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such a kind of tenderness, as makes the person who has it generally very tender of obeying the laws, but never so of breaking them. And therefore, since it is commonly at such variance with the law, I think the law is the fittest thing to deal with it.
In the mean time, let no man deceive himself, or think, that true tenderness of conscience is any thing else but an awful and exact sense of the rule which should direct, and of the law which should govern it. And while it steers by this compass, and is sensible of every declination from it, so long it is truly and properly tender, and fit to be relied upon, whether it checks or approves a man for what he does. For from hence alone springs its excusing or accusing power: all accusation, in the very nature of the thing, still supposing, and being founded upon, some law : for where there is no law, there can be no transgression : and where there can be no transgression, I am sure there ought to be no accusation.
And here, when I speak of law, I mean both the law of God, and of man too. For where the matter of a law is a thing not evil, every law of man is virtually, and at a second hand, the law of God also: forasmuch as it binds in the strength of the divine law, commanding obedience to every ordinance of man, as we have already shewn. And therefore all tenderness of conscience against such laws is hypocrisy, and patronized by none but men of design, who look upon it as the fittest engine to get into power by; which, by the way, when they are once possessed of, they generally manage with as little tenderness as they do with conscience: of which we have had but too much experience already, and it would be but ill venturing upon more.
In a word, conscience, not acting by and under a law, is a boundless, daring, and presumptuous thing: and for any one, by virtue thereof, to challenge to himself a privilege of doing what he will, and of being unaccountable for what he does, is in all reason too much either for man or angel to pretend to.
3dly, The third and last property of conscience which I shall mention, and which makes the verdict of it so authentic, is its great and rigorous impartiality. For as its wonderful apprehensiveness made that it could not easily be deceived, so this makes that it will by no means deceive. A judge, you know, may be skilful in understanding a cause, and yet partial in giving sentence. But it is much otherwise with conscience; no artifice can induce it to accuse the innocent, or to absolve the guilty. No; we may as well bribe the light and the day to represent white things black, or black white.
What pitiful things are power, rhetoric, or riches, when they would terrify, dissuade, or buy off conscience from pronouncing sentence according to the merit of a man's actions! For still, as we have shewn, conscience is a copy of the divine law; and though judges may be bribed or frightened, yet laws cannot. The law is impartial and inflexible; it has no passions or affections, and consequently never accepts persons, nor dispenses with itself.
For let the most potent sinner upon earth speak out, and tell us, whether he can command down the clamours and revilings of a guilty conscience, and impose silence upon that bold reprover. He may perhaps for a while put on an high and a big look; but can he, for all that, look conscience out of countenance ? And he may also dissemble a little forced jollity; that is, he may court his mistress, and quaff his cups, and perhaps sprinkle them now and then with a few Dammees; but who, in the mean time, besides his own wretched, miserable self, knows of those secret, bitter infusions which that terrible thing, called conscience, makes into all his draughts ? Believe it, most of the appearing mirth in the world is not mirth, but art. The wounded spirit is not seen, but walks under a disguise; and still the less you see of it, the better it looks,
On the contrary, if we consider the virtuous person, let him declare freely, whether ever his conscience checked him for his innocence, or upbraided him for an action of duty ; did it ever bestow any of its hidden lashes or concealed bites on a mind severely pure, chaste, and religious ?
But when conscience shall complain, cry out, and recoil, let a man descend into himself with too just a suspicion that all is not right within. For surely that hue and cry was not raised upon him for nothing. The spoils of a rifled innocence are borne away, and the man has stolen something from his own soul, for which he ought to be pursued, and will at last certainly be overtook.
Let every one therefore attend the sentence of his conscience: for he may be sure it will not daub nor flatter. It is as severe as law, as impartial as truth. It will neither conceal nor pervert what it knows.
And thus I have done with the third of those four particulars at first proposed, and shewn whence, and upon what account it is, that the testimony of conscience, concerning our spiritual estate, comes to be so authentic, and so much to be relied
namely, for that it is fully empowered and commissioned to this great office by God himself; and withal, that it is extremely quicksighted to apprehend and discern; and moreover very tender and sensible of every thing that concerns the soul. And lastly, that it is most exactly and severely impartial in judging of whatsoever comes before it. Every one of which qualifications justly contributes to the credit and authority of the sentence which shall be passed by it. And so we are at length arrived at the fourth and last thing proposed from the words ; which was to assign some particular cases or instances, in which this confidence towards God, suggested by a rightly informed conscience, does most eminently shew and exert itself.
I shall mention three.
1. In our addresses to God by prayer. When a man shall presume to come and place himself in the presence of the great searcher of hearts, and to ask something of him, while his conscience is all the while smiting him on the face, and telling him what a rebel and a traitor he is to the majesty which he supplicates; surely such an one should think with himself, that the God whom he prays to is greater than his conscience, and pierces into all the filth and baseness of his heart with a much clearer and more severe inspection. And if so, will he not likewise resent the provocation more deeply, and revenge it upon him more terribly, if repentance does not divert the blow ? Every such prayer is big with impiety and contradiction, and makes as odious a noise in the ears of God, as the harangues of one of those rebel fasts, or humiliations in the year fortyone; invoking the blessings of Heaven upon such
actions and designs as nothing but hell could reward.
One of the most peculiar qualifications of an heart rightly disposed for prayer is, a well grounded confidence of a man's fitness for that duty. In Heb. x. 22. Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, says the apostle. But whence must this assurance spring? Why, we are told in the very next words of the same verse: having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience : otherwise the voice of an impure conscience will cry much louder than our prayers, and speak more effectually against us than these can intercede for us.
And now, if prayer be the great conduit of mercy, by which the blessings of heaven are derived upon the creature, and the noble instrument of converse between God and the soul, then surely that which renders it ineffectual and loathsome to God, must needs be of the most mischievous and destructive consequence to mankind imaginable; and consequently to be removed with all that earnestness and concern, with which a man would rid himself of a plague or a mortal infection. For it taints and pollutes every prayer; it turns an oblation into an affront; and the odours of a sacrifice into the exhalations of a carcass. And, in a word, makes the heavens over us brass, denying all passage, either to descending mercies or ascending petitions.
But on the other side, when a man's breast is clear, and the same heart which indites does also encourage his prayer, when his innocence pushes on the attempt, and vouches the success; such an one goes boldly to the throne of grace, and his boldness is not greater than his welcome. God recognises