First, Does my heart choose and follow after those things which my conscience tells me are right? I can assure you that with many this is not the case. Their consciences tell them that they ought to fear God, to keep holy the sabbath day, to read and hear the word of God, and to perform various other duties; but their hearts are at variance with all these things. Their consciences tell them that they ought not to swear, lie, steal, get intoxicated, cheat their creditors, and ruin their families; but their hearts, nevertheless, are set upon these and many other such wicked courses; and they will pursue them, at all events. Is this the case with any of you? It is a miserable life to have the heart and conscience at variance. You are sensible it is so; and therefore, if any of you are of this description, you labour, I dare say, to lull conscience asleep, that you may enjoy the desires of your heart without interruption from its remonstrances. But this is a desperate way of going on. Conscience will not always sleep; and when it does awake, which perhaps may be upon a death-bed, its voice will be more terrible than thunder, and its accusations more painful than the sting of a scorpion. Did you never see a wicked man upon a dying bed? Perhaps not: possibly you cannot bear such sights, and therefore shun them. There are persons, however, who have; and, witnessing his agony, have longed to alleviate it. The guilt, the fear, and the horror which have appeared in his eyes; the bitter regret that has preyed upon his dying heart; and the forebodings of everlasting misery that seemed to have seized his soul; have wrung their hearts with anguish: but all they could do was to drop an unavailing tear. Given up to the hardness of his heart, even the doctrine of salvation by the blood of the Lamb has had no effect upon him, and he has died in all the misery of despair. Oh that this may not be your end! Yet if such be your life, and you persist in it, there is no reason to expect but that it will.
But it is possible that you may not sustain this character Your heart and conscience may not be at such variance as to give you any considerable pain. If so, let me recommend a second question: Is my conscience instructed and formed by the word of God? Though you may be certain that you are in a wrong course if you live in the violation of conscience, yet you cannot always conclude that you are in a right one when you do not violate it, because conscience itself may err. Saul was conscientious in persecuting the followers of Christ; yet he was one of the chief of sinners for so doing. You may ask, What can a man do but follow that which he thinks to be right? True; but it becomes him to compare his thoughts with the word of God; for we are easily persuaded to think favourably of that conduct which suits our inclinations; and where this is the case, the error of the conscience, instead of excusing the evil conduct, becomes itself an evil.
The consciences of many people tell them, that if they take care of their families, pay every man his due, and attend public worship once or twice a week, this is all that can reasonably be expected at their hands. And I have heard this Scripture passage brought in proof of it, “What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” But (to say nothing of the love of mercy towards our fellow creatures) to walk humbly with God is a very different thing from the above exercises.
A man’s conscience may be easy, and he may persuade himself that he is in the way to life, while, in fact, he is as far from it as the old Pharisees, against whom the heaviest woes of damnation were denounced. The case of such people seems to be worse, on some accounts, than that of the openly profane: these acting in opposition to their own consciences, as well as to God, a faithful warning sometimes takes hold of their fears; but those, deluded by vain hope, consider all such warnings as inapplicable to them. Both are steering the same course; but the one is impeded by wind and tide, while the other is aided by the current of a perverted conscience. Do not forget to inquire, Is my conscience instructed and formed by the word of God? Perhaps you have not been in the habit of reading that sacred book, or of having it read to you. The neglect of it may occasion your eternal overthrow.
But let me recommend a third question: Have any or all my pursuits, whether after natural or sinful enjoyments, ever yet afforded me satisfaction? The answer to this question is of importance; because if they never have, there is no reason to conclude they ever will; and if so, what have you been pursuing all this time? You have spent thirty, forty, fifty, or more years in the world, and, by a thousand different methods, have been seeking satisfaction; yet you have not found it. You thought, when you were young, to have found it in forbidden pleasures, and perhaps you gave a loose to appetite and desire; but you were disappointed. Guilt, infamy, and misery were the fruits of those excesses. Your own heart will tell you this, if you ask it. Since that time, having felt the effects of your former folly, it may be, you have turned your attention to other things: you have settled; and now your object has been to raise yourself in the world. Saving money has seemed the one thing needful to render you happy. Perhaps you have saved a little of this article; and are you happy? Ask your own heart, and it will tell you. No, you want to save a little more. Poor man! you are unhappy; and unhappy in this course you will be. Can you tell the reason? You have been trying to satisfy yourself with that which is not bread. Do you not know that God has created you with desires which it is not in the power of the whole creation to satisfy? Alexander and Cæsar, those mighty monarchs, who each in his day conquered the world, were as far off from happiness as you are. The one is said to have wept because there was not another world to conquer; and the other to have exclaimed, when in the full possession of empire, “Is this all?”
If you inquire wherefore has God planted desires in your natures that it is not in the power of creation to satisfy, I answer, that you might be led to seek satisfaction where it is to be found. There is much meaning, and merciful meaning too, in those Divine expostulations: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live, and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” Again, “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink!” And again, “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.”
A fourth question I would recommend is this: Will the course I am in do to die with? If it will, pursue it with all your might; but first be well satisfied that it will. There is no way of answering this question but by comparing your character with the word of God. There you will find our Lord declaring to his disciples, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.—Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And again, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Do you understand these things by experience? Did you ever seriously think about them? They are subjects of no little importance. Some men, and even some preachers, may tell you that all this signifies nothing more than your being baptized, or, at most, living a sober, regular life; but it is at your peril to believe them against the solemn declarations of Christ. Nicodemus, a master in Israel, was ignorant of these things. Other teachers now may be the same; and if blind themselves, no wonder that they lead others equally blind till both fall into the ditch. But as you value your souls, remember who it is that has said, “Ye must be born again.”
If you have never experienced this change, you are at present strangers to yourselves, to God, to Christ, and to the way of life: exposed to the curse of Almighty God; and, dying in your present state, must perish for ever
One question more let me recommend, and I will conclude this part of the subject: If I should die in an unconverted state, and perish for ever, can I endure the wrath of an offended God? If you can, why then let every man help his neighbour, and every one say to his brother, Be of good courage, laugh at death, set judgment at defiance, and make a jest of an hereafter.… but if not, pause and think.…
Who can forbear remarking the cowardice of wicked men? how, even in this world, these bold spirits are cut down with a little affliction! Those who trifle most with hell, and whose lips are so full of damnation that it becomes in their mouths a mere matter of bravado, how do they sink under the first touch of God’s indignation! Gaal and his company could eat and drink and curse Abimelech at a distance; but when Abimelech draws near, lo! they are covered with dismay.
O profane character! can thine hands be strong, and thine heart endure, in the day that he shall deal with thee? If you cannot tell how to endure the sufferings of life, what will you do in the hour of death? How, especially, will you grapple with the bitter pains of eternal death? “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, how wilt thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace wherein thou trustedst they wearied thee, how wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan?” Such, or nearly such, my hearers, will be your own reflections, if upon your bed you commune with your own hearts to any good purpose.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). “Solitary Reflections,” Sermon XI. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 222–225). Sprinkle Publications.