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with ten. No man is without his talent; and he that is faithful or negligent in a little, shall be rewarded or punished, as well as he that hath been so in a great deal.
Consider what hath been said, &c.
---For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our
There is no word more frequently in the mouths of men than that of conscience, and the meaning of it is in some measure generally understood : however, because it is likewise a word extremely abused by many people, who apply other meanings to it, which God Almighty never intended; I shall explain it to you in the clearest manner I am able. The word conscience properly signifies that knowledge, which a man hath within himself of his own thoughts and actions. And because if a man judgeth fairly of his own actions, by comparing them with the law of God, his mind will either approve or condemn him, according as he hath done good or evil; therefore this knowledge or conscience may properly be called both an accuser and a judge. So that whenever our conscience accuseth us, we are certainly guilty; but we are not always innocent, when it doth not accuse us : for very often, through the hardness of our hearts, or the fondness and favour we bear to ourselves, or through ignorance or neglect, we do not suffer our conscience to take any cognizance of several sins we commit. There is another of fice likewise belonging to conscience, which is that of being our director and guide; and the wrong use of this hath been the occasion of more evils under the sun than almost all other causes put together. For, as conscience is nothing else but the knowledge we have of what we are thinking and doing; so it can guide us no farther than that knowledge reacheth: and therefore God hath placed conscience in us to be our director only in those actions which Scripture and reason plainly tell us to be good or evil. But in cases too difficult or doubtful for us to comprehend or determine, there conscience is not concerned; because it cannot advise in what it doth not understand, nor decide where it is itself in doubt: but, by God's great mercy, those difficult points are never of absolute necessity to our salvation. There is likewise another evil, that men often say a thing is against their conscience, when really it is not. For instance: ask any of those who differ from the worship established, why they do not come to church : they will say, they dislike the ceremonies, the prayers, the habits, and the like ; and therefore it goes against their conscience. But they are mistaken, their teacher hath put those words into their mouth; for a man's conscience can go no higher than his knowledge; and therefore till he has thoroughly examined by scripture, and the practice of the ancient church, whether those points are blameable or not, his conscience cannot possibly direct him to condemn them. Hence have likewise arisen those mistakes about what is usually called liberty of conscience; which, properly speaking, is no more than a liberty of knowing our own thoughts, which liberty no one can take from us. But those words have obtained quite different meanings : liberty of conscience is now-a-days not only understood to be the liberty of believing what men please, but also of endeavouring to propagate that belief as much as they can, and to overthrow the faith which the laws have already established, and to be rewarded by the public for those wicked endeavours: and this is the liberty of conscience which the fanatics are now openly in the face of the world endeavouring at with their utmost application. At the same time it cannot but be observed, that those very persons, who, under pretence of a public spirit and tenderness toward their Christian brethren, are so zealous for such a liberty of conscience as this, are of all others the least tender to those who differ from them in the smallest point relating to government; and I wish I could not say, that the Majesty of the living God
may be offended with more security than the memory of a dead prince. But the wisdom of the world at present seems to agree with that of the heathen emperor, who said, if the gods were offended, it was their own concern, and they were able to vindicate themselves.
But, although conscience hath been abused to those wicked purposes which I have already related, yet a due regard to the directions it plainly gives us, as well as to its accusations, reproaches,
and advices, would be of the greatest use to mankind, both for their present welfare, and future happiness.
Therefore, my discourse at this time shall be directed to prove to you, that there is no solid, firm foundation for virtue, but on a conscience which is guided by religion.
In order to this, I shall first show you the weakness and uncertainty of two false principles, which many people set up in the place of conscience, for a guide to their actions.
The first of these principles is, what the world usually calls moral honesty. There are some people, who appear very indifferent as to religion, and yet have the repute of being just and fair in their dealings; and these are generally known by the character of good moral men. if
you look into the grounds and motives of such a man's actions, you shall find them to be no other than his own ease and interest. For example: you trust a moral man with your money in the way of trade, you trust another with the defence of your cause at law, and perhaps they both deal justly with you. Why? not from any regard they have for justice, but because their fortune depends upon their credit, and a stain of open public dishonesty must be to their disadvantage. But let it consist with such a man's interest and safety to wrong you, and then it will be impossible you can have any hold upon him; because there is nothing left to give him a check, or put in the balance against his profit. For if he hath nothing to govern himself by but the opinion of the world, as long as he can conceal his injustice from the world, he thinks he is safe.
Besides, it is found by experience, that those