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me eo fortuna perducet, ut hanc vocem audiam, Quid mihi volui? quid mihi nunc prodest bona voluntas? Prodest et in equuleo, prodest et in igne. Qui si singulis membris admoyeatur, et paulatim vivum corpus circumeat; licet ipsum corpus plenum bona conscientia stillet: placebit illi ignis, per quem bona fides collucebit:" "A good conscience loses nothing of its confidence and peace for all the tortures of the world. The rack, the fire, shall not make it to repent and say, What have I purchased? But its excellency and integrity shall be resplendent in the very flames."-And this is the meaning of the proverb used by the Levantines, 'Heaven and hell are seated in the heart of man.' As his conscience is, so he is happy, or extremely miserable. "What other men say of us, is no more than what other men dream of us," said St. Gregory Nazianzen ; it is our conscience that accuses or condemns to all real events and purposes.
26. And now all this is nothing but a persuasion partly natural, partly habitual, of this proposition which all the nations, and all the men in the world, have always entertained as the band of all their religion, and private transactions of justice and decency,-" Deum remuneratorem esse," that "God is a just rewarder" of all actions. I sum up the premises in the words of the orator: "Magna vis est conscientiæ, judices, et magna in utramque partem: ut neque timeant qui nihil commiserint; et pœnam semper ante oculos versari putent, qui peccarint." On either side conscience is mighty and powerful, to secure the innocent, and to afflict the criminal.
27. But beyond these offices now described, conscience does sometimes only counsel a thing to be done; that is, according to its instruction, so it ministers to holiness. If God hath put a law into our minds, conscience will force obedience, or make us to suffer for our disobedience; but if a proposition, tending to holiness and its advantages, be intrusted to the conduct of conscience, then it presses it by all its proper inducements, by which it was laid up there, and leaves the spirit of a man to his liberty; but if it be not followed, it upbraids our weaknesses, and chides our follies,. and reproves our despising holy degrees, and greater excellences of glory laid up for loving and willing spirits. Such
b Oral. 25.
e Cicero pro Milone, §. 23. 3. Wetzel, page 251.
as is that of Clemens Alexandrinus", in the matter of an evangelical counsel; Οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει μὲν κατὰ διαθήκην· οὐ γὰρ κεκώλυται πρὸς τοῦ νόμου ̇ οὐ πληροῖ δὲ τῆς κατὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον πολιτείας, κατ ̓ ἐπίτασιν, τελειότητα, “ He that does so and so, sins not; for he is not forbidden by the law of the Gospel; but yet he falls short of the perfection, that is designed and propounded to voluntary and obedient persons." To sum up this:
28. When St. Paul had reproved the endless genealogies of the Gnostics and Platonists, making circles of the same things, or of divers whose difference they understood not; as intelligence, fear, majesty, wisdom, magnificence, mercy, victory, kingdom, foundation, God, and such unintelligible stuff which would make fools stare and wise men at a loss; he subjoins a short, but a more discernible genealogy, and conjugation of things to our purpose: "The end of the commandment is love out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned ":" that is, out of an unfeigned faith proceeds a good conscience; that is, abstinence from sin ;-and from thence comes purity of heart, or a separation from the trifling regards of the world, and all affections to sin; and these all end in charity: that is, in peace, in joy, and the fruition and love of God, in unions and contemplations in the bosom of eternity. So that faith is the first mover in the understanding part, and the next is conscience; and they both purify the heart from false persuasions, and evil affections; and then they join to the production of love and of felicity.
Thus far are the nature and offices of conscience: it will
concern us next, to consider by what general measures we are to treat our conscience, that it may be useful to us in all the intentions of it, and in the designs of God.
d Stromat. lib. 4.
⚫ 1 Tim, i. 5. 2 Tim. i. 3. ii. 22. Heb. ix. 14. x. 22. xiii. 18. Acts, xv. 9.
Be careful that Prejudice or Passion, Fancy and Affection, Error or Illusion, be not mistaken for Conscience.
1. NOTHING is more usual, than to pretend conscience to all the actions of men which are public, and whose nature cannot be concealed. If arms be taken up in a violent war; inquire of both sides, why they engage on that part respectively; they answer, because of their conscience. Ask a schismatic why he refuses to join in the communion of the church; he tells you, it is against his conscience:-and the disobedient refuse to submit to laws; and they also, in many cases, pretend conscience. Nay, some men suspect their brother of a crime, and are persuaded, as they say, in conscience that he did it: and their conscience tells them that Titius did steal their goods, or that Caia is an adulteress. And so suspicion, and jealousy, and disobedience, and rebellion, are become conscience; in which there is neither knowledge, nor revelation, nor truth, nor charity, nor reason, nor religion. "Quod volumus, sanctum est," was the proverb of Sichonius and the Donatists.
Nemo suæ mentis motus non æstimat æquos,
Every man's way seems right in his own eyes; and what they think is not against conscience, they think or pretend to think, it is an effect of conscience; and so their fond persuasions and fancies are made sacred, and conscience is pretended, and themselves and every man else is abused. But in these cases and the like, men have found a sweetness in it to serve their ends upon religion, and because conscience is the religious understanding, or the mind of a man as it stands dressed in and for religion, they think that some sacredness or authority passes upon their passion or design, if they call it conscience.
2. But by this rule it is intended that we should observe the strict measures of conscience. For an illusion may make a conscience, that is, may oblige by its directive and compulsive power. Conscience is like a king, whose power and authority are regular, whatsoever counsel he follows. Prosper. Epigr. de Cohibenda Ira.
And although he may command fond things, being abused by flatterers, or misinformation, yet the commandment issues from a just authority, and therefore equally passes into a law; so it is in conscience. If error or passion dictates, the king is misinformed, but the inferiors are bound to obey and we may no more disobey our conscience commanding of evil things, than we may disobey our king enjoining things imprudent and inconvenient. But therefore this rule gives caution to observe the information and inducement, and if we can discern the abuse, then the evil is avoided. For this governor conscience' is tied to laws, as kings are to the laws of God and nations, to justice and charity; and a man's conscience cannot be malicious: his will may; but if the error be discovered, the conscience, that is, the practical understanding, cannot. For it is impossible for a man to believe what himself finds to be an error: and when we perceive our conscience to be misguided, the deception is at an end. And therefore to make up this rule complete, we ought to be strict and united to our rule; for by that only we can be guided, and by the proportions to it we can discern right and wrong, when we walk safely, and when we walk by false fires. Concerning which, besides the direct survey of the rule and action, and the comparing each other, we may, in cases of doubt and suspicion, be helped by the following measures.
Advices for the Practice of the former Rule.
3. (1.) We are to suspect our conscience to be misinformed, when we are not willing to inquire into the particulars. He that searches, desires to find, and so far takes the right course for truth can never hurt a man, though it may prejudice his vice, and his affected folly. In the inquiries after truth, every man should have a traveller's indifferency, wholly careless whether this or that be the right way, so he may find it. For we are not to choose the way because it looks fair, but because it leads surely. And to this purpose, the most hearty and particular inquest is most prudent and effective. But we are afraid of truth when we will not inquire, that is, when the truth is against our interest or passion, our lust or folly, that is, seemingly against us, in the present indisposition of our affairs.
4. (2.) He that resolves upon the conclusion before the premises, inquiring into particulars to confirm his opinion. at a venture, not to shake it if it be false, or to establish it only in case it be true, unless he be defended by chance, is sure to mistake, or at least can never be sure whether he does or no.
This is to be understood in all cases to be so, unless the particular unknown be secured by a general that is known. He that believes Christ's advocation and intercession for us in heaven upon the stock of Scripture, cannot be prejudiced by this rule, although, in the inquiries of probation and arguments of the doctrine, he resolve to believe nothing that shall make against his conclusion; because he is ascertained by a proposition that cannot fail him. The reason of this exception is this, because in all discourses which are not perfectly demonstrative, there is one lame supporter, which must be helped out by the better leg; and the weaker part does its office well enough, if it can bring us to a place where we may rest ourselves and rely. He that cannot choose for himself, hath chosen well enough, if he can choose one that can choose for him; and when he hath, he may prudently rely upon such a person in all particulars, where he himself cannot judge, and the other can, or he thinks he can, and cannot well know the contrary. It is easier to judge of the general lines of duty, than of minutes and particulars and travellers that are not well skilled in all the little turnings of the ways, may confidently rely upon a guide whom they choose out of the natives of the place; and if he understands the coast of the country, he may well harden his face against any vile person, that goes about wittily to persuade him he must go the contrary way, though he cannot answer his arguments to the contrary. A man may prudently and piously hold a conclusion, which he cannot defend against a witty adversary, if he have one strong hold upon which he may rely for the whole question; because he derives his conclusion from the best ground he hath, and takes the wisest course he can, and uses the best means he can get, and chooses the safest ways that are in his power. No man is bound to do better than his best.
5. (3.) Illusion cannot be distinguished from conscience, if, in our search, we take a wrong course and use incompetent