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men only is but mere morality, and to be without offence only towards God is but vain hypocrisy.
Without farther explication, the words do, of their own accord, deliver to us this Doctrine;
That It Should Be Our Continual Care And Employment, Is All Things, Whether Relating To God Or Man, To Keep Clear And Inoffensive Consciences.
Conscience is nothing but a practical syllogism of argumentation; and always infers a personal conclusion, either excusing or accusing: and it hath Three offices.
First. It discovers to us what is Sin, and what is Duty; and the Reward, that is entailed upon both.
And thus it gives in its verdict according to that light that shines into it. If it hath only the twilight of nature to illustrate it, as the Heathens had no other, then it can pass judgment only upon natural duties and unnatural sins: thus the consciences of Heathens, through some remainders of original knowledge, informed them that worship was due to God and justice to men; and that all impieties against God and all injuries against men, should, in the end, be severely punished. But, if conscience enjoys the superadded light of Scripture, it judges then of those duties and those sins, that could only be known by Divine Revelation: hence it is, that conscience is enabled to form such a proposition as this: He, that believeth, shall be saved: he, that believeth not, shall be damned: this proposition it forms, not from natural light, but from the super-induced light of Scripture. This is the first direct act of conscience, whereby it pronounceth of men's works, whether they be sinful or not, and what the reward or punishment is that shall follow them, according as it finds it written in the dark and imperfect Law of Nature, or in the superadded Law of God.
Secondly. When conscience hath thus pronounced whether the action be good or bad, and what reward or punishment belongs to it, its next office is, to Witness and Depose, that we have done such or such actions.
This is a reflex act, whereby, when conscience hath discovered what is sin and what is duty, it testifies, that, either we have performed the one, or that we have committed the other. The Scripture reveals, that faith shall be rewarded with eternal life, and unbelief punished with death eternal; hereupon conscience makes reflection upon itself, and applies the proposition: " But I believe, or I do not believe:" and that is its witnessing or deposing office.
Thirdly. It hath besides this, the office of a Judge, to acquit or condemn.
And this it doth, by inferring a comfortable or a terrifying conclusion from the former premises; applying the reward or punishment to ourselves, according as those actions have been ours to which they belong. If it hath proved us unbelievers, straight it pronounceth us condemned persons; or if it evi. dences our faith to us, presently it justifies and acquits us. Hence it is, that wicked men are haunted with pale fears and ghastly reflections; because they are always malefactors arraigned at a bar: a bar, that they carry about with them in their own breasts; where they hear a thousand witnesses sworn and examined; where they hear their judge, ten thousand times a day, pronouncing them cursed and damned. And hence it is, also, that there is sometimes diffused into the hearts of God's children such sweet joy, such solid peace, such calm stayedness, and some prelibations of heavenly bliss; because they carry in their breasts a court of judicature, where their Earthly Judge, Conscience, acquits them, and assures them that their Heavenly Judge will do so also.
This is Conscience: that faithful register in every man's bosom, that writes down the actions, discourses, and cogitations of every hour and minute.
This being premised concerning the Nature and Offices of Conscience, I shall come, in the next place, to inquire into these following particulars, into which I shall digest the method of this subject.
What it is, that doth Corrupt and Vitiate Conscience.
I. WHAT IS IT, THAT DOTH CORRUPT AND VITI. ATE CONSCIENCE, IN EXECUTING ITS OFFICES.
This I shall couch under two particulars: and they are,
i. Ignorance corrupts the Conscience.
Conscience is the guide of life, and knowledge is the eye of conscience; and if this be darkened, the blind leads the blind till both fall into the ditch. Conscience is a guide, that leads apace; and, therefore, had need see its way before it: which some not being well able to discern, have wound themselves into inextricable wanderings; pursuing every glaring delusion; and running after every skipping light, that dances before it, till at last they have lost both themselves and their consciences too. How many are there, that have thus bewildered themselves in their own fancies and opinions; and so have fallen upon the precipice of damnable errors, and into bogs of mire and filthy lusts, only through an ignorant conscience and selfconceited pride that is always a companion of it! This ignorance fills the conscience with false presumptions, and draws it to wrong determinations and conclusions; which, though they seem to be but little mistakes in the notion, yet are most destructive and pernicious in a man's practice. As a small mistake, in the levelling of an arrow at the hand, makes a wide distance at the mark; so a small mistake, in the notion of truth, makes a wide error in the practice of godliness. A mis-persuaded conscience usually gives rise to misguided zeal: and zeal, without knowledge, is but a religious frenzy, that fashions out to itself strange shapes of sin and duty, of good and evil; and, usually, takes the one for the other, until it falls under that woe denounced by the prophet, Isa. v. 20. Woe unto them, that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.
Ignorance vitiates and corrupts the conscience two ways: either it makes it unnecessarily scrupulous; or, else, it makes it daringly presumptuous.
1. Ignorance fetters and binds up the conscience, either to tht doing of or abstaining from that, concerning which God hath hid no law and obligation at all upon it.
This is an Encroaching Conscience, which makes that an enclosure, that God hath left common; and rigorously exacts from us, what God hath permitted as indifferent. It is a very sad judgment, to be given up to the domineering impositions of a Scrupulous Conscience. Such a conscience as this is will certainly make much more sin, than ever the Law made: for, whatever we do against the commands of conscience is sin, though it be not immediately and directly against the commands of God: Rom. xiv. 23. Now some there are, who do so needlessly pin and coop up themselves, that they cannot stir, nor moderately use that lawful liberty which God hath indulged them, but presently they are entangled in sin, because of the imperious prohibitions of their own consciences.
2. Sometimes, Ignorance makes conscience licentious; indulging itself in those actions, that the Law of God condemns; making it daringly presumptuous.
And this is a quite contrary extreme; and yet, as opposite as these are, we oftentimes find them joined together in the same persons: the same persons, that have a needlessly Scrupulous Conscience, have also a daringly Presumptuous Conscience: and this proceeds from an ignorance of their due bounds and limits. Who, ordinarily, so profane, as the superstitious ? Their ignorance makes them scrupulous observers of little circumstances, and yet bold adventurers upon notorious sins. What a strange wry conscience have such men; who tie up themselves strictly where God gives them scope, and yet run riotously where God's commands and threatenings restrain! dreading more the transgressing of one law of man, than they do the transgressing of the whole moral law of God! This is from ignorance; whereby men do not know the due bounds, either of that liberty which God indulgeth them, or that restraint which God lays upon them.
And this is the First thing, that corrupts conscience; namely, Ignorance.
ii. Wilful Sinning corrupts and vitiates the Conscience.
And that, Two ways.
1. Sometimes, such sins stupify and deaden the Conscience, especially if they become frequent and customary; and, therefore, we usually call them Conscience-wasting Sins.
Believe it, through a continued course of known and presumptuous sins, you will bring your consciences into very sad ^insumptions, that they will pine away under iniquities. And iiyw many are there, who have their consciences already lying E r<!chless, senseless, and gasping; ready to give up the ghost! Ti ;ie Apostle, in Eph. iv. 19. speaks of them, that being past Jceling, have given themselves over unto lasciviousness.
2. Sometimes, such sins do affright, terrify, and enrage the Cc- science; filling it with dreadful thoughts of eternal, future vet-, glance.
Wiiful and known sins sometimes terrify and enrage the conscience. And this is a corruption of the conscience, when the terrors of it are so overwhelming, as to sink men into despair: for, mark it, it is its office to accuse and to threaten for sin; and, the greater the sin is, the more sharp and stinging ought to be its reproofs: but, be the sin never so great for which conscience reproves, if yet it denounceth wrath without making mention of repentance and hopes of mercy, it exceeds its commission that God hath given it, and becomes an evil and corrupt conscience. And, therefore, we have that expression, Heb. x. 22. Let us draw near having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience. By an evil conscience, here, is meant a Despairing Conscience; from which we are freed, only by the blood of sprinkling: to be convinced of sin, and not at all to be convinced of righteousness, is such a conviction, as constitutes one part of the torments of the damned in hell, whose worm never dies; and, certaitiiv, that conscience must needs be very evil and very corrupt, which breeds in it this hellish worm, while we are here upon earth.
And, so much, for the First thing: What it is, that corrupts the Conscience.
II. The next thing propounded, is, to shew you, WHAT IT IS TO HAVE A CLEAR CONSCIENCE.
There are two things, that denominate a conscience to be clear; when it is Pure, and when it is Peaceable: when it is free from all known and wilful defilements, and when it is not justly burdened with the guilt of sin, then is it a Clear Conscience.
1. Then a man hath a Clear Conscience, When It Is FREE FROM ALL KNOWN AND WILFUL SINS.
I say, from all known and wilful sins: for it is impossible, while we are encompassed about with infirmities and oppressed with a heavy body of sin and death, to keep ourselves free and