THE BELIEVER IS RECONCILED TO GOD, AND HAS THE PEACE OF GOD RULING IN HIS CONSCIENCE, AND THEY TWO WALK TOGETHER: BECAUSE THEY ARE NOW AGREED.
IT is written in the prophets–"They shall be all taught of God"–every one of his children shall be brought to the knowledge of the truth, and what they have been taught in the understanding shall be made practical, that it may have its proper effect upon the conscience. And this is answered when it conies under the authority and power of the word of God, and faithfully accuses or condemns according to that unerring rule.
Conscience supposes the knowledge of some rule, and it consists in comparing a man's state or actions with that rule, in order to discover whether they agree with it, or not.
The rule is the Scripture, the whole revealed will of God, which is the unerring, and the only standard of right and wrong; for all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, to teach the man of God what is truth, and to make him wise in it unto salvation. Fallen man has no means of discovering the will of God, but as it is revealed to him. He has no innate knowledge. He has no implanted principles. He is born as ignorant of God, and of the things of God, as a wild ass's colt. His understanding is darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in him because of the blindness of his heart. And he has no means in his own power of attaining any divine knowledge: for he cannot, by searching, find out God. The world by its wisdom never did find him out. The Hottentots know as much of him as the Greeks and Romans did; indeed, the natural man, let him be ever so wise, knoweth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them; because they are spiritually discerned.
The Scripture, then, is the only rule of right and wrong. Conscience has no direction but this rule. Neither ethics, nor metaphysics, no fancied light of dark nature, no lawless law of rebel nature, no human science, whether pretended to be implanted, or by the use of reason to be acquired, have any right to guide the conscience. These are blind leaders of the blind: they undertake what they are not only unfit, but what they have no warrant for. A parcel of felons in gaol may think what they will of their state. They may take it upon them to form a mock court, and to try one another. They may acquit or condemn, as they please: but the judge and the jury will pay no regard to their foolish proceedings. There is a word which is to try us at the last day, and by that we should try ourselves at present. It was revealed for this purpose. And when the revealed truth is clearly understood, then conscience is acting aright; if it finds a true verdict for God, either accusing, or else excusing, according to the direction of his unerring word. And this is the work of the Holy Spirit. He enlightened the judgment with the knowledge of the truth, in order to make it practical: which he effects by bringing the conscience to submit to the sovereignty of God in the law, and to submit to the righteousness of God in the gospel. Herein he displays the omnipotent power of his grace, according to the promise, John xvi. 8. He carries with demonstration the conviction of guilt, and the conviction of righteousness, to the conscience. By the former he gives the sinner a real heart-felt sense of his sin and misery, and he acknowledges himself a convict of the law, justly deserving all its penalties, in time and in eternity. By the latter he sets open a door of hope, showing him the perfect righteousness of the God-man, wrought out for such guilty creatures as he is: he enables him to plead it before the throne, and to trust in it for his acceptance; by which means he finds relief in his conscience, and comfort in his heart. Being justified by faith, he has peace with God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
What the Holy Spirit teaches, has life as well as light in it. He accompanies his doctrine with the power of God. What he has revealed concerning the state of mankind under the fall, he applies with divine evidence to the conscience. Under his influence, the sinner reads those scriptures, and feels the truth of them. "As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: through the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation: for it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God: they are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Now we know, that what things soever the law saith, it commands them who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God." His mouth is stopped, He has no plea to make: no excuse left. What the law saith, he subscribes to. The law brings him in guilty before God, and in his conscience he bears his testimony to the law. He acknowledges it to be holy, just, and good, even in its penalties, which he deserves to suffer. Formerly he tried in his own strength, and took great pains to escape them, but now he gives over all those self-righteous attempts, He found, that be laboured in vain to atone for his sins, or to make himself holy. He groans, being burdened under the ruins of the fall. His ignorance, rebellion, apostasy, his corruption in every faculty of soul and body, render him unable to take one step in his return to God. He owns it, and confesses, that without Christ he can do nothing.
O my soul, consider whether God has taught thee this knowledge of thyself. It is absolutely necessary to reconcile thee to him and to his ways. Thou wilt never heartily agree to walk with him by faith, so long as thou hast anything of thine own to trust in, or to draw comfort from. Examine then; art thou sensible of thy fall, and dost thou feel the sad effects of it? Dost thou know what it is to be alienated from the life of God? What! dost thou find to this day the Opposition of thy sinful nature to the holy law, the flesh lusting in thee against the spirit? Has God thus convinced thee of sin? If he has, then in thy conscience thou submittest to what the law says of thy state. Thy mouth is stopped, and thou art guilty before God. Thou hast nothing of thine own to urge in arrest of judgment. This is an enlightened conscience: so far it speaks for God, and is guided by his unerring word. O pray to the Lord the Spirit, and beg of him to guide thee into all truth, that he may bring thy conscience to submit to the righteousness of Jesus, and to be a faithful witness for him.
This is his proper work in the soul, and what he undertook in the everlasting covenant. "When he is come," says Christ, "he shall convince the world of righteousness: he shall testify of me, that I am made of God righteousness to believers: and he shall glorify mo as Jehovah their righteousness; thus he shall teach them my righteousness, with which the Father is satisfied; and he shall through faith apply it effectually to their consciences, and they shall also be satisfied with it." Being justified by faith, they shah have peace with God, through their Lord Jesus Christ.
Righteousness is a perfect conformity to the law; if it be tried by the balance of the sanctuary, it is full weight; if by the standard, it is full measure: if judgment be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet, it is quite upright. There is no defect in it of any kind. This is the righteousness of the law–it must be perfect and continual, failing in no one point; for the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God. And it is an adjudged case, that there is none righteous, no, not one. It is left upon record, that ALL have sinned, and come short of the glory of God: therefore, by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.
When the Holy Spirit has convinced a sinner of his being in this unrighteous state, then it becomes an important inquiry–how can the Judge of all the earth ever look upon and treat a sinner as if he was a righteous person? To which the gospel answers directly–"God hath made Christ to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God IN him."
This was agreed upon in the covenant of the eternal Three. The Father undertook to maintain the honour and dignity of his law and justice. His co-equal Son undertook for his people to come in their nature, and to stand in their place and stead; to act for them, and to suffer for them. As their surety, he made himself answerable for their debt of obedience, and for their debt of suffering. Accordingly, when the great law-fulfiller cometh into the world, He saith–"Lo, I COME TO DO THY WILL, O GOD." He did it in his infinitely holy life, in which he magnified the precepts of the law, and made them everlastingly honourable. He suffered it in his infinitely holy passion, bearing the sins and sorrows of his people, their curse and wrath, in his body and soul upon the tree, until the immense debt being paid, he cried out in the triumph of a conquering though a dying Jesus–"IT IS FINISHED;" for through death he conquered death, and him that had the power of death, that is, the devil: he finished the transgression, and made an end of sins, and made reconciliation for iniquity, and brought in everlasting righteousness.
This is the great leading truth of the gospel, in which the peace of conscience is principally concerned. The justly offended God is here revealed under the character of a reconciled Father. He gave his Son to be a covenant of the people; who was to fulfil all covenant engagements for them; and he has fulfilled them all. The end of his living and dying for them is answered. He has finished the transgression, and has made peace by the blood of his cross, He has brought in everlasting righteousness by his divine, obedience, and the Lord is welt pleases with him for his righteousness' sake; yea, he is well pleased also with his body the church. He looks upon all the members, as he looks upon the head. He accepts them in the beloved. He beholds them in him with perfect delight, and rests in his love. He is his Father, and their Father. He is related to his whole family in heaven and earth in the closest bonds of fatherly affection, and He makes his love known to them, and sheds it abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost.
He would have all his children to address him under his dear name–OUR FATHER which art in heaven: and to expect from his fatherly love all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus.
When this comfortable doctrine is received into the conscience, it silences guilt, and produces peace with God. The gospel comes with full authority to establish it in the conscience: for it is therein revealed and proposed to our belief under the character of a divine RECORD, made authentic, and properly enrolled in the court of heaven. The witnesses are, the eternal Three. Their record is in the nature of a covenant, confirmed by their joint counsel, and ratified by their joint oath–the two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie. He graciously vouchsafed to give the heirs of promise this perfect security for their salvation, that after they had fled to Jesus for refuge, there might be an end of all strife in their consciences, and they might have strong consolation. Accordingly we read–"There are three that bear record in heaven; the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are ONE."
A record among men is an authentic testimony in writing, entered by authority in one of the king's courts, in order to preserve the proceedings had upon any suit. This record contains the final determination of the judges in that cause, and is their memorial of it, and therefore imports in itself such uncontrollable evidence, as to admit of no proof to the contrary. The matter of the record is never allowed to be tried by a jury, but is of such credit as not to be questioned in any instance. This is the nature of a record in law. And if we receive the witness of men, certainly the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God, which he hath witnessed of his Son; namely, "He hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." To which the Spirit beareth witness: because the Spirit is truth.
He has revealed the covenant of life and peace which was between the Father and the Son: he has entered it upon record, and every word of the record may be pleaded: for it is allowed to be good and valid in the court of heaven. As a powerful advocate, he pleads the perfect fulfilling of all righteousness in the life and death of the God-man; and the Father's perfect acceptance of what he did and suffered, as the full redemption price for all his people; and he carries his cause in the court of conscience. The awakened sinner is convinced, that the work of Jesus is a finished salvation, and that the divine record is a sufficient warrant for him to believe in it. Accordingly he gives it credit, and is enabled to plead it against guilt and fear. Upon which he finds peace with God. Trusting to the blood of sprinkling for pardon, and to the righteousness of Jesus for acceptance, he then sees God reconciled to him, and that reconciles him to God, and by the spirit of adoption he cries–"Abba, Father."
But, perhaps, it may be said,–"I believe this, but I do not find peace in my conscience." Nay, but you do not believe it; if you did, it would certainly bring present relief; for guilt comes from the broken law, and from the apprehension of punishment deserved: but the law has been restored to its dignity, and made infinitely honourable by the righteousness of Jesus; how can you believe this, and yet be under guilt? The punishment was laid upon Jesus, and he suffered all that was due to his people, as their atoning sacrifice; how can you believe this, and yet fear that justice will punish you? A debtor would not fear to be arrested if his surety had paid the sum, and got him a full discharge. A felon with the king's pardon in his pocket, would dishonour it greatly, if he was to live in continual dread and terror of suffering for his crime. Examine carefully, and pray for the right understanding of your case; and depend upon it, you will find, that either you do not believe the matter of fact, or the record concerning it.
The matter of fact is the method provided for quieting the guilty conscience–a provision of exceeding rich grace, and of everlasting efficacy. The Father gave the eon to be the surety for his people, and to live and to die for them, and in their stead. The Son his finished the work which the Father gave him to do, and is become the author of their eternal salvation.
The record of this fact is in the Scripture. Father, Son, and Spirit, the three witnesses in heaven, have by covenant and oath attested, that there is life for every one who believeth in Jesus. "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Now, consider of what do you doubt. Has Jesus made full atonement for sin, and brought in everlasting righteousness? Has the Father demonstrated, again and again, his perfect delight in his person, and his infinite satisfaction in his work? Certainly you cannot question this doctrine, if you believe the Scripture to be a divine revelation. Do you doubt then of God's free promise, or of his faithfulness to fulfil it? What! Can his word be broken? Can his promise fail? His word and promise ratified in the immutable covenant, and sealed with the immutable oath of the eternal Three? This is your warrant to believe. And do you question the veracity of it? "He that believeth not God, hath made him a liar."
O what a dreadful sin to give the lie to the Holy Trinity! The Father says, Whosoever cometh; the Son says, All that come unto me shall be saved; the Spirit says, Come, whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely, and be saved. Are not these faithful sayings worthy of all credit; especially as they are delivered with divine authority, under the great seal of heaven? If doubts still remain, pray against them, and meditate upon the unreasonableness as well as the wickedness of them, and continue to hear and to read the word (for faith cometh, and groweth too, by hearing), that you may be enabled to put honour upon it, by venturing your soul upon the divine faithfulness, to make it good to you.
Perhaps you may believe the record, which God hath given of his Son, but you cannot do it with steadfastness: you can, at times, stay your mind upon God with sweet peace, but you are not able to maintain it: yea, you lose it when you want it most. How, in this case, shall the believer keep the peace of God ruling always in his conscience?
It is to be maintained in the same way by which it was first received. It came by believing, and is thereby strengthened. By the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, peace was made between God and man; by the sprinkling of his blood, peace is made between man and God. When this is applied to the conscience by the Holy Spirit, and received by faith, there is a continual preservative against guilt,–"For the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin." Here is the witness of God: and it is always the same. This believed will always bring the same cleansing virtue, and keep the conscience purged from dead works. If at any time guilt defile it, then unbelief has entered, and has been denying, either that the blood of Christ does cleanse from all sin, or that the divine testimony concerning it does deserve credit. Guilt cannot easily enter into the eon-science but by one of those two ways. Examine, and see which it is. Do you doubt of the virtue of Christ's blood, or of the truth of God's record concerning it?
You reply, I dare not question either of them; yet nevertheless I cannot, with any settled comfort, main-rain peace with God. But it is your privilege to maintain it, confirmed to you by the royal charter of grace, and ratified in it by many express promises. Jesus has made peace by the blood of his cross; and if you believe what the God of truth says of it, peace should rule in your heart always: for all things are well ordered for you, and sure in the everlasting covenant. On the part of God, all is unalterably fixed and settled. What is it, then, which unsettles you? Is it something you find in yourself? Is it from indwelling sin, remaining corruption, a body of sin and death, or from the weakness of our faith, and of your other graces? What! have you forgotten, that from all these the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth? Is it from a suspicion, that our peace is. not right, because it ebbs and flows? This should humble, but not discourage you: because there is a gracious provision made to remove your suspicion. God has taken the charge both of you and of your peace; he keeps both by his mighty power, as it is written, The peace of God which surpasseth all understanding, shall. keep with a safeguard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. You are as safe in the hand of God, at the lowest ebb, as at the highest spring-tide of sensible comfort: because your safeguard is almighty, and he is equally concerned about your peace, whether you feel it or not. Your sense of it may vary, but he varies not. There is-in him no variableness, nor shadow of turning. How should the belief of this stay your mind upon your God, and keep guilt out of the conscience, even when you are walking in darkness, and have no light!
O my soul! meditate upon those precious truths. Give thyself wholly to them. Consider how deeply they enter into the very being of thy peace. Unless they be under-stood, thou canst not know the way of peace; and unless. they be received by faith, thy conscience will not be purged from guilt and unbelief. And while these deft? it, thou canst not look upon God as reconciled, or delight thyself in him or in his ways. Can two walk together except they be agreed? But when they are agreed, and of one mind, then Walking with God becomes pleasant, and all his paths arc peace.
Search, then, and examine thyself, O my soul, and that not lightly, and after the manner of dissemblers with God, but closely and thoroughly by the light of the divine word, and under the teaching of the divine Spirit. Dost thou understand what is revealed concerning the way of peace–what was covenant in the counsel of the eternal Three–and what has been done in consequence of it! Jesus Christ is the great peace-maker. He has made peace through the blood of his cross. The Father sent him, gave him to be a covenant of the people; to fulfil for them all righteousness, and to be their atoning sacrifice. The Father has seen the work which he gave him to do, and has accepted it; is perfectly satisfied with it, and therefore is infinitely delighted with him, and with all his. He would now be known by the high style and title of the GOD OF PEACE. Fury is not in him to those whom he sees in the beloved, He is a Father, fully, for ever reconciled to all his children in Christ Jesus. He loves them, as he loves him, with every kind feeling of the most tender parent. And he will bring every one of them to partake with their glorified head of the blessings of his everlasting love.
If thine understanding be enlightened with this knowledge of God, is it effectual in thy conscience? Canst thou plead it there? This is the principal thing. Hast thou a good conscience, freed from guilt and condemnation, by believing the record which God hath given of his Son? He is well pleased with him for his righteousness' sake. His soul delighted in the sweet-smelling savour of his Son's sacrifice. Because he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, therefore the Father hath highly exalted him. This is the witness of God. Dost thou yield to it, and give it full credit? What! canst thou set to thy seal that God is true, and that what satisfied him has perfectly satisfied thee, and therefore the peace of God rules in thy conscience always, and by all means?
Remember, this is thy privilege. Thou art called to the enjoyment of it. The evidence is as full as could be desired, for the ending of all strife in thy conscience. The greatest honour thou canst put upon the divine wit nesses is so to end it, as to suffer no appeal to be made from their decree. Thy conscience should join issue. It should say the same that God does. It should plead thy discharge from guilt, under the broad seal of heaven; and should stop the mouth of unbelief, with those words written in golden letters in the royal charter of grace–"There is NO condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus–they are freely forgiven ALL trespasses. They are justified from all things." "Thy sins and iniquities," says God himself, "will I remember NO MORE." These are the immutable words of truth. They cannot be broken. O my soul! put honour upon them. Believe them without doubt or wavering. Why dost thou draw back thy confidence? Trust, and be not afraid. Thou mayest safely venture to believe all that the Lord hath spoken. He will make it good; and the more thou believest, the more will be made good. More faith will bring thee in a richer revenue of peace. The Lord increase thy faith! May it entirely influence thy conscience, that it may agree with God: neither questioning the infinite value of the righteousness and atonement of Immanuel, nor yet the faithfulness of his promise, under which thou claimest them–"WHOSOEVER WILL may take them freely."
Let thy faith be ever so well established, yet thou wilt meet with something every day to try it; but remember, the foundation on which thou standest cannot fail, and none,–nothing shall remove thee from it. The Lord brought thee to build upon this foundation. Ire hath begun the good work, and he will not leave his work unfinished. The top stone shall certainly be brought forth with shouting GRACE–GRACE; his love is like himself. His purposes, his word, his works change not. What if thou feel many things wrong in thyself'? Thou art sometimes low in spirits; thou canst not be pleased with thy corruption; and thou art not pleased with thy duties: thy graces are weak, thy love not as it should be, thy best services unprofitable; yet these very things, rightly understood, and improved by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, will be the means of establishing thy conscience in the peace of God. They will lead thee every day to a greater dependence upon sovereign grace: for they will leave thee nothing to trust in, but the righteousness and the atonement of Immanuel; nothing to keep thee, but his faithfulness to his word and work; and nothing to bless thee, but his free covenant mercy. Thus they will work together for thy good. Trials will settle thee. Enemies will confirm thee in peace. Troubles will bring thee nearer to God. Amidst all discouragements thou wilt have this promise to stay thy soul upon–"I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." His friendship is fixed. It springs from the purpose and love of his own breast, and therefore was and is always unchangeably the same in him. Whom he loveth he loveth unto the end.
Well, then, O my soul, thou hast examined
thyself. How is it with thee? Dost thou know the way of peace?
What perfect peace is here proclaimed to fire children of God! Sin had separated them from him, but there is access through Jesus. He is the way to the Father. He is a new way, in opposition to the old way of works, which upon the fait was shut forever. He is a living way; all that are alive to God live by the faith of the Son of God. He is a consecrated way, everything needful for their holy walk being provided in him. And they are required to walk in this way with boldness; trusting to the blood of Jesus, and depending on the intercession of the high-priest over the house of God, they have access with confidence into the holiest. It is their undoubted privilege to draw near with a true heart, not like a double-minded man, wavering and unstable; but with full assurance of faith, entirely satisfied that God in Christ has nothing in his breast but love towards them; therefore they should believe in him, and serve him without fear, having their hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, maintaining peace with God through the continual application of the blood of Jesus, and having their bodies washed with pure water, body and soul being cleansed from the guilt and filth of sin by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.
O may this be my happy experience! May I ever have grace to draw near to my reconciled Father with a good conscience. Yea, Lord, this is nay heart's desire. I would walk with time day by day in perfect peace. O deny me not the request of my lips. Glory be to thy free love, that through Jesus I am suffered to have access into thy presence, and am commanded to come with boldness into the holiest of all. Lo, I come before thee, holy Father, to plead the bloodshedding and the righteousness of thy dear Son; and I hope my plea will be admitted, through the intercession of the high-priest of the house of God. O look, thou God of peace, upon the face of thy beloved. See me in him, I desire to be found in him; and for his sake let the faithful witness for thy love in Jesus abide with me, that in hearing and reading thy word, in prayer and meditation, he may increase my faith in thee, and love to thee.
O God the Holy Ghost, I beseech thee to make practical upon my heart what thou hast revealed in Scripture of the Father's love. Deliver me from guilt and condemnation by the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus. Apply it effectually. Apply it continually. Help me to believe with more comfort in my conscience, and with more steadfastness in my walk, that his blood cleanseth from all sin. O blessed Spirit, carry on thy work in my soul. Lead me from faith to faith, that I may at all times have freedom to enter within the veil to a reconciled God and Father, and may be able to maintain peace with him against doubts and fears, against corruptions and enemies. O teach me to draw near to him with a true heart, steadfastly persuaded of his love, and in full assurance of faith. This is thy gracious office: O fulfil it in me, that my heart may be sprinkled from an evil conscience, and my body washed with pure water. Let me find grace sufficient for me, for Jesus' sake; to whom, with thee, O Father, and the eternal Spirit, three Persons in one Jehovah, be equal honour and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.