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If a churchman, he must be ready to surrender and give up' the church, and make a sacrifice of the altar itself, though he lives by it; and, in a word, take that for a full discharge from all his subscriptions and obligations to it, to do as he is bid. Which being the case of such as steer by a false light, certainly no slave in the galleys is or can be in such a wretched condition of slavery, as a man thus abandoned by conscience, and bereft of all inward principles that should either guide or control him in the course of his conversation. So that we see here the transcendent greatness of the evil which we stand cautioned against. But then,
Secondly, If it were an evil that seldom happened, that very hardly and rarely befell a man, this might in a great measure supersede the strictness of the caution ; but, on the contrary, we shall find, that as great as the evil is which we are to fence against, (and that is as great as the capacities of an immortal soul,) the greatness of the danger is still commensurate : for it is a case that usually happens; it is a mischief as frequent in the event as it is or can be fatal in the effect. It is as in a common plague, in which the infection is as hard to be escaped as the distemper to be cured : for that which brings this darkness upon the soul is sin. And as the state of nature now is, the soul is not so close united to the body as sin is to the soul ; indeed so close is the union between them, that one would even think the soul itself as much a spirit as it is) were the matter, and sin the form, in our present constitution. In a word, there is a set combination of all without a man and all within him, of all above ground and all under it, (if hell be so,) first to put out his eyes, and then to draw or drive him headlong into perdition. From all which, I suppose, we must needs see reason more than suffi
I cient for this admonition of our Saviour, Take heed that the light which is in thee be not darkness. An admonition founded upon no less a concern than all that a man can save, and all that he can lose to eternity. And thus having shown both the vastness of the evil itself, and the extreme danger we are in of it ; since no man can be at all the wiser or the safer barely for knowing his danger, without a vigorous application to prevent it; and since the surest and most rational preventive of it is to know by what arts and methods our enemy will
encounter us, and by which he is most likely to prevail over us, we will inquire into and consider those ways and means by which he commonly attempts, and too frequently effects this so dismal a change upon us, as to strip us even of the poor remains of our fallen nature, by turning the last surviving spark of it, this light within us, into darkness.
For this must be acknowledged, that no man living, in respect of conscience, is born blind, but makes himself so. None can strike out the eye of his conscience but himself: for nothing can put it out but that which sins it out. And upon this account it must be confessed that a man may love his sin so enormously much, as, by a very ill application of the apostle's expression, even to pluck out his own eyes, and give them to it; as indeed every obstinate sinner in the world does.
Our present business therefore shall be (and that as a completion of what I discoursed formerly upon conscience in this place) to show how and by what courses this divine light, this candle of the Lord, comes first to burn faint and dim, and so by a gradual decay fainter and fainter, till at length by a total extinction it quite sinks to nothing, and so dies away. And this I shall do, first, in general, and secondly, in particular.
And first in general, I shall lay down these two observa
First, that whatsoever defiles the conscience, in the same degree also darkens it.
As to the philosophy of which, how and by what way this is done, it is hard to conceive, and much harder to explain. Our great unacquaintance with the nature of spiritual, immaterial beings leaving us wholly in the dark as to any explicit knowledge, either how they work, or how they are worked upon. So that in discoursing of these things we are forced to take up with analogy and allusion, instead of evidence and demonstration. Nevertheless, the thing itself is certain, be the manner of effecting it never so unaccountable.
Yet thus much we find, that there is something in sin analogous to blackness, as innocence is frequently in scripture expressed and set forth to us by whiteness. All guilt blackens (or does something equivalent to the blackening of) the soul; as where pitch cleaves to any thing, it is sure to leave upon it both its foulness and its blackness together : and then we know that blackness and darkness are inseparable.
Some of the ablest of the Peripatetic school (not without countenance from Aristotle himself, in the fifth chapter of his third book, epi yuxñs) hold, that, besides the native, inherent light of the intellect, (which is essential to it, as it is a faculty made to apprehend, and take in its object after a spiritual way,) there is also another light, in the nature of a medium, beaming in upon it by a continual efflux and emanation from the great fountain of light, and irradiating this intellectual faculty, together with the species or representations of things imprinted thereupon. According to which doctrine it seems with great reason to follow, that whatsoever interposes between the mind and those irradiations from God, (as all sin more or less certainly does,) must needs hinder the entrance and admission of them into the mind; and then darkness must by necessary consequence ensue, as being nothing else but the absence or privation of light.
For the further illustration of which notion we may observe, that the understanding, the mind, or conscience of man, (which we shall here take for the same thing,) seem to bear much the same respect to God which glass or crystal does to the light or sun : which appears indeed to the eye a bright and a shining thing ; nevertheless this shining is not so much from any essential light or brightness existing in the glass itself, (supposing that there be any such in it,) as it is from the porousness of its body, rendering it diaphanous, and thereby fit to receive and transmit those rays of light, which, falling upon it, and passing through it, represent it to common view as a luminous body. But now let any thing of dirt or foulness sully this glass, and so much of the shine or brightness of it is presently gone, because so much of the light is thereby hindered from entering into it, and making its way through it. But if, besides all this, you should also draw some black color or deep dye upon it, either by paint, or otherwise; why then no brightness could be seen in it at all, but the light being hereby utterly shut out, the glass or crystal
would shine or glister no more than a piece of wood or a clod of earth.
In like manner every act of sin, every degree of guilt, does in its proportion cast a kind of soil or foulness upon the intellectual part of the soul, and thereby intercepts those blessed irradiations which the divine nature is continually darting in upon it. Nor is this all, but there are also some certain sorts and degrees of guilt, so very black and foul, that they fall like a huge thick blot upon this faculty; and so sinking into it, and settling within it, utterly exclude all those illuminations which would otherwise flow into it, and rest upon it from the great Father of lights ; and this not from any failure or defect in the illumination itself, but from the indisposition of the object, which, being thus blackened, can neither let it nor transmit the beams that are cast upon it.
I will not affirm this to be a perfect exemplification of the case before us, but I am sure it is a lively illustration of it, and may be of no small use to such as shall throughly consider it. But however (as I showed before) the thing itself is certain and unquestionable, guilt and darkness being always so united that you shall never find darkness mentioned in scripture in a moral sense, but you shall also find it derived from sin, as its direct cause, and joined with it as its constant companion ; for, by a mutual production, sin both causes darkness and is caused by it. Let this therefore be our first general observation ; That whatsoever pollutes or fouls the conscience, in the same degree also darkens it.
Secondly, Our other general observation shall be this; That whatsoever puts a bias upon the judging faculty of conscience, weakens, and, by consequence, darkens the light of it. A clear and a right judging conscience must be always impartial; and that it may be so, it must be perfectly indifferent: that is to say, it must be free and disencumbered from every thing which may in the least sway or incline it one way rather than another, beyond what the sole and mere evidence of things would naturally lead it to. In a word, it must judge all by evidence, and nothing by inclination.
And this our blessed Saviour, with admirable emphasis and significance of expression, calls the singleness of the eye, in the verse immediately before the text. If thine eye, says he,
. be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. That is, nothing extraneous must cleave to or join with the eye in the act of seeing, but it must be left solely and entirely to itself, and its bare object; as naked as truth, as pure, simple, and unmixed as sincerity. Otherwise the whole operation of it unavoidably passes into cheat, fallacy, and delusion. As, to make the case yet more particular, if you put a muffler before the eye, it can not see; if any mote or dust falls into it, it can hardly see;
; and if there be any soreness or pain in it, it shuns the light, and will not see. And all this, by a very easy, but yet certain and true analogy, is applicable to the eye of the soul, the conscience; and the instance is verifiable upon it in every one of the alleged particulars.
In short, whatsoever bends or puts a bias upon the judging faculty of conscience, represents things to it by a false light; and whatsoever does so, causes in it a false and erroneous judgment of things. And all error or falsehood is, in the very nature of it, a real intellectual darkness; and consequently must diffuse a darkness upon the mind, so far as it is affected and possessed with it. And thus much for our second general observation.
From whence we shall now pass to particulars. In the assigning and stating of which, as I showed before, that sin in general was the general cause of this darkness, so the particular causes of it must be fetched from the particular kinds and degrees of sin. Now sin may be considered three ways :
First, In the act.
Thirdly, In the affection, or productive principle of it. In all which we shall show what a darkening and malign influence sin has upon the conscience or mind of man; and consequently with what extreme care and severe vigilance the conscience ought to be guarded and watched over in all these respects. And,
First, For sin considered in the single act. Every particular commission of any great sin, such as are, for instance, the sins of perjury, of murder, of uncleanness, of drunken