Tvvo sermons vvherein we are taught, 1. Hovv to get, 2. How to keepe, 3. How to vse a good conscience. Preached in Alldermanbury Church, London. Not heretofore published. By Robert Harris.
Harris, Robert, 1581-1658.
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THE SECOND SERMON: Wherein is taught, how to vse a good CON∣SCIENCE.

HEB. 13. 18.

Pray for vs, for we trust we haue a good Conscience in all things willing to liue honestly.

THE second thing fol∣lowes. Paul hauing gotten a good Con∣science, emproues it, and makes his bene∣fit of it, partly for the remouing of aspersi∣ons, partly for the ob∣taining of praiers, and the engratiating of himselfe with the Hebrewes. The point.

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They that haue good Consciences, must make their vse of them. * This point calls more for pra∣ctice then for proofe; therefore we will be lar∣ger there, briefer heere. First, God calls vs to this duty, Esa. 5. Iudge, ye inhabitants, &c. 3.— as if he had faid, I appeale to your Consciences, who will be of vse in this case to you, if you will vse them: * so Haggai, Consider, faith God, with your selues, compare time with time, thing with thing, how well you shall speed if you will be ruled by me, how ill you haue sped whilest negligent of me: and accordingly resolue, as if he had said, If you would but reflect vpon your selues, and consult your owne Consci∣ences, reformation would follow. So also Psal. 4. * Talke with your owne hearts; as if he should say, Doe but aske your owne Consciences? Is not this Gods doing? Did not God preferre Danid? Doth not hee maintaine his Titles? Would wee our selues reape that measure that we offer him? And then ye will be quiet. Thus often in the new Testament: * Examine your selues, * Iudge your selues, Trie your selues, Be∣thinke your selues: Reu. 2. All comes to this, Turne your thoughts vpon your selues, and make vse of your inward light, that is, Con∣seience. Thus the precept is cleare, the practice thereof much vrged; the neglect thereof, as much condemned, Ier. 8.6. and else-where often.

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Adde secondly, to the Precept of God, the practice of Gods people, in their passages with God and Man.

First, For God: Marke Abimelech, when he was hazarded; Gen. 20. leremiah, when hee was cursed; ler. 15. Hezekiah, when hee was visited; Es. 38. David, when hee was slandered, Psal. 7. The Apostles, Acts 4. when threatned; and see what vse they made of a good Conscience. How free, quiet, bold, couragious in all those exi∣gents they were.

Secondly, and for Men, looke vpon Ioseph, first tempted, after persecuted: vpon Samuel re∣iected, vpon Iob traduced, vpon Paul atraigned; and see what benefit they made of Conscience, now to raigne in lusts and passions, now to pro∣uoke to iust apologies, alwayes to support in greatest pressures.

Thirdly, from Examples, passe wee to Rea∣sons.

First, Conscience is made for vse, * and there∣fore vse must be made of it: The excellency of things stands in their vse, the best things being euer most vsefull; now in this world there is nothing more Diuine and (as I may say) more God-like then Conscience. It is a kinde of se∣condary Law and Bible, yea, in a sort, a subor∣dinate God, of subdiuine authority. It hath power to enforme, to record, to witnesse, to iudge, to condemne, to absolue, to comfort, Page  30to execute, to hang and draw within if selfe, as we speake in other cases; and we cannot with∣out too too great neglect of God, who makes nothing in vaine, passe by such an Officer and Deputy as Conscience is, without vse and ac∣knowledgement.

[ 2] Secondly, we take Gods Name in vaine, in neglecting Conscience, and frustrare his work, and depriue our selues of the benefits of Con∣science; for tis not the hauing, but the vsing of abilities and blessings that perfects and blesses vs. A power of seeing is to little purpose, if men will winke and hide themselues in darke∣nesse. A power of speaking is not much, if a man will button vp his lippes; and of as little auaile is Conscience (that is, a power of know∣ing and gaging ones selfe) if this power be ne∣uer acted. Verily, a man notwithstanding this inward light, may be no better then an Atheist in knowledge, or Diuell in practice, vnlesse hee emproue his light; (for light, till the Will put it to vse, makes no man good) for dee but con∣sider. How (I pray) shall that soule for mat∣ters past euer repent, which will neuer recoyle, looke backward, or once say, What haue I done? How (againe) shall it see its present staines and estate, if it will not view it selfe, or behold its owne face? How (thirdly) shall it be held back frō any sin (flesh, men, diuels, pushing on) if it neuer commune with it selfe, saying, Page  31What am I doing? It were impossible that men should either digest such morsels as they swal∣low, or swallow such puddle and poyson as eft∣soones they doe, would they but see and consi∣der what they doe, or haue done.

[ 3] Thirdly, by not vsing Conscience, wee shall come in time to lose, not onely the comfortable seruice of it (for enformation, reformation, consolation, instigation, &c.) but indeed all manner vse, and sence of it: Vse legges (wee say) and have legges; so, vse Conscience, and haue Conscience; for by vse, the heart is kept soft, and will soone smite vs, as Danids did: by vse our inward light is exercifed and strengthe∣ned, and wee made able to discerne, Heb. 5.14. Nay, vse and exercise doth both facilitate and delight; for what's done ordinarily and habi∣tually, is done with no, small content, sure with no great contention and reluctancy: custome and exercise make the hardest of works at least sufferable. On the other side, difuse Consci∣ence, and though it continue in the roote, yet the fruit will downe. First, the light of it will more and more decay, like the fire that is not blowne. Secondly, the life of it will also weare, (as the dull sluggard liues not halfe so much as the diligent doth) and this appeares, if we consi∣der those acts and euidences of life (Sense and Motion.) For Sense, a Conscience vnconsul∣ted, vnexercised, vnexamined, becomes like a Page  32sleepy legge: when a man hath sate long, hee feeles not his limbes, the bloud and spirits be∣ing sometimes frozen and arrested with cold, sometimes intercepted in their passage by too much suppression of that part: so tis with the Conscience; first load it, and then let it lye still without motion, and in fine it will not feele it selfe, but be as dead and sencelesse, as brawned, yea seared flesh: And this experience iustifies in many, whose consciences lye bed∣ridden: and looke how some (in that case of sicknesse) voyd much filth and feele it not: so these spue forth abhorred blasphemies and out∣rages, and discerne them not. As for Motion, euen as the limbs by long sitting grow stiffe and starke, that we cannot goe: so the conscience vnfrequented, twill rust like a Clocke which sleepes a winter or two, and so loses its tongue, not once telling you where you bee either in the day or night: iust so a rusty Conscience, twill neither counsell nor comfort, checke nor excuse, twill speake neither to matters past nor to come, but lie as dead within a man, as the dead childe doth within a woman: Oh tis a most comfortlesse thing for a liuing woman to beare death in her bowels! such a burden fils her with many feares for the present, at least makes her too too heauy and vnweldy, and puts her to great extremity in the cloze, there being more adce with one dead birth, then with two Page  33liuing children tis no better with a dead con∣science; the lesse that trauels, the more we must with feares and anguish; and therefore as wee call vpon women, to stirre, that their fruit may be stirring too: so must we ftirre vp our selues, that Conscience may be doing; for a dead con∣seience makes but a dead estate, a dead heart, a dead man, a dull life; and dead it will be, vnlesse we put it to vse.

Now before we can proceed to exhortation, * we cannot but bewayle and controll two sorts of men first, such as vtterly disuse, secondly, such as searefully misuse their Consciences. How many bee there of the first fort, who liue and dye strangers to themselues? They dare not for their eares aske their own hearts: What is our case? In what tearmes stand we with God? Children are we or enemies? In the wayes of life or death? Where are we? What are wee? Which way goe we? What will be the issue of our courses? But looke how bankrupts put off reckonings, so these allreasonings with them∣selues. And as they keepe their spirituall estate close from their owne consciences, so doe they in particular actions: for, first, in shings to be done, they rather consult others then them∣felues, which is, but to sel ones eies, and buy spe∣ctacles, which see no more then the eye enables them. Secondly, in things already done, they rather smother then consult conscience: when Page  34Conscience takes the aduantage of solitarinesse, and beginnes to question them, they runne from it into company, and hide themselues in the croude; when Conscience beginnes a little to open its eyes and mouth after the reading of some booke, the hearing of some Sermon, the seeling of some inward or outward pinches, they stoppe their eares, diuert their thoughts, sing, whistle, drinke, game, and doe any thing to out-talke and drowne Conscience. This the practice of hundreds, but how ill this practice is, first the Causes, secondly, the Consequences will shew.

The Causes hereof, * First, Pride: Man would be somebody with himselfe, and there∣fore is loth to looke vpon his owne staines, and to see his owne face in the face of his consci∣ence. Secondly, Hypocrisie: Man hath such a desire to coozen, that hee would (if he could) coozen himselfe, and would faine make him∣selfe beleeue that tis not so bad with him, as in∣deed it is. Thirdly, Vnbeliefe: He lookes for no mercy, in case he peach himselfe, and there∣fore places all his safety in secrecy; and so se∣cret would he be, that by his will, his left hand shall not know what his right hath done. These are the causes: and what fruit can you in reason expect from such a roote?

Surely the issue cannot but bee bitter: * For, First, by disusing Conscience, men come to Page  35lose conscience, and consequently their armour against sinne: take away Conscience, and you can hardly set downe Atheisme. Secondly, by this meanes sinne is exceedingly aggrauated; (for no man can neglect so neere a Monitor as Conscience is, without great presumption and wilfulnesse:) and secondly, a mans reckoning no way furthered; for (doe what we can) wee must come to an account, and Conscience will know vs at last, whether we acknowledge it or not; nay, by how much the lesse we regard it now, by so much the more it will shake vs here∣after, and rise vpon vs like a flame with so much the greater fury, by how much the more it was (for the present) kept downe and stifled.

The second sort reproued, * are such as abuse conscience, and this is done (as sometimes o∣therwise) so mostly thus:

[ 1] First, when Conscience is set lowest, and bound apprentice to the outward man, I meane thus; when men doe not receiue all blowes that let driue at conscience, vpon their name, estate, skinne, &c. but contrarily, rather suffer Consci∣ence to be wounded, then the outmost skinne raysed.

[ 2] Secondly, when Conscience is thrust from its seate, deposed, degraded, gag'd; so violen∣ced, that it must not speake, though friends, God, man, call vpon vs.

[ 3] Thirdly, when conscience is made a cloke Page  36for all vnwarranted, both opinions and practi∣ces, that is, when men will put the name of con∣science vpon the basest things: Opinion shall bee Conscience; Errour, Conscience; the swallowing of widowes houses, Conscience; as twas with the Pharisees.

[ 4] Fourthly, when Conscience is made a knight of the poast, and must beare witnesse to any vn∣truth, to any villany: thus when men cannot tell what to say, they appeale to God and Con∣science. God knowes, their hearts, their Con∣science beares them witnesse, they'le take it on their Conscience, tis so, not so. O the feareful∣nesse of these practices! how terrible haue Gods strokes bin vpon such in all ages? and what can we looke for lesse, then misery in this course? First, a man must be an old and bold offender, before he can dare thus to affront Conscience. Secondly, it cannot be safe thus to abuse so great an Officer as conscience is. Thirdly, who can expresse the terrours of some Saints, now vp∣on record, who (notwithstanding) neuer were so daring? and if they did sweare vnder smaller abuses of Conscience, how shall these bleed?

I now come to perswade euery man to make good vse of a good thing, * a good Conscience; for the abuse of best things is euer worst: and a good Conscience is in the ranke of best things, It is a wonderfull mercy in God, to match vs with so neere a friend, so true a Counsellor: let Page  37vs thankefully consider to what vses a good conscience may be put, and accordingly em∣proue it. We will not runne into the road of conscience in generall, but confine our selues to a good Conscience, which is so tearmed in a double sence.

First, Its good formally in its constitution. *

Secondly, effectiuely in its execution: as a Clocke is good when it is made well and goes well: first, the Conscience is good in its selfe, when it is fitted for its proper acts and vses: the proper and immediate act and vse of Con∣science, is to know that it knowes, as Salomon speakes to Shimei, and as wee vulgarly say, I know what I know well enough. This the gene∣rall. The particulars of this knowledge are, first, conscience knowes what we be: secondly, what we doe: what we be spiritually (not naturally) and in what tearmes we stand with God; whe∣ther we beare his Image, be in his fauour, yea, or no? what we doe either for substance or quality, good or bad, either in times past, pre∣sent, or to come: these things Conscience was made for, and these the conscience, when it is good, doth know, to wit, both tree and fruit in the inward and outward acts thereof: and hence it is, that we are so often inuited to talke with our selues; and hereof growes that inward con∣fidence and enioyment, that the soule hath of it selfe, wherein it resembles its Maker, who Page  38takes full contentment in himselfe from his full vnderstanding of himselfe. The second act of a good Conscience is speaking or manifesting good to vs, being good in it selfe, it giues vs due information touching our selues; as a cleere glasse represents a true face: and heere are two acts also: First and more immediately it re∣ports things as they be, which is called witnes∣sing or giuing in euidence: thus the person be∣ing vnder mercy, it tels him so much, hauing already done well, or hauing good things in a∣gitation, it saith so.

Contrarily, when things be not right, Con∣science speakes as it finds them, and heerein it doth well; for we speake of a Morall, not Na∣turall good: and morally that Conscience is good, that speakes the truth how-euer it be: as thats a good glasse that reports blemishes (if such) as well as beauties; a good Witnesse that speakes the truth, though not what pleases. Se∣condly, Conscience strikes vpon the affections, and doth some execution vpon the offender; for from information of estate, arises either certain∣ty of hope or despaire: as the euidence comes in guilty or not guilty, and from information of workes, different affections and motions an∣swerable to their different natures: from things well done, comes comfort, ioy, boldnesse, &c. ill done, shame, feare, sorrow, remorce: from things well intended, courage, resolution, con∣fidence, Page  39&c. ill meant, (for the future) iealou∣sie, repining, recoyling, as an horse that would and would not leape a ditch. In the former re∣spect, Conscience is compared to a Witnesse, in this, to a Iudge and executioner.

Now this being the vse of Conscience, wee must employ it to these vses; namely, repaire to Conscience, aske its aduice, receiue its report touching our persons and actions, heare what it can say for or against vs now; for once it must passe a verdict vpon vs; and when we haue its testimony, wee must either appeale to an higher Court (if we can shew an errour) or sit downe by its sentence, stop, where it sayes stop, worke, where it sayes worke, feare, where it saies feare, hope, where he giues hope, restore, where it sayes, restore.

* Howbeit, that our speech may be more fruit∣full, know we that in foure cases especially, we are to consult and vse Conscience.

First, when wee are in consultation about things to be done, or beleeued; in this case it is not amisse to aduise with others, but in no case must Conscience be omitted.

I may easily deceiue others by ill stating of the question, adding, or altering, or suppressing, as affection leads me: againe, a man may finde so many men, so many mindes oftentimes, so different are their apprehensions and affecti∣ons. But a good conscience is one and the same, Page  40and that vprightly consulted, can say more to my affections and intentions, more to the pra∣cticall part, then all the world.

Therefore vse others if you please, but make vse of your owne hearts, else your practice may be corrupt, when others counsell is good. Here forget not these rules: First, pretend not Con∣science, where Conscience is not the matter. Se∣condly, be resolued of what thou doest in thy selfe, or else forbeare till taught, if thou mayest. Thirdly, walke by thine owne light, not other mens; ground thy practice vpon Conscience, Conscience vpon Word, not vpon Man. As for cases here incident, we passe them now.

[ 2] Secondly, when we are vpon a selfe-triall, and the question is, either of our state, or our do∣ings, or opinions, consult conscience; for that is the best created examiner. And here let the maine worke be, to sinde out the maine point; Am I Gods childe, in state of grace, yea or no? This much imports vs; for as Satan founds all particular temptations vpon this (If thou be the tonne of God) so all our particular comforts and assurances hang on this pinne. Therefore, here, houer not, but hold Conscience to it, Ei∣ther I am, or am not Gods. What am I? What am I? Leaue not this vnresolued by Conscience, as many doe, who hearing of a certainty at∣taineable, and of some generall notes of salua∣tion from the Word; presently build considence Page  41to themselues, sometimes vpon weake principles, sometimes vpon false applications, neuer consulting Conscience, and then when Conscience is awakened, they are miserably plunged. Beloued, it is not so easie a matter to assure saluation as most men thinke; we are not all out of their mindes, who deny it possible, without extraordinary reuelations, and who hold it sawcinesse to auouch it; yet wee must tell you, that the difficulties are more then a few, and it concernes vs much to deale much with Conscience about this point.

For faith whereby wee beleeue saluation is one thing, and euidence whereby wee feele it another; there we must cleaue to the promise, but here we must conferre with Conscience, as Saint Paul doth, he was strongly perswaded (by the lesuites leaue) of his saluation and vpright∣nesse: but what are his grounds? First, his Conscience was and had beene good in all: se∣condly, his bent and resolution for the future was right; hence he did, hence we must assure our estates.

Secondly, as we must examine Conscience about our estate, so also about actions past; was this well? did I well? said I well? otherwise there may be deceit: For first, many matters lye hid from men, with their circumstance: second∣ly, the motiues that set the wheele a going vsu∣ally doe; here then happy is he who condemnes Page  42not himselfe in what he hath done.

Thirdly, when slandred, censured, or accu∣sed, whether by men or diuels. Thus Iob, when Satan accuseth, when friends doe, foes doe, when good men doe, and bad men doe, he re∣paires homeward, casts vp his bookes, and fin∣ding all right, hee triumphs in his Conscience, and weares their libels as a Crowne. Like vse must we make of our Consciences, when accu∣sed; first, see whether the charge be iust; if so, reforme, amend: secondly, if not so, cleare thy selfe to men, if worth while, and if they will be satisfied; if not, enioy thy selfe, and thine owne innocency. Here the rules be two: first, if thine owne heart condemne thee, reioyce not against the truth, though all the world applaud thee: secondly, if (vpon a true search) thy heart ac∣quit thee, neuer for sake thine owne innocency: Let not men, nor diuels, nor frownes, nor cen∣sures robbe thee of thy comfort, but set this wall of brasse against all, as Paul. Say what you will, my conscience is good, and I make this good by these and these proofes.

[ 4] Fourthly, when wee become suiters to God and man for assistance, being affronted by men and diuels, and seemingly deserted of God and man, then we must flye to Conscience, as Paul doth, and Dauid, and all the Saints; now calling vpon God, as Hezekiah, O Lord, thou knowest I haue walked, &c. Now vpon Christians, as Paul, Page  43Pray for me, for I haue kept a, &c. Now vpon our selues, with Dauid, Why art thou cast downe, O my soule, &c. There is truth in thee, beare vp. And this not onely for the present, but for future times, when we are threatned as the Apostles were, with many stormes, with much hardship: first, make good thy Conscience: secondly, rest in the comfort thereof; for come what will come, if we bring a good conscience to a good cause, these two bladders will hold our heads aboue water. My brethren, till wee haue tryed, we cannot conceiue what the comfort, courage, strength and resolution of a good conscience is; make vse of it, enioy it, and enioy your selues, your estate, all persons, all things, all times; onely be sure, first, that Conscience be regular, that is, that it speake Law, and sentences all ac∣cording to the Word written. Secondly, that it speake the whole truth written, and nothing but the truth: Conscience hath nothing to doe with secret counsels, that must speake to the action or present estate; but for reprobation or finall destruction; that conscience can say no∣thing to, as not reuealed; it hath nothing to doe either with absolute condemnation, or absolu∣tion. Let it keepe it selfe within its Spheare, and let me keepe my selfe to my time.