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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 fay, 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 diflike the ceremonies, the práyers, the habits, and the like: and therefore, it goes against their conscience. But they are mistaken; their teacher hath put thofe words into their mouths; for a man's conscience can go no higher than his knowledge; and therefore, till he has thoroughly examined, by fcripture, and the practice of the ans. cient church, whether those points are blameable or no, his conscience cannot possibly direct him to condemn them. Hence have likewise a. risen 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 confcience 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 establithed, 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 towards their Christian brethren, are so zealous for fuch 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 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 themfelves.
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 shew you the weakness and uncertainty of two false principles, which
many people set up in the place of conscience, foe a guide to their actions.
The first of these principles, is what the worldusually calls moral honefly. 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 now, if 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 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 imposlible 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. mani; but, if they find themselves disposed to 03
prides, 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 fet up in the place of conscience, to be their director in life, is what those, who pretend to it, call ho19:r.
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 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 ancient 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, 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 fo much boast of, did really produce more virtues than it ever pretended to; yet, fince 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, suppose 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 falselt and vileft action, (which is a cafe that very often happens, he would then make no fcruple 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 honour, may perhaps be thought of small concernment to most of you who are my hearers : however, a caution was not altogether unnecessary ;. fince there is nothing by which, not only the vulgar, but the honest tradesman, hath been so much