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S E R M. diately struck with when it reflects on its u' ^own wickedness; as, on the contrary, there arises an inward security and confidence from a consciousuess of our own innocence and integrity. Especially the mind, which is firmly persuaded concerning God the supreme, the infinitely wise, the perfectly. righteous, and good governor of the world, must feel in the most affecting manner the accusations, and the acquittals of conscience, which pronounces its judgments with an eye to his superior tribunal, and with an expectation of their being confirmed by him; as the work of the divine law is written on . every human heart, we naturally have presaging thoughts of the account which we . most give of our own actions, and that every work Jkall be brought into judgment ,y and every secret thing, whether it be good er evil. .Jfl It is to be observed, that by the constitution of the human mind, which comprehends a variety of principles or springs of action, conscience is properly the superior controuling faculty, because the power of approving or condemning belongs to it. Every affection, every appetite, is a distinct and direct spring of action; but as there is
a regular oeconomy, and one common endSiBRM. intended in the whole frame, and an enjoy-, ^H* ment suitable to such a being, resulting from the regular use of all its parts or exercise. o£ all it's powers, there must for this purpose be a consistency or harmony of the whole, or the creature must be easy in itself, which it cannot possibly be, unless the self-reflecting power, or conscience be satisfied* Hence arises a proper obligation, the sovereignty of conscience ought to be acknowledged, and its dictates obey'd ; for he that hearkens to its voice, and complies with it, possesses an inward tranquillity; he that acts in opposition to it is by the very frame of his nature uneasy and discontented in himself. Still it is to be remember'd, as was hinted before, that to minds possess'd with the lerious belief and fear of the deity, • this has a reference to his superior tribunal, where' we cannot help expecting that the sentence of our self-reflecting power will be affirm'd; for if we consider God as the voluntary de-, signing author of our constitution, 'tis impossible, I think, for a reasonable attentive person to doubt but he intended we should act according to it's direction j consequently, that our obeying the voice of conscience
S E R M. pleases, the contrary displeases him. If VII. our hearts condemn us, that is, if conscience
^"' disapprove our dispositions and the habitual course of our actions, or any deliberate designed work, we have then reason to dread the vengeance of him who is greater than our hearts and knoweth all things: * if our hearts condemn us not, then have we confident towards God.
It follows, that to all the purposes of virtue and religion, to satisfy the obligations of our nature and to please God, which is the great aim of piety, the short and comprehensive rule of conduct is always to act according to conscience.
But, the question -is concerning the certainty of this rule; will it bear us out in every case? Is conscience infallible? I answer it is not, nor did God intend we should have an infallible direction in this imperfect state. We are here in an infancy of being, training up to a more perfect condition, in the mean time liable to some errors in judgment, and in practice pursuant to them: but the direction proposed, if it be rightly understood and
* i John. iii. 20, 21.
impartially follow'd, is safe and absolutelySEr the best. In any cafe propos'd relating to VII practice, let the mind free from the importunities of appetite and the tumults of passion, both which it is the province of conscience to correct and restrain, let a man, I fay, calmly put the question to himself what is right? and, I believe, his first thoughts will generally suggest to him the proper answer in following which he is safe. After-consideration very often gives opportunity for flesh and blood, interest and passion, to insinuate themselves, and mix in our counsels, and lead to tedious reasonings, the effect of which frequently is to mislead or perplex the mind.
There are two sources of error to which our practical judgment in matters of conscience is liable, and of which we. should always be aware, and they are, self partiality, and false notions of religion. The former our experience, if we be attentive, must make us sensible of. We always make allowance for it in the case of other men, who are not supposed to be fair enough judges, in the causes wherein they are interested ; and cool reflexion would satisfy us, that it is often so in our own case. There
SfcRMci&a remarkable example of this ia the his* VII. tory of David, who, after committing the
,--~v~'~^ heinous crimes of adultery and murder, seems tjo have been for a long time quite insensible of his guilt; a whole year pass'd without any discovery of his remorse or contrition of heart. But, when the prophet Nathan. came to him, and in a parable represented to him a case of inhumanity and injustice some way parallel to his own, but. far inferior , immediately, he was fir'd with indignation against the supposed offender. What strange partiality was this, to have so high refentH ment against the lesser transgression of another, whilst he was stupidly unconcerned about much greater guilt of his own? The applications of the parable, however, was the means of David's conviction and being brought to repentance. But after all, the' remedy against this evil is in ourselves, and it is the proper office of conscience to extirpate it. For what is self partiality, but dishonesty of heart? And therefore it is plainly contrary to conscience, not an exception to the rule proposed, but a direct violation of it, just as any other vice is, or an unruly' passion indulged. And if we will resolutely
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