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Testimony of CONSCIENCE,
2 Cor. I. Part of the 12th Verse.
For our Rejoicing is this, the Testimony of
HERE is no Word more frequent ini the Mouths of Men, than that of Con
science, and the Meaning of it is in some Measure generally understood: How* ever, because it is likewise a Word extröamly abused by many People, who apply othet Meanings to it, which God Almighty never intended, I shall explain it to you in the clearest Manner I am ables The Word Conscience properly signifies that Knowledge which a Man hath within himself of his own Thoughts and Actions ş and because, if a Man judgeth fairly of his own Actions, by comparing them with the Law of God, his Mind will either approvo VOL. VIII.
or condemn him, according as he hath done Good or Evil; therefore the Knowledge or Conscience may properly be called both an Accuser and a Judge. So that, whenever our Conscience accuseth us, we are certainly guilty; but we are not always innocent, when it doth not accuse us; for very often, through the Hardness of our Hearts, or the Fondness and Favour we bear to ourselves, or through Ignorance, or Neglect, we do not suffer our Confcience to take any Cognizance of several Sins we commit. There is another Office likewise, 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 Sun, than almost all other Causes put together. For, as Conscience is nothing else but the Knowledge we have of what we are Thinking and Doing; so 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 absolute Necessity to our Salvation. There is likewise another Évil, 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 dislike the Ceremonies, the Prayers, the Habits, and the like, and therefore it goeth against their Conscience : But they are mistaken, their Teacher hath put
those Words into their Mouth ; for a Man's Conscience can go no higher than his Knowledge ; and therefore, until he has thoroughly examined by Scripture, and the Practice of the ancient Church, whether those Points are blameable or no, his Conscience cannot possibly 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 thofe Words have obtained quite different Meanings. Liberty of Conscience is now adays not only understood to be the Liberty of believing what Men please, but also of endeavouring to propagate the Belief as much as they can, and to overthrow the Faith which the Laws have already established, to be rewarded by the Publick for those wicked Endeavours : And this is the Liberty of Conscience which the Fanaticks 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
sons, who, under a Pretence of a publick Spirit, and Tenderness towards their Christian Brethren, are so jealous for such a Liberty of Conscience as this, are of all others the least tender of 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, seemeth to 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 themselves.
But although Conscience hath been abused to those wicked Purposes which I have already related, yet a due Regard to the Directions it plainly giveth 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
the Weakness and Uncertainty of two falle Principles which many People set up in the Place of Conscience, for a Guide to their Actions.
The first of these false Principles is, what the World (usually calleth 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 Motives of such a Man's Actions, you shall find them to be no. other than his own Eafe 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 dependeth upon their Credit, and a Stain of
open publick Dishonesty muß be to their Disadvantage. But let it consist with such a Man's Intereft and Safety to wrong you, and then it will be impoffible you can have
upon 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 thinketh himself safe.
Besides, it is found by Experience, that those Men who fet up for Morality, without regard to Religion, are generally but virtuous in Part; they will be just in their Dealings between Man and Man; but if they find themselves disposed to Pride, Luft, Intemperance,, er Awarice, they do not think their Morality concerned to check them in any of these Vices;