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viction in others. Should they attempt such duties before others, they shall but expose their own ignorance and shame. But this is a vain pretence to shake off duty. The neglect of prayer is a principal cause of the inability you complain of; gifts as well as graces grow by exercise. “Unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance.” Matt. 25:29. And besides, it is the fruit of pride, and argues your eye to be more upon your own honor than God's. The Lord regards not oratory in prayer; your broken expressions, yea, your groans and sighs please him more than all the eloquence in the world.
(3.) But the principal thing which restrains men from obeying their convictions as to family and closet prayer, is a disinclined heart; that is the root and true cause of these sinful neglects and omissions. You savor not the sweetness of these things ; and what a man tastes no sweetness in, or finds no necessity of, is easily omitted.
But woe to you that go frorn day to day self-condemned for the neglect of so known, so sweet, and so necessary a duty. If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart. 1 John, 3:20. He who lives without prayer is dead while he lives; and let men say what they please of secret communion with God, I am sure, if religion thrives in the closet, it will never be banished from the family. The time is coming when death will break up your families, separate the wife from the husband, the child from the parent, the servant from the master; and then where you will find relief and comfort who have spent your time together so sinfully and vainly, I cannot tell; nor what account you can give to God in the great day. Think seriously on these things, they are worth thinking of.
INSTANCE 2. A second instance of ungodliness under the convictions of conscience, is formality in the external duties of religion and ordinances of God. Have not the consciences of some of you often and plainly told you, that though you
are often engaged in the public duties of hearing, prayer, and other ordinances, yet your hearts are not with God in those duties? They do not strive after communion and fellowship with him therein. It is nothing but the force of education, of custom, and the care of reputation which brings you there.
Such a conviction as this, could it do its work thoroughly, would be the salvation of thy soul ; were power added to the form, as conscience would have it, thou wouldst then be a real Christian, and out of the danger of hell. The want of this thy conscience sees will be thy ruin, and accordingly gives thee plain warning of it. O what pity is it such a conviction as this should be held in unrighteousness. But so it is in very many souls, and that on several accounts.
(1.) Because hypocrisy is so odious and abominable a sin that men are loath to own and acknowledge it, how guilty soever they be of it. What, dissemble with God, and play the hypocrite with him? It is so foul a crime that men cannot easily be brought to charge themselves with it. They may have the infirmities which are common to the best of men, but they are not hypocrites. Thus, pride of heart casts a chain upon conviction, and binds it, that it cannot do its work.
(2.) It is a cheap and easy way to give God the external worship of the body, but heart-work is hard work. To sit or kneel an hour or two is no great matter; but to search, humble, and break the heart for sin, to raise earthly affoctions into a spiritual, heavenly frame, this will cost many a hard effort. It is no severe task to sit before God as his people, while the fancy and thoughts are left at liberty to wander where they please, as the thoughts of hypocrites use to do, Ezek. 33:31; but to set a watch on the heart, to retract every wandering thought with a sigh, and to fix the thoughts on God, this is difficult, and the difficulty overpowers conviction of duty.
(3.) The atheism of the heart quenches this conviction in men's souls. Formality is a secret sin, not discernible by man; the outside of religion looks fair to man's eye, and so long it is well enough, as if there was not a God who trieth the hearts and the reins. Thus, when a beam of light and conviction shines into the soul, a cloud of natural atheism overshadows and darkens it.
But, poor self-deceiving hypocrite, these things must not pass so ; thy conscience, as well as the word, tells thee it is not the place of worship, but the spirituality of it that God regards, John 4:23, 24; that they are hypocrites in scripture account who have God in their mouths, while he is far from their reins, Jer. 12:2; and that hypocrites will have the hottest place in hell. Matt. 24:51.
INSTANCE 3. A third instance of convictions of ungodliness held in unrighteousness, is in declining or denying to confess the known truths of God, which we ourselves have professed, when the confession of them exposes us to danger. In times of danger, conscience struggles hard with men to appear for the truths of God, and on no account whatever to dissemble or deny them; and enforces its counsels and warnings upon us with such awful scriptures as these : “No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62. “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” Matt. 10:33. In this case conscience useth to struggle hard with men, yet is many times overborne by the temptations of the flesh. As,
(1.) By carnal fears. The fear of suffering gets ascendency over the fear of God; men choose rather to venture their souls upon wrath to come, than the present wrath of incensed enemies. They vainly “hope to find mercy with God,” but expect none from men. Thus the fear of man bringeth a snare, Prov. 29 : 25; and so the voice of con
science is drowned by the louder clamors and threats of adversaries.
(2.) As the fear of man's threatenings, so the distrust of God's promises defeats the design of conscience. If men believed the promises, they would never be afraid of their duties ; faith in the promises would make men bold as lions, if such a word was in mind as this: “Of whom hast thou been afraid or feared, that thou hast lied, and hast not remembered me?” Isa. 57:11. Men would say, as Zuingle in the like case, What death would I not rather choose to die; what punishment would I not rather undergo; yea, into what vault of hell would I not rather choose to be cast, than to witness against my own conscience ?
(3.) The inordinate love of the world overpowers conscience, and drowns its voice in such an hour of temptation. So Demas found it. 2 Tim. 4:10. O what a dangerous conflict is there in an hour of temptation, between an enlightened head and a worldly heart.
(4.) The examples of others who embrace the sinful terms of liberty to escape the danger, embolden men to follow, and Satan will not be wanting to improve their examples. “Do not you see such and such men travelling the road before you ? Learned and prudent men, who, it may be, have less heart but more wisdom than you. Why will you be singular, and hazard all for that for which others will hazard nothing ?”
But certainly such sins as these will cost you dear: it is a dreadful thing to betray the truth and honor of God for base, secular ends; and you will find it so when you and your consciences shall debate it together in a calm hour.
There are also sins of UNRIGHTEOUSNESS against the second table, in which many live against the plain dictates and warnings of their own consciences, though they know the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all un
righteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteous
INSTANCE 4. And here let me instance the sin of defrauding others, in our dealings with them ; overreaching and cheating the ignorant or unwary, who, it may be, would not be so unwary as they are, did they not repose confidence in our deceitful words and promises. Conscience cannot but startle at such a sin, the light of nature reveals it, and even the sober heathen abhor it; but we who live under the gospel cannot but feel some terror and trembling in our consciences when we read such an awful prohibition, backed with such a dreadful threatening as that in 1 Thess. 4:6: “That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter; because that the Lord is the avenger of all such.” The Greek word imports that no man overtop, that is, by power, or by craft and policy. To this sin a dreadful threatening is annexed, “the Lord is the avenger of all such.” This word is but once more, that I remember, used in the New Testament, Rom. 13 : 4, and is there applied to the civil magistrate, who must see execution done upon malefactors; but here the Lord himself says he will be this man’s avenger. This rod, or rather this axe, conscience shows to men, and gives warning of the danger, and yet its convictions are overpowered and bound as prisoners by,
(1.) The excessive love of gain. “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” 1 Tim. 6:9. When a resolution is made for the world, men will be rich by right or wrong; this powerfully arms the temptation. Set gain before such a man, and he will break through the law of God and convictions of conscience, but he will have it; this drowns them in destruction and perdition, that is, it surely, thoroughly, and fully ruins them. He is a dead man who is only drowned; but to be drowned in destruction, yea, in destruction