A SERMON Preached before the QUEEN, AT White-Hall, February the 27th 1690/1.

By JOHN TILLOTSON, D. D. Dean of St. PAƲL's, And Clerk of the Closet to His Majesty.

Published by Her Maiesty's Special Command.

LONDON: Printed for Brabazon Aylmer, at the Three Pidgeons over-against the Royal Exchange; and William Rogers, at the Sun over-against St. Dunstan's Church in Fleetstreet. MDCXCI.

A SERMON Preached before the QUEEN.

ACTS xxiv. 16.‘And herein do I exercise my self, to have always a conscience void of offence to­wards God, and towards men.’

THese words are part of the Defense which St. Paul made for himself, before Faelix the Roman Gover­nour.

In which he first of all vindicates himself from the charge of Sedition, ver. 12, They neither found me in the Temple, disputing with any man; neither raising up the People, neither in [Page 2]the Synagogue, nor in the City; that is, they could not charge him with making any distur­bance either in Church or State.

After this, he makes a free and open profes­sion of his Religion, ver. 14. But this I confess, that after the way which they call Heresie, so worship I the God of my Fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and the Prophets: Here he declares the Scriptures to be the Rule of his Faith, in opposition to the Oral Tradition of the Pharisees.

More particularly he asserts the Doctrine of the Resurrection, which was a principal Article both of the Jewish and the Christian Religion; ver. 15, And I have hope also towards God, that there shall be a Resurrection, both of the just and the unjust.

And having made this declaration of his Faith, he gives an account of his Life, in the words of the Text, ver. 16, And herein do I exercise my self, to have always a conscience void of offence, towards God, and towards men.

Herein, [...], that is, in this work, do I employ myself; or as others render it, in the mean time, whilst I am in this World; or as others, I think most probably, for this cause [Page 3]and reason, [...], for [...], for this reason, because I believe a Resurrection, therefore have I a conscientious care of my life, and all the actions of it.

The Discourse I intend to make upon these words, shall be comprized in these following Particulars.

  • I. Here is the extent of a good man's pious practise, to have a conscience void of offence, to­wards God, and towards men.
  • II. Here is his constancy and perseverance in this course; to have allways a conscience void of offence.
  • III. Here is his earnest care and endeavour to this purpose, I exercise my self.
  • IV. Here is the Principle and immediate Guide of his actions, which St. Paul here tells us was his Conscience.
  • V. I shall lay down some Rules and dire­ctions for the keeping of a good Conscience.
  • VI. Here is the great motive and encou­ragement to this, which St. Paul tells us was the belief of a Resurrection, and of a future State of Rewards and Punishments consequent upon it; for this cause; because I hope for a Resurrection both of the just and unjust, I exer­cise my self to have always a conscience void of [Page 4]offence towards God and towards men. I shall speak but briefly to the three first of these Par­ticulars, that I may be larger in the rest.

I I. Here is the extent of a good man's pious practice. It hath regard to the whole compass of his Duty, as it respects God and Man. I exercise my self, says St. Paul, to have a consci­ence void of offence towards God and towards men. And this distribution of our Duty, un­der these two general heads, is very frequent in Scripture. The Decalogue refers our Duty to these two heads: And accordingly our Sa­viour comprehends the whole Duty of Man in those two great Commandments, the love of God and of our Neighbour, Matth. 22.38. Ʋp­on these two Commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets, that is, all the Moral Precepts, which are dispers'd up and down in the Law and the Prophets, may be referr'd to these two general Heads.

II II. Here is his constancy and perseverance in this course. St. Paul says, that he exercised himself to have always a conscience void of offence; [...], continually, at all times, in the whole course of his life. We must not only make conscience of our ways by fits and starts, but in the general course and tenour of [Page 5]our lives and actions, without any baulks and in­termissions.

There are some that will refrain from grosser Sins, and be very strict at some Seasons; as du­ring the Time of a Solemn Repentance, and for some days before they receive the Sacrament, and perhaps for a little while after it: And when these devout Seasons are over, they let them­selves loose again to their former lewd and viti­ous course: But Religion should be a constant frame and temper of mind, discovering it self in the habitual course of our lives and actions.

III III. Here is likewise a very earnest care and en­deavour to this purpose. Herein do I exercise my self, says St. Paul. The word [...], which is here render'd exercise, is a word of a very intense signification, and does denote that St. Paul ap­plied himself to this business with all his care and might, and that he made it his earnest study and endeavour: And so must we; we must take great care to understand our duty, and to be rightly informed concerning good and evil, that we may not mistake the nature of things, and call good evil, and evil good: We must apply our minds in good earnest to be thoroughly in­structed in all the parts of our Duty, that so we may not be at a loss what to do when we are [Page 6]call'd to the practise of it: And when we know our Duty, we must be true and honest to our selves, and very careful and conscientious in the discharge and performance of it. I proceed in the

IV IVth place to consider the Principle and imme­diate Guide of our actions, which St. Paul here tells us was his Conscience; I exercise my self to have always a Conscience void of offence: By which he does not only mean a resolution to follow the dictate and direction of his Conscience, but like­wise a due care to inform his Conscience aright, that he might not in any thing transgress the Law of God, and his Duty.

Conscience is the great Principle of moral acti­ons, and our Guide in matter of Sin and Duty. It is not the Law and Rule of our actions, that the Law of God only is; but it is our immediate Guide and directour, telling us what is the Law of God and our Duty.

But because Conscience is a word of a very large and various signification, I shall endeavour very briefly to give you the true notion of it. Now in common speech concerning Conscience, every man is represented as having a kind of Court and Tribunal in his own brest, where he tries himself and all his actions: And Conscience, under one [Page 7]notion or other, sustains all parts in this Tryal: The Court is call'd the Court of a man's Conscience, and the Barr at which the Sinner stands implea­ded, is call'd the Barr of Conscience: Conscience also is the Accuser; and it is the Record and Regi­ster of our Crimes, in which the memory of them is preserv'd: And it is the Witness which gives testimony for, or against us; hence are those expressions of the testimony of our Consciences, and that a man's own Conscience is to him instead of a thousand Witnesses: And it is likewise the Judge which declares the Law, and what we ought, or ought not to have done, in such or such a Case, and accordingly passeth Sentence upon us by acquitting or condemning us. Thus, accor­ding to common use of Speech, Conscience sustains all imaginable parts in this Spiritual Court: It is the Court, and the Bench, and the Barr; the Accuser, and Witness, and Register, and all.

But I shall onely at present consider Conscience in the most common and famous notion of it, as it is the Principle or Faculty whereby we judge of moral Good and Evil, and do accordingly di­rect and govern our actions: So that in short, Conscience is nothing else but the Judgment of a man's own mind concerning the morality of his acti­ons; that is, the Good, or Evil, or Indifferency [Page 8]of them; telling us what things are commanded by God, and consequently are our Duty; what things are forbidden by Him, and consequently are sinful; what things are neither commanded nor forbidden, and consequently are indifferent. I proceed in the

V Vth place, to give some Rules and directions for the keeping of a Conscience void of offence. And they shall be these following:

First, Never in any case to act contrary to the persuasion and conviction of our Conscience. For that certainly is a great Sin, and that which properly offends the Conscience and renders us guilty; guilt being nothing else but trouble ari­sing in our minds from a consciousness of having done contrary to what we are verily perswaded was our duty: And though perhaps this persua­sion is not always well grounded, yet the guilt is the same so long as this persuasion continues; because every man's Conscience is a kind of God to him, and accuseth or absolves him according to the present persuasion of it. And therefore we ought to take great care not to offend against the light and conviction of our own mind.

Secondly, We should be very careful to in­form our Consciences aright, that we may not mistake concerning our duty; or if we do, that [Page 9]our errour and mistake may not be grosly wilful and faulty.

And this Rule is the more necessary to be con­sider'd and regarded by us, because generally men are apt to think it a sufficient excuse for a­ny thing, that they did it according to their Conscience. But this will appear to be a dan­gerous mistake, and of very pernicious conse­quence to the Souls of men, if we consider these two things.

  • 1st, That men may be guilty of the most heinous Sins in following an erroneous Consci­ence.
  • 2ly, And these Sins may prove damnable with­out a particular repentance for them.

1st, That men may be guilty of the most heinous Sins in following an erroneous Conscience. Men may neglect and abuse themselves so far, as to do some of the worst and wickedest things in the world with a persuasion that they do well. Our Saviour tells his Disciples that the time should come when the Jews should put them to death, Joh. 16.2. thinking they did God good service: Nay the Jews murdered the Son of God himself through igno­rance and a false perswasion of mind: Father forgive them, says our Blessed Lord, when he was breathing out his Soul upon the Cross,Luk. 23.34. for they [Page 10]know not what they do. And St. Peter, after he had charged the Jews with killing the Prince of Life, Acts 3.17. he presently adds, I wote that through igno­rance ye did it, as did also your Rulers. And St. Paul, in mitigation of that great Crime, says, Had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of life and glory: And concerning himself he tells us,Acts 26.9. That he verily thought with himself, that he ought to do many things against the Name of Jesus of Nazareth: And yet notwithstanding that he acted herein according to the persuasion of his Conscience, he tells us that he had been a blasphemer, and a persecutour, and injurious, and a murderer, and in a word, the greatest of Sin­ners. So that Men may be guilty of the great­est Sins in following an erroneous Conscience. And

2ly, These Sins may prove damnable, without a particular repentance for them. Where the igno­rance and mistake is not grosly wilful, there God will accept of a general repentance; but where it is grosly wilful, great Sins committed upon it are not pardon'd without a particular Repen­tance for them: And an errour which proceeds from want of ordinary human care and due go­vernment of a man's self, is in a great degree wilful: As when it proceeds from an unreasona­ble [Page 11]and obstinate prejudice, from great pride and self-conceit, and contempt of counsel and instruction; or from a visible byass of self-interest, or when it is accompanied with a furious passion and zeal, prompting men to cruel and horrible things, contrary to the light of nature and the common sense of humanity: Anerrour proceed­ing from such causes, and producing such effects, is wilful in so high a degree, that whatever evil is done in vertue of it is almost equally faulty with a direct and wilful violation of the Law of God.

The ignorance and mistake doth indeed make the person so mistaken more capable of forgive­ness, which is the ground of our Saviour's Pray­er for his Murtherers, Father forgive them, for they know what they do: St. Paul likewise tells us, that he found mercy upon this account, Ne­vertheless, says he, I obtained mercy, 1 Tim. 1.13. because I did it ignorantly, and in unbelief, that is, through a false persuasion of mind, not believing it to be a Sin: And yet he did not obtain this mer­cy, without a particular conviction of his fault and repentance for it. And St. Peter after he had convinced, the Jews of their great Sin in cru­cifying Christ, though they did it ignorantly, yet he exhorts them to a particular and deep re­pentance [Page 12]for it, as necessary to the pardon and forgiveness of it: And therefore after he had said, I wote that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your Rulers, Act 3.19. he immediately adds, Re­pent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.

So that it highly concerns men to consider what opinions they embrace in order to practise, and not to suffer themselves to be hurried away by an unreasonable prejudice and a heady passi­on, without a due and calm examination of things, nor to be overborn by pride, or humour, or partiality, or interest, or by a furious and extravagant zeal: Because proportionally to the voluntariness of our Errour will be the guilt of our practice pursuant to that Errour. Indeed where our Errour is involuntary, and morally invincible, God will consider it, and make al­lowance for it; but where it is voluntary, and occasioned by our own gross fault and neglect, we are bound to consider, and to rectifie our mistake: For whatever we do contrary to the Law of God and our duty, in vertue of that false persuasion, we do it at our utmost peril, and must be answerable to God for it, notwith­standing we did it according to the dictate of our Conscience.

[Page 13]A Third Rule is this, That in all doubts of Conscience we endeavour to be equal and impar­tial, and do not lay all the weight of our doubts on one side, when there is perhaps as much or greater reason of doubting on the other: And consequently, that we be as tractable and easie to receive satisfaction of our doubts in one kind as in another, and be equally contented to have them over-ruled in cases that are equal: I mean, where our passions and interests are not con­cern'd, as well as where they are. And if we do not do this, it is a sign that we are partial in our pretences of Conscience, and that we do not aim meerly at the peace and satisfaction of our own minds, but have some other interest and design.

For it is a very suspicious thing, when mens doubts and scruples bear all on one side, especially if it be on that side which is against charity, and peace, and obedience to Government, whether Ec­clesiastical or Civil: In this case I think that a meer doubt, and much more a scruple, may, nay ought in reason to be over-ruled by the command of Autho­rity, by the opinion and judgment of wise and good men, and in consideration of the publique peace, and of the unity and edification of the Church.

Not that a man is in any case to go against [Page 14]the clear persuasion and conviction of his own mind, but when there is only a meer doubt con­cerning the lawfulness or unlawfulness of a thing, it seems to me in that case very reasonable that a man should suffer a mere doubt or scruple to be over-rul'd by any of those weighty conside­rations which I mentioned before.

The Fourth Rule is, That all pretences of Conscience are vehemently to be suspecled, which are accompanied with turbulent passion and a furious zeal. It is an hundred to one but such a man's Conscience is in the wrong. It is an excellent saying of St. James, Jam. 1.20. The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God, that is, the fierce passions of men are no proper instruments to promote Religion, and to accomplish any thing that is good. And therefore if any man be transported with a wild zeal, and pretend conscience for his fury, it is great odds but he is in an errour: None are so likely to judge amiss, as they whose minds are clouded and blinded by their passions,

Nubila mens est,
Haec ubi regnant.

And if men would carefully observe them­selves, they might almost certainly know when they act upon Reason and a true principle of [Page 15]Conscience. A good Conscience is easie to it self, and pleased with its own doings; but when a man's passion and discontent are a weight upon his judgment, and do, as it were, bear down his Conscience to a compliance, no wonder if this puts a man's mind into a very unnatural and uneasie state.

There can hardly be a broader sign that a man is in the wrong, than to rage and be confident: Because this plainly shews that the man's Consci­ence is not setled upon clear reason, but that he hath brought over his Conscience to his interest, or to his humour and discontent.

And though such a man may be so far blinded by his passion as not to see what is right, yet me­thinks he should feel himself to be in the wrong by his being so very hot and impatient.

Art thou sure thou art in the right? thou art a happy man, and hast reason to be pleased: What cause then, what need is there of being angry? Hath a man Reason on his side? What would he have more? Why then does he fly out into Passion? which as it gives no strength to a bad Argument, so I could never yet see that it was any grace and advantage to a good one.

Of the great evil, and the perpetual mistake of this furious kind of Zeal, the Jews are a lively [Page 16]and a lamentable Example, in their carriage to­wards our Blessed Saviour and his Apostles: And more particularly St. Paul, when he persecuted the Christians from a false and erroneous persuasion of his Conscience. Hear how St Paul describes him­self and his own doings whilst he was acted by an erroneous Conscience:Acts 22.4. I persecuted, says he, this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prison both men and women: And in another Chapter, I verily thought with my self, Acts 26.9. that I ought to do many things against the Name of Jesus of Nazareth: Here was his erroneous Conscience: Let us next see what were the unhappy concomitants and effects of it; ver. 10, 11: Which things, says he, I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the Saints I shut up in prison, and when they were put to death I gave my voice against them, and punish'd them oft in every Synagogue, and compell'd them to blaspheme; and be­ing exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even to strange Cities. When Conscience tran­sports men with such a furious zeal and passion, it is hardly ever in the right; or if it should hap­pen to be so, they who are thus transported, by their ungracious way of maintaining the truth, and their ill management of a good cause, have found out a cunning way to be in the wrong, even when they are in the right.

[Page 17] Fifthly, all pretences of Conscience are like­wise to be suspected, which are not accompa­nyed with modesty and humility, and a teach­able temper and disposition, willing to learn and to be better inform'd. A proud and conceited temper of mind is very likely to run into mi­stakes; because pride and fullness of a mans self does keep out knowledge, and obstructs all the passages by which wisdom and instru­ction should enter into men: Besides that it pro­vokes God to abandon men to their own follies and mistakes; for God resisteth the proud, but the meek will he guide in judgment, and will give more grace and wisdom to the humble. When men are once come to this, to think themselves wiser than their Teachers, and to despise and cast off their Guides, no wonder if then they go astray.

Lastly, Let us be sure to mind that which is our plain and unquestionable duty; the great things of Religion, wherein the life and substance of it doth consist; and the things likewise which make for peace, and whereby we may edify one ano­ther: And let us not suffer our disputes about lesser matters to prejudice and hinder our main duty: But let it be our great care not to fail in those greater things which are comprehended [Page 18]under the two great Commandments of the Law, the Love of God and of our Neighbour: Let us be strict and constant in our piety and devotion towards God; chast and temperate in reference to our selves; just and honest, kind and chari­table, humble and meek, patient and peaceable towards all men; submissive and obedient to our Superiours, Natural, Civil, and Spiritual. A due regard to these great Vertues of the Christian life is the way to keep a Conscience void of offence to­wards God, and towards men: And surely the best means to have our doubts cleared about matters of lesser moment in Religion, is heartily to set about the practice of the great and unque­stionable Duties of it: So our B. Saviour hath assur'd us,Job. 7.17. that if any man will do the will of God, he shall know of his Doctrine whether it be of God. I come now in the

VIth and Last place, to consider the great Mo­tive and encouragement to this conscientious care of our Lives and actions; which St. Paul here tells us was his belief of a Resurrection, and of the Rewards and Punishments consequent upon it; I have hope, says he, towards God, that there shall be a Resurrection both of the just and unjust: For this cause therefore I exercise my self to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men.

[Page 19]If we believe the Resurrection of the dead, and a future Judgment, we ought to be very care­full to discharge a good Conscience now, in or­der to the rendring of a good Account hereafter; that we may be sincere and without offence, with re­spect to the day of Christ, as the Apostle expresseth it. For when that great Day of Recompences shall come, we shall most assuredly find that no­thing will then raise our hearts, and make us to lift up our heads with joy, like the witness of a good conscience: And therefore we should make that our constant care and companion now, which will then be our great comfort and re­joycing, a good Conscience and the testimony of it, that in all simplicity and godly sincerity we have had our conversation in the world.

And on the contrary, when we come to appear before the Great Judge of the World, nothing will fill our minds with so much ter­rour, and our faces with so much confusion, as the clamorous accusations of a guilty Consci­ence; which will be more than a thousand wit­nesses against us, and will anticipate our con­demnation, and pass almost as severe a Sentence upon us as the Judge himself can.

This is that which will make the sinner to droop, and to hang down his head for ever: [Page 20]And one of the principal ingredients of his misery and torment will be the perpetual regret and remorse of his own mind for his wilfull wickedness and folly; which will kindle a fire within him as hot as that without him, and as hard to be quench'd.

This consideration ought to have a migh­ty operation upon us to make us very care­full to have Consciences void of offence now, that they may be free from torment and an­guish hereafter: That when we shall come in­to the other World, we may not be eternal­ly displeas'd with our selves, and enrag'd at our own doings; but may carry with us thither Consciences clear of all guilt, either by Innocen­cy, or by Repentance.

The firm belief of a future state of eter­nal Happiness or Misery in another World is the great weight or spring that sets a going those two powerfull Principles of human acti­vity, the Hopes and the Fears of men; and is in its nature so fitted to raise these Passions to that degree, that did not experience shew us the contrary, one would think it morally im­possible for human Nature to resist the mighty force of it.

[Page 21]All men are sensible, more or less, at one time or other of the true force of these Argu­ments; but the mischief is, that in some per­sons they work quite the wrong way, and in­stead of leading men to Repentance, they drive them to Infidelity: They cannot deny the force of these Arguments, if they were true; but that they may avoid the force of them, they will not believe them to be true: And so far they are in the right, that granting these things to be true, they cannot but acknowledge that they ought to live otherwise than they do: But here is their fatal miscarriage, that being resolv'd upon an e­vil course, since they cannot reconcile their pra­ctice with such Principles as these, they will fit their Principles to their practice; and so they will believe nothing at all of the Rewards and Punishments of another World, lest this should disturb them in their course: Vain men! as if Heaven and Hell must needs vanish and disap­pear, because some witty but wicked men have no mind to believe them.

These men are Infidels in their own defence, and merely for the quiet of their own minds; that their Consciences may not perpetually rate them, and fly in their faces. For a right belief and an evil Conscience are but unsuitable com­panions; [Page 22]they are quarrelsome neighbours, and must needs live very uneasily by one another. He that believes the Principles of Religion, and yet is conscious to himself that he hath liv'd con­trary to them, and still continues to do so, how can he possibly have any peace and quiet-in his mind? unless like Jonah he can sleep in a storm, and his conscience be, as it were, seared with a hot iron: For if his Conscience be awake, and in any degree sensible, the evident danger of eter­nal ruine, continually hanging over him, must in reason either drive him to repentance or to despair: If so forcible and violent an Argument can make no impression upon us, we are stupid and bewitch'd, we are lost and undone, we are wretched and miserable for ever.

But besides the future Reward of a holy and conscientious course, which is unspeakable and full of glory; it hath also this present fruit, this ear­nest, as I may say, and ready money in hand, the peace and satisfaction of our own minds, which is much more valuable than thousands of gold and silver; the unspeakable comfort whereof every man will then find, when he hath most need of it: For it will be matter of great joy to him, not only under the sorest afflictions and cala­mities of Life, but even at the hour of Death; [Page 23]when the miseries of life oppress him, and the sorrows of death compass him about, and the pangs of it are ready to take hold of him.

There is certainly no such comfort under the evils and afflictions of this life, as a faithful wit­ness in our own breasts of our own innocency and integrity: When we are afflicted by God, or persecuted and revil'd by men, it cannot but be a mighty consolation to us to be conscious to our selves of our own sincerity. For though no man can acquit and justifie himself before God as to the perfect innocency of his life, in which sense St. Paul says,1 Cor. 4.4. that though he knew nothing by himself, yet was he not thereby justified; I say, though no man can plead perfect innocency, yet as to the general course and tenour of an unblameable life, a good man may appeal to God, and even when he afflicts him, may look upon Him as a tender and compassionate Father, and not as an angry and revengeful Judge.

With this, holy and patient Job, under all those terrible disasters and calamities which be­fell him, was able in some measure to comfort himself: After he had lost all, and he had a great deal to lose; when he was forsaken of all other comfort, even the charitable opinion of his best Friends concerning his sincerity. In these sad [Page 24]and disconsolate circumstances, what was it that bore up his spirit? nothing but the conscience of his own integrity. See with what resolu­tion and constancy of mind he asserts and main­tains it:Job 25.5, 6. I will not, sayes he, remove mine integrity from me: my righteousness will I hold fast, and will not let it go: mine heart shall not reproach me, so long [...] as I live: You see, that when every thing else mas gone, his integrity stuck by him, and sup­ported him to the last.

And as to persecutions and sufferings from men, our own innocency, and the goodness of our Cause, will be our best comfort under them: When we are not guilty to our selves that we have deserv'd them from men, and are in­wardly assur'd that whatever we patiently suffer for God and a good conscience, will all turn to our account another Day, and work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of Glo­ry.

This was that which supported the first Chri­stians, that noble Army of Martyrs, under all those bitter and cruel persecutions, which had other­wise been beyond all human patience to have en­dur'd: This comforted them in all their tribu­lations; Our rejoycing, says St. Paul, is this, the testimony of our consciences, that in simplicity and [Page 25]godly sincerity, we have had our conversation in the world.

So likewise under that inferiour but equally malicious sort of persecution, of which this Age is so very profuse and prodigal, I mean the cause­less calumnies and reproaches of men: If un­der these we can but approve our Consciences to God, the uncharitable Censures of men are not so much to be regarded by us: some impression they will make upon a tender mind, but we must not, if we can help it, let them sink too deep into our spirits:1 Joh. 3.21. If our hearts condemn us not, we may have confidence towards God; and then surely much more towards men: If God and our own Consciences do but acquit us, methinks it should be no such difficult mat­ter to bear the slanders and hard censures of men.

But above all other times, the comfort of a good Conscience is most sensible, and most con­siderable, at the hour of Death: For as nothing dejects a mans spirit more, and sends him down with so much sorrow to the grave, as the guilt of an evil Conscience; what terrour and an­guish, what rage and despair do seize upon a Sinner at that time, when he reflects upon what he hath done, and considers what he is [Page 26]like to suffer? So on the other hand, there is nothing that revives and raises the fainting spi­rits of a dying man, like the Conscience of a holy and useful life, which hath brought glory to God,Prov. 14.32. and good to men. The wicked, says Solo­mon, is driven away in his wickedness, that is, he is carried out of the World, as it were, in a storm and tempest: But the righteous hath hope in his death; he usually dies calmly and comfortably: Mark the perfect man, Psal. 37.37. says David, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace.

If a man be conscious to himself that he hath sincerely endeavour'd to keep the command­ments of God, and to do the things which please Him; if he hath lived inoffensively and, as St. Paul Acts 23.1. says of himself, in all good conscience before God, and men; what an unspeakable conso­lation must it be to him, in that dark and gloomy time, and when he is walking through the valley of the shadow of death, then to fear no evil? and to be able with our Blessed Saviour to say, though in a much inferiour measure and degree,John 17.4. Father, I have glorified thee on the earth, I have finished the work which thou hast given me to do: And to be able to look Death in the face with the like courage and constancy of mind as St. Paul did when he saw it approaching to­wards [Page 27]wards him: I am now, says he,2 Tim. 4.6, 7, 8 ready to be of fer'd, and the time of my departure is at hand; I have fought a good fight, I have finish'd my race, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a Crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give me at that day. A com­fortable Death, that is free from the stings and upbraidings, the terrors and tortures, the con­fusion and amazement of a guilty Conscience, is a happiness so desireable, as to be well worth the best care and endeavour of a mans whole life.

Let us then have a conscientious regard to the whole compass of our Duty, and, with St. Paul, Let us exercise to have alwayes a Conscience void of offence towards God, and towards men: And let us never do any thing whereby we shall offer vio­lence to the light of our minds. God hath gi­ven us this Principle to be our constant guide, and companion; and whoever, after due care to informe himself aright, does sincerely fol­low the dictate and direction of this Guide, shall never fatally miscarry: But whoever goes a­gainst the clear dictate and conviction of his Conscience, in so doing he undermines the foundation of his own comfort and peace, and sins against God and his own Soul.

[Page 28]And to the end we may keep our Conscien­ces clear of guilt, we should frequently exa­mine our selves, and look back upon the actions of our lives, and call our selves to a strict ac­count for them; that wherein-soever we have fail'd of innocency, we may make it up by re­pentance; and may get our Consciences clear'd of guilt by pardon and forgiveness: And if we do not do this, we cannot with confidence re­ly upon the testimony of our Consciences; be­cause many great Sins may slip out of our me­mories without a particular repentance for them, which yet do require and stand in need of a par­ticular repentance.

Especially, we should search our Consciences more narrowly at these more solemn Times of repentance, and when we are preparing our selves to receive the Holy Sacrament: And if at these Times our hearts do accuse and condemn us for any thing, we should not only heartily lament and bewail it before God, but sincerely resolve by Gods grace to reform in that particular, and from that time to break off that Sin which we have then repented of, and have ask'd forgiveness of God for▪ For if after we have repented of it, we return to it again, we wound our [Page 29]Conscience afresh, and involve them in a new guilt.

In the last place, We should reverence our Consciences, and stand in awe of them, and have a great regard to their testimony and verdict: For Conscience is a domestick Judge, and a kind of familiar God: And therefore, next to the Supreme Majesty of Heaven and Earth, every man should be afraid to offend his own Reason and Conscience, which whenever we knowing­ly do amiss, will beat us with many stripes, and handle us more severely than the greatest Enemy we have in the World: So that next to the dreadful sentence of the great Day, every man hath reason to dread the sentence of his own Conscience, God indeed is greater than our hearts, and knows all things; but under Him we have the greatest reason to fear the judgment of our own Consciences: For nothing but that can give us Comfort, and nothing can create so much trouble and disquiet to us.

And though the judgment of our Consci­ences be not alwayes the judgment of God, yet we have great reason to have great regard to it; [Page 30]and that upon several accounts, which I shall but briefly mention, and so conclude.

First, Because the judgment of out Consci­ence is free from any compulsion. No body can force it from us, whether we will or no; and make us to pass sentence against our selves, whether we see reason for it or not.

Secondly, The sentence of our own Consci­ences is very likely to be impartial, at lest not too hard on the severe side; because men naturally love themselves, and are too apt to be favou­rable in their own case: All the World cannot bribe a man against himself: There is no man whose mind is not either distemper'd by melan­choly, or deluded by false Principles, that is apt to be credulous against himself, and his own interest and peace.

Thirdly, The judgment which our Conscience passeth upon our own actions, is upon the most intimate and certain knowledge of them, and of their true motives and ends. We may easily be deceiv'd in our judgment of the actions of other men, and may think them to be much better or worse than in truth they are: Because [Page 31]we cannot certainly tell with what mind they were done, and what circumstances there may be to excuse or aggravate them; how strong the temptation was, or how weak the judg­ment of him that was seduc'd by it into errour and folly.

But we are conscious to all the secret springs, and motives, and circumstances of our own actions: We can descend into our own hearts, and dive to the bottom of them, and search in­to the most retired corners of our intentions and ends; which none, besides our selves, but only God can do; for excepting Him only, none knows the things of a man but the Spirit of a man which is in him.

Fourthly, The Sentence of our Conscience is peremptory and inexorable, and there is no way to avoid it. Thou mayest possibly flie from the wrath of other men to the uttermost parts of the Earth, but thou canst not stir one step from thy self: In vain shalt thou call up­on the mountains and rocks to fall on thee and hide thee from the sight of thine own Con­science.

[Page 32]Wretched and miserable man! when thou hast offended and wounded thy Conscience: For whether canst thou go, to escape the eye of this Witness, the terrour of this Judge, the torment of this Executioner? A man may as soon get rid of himself, and quit his own be­ing, as fly from the sharp accusations and sting­ing guilt of his own Conscience; which will perpetually haunt him, till it be done away by repentance and forgiveness.

We account it a fearful thing to be haunted by evil spirits, and yet the spirit of a man which is in him, throughly affrighted with its own guilt, may be a more ghastly and amazing Spectacle than all the Devils in Hell: There is no such frightful Apparition in the World, as a mans own guilty and terrified Conscience staring him in the face: A spirit that is thus wounded, who can bear?

To conclude; Let these confederations pre­vail with us alwayes to live, not with regard to the opinion of others, which may be grounded upon mistake, or may not indeed be their opi­nion, but their flattery; but with regard to the judgment of our own Conscience, which though it may sometimes be mistaken, can never be [Page 33]brib'd and corrupted: We may be hypocrites to others and base flatterers, but our Conscien­ces whenever they are throughly awaken'd are alwayes sincere, and deal truly with us, and speak to us as they think.

Therefore whatever we say or do, let it be sincere: For though hypocrisie may for a while preserve our esteem and reputation with others, yet it can signifie nothing to the peace of our own minds: And then what will it avail us to conceal any thing from other men, when we can hide nothing that we say or do from our own Consciences?

The summe of all is this: If we would keep a Conscience void of offence, let us alwayes be calme and considerate, and have the patience to examine things throughly and impartially: Let us be humble and willing to learn, and never too proud and stiff to be better inform'd: Let us do what we can to free our selves from pre­judice and passion, from self-conceit and self-in­terest, which are often too strong a byass upon the judgments of the best men, as we may see every day in very sad and melancholy instan­ces: And having taken all due care to inform our Consciences aright, let us follow the judg­ment of our minds in what we do; and [Page 34]then we have done what we can to please God.

And if we would alwayes take this care to keep a good Conscience, we should alwayes be easie, and good company to our selves: But if we offend our Consciences, by doing contrary to the clear dictate and conviction of them, we make the unhappyest breach in the World; we stir up a quarrel in our own breasts, and arm our own minds against our selves; we create an enemy to our selves in our own bosoms, and fall but with the best and most inseparable Companion of our lives.

And on the contrary, a good Conscience will be a continual Feast, and will give us that comfort and courage in an evil day which nothing else can: And then whatever happen to us, we may commit our souls to God in well-doing, as into the hands of a faithful Creatour, To whom with our Blessed Saviour and Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost the Comforter, be all honour and glory, now and ever, Amen.


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