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3. Because the light of natural conscience is in many things defective and dim, and the internal voice of God's Spirit not always distinguishable, above all, let a man attend to the mind of God, uttered in his revealed word. I say, his revealed word. By which I do not mean that mysterious, extraordinary (and of late so much studied) book called the Revelation, and which perhaps the more it is studied the less it is understood, as generally either finding a man cracked, or making him so: but I mean those other writings of the prophets and apostles, which exhibit to us a plain, sure, perfect, and intelligible rule; a rule that will neither fail nor distract such as make use of it. A rule to judge of the two former rules by : for nothing that contradicts the revealed word of God, is either the voice of right reason or of the Spirit of God: nor is it possible that it should be so, without God's contradicting himself.
And therefore we see what high elogies are given to the written word by the inspired penmen of both Testaments. It giveth understanding to the simple, says David, in Psalm cxix. 130. And that, you will say, is no such easy matter to do.
, It is able to make the man of God perfect, says St. Paul, 2 Tim. iii. 17. It is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, Heb. iv. 12. Now what a force and fulness, what a vigour and emphasis is there in all these expressions ! Enough, one would think, to recommend and endear the scriptures, even to the Papists themselves. For if, as the text says, they give understanding to the simple ; I know none more concerned to read and study them than their popes.
Wherefore since the light and energy of the written word is so mighty, let a man bring and hold his conscience to this steady rule; the unalterable rectitude of which, will infallibly discover the rectitude or obliquity of whatsoever it is applied to. We shall find it a rule, both to instruct us what to do, and to assure us in what we have done. For though natural conscience ought to be listened to, yet it is revelation alone that is to be relied upon : as we may observe in the works of art, a judicious artist will indeed use his eye, but he will trust only to his rule.
There is not any one action whatsoever which a man ought to do or to forbear, but the scripture will give him a clear precept or prohibition for it.
So that if a man will commit such rules to his memory, and stock his mind with portions of scripture answerable to all the heads of duty and practice, his conscience can never be at a loss, either for a direction of his actions, or an answer to a temptation: it was the very course which our Saviour himself took, when the devil plied him with temptation upon temptation. Still he had a suitable scripture ready to repel and baffle them all, one after another: every pertinent text urged home, being a direct stab to a temptation.
Let a man therefore consider and recount with himself the several duties and virtues of a Christian. Such as temperance, meekness, charity, purity of heart, pardoning of enemies, patience. (I had al
I most said passive obedience too, but that such oldfashioned Christianity seems as much out of date with some, as Christ's divinity and satisfaction.) I say, let a man consider these and the like virtues, together with the contrary sins and vices that do oppose them; and then, as out of a full armory or magazine, let him furnish his conscience with texts of scripture, particularly enjoining the one, and forbidding or threatening the other. And yet I do not say
that he should stuff his mind like the margent of some authors, with chapter and verse heaped together, at all adventures; but only that he should fortify it with some few texts, which are home, and apposite to his case. And a conscience thus supplied will be like a man armed at all points ; and always ready either to receive or to attack his enemy. Otherwise it is not a man's having arms in his house ; no, nor yet his having courage and skill to use them; but it is his having them still about him, which must both secure him from being set upon, and defend him when he is.
Accordingly, men must know, that without taking the forementioned course, all that they do in this matter is but lost labour; and that they read the scriptures to as little purpose as some use to quote them; much reading being like much eating, wholly useless without digestion ; and it is impossible for a man to digest his meat, without also retaining it.
Till men get what they read into their minds, and fix it in their memories, they keep their religion as they use to do their Bibles, only in their closet, or carry it in their pocket; and that, you may imagine, must improve and affect the soul, just as much as a man’s having plenty of provision only in his stores, will nourish and support his body. When men forget the word heard or read by them, the devil is said to steal it out of their hearts, Luke viii. 12. And for this cause we do with as much reason, as propriety of speech, call the committing of a thing to memory, the getting it by heart. For it is the memory that must transmit it to the heart; and it is in vain to expect, that the heart should keep its hold of any truth, when the memory has let it go.
4. The fourth and last way that I shall mention for the getting of the conscience rightly informed, and afterwards keeping it so, is frequently and impartially to account with it. It is with a man and his conscience, as with one man and another; amongst whom we use to say, that even reckoning makes lasting friends; and the way to make reckonings even, I am sure, is to make them often. Delays in accounts are always suspicious; and bad enough in themselves, but commonly much worse in their cause. For to defer an account, is the ready way to perplex it; and when it comes to be perplexed and intricate, no man, either as to his temporal or spiritual estate, can know of himself what he is, or what he has, or upon what bottom he stands. But the amazing difficulty and greatness of his account will rather terrify than inform him; and keep him from setting heartily about such a task as he despairs ever to go through with. For no man willingly begins what he has no hope to finish.
But let a man apply to this work by frequent returns and short intervals, while the heap is small, and the particulars few, and he will find it easy and conquerable ; and his conscience, like a faithful steward, shall give him in a plain, open, and entire
account of himself, and hide nothing from him. Whereas we know, if a steward or cashier be suffered to run on from year to year without bringing him to a reckoning, it is odds but such a sottish forbearance will in time teach him to shuffle ; and strongly tempt him to be a cheat, if not also to make him so: for as the account runs on, generally the accountant goes backward.
And for this cause some judge it advisable for a man to account with his heart every day; and this, no doubt, is the best and surest course ; for still the oftener the better. And some prescribe accounting once a week ; longer than which it is by no means safe to delay it: for a man shall find his heart deceitful, and his memory weak, and nature extremely averse from seeking narrowly after that which it is unwilling to find; and being found, will assuredly disturb it.
So that upon the whole matter it is infinitely absurd to think, that conscience can be kept in order without frequent examination. If a man would have his conscience deal clearly with him, he must deal severely with that. Often scouring and cleansing it will make it bright; and when it is so, he may see himself in it: and if he sees any thing amiss, let this satisfy him, that no man is or can be the worse for knowing the very worst of himself.
On the contrary, if conscience, by a long neglect of, and disacquaintance with itself, comes to contract an inveterate rust or soil, a man may as well expect to see his face in a mud-wall, as that such a conscience should give him a true report of his condition; no, it leaves him wholly in the dark, as to the greatest concern he has in both worlds. He can