A lifeline for an anxious conscience
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
29 Jun, 2023

Once someone’s conscience perceives the glaring mismatch between what God requires from us and what we are really like, it can stir up an alarming storm of self-accusations and self-recriminations as well as anxieties about what we justly deserve for our sins. It can feel like being in a storm with billowing waves about to overwhelm us at any point. But Jesus throws us a lifeline. He is able to pacify both the demands of justice and the turmoils of conscience because by His death He has dealt with His people’s sins. As James Durham explains in a sermon on “the blood of sprinkling,” Jesus’ blood is enough to shelter us and pull us safely out of the storm of wrath and convictions. In the following updated extract, Durham helps us to admire the power and preciousness of the blood of Christ from a number of angles.

How we ought to commend the bargain of free grace! and to hold out the excellency of the blood of sprinkling! This should also mightily encourage the believer to step forward.

The excellence of Christ’s blood

It produces such noble effects

Noble and notable effects come by it, i.e., all the great things contained in the promises – pardon of sin, grace to subdue sin, friendship and peace with God, fellowship with Him, conformity to Him, the hope of heaven and glory, the sweet serenity, tranquillity and peace of the conscience. The blood of Christ is a “hiding place from the wind and rain, and a covert from the storm,” just like “the shadow of a great rock in the midst of a weary land.” When the soul sorely beaten with a storm of accusations and apprehensions of wrath comes under the shadow and shelter of this blood, the soul presently finds ease and repose. What shall I say? what can I say? words here may be swallowed up! From the blood of Christ proceeds all the glorious privileges of the people of God – possessed and expected, in hand and in hope.

It procures these things for sinners

The blood of Christ has procured these things to sinners – to those who had an unclean and polluted conscience. Who is it, may I ask, that may draw near to God with full assurance of faith? Not those who never had an evil conscience, but those who do have an evil conscience, that flee to Christ’s blood, and get their conscience sprinkled with it. Those who had their consciences defiled with dead works, who come to the blood, get their consciences purged from dead works.

It is Christ Himself who provides these blessings

The excellency and efficacy of the blood of sprinkling shines forth in the tenderness of the person who applies the remedy to such a loathsome sickness. This disease is utterly incurable if the attempt is made by any hand other than Christ’s. “Having (says the apostle) such an high priest over the house of God, let us draw near.” The physician is Jesus Christ Himself. His blood is the cure, and He is also the one who applies the cure, and O! how very tender, dexterous and sympathizing He is! He even excels in such cures to admiration. He is a high priest who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and higher than the heavens. He is holy and harmless Himself, He loves these qualities, and He is able and willing to work them in those who come to Him. And such a high priest became us. He is “one that hath compassion on the ignorant, and such as are out of the way; who was in all points tempted as we, yet without sin,” so that from His own experience He may the more kindly and strongly sympathize with His people, and succour them in all their temptations. He is a high priest who is “touched with the feeling of their infirmities.” The aching of the least finger or toe in His mystical body throbs up, as it were, to His very heart.

It is so freely applied

The excellency and efficacy of the blood is made apparent in the exceeding great freeness of how He applies the cure. No more is required but to come and receive it – to come, however unclean, and be sprinkled with His blood – to confess the debt of guilt, and get the certificate that it has been paid off, by virtue of how He has paid it. If there is any pollution in the conscience, any challenge, or sore, whatever it may be, He supplies the remedy and cure freely and frankly.

The urgent necessity of Christ’s blood

If the blood of sprinkling is so virtuous and efficacious, for one thing, it gives an encouragement to the guilty to flee to this blood. For another thing, it shows the necessity of making use of it. This is a very pressing and vehemently urgent necessity.

As it was not possible for the manslayer to stand before the avenger of blood outside of the city of refuge, so neither can the guilty sinner stand before his own conscience, far less the tribunal of God, till he has fled to this blood, and had his conscience sprinkled with it.

You have a conscience, and a guilty conscience, with many sins on your score. Your conscience may be asleep for now, but it will most certainly awake eventually, and it will turn into a hot and hard pursuer far beyond what ever any avenger of blood was. The longer it sleeps, in fact, the harder it will pursue. But Christ Jesus is like the city of refuge, and you may now flee to Him and be safe! Seeing all this, o consider! Consider these words of the apostle, which we, in the name of the Lord, say over again to you: “Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you forgiveness of sins, and by him all that believe are justified from all things …” (Acts 13:38–39).

It is the great end and design of the gospel to proclaim the market of grace, and to make this offer to you sinners freely. Taking all this together, O! accept and be humbled under the sense of your guilt, from which you cannot possibly be delivered any other way, and come forward and make use of this offer! And think it over with yourself seriously, I beseech you, if you keep on putting off this day of salvation, and despising this offer of grace, your conscience will certainly wake up on you eventually, and expend itself on you most terribly, and you will never get it quieted.

But if you will now in time embrace and make use of the offer, I dare confidently say, to the commendation of God’s grace and the efficacy of the precious blood of Jesus Christ, that you can never lay that sin before Christ, with whatever aggravations, or that disease, however filthy and loathsome, but the blood of Christ applied by faith can abundantly satisfy God’s justice for it, and pacify and purge the conscience from the guilt and defilement of it.

The strong consolation from Christ’s blood

The blood of sprinkling gives strong consolation in three ways to those who believe in Christ.

When conscience accuses you, the consolation is that there is a city of refuge to run to, a mediator for sinners, a shield to ward off the deadly wound of such a dart.

When you flee as a sinner to this city, the strong consolation is that you shall be made welcome. Therefore the believer doesn’t need to be afraid to make use of Christ, or to come to the blood of sprinkling, for He waits for employment, and it’s all the more to the praise of His exquisite skill, the more He cleanses and cures through its virtue. You may therefore come, and not only so, but come with full assurance of faith of attaining whatever you need and want to have. Come, therefore, believers, boldly to the throne of grace, that ye may find mercy, and obtain grace to help in time of need.

When you have fled to the blood, you may quiet yourself. You are at peace with God, and with your own conscience. Your peace is as sure as God’s covenant, that which cannot be annulled or altered. It is as sure as Christ’s purchase is of worth and efficacy. If the covenant of grace is firm and sure, and if the blood of sprinkling has value and efficacy, then you certainly have solid grounds of peace and consolation.

Therefore I exhort those who believe in Christ on all occasions to flee to Him, to renew your applications by faith to Jesus Christ, and after every defilement to besprinkle your conscience with His blood, and then comfort yourself in it, and bless God, who allows such large and strong consolation on you, and bless the Mediator, who has purchased it for you, by this His own most precious blood.

Finding consolation in the blood is not presumption

But some tender and exercised soul will likely say, “Is it not presumption for me to comfort myself under challenges for sin?” No. Accepting the truth of the accusation, and being humbled for the sin, and betaking yourself to the blood of sprinkling for pardon and purging, [is not presumption]. The apostle commands you to comfort yourself, and surely he doesn’t command anyone to presume. When conscience through guilt accuses us, we are called to flee to the blood, and when we have sprinkled the conscience with it, we have warrant to draw near, and it is not presumption to do so.

Indeed, if we are resting on Christ and comforting ourselves in Him when we have accusations we have to plead guilty to, this suggests that we actually have strong faith, something which Christ is very pleased with, and by which He is much glorified. Presumption will never stand before an evil conscience. Nor will it credit Christ, when conscience sharply accuses. It is not presumption to lean to Christ, but it is presumption to lean to any other thing. It takes no great skill to calm the conscience when there is no storm. But when there are many waves and billows of accusations and discouragements rising and swelling high in the way – it needs skill to go over all these, and grip hard to the rope He throws out, and confidently, though humbly, and in fear to make use of the remedy which He graciously proposes. He will never account it presumption when souls to take to themselves what God allows to them. But it will very readily be accounted presumption to disdain His allowance.

The deadly danger of despising Christ’s blood

If you are not a believer, but lie still in unbelief, and slight our blessed Lord Jesus, O! what a dreadful disadvantage and liability you fall under! This is the great harm you do to yourself – you leave yourself open to the fierce wrath of the Almighty God, and to the tormenting accusations of your own evil conscience, which will be more terrible to you than if hills and mountains fell on you.

In that day it will be clear that an evil conscience really is a dreadfully evil thing, plus you will have this aggravation of your guilt, that you despised the Redeemer, and the costly price of His precious blood paid for the ransom of sinners. You despised the physician who offered at His own cost to cure you perfectly. You despised the guarantor who offered freely and frankly to pay your debt.

Therefore let me in the name of the Lord (who is in earnest with you, and we desire according to our measure to be in earnest with you) – let me warn you to flee from the wrath to come! There is no other foundation on which you can safely base the eternal salvation of your immortal souls but the righteousness of Christ. Nothing can possibly purge and pacify, cleanse and calm the conscience but coming to and washing at the fountain of the blood of Christ. O! then come! If you cannot wash yourself, get Him to do it. Cry like David, “Wash me, cleanse me, purge me, wash me throughly from mine iniquities!” It will be no excuse, I assure you, to claim that you could not do it, since He offered Himself as a fountain to wash at.

Let me therefore once more earnestly beseech you in the name of the Lord, by the love you profess to bear to your own immortal soul, to admit your sin, and to flee, and to flee speedily, to the city of refuge set open before you!



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