صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

of righteoufnefs, which the Lord the righteous judge fhall give me at that day? A comfortable death, that is free from the ftings and upbraidings, the terrors and tortures, the confufion and amazement of a guilty confcience, is a happiness so desirable, as to be well worth the best care and endeavour of a man's whole life.

Let us then have a confcientious regard to the whole compafs of our duty; and, with St. Paul, let us exercife ourfelves to have always a confcience void of offence toward God, and toward men: and let us never do any thing whereby we shall offer violence to the light of our minds. God hath given us this principle to be our conftant guide and companion; and whoever, after due care to inform himself aright, does fincerely follow the dictate and direction of this guide, fhall never fatally mifcarry: but whoever goes against the clear dictate and conviction of his confcience, in fo doing he undermines the foundation of his own comfort and peace, and fins against God and his own foul.

And, to the end we may keep our confciences clear of guilt, we fhould frequently examine ourselves, and look back upon the actions of our lives, and call ourfelves to a ftrict account for them; that whereinfoever we have failed of innocency, we may make it up by repentance, and may get our confciences cleared of guilt by pardon and forgivenefs: and if we do not do this, we cannot with confidence rely upon the testimony of our confciences; because many great fins may flip out of our memories without a particular repentance for them, which yet do require and stand in need of a particular repentance.

Efpecially we should search our confciences more narrowly at thefe more folemn times of repentance, and when we are preparing ourselves to receive the holy facrament. And if at these times our hearts do accuse and condemn us for any thing, we should not only heartily lament and bewail it before God, but fincerely refolve, by God's grace, to reform in that particular, and from that time to break off that fin which we have then repented of, and have afked forgiveness of God for: for if, after we have repented of it, we return to it again,

We

we wound our confciences afresh, and involve them in a new guilt.

In the last place, we should reverence our confciences, and stand in awe of them, and have a great regard to their teftimony and verdict: for confcience is a domeftick judge, and a kind of familiar god; and therefore, next to the fupreme majesty of heaven and earth, every nan fhould be afraid to offend his own reafon and confcience, which, whenever we knowingly do amifs, will beat us with many stripes, and handle us more feverely than the greatest enemy we have in the world. So that, next to the dreadful fentence of the great day, every man hath reason to dread the fentence of his own confcience. God indeed is greater than our hearts, and knows all things; but under him we have the greatest reafon to fear the judgment of our own confciences: for nothing but that can give us comfort, and nothing can create so much trouble and difquiet to us.

And though the judgment of our confciences be not always the judgment of God; yet we have great reason to have great regard to it; and that upon feveral accounts; which I fhall but briefly mention, and fo conclude.

1. Because the judgment of our confcience is free from any compulsion. No body can force it from us, whether we will or no, and make us to pass fentence against ourselves, whether we fee reason for it or not.

2. The fentence of our own confciences is very likely to be impartial, at least not too hard on the fevere fide; because men naturally love themselves, and are too apt to be favourable in their own cafe. All the world cannot bribe a man against himself. There is no man whose mind is not either diftempered by melancholy, or deluded by falfe principles, that is apt to be credulous against himself, and his own intereft and peace.

3. The judgment which our confcience paffeth upon our own actions, is upon the most intimate and certain knowledge of them, and of their true motives and ends. We may easily be deceived in our judgment of the actions of other men, and may think them to be much better or worse than in truth they are; because we cannot certainly tell with what mind they were done, and what circumstances

Ser. 38. cumstances there may be to excufe or aggravate them; how strong the temptation was, or how weak the judgment of him that was feduced by it into error and folly.

But we are conscious to all the fecret springs, and motives, and circumstances of our own actions: we can defcend into our own hearts, and dive to the bottom of them, and fearch into the most retired corners of our intentions and ends; which none, befides ourselves, but only God can do; for, excepting him only, none knows the things of a man, but the Spirit of a man which is in him.

4. The fentence of our confcience is peremptory and inexorable, and there is no way to avoid it. Thou mayft poffibly fly from the wrath of other men to the uttermoft parts of the earth; but thou canst not ftir one ftep from thyfelf: in vain fhalt thou call upon the mountains and rocks to fall on thee, and hide thee from the fight of thine own confcience.

Wretched and miferable man! when thou haft offended and wounded thy confcience: for whither canst thou go, to escape the eye of this witness, the terror of this judge, the torment of this executioner? A man may as foon get rid of himself, and quit his own being, as fly from the fharp accufations and stinging guilt of his own confcience; which will perpetually haunt him, till it be done away by repentance and forgiveness.

We account it a fearful thing to be haunted by evil fpirits; and yet the fpirit of a man which is in him, thoroughly affrighted with its own guilt, may be a more ghaftly and amazing fpectacle than all the devils in hell. There is no fuch frightful apparition in the world as a man's own guilty and terrified confcience ftaring him in the face: A fpirit that is thus wounded, who can bear ?

To conclude: Let thefe confiderations prevail with us always to live, not with regard to the opinion of others, which may be grounded upon miftake, or may not indeed be their opinion, but their flattery; but with regard to the judgment of our own confcience, which, though it may fometimes be mistaken, can never be bribed and corrupted. We may be hypocrites to others, and bafe flatterers; but our own confciences, whenever they

are

349 are thoroughly awakened, are always fincere, and deal truly with us, and speak to us as they think.

Therefore, whatever we fay or do, let it be fincere : for though hypocrify may for a while preferve our csteem and reputation with others; yet it can fignify nothing to the peace of our own minds: and then what will it avail us to conceal any thing from other men, when we can hide nothing that we fay or do from our own confciences?

The fum of all is this: If we would keep a confcience void of offence, let us always be calm and confiderate, and have the patience to examine things thoroughly and impartially let us be humble, and willing to learn, and never too proud and stiff to be better informed: let us do what we can to free ourselves from prejudice and paffion, from felf-conceit and felf-intereft; which are often too strong a bias upon the judgments of the best men, as we may fee every day in very fad and melancholy inftances and, having taken all due care to inform our confciences aright, let us follow the judgment of our minds in what we do; and then we have done what we can to please God.

And if we would always take this care to keep a good confcience, we fhould always be eafy, and good company to ourselves. But if we offend our confciences, by doing contrary to the clear dictate and conviction of them, we make the unhappiest breach in the world; we ftir up a quarrel in our own breafts, and arm our own minds against ourselves; we create an enemy to ourselves in our own bofoms, and fall out with the best and most infeparable companion of our lives.

And, on the contrary, a good confcience will be a continual feast, and will give us that comfort and courage in an evil day which nothing else can; and then, whatever happen to us, we may commit our fouls to God in welldoing, as into the hands of a faithful creator. To whom, with our bleffed Saviour and Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost the Comforter, be all honour and glory, now and Amen.

ever.

VOL. II.

G &

SERMON

350

SERMON

XXXIX.

How to keep a truly religious faft.

Preached before the Queen, at Whitehall, Sept. 16. 1691.

ZECH. vii. 5.

Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, faying, When ye fafted and mourned in the fifth and feventh month, even thofe feventy years, DIDYE AT ALL FAST UNTO ME, EVEN TO ME?

I

'N the beginning of this chapter, the people of the Jews, who were then rebuilding the temple at Jerufalem, and had already far advanced the work, though it was not perfectly finished till about two years after, fend to the Priefts and the Prophets, to inquire of them, whether they should still continue the fast of the fifth month, which they had begun in Babylon, and continued to obferve during the feventy years of their captivity, in a fad remembrance of the deftruction of the city and temple of Jerufalem? or should not now rather turn it into a day of feafting and gladnefs?

To this inquiry God by his Prophet returns an anfwer in this and the following chapter. And firft he expoftulates with them concerning thofe their monthly fasts, whether they did indeed deferve that name, and were not rather a mere fhew and pretence of a religious faft,

4. 5. Then came the word of the Lord of hofts unto me, Jaying, Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priefts, faying, When ye fafted and mourned in the fifth and Seventh month, even thofe feventy years, did ye at all faft unto me, even to me? The inquiry was particularly concerning the faft of the fifth month, becaufe the occafion of that was more confiderable than of all the other; but the answer of God mentions the fasts of the fifth and fe

« السابقةمتابعة »