SECOND APPLICATION: The grounds on which a weak Christian argues against his own uprightness, and their falsity 3/3

To apply the first—

           (1.) We must distinguish between conscience proceeding by a right rule in its judgment, and con­science proceeding by a false rule.  Then conscience proceeds by a right rule, when it grounds its charge upon the word of God; for, being but an under officer, it is bound up to a law by which it must proceed.  And that can be no other than what God appoints it, who gives it commission, and puts it in office.  And that is the word of God, and that only. So that we are to give credit to our conscience’s com­manding or forbidding, condemning or acquitting us, when it can show its warrant from the word of God for these; otherwise, as subjects that are wronged in an inferior court and cannot have justice there, may appeal higher, so may and ought we, from conscience, to the word of God.  And you must know conscience is a faculty that is corrupted as much as any other by nature, and is very oft made use of by Satan to deceive both good and bad, godly and ungodly.  Many that now {know?} their consciences, they say, speak peace to them, will be found merely cheated and gulled when the books shall be opened.  No such dis­charge will then be found entered in the book of the word, as conscience hath put into their hand.  And many gracious souls, who passed their days in a continual fear of their spiritual state, and were kept chained in the dark dungeon of a troublesome con­science, shall then be acquitted, and have their action against Satan for false imprisonment, and abusing their consciences to the disturbing their peace.  And now let me ask thee, poor soul, who sayest thy con­science checks thee for a hypocrite, art thou a con­victed hypocrite by the word?  Doth conscience show thee a word rom Christ’s law that proves thee so? or rather, doth not Satan abuse thy own fearfulness, and play upon the tenderness of thy spirit, which is so deeply possessed with the sense of thy sins, that thou art ready to believe any motion in thee that tells any evil of thee?  I am sure it is oft so.  The fears and checks which some poor souls have in their bosoms, are like those reports that are now and then raised of some great news, by such as have a mind to abuse the country.  A talk and murmur you shall have in every one’s mouth of it, but go about to follow it to the spring-head, and you can find no ground of it, or author of credit that will vouch it.  Thus here: —a bruit there is in the tempted Christian’s bosom, and a noise heard as it were continually whispering in his ears, ‘I am a hypocrite, my heart is naught; all I do is dissembling;’ but when the poor creature, in earnest, sets upon the search to find out the business—calls his soul to the bar, and falls to examine it upon those interrogatories which the word propounds for trial of our sincerity—he can fasten this charge from none of them all upon himself, and at last comes to find it but a false alarm of hell, given out to put him to some trouble and affrightment for the present, though not [to] hurt him in the end.  [It is] like the politician’s lie, which, though it be found false at last, yet doth them some service the time it is believed for true.  As one serious question, such as this, seriously put to a gross hypocrite. is able to make him speechless, viz. —What promise in all the Bible hast thou on thy side for thy salvation?—so it is enough to deliver the troubled soul from his fears of being a hypocrite, if he would but, as David, ask his soul a Scripture reason for his disquietments—‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me?’ The sincere soul hath firm ground for his faith at bottom, however a little dirt is cast by Satan over it, to make him afraid of venturing to set his foot on it. But we must also distinguish,

           (2.) We must distinguish between a conscience rightly informed, and a conscience misinformed.  A conscience may be regular, so as to choose the right rule, but not rightly informed how to use this rule in his particular case.  Indeed, in the saint’s trouble of spirit, conscience is full of Scripture, sometimes, on which it grounds its verdict, but very ill interpreted; ‘O,’ saith the poor soul, ‘this place is against me:’—‘Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord im­puteth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile,’ Ps. 32:2.  ‘Here,’ saith he, ‘is a description of a sincere soul, to be one in whose spirit there is no guile.  But I find much guile in me.  Therefore I am not the sincere one.’  Now this is a very weak, yea, false inference.  By a spirit without guile, is not meant a person that hath not the least deceitfulness and hypocrisy remaining in his heart.  This is such a one, as none, since the fall, but Christ himself, was ever found, walking in mortal flesh.  To be without sin, and to be without guile, in this strict sense, are the same;—a prerogative here on earth peculiar to the Lord Christ; ‘who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth,’ I Peter 2:22.  And therefore, when we meet with the same phrase attributed to the saints —as to Levi, ‘Iniquity was not found in his lips,’ Mal. 2:6, and to Nathanael, ‘Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile,’ John 1:47—we must sense it in an inferior way, that may suit with their imperfect state here below, and not put that which only was Christ’s crown on earth, and is the glorified saint’s robe in heaven, to wear on the weak Christian while militant on earth—not only with a devil without, but a body of sin within him.  Wipe thine eyes again, poor soul, and then, if thou readest such places wherein the Spirit of God speaks so highly and hyperbolically of his saints’ grace, thou shalt find he doth not assert the per­fection of their grace as free from all mixture of sin; but rather, to comfort poor drooping souls and cross their misgiving hearts—which from the presence of hypocrisy are ready to overlook their sincerity as none at all—he expresseth his high esteem of their little grace by speaking of it as if it were perfect, and their hypocrisy as none at all.  O Christian, thy God would have thee know that thou dost not more overlook thy little grace for fear of the hypocrisy thou findest mingled with it, than he doth thy great corruptions, for the dear love he bears to the little, yet true grace he sees amidst them.  Abraham loved and owned his kinsman Lot when a prisoner carried away by those heathen kings.  So does thy God [love and own] thy grace, [as] near in blood to him, when it is sadly yoked by the enemy in thy own bosom; and, for thy comfort know, when the book shall be opened, the word too, and also the judgment of thy own con­science in the great day of Christ.  Christ will be the interpreter of both.  Not the sense which thou hast in the distemper of thy troubled soul, when thou readest both with Satan’s gloss put upon them, shall stand; but what Christ shall say.  And to be sure he hath al­ready declared himself so great a friend to weak grace, when on earth, by his loving converse with his dis­ciples, and [the] free testimony he gave to his grace in them—when God knows they were but raw and weak Chris­tians, both as to their knowledge and practice —that, poor soul, thou needst not fear he will then and there condemn, what here he commended and so dearly embraced.  Yea, he that took most care for his little lambs how they might be used gently, when he was to go from them to heaven, will not be unkind himself to them, at his return, I warrant thee.

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