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A SERMON

PREACHED AT CHRIST-CHURCH IN OXFORD,

BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY,

OCTOBER 29, 1693.


Luke xi. 35.

Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.

As light is certainly one of the most glorious and useful creatures that ever issued from the wisdom and power of the great Creator of the world; so, were the eye of the soul as little weakened by the fall as the eye of the body, no doubt the light within us would appear as much more glorious than the light without us, as the spiritual, intellectual part of the creation exceeds the glories of the sensible and corporeal. As to the nature of which light, to give some account of it before I proceed further, and that without entering into those various notions of it which some have amused the world with; it is, in short, that which philosophers in their discourses about the mind of man, and the first origins of knowledge, do so much magnify by the name of recta ratio; that great source and principle (as they would have it) both of their philosophy and religion.

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For the better explication of which, I must, according to a common but necessary distinction, (and elsewhere made use of by me,) observe, that this recta ratio may be taken in a double sense.

First, For those maxims or general truths, which, being collected by the observations of reason, and formed thereby into certain propositions, are the grounds and principles by which men govern both their discourse and practice, according to the nature of the objects that come before them: or,

Secondly, It may be taken for that faculty or power of the soul, by which it forms these maxims or propositions, and afterwards discourses upon them. And so no doubt it is to be taken here.

For propositions themselves, as to the truth of them, are neither capable of increase or decrease, improvement or diminution; but the powers and faculties of the soul are capable of both; that is, of becoming stronger or weaker, according as men shall use or abuse, cultivate or neglect them. Upon which account this recta ratio can be nothing else but that intellectual power or faculty of the soul which every one is naturally endowed with.

To which faculty, as there belong two grand and principal offices; to wit, one to inform or direct, and the other to command or oblige; so the said faculty sustains a different σχέσις or denomination, according to each of them. For as it serves to inform the soul, by discovering things to it, so it is called the light of nature; but as it obliges the soul to do this, or forbear that, (which it does, as it is actuated or in formed with those forementioned general truths or maxims,) so it is called the law of nature: which two offices, though belonging to one and the same 263faculty, are very different. For the former of them, to wit, its enlightening or informing quality, extends much further than its obliging virtue does; even to all things knowable in the mind of man; but the latter only to such things as are matter of practice, and so fall under a moral consideration. Besides, that this obliging quality must needs also presuppose the enlightening quality as essentially going before it. For as no law can bind till it be notified or promulged, so neither can this faculty of the soul oblige a man till it has first informed him. By which we see, that the light of nature, according to the essential order of things, precedes the law of nature, and consequently, in strictness of speech, ought to be distinguished from it, how much soever some have thought fit to confound them. And I doubt not but it is this which the text here principally intends by the light within us.

Nevertheless, since the word conscience takes in both, and signifies as well a light to inform, as it imports and carries with it also a law to oblige us, I shall indifferently express this light by the name of conscience (as a term equivalent to it) in all the following particulars; but still this shall be with respect to its informing, rather than to its obliging office. Forasmuch as it is the former of these only which is the proper effect of light, and not the latter. For though conscience be both a light and (as it commands under God) a law too; yet as it is a light, it is not formally a law. For if it were, then whatsoever it discovered to us, it would also oblige us to. But this is not so; since it both may and does discover to us the indifferent nature of many 264things and actions without obliging us either to the practice or forbearance of them; which one consideration alone is sufficient to set the difference between the enlightening and the obliging office of conscience clear beyond all objection.

And thus much I thought fit to premise concerning the nature of the light here spoken of by our Saviour, and intended for the subject of the present discourse. Which light, as it is certainly the great and sovereign gift of God to mankind, for the guidance and government of their actions, in all that concerns them with reference to this life or a bet ter; so it is also as certain, that it is capable of being turned into darkness, and thereby made wholly useless for so noble a purpose.

For so much the words of the text import; nor do they import only a bare possibility that it may be so, but also a very high probability that, without an extraordinary prevention, it will be so. Forasmuch as all warning, in the very reason of the thing, and according to the natural force of such expressions, implies in it these two things. First, some very considerable evil or mischief warned against; and secondly, an equal danger of falling into it: without which all warning would be not only superfluous, but ridiculous.

Now both these, in the present case, are very great; as will appear by a distinct consideration of each of them. And

First, For the evil which we are warned or cautioned against; to wit, the turning of this light within us into darkness. An evil so unconceivably great and comprehensive, that to give an account of 265the utmost extent of it, would pose our thoughts, as well as nonplus our expressions. But yet to help our apprehensions of it the best we can, let us but consider with ourselves those intolerable evils which bodily blindness, deafness, stupefaction, and an utter deprivation of all sense must unavoidably subject the outward man to. For what is one in such a condition able to do? And what is he not liable to suffer? And yet doing and suffering, upon the mat ter, comprehend all that concerns a man in this world. If such an one’s enemy seeks his life (as he may be sure that some or other will, and possibly such an one as he takes for his truest friend) in this forlorn case, he can neither see nor hear, nor perceive his approach, till he finds himself actually in his murdering hands. He can neither encounter nor escape him, neither in his own defence give nor ward off a blow: for whatsoever blinds a man, ipso facto disarms him; so that being thus bereft, both of his sight and of all his senses besides, what such an one can be fit for, unless it be to set up for prophecy, or believe transubstantiation, I cannot imagine.

These, I say, are some of those fatal mischiefs, which corporal blindness and insensibility expose the body to: and are not those of a spiritual blindness unexpressibly greater? For must not a man labouring under this be utterly at a loss, how to distinguish between the two grand governing concerns of life, good and evil? And may not the ignorance of these cost us as dear as the knowledge of them did our first parents? Life and death, vice and virtue, come alike to such an one; as all things are of the same colour to him who cannot see. His whole 266soul is nothing but night and confusion, darkness and indistinction. He can neither see the way to happiness; and how then should he choose it? nor yet to destruction, and how then should he avoid it? For where there is no sense of things, there can be no distinction; and where there is no distinction, there can be no choice.

A man destitute of this directing and distinguishing light within him, is and must be at the mercy of every thing in nature, that would impose or serve a turn upon him. So that whatsoever the devil will have him do, that he must do. Whithersoever any exorbitant desire or design hurries him, thither he must go. Whatsoever any base interest shall prescribe, that he must set his hand to, whether his heart goes along with it, or no. If he be a states man, he must be as willing to sell, as the enemy of his country can be to buy. If a churchman, he must be ready to surrender and give up the church, and make a sacrifice of the altar itself, though he lives by it; and, in a word, take that for a full discharge from all his subscriptions and obligations to it, to do as he is bid. Which being the case of such as steer by a false light, certainly no slave in the galleys is or can be in such a wretched condition of slavery, as a man thus abandoned by conscience, and bereft of all inward principles that should either guide or control him in the course of his conversation. So that we see here the transcendent greatness of the evil which we stand cautioned against. But then,

Secondly, If it were an evil that seldom happened, that very hardly and rarely befell a man, this might in a great measure supersede the strictness of the 267caution; but, on the contrary, we shall find, that as great as the evil is which we are to fence against, (and that is as great as the capacities of an immortal soul,) the greatness of the danger is still commensurate: for it is a case that usually happens; it is a mischief as frequent in the event, as it is or can be fatal in the effect. It is as in a common plague, in which the infection is as hard to be escaped, as the distemper to be cured: for that which brings this darkness upon the soul is sin. And as the state of nature now is, the soul is not so close united to the body, as sin is to the soul; indeed so close is the union between them, that one would even think the soul itself (as much a spirit as it is) were the matter, and sin the form, in our present constitution. In a word, there is a set combination of all without a man and all within him, of all above ground and all under it, (if hell be so,) first to put out his eyes, and then to draw or drive him headlong into perdition. From all which, I suppose, we must needs see reason more than sufficient for this admonition of our Saviour, Take heed that the light which is in thee be not darkness. An admonition founded upon no less a concern, than all that a man can save, and all that he can lose to eternity. And thus having shewn both the vastness of the evil itself, and the extreme danger we are in of it; since no man can be at all the wiser or the safer barely for knowing his danger, without a vigorous application to prevent it; and since the surest and most rational preventive of it is to know by what arts and methods our enemy will encounter us, and by which he is most likely to prevail over us, we will inquire into and consider those ways and means by which he commonly 268attempts, and too frequently effects this so dismal a change upon us, as to strip us even of the poor remains of our fallen nature, by turning the last surviving spark of it, this light within us, into darkness.

For this must be acknowledged, that no man living, in respect of conscience, is born blind, but makes himself so. None can strike out the eye of his conscience but himself: for nothing can put it out, but that which sins it out. And upon this account it must be confessed, that a man may love his sin so enormously much, as, by a very ill application of the apostle’s expression, even to pluck out his own eyes, and give them to it; as indeed every obstinate sinner in the world does.

Our present business therefore shall be (and that as a completion of what I discoursed formerly upon conscience in this place) to shew how and by what courses this divine light, this candle of the Lord, comes first to burn faint and dim, and so by a gradual decay fainter and fainter, till at length by a total extinction it quite sinks to nothing, and so dies away. And this I shall do, first, in general, and secondly, in particular.

And first in general, I shall lay down these two observations.

First, that whatsoever defiles the conscience, in the same degree also darkens it.

As to the philosophy of which, how and by what way this is done, it is hard to conceive, and much harder to explain. Our great unacquaintance with the nature of spiritual, immaterial beings leaving us wholly in the dark as to any explicit knowledge, cither how they work, or how they are worked upon. 269So that in discoursing of these things we are forced to take up with analogy and allusion, instead of evidence and demonstration. Nevertheless, the thing itself is certain, be the manner of effecting it never so unaccountable.

Yet thus much we find, that there is something in sin analogous to blackness, as innocence is frequently in scripture expressed and set forth to us by whiteness. All guilt blackens (or does something equivalent to the blackening of) the soul; as where pitch cleaves to any thing, it is sure to leave upon it both its foulness and its blackness together: and then we know, that blackness and darkness are inseparable.

Some of the ablest of the Peripatetic school (not without countenance from Aristotle himself, in the fifth chapter of his third book, περὶ ψυχῆς) hold, that besides the native, inherent light of the intellect, (which is essential to it, as it is a faculty made to apprehend, and take in its object after a spiritual way,) there is also another light, in the nature of a medium, beaming in upon it by a continual efflux and emanation from the great fountain of light, and irradiating this intellectual faculty, together with the species or representations of things imprinted thereupon. According to which doctrine it seems with great reason to follow, that whatsoever interposes between the mind and those irradiations from God, (as all sin more or less certainly does,) must needs hinder the entrance and admission of them into the mind; and then darkness must by necessary consequence ensue, as being nothing else but the absence or privation of light.

For the further illustration of which notion, we may observe, that the understanding, the mind, or 270conscience of man, (which we shall here take for the same thing,) seem to bear much the same respect to God, which glass or crystal does to the light or sun: which appears indeed to the eye a bright and a shining thing; nevertheless this shining is not so much from any essential light or brightness existing in the glass itself, (supposing that there be any such in it,) as it is from the porousness of its body, rendering it diaphanous, and thereby fit to receive and transmit those rays of light, which, falling upon it, and passing through it, represent it to common view as a luminous body. But now let any thing of dirt or foulness sully this glass, and so much of the shine or brightness of it is presently gone, because so much of the light is thereby hindered from entering into it, and making its way through it. But if, besides all this, you should also draw some black colour or deep die upon it, either by paint, or otherwise; why then no brightness could be seen in it at all, but the light being hereby utterly shut out, the glass or crystal would shine or glister no more than a piece of wood or a clod of earth.

In like manner every act of sin, every degree of guilt, does in its proportion cast a kind of soil or foulness upon the intellectual part of the soul, and thereby intercepts those blessed irradiations which the divine nature is continually darting in upon it. Nor is this all, but there are also some certain sorts and degrees of guilt, so very black and foul, that they fall like an huge thick blot upon this faculty; and so sinking into it, and settling within it, utterly exclude all those illuminations which would otherwise flow into it, and rest upon it from the great Father of lights; and this not from any failure or defect in the 271illumination itself, but from the indisposition of the object, which, being thus blackened, can neither let in nor transmit the beams that are cast upon it.

I will not affirm this to be a perfect exemplification of the case before us, but I am sure it is a lively illustration of it, and may be of no small use to such as shall throughly consider it. But however (as I shewed before) the thing itself is certain and unquestionable, guilt and darkness being always so united, that you shall never find darkness mentioned in scripture in a moral sense, but you shall also find it derived from sin, as its direct cause, and joined with it as its constant companion: for, by a mutual production, sin both causes darkness, and is caused by it. Let this therefore be our first general observation; That whatsoever pollutes or fouls the conscience, in the same degree also darkens it.

Secondly, Our other general observation shall be this; That whatsoever puts a bias upon the judging faculty of conscience, weakens, and, by consequence, darkens the light of it. A clear and a right judging conscience must be always impartial; and that it may be so, it must be perfectly indifferent: that is to say, it must be free and disencumbered from every thing which may in the least sway or incline it one way rather than another, beyond what the sole and mere evidence of things would naturally lead it to. In a word, it must judge all by evidence, and nothing by inclination.

And this our blessed Saviour, with admirable emphasis and significance of expression, calls the singleness of the eye, in the verse immediately before the text. If thine eye, says he, be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. That is, nothing extraneous 272must cleave to or join with the eye in the act of seeing, but it must be left solely and entirely to itself, and its bare object; as naked as truth, as pure, simple, and unmixed as sincerity. Otherwise the whole operation of it unavoidably passes into cheat, fallacy, and delusion. As, to make the case yet more particular, if you put a muffler before the eye, it cannot see; if any mote or dust falls into it, it can hardly see; and if there be any soreness or pain in it, it shuns the light, and will not see. And all this by a very easy, but yet certain and true analogy, is applicable to the eye of the soul, the conscience; and the instance is verifiable upon it, in every one of the alleged particulars.

In short, whatsoever bends or puts a bias upon the judging faculty of conscience, represents things to it by a false light; and whatsoever does so, causes in it a false and erroneous judgment of things. And all error or falsehood is, in the very nature of it, a real, intellectual darkness; and consequently must diffuse a darkness upon the mind, so far as it is affected and possessed with it. And thus much for our second general observation.

From whence we shall now pass to particulars. In the assigning and stating of which, as I shewed before, that sin in general was the general cause of this darkness, so the particular causes of it must be fetched from the particular kinds and degrees of sin.

Now sin may be considered three ways.

First, In the act.

Secondly, In the habit or custom.

Thirdly, In the affection, or productive principle of it.

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In all which we shall shew what a darkening and malign influence sin has upon the conscience or mind of man; and consequently with what extreme care and severe vigilance the conscience ought to be guarded and watched over in all these respects. And,

First, For sin considered in the single act. Every particular commission of any great sin, such as are, for instance, the sins of perjury, of murder, of uncleanness, of drunkenness, of theft, and, above all, of undutifulness to parents, (which being a thing so much against nature, nothing in nature can be said for it;) these, I say, and the like capital, soul-wasting sins, even in any one single act or commission of them, have a strangely efficacious power to cloud and darken the conscience. Some of the schoolmen are of opinion, that one single act, if great and extraordinary, has in it the force of many ordinary and lesser acts, and so may produce a habit: which opinion, how true soever it may be of an act of demonstration producing a habit of science in the intellect, yet I cannot think it true of any moral habits what soever. For it is not to be thought that St. Peter’s denying and forswearing his Lord left behind it a ha bit of unbelief; nor that David’s murder and adultery rendered him habitually murderous and adulterous. For no doubt it was not so.

But this I say, that every single gross act of sin is much the same thing to the conscience, that a great blow or fall is to the head; it stuns and bereaves it of all use of its senses for a time. Thus in the two forementioned sins of David, they so mazed and even stupified his conscience, that it lay as it were in a swoon, and void of all spiritual sense for 274almost a whole year. For we do not find that he came to himself, or to any true sight or sense of his horrid guilt, till Nathan the prophet came and roused him up with a message from God; nor did Nathan come to him till after the child, begotten in that adultery, was born. Such a terrible deadness and stupefaction did those two sins bring upon his soul for so many months together, during which time, whatsoever notion of murder and adultery David might have in general, yet no doubt he had but very slight and superficial thoughts of the heinousness of his own in particular. And what was the reason of this? Why, his conscience was cast into a dead sleep, and could not so much as open its eyes, so as to be able to look either upwards or inwards. This was his sad and forlorn estate, notwithstanding that long course of piety and converse with God, which he was now grown old in. For he had been an early practiser, and an eminent proficient in the ways of God, and was now past the fiftieth year of his age; and yet we see that one or two such gross sins dulled and deadened the spiritual principle within him to such a degree, that they left him for a long time, as it were, dozed and benumbed, blind and insensible; and, no doubt, had not a peculiar grace from God raised him up and recovered him, he had continued so to his life’s end.

For this is most certain, and worth our best observation; that whatsoever carries a man off from God, will, in the natural course and tendency of it, carry him still further and further, till at length it leaves him neither will nor power to return. For repentance is neither the design nor work of mere nature, which, immediately after the commission of 275sin, never puts a man upon disowning or bewailing it, but upon studying and casting about him how to palliate and extenuate, and, rather than fail, how to plead for and defend it. This was the course, which Adam took upon the first sin that ever man committed: and the same course in the same case will be taken by all the sons of Adam (if left to themselves) as long as the world stands.

Secondly, The frequent and repeated practice of sin has also a mighty power in it to obscure and darken the natural light of conscience. Nothing being more certainly true, nor more universally acknowledged, than that custom of sinning takes away the sense of sin; and we may add, the sight of it too. For though the darkness consequent upon any one gross act of sin be, as we have shewed, very great, yet that which is caused by custom of sinning is much greater, and more hardly curable. Particular acts of sin do, as it were, cast a mist before the eye of conscience, but customary sinning brings a kind of film upon it, and it is not an ordinary skill which can take off that. The former only closes the eye, but this latter puts it out; as leaving upon the soul a wretched impotence, either to judge or to do well; much like the spots of the leopard, not to be changed, or the blackness of an Ethiopian, not to be washed off. For by these very things the Spirit of God, in Jer. xiii. 23, expresses the iron invincible force of a wicked custom.

Now the reason, I conceive, that such a custom brings such a darkness upon the mind or conscience, is this: that a man naturally designs to please him self in all that he does; and that it is impossible for 276him to find any action really pleasurable, while he judges it absolutely unlawful; since the sting of this must needs take off the relish of the other, and it would be an intolerable torment to any man’s mind, to be always doing, and always condemning himself for what he does. And for this cause a man shuts his eyes and stops his ears against all that his reason would tell him of the sinfulness of that practice) which long custom and frequency has endeared to him. So that he becomes studiously and affectedly ignorant of the illness of the course he takes, that he may the more sensibly taste the pleasure of it. And thus, when an inveterate, imperious custom has so overruled all a man’s faculties, as neither to suffer his eyes to see, nor his ears to hear, nor his mind to think of the evil of what he does; that is, when all the instruments of knowledge are forbid to do their office, ignorance and obscurity must needs be upon the whole soul. For when the windows are stopped up, no wonder if the whole room be dark.

The truth is, such an habitual frequency of sinning, does, as it were, bar and bolt up the conscience against the sharpest reproofs and the most convincing instructions; so that when God, by the thunder of his judgments and the voice of his ministers, has been ringing hell and vengeance into the ears of such a sinner, perhaps, like Felix, he may tremble a little for the present, and seem to yield and fall down before the overpowering evidence of the conviction; but after a while, custom overcoming conscience, the man goes his way, and though he is convinced and satisfied what he ought to do, yet he actually does what he uses to do: and all this, because, 277through the darkness of his intellect, he judges the present pleasure of such a sinful course an over balance to the evil of it.

For this is certain, that nature has placed all human choice in such an essential dependence upon the judgment, that no man does any thing, though never so vile, wicked, and inexcusable, but, all circum stances considered, he judges it, pro hic et nunc, absolutely better for him to do it, than not to do it. And what a darkness and delusion must conscience needs be under, while it makes a man judge that really best for him, which directly tends to, and generally ends in, his utter ruin and damnation! Custom is said to be a second nature, and if by the first we are already so bad, by the second, to be sure, we shall be much worse.

Thirdly, Every corrupt passion or affection of the mind will certainly pervert the judging, and obscure and darken the discerning power of conscience. The affections, which the Greeks call πάθη, and the Latins affectus animi, are of much the same use to the soul? which the members are of to the body; serving as the proper instruments of most of its actions; and are always attended with a certain preternatural motion of the blood and spirits peculiar to each passion or affection. And as for the seat or fountain of them, philosophers both place them in and derive them from the heart. But not to insist upon mere speculations: the passions or affections are, as I may so call them, the mighty flights and sallyings out of the soul upon such objects as come before it; and are generally accompanied with such vehemence, that the Stoics reckoned them, in their very nature and essence, as so many irregularities and deviations 278from right reason, and by no means incident to a wise or good man.

But though better philosophy has long since exploded this opinion, and Christianity, which is the greatest and the best, has taught us, that we may be angry, and yet not sin, Ephes. iv. 26. and that godly sorrow is neither a paradox nor a contradiction, 2 Cor. vii. 10. and consequently, that in every passion or affection there is something purely natural, which may both be distinguished and divided too from what is sinful and irregular; yet, notwithstanding all this, it must be confessed, that the nature of the passions is such, that they are extremely prone and apt to pass into excess, and that when they do so, nothing in the world is a greater hinderance to the mind or reason of man, from making a true, clear, and exact judgment of things, than the passions thus wrought up to any thing of ferment or agitation. It being as impossible to keep the judging faculty steady in such a case, as it would be to view a thing distinctly and perfectly through a perspective glass, held by a shaking, paralytic hand.

When the affections are once engaged, the judgment is always partial and concerned. There is a strong bent or bias upon it, it is possessed and gained over, and as it were feed and retained in their cause, and thereby made utterly unable to carry such an equal regard to the object, as to consider truth nakedly, and stripped of all foreign respects; and as such to make it the rigid, inflexible rule, which it is to judge by; especially where duty is the thing to be judged of. For a man will hardly be brought to judge right and true, when by such a judgment he is sure to condemn himself.

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But this being a point of such high and practical importance, I will be yet more particular about it, and shew severally, in several corrupt and vicious affections, how impossible it is for a man to keep his conscience rightly informed, and fit to guide and direct him in all the arduous perplexing cases of sin and duty, while he is actually under the power of any of them. This, I know, men generally are not apt to believe, or to think, that the flaws or failures of their morals can at all affect their intellectuals. But I doubt not but to make it not only credible, but undeniable.

Now the vicious affections which I shall single and cull out of those vast numbers, which the heart of man, that great storehouse of the devil, abounds with, as some of the principal, which thus darken and debauch the conscience, shall be these three.

First, Sensuality. Secondly, Covetousness. Thirdly, Ambition.

Of each of which I shall speak particularly: and,

First, for sensuality, or a vehement delight in and pursuit of bodily pleasures. We may truly say of the body, with reference to the soul, what was said by the poet of an ill neighbour, Nemo tam prope tam proculque: None so nearly joined in point of vicinity, and yet so widely distant in point of interest and inclinations.

The ancient philosophers generally holding the soul of man to be a spiritual, immaterial substance, could give no account of the several failures and defects in the operations of it, (which they were sufficiently sensible of,) but from its immersion into, and intimate conjunction with matter, called by the Greeks ὕλη. And accordingly all their complaints 280and accusations were still levelled at this ὕλη, as the only cause of all that they found amiss in the whole frame and constitution of man’s nature. In a word, whatsoever was observed by them, either irregular or defective in the workings of the mind, was all charged upon the body, as its great clog and impediment. As the skilfullest artist in the world would make but sorry work of it, should he be forced to make use of tools no way fit for his purpose.

But whether the fault be in the spiritual or corporeal part of our nature, or rather in both, certain it is, that no two things in the world do more rise and grow upon the fall of each other, than the flesh and the spirit: they being like a kind of balance in the hand of nature, so that as one mounts up, the other still sinks down; and the high estate of the body seldom or never fails to be the low, declining estate of the soul. Which great contrariety and discord between them, the apostle describes, as well as words can do, Gal. v. 17. The flesh, says he, lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit lusteth against the flesh: and these two are contrary; like two mighty princes whose territories join, they are always encroaching and warring upon one another. And as it most commonly falls out, that the worse cause has the best success; so when the flesh and the spirit come to a battle, it is seldom but the flesh comes off victorious. And therefore the same great apostle, who so constantly exercised himself to keep a conscience void of offence, did as constantly and severely exercise himself to keep under his body, and bring it into subjection, 1 Cor. ix. 27. And the same in all ages has been the judgment and practice of all such as have had any experience in the ways 281of God and the true methods of religion. For all bodily pleasure dulls and weakens the operations of the mind, even upon a natural account, and much more upon a spiritual. Now the pleasures which chiefly affect, or rather bewitch the body, and by so doing become the very pest and poison of the nobler and intellectual part of man, are those false and fallacious pleasures of lust and intemperance:

Of each of which severally: and

First, for lust. Nothing does or can darken the mind or conscience of man more: nay, it has a peculiar efficacy this way, and for that cause may justly be ranked amongst the very powers of darkness: it being that which, as naturalists observe, strikes at the proper seat of the understanding, the brain: something of that blackness of darkness mentioned in the thirteenth of St. Jude, seeming to be of the very nature as well as punishment of this vice.

Nor does only the reason of the thing itself, but also the examples of such as have been possessed with it, demonstrate as much.

For had not Samson, think we, an intolerable darkness and confusion upon his understanding, while he ran roving after every strumpet in that brutish manner that he did? Was it not the eye of his conscience which his Delilah first put out, and so of a judge of Israel rendered himself really a judgment upon them? And when the two angels (as we read in Gen. xix.) struck those monsters, the men of Sodom, with blindness, had not their own detestable lust first stricken them with a greater? Or could Herod have ever thought himself obliged by the religion of an oath to have murdered the Baptist, had 282not his lust and his Herodias imprisoned and murdered his conscience first? For surely the common light of nature could not but teach him, that no oath or vow whatsoever could warrant the greatest prince upon earth to take away the life of an innocent person. But it seems his besotted conscience having broken through the seventh commandment, the sixth stood too near it to be safe long: and therefore his two great casuists, the devil and his Herodias, (the worse devil of the two,) having allowed him to lie and wallow in adultery so long, easily persuaded him that the same salvo might be found out for murder also. So that it was his lust obstinately continued in, which thus darkened and deluded his conscience; and the same will, no doubt, darken and delude, and in the end extinguish the conscience of any man breathing, who shall surrender himself up to it. The light within him shall grow every day less and less, and at length totally and finally go out, and that in a stink too. So hard, or rather utterly unfeasible is it, for men to be zealous votaries of the blind god, with out losing their eyes in his service, and it is well if their noses do not follow. From all which it appears, what a paradox it is in morals, for any one under the dominion of his lust, to think to have a right judgment in things relating to the state of his soul: and the same, in the

Second place, holds equally in that other branch of sensuality, intemperance; whereupon we find them both joined together by the prophet Hosea, iv. 11. Whoredom, says he, and wine take away the heart; that is, according to the language of holy writ, a man’s judging and discerning abilities. And therefore, whosoever would preserve these faculties 283(especially as to their discernment of spiritual objects) quick and vigorous, must be sure to keep the upper region of his soul clear and serene; which the fumes of meat and drink luxuriously taken in will never suffer it to be. We know the method which this high and exact pattern of spiritual prudence, St. Paul, took to keep the great sentinel of his soul, his conscience, always vigilant and circumspect. It was by a constant and severe temperance, heightened with frequent watchings and fastings, as he himself tells us, 2 Cor. xi. 27. in watchings often, in fastings often, &c. This was the discipline which kept his senses exercised to a sure and exquisite discrimination of good and evil, and made the lamp within him shine always with a bright and a triumphant flame.

But gluttony, and all excess, either in eating or drinking, strangely clouds and dulls the intellectual powers; and then it is not to be expected that the conscience should bear up, when the understanding is drunk down. An epicure’s practice naturally disposes a man to an epicure’s principles; that is, to an equal looseness and dissolution in both: and he who makes his belly his business will quickly come to have a conscience of as large a swallow as his throat; of which there wants not several scandalous and deplorable instances. Loads of meat and drink are fit for none but a beast of burden to bear; and he is much the greater beast of the two, who carries his burden in his belly, than he who carries it upon his back. On the contrary, nothing is so great a friend to the mind of man, as abstinence; it strengthens the memory, clears the apprehension, and sharpens the judgment; and, in a word, gives reason its full 284scope of acting; and when reason has that, it is al ways a diligent and faithful handmaid to conscience. And therefore, where men look no further than mere nature, (as many do not,) let no man expect to keep his gluttony and his parts, his drunkenness and his wit, his reveilings and his judgment, and much less his conscience, together: for neither grace nor nature will have it so. It is an utter contradiction to the methods of both. Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? says Solomon, Prov. xxiii. 29. Which question he himself presently answers in the next verse, They who tarry long at the wine, they who seek after mixed wine. So say I, Who has a stupid intellect, a broken memory, and a blasted wit, and (which is worse than all) a blind and benighted conscience, but the intemperate and luxurious, the epicure and the smell-feast? So impossible is it for a man to turn sot, without making himself a block head too. I know this is not always the present effect of these courses, but at long run it will in fallibly be so; and time and luxury together will as certainly change the inside, as it does the outside of the best heads whatsoever; and much more of such heads as are strong for nothing but to bear drink: concerning which, it ever was, and is, and will be a sure observation, that such as are ablest at the barrel, are generally weakest at the book. And thus much for the first great darkener of man’s mind, sensuality; and that, in both the branches of it, lust and intemperance.

Secondly, Another vicious affection, which clouds and darkens the conscience, is covetousness; concerning 285which it may truly be affirmed, that of all the vices incident to human nature, none so power fully and peculiarly carries the soul downwards as covetousness does. It makes it all earth and dirt, burying that noble thing which can never die. So that, while the body is above ground, the soul is under it, and therefore must needs be in a state of darkness, while it converses in the regions of it.

How mightily this vice darkens and debases the mind, scripture instances do abundantly shew. When Moses would assign the proper qualifications of a judge, (which office certainly calls for the quickest apprehension and the solidest judgment that the mind of man is well capable of,) Deut. xvi. 19. Thou shall not, says he, take a gift. But why? He presently adds the reason; because a gift, says he, blinds the eyes of the wise. And no wonder, for it perverts their will; and then, who so blind as the man who resolves not to see? gold, it seems, being but a very bad help and cure of the eyes in such cases. In like manner, when Samuel would set the credit of his integrity clear above all the aspersions of envy and calumny itself, 1 Sam. xii. 3. Of whose hands, says he, have I received a bribe to blind my eyes therewith? Implying thereby, that for a man to be gripe-handed and clear-sighted too was impossible. And again, Eccl. vii. 7. A gift, says the wise man, destroyeth the heart; that is, (as we have shewn already,) the judging and discerning powers of the soul. By all which we see, that in the judgment of some of the wisest and greatest men that ever lived, such as Moses, Samuel, Solomon himself, covetousness baffles and befools the mind, blinds and confounds the reasoning faculty; and that, not only in ordinary persons, 286but even in the ablest, the wisest, and most sagacious. And to give you one proof, above all, of the peculiar blinding power of this vice, there is not the most covetous wretch breathing, who does so much as see or perceive that he is covetous.

For the truth is, preach to the conscience of a covetous person (if he may be said to have any) with the tongue of men and angels, and tell him of the vanity of the world, of treasure in heaven, and of the necessity of being rich toward God, and liberal to his poor brother; and it is all but flat, insipid, and ridiculous stuff to him, who neither sees, nor feels, nor suffers any thing to pass into his heart, but through his hands. You must preach to such an one of bargain and sale, profits and perquisites, principal and interest, use upon use; and if you can persuade him that godliness is gain in his own sense, perhaps you may do something with him: otherwise, though you edge every word you speak with reason and religion, evidence and demonstration, you shall never affect, nor touch, nor so much as reach his conscience; for it is kept sealed up in a bag under lock and key, and you cannot come at it.

And thus much for the second base affection that blinds the mind of man, which is covetousness: a thing directly contrary to the very spirit of Christianity, which is a free, a large, and an open spirit; a spirit open to God and man, and always carrying charity in one hand and generosity in the other.

Thirdly, The third and last vile affection which I shall mention, (as having the same darkening effect upon the mind or conscience,) is ambition. For as covetousness dulls the mind by pressing it down too much below itself, so ambition dazzles it by lifting 287it up as much above itself; but both of them are sure to darken the light of it. For if you either look too intently down a deep precipice upon a thing at an extreme distance below you, or with the same earnestness fix your eye upon something at too great an height above you; in both cases you will find a vertigo or giddiness. And where there is a giddiness in the head, there will be always a mist before the eyes. And thus, no doubt, it was only an ambitious aspiring after high things, which not long since caused such a woful, scandalous giddiness in some men’s consciences, and made them turn round and round from this to that, and from that to this, till at length they knew not what bottom to fix upon. And this, in my opinion, is a case that admits of no vindication.

Pride, we know, (which is always cousin-german to ambition,) is commonly reckoned the forerunner of a fall. It was the devil’s sin and the devil’s ruin, and has been ever since the devil’s stratagem; who, like an expert wrestler, usually gives a man a lift before he gives him a throw. But how does he do this? Why; by first blinding him with ambition; and when a man either cannot or will not mind the ground he stands upon, as a thing, forsooth, too much be low him, he is then easily justled down, and thrust headlong into the next ditch. The truth is, in this case men seem to ascend to an high station, just as they use to leap down a very great steep: in both cases they shut their eyes first; for in both the danger is very dreadful, and the way to venture upon it is not to see it.

Yea, so fatally does this towering, aspiring humour intoxicate and impose upon men’s minds, that when 288the devil stands bobbing and tantalizing their gaping hopes with some preferment in church or state, they shall do the basest, the vilest, and most odious things imaginable; and that not only in defiance of conscience, but, which is yet more impudent and intolerable, shall even allege conscience itself as the very reason for the doing them: so that such wretches shall out of mere conscience, forsooth, betray the country that bred, and the church that baptized them, and having first practised a dispensing power upon all law within them, shall help to let the same loose upon all laws without them too. And when they have done, shall wipe their mouths, and with as boon a grace and as bold a front look the world in the face, as if they expected thanks for such villainies as a modest malefactor would scarce presume to expect a pardon for.

But as for these ambitious animals, who could thus sell their credit and their conscience, wade through thick and thin, and break through all that is sacred and civil, only to make themselves high and great, I shall say no more of them but this, that, instead of being advanced to what they so much desired, it is well for them that they have not been advanced to what they so highly deserved. For this I am sure of, that neither Papists nor fanatics (both of them our mortal, implacable enemies) can conceive a prayer more fully and effectually for their own interest, than this, That the church of England may never want store of ambitious, time-serving men. And if God should, in his anger to this poor church and nation, grant them this, they doubt not but in a little time to grant, or rather give themselves the rest. Let this therefore be fixed upon as a certain 289maxim, that ambition first blinds the conscience, and then leads the man whither it will, and that is, in the direct course of it, to the devil.

I know there are many more irregular and corrupt affections belonging to the mind of man, and all of them in their degree apt to darken and obscure the light of conscience. Such as are wrath and revenge, envy and malice, fear and despair, with many such others, even too many a great deal to be crowded into one hour’s discourse. But the three forementioned (which we have been treating of) are, doubtless, the most predominant, the most potent in their influence, and most pernicious in their effect: as answering to those three principal objects which, of all others, do the most absolutely command and domineer over the desires of men; to wit, the pleasures of the world working upon their sensuality; the profits of the world upon their covetousness; and lastly, the honours of it upon their ambition. Which three powerful incentives, meeting with these three violent affections, are, as it were, the great trident in the tempter’s hand, by which he strikes through the very hearts and souls of men; or as a mighty threefold cord, by which he first hampers, and then draws the whole world after him, and that with such a rapid swing, such an irresistible fascination upon the understandings, as well as appetites of men, that as God said heretofore, Let there be light, and there was light; so this proud rival of his Creator, and overturner of the creation, is still saying, in defiance of him, Let there be darkness, and accordingly there is darkness; darkness upon the mind and reason; darkness upon the judgment and conscience of all mankind. So that hell itself seems 290to be nothing else, but the devil’s finishing this his great work, and the consummation of that darkness in another world, which he had so fatally begun in this.

And now, to sum up briefly the foregoing particulars; you have heard of what vast and infinite moment it is, to have a clear, impartial, and right-judging conscience; such an one as a man may reckon himself safe in the directions of, as of a guide that will always tell him truth, and truth with authority: and that the eye of conscience may be always thus quick and lively, let constant use be sure to keep it constantly open; and thereby ready and prepared to admit and let in those heavenly beams, which are always streaming forth from God upon minds fitted to receive them.

And to this purpose, let a man fly from every thing which may leave either a foulness or a bias upon it; for the first will blacken, and the other will distort it, and both be sure to darken it. Particularly let him dread every gross act of sin; for one great stab may as certainly and speedily destroy life as forty lesser wounds. Let him also carry a jealous eye over every growing habit of sin; for custom is an overmatch to nature, and seldom conquered by grace; and, above all, let him keep aloof from all commerce or fellowship with any vicious and base affection; especially from all sensuality, which is not only the dirt, but the black dirt, which the devil throws upon the souls of men; accordingly let him keep himself untouched with the hellish, unhallowed heats of lust, and the noisome steams and exhalations of intemperance, which never fail to leave a brutish dulness and infatuation behind them. Likewise, 291let him bear himself above that sordid and low thing, that utter contradiction to all greatness of mind, covetousness; let him disenslave himself from the pelf of the world, from that amor sceleratus habendi; for all love has something of blindness at tending it; but the love of money especially. And lastly, let him learn so to look upon the honours, the pomp, and greatness of the world, as to look through them too. Fools indeed are apt to be blown up by them, and to sacrifice all for them; sometimes venturing their very heads, only to get a feather in their caps. But wise men, instead of looking above them, choose rather to look about them and within them, and by so doing keep their eyes always in their heads; and maintain a noble clearness in one, and steadiness in the other. These, I say, are some of those ways and methods by which this great and internal light, the judging faculty of conscience, may be preserved in its native vigour and quickness. And to complete the foregoing directions by the addition of one word more; that we may the more surely prevent our affections from working too much upon our judgment, let us wisely beware of all such things as may work too strongly upon our affections.

If the light that is in thee be darkness, says our Saviour, how great must that darkness needs be! That is, how fatal, how destructive! And therefore I shall close up all with those other words of our Saviour, John xii. While you have the light, walk in the light: so that the way to have it, we see, is to walk in it; that is, by the actions of a pious, innocent, well governed life, to cherish, heighten, and improve it: for still, so much innocence, so much light: and on the other side, to abhor and loathe whatsoever 292may any ways discourage and eclipse it; as every degree of vice assuredly will. And thus by continually feeding and trimming our lamps, we shall find that this blessed light within us will grow every day stronger and stronger, and flame out brighter and brighter, till at length, having led us through this vale of darkness and mortality, it shall bring us to those happy mansions, where there is light and life for evermore.

Which God, the great author of both, of his infinite mercy vouchsafe to us all; to whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.

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