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follow the example of the text here in ex-Serm. ercihng ourselves to have a conscience void of VII. offence; We must banish this unfairness of an mind among other corrupt biasses and vicious affections. .
Falfe notions of religion may with much more reason be thought to be an exception to the rule of following universally the direction of conscience, because the influence of them in misleading men is founded, not on insincerity or dishonesty of heart, as in the other cafe, but upon a religious principle, that God is in all things to be imitated and obeyed. If, therefore, we have wrong opinions concerning the Deity, if we imagine him to be an arbitrary being, who governs the world by absolute will, without any regard to equity and goodness, this opinion tends to inspire men with the like fentiments, and raise in them dispositions contrary to benevolence. If we mistake the will of God, and imagine things please him which really do not please him, the effect will be speaking and atting wickedly for God, and from a principle of conscience. They must be quite strangers to the world, to the history of all paft ages, and what continues to be every day done in the openest manner, Vol. I. M
SERM.Who do not know that the most prodigious VII iniquity is committed, indeed the most
cruel barbarities acted, under a pretence of zeal for God, for sacred truth, and pure religion ; not a deceitful, lying, pretence; but a real and firm perswasion. The declarations of scripture itself will not suffer us to doubt of this. Our Saviour tells his difciples, John xvi. 2. the time cometh, when, whosoever killeth you, Mall think that he doth God service. But, we need not insist on any further proof, the apostle Paul himself is a very remarkable example. Before his conversion to christianity, superstition had, so far misled his judgment, that he was a persecutor, a blasphemer, and injurious, with full consent of mind and believing he was right : For he says in his apology before Agrippa and Festus, Afts xxvi. 9. I verily thought with myself, I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth is and, therefore, he says, Acts xxiii. 1. comprehending the very time of his outrageous persecuting zeal, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day; meaning that he acted according to his present judgment; not against it, in meer com
pliance with lust and passion, as some wick-Serm. edly do.
VII. From what has been now faid it appears, that nothing can be of greater importance to men than to have their minds well inform'd concerning the measures of their moral conduct, and rightly to understand the practical principles of religion. Most unhappy, surely, is the condition of that mind which is thoroughly poffefs’d of pernicious errors, and the more earnestly it pursues its own judgment the farther still it goes astray. But, this, at least, in points of the greatest moment, is certainly not inevitable; for then our worst errors would only be our infelicities, and our actions agreeable to them could not properly be called our sins. But, indeed, God has made the great truths concerning his being, his perfection, and para ticularly his moral character, fo manifest, that every man must discern them who applies himself to the inquiry with unprejudiced and careful attention, which is unquestionably the duty of such creatures as we are, and for want of it our hearts will some time or other severely reproach us. The principal parts of our religion being plain inferences from the divine moral attri
SERM.butes; must be very open to levery impartial VII. and considerat enquirer. And, indeed, nif
we will but look fairly into our own hearts, divested of prepofleffion in favour of received opinions, it will not be difficult to fee what is good and what the Lord requires. The very first dictates of nature will scarcely ever mislead an honest heart; at least they will direct him contrary to the tendency of faperstition, that is, fullen uncharitablenefs and inhumanity. It must be acknowledged there are some very difficult cases relating to the subject we are considering, vand it will be very hard to determine, how far errors of judgment excuse wrong practicearl:Wehave no reason to believe that ever we fhall be free from infirmities and miftakes leadingius to some wrong actions, while we are in this
imperfect state ; and fhall always have reason - to join with the Pfalmift in this prayer, V* cleanse me, Lord, from fecret faults; uerbo can understand his errors? What merei. ful allowances God may make for iletil practices, which men who have honeft intentions in the main, fall into behto' fuperstition, which was the case of the apostle Paul before his conversion, what gracious allowances may be made for them,
* Pfalm xix. 120
Jiffay, must be left to the most equitable SERM. tand merciful judge of the world: And what VII., mercy they may obtain; because they act, las he did, ignorantly in unbelief. But, for jus chriftians, besides the voice of uncorrupted nature which every well disposed person may understand, the rule of our religion is fo
plain, so simple, fo free from superstition of - all kinds, its declarations so express for moral zpiety, consisting in the love of God, conbfidence in him, and refignation to his will ;
for this, and for righteousness, temperance Iland charity, as the all of religion, and what tonly God will be pleas'd with; we shall be sofrall others the most inexcusable if we fall sinto the contrary errors, and suffer our conzafcjences to be offended and milled by them. zidth will only, add under this head, that as a ritruly uniform wirtuous temper and course of
raction is that only which bears an exact prooportion to the human mind, making it fully
jand constantly fatisfied and contented in itli felf ;; we may thus judge concerning the A different cases referr’d to: A mind, not in
deed directly disapproving itself, but doing prwhat it would certainly condemn if it were jonot covered with a false pretence of zeal ; I may call it a false conscience, erring thro'
M 3 superstition à