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speaking there of church rulers; for he tells them, that they were such as watched for their souls. But, says the Separatist, If those who have the rule over you, should command you any thing about church affairs, you cannot, you ought not in conscience to obey them; forasmuch as, according to that grand principle of theirs, newly specified by us, every such command makes obedience to a thing otherwise lawful, to become unlawful; and consequently, upon the same principle, rulers must not, cannot be obeyed: unless we could imagine, that there such a thing as obedience on the one side, when there must be no such thing as a command on the other; which would make pleasant sense of it indeed, and fit for none but a dissenting reason, as well as conscience, to assert. For though these men have given the world too many terrible proofs of their own example, that there may be commands, and no obedience; yet, I believe, it will put their little logic hard to it, to prove, that there can be
any obedience where there is no command. And therefore it unanswerably follows, that the abetters of the forementioned principles plead conscience in a direct and barefaced contradiction to God's
express command. And now, I beseech
I beseech you, consider with yourselves; (for it is no slight matter that I am treating of;) I say, consider what you ought to judge of those insolent, unaccountable boasts of conscience, which, like so many fireballs or mouth-granadoes, as I may so term them, are every day thrown at our church. The apostle bids us prove all things. And will you then take conscience at every turn, upon its own word? upon the forlorn credit of every bold im
postor who pleads it? Will you sell your reason, your church, and your religion, and both of them the best in the world, for a name and that a wrested, abused, misapplied name? Knaves, when they design some more than ordinary villainy, never fail to make use of this plea; and it is because they always find fools ready to believe it.
But you will say then, What course must be taken to fence against this imposture? Why truly, the best that I know of, I have told you before; namely, that whensoever you hear any of these sly, sanctified sycophants, with turned up eye and shrug of shoulder, pleading conscience for or against any thing or practice, you would forthwith ask them, what word of God they have to bottom that judgment of their conscience upon ? Forasmuch as conscience, being God's vicegerent, was never commissioned by him to govern us in its own name; but must still have some divine word or law to support and warrant it. And therefore call for such a word; and that, either from scripture or from manifest universal reason, and insist upon it, so as not to be put off without it. And if they can produce you no such thing from either of them, (as they never can,) then rest assured that they are errant cheats and hypocrites; and that,
i for all their big words, the conscience of such men is so far from being able to give them any true confidence towards God, that it cannot so much as give them confidence towards a wise and good man, no, nor yet towards themselves, who are far from being either.
And thus I have shewn you the first ground upon which the testimony of conscience (concerning a man's spiritual estate) comes to be so authentic, and so much
to be relied upon; to wit, the high office which it holds, as the vicegerent of God himself in the soul of man: together with the two grand inferences drawn from thence. The first of them shewing the absurdity, folly, and impertinence of pretending conscience against any thing, when there is no law of God mediate or immediate against it: and the other, setting forth the intolerable blasphemy and impiety of pretending conscience for any thing, which the known law of God is directly against, and stands in open defiance of.
Proceed we now to the second ground, from which conscience derives the credit of its testimony in judging of our spiritual estate; and that consists in those properties and qualities which so peculiarly fit it for the discharge of its forementioned office, in all things relating to the soul. And these are three.
First, The quickness of its sight.
Thirdly and lastly, Its rigorous and impartial way of giving sentence.
Of each of which in their order. And first for the extraordinary quickness and sagacity of its sight, in spying out every thing which can any way concern the estate of the soul. As the voice of it, I shew, was as loud as thunder; so the sight of it is as piercing and quick as lightning. It presently sees the guilt, and looks through all the flaws and blemishes of a sinful action; and on the other side, observes the candidness of a man's very principles, the sincerity of his intentions, and the whole carriage of every circumstance in a virtuous performance. So strict and accurate is this spiritual inquisition. Upon which account it is, that there is no such
thing as perfect secrecy, to encourage a rational mind to the perpetration of any base action. For a man must first extinguish and put out the great light within him, his conscience, he must get away from himself, and shake off the thousand witnesses, which he always carries about him, before he can be alone. And where there is no solitude, I am sure there can be no secrecy.
It is confessed indeed, that a long and a bold course of sinning may (as we have shewn elsewhere) very much dim and darken the discerning faculty of conscience. For so the apostle assures us it did with those in Rom. i. 21. and the same, no doubt, it does every day; but still so, as to leave such persons, both then and now, many notable lucid intervals; sufficient to convince them of their deviations from reason and natural religion ; and thereby to render them inexcusable; and so, in a word, to stop their mouths, though not save their souls. In short, their conscience was not stark dead, but under a kind of spiritual apoplexy or deliquium. The operation was hindered, but the faculty not destroyed. And now, if conscience be naturally thus apprehensive and sagacious; certainly this ought to be another great ground, over and above its bare authority, why we should trust and rely upon the reports of it. For knowledge is still the ground and reason of trust; and so much as any one has of discernment, so far he is secured from error and deception, and for that cause fit to be confided in. No witness so much to be credited as an eyewitness. And conscience is like the great eye of the world, the sun, always open, always making discoveries. Justly therefore may we by the light of it take a view of our condition.
2dly, Another property or quality of conscience, enabling it to judge so truly of our spiritual estate, is the tenderness of its sense. For as, by the quickness of its sight, it directs us what to do, or not to do; so, by this tenderness of its sense, it excuses or accuses us, as we have done or not done according to those directions. And it is altogether as nice, delicate, and tender in feeling, as it can be perspicacious and quick in seeing. For conscience, you know, is still called and accounted the eye of the soul : and how troublesome is the least mote or dust falling into the eye! and how quickly does it weep and water, upon the least grievance that afflicts it !
And no less exact is the sense which conscience, preserved in its native purity, has of the least sin. For as great sins waste, so small ones are enough to wound it; and every wound, you know, is painful, till it festers beyond recovery. As soon as ever sin gives the blow, conscience is the first thing that feels the smart. No sooner does the poisoned arrow enter, but that begins to bleed inwardly; sin and sorrow, the venom of one and the anguish of the other, being things inseparable.
Conscience, if truly tender, never complains without a cause; though, I confess, there is a new-fashioned sort of tenderness of conscience, which always does so: but that is like the tenderness of a bog or quagmire; and it is very dangerous coming near it, for fear of being swallowed up by it. For when conscience has once acquired this artificial tenderness, it will strangely enlarge or contract its swallow, as it pleases ; so that sometimes a camel shall slide down with ease, where, at other times, even a gnat may chance to stick by the way. It is indeed