« ÎnapoiContinuați »
of the heathens, even although they had been more numerous and more perfect than they are? What makes some men so feelingly alive to their reputation, while, without scruple, they accuse of hypocrisy persons around them, who are far more virtuous even than Socrates; and, in support of this charge, are ready enough to tell us that the external appearance is of no avail, if the motives are corrupt? It is easy to assert that the motives of heathens were pure; but it is as easy to prove that they were not and could not be pure, ignorant, as they were, of the true religion and destitute of the grace of God. The words of Peter to Cornelius have been often quoted, to prove that the works of heathens are pleasing to God, as well as those of Christians; but they are grossly perverted. “Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons ; but, in every nation, he that feareth him and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him.'' Any person who considers the context, will see that they do not teach that men of every nation may work righteousness; but that, to whatever nation those who work righteousness belong, they are accepted. No two things can be more different; and that the latter is the true meaning is evident, because the apostle is speaking in reference to the prejudices of the Jews, who believed that they were the objects of the Divine favour, to the exclusion of every other people. This he now discovered to be an error; for, in the case of Cornelius, God had shown, that if there were any righteous Gentiles, they also were acceptable to him. But Cornelius, let it be remembered, was not such a Gentile as Socrates, or Cato, or Aristides, but one who knew the true God, and worshipped him.
There is one qualification remaining, which may be thought necessary to the goodness of our works, namely, that they should be perfect; for it may be said, that since the law of God requires them to be perfect, any defect will change their character, and render them sins rather than duties. Now, it is acknowledged that all the works of the saints are imperfect. There is not one of them who can truly say, that he loves God with all his heart; or that, in the full sense of the expression, he loves his neighbour as himself. The flesh lusts against the spirit, and impedes its operations. The regenerated have been compared to a man lately recovered from sickness, whose motions are feeble and languid; and hence, there is something in their best works for which they might be rejected. But let it be observed, that although the works of the saints do not exactly correspond with the demands of the law, they do not labour under any essential defect. The principle is right, and the motive is right. The defect lies only in degree. They are not perfectly good, but still they are good. They are so far conformable to the requisitions of the law, but not to the full extent: they are acts of obedience to the will of the Lawgiver. The metal is not free from alloy, but it is gold. Imperfect works would be certainly rejected, if offered as the ground of justification, because, in this case, a righteousness without a single flaw is the indispensable condition; but, when viewed in another light they are approved, because there is much in them which is pleasing to God. To this should be added, that they are presented to him through the mediation of his Son. For his sake, what is evil is forgiven; and what is good, being recommended by his merit and intercession, comes up before the throne of heaven as incense, and as the evening sacrifice.
Good works are incumbent upon the followers of Christ without distinction. From some civil duties persons of certain orders and professions are exempted, in compliment to them or from the necessity of the case; but the authority of the law of God has no limits, and none are too high or too low to be subject to its operation : “ This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they who have believed in God be careful to main
Acts x. 34, 35.
tain good works; these things are good and profitable unto men."* It may be observed, however, that all good works are not formally incumbent upon all; but that, while some are universally obligatory, others are binding only in particular circumstances. Works of justice, temperance, and piety, are required from all without exception, because no situation can occur in which it could be justifiable to refrain from worshipping our Maker, to indulge irregular appetite, or to defraud and injure our neighbour. But every man is not bound to give alms, because some are so poor as to be themselves the objects of charity; and there are many duties which arise out of the relations of men to one another, and which therefore cannot be demanded from those who do not stand in such relations. He fulfils his duty, who endeavours to glorify God and to do good to men, by the faithful exertion of the powers conferred upon him and the diligent improvement of the opportunities which he enjoys, by moving in his own sphere and performing the particular service which the Master of the household has assigned to him.
Every person has it in his power to perform good works. I do not mean that he has by nature moral ability, but that he has means and opportunities. of possible things there are some which one man can do, and another cannot; and of duties, as we have seen, some are not incumbent upon all, but are required only in particular circumstances; but there is no person, however obscure his station and limited his powers, who is under the necessity of remaining inactive. Every man may practise self-command, and every man ought to cultivate piety towards God, and charity towards his brethren. There is not an individual who is not somehow connected with others, and is not called to some relative duties. If he has nothing to bestow in the form of alms, and no influence to exert in behalf of the temporal interests of his brethren, he can give them his good offices and good counsels; and these are comprehended under the denomination of good works as well as more substantial deeds; for what we speak, as well as what we do, falls under the prescription of the law, and God is glorified both by our words and by our actions. Where is the man who may not speak a word in commendation of religion, or for the instruction and consolation of his acquaintance and strangers ? It is surely a good work to communicate knowledge to the ignorant, to silence the gainsayer, to reclaim the backslider, to warn the tempted, to cheer the melancholy, and to encourage the dying. If a man were living in a solitude, he might still perform acceptable works; for he could there mortify his appetites and passions, improve his graces, carry on his necessary labours in the spirit of religion, meditate plans for the good of his fellow-men if he should ever again mix with society, and make the desert resound with the voice of prayer and praise.
This leads me to remark, that there are many good works existing in their first principles which are never brought to perfection, but which the eye of God beholds with approbation. Such are the benevolent purposes and pious wishes of the saints, springing from love to God and to man, which are not matured from the want of circumstances favourable to their development and growth. As there is much evil which never assumes a sensible form, so there is much good which never attracts human observation. But He sees it who searches the heart; and as in some cases he has taken public notice of it in his word, so we may believe that it will be made known in the day when all secrets shall be revealed, as no small part of the goodness by which his people will then be distinguished. - The Lord said to David my father, Forasmuch as it was in thine heart to build an house for my name, thou didst well in that it was in thine heart.”+ Good intentions, although they should fail to accom
* Tit. ii. 8.
+ 2 Chron. vi. 8.
plish their object, are not lost. They are treasured up in heaven, and will receive their reward. “ If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted, according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not."'*
There are two extremes with respect to good works, into which men have been betrayed through the perverseness of their hearts, and ignorance of the truth. Some have ascribed merit to them, and represented them as the procuring cause of justification and eternal life; and others, totally mistaking the design of those passages which declare them to be useless for a particular purpose, have rejected them as altogether unnecessary, and pronounced it to be dangerous to inculcate them. In the days of the apostle James there were persons of this description, who trusted in an unproductive faith; and even our own age has given birth to Antinomian teachers, who, in their injudicious zeal against those who oppose the law to grace, exalt grace upon the ruins of the law. These men give great countenance to the objection against justification by faith, that it weakens the obligations to holiness, and supersedes the necessity of it
. They are appealed to as living proofs that the objection is true. But we have formerly seen that there is no foundation for it in the doctrine when scripturally stated.
Antinomianism is indignantly exploded by all the enlightened friends of the gospel, and their due place is assigned to good works in the system of religion. But it seems to have tainted the minds of not a few who in words disavow it, as we may infer from the suspicion or dislike with which they view expositions of moral duties, and the desire which they discover to be always entertained with discourses on the peculiar doctrines of Christianity. The time was, when the minister who explained and enforced relative duties in detail was heard with a jealous ear, and was in danger of being assailed with the accusation of legalism. This unfounded prejudice, I believe, is passing away; but it still retains its influence upon the weak and ignorant. Good works should always be inculcated upon Christian principles; and when they are placed upon a proper foundation, and enjoined for the ends which the Scriptures point out, they are an important and necessary part of public instruction. Ministers should "affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works.”+ This is the command of Paul, and he does not act in his spirit, who, intimidated by popular clamour; always insists on doctrinal topics. In this case he pleases not God but man. The ignorance which finds fault with him is entitled to no respect, and if the censure is dictated, as in some cases we have reason to suspect, by a worse principle—the disinclination of the human heart to holiness, and the presumptuous hope of salvation without it—it should be treated with the contempt which it deserves. When men would separate what Christ has joined together, and set one part of his religion in opposition to another, the audacious attempt should rouse the holy zeal of all the friends and defenders of the truth. By the same authority which explodes or throws into the shade one part of the system, the other may be subjected to the same dishonourable usage. If one class of men demand faith to the exclusion of works, another may as reasonably demand works to the exclusion of faith. He is a wise steward, who arranges every thing in its proper place, and brings it forth in its order and season. He is a faithful minister, who inquires not what are the fancies and tastes of his audience, but what is the truth; and regardless of human censure or applause, fearlessly teaches men “10 observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded them."
It has been sometimes said, that it is unnecessary to be particular in inculcating good works, because if men are brought to believe in Christ, obedience will certainly follow. This sage remark supposes that divine grace operates upon believers, not agreeably to their rational nature, by instruction, exhortation and admonition, but instinctively, and contrary to the plan which is actually adopted in the dispensation of religion, where there is an ample provision of means for promoting the sanctification of the soul; and what is more, it represents those parts of Scripture as useless in which duties are detailed and enforced, our Lord as having spent his strength in vain while he was preaching his sermon on the mount, and the apostles as having filled up with moral lessons a considerable space in their Epistles, which would have been more usefully occupied with doctrinal discussions. The opinion which leads to such conclusions is worse than absurd.
* 2 Cor. viii. 12.
+ Tit. iii. 8.
Connexion of this Subject with the Preceding Lectures-Nature of Conscience-Its Office
Its Fallibility—The Rule of Conscience, the Will of God— The Scriptures the only Rule to Believers-Their Adequacy and Supremacy as such-Authority of an Erring Con. science-God alone the Lord of Conscience.
Having finished what I intended to say on the three great privileges of be. lievers in Christ, justification, adoption, and sanctification, I deem this the proper place to introduce some observations on Conscience, which is intimately connected with those privileges. Two things are necessary with regard to it: that it should be freed from a sense of guilt, which is the cause of great disquietude and alarm; and that it should be purified from the errors and corruptions by which its right exercise is impeded. The first effect is produced in justification, when the sinner is pardoned, and, through faith, is filled with peace and joy; the second is the work of sanctification, in which the illumination of the mind, and the mortification of unholy appetites and passions, give it new ability and new liberty to execute its functions with fidelity.
Let us begin with inquiring into the import of the term. Conscience is the Latin word in an English form, and conscientia is a literal translation of the Greek word ouvednois. Both terms evidently import something more than simple knowledge, which would have been expressed by scientia and Satis. Compounded as they are with prepositions which signify with, they suggest the idea of conjunct knowledge; and this has been explained in various ways. This power, say some, is called conscience, because it conjoins knowledge with knowledge-universal knowledge, namely, of the law, with particular knowledge, namely, of the fact, by applying the one to the other. Thus, after a man has done a certain action, he reasons in the following manner: I know that such an action is forbidden by the law of God; I know that I have done this action, and therefore I have committed a sin. This process tion of conscience; and it consists in bringing together our knowledge of the law and our knowledge of our own conduct. Others explain the matter, or at least express it, somewhat differently, calling conscience the knowledge which a man has with himself as with another; by which they mean, I presume-for their language is awkward and obscure—that conscience consists in the knowledge of our actions, and a comparison of them with the standard of duty in our
is an opera
own minds. Another mode of explaining the term, is to consider the conjunct knowledge of which it is expressive, as referring to the knowlege of men and the knowledge of God, and intimating that both are employed about our actions. While we know, God knows them; and of this important fact it is the office of conscience to remind us. There are two witnesses of every thing we do, our own consciousness, and the Great Being in whose presence we always are.
Conscience ought not to be confounded with consciousness. The latter term denotes our knowledge of what is passing in our minds, and does not relate to external things. I am conscious of my own existence, but am not conscious of the existence of any other person, however firmly I may believe it. Conscience is conversant not only with what is passing in our minds, but also with our external actions; with our thoughts and actions which are past, as well as with those which are present; and with the actions of other men, so far as they are the subject of moral judgment. It is different also from the understanding, the province of which is to acquire the knowledge of the nature, and qualities, and relations of objects, and to pronounce what is proposed to it to be true or false, by means of its intuitive perceptions, or by a process of reasoning; while the objects of conscience are more limited in number, and present themselves under a different aspect. They are considered, not as true or false, but as good or evil, morally good and morally evil.
Among Scholastic Divines, and some more modern authors who have transplanted their barbarous terms and distinctions into their writings, it has been a subject of discussion, whether conscience is an act, a habit, or a faculty. If I apprehend the meaning rightly, those who call it only an act, deny that conscience is a distinct power of the mind, and conceive it to be merely an occasional application of our knowledge of right and wrong to our actions. Those who call it a habit, seem to hold that it is not natural to men, but is the effect of instruction and discipline. Conscience, they say, is knowledge, and knowledge is a habit, or something acquired; thus confounding the improvement of a faculty with the faculty itself. If, because our knowledge of right and wrong is acquired by education and reflection, it follows that conscience is not an original principle of our nature, it would be easy to prove, by the same kind of reasoning, that there is no such original principle as intellect. Some attempt to evade this difficulty, by distinguishing habits into innate and acquired, and telling you that conscience is something between these, and partakes of the nature of both; and then ending with such an explanation as, if it have any meaning, amounts to this, that after all, conscience is a faculty, although they choose to call it a habit. Such is the useless trash, under the name of Logic or Metaphysics, with which many theological volumes are filled.
It has been disputed, among men of more correct and luminous modes of thinking, whether conscience should be considered as a distinct faculty of the mind; or merely as the exercise of its other faculties upon a particular subject, and in a particular form. Conscience has been pronounced to be an operation of the judgment, comparing one thing with another-our actions with the standard of duty-and pronouncing their agreement or disagreement. But there is no reason for excessive simplification. We have only to go a step farther, and deny that the soul has any distinct faculties, and that what we call such, are only different modes in which it exerts itself; but, although this were true, it would serve no purpose but to introduce a change in human language, and to set aside as useless many of the speculations of philosophy. that the soul has understanding, because it is capable of knowledge; that it has judgment, because it compares; that it has will, because it chooses and refuses; there seems to be no reason why we should not say also, that it has con
If we say