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the several degrees of an affront, in order to revenge it by the death of an adversary. But suppose this principle of honour, which some men so much boast of, did really produce more vir– tues than it ever pretended to do; yet, since the very being of that honour depended upon the breath, the opinion, or the fancy of the people, the virtues derived from it could be of no long or certain duration. For example: suppose a man, from a principle of honour, should resolve to be just, or chaste, or temperate, and yet the censuring world should take a humour of refusing him those characters, he would then think the obligation at an end. Or, on the other side, if he thought he could gain honour by the falsest and vilest action (which is a case that very often happens) he would then make no scruple to perform it. And God knows, it would be an unhappy state, to have the religion, the liberty, or the property of a people lodged in such hands: which however hath been too often the case. What I have said upon this principle of honour may perhaps be thought of small concernment to most of you, who are my hearers: however, a caution was not altogether unnecessary; since there is nothing by which not only the vulgar, but the honest tradesman, hath been so much deceived, as this infamous pretence to honour in too many of their betters. Having thus shown you the weakness and uncertainty of those principles, which some men set up in the place of conscience to direct them in their actions; I shall now endeavour to prove to you, that there is no solid, firm foundation of virtue, but in a conscience directed by the principles of religion. There There is no way of judging how far we may depend upon the actions of men, otherwise than by knowing the motives, and grounds, and causes of them; and if the motives of our actions be not resolved and determined into the law of God, they will be precarious and uncertain, and liable to perpetual changes. I will show you what I mean by an example: suppose a man thinks it his duty to obey his parents, because reason tells him so, because he is obliged by gratitude, and because the laws of his country command him to do so: if he stops here, his parents can have no lasting security; for an occasion may happen, wherein it may be extremely his interest to be disobedient, and where the laws of the land can lay no hold upon him: therefore, before such a man can safely be trusted, he must proceed farther, and consider, that his reason is the gift of God; that God commanded him to be obedient to the laws, and did moreover in a particular manner enjoin him to be dutiful to his parents; after which, if he lays due weight upon those considerations, he will probably continue in his duty to the end of his life: because no earthly interest can ever come in competition to balance the danger of offending his Creator, or the happiness of pleasing him. And of all this his conscience will certainly inform him, if he hath any regard to religion.
Secondly ; Fear and hope are the two greatest natural motives of all men's actions: but neither of these passions will ever put us in the way of virtue, unless they be directed by conscience. For, although virtuous men do sometimes accidentally make their way to preferment, yet the world is so corrupted, that no man can reasonably hope to be rewarded in it
Vol. X. E. merely
merely upon account of his virtue. And consequently the fear of punishment in this life, will preserve men from very few vices, since some of the blackest and basest do often prove the surest steps to favour; such as ingratitude, hypocrisy, treachery, malice, subornation, atheism, and many more, which human laws do little concern themselves about. But, when conscience placeth before us the hopes of everlasting happiness, and the fears of everlasting misery, as the reward and punishment of our good or evil actions; our reason can find no way to avoid the force of such an argument, otherwise than by running into infidelity. Lastly, Conscience will direct us to love God, and to put our whole trust and confidence in him. Our love of God will inspire us with a detestation for sin, as what is of all things most contrary to his divine nature: and if we have an entire confidence in him, that will enable us to subdue and despise all the allurements of the world. It may here be objected, if conscience be so sure a director to us Chiistians in the conduct of our lives, how comes it to pass that the ancient heathens, who had no other lights but those of nature and reason, should so far exceed us in all manner of virtue, as plainly appears by many examples they have left on record : To which it may be answered ; first, those heathens
- were extremely strict and exact in the education of
their children; whereas among us this care is so much laid aside, that the more God has blessed any man with estate or quality, just so much the less in proportion is the care he takes in the education of his children, and particularly of that child which is to in
herit his fortune; of which the effects are visible enough among the great ones of the world. Again, those heathens did in a particular manner instil the principle into their children of loving their country; which is so far otherwise nowadays, that of the se
veral parties among us, there is none of them that
seem to have so much as heard whether there be such a virtue in the world, as plainly appears by their practices, and especially when they are placed in those stations where they can only * have opportunity of showing it. Iasily; the most considerable among the heathens did generally believe rewards and punishments in a life to come; which is the great principle for conscience to work upon : whereas too many of those, who would be thought the most considerable among us, do, both by their practices and their discourses, plainly affirm, that they believe nothing at all of the matter. Wherefore, since it hath manifestly appeared, that a religious conscience is the only true solid foundation upon which virtue can be built, give me leave, before I conclude, to let you see how necessary such a conscience is, to conduct us in every station and condition of our lives. That a religious conscience is necessary in any station, is confessed even by those who tell us that all religion was invented by cunning men, in order to keep the world in awe. For, if religion, by the confession of its adversaries, be necessary toward the well-governing of mankind; then every wise man in power will be sure, not only to choose out for every
* Where they can only have, &c. Here the word only is not in its proper place : it should be—“ wore only they can have
opportunity of showing it.” E 2 station
station under him such persons as are most likely to be kept in awe by religion, but likewise to carry some appearance of it himself, or else he is a very weak politician. And accordingly in any country, where great persons assect to be open despisers of religion, their counsels will be found at last, to be fully as destructive to the state, as to the church.
It was the advice of Jethro to his son-in-law Moses, to “provide able men, such as fear God, men “of truth, hating covetousness,” and to place such over the people ; and Moses, who was as wise a statesman at least as any in this age, thought fit to follow that advice. Great abilities, without the fear of God, are most dangerous instruments, when they
are trusted with power. The laws of man have
thought fit, that those who are called to any office of trust, should be bound by an oath to the faithful discharge of it: but an oath is an appeal to God, and therefore can have no influence except upon those who believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those that seek him, and a punisher of those who disobey him ; and therefore, we see, the laws themselves are forced to have recourse to conscience in these cases, because their penalties cannot reach the arts of cunning men, who can find ways to be guilty of a thousand injustices without being discovered, or at least without being punished. And the reason why we find so many frauds, abuses, and corruptions where any trust is conferred, can be no other, than that there is so little conscience and religion left in the world; or at least that men, in their choice of instruments, have private ends in view, which are very disserent from the service of the publick. Besides, it is certain, that men who profess to have no