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ACTS xxiv. 16.
always a Conscience void of offence to-
ID I design to entertain
not begin it more advan. tageously than with that of Fælix, Ter. tullus, and the Jews his Prosecutors; the
Abilities and Corruption of the one, the Eloquence and Mercenariness of the other, the Bigottry, Malice, and ill Arts of the last, serving most fitly as foils or shades to set off and adorn his Vertue and Integrity; but purposing to consider these words, not so much as the Character of St. Paul, as the Rule and Standard of Christian Life in general, and consequently not to survey the History of his Life, which in all the several instances and parts of it would apparently justifie and make good this short Accounc he has
given us of it, but to assist you to regulate and conduct your own. I will advance directly to the body of the Text, without stopping you by any Remarks or Reflections on any thing in the Context.
The words are part of the Apology which St. Paul made for his Religion and himself before the Tribunal of Fælix. In the 14 and 15 Verses he wipes off the Aspersion of Novelty and Schism cast by Tertullus on his Religion, asserting that it was no other than what was taught by the Law and the Prophets; in this he frees himself from the Calumny of Turbulency and Sedition, avowing boldly the Innocence and Integrity of his Life, herein do I exercise my self, &c. Where we have,
First, The great Business and End of St. Paul's Religion, to bave a Conscience void of offence towards God and towards Man.
Secondly. His Diligence and Industry in the pursuit of it; herein do I exercise
Thirdly, The close connexion of this Verse with the former by way of inferrence and deduction, shews us the ground and motive of all this; namely, the be
lief of a Resurrection, ver. 15. And have hope towards God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a Refurrection of the dead, both of the just and ürjust.
Supposing now that the Example of St. Paul passes, as indeed it does, an Obligation upon all Christians, to imitate it; for it behoves us to be followers of him, as he was of Christ, 1 Cor. 11. 1.
Accommodating all this to our felves, I will begin with the Duty in my Texs, and shew you,
First, In general, what it is to have a Conscience void of Offence, and then more particularly, what it is as it relates, first, to God, and next, to Man.
To have a Conscience void of Offence, fpeaking in general terms, is co have a Conscience neither abused by false Principles, nor overpower'd by inordinate Affections: a' Conscience that neither misleads nor disturbs and tortures us; a Conscience that neither renders us secure and confident in the wrong, nor upbraids us with any Hypocritical prevarication or willful violation of the right. To such a Conscience you will easily resolve two things necessary, Illumination and Obedience. Illumination
makes a right Conscience, Obedience a good one; both together a Conscience void of offence. I lay, both together ; for first, as to the necessity of Obedience, in vain are the Dictates and Commands of Conscience, be it never so well informed or enlightned, if Avarice and Ambition, Luft or Revenge, or any other irregular Appetite cannot pleasure, baffle, and insult them.
Nor is the necessity of Illumination less evident; Religion and Property are no more secure from the Jovasions of a feduced than a seared Conscience; false Principles may betray Men into all the Crimes, and give birth to all the Mifchiefs which Lusts and Passions do; Men may be led by an abused Conscience to rend and divide the Church, to subvert and betray our Laws and Liberties, and to expose our Religion and our Country ; i. e. in one word, all that is dear to us, to the Insolence and Cruelty of a Foreign Enemy and a Popish Persecution; this an abufed Conscience may do, what can Luxury and Irreligion, the Luft of Money, the Lust of Power do worse? This I have said to convince such as would have a Conscience void of offence, of the indispensible Ob
ligation they lie under, not only to act and live up to the Dictates of Conscience, but also to endeavour with all Meekacss, Sincerity, and Impartiality to inform it aright; without the one you will fall under the many stripes of the Servant in the Gospel, who knew his Master's will and did it not, Luke 12. 47. Without the other, under the Woe pronounced by the Prophet against such as call good evil, and evil good, Ilai. 5. 20.
I easily foresee this general Account of the Duty in my Text will be encountred with two Objections: First, How shall we find our Truth and Right, when the Cunning and the Learned have raised such a Mift about it, when the Lufts and Interest of Men have
perplexed and entangled it with so many endless subtilcies and distinctions ? Where fhall we find a certain Rule, when Divinity and Law, how constant and inAexible soever they may be in them. selves, are accommodated to every Deligo, forc'd to yield Patronage and Countenance to every Cause; and in a word, seem to speak no Language but such as Power and Interest inspire ? Without examining the Justice of this Objection, G 3