Imágenes de página

was portrayed in Nathan's parable. His own more aggravated offence was viewed at the same time, without uneasiness or self-reproach. As self-interest may blind a judge, who, in ordinary cases, discerns with accuracy, and forms righteous decisions; so may conscience be seduced to remain silent, or yield her assent to the claims of passion : If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God. Paul, before his conversion, verily thought that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of the Lord Jesus. The time has been, when other persecutors of truth have thought that they were doing God service. But in none of these cases, can we suppose that there was any physical inability to discern the will of God, and the consequent path of duty. No man sins through unavoidable ignorance. It may, perhaps, be considered as universally true, that moral discernment never fails, but in consequence of a disordered heart.

This power of moral discernment, of which we are speaking, is attended with present consequences of great moment, and has the most interesting relation to the retributions of another life. No sooner do we discern a right and wrong in human actions, than the one is approved, and the other condemned. The actions of others may be condemned without pain to ourselves, but when this moral discernment is applied to our own actions, feeling, and character, the effects are sensibly felt. We are so constituted, that we cannot, without uneasiness, see the right and follow the wrong.

When reason and character are at variance—when acknowledged propriety and duty are on side, and inclination and actions are on the other, a man finds himself unhappy, just in proportion as this disagreement is discerned and regarded. This dissatisfaction and self-reproach is a punishment immediately consequent on his violating the law in the mind ;-a punishment which is increased, whether he contemplates God, who is the author of this law, or his fellow men, who, he knows have the same law, and cannot but condemn every quality or action, by which it is violated. Hence we see, with what propriety this law in the mind has been said


to be of such an extraordinary nature, as to execute itself. The sinner not only perceives that there is a law, but he feels the effects of it. He is not only condemned, but punished by a tribunal established in his own breast.

Besides, if we perceive a difference between right and wrong, it is certain, not only that God must see the same difference, but that it is He who enables us to perceive it. It may be considered, therefore, as a law, which has a divine author, and by which we are required to govern ourselves. The sinner, therefore, not only condemns himself, but is conscious of being under the condemnation of God; who sees far more distinctly than he can, the beauty and worth of virtue, and the deformity and turpitude of vice. Consequently, in addition to his selfreproach, he has well-grounded apprehensions of danger, "a fearful looking for of judgment,” at a tribunal, whose decisions will not only confirm those of his own mind, but be followed by consequences of more dreadful import.

Perhaps conscience has been rightly defined, as “nothing more than our own opinion, or judgment, of the moral rectitude, or pravity of our own actions." Whether it is reason, or a distinct principle of our nature, which leads us to form this judgment, is not material. Certain it is, that something within us does sit in judgment on ourselves; and that the decision, which this soinething inclines us to make is, generally speaking, though not invariably, a right decision. Hence it is common to make appeals to the conscience, the reason, the judgment, even of vicious men; in whom it is believed that the moral sense, though in some measure benumbed, or perverted, is not extinct.

We now proceed to notice some instances in which the power of conscience has been displayed. When Adam, first after his defection, heard the voice of God, he concealed “himself among the trees of the garden." He was reproached, not only by the expostulation of his Maker, but by his own mind. He knew that the displeasure of God was just, and that therefore, no adequate, no reasonable defence could be made. Pharaoh, on several occasions, felt remorse, when reflecting on his per

fidious impiety: The Lord is righteous, said he, but I and my people are wicked. Saul, during all the latter part of his life, was rendered an object of compassion by the habitual checks and forebodings of conscience. He knew, and sometimes acknowledged, that his rival was divinely designated to fill the throne of Israel. Yet his malignant passions impelled him to persecute this rival with unremitting industry. Ahab had sent into all lands to apprehend the prophet Elijah, under pretence, that the latter had brought the judgments of God on the nation. At their first interview, the king accosts the prophet thus : Art thou he that troubleth Israel? To which the prophet boldly replies : I am not he that troubleth Israel; but thou and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord. The prophet was now in the king's power. Why then was he not punished, as had been intended! Evidently for this reason, Ahab was not less condemned by his own mind, than he was by the prophet's reply. He was, in truth, more afraid of the prophet, than the prophet was of him.

When Judas had betrayed Christ, and had received the stipulated recompense, the terrors of bis own conscience arrayed themselves against him. The language of the evangelist is : He saw that he was condemned. The sentence was immediately followed by punishment; I mean by remorse, so intolerable that the unhappy sinner could no longer endure it. By violent means he disengages himself from a burdensome life, to ascertain whether any future pains can be greater than the anguish of mind, by which he is now tormented.

In ages, and places, less remote, the power of conscience has been displayed in a similar manner. Sometimes self-reproaches are loudly uttered. Instances are not wanting of persons, who, having by flagitious means acquired, and for many years enjoyed, wealth and influence, have been rebuked by their consciences so suddenly and efficaciously, that they not only disclosed crimes of which they had never been suspected, but implored the merited punishment. Others, in a state of mind, more dangerous and desperate, have imitated the perfidious dis

[ocr errors]

ciple, and procured death by their own hands, that they might at once know the worst of their destiny.

There are other effects of self-condemnation, less powerful, indeed, but more common. To the view of every person, two rival interests are displayed. Reason, religion, and a well directed conscience are on one side; and they always speak the same language. On the other, are indolence and all those evil passions, which are seated in the human breast. If the three powerful monitors, first mentioned, could be effectually silenced; could reason, conscience, and religion be induced forever to withdraw their claims, men might, by obeying no law, but that of appetite, be as happy in brutal pleasure, as the very brutes themselves. But before these monitors can be silenced, much time and effort must be employed ; much conflict must be maintained, and many wounds received. It was long since asserted, the “way of transgressors is hard.” The truth of this has been severely felt by many, while forming an attachment to particular vices. Persons of dissipated and prodigal habits, have many hours, when reflection is painful, and even existence is irksome. It is not easy for a man to bring himself to abandon all claims to a rational and moral nature. Even pride will remonstrate against so base a relinquishment. A man cannot easily be induced deliberately to say, “ As for the dictates of reason and the obligations of morality; all that is sublime in the one, or beautiful in the other, I renounce forever. Ye rational beings, whether angels or men, with you I will no longer lay claim to alliance. Whatever pleasures you have, either in possession or prospect, they shall be exclusively your own. From this moment I cease to be a competitor.” But so long as reason is not renounced, it will support the claims, both of Christian morals and Christian piety. He that wastes his time, follows his passions, or neglects bis soul, acts as certainly against his own judgment,—his own conviction of right and wrong, as against the commands and principles of divine revelation. Infinite responsibility is attached to the possession of intellectual and moral powers. Whether time or eternity is regarded, reason demands VOL. JI.


a life of sobriety, caution, and self denial.

Now, is it possible, that a man should be otherwise, than miserable, who is forever at warfare with himself; who pursues habitually the very course, which he condemns? In the full enjoyment of youth and of health unimpaired, in the midst of gay, splendid and fashionable vices, many persons,-even those, who have been thought as happy as vice could make them, have even wished to exchange their species ;-have wished to be divested of their rational nature, that they might be no longer tormented with the anticipation of a judgment to come! Individuals, who have rendered themselves conspicuous by ridiculing serious religion, calling its sorrows moroseness, and its joys enthusiasm, have been alarmed even by the sound of a shaken leaf, and have fled to scenes of dissipation, as their only retreat from terror.

We shall now make several reflections by way of improvement.

1. If there are such qualities, as virtue and vice, it is infinitely important, that the distinction between them should be perceived. This power of discerning the line which separates them, is, therefore, a most important part of our moral constitution. But the natural tendency of a thoughtless sinful life, is to enfeeble this power, to prevent it from forming right decisions, and to render the heart insensible to its dictates. If the moral sense, that guide, which God has graciously appointed to direct human feelings and conduct, is either destroyed, or blinded, or corrupted, the whole life will be marked with doubts, confusion and guilt. To this our Saviour seems to have had reference in the following words : If the light, which is in you, be darkness, how great is that darkness.

II. As the moral sense is impaired by habitual vice,-as men accustom themselves to act, without regard to reason or the divine law, moral distinctions are forgotten, and a general apathy prevails on religious subjects. To remove this apathy by fixing the mind on these subjects, by causing it clearly to perceive moral distinctions, and the eternal obligations of virtue and holiness, is the first effect produced by divine influence in regeneration. The sinner is led to apply to his own heart and actions, that

« AnteriorContinuar »