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Signs of true Peace.
(1.) Peace of conscience is a rest after a severe inquiry. When Hezekiah was upon his death-bed as he supposed, he examined his state of life, and found it had been innocent in the great lines and periods of it; and he was justly confident.
(2.) Peace of conscience can never be in wicked persons, of notorious evil lives. It is a fruit of holiness; and therefore what quietness soever is in persons of evil lives, it is to be attributed to any other cause, rather than innocence; and therefore is to be called any thing rather than just peace. "The adulterous woman eateth and wipeth her mouth, and saith I have done no wickedness *." And Pilate washed his hands,' when he was dipping them in the most innocent, the best and purest, blood of the world. But St. Paul had peace, because he really had 'fought a good fight.' And it is but a fond way to ask a sign how to discern, when the sun shines. If the sun shines we may easily perceive it, and then the beams we see, are the sun-beams; but it is not a sure argument to say, I see a light, therefore the sun shines; for he may espy only a tallow-candle, or a glowworm.
(3.) That rest which is only in the days of prosperity, is not a just and a holy peace, but that which is in the days of sorrow and affliction. The noise and madness of wine, the transportations of prosperity, the forgetfulness of riches, and the voice of flatterers, outcry conscience, and put it to silence; and there is no reason to commend a woman's silence and modesty, when her mouth is stopped. But in the days of sorrow, then conscience is vocal, and her muffler is off;
and then a man naturally searches every where for comfort; and if his heart then condemns him not, it is great odds but it is a holy peace.
(4.) Peace of mind is not to be used as a sign that God hath pardoned our sins, but is only of use in questions of particular fact. What evils have I done? what good have I
x Prov. xxx. 20.
y Ecclus. xiii. 26. z Statius Theb. iii. 4. Bipont. p. 202.
done?" The peace that comes after this examination, is holy and good. But if I have peace in these particulars, then have I peace towards God also, as to these particulars; but whether I have pardon for other sins which I have committed, is another consideration, and is always more uncertain. But even here also a peace of conscience is a blessing that is given to all holy penitents more or less, at some time or other, according as their repentance proceeds, and their hope is exercised: but it is not to be judged of by sense, and ease, but by its proper causes it never comes but after fear, and labour, and prayers, and watchfulness, and assiduity: and then what succeeds is a blessing, and a fair indication of a bigger.
(5.) True peace of conscience is always joined with a holy fear; a fear to offend, and a fear of the divine displeasure for what we have offended; and the reason is, because all peace that is so allayed, is a peace after inquiry, a peace obtained by just instruments, relying upon proper grounds: it is rational, and holy, and humble; neither carelessness or presumption is in it.
(5.) True peace of conscience relies not upon popular noises, and is not a sleep procured by the tongues of flatterers, or opinions of men, but is a peace from within, relying upon God and its own just measures. It is an excellent discourse which Seneca hath: "Est aliquando gratus, etiam qui ingratus videtur, quam mala interpres opinio contrarium traducit. Hic quid aliud sequitur, quam ipsam conscientiam? quæ etiam obruta delectat, quæ concioni ac famæ reclamat, et in se omnia reponit, et quum ingentem ex altera parte turbam contra sentientium aspexit, non numerat suffragia, sed una sententia vincit :" "Some men are thankful, who yet seem unthankful, being wronged by evil interpretation. But such a man, what else does he follow but his conscience, which pleases him, though it be overborne with slander; and when she sees a multitude of men that think otherwise, she regards not, nor reckons suffrages by the poll, but is victorious by her single sentence a." But the excellency and great effect of this peace he afterward describes; "Si vero bonam fidem perfidiæ suppliciis affici videt, non descendit è fastigio, sed supra pœnam suam consistit.-Habeo, inquit, quod volui, quod petii. Non pœnitet, nec pœnitebit, nec ulla iniquitate a Lib. 4. de Benefic. c. 21. 4. Ruhkopf. vol. 4. p. 169.
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 admoveatur, 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 poenam 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 c Cicero pro Milone, § 23. 3. Wetzel, page 254.
b Orat. 25.
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 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.
e 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. 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 adultress. 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,
Quodque volunt homines, se bene velle putant.
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.
f Prosper. Epigr. de Cohibenda Ira.