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accuses, not in order to condemn the guilty, but that the guilty may be saved. The stings of conscience at the day of judgment will be the first gnawings of the “worm which dies not,” and the first scorchings of the “fire which never shall be quenched.” But when conscience speaks now, it speaks in mercy, and for those who listen to its soft upbraidings there is pardon and peace. A guilty conscience may be purged from sin. “The blood of Christ, who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God,” is able, as St. Paul assures us, to purge the conscience, and the penitent may draw near to God, as the same Apostle teaches, with the “full assurance of faith,” having his heart “sprinkled from an evil conscience” as well as his body “washed in pure (baptismal) water.” These are deep mysterious sayings, and they mean that our Lord has so completely taken sin away, that it no longer belongs to the penitent in any manner, and for those who repent “there is no more conscience” of that sin of which they have repented. Sin may be so put off by faithful penitence that conscience can no longer lay it to our charge as our sin. A heart laden with sin, and a conscience heavy with past wickedness, may betake themselves to Christ our Saviour, may lay the sins which they suffer upon Him, may thus be made entirely free from sin, may feel that sin is no longer upon them because it is now His and not theirs. And as conscience may thus transfer its own guilt to Him who bore our sins, and be purged completely by reason of the transferrence, so it may also take over to itself the perfect righteousness of Christ, and thus become a pure and holy conscience ; pure actually, and knowing itself to be pure, because knowing itself to be one with the
conscience of Him“ who knew no sin,” and in whose mouth was no guile. The penitent, who comes to Christ by faith and sorrow, loses his own guilty conscience, and receives in its stead the spotless conscience of Christ, who takes away the sense of guilt, and gives the sense and reality of righteousness to all those who obey Him. For Christ and His people
Made members of Himself they exchange with Him their properties; giving death, receiving life ; coming guilty, departing justified; approachiug with that sorrow which the sense of sin occasions, leaving with that good assurance, “Thy sins are forgiven thee. Go in peace.” If, then, conscience stings thee, if it speaks against thee with the voice of an accuser, saying within thy heart, “I am verily guilty,' if thou hearest its still voice within thee and art willing to listen to the warnings which it gives, thou hast an answer ready to thine hand. Thou canst say, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died." Thou canst confess thy guilt, saying, “A sinner indeed I am. I am verily guilty. But I trust in Him who died for me. The conscience which condemns I bring to Him that He may purge it, and I receive from Him His own unsullied conscience, which condemns me not. I approach to God through His spotless offering. I am washed, I am justified, I am sanctified, in the name of Jesus and by the Spirit of God.'
There, my brethren, is comfort for you, if you are verily guilty and know your guilt, and feel that comfort such as this is the blessing which you need. But if still you feel that it is far from you, and that you would have it brought more nigh, then you must
follow the counsel of the Church, our loving mother, when she says, “ If there be any of you who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me or some other discreet and learned minister of God's word, and open his grief that by the ministry of God's word he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice, to the quieting of his conscience and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness.” The Church of England does not encourage confession to the priest as a regular and habitual practice. She rather throws the man upon himself, and leads him to direct intercouse with Him, by whom alone our sins are forgiven. But when this method fails, when the sinner requires the help and sympathy of a brother-man and fellow-sinner, she bids him to open his heart in confession, and to seek the absolution which, by Christ's authority, the Church can give.
The ministry to which we are called is “ the ministry of reconciliation.” We are "ambassadors from Christ," sent to speak to men, as though God did beseech them by us to be reconciled to God. It is our most blessed office, in Christ's behalf, to bind up the broken-hearted, and give deliverance to those who are led captive in the bonds of sin. We are sent, like our Master, “not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” And, therefore, for those who are guilty, verily guilty, and feel their guilt, and cannot otherwise be comforted, it is our work, our unspeakable joy, to assist them in purging conscience by leading them to Him whose conscience was undefiled. Many a precious soul is perishing. Many a piece of money is being lost. We sweep the house by preaching
repentance, we search diligently by probing conscience, we light a candle by telling of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And oh, how great our gladness if we find but one piece of money, but one invaluable soul. We are shepherds under the Good Shepherd, priests beneath the Shepherd and Bishop of Souls, and if our sheep wander, we go forth into the world, which is a wilderness, to find in what folly they have gone astray. And we are blessed indeed if we find but one. We bring it home, and not we only, but Christ, our Master, brings it home also. We carry it on our shoulders rejoicing. We call our friends and our neighbours together, saying, “ Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep which I had lost.” Nor do we joy alone. There is a joy in heaven greater than the joy on earth. The angels are glad. The everlasting Father goes forth to meet His returning son. “ There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.”
Speak I now to any who feel that they are guilty, like Joseph's brethren, of great but still forgotten sin? I know not. God alone can know. But I doubt not that I speak to many such, for their case is far from uncommon; and I end, therefore, by asking youas though it was our Lord Himself that asked itto listen to the voice of conscience, and come as penitents to Christ, that he may “purge your consciences from dead works to serve the living God.”
THE UNCONSUMING FIRE.
Exodus iii, 2.
“ And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire
out of the midst of a bush, and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt."
W E have here a great sight. The man who saw
V it, a man of great sagacity, among the wisest men who ever lived—the lawgiver and prophet Moses,—was full of wonder when his eyes beheld it, and turned aside to see “ this great sight,”—that is, this wonderful appearance, or, as some explain it, this most stupendous vision. A bush full of fire, which was something more than fire, for it was glory, continued burning. That a bush should burn was nothing wonderful; but that a bush should keep burning, that devouring fire should not be a consumer, -this was strange exceedingly. And Moses thought it strange, and turned aside to “ see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.” This also is very evident, that, if the sight was worth a look frum such a man as Moses, it is worth a look from us. If all Scripture is “ written for our learning,” we may rely upon it that there are few scriptures from which we can learn more than from this.