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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 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 themselves 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, wherever 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 some occasions, allow himself to practise.
The other false principle, which some men set up in the place of conscience to be their director in life, is what those who pretend to it call honor.
This word is often made the sanction of an oath; it is reckoned a great commendation to be a man of strict honor; and it is commonly understood that a man of honor 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 ancient times it was universally understood that honor was the reward of virtue; but if such honor as is now-a-days going will not permit a man to do a base action, it must be allowed there are few such things as base actions in nature. No man of honor, as that word is usually understood, did ever pretend that his honor obliged him to be chaste or temperate, to pay his creditors, to be useful to his country, to do good to mankind, to endeavor 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 honor; 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 honor, which some men so much boast of, did really produce more virtues than it ever pretended to; yet, since the very being of that honor 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: suppose a
man from a principle of honor should resolve to be just, or chaste, or temperate, and yet the censuring world should take a humor 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 honor by the falsest and vilest 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 such hands : which, however hath been too often the case.
What I have said upon this principle of honor 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 only the vulgar, but the honest tradesman, has been so much deceived, as this infamous pretence to honor in too many of their betters.
Having thus shown 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 endeavor to prove to you that there is no solid, firm foundation of virtue but in a conscience directed by the principles of religion.
There is no way of judging how far we may depend upon the actions of men otherwise than by knowing the motives, and grounds, and causes of them; and if the motives of our actions be not resolved and determined into the law of God, they will be precarious and uncertain, and liable to perpetual changes. I will show you what I mean by an example: suppose a man thinks it his duty to obey his parents, because reason tells him so, because he is obliged by gratitude, and because the laws of his country command him to do
if he stops here, his parents can have no lasting security; for an occasion may happen wherein it may be extremely his interest to be disobedient, and where the laws of the land can lay no hold upon him; therefore, before such a man can safely be trusted, he must proceed further, and consider that his reason is the gift of God; that God commanded him to be obedient to the laws, and did, moreover, in a particular manner, enjoin him to be dutiful to his
after which, if he lays due weight upon those considerations, he will probably continue in his duty to the end of his life: because no earthly interest can ever come in competition to balance the danger of offending his Creator, or the happiness of pleasing him. And of all this his conscience will certainly inform him, if he hath any regard to religion.
Secondly, Fear and hope are the two greatest natural motives of all men's actions : but neither of these passions will ever put us in the way of virtue, unless they be directed by conscience. For, although virtuous men do sometimes accidentally make their way to preferment, yet the world is so corrupted, that no man can reasonably hope to be rewarded in it merely upon account of his virtue. And consequently the fear of punishment in this life will preserve
very few vices, since some of the blackest and basest do often prove the surest steps to favor: such as ingratitude, hypocrisy, treachery, malice, subornation, atheism, and many more, which hu
, man laws do little concern themselves about. But when conscience places before us the hopes of everlasting happiness, and the fears of everlasting misery, as the reward and punishment of our good or evil actions, our reason can find no way to avoid the force of such an argument, otherwise than by running into infidelity.
Lastly, Conscience will direct us to love God, and to put our whole trust and confidence in him. Our love of God will inspire us with a detestation for sin, as what is of all things most contrary to his divine nature : and if we have an entire confidence in him, that will enable us to subdue and despise all the allurements of the world. It
may here be objected, if conscience be so sure a director to us Christians in the conduet of our lives, how comes it to pass that the ancient heathens, who had no other lights but those of nature and reason, should so far exceed us in all manner of virtue, as plainly appears by many examples they have left on record ?
To which it may be answered; first, those heathens were extremely strict and exact in the education of their children ; whereas among us this care is so much laid aside, that the more God has blessed any man with estate or quality, just so much the less in proportion is the care he takes in the education of his children, and particularly of that child which is to inherit his fortune : of which the effects are visible enough among the great ones of the world. Again, those heathens did in a particular manner instil the principle into their children of loving their country; which is so far otherwise now-a-days, that, of the several parties among us, there is none of them that seem to have so much as heard whether there be such a virtue in the world, as plainly appears by their practices; and especially when they are placed in those stations where they can only have opportunity of showing it. Lastly, the most considerable among the heathens did generally believe rewards and punishments in a life to come, which is the great principle for conscience to work upon : whereas too many of those who would be thought the most considerable among us do, both by their practices and their discourses, plainly affirm that they believe nothing at all of the matter.
Wherefore, since it hath manifestly appeared that a religious conscience is the only true solid foundation upon which virtue can be built, give me leave before I conclude to let you see how necessary such a conscience is to conduct us in every station and condition of our lives. That a religious conscience is necessary in
station is confessed even by those who tell us that all religion was invented by cunning men in order to keep the world in awe. For if religion, by the confession of its adversaries, be necessary toward the well-governing of mankind, then every wise man in power will be sure not only to choose out for every station under him such persons as are most likely to be kept in awe by religion, but likewise to carry some appearance of it himself, or else he is a very weak politician. And accordingly, in any country where great persons affect to be open despisers of religion, their counsels will be found at last to be fully as destructive to the state as to the church.
It was the advice of Jethro to his son-in-law Moses, to “provide able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness,” and to place such over the people; and Moses, who was as wise a statesman at least as any in this age, thought fit to follow that advice. Great abilities, without the fear of God, are most dangerous instruments when they are trusted with power. The laws of man have thought fit that those who are called to any office of trust should be bound by an oath to the faithful discharge of it; but an oath is an appeal to God, and therefore can have no influence, except upon those who believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those that seek him, and a punisher of those who disobey him: and therefore, we see, the laws themselves are forced to have recourse to conscience in these cases, because their penalties cannot reach the arts of cunning men, who can find ways to be guilty of a thousand injustices without being discovered, or at least without being punished. And the reason why we find so many frauds, abuses, and corruptions, where any trust is conferred, can be no other than that there is so little conscience and religion left in the world; or at least that men, in their choice of instruments, have private ends in view, which are very different from the service of the public. Besides, it is certain that men who profess to have no religion are full as zealous to bring over proselytes as any papist or fanatic can be. And therefore, if those who are in station high enough to be of influence or example to others; if those (I say) openly profess a contempt or disbelief of religion, they will be sure to make all their dependants of their own principles; and what security can the public expect from such persons, whenever their interests or their lusts come into competition with their duty? It is very possible for a man who hath the appearance of religion, and is a great pretender to conscience, to be wicked and a hypocrite; but it is impossible for a man, who openly declares against religion, to give any reasonable security that he will not be false, and cruel and corrupt, whenever a temptation offers which he values more than he does the power wherewith he was trusted. And if such a man doth not betray his cause and his master, it is only because the temptation was not properly offered, or the profit was too small, or the danger was too great.
And hence it is that we find so little truth or justice among us: because there are so very few who, either in the service of the public, or in common dealings with each other, do ever look further than their own advantage, and how to guard themselves against the laws of the country; which a man may do by favor, by secrecy, by cunning, though he breaks almost every law of God. Therefore to conclude: It plainly appears, that unless men are guided by the advice and judgment of conscience founded on religion, they can give no security that they will be either good subjects, faithful servants of the public, or honest in their mutual dealings; since there
s is no other tie through which the pride, or lust, or avarice, or ambition of mankind will not certainly break one time or other.
Consider what has been said; and the Lord give you a right understanding in all things. To whom, with the Son and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, now and for ever.
SERMON THE FIFTH.
ON BROTHERLY LOVE.
HEB. xiii. 1.
Let brotherly love continue. In the early times of the gospel, the Christians were very · much distinguished from all other bodies of men by the great and constant love they bore to each other; which, although it was done in obedience to the frequent injunctions of our Savior and his apostles,