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has he not positively promised to reward our sincere obedience? Which promise, though his mere grace and goodness induced him to make, yet his essential truth stands obliged to see performed. For though some have ventured so far as to declare God under no obligation to inflict the eternal torments of hell (how peremptorily soever threatened by him) upon men dying in their sins, yet I suppose none will be so
I hardy, or rather shameless, as to affirm it free for God to perform or not perform his promise; the obligation of which being so absolute and unalterable, I do here further affirm, that, upon the truest and most assured principles of practical reason, there is as strong and as enforcing a motive from the immutable truth of God's promise, to raise men to the highest and most heroic acts of a Christian life, as if every such single act could by its own intrinsic worth merit a glorious eternity. For, to speak the real truth and nature of things, that which excites endeavor, and sets obedience on work, is not properly a belief or persuasion of the merit of our works, but the assurance of our reward. And can we have a greater assurance of this than that truth itself, which can not break its word, has promised it ? For the most high and holy One (as we have shown, and may with reverence speak) has pawned his word, his name, and his honor, to reward the steadfast, finally persevering obedience of every one within the covenant of grace, notwithstanding its legal imperfection.
And therefore, though we have all the reason in the world to blush at the worthless emptiness of our best duties, and to be ashamed of the poorness and shortness of our most complete actions, and, in a word, to think as meanly of them, and of ourselves for them, as God himself does, yet still let us build both our practice and our comfort upon this one conclusion, as upon a rock ; that though, after we have done all, we are still unprofitable servants, yet because we have done all, God has engaged himself to be a gracious master.
To whom therefore he rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for ever
PREACHED AT CHRIST CHURCH, IN OXFORD,
BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY, OCTOBER 29, 1693
Luke xi. 35. – Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.
S light is certainly one of the most glorious and useful
creatures that ever issued from the wisdom and power of the great Creator of the world, so, were the eye of the soul as little weakened by the fall as the eye of the body, no doubt the light within us would appear as much more glorious than the light without us, as the spiritual, intellectual part of the creation exceeds the glories of the sensible and corporeal. As to the nature of which light, to give some account of it before I proceed further, and that without entering into those various notions of it which some have amused the world with; it is, in short, that which philosophers in their discourses about the mind of man, and the first origins of knowledge, do so much magnify by the name of recta ratio; that great source and principle (as they would have it) both of their philosophy and religion.
For the better explication of which, I must, according to a common but necessary distinction, and elsewhere made use of by me,) observe, that this recta ratio may be taken in a double sense.
First, For those maxims or general truths which, being collected by the observations of reason, and formed thereby into certain propositions, are the grounds and principles by which men govern both their discourse and practice according to the nature of the objects that come before them : or,
Secondly, It may be taken for that faculty or power of the soul, by which it forms these maxims or propositions, and afterwards discourses upon them. And so no doubt it is to be taken here.
For propositions themselves, as to the truth of them, are neither capable of increase or decrease, improvement or diminution ; but the powers and faculties of the soul are capable of both; that is, of becoming stronger or weaker, according as men shall use or abuse, cultivate or neglect them. Upon which account this recta ratio can be nothing else but that intellectual power or faculty of the soul which every one is naturally endowed with.
To which faculty, as there belong two grand and principal offices; to wit, one to inform or direct, and the other to command or oblige; so the said faculty sustains a different oxéous or denomination, according to each of them. For as it serves to inform the soul, by discovering things to it, so it is called the light of nature; but as it obliges the soul to do this, or forbear that, (which it does, as it is actuated or informed with those forementioned general truths or maxims, so it is called the law of nature: which two offices, though belonging to one and the same faculty, are very different. For the former of them, to wit, its enlightening or informing quality, extends much further than its obliging virtue does ; even to all things knowable in the mind of man; but the latter only to such things as are matter of practice, and so fall under a moral consideration. Besides, that this obliging quality must needs also presuppose the enlightening quality as essentially going before it. For as no law can bind till it be notified or promulged, so neither can this faculty of the soul oblige a man till it has first informed him. By which we see, that the light of nature, according to the essential order of things, precedes the law of nature, and consequently, in strictness of speech, ought to be distinguished from it, how much soever some have thought fit to confound them. And I doubt not but it is this which the text here principally intends by the light within us.
Nevertheless, since the word conscience takes in both, and signifies as well a light to inform, as it imports and carries with it also a law to oblige us, I shall indifferently express this light by the name of conscience (as a term equivalent to it) in all the following particulars; but still this shall be with respect to its informing, rather than to its obliging office. Forasmuch as it is the former of these only which is the proper effect of light, and not the latter. For though conscience be both a light and (as it commands under God) a law too, yet as it is a light, it is not formally a law. For if it were, then
, whatsoever it discovered to us, it would also oblige us to. But this is not so ; since it both may and does discover to us the indifferent nature of many things and actions without obliging us either to the practice or forbearance of them; which one consideration alone is sufficient to set the difference between the enlightening and the obliging office of conscience clear beyond all objection.
And thus much I thought fit to premise concerning the nature of the light here spoken of by our Saviour, and intended for the subject of the present discourse. Which light, as it is certainly the great and sovereign gift of God to mankind, for the guidance and government of their actions, in all that concerns them with reference to this life or a better; so it is also as certain, that it is capable of being turned into darkness, and thereby made wholly useless for so noble a purpose.
For so much the words of the text import; nor do they import only a bare possibility that it may be so, but also a very high probability that, without an extraordinary prevention, it will be so. Forasmuch as all warning, in the very reason of the thing, and according to the natural force of such expressions, implies in it these two things. First, some very considerable evil or mischief warned against; and secondly, an equal danger of falling into it: without which all warning would be not only superfluous but ridiculous.
Now both these, in the present case, are very great ; as will appear by a distinct consideration of each of them. And
First, For the evil which we are warned or cautioned against; to wit, the turning of this light within us into dark
An evil so inconceivably great and comprehensive, that to give an account of the utmost extent of it, would pose our thoughts, as well as nonplus our expressions. But yet to help our apprehensions of it the best we can, let us but consider with ourselves those intolerable evils which bodily blind
ness, deafness, stupefaction, and an utter deprivation of all
A man destitute of this directing and distinguishing light within him, is and must be at the mercy of every thing in nature, that would impose or serve a turn upon him. So that whatsoever the devil will have him do, that he must do. Whithersoever any exorbitant desire or design hurries him, thither he must go. Whatsoever any base interest shall prescribe, that he must set his hand to, whether his heart goes along with it or no. If he be a statesman, he must be as willing to sell, as the enemy of his country can be to buy.