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viction is a kind of embryo of conversion ; the conversion and salvation of thy soul would be the result, were it obeyed : thy striving with it renders it abortive, and thy life must go for it, except God revive it again. Loose then every man the Lord's prisoners—I mean, your restrained, stifled convictions—stifle them no longer; you see what a dreadful aggravation of sin it is, and that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteous
INFERENCE 1. This will prove a fruitful doctrine to inform us, first, that knowledge in itself is not enough to secure the soul of any man from hell. No gifts, no knowledge but that only which is influential upon the heart and life, and to which we pay obedience, can secure any man from wrath : “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” John 13:17. The greatest sins may be found in conjunction with the greatest knowledge, as you see in the fallen angels : light is then only a blessing when it guides the soul into the way of duty and obedience : there is many a knowing head in hell. Yet let no man indulge himself in ignorance, or shun the means of knowledge, that he may sin with less danger; for you must account to God for all the knowledge you might have had, as well as for that you possessed—for the means of knowledge he gave you, as well as for the knowledge you actually attained.
2. What a choice mercy is a tender conscience—a conscience yielding obedience to conviction. A drop of such tenderness in the conscience is better than a sea of speculative knowledge in the head. 1 Cor. 12:31. Many Christians are ashamed to see themselves excelled by others in gifts, and are apt to be discouraged; but if God has blessed thee with a tender heart, obedient to his will, so far as he is pleased to manifest it to thee, thou hast no reason to be discouraged for want of those gifts which others enjoy. You
cannot discourse floridly or dispute subtlely, but do you obey conscientiously, and comply with the manifested will of God tenderly? Then happy art thou. O, it is far better to feel a truth than merely to know it. It was the high commendation of the Romans, that they obeyed from the heart the form of gospel doctrine which was delivered them, Rom. 6:17, or rather into which they were delivered, as melted metals into moulds. Two learned divines travelling to the council of Constance were affected even to tears at the sight of a shepherd in the fields, mourning and melting at the sight of a toad, and blessing God that he had not made him such a loathsome creature; whereupon they applied Augustine's words to themselves : “ The unlearned will rise and take heaven from the learned.” Thy little knowledge made effectual by obedience, is more sanctified, more sweet, and more saving than other men’s, and therefore of much greater value. It is more sanctified; for the blessing of God is upon it. Gal. 6:16. It is more sweet; for you relish the goodness, as well as discern the truth of gospel doctrines. Psa. 119:103. It is not an insipid, dry speculation. And then it is more saving, being one of those better things that accompany salvation. Heb. 6:9.
3. Learn hence what an uncomfortable life intelligent, but unregenerate men live : they are frequently at war with their own consciences. “There is no peace, saith the Lord, to the wicked.” Isa. 48:22. They and their consciences are ever and anon at daggers; they have little pleasure in sin, and none at all in religion : they have none in religion, because they obey not its rules; and little in sin, because their consciences are still galling and terrifying them for imprisoning their convictions.
It is true, some men's consciences are seared as with a hot iron, 1 Tim. 4:2; but most have grumbling, and some have raging and roaring consciences : they seldom come under the word or rod, but their consciences lash them; and when death approaches, the terrors of the Almighty do shake and terrify them. Altogether to neglect duty they dare not, and how to escape a lash from their consciences they know not. Fain they would have the pleasures of sin, but, like Balaam, they meet a sword in the way; they plunge themselves into diversions like Cain, to be rid of a fury within them; but all will not do. Is this a life for thee, reader, to live? No peace with God nor with thyself? Expect no peace while thy convictions lie bound and imprisoned in thy conscience. Sin for a moment is sweet in thy mouth, but it is presently turned into the gall of asps within thee. Job 20:14. O that you did but know the pleasures of a pure, peaceable conscience, and how much it excels all the delights of sense and sin.
4. Ministers had need often to repeat and inculcate the same truths to their hearers; for the work is not half done, when truth is got into the minds and consciences of men. Our work sticks at the heart more than at the head; the understanding is many times opened, when the heart and will are locked and fast barred against it. To open the passages between the head and heart is the greatest difficulty ; this is the work of alrnighty power. There is knowledge enough in some men's heads to save them, but it has not its liberty; restrained truth cannot do its office. It is much easier to convince the mind than to change the heart or bow the will. The hardest part of the ministerial work is to preach truth into the hearts and lives of men. This makes the frequent inculcation of the same truths necessary to the people's souls. “To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.” Phil. 3 : 1.
5. How wonderful is the strength of sin, which can hold men fast after their eyes are opened to see the misery and danger it has involved them in. One would think if a man's eyes were but once opened to see the moral evil that is in sin, and the everlasting train of penal evils that follow
it, together with a way of escape from both, it would be impossible to hold that sinner a day longer in such a state of bondage : the work were then as good as done. But alas, we are mistaken; sin can hold those fast who see all this. They know it is a horrid violation of God's just and holy laws; they know it brings them under his wrath and curse, and will damn them to all eternity if they continue in it; they know Christ is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, and that he is as willing as he is able; and yet no arguments can prevail with them to part with sin. Show but a beast a flame of fire, and you cannot drive him into it if he see any way of escape. Tell a man this is rank poison and will kill him, and you cannot make him swallow it though wrapt up in sugar, or put into the most pleasant sweetmeats. But let a sinner see death and destruction before him, and sin can make him rush on, as a horse into the battle. Jer. 8:6. He goes as an ox to the slaughter; his heart is fully set in him to do evil, Eccl. 8:11; as one, when his physician told him if he followed such a course of sin he would in a little time lose his eyes, said, Farewell, then, sweet light: I cannot part with this practice. So with sinners: rather than forego their pleasures and break their customs in sin, farewell heaven, Christ, and all. O the bewitching power of sin. “And they said, there is no hope, but we will walk after our own devices.” Jer. 18:12. When a man considers what visions of misery and wrath convictions give men, he may wonder that all convinced men are not converted; and on the other hand, when he considers the strong hold sin has upon the hearts of sinners, it may justly seem a wonder that any are converted.
6. How dreadful is the state of apostates who have had their eyes opened, their consciences awakened, their resolutions for Christ seemingly fixed ; and yet, after all this, return to their former course of sin. You see, brethren, sin has not only power to hold men in bondage to its lusts after their eyes have been opened, but it has power to entice back those who seemed to have clean escaped out of its hands. 2 Pet. 2:18, 19. The unclean spirit may depart for a time, and make his reëntry into the same soul with seven spirits worse than himself. Matt. 12:43–45. Restraints by conviction and formality do not wholly dispossess Satan, he still keeps his property in the soul, for he calls it “my house ;'' and that property which he keeps under all these convictions and partial reformations, opens to him and all his hellish retinue a door for his return. But O how awful will the end of such men be; and how just is that law of heaven which dooms the apostate to eternal wrath! Heb. 10:38. Such are twice dead, and will be plucked up by the roots. Jude 12.
7. How sure and dreadful will be the condemnation of all those, in the day of the Lord, who obstinately continue in sin, under the convictions and condemnations of their own consciences. Unhappy men, you are condemned already, John 3:18; condemned by the law of God and by the sentence of your own consciences. What your own conscience says according to God's law, he will confirm and make good. “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” 1 John, 3:20. His sentence will be as clear as it will be terrible ; for in the last day the books will be opened—the book of God's omniscience, and the book of thine own conscience. The book of conscience is as it were a transcript or counterpart of God's book for thee to keep in thine own bosom. When God's book and thy own shall be compared and found exactly to agree, there can be no further dispute of the equity of the account. Then God shall charge thee, saying, “Thou knewest this and that to be sin, and yet thy lusts hurried thee on to commit it; is it not so ? look, sinner, into thine own book, and see if thy conscience has not so charged it to thy account. Thou knewest prayer was thy duty when thou neglectedst it; and over