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5. Before we go to religious duties. That this was David's practice, we may learn from his calling his prayer his meditation, Psalm v. 1. This duty of self-communing before prayer and other duties, is as the plough before the sower, to prepare the heart. That soul that takes a view of its sins, before it pray for the pardon of them, is likely to make profit, Exod. xxxii. 26, compare xxx. 31.
Lastly, After we are come from duties. It is as the harrow after the sower, to cover the seed. The beasts that did not chew the cud were unclean; and the persons who do not meditate on what they hear, and on what they do, are not likely to reap much benefit, or to reform their lives. How natural is it to a man, when he has been about a worldly business of importance, to reflect on it. Much more need is there here. We are,
IV. To give reasons why we should thus commuue with ourselves. 1. Because our conscience is witness to all our actions, and keeps a record of our conversation. Our conscience also bears witness, and our thoughts the meanwhile accusing, or else excusing one another. Would we flee from our consciences, we must flee from ourselves. Yet alas! many will do that in secret, which they would not do before a little child. Conscience is a thousand witnesses. Good reason, then, that we commune with it.
2. It is God's deputy in the soul. If God should send one out of heaven to lodge in your family as his deputy, would you not be often communing with him. Conscience is so. "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly." It is our schoolmaster and household preacher, God's spy and man's overseer; as Moses was to Aaron instead of God.
3. Because its approbation is necessary for our actions. Its antecedent approbation is necessary to make our actions lawful, "for whatsoever is not of faith is sin;" so that it is even sin to go against the conscience, though in an error; its consequent approbation is necessary to our peace. "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God." This is the oracle, then, within our breasts, which we must always consult.
4. Excepting only God himself, our consciences are our best friends or worst enemies. A good conscience will clear and support a man under the greatest hardships, 2 Cor. i. 12; and even in the hour of death, Isa. xxxviii. 3. Observe of king Josiah, he was slain in war, yet died in peace with God and his conscience, 2 Kings xxii. 20, compare xxiii. 29. An ill conscience will deprive us of the comfort of all other enjoyments, and fill the mind with horrible dismay, as in the case of Belshazzar. It remains,
V. To shew that this duty is an excellent mean to a holy life.
1. This appears, if we consider that the want of it is that which makes people go on securely in their sins. "I hearkened and heard, saith the Lord; but they spake not aright, no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? Every one turneth to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle." Sin is a work of darkness, and therefore goes on best in the dark; for to him that is in love with his sin, the morning is as the shadow of death. Therefore Satan keeps all fast, as long as he gets conscience and the man kept asunder.
2. As soon as people give ear to their consciences, they are obliged to begin a new course; therefore, thus saith the Lord God, consider your ways." This was exemplified in the prodigal. David also says, "I thought upon my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies." Conscience is ever a friend to holiness, even in the worst of men.
3. Conscience discovers our defects, errors, and wanderings out of God's way. To know the disease is a considerable step to the cure. When a man books his accounts, and compares his expenses with his income, it will make him spend less.
4. Conscience will point out duty, and spur a man on to it. When men are pricked in their hearts, they will cry, what shall we do. A little thinking sometimes would set resolutions in practice, and make good purposes bring forth abundantly.
USE 1. For information. We need not weary for want of company. We have a companion within us, able to hold up in profitable discourse.
2. It is great wickedness to refuse to commune with our consciences, when they offer to speak. Sometimes it speaks undesired; but men often entertain it, as did Cain, Felix, and others. Some do like these idolatrous heathens, who beat drums and raise shouts, when their children are consuming on Moloch's altar, to drown their cries.
3. They are careless souls indeed, whose religion never reacheth to their beds, farther than to desire God to have a care of them, when they wrap the clothes about them; as if their beds were sleeping places for their souls as well as bodies; hence Satan has their hearts, sleeping and waking.
4. See here why the devil is such an enemy to this duty. Why, if this conference takes place between a man and his heart, Satan's kingdom is in danger. But men sin and stand not in awe, for they commune not with their heart.
USE 2. Of exhortation. Make this your daily work. Commune with your hearts respecting what concerns your souls. The subject
is very large.
You need not want matter, as commune with "Examine yourselves whether own selves." Ask your souls
your heart respecting your state. you be in the faith; prove your whether or not you are born again? It is certain you were once children of wrath and of the devil. The voice may be Jacob's and the hands Esau's. Perhaps no inward change has yet taken place. Commune respecting the frame and case of your soul, whether you be sleeping or waking, growing or declining, grace in exercise or not. Commune respecting your sins. It is very unsafe to be still running on in the score, contracting debts, but never casting up your accounts. Commune where you are like to take up your eternal lodging, in heaven or hell. It is a serious question. Sit not down with an uncertainty, a mere maybe upon it, but ponder what evidences you have for heaven.
In the morning commune with your hearts on what hath passed in the night; on the goodness of God in preserving and refreshing you; what good or sinful motions have been stirred up in your sleep; on the danger on which you are when you are going out to the world, and the need you have of grace to keep you.
At night commune on what has passed through the day, looking through your hearts, lips, and lives. Ask yourselves whether you be a day's journey nearer heaven, or hell; what providences you have met with, what temptations, and the like.
Before you engage in duty, commune with your hearts respecting the majesty and greatness of God, before whom you are to appear; respecting your sins, that you may know what you have to confess; respecting your wants, that you may know what to ask; and respecting your mercies, in order to give thanks.
When you come from duties, commune respecting your behaviour in them; what success you have had; whether you have had access to God or not, whether you have received any blessings of grace or not. And rush not rashly on any project or business; but commune with your own hearts, and consult your conscience what is sin, and what is duty in particular cases. Consider,
1. That the habitual neglect of this exercise is a chief engine of Satan, to make men sleep the sleep of death. In hell, the inconsiderate rich man lift up his eyes. It is next to a desperate case which the prophet Isaiah describes: "He feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, is there not a lie in my right hand."
2. The neglecting of this duty so much, is the reason why Christians are like Pharaoh's lean kine, so ill favoured. He that would keep a clean face, should often look into the glass.
Lastly, Sooner or later we must reckon with conscience, and the longer in doing it, the worse. Death and judgment are posting on. It is very dismal, indeed, to be hurried out of the world, ere we have got a serious discourse with our hearts, respecting our state and frame. Be not afraid at the difficulty of the work. If Satan be such an enemy to it, that says that it is most advantageous for the soul. Want of frequency in it makes us so averse to it, and the love to sin which must be put away. Study tenderness in your conduct and it will be sweet to you, and often wash your consciences in the blood of Christ. "This will purge your consciences from dead
works to serve the living God." Amen.
Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
HERE have we no continuing city, this is not the place of our fixed abode; all men are in motion heavenward or hellward. These that are going downward, may sit still; they go with the stream, and ere long shall reach the ocean of God's wrath; these that are going upward, must row against the stream, and must be at work till they arrive at Immanuel's land. Rest here is too dear bought, at the rate of everlasting trouble. Let us, then, labour here, that we may enter into that rest which is to come. In these words, there is, First, An exhortation: Second, A motive pressing it.
In the exhortation we may consider: 1. The dependence of it upon what goes before, intimated in the particle therefore; shewing that it is an inference from some preceding doctrine. In the latter part of the third chapter, he shews that unbelief kept the disobedient Israelites out of God's rest; both out of Canaan, and heaven typified thereby, chap. iv.
1. He lets them see, that they had an offer of that eternal rest, as well as the Israelites in the wilderness had; because both had the
gospel, only the Israelites in the wilderness did not believe it, ver. 2. He proves there was a rest remaining for the people of God, from ver. 3; and lays down the conclusion, ver. 9. This he confirms ver. 10, which some understand of believers, and these go two ways: 1. Some take it for these that are now in heaven, who cease there from sin. 2. Some take it for believers on earth, who are in the way to eternal rest, and so have in part ceased from sin. Others understand it of Christ, of whose exaltation he speaks, chap i. 3, and frequently in this epistle. Christ, as the believer's head, is entered into heaven, he has gone there as our forerunner, and has now ceased from the work of redemption, finished on the cross, even as God rested on the seventh day from his work of creation. This I take to be very probable. From the whole, he doth most natively infer the exhortation in the text.
2. The great thing which we should have in our eye, that rest, namely, of which David speaks, Psal. xcv. 11; that rest which remains, ver. 9. The apostle shews, that the rest of which David spoke was not the rest of the Sabbath; for that rest of the Sabbath, in which God ceased from the work of creation, was long since over and gone; the rest which David means, was not so, ver. 3-7. Neither was it the rest of Canaan, given the people by Joshua, for the same reason, ver. 8; therefore, it is a rest yet to come, and that peculiar to the people of God. This rest is nothing else but heaven, or the state of glory, which the Lord gives to his people, being taken out of this world. It is eternal life, Rev. xiv. 13. This is that rest from which unbelievers are excluded, Heb. iii. 19.
3. What we are to aim at, in reference to that rest; "to enter into it; that is, to be partakers of it. The reason of this phrase is, that heaven and eternal life is ordinarily held out by a garden or paradise, a house, a city, a kingdom, into which we are to enter by certain ways, posts, and doors. By grace we come to glory.
4. The means to be used, in order to our entering, is labouring. Labour we must, for heaven will not fall down into our mouths, while lying on the bed of sloth. They that will not work, must not eat bread in the kingdom of God. Drinking of the rivers of pleasures, which are at God's right hand, is reserved for labourers only, not for loiterers. The Greek word is very emphatical, and signifies labouring with intenseness of mind, carefulness, and haste; accordingly it is diversely translated. It primarily denotes haste, Mark vi. 25. That which people hasten, after they are intent upon it; so we may better understand that, Mark vi. 25, "She went in FV0wc, straightway (denoting haste,) μerà oñovdñs, with haste;" (denoting the intenseness of her mind on the thing.) They also go vigour