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HEREIN DO I EXERCISE MYSELF, TO HAVE ALWAYS A CONSCIENCE VOID OF OFFENCE TOWARD GOD, AND TOWARD MAN.
THOUGH every one who reads the Scrip
tures, must confess, that our own righteousness cannot save us--that, imperfect as it is, and mixed with transgression, it can at best only qualify us for obtaining the effects of Christ's atonement; yet, on the other hand, it seems agreeable to the whole tenor of Scripture, that we may do works pleasing to God, and that they may therefore have some good in them. I shall at present only deduce an argument to this purpose, from the passage before us.
A good conscience can mean nothing, if it do not mean that pleasure which we feel from our own endeavours to live uprightly, and please God or, in other words, that complacence which we feel in our own good works. I do not mean, in the whole of our moral conduct, for, after all, we are unprofitable servants, and have much to deplore; but in certain actions, wrought, as we conceive they are, on good motives.
As, therefore, we are encouraged by example and precept, to 'endeavour to obtain the happy feelings of a good conscience, we must suppose that good works, which are the foundation of these feelings, must have some kind of merit in the fight of God. I am cautious in using the word merit. But I mean it in a very restrained sense. We cannot surely be exhorted in Scripture to feel a satisfa&tion in any thing which is not pleasing to our Almighty Father.—If a conscience void of offence towards God and man; that is, if good works were of no avail, why should the apostle exercise himself in them ? Faith was all he needed to have insisted on. But, in short, the Scripture supposes both faith and good works fo necessary, as to be equally insisted on. Faith as the meangood works as the end.
If it be said, the apostle rejoiced in a good conscience, only as it was a test of faith, it is not easy to say, why he should leave the cause out of the question, and speak only of the effect, It would have been a more natural mode of expression, to say, herein do I exercise myself to have always a sound faith.
THEN OPENED HE THEIR UNDERSTANDING,
THAT THEY MIGHT UNDERSTAND THE
W H ETHER the opening of the understanding,
W which is mentioned in the intercourse which our Saviour had with the two disciples at Emmaus, was supernatural—or it consisted only in shewing the prophecy and the completion together in so strong a light, that the reason of the disciples could not but close with it-does not certainly appear. At any rate, however, the understanding must be taken for human reason, as the medium through which the sense of Scripture, either naturally, or supernaturally, was conveyed to them.
But whatever might have been the case of the apostles, we have no ground to believe, that our Teason will be fupernaturally assisted. The Holy Spirit of God, we conceive, assists the pious Christian rather in his heart, than in his understanding.
N.B. This subject might be considered by examining, first, a few rules, that may aslift us in understanding Scripture: and, secondly, by fhewing how greatly men have erred in all ages, by not attending to what St. Paul calls the fimplicity that is in Chrift.