« PreviousContinue »
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 menyet 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 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 fhew you what I mean, by an example. Suppose a man thinks it his duty to obey his parents, because reason tells him fo, because he is obliged by gratitude, and because the laws of his country command him to do fo : if he stops here, his parents can have no Jasting 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 farther, 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 parents ; after which, if he lays due weight upon those confiderations, 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 mens actions. But neither of these passions will ever put us in the way of virtue, unless they be directed by confcience. 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 vir
And consequently, the fear of punishment in this life, will preserve men from very few vi
since some of the blackest and bafest do often prove the furest steps to favour ; such as, ingratitude, hypocrisy, treachery, malice, subornation, atheism, and many more, which human laws do little concern themselves about. But, when conscience placeth 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 deteftation for fin, as what is of all things moft contrary to his divine nature; and if we have an
entire confidence in him, that will enable us to fubdue and defpife all the allurements of the world.
It may here be objected, If conscience be fo fure a director to us Chriftians in the conduct 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 ex. amples 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
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 thofe stations where they can only have opportunity of fhewing 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 discourfes, 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 any ftation, 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 chufe 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 perfons affect to be open defpifers 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 covetoufness, and to place such over the people : and Moses, who was as wife 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 feek 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 Papift 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 dependents 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