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them to think their own goodness will comfort them here, and open the kingdom of heaven to them hereafter ? Whether a more conscientious obedience will not be produced, when we see ourselves continually in. debted for life to Christ alone, as the children in the furnace were to a miracle of good. ness, than can spring from considerations of profit and loss, according to our own conceit of a progress, or decline in virtue?
PEACE OF CONSCIENCE TOWARDS GOD, NOT
REWARD OF IMPERFECT VIRTUE.
THE doctrine that the church is redeemed from the curse of the law, by Christ's own obedience unto the death of the cross, proves the mistake of supposing peace of conscience towards God is the reward of virtue. Good people, it is constantly said, have a right to be perfectly free from all fears about the future, from the pleasing review of a well-spent life. From hence the vain and arrogant fancy, that even the wretched fragments of what has only some semblance of virtue, in their own conduct, entitles them to its reward. Therefore they grow still more proud, and presumptuous; for since no perfect rule of duty is fixed, the vain and arrogant always conclude themselves tolerably virtuous upon the whole, and through this soothing error, stifle every rising conviction of their danger.
Those of a modest and serious turn, it bitterly distresses, driving them often to distraction, and even to death for refuge: because there are many persons, it is certain, much troubled in conscience, who the world judge need not be so at all. They are just and upright in their dealings, of a kind and generous spirit, devout, and careful to avoid all known offences.
Now that persons of so high a character, should not possess this certain reward of virtue, peace of conscience towards God, ap, pears very strange. Men ignorant of the truth, always with great confidence impute this to lowness of spirits, weakness of mind, or a superstitious cast, which involves every object it beholds in gloom. But where there is no weakness of mind, bodily distemper, or superstitious cast, this is found to be the case with many persons....and the true cause of their misery is, from having believed peace of conscience towards God is the reward of virtue, as we all naturally do, still forgetting that it is perfect virtue aloney which is the parent of peace towards God. Not finding, therefore, this peace, but on the contrary, fear and guilt, they conclude he is angry with them. This anger they endeavour to avert by better obedience, yet still find no comfort; nor can they, while they seek it in a way derogatory to the obedience which the Lord himself performed. For as this perfect obedience is the sole cause of our justification before God, the sentence of condemnation must remain in the conscience (if we make a true judgment of our state) until Christ be all our peace and hope ; because the utmost efforts to lead a good life, must leave us still destitute of the righteousness which the law requires. We may persevere in prayer....we may fast....we may give alms....we may watch over every word, and every thought, and even agonize to keep the commandments....thousands have done as much....yet after all, we shall offend in many things.
Whilst men, therefore, seek peace with God, from consciousness of their own goodness, they remain under the curse of the law, which they are always breaking. So long then as their earnestness for salvation continues, and this error is believed, they must be in fear. They can find no rest to their souls, till instead of labouring to attain it by works of righteousness, they seek it by faith in Christ. Could the answer of a good conscience towards God be really enjoyed in any other way, the scripture would be falsified.... because it constantly ascribes this inestimable blessing to the blood of the cross, and to Christ's resurrection, as the surety and head of his church....calls it his peace, given to his disciples, upon their looking to him for pardon, in despair of help from any other quarter.
Matter of fact, the subject of daily observation, confirms this doctrine. Who are free from distress of conscience, before Christ has made them free? Those only. who abridge the commandments of God, or are daring enough to think, he ought not to require more than they find themselves inclined to do. Or those, who in the dotage of self-love, smitten with admiration of their own beauty, see in themselves nothing amiss. Not a single person, endued with the smallest degree of humility, and earnestly striving to do his duty, but lives in bitter bondage, and frequent distress, till the knowledge of the Prince of Peace gives comfort to his soul.
To advise, therefore, persons of good character, when troubled in conscience, to take confidence from their good life....to tell them they can have no cause to fear, since if such worthy people as they be, are not safe, what must become of all the world; is a fatal mistake. Neither by any means press them to join in the circle of the gay, and the merriment of the thoughtless, as a cure for their melancholy. Such counsel has already destroyed its thousands. For the persons, to whom these means are prescribed, having strove in vain thus to shake off the pain of a guilty conscience, when they are directed to repeat the same methods as their only remedy, must conclude their wound incurable. No marvel then, if strangling should be chosen, rather than life.
To remove their distress, a totally different method must be used. They must be taught, that they are much worse, and more sinful, than they suppose themselves to be....that all they have ever done, or can do from the motives which have governed them, is wrong.... because the thought of making peace with God by their own obedience, is an insult which pride casts upon his law, high treason against his crown, and frustrates his grace. They must be told, that a painful sight of their spiritual state, is designed in great mercy to undeceive them....to bring them to a confession, that they are lost, unless the atoning blood of Christ be received by them,