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hath promised, If we judge and condemn ourselves, that we shall not be judged and condemned: thus, in 2 Sam. xii. 13. as soon as David had, by an humble confession, taken his sin to himself, saying, / have sinned; God, by the Prophet, tells him, that he had taken away his sin from him; The Lord also, says the Prophet to him, hath put away thy sin. . And, indeed, have we not found it thus by manifold experience, that, when conscience hath been bowed down by the unsupportable weight of the guilt of sins, a sorrowful and ingenuous confession of them unto God hath lightened the burden? and whereas, before, conscience was heavy and gloomy; now, it looks chearfully upon us, under the apprehensions of God's pardoning grace, that God will pardon and forgive them to us? Now this easing of our consciences by confession must be frequently reiterated: our consciences are always filling with sin and guilt, and therefore we must be always casting of it out by confession: as, in the emptying of a pond, where there are many streams rising and bubbling up, if we stop and intermit the work, the pond grows presently full again; truly our hearts and consciences are like such ponds, in which there are many corrupt streams still sprouting up: now confession is the laving of it out, which if we do but a while intermit, our consciences again grow as full of sin and guilt as ever; and, therefore, there must be a frequent and daily confession of sin, yea our confession must be reiterated as often as we fall into and commit any sin. And that is another means to keep our consciences clear.
I might also add, That an effectual means to keep the Conscience clear, is frequently to wash it with Repenting Tears: but, because unfeigned confession of sin doth also include and sup'pose a penitential frame of heart, I shall not, therefore, insist upon this as a particular head.
3. In the Third place, therefore, If you would keep your Consciences clear and inoffensive, then labour to get a Mean and Low Esteem of the World.
The inordinate love of the present world is utterly inconsistent with a good conscience. What is it, that makes so many offer violence to their consciences, to stretch and rack them to any base compliance or sinful practice, but only that they may thereby gain some secular advantage, or that they may thereby avoid some worldly inconvenience? This is that, which fills the world with fraud and cozenage, with rapine and extortion, while all tug hard to get from one another, although they lose their consciences in the scuffle. This is that, which makes men so often shift their sails, that they may run before every wind that blows. If times grow rough and tempestuous, and they must throw overboard either their gain or their godliness, this inordinate love of the world persuades them to make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, only that they may bear up in the world. Now they, who have but a low and mean esteem of the world, such as it deserves, escape this temptation; and they can, with a holy generousness, scorn to prostitute their consciences and to barter their precious souls for the gain of any of these fading and perishing riches here below; riches, that perish in the using. If, therefore, you would keep good consciences, learn to despise the threats and frowns, the flatterings and fawnings, of this world: look upon it as of no great concernment to you, whatever in adversity or prosperity can happen to you in this short and frail life: reflect upon those, who groan under the terrors of a wounded conscience: all the world cannot give them one moment's ease or comfort: yea, had they the whole world at their dispose they would give it all to procure peace, yea but a truce for a while with their own consciences; such a vain and contemptible thing is the world, in comparison of inward tranquillity and serenity of mind. Now thus to rate the world below the peace and quietness of our own consciences, is an excellent means to preserve them clear and peaceable.
4. If you would keep Conscience clear, labour, above all things, to strengthen your Faith.
Faith is a purifying grace. Acts xv. 9. Purifying their hearts by faith.
Now faith hath a double influence to purify the heart or conscience.
A Dogmatical Faith keeps the Conscience clear and
pure; and that, morally. A Justifying and Saving Faith purifies the Conscience; and that, mystically.
(I) A Dogmatical Faith keeps the Conscience clear and pure.
A dogmatical faith I call that, which hath for its object the whole revealed truth of God: and it is nothing but a firm, undoubting assent to the verity and certainty of whatever is contained in the Holy Scriptures; upon no other account and reason, than merely the authority and veracity of God, who is
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the author of it. This is a Dogmatical or a Historical Faith: which, though it be n6t justifying, as the Papists hold; yet is it of a mighty influence to sanctify the heart, and to keep the conscience and conversation inoffensive. And this it doth in a moral way: for, did but men believe that heaven is so unconceivably glorious, sparkling with light, flowing with pleasure, resounding with praises, a place where joy and bliss ever dwell, and where we shall dwell too in an endless eternity in the smiles and love of God, if now but for a few short years we strive to live holily; did we but as really believe these things to be true and certain, as we know those things to be true and certain that we see with our very eyes, what manner of Christians would this force us to be in all holiness and godliness of conversation, cleansing ourselves from all pollutions both of flesh and spirit! Wherefore is it, that the promise of some temporal reward, the hope of some mean preferment from some great person, is of force sufficient to make men obsequious to them; and yet the promises, that God himself hath made of heaven and glory (in comparison of which to promise crowns and sceptres, is but to promise pebbles and gewgaws) work so little effect upon the generality of men, to allure them from sin to a holy life? whence is it, but that men believe not that heaven is so glorious as the Scripture describes it to be? Nay, indeed, if they would speak their minds, they are not yet sure whether there be a heaven or not: it is from their unbelief: did men but believe the insupportable wrath of God, those horrors and torments, that fire and sulphur, that stench and darkness, those burning chains and those fiery whips, the woe and anguish of the damned in hell, which are as far from being utterable as they are from being tolerable, did they as certainly believe these things, as if they believe them not they shall certainly feel them, would they dare still to venture on to treasure up wrath to themselves against the day of wrath? would they still dare, by wounding their consciences now, to enrage them to their own wounding and smart for ever hereafter? would they dare to do it, did they believe these things? did they but believe that conscience will be revenged sevenfold on them for all the wrongs and violence that they have done it; that this worm, which they now carry in their breasts frozen and benumbed, shall be heated by the fire of hell, and fly upon them and sting their souls with a burning and flaming anguish; did they believe this, would they not be careful to give no offence to their consciences? would they not be as careful to avoid all sin, that arms the terrors of hell against them, as they have reason to think a damned wretch in hell, who hath had the experience of these things would be, if God would release him out of it, with a promise that he shall for ever escape it, upon the same terms that he hath promised us? think with yourselves, what effect the sense and feeling of those dreadful things would have upon such a one, to make him rigorously conscientious, that in nothing he provoke so terrible a God, or offend and irritate a revenging conscience, that will be sure to repay him home sevenfold into his own bosom; why the same carefulness and circumspection would it work in all of us, did we as firmly and strongly believe those things to be true, as God hath evidently and clearly revealed them to be true in his word. It is true, these things we all know, and we persuade ourselves that we do believe them: do we not profess to believe that Jesus Christ shall judge both quick and dead? and that all shall receive rewards according to (their works: those, that have done well, the reward of eternal life; and those, that have done ill, the reward of eternal death? These things we may, indeed, profess to believe; and these things we may frequently represent to our own thoughts: but the weak and small influence, that these things have to over-awe our consciences, evinceth clearly that this is not Faith but Fancy: it is a wavering, unevident opinion, that we have taken up, and that we call by the name of Faith; for, did we live in the belief of these truths, we should no more dare to sin against our consciences, than if we saw hell flaming before these eyes of ours, and knew that upon the next sin we commit we were to be cast into it. And thus you see a Dogmatical Faith is a great help to purify the heart, and to keep the conscience clear and inoffensive.
(2) A Justifying Faith also is of great use to purify the Conscience.
And this it doth not morally, by any natural influence or efficacy of its own; but only mystically, as it applies to the soul the blood of Jesus Christ, that blood that alone takes away the defilement of our sins. A Historical Faith may keep the soul from contracting defilement; but this Justifying, this Saving Faith washes out the stains and defilements that we have contracted, and makes us white and spotless in the blood of the Lamb. Faith is that conveyance, which God hath appointed to /
bring the blood of Christ to stream forth upon the defiled soul and conscience; and, upon every renewed act of sin, we ought, by a renewed act of faith, to lay our spotted and defiled souls under the fall of that fountain, that is set open to wash and cleanse us from our filth and pollution. Thus faith cleanseth the conscience, mystically; and, by the actings of faith, we may thus get and keep our consciences clear and inoffensive.
5. If you would keep your Consciences clear, then set a strict Watch and Guard upon yourselves; both upon your inward and upon your outward man.
Set a guard on your heart, and on all the approaches to your heart.
(1) Keep a narrow guard upon your Heart.
The heart is the great meeting place, where objects, thoughts, and affections do swarm and crowd together: and, as much concourse leaves dirt behind it upon the place, so this great heart-assembly usually leaves it foul and polluted. Our Saviour, Mark vii. tells the Jews, that it was that which was within them, that wickedness which lay latent in their hearts, that, which proceedeth from the heart, that defileth the man: there is a defilement in the thoughts and in the desires, as well as in the more gross and bulky sins of the life. Hence the Prophet Jeremiah says, Jer. iv. 14. 0 Jerusalem, wash thy heart from wickedness I why, wherewith is it polluted? the next words shew it: How long shall thy vain tJwughts lodge within thee? Vain thoughts leave a stain and contagion upon the soul; and, cer, tainly, if a vain thought, that is such a fleeting and volitary thing, breathes a kind of contagion and taint upon the heart, they certainly then must have foul hearts indeed and their spots in grain, who lie soaking and stewing themselves in unclean, malicious, and covetous thoughts and designs. Since, then, conscience is apt to receive taint, but with the breathing of a vain and sinful thought upon it, how doth it concern us to keep a watchful and circumspect eye over every motion of our hearts! It is the Wise Man's counsel, as you have heard ; Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life. Look to it, therefore, that you suffer not your hearts to be defiled with sinful thoughts or sinful affections, by those inward and invisible corruptions that settle at the bottom of it: though the life be never so clear and crystal, yet, if that mud be but stirred and raised, conscience becomes thereby defiled and an evil con