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of rightcoufness, which the Lord the righteous judge shall give me at that day? A comfortable death, that is free from the stings and upbraidings, the terrors and tortures, the confusion and amazement of a guilty conscience, 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 conscientious regard to the whole compass of our duty; and, with St. Paul, lei us exercise ourselves to have always a conscience 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 constant guide and companion; and whoever, after due care to inform himself aright, does fincerely follow the dictate and direction of this guide, shall never fatally miscarry: but whoever goes against the clear dictate and conviction of his conscience, in so doing he undermines the foundation of his own comfort and peace, and fins against God and his own soul.
And, to the end we may keep our consciences clear of guilt, we should frequently examine ourselves, and look back upon the actions of our lives, and call ourselves to a strict account for them ; that whereinsoever we have failed of innocency, we may make it up by repentance, and may get our consciences cleared of guilt by pardon and forgiveness: and if we do not do this, we cannot with confidence rely upon the testimony of our consciences"; because many great sins may slip out of our memories without a particular repentance for them, which yet do require and stand in need of a particular repentance.
Especially we should search our consciences more nar. rowly at these more solemn 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 sincerely resolve, by God's grace, to reform in that particular, and from that time to break off that fin which we have then rea pented of, and have asked forgiveness of God for : for if, after we have repented of it, we return to it again,
we wound our consciences afresh, and involve them in a new guilt.
In the last place, we should reverence our consciences, and stand in awe of them, and have a great regard to their testimony and verdict : for conscience is a domestick judge, and a kind of familiar god; and therefore, next to the fupreme majesty of heaven and earth, every anan should be afraid to offend his own reason and conscience, which, whenever we knowingly do amiss, will beat us with many stripes, and handle us more severely than the greatest enemy we have in the world. So that, next to the dreadful sentence of the great day, every man hath reason to dread the sentence of his own conscience. God indeed is greater than our hearts, and knows all things; but under him we have the greatest reason to fear the judgment of our own consciences : for nothing but that can give us comfort, and nothing can create so niuch trouble and disquiet to us.
And though the judgment of our consciences be not always the judgment of God; yet we have great reason to have great regard to it; and that upon
several accounts; which I thall but briefly mention, and fo conclude.
I. Becaufe the judgment of our conscience 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 see reason for it or not.
2. The sentence of our own conscicnces is very likely to be impartial, at least not too hard on the severe fide; because men naturally love themselves, and are too apt to be favourable in their own case. All the world cannot bribe a man against himself. There is no man whose mind is not either distempered by melancholy, or deluded by false principles, that is apt to be credulous against himself, and his own interest and peace.
3. The judgment which our conscience passeth 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 cir
cumstances there may be to excuse or aggravate them; how strong the temptation was, or how weak the judgment of him that was seduced by it into error and folly.
But we are conscious to all the secret springs, and motives, and circumstances of our own actions: we can descend into our own hearts, and dive to the bottom of them, and search into the most retired corners of our intentions and ends ; which none, besides 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
4. The sentence of our conscience is peremptory and inexorable, and there is no way to avoid it. Thou mayst possibly fly from the wrath of other men to the uttermost parts of the earth ; but thou canst not stir one step from thyself: in vain shalt thou call upon the mountains and rocks to fall on thee, and hide thee from the sight of thinė own conscience.
Wretched and miserable man ! when thou hast offend. ed and wounded thy conscience : 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 sharp accusations and stinging guilt of his own conscience; 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 spirits ; and yet the spirit of a man which is in him, thoroughly affrighted with its own guilt, may be a more ghastly and amazing spectacle than all the devils in hell. There is no such frightful apparition in the world as a man's own guilty and terrified conscience staring him in the face: A fpirit that is thus wounded, who can bear?
To conclude: Let these considerations prevail with us always to live, not with regard to the opinion of others, which may be grounded upon miltake, or may not indeed be their opinion, but their flattery ; but with regard to the judgment of our own conscience, which, though it may sometimes be mistaken, can never be bribed and corrupted. We may be hypocrites to others, and base flatterers; but our own consciences, whenever they
every day in
are thoroughly awakened, are always sincere, and deal truly with us, and speak to us as they think.
Therefore, whatever we say or do, let it be sincere : for though hypocrisy may for a while preserve 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 say or do from our own consciences ?
The sum of all is this : If we would keep a conscience 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 lear, and never too proud and stiff to be better informed : let us do what we can to free ourselves from prejudice and passion, from felf-conceit and self-interest; which are often too strong a bias upon the judgments of the best men, as we may see
fad and melancholy inltances : and, having taken all due care to inform our consciences 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 conscience, we should always be easy, and good company to onrselves. But if we offend our consciences, by doing contrary to the clear dictate and conviction of them, we make the unhappiest breach in the world; we stir up a quarrel in our own breasts, and arm our own minds against ourselves; we create an enemy to ourselves in our own bosoms, and fall out with the best and most inseparable companion of our lives.
And, on the contrary, a good conscience will be a cone tinual 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 souls to God in welldoing, as into the hands of a faithful creator. To whom, with our blessed Saviour and Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost the Comforter, be all honour and glory, now and
Preached before the Queen, at Whitehall, Sept. 16. 1691.
ZECH. vii. s. Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests,
Saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and feventh month, even those feventy years, DID Y E AT ALL FAST UNTO MĖ, EVEN TO ME?
TN the beginning of this chapter, the people of the 1 Jews, who were then rebuilding the temple at Jeru
falem, and had already far advanced the work, though it was not perfectly finished till about two years after, send to the Priests 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 observe during the seventy years of their captivity, in a sad remembrance of the deltruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem ? or should not now rather turn it into a day of feasting and gladness?
To this inquiry God by his Prophet returns an answer in this and the following chapter. And first he expostulates with them concerning those their monthly fasts, whether they did indeed deserve that name, and were not rather a mere shew and pretence of a religious faft, ♡ 4.5. Then came the word of the Lord of hosts unto me, saying, Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even 10 me? The inquiry was particularly concerning the fast of the fifth month, because the occasion of that was more considerable than of all the other ; but the answer of God mentions the fasts of the fifth and se