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CONTENTS OF THE FOURTH VOLUME.
EXPOSITION OF THE CREED.
1 Tim. iii. 9.
Holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience.
THAT which was the Apostle's practice, as he expresses it, 1 Cor. ix. 22, is the standing duty of all the ministers of the same Gospel; To the weak to become as weak, to gain the weak, and all things to all men, that if by any means they may save some. And truly, one main part of the observance of that rule, is, in descending to the instruction of the most ignorant in the principles of the Christian religion. What I aim at, at this time, is, a very brief and plain exposition of the Articles of our Faith, as we have them in that summary Confession; not staying you at all on the antiquity and authority of it, both of which are confessed. Whether it was penned by the Apostles, or by others in their time, or soon after it, it doth very clearly and briefly contain the main of their Divine doctrine.
But though it be altogether consonant with the Scriptures, yet, not being a part of the canon of them, I choose these words as pertinent to our intended explication of it. They are, indeed, here, as they stand in the context, a rule for deacons ; but without question, taken in general, they express duty of all who are Christians, to keep the mystery of faith, in a pure conscience.
You see clearly in them a rich jewel, and a precious cabinet fit for it; the mystery of faith laid up and kept in a pure conscience. And these two are not only suitable, but inseparable, as we see in the first chapter of this Epistle, ver. 10: they are preserved and lost together, they suffer the same shipwreck; the casting away of the one, is the shipwreck of the other: if the one perish, the other cannot escape. Every believer is the temple of God; and as the tables of the Law were kept in the Ark, this pure conscience is the Ark that holds the mystery of faith. You think you are believers, you do not question that, and would take it ill that others should. It is very hard to convince men of unbelief, directly and in itself. But if you do believe this truth, that the only receptacle of saving faith, is, a purified conscience, then, I beseech you, question yourselves concerning that: being truly answered in it, it will resolve you touching your faith, which you are so loth to question in itself. Are your consciences pure? Have you a living hatred and antipathy against all impurity ? Then, surely, faith is there ; for it is the peculiar virtue of faith to purify the heart, (Acts xv. 9.) and the heart so purified, is the proper residence of faith, where it dwells and rests as in its natural place. But have you consciences that can lodge pride, and lust, and malice, and covetousness, and such like pollutions ? Then, be no more so impudent as to say, you believe, nor deceive yourselves so far as to think you do. The blood of Christ never speaks peace to any conscience but the same that it purifies from dead works to serve the living God. Heb. ix. 13, 14. As that blood is a sacrifice to appease God's wrath, so, it is a laver to wash our souls; and, to serve both ends, it is, as was the blood of legal sacrifices, both offered up to God and sprinkled upon us, as both are expressed in the Apostle's words there. Do not think that God will throw this jewel of faith into a sty or kennel, a conscience full of defilement and uncleanness. Therefore, if you have any mind to these comforts and the peace that faith brings along with it, be careful to lodge it where it delights to dwell, in a pure conscience.