Shewing how prevalent Natural Conscience hath been in Heathens, in reference to good Laws, Books, Affections, Lives; And how it should stir up Christians to jealousie.
ROM. 2. 15.
VVE have instanced in many grounds, which may justly be thought to blu•, if not quite race out, that Law of Nature in us. The next thing to be undertaken is, to shew wherein men do demonstrate these * dictates of Conscience, and how far they have been prevalent upon them to that which is good: And the discovery of these things, is an excellent way to raise blushing in the faces of many Christians, and to provoke them to jea∣lousie, when they see that done in Athens or Ethnical Rome, which is scarce done in Jerusalem; especially those who are the people of God, and pretend to an higher and supernatural light, must diligently beware, lest they be outstript in those moral honest things, which the very light of nature teacheth some men. To the work therefore in hand; And
First, This Law of God in mens hearts, is demonstrated by these excellent Tractates and discourses, which many by the help of natural light onely have written; where∣in * although they are as blinde as Bats and Owls, in the Sun-shine of the Gospel, in respect of any true gracious thing, yet they do wonderfully approve that which is good and righteous in the general, condemning and disswading from that which is evil. Thus the Moral discourses of Seneca, Plutarch, Plato, and some of the Stoicks, speak very high things about that which is vertuous, and that which is vicious; insomuch that many mens Divinity in their Sermons, or Contemplations and Devotions, have been nothing but the choice flowers pul∣led out of their garden. This (I confess) is justly to be blamed, and severely re∣proved: Page 347 for Scripture matter, either in things of faith, or things to be done, doth as much excell all those Notions, either in majesty or purity, as the Sun doth an Ignis Fatuus, or any Ignited Meteore: But I know not how it falls out, whether of the witty invention in them, or eloquent expressions, those Hea∣then Authors have delighted some, more then Davids Psalms, or Pauls Epistles; especially many of the Jesuits in their Religious Tractates, stuff their discourses with Seneca's Contemplations, or Moral Inventions. Now although it be true, that it were a great error to take John Baptist, though a great Prophet, for Christ, much more a Seneca or a Plato (though stiled Divine) for a Christ; yet if we speak of the sphaere of nature, how far she hath been able to accuse vice, and plead for vertue, herein they have been wonderful; take Tullies Book De Ossiciis: If men and their publique conversation, did keep to that fidelity in words, righ∣teousness in deeds, and love to the publique against all particular profit, it would make the lives of men very admirable, though not godly: And it is a great honor to those Books of the Heathens, that the Apostle himself doth some∣times alledge verses out of such Authors, and that for morality also; witness that sentence, Evil words corrupt good maners; which is sanctified (saith Ter∣tullian) or made Ecclesiastical, as Hierom, by Paul, it being a verse of the Comedian Menander; and it is true by experience, that evil words and discourses, such as some Corinthians had, which did privately, by some reasonings fetched from Philosophy, endeavor to weaken the Christian faith about the Resurrection, do quickly infect mens lives: and as the Apostles, so ministers may sometimes upon fit occasions, use sentences out of those Authors, so that they do it not too frequently, or with affectation, or thereby disparaging the powerful simplicity and divine Plainness of the Scripture. The many Books therefore and Discourses, which men by the help of natural Conscience have made, to the ordering of mens lives in a vertuous way, are a sure demonstration of this Law written in their hearts.
Secondly, The wise, just and righteous Laws which many of their Law-givers*have made, when they setled a Political Government, do plainly declare also this work of God in them. Its true, that such Law-givers, besides their in∣planted reason, had also acquired much experimental prudence, and haply some of them at least, had by hear-say, the Divine Polity and Government which Moses appointed the people of Israel: But with these, they had also those sparkling notions, of differencing justice from injustice, good from evil, else they could never have made such wholsome Laws; especially the Laws and Manners of the Lacedemonians, are much commended for Sobriety, Moderation, and Abstinence from all intemperate and luxurious courses; insomuch that Erasm•s saith, Diceres Germané Christianos, si pro Lycurgo Christum nacti fuissent legum latorem, one would have thought them true Christians, if they had had Christ a Law-giver for their Lycurgus, though herein Erasmus, as in other places, is too bold: Howsoever, this comes wholly from that Divine impression men have left in their consciences, whereby they punish sin and exorbitancies, but reward vertuous imployments. It is true, in some things their wisest Law-givers have established notorious wickedness, but that doth not hinder the acknow∣ledgement of their many other good Laws. If then Heathens have such thoughts about wicked actions, that they deem them worthy to be punished with all disgrace, contempt and reproach, yea some of them with death it self, and that in the most cruel maner. This doth evidently declare, that they had in∣bred principles about good and evil; and upon this ground it is, that the Apostle speaking of Magistrates, even Paganish, saith, They are the Ministers of God, to thee for good, Rom. 13. That they are a terror to the evil, and not to the good; if thou doest well, be not afraid, but if thou doest ill, fear, because he doth not bear the sword in vain: So that this is a manifest conviction of the Conscience of every wicked man. If thou art a prophane, unjust, intemperate Page 348 man, why art thou afraid the Magistrate should see? Thou fearest his eyes, Is it not because of an implanted principle, That good is to be incouraged, and evil to be avoided? and the very fear of the Magistrates sword, keeps a world of people from that actual wickedness, which otherwise they would be plunged into: So that if you look over all the Societies of men in the world, that have a Government, wherein some command, and some obey, you will conclude, All this proclaimeth to the world, men have thoughts there is a God, and that wicked actions deserve just punishments.
3. This Law is declared by an acknowledgement of a God, and the solemn worship∣ping*of him. Their Polytheism or multitude of gods, though it discovereth hor∣rible blindeness and ignorance upon them, yet withal it argueth, a sense of Deity. The Romans had a 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, a Temple for all gods, thinking themselves herein Religious, that they did not refuse the Religion of any nation: Their Temples, their Altars, their Sacrifices, their Reverence to their Priests, the ex∣cessive charge and cost they were at in keeping up their Religious Worship, though they bespake miserable madness and confusion upon their spirits; yet they also demonstrate innate apprehensions about a God, and that Divine ho∣mage we owe to him. And as for some, who were called Atheists, its thought therefore they had that brand on them, not that they were against a God, but because they derided the multitude, and the superstitious observations of the gods then worshipped. Its plain, Seneca thought the Romans guilty of much ridiculousness in their Divine Worship, and wrote a Book about it, as Austin saith, which is lost; and although he thus was convinced of their vanity, yet he diligently performed that external Worship, Tanquam legibus jussam, non Diis gratam; As a thing commanded by the Laws and Customs of men, not at all acceptable to the gods. As they were frequent thus in Adoration, so they performed it after a grave and solemn maner; witness that cry of the Priests, Hoc age, minde this onely: and certainly the reverence, attention and dili∣gence of Heathens to their Idols, will condemn the sluggishness, dulness and drowsie irreverence, which Christians shew to the true God, in their Worship of him.
4. They declare this Law written in them, by the work of conscience terrifying them upon any evil actions: What fear and horror hath been upon heathens con∣sciences, * though they have had no Scripture to accuse them! Histories declare, upon unjust, unclean and injurious acts, they have not been able to rest or sleep, and eat: Why is all this? but because of their judge within; which hath made even Heathens, so much admire a good conscience, and set out the misery of an evil one. Alas, we would think such things should be spoken of onely among Christians, and where the word that is preached, is the discerner and dis∣coverer of the thoughts and actions of all men; but even among them that never saw this Sun, there are divers sayings, commending and admiring the blessedness of living so, as not being conscious to our selves of any gross sinful ways: Nil conscire sibi, &c. To be conscious unto a mans self of no evil, or un∣just action, is that onely thing which may make a man happy: Hic murus aheneus esto; that is a brazen wall to beat back all darts; As the sweet nurse in old age, as Pindar calls it. Oh that Christians should do so many things, that raise up conscience like a Lyon and Bear, to roar within them; when even Heathens have been afraid to make their conscience their enemy and adversary. If the fire hath so quickly burned the green tree, how will the dry tree indure? Oh think not these phrases of Conscience, and trouble for sin, unquietness and terror in a mans breast, to be fictions and vain scare-Crows: No, men have had them, that have lived onely in a wilderness, that had no other Book to read then that of the Creature; they have feared a terrible just God, ready to be revenged on them whithersoever they went: And doest thou lye, and steal, and commit whoredom, and thinkest not that God beholdeth thee, with a sparkling eye, full of vengeance?
Page 349 Lastly, They declare this Law written, in that they have improved these natural*sparks, and have attained to admirable commendations, for many things done by them: They did not all of them detain the truth in unrighteousness, but did admit of all the Culture and Tillage they could meet with, to perfect those vertuous principles as they thought of. Hence some of them have thrown away all the wealth they had, that they might the better attend to Philosophy; yea, So∣crates would never dispute about the Heavens or Stars, or other Sceptical matter, but wholly manners, how to rectifie them, and to make yong men leave: their vices; especially we might give you instances of their great improvements in these things:
First, Their hearty love to the publique, preferring it above all particular re∣spects and advantages. Tully would not have immortality it self, to hurt the * Commonwealth: Another said, he had rather be poor, so as the Commonwealth were rich, then he rich, and that thereby made more poor. They conclude, Justice and Righteousness, were the onely walls and defence of a Kingdom. Some of them, devoted themselves to present death, as the Decii and Curtii, to pre∣vent judgements to the publique. Oh what a shame may many Heathens, upon record in History, be to those who stile themselves Christians!
Secondly, In Fidelity and Righteousness, both of words and promises, and all * their contracts. Romana fides was a proverb, because they faithfully would do what they had promised; their words were as good as oathes. One prisoner, a captive, had given his word, that if he might go to dispatch his business, and get some way or other to redeem himself, he would faithfully return again, in case he could not; and not being able to effect it, he returneth again to his ene∣mies, though he knew he was to be put to all cruelty. Aristides was called the just, because of his righteousness and faithfulness in all his dealings. But of how many may we say, even that are called Christians, in stead of Such an one the just, such an one the false and unrighteous man.
Thirdly, In all moderation and sobriety, abstaining from those things that were*fit objects for their lusts. Alexander kept himself from Darius his Virgins, when he had conquered him by War: They were temperate in their dyets, avoiding occasions of gluttony and drunkenness. The Lacedemonians would have their children see a drunken man, that beholding his madness and beastliness, they might take heed of it: And as for the passions of anger and malice, how lowly in refraining of them, patiently bearing all contumelies and reproaches! I would, said an Heathen, to one who reviled on him, that this man could rule his tongue, as well as I can my ears. I would beat and punish thee, said another to his servant, but that I am angry. Thus we might go even into the wilderness, and gather many sweet flowers there: We might tell you of wise and sage Apophthegmes, of vertuous and noble actions, and all this while they had no hopes of an Heaven, or Eternal Glory to incourage them. Many of them, after their noble Achievements for the publique, returned home a∣gain without any wealth or advance, but onely glory; yea, and one or two of them contemned that also: But though they have done thus worthily, yet you must take heed of two errors, magnifying these their actions too high.
First, Some have thought, and that both of the ancients and latter sort of * Writers, that many of these Heathens have been saved; that men who in their generation did thus wonderfully, could not be damned. Though these Teachers are divided among themselves; some say, the Law of Nature saved them, as Christ doth Christians, so that they say, they were saved without Christ: Others say, Christ was immediately and extraordinarily revealed to them: but neither of these opinions have any ground in Scripture, which attributes no sal∣vation but unto Christ, and the calling upon his name, which they did not. *
Secondly, The other Error is, that natural men by improving their naturals, are thereby disposed and prepared for supernaturals; that a man by well using Page 350 of this natural light, God will give him supernatural light: But God hath made no such promise in the Scripture, and the falsness of it is declared in this. That we never read yet of any Heathen, who upon the good improvement of those natural abilities, had grace vouchsafed to him. I shall in the next place come to the Use of this point; And
First, Have Heathens without the Scripture, without the knowledge of * Christ and his Word, done many things righteously and soberly? Then what shame and reproach is it to Christians, if any among them be found unjust, un∣godly, and living in all intemperance? Yet is not the greater number of those that profess the Christian Religion, infected with some erroneous and gross vices or other, which the Gentiles have abhorred? As Christ said of the Cen∣turion a stranger, He had not seen such faith in Israel; and truly, we may say, That there is not to be seen such faithfulness in mens words, such temperance in their lives, no not among many Christians, as have been among many Gentiles. Who can plead for such who deal unjustly, speak falsely, over-reach in their contracts? when men without the true knowledge of a true God, have been afraid to do it. You could not among all the Lacedaemonians have seen one drunken man, un∣less it was their slaves, their Helotae, as they called them; and now it is hard to finde a sober, temperate man among many Protestants. Some of the Heathens have been so Religious about an oath, and fearful about swearing, that they never would use it upon any humane or earthly business; yet he is accounted a man now not of any spirit or gallantry, that doth not imbroider his Language with several Oathes. Basil the Ancient, objected to Christians in his time, that accustomed themselves to swearing, the example of one Clinias a Pythagorean, who having a great fine laid upon him, to pay a great sum of money, the which he might have escaped by taking an oath, yet he would not swear, but rather pay that money: Certainly, if God doth sometime send his own people to the very irrational creatures to learn, to the Ox and Ant, no wonder, if they may sometimes be taught by those who have not such means of holiness as they have. Civility and Moral honesty, these are to be found among the Pagans, and sometimes we cannot finde it among Christians; especially the Heathens have condemned a man of a false heart, that will speak one thing with his mouth, and intend another thing: 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, &c. I hate him even to hell, that saith one thing with his mouth, and thinketh another thing in his heart, saith he in Homer: They loved a candid and sincere spirit, as he that wished there was a glass in his breast, that all the world might see what was in his heart: But O the hypocrisie, double tongue, double heart that many baptised persons have. Why do not such leave Christs Sheepfold, and go rather into the Dens and Holes of subtil Foxes? And so for intemperate, dissolute men, Why do not they forsake Christs Fold, and go to the Sty of Swine, wallowing there in all mire and filth? Now consider how many horrid and grievous accusations the committing of such sins is subject unto:
First, There is less excuse and plea to be made for thee: Haply at the day of Judgement, Heathens will plead, Why? they did not believe in Christ; Why? they did not receive the Gospel, that it never sounded in their ears, there was no preaching to them; or if so, the matter was supernatural, such as flesh and blood could not close with, there was no proportion between that glorious object and the faculty: But what can you say? who have and do live in such sins, which the very children of Pagans would condemn: Can you say, Lord we did not know that to speak falsely, do unjustly, live intemperately, were sins? We had none to tell us, that these were unlawful ways? No such thing can be plead∣ed by you; O therefore be at last awakened from this security; remember you are men, and not beasts; remember God hath placed a conscience, to be a Judge in you: Oh do not such things! thus all without thee, and all within thee will condemn.
Page 351 2. As there is less excuse, so they are a greater reproach and scandal to that glorious Gospel which we receive: What? shall not the Gospel of Christ, and the word of God teach us more holiness, then the Turks Alcoran? Shall not the ten Commandments of God, oblige us to more purity, then the twelve Tables of the Romans: O what a sad dishonor is this to the truth and know∣ledge of God, that among his people, shall be found doers of those things, which natural light would abhor. Such are indeed spots and blemishes in our Congregations; such are foul and deformed Monsters: Let every one that nameth Christ, depart from iniquity. What do such weeds among his flowers? such wolfs among his sheep? If thou wilt be drunk, be so in the night among Pagans, not in the day among Christians. The Church of God is not a fit place to vent such unnatural impieties in; With what zeal and holy violence should we per∣swade these things in your hearts? As long as there are any prophane men, any unjust men, any gross impieties committed by you, which nature would for∣bid, we shall not cease to call on heaven and earth to be witnesses against you; nay, every stone in the wall, and the timber in your houses, shall speak against you: Why do such unclean Lepers come near where any holy duty or or∣dinances are to be performed? As they call an Ague, Ludibrium medicorum, the reproach of Physitians, because they know not how to cure it; So let not that obstinate senseless disposition in gross sins, be any more Ludibrium Theologo∣rum, that with all our vehement exhortations we cannot heal thee of.
3. Sins committed against natural conscience, make the more noise and terror in a mans conscience, we do the more difficulty obtain a pardon of them; you see in Cain, upon his murther; in Judas, upon betraying innocent blood; and in David, Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Psal. 51. These are deep and sore wounds, which will molest a long season, and when healed, will yet leave a scar. O think not that merry pastimes, and jolly company will eat out this dart, when once mortally and deadly shot in thy heart: sins against supernatu∣ral light, such as unbelief, diffidence in the promise, make not such an horrid noise and tumult in thy soul, as these do: None can still the roaring of these waves but God alone.
4. There is more ingratitude and rebellion in thee who doest thus, because God hath vouchsafed greater light, given greater help and support against these sins, then the Nations of the world receive, insomuch that thy condemnation will be far greater, then of those who were brought up in Natures School onely.
Have Pagans and Heathens done admirable things? then what glorious and * commendable things should Christians do, let not them outreach us: As the Apostle reckons up a catalogue of worthy Saints, who by faith wrought great and holy things, Heb. 11. so we may put in a scroul of the names of many Hea∣thens, who without faith, and without the knowledge of God, have done ad∣mirable exploits within the sphear of Nature: Be thou exhorted to wash out those black spots in thy life; Consider that of the Apostle, Phil. 4. 8. Whatsoever things are pure, holy, righteous, of good report: If there be any vertue, any praise, think of these things. We are not now pressing you to be like Angels in heaven, doing Gods will, but that you would not be outstripped by Gentiles, which know not Gods will. If any man among you be found prophane, unjust, in∣temperate, let him cry out, I am unclean, I am unclean, what have I to do, to take Gods word in my mouth, and hate to be reformed?