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such impure ones as they entertained, is it to be doubted whether, in the many secret trials of our yirtue, we should not determine our cases of conscience with much the same kind of casuistry as that of the libertine in Terence, who being engaged in a very unjustifiable pursuit, and happening to see a picture which represented a known story of Jupiter in a like transaction--argued the matter thus within himself :--If the great Jupiter could not restrain his appetites, and deny himself an indulgence of this kind, ego Homuncio hoc non facerem? Shall I a mortal,--an inconsiderable mortal too, clothed with infirmities of flesh and blood, pretend to a virtue which the Father of gods and men could not? What insolence !
The conclusion was natural enough; and as so great a master of nature puts it into the mouth of one of his principal characters, no doubt the language was then understood ; it was copied from common life, and was not the first application which had been made of the story.
It will scarce admit of a question, Whether vice would not naturally grow bold upon the credit of such an example ? or, whether such inpressions did not influence the lives and morals of many in the heathen world ? and had there been no other proof of it but the natural tendency of such notions to corrupt them, it had been sufficient reason to be lieve it was so.
No doubt,--there is sufficient room for amendment in the christian world ; and we may be said to be a very corrupt and bad generation of men, considering what motives we have from the purity of our religion, and the force of its sanctions, to make
us better :--yet still I affirm, If these restraints were taken off, the world would be infinitely worse ; and though some sense of morality might be preserved, as it was in the heathen world, with the more considerate of us--yet in general I am persuaded, that the bulk of mankind upon such a supposition, would soon come to live without God in the world," and in a short time differ from Indians themselves in little else but their complexions.
If, after all, the christian religion has not left a sufficient provision against the wickedness of the world, the short and true answer is this, That there can be none.
It is sufficient to leave us without excuse, that the excellency of this institution, in its doctrine, its precepts, and its examples, has a proper tendency to make us a virtuous and a happy people ;-every page is an address to our hearts, to win them to these purposes ;-but religion was not intended to work upon men by force and natural necessity, but by moral persuasion, which sets good and evil before them ;-30 that if men have power to do the evil and choose the good, and will abuse it—this cannot be avoided.-Religion ever implies a freedom of choice : and all the beings in the world which have it, were created free to stand and free to fall ;-and therefore men who will not be per. suaded by this way of address, must expect, and be contented to be reckoned with according to the talents they have received
THE ABUSES OF CONCIENCE CONSIDERED.
HEBREWS XIII. 18.
-For we trust we have a good conscience.
TRUST !--Trust we have a good conscience ! Surely, you will say, if there is any thing in this life which a man may depend upon, and to the knowledge of which he is capable of arriving upon the most indisputable evidence, it must be this very thing,-Whether he has a good conscience, or no.
If a man thinks at all, he cannot well be a stranger to the true state of this account:–He must be privy to his own thoughts and desires ;-he must remember his past pursuits, and know certainly the true springs and motives which, in general, have governed the actions of his life.
In other matters we may be deceived by false appearances; and as the wise man complains," hardly “ do we guess aright at the things that are upon the 6 earth ; and with labour do we find the things that « are before us :"_but here the mind has all the evidence and facts within herself ;-is conscious of the web she has wove ;-knows its texture and fineness; and the exact share which every passion has had in working upon the several designs which vir. tue or vice has plann'd before her.
Now,-as conscience is nothing else but the knowledge which the mind has within itself of this; and the judgment, either of approbation or censure, which it unavoidably makes upon the successive actions of our lives,'tis plain, you will say, from the very terms of the proposition, whenever this inward testimony goes against a man, and he stands self-accused,- that he must necessarily be a guilty man. And, on the contrary, when the report is favourable on his side, and his heart condemns him not, that it is not a matter of trust, as the apostle intimates, but a matter of certainty and fact, that the conscience is good, and that the man must be good also.
At first sight, this may seem to be a true state of the case ; and I make no doubt but the knowledge of right and wrong is so truly impress'd upon the mind of man, that did no such thing ever happen, as that the conscience of a man, by long habits of sin, might (as the scripture assures us it may) insensibly become hard, and, like some tender parts of his body, by much stress and continual hard usage, lose, by degrees, that nice sense and perception with which God and nature endowed it ;-did this never happen ;-or was it certain that self-loye could neyer hang the least bias upon the judgment ;-or, that the little interests below could raise up and perplex the faculties of our upper regions, and encompass them about with clouds and thick darkness ;-could no such thing as favour and affection enter this sacred court ;-did wit disdain to take a bribe in it, or was ashamed to shew its face as an advocate for an unwarrantable enjoyment ;-or, lastly, were we assured that interest stood always unconcerned whilst the cause was hearing, and that passion never got into the judgment-seat, and pronounced sentence in the stead of reason, which is supposed always to
preside and determine upon the case ;-was this truly so, as the objection must suppose, no doubt, then, the religious and moral state of a man would be exactly what he himself esteemed it ; and the guilt or, innocence of every man's life could be known, in general, by no better measure than the de. grees of his own approbation or censure.
I own, in one case, whenever a man's conscience does accuse him (as it seldom errs on that side) that he is guilty; and, unless in inelancholy and hypochondriack cases, we
may safely pronounce that there are always sufficient grounds for the accusation.
But the converse of the proposition will not hold true ;--namely, That wherever there is guilt, the conscience must accuse ; and, if it does not, that a man is therefore innocent. This is not fact :-SO that the common consolation which some good chris. tian or other is hourly administering to himself, That he thanks God his mind does not misgive him ; and that, consequently, he has a good conscience, because he has a quiet one ; as current as the inference is, and as infallible as the rule appears at first sight, yet, when you look nearer to it, and try the truth of this rule upon plain facts, you find it liable to so much error, from a false application of it; the principle on which it goes so often perverted ;the whole force of it lost, and sometimes so vilely cast away, that it is painful to produce the common examples from human life which confirm this account. A man shall be vitious and utterly debauched in
principles; exceptionable in his conduct to the world : shall live shameless-in the open commission of a sin which no reason or pretence can justi