Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

will plead in vain for those who are reprobate concerning the faith, "who deny the Lord that bought them, and count the blood of the covenant, wherewith they are sanctified, an unholy thing, and have done despite unto the Spirit of grace '."

XII.-Conscience.

THE greatest blessing of the natural man, is the blessing of conscience; and the greatest personal blessing of the spiritual man, is conscience improved by the revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Conscience has frequently been defined as the opinion, or judgment of a man's own mind, on the pravity, or depravity of his own actions.

For this reason it has been

erected into what has been called a court of conscience : as conscience may be said to sustain within itself all imaginable parts in this spiritual court. "It is the court, and the bench, and the bar, the accuser, and witness, and register, and all.” Well may man be said to be on his trial in this court. If we consider conscience as our natural inheritance, it is certainly a special gift of Divine Providence for our direction and preservation from evil in all the aberrations of our mind, and the temptations of our body to sin; and of

'Heb. x. 29.

3 Tillotson's Serm. Vol. ii. Serm. 38.

still greater value is it to the spiritual man, enlightened by new motives, and impelled by superior duties. The latter consideration does not abrogate the former; any more than the improvement of a natural faculty should take away its original utility. The microscopic eye can discover new beauties in an opening bud, which might not be perceived by natural vision. The eye of the understanding, no longer obscure by an opaque ignorance, catches the smallest glimpse of intellectual instruction, and applies it to the improvement both of the body and of the soul. Conscience, then, is no inert principle of the human mind. It is not only to be roused from slumber, but to be used for the most valuable purposes. Though an original occupant of the human breast, it receives a new impulse from the voice of God himself: it is called, as it were, into a new existence by him who was "the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world."

The power of conscience, in both these respects, is an acknowledgment and a proof that we are accountable creatures. Indeed, I do not know any description of men, short of atheists, who do not, at some moments of their lives, confess the power of conscience: and even atheists, at least self-willed men, who submit to no spiritual control, so far forget their consistency of character, as to concede to public order the motive of obedience.

But as inveterate sin produces inveterate consequences, we know that hardness of heart sometimes happens unto Israel. When the feelings of conscience begin to disappear, it is a fatal evidence that the unworthy conquest has been accomplished by the native and unsubdued corruptions of the human heart: "the heart of those, who being past feeling, have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness1." An evil conscience and a good conscience stand in reference to each other, as an unregenerate and a regenerate man. No other definition need be given. For he who receives no check of a troubled spirit, after the commission of an acknowledged, and, perhaps, atrocious crime, has sunk to the lowest degradation of an abandoned mortal. It pains the mind to dwell on so melancholy a case. The gangrene has found its way and is eating to the core; the sore cannot be distinguished-mortality is at hand. There is still an aggravation. The man without conscience has not descended to that state without reflection. "The compunctious visitings of nature,” did their duty under the ordinary circumstances of crime; but he did not do his. Time had been that they were felt alas! they had indeed been felt, and were rejected. The case is described by the apostle; "Their consciences were seared with a hot iron;" implying the impression of external causes. They

1 Eph. iv. 19.

were glad to get rid of feelings which restrained their progress in iniquity; till, at length, in dreadful insensibility of all the present remonstrances of conscience, they dropped into an abyss from whence there is no

return :

"Regions of sorrow! doleful shades! where peace
And rest can never dwell!-hope never comes
That comes to all-

As far remov'd from God, and light of heaven,

As from the centre thrice to the utmost pole 1."

This, perhaps, may be thought an extreme case : but such cases are nearly allied to truth. The wicked Christian, if there is no anomaly in the expression, stands without excuse. Even the ignorant and uneducated Christian, in a Christian country, where every house, much less every church, will present him with a Bible, can have no apology for wilful sin. Not accepting salvation when freely offered on indubitable evidence, is an offence against conscience: it is a denial of an unsought blessing, a fearful rejection of that Gospel which is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth "."

But with an eye full of sorrow, and a heart full of compassion, do we look upon the unhappy countless numbers who have not known Christ, nor been called by his name. The power of conscience in the case of

1 Milton's Par. Lost, Book I.

2 Rom. i. 16.

the heathen, involves a question, which, in this age of missions, has become particularly interesting and attractive. It is not for man to dive into the mysteries of the Almighty, or to inquire of him, Why hast thou made thus? Yet the pious ambassador for Christ, the ardent missionary of the Gospel, is anxious, under every circumstance, to save a soul alive. And while the unexplored regions of the earth are teeming with savage life, that anxiety is distracting. Let us for a moment apply the doctrine of conscience to this delicate question. If conscience be a principle generally implanted in the human breast, it will be found in the savage as well as in the sage, and no doubt it is. But there is a distinction even here. Humanity and warm personal feeling have been found in the desert; and cruelty of disposition has sometimes been supplanted in the breast even of the wildest of men. If this benevolence of nature has been discovered in such situations, and under such circumstances, it is conscience without a name. On this I would argue: : if the savage of the desert roams after cruelty and lust, and suppresses feelings of a nobler nature, which occasionally present themselves to his feeble reason and understanding, he rebels so far against the law of his nature; the most valuable part of his character is lost, and his own iniquity becomes his own ruin. But every tendency towards a greater complacency of being, towards goodness under any definition, is a softening tinct in the picture of his mind, is a redeeming quality

« ForrigeFortsæt »