holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and thereby shipwrecked their faith.
vice, and folly. Paul associated loss of character with loss of faith. "Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having lint away have made shipwreck."
I. SHIPWRECK SOMETIMES COMES AT THE VERY COMMENCEMENT OF THE VOYAGE. The ship scarcely leaves the river before she runs aground. There has been too much self-confidence, and the Divine Pilot has not had the ship in hand.
II. SHIPWRECK SOMETIMES COMES AT THE CLOSE OF THE VOYAGE, when the ship is almost home; when from the masthead land was almost in sight. But the watch has not been kept. In the voyage of life we may have the cross on the flag, and the chart in the cabin, and the compass on the deck; but we sleep, as do others, and we are wrecked with the land almost in sight.
III. SHIPWRECK AFFECTS THE VERY HIGHEST ELEMENTS OF OUR BEING. "A good conscience," the sweetest meal to which ever a man sat down! The sublimest music, which no Beethoven or Mendelssohn can approach! The noblest heritage that a Moses could sacrifice Egypt for! A conscience cleansed by Christ's blood, enlightened by the Word of God, and quickened by the Holy Ghost. "A good conscience!" Wealth cannot purchase it, envy cannot steal it, poverty cannot harm it, and naught but sin can denude it of its crown. It is the strength of the confessor's endurance, the luster of the sufferer's countenance, the peace of the martyr's heart. "A good conscience." Wreck that, and all is lost; and the sun of the moral firmament sets in darkness. - W.M.S.
Holding faith, and a good conscience.I. WHAT THEY ARE: —
1. Faith. The term is in the Scriptures applied both to the revealed truth which a disciple believes, and to his act in believing it. Faith is objective, or subjective. It is at one time the truth which you grasp, and at another time your grasp of the truth. Both in the Scriptures and in their own nature these two are closely interwoven together. It is impossible everywhere to preserve and mark the distinction between the light that I look on, and my looking on that light. True, my looking on it does not create the light, but it makes the light mine. Unless I look on it, the light is nothing to me. If I am blind, it is the same to me as if there had not been light. In some such way are faith and the faith connected and combined. It is quite true that the gospel remains, although I should reject it: my unbelief cannot make God's promise of none effect. Yet my unbelief makes the gospel nothing to me — the same to me as if it had not been. The faith stands in heaven, although faith be wanting on earth; but if faith is wanting, the faith does not save the lost: as the sun continues his course through the sky although I were blind; but my blindness blots out the sun for me.
2. A good conscience. It is not necessary to explain what conscience is: my readers know what it is better than I can tell. Here the principal question is, Whether does the epithet "good" refer to the conscience that gives the testimony, or to the testimony that the conscience gives. The term "good" here belongs net to the testifier, but to the testimony. In one sense that might be called a good conscience, that tells the truth even though the truth torment you. When the conscience, like an ambassador from God in a man's breast, refuses to be silent in the presence of sin, and disturbs the pleasure of the guilty by uttering warnings of doom, that conscience is good, in the sense of being watchful and useful; but it is not the good conscience of this text, and of ordinary language. Both here, and in common conversation, a good conscience is a conscience that does not accuse and disturb. It is the same as peace of conscience. It is no doubt true that in an evil world, and through the deceitfulness of an evil heart, the conscience may sometimes be so drugged or seared that it may leave the soul undisturbed, although the soul is steeped in sin. It sometimes says "Peace, peace," when there is no peace. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked"; but the conscience sometimes contradicts God, and says that there is peace to the wicked. This is, however, an abnormal state of things; as when an ambassador at a foreign court turns traitor to the king who commissioned him, and refuses to deliver his lord's commands to the court where he has been accredited. The conscience in man is intended to be God's witness, and to speak to the man all the truth. Taking conscience, not as twisted and seared by sin, but as constituted by God in the conception and creation of humanity, then a good conscience is peace of conscience. You have and hold a good conscience when that present representative of God in your bosom does not charge you with sin. By the light of Scripture we know that, as matters go among the fallen, a good conscience, if real and lawfully attained, implies these two things: —(1) The application of the blood of sprinkling for the pardon of sin; and(2) Actual abstinence from known sin in the life through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. A good conscience — if it is not a cheat — implies a righteousness on you and a righteousness in you. Pardon and renewing combine to constitute, under the gospel, a good conscience. What God hath joined, let not man put asunder. The conscience is good when it truly testifies that God is at peace with you, and you are at peace with God.
II. THEIR RELATIONS: — The text consists of two parts. The first is a command, the second is an example. The example, as is usual both in human teaching and Divine, is adduced for the purpose of enforcing the precept. Doubtless, Paul could have called up from his own experience many examples to show how good it is to hold both faith and a good conscience; but it suited his purpose better, in this instance, to adduce an example which shows the dread consequence of attempting to separate them. In point of fact, an example of these two rent asunder is more effective in proving the necessity of their union than a hundred examples in which the union remains intact. Thus, if proof were necessary, to divide a living child in two with Solomon's sword would constitute more vivid evidence that in a human being the left side is necessary to the life of the right, and the right to the life of the left, than the sight of a hundred unharmed children. When one side is wrenched off, the other side also dies: this is shorter and surer proof that the two are mutually necessary to each other's existence than a hundred examples of positive, perfect life. Besides, it is easier to find a foundation for a negative than for a positive example. In buoying a channel, they cannot well set up a mark where the ship ought to go; they set up a beacon on the sunken rock which the ship ought to avoid. Here a question of the deepest interest crosses our path and claims our regard. Granted that faith and a good conscience are linked so intimately together that the one cannot live without its consort, what is the specific character of the relation? Whether of these two is first in nature as cause, and whether follows as effect? Looking to the form of expression in the text, which is exact and definite, we find that in the case adduced it was not the dissolution of faith that destroyed the good conscience, but the failing of the good conscience that destroyed faith. These men put away the good conscience; then and therefore, they lost the faith. What then? As the continued possession of the faith depended on maintaining the good conscience, is it through prior possession of a good conscience that one may attain faith? No. The converse is the truth, fully and clearly taught in the Scriptures. You do not reach faith through a good conscience, but a good conscience through faith. A good conscience grows on faith, like fruit on a tree, not faith on a good conscience. A good conscience in both its aspects, as already explained, is the fruit of faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God, either by the righteousness of Christ in justifying, or the new obedience in sanctifying. Now this specific relation is not reciprocal. The good conscience does not produce faith, as faith produces a good conscience. What then? If faith goes first as the cause, and a good conscience follows as the fruit, the good conscience obviously cannot subsist without faith; but may faith subsist without a good conscience? No. As to production at first, the relation is not reciprocal; but as to maintenance it is. We cannot say, as a good conscience springs from faith, faith also springs from a good conscience; but we can say, as the want of faith makes a good conscience impossible, so, also, the loss of a good conscience is fatal to faith. Some species of trees retain life in the roots although the head and stem are cut away. A young tree may spring from the old stump, and grow to maturity. But other species, such as the pine, will not thus spring a second time. When the mature tree is cut off, although the root, with a portion of the stem, is left, the tree does not revive. The root dies when the head is severed. There is an interesting analogy between a pine-tree and the pair which are joined in the text. It is not the tree's towering head that produces the root; the root produces the towering head. We can, therefore, safely say, If the root is killed, the head cannot live; but we may also say, If the head is severed, the root will die. Precisely such is the relation between faith and a good conscience. Faith is the producing, sustaining root, and a good conscience the stem that it sustains. Consequently, cut off faith, and a good conscience falls to the ground. Yes, this is the truth; but it is not the whole truth. We can also say, Destroy the good conscience, and faith cannot stand. Thus in one way only may the good conscience be obtained; but in either of two ways both may be lost. Let faith fail, and the good conscience goes with it; let the good conscience be polluted, and the faith itself gives way. In the first place, then, speculative error undermines practical righteousness. As belief of the truth purifies the heart and rectifies the conduct, so a false belief leads the life astray. The backsliding begins more frequently on the side of conduct than on the side of opinion: the good conscience is lost in most cases, not by adopting a heretical creed, but by indulging in the pleasures of sin. The conscience is more exposed in the battle of life than the intellect. And it is on the weak point that a skilful adversary will concentrate his attack. While the calamity is substantially in all cases the same, the faith may be shipwrecked in any of three distinct forms, — a dead faith, an erroneous faith, and no faith. In the first a form of sound words remains, but they are a dead letter; in the second, false views of Christ and His work are entertained; and in the third, the backslider sits down in the chair of the scorner, and says, No God, with his lips as well as in his heart. Among ourselves, perhaps a dead faith is the most common form of soul shipwreck. Faith and covetousness, faith and any impurity, cannot dwell together in the same breast. These cannot be in the same room with living faith. As well might you expect fire and water to agree. I knew a young man once who became what was called a Socialist. He attained a great degree of boldness in the profession of ungodliness. No God, or no God that cares for me, was his short, cold creed.:But I knew him and his communications before he had made shipwreck concerning faith. The second table of the law had, by indulgence of sinful pleasure, been rusted cut of his heart before the first table was discarded from his creed. He had cruelly dishonoured his father and his mother before he learned to blaspheme God. It cannot be comfortable to a young man in his strength to come day by day to open his heart to God, if day by day he is deliberately disowning and dishonouring his parents in the weakness of their age. The dishonourer of his parents finds it necessary to his own comfort to cast off God. This man put away his good conscience, and therefore his faith was wrecked. I knew another, who had in youth made higher attainments, and who, on that account, made a more terrible fall. He had experienced religious impressions, and taken a side with the disciples of Christ. I lost sight of him for some years. When I met him again, I was surprised to find that he had neither modesty before men nor reverence before God. He was free and easy. He announced plainly that he did not now believe in the terrors spiritual that had frightened him in his youth. I made another discovery at the same time regarding him. He had deceived, ruined, and deserted one whom he falsely pretended to love. Through vile and cruel affections he had put his good conscience away; and, to pacify an evil conscience, he had denied the faith. The belief of the truth and the practice of wickedness could not dwell together in the same breast. The torment caused by their conflict could not be endured. He must be rid of one of the two. Unwilling to part with his sin at the command of his faith, he parted with his faith at the command of his sin. But though the shipwreck of faith is often, it is not always, the issue of the struggle. When the conscience of one who tried to be Christ's disciple is defiled by admitted, indulged sin, the struggle inevitably, immediately begins. The Spirit striveth against the flesh, and the flesh against the Spirit. The sin often casts out the faith; but the faith also often casts out the sin. The outcome is often, through grace, the discomfiture of the adversary. Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory. The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholdeth him with His hand.
(W. Arnot.)I. A GOOD CONSCIENCE. This expression may be used in more ways than one.
1. A clean or pure conscience is a "good conscience." Keep your conscience pure. Do not sully it. Every wrong thing you say or do leaves a stain on your conscience — just like a black mark on a white piece of cloth or a sheet; of paper, and your great concern should be, not to have your conscience thus made black and foul. This applies alike to those who are Christians, and to those who are not. The best conscience has stains enough, and, as we shall see, needs to be cleansed. But in so far as your decision as to any action or course of conduct is concerned, it is of the last importance to keep your conscience clean. I need not say that this is not easy. It requires a constant effort — ay, a constant fight. Paul knew what this was. Good man as he was, he required to be ever on the watch to keep his conscience pure.
2. A cleansed and pacified conscience is a "good conscience." Perhaps some of you say, "Alas, what you have said about the pure conscience is of little concern to me. At least, it can only be a thing of the future to me. What about the past? My conscience troubles me. It is defiled." Now it is here that the gospel comes in, with the good news of cleansing for the conscience. It not only tells of provision of grace and strength in the Lord Jesus, to enable us keep the conscience clean, and do what it bids. It does more. It tells of pardon for sin, through the blood of Christ, who, by taking the guilt of sin upon Himself, and dying in the sinner's stead, removes the guilt, washes out the stains, and so brings back peace to the conscience. There is no conscience that does not need this cleansing, that does not need it again and again, whether the conscience is troubled about the sin or not. I have heard of an Indian having a dollar which did not belong to him. Pointing to his breast, he said, "I got a good man and bad man here, and the good man say, the dollar is not mine; I must return it to the owner"; and so he did. He could not have got the "good conscience" otherwise,
3. A tender conscience is a good conscience. This comes pretty near my first gremark, instead of second, because it seems to come in most suitably after speaking of the cleansed and pacified conscience. If I can get peace for my conscience by going to the blood of Christ, does it matter very much my sinning again? Ah, yes. I heard the other day of a man having a "strong conscience." That is to say, he could go a great length and do very questionable things without his conscience being troubled. Perhaps in order to create a laugh, or to be thought clever, and make himself "good company," as it is called, he might exaggerate or go beyond the exact and literal truth, without it disturbing his conscience much. Now, that is not a tender conscience. Old Humphrey, speaking of such a one, says that he puts too much red in the brush! All such things should be avoided. It is very important to cultivate tenderness of conscience. Even if a thing is not altogether wrong or bad, if it has a doubtful look about it, it should not be done. There are some pieces of machinery which the smallest pin would damage or stop. Take a watch and let a grain of sand get into it, and all would go wrong. Let a grain of sand get into your eye, and you know what comes of it. Now, your conscience should, in this respect, just be like the watch — should just be like your eye — the least thing of wrong should be feared, and felt, and avoided; and if it does get in, there should be no rest till it is out.
II. WHAT IT LEADS TO. What is the effect of having a good or evil conscience?
1. A good conscience leads to happiness and peace; an evil conscience to misery and despair.
2. A good conscience inspires with courage, independence, and fearlessness; an evil conscience fills with cowardice and shame.
(J. H. Wilson, M. A.)
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
(J. H. Wilson, M. A.)
Have made shipwreckI. THE NATURE OF SUCH SHIPWRECKS. We shall confine our meditations to the special aspects of this subject as they are here presented; "concerning faith have made shipwreck." But when has a man made shipwreck concerning faith?
1. When he has lost his hold of spiritual truth. We know but little of these men, Hymenaeus and Alexander, but what we do know shows us that they had lost their grasp of Divine and apostolic teaching. Hence we read respecting Hymenaeus in the second chapter of the Second Epistle to Timothy, "And their word will eat as doth a canker; of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some." Here we see then departure from "the truth"; also that such departure, in Paul's conception, was shipwreck. We read of Alexander in the fourth chapter of the Second Epistle. "Alexander, the copper-smith, did me much evil; of whom be thou aware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words," or the gospel which Paul preached. These men then had made "shipwreck concerning faith." They had lost their faith in the truth as embodied in Christ: and in the resurrection as taught by Him and His apostles. But such "shipwrecks concerning faith" occur in the quieter and less keenly intellectual spheres of human life. The freshness of spiritual life is lost amidst life's cares, temptations, and prosperity, and with the freshness of the spiritual life there goes the beautiful and childlike grasp of faith. Let me ask you, what scepticism has to give you better than the truth, which you have already received from the lips of Christ.
2. Ship wreck is made concerning faith when men and women lose their faith in the nobleness of human destiny, and in the importance and possibility of attaining it.
3. A man has made shipwreck concerning faith when he loses those elements of character which are the results of faith. "They that will be rich fall into temptation and snares; for the love of money is the root of all evil."
II. THE CAUSES OF SUCH MORAL SHIPWRECKS,
1. Trifling with conscience, or the severing of a good conscience from faith. This is clearly the thought of the apostle in these words. "Holding faith, and a good conscience; which, some having put away concerning faith, have made shipwreck." "A good conscience," says Dr. Fairbairn, "is here faith's necessary handmaid," and is as essential as a living faith; indeed, is its necessary fruit. But there are men who sever the two. They imagine that a mere intellectual holding of the truth is enough; that it is not essential that it should influence the life. Such were the views of Hymenaeus and Alexander. They made shipwreck by trifling at first with the instincts and enforcements of conscience. It was this trifling with sin which led to the overthrow of faith. Sometimes faith goes first, and the obligation to morality is subsequently relaxed. But the converse of this is also true.
2. Another cause of moral shipwrecks is, according to the apostle, "hurtful lusts." There is, for instance, the lust after money. There is special reference to this here. "They that will be rich," rich at any cost, social, mental, or spiritual. "Which some coveted after." There is the lust after sinful pleasure. Pure pleasure is right enough but any pleasure indulged at the expense of conscience, any pleasure which soils the spiritual nature is altogether wrong. The pleasures of sinful gratification, of reading and amusements which appeal to the lowest passions, the bewitchment of drinking, are daily drowning men in destruction; leading to shipwrecks.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THESE MORAL SHIPWRECKS.
1. There is the shipwreck of happiness. "Pierced themselves through with many sorrows" — with pangs of remorse. And what hell can be worse than that?
2. This is consummated in final retribution and overthrow. "Drown men in destruction and perdition." What these terrible words mean I cannot say.
(R. A. Davies.)
I. A FAIR START. This thought is suggested by St. Paul's reference to the early promise which Timothy gave of a pious and useful life. When he speaks of "the prophecies that went before on him," I understand him to allude not to inspired predictions, in the usual sense of the term, but to the hopes which had been cherished, and the anticipations which had been expressed, regarding him, even from his childhood. People who knew the lad, his character, his training, his environments, augured for him a bright and honourable career. They said, "That boy will turn out well. He will be a good man. He will make a mark on society. He will live to purpose." And those "prophecies" were justified.
1. By the fact that he came of a good stock. What language can express the blessing that comes of a wise and godly upbringing! Many of us owe more than ever we can tell to the holy influences that gathered around us in our early days. Oh, with what tender and delightful associations is that paternal dwelling linked! Ay, and old grannie Lois, too, we remember how she would take down her spectacles from the chimney corner, and show us Bible-pictures that delighted our young minds, and then would urge us to give our lives to God. You came out of an admirable nest. The ship was launched from a first-rate building yard.
2. Those "prophecies" were justified in the case of young Timothy, by his thorough acquaintance with Holy Scripture. What is that we read in Paul's Epistle to him (1 Timothy 3:15, Revised Version)? From a babe. It is the same Greek word which Luke uses when he says, "And they brought unto Jesus infants, that He would touch them." As soon as he was capable of learning anything he was taught the Word of God. The first impressions his mind received were of religious truth. His mother, as a pious Hebrewess, regarded it as her main duty to her child, to make him acquainted with Holy Scripture. Such instruction may be expected to have a salutary influence on the whole future life. A boy who knows his Bible, and is well up in Scripture studies, starts life with great advantage. He gives promise of keeping on the right rails.
3. There was yet another thing that justified those .early "prophecies" of a good career for Timothy. And this was the personal character of the lad. He was a well-disposed, quiet, thoughtful, serious youth. He never gave his mother any trouble. We read as much in the Acts of the Apostles, for it is there stated that "he was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium." It is a good sign of a young fellow, when, in the town or village where he was born and bred, every one is ready to speak well of him. Thus we have seen what is meant by a fair start in life. It is like a vessel gliding down the slip on the launching day, when, all the hammering ended, and gay bunting flying everywhere, and loud huzzas rending the air, she softly glides out on to the open main! Who, on such a day, would augur her lying a pitiful wreck on some foreign reef?
II. Now for THE GOOD EQUIPMENT. It is thus described: "Holding faith and a good conscience." Two very excellent and necessary things. Shall we call conscience the compass to direct the ship's course, and faith the sails that are to impel her on her way? Well, no vessel that wants either of these things is fit to go to sea. Without the one, her path through the deep will be uncertain, and therefore dangerous; without the other, she will have no force to carry her forward. A man has a poor chance of a happy and successful voyage over the sea of life, if, in entering upon it, he lacks either a good conscience or a sound faith.
1. "A good conscience." I take them in this order, because, generally, the whisper of conscience is heard even prior to the adoption of a definite faith. In matters of spiritual navigation, the compass is fixed before the canvas is set. Yours, sir, is a bad conscience, when, without upbraiding and making you miserable, it allows you to go into bad company, to frequent the haunts of dissipation, to profane the Lord's day, to neglect His ordinances, to read unclean literature, and to satisfy yourself with all sorts of vain excuses. Yours is a drugged and evil conscience, William, when you can lie down to rest at night and sleep soundly, though you have offered no prayer to God, and have no reason to know that He is at peace with you. "A good conscience "is one that is tender, sensitive, and pure; like a sound compass, whose magnetism has not been injured, it will guide you aright. To be altogether safe and good, it must be under the direction of God's truth; for the mere moralist may be scrupulously conscientious, and yet far from the standard which the gospel requires. But —
2. You want something more. If you are to be fully equipped, you must also have a sound and living faith. You will not come to much good without this. A compass is an admirable thing, but you will not secure much speed if that is all the ship is provided with; there must also be the unfurled canvas, which, filled with the breath of heaven, will give it energy and motion. A living faith must be based on a definite creed. You cannot be a believer unless there is something that you believe. There is an affectation very popular at the present day, to believe nothing. No, no. Take away a young man's religion, and he is the easy prey of all manner of evil. If you want to destroy a man's morals, rob him of his Bible. A brig fifteen hundred miles out from land, without one square yard of canvas, is better off than a young man who has no religion and no faith. A man's very accomplishments have proved his ruin. Who will deny that decided genius has shipwrecked many a promising life? I have not a doubt that Burns, and Byron, and Shelley, and Goethe, and Paine, and Voltaire, that each of them, in the absence of a sustaining faith, suffered moral disaster just in proportion to his genius. If a ship is heavily freighted with costly treasures, all the more does it need to have its sails wellspread to the wind. Thus furnished with a good conscience and a true faith, you will sail the voyage of life in safety, and at last reach the everlasting haven. But stay, our text tells us —
III. OF A FATAL DISASTER — a spiritual shipwreck. The apostle says that some persons — and. he goes on to mention two instances, "Hymeneus and Alexander" — having put away a good conscience, and lost their faith, had become morally shipwrecked. Paul does not for a moment hint that Timothy would do so. Nay, as he indicates in his Second Epistle, he was sure he would not do so. He who had begun the good work in him, would carry it forward to perfection. The compass is thrown overboard; the sails are carried away; the vessel is shattered on the rocks. Nearly every man who goes wrong begins by tampering with conscience. So long as a young Christian keeps a good conscience, I am not much afraid of his lapsing into scepticism. Foolish men! they hoisted their mutinous flags, and thought to draw away after them the whole Christian fleet: and, lo! there they are, lying two pitiful wrecks, over which the wind moans its eternal dirge. This has been the history of hundreds and thousands since.
(J. T. Davidson, D. D.)I. THE SUM OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. That is the whole, the union of all the parts. It has two chief parts: "faith and a good conscience." Faith is an outgoing, grasping, clinging, leaning mood of the soul. The Christian is always "holding faith and a good conscience." The word conscience means a fellow-knowledge — from con together, and science knowledge. And who is your fellow in this knowledge? The answer is — God. Conscience is the knowledge I have along with God. It makes me perfectly sure that its voice is the voice of God. God is thus in the conscience, judging all my actions. The heathen has his household god: yours is conscience. Conscience is very strong in the young. We knew perfectly what it was to hold a good conscience. And so did an Irish boy, whose master wished to lengthen a web that was short measure. He gave the boy the one end and took hold of the other himself. He then said, "Pull, Adam, pull!" But the boy stood still. "Pull, Adam!" he shouted again; but the boy said, "I can't, sir." "Why not?" the master asked. "My conscience will not allow me." "You will never do for a linen manufacturer," the master replied. That boy became the famous Rev. Dr. Adam Clarke, and persuaded many to hold faith and a good conscience. You must not think that it is easy to keep a good conscience. You do yourself the greatest injury when in youth you disobey conscience. When men put away a good conscience, oh what tortures they often endure, day and night, in after years! I wish now to show you how faith and a good conscience always go together. They are like the right and left sides of a living man; there can be no health or power when either is palsied. Or they are like the sisters Martha and Mary in the home Christ condescends to visit, only they unite their gifts without blaming each other. The Christian is thus kept right towards God and man, and does equal justice to both worlds. The old fathers used to say that the Book and the Breast agree, and that conscience is naturally Christian. Perhaps you would be pleased with an illustration of this truth from the old world. About five hundred years before Christ, a Greek poet showed the workings of an evil conscience. Agamemnon, prince of men, just returned from the wars of Troy, was murdered by his own wife. His son, Orestes, must avenge his death, and so slew his own mother. After that deed of blood all joy forsook the lighthearted, dashing prince. Guilt lay heavy upon his soul, and he felt that he was hated of the immortals. The Furies, with their snaky hair and cruel scourges, were upon him, and chased him night and day. But who are the Furies? You know them well: they are self-accusing thoughts, which the poet describes as heaven-sent avengers of sin. Byron knew them well, for he says —
"My solitude is solitude no more,
But peopled with the Furies."Orestes fled to the temple of Apollo, god of light, and kneeled at his altar, seeking guidance. While he knelt, the Furies slept on the altar steps. Is not that a beautiful idea? It is a sort of sermon teaching that the accusing conscience finds rest only in prayer to God. Apollo bid him go and give himself up to Divine justice, as represented by the sacred judges at Mars Hill in Athens. He did so, the Furies following him all the way. He owned his guilt before the judges, and declared himself ready to do whatever they recommended. In well-nigh such words as a Christian uses, they told him that he must have an atonement, and be cleansed by water and blood. Even they believed, in their own dim way, that "without shedding of blood is no remission." He was so cleansed, and then even the Furies were satisfied, and ceased from troubling. And the smile of heaven again came to Orestes, and he walked in the land of the living, a forgiven and joyous man. Oh, how perfectly Christ meets all the felt needs of such an awakened conscience! Thus the Christian is a man of faith and of a good conscience; not of faith without conscience, nor of conscience without faith. He is no spiritual paralytic, powerless on the one side: he is no miserable, limping cripple, whose doing is shamefully shorter than his believing; but his soul moves like the successful runner, on equal feet. Our text likens the soul to a ship. Now, a ship sails best when it is kept even by not being overloaded on one side. And thus balanced between faith and a good conscience — between a deep sense of sin and a thorough trust in the Saviour — the good ship of heaven, with swelling sails, catches the favouring breeze, and heads for the "Fair Havens" above.
II. THE RUIN OF THE SOUL. The history of this ruin has three stages; for it begins with the conscience, then reaches faith, and ends in shipwreck — "which (good conscience) some having put away, concerning faith have made shipwreck." Now your soul is an immortal ship in a dangerous sea. Conscience is the captain, reason the steersman, the Bible your chart, and your natural, appetites are the sturdy crew — good servants they, but the worst of masters. Only conscience can guide the vessel safely through the rocks and quicksands of temptation. But the crew sometimes mutiny and put conscience overboard, and then passion becomes the master and owner of the ship, and seizes the helm. "Conscience," our text says, "which some having put away" — that is a phrase of violence. Only after a fierce struggle can conscience be put away. Unless the command be given again to the rightful captain, the ship drifts among the rocks, and the sea rushes in through the yawning bows, and ruin claims the whole for its own. The ruin of the soul begins with conscience, and usually with littles. Conscience is like the outer dyke in Holland, which the flood first assails. Little lies, hid under the cloak of outward decency, are like the little fox the Spartan boy hid under his dress till it .gnawed into his very heart. Oppose the little beginnings of evil. When the conscience is wounded, faith decays and dies. A bad life is a marsh from which poisonous mists arise to becloud the mind. A bad heart forges notions to suit itself. Evidently Paul believes that our faith is shaken not so much by wrong arguing as by wrong living — Hymeneus and Alexander. Perhaps they grew too fond of wine, and fell upon mean tricks for hiding it; or they were very fond of money, and told lies to get it. And so they put overboard the troublesome captain, good conscience. Then they began to find fault with Paul's preaching; this sermon was not plain, and that did them no good; he was too hard on people, and pushed matters too far. Very likely they gave some fine name to their doubting, and protested that they could not endure bigotry, and that they wished more sweetness and light. But their falling away went from bad to worse, till they became stark blasphemers, and had publicly to be cut off from the Church. When Paul was shipwrecked, the crew lightened the ship by casting overboard the tackle and the cargo. Should you be caught in any hurricane of temptation, part with everything rather than lose a good conscience. All the money in the world, all the honours and pleasures on earth, cannot make up for the loss of that. Pray that to the Christian faith you may add Christian honour. The putting away of a good conscience, unless repented of, ends in shipwreck. A shipwrecked soul — what a thought! But this dark passage is not so dark as it seems. Hymeneus and Alexander had been cut off from the Church that they might "learn not to blaspheme" (ver. 20). The apostle would not despair even of these two blaspheming backsliders. He had a great hope that they would lay this warning to heart, and come again as penitents to the feet of Christ. Ours is a religion of hope, which teaches us not to despair of the greatest sinner, but to pray that even shipwrecked souls may be saved.
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