Page images

wall against him; and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.* -It may not be always in a man's power to make exact restitution of every unlawful gain he has acquired; but to make reparation to the utmost of his power, for every wrong he has done to others, is the duty of every one who lays any claim to principle or honesty. If this be entirely neglected, it is the mark of a conscience that is become dead to all sense of right and wrong. In vain we pretend to clear our conscience, by. affecting to compensate for fraud or cruelty, either by acts of strict religious homage towards God, or by some partial virtues and shows of generosity towards men. With respect to men, we ought to learn that we must begin with being just, before we can attempt to be generous. With respect to God, we know that he delights in mercy more than sacrifice; and rejects with contempt the hypocritical worshipper. I will come near to you in judgment, saith the Lord ; and I will be a swift witness against those that oppress the hireling, the widow, and the fatherless ; and that turn aside the stranger from his right. The Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them.t

AFTER making reparation for the wrongs he has committed, the next study of every one who is exer-: cising himself to have the conscience void of offence, should be to guard against those particular snares, which have formerly led him into evil. — If, for instance, covetousness has on many occasions tempted him to defraud or oppress, that he might increase his worldly store, it ought to be his first care to cor

* Habak. ii. 11.

† Malachi, iji. 5.

rect in future this inordinate passion for wealth, by bringing down in his estimation the acquisitions of fortune to their proper value; so that he may remain satisfied with a moderate share of the world's goods, and become sensible of what small importance great riches are to real happiness. If ambition has impelled him to rise into consideration by crooked policy and intrigues, let him impress his mind with all the considerations that will show him the emptiness and vanity of worldly honours.. If a loose and careless life has brought him into habits of dissipation, and led him to neglect those religious duties which he owed to his Maker, let him return to the regular worship of God; and nourish an awful fear and reverence of that Almighty Being, on whom his all depends in time and eternity. In this manner it must be his care to begin, by eradicating those corruptions, which, on different occasions, have tempted him to violate conscience. This study to reform all known errors in former life, will be one of the most satisfying marks of a sincere design to preserve in future a conscience void of offence. For if any of the old vitiated parts of the disposition be allowed to remain in their former state, in vain will any man apply himself to a thorough reformation of character. The favourite ruling passion, if it be suffered to keep its ascendant, will not fail to drag the life after it.

In the last place, in order to carry on this discipline which I have been recommending for obtaining a good conscience, it will be highly necessary, that we frequently examine ourselves, and bring our conduct under review. No day ought to pass over our head, without some exercise of this kind. Every evening before we go to rest, we should subject to scrutiny the transactions in which we have been engaged. “ What have I done this day, by which I may either have justly offended any man, or have “ shown neglect of God? What duty have I trans“ gressed? Wherein have I omitted to act the part " which my Maker, or my fellow-creatures, had a “ title to expect from me?” — Be assured, my friends, that only by thus preserving conscience in the frequent exercise of its natural jurisdiction, you can support its rights. If you do not lead it in this manner often to assume its due station, its authority will gradually decline. There will be no accuracy in your moral conduct. Corruptions will grow upon you unawares.

You will forget that you are creatures accountable for your actions, to a higher tribunal than that of the world. It is a careless train of living, that is the general ruin of mankind. It is not so much from having adopted evil principles that men become wicked, as from having adopted no principles at all. They follow their inclinations, without examining whether there be any principles which they ought to forin for regulating their conduct. The chief corrective of this mischief is that which has been suggested; by bringing conscience into a frequent exercise of its power, and thereby awakening its authority over our life. - Bitterly it may at times reprove us for our sins and follies. Sharply it may sting. But those reproofs and those stings are salutary in their effect; and tend to prevent us from proceeding headlong in a downward

If ever conscience become altogether dead and still, the symptom is ominous of our having contracted from hardened vice that mortal lethargy, from


which we are only to be awakened at the day of judgment.

II. Having thus suggested some of the particulars which appear, most essential in exercising or forming ourselves to attain to a conscience void of offence towards God and men, I come next to recommend this discipline by showing the happy effects it will produce. These happy effects are manifold ; to avoid prolixity, I shall comprise them under two general heads. Such a clear conscience sets us free from the terrors of another world ; it exempts us from a multitude of disquietudes in this.

First, the conscience void of offence tends to procure freedom from the terrors of another world. Many, I know, in the gaiety of their hearts, pretend to make light of the terrors of this kind; yet nothing is more certain, than that they are capable of assailing and dismaying the stoutest heart. Conscience is too great a power in the nature of man to be altogether subdued. It may for a time be repressed and kept dormant. But conjunctures there are in human life which awaken it'; and when once awakened, it flashes on the sinner's mind with all the horrors of an invisible Ruler and a future judgment. It has been so ordered by Providence, that it is always in the evil day, at the season when men stand most in need of consolation and support, that conscience exerts its vengeance on the guilty. I might mention what is suffered in the lonely hours of solitude and silence, when the sinner's mind is humbled and depressed by some recent disgrace, or some disappointment in his criminal pursuits. But let me only lead your thoughts to what must await us all, when we shall have arrived at the decline of life; when we feel the hand of death upon us, and cannot any more flatter ourselves that it will long delay giving the fatal stroke. Sufficient, and more than sufficient, for that day will be the evil thereof, even supposing that nothing within shall alarm us with dark forebodings of what is to follow. But if at the time when we are oppressed with sickness or pain upon our bed, distressed perhaps with the situation of our family and worldly affairs, and just about to take the last farewell of our friends and of all we have ever loved on earth; if in the midst of this scene of distress, we shall be also tormented with the thought of what is to become of us in that next world which is just opening to our view; if we depart from life, conscious that we deserve punishment for the manner in which we have lived ; and dreading that the hour of our being to receive that punishment is at hand; such a state of complicated misery who can endure? The spirit thus wounded and bleeding, when it is going forth from the body, who can bear ?

I by no means say, that he, who during his life has taken the greatest care to preserve his conscience void of offence, can upon that plea rest with confidence; or upon this ground alone leave this life without uneasiness or fear. No man's conscience was ever entirely clear from all reproach. We daily offend; and the best have much reason to implore mercy and forgiveness from their judge. The whole strain of the Gospel tends to humble and depress those who vainly trust to their own imperfect right

It teaches us that the ultimate ground on which we are to rest for acceptance with God, is the


« PreviousContinue »