Sermon The Power of Conscience
Romans 2:15 Their conscience also bearing witness
At the mouth of two or three witnesses, it is said, shall the matter be established. Thus the record which God hath given of his Son is confirmed by three that bear record in heaven; the Father, the Word, and the holy Spirit - and by three on earth: the Spirit, the water and the blood. Thus also there will be three credible and authentic witnesses against the sinner in the great day. God himself who knows our secret thoughts is an eye and ear-witness to all we do and say. Also the divine word, especially the holy and righteous law of God; for, says our Lord to the Jews, there is one that accuseth, even Moses in whom ye trust. The word accuses the penitent sinner to himself and the impenitent sinner unto God. Conscience also, which will then be freed from every corrupt bias, and roused from its present state of stupefaction. It is not indeed always in such a state even in this world: there are times when it is stirred up to do its office, and in such a manner as to make the sinner tremble. The apostle is speaking of the heathen world when he says, Their conscience also bearing witness but it may be applied to all mankind.
All I shall attempt from these words will be to show what a witness conscience is, in order to awaken our serious attention to that faithful monitor, and then make a short improvement of the subject.
1. Conscience is an inward witness. Other witnesses are without a man and so may be set aside. One witness may be produced against another, one testimony against another, or circumstances may be alleged to destroy the probability of the testimony given: but it cannot be so where conscience is concerned, for that is a witness within a man. A man may as soon fly from God, as from his own conscience. It will follow him into all places - into all worlds!
2. It is a knowing and intelligent witness. None can know what conscience knows, but he who knows all things, even God. It hath the best opportunities, and is very observant. It may be said of it as it is of the divine word, that it is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Witnesses amongst men are sometimes set aside on account of the weakness of their capacities but it cannot be so with respect to the witness of which I am now speaking. Its knowledge is very extensive: it sees all our ways and tells all our wanderings. It penetrates into the secret windings of our treacherous hearts, is well acquainted with the springs and principles of our actions and sees those hidden works of darkness which are concealed from the most inquisitive eye.
3. It is an authorised and credible witness. Witnesses are sometimes disallowed, not only through a defect in their intellect, but a blemish on their moral characters; but it is not so with respect to conscience. The court of conscience is the court of God, where it acts in his name and by his authority, as judge, jury, and witness. It speaks when and what he bids it; and when he commands it to be silent, it holds its peace. It is the king's witness, and therefore must not be treated with contempt.
4. It is a faithful and true witness. It is said of a faithful witness, that he will not lie; that he delivereth souls: and the same may be said of conscience when it is not vitiated with error or corrupted by prejudice. It is true, it is sometimes scrupulous to an excess, stumbling at a straw, and making crimes where God has made none; and at other times in a state of stupefaction but whenever it acts with liberty, free from restraint, it speaks faithfully and plainly; and especially a renewed conscience does so. It may fall asleep; but it will awake again, nay, though it sleep with respect to motion and operation, yet not with respect to notice and observation.
5. It is a loud witness. It has a voice that will make both heaven and earth to hear, and which pierces into the inmost recesses of the soul. Those who are so deaf that they cannot hear the sound of the loudest thunder, yet shall hear the voice of conscience. It may be said of it as it is of the voice of God: it is terrible, and full of majesty.
6. It is a sufficient witness. It will silence all pleas and excuses, put an end to all subterfuges and evasions and leave a man self-judged and self-condemned. It is instead of a thousand witnesses. It is sufficient now: there is no refuting its testimony, or setting aside its verdict; and it will be so at the last day.
7. It will be an eternal witness for the godly and against the wicked. If all other witnesses were dead, yet conscience still lives, and will hereafter bear its testimony unrestrained and uncontrolled.
8. Conscience being such a witness as has been described, though terrible to the wicked, must be a very comfortable one to the people of God. It either gives peace or pain; either puts on a pleasing aspect, and discovers good will; or puts on a frowning countenance and shews its displeasure. It is every man's judgment upon himself; yet subject to the righteous judgment of God.
What has been said, affords us the following hints of instruction:
1. Let us take care of sinning against conscience.
2. Let us endeavour to keep conscience tender; then attend to its motions, and hearken to its remonstrances.
3. Above all, let us have our hearts purged from an evil conscience, by the blood of Christ. This faculty, as well as others, is defiled, and we should seek to have it purified. If Christ speaks peace, and then conscience speaks it, we may be sure that peace is upon a solid foundation.
In a word, let wicked men remember, that if conscience be ever so silent now, it will be vociferous enough at the great day. As the spectre said to Brutus, "I will meet thee at Philippi" so conscience says to the sinner, "I will meet thee at the judgment seat!" Let good men, who at times suffer much from the lashes of their own consciences, learn the importance of having always a conscience void of offence, both towards God and towards men: and then if our hearts condemn us not, we shall have confidence towards God. 1 John 3:21.
Conscience stand forth, and bring thy charge
Of good neglected, evil done;
Of duties carelessly performed,
Of snares I should, but did not shun.
In thy great Master's name declare
How very sinful I have been ;
Yet will I not of help despair,
For Jesu's blood can make me clean.
Tho' crimes on crimes like mountains rise,
Or spread as sands upon the shore,
I'll fly the swifter to the Cross,
And strive and watch, and pray the more.
(The Hymn is 456 in the collection)