quiet conscience is not a clear conscience, so every Troubled Conscience is not- an Evil Conscience.
Hypocrites and wicked men may indeed, and do often, so judge: " Would God ever suffer such strange terrors to seize upon men, were they not notorious sinners?" As those barbarians at Malta, spoken of in the Acts, when they saw the viper fasten upon the Apostle's hand, presently concluded that he was some wicked person, whom divine vengeance would not suffer to live: so these men, when they see the worm of conscience fasten upon others, presently judge them guilty of notorious crimes; crimes, for which the vengeance and wrath of God pursue them. But this is a wrong censure, and most unjust. For the most part it is seen, that those, that have the best consciences, are most troubled, at least for a time; until the Holy Ghost persuade them of the love of God, and of the pardon of their sins. It is the greatest fault of a tender conscience, that it misinterprets every thing against itself: and, oftentimes, when God rejoices over it, it apprehends he frowns upon it; mistaking the firing of a' bonfire for the firing of a beacon, and giving an alarm when they should proclaim peace and joy: many times it is so with them, that have tender consciences. A man may be long troubled for those sins, that are already pardoned to him: Nathan comes to David, and, upon his confession that he had sinned, 2 Sam. xii. 13. I have sinned, says be: God by Nathan tells him, that he had put away his sin from him; and yet his conscience, though it were clear in respect of any guilt that God charged upon him. yet was not clear in respect of what he himself charged upon himself: he thought himself guilty in his own apprehension, as you may perceive by his penning of the 51st Psalm; yet he was not guilty in God's account, for he assures him, by his prophet, that he had pardoned him.
Quest. "Now it being so, that both a quiet conscience may be impure, and that a troubled conscience may be a clear conscience, how shall we know whether when our consciences are troubled, it be from the guilt of sin remaining upon them; or whether, when they be clear and quiet, it be from the removal of that guilt?"
For Answer unto this;
First: It may be known when a man's conscience is troubled from the guilt of sin remaining upon. it, by considering the
s Effects of this trouble. Doth he find, that, when conscience is disquieted, he is apt to shift off the trouble by diverting k, and doing what he can to lull it asleep? doth he neglect prayer, reading the word, and other duties and means that God hath appointed to bring him to a true repentance for his sin? If it be so, this man hath great cause to fear, that the trouble of his conscience proceeds from the impurity and defilement of it. Where God will save the soul, this trouble of conscience works in another manner, and stirs up a man to pray, to hear, to meditate upon God's word, where his condition will be stated to his hand; to follow God in all his ways and ordinances, making him restless till he come to know that his sins are pardoned, and his wounds healed and closed up by the blood of Jesus Christ. Many there are, in whom the troubles of conscience never produce any good effects; but all their care is, how they may divert all troublesome and disquieting thoughts from themselves; and so they wear off convictions: now this trouble can never produce any saving effecj.; and is itself produced merely from that corroding and gnawing guilt, that lies upon conscience, which a true and genuine trouble is a means by God appointed to remove.
Secondly. " How may a man know when conscience is quiet, whether it be quieted upon God's grounds, because the guilt of sin is removed from it?"
To this I answer: It must be considered, whether quietness of conscience comes after trouble: and, if conscience be quiet after trouble, then you must consider how it came to be quieted. Did you wear it away with other businesses? or, did you seek to God by prayer, and applying of the promises to yourselves? Did you, in the way of God, obtain peace? Now if a man's quietness, that he hath, be got after trouble, and if got in God's .way, that way which he hath appointed to still and quiet the conscience, you may then satisfy yourself in it. But, when as you never have been troubled, or having been troubled have worne it off, you may be assured such a peace of conscience is far worse and more dangerous, than the most horrid troubles and disquietments of conscience that can be.
III. I come now to the Third General Head propounded: and that was, to shew you, OF WHAT GREAT IMPORTANCE, AND OF WHAT BENEFICIAL CONSEQUENCE IT IS,
TO KEEP OUR CONSCIENCES CLEAR AND INOFFEN-
And, in speaking unto this, I shall, at once, both give you the Reasons of the point, why it should be our continual endeavour to keep clear consciences; and, also, give you Motives to persuade you to the duty.
I shall name only Six.
i. A Clear Conscience is The Most Comfortable Relief Under
FALSE REPROACHES AND ASPERSIONS, THAT ARE CAST UPON US.
A good conscience is in our own power alone; but, it is in the power of every slanderous tongue, to blast a good name: and, indeed, it is a thing almost impossible, to keep at once both a good conscience and a good name. The world is shattered and fractured into so many parties, and each of them of such different relishes of good and bad, that, unless our actions have as universal a gust, as, according to the Rabbins' tradition, the Israelites' manna h;id, that it had the taste of that which they best fancied; we must of necessity fall under mis-constructions, censures, and defamations. For, indeed, if we observe it, it is usually our similitude to others that makes them think and speak well of us: whosoever commends another, commends him for somewhat, that he supposeth at least he hath in himself: and this is the reason of that woe, which our Saviour denounceth, Luke vi. 26. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you. When wicked men speak well of us, it is a sign that we are but too too like them: even a Heathen could say, when he was highly applauded by the vulgar rout, " What evil have I done, that these men praise me?" the very reproaches of ungodly men are the best testimonials that can be given of an excellent and singular Christian. In a strict and holy conversation, there is that contradiction to the loose profaneness of the world, as, at once, both convinces and offends them, reproves them and galls them: and if, as we ought, we thus reproach them by our lives, we must expect that they will again reproach us by their lying slanders. It is a sinful tenderness of our esteem among men, when we tack about to every popular breath that blows: such must needs prefer the praise of men, before the praise of God. And, let me tell you, this is as fruitless, as it is sinful; since this wind will always blow from contrary points: while some extol us, others will as much vilify and scorn us. It