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frightful; so conscience, when falsely informed, makes eveni lovely actions appear misshapen and terrifying, by distorted representations of those things that are lawful, and perhaps our duty also. Therefore, in the first place, get an enlightened conscience, if you would get a good conscience: for, what says the Wise Man, Prov. xix. 2? That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good; or, as some translations have it, a soul without knowledge is not good : it is, indeed, good for nothing, unless it be to make men sin conscientiously; and to embolden them to commit the greatest wickedness in the world, with peace and comfort. Thus, says our Saviour, John xvi. 2. Whosoever killeth you shall think that he doeth God good service, through the error and mistake of their conscience. So, in 1 Cor. ii. 8. Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.
Knowledge betters the conscience Two ways.
(1) It gives it Direction, what to choose and what to avoid : it instructs it to discern betwixt good and evil.
Ignorant persons often mistake the one for the other; and eschew, what they should follow; or, if they chance to do that, which is good, as it is not of great worth to do good only by chance and hazard; so they sin also, in doing good: while the judgment is in suspence, the conscience must needs be under guilt. If I know not whether I ought to do an action or to forbear, which way soever I take I am entangled in sin ; for whatsoever is not of faith is sin : that is, whatsoever is done with a wavering conscience, that I know not whether it be sinful or not, that thereby becomes sin; and, whatever a man doth doubtingly, he is damned if he doth it: He, that eateth doubtingly, says the Apostle, is damned if he eat: Rom, xiv. 23.
(2) Knowledge gives the Conscience Strength, to enforce us to the doing of that, which it discovers to be good; and to the flight of that, which it discovers to be evil.
A knowing person cannot sin so easily as an ignorant man may; but he must struggle and wrestle harder, and offer more violence by far to his own conscience: a man, that sees his danger before him, will hardly be dragged unto precipices; whereas one, that is blind, is easily led thither suspecting nothing: so, here, a knowing person, that sees the danger of hell and damnation before him, if he sins it must be with a great deal of inward reluctancy: an enlightened conscience struggles, and withholds him; and, if temptation be so violent as to wrest him out of the hand of conscience, how is he racked and torne
in pieces betwixt conscience and temptations ! and, when conscience bath lost its hold, still it pursues him; and follows him to his sin; and disturbs his pleasure ; and embitters that sweetness, that he thought to have found in; sin before; and never leaves its clamours, till it hath, at least by a hypocritical and formal repentance, and by engagements to be more observing of the commands of conscience for the future, satisfied and appeased it. This force conscience hath, when it is duly informed with knowledge. But, where ignorance hath blinded it, it suffers men quietly to rush upon God's neck, and upon the thick bosses of his buckler : it sees not, neither respects any danger, when it is even on the very brink of hell: an ignorant conscience is like a benighted or bewildered traveller, which, because it cannot see its own way before it, what is to be chosen and what is to be refused, lays the veins upon the neck of men's lusts, and suffers them without eontroul to take their own course. And, therefore, if you would have good consciences, get them rightly informed, with the knowledge of what is sin and what is duty. i. : ;
2. If you would have a Clear Conscience, then cast out the filth of Conscience by a daily and frequent Confession. .
Confession, one of the Fathersi dalls the Vomit of the Soul, whereby it easeth itself when it is over-charged and glutted with sin and guilt: and so the Scripture also speaks, when the Apostle speaks of apostátes relapsing back again into their old sinsa in 2 Pet. il. 22. he saith, they return with the dog to his vomit; that is, they return and do again lick up those sins, which before they disgorged and cast up by confession. This, indeed, is the way, when conscience is burdened with the guilt of any sin : when sin lies unconcocted and heavy within, go then and pour out your heart before the Lord in the confession of your sin. See what sudden ease this will bring to conscience: David was sin-sick, and he resolves upon this course, Ps. xxxii. 5. I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I would confess my transgressions, and suddenly there came ease to his conscience, and thou, O Lord, says he, forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Are our consciences oppressed with the burden and weight of great and numberless sins ? here we may, by an humble and penitent confessions, unload them all before God. And this is the Mystery of Confession : the way to unload Our sins from off us, is, to take them upon ourselves.: when we charge ourselves with them and impute them to ourselves, God will not impute them to us, but charge them upon Christ; for he 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 bimself, saying, I 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 al. ways 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 suppose a penitential frame of heart, I shall not, therefore, insist upon this as a particular head. 13. 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. (1) 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 VOL. III.
the author of it. This is a Dogmatical or a Historical Faith : which, though it be not justifying, as the Papists hold; yet is it of a mighty influence to sanctify the heart, and to keep the conscience and conversation inoffensiye. 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 Ay upon them and sting their souls with a burning and faming anguish ; did they believe this, would they not be careful