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too difficult or doubtful for us to comprehend or
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 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 10 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 although conscience hath been abused to those wieked 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, 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. 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 impoflible 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.
Befides, 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 0 3
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 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 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 bafe 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; yer, 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, fuppofe a man, from a principle of honour, should refolve to be juft, 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 falsest and vileft action, (which is a case 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