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If old men will dispute, let them look to it; that is meat for the strong indeed, though it be not very nutritive; but the laws and the counsels, the exhortations and the doctrines of our spiritual rulers, are the measures, by which God hath appointed babes in Christ to become men, and the weak to become strong; and they that are not to be received to doubtful disputations, are to be received with the arms of love, into the embraces of a certain and regular obedience.
But it would be considered, that 'tenderness of conscience'is an equivocal term, and does not always signify in a good sense. For a child is of tender flesh; but he whose foot is out of joint, or hath a bile in his arm, or hath strained a sinew, is much more tender. The tenderness of age is that weakness, that is in the ignorant and the new beginners : the tenderness of a bile,- that is soreness indeed, rather than tenderness,-is of the diseased, the abused, and the mispersuaded. The first, indeed, are to be tenderly dealt with, and have usages accordingly; but that is the same I have already told; you must teach them, you must command them, you must guide them, you must choose for them, you must be their guardians, and they must comport themselves accordingly. But for that tenderness of conscience, which is the disease and soreness of conscience, it
must be cured by anodynes and soft usages, unless they prove ineffective, and that the lancet may be necessary But there are amongst us such tender stomachs that cannot endure milk, but can very well digest iron; consciences so tender, that a ceremony is greatly offensive, but rebellion is not; a surplice drives them away, as a bird affrighted with a man of clouts, but their consciences can suffer them to despise government, and speak evil of dignities, and curse all that are not of their opinion, and disturb the peace of kingdoms, and commit sacrilege, and account schism the character of saints. The true tenderness of conscience is, 1. That which is impatient of a sin ; 2. It will not endure any thing that looks like it; and 3. It will not give offence. Now, since all sin is disobedience, 1. It will be rarely contingent that a man, in a Christian commonwealth, shall be tied to disobey, to avoid sin; and certain it is, if such a case could happen, yet 2. Nothing of our present question is so like a sin, as when we refuse to obey the laws. To stand in a clean vestment is not so ill a sight as to see men stand in separation; and to kneel at the communion, is not so like idolatry, as rebellion is to witchcraft. And then, 3. For the matter of 'giving offences,' what scandal is greater than that which scandalizes the laws ? And who is so carefully to be observed, lest
he be offended, as the King? And if that which offends the weak brother, is to be avoided, much more that which offends the strong; for this is certainly really criminal; but for the other, it is much odds but it is mistaken. And when the case is so put, between the obedient and the disobedient, which shall be offended, and one will,- I suppose there is no question but the laws will take more care of subjects than of rebels, and not weaken them in their duty, in compliance with those that hate the laws, and will not endure the government.
And after all this in the conduct of government, what remedy can there be to those, that call themselves tender consciences ? I shall not need to say, that every man can easily pretend it; for we have seen the vilest part of mankind, men that have done things so horrid, worse than which the sun never saw, yet pretend tender consciences against ecclesiastical laws. But I will suppose that they are really such; that they, in the simplicity of their hearts, follow Absalom, and in weakness hide their heads in little conventicles, and places of separation, for a trifle; what would they have done for themselves ?
If you make a law of order, and, in the sanction, put a clause of favour for tender consciences, do not you invite every subject to disobedience by impu
nity, and teach him how to make his own excuse ? Is not such a law, a law without an obligation? May not every man choose whether he will obey or no ? and if he pretends to disobey out of conscience, is not he that disobeys, equally innocent with the obedient; altogether as just, as not having done any thing without leave; and yet much more religious and conscientious ? • Quicunque vult,' is but an ill preface to a law; and it is a strange obligation, that makes no difference between him that obeys and him that refuses to obey.
But what course must be taken with tender consciences ?' Shall the execution of the law be suspended as to all such persons ? That will be all one with the former: for if the execution be commanded to be suspended, then the obligation of the law by command is taken away, and then it were better there were no law made. And indeed that is the pretension, that is the secret of the business; they suppose the best way to prevent disobedience is to take away all laws. It is a short way indeed; there shall then be no disobedience; but, at the same time, there shall be no government: but the remedy is worse than the disease; and to take away all wine and strong drink, to prevent drunkenness, would not be half so great a folly.
I cannot, therefore, tell what to advise in this
particular, but that every spiritual guide should consider who are tender consciences, and who are weak brethren, and use all the ways of piety and prudence to instruct and to inform them, that they may increase in knowledge and spiritual understanding. But they that will be always learning, and never come to the knowledge of the truth; they that will be children of a hundred years old, and never come to years of discretion; they are very unfit to guide others, and to be curates of souls : but they are most unfit to reprove the laws, and speak against the wisdom of a nation, when it is confessed that they are so weak that they understand not the fundamental liberty which Christ hath purchased for them, but are servants to a scruple, and affrighted at a circumstance, and in bondage under an indifferent thing, and so much idolaters of their sect or opinion, as to prefer it before all their own nobler interests, and the charity of their brother, and the peace of a whole church and nation.
To you, my Lords and Gentlemen, I hope I may say, as Marcus Curius said to a stubborn young man, “ Non opus esse eo cive reipublicæ, qui parere nesciret;" “ The kingdom hath no need of those, that know not how to obey.” But as for them who
a Val. Max. vi, 3, 4,