What may be the Causes of the trouble of Conscience, which yet are short of true saving Motives.
IN the third place take notice, of what may be the cause and motives which may make thy conscience awakened and troubled, which yet are not from true saving principles.
1. The commission of some gross and hainous sinne against conscience; this may Page 244 work much terror. The very natural light of consciene in this particular is able to fill the soul with feares, Rom. 2. The Heathens had their consciences acusing of them. We read of Nero, that after he had killed his mother Agrip∣pina, he was so terrified in his conscience, that he never dared to offer sacri∣fices to the Gods, because of the guilt upon him, yea, and as Tertullian (lib. de animâ cap. 44.) observeth from Suetonius, after this parricide, he who in his former times never used to dreame (it's noted of him as a rare and strange thing) was constantly terrified in his dreames with sad imaginations. Thus you see natural conscience upon the committing of some gross sinne, hath power of it self to recoil and with heavy terror to overwhelm a man. Some also do relate of Constantine, that having been the cause of the death of his eldest sonne Crispus, upon groundless suspicious, was greatly tormented in his conscience, not knowing what to do, and thereupon was advised to re∣ceive the Christian Religion, in which alone there could be found an expiation for so foul an offence.
2. The trouble of conscience may arise from some heavy and grievous judge∣ment that hath overtaken us. Conscience may lie asleep may yeares; the sinnes thou hast committed long agoe may be almost forgotten, and yet some judgement and calamity, falling upon thee afterwards, may bring them to mind: Thus Joseph's brethren, whose consciences were so stupid (as you heard) that upon the throwing of their brother into the pit, they could sit down as if nothing a•led them; many yeares after, when they were in anguish of mind by Joseph's severe carriage towards them, Gen. 42. 21. Then they said one to another, We are very guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear, therefore is this distress come upon us; so that some unexpected calamity may be to us, as the hand-writing on the will to Belshazzar, making conscience to tremble with∣in us.
3. God as a just Judge can command these Hornets and Bees to arise in thy conscience. It is plain, Cain, when he set himselfe to build Townes, thought to remove that trembling which was upon him, but he could not do it; how many have set themselves with all the might they could to be delivered from this anguish of conscience and could not? because God is greater then our conscience, if he command terror and trembling none can expell it. This troubled conscience is threatned as a curse to such, who did break the Law of God, Deut. 29. 65▪ 67. The Lord shall give thee a trembling heart—and sorrow of mind—In the morning thou shalt say, would God it were day—for the fear of thy heart. Here we may observe, that God can, when he pleaseth, strike the heart of the most jolly and prophane sinner with such a trembling consci∣ence, that he shall not have rest day or night; and when God, after much patience abused, doth smite the soul with such horror and astonishment many times: This never tendeth to a gracious and Evangelical humiliation, but as in Cain and Judas is the beginning even of hell it self in this life. So fearfull a thing is it to fall into the hands of the living God, when provoked, Heb. 10. 31. For in such (as ver. 27.) there is a certain fearfull looking for the indignation and wrath of God, which will devour the adversaries.
4. This troubled conscience may, and doth often come by the Spirit of God con∣vincing and reprooving by the Word, especially the law discovered in the exactness and condemning power of it. Joh. 16. 8. The Spirit of God doth reproove or con∣vince the world of sinne; Now conviction belongs to the conscience princi∣pally; and indeed this is the ordinary way for the conversion of any; Gods Spirit doth by the Law convince and awaken conscience, making it unquiet and restless, finding no bottome to stand upon; it hath nothing but sinne, no righteousness to be justified by; the law condemneth, justice arraigneth, Page 245 and he is overwhelmed, not knowing what to doe; This is the worke of Gods Spirit; and of this some do expound that place, Rom. 8. 15. Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but of adoption; It is the same spirit which is called the spirit of bondage, and of Adoption, onely it's cal∣led so from different operations; It's the spirit of bondage, while by the Law it humbleth us, filleth the conscience with fear and trembling; not that the sinfulnesse or slavishnesse of these fears, opposing the way of faith, are of the Spirit, but the tremblings themselves; and it is the Spirit of Adoption, when it rebuketh all tormenting fears, giving Evangelical principles of Faith, Love and Assurance; Now these fears thus wrought by the Spirit of God in the Ministry of the Word, though they be not alwaies necessary antecedents of con∣version, yet are sometimes ordained by God, to be (as it were) a John Baptist, to make way for Christ.
Lastly, These troubles of conscience may arise (through Gods permission) from the Devil: For when God leaveth thee to Satan's kingdome; as it was the case of the incestuous person, to be buffeted by him, tempted by him, you see he did so farre prevail with him, that he was almost swallowed up with too much grief: Therefore when God will evangelically compose the con∣science by faith in Christs bloud, he taketh off Satan again, and suffereth him not to cast his fiery darts into us any longer.