Tuesday, November 03, 2009

0 Flavel: The Peace of A Clear Conscience

A friend and I have been reading through the Works of John Flavel for a couple of years, despite his still living in Ithaca, NY and our having moved out to Iowa 6 years ago. Thanks be to God for technology that lets us mull over the writings we're reading as though we were at the breakfast table together.

Today's reading included a discussion of the fact that if one desires to be rid of distracting fears and annoyances, one should, as Flavel puts it,
"be careful to maintain the purity of his conscience, and integrity of his ways, in the whole course of his conversation in this world." (p. 304, Volume 5, Works of John Flavel)

At the outset, Flavel writes that fears that we have can often arise out of our own disobedient carriage:
"Look, as fear follows guilt and guile, so peace and quietness follow righteousness and sincerity, Prov. xxviii.1, The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are as bold as a lion." (p. 304, Volume 5, Works of John Flavel)
Courage for the Christian and suppression of fears comes most readily to those who have no rational reason for worries and doubt - the degree to which we carry ourselves in uprightness, Flavel argues, is deeply connected to the degree to which we will be free of needless, worldly fears. When conscience is clear, we will be naturally much more restful. From what comes a clear conscience? We must first know that in Christ we are held close and justified - righteous by faith, a la Romans 5:1 -

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We must know this, that we are righteous in the eyes of God by the washing with the blood of Christ and the cleansing of our sin - else we cannot possibly have any peace. With this peace, we can pursue lives of integrity without fear because we know that we are righteous in Him, and free to walk, albeit erringly, in an endeavor to glorify Him in our lives. We needn't be fearful of a misstep that is deserving of God's wrath (as all missteps are). We rather are free to serve and love Him as he gives us grace upon grace. As Flavel later quotes, speaking of Paul's comfort and freedom from slavish fears,
"Christians have always found it a spring of courage and comfort, 2 Cor. i.12, 'For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our sonsciences, that in simplicity, and godly sincereity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world.' Their hearts did not reproach them with by-ends in religion: their consciences witnessed that they made not religion a cloak to cover any fleshly design, but were sincere in what they professed: and this enabled them to rejoice in the midst of sufferings." (p. 305, Volume 5, Works of John Flavel)
Flavel offers some helpful suggestions for keeping our consciences clear and avoiding sin that can do damage to our confidence in the Lord and give rise to fears, doubts, and torment of soul. I have found this list, which both encourages and challenges, to be extremely helpful as I stumble along in my inconsistencies. Walking in Christ, knowing I am safe in him, these words are very helpful, for ultimately as a child of God I must and do long to please my Father. Here is this list, in brief, with which I close today.
"1. Over-awe your hearts every day, and in every place, with the eye of God. This walking as before God will keep you upright, Gen. xvii.1. If you so speak and live as those that know God sees you, such will be your uprightness, that you will not care if all the world see you too...

2. Do no action, undertake no design, that you dare not preface with prayer; this is the rule, Phil. iv. 6. Touch not that you dare not pray for a blessing upon; if you dare not pray, dare not to engage; if you cannot spend your prayers before, be confident: shame and guilt will follow after.

3. Be more afraid of grieving God, or wounding conscience, than of displeasing or losing all the friends you have in the world besides...

4. What counsel you would give another, that give yourselves when the case shall be your own...David's judgment was very upright when he judged himself in a remote parable.

5. Be willing to bear the faithful reproofs of your faults from men, as the reproving voice of God; for they are no less when duly administered... it is said of Sir Anthony Cope, that he shamed none so much as himself in his family-prayers, and desired the ministers of his acquaintance not to favor his faults; but tell me, said he, and spare not.

6. Be mindful daily of your dying day, and your great audit-day, and do all with respect to them." (p. 306, Volume 5, Works of John Flavel)



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