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our brethren and companions fake, for the fake of our Pro.
That so, under the providence of almighty God, and the conduct of two such excellent princes as he hath now blessed us withal; the one so brave and valiant, and both of them so wise, so good, so religious, we may at last arrive at a firm eltablishment, and become like mount Zion that cannot be movet, the perfection of beauty and Itrength, and the admiration and joy of the whole earth. Which God of his infinite goodness grant, for his mercies fake in Jesus Christ. To whom, with thee, O Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, dominion and power, thanksgiving and praise, both now and ever. Amen.
S E R M O N XXXVIII.
Preached before the Queen, at Whitehall, Feb. 27. 1697.
. ACI S xxiv. 16. And herein do. I exercise myself, to have always a conscience
void of offence toward God, and toward men.
Hese words are part of the defence which St. Paul
· In which he first of all vindicates himself from the charge of sedition, v 12. They neither found me in the temple disputing with any man; neither raising up the people, neither in 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, v 14. But this I confels, that after the way which they calı heresy, 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 docirine of the resurrection, which was a principal article both of the Jewish and the Christian religion, : 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, V 16. And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.
Herein, by 700 TW, 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 and reasoil, ¿v TOUTW, for Socê Zoll To, 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 comprised in these following particulars.
1. Here is the extent of a good man's pious practice, to have a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward meni,
2. Here is his constancy and perseverance in this course, to have ALWAYS a conscience void of offence.
3. Here is his earnest care and endeavour to this purpose, I exercise myself.
4. Here is the principle and immediate guide of his actions, which St. Paul here tells us was his conscience. · 5. I shall lay down some rules and directions for the keeping of a good conscience.
6. 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 confequent upon it: For this cause, because I hope for a resurrection both of the just and unjust, I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men. I shall speak but briefly to the three first of these particulars, that I may be larger in the rest.
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 myself, (says St. Paul), to have a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward 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 accordingJy our Saviour comprehends the whole duty of man in these two great commandnients, the love of God, and of our neighbour, Matth. xxii. 38. Upon these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets ; that is, all the moral precepts which are dispersed up and down in the law and the prophets, may be referred to these two general heads.
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; do:71170s, continually; at all times; in the whole course of his life. We mult not only make conscience of our ways by fits and starts, but in the general course and tenor of our lives and actions, without any balks 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 itself in the habitual course of our lives and actions. .
III. Here is likewise a very earnest care and endeavour to this purpose. Herein do I exercise myself, says St. Paul. The word tgkâ, which is here rendered exercise, is a word of a very intense signification, and does de
note, 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 inítructed in all the parts of our duty, that so we may not be at a loss what to do when we are called to the practice of it. And when we know our duty, we must be true and honest to ourselves, and very careful and conscientious in the discharge and performance of it. I proceed, in the
IV. Fourth place, to consider the principle and immediate guide of our actions, which St. Paul here tells us was his conscience : 1 exercise myself 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 tranfgress the law of God, and his duty.
Conscience is the great principle of moral actions, and our guide in matter of fin and duty. It is not the law and rule of our actions ; that the law of God only is : but it is our immediate çuide and director, 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 breast, where he tries himself, and all his actions. And conscience, under one notion or other, sustains all parts in this trial : the court is called the court of a man's conscience, and the bar at which the finner stands impleaded, is called the bar of conscience : conscience also is the accuser; and it is the record and register of our crimes, in which the memory of them is preserved : 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 com: mon use of speech, conscience sustains all imaginable parts in this fpiritual court : it is the court, and the bench, and the bar; the accuser, and witness, and re. gifter, and all.'
But I shall only at present consider conscience in the most common and famous notion of it, as it is a principle or faculty 'whereby we judge of moral good and c: vil, 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 indifference 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. Fifth place, To give some rules and directions for the keeping of a conscience void of offence. And they shall be these following.
- 1. 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 persuaded was our duty: and though perhaps this perfuafion is not always well grounded, yet the guilt is the fame so long as this persuasion continues; because every man's conscience is a kind of God to him, and accufeth 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.
2. We should be very careful to inform our consciences aright, that we may not mistake concerning our duty; or if we do, that our error and mistake may not be groffly wilful and faulty.
And this rule is the more necessary to be considered and regarded by us, because generally men are apt to think it a sufficient excufe for any thing, that they did it