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rally good, yet by being supposed so by the conscience, it is sometimes accepted so by God.
6. (3.) Although the rule by which good and bad are measured, be in itself perfect, yet it is not always perfectly received by us. Good is proportionable to reason; and as there is probabiliter verum,' so there is 'probabiliter bonum, ' a probable good,' as well as 'a probable truth:' and in the inquest after this, we often shew a trick of humanity, even to be pitifully deceived; and although when it is so, it is an allay of the good it intends, yet it does not wholly destroy it : God, in his goodness, accepting at our hands for good, what we really and innocently suppose to be so. Just like the country fellow that gave a handful of water to his prince; he thought it a fine thing, and so it was accepted. For when the action and the rule are to be made even, if either of them comply and stoop, the equality is made. God indeed requires the service of all our faculties, but calls for no exact measures of any but the will. For the acts of the will are perfect in their kind, but our understanding is imperfect, therefore this may find an excuse, but that never.
7. (4.) Upon this account it is, that though the goodness or badness of an act depends upon the quality of the object regularly and naturally, yet the acts become irregularly or accidentally good or bad by the conscience, because the conscience changes the object; that is, the act is good by the object really good, or so apprehended. The object always changes or constitutes the act, but the conscience changing the object immediately, hath a mediate influence upon the act also, and denominates it to be such as in the event it proves. But then in what degrees, and to what events, this change is made, is of more intricate consideration.
What Changes can be made in moral Actions by the Persuasion and Force of Conscience.
8. (1.) Whatsoever is absolutely and indispensably necessary to be done, and commanded by God expressly, cannot be changed by conscience into an evil, or into that which is unnecessary. Because in such cases where the rule is plain, easy, and fitted to the conscience, all ignorance is voluntary, and spoils the consequent act, but never can legitimate it. And the same reason is for things plainly and expressly for
bidden, as adultery, murder, sacrilege, and the like; they can never become good by any act of conscience. And therefore in such cases it often happened, that God did declare his judgment to be contrary to the opinion, which men had of themselves and of their actions. Sometimes men live contrary to their profession; they profess' the worship of God, but deny him in their hearts", even when they least think they do. Thus the Israelites having constrained Aarono to make a golden calf, proclaimed a feast, "To-morrow is a feast unto Jehovah :" but God says of them," they offered sacrifice to devils and not to God." And so it was with their children after them, who killed and persecuted the apostles and servants of Jesus, and thought they did God good service. He that falls down before an idol, and thinks to do honour to the Lord;-or robs a temple, and thinks it is for religion,-must stand or fall, not by his own fancy, but by sentence of God, and the rule of his law; "Protestatio contra factum," is invalid in law. To strike a man's eye out, and say he did it in sport,-to kill his brother, and think it is well done, because done to prevent his sin, though it may be thought charity by the man,-yet it is murder before God.
9. (2.) Where the rule is obscure, or the application full of variety, or the duty so intricate, that the conscience may inculpably err; there the object can be changed by conscience, and the acts adopted into a good or an evil portion by that influence. He that thinks it unlawful to give money to a poor Turk, hath made it to become unlawful to him, though of itself it seems to be a pious act. So also it is in the uncertain application of a certain proposition. It is certainly unlawful to commit adultery; but if Jacob supposes he lies with Rachel, and she prove to be Leah, his conscience hath not changed the rule, but it hath changed the object and the act; the object becomes his own by adoption, and the act is regular by the integrity of the will. This is that which is affirmed by the Apostle, " I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself, but he that thinketh it is unclean, to him it is unclean"." This instance is in a case in which they might easily be mistaken, and innocently abused, by reason of the
Tit. i. 16.
• Deut. xxxii. 17. P Rom, xiv. 14. Vide Chrysost. in hunc locum. St. Ambros. ib. Theophyl. ib.
prepossession of their minds by Moses's law, and, therefore, in such cases the conscience rules. They who believe themselves married, may mutually demand and pay their duty: but if they be not married, it is fornication or adultery, as it happens. But if conscience says they are married, it is not adultery, but an act of duty; because the same conscience that declares for the marriage, obliges also to pay their duty, as a matter of necessity. Wherever the understanding is wrong, and the will is wholly right, the action is accepted, and the error pardoned.
10. (3.) When the act is materially evil, the conscience adopting it into a good portion, that is, believing it to be good, does not make a perfect change, but leaves an allay in the several degrees of its persuasion. For it is impossible, that a right conscience and a wrong should have no difference in the effect, especially if there be any thing criminal or faulty in the cause of the error. When two men take up arms in a different cause, as suppose one for his prince, and the other against him; though they be both heartily persuaded, and act according to conscience, yet they do not equally do well or ill. The one shall be accepted, and, it may be, the other pardoned, or excused in various degrees. But this which needs a pardon for one thing, is not, in the whole constitution of it, good for any thing, nor can it be accepted to reward.
4. If the conscience dictate a thing to be necessary, the thing is become necessary, and at no hand to be declined. This was it which St. Paul said, "He that is circumcised, is a debtor of the whole laws," meaning, that though Christ had broken the yoke of Moses, yet if conscience did take up one end of it, and bound it upon itself, the other end would be dragged after it, and by the act of conscience become necessary. If a man inquires, whether he is bound to say his prayers kneeling, or whether he may do it standing, or lying, or leaning; if his conscience be persuaded that he must do it kneeling, it is necessary he should do so, and he may not do it in his bed; because the conscience is a lawgiver, and hath authority over the man, and ought to prevail, when the contrary part is only, that they may do otherwise. For whether this part be true or false, the matter is not so
q Gal. v. 3.
great, because there is no danger if a man do not make use of a liberty that is just: he can let it alone and do well enough and therefore to follow the other part which is supposed necessary, must needs be his safest way.
But if the question be, whether it be necessary to keep a holy day, or necessary to let it alone; there if the conscience determine that for necessary to be done, which is necessary to be let alone, the man is indeed bound to follow his conscience, but he cannot escape a sin. For conscience makes no essential alterations in the thing, though it makes personal obligations to the man; and if it be an evil superstition to keep a holy day, it cannot be made lawful, because the conscience mistaking calls it necessary. And if this were otherwise, it were not a pin-matter what a man thought; for his thinking so becomes his law, and every man may do what is right in his own eyes. And therefore God was pleased expressly to declare it, that if a prophet did mislead the people, both he and they should perish; and our blessed Saviour signified the same thing in a parabolical expression, "If the blind lead the blind, they both fall into the ditch." But in this case there is a fault somewhere, and the man smarts under the tyranny, not the empire of his conscience; for conscience can have no proper authority against the law of God. In this case, that which the conscience falsely calls necessary, becomes so relatively and personally (that is, he thinks so, and cannot innocently go in the right way, so long as his guide conducts him in the wrong, and yet cannot innocently follow his guide, because she does abuse him), but in itself, or in the divine acceptation, it only passes for a 'bonum,' something there is in it that is good, and that God may regard; there is a 'præparatio animi,' a willingness to obey.
12. (5.) If the conscience being mistaken in a question, whether an action be good or no, calls that good which is nothing but indifferent; the conscience alters it not, it is still but lawful; but neither necessary nor good, but relatively and collaterally: the person may be pitied and have a gift given him in acknowledgment, but the thing itself cannot expect it. When the lords of the Philistines, that they might deprecate the divine judgments, offered to God golden mice and emerods, the thing itself was not at all
agreeable to the way by which God chose to be worshipped: but their conscience told them it was good, it therefore became lawful to them, but not good in itself; and God, who is the Father of mankind, saw their heart, and that they meant it for good, and he was pleased to take it so. But the conscience, I say, cannot make it good. For to be good or bad is wholly another consideration than to be necessary or not necessary. This distinction is relative to persons, and therefore can be made by conscience in the sense above allowed. But good and bad is an abstract consideration, and relates to the materiality of the object, and is before the act of conscience, not after.
13. (6.) If the conscience being mistaken calls a thing lawful, which is not so in the rule or law of God, there the conscience neither makes an alteration in the thing, nor passes an obligation upon the person. Elenora de Ferrante was married to a Spanish gentleman, who first used her ill, then left her worse. After some years she is courted by Andrea Philippi her countryman, to marry him. She inquires whether she may or no, and is told by some whom she ought not easily to have believed, that she may; and so she does. But being told, by her confessor, of her sin and shame, she pretends that she did it 'bono animo,' her conscience was persuaded she might do it, and therefore hopes to be excused or pardoned. He answers her, that her conscience could not make that lawful which God had forbidden, and therefore she ought not to pretend conscience; for though her conscience did say it was lawful, she was not bound to follow it; because though she must do nothing that is unlawful, yet she is not tied to do every thing that is lawful and though her conscience can give her a law, yet it cannot give her a privilege. She is bound to do what her conscience says is necessary, though it be deceived: and if she does not, she sins against her conscience, which can never be permitted or excused. But if her conscience tells her only it is lawful so to do; if she does not do the thing which her conscience permits, she offends it not, because, though it allows, yet it does not command it. If therefore she does it, and there be an error in the conscience, the sin is as great as the error, great as the matter itself; as if the fact materially be adultery, it is also morally so, and the