Jeremy Taylor.

The whole works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor (Volume 11) online

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me eo fortuna perducet, ut hanc vocem audiam, Quid mihi
volui? quid mihi mine prodest bona voluntas? Prodest et in
equuleo, prodest et in igne. Qui si singulis membris admo-
veatur, et paulatira vivum corpus circumeat ; lieet ipsum
corpus plenum bona conscientia stillet ; placebit illi ignis,
per quern bona fides collucebit ; A good conscience loses
nothing of its confidence and peace for all the tortures of the
world. The rack, the fire, shall not make it to repent and
say, What have I purchased ? But its excellence and integrity
shall be resplendent in the very flames." And this is the
meaning of the proverb used by the Levantines, ' Heaven and
hell are seated in the heart of man.' As his conscience is,
so he is happy, or extremely miserable. " What other men
say of us, is no more than what other men dream of us,"
said St. Gregory Nazianzen ; b it is our conscience that
accuses or condemns to all real events and purposes.

26. And now all this is nothing but a persuasion partly
natural, partly habitual, of this proposition which all the
nations, and all the men in the world, have always entertained
as the band of all their religion, and private transactions of
justice and decency, " Deum remuneratorem esse," that
" God is a just rewarder " of all actions. I sum up the pre-
mises in the words of the orator : " Magna vis est conscientiae,
judices, et magna in utramque partem ; ut neque timearit
qui nihil commiserint ; et poenam semper ante oculos versari
putent, qui peccarint." c On either side conscience is mighty
and powerful, to secure the innocent, and to afflict the

27. But beyond these offices now described, conscience
poes sometimes only counsel a thing to be done ; that is,
according to its instruction, so it ministers to holiness. If
God hath put a law into our minds, conscience will force
obedience, or make us to suffer for our disobedience ; but if
a proposition, tending to holiness and its advantages, be
intrusted to the conduct of conscience, then it presses it by
all its proper inducements, by which it was laid up there,
and leaves the spirit of a man to his liberty ; but if it be not
followed, it upbraids our weaknesses, and chides our follies,

b Orat. 25. Cicero pro Milone, 23, 3. Wetzel, p. 254.


and reproves our despising holy degrees, and greater excel-
lences of glory laid up for loving and willing spirits. Such
as is that of Clemens Alexandrinus, d in the matter of an
evangelical counsel ; Oi^ a^a^ram fj,sv Kara. biadr,Ki)v' ou ya
<ffgb$ rmJ VO/AGU' o'j crX]|or 8s r5jj ri ilayyiXiov
xar' sxiraffiv, rtf.uorqra' " He that does SO and SO,
sins not ; for he is not forbidden by the law of the Gospel ;
but yet he falls short of the perfection that is designed and
propounded to voluntary and obedient persons." To sum
up this :

28. When St. Paul had reproved the endless genea-
logies of the Gnostics and Platonists, making circles of
the same things, or of divers whose difference they under-
stood not ; as intelligence, fear, majesty, wisdom, magnifi-
cence, mercy, victory, kingdom, foundation, God, and such
unintelligible stuff which would make fools stare and wise
men at a loss ; he subjoins a short, but a more discernible
genealogy, and conjugation of things to our purpose : " The
end of the commandment is love out of a pure heart, and a
good conscience, and faith unfeigned:"' that is, out of an
unfeigned faith proceeds a good conscience ; that is, absti-
nence from sin ; and from thence comes purity of heart, or a
separation from the trifling regards of the world, and all affec-
tions to sin ; and these all end in charity : that is, in peace,
in joy, and the fruition and love of God, in unions and con-
templations in the bosom of eternity. So that faith is the
first mover in the understanding part, and the next is con-
science ; and they both purify the heart from false persuasions,
and evil affections ; and then they join to the production of
love and of felicity.

Thus far are the Nature and Offices of Conscience : it will
concern us next, to consider by what general mea-
sures we are to treat our conscience, that it may
be useful to us in all the intentions of it, and in the
designs of God.

d Stromat. lib. iv.

1 Tim. i. 5. 2 Tim. i. 3 ; ii. 22. Heb. ix. 14 ; x.*2 ; xiii. 18. Acts.xv. 9.



Be careful that Prejudice or Passion, Fancy and Affection,
Error or Illusion, lie not mistaken for Conscience.

1. NOTHING is more usual, than to pretend conscience to all
the actions of men which are public, and whose nature can-
not be concealed. If arms be taken up in a violent war,
inquire of both sides, why they engage on that part respect-
ively ; they answer because of their conscience. Ask a
schismatic why he refuses to join in the communion of the
Church ; he tells you, it is against his conscience : and the
disobedient refuse to submit to laws ; and they also, in many
cases, pretend conscience. Nay, some men suspect their
brother of a crime, and are persuaded, as they say, in con-
science that he did it : and their conscience tells them that
Titius did steal their goods, or that Caia is an adulteress.
And so suspicion, and jealousy, and disobedience, and rebel-
lion, are become conscience ; in which there is neither know-
ledge, nor revelation, nor truth, nor charity, nor reason, nor
religion. " Quod volumus, sanctum est," was the proverb of
Sichonius and the Donatists.

Nemo suae mentis motus non aestimat aequos,
Quodque volunt homines, se bene velle putant.'

Every man's way seems right in his own eyes ; and what they
think is not against conscience, they think, or pretend to
think, it is an effect of conscience : and so their fond per-
suasions and fancies are made sacred, and conscience is pre-
tended, and themselves and every man else is abused. But
in these cases and the like, men have found a sweetness in
it to serve their ends upon religion, and because conscience
is the religious understanding, or the mind of a man as it
stands dressed in and for religion, they think that some
sacredness or authority passes upon their passion or design,
if they call it conscience.

2. But by this rule it is intended that we should observe
the strict measures of conscience. For an illusion may
make a conscience, that is, may oblige by its directive and
compulsive power. Conscience is like a king, whose power
and authority are regular, whatsoever counsel he follows.

f Prosper. Epigr. de Cohibenda Ira.


And although he may command fond things, being abused
by flatterers, or misinformation, yet the commandment issues
from a just authority, and therefore equally passes into a law ;
so it is in conscience. If er"ror or passion dictates, the king
is misinformed, but the inferiors are bound to obey ; and we
may no more disobey our conscience commanding of evil
things, than we may disobey our king enjoining things
imprudent and inconvenient. But therefore this rule gives
caution to observe the information and inducement, and if
we can discern the abuse, then the evil is avoided. For
this governor ' conscience' is tied to laws, as kings are to
the laws of God and nations, to justice and charity ; and
a man's conscience cannot be malicious ; his will may ; but
if the error be discovered, the conscience, that is, the prac-
tical understanding, cannot. For it is impossible for a man
to believe what himself finds to be an error : and when we
perceive our conscience to be misguided, the deception is at
an end. And therefore to make up this rule complete, we
ought to be strict and united to our rule ; for by that only
we can be guided, and by the proportions to it we can dis-
cern right and wrong, when we walk safely, and when we
walk by false fires. Concerning which, besides the direct
survey of the rule and action, and the comparing each other,
we may, in cases of doubt and suspicion, be helped by the
following measures.

Advices for tlic Practice of the former Rule.

3. (1.) \Vearetosuspectourconsciencetobemisinformed,
when we are not willing to inquire into the particulars. He
that searches, desires to find, and so far takes the right
course : for truth can never hurt a man, though it may pre-
judice his vice, and his affected folly. In the inquiries after
truth, every man should have a traveller's indifference, wholly
careless whether this or that be the right way, so he may
find it. For we are not to choose the way because it looks
fair, but because it leads surely. And to this purpose, the
most hearty and particular inquest is most prudent and
effective. But we are afraid of truth when we will not inquire,
that is, when the truth is against our interest or passion, our
lust or folly, that is, seemingly against us, in the present
Indisposition of our affairs.

4. (2.) He that resolves upon the conclusion before the


premises, inquiring into particulars to confirm his opinion
at a venture, not to shake it if it be false, or to establish it
only in case it be true, unless he be defended by chance, is
sure to mistake, or at least can never be sure whether he
does or no.

This is to be understood in all cases to be so, unless the par-
ticular unknown be secured by a general that is known. He
that believes Christ's advocation and intercession for us in
heaven upon the stock of Scripture, cannot be prejudiced by
this rule, although, in the inquiries of probation and argu-
ments of the doctrine, he resolve to believe nothing that
shall make against his conclusion ; because he is ascertained
by a proposition that cannot fail him. The reason of this
exception is this, because in all discourses which are not
perfectly demonstrative, there is one lame supporter, which
must be helped out by the better leg ; and the weaker part
does its office well enough, if it can bring us to a place
where we may rest ourselves and rely. He that cannot
choose for himself, hath chosen well enough, if he can
choose one that can choose for him ; and when he hath, he
may prudently rely upon such a person in all particulars,
where he himself cannot judge, and the other can, or he
thinks he can, and cannot well know the contrary. It is easier
to judge of the general lines of duty, than of minutes and
particulars : and travellers that are not well skilled in all the
little turnings of the ways, may confidently rely upon a guide
whom they choose out of the natives of the place ; and if he
understands the coast of the country, he may well harden his
face against any vile person, that goes about wittily to per-
suade him he must go the contrary wav, though he cannot
answer his arguments to the contrary A man may pru-
dently and piously hold a conclusion, which he cannot de-
fend against a witty adversary, if he have one strong hold
upon which he may rely for the whole question ; because he
derives his conclusion from the best ground he hath, and takes
the wisest course he can, and uses the best means he can get,
and chooses the safest ways that are in his power. No man
is bound to do better than his best.

5. (3.) Illusion cannot be distinguished from conscience,
if, in our search, we take a wrong course and use incompetent
instruments. He that will choose to follow the multitude


which easily errs, rather than the wise guides of souls ; and
a man that is his partner in the question, rather than him
that is disinterested ; and them that speak by chance, rather
than them who have studied the question ; and a man of
another profession, rather than him whose office and employ-
ment it is to answer, hath no reason to be confident he shall
be well instructed. John Nider 8 tells an apologue well enough
to this purpose : Two brethren travelling together, whereof
one was esteemed wise, and the other little better than a fool,
came to a place where the way parted. The foolish brother
espying one of them to be fair and pleasant, and the other
dirty and uneven, would needs go that way, though his wiser
brother told him, that in all reason that must needs be the
wrong way ; but he followed his own eyes, not his brother's
reason : and his brother being more kind than wise, though
against his reason, followed his foolish brother ; they went
on till they fell into the hands of thieves, who robbed them,
and imprisoned them till they could redeem themselves with
a sum of money. These brothers accuse each other before
the king as author of each other's evil. The wiser complain-
ed that his brother would not obey him, though he was
known to be wiser, and spake reason. The other complained
of him for following him that was a fool, affirming, that he
would have returned back, if he had seen his wise brother
confident, and to have followed his own reason. The king
condemned them both : the fool, because he did not follow
the direction of the wise ; and the wise, because he did fol-
low the wilfulness of the fool. So will God deal with us at
the day of judgment in the scrutinies of conscience. If ap-
petite refuses to follow reason, and reason does not refuse to
follow appetite, they have both of them taken incompetent
courses, and shall perish together. It was wisely said of
Brutus' 1 to Cicero, "Malo tuum judicium, quam ex altera
parte omnium istorum. Tu enim a certo sensu et vero judi-
cas de nobis; quod isti ne faciant, summa malevolentia et
livore impediuntur; I prefer thy judgment singly, before
all theirs, because thou judgest by intuition of the thing;
they cannot do that, being hindered by envy and ill-will."
The particulars of reducing this advice to practice in all spe-
cial cases, I shall afterward enumerate ; for the present I say
this only, that a man may consent to an evil authority, and
In Lavacro Conscient. h Lib. xi. Famil. Epist. 10. Cortius, p. 570.


rest in a false persuasion, and be conducted by an abused
conscience, so long as the legislative reason is not conjoined
to the judge conscience, that is, while by unapt instruments
we suffer our persuasions to be determined.

6. (4.) That determination is to be suspected, that does
apparently serve an interest, and but obscurely serve a pious
end :

Utile quod nobis, do tibi consilium '

When that appears, and nothing else appears, the resolution or
counsel is to be considered warily before it be pursued. It
is a great allay to the confidence of the bold talkers in the
Church of Rome, and hinders their gain and market of pros-
elytes from among the wise and pious very much that most
of their propositions, for which they contend so earnestly
against the other parts of Christendom, do evidently serve
the ends of covetousness and ambition, of power and riches,
and therefore stand vehemently suspected of design and art,
rather than of piety or truth of the article, or designs upon
heaven. I instance in the pope's power over princes and all
the world ; his power of dispensation ; the exemption of the
clergy from jurisdiction of secular princes ; the doctrine of
purgatory and indulgences, by which once the friars were
set a-work to raise a portion for a lady, the niece of Pope
Leo X. ; the doctrine of transubstantiation, by the effects
and consequence of which, the priests are made greater than
angels, and next to God ; and so is also that heap of doc-
trines, by the particulars of which the ecclesiastical power
is far advanced beyond the authority of any warrant from
Scripture, and is made highly instrumental for procuring ab-
solute obedience to the papacy. In these things, every man
with half an eye can see the temporal advantage; but how
piety and truth shall thrive in the meanwhile, no eye hath
yet been so illuminate as to perceive. It was the advice of
Ben Sirach, k " Consult not with a woman touching her of
whom she is jealous ; neither with a coward in matters of
war ; nor with a merchant concerning exchange ; nor with a
buyer, of selling; nor with an envious man, of thankfulness ;
nor with an unmerciful man touching kindness ; nor with the
slothful, for any work ; nor with the hireling, for a year of

1 Partial, v. 20, 18. k Ecclus. xxxvii. 11.


finishing work; nor with an idle servant, of much business;
hearken not unto these in any matter of counsel." These
will counsel by their interest, not for thy advantage.

But it is possible that both truth and interest may be
conjoined ; and when a priest preaches to the people the ne-
cessity of paying tithes, where they are by law appointed, or
Avhen a poor man pleads for charity, or a man in debt urges
the excellence of forgetfulness ; the truth which they dis-
course of, cannot be prejudiced by their proper concern-
ments. For if the proposition serves the ends in religion,
in providing for their personal necessities, their need makes
the instances still the more religious, and the things may
otherwise be proved. But when the end of piety is obscure,
or the truth of the proposition is uncertain, then observe the
bias ; and if the man's zeal be bigger than the certainty of the
proposition, it is to be estimated by the interest, and to be
used accordingly.

But this is not to prejudice him that gives the counsel;
for although the counsel is to be suspected, yet the man is
not, unless by some other indications he betray himself. For
he may be heartily and innocently persuaded of the thing he
counsels, and the more easily and aptly believe that, against
which himself did less watch, because he quickly perceived it
could not be against himself.

Add to this, the counsel is the less to be suspected, if
it be asked, than if it be offered. But this is a consideration
of prudence, not of conscience directly.

7. (5.) If the proposition serve or maintain a vice, or lessen
a virtue, it is certainly not conscience, but error and abuse ;
because no truth of God can serve God's enemy directly, or
by its own force and persuasion. But this is to be under-
stood only in case the answer does directly minister to sin,
not if it does so only accidentally. Q. Furius is married to
Valeria; but she being fierce and imperious, quarrelsome and
loud, and he peevish and fretful, turns her away that he
might have peace and live in patience. But being admonished
by Hortensius the orator, to take her again, he asked counsel
of the priests, and they advise him to receive her. lie an-
swers, that then he cannot live innocently, but in a perpetual
state of temptation, in which he daily falls. The priest re-
plies, that it is his own fault ; let him learn patience, and


prudence ; for his fault in this instance is no warranty to
make him neglect a duty in another; and he answered rightly.
If he had counselled him to drink intemperately to make hirn
forget his sorrow, or to break her bones to make her silent,
or to keep company with harlots to vex her into compliance,
his counsel had ministered directly to sin, and might not be

8. (6.) Besides the evidence of the thing, and a direct
conformity to the rule, to be judged by every sober person,
or by himself in his wits, there is ordinarily no other collateral
assurance, but an honest, hearty endeavour in our proportion,
to make as wise inquiries as we can, and to get the best helps
which are to be had by us, and to obey the best we do make
use of. To which (because a deception may tacitly creep
upon our very simplicity) if we add a hearty prayer, we shall
certainly be guided through the labyrinth, and secured against
ourselves, and our own secret follies. This is the counsel of
the Son of Sirach ;' " Above all this, pray to the Most High,
that he will direct thy way in truth."


The Conscience of a vicious Man is an evil Judge, and an
imperfect Rule.

1. THAT I mean the superior and inferior part of conscience,
is therefore plain, because the rule notes how the acts of con-
science may be made invalid both as it is a ruler, and as it is
a judge. But, according to the several offices, this truth hath
some variety.

2. (1.) The superior part of conscience, or the o-uvT-^rf/j,
repository of practical principles (which, for use and brevity's
sake, I shall call the phylactery), or the keeper of records ;
that is, that part which contains in it all the natural and
reasonable principles of good actions (such as are, God is to
be worshipped, Do to others as they should do to thee,
The pledge is to be restored, By doing harm to others thou
must not procure thy own good, and the like), is always a

1 Ecclus. xiivii. 15.


certain and regular judge in the prime principles of reason
and religion, so long as a man is in his wits, and hath the
natural use of reason. For those things which are first im-
printed, which are universal principles, which are consented
to by all men without a teacher, those which Aristotle calls
xotvag swofag, those are always the last removed, and never
without the greatest violence and perturbation in the world.
But it is possible for a man to forget his name and his
nature : a lycanthropy made Nebuchadnezzar to do so, and
a fever made a learned Greek do so : but so lon^ as a man's


reason is whole, not destroyed by its proper disease, that is,
so long as a man hath the use of reason, and can and will
discourse, so long his conscience will teach him the general
precepts of duty ; for they are imprinted in his nature, and
there is nothing natural to the soul, if reason be not ; and
no reason is, unless its first principles be ; and those first
principles are most provided for, which are the most perfec-
tive of a man, and necessary to his well-being, and those are
such which concern the intercourse between God and man,
and between men in the first and greatest lines of their
society. The very opening of this chain is sufficient proof;
it is not necessary to intricate it by offering more testimony.
3. (2.) But then these general principles are either to be
considered as they are habitually incumbent on the mind, or
as actually applied to practice. In the former sense they
can never be totally extinguished, for they are natural, and
will return whenever a man ceases from suffering his greatest
violence ; and those violences which are so destructive of
nature, as this must be that makes a man forget his being,
will fall off upon every accident and change. " Difficile est
personam diu sustinere." But then when these principles
come to be applied to practice, a strong vice and a malicious
heart can draw a veil over them, that they shall not then
appear to disorder the sensual resolution. A short madness,
and a violent passion, or a fit of drunkenness, can make a man
securely sin by incogitancy, even when the action is in the
manner of a universal principle. INo man can be brought to
that pass, as to believe that God ought not to be honoured ;
but supposing there is a God, it is unavoidable that this God
must be honoured ; but a transient and unnatural violence
intervening in a particular case, suspends the application of



that principle, and makes the man not to consider his rule ;
and there he omits to worship and honour his God in many
particulars to which the principle is applicable. But this dis-
course is coincident with that question, Whether conscience
may be totally lost ? of which I have already given accounts. 01
That and this will give light to each other.

4. (3.) But further, there are also some principles which
are indeed naturally known, that is, by principles of natural
reason : but because they are not the immediate principles
of our creation and proper being, they have the same truth,
and the same seat, and the same certainty, but not the same
prime evidence and connaturality to the soul ; and therefore
these may be lost or obscured to all purposes of usefulness,
and their contradictories may be admitted into the rule of
conscience. Of this nature, I reckon, that fornication, vio-
lent and crafty contracts, with many arts of deception, and
overreaching our brother, theft, incest in some kinds, drunk-
enness, and the like, are to be avoided. For concerning
these, it is certain that some whole nations have so abused
their conscience by evil manners, that the law in their mind
hath been cancelled, and these things have passed for lawful.
And to this day, that duels may be fought by private persons,
and authority, is a thing so practised by a whole sort of men,
that it is believed ; and the practice, and the belief of the
lawfulness of it. are interchangeably daughter and mother to
each other. These are such of whom the apostle speaks,"

Online LibraryJeremy TaylorThe whole works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor (Volume 11) → online text (page 39 of 50)