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helmet, the hope of salvation , and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance. And holding the faith in a good conscience, which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck.
These are the weapons of our warfare, which though not carnal, yet are mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds i; as St. Paul expresses it, and casting down every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God. Faith and a good conscience, or truth and righteousness, truth of doctrine and piety of life thus joined together, are the great safeguard of the soul of a Christian amidst all her spiritual enemies; and against the fiercest assaults of evil spirits and evil men, and all the allurements of worldly interest and gain. This is that armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the lefti, in prosperity and adversity, which will render us invulnerable; that armour of light k, as the apostle styles it, which will dazzle and confound, and put to flight all the powers of dark
This armour, therefore, let us all put on, and fight courageously with these weapons, and God and his truth will prevail, whatever opposition may be made against them.
My business, therefore in discoursing upon this subject, will be to shew,
That the preserving a good conscience, or the sincere practice of the duties of a Christian in our several stations, is the surest guard and best preThess. v. 8. 2 Cor. x. 4.
j 2 Cor. vi. 7. k Rom. xiii. 12.
servative of a Christian's faith, in the purity and simplicity of it; and that the contrary is the ready way to corrupt and ruin it: and then we shall see how needful it is to make it our chief care to keep such a good conscience in all things, and to have the rest of the Christian armour ready, that we may be able to stand against the secret wiles and more open assaults of the Devil and his instruments, and come off with victory and triumph.
I. And first I am to shew that the preserving a good conscience, or the sincere practice of the duties of a Christian in our several stations, is the surest guard and best preservative of a Christian's faith, in the purity and simplicity of it, and that the contrary is the way, not only to corrupt, but ruin it; or, in the words of the text, he that puts away a good conscience will soon make shipwreck of his faith.
And were this great truth oftener insisted on, and more seriously considered, those janglings and disputes, and fierce contests about religion, and some doctrines of it, in which the Christian world is now so deeply engaged, and which serve only to gender and increase strifes, and weaken piety and charity, would be as vain and useless as now they seem necessary; the only strife then would be, (and that a most commendable and edifying one,) who should make the greatest advances in real holiness and goodness, and best imitate and most resemble our great Master, Jesus, in all his imitable excellencies and perfections; and particularly in the greatest of them all, love and beneficence, which, St. Paul says, is the end of the commandment, the chief design and intention of it, and that which comprehends all its various rules. And if this be done out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned', those vain janglings before mentioned would soon be at an end.
It is true, indeed, that our want of such purity and charity, and unfeigned faith, and our swerving from them, as the apostle’s expression is, in the place before mentioned, hath brought a necessity upon us of contending, and that earnestly, for the faith which was at first delivered to the saints ; and unless we would suffer heresies and dangerous errors to go on and prosper,
those that watch for the people's souls, and are to guide them in the ways of saving truth, must be sometimes conversant in controversial learning and scholastic niceties, and the methods of disputation, that they may be ready to make use of them upon occasion, and be able to beat the disputers of this world at their own weapons, and put to silence the ignorance of foolish men, and secure themselves, and those committed to their charge, from the prevailing infection of evil times. But it is withal as true, that there is a more excellent way; and a daily proficiency in holiness of life would, by degrees, destroy that disputatious necessity, and be a much better instructor in the mystery of godliness, and furnish us with, and preserve to us, truer and clearer notions of Christianity, and a more sound belief than the most subtle, accurate controversies in the world, according to that remarkable saying of our Lord, John vii. 17, If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God; where our Lord, you see, begins with practice in order to knowledge; to which that of St. Paul to
1 1 Tim. i. 5.
Timothy is very agreeable, where he exhorts him to hold the mystery of the faith in a pure consciencem; and that of David, Psalm cxix. 100, I understand more than the ancients; and why? because I keep thy precepts.
So that the sincerest Christian will prove the soundest and most orthodox divine; and though age and experience, and study and meditation, are the usual ways of improving in human wisdom and knowledge, yet religious knowledge and wisdom are best and soonest acquired and improved by religious practice; which will, above all things, enlighten the mind with right apprehensions in the theory and doctrine of it: and, as the apostle affirms in the text, the preserving a good conscience will be the best security of both the purity and very being of our faith ; holding faith and a good conscience, says he, which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck : which is what I am now to give the reasons of. And the
First is, because a life of sincere piety and virtue (expressed by good conscience in the text) clears up and brightens men's understandings, and thereby renders them more capable of apprehending rightly the pure truths of religion; whereas, on the contrary, a course of wickedness and vice darkens men's minds, and naturally tends to vitiate their notions of spiritual things, and makes them think very unworthily, and very obscurely and imperfectly of them.
People's way of thinking is generally according to the manner of their life ; and the manner of life of a sincerely good Christian is with such integrity of mind, such purity and sobriety and unaffected
1 Tim. iii.
seriousness; so unenslaved to the world, and any unruly passions and lusts, that his thoughts are disengaged, and free and clear; there is no partial bias upon him, no unreasonable prejudices; and consequently none so capable of discerning the truth, nor so ready to embrace it, nor so resolute to keep and defend it, as a man of undissembled piety and goodness. This makes men fit and able to govern themselves, their thoughts, their appetites, and affections; this engages them in the study of the holy scriptures with reverence and humility, with attention and love, and a modest mind prepared to learn ; which will incline the Spirit of God to direct and assist and bless them in those sacred studies, and enlighten their minds to a clear understanding of them, and move their wills to act according to them ; whereby their understandings will be still more and more enlarged, and a daily progress made in that knowledge, which will render them wise to salvation. The secret of the Lord, says David, is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant n; i. e. he will let them into the mystery of godliness, as St. Paul terms the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ, and shew them the treasures of the divine wisdom and knowledge that are in that stupendous work. As to the practick part, what man is there that feareth the Lord? says the same royal Psalmist, him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose°; that is, his sincere endeavours after spiritual knowledge and obedience shall be so encouraged and assisted and blessed, that, as Solomon says, the path of the just, both as to theory and practice, shall be n Psalm xxv. 14.
o Psalm xxv. 12.