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according to their conscience. But this will appear to be a dangerous mistake, and of very pernicious confequence to the souls of men, if we consider these twe things.
1. That men may be guilty of the most heinous fins in following an erroneous conscience.
2. And these fins may prove damnable without a para ticular repentance for them.
ist, That men may be guilty of the most heinous sins, in following an erroneous conscience. Men may neglect and abuse themselves fo far, as to do some of the worst and wickedelt things in the world, with a persuasion that they do well. Our Saviour tells his disciples, John xvi. 2. that the time should come when the Jews fhould put them to death, thinking they did God good service. Nay, the Jews murdered the Son of God himself through ignorance and a false persuasion of mind : Father, forgive them, (says our blessed Lord, when he was breathing out his soul upon the cross, Luke xxiii. 34.), for they know not what they do. And St. Peter, after he had charged the Jews with killing the prince of life, he presently adds, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers, Acts iii. 17. And St. Paul, in mitigation of that great crime, says, Had they known, they would not bave crucified the Lord of life and glory. And concerning himself, he tells us, Acts xxvi. 9. that he verily thought with himself, that he'ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth : and yet, notwithstanding that he acted herein according to the persuasion of his conscience, he tells us, that he had been a blasphemer, and a perfecuter, and injurious, and a murderer, and, in a word, the greatest of finners. So that men may be guilty of the greatest fins in following an erroneous conscience. And,
2dly, These sins may prove damnable, without a particular repentance for them. - Where the ignorance and mistake is not grossly wilful, there God will accept of a general repentance; but where it is grossly wilful, great sins committed upon it are not pardoned without a particular repentance for them. And an error which proceeds from want of ordinary human care, and due government of a man's self, is in a great degree wilful : as
when it proceeds from an unreasonable and obstinate prejudice, from great pride and self-conceit, and contempt of counsel and instruction; or from a visible bias of selfinterest ; or when it is accompanied with a furious pafsion and zeal, prompting men to cruel and horrible things, contrary to the light of nature, and the common sense of humanity. An error proceeding from such causes, and producing such effects, is wilful in so high a degree, that whatever evil is done in virtue of it, is almost equally faulty with a direct and wilful violation of the law of God.
The ignorance and mistake doth indeed make the perfon so mistaken more capable of forgiveness; which is the ground of our Saviour's prayer for his murderers, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. St. Paul likewise tells us, that he found mercy upon count: Nevertheless (says he, 1 Tim. i. 13.) I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly, and in unbelief; that is, through a false perfuafion of mind, not believing it to be a lin: and yet he did not obtain this mercy, without a particular conviction of his fault, and repentance for it. And St. Peter, after he had convinced the Jews of their great sin in crucifying Christ, though they did it ignorantly, yet he exhorts them to a particular and deep repentance for it, as necessary to the pardon and forgiveness of it: and therefore, after he had said, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers, he immediately adds, Acts iii. 19. Repent je therefore, and be convertel, that your fins may be blotted out.
So that it highly concerns men to consider what opinions they embrace in order to practice, and not to fuffer themselves to be hurried away by an unreasonable prejudice, and a heady paflion, without a due and calm examination of things; not to be overborne by pride, or humour, or partiality, or interest, or by a furious and extravagant zeal; because proportionably to the voluntariness of our error, will be the guilt of our practice pursuant to that error. Indeed where our error is involuntary, and morally invincible, God will consider it, and make allowance for it; but where it is voluntary, and occasioned by our own gross faults and neglect. we are bound to consider, and rectify our mistake: for whatVOL. II.
ever we do contrary to the law of God and our duty, in virtue of that false persuasion, we do it at our utmost peril, and must be answerable to God for it, notwithstanding we did it according to the dictate of our conscience.
3. A third rule is this, That in all doubts of conscience we endeavour to be equal and impartial, and do not lay all the weight of our doubts on one side, when there is perhaps as much or greater reason of doubting on the other; and consequently, that we be as tractable, and easy to receive satisfaction of our doubts, in one kind as in another, and be equally contented to have them over-ruled in cases that are equal; I mean, where our passions and interests are not concerned, as well as where they are. And if we do not do this, it is a sign that we are partial in our pretences of conscience; and hat we do not aim merely at the peace and satisfaction of our own minds, but have some other interest and design.
For it is a very suspicious thing, when mens doubts and scruples bear all on one side; especially if it be on that side which is against charity, and peace, and obedience to government, whether ecclesiastical or civil : in this case I think, that a mere doubt, and much more a scruple, may, nay, ought in reason to be over-ruled by the command of authority, by the opinion and judgment of wise and good men, and in consideration of the publick peace, and of the unity and edification of the church.
Not that a man is in any cafe to go against the clear persuasion and conviction of his own mind: but when there is only a mere doubt concerning the lawfulness or unlawfulness of a thing, it seems to me in that case very reasonable, that a man should fuffer. a mere doubt or fcruple to be over-ruled by any of those weighty confiderations which I have mentioned before.
4. The fourth rule is, That all pretences of conscience are vehemently to be suspected, which are accompanied with turbulent pallion and a furious zeal. It is an hundred to one but such a man's conscience is in the wrong. It is an excellent saying of St. James, chap. i. 20. The wrath of man worketh, not the righteousniefs of God; that is, the fierce pallion's of men are no proper instruments to promote religion, and to accom
plish any thing that is good. And therefore, if any man
Nubila mens eft,
Boeth. And if men would carefully observe themselves, they might almost certainly know when they act upon reason, and a true principle of conscience. A good conscience is easy to itself, and pleased with its own doings; but when a man's passion and discontent are a weight upon his judgment, and do as it were bear down his conicience to a compliance, no wonder if this puts a man's mind into a very unnatural and uneasy state.
There can hardly be a broader sign that a man is in the wrong, than to rage and be confident; because this plainly shews, that the man's conscience is not settled upon clear reason, but that he hath ugh conscience to his interest, or to his humour and discontent.
And though such a man may be fo far blinded by his pallion, as not to fee what is right; yet methinks he should feel himself to be in the wrong, by his being so very hot and impatient.
Art thou sure thou art in the right ? thou art a happy man, and halt reason to be pleased : what cause then, what need is there of being angry? Hath a man reason on his side? what would he have more? why then does he fly out into passion ? which as it gives no strength to a bad argument, so I could never yet see that it was any grace and advantage to a good one.
Of the great evil and the perpetual mistake of this furious kind of zeal, the Jews are a lively and a lamentable example, in their carriage towards our blessed Saviour and his Apostles; and more particularly St. Paul, when he persecuted the Christians from a false and erroneous persuasion of his conscience. Hear how St. Paul describes himfelf and his own doings whilst he was acted by an erroneous conscience : Acts xxii. 4. I persecuted (says he) this way unto the death, binding and delivering into
prisons prisons both men and women ; and, in another chapter, Acts xxvi. 9. I verily thought with myself, thai I ought 1o do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Here was his erroneous conscience. Let us next fee what were the unhappy concomitants and effects of it: V 10. 11. Which things (fay he) I also did in Jerusalem : and many of the saints 1 jhut up in prison ; and when they were pilt to death I gave my voice against them, and punified them oft in every Synagogue, and compelled them to blafpheme; and being exceedingly mad againji them, I persecuted them even to strange cities. When conscience transports men with such a furious zeal and pasfion, it is hardly ever in the right; or, if it should happen to be fo, they who are thus transported, by their ungracious way of maintaining the truth, and their ill management of a good cause, have found out a cunning way to be in the wrong, even when they are in the right.
5. All pretences of conscience are likewise to be fu. fpecied, which are not accompanied with modesty and humility, and a teachable temper and disposition, willing to learn and to be better informed. A proud and conceited temper of mind is very likely to run into mistakes; because pride, and fulness of a man's self, does keep out knowledge, and obstructs all the passages by which wisdom and instruction should enter into men. Besides that it provokes God to abandon men to their own follies and mistakes : for God refifieth the proud; but the meek will le guide in judgment, and will give more grace and wisdom to the humble. When men are once come to this, to think themselves wiser than their teachers, and to defpise and calt off their guides, no wonder if then they go aftray.
6. Lastly, Let us be sure to mind that which is our plain and unquestionable duty, the great things of religion, wherein the life and substance of it doth consist; and the things likewise which make for feace, and whereby we may edify one another; and let us not suffer our disputes about leffer matters to prejudice and hinder our main duty: but let it be our great care, not to fail in those greater things, which are con prehended under the two great commandments of the aw, the love of God, and of Cur neighbour. Let us be strict and constant in our pi