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our brethren and companions fake, for the fake of our Protestant brethren all the world over, let us fay, Peace be within thee. For the houfe of the Lord our God, for the fake of our holy religion, and of that excellent church whereof we all are, or ought to be members, let every one of us fay, I will feek thy good.

And what greater good can we do to the best religion, how can we better ferve the interest of it in all parts of the world, than by being at peace and unity amongst ourfelves here in England; upon whom the eyes of all the Protestants abroad are fixed, as the glory of the reformation, and the great bulwark and fupport of it?

That fo, under the providence of almighty God, and the conduct of two fuch excellent princes as he hath now bleffed us withal; the one fo brave and valiant, and both of them fo wife, fo good, fo religious, we may at lalt arrive at a firm establishment, and become like mount Zion that cannot be moved, the perfection of beauty and ftrength, and the admiration and joy of the whole earth. Which God of his infinite goodness grant, for his mercies fake in Jefus Chrift. To whom, with thee, O Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, dominion and power, thanksgiving and praife, both now and ever. Amen.

SERMON

XXXVIII.

A confcience void of offence towards God and men.

Preached before the Queen, at Whitehall, Feb. 27. 1699.

ACTS xxiv. 16.

And herein do I exercife myself, to have always a confcience void of offence toward God, and toward men.

T

Hefe words are part of the defence which St. Paul made for himself before Felix the Roman Go

vernor.

In

In which he first of all vindicates himfelf from the charge of fedition, y 12. They neither found me in the temple difputing with any man; neither raifing up the people, neither in the fynagogue, nor in the city; that is, they could not charge him with making any disturbance either in church or state.

After this he makes a free and open profeffion of his religion, 14. But this I confess, that after the way which they call herefy, fo worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets. Here he declares the fcriptures to be the rule of his faith, in oppofition to the oral tradition of the Pharifees.

More particularly he afferts the doctrine of the resurrection, which was a principal article both of the Jewish and the Chriftian religion, 15. And I have hope alfo to wards God, that there fhall be a refurrection, both of the juft and the unjust.

And having made this declaration of his faith, he gives an account of his life in the words of the text, 16. And herein do I exercife myself, to have always a confcience void of offence toward God, and toward men.

Herein, 7007, that is, in this work, do I employ myfelf; or, as others render it, in the mean time, whilst I am in this world; or, as others, I think moft probably, for this caufe and reafon, ev Tour, for dia 200 To, for this reafon; because I believe a refurrection, therefore have I a confcientious care of my life, and all the actions of it.

The difcourfe I intend to make upon these words, fhall be comprised in these following particulars.

1. Here is the extent of a good man's pious practice, to have a confcience void of offence toward God, and toward

men.

2. Here is his conftancy and perfeverance in this courfe, to have ALWAYS a confcience void of offence. 3. Here is his earnest care and endeavour to this purpofe, I exercife myself.

4. Here is the principle and immediate guide of his actions, which St. Paul here tells us was his confcience. 5. I fhall lay down fome rules and directions for the keeping of a good confcience.

6. Here

6. Here is the great motive and encouragement to this, which St. Paul tells us was the belief of a resurrection, and of a future state of rewards and punishments confequent upon it: For this caufe, because I hope for a refur rection both of the juft and unjust, I exercife myself to have always a confcience void of offence toward God, and toward men. I fhall fpeak but briefly to the three first of these particulars, that I may be larger in the rest.

I. Here is the extent of a good man's pious practice. It hath regard to the whole compass of his duty, as it respects God and man: I exercise myself, (fays St. Paul), to have a confcience void of offence toward God, and toward men. And this distribution of our duty under thefe two general heads, is very frequent in fcripture. The decalogue refers our duty to these two heads: and accordingly our Saviour comprehends the whole duty of man in these two great commandments, the love of God, and of our neighbour, Matth. xxii. 38. Upon these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets; that is, all the moral precepts which are difperfed up and down in the law and the prophets, may be referred to these two ge

neral heads.

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II. Here is his conftancy and perfeverance in this courfe. St. Paul fays, that he exercifed himself to have ALWAYS a confcience void of offence; ios, continually; at all times; in the whole courfe of his life. We mult not only make confcience of our ways by fits and ftarts, but in the general courfe and tenor of our lives and actions, without any balks and intermiffions.

There are fome that will refrain from groffer fins, and be very strict at fome feafons; as during the time of a folemn repentance, and for fome days before they receive the facrament; and perhaps for a little while after it: and when these devout seasons are over, they let themselves loose again to their former lewd and vitious courfe. But religion fhould be a conftant frame and temper of mind, discovering itself in the habitual course of our lives and actions.

III. Here is likewise a very earnest care and endeavour to this purpose. Herein do I exercife myfelf, fays St. Paul. The word 'x, which is here rendered exercife, is a word of a very intenfe fignification, and does de

note

note, that St. Paul applied himself to this business with all his care and might, and that he made it his earnest study and endeavour. And fo must we; we must take great care to understand our duty, and to be rightly informed concerning good and evil, that we may not miftake the nature of things, and call good evil, and evil good: we must apply our minds in good earnest to be thoroughly instructed in all the parts of our duty, that fo we may not be at a lofs what to do when we are called to the practice of it. And when we know our duty, we must be true and honelt to ourfelves, and very careful and confcientious in the difcharge and performance of it. I proceed, in the

IV. Fourth place, to confider the principle and immediate guide of our actions, which St. Paul here tells us was his confcience: I exercife myself to have always a confcience void of offence. By which he does not only mean a refolution to follow the dictate and direction of his confcience, but likewife a due care to inform his confcience aright, that he might not in any thing tranfgrefs the law of God, and his duty.

Confcience is the great principle of moral actions, and our guide in matter of fin and duty. It is not the law and rule of our actions; that the law of God only is: but it is our immediate guide and director, telling us what is the law of God, and our duty.

But because confcience is a word of a very large and various fignification, I fhall endeavour very briefly to give you the true notion of it. Now, in common fpeech concerning confcience, every man is reprefented as having a kind of court and tribunal in his own breaft, where he tries himself, and all his actions. And confcience, under one notion or other, fuftains all parts in this trial: the court is called the court of a man's confcience, and the bar at which the finner ftands impleaded, is called the bar of confcience: confcience alfo is the accufer; and it is the record and regifter of our crimes, in which the memory of them is preferved: and it is the witnefs which gives teftimony for or againft us; hence are thofe expreffions of the testimony of our confciences, and that "a man's own "confcience is to him inftead of a thousand witnesses." And it is likewife the judge, which declares the law, and

what

what we ought, or ought not to have done, in fuch or fuch a cafe; and accordingly paffeth fentence upon us, by acquitting or condemning us. Thus, according to common ufe of fpeech, confcience fuftains all imaginable parts in this fpiritual court: it is the court, and the bench, and the bar; the accufer, and witness, and regifter, and all.

But I fhall only at prefent confider confcience in the most common and famous notion of it, as it is a principle or faculty whereby we judge of moral good and evil, and do accordingly direct and govern our actions. So that, in fhort, confcience is nothing elfe but the judg ment of a man's own mind concerning the morality of his actions; that is, the good, or evil, or indifference of them; telling us what things are commanded by God, and confequently are our duty; what things are forbidden by him, and confequently are finful; what things are neither commanded nor forbidden, and confequently are indifferent. I proceed, in the

.

V. Fifth place, To give fome rules and directions for the keeping of a confcience void of offence. And they fhall be these following.

1. Never in any cafe to act contrary to the perfuafion and conviction of our confcience: for that certainly is a great fin, and that which properly offends the confcience, and renders us guilty; guilt being nothing else but trouble arifing in our minds from a consciousness of having done contrary to what we are verily perfuaded was our duty and though perhaps this perfuafion is not always well grounded, yet the guilt is the fame fo long as this perfuafion continues; becaufe every man's confcience is a kind of God to him, and accufeth or abfolves him according to the prefent perfuafion of it. And therefore we ought to take great care not to offend against the light and conviction of our own mind.

2. We fhould be very careful to inform our confciences aright, that we may not mistake concerning our duty; or if we do, that our error and mistake may not be groffly wilful and faulty.

And this rule is the more neceffary to be confidered and regarded by us, because generally men are apt to think it a fufficient excufe for any thing, that they did it

according

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