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which naturally arise in consequence of the good or ill they do, are such demonstrations, and so homely applied to every man's understanding, of the obedience owing to a superior Being, that nothing can invalidate.
As speculation helps us to other proofs of the power and authority of our Maker, so does it help some also to get rid of them. It is an easy matter for a man of a subtle wit to refine so far on any subject, till there shall be hardly any thing left for the mind to rest on with satisfaction and assurance. But this proof of a superior Being, to whom we are accountable, which dwells in every man's breast, no art or subtilty can ever expel. As long as men continue to judge of the good and evil of their actions, as long as such reflexions are attended in the innocent with peace and satisfaction of mind, and in the guilty with fear and anxiety; so long it will be plain that God hath not left himself without witness, but that there are as many evidences of his power and authority as there are rational beings in the world : and there is this peculiar to this evidence, that it is strongest and most irresistible in those who in interest are most concerned to suppress it. The innocent have little temptation to plead to the jurisdiction of the court; they are the guilty who want that and other artifices to decline the power of the judge : but in the present case the fears which surround the guilty are so many undoubted proofs and records of the judge's authority; and his mind, conscious of all those fears, speaks to him in the language which Festus used to St. Paul; · Hast thou appealed unto Cæsar? Unto Cæsar shalt thou go.'
Secondly, in the same manner the moral law is promulged to every rational creature : the work of the law is written in the heart, as the conscience beareth witness, and the thoughts, which either accuse or excuse. The promulgation, in this case, is stronger than that of any human laws, which, how publicly and solemnly soever they are declared at first, are often worn out by length of time, or grow dark and obscure, and stand in need of an authoritative exposition to silence the contentions arising from the different acceptations of the rule. But here the law is renewed to every man, and the sense and meaning of it so preserved, that nothing but great ability and skill, joined
with little honesty, can pervert or obscure it; and then only for a time ; since the rebukes of conscience will sooner or later restore the true sense to the law, which was darkened by the shades of false reason serving the inclinations of a corrupted heart. It would grieve an honest man to see how the plainest laws have been treated by corrupt casuists, who, to serve the vile purposes
of themselves or others, have made the commandment of God of none effect by their traditions; who have played rule against rule, and duty against duty, till both have been, lost. This might be shown in every case,
but in none more apparently than in the instance which the text furnishes of the obligation of an oath, which is made to bind, or not to bind, just as the corrupt purposes require. But though these daubings with untempered mortar serve often to deceive the simple, and to hide their plain duty from their eyes; yet when they come to reflect coolly on their past actions, conscience proves a far honester casuist, and pulls off the thin disguise ; and the man trembles at the remembrance of those very things which he committed under the pretence of a religious care and disposition. Herod, it seems, had promised with an oath to give the daughter of Herodias whatsoever she would ask; and though he was troubled when she demanded the head of John the Baptist, yet, as it is particularly remarked by the Evangelist, for his oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her.' Happy hypocrite ! how serenely does he dip his hands in guiltless blood, and how calmly does he sit under the comfort of a conscientious regard to his oath! But see, the scene is quickly changed; Herod is alarmed with the fame of one who wrought miracles in the country : he starts at the news; he cries out, “This is John the Baptist, he is risen from the dead.' This sense of good and evil, which is natural to rational minds, and is thus guarded against false and corrupt interpretations by the power of conscience, is a great justification of the goodness and equity of God, in taking care to promulge his laws sufficiently to all who are bound to obey them, and to make their duty clear and evident to them ; without which we should not be able to discern him to be the righteous Judge of the world, in which character we are chiefly concerned to know him.
Thirdly, we may observe from hence, what care the wise Author of our nature has taken, not only to manifest himself and his laws to us, but likewise to secure our obedience, and thereby our eternal happiness and welfare. It is thought a great disadvantage to religion, that it has only such distant hopes and fears to support it; and it is true that the great objects of our hopes and fears are placed on the other side the grave, whilst the temptations to sin meet us in every turn, and are almost constantly present with us. But then to balance this it must be considered, that though the punishments and rewards of religion are at such a distance, yet the hopes and fears are always present, and influence the happiness of our lives here, as much, and often much more, than any other good or evil which can befal us. The peace of mind which flows from doing right, the fear, the anxiety, the torment which attend the guilty, will inevitably determine the condition of men to happiness or misery even in this life. And no man, whatever his present contempt for religion may be, can be secure that he is not by his wickedness drawing down on himself the greatest misery that man is capable of sustaining. As little as you think now of the consequence of your iniquity, a very little time, or a very trivial accident, may open the passage to other reflexions. The sons of Jacob had no remorse, when they sold their brother to be a slave ; they had delivered themselves from a foolish fear they had entertained, that he would one day be greater than they, and their case was much mended by the riddance they had of him : but the very first misfortune that befel them, a little rough usage in a strange country, awakened their guilty fears,
and they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us, and we would not hear ; therefore is this distress come on us.' Misfortunes
befal the good as well as the evil, for righteous men have no promise to secure them in this life against the common calamities incident to it; but then, under the same circumstances, there is a mighty difference in their sufferings, arising from the different reflexions their several cases afford. The innocent man, who finds nothing to charge himself with as the cause of his calamity, submits to it as to an accident of life, to which he always knew himself subject, or
as a dispensation of the providence of God towards him, whose kindness he has no reason to mistrust. But when any calamity overtakes the sinner, and setting aside at present what his sins may deserve, even as a man he is subject to the casualties of life; and whenever they overtake him, will it be possible for him to think that they are not the punishment of those sins which, he is conscious, have deserved them? And what weight must this add to his woe ! how tormenting must the thought be, that all his sufferings are effects of God's wrath, and the presage of greater woe to come! Innocence may sometimes steal a man from the sense of his pain, and his peace of mind make him forget the sorrow and affliction of his heart: but guilt has no resting-place; it raises every faculty of the soul to increase the present misery. How does the memory of what is past, and the fear of what is to come, give an edge and sharpness to affiction ! How does the imagination work to paint in all the colors of terror the sad doom that is expected! It is this only that renders the afflictions of life truly insupportable ; for the spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit who can bear ?' So that, if we consider the case fairly, we shall find, that though the final reward of virtue, and punishment of vice, are reserved to another time and place; yet there are such rewards and punishments annexed to them here, and which have their foundation in the very frame and constitution of our minds, as are sufficient to determine the choice of a wise or reasonable
And if some, who pretend to doubts and uncertainties concerning a future state, are serious, let them consider whether that defect, as they suppose, in the foundation of religion be not supplied by what we now speak of: for were they ever so certain of a future state, their duty would consist in those very things which their own reason requires of them, and which are absolutely necessary to the peace of their minds, on which all their happiness depends. Allow them then their doubts, will the consequence be, that they may safely go contrary to their own reason, and the measures of their present happiness ? How then does this uncertainty affect the practice of virtue, since the certainty requires nothing of us but what our reason and present interest will teach us without it? And this shows how effectually God has laid before us the knowlege of his law,
together with proper and sufficient motives to secure our obedience.
To conclude then : as you value the use of that reason which distinguishes you from the creatures of a lower rank,
value the comforts of this life, and the glories of the next, (and if these arguments will not weigh, there is nothing more to add,) take heed to preserve innocence and virtue, which fill up the character of that godliness, which, the Apostle tells us, 'is great gain, having the promise of this life, and of that which is to come.'