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II. Now, from these Distinctions, I shall lay down several POSITIONS, concerning the limitation of our obligation to abstain from all appearance of evil.
i. WE OUGHT, IN NO CASE WHATSOEVER, TO DO THAT, WHICH HATH AN APPEARANCE OF EVIL IN IT, IF THAT APPEARANACE BE GROUNDED UPON A PROBABLE PRESUMPTION.
1. Now, to explain this, an action then carries in it a probable presumption of being evil, either,
(1) When, ordinarily, it proves an occasion of evil.
Such actions there be, that are in themselves possibly lawful: but yet they prove occasions of sin to most, that venture upon them; because, thereby, many times they are brought within the verge and compass of a temptation, which temptation overcomes them. It was not simply unlawful in itself, for Achan to look upon the Babylonish garment and the wedge of gold: but yet, thereby the Devil got an advantage upon him, and made that an occasion to stir up his covetousness; and, therefore, because it was probably to be feared and presumed that this might be an occasion of sin to him, therefore he ought to have refrained even his very eyes from looking upon them.
(2) When an action is ordinarily done to an evil end, then it hath in it the appearance of evil, grounded upon a probable presumption.
Thus, to enter silently into another man's house in the dead of the night, carries in it a presumption of theft: and to enter into the temples of idols at the time of idolatrous worship, carries in it a presumption of idolatry: and so our intimacy, familiarity, and friendship with those that are wicked, is a grounded presumption that we are like them, and that we do as they do. And the reason of this is, because, when we do those actions that commonly tend to a bad and sinful end, it is an ill sign, that we intend the end itself to which those actions lead.
2. Now from every such appearance of evil, we ought, in all cases, to abstain: and that, for these Two following reasons.
(1) Because all such appearances of evil always prove scandals unto others.
A scandal is twofold; either the scandal of sin, or the scandal of sorrow. Now this venturing upon the presumed appearance of evil, proves a scandal in both respects: it proves a scandal of sin to the weak; and it proves a scandal of sorrow to the strong.
 It proves a scandal of sin to the weak.
Then are we said to give a scandal of sin, when we do any thing, that tends naturally to bring others into the commission of sin. But the very appearance of sin in us may lead others to the practice of sin: when a weak Christian sees us run into those things that are occasions of sin, he also thinks he may lawfully venture as far as we do; and, venturing, because possibly he is weaker than we are, he is ensnared and entrapped in those sins, to the occasions of which we led him by our example.
 It proves also a scandal of sorrow to strong Christians.
They see such probable signs and presumptions of sin in us, that they justly conclude, that certainly we are guilty of those sins; and, thereby, their hearts also are saddened and grieved.
And that is the First Reason, why we must forbear all appearance of evil, that is built upon strong presumptions that we have indeed committed the evil.
(2) Another reason is, because all such occasions of sin and such appearances of sin have guilt in them also; as being against the same Commandment, which that sin violates and tends unto.
For the same Commandment, that forbids the sin itself, forbids all occasions and all appearances of that sin. That Commandment, that forbids theft, forbids also whatever may induce, though but remotely, thereunto: and that Commandment, that forbids adultery, forbids also all remote occasions thereof. Hence it is, that Solomon gives the young man that scrupulous caution against a strange woman, in Prov. v. 8. Come not nigh the door of her house. To pass by the door of her house, is not, in itself, unlawful: but yet, when this may be justly feared to prove an occasion of sin; or when, by going near a house, it may be strongly presumed by others, that we are guilty of any sin; then it must be carefully avoided and abstained from. So, again, when the wine looks red in the cup, Solomon bids us that we should not then look upon it. To look upon the wine in the cup, is not a thing that is unlawful: but because this may be an occasion of intemperance, and drunkenness, or the like; therefore, we must abstain from this very appearance and occasion of evil.
So, then, in the appearance of evil, there is not only the evil of scandal given to others, but there is also the evil of guilt in itself. And, therefore, let us all examine ourselves, what at any time hath proved a snare to us, and what hath been an oc
casion of sinning. Have you not often said it, and resolved it, that you would venture but so far and no farther; and, though you do approach near to sin, yet you will keep yourselves within your duty? and have you not found, that, when you have thus ventured upon the occasions of sin, you have stopped no where short of the commission of those sins? This is to put yourselves out of God's way, and to put yourselves from under his protection for God doth not usually keep them from the commission of sin, who do not keep themselves from the occasions and appearances of sin.
And, so much, for the First Position.
ii. But if, in case an action appears evil to a man's self, though this apprehension of it be wholly groundless, then I shall lay down this Second Position.
THOUGH AN ACTION BE IN ITSELF INDIFFERENT; YET IF IT APPEAR EVIL AND SINFUL TO US, WE OUGHT NOT, IN ANY CASE, WHILE THAT MIS-PERSUASION CONTINUES, TO VENTURE UPON THE DOING OF IT.
No, though by doing of it, we might avoid the greatest evil. Yea, we are rather, if Providence bring us to that sad choice, to lose our very lives, than to do any thing against the persuasions of our own consciences, though in itself it be not evil or sinful.
The reason of this is clear: because we are rather to choose the greatest affliction and suffering, than to commit the least
But to go contrary to the dictates and persuasions of our own consciences, this is sin: Rom. xiv. 23. Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin: that is, whatever a man doth, if he be not fully persuaded and convinced of the lawfulness thereof in his own conscience, that is a sin to him that ventures upon it while he is unsatisfied, though the thing in itself may be lawful. And he, that doubteth, says the Apostle, in the same verse, is damned if he eat: that is, though there be no real difference betwixt one kind of meat and another, but all are alike lawful; yet, if a scrupulous conscience put a difference betwixt them where there is none, and if it account it unlawful to eat of some sorts of meat, if, after this, a man ventures to eat them, hereby he sins, says the Apostle, and incurs damnation, by doing that against his conscience, that yet, were his conscience otherwise informed, were lawful for him to do. And so, in Rom. xiv. 20
For meat destroy not the work of God. All things are pure; but it is evil for him, who eateth with offence.
These and many other places clearly prove, that what is done against a man's own conscience is sinful to that man. Conscience hath the privilege of a negative vote in the soul: nothing can lawfully be done by us, but what hath the full consent and approbation of our consciences; and, though every thing we think is lawful doth not thereupon presently become lawful to us, yet what we think is unlawful doth thereupon become unlawful for us to do, and we ought, whatever the case be, wholly to abstain from the doing of it.
iii. IF THE ACTION, THAT WE JUDGE EVIL AND UNLAWFUL TO US, BE OUR DUTY, AND SO BECOMES NECESSARY TO US, THEN ARE WE UNDER A MOST SAD ENTANGLEMENT: WE SIN, IF WE DO IT ; AND WE SIN ALSO, UNLESS WE DO IT.
This is the unhappiness of many, that, through a misinformed conscience, they verily believe they ought to abstain from that, which is indeed their duty; and to do that, wherein they sin indeed if they do it.
And so Christ speaks of some, that thought verily they did God good service, when they persecuted and murdered his saints, in John xvi. 2. If they did not what they thought was good service to God, they sinned on that hand; and, yet, if they killed the saints, which they judged to be good service, they sinned on that hand also: so that they were entangled on both hands.
So is it in our days also. We have seen and known many, that thought it their duty to abstain from ordinances; yea, who thought it their duty to perform no duty at all to God. Now if these men abstain from them, they sin, in doing that, which is contrary to what God commands: if they use them, they sin too, because they do that, which is contrary to what conscience commands.
So that it is, indeed, the greatest plague and punishment in the world, for God to give men up to the power of an erroneous and misguided conscience.
Now it appears, that whatever a man doth against his conscience, be the action indifferent, or be the action his duty and so necessary; yet he sins. Which is evident in Two things.
1. Because there is no man, but thinks his conscience is rightly informed.
No man thinks his conscience erroneous: every one judges himself to be in the right, and to be rightly informed. Now, if he thus judges, and acts contrarily, he sins, because he intends to sin and, therefore, by crossing an erroneous conscience, though possibly he doth well in the action; yet he sins in intention, since he doth that, that he himself thinks doth cross the rule by which he should walk.
2. Another reason is this: because, by acting contrary to conscience, though misinformed and erroneous, we do contemn the authority and will of God; and, therefore, it is sin.
We are all to guide our consciences by the word, that is, God's written will; and we are all to guide our lives by our consciences. No man thinks his conscience to be erroneous; but thinks it to be according to the will of God. Now, if we do not act accordingly, we sin as much as if indeed it were informed according to the will of God. Conscience is God's deputy and vicegerent in the soul; and what conscience saith, we think it is God that commands, whether it be or not: and, to act contrary to it, is virtually and implicitly to disobey God; because we think what conscience speaks, God speaks. And, therefore, it it is very sad to fall under the entanglements of an erroneous conscience; for then we are under a sad necessity of sinning on both hands: if we act according to it, we sin; and if we act not according to it, we sin. We should, therefore, above all things, heartily beg and desire of God, who is the Lord of Conscience, that he would rightly inform our consciences in those things that are our duties; that so, by guiding our lives by our consciences, we may guide them also according to his will.
These Three Positions respect those things that appear evil to ourselves.
iv. But there are other things, that have a good appearance unto us, that yet may have an evil appearance to others. They may scruple, and be offended at what we do, though, for our own parts, we ourselves are sufficiently satisfied in the lawfulness of it.
And, indeed, our times, what through different customs and interests, have brought men's consciences also to such different sizes, that it is utterly impossible, but some will condemn what others allow as lawful; yea, what others not only allow, but stiffly maintain to be necessary and our duty.