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his present situation. He may change his opinions, and alter his conduct every day in the year, and every hour in the day. He may promise, and break his promise, as often as he pleases. He may betray his friends, or murder his enemies, or overturn the government, if circumstances admit or require it. There is nothing too bad to be done upon the principle of universal philanthropy. Accordingly we find that those who have adopted this licentious sentiment have discovered remarkable mutability and fickleness in their opinions and practice. Rousseau, with all his splendid talents, was as unstable as water. At one time he ridiculed and opposed the Bible; but at another time, he wrote in favor of Christianity, and painted the character of its divine Author in the most amiable and glowing colors. Voltaire professed to be a christian in one place, but a deist in another. In health, he despised and blasphemed every thing sacred and divine; but in sickness and death, he trembled in the view of eternal and invisible realities. Bonaparte could be a Roman catholic, or an infidel, or a mussulman, just as places and circumstances required. He could overturn all religious institutions, and then establish them. He could dethrone one pope, and then raise up another. He could swear everlasting hatred to monarchy, and then proclaim himself emperor of the French. Do we not see the same instability in some of our American politicians? and may we not ascribe it to the same cause? Have they not imbibed the principle of universal philanthropy, which allows them to pierce the breasts of their rivals, to undermine a constitution which they have sworn to support, to turn into any shape, and act any part to gain popularity and power? How deplorable would our situation be, if the majority of our rulers should deem it political justice, or an act of duty, to break their promises, to betray their trusts, and to throw off all divine and human restraints !
4. Since so many, at this day, are exposed to embrace the absurd and destructive sentiment that virtue consists in utility, we have peculiar reason to be thankful for the Bible which God has put into our hands, and which is an infallible rule of faith and practice. In this respect, we are more highly favored than the people of France, when they were led astray by corrupt and artful sophisters. The Bible was generally locked up from them; but to us it constantly lies open for our daily perusal and instruction. And if we impartially consult it, we may dis
, cover and avoid every fatal error, however plausibly taught and recommended. The present state of things ought to endear divine revelation to us, and induce us to esteem it in some measure according to its infinite importance. It is, at this critical juncture of affairs, the grand palladium not only of our
religion and virtue, but of all our civil rights and privileges. It is by this medium, if by any, that we must detect, oppose and restrain those errors, which are coming in like a flood, and threaten to ruin us. Unless we adhere to this sacred guide, and the sound principles in which we have been educated, we cannot save ourselves from the fatal errors and delusions of this untoward generation. But if we withdraw ourselves from such as teach and propagate error, and use all proper means to make their folly manifest, there is ground to hope that truth will prevail, and corrupters be defeated and disappointed. Let us be as zealous in circulating good books, as seducers are in circulating bad ones. Let us take as much pains to diffuse good sentiments, as corrupters do in sowing the seeds of error and delusion. Let parents give their children a pious education, and guard them against the prevailing errors of the times. Let instructers in schools, academies and higher seats of learning, admonish their pupils of their danger, and teach them the pure principles of morality, religion and good government. Let ministers of the gospel contend earnestly for that faith which is so violently attacked, and which they are set to defend against all gainsayers. In a word, let all men of piety, knowledge and influence, unite their exertions to suppress the progress of every demoralizing and disorganizing principle. And if we really feel and express that gratitude which we owe to God for the innumerable benefits we have derived from our civil and religious institutions, it will constrain us to preserve them, by promoting that true godliness which has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. Amen.
THE JOY OF A CLEAR CONSCIENCE.
For our rejoicing is this, 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.
Paul begins this epistle with an account of the trials and conflicts that he and other apostles had experienced in Asia, as an apology for not coming to the church in Corinth before, as he had given them some ground to expect. He assures them that he had always meant to act conscientiously, and had done so in not paying them a visit as he intended and intimated. He says: "For our rejoicing is this, 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, and more abundantly to you ward." He here seriously declares, that he had not delayed coming to them from sinister or worldly motives, but from pure, christian, gracious motives, which his conscience approved, and which he could reflect upon with joy and satisfaction. Such simplicity and godly sincerity is common to all true believers. And this warrants me to say that christians have reason to rejoice, when their conscience testifies in favor of their conduct. I shall show,
I. When christians have the testimony of their conscience in favor of their conduct; and
II. That they have reason to rejoice, when they have this testimony in their favor.
I. We are to consider when christians have the testimony of conscience in their favor. Though it may be supposed to
be difficult to give a just and accurate definition of conscience, yet every man knows that it is something distinct from reason, and every other faculty of the mind. It is conscience which enables men to distinguish right from wrong, or moral good from moral evil. It is conscience which teaches them their moral obligation to do what is right, and to avoid what is wrong. And it is conscience which approves them for doing right, and condemns them for doing wrong. It is this faculty in the breast of christians which testifies in their favor when they do right, but condemns them when they do wrong. The question now before us is—when do christians have the testimony of conscience in their favor ?
The apostle had the testimony of conscience in his favor, and all christians sometimes have the testimony of conscience in their favor. But when does conscience testify in their favor ? I answer,
1. When it testifies that they have done what is right. It is always right that they should do “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, and whatsoever things are of good report.” And when they do any or all these things, they always have the testimony of conscience in their favor, that they have done what is right. Conscience always knows and approves what is right, in itself considered; and as all men sometimes do what is right, in itself considered, so all men sometimes have the testimony of conscience so far in their favor. Accordingly, we find all men professing to act conscientiously, sometimes and in some things; and we have no reason to scruple the sincerity of their profession. But though conscience approves of all men for doing what is right in itself considered, yet this is but a partial approbation, and consistent with the highest disapprobation. This leads me to observe,
2. That christians have the full testimony of conscience in their favor, when it testifies not only that they have done right, but have done right from right motives. It is the proper office of conscience to judge, not only whether christians do what is really right, but whether in doing what is really right they act from proper motives. Christians
Christians may do a great many things that are right from wrong motives; but conscience never approves of their acting from wrong motives. The apostles rejoiced in having the testimony of conscience that they had acted from right, and not from wrong motives. “Our rejoicing is this, 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.” They acted from benevolent, and not from selfish motives; they acted from heavenly, not from worldly motives; they acted from grace, and not from nature; they acted to please God, and not themselves. For acting from these pure and holy motives, their conscience approved and applauded them, though the world despised and opposed them for it. All real christians sometimes act from the same noble and virtuous motives; and whenever they do, they have the testimony of their conscience in their favor, that they have lived and acted in christian simplicity and godly sincerity. I now proceed to show,
II. That this testimony of conscience in their favor affords them good ground to rejoice.
1. Because it assures them that they have internally, as well as externally obeyed God. All real christians have that love, which is the fulfilling of the law. The divine law primarily requires the heart, and external actions only as expressions of the heart. The first and great commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength." And the second is like unto it: “ Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. God requires every person, in every precept, to obey him from a holy, benevolent heart. He never requires any external action to be done separately from pure, holy love. None who are in the state of nature ever act from this true love to God and
They have not the love of God in them. They are under the entire dominion of a sinful and selfish heart, which is not obedience to but a transgression of the law of God. They have not, nor can they have the testimony of conscience, that they have ever internally obeyed God in a single instance. God has shed abroad his love in the hearts of real christians, who delight in his law after the inward man. They not only do the actions which God requires, but do them from pure and proper motives. When conscience is allowed to do its office, it makes the same distinction between external and internal obedience, that the divine law does. It approves of internal obedience, but disapproves of external obedience, which does not flow from internal obedience. Unrenewed men seldom allow conscience to do its whole office; that is, to judge what manner of spirit they are of, but only to judge what manner of actions they perform. They are satisfied, if conscience testifies that they act in external conformity to the divine law, though their hearts are far from God. But real christians habitually allow conscience to do its whole office, and judge of their hearts, as well as of their actions, which flow from their hearts; and it gives them no satisfaction to have conscience testify in favor