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THE TRUTH HELD IN UNRIGHTEOUSNESS.
« THE WRATH OF GOD IS REVEALED FROM HEAVEN AGAINST
ALL UNGODLINESS, AND UNRIGHTEOUSNESS OF MEN, WHO HOLD THE TRUTH IN UNRIGHTEOUSNESS.” Rom. 1:18.
In all the foregoing discourses, I have been pleading and wooing for Christ. And as Abraham's servant, to win Rebekah's consent, told her what treasures his master's son had, so I have labored to show you some part of the unsearchable riches of Christ, if by any means I might allure your hearts, and be instrumental to close the happy union between him and you ; and, as the apostle speaks, espouse you to one husband, even to Christ. 2 Cor. 11:2.
But alas, how few move towards him. The most seem to be immovably fixed in their natural state and sinful course. All our arguments and entreaties return to us again, and effect nothing. It is amazing to think that souls which have in them the hopes and fears of the world to come, and self-reflecting powers, cannot be prevailed upon to quit the way of sin and to embrace the way of holiness, though their consciences meanwhile stand convinced that eternal damnation is the result of the one, and life, peace, and eternal joys of the other.
This has put me upon a serious search what may be the cause of this fixed and unreasonable obstinacy; and it seems evident that most who live in an unregenerate state under the gospel, put a force upon their own consciences, and imprison and hold the truth in unrighteousness, though the wrath of God be revealed from heaven against all that do so
If by this discourse I can but set truth at liberty, and loose the Lord's prisoners which lie bound in your souls, I shall not doubt that the estimate of the value of Christ will quickly rise among you, and free convictions will make the work of your ministers more easy and successful than they now find it. It is hardly imaginable but that the things you have heard must leave your souls under convictions; but if you suppress and stifle them, they produce nothing but aggravations of sin and misery. Now, in order to the effectual working of your convictions, and awakening the reverence which is due to them from every soul, as to the voice of God, I have chosen this scripture, the scope and sense whereof I shall endeavor to give you.
The true scope and aim of this context is to prove the justification of sinners to be only by the imputed righteousness of Christ in the way of faith. To make this evident, he divides the whole world into Gentiles and Jews: the one seeking righteousness by the dim light of nature, or the law written in their hearts; the other, the Jews, by the works of the law, or external conformity to the law of Moses. But that neither can find what they seek, he distinctly and fully proves. He proves it first upon the Gentiles from this verse to the seventeenth of the second chapter; and then he proves it upon the Jews also, from thence to the end of the third chapter. As for the Gentiles, he acknowledges that they had some notions of God imprinted in their nature; they had also the book of creation, giving them knowledge enough to leave them without excuse. But this knowledge of God, and of good and evil, they did not obey and put in practice, but acted against the dictates of their consciences. For which cause the wrath of God was revealed from heaven against them, as the text speaks. Wherein we notice,
1. Here is a clear and dreadful revelation of divine wrath, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven;" ópyn Osov, the indignation or vengeance of God. It is a word of deep and dreadful signification; the damned who feel its weight, have the fullest sense of it. It is said, Psa. 90:11, “Who knoweth the power of thine anger ? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.” That is, the fears of an
incensed Deity are no vain imaginings, nor the effects of ignorance and superstition, as atheists fancy; but let men's fears of it be what they will, they shall find, except they repent, the wrath of God to be according to, yea, far above their fears of it. If the wrath of a king be as the messenger of death, what is the wrath of the great and terrible God? This wrath is here said to be revealed, discovered, or made manifest; and so it is in various ways. It was revealed to them by the light of nature, their own consciences gave them notice and warning of it. Thus it was revealed to them by an internal testimony, a witness within them; and it was also revealed to them by the instances of punishment of sin in all ages by the immediate hand of a justly incensed God. They came not by chance, but divine direction; therefore it is added, “ from heaven," or from God in heaven.
2. Here is the cause of this revealed and inflicted wrath : it “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” The former word, ungodliness, comprises all sins against the first table of the law; the irreligious lives and practices of men, living in the neglect of the duties of religion : the other word, unrighteousness, comprises all sins against the second table, such as acts of fraud, uncleanness, lying, and other sins, against men. And because these two comprehensive words are branched out into many particulars, therefore the apostle says, "The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” There is not one of the many sins into which ungodliness and unrighteousness are branched out, but incenses the Lord's wrath; and though he only mentions the sins, we are to understand them as put for the sinners that commit them, or God's punishing these sins upon the persons of the sinners.
3. We have here before us the special aggravation of these sins, or that which made them more provoking to God than otherwise they had been. And it was this : that while they committed these sins, or omitted those duties, they “held the truth in unrighteousness :” the word signifies to detain or hinder the truth of God, or the knowledge they had of his being, power, goodness, and truth, as also of his worship, and the difference between good and evil. These truths acted on their consciences; conscience labored to excite them to duty, and restrain them from sin; but all in vain, they overbore their own consciences, and kept those sentiments and convictions prisoners, though they struggled for liberty to break forth into practice and obedience. Their convictions were kept down under the dominion of corruption, as a prisoner is shut up by his keeper. Their lusts were too hard for their light. Thus you have both the scope and sense of the text. The doctrine taught by it is this,
The wrath of God is dreadfully incensed against all those who live in any course of sin, against the light and dictates of their own consciences. · Sins of ignorance provoke the wrath of God; yet they are not of so heinous a nature as sins against light and convictions are, nor will they be punished so severely. “That servant which knew his Lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” Luke 12:47. It excuses a man in some measure, when he can say, Lord, had I known this to be a sin, I would not have done it. But when the conscience is convinced, and strives to keep us from such an act or course of sinful actions, and we stop our ears against its voice and warnings, here is a high and horrid contempt of God and his law, and it gives the sin a scarlet dye. Sins of ignorance cannot compare with such sins as these. John 3:19; 15: 22. To open this point, let me show what conscience is; what the light of conscience is; and how this light binds the conscience and makes it strive in us; then instance some cases wherein it doth so; and lastly show how and
why the imprisoning of these convictions so dreadfully incenses the wrath of God.
I. It will be needful to speak of THE NATURE OF conSCIENCE' in general. Conscience is the judgment of man upon himself, as he is subject to the judgment of God. . A judgment it is, and a practical judgment too; it belongs to the understanding. “If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” 1 Cor. 11:31. This self-judgment is the proper office of the conscience, and to enable it to fulfil its office, there are three things belonging to every man's conscience.
1. A knowledge of the rule or law according to which it is to judge; without which conscience can no more do its work, than an artificer without his square or level can do his.
2. Knowledge of the facts or matters to be judged. The conscience of every man keeps a register of his actions, thoughts, and the very secrets of the heart.
3. An ability or delegated authority to pass judgment on ourselves and actions according to the rule and law of God. Here it sits upon the bench as God's vicegerent, absolving or condemning, as it finds the sincerity or hypocrisy of the heart upon trial. 1 John, 3:20, 21. I Conscience, therefore, is a high and awful power; it is next to and immediately under God our Judge. Concerning conscience, God says to every man, as he once did to Moses with respect to Pharaoh, “See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh.” Exod. 7:1. The voice of enlightened conscience is the voice of God. What it binds or looses on earth, is bound or loosed in heaven, 1 John, 3:20; the greatest deference and precise obedience is due to its command. Its consolations are of all the most sweet, and its condemnations, excepting those by the mouth of Christ in the last judgment, most terrible. Zuingle spoke not without ground, when he said, “What death would I not rather,