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is miserable to live upon the reports and opinions of others: let us not reckon what they say, but what reports our own consciences make: it is far better to offend the whole world, than God and conscience: and, if a storm of obloquy and reproaches, railings and curses, do at any time patter upon us; how sweet then is it, to retire inward into the calm innocency of our own hearts! there, a thousand witnesses will tell us, we have not deserved them: how comfortable is it, to remit our cause to God; and leave our vindication to him, for whose sake we suffer reproach! Thus Jeremiah appeals to God, Jer. xx. 10, 12. / have heard the defaming of many....Report, say they, and we will report it: that is, let us raise a disgraceful and reproachful report of him: But, says he, 0 Lord of Hosts, thou that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart....unto thee have 1 opened my cause. Thus, if, while wicked men are maliciously conspiring how to blot and sully our names, we can but keep our consciences clear; what need we much trouble ourselves how the wind blows abroad, since we are harboured under the retreat of a peacefull heart? They may, possibly, persuade others to believe their calumnies; but they can never persuade God to believe them: He, who searcheth the heart and conscience, knows that we are injured; and he is hastening forward a day, wherein he will clear up our righteousness: and, then, the testimony of a good conscience shall put ten thousand slanderers to silence.
ii. A Clear Conscience, as it enables a man to bear reproaches from others with patience, so It Gives Him An Advantage To
REPROVE OTHERS WITH AUTHORITY.
It is a true rule, That he, who reproves another, ought himself to be free from the fault which he reproves: for, otherwise, the reproof neither comes with freedom from the reprover, nor with efficacy to the reproved.
1. A reproof, that comes from a guilty conscience, is but stammering and timorous.
Such a man's own conscience must needs rise up in his throat, and choke his reproofs. Consciousness of the same miscarriages will retort whatsoever we can say against others, more forcibly against ourselves; and will suggest to us, that it is but a base piece * of hypocrisy, to blame that which we ourselves practise.
* Kdcsuthj avayxn *«» paJjapyov siyai, cr»?> in%oy.wo; T»w «uto; xaKi", BtitiP-ixth To»s aMoJj. Arriani Epictet. 1. iii. c,22. ''"
With what face canst thou press others to repent and reform? What,arguments canst thou use, who, by continuing in the same sins, dost thyself judge that those arguments are of no force! Thus conscience suggests; and, thereby, tongue-ties reproof.
3. This too makes reproofs ineffectual.
It were a temper to be wished and prayed for, that we could only respect how righteous the reproof is, and not how righteous the person is that gives it; and be content to have the motes plucked out of our eyes, though it be by such as have beams in their own eyes. For, indeed, there is no more reason to reject sound admonition, because it comes from an unsound heart, than there is to stop our ears against good counsel, because it is delivered perhaps by an unsavoury breath. Yet so it is, that, when men of denied consciences and conversations reprove others, they are apt to think, either that they are not in earnest, and do but personate what they speak; or, else, that they envy them their sins, and would engross all to themselves; and so the reproof takes no place upon them. But, when a man of a clear and unspotted conscience reproves wicked men, his reproof breaks in upon them with conviction and authority; arid, if it doth not reform, it must at least daunt and silence them. "Here is one, that reproves me for sin, who doubtless believes it to be evil, by his own avoiding it. Here is one, that denounceth wrath if I repent not, who doubtless believes it to be as terrible as he represents it, by his own carefulness to escape it." And, thus, a clear conscience hath a great advantage to reprove sinners with success; at least to work conviction, if not amendment in them.
iii. A Clear Conscience Gives us Boldness Of Access Unto
Guilt abashes the soul, and makes it both ashamed and afraid to appear in the presence of God : and therefore Adam, as soon as he had sinned against his Maker, presently hides himself from him. We may observe in ourselves, what a slavish dejectedness seizeth us when we come to God in duty, after we have wronged him by any known sin: we come to him suspiciously; and with
To»s f&ourihivm K«j rupawoi; Ji 5op»$opoi Kcct ra im'ka. .attfux,1 to tTm/tav Tkti, Xcm Su»8kt9*» Xcm xoA.a&» Tks a^apravovTa?, xat Okitoi; utn Kukoi? Tu Js xtm**) «v+» Ton StfXnv K.bu T«v 3bptf$°p«w To evmios vnt i%&o-nit Twvtw WfcpaJtiWiv. Id. ibid.
such a misgiving fear, as if we would not have God take notice that we are before him; and are still in pain, till the duty be over. But, when our consciences are clear, oh, with what delight do we haste to God, and with what content do we stay with him! How doth the soul dilate and spread itself under the smiles of God, beating full upon it!" Lo, O Lord, here is a heart, that I labour to make and keep void of offence: do thou fill it with thy promised Grace and Spirit. It is not, indeed, a mansion pure enough for the pure and holy God; yet is it such, as thou wilt accept of and dwell in. There are still many hidden corruptions in it, but do thou search them out; and thou, who hast kept thy servant from presumptuous sins, do thou also cleanse me from secret faults." Thus a clear conscience, with a holy and reverend boldness, addresseth itself to God; and sweetly closeth up every duty and every prayer, with full assurance of obtaining mercy from God. So the Apostle, Heb. x. 22. Let us draw near....in full assurance of faith: how may we gain this full assurance, when we draw near to God? by having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience .. get but a pure and clear conscience, and that will enable you to draw near to God in full assurance of faith. And so, in the like parallel place, 1 John iii. 21. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God: if conscience be not evil to accuse us, then have we confidence towards God : when the face of a man's conscience looks chearful" and hath not a frown nor a wrinkle upon it, this makes us joyfully to apprehend that God's face towards us is serene also, and that we shall be welcome at all times into our Father's presence: this conscience suggests to us, and makes us come with a holy, yet with an awful boldness unto God.
iv. A Clear Conscience is The Sweetest Bosom Friend, With
WHICH WE MAY AT ALL TIMES FREELY AND INTIMATELY CONVERSE.
Wicked men, indeed, of all company in the world, dread and hate themselves most; they have a lowering, rumbling conscience within, that always threatens and disquiets them ; and, therefore, they love to keep abroad: soliloquies and heart-discourses are a very torment to them ; and they wonder that the Psalmist should ever bid them commune with their own heart, and be still; as it is in Psal. iv. 4: they are never less still, than when they discourse awhile with their own consciences; which, upon many high provocations given them, are grown so quarrelsome, and do so thunder out woes and curses against them, and so hurl about swords, firebrands, and death, that they dare not so much as once look within doors. But a Christian, whose conscience is clean and clear, finds it the best companion in the world: in his solitudes and retirements, with what delight doth he call his own heart aside! There he and his God, sweetly and peaceably confertogether; and there pass mutual endearments and embraces: the soul embraces and clasps about God, with the arms of faith and dependance; and God embraces the soul, with the arms of his everlasting love. Here is mutual communication of secrets: the soul unlocks the secrets of its own conscience before God; and God, again, reveals the secrets of his own love to the soul. Here are mutual rejoicings: the soul rejoiceth in God, its Saviour; and God rejoiceth over the soul, to do it good. And, under these intercourses of love and favour, the soul is ready to faint away, and to dissolve with sweetness and delight. This is that continual feast, which a good conscience entertains a Christian with, where all is transacted with a noiseless mirth.
v. A Clear Conscience is The Best Comfort And Support,
WHEN FEARS, AND TROUBLES, AND DANGERS, ARE ON EVERY SIDE.
It is a most blessed thing when trouble is without, to have peace within, in our own bosom; to be then at peace with God and ourselves. And therefore saith Christ, John xvi. 33. These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation. A Christian is a man made up of paradoxes: he is sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing: poor himself, and yet enriching many: he hath nothing, and yet possesseth all things: 2 Cor. vi. 10. And so, here, he hath tribulation in the world, and yet is at peace. When once that great and bloody quarrel between God and the soul, is taken up and compounded; when we are reconciled to God, and thereby our consciences become reconciled to us; all the enmity and persecutions of the world are but little pelting differences, which cannot disturb the solid and inviolate peace of a Christian. This is a peace, which as the friendship of the world cannot give, so neither can the enmity of the world take away. My peace I leave with you: my peace I give unto you. Let not your hearts be troubled. It is observable concerning Josiah, 2 Kings xxii. 20. that God promiseth him by the mouth of Huldah the prophetess, that he should be gathered into his grave in peace: and yet, in the very next chapter, v. 29. it is related, that he was slain in the wars that he undertook against Pharaoh-Nechoh, King of Egypt: he was slain in war, and yet he died in peace: and no wonder; for whosoever dies in peace with God and nig own conscience, dies peaceably, though he die in the midst of wars and tumults.
vi. A Clear Conscience Affords Sweet And Unspeakable
COMFORT IN A DYING HOUR.
When all things must take their last leave of us, and we of them; when death sets all its terrors in array against us; oh what a blessed support will it then be to the departing soul, to be able to make its appeal, as He2ekiah did! Isa. xxxviii. 3. Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before tfiee in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. Such a testimony, at such a time, is as much worth as heaven itself. This is to have heaven let down into us one hour, and to be ourselves taken up into heaven the next Now, possibly, men may frolic away their days in sin and vanity, and live as though they should never give an account: but that day and hour are coming, wherein conscience will begin to open its eyes, when their friends stand ready about them to close up theirs: and then it will see those horrid shapes of death and hell and wrath eternal, which, while they were secure sinners, they never believed, and, now that they are awakened sinners, (and, alas! possibly too late awakened) they cannot escape. If, therefore, you would have peace and com-, fort in death, be sure you cherish a good conscience in your life. You may now, indeed, bribe it to give in a false and flattering testimony; but, when eternity is in view, it will then speak truth. And, oh ! thrice happy they, to whom a true conscience becomes then an excusing conscience.
And, so much, for the Third thing propounded, namely, of what concernment it is to labour, to keep consciences void of offence.:
Y . , ,i!... '-.' - . .
IV. The next thing propounded was, to give you some RULES and DIRECTIONS how you may get, and also how you may keep, clear and inoffensive consciences.
Object. But you will say* " It is in vain to give rules for that, which is impossible to be done. Doth not the Wise Man challenge all the world upon this point, Prov. xx. 9? Who can