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and perdition too, this must needs make his ruin sure; and so all shall surely find who persist in such a course.
(2.) Necessities and straits overbear conscience in others; necessity has no ears to attend the voice of the word and conscience. Here conscience and poverty struggle together, and if the fear of God is not exalted in the soul, it now falls a prey to temptation. This danger the wise Agur foresaw, and earnestly entreated the Lord for a competency to avoid the snare of poverty. Prov. 30 :8, 9. How much better were it for thee to endure the pains of hunger than those of a guilty conscience. Such gains may be sweet in thy mouth, but bitter in thy bowels.
(3.) The examples of others who venture on such sins without scruple, and laugh at tender consciences. This emboldens others to follow them, Psa. 50 : 18, and thus the voice of conscience is drowned, and convictions buried for a time; but conscience will thunder at last, and thy buried convictions will have a resurrection, and it shall be out of thy power to silence them again.
INSTANCE 5. The truth of God is held in unrighteousness, when men's lusts will not suffer them to restore what they have unjustly gotten into their hands. This sin resting on the consciences of some men, makes them very uneasy, and yet they make a hard shift to rub along under these regrets of conscience. Now those things which make a forcible entry into the conscience, take the truths of God prisoners and bind them, that they cannot break forth into the duty of restitution, are,
(1.) The shame which attends and follows the duty to which God and conscience call the soul. It is a shame and reproach, they think, to get the name of a cheat; loath, loath they are, that these works of darkness should come to the open light; men will point at them, and say, There goes a thief, a cheat, an oppressor. This keeps many from restitution. But dost thou not here commit a greater cheat than
the former? Which is the greatest shame, thinkest thou, to commit sin, or to confess and reform it? To bind the snare upon thy soul by commission, or loose it from thy conscience by repentance and restitution; to be the derision of wicked men, for none else will deride thee for thy duty, or be the contempt and derision of God, angels, and all good men for ever; to attain inward peace at this hazard, or to lie under the continual lashes and wounds of thy own conscience ?
(2.) Poverty is sometimes pleaded to quiet the troubled conscience; and indeed this is a just, and very frequent blight of God on ill-gotten goods; the curse of God is upon them, and they melt away. O in what a snare have you now entangled your souls. Once you could, but would not restore ; a worldly heart would not part with unjust gains : now you would, but cannot. Thus a worldly heart and an empty purse hold you first and last under the guilt of a known sin. A lamentable case.
(3.) Vain purposes often suppress and silence convictions. My condition may alter; I may be in a situation hereafter when I can better spare it than at present; or I will do it in my last will, and charge my executors with it. Thus do men bribe their consciences to get a little quiet, while they continue under known guilt, and cannot tell how soon death shall summon them to the awful bar of a just and terrible God.
Sirs, as you value your peace, and which is more, your souls, release the Lord's prisoner which lies bound within you with cords and chains of Satan's making; do it, I say, as you hope to see the face of God in peace. You know that without repentance there can be no salvation, and without restitution no repentance; for how can you repent of a sin you still knowingly continue in ? Repentance is the soul's turning from sin, as well as its sorrow for sin. You cannot therefore repent of sin and still continue in it: “How shall
we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein ?” Rom. 6:2. Trust Providence for the supply of your wants and the wants of those dependent on you in the way of duty and righteousness. “A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.” Psa. 37:16. You will have more comfort in bread and water with peace of conscience, than in full tables with God's curse. You will lie more at ease on a bed of straw, than on a bed of down with an accusing conscience.
INSTANCE 6. How many lie under the condemnation of their consciences, for the lusts of uncleanness in which they live. They read, and their consciences apply to them such scripture as 1 Cor. 6 : 9, 10: “Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” A dreadful sentence! And this, “Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” Heb. 13: 4. Yet convictions are overborne and stifled by,
(1.) The impetuous violence of carnal lusts, which permit not calm debates, but hurry them on to the sin, and leave them to consider the evil and dangerous consequences afterward. Thus they go, “as an ox to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks.” Prov. 7: 22. Lust besots them. To give counsel now is but to give medicine in a paroxysm, or counsel to him who is running a race. Lust answers conscience as Antipater did one that presented him a book treating of happiness, I have no leisure to read such discourses.
(2.) Others would fain solve their scruples with the failings of good men, as David, Solomon, and others; not considering what brokenness of heart it cost. David, Psa. 51, and Solomon sorrow more bitter than death, Eccl. 7 : 26. This is a presumptuous way of sinning, and how dreadful that is, see in Num. 15: 30.
INSTANCE 7. Truth is often held in unrighteousness by sinful silence, in not reproving other men's sins ; thereby making them our own. We are sometimes cast into the company of ungodly men, where we hear the name of God blasphemed, or the truth, worship, or servants of God reproached ; and have not so much courage to appear for God, as others have to appear against him : in such cases conscience is wont to stir up men to their duty, and charge it home upon them in the authority of such a scripture as this : “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart; thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him.” Lev. 19 : 17. O, says conscience, thy silence now will be thy sin ; this man may perish for want of a seasonable, plain, and faithful rebuke ; thy silence will harden him in his wickedness. No sooner does such a conviction stir in the conscience, but many things are ready to lay hold on it. As,
(1.) A spirit of cowardice which makes us afraid to displease men, and chooses rather that the wrath of God should fall on them, than their wrath fall on us. We dare not take as much liberty to reprove sin as others do to commit it. They glory in their shame, and we are ashamed of what is both our glory and our duty
(2.) Dependence on, or near relation to the person sinning. It is a father, a husband, a superior, on whose favor I depend, and should I displease him I may ruin myself; this is the voice of the flesh. Hence duty is neglected, and the soul of a friend basely betrayed ; our interest is preferred to God's, and thereby frequently lost; for there is no better way to secure our own interest in any man's heart, than to fasten it in his conscience by our faithfulness and by being willing to hazard it for God's glory. The Lord blesses men's faithfulness above all their sinful, carnal policy. “He that rebuketh a man, afterwards shall find more favor than he that flattereth with his lips.” Prov. 28: 23.
(3.) Men's own guilt silences them. They are ashamed and afraid to reprove other men's sins, lest they should hear of their own. Fear of retort keeps them from the duty of reprehension. Thus we fall into a new sin for fear of reviving an old one. “He that reproveth a scorner, getteth to himself shame ; and he that rebuketh a wicked man, getteth himself a blot.” Prov. 9:7. But this is the fruit of our pride and ignorance. What we fear, might turn to our benefit. The reproof given is duty discharged; and the retort in return is a fresh call to repentance for sin past, and a caution against sin to come.
INSTANCE 8. Another instance of conviction of unrighteousness imprisoned in men's souls is, not distributing to the necessities of others, especially such as fear God, when it is in the power of our hands to do it, and conscience as well as Scripture calls us to our duty. Men cannot be ignorant of that text where charity to the saints is by the Lord Jesus Christ put for the whole of obedience, and men's eternal states are fixed according to their observance of this command, Matt. 25:40, 41; though I fear few, very few study and believe it as they ought. Thou canst, says conscience, if thou wilt, relieve such or such a poor Christian, and therein express thy love to Christ : do it, God will repay at; if thou refusest, how dwelleth the love of God in thee? . 1 John, 3:17. This is the voice of God and conscience, but divers lusts are ready to seize and bind this conviction also as soon as it stirs.
(1.) The excessive love of earthly things. The world is so deep in men's hearts, that they will rather part with their peace, yea, and their souls too, than part with it. Hence come those churlish answers, like that of Nabal, “ Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh, that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men whom I know not whence they be?" 1 Sam. 25:11.
(2.) Unbelief ; which denies honor and due credit to