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THE WITNESS OF OUR OWN SPIRIT.
2 CORINTHIANS i. 12.
"This is our Rejoicing, the Testimony of our Conscience, that in Simplicity and godly Sincerity, not with fleshly Wisdom, but by the Grace of GoD, we have had our Conversation in the World."
1. SUCH is the voice of every true believer in Christ, so long as he abides in faith and love. "He that followeth me, saith our Lord, walketh not in darkness:" and while he hath the light, he rejoiceth therein. "As he hath received the Lord Jesus Christ, so he walketh in him." And while he walketh in him, the exhortation of the Apostle takes place in his soul, day by day, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say, rejoice."
2. But that we may not build our house upon the sand, (lest when the rains descend, and the winds blow, and the floods arise and beat upon it, it fall, and great be the fall thereof), I intend, in the following discourse, to shew, What is the nature and ground of a Christian's Joy. We know, in general, it is that happy peace, that calm satisfaction of spirit, which arises from such a testimony of his conscience, as is here described by the Apostle. But, in order to understand this the more thoroughly, it will be requisite to weigh all his words: whence will easily appear, VOL. VII. M
both what we are to understand by Conscience, and what, by the Testimony thereof; and also, how he that hath this testimony rejoiceth evermore.
3. And, first, What are we to understand by Conscience? What is the meaning of this word that is in every one's mouth? One would imagine, it was an exceedingly difficult thing to discover this, when we consider how large and numerous volumes have been from time to time written on this subject and how all the treasures of ancient and modern learning have been ransacked, in order to explain it. And yet it is to be feared, it has not received much light from all these elaborate inquiries. Rather, have not most of those writers puzzled the cause; "darkening counsel by words without knowledge;” perplexing a subject, plain in itself, and easy to be understood? For, set aside but hard words, and every man of an honest heart will soon understand the thing.
4. God has made us thinking beings, capable of perceiving what is present, and of reflecting or looking back on what is past. In particular, we are capable of perceiving whatsoever passes in our own hearts or lives; of knowing whatsoever we feel or do; and that either while it passes, or when it is past. This we mean when we say, Man is a conscious Being: he hath a consciousness or inward perception, both of things present and past, relating to himself, of his own tempers and outward behaviour. But what we usually term Conscience, implies somewhat more than this. It is not barely the knowledge of our present, or the remembrance of our preceding life. To remember, to bear witness either of past or present things, is only one, and the least office of Conscience. Its main business is to excuse or accuse, to approve or disapprove, to acquit or condemn.
5. Some late writers indeed have given a new name to this, and have chosen to stile it, a moral sense. But the old word seems preferable to the new, were it only on this account, that it is more common and familiar among men, and therefore easier to be understood. And to Christians it is undeniably preferable, on another account also; namely, be
cause it is scriptural, because it is the word which the wisdom of God hath chosen to use in the inspired Writings.
And according to the meaning wherein it is generally used there, particularly in the Epistles of St. Paul, we may understand by Conscience, a faculty or power, implanted by God in every soul that comes into the world, of perceiving what is right or wrong in his own heart or life, in his tempers, thoughts, words, and actions.
6. But what is the Rule whereby men are to judge of right and wrong? Whereby their conscience is to be directed? The rule of heathens, as the Apostle teaches elsewhere, is "the law written in their hearts.". "These (saith he) not having the [outward] law, are a law unto themselves: who shew the work of the law [that which the outward law prescribes] written in their heart; [by the finger of God] their con science also bearing witness, [whether they walk by this rule or not] and their thoughts the mean while accusing, or even excusing," acquitting, defending them, (n xas amodayour) Rom. ii. 14, 15. But the Christian Rule of right and wrong is the Word of God, the writings of the Old and New Testament; all that the Prophets and "holy men of old" wrote, " as they were moved by the Holy Ghost:" all that Scripture which was given by inspiration of God, and which is indeed profitable for doctrine, or teaching the whole will of God: for reproof of what is contrary thereto;. for correction of error, and for instruction, (or training us up) in righteousness, 2 Tim. iii. 16.
This is a lanthern unto a Christian's feet, and a light in all his paths. This alone he receives as his rule of right or wrong, of whatever is really good or evil. He esteems nothing good, but what is here enjoined, either directly or by plain consequences. He accounts nothing evil but what is here forbidden, either in terms, or by undeniable inferences. Whatever the Scripture neither forbids nor enjoins, either directly or by plain consequence, he believes to be of an indifferent nature, to be in itself neither good nor evil; this being the whole and sole inward rule, whereby his conscience is to be directed in all things.
7. And if it be directed thereby in fact, then hath he "the answer of a good conscience toward God." A good conscience is what is elsewhere termed by the Apostle, a "conscience void of offence." So, what he at one time expresses thus, "I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day," Acts xxiii. 1; he denotes at another, by that expression, "herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man," chap. xxiv. 16. Now, in order to this, there is absolutely required, First, a right understanding of the Word of God, of his "holy, and acceptable, and perfect Will" concerning us, as it is revealed therein. For, it is impossible we should walk by a rule, if we do not know what it means. There is, Secondly, required (which how few have attained!) a true knowledge of ourselves; a knowledge both of our hearts and lives, of our inward tempers and outward conversation: seeing, if we know them not, it is not possible that we should compare them with our rule. There is required, Thirdly, an agreement of our hearts and lives, of our tempers and conversation, of our thoughts, and words, and works, with that rule, with the written Word of God. For, without this, if we have any conscience at all, it can only be an evil conscience. There is, Fourthly, required, an inward perception of this agreement with our rule. And this habitual perception, this inward consciousness itself, is properly a good conscience; or, in the other phrase of the Apostle, "A conscience void of offence, toward God and toward man.”
8. But whoever desires to have a conscience thus void of offence, let him see that he lay the right foundation. Let him remember, "Other foundation" of this "can no man lay, than that which is laid, even Jesus Christ." And let him also be mindful, that no man buildeth on him but by a living faith; that no man is a partaker of Christ, until he can clearly testify, "The life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God;" in him who is now revealed in my heart; who "loved me, and gave himself for me." Faith alone is that evidence, that conviction, that demonstration of things invisible, whereby the eyes of our understanding
being opened, and divine light poured in upon them, we "see the wondrous things of God's law," the excellency and purity of it; the height and depth, and length and breadth thereof, and of every commandment contained therein. It is by faith, that beholding "the light of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ," we perceive as in a glass, all that is in ourselves, yea, the inmost motions of our souls. And by this alone can that blessed love of God be "shed abroad in our hearts," which enables us so to love one another as Christ loved us. By this, is that gracious promise fulfilled, unto all the Israel of God, "I will put my laws into their minds, and write (or engrave) them in their hearts," Heb. viii. 10; hereby producing in their souls, an entire agreement with his holy and perfect law, and ،، bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."
And, as an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit, so a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit. As the heart therefore of a believer, so likewise his life is thoroughly conformed to the rule of God's commandments. In a consciousness whereof, he can give glory to God, and say, with the Apostle, "This is our rejoicing, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world," 2 Cor. i. 12.
9. "We have had our conversation." The Apostle in the original, expresses this by one single word (avespanμev). But the meaning thereof is exceedingly broad, taking in our whole deportment, yea, every inward as well as outward circumstance, whether relating to our souls or bodies. It includes every motion of our heart, of our tongue, of our hands and bodily members. It extends to all our actions and words; to the employment of all our powers and faculties; to the manner of using every talent we have received, with respect either to God or man.
10. "We have had our conversation in the world;" even in the world of the ungodly: not only among the children of God (that were, comparatively, a little thing:) but