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SERMON XXI.

ACTS xxiv. 16.

And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men.

ON PURITY OF CONSCIENCE.

IT is a very common, and I believe a very just

observation, that happiness in one shape or other is the uniform and universal pursuit of all mankind and it has frequently this further one added to it, namely, that it is as generally missed as it is eagerly sought after to prove which, the usual complaining and discontent of the sons of men are insisted upon as demonstrative. It is undoubtedly certain, that most men are in a very considerable degree uneasy, not to say unhappy, and indeed it can hardly fail to be so, when we consider the means that are for the most part made use of, in order to arrive at happiness. Reason and experience with their united voice declare, that those en

joyments which commonly go by the name of the gifts of fortune, are altogether incapable of yielding any solid and lasting happiness, both on account of their unsatisfying nature, and the uncertain tenure by which they are possessed: the gratifications of sense are wholly disproportioned to the desires of an immortal and spiritual substance, such as is the human soul; and, in fact, we may see from every day's observation, as many instances of vexation and discontent in high as in low life, in those who have a great, as in those who have a small portion of the good things of this world. If we would therefore travel the certain road to real happiness, we will find ourselves much deceived, if we seek for it in the

objects which surround us. There is but a very inconsiderable proportion of the human race who have it in their power to obtain it in this way. As we would not wish therefore to be eternally. disappointed, let us lay the foundation of bliss in our own breasts, let us endeavour to banish thence whatever wounds or defiles, thereby securing the approbation of our Maker, and of our own hearts, exercising ourselves constantly in this with the great apostle of the Gentiles, "to "have a conscience void of offence toward God "and toward men," and this we will find a

source of happiness and joy which the world cannot give, and which the world cannot take away, this we will in our happy experience find to give double relish to prosperity, and ease the • burden of adversity-this we shall find the best of companions to walk with by the way, and to lie down with to rest-this will sweeten our secret retirements, and carry us with ease and satisfaction through all the businesses of life-and this, blessed be God, is a happiness which every one has in his own power, a happiness from which no situation nor circumstances can exclude. It was this which we find supported our apostle under all the trials, afflictions, and persecutions he was called to undergo in fulfilling the work of his ministry, and by this he rose superior to all the reproach and malice of wicked men.

In discoursing farther from these words, I propose, through the divine aid, in the first place, to consider wherein "a conscience void of offence" consists. 2dly, To illustrate the happiness of having a good conscience, and the misery of a contrary state; and, 3dly, to draw a few inferences from the subject, with a design to engage us to seek after such a source of joy and satisfaction. I return, therefore, in the

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First place, To consider wherein "a conscience "void of offence" consists. In the text we find it divided into two heads, a consciousness of having performed our duty toward God and toward men. The obligations we lie under to love and serve God are demonstrated by the very same arguments which prove the existence and attributes of the Deity. As certainly as God is, and is possessed of all possible perfection, so certainly are we his dependent and indebted creatures bound to acknowledge with our utmost gratitude, affection, and humility, him our almighty and gracious author, preserver, and benefactor. In order then to understand what it is to have " a "conscience void of offence toward God," let us consider wherein our duty to God consists, and here the language of nature and revelation are exactly he same thing, namely, "Thou shalt love "the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with "all thy soul, and with all thy strength: this "is the first and great commandment*. If we examine into the obligations to this duty of love to God, we will find them the greatest that can be conceived. That Eternal and Almighty whom we profess to acknowledge as the author of our existence, and of every blessing, is in himself worthy of our highest veneration and

* Matt. xxii. 37, 38.

esteem, and it is intirely owing to our ignorance of the perfections of his nature, and our inattention to the operations of his hands, that we find our hearts so coldly disposed towards an object so gloriously calculated to fill them with the warmest emotions: a strong proof at the same time, of the low and degenerate state into which human nature is sunk, as the perfection of it undoubtedly is to resemble the divine, and this resemblance is only attainable by the frequent and attentive contemplation of what is amiable and perfect in God, which will naturally produce a desire of imitation; but in man's present corrupted state, the very reverse must hold, for there can be no tendency in men to imitate the perfections of the Deity, by reason of the little inclination they have to meditate upon, and search into them, or to observe the manifestations of them, which are made in the works of creation, providence, and redemption. Thesé manifestations however, and in especial manner, of the divine wisdom and goodness, are so very evident, have been and daily are displayed in so expressive a manner, as to render all without excuse, who are so stupid and ungrateful as to neglect and overlook them. Besides, then, that veneration and love we owe the great author of nature, on account of the perfections of his na

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