Irenicum, to the lovers of truth and peace heart-divisions opened in the causes and evils of them : with cautions that we may not be hurt by them, and endeavours to heal them
Burroughs, Jeremiah, 1599-1646.


The second Position, Conscience is a tender thing, and must not be medled with.

CErtainly Conscience is a very tender thing; and as men must take heed how they offer violence to their own con∣sciences, so to the consciences of others; It is such a thing as is not in subjection to any creature in Heaven or Earth, only to God himself. Gerrard reports out of the Histories of France of a King of Navarre,* writing to his Nobles, used this expres∣sion, The rule over consciences and soules is left to God alone: And of a King of Polonia, who was wont frequently to say, That God had reserved three things to himselfe: 1. To make something of nothing.* 2. To know things future. 3. To rule over conscience. Maximilian the second used to say, There was no tyranny more intollerable then to seeke to rule over consciences. Henry the third, King of France, as the last pangs of death carried him into a∣nother world, had this speech, Learn of me that piety is a duty of man unto God, over which worldly force hath no power; this was spoken in the same Chamber where the Councell was held about that fatall Bartholmew day,* in the year 1572.

But for all this, the Devill must not be let alone, though he be got into mens consciences, God hath appointed no City of refuge for him; if he flies to mens consciences, as Joab did to the horns of the Altar, he must be fetched from thence, or falne upon there. Something may be done to men to keepe Page  30 them from evill, and to reduce them, notwithstanding the plea of their conscience.

But what may be done to a man in such a case?*

First, any man that pleads his conscience, may be required to give an account of his conscience; it is not enough for him to say, his conscience puts him upon such a thing, or keeps [ 1] him from such a thing; he must give an account of the grounds upon which his conscience goes.

The world requires us to give an account to every man of that hope that is in us, if he requires it in a due way; wee are bound to give no offence neither to the Jew nor Gentile: It is against the light of nature, that men in a society should do things of which they need give no account to any whatsoe∣ver.

[ 2] Secondly, due enquiry is to be made, whether the Devill be indeed in the conscience, it may be you shall finde him in some other room of the soule, only he pretends to that as his sanctuary, hoping to escape better there then any where else; if he should be found in a mans will, he thinks he should be soon hunted out with violence, he could not scape there; but he hopes men will deal more tenderly with conscience; therefore either thither he will get, or at least he will give it out he is got in there, hoping you will enquire after him no further, when it is given out he hath taken refuge there, as a Malefactor searched after; it may be is lurking in some house not far from you; but that you may either not search, or cease searching; he causes it to be given out, that he is got into some strong Castle, or some other Countrey where there is little hope to come at him.

But how shall it be known,* whether the Devill be in a mans con∣science or not? Conscience is an inward roome, who can see into it, what, or who is there?

It is a very hard thing to give a judgment,* but these notes may help us much in discerning.

[ 1] First, if I see a mans owne private interest is much engaged in what he pretends conscience for, this may be enough to raise suspition, though it can be no determining rule; for a man may in some things have his conscience put him upon Page  31 that where there is much of his owne interest; but this brings him under much suspition, if the thing be not exceeding clear to the view of every man.

Secondly, if in the course of a mans life, he appears not to [ 2] be much under the command of his conscience, but can take liberty as he pleases; if indeed a man in the generall course of his life appears to be very conscientious; we had need take heed how we meddle with such a man in a way of opposition, except the evill we see now in him be very clear and grosse; but that man, who in the common course of his life, can tri∣fle with his conscience, hath deprived himselfe of the benefit of this plea, as a man may forfeit the benefit of his freedome in the City by misdemeanour: so the benefit that otherwise might be had of such a plea may be forfeited by such loose∣nesse of life.

Thirdly, when the account a man gives cannot in any ra∣tional [ 3] way be judged such, giving allowance to all his weak∣nesses, as should probably mis-lead him so grosly, as is appa∣rant he is mislead. We must grant, that those may be reasons to one which are not to another; but when they appeare so grosse, as after all allowances to weaknesses, they cannot in any common understanding reach to such a conclusion, we may at least suspect very much, that the evill of this man lies not in his conscience, but some where else; yet we should not do well to be too hastly and violent with such men; it may be a man for a while may be so over-powred, that he is not able to render a rationall account of his wayes, but wait a while, and deal with him tenderly in love; consider his per∣sonal disabilities, his temptations, give him all the allowance you can; if one means prevail not to shew him his error, try another; if at one time you do no good upon him, see what may be done at another; consider, is it not possible, that e∣ven such weak things may appear to the conscience of a man that hath so many weaknesses, and lies under so many temp∣tations, to be for the present such grounds as he cannot with∣out sin deny; and if so, you had need deale tenderly with such a man, except the grosseness of the evill requires severity.

4ly. If a man be proud and turbulent in his carriage, by [ 4] Page  32 that you may know the Devill is rather in the will then in the conscience; though an erroneous conscience may cause one to hold fast an errour, yet it does not put upon proud, scornfull, turbulent behaviour: When a man by reason of his conscience (it may be the weaknesse of it) differs from his brethren, hee had need carry himself with all humility and meekness, & self-denyal in all other things; he should be will∣ing to be a servant to every man, in what lawfully he may, that thereby he may shew to all, that it is not from any wil∣fulnesse, but meerly the tenderness of his conscience, that he cannot come off to that which his brethren can doe, whom yet he reverences, and in his carriage towards them, shews that he yet esteems them his betters; but if a man that is weak, ve∣ry much beneath others in parts and graces, shall carry him∣selfe high, imperious, contemning and vilifying those who differ from him, and be contentious with them: There is great reason to think, that the corruption is in the will rather then any where else; if there should be some conscience yet in these men, their heart-distempers may justly forfeit their right of pleading their consciences. Those who oppose them, if they doe it in a Christian way, may justifie what they doe before God; if God should call them to an account, and say, why did you deal so with such men who professed they were put upon what they held and did, by their consciences; If they can answer thus, Lord thou knowest we were willing to have dealt with them in all tendernesse, if we could have seen con∣scientiousness in their carriage; but we saw nothing but scornfulness, pride, imperiousness, turbulency, conceitednes, we could see nothing of the Spirit of Jesus Christ acting them in their way; this their carriage perswaded us, that the sin∣fulnesse was got rather into their wills then their consci∣ences.

[ 5] 5ly. When a man is not willing to make use of meanes to inform his conscience, not of those meanes that are not a∣gainst his owne principles, but goes on peremptorily and stoutly: Surely, when we see many of our Brethren differ∣ing from us, our respect to them should gain so much at least from us, that if there by any means left unused, for the further Page  33 trying our opinions, or informing our judgements, we should make use of that meanes, a conscientious heart will doe so.

The sixt note added, will seale up all; when a man by rea∣son [ 6] or Scripture is so put to it, as he must either renounce his errour, or flye from some of his own principles, he will ra∣ther deny his principles, then yeeld himselfe convinced of his errour; yea, when those principles are of great moment. The man that doth thus is the man spoken of, Tit. 3. 11. that is 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, condemned of himselfe, An Heretick after the first and second admonition reject, because he is selfe-condemned; wee must not reject every man that erres in every little thing, no not after two or three admonitions, that was a prelatical, tyrannicall rule, but he must be an Heretick, and erring so grosly, as he is self-condemned in his errour, and such a man suffers not for his conscience, when he is rejected, but for sin∣ning against his conscience.

But who can know when a man is condemned of him∣selfe?* the judgement of a mans owne conscience is a secret thing.

This is the strength of this hold the Devil gets into,* he thinks he gets so deep, that you cannot get to it to find him out, and as for Gods displeasure who knows their conscien∣ces, these men will venture that. But by this Scripture, Tit. 3. it is clear, that a mans conscience may be so far seen into, as there may be a judgment passed upon a man, that he is a self-condemned man: To what purpose otherwise serves this Scripture? it is not like this Heretick would acknowledg that he was self-condemned, but yet the Apostle makes this the ground why he should be rejected; As if he should say, You see he wil go against his own principles, against what his con∣science tells him is truth, meerly to maintain a wicked Here∣sie that he is infected withall; let him therefore plead what he will, reject him, for his own conscience condemns him, and GOD is greater then his Conscience, and knowes all things.

The third thing that is to be done to a man who pleads his [ 3] conscience for evill, is, the great snare and danger he brings himself into, is to be declared to him, that by giving way to Page  34 let evill into his conscience, he puts himself into such a condi∣tion, as whatsoever he doth, he must needs sin against God, so long as he holds his errour: Evill gets into the consciences of many very easily, because they think the dictates of their consciences will be sufficient to bear them out in what they doe;* but they are deceived, for an erroneous conscience does not bind, you sin notwithstanding your conscience bids you do it; and if you goe against this erroneous conscience, you sinne too; what a miserable snare is this? you had need look to your selves then, and take heed what you let into your con∣sciences.

[ 4] The fourth thing is, to charge him, and if it be in a matter of consequence, to adjure him in the Name of God (who is the searcher of the hearts of men, and will judg them at the great day accordingly) that he deals plainly and sincerely, not to dare to put a pretence upon that which he knows his conscience cannot justifie him in; if there be indeed any consci∣entiousness in the man, this will startle him.

[ 5] But it may be this will not prevail, wherefore in the fifth place, whatsoever a man holds, though his conscience be ne∣ver so much taken with it, yet if it cannot stand with the pow∣er of godliness, but destroys it, if this man be in a Christian society after all means used to reduce him, if he still perse∣veres in it, he is, notwithstanding his conscience, to be cast out of the society of the Saints; this is not a little matter, if a man hath any conscience in him, it cannot but be a dreadfull thing to him: If poyson be got into a glass, and you cannot wash it out, the poyson and glass too is to be thrown into the sinck: Such a man as this is, with the conscience that he hath, is to be thrown upon the dung-hill. If a man by his wicked∣ness cuts himself off from the mysticall body of Christ, the Church may cut him off from his visible, he hath forfeited his Church-priviledger.

[ 6] Sixtly, If the errour with the profession of it be destructive to the State, and he cannot be reclaimed, he may likewise be cut off from it, or at least deprived of the priviledges of it, and benefits by it, notwithstanding his plea of conscience. This justifies the cutting off Jesuites and Priests, who teach people that the Crown is at the dispose of any forraign pow∣er, Page  35 by which also subjects may be freed from their Allegiance. A Reverend Divine of ours,* in a Treatise upon the powring out of the 7. Vials, interprets the turning of the Rivers into blood; the execution of Justice even to blood upon the Romish Emissaries, the Jesuites and Priests, who come from the See of Rome, to take people off from their Allegi∣ance.

7ly. What ever pretence of conscience a man hath, yet this [ 7] cannot excuse him in any matter of apparant injustice done to his brother in his estate or goods: As suppose a man pleads conscience in the point of community of goods, yet if he take away his neighbours goods by violence, his conscience can∣not deliver him from the stroak of justice. The Papists pre∣tend conscience for their murthers, for the Catholique cause, but this delivers them not out of the hands of justice; if a man pleads conscience that he is bound to marry more wives then one, and the like.

Eighthly, a man may bring himself under both Civill and [ 8] Ecclesiasticall sword, not only for sins destructive and inju∣rious to our brother, but for sinns against God, if they be also against the light of nature, as blasphemy and grosse ido∣latry: Though the Sunn be down, if you allow your ser∣vant a candle to work ordinary work by, and he put it out, he cannot plead he could not work, because it was dark: Man at first had Sun-light to work by, but our Sun is down, yet we have the candle of the light of nature; if we sinn against that, our darkness can be no plea for us: and if he be a profes∣sed Christian, and sins against the common light of Christia∣nity, which he cannot but see, except he will shut his eyes, he is to be dealt with as a man that sins against the light of Na∣ture.

Though such as are not Christians cannot by violence by [ 9] compelled to profess Christian Religion, yet notwithstand∣ing any plea of their conscience, they may be restrained, & that by violence, if other means will not do it, from an open blas∣pheming Christ, and the Scriptures, or doing any acts of o∣pen dishonour to them acts of open dishonour to God done by any whomsoever, as they are abominable, so such as have loved God and Christ, have accounted them unsufferable.

Page  36 I suppose you have heard or read that notable story we have in the Book of Martyrs, of one Gardiner, though we un∣dertake not to justifie his practice as allowable in an ordinary way, he being but a private man, yet there were little questi∣on to be made of it had he been a Magistrate: He being a Mer∣chant in Portugall, seeing the Cardinall offering the Hoast, though it were in the presence of the King and his Nobles, yet he runs to him and snatches it out of his hand, and throws it under his feet; if the King himself had done this, who would have condemned it?

[ 10] Notwithstanding any mans conscience, he may be kept from endangering the salvation of others, no mans conscience can set him at liberty to hurt other.

Those who strengthen others in dangerous soule-damning principles, may be taken from them, the light of Nature teaches it.

[ 11] In some cases, a private man may himselfe use violence to restraine men from evill; if a man should come to seduce my wife, or childe, in a matter I know will endanger their souls, if I could have no help by the Magistrate, I might if I had pow∣er keep him off: And what I might do by mine own strength, in case there were no Magistrate, I may call in the help of a Magistrate to do for me, when there is a Magistrate.

But you will say,* you speak all this while of the restraint of men from dangerous grosse evils; but what if the evils be of lesse moment, can there be nothing done to men for the re∣straining them from such?

Ye,* a man may be put to some trouble in those wayes of [ 13] evill, that his conscience puts him upon, so farre as to take off the wantonnesse of his spirit, and the neglect of meanes: In times of liberty there is very great wantonnesse in mens spirits, they stand as in an equall ballance to receive truth or errour; every little thing casts the ballance in many mens spirits, as interest in a friend, esteem from such men of repute in some, in others the credite they conceive there is in being able to speake further to a businesse then other men, to have a further insight into it then others, and a thousand the like; now to help against such temptions, if there be some trou∣ble Page  37 laid in the way, of that which is apparently evill, so as men shall see there is something to be suffered in that way; if there be no more graines of trouble then may help against this wantonnesse and neglect of meanes, I see no reason why any should be offended at this; indeed if there be a mistake, and the trouble be put into the wrong scale, if it be layd in the way of truth, let the sinne be upon those who dare ven∣ture upon their mistakes; or if so much be put into the scale as will not ballance only against wantonnesse, and neglect of meanes, but will be a sore temptation to decline the trueth, and rather embrace that which is evill, then to endure so much trouble; this is very displeasing to God: If a man be a∣sleep at a Sermon, his friend may pull his hand, yea he will not be offended though he give him a nip perhaps: but if he should strike him with a staffe on the head, so as to make the blood come, or cut his flesh with his knife, this would not be borne.

One step I think may be gone farther. Suppose a man be not [ 14] wanton, but serious, and neglect no meanes to informe his consci∣ence, and yet hee cannot yeeld, what shall bee done to such a man?

Though such a man should be dealt with in much tender∣nesse and love,* yet in such things as by his weaknesse he makes himselfe lesse serviceable to the Common-wealth, or Church, then other men, who have more strength; he may be denyed some priviledges and benefits that are granted to others. I instance in that opinion of some Anabaptists, who deny the lawfulnesse of War; suppose their consciences after much seriousnesse in the use of means, cannot be satisfied; yet seeing by this error of theirs they are made lesse usefull in the State then others, they should not think it much though they be denyed many priviledges and accommodations that are granted to others, who venture their lives for the preserva∣tion of the State. If a mans body be weak, he cannot help it, yet by it he is not so usefull as others, why should he think much that he hath not whatsoever others by strength are able to attain to? Suppose a man should have such a principle in his conscience, that the K. hath an absolute arbitrary power; though it be his conscience, yet by it he is disinabled from Page  38 imployment and preferment in places of trust. So for the Church, suppose the government of it by Prelats had been lawfull, (which now we know was not) there had been no evill in denying to those who in conscience could not submit to it, their preferments of Deanries and Prebends, and the like.

But lest what I say in this should be abused, you must under∣stand this denyall of places of profit or honour to men, because of that which their consciences will not suffer them to yeeld to, onely such places, as the tendernesse of their consciences in such a point makes them unfit to manage, if because their conscien∣ces differ from you in one thing, you will take advantage against them in other things that have no dependance upon that wherein they differ from you, and make them suffer in those things too, you now (to say no worse) begin to grow neare to a way of per∣secution and tyrannie over your brethren, which Christ, is dis∣pleased with. Wee accounted it in the Bishops not neare, but come up to tyrannie and persecution, when they would not suf∣fer such as could not conforme to their Church-discipline and Ceremonies, not so much as to teach children the Grammar, or to practise Physicke, or to preach Christ in places where there was no preaching, but people lived in darkenesse, perishing for want of knowledge. What dependance had these things upon their discipline and Ceremonies, supposing they had been right? Yes, they would fo∣ment their errours by this meanes.

But seeing there was no dependance between their errours,* (if you wil call them so) & these things, to deny the Church and Common-wealth the benefit of the gifts and graces of men, upon such a pretence that they will abuse their liber∣ty, wee thought it was hard dealing, yea no lesse then per∣secution.

Suppose a man differs from his brethren in point of Church-Discipline, must not this man have a place in an Ar∣my therefore? Though he sees not the reason of such a Dis∣cipline in the Church, yet God hath endued him with a spirit of volour, and he understands what Military Discipline means; must he not have a place in a Colledg to teach youth Logick and Philosophy? may be not preach Jesus Christ to poor ignorant creatures? if you feare he will divulge his o∣pinions, Page  39 surely some other course may be taken whereby he may suffer as much as such a fault comes to; but therefore to deprive Church and State of what abilities God has given him, which might be very usefull to them, and that before a∣ny such fault is committed, for fear it may be committed; the softest word I have to expresse my self against this, is, It is very hard dealing with your Brethren.

I have now gone to the uttermost line I can in shewing what is to be done to a man that pleads his conscience in things which we conceive are not right: I would now speak a word or two to men who have to deal with their brethrens consciences, and then to those who plead their consciences for their freedome.

To the first.* Let those who have to deale with mens con∣sciences, [ 1] first take heed they do not vilifie and slight mens consciences, do not scorn at the plea of their consciences. What, this is your conscience? your conscience forsooth will not suffer you. Woe to them who offend one of these little ones; it were better that a mil-stone were hanged about his necke, and he were cast into the bottome of the Sea, Matth. 18. 6. It is his conscience, and perhaps better informed then thine, and more tender; thou hast it may be a corrupt con∣science, thy conscience is broke by thy sinning against it, or otherwise it is loose or benummed, no quicknesse in it, thou canst swallow down greater matters, therefore thou wonde∣rest at those who are so nice-conscienced, who stand upon small matters; what if at the great day Christ shall own these to be truly conscientious, and honour them for obeying the voyce of their consciences in small things, for not daring to offend them in any thing, where wilt thou appear? what is like to become of thee then? Or if their consciences be weak, not rightly inform'd, yet Christ expects thou shouldst seek to heal, to strengthen them, not to jeer and scorn them; that fearfulnesse of theirs to offend Christ, though in the par∣ticular they may be mistaken, shall be accepted, when thy boldness and ventrousness in taking thy liberty shall appear to be thy folly.

2. Take heed in your dealings with such, you make them not [ 2] suffer more then Christ would have them suffer; do not abuse Page  40 your power over them, so as to cause them to complaine justly to God of conscience-oppression; Conscience-oppres∣sion is the most fearefull oppression; of all the cryes in the world, the cryes caused by it come up most swiftly to God. When an oppressed soule shall get alone, and make his moane to God;* Oh, Lord, thou who knowest the secrets of all hearts, thou knowest the desires of my soule in uprightnesse to know thy will; I can freely and comfortably appeale to thee. Thou knowest what a sad affliction it is to mee, that my judgement should be different from my brethrens, whose parts and graces I prize farre beyond mine owne. Thou knowest also there is no meanes for further Reforma∣tion, but I have been willing to make use of it as I was able, and what ever other helpe thou shalt make knowne to mee, I am ready to make use of it, that I may not be led aside into errour: and if thou wilt be pleased to reveale thy minde further to me, I am ready to submit to it. I should account it a greater happinesse then all the comforts in the world can afford, to know what thy minde is in such and such things; but Lord, as yet I cannot doe this thing, except I should sinne against thee, thou knowest it: yet thou knowest also, that I desire to walke humbly and peaceably with my brethren, and in all meekenesse, submissenesse, and quietnesse of spirit, toge∣ther with all diligence, I will waite till thou shalt further reveale thy minde to me. But Lord, in the meane time I find rigid dealing from my brethren; their spirits are imbittered, their speeches are hard, their wayes tomards me are harsh, yea Lord there is violence in them; Lord, thou knowest my spirit is not such as to need any such carriage of my brethren towards me; I am not conscious to my selfe (no not when I set my selfe most solemnly in thy presence) of stifnesse, wilfulnesse in my way; the least beame of light from thee, would presently turne my spirit what way thou wouldst have it goe.

Such a moan to God would prove a sadder business against such as shall occasion it, then if such men had strength and spirits to answer bitternesse, harshnesse, and violence, with bitternesse, harshnesse, and violence.

[ 1] Let me also on the other side speak to them who plead their consciences.*

First, take heed you rest not in this as an empty plea, setting it as a Bulwark against any thing that shal be said to you: why, Page  41 it is my conscience, and who hath to do with my conscience? and so think you need look no farther, nor give any other ac∣count to your Brethren then this: This is to abuse your con∣science, and the indulgence of God, and the respect he would have men shew to the consciences of his people; this is a hard∣ning conscience against the truth, no true tenderness of it.

Secondly, If Conscience be such a thing as none must have [ 2] the power over it but God, such a thing wherein thou hast to deal so much with God, thou hadst need keep it very clean; it is above all creatures, next to God, take heed of defiling it, oh keep it pure: Unclean consciences are good enough to pro∣strate to men, but consciences reserved for God need be kept unspotted and very clean. Doves love white houses, the holy Ghost loves a pure conscience.

Thirdly, thou wilt have none to commaud thy conscience, [ 3] let conscience then command thee; if thou wilt rebell against thy conscience, it is just with God to suffer men to tyrannize over thy conscience. When you complain of men seeking to have power over your consciences, lay your hand upon your heart, and say, Have not I rebelled against my conscience? I have resisted the power of it over me, just therefore it is that others should seeke to bring it under their power.