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“ wise man," says Dr. Swift, “ who does not afft with his coun
léls, a great man with his protection, a rich man with his “ bounty and charity, and a poor man with his labour, are perfect “ nusances in a commonwealth. Neither is any condition of “ life more honourable in the fight of God than another ; other“ wise he would be a respecter of persons, which he assures us he " is not : for he hath proposed the same salvation to all men, “ and hath only placed them in different ways or stations to work
Princes are born with no more advaptages of strength or wisdom than other men; and, by an unhappy education, are usually more defective in both, than thousands of their fubjects," p. 266. Again, in the same strain,
« The best prince is, in the opinion of wise men, only the greatest servant of the “ nation; not only a servant to the public in general, but in " some sort to every man in it," p. 268. But the most extraordinary passage is a covert stroke at the highest order of his brethren the clergy. It runs thus, “ The miseries of life are not “ properly owing to the unequal distribution of things; but God " almighty, the great King of heaven, is treated like the kings “ of the earth; who, altho' perhaps intending well themselves, “ have often most abominable ministers and stewards, and those
generally the vileft, to whom they intruft the most talents," p. 270. Dark as it is, this paragraph requires no explanation. The author's natural turn of mind breaks forth upon all occaLions, and the politician frequently outweighs the divine. If the dictates of such a spirit were capable of forcing their way from the pulpit, what a glorious, what a consistent figure, muft Swift bave made in the roftrum at Rome, or in one of the portico's at Athens Orrery.
S E R M ON
On the TESTIMONY of CONSCIENCE.
2 Cor. i. 12. part of it.. -For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience.
HERE is no word more frequently in the mouths
, of it is in fome measure generally understood. However, because it is likewise a word extremely abufed by many people, who apply other meanings to it, which God al
mighty never intended; I shall explain it to you in the cleareft manner I am able. The word conscience properly signifies that knowledge which a man hath within himself, of his own thoughts and actions. And becaufe, if a man judgeth fairly of his own actions, by comparing them with the law of God, his mind wil 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 confcience accufeth us, we are certainly guilty : but we are not always innocent, when it doth not accuse us; for very often thro' the hardness of our hearts, or the fondness and favour we bear to ourselves, or thro' ignorance or neglect, we do not fuffer our conscience to take any cognisance of feveral fins we commit. There is another Office likewife 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 fun, than almoft all other causes put together. For as confcience is nothing else but the knowledge we have of what we are thinking and doing ; fo 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 abfolute
neceffity to our salvation. There is likewife another evil, that men often fay, a thing is against their conscience, when really it is not. For instance, ask any of those who differ from the worship eftablished, why they do not come to church? they will fay, they dislike the ceremonies, the prayers, the habits, and the like ; and therefore it goes against their confcience. But they are mistaken ; their teacher hath put thofe words into their mouth; for a man's conscience can go no higher than his knowledge; and therefore citi he has thoroughly examined by Scripture, and the praEtice of the antient church, whether those points are
blameable or no, his conscience cannot postbly 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 re. warded 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 towards 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 wifh I could not fay, 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 faid, If the gods were offended, it was their own concern, and they were able to vindicate themselves.
But altho'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, tould 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 shew 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 bonefty. 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. But
you look into the grounds and the 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 juftly 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 confift 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 to 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 men who set up for morality, without regard to religion, are generally virtuous but in part: they will be just in their dealings between man and man; but, if they find themfelves disposed to pride, lust, intemperance, or avarice, they do not think their morality concerned to check them in any of these vices; because it is the
great rule of such men, that they may lawfully follow the dictates of nature, where-ever their safety, health, and fortune are not injured. So that, upon the whole, there is hardly one vice which a mere moral man may not upon fome occasions allow himself to practise.
The other false principle which fome men set up in the place of conscience to be their director in life, is what those who pretend to it call honour.
This word is often made the fanction of an oath: it is reckoned a great commendation to be a man of strict honour ; and it is commonly understood, that a man of honour can never be guilty of a base action. This is usually the style of military men, of persons with titles, and of others who pretend to birth and quality. It is true indeed, that in antient times it was universally understood, that honour was the reward of
virtue; but, if such honour as is now-a-days going will not permit a man to do a base action, it must
be allowed, there are very few such things as base actions in nature. No man of honour, as that word is usually understood, did ever pretend, that his honour obliged him to be chaste or temperate, to pay his creditors, to be useful to his country, to do good to mankind, to endeavour to be wise or learned, to regard his word, his promise, or his oath : or if he hath any of these virtues, they were never learned in the catechism of honour ; which contains but two precepts; the punctual payment of debts contracted at play, and the right understanding the several degrees of an affront, in order to revenge it by the death of an adversary.
But suppose this principle of honour, which fome men so much boast of, did really produce more virtues than it ever pretended to; yet, since the very being of that honour depended upon the breath, the opinion, or the fancy of the people, the virtues derived from it could be of no long or certain duration. For example, fuppose a man, from a principle of honour, should refolve to be just, or chaste, or temperate, and yet the censuring world should take a humour of refusing him those characters, he would then think the obligation at an end. Or, on the other side, if he thought he could gain honour ,by the falseft and vileft action (which is a case that very often happens), he would then make no scruple to perform it. And God knows, it would be an unhappy state, to have the religion, the liberty, or the property of a people lodged in fuch hands; which, however, hath been too often the case.
What I have said upon this principle of honour, may perhaps be thought of small concernment to most of you who are my hearers: however, a caution was not altogether unnecessary; since there is nothing by which not only the vulgar, but the honest tradesman hath been so much deceived, as this infamous pretence to honour in too many of their betters.
Having thus shewn you the weakness and uncertainty of those principles which some men set up in the place of conscience to direct them in their actions, I shall now endeavour to prove to you, that there is no solid, firm Vol. I.