Edward Payson Archive

Selected Thoughts


Conscience


Conscience is God’s vicegerent in the soul, and though sinners may stupefy and sear, they cannot entirely silence or destroy it. At times, this unwelcome monitor will awake, and then her reproaches and threatenings are, above all things, terrible to the sinner. During the day, while he is surrounded by thoughtless companions, or wholly engrossed by worldly pursuits, he may contrive to stifle, or at least to disregard, her voice; but at night, and upon his bed, when all is silent around him, when darkness and solitude compel him to attend to his own reflections, the case is different. Then an awakened conscience will be heard. Then she arraigns the sinner at her bar, tries, convicts, and condemns him, and threatens him with the punishment which his sins deserve. In vain does he endeavor to fly from her tor­turing scourge, or to find refuge in sleep. Sleep flies from him. One sin after another rises to his view, and the load of con­scious guilt, which oppresses him, becomes more and more heavy, till, like the impious Belshazzar, when he saw the mys­terious handwriting upon the wall, the joints of his loins are loosed, and his knees smite one against the other. He finds that something must be done. He has heard that prayer is a duty, and he attempts to pray. He utters a few half-formed cries for mercy, makes a few insincere resolutions, and promises of amendment; and having thus, in some measure, quieted the reproaches of his conscience, he falls asleep. In the morning he wakes, rejoiced to see once more the cheerful light; the res­olutions and promises of the night are forgotten, he again spends the day in folly and sin, and at night retires to his bed, again to be scourged by conscience for breaking his resolutions, again to quiet her reproaches by insincere prayers and promises, and again to break these promises when the light returns.

There is a season, and often, perhaps, more than one, in the life of almost every person who hears the gospel faithfully preached, in which it affects him more than ordinarily. Some­thing like light appears to shine into his mind, which enables him to discover objects previously unseen or unnoticed. While this light continues to shine, he feels a much more full and strong conviction of the truth of the Bible, and of the reality and importance of religion, than he ever felt before. He sees, with more or less clearness, that he is a sinner; that, as such, he is exposed to God’s displeasure; and that, unless some means can be found to avert that displeasure, he is undone. After such means, he is, therefore, very inquisitive. He reads the Bible more frequently and carefully, becomes a more diligent, attentive and interested hearer of the gospel, is fond of convers­ing on religious subjects, and perhaps attempts to pray for mer­cy. Christ stands at the door of his heart, and knocks for admittance. With a person in this situation, he is as really, though not as visibly, present, as he was with the Jews, when he said, Yet a little while is the light with you.


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