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point of our probation, whether we will in SERM.
such darkness of understanding, and fo VII.
many temptations from without, and from
our own infirmities, make religion and vir-
tue our chief business; and labour above all
things to maintain our integrity, or keep con-
sciences void of offence. Every man who
thus employs himself will find indeed, that
his labour is not in vain; that he has suffi-
cient encouragement to hold on his righteous
way, and his work carries its own reward
along with it, in the growing vigour of spi-
rit and rational satisfaction which accompa-
nies it ; but at the same time he will find
full employment for all the best capacities
of his soul, and that the working out his
salvation, and making his calling and election
fure, requires all diligence with the utmost
care and circumspection.

The scripture representations of a re-
ligious life are very instructive to this pur-
pose, for the precepts of the gospel and the
examples which are propos’d to our imita-
tion, Thew, that we must run and strive, and
fight, having violent opposition to struggle
with, and many difficulties to make our
way through. We wrestle with flesh and
blood, with flesh which warreth against the

spirit,

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SERM. spirit, and is the fource and occasion of the VII. most dangerous and ensnaring temptations ?

but it is not only flesh and blood, but principalities and power's, the rulers of the darkness of this world, and spiritual wickedness in high places. The whole force 1 of hellijs arm'd against a conscience void of offence, and all its deepest contrivances aim at the de struction of integrity. But, farther, this is. a'work wherein perfection is not to be at tained while we are in this world, but it is the genuine temper of every sincere perfon to be still making progress in it, and vigo rously aiming at perfection. St. Paul gives us a very lively description of his own true character, and explains that exereise of his which is mention'd in the text, Phil. tit. 12 &c. Not as tho' I had already attain'd, eithet were already perfect, but I follow after, the I may' apprehend that for which allo I am api prehended of, Christ Jesus. Brethren, I coullit not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. I proposed lastly, lub ni 16V

To

vious to any one who will attend to it, and
is directly the contrary. What, then, is

9. To confider the reasonableness and ne-SERM.
cefsity of rour exercifing ourselves therein to VII.
have always a conscience void of offence.
But, this I hope, sufficiently appears from
what has been already said ; indeed it is ob-
to deny it, is, in effect, to deny any such
thing as moral obligations on the human
mind. For the foundation of all virtue is
the sense which every man feels in his own
heart of the difference between right and
wrong, or good and evil ; the foundation of
religion is an inward persuasion of the differ-
ence between what God requires and what
he forbids us to do. To act virtuously, there-
fore, is to act according to that sense and ap-
probation of our own minds; to act viciously,
is to act in opposition to it. To act religiously,
is to conform our practice to what we believe
to be the will of God; to act irreligiously,

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virtue and religion, but to have a conscience
void of offence? And what is it to exercise
ourselves herein, but to make virtue and re-
ligion still our study, and still endeavour to
practise it, from a conviction that we are al-
ways in danger of coming short of it thro

weakness

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SERM. weakness and temptation, and that we are
VII. in our present state imperfect.

The conduct of many, even christians, is
quite otherwise ; they follow every appetite,
every inclination they find in their nature, or
propensity they have contracted by custom
and habit, without regard to conscience, or
without examining whether it be agreeable
to it or disagreeable. And tho' it is not in
their

power altogether to silence that monitor within themselves, yet the severity of its rebukes is known to abate by a customary trespassing against it ; nay, it becomes nummid and insensible, as it were, according to the apostle's expression, feared with an hot iron. Studied amusements, and the pleasures of fin, divert its admonitions. Besides, methods are invented whereby finners deceive themselves, reconciling their finful courfes, obstinately persisted in, to the hope of acceptance with God; equivalents are put in the place of religious integrity and obedience to the moral precepts of God: great diligence in fulfilling one commandment must answer for defects in another; and, particularly, great strictness in observing some pofitive institutions, compensates for moral impurity, oppression, fraud, or unmercifulness.

Thus

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Thus the ancient Jews, in the days of the SERM.
prophets Ifaah and Jeremiah, were guilty of VII.
heinous wickedness, or perverting judgment,
grinding the faces of the poor, nay, their
hands were full of blood, and yet they had
great confidence in the temple of the Lord,
and their religious respect to the new moons,
fabbaths, or other solemnities. And so, in
our Saviour's time, the Pharisees were a per-
verse and untoward generation, who appear’d
righteous before men, but within were full
of hypocrisy and iniquity; they in the mean
time trusted in a negative righteousness and
some external performances. * I am not an
extortioner, nor an adulterer, nor like this
publican, was the religion of the Pharisee
and the foundation of his hope, with the
addition of mere outward observances; I

fast twice in the week, and pay tythes of all I de Paless. This is not to have a conscience

void of offence, but to substitute fomething
else initead of it. In like manner, some
christians deceive themselves, imagining that
a zeal for the purity of their profession, di-
ligence in attending the positive appointments
of the gospel, ineffectual purposes of a fu-
ture amendment, or a presumptuous reliance

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on

* Luke xviii, 11, 12,

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