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plied to political circumstances; as though Christians were less subject to the external government of human laws, because their consciences have been set at liberty before God; as though their freedom of spirit necessarily exempted them from all carnal servitude. Again, because even in those constitutions which seem to pertain to the spiritual kingdom, there may possibly be some deception, it is necessary to discriminate between these also; which are to be accounted legitimate, as according with the Divine word, and which, on the contrary, ought not to be received among the faithful. Of civil government I shall treat in another place. Of ecclesiastical laws also I forbear to speak at present; because a full discussion of them will be proper in the Fourth Book, where we shall treat of the power of the Church. But we shall conclude the present argument in the following manner. The question, which, as I have observed, is in itself not very obscure or intricate, greatly perplexes many, because they do not distinguish with sufficient precision between the external jurisdiction and the court of conscience. The difficulty is increased by Paul's injunction to obey magistrates “not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake:” (q) from which it should follow, that the conscience also is bound by political laws. But if this were true, it would supersede all that we have already said, or are now about to say, respecting spiritual government. For the solution of this difficulty, it will be of use, first, to know what conscience is. And the definition of it must be derived from the etymology of the word. For as when men apprehend the knowledge of things in the mind and understanding, they are thence said (scire) “to know.” whence is derived the word scientia, “science” or “knowledge;” so when they have a sense of the Divine justice, as an additional witness, which permits them not to conceal their sins, or to elude accusation at the tribunal of the supreme Judge, this sense is termed conscientia, “conscience.” For it is a kind of medium between God and man; because it does not suffer a man to suppress what he knows within himself, but pursues him till it brings him to conviction. This is what Paul means by “their conscience also bearing witness, and
(g) Rom. xiii. 1, 5.
their thoughts accusing, or else excusing one another.” (r) Simple knowledge might remain as it were confined within a man. This sentiment, therefore, which places man before the Divine tribunal, is appointed, as it were, to watch over man, to observe and examine all his secrets, that nothing may remain enveloped in darkness. Hence the old proverb, Conscience is as a thousand witnesses. For the same reason Peter speaks of “the answer of a good conscience towards God,” (s) to express our tranquillity of mind, when, persuaded of the favour of Christ, we present ourselves with boldness in the presence of God. And the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews expresses absolution or freedom from every future charge of sin, by “having no more conscience of sin.” (t) XVI. Therefore, as works respect men, so conscience regards God: so that a good conscience is no other than inward integrity of heart. In which sense Paul says, that “the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” (u) Afterwards also, in the same chapter, he shews how widely it differs from understanding, saying, that “some, having put away a good conscience, concerning faith have made shipwreck.” (w) For these words indicate that it is a lively inclination to the service of God, and a sincere pursuit of piety and holiness of life. Sometimes, indeed, it is likewise extended to men; as when the same apostle declares, “Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.” (x) But the reason of this assertion is, that the fruits of a good conscience reach even to men. But in strict propriety of speech, it has to do with God alone, as I have already observed. Hence it is that a law, which simply binds a man without relation to other men, or any consideration of them, is said to bind the conscienceFor example, God not only enjoins the preservation of the mind chaste and pure from every libidinous desire, but prohibits all obscenity of language and external lasciviousness. The observance of this law is incumbent on my conscience, though there were not another man existing in the world. Thus he who transgresses the limits of temperance, not only sins by
(r) Rom. ii. 15. (s) 1 Peter iii. 21. (t) Heb. x. 2.
giving a bad example to his brethren, but contracts guilt on his conscience before God. Things in themselves indifferent are to be guided by other considerations. It is our duty to abstain from them, if they tend to the least offence, yet without violating our liberty of conscience. So Paul speaks concerning meat consecrated to idols: “If any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice to idols, eat not for conscience sake: conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other.” (y) A pious man would be guilty of sin, who, being previously admonished, should nevertheless eat such meat. But though with respect to his brother, abstinence is necessary for him, as it is enjoined by God; yet he ceases not to retain liberty of conscience. We see l then how this law, though it binds the external action, leaves l the conscience free.
On Prayer, the principal Exercise of Faith, and the Medium of our daily Reception of Divine Blessings.
FROM the subjects already discussed, we clearly perceive how utterly destitute man is of every good, and in want of all the means of salvation. Wherefore if he seek for relief in his necessities, he must go out of himself, and obtain it from some other quarter. It has been subsequently stated, that the Lord voluntarily and liberally manifests himself in his Christ, in whom he offers us all felicity instead of our misery, and opulence instead of our poverty; in whom he opens to our view the treasures of heaven, that our faith may be wholly engaged in the contemplation of his beloved Son, that all our expectation may depend upon him, and that in him all our hope may rest and be fully satisfied. This indeed is that secret and recondite philosophy, which cannot be extracted from syllogisms; but is
well understood by those whose eyes God hath opened, that in
(y) 1 Cor. x. 28, 29. Vol. II. 2. U
his light they may see light. But since we have been taught by faith to acknowledge, that whatever we want for the supply of our necessities is in God and our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom it hath pleased the Father all the fulness of his bounty should dwell, that we may all draw from it, as from a most copious fountain; it remains for us to seek in him, and by prayers to implore of him, that which we have been informed resides in him. Otherwise to know God as the Lord and Giver of every
good, who invites us to supplicate him, but neither to approach
him nor to supplicate him, would be equally unprofitable, as for a man to neglect a treasure discovered to him buried in the earth. Wherefore the apostle, to shew that true faith cannot but be engaged in calling upon God, has laid down this order: That, as faith is produced by the gospel, so by faith our hearts are brought to invoke the name of the Lord. (z)|And this is the same as he had a little before said, that the “Spirit of adoption,” who seals the testimony of the gospel in our hearts, encourages our spirits, so that they venture to pour out their desires before God, excite “groanings that cannot be uttered,” and cry with confidence, “Abba, Father.” (a) This last subject, therefore, having been before only cursorily mentioned and slightly touched, requires now to be treated more at large. II. By means of prayer, then, we penetrate to those riches which are reserved with our heavenly Father for our use. For between God and men there is a certain communication; by which they enter into the sanctuary of heaven, and in his immediate presence remind him of his promises, in order that his declarations, which they have implicitly believed, may in time of necessity be verified in their experience. We see, therefore, that nothing is revealed to us, to be expected from the Lord, for which we are not likewise enjoined to pray; so true is it, that prayer digs out those treasures, which the gospel of the Lord discovers to our faith. Now the necessity and various utility of the exercise of prayer no language can sufficiently explain. It is certainly not without reason that our heavenly Father declares, that the only fortress of salvation consists in invocation of his name; by which we call to our aid the pre
(z) Rom. x. 13, 14, 17. (a) Rom. viii. 15, 26.
sence of his providence, which watches over all our concerns; of his power, which supports us when weak and ready to faint; and of his goodness, which receives us into favour, though miserably burdened with sins; in which, finally, we call upon him to manifest his presence with us in all his attributes. Hence our consciences derive peculiar peace and tranquillity: for when the affliction which oppressed us is represented to the Lord, we feel abundant composure even from this consideration, that none of our troubles are concealed from him, whom we know to possess both the greatest readiness and the greatest ability to promote our truest interest. III. But some will say, Does he not, without information, know both our troubles and our necessities; so that it may appear unnecessary to solicit him with our prayers, as if he were inattentive or sleeping, till aroused by our voice? But such reasoners advert not to the Lord's end in teaching his people to pray; for he hath appointed it not so much for his own sake as for ours. It is his pleasure indeed, as is highly reasonable, that his right be rendered to him, by their considering him as the Author of all that is desired and found useful by men, and by their acknowledgments of this in their prayers. But the utility of this sacrifice, by which he is worshipped, returns to us. The greater the confidence, therefore, with which the ancient saints gloried in the Divine benefits to themselves and others, with so much the more earnestness were they incited to pray. The single example of Elijah shall suffice, who, though certain of God’s design, having already with sufficient authority promised rain to king Ahab, yet anxiously prays between his knees, and sends his servant seven times to look for it; (b) not with an intention to discredit the Divine oracle, but under a conviction of his duty to prevent his faith becoming languid and torpid, by pouring out his prayers before God. Wherefore, although when we are stupid and insensible to our own miseries, he vigilantly watches and guards us, and sometimes affords us unsolicited succour; yet it highly concerns us assiduously to supplicate him, that our heart may be always inflamed with a serious and ardent desire of seeking, loving, and worshipping him, while
(b) 1 Kings Kviii. 42, &c.