Antinomianism Demolished and the Gospel of Christ delivered from its False Charges – By John Rusk
“Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck.”
(1 Tim. 1:19)
The precious Gospel of Christ, and the happy recipients of it, have ever been slandered by the ungodly world, whether the openly profane or the self-righteous Pharisee. They tell us that the Gospel leads to licentiousness; that if people believe in God’s eternal election, and that salvation is all free, they then may live as they list; for if people are elected they are sure to be saved, and if not (as no good works are meritorious) they will be damned, do what they may. And this is the way the carnal heart argues. But the real truth is, they hold up to contempt what they cannot understand, for God has hid their hearts from understanding, (Job 17:4). It is not possible for any natural man living, let him have what gifts or abilities he may, natural or acquired, let him learn Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and be well acquainted with the original text, let him have been brought up at Cambridge, Oxford, or what college or academy he may, to comprehend what the Gospel really leads to; for, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” (1 Cor. 2:14). And again, on the contrary, a man shall be a mere fool, little better than an idiot; he shall not know one letter from another, and yet well understand what the pure Gospel of Christ leads to. Such an one, having a rich experience of the power of it by the Holy Ghost, knows well that the Gospel of Christ leads to a holy life, walk, and conversation; and in this our dear Lord once rejoiced saying, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight,” (Luke 10:21). Hence it is that, “the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err,” in this path, (Isa. 35:8). “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are,” that, “he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord,” (1 Cor. 1: 27-31).
In this chapter from whence our text is taken, the apostle Paul is putting his son Timothy in mind of the charge which he gave him at his going to Macedonia, and also the right use of the law and the end of it. “Now, the end of the commandment (or moral law) is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned,” (verse 5). He then tells him of his own call to be an apostle, and speaks honestly what he was by nature, and what also by grace: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy…And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of who I am chief,” (verses 13-15). “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightiest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck,” (verses 18,19).
Having come to our text, I will treat,
Very briefly about faith, issues
Of a good conscience, which concerns this faith,
The dreadful consequences of putting away conscience,
What all such faith will terminate in, namely, shipwreck,
1. Now, in order to make clear work of it, I observe that there is a faith that hypocrites have as well as saints. Hypocrites pride themselves greatly on it, but God’s family do not, and yet they are never without this faith. I do not know whether my reader will understand me, but it is as follows: God’s people believe that all are sinners, and so do many hypocrites, for the Scriptures declare it. God’s people believe that not works performed by man will save sinners, and so do many hypocrites. God’s people believe that Christ is the only Saviour, and so do hypocrites. God’s people believe in a Trinity of Persons in God, and so do hypocrites. God’s people believe that Christ is God, the Father is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and so do hypocrites. God’s people believe that Christ assumed human nature, and destroyed the devil and all his works, that there must be a new nature, or a change of heart, as a meetness for heaven, and so do hypocrites. God’s people believe in the resurrection of the just and unjust, and so do hypocrites. Lastly, God’s people believe in eternal happiness to the one, and eternal misery to the other, and so do hypocrites. Now I have hinted at a few of the many things that hypocrites believe to be truths as well as saints, and it is this that often puzzles you and me, for we can see no difference, whereas there is a great difference. Take it as follows. Suppose a man to have a great knowledge, which he has acquired by reading historical accounts of different parts of the world, and another who has been in all those parts and yet never read any such accounts; have they both not faith? Truly they have; yet it must be allowed on all hands that his faith is best that does not tell you of those parts of the earth from mere history, but from experimental knowledge. And just so it is with saints and hypocrites. The saint believes that all are sinners, with the same faith as a false professor does, in his judgment; for were you to ask him the question at all times, he would never deny it; but when he feels that, from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head, he is full of wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores, here the saint exceeds the hypocrite, for the latter never can come here. The saint believes that no works of men are sufficient to save, and this same faith a hypocrite has, yea, and some will contend for free grace, as well as real saints; but the saint’s confidence goes farther, for he feels that he is to every good work (in his old nature) reprobate.
Now it would be superfluous for me to go over all those things again respecting the people of God and hypocrites. Suffice it to say, that there are many things that God’s people believe that hypocrites believe also, and yet theirs is not the faith of God’s elect. A hypocrite may have his head full of these things, so as to be able to carry the point in a masterly way, or he may not be so capable; and these same things there may be in real saints. A real saint may have much understanding of this kind, and have his head full of these things, yet, although this is faith, it is not saving faith to either party; and therefore the child of God goes much further, for his faith stands in the power of God; but the hypocrite has it only in the head, and therefore his faith at best stands only in the wisdom of men. Of this sort were the foolish virgins, the man without the wedding garment, and those also that believed for a while; and we have no call to wonder at this, for it is obvious enough. I have known and do know such characters, who well understand the truth, neither will they hear any but those that have much light of knowledge in the Scriptures and large experience; and yet they are destitute of real saving faith. Yea, farther; there are preachers now, and ever have been, who preach the truth so clearly that you cannot find them out, and yet they have not real saving faith; and the cause is this: The Spirit of God may, and does, enlighten many men in their understanding, and endow them with gifts and abilities, from which arises a confidence in the truth they assert. They believe it to be truth, and such by their preaching have many converts, who believe as they do; and were you to talk to them, they would agree with all you say, because both they and you agree in this faith which is only lodged in the understanding. Hence we are told that the prince gives a gift to his servant; and Paul tells the Corinthians, for it is implied in what he says, that some receive the Gospel in vain; “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain,” (1 Cor. 15: 1,2). You see, there is believing of such truths which to some characters is altogether in vain, while to others it is effectual to their soul’s salvation. Now the elect of God differ, for they not only have this persuasion in the head, but the Holy Ghost works faith in their hearts also; so that they feel all these glorious truths; and where there is such a faith in the heart, there will be also a good conscience; but where it goes no further than the understanding, there will not; so that such will put conscience away and make a separation.
2. Now this brings me to the next general head, which is this: a good conscience, which concerns this faith. I will abide close by the Scriptures, and prove that faith and conscience go hand-in-hand together; and, “what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder,” (Mk. 10:9). I know we live in an awful day; and although there is much talk about faith, yet conscience is put away: and if you enforce there things, it is called legality, and they will say you are in bondage; but I know that such are Antinomians in reality. Their faith goes no farther than their heads:
In vain men talk of living faith,
When all their works exhibit death
But now, what is a good conscience? Adam, when he came out of his Maker’s hands, was pronounced good, consequently he had a good conscience; but when he fell every faculty of his soul was evil, and, therefore he had a bad conscience; and from him, our federal head, we all come into this world, both elect and reprobate, with a bad conscience. Hence we are told that, “God hath concluded them all in unbelief,” (Rom. 11:32); and, if so, there is a bad conscience, for to the unbelieving there is nothing clean! (Tit. 1:15). Mind and conscience are both defiled.
Now, let me treat a little about this evil conscience, before I show what a good one is. In order to illustrate the subject, and that we may see a little of the depth of man’s fall, and the real necessity of the good work which God the eternal Spirit does in all the chosen family, I shall not confine myself to the word conscience, but shall take heart as well, for in Scripture the word heart very often means conscience; as, for instance, the apostle John says, “if our heart condemn us,” (1 John 3:20), that is, if our conscience condemns us. Before I begin I may say that, black as what I shall relate may appear, it will be only a faint resemblance of every individual man, woman, or child, that ever came or comes into this world from Adam to the end of time, and those that deny it are blinded by the devil himself. I say only a faint resemblance, for to draw thy portrait, reader, and mine, and that of all others, as it really is, is out of my power. Hence it is called, “the mystery of iniquity,” (2 Thess. 2:17). I will not assert that this corrupt fountain, the human heart, sends forth its evil streams alike in all. No; God restrains those corruptions in some, and not in others, for wise ends; and it is wholly owing to his restraints that men go on so outwardly circumspectly as they do. Were we to take those restraints off where there is no grace, then out would pour forth, like an overflowing stream, all those vile abominations which now lie hidden and out of sight, at least many of them; but, as it is needful for me to keep within some bounds, I will confine myself to these ten things, in which you will see something of a bad conscience or heart.
1. The deceit of the heart of all men by the fall; “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,” (Jer. 17:9); by which I understand, that all the hypocrisy and deceit that goes on in the world, whether in a profession of religion or not, flows out of the corrupt heart. The heart, or evil conscience, is a fountain of deceit that supplies the ungodly from day to day, and yet it is ever full. The heart is deceitful above all things, because all things are supplied from it, evil desires, thoughts, and actions. We all know that deceit is carrying two faces, speaking things that appear very fair, when it is only flattery. Hence you read, “With their tongues they have used deceit, (Rom. 3:13), “deceiving and being deceived,” (2 Tim. 3:13); that is, the heart is such a complete mass for deception that it deceives the man that has it, and he deceives others.
2. The pride of the heart. See Pharaoh: “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go,” (Ex. 5:2). Here was pride, ignorance, and self-will altogether. See Nebuchadnezzar also. We read that he was driven from men, and his dwelling was with the beasts of the field, and he ate grass like an ox; his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hair was grown like eagle’s feathers, and his nails like bird’s claws. Now, all this was for all the pride of his heart, as Daniel told his son: “But when (thy father’s)heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne,” (Dan. 5:20).
3. Covetousness. The very nature of man is to grasp at all he can. He does not care who sinks, so he swims; and, although to our view some men are very different to others upon this head, yet this is only owing to God’s restraining power, as before observed. Selfishness and covetousness are rooted in all. There is not a man upon the face of the whole earth that, in his fallen state, is not a covetous man. Say you, I never coveted after money in my life? True, you might not, and yet the love of money is in you as it respects the root; and, were the devil let loose upon you, he would soon drive you on to the greatest pitch of coveting after money. But covetousness is very extensive. Some covet idol gods; some their neighbour’s wife, ox, ass, etc. None are exempt.
4. Christ gives us a full description of what is in the heart of man. “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man,” (Matt. 15:19,20). From all which you see what a deplorable state man is in. But I shall not enlarge.
5. Rebellion. If you read Jeremiah’s prophecy carefully you will find plenty of this rebellion, and God’s judgments that overtook the people of Israel for it; their perverseness, impiety, and contempt of God. “But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone,” (Jer. 5:23). Again, in chapter 42 we read, that they sent Jeremiah to pray to the Lord for them, and that whatever the Lord said they would abide by, whether good or bad; but when he brought the answer, they found it against their will and wish, then they told him that the Lord had not said so, and that they would go to Egypt, which was expressly against his command. Thus they assembled in their hearts, “rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the most High,” (Ps. 107:11).
6. The heart is full of evil. Evil, you know, is opposed to good. God is good; the devil is evil, and our hearts are filled with evil. Hence we read that, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (Gen. 6:5). You see how expressive it is. The heart is not only full of evil, but there is no abatement; it is going on continually. Christ said the same when upon the earth. A corrupt fountain can send forth nothing but evil streams, and therefore the wicked being only corrupt, “are like the troubled sea…whose waters cast up mire and dirt,” (Isa. 57:20). Hence you read of evil desires and evil deeds, for their, “feet run to evil,” (Isa. 59:7). Solomon says that, “the heart…is full of evil,” (Eccl. 9:3), and that, “the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil,” (Eccl. 8:11). So you see that the corrupt fountain is the heart, or a bad conscience, which produces evil actions.
7. The impenitence of the heart. After all man does, he still continues stubborn, hard impenitent. Hence God says, “They have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return,” (Jer. 5:3). No, reader, there is nothing in you or me, by nature, that ever can or will turn to God. We are stout-hearted and far from righteousness, (Isa. 46:12).
8. The idolatry of the heart. God requires the heart to be set upon him, but, instead of that, our hearts by nature are wholly set upon idols, in opposition to him; and whatever a man loves most, that is his god, and that he worships. Thus there are women-gods, men-gods, money gods, pleasure-gods, etc. Whatever we love most, that is our god. This is called by Ezekiel the stumbling block of our iniquity, set up in the heart; and he says there is a multitude of these idols, (Ezek. 14:4). And God declares that he will not hear any prophet in behalf of such, but will answer them himself: “That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols,” (Ezek. 14:5).
9. The malice and wrath of the heart against the true God. “The carnal mind is enmity against God,” (Rom. 8:7), and we are, “hateful, and hating one another,” (Tit. 3:3). Now all this arises up in us, and is the sad effect of a bad conscience. Hence you read of the rage and fury of Nebuchadnezzar, on hearing that the three children, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego would not fall down and worship the golden image, (Dan. 3:13).
10. The unbelief of the heart. We read of, “an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God,” (Heb. 3:12) and again, “They do always err in their heart; and have not known my ways,” and “could not enter in(that is, Israel of old), because of unbelief,” (Heb. 3:10,19). This always erring is a one continued unbelief, which, as John says, is making God a liar, (1 John 5:10). Moses calls them, “children in whom is no faith,” (Deut. 32:20). But you may be ready to say, “You have given a description of the hearts and consciences of very vile and wicked men in former days, but that does not prove that all are alike.” To this I answer, that, “As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man, (Prov. 27:19). “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, (Rom. 3:23). “God hath concluded them all in unbelief,” (Rom. 11:32); and if that be God’s conclusion, it is a true and faithful account, which fully proves a bad conscience in all, for to the unbelieving there is nothing clean, mind and conscience both being defiled. Now, if we consider seriously the deceit of the heart, the pride of the heart, the covetousness, the description our Lord gives also, with the rebellion of it, that it is full of evil, impenitent, and full of idols, malice, wrath, rage, fury, and unbelief, with innumerable other things, may we not say that every man’s conscience, from which all these evils flow, is completely bad? Truly we may; and yet none know these things from experience but God’s elect; when the Holy Ghost enlightens them to see, and quickens them to feel it, and applies the law, bringing it home to the conscience, for, although natural conscience will censure and condemn a man for many things, yet it is not honest after all, for it will acquit him in things unspeakably vile, abominable, and blasphemous, just as Paul was acquitted by his conscience while unconverted, when he murdered the saints. He thought he did right, and thoughts and conscience go together, as Mr. Huntington used to say. But we read of some that are not plagued at all with conscience. Such are said to be past feeling, and they, I believe, are intended in our text. But of this I shall treat hereafter.
Now let us see what it is that will make a good conscience, and we will abide by the Scriptures of truth, proving what we advance as we go on; and may the Lord enable you and me, reader, to come to the light, and closely examine ourselves whether we have a good conscience or not.
First, then, the indwelling of the Holy Ghost makes a good conscience, and this is promised to the elect, and to them only; I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, saith the Lord God, (Ezek. 37:14). I might mention many things that the Spirit does: as for instance, he puts fear in their hearts; and, as the fear of the Lord is to depart from evil, and is the beginning of wisdom, the man sees and feels that he is a sinner, and feels the real need and necessity of a good conscience. It is the good Spirit that thus teaches him, and shows him that he is in possession of an evil conscience; and that all these ten things which I have mentioned belong to him, and a vast deal more. Now, although the conscience is not yet thoroughly purged from sin and guilt, yet it is good; for when the Holy Ghost comes into a conscience, his indwelling constitutes that heart or conscience good. For, black as hell as the man appears in his own eyes, he entirely agrees with the testimony of God’s Word respecting the fall of man. What a good God says he is brought to feel, and shall set his seal that God is true in all things that respect him in his Word. To go no further, the man has four things: 1. The Holy Ghost, by David, says, “Thy Spirit is good,” (Ps. 143:10); 2. The moral law, which is holy, just, and good; 3. God’s Word, as it respects the fall of man; 4. The grace of life, which is a good treasure put in the heart. “But,” say you, “the man feels himself a very devil!” Yes! and it is these good things that make him feel it. If he were dead in sin and a self-righteous Pharisee, he would, as Agur says, “be pure in (his) own eyes,” (Ps. 30:12); whereas he is unspeakably vile in his own eyes. Now, this is the seed sown in an honest and good heart; for such will speak as they feel, and rather under than over the mark. Hence we read that they are, “children that will not lie,” (Isa. 63:8). They feel a tender conscience. Not only has such a man four things, but he has everything he ever will have, as a treasure in his heart; for at regeneration the whole treasure of grace is implanted, called the, “new man.” And this regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost makes a good conscience; but the, “old man,” is not altered; he is left to make war against such a one ever after.
Secondly, in order to have a good conscience, the atonement of Christ must be brought in, for it is his blood which cleanses from all sin. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who, through the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:14). Those dead works which thousands pride themselves in must be purged away before there can be a good conscience. All works performed before the soul is quickened are dead works, whether in the Pharisee or the elect of God. The way, then, we are brought to feel a good conscience is this: our hearts are sprinkled from an evil conscience, and therefore before the sinner is manifestly pardoned, he feels conscience against him, and his sins stare him in the face as the publican’s did, who, you read, smote upon his breast, showing that he felt guilt, (Lk. 18:13). But was he regenerated at that time? Truly he was, and that made him feel what he did. Yes, the publican was washed at the very time when he smote upon his breast. Oh, yes; and what was he washed from? From his false notions of a god all mercy, and from all his false hopes and refuge of lies. He once said as we read some did, we shall have peace though we walk in the imaginations of our evil hearts, (Jer. 23:17). He was washed from all these things, and therefore believed he was a sinner, a vile sinner, a guilty sinner, which no man living really believes until the Holy Ghost takes possession of his heart. A man may have natural convictions, but this man went further. His wound was deep, and, as a proof that he had the good Spirit, he cried for mercy unto God. But Judas, Pharaoh, Cain, Balaam, and others never cried to God at all, and the cause was, the Spirit never helped their infirmities, nor ever interceded in them or for them. From all which we learn that all the time we are wretchedly miserable, under a sight and feeling sense of sin and guilt, the good work is going on, although we feel as if we were vessels of wrath, being fitted for destruction. Then press on, fellow traveller, for glorious days are before you. Now this atonement is received by faith. Hence you read that God purifies the heart by faith, (Acts 15:19). The Holy Ghost testifies to our hearts of Jesus Christ, that he shed his blood for sinners; and he leads us in faith to Christ with a, “peradventure,” or, “who can tell?” and although we appear viler than any, yet necessity drives us to try. The invitations and promises made in the Gospel the Holy Spirit brings at times to our minds, and thus we go up and down like a pair of scales, sometimes concluding that we shall succeed, and again sinking in despair. However, after much, very much soul-travail, we come to Christ, labouring and heavy-laden; and we find rest, rest from an intolerable burden of sin, rest from all our guilt, and rest from legal labour to please God and conscience. Now, reader, do you know anything experimentally about a good conscience?
Thirdly, the Spirit of God bears his witness with our spirit (or our conscience)that we are children of God. I have heard Mr. Huntington say that none ever had a worse conscience than Paul, and I believe he spoke truth, for Paul compelled the saints to curse Christ. Hence Paul says, “(I) compelled them to blaspheme,” (Acts 26:11); but, says he, “no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: etc.” (1 Cor. 12:3). All this shows what Paul had been at; nevertheless, being a chosen vessel, he is changed. Old things pass away, and all things become new; and therefore he says, “Our rejoicing is this, the testimony (or witness)of our conscience,” (2 Cor. 1:12); for, says he, “My conscience also (bears)me witness in the Holy Ghost,” (Rom. 9:1).
Now, what is all religion (falsely so called)without these things that I am writing about? Why, nothing at all; this is the groundwork. Here it is that God begins with the elect sinner, and no other. 1. He gives him his Spirit: “I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live,” (Ezek. 37:14), and this blessed Spirit regenerates him, forming a new man, and from all this he learns the deplorable condition he is in. 2. He testifies of Christ, and draws forth faith, which purifies conscience; so that he feels access to God, being made nigh by his blood. There is now no gnawing guilty conscience, for the conscience is purged; so that there is now a witness felt, silencing Satan, law, and conscience, with every other accuser. We now find such a change as before we were utter strangers to; and it does not come, no, nor is it kept up, by working to please conscience, but by believing in what Christ has done for us, that the work is completely finished, according to the Saviour’s last words, “It is finished,” (John 19:30).
Now, in order to have a real good conscience, it is needful for us to have the sentence of justification, and this is brought into conscience by the Holy Ghost assuring us that the perfect righteousness of the Son of God becomes ours by faith. Hence Paul says, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness,” (Rom. 10:10). This you may clearly see in Joshua, the high priest. We are told that he was clothed with filthy garments, and Satan stood at his right hand to resist him, that is, as an accuser; but when the order came, “Take away the filthy garments from him…….and I will clothe thee with a change of raiment,” (Zech. 3:4), then Satan is rebuked. “It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?” (Rom. 8:33,34). And this is freely from all things, by faith in the Surety’s obedience. By faith Abel obtained witness that he was righteous, (Heb. 11:4).
Now, wherever this good work is done, there will be a judgment set up in the believer; and we may call it the court of conscience. Yes, and close work it is too. Such do not live as they list; go on cheating and taking all advantages, and say, “The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD are these,” (Jer. 7:4). and that they are delivered to do every abomination. No, God forbid! Neither will this good conscience be maintained but by exercise. Hence Paul says, “I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men,” (Acts 24:16). Now the cause of all this exercise arises from the old man which we still carry about with us, and which the devil, by permission, often works upon in connection with all his allies. Oh, what sore conflicts are they that we have through this old man of sin continually working, in one way or another, which, if indulged, is sure to defile conscience! It would be impossible to relate the many thousand ways and workings of this old man, which is corrupt according to his deceitful lusts. Oh, the many painful days and months I have had on account of my secretly indulging things which at the very time I knew were wrong, through force of temptation and the love of sin which is rooted in this old man! Ah! the Pharisees may boast of his good conscience, but the poor tried Christian cannot, for he feels himself so weak and easily drawn aside that he is in continual jeopardy. He trembles lest the Lord should give him up to his own heart, “to work all uncleanness with greediness,” (Eph. 4:19), lest he should say to him, “(He) is joined to idols: let him alone,” (Hos. 4:17). He is continually beset, more or less, with all those things that I told you were the effect of an evil conscience. His having a good conscience does not set him out of the reach of temptation, so that he totters and trembles, knowing how many have gone back from God, as recorded in the Holy Scriptures and many that he reads of in good books; the great lengths in light, knowledge and understanding, gifts and abilities to write, pray, and preach, all of which have come to nothing. So that when he hears of the downfall of men, he is astonished that he in any measure stands, and wonders at the longsuffering mercy of God that has not cut him down as a cumberer of the ground; and really fears, and sometimes expects, that he himself will be the next that will bring a disgrace upon the cause of God, and open the mouths of God’s enemies to blaspheme his holy name. But, blessed be God, we are not to despair, although there are such sore exercise, conflicts, and hard fightings; for, “there is hope in Israel concerning this thing,” (Ezra 10:2). Hence the promise, “Come now, and let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool,” (Isa. 1:18). And, again, “Put me in remembrance: let us plead together: declare thou, that thou mayest be justified,” (Isa. 43:26). “Put me in remembrance,” of my promises. “Take with you words and turn to the LORD,” (Hos. 14:2). “Let us plead together.” That is, “I will tell you and make you feel what charges I have against you, and do you plead the only remedy, even the merits of my dear Son, for it is only in him that I will accept you. And when I bless you with a confidence again in him, then you will have a good conscience; then your scarlet sins and crimson sins will be as snow and wool. Not that you will then think lightly of sin. Oh, no; for then you will loathe yourselves in your own eyes for your iniquities, and yet believe that I am pacified towards you.” Again: “Declare thou, that thou mayest be justified;” that is, “Declare thy sin, only acknowledge thy transgression, that thou hast walked contrary to me, which has caused me to walk contrary unto thee.” David went this way: “I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin,” (Ps. 38:18). The apostle Paul tells us that, “if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged; but when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world,” (1 Cor. 11:31,32). Now I know that you and I cannot make straight paths for our feet unless we go this way to work. It is not our having ever so large an experience of the love and mercy of God that manifestly will make us bomb-proof against Satan, law, sin, the world, the old man, and conscience, for you may enjoy this to the full, and slip into sin quickly upon the back of it. Frames that are comfortable are very desirable; and oh for more of those happy frames and sweet feelings! But still it will not do to trust in them, as if it were impossible that we should backslide and wound conscience, after being so highly favoured. I know well what I am writing, for I have trusted in them, and have shortly afterwards been drawn aside into a light and trifling spirit, foolish talking, idols, etc. Satan is upon the look-out when you and I are very happy in our God; for it is a hell to him, and therefore he will try everything he can, at such times in particular, to draw us aside. David’s heart was right with God, and he had a good conscience, and yet how Satan worked upon the old man in that dreadful fall, so that conscience was wounded or his bones broken! (Ps. 51:8). Solomon, so particularly noted for the love of Christ, as is manifestly clear in his Song, how he is drawn aside by these outlandish women! It is said Solomon loved many strange wives, which turned his heart from the Lord, (1 Kings 11:1-4). Now, if such eminent saints as these fell, what are you and I? “The LORD is exalted; for he dwelleth on high: he hath filled Zion with judgment and righteousness,” (Isa. 33:5); and here every believer has the advantage of all other characters, whether professors or profane, for there is no judgment in their goings. Thy judgments are far above out of their sight, (Ps. 10:5). But you will not value this way, no, nor properly attend to it, although a believer, until after many slips and falls; I do not mean openly, but secretly. When the devil and the old man have tripped up your heels again and again, then you will be often judging, trying, and examining yourself by God’s Word. Indeed, the chief part of your life will be taken up in this way. You will not rest in attainments, but will press on. Having deeper and deeper discoveries of your own heart, you will be always suspicious, and walk in much fear at times, saying, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting,” (Ps. 139:23,24). You will find plenty of work in weeding your own garden without attending to another’s, if you would judge yourselves. When conscious of anything wrong you will not pass it by as a trivial thing, but go secretly to the Lord, and say, “Lord, I certainly did wrong. I took advantage of such a one; I indulged a secret lust; I spake unadvisedly with my lips; I made too free with worldly men; my covetous heart has gone after money, etc.” Now, whatever it may be, this is the way: First, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith,” (2 Cor. 13:5); examine your heart and then examine the Scriptures; for, “wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word,” (Ps. 119:9); and it is better to consult God’s Word than to consult men. Secondly, after examination, then honest confession of what is amiss, for it is he that confesseth and forsaketh his sin that is to find mercy, (Prov. 28:13); which mercy, Paul tells us, is washing and renewing, (Tit. 3:5), washing away all fresh contracted guilt and filth, and then renewing us in the spirit of our mind. This is anointing us with oil. Thirdly, pleading the unconditional promises, such as these: “Hast thou not promised that from all filthiness, idols, and uncleanness thou wouldst save us, that a new heart thou wouldst give us, and that thou wouldst keep us from evil that it might not grieve us, that sin shall not have dominion, but thou wouldst put thy fear in our hearts?” (Ezek. 36:25,26; 1 Chron. 4:10; Rom. 6:14; Jer. 32:40); and so, picking out of Scripture what is most suitable to our present condition, asking those favours only in the name and for the alone sake of Jesus Christ the one Mediator, and following it up with importunity, for, “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force,” (Matt. 11:12). Now all this is sowing to the Spirit, and in this way we shall find that he will help us against our infirmities; and as you go in in the divine life you will find your need more and more, in order to a good conscience, of taking very minute things to the Lord, daily and hourly. Hence Paul says, “Pray without ceasing,” (1 Thess. 5:17); which teaches us that our wants will crowd in upon us, that we may be kept needy, praying with the heart and not with the lip only. Fourthly, a constant acknowledging the Lord’s favours, both in providence and grace. “I will deliver thee from the guilt and filth of sin, from various difficulties in providence, from the devil’s temptations, from all your outward enemies, etc., but thou shalt glorify me;” and who is worthy of the glory but him that has all power? Yea, I know it will be the desire of our souls at times to give him the glory, and we shall rejoice in giving it to him, and in speaking good of his name, saying, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will tell you what he hath done for my soul,” (Ps. 66:16).
Now if you attend to these things you will do well; but if you cast them away as a thing too low and of no account, then you are like those in our text, that is, you put away conscience, which certainly concerns faith; for what is all our faith but an empty show, if there is no regard to conscience? Hence Paul says, “Holding the mystery of faith is a pure conscience,” (1 Tim. 3:9). “Ah,” says you, “it is all very well for the weakling, but I am more established, consequently I am not so particular.” Yes, you may be established in head notions, but your heart is not established with grace, for grace is of a holy, purifying nature, as I shall hereafter show; and let me tell you that, living allowedly in the way you do, you will make shipwreck. It is a very awful thing to put away conscience. Soar as high as ever you may, your fall will be irrecoverable. But is this judgment finally neglected by any of God’s elect? No! for God will take them in hand, and bring them to look, so that it shall not go on; only it comes heavier in general when they neglect it, and get hardened through the deceitfullness of sin. I say it comes heavier. We have no account of David judging himself, and therefore God sent His servant, the prophet Nathan; and although David had at that time a bad conscience, yet the parable of the ewe lamb took no hold of him. But when Nathan said, “Thou art the man,” (2 Sam. 12:7), then God took it in hand, and set it home on his conscience; and although God put away his sin, yet the sword never departed from his house, (2 Sam. 12:10,13). Thus God forgave him, but took vengeance of his inventions. And I believe the incestuous person was another that did not judge himself; and therefore God took it in hand, and Paul puts him out of the church, and delivers him over to Satan; not for eternal destruction, but for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus, (1 Cor. 5:5).
Neither is all this judgment confined to individuals; but really it belongs to us as a church and people. I believe, in this day in which we live, we are defiled, and have gone after our lovers. Read carefully Ezekiel chapters 16 and 23, and compare them with us as a church in the awful day in which we live.
Having therefore treated, 1. Briefly about faith, and 2. Of a good conscience, I am now, in order to make clear work of it, to show the close connection there is between faith and conscience, so that we must not put conscience away: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder,” (Mk. 10:9).
First, then, has God chosen them in Christ Jesus, and do they believe this? Is this the faith of God’s elect? Truly it is, and if this is your happy lot as a believer, he has also chosen you out of this world. Hence he says, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing, etc.” (2 Cor. 6:17). Faith and a good conscience going together proves our election and adoption.
Secondly. Have we faith? How do we prove it? I answer, by a good conscience, for they go together. “In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence,” (Prov. 14:26), and this fear is put in the heart that we may not depart from God, (Jer. 32:40). It is also, “the beginning of wisdom,” (Ps. 111:10), and is, “to hate evil,” (Prov. 8:13), all of which has to do with a good conscience.
Thirdly. Where this faith is, such are blessed of God; for as many as are of faith, are blessed with faithful Abraham, (Gal. 3:9). And this must go also along with a good conscience, for the Lord declares as follows: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful,” (Ps. 1:1). Again, says Peter, “Unto you first (that is, first to the Jews the Gospel was preached) God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you.” What! with faith only in the notion of it? Oh no, but to bless you, “in turning away every one of you from his iniquities,” (Acts 3:26).
Fourthly. Have you faith? “Yes,” say you. How do you prove it? “Why, I understand the truth, and agree with all the sound doctrines of the everlasting Gospel.” Very good; but can you go no further? “No,” say you, “neither do I see it needful, except to attend the ordinances of God’s house, family prayer, reading and so on.” Well, these things are all right, but at best this is only outside work; for all those things may be attended to, and yet such an one not have a good conscience. Peter says: God purifies the heart or conscience, by faith, (Acts 15:9). So you and I may talk ever so much about our faith; but if it never purifies the heart I was going to say we are just where we were, but we are not, for we are in a worse plight. Hence you read that the wrath of God is revealed against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men, but especially against those that hold the truth in unrighteousness, (Rom. 1:18), which is a parallel text with ours, Holding faith, and putting away a good conscience, (1 Tim. 1:19).
Fifthly. Suppose you have ever so strong faith in your judgment, this abstractedly will never endure the fire. You man boast of it all the time your are kept clear of trials; but real faith is connected with a good hope, and a good hope is in the heart. It is an anchor of the soul that holds it fast in a storm. It is sure and steadfast, and enters into that within the veil, (Heb. 6:19); that is, it holds fast the Godhead of Christ. There is where the believer anchors; and such, like Abraham, the father of the faithful, under sore trials, are called against hope in nature to believe in hope through grace, (Rom. 4:18), and trust wholly to God’s promise. This is the hope of the Gospel of Christ, and is of a purifying nature, (1 John 3:2,3).
Sixthly. Does your faith take hold of God’s love to you? John tells us, “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us,” (1 John 4:16). Now, if your faith and mine be the same, it will work at times in loving God, his truth, his family, and his ways, and in hating evil. This love, being shed abroad in the heart, is holiness itself. Hence you read that God, “hath chosen us in (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love,” (Eph. 1:4). Thus, you see, believing that God loves us is connected with a good conscience, hating evil, loving the brethren in deed and in truth, and is said to be a principle of holiness.
Seventhly. Real faith brings pardon into the conscience; for he that believeth shall receive the forgiveness of sins, (Acts 10:43). Jesus Christ came to save his people, not in their sins, but from their sins. Hence John says, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin,” (1 John 1:7), and when sin is gone, there is a good conscience.
Eighthly. Real faith, that believes in the imputed righteousness of Christ for justification, is attended also with holiness of heart, for with the heart it is that we believe unto righteousness, (Rom. 10:10), so that condemnation is removed. Real faith is something more than head notions.
Ninthly. Every believer is a partaker of the Holy Ghost, for we receive the promise of the Spirit through faith, (Gal. 3:14). “Yes,” say you, “and so was Balaam, Saul, and others.” True, they did have many of his gifts, but he never took possession of their hearts. I will mention four things that he does in the heart of all God’s elect, that no mere professor, with all his boasted faith, ever had. 1. It is the Spirit that quickeneth. Every soul born into this world is spiritually dead, elect and reprobate, and none ever will have spiritual life given them but God’s elect; and where this life is, sin is at all times sorely felt, so that we groan under its burden. We have deeper and deeper discoveries of our own hearts, and are greatly concerned about our eternal state, and also of the end we shall make. Hence Solomon says, “The living (that is, those that are quickened by the Holy Ghost) will lay it to his heart,” (Eccl. 7:2); and all this you may clearly see in Bible saints. The publican smote upon his breast, David, Asaph, Paul, etc., all came into this path, but no hypocrite ever did. They have natural convictions, and may confess what is obvious to all. Their convictions are partial, but the others are full; they plentifully declare the thing as it is. Hypocrites confess to men, but God’s elect to God in secret. 2. The Holy Ghost will help the infirmities of God’s elect, and set them crying to God for mercy in the face of all opposition; not presumptuously, but in an entreating way. This you may see in Hezekiah; notwithstanding the predictions of the prophet, he cried unto the Lord. See Jacob also and the woman of Canaan. They shall come after him in chains, (Isa. 45:14), but hypocrites cry not when God binds them, (Job 36:13). Likewise also the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, and this he does with groanings, sighings, longings, thirstings, etc, etc. (Rom. 8:26), which are the best prayers, and which are sure to be heard and answered in God’s own time. 3. He will testify of Christ to such as an able, willing, and all-sufficient Saviour, just exactly suitable to his case; and at times there is such a keen appetite for him as it is impossible to describe. Hence one breaks out, With all my soul have I desired thee in the night, and with my spirit within me I will seek thee early, (Ps. 63:1,6); “my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God,” (Ps. 84:2). Job also, “Oh that I knew where I might find him! etc.,” (Job:23:3). 4. He not only testifies of Christ to us as to his suitability,, and gives us these holy longings, etc., but he reveals him, and makes him known to us as our Saviour; hence he is called the Spirit of revelation and understanding in the knowledge of Christ, (Eph. 1:17). As to all speculative knowledge of him, that is nothing; it never warms the heart or cheers the soul, but this does, for he applies the atonement, and reveals to us his righteousness as a free gift from God the Father to us; and therefore Paul says, “But God hath revealed them to us by his Spirit etc.,” (1 Cor. 2:10). He sheds the Father’s love abroad in our hearts, and enables us to claim him as our Father, witnessing the truth of our relationship, which before we could not claim. I know it is very easy for an insensible sinner to go to church, and say, “Our Father,” but for a sensible sinner, quickened by the Holy Ghost, to feel his true state under a consciousness of all his original and actual accumulated sin and guilt, like the prodigal in a far country, (Lk. 15), far from God by wicked works, I say, for such to lay this claim requires an Almighty power, as I myself can witness, and it is done by the Holy Ghost revealing Christ, and then bearing his witness with our spirit to our adoption in him. It is love casting out all slavish fear, and nothing short of it, that will enable us so to do. Love is shed abroad into every faculty of the soul by the Holy Ghost given to us. You and I must take notice and remember that there may be love, and yet that love not be as yet shed abroad in the heart; hence we read of some that love little, and of others that love much. Bless God for ever so little, and pray that we may love much, or have it shed abroad, and this love is in Christ Jesus, (Rom. 8:39). Thus the Holy Spirit takes of the things of Jesus and shows them to us, (John 16:14).
Now, is there any Antinomianism in all this? No, God forbid! Paul tells us that God hath called us to holiness, and not unto uncleanness; and it is clear from the Holy Scriptures that holiness is joined with fear, with faith, and with love, all of which is the work of the Holy Ghost in every chosen vessel, (see 2Cor. 7:1; Isa. 11:2; Jude 20,21 etc.).
I come, therefore, to the tenth thing, and that is the very profession which we make, for this is called the profession of faith: “Hold fast the profession of your faith without wavering etc.” (Heb. 10:23). Thus here is faith and a profession of it; but every one that nameth the name of Christ is exhorted to depart from iniquity; so that it must go along with a good conscience.
Eleventh. Prayer. Whatsoever ye ask, ask in faith, (Matt. 21:22). There is mental prayer and social prayer. We are told to unite with all such, “as call on the Lord out of a pure heart,” (2 Tim. 2:22); Antinomian, with all his faith never had that faith which purifies the heart. Thus a good conscience goes with faith.
Twelfth. “The tongue of the just is as choice as silver,” (Prov. 10:20), says Solomon. Their very conversation has to do with a good conscience, for a good tree bringeth forth good fruit. “A good man, out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good,” (Luke 6:45). Make the tree good, and the fruit will be good also, Matt. 12:33). A just man is a believer and lives by his faith, and the good treasure is grace in his heart, which he tells to all he is with who fear God. Peter calls it holy conversation, (1 Pet. 1:15). “He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the King shall be his friend,” (Prov. 22:11), that is, King Jesus, who is set on the holy hill of Zion, or the hearts and affections of his people, a true, “friend that sticketh closer than a brother,” (Prov. 18:24). And as they still have an old man that is ever labouring in union with Satan and this world to draw them aside, the furnace is always ready to purge, cleanse, and purify them. All vain and foolish conversation, with every other evil, is prohibited. (See Eph. 5:4). Thus, you see, a good conscience produces good conversation, and the furnace is intended to keep conscience good.
Thirteenth. Faith is a grace of the Holy Spirit; but this grace, although full and free, without money and without price, and which is sovereign, neither can a believer that has it once ever lose it or finally sin himself out of the covenant of grace, for it ever shall reign in spite of Satan, sin, and death, yet it does not lead to a loose life, but has to do with a good conscience. See how Samuel, Job, and Paul could stand upon this ground before men. Samuel says to the Israelites, “Whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? etc.,” (1 Sam. 12:3). Job also When the eye saw it blessed me. I caused the widow’s heart to leap for joy. I delivered the poor man when he cried, and plucked the spoil out of the teeth of the oppressor, (Job 29:11-17). And Paul, “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, etc.,” (Acts 20:33). Thus grace influences the heart, and is attended with a good conscience. Peter says, “Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak against you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ,” (1 Pet. 3:16). And although a believer in Christ has an old man in him that is opposite to all this, and which is daily calling for gratification in one way or another, yet this is not his element, but the grief of his soul; and could you follow him narrowly, you would find him struggling hard after a holy life, walk and conversation. He cannot be content with believing that Christ has done all and so sit down contented. Oh, no. He is ever upon the move, and wishes, yea, labours to glorify God in this world, to speak good of his name; and therefore, when an opportunity offers, you will sometimes find him enforcing the truth to worldly men, such as will give him an ear, for he does not know but that some of God’s elect will be amongst them, not as yet brought out of the ruins of the fall, and he hopes that God will bless him as an instrument in his hand to the awakening of some of them; and all this arises from a good conscience. Again, when he leaves his work, you will not find him keeping company with the world any further than he can help, but he feels like a bird let out of a cage to get to his God. He is led to examine himself how he has gone on in the day, and as far as he sees he has done wrong, he tries to confess to the Lord, and debases himself before him; for he is sure upon examination to find plenty wrong. After confession he pleads the atonement of Christ, and that the holy Spirit would lead him forth in faith to the fountain of Christ’s blood, opened for sin and all uncleanness, (Zech. 13:1), and to Christ Jesus, who is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth, (Rom. 10:4); and he is led to watch what change there is in his feelings; if sin burdened, whether the weight is removed; if in bondage, whether liberty comes; if cast down, whether raised up; if cold to spiritual things, whether his heart gets warm with a live coal from the altar; if barren, whether he is made more fruitful; and if unbelief and enmity work, he confesses it, falls in heartily with God’s testimony of the fall of man, and prays the Lord to fulfill in him the good pleasure of his goodness and the work of faith with power, and to circumcise his heart to love him, and to teach him to love his family; and if he does not succeed at this work, he will follow it up, knowing that the Lord loves importunity. And all this is the good Spirit working in him, who will not let him rest, go where he will, but opens up and discovers his need to him continually; so that if he do not succeed, he will read the Bible and other good books, hear the Word, and unite with real experienced saints, still hoping to find him whom his soul loveth. Look at Job. He went forward, backward, on the right hand and on the left, but could not see him, (Job 23:8,9); and the church in the Song of Solomon sought him on her bed; she went about the city, in the streets and in the broadways, and yet she did not find him. Then she asked the watchman, and shortly after, when she had passed from them, that is, was brought off from trusting to or idolizing them, she finds him whom her soul loveth, holds him fast, and will not let him go, (Song 3:1-4). Now, I am not saying that a believer never deviates from thus following after the Lord. No; he knows he does, to his sorrow; but this I will insist on, that there is no making straight paths for our feet to the neglect of this and much more that might be asserted; and the more this method is followed up the better, for it is the way to follow the Lord fully, like Joshua and Caleb; but when this is neglected, you may cry, “My leanness, my leanness,” (Isa. 24:16), long enough. God’s elect work harder than any Arminians, but it is from a principle of life in their souls. It is from a good conscience, which is kept good in all these ways that I have mentioned and many more; but the Arminian works to get life, and thus they widely differ.
Lastly upon this head. It is very common for people to say, this is a good man, and the other is a good man, and the other is a good man; but do you know that God alone is the fountain of all goodness? In the days of our Lord’s flesh, there came to him a young man saying, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God,” (Matt. 19:16,17). Now this man only believed Christ to be a man. He had no faith in him as the living and true God; and as he had no faith but natural, which was corrupt, our Lord says, “Why callest thou me good? for there is none good but God, and you only view me as a mere man.” Now, God is, as before observed, the fountain of all goodness, and therefore every believer has a Trinity of Persons in his heart, and it is this that makes conscience good and makes the man a good man, for short of God there is nothing good; and from God in Three Persons taking possession of the heart arises all that I have told you about a good conscience by the fall, as I have shown, is evil. Now, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost condescend to come into the heart: 1. The Father dwells with the broken and contrite heart, and revives the spirit of the humble, (Isa. 57:15); 2. Christ dwells in the heart by faith, for he says, “I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me,” (Rev. 3:20); and 3. “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?” (1 Cor. 6:19). As God has said, “I will dwell in them and walk in them,” (2 Cor. 6:16). So that those who deny a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead, the devil has as good a conscience as they.
Having treated a little about faith; and a good conscience, and also that conscience concerns faith, I now proceed to:
3. The dreadful consequences of putting away conscience. This never can, strictly speaking, be the case with any of God’s elect, and for this reason: you never find that ever any one of them made shipwreck. But, say you, they often backslide. I grant it, for I feel daily; but to put away conscience wholly they never do. We all secretly backslide. Solomon says, “there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not,” (Eccl. 7:20); but he also says, “a just man falleth seven times, and riseth again,” (Prov. 24:16). Some have backslidden openly, as Solomon, David, Peter, and others, and for a time got hardened through the deceitfullness of sin; yes, and for a time put away conscience, but not for good and all. Lust is such a powerful thing that, if God leave a man for a time, he is sure to be captivated by it, even at the expense of a good conscience; but to real believers it is attended with dreadful consequences, for, although God will forgive them, yet he will take vengeance of their inventions, (Ps. 99:8), and they shall sorely smart for what they do. What did Solomon suffer for his idolatry? Why, the loss of ten tribes, besides being filled with cruel jealousy, one of the hottest ingredients in the furnace of affliction, and that by Jeroboam his servant. Hence he says, “Jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame,” (Song 8:6). Therefore, he sought to kill Jeroboam; and speaking his own bitter experience, he says again, “Jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance….neither will he rest content, though thou givest many gifts,” (Prov. 6: 34,35). Solomon came at all this through putting away conscience. God made good his Word, where he says, “They have moved me to jealousy by that which is not God…and I will move them to jealousy with those that are not a people,” (Deut. 32:21). God is a jealous God, and will not give his glory to any, nor his praise to graven images, (Isa. 42:8). You see it is an evil and bitter thing to sin against God. David his father also, after that dreadful fall which opened the mouths of God’s enemies, what did he suffer in his soul? We may see it in Psalm 51, “Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God,” (verse 14); and again, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me,” (verses 10,11). And again, the Lord says, Because thou hast done this, and occasioned the enemies of God to blaspheme, the sword shall never depart from thy house, (2 Sam. 12:14,10). Peter also. Oh what did he feel when he went out and wept bitterly? (Lk. 22:62). And also when Christ asked him three times whether he loved him, it is said that, “Peter was grieved,” (John 21:17), grieved that the Lord should suspect his love or appear to do so. Thus you see the dreadful consequences some of God’s elect have found by putting away conscience; but all these were reclaimed, so that they did not finally put it away. But a question naturally arises. If those that make shipwreck never had a good conscience, how can they put it away? To this I answer, that although they had not a good conscience, yet they professed that they had, for the unclean spirit went out of them for a time, and they united with the godly. According to all appearance such go on very consistently, and, seeing God only can search the heart, you and I cannot tell by their outward conduct but that they have a good conscience; for, as they appear heartily to believe the same truths, how is it possible to find them out? But at last the trial comes which before never had come.
I will now show you from God’s Word who put away conscience altogether; the first I shall mention is Cain. Cain made a profession of the truth as well as Abel, and each brought an offering to the Lord. Cain brought of the fruits of the earth, for he was a tiller of the ground, and Abel, “brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell…..and Cain talked with Abel his brother,” (Gen. 4: 4,5,8). Now, all this time he had hard work within. However, he was determined to put away conscience, and therefore he rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. Well, after this you find the dreadful consequences of it; for God says, “And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; when thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth,” (Gen. 4: 11,12). But that was not all, for John tells us that he belonged to the devil, and did his works: “Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous,” (1 John 3:12). Evil works always arise from an evil conscience. John tells us, “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil,” (1 John 3:10). Jude brings this in also, and pronounces the woe of God’s wrath against him and all that tread in his steps, (Jude 11). Thus you see that it is no trifling matter to put away conscience.
Another that I shall take notice of is Balaam. Balaam was a man of great light, knowledge, and understanding, and appears to have been a man greatly looked up to. Now, Israel pitched in the plains of Moab, and Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many. Balak, the son of Zippor, was king of the Moabites at that time; he sent for Balaam to curse Israel, and made him very great promises, that he would promote him to honour. Now, here was the trial. Sacrifice conscience and be a great man, or abide by conscience and come to beggary; for reason can make nothing more of it. Balaam therefore put conscience away, which concerns faith, and laboured hard, vainly trying to tempt God to curse a people that he had already blessed; but he found out that God was not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent, (Num. 23:19). Now, nothing of this was done in ignorance, for we are told that the Spirit of God came upon him, that his eyes were opened, that he heard the words of God, and saw the vision of the Almighty. It was wholly for want of power in Balaam, and no want of will that he did not curse Israel: “I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD my God, etc.” (Num. 22:18). The first time we read of his putting away conscience was when he went to ask God, at the very time that he knew God’s mind and will respecting Israel; for God did tell him, “Thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed,” (Num. 22:12); and when Balak made him such a great offer, he puts conscience away, and says to the princes, “Tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will say unto me more,” (Num. 22:19). You see what a dreadful thing it is to break through bounds. God answered him, and told him to go with the men; Balaam went, and God’s anger was kindled against him for it. For the Angel of the Lord appeared to him with drawn sword in his hand, to show him that his way was perverse before God. Still, in the face of all, he puts conscience away, and builds more altars; but after all, finding that he could not turn God to curse so many thousands of people to enrich Balaam, he then advises Balak to lay a stumbling-block in their way. “And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab…….And the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods,” Num. 25: 1,2). John tells us that all this was through Balaam still putting away conscience. Hence, he says, that Balaam taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication, (Rev. 2:14). There was the wisdom of the serpent, intending to stir up God’s wrath to curse the people for their abominations. And God sent a plague upon Israel, and there died twenty four thousand. After this, Balaam joins Midian to fight against Israel, and then comes his end. “And (Israel) slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword,” (Num. 31:8). “Woe unto them! for they ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward,” (Jude 11), “Which have forsaken the right way (or put away conscience), and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam, who loved the wages of unrighteousness,” (2 Pet. 2:15). “These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever,” (2 Pet. 2:17).
We have an account of another sort which put away conscience, and that is, Korah and his company: “And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown,” (Num. 16:2). There is an encouragement for every poor tried soul. All characters I have been treating of, that have put away conscience, are great men. They are not poor, broken-hearted, weak, and helpless; no; and Mr. Huntington used to say, “They are all great men that the devil sends. He seldom sends understrappers.” And thus it was here; “famous, and men of renown;” “And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them,” (Num. 16:3). And when Moses, heard it, he fell upon his face, and spake to the sons of Korah, Seemeth it but a small thing that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation to do the service of the tabernacle, etc., and seek ye the priesthood also? (Num. 16: 4-10). But is spite of all, they were determined to put away conscience, till at last, in answer to Moses prayer, the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They and all that appertained to them went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them. And then came out a fire from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense, (Num. 16). From all which, reader, may you and I learn to take the lowest room, to encourage a tender conscience, and never be aiming at high things.
I will treat a little about King Saul. The first account that we have of his putting away conscience was when he forced himself, and offered a burnt-offering through the fear of man, because Samuel delayed his coming, (1 Sam. 13:12). Saul knew in his conscience that he ought to have waited for Samuel, but he was determined to put that away, and therefore forced himself. “And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee……But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart,” (1 Sam. 13:13,14). And if you look narrowly after Saul, you will find that he continually went on putting away conscience. God expressly told him to go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they had; but Saul, contrary to God and conscience, spared Agag and the best of the sheep, etc., under the pretence of sacrificing them to the Lord; but the prophet Samuel told him that to obey was better than sacrifice, and that rebellion was as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness as iniquity and idolatry, (1 Sam. 15:23). Yet even after this he kept on, as you may read, and, against God and conscience, pursued after David and sought his life, although he knew well that David acted uprightly to him, till at last he destroyed himself and went to hell, for no self-murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
In our Lord’s days, we may see conscience put away by the Jewish Scribes and Pharisees, the very worst enemies our Lord had. Now what made these peoples’ sins so very great was, they did it in enmity, with open eyes. You and I know that, amongst men, a crime is lessened or aggravated this way. If you are a friend to me, and I offend you, but not intentionally, it is nothing to what it would be if I did it knowingly and designedly. This we all know is criminal to the last degree; and this was their case. God was a friend to them in giving them the things of this world, for this he does to all men. Hence you read that he loveth the stranger by giving him food and raiment, health and strength, etc., (Deut. 10:18); but for all this they hated that God in whose hand their breath was, and not ignorantly, no: “now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father,” (John 15:24). They knew in their own consciences that Christ was the Messiah. His miracles carried clear evidence to all that he was the Sent of God, and they had all the prophecies of the Holy Word; so that they did it with open eyes. Hence Christ told them, “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin,” (John 15:24), that is, they would not have had the sin unto death, “but now they have no cloak for their sin,” (John 15:22). Thus they sinned willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, etc., (Heb. 10:26). But did they really know it when they did it? If so, why does Paul say that, “none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory,” (1 Cor. 2:8)? You do not understand Paul’s meaning. Take the whole two verses in connection: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory; which (hidden wisdom) none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it (this hidden wisdom experimentally) they would not have crucified the Lord of glory,” (1 Cor. 2:7,8). This is the real unstrained sense of the text; but as to their knowing that he was the Messiah this is beyond all doubt. Hence they said, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours,” (Mk. 12:7); and Nicodemus, as a mouth for the rest, said, “We know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him,” (John 3:2). Thus they put away a good conscience which concerns faith. Moreover, at his first being apprehended, when Judas came with the rest, they all felt his power, and fell backward, (John 18:6). This violent shock confirmed his almighty power, and this they well knew. Also at his crucifixion, when all the powers of nature were shaken, (Matt. 27:50-53). Was not all this enough to prove that he was the Sent of God? Yes, but they wanted no proof, for they were determined to resist all light and the clearest convictions of conscience. Well, after this, the next day, “the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command, therefore, that the sepulcher be made sure, etc.” (Matt. 27:62-64). Here was a little of the wisdom of the serpent. But, “In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week….there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat upon it….and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men,” (Matt. 28:1-4). After this, some of the watch showed unto the chief priests all the things that were done, (Matt. 28:11), about the earthquake, about the angel rolling away the stone and sitting on it, about their shaking, and also what the angel said to the women, “He is risen, as he said,” (Matt. 28:6). Well, and do not they fall under all this, and agree with conscience? No; they are fully determined to put it away. Why, what can they do now? Why they make lies their refuge, and under falsehood they try to hide themselves, (see Matt. 28:12-15); and they kept on putting away conscience, for they resisted the testimony of the Holy Ghost continually, after the Lord’s ascension, till they brought down the vindictive wrath of God, for wrath came upon them to the uttermost, (1 Thess. 2:16). But I shall not enlarge, for all this you may read in the Word. You see the awful consequences of putting way conscience which concerns faith.
We have another instance of two people that put away conscience which concerns faith, through the love of money, or covetousness. It was universally agreed upon by the church of God in those primitive days to have all things in common, seeing that for the cause of Christ they were dreadfully persecuted, and could not go on with business as before, being rejected of men for Christ’s sake; so that now the whole church was like one family. Yet even in these days there were two hypocrites whom the devil sowed amongst the wheat, Ananias and Sapphira, who must have gone a good way in appearance to deceive the church of God, which was blessed at that time with an abundance of the Spirit. Well, it is said that they sold a possession, and they agreed together to put conscience away, for if this is attended to, they will fare no better than the rest; but if conscience is put away, which is easily done by keeping back part of the price, then, instead of losing by selling the possession they will gain by it, for they would have their share with the church out of the common stock, besides what they keep back, which will always be useful for various things. Now we do not find them putting faith away, and saying, If believing these things must come to this, selling one’s possession, I will have no more of your faith, but keep what I have; no; but it appears that it was more to their advantage to put away conscience. No doubt all these things had been canvassed over by them. (see Acts 5:1-11).
We might take notice of others. Peter speaks of some in his Second Epistle, and Jude also, which you may read at our leisure.
From what has been said, then, beware of taking liberties with conscience, for it is not to be played with. Satan will tell you that being so particular with conscience is legality. Be it so. Then let us be legal, if it be legality. I have already told you that the apostle Paul exercised himself to have a conscience void of offence towards God and towards men, (Acts 24:16). Joseph, who was tempted by his mistress, says, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). Nehemiah tells us that he would not oppress the people as the former governors did, because of the fear of the Lord, (Neh. 5:15). It is also said in praise of that good king Josiah, that his heart was tender, etc. (2 Kings 22:19). Again, beware of slighting any ordinance that you know God has enjoined upon you. To reject it is being wise in your own conceit, (Rom. 12:16), and being wise above what is written. Deviate from any one thing which you see that God has commanded in his Word, and it is at the expense of conscience. I know all these things will not go down with many in the present day. We have a corrupt nature, that is against a good conscience; but self is to be denied and the cross taken up, if we wish to hold a good conscience, and not put it away.
Now, Christian reader, you will not find all this easy work; no; but opposition on all hands. A sound creed in the head, while men walk in the imagination of their evil heart, oppressing, grinding the face of the poor, cheating, taking all advantages, etc., this loose way of living may be easy enough, until God upsets such altogether, which will most assuredly take place; for although judgment is slow, yet it is sure, and such shall not escape.
But this brings me to:
4. What putting away a good conscience is, and what all such faith will terminate in, namely, shipwreck. You read of the hope of unjust men, that perisheth. This is a bad anchor which never can keep the vessel from going into perdition. Hence you read of the perdition of ungodly men, and of some who are drowned in destruction and perdition. Now, the non-elect, you see, have an anchor, but it is of no use in a storm. The elect of God have an anchor also. Hence Paul says, “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil,” (Heb. 6:19). All God’s elect are self-emptied, and brought clearly out from all confidence in the flesh. They then feel their souls sinking, having all their former hopes and refuges of lies demolished; but the Holy Spirit sets Jesus Christ before them, as the one and only way, and they are enabled to embrace him, the Rock, for want of a shelter. There it is they cast anchor, for he is now the object of their hope, so that they never can be drowned in destruction and perdition. This hope, the anchor, centers in the Godhead of Christ, which is within the veil, the vail being his humanity. Here and here only a soul is safe in every storm; as you read, “A man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, etc.” (Isa. 32:2). Again, “Thou hast been a strength to the poor, (that is, the self-emptied soul), a strength to the needy in his distress, (that is, one that feels he needs all that Christ has to bestow), a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones, (devils, men, and corruptions) is as a storm against the wall,” (Isa. 25:4). Now, a good hope in Christ is the anchor which holds the vessel of mercy, so that she will ride every storm, though not without numberless fears. But where do the non-elect anchor? I answer that all open profane characters take anchor in a god all mercy, which the devil has set up in their imaginations; and if they at any time of their life have performed any dead works, all the better for them they think. But some think of nothing at all, having their consciences seared as with a hot iron. Again, there are others of the non-elect that anchor wholly in their own performances, and appear to go on well for a long time; but they cannot end well, because such an anchor will give way. It is a bad anchor, and they will find out that trusting in their works will be as a spider’s web; “Whose hope shall be cut off, and whose trust shall be as a spider’s web,” (Job 8:14). The prophet Isaiah also speaks of these. Hence he calls it a bed too short and a covering too narrow, (Isa. 28:20), and says, “Woe to the rebellious children……that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin,” (Isa.. 30:1). But there is another sort which far exceed these; and to such Paul I believe particularly alludes to our text, namely, hypocrites in Zion, who for a time flourish. Isaiah calls such gallant ships, (Isa. 33:21). These are sinners in Zion, hypocrites. They are in Zion, or in the Church of God, professedly; in Christ also by profession; and such have a faith in the letter of sound truth, as I showed you at first; yes, and they have a counterfeit experience, which deceives the children of God for a while; and thus they go on full sail, having gifts and abilities, and a false experience, some of them ignorantly, and some knowingly and willfully; but sooner or later they will make shipwreck. Hymeneus and Alexander were of this stamp, according to Paul’s account; and what a length must they have gone in a pretension to truth to deceive Paul? But you will say, what is it to make shipwreck? I believe that shipwreck is when a ship is so broken that it is useless. The word, “shipwreck,” I only find twice mentioned in Scripture. The one is in our text, and the other is where Paul says, “Thrice I suffered shipwreck,” (2 Cor. 11:25). We have an account of Paul’s perilous voyage in the Acts, from which, if you read it carefully, you will understand what he means by shipwreck: “And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmovable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves,” (Acts 27:41). As you read in the Psalms, “Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind,” (Ps. 48:7). It is said of Jonah’s voyage, “the ship was like to be broken,” (Jon. 1:4). From all which it is evident, that shipwreck is when forcible winds, or striking upon rocks, etc., break a ship to pieces. But let us a little consider spiritually how such are shipwrecked who put conscience away, which concerns faith. God brings such into heavy troubles and calamities, which before they were strangers to, and then they find out their deception. Everything they once pretended to now gives way when most needed. Had they an imputed righteousness, that would stand fast,, for that is the hope of righteousness which is by faith, (Gal. 5:5), but instead of that they find that they only talked about it, as the man no doubt did that we read of in the Gospel, who had not the wedding-garment, (Matt. 22:11,12). Faith that there is such a robe to put on, and having the robe on oneself, are different things. This righteousness ever will be a breastplate, and guard the heart of a vessel of mercy. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness,” (Rom. 10:10). There is a false peace, a feigned faith, feigned words for self ends, false hope, a light that is darkness, attended with secret enmity to the real saints of God. Such are hard-hearted, double-minded, or carrying two faces. They waver. Sometimes they are for truth, and then again for error; and James says, “He that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed,” (James 1:6). Now here such are. All their religion lies in their heads; and not being in union with Christ, they are sure, let their attainments be whatever they may, to make shipwreck.
The love of God is a root: “Being rooted and grounded in love,” (Eph. 3:17). But these have no root in themselves, and although they endure for a while, yet, when the sun of persecution waxes hot, or, to speak agreeably to our text, when the flood of ungodly men make such gallant ships afraid, as they did King Saul, then they are scorched; and because they have no root they wither away, or make shipwreck. All their profession comes to naught, tumbling about their ears. I tremble while I write, knowing so well what such must feel; but although I have often expected myself that I should make shipwreck, yet God, in mercy to my soul, has hitherto kept me.
Although such for a time may have been what is called morally honest, yet now a trying providence coming more and more on, they cast away conscience, and do not act uprightly at all. They call all those that do so legal, and say, “Ah! poor soul, thou art not in the liberty of the Gospel.” Here Mr. Hart was for a time, “lost all regard of right and wrong;” and thought the more he could sin without remorse the greater hero he was in faith. Oh, what lengths Satan would drive us all to, if he could! But God was pleased to preserve this vessel of mercy, and give him true repentance. Yet, for all that, these are the leading steps to apostasy, or to making shipwreck.
Finally, such characters are conscious more or less that they are not what they have professed to be, and they are looking out for the wrath of God. “The expectation of the wicked is wrath,” (Prov. 11:23). What has made the vessel sail so well and so long has been the common gifts of the Spirit, which are given to servants as well as to sons, as you may see by the prophet Ezekiel, (46:17). These, without grace will puff a man up. Now, under all these attainments the conscience remains the same, unpurged; and very often, when these gifts wither, having nothing within (no good treasure in the heart and no union to Christ)to keep them alive, then such either go back into this world, as Demas did, or else into error, as Balaam did, casting off conscience altogether. Reader, see well to the groundwork in all thy profession. Examine thyself. Remember that the mystery of faith must be in a pure conscience, (1 Tim 3:9). See that thou hast these four things: 1. The fear of God. Have nothing to do with such as would tell thee that perfect love casts out filial fear, but as an adopted son, “be thou in the fear of the LORD all the day long,” (Prov. 23:17). 2. Encourage a tender conscience, lest thou gettest hardened through the deceitfullness of sin, (Heb. 3:13). 3. Cleave close to Christ Jesus. Moses told Israel, “Ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day,” (Deut. 4:4). 4. Let thy delight be as David’s was, with the saints and with those that excel in virtue, (Ps. 16:3); for, “he that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness…..and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes,” (1 John 2:10,11).
Thus have I got through the subject in much weakness, often wishing I never had begun it, feeling myself so foolish, so unfit; often tempted to give it all up. May the Lord bless this feeble attempt, and enable us all constantly to press on after those things that will make us useful and fruitful in our day, that will stand by us in a dying hour, and which we shall take with us to eternal glory, I mean the foretaste and firstfruits of the glorious harvest.