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this evil, of evil-speaking. Consider that we are to give [aóyou dogão] an account of words; and if for idle [ãppor făuce] workless words, how much more of lying or biting words"?. Learn more humility and self-censure. Blunt that fire-edge upon your own hard and disordered hearts, that others may meet with nothing but charity and lenity at your hands.
But, particularly, beware of this, in more or less, earnest or in jest, to reproach religion, or those that profess it. Know how particularly the glorious name of GOD is interested in that; and they that dare to be affronting him, what shall they say? How shall they stand when he calls them to account? If
you have not attained to it, yet do not bark against it, but the rather esteem highly of religion. Love it, and the very appearance of it, where you find it. 'Give it respect and your good word at least; and, from an external approbation, Oh! that you would aspire to inward acquaintance with it, and then no more were needful to be said in this. It would commend itself to you sufficiently. But, in the mean time, be ashamed, be afraid of that professed enmity against God that is amongst you, a malignant hateful spirit against those that desire to walk holily, whetting your tongues against them.
1. Consider, What do you mean, this religion which we all profess, is it the way to heaven, or is it not? Do you believe this word or not? If you do not, what do you here? If you do, then you must , believe too, that they that walk closest by this rule are surest in that way. They that dare not share with your oaths, and excessive cups, and profane conversation, what can you say? It is not possible to open your mouth against them without renouncing this word and faith: Therefore, either declare you are no Christians, and that Christ is not yours ; or, in his name, I enjoin you, that you dare no more speak an ill word of christianity, and the power of religion, and those that seek after it. There are not
b De verbo mendaci aut mordaci. Bern.
many higher signs of a reprobate mind, than to have a bitter virulent spirit against the children of God. Seek that tie of affection and fraternity, on which the beloved apostle, St. John, lays such stress, when he says, Hereby we know that we are translated from death to life, because we love the brethren'.
But because those hissings are the natural voice of the serpent's seed, expect them, you that have a mind to follow Christ, and take this guard against them that you are here directed, Having a good conscience ; the second party we mentioned above, as engaged in contest.
It is a fruitless verbal debate, whether conscience be a faculty or habit, or not; and as in other things, so in this, that most of all requires more solid and useful consideration, the vain mind of man feedeth on the wind, loves to be busy to no purposek: How much better is it to have this supernatural goodness of conscience, than to dispute about the nature of it; to find it duly“ teaching and admonishing, reproving and comforting, rather than to define it most exactly m?
When all is examined, it will be found to be no other but the mind of man, under the notion of a particular reverence to himself, and his own actions. And there is a twofold goodness of the conscience, purity and tranquillity, and this latter flows from the former; so that the former is the thing we ought primely to study, and the latter will follow of itself. For a time, indeed, the conscience, that is in a good measure pure, may be unpeaceable, but still it is the apprehension and sense of present or former impurity that makes it so ; for, without the consideration of guiltiness, there is nothing that can trouble it. It cannot apprehend the wrath of God, but with relation unto sin.
The goodness of conscience here recommended, is the integrity and holiness of the whole inward man in a Christian; so the ingredients of it are, l. A due i i Johu ji. 14.
Magno conatu magnas nugas. "Malo sentire compunctionem, quam scire ejus definitionem.
light or knowledge of our rule: That as the lamps in the temple must be still burning within, as filthiness is always the companion of darkness : therefore, if you would have a good conscience, you must by all means have so much light, so much knowledge of the will of God, as may regulate you, and shew you your way, may teach you how to do, and speak, and think, as in his presence.
2. A constant regard, and using of this light, applying it to all; not sleeping, but working by it; still seeking a nearer conformity with the known will of our God; daily redressing and ordering the affections by it; not sparing to knock off whatsoever we find irregular within, that our hearts may be polished, and brought to a right frame by that rule. And this is the daily inward work of the Christian, his great business, to purify himself, as the Lord is pure".
And, 3. For the advancing of this work is needful, a frequent search of our hearts and of our actions, not only to consider what we are to do, but what we have done. These reflex inquiries, as they are a main part
of the conscience's proper work, they are a chief means of making and keeping the conscience good: 1. Acquainting the soul with its own state ; with the motions and inclinations that are most natural to it. 2. Stirring it up to work out, and purge away, by repentance, the pollution it hath contracted by any outward act or inward motion of sin. 3. This search both excites and enables the conscience to be more watchful; teaches how to avoid and prevent the like errors for the time to come. As natural wise men labour to gain thus out of their former oversights in their affairs, to be the wiser and warier by them, and lay up that as bought wit, that they have paid dear for, and therefore are careful to make their best advantage of it; so God makes the consideration of their falls preservatives to his children from falling again ; he makes a medicine of this poison. Thus, that the conscience may be good, it must be enlightened ;, and it must be watchful, both advising before, and after censuring, according to that light.
mi John iii. 3.
The greater part of mankind little regard this; they walk by guess, having perhaps ignorant consciences, (and the blind, you say, swallow many a Ay,) yea, how many consciences without sense, as seared with an hot iron”; so stupified, that they feel nothing! Others rest satisfied with a civil righteousness, an imagined goodness of conscience, because they are free from gross crimes. Others that know the rule of Christianity, yet study not a conscientious respect to it in all things. They cast some transient looks upon the rule, and their own hearts, it may be, but sit not down, they make it not their business, to. compare them. They have time for any thing but thato; but share not with St. Paul, do not exercise themselves in this, to have a conscience void offence towards God and men P. Those were his Asceticks, (aoxw] he breathed himself, in striving against what might defile the conscience, or, as the word signifies, elaborately wrought and dressed his conscience ? Think you, that other things cannot be done without diligence and intention, and is this a work to be done at random? No, it is the most exact and curious of all works, to have the conscience right, and keep it so. As watches, or other such neat pieces of workmanship, except they be daily wound up and skilfully handled, they will quickly go wrong; yea, besides daily inspection, conscience should (as these) at sometimes be taken to pieces, and more accurately cleansed ;, for the best kept will gather soil and dust. Sometimes a Christian should set himself to a more solemn examination of his own heart, beyond his daily search ; and all little enough to have so precious a good as this, a good conscience. They that are most diligent and vigilant, find nothing to abate as superfluous, but still need of more. The heart is to be kept with all diligence", or above all keeping. Corni Tim. iv, 2. .Non vacani bonæ menti, P Acts xxiv. 16. 4 ασκήσασα χιτώνα. ΗοΝ.
r Prov, iv, 23.
ruption within is ready to grow and gain upon it, if it be never so little neglected, and from without, to invade it, and get in. We breathe in a corrupt infected air, and have need daily to antidote the heart against it.
You that are studying to be excellent in this art of a good conscience, go on, seek daily progress in it; the study of conscience is a more sweet profitable study than of all science, wherein is much vexation, and, for the most part, little or no fruit. Read this book diligently, and correct your errata by that other book, the word of God.
Labour to have it pure and right; other books and works are asepsepyà, curious, and vapepyà, by-works; they shall soon disappear, but this is one of the books that shall be opened in that great day, according to which we must be judged“.
On this follows a good conversation, as inseperably connected with a good conscience... Grace is of a lively active nature, and doth act like itself; holiness in the heart will be holiness in the life too; not some good actions, but a good conversation, an uniform even tract of life, the whole revolution of it regular: The inequality of some Christians ways doth breed much discredit to religion, and discomfort to themselves.
But observe here, 1. The order of these two. 2. The principle of both.
1. The conscience good, and then the conversation; Make the tree good and the fruit will be good, says our Saviour'; so, here, a good conscience is the root of a good conversation: Most men begin at the wrong end of this work; they would reform the outward man first; that will do no good, it will be but dead work.
Do not rest upon external reformations, they will not hold, there is no abiding, nor no advantage, in such a work; you think, when reproved, Oh! I will mend and set about the redress of some outward things; but this is as good as to do nothing; the • Rev. xx. 12.
* Matt. xii. 33.