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account, they shall be beaten with fewer stripes thaw others: They shall not wholly escape, because they were not wholly ignorant; but by how much they had less knowledge than others, by so much their punishment shall be lighter.
And there is all the equity in the world it should' be so, that men should be accountable according to what they have received,and that to whom less is given,less should be required at their hands. The scripture hath told us, that God will judge tbt world in righteousness ; now justice does require, that in taxing the punishment of offenders, every thing should be considered that may be a just excuse and extenuation: os their crimes, and that accordingly their punishment should be abated. Now the greatest extenuation of any fault is ignorance, which when it proceeds from no fault of ours, no- fault can proceedfrom it ; so that so far as any man is innocently ignorant of his duty, so far he is excusable for the neglect of it : for every degree of ignorance takes oft' so much from the perverseness of the will ; V nihil ardet in inferno, ni[i propria voluntas; " No"thing is punished in hell, but what is voluntary, ** and proceeds from our wills."
1 do not intend this discourse for any commendation of ignorance, or encouragement to it. For knowledge hath many advantages above it, and is much more desirable,ifweuseitwell; and if we do not, it is our own fault. If we be not wanting to ourselves, we may be much happier by our knowledge, than any man can be by his ignorance ; for though ignorance may plead an excuse, yet it can hope forno reward; and it is always better to need no excuse, than to have the best in the world ready at hand to plead for ourselves. Besides, that we may do well to consider, that ignorance is no where an excuse where it is cherished 5 so that it would be the vainest thing in the world for any man to foster it, in hopes thereby toexcuse himself; for where it is wilful and chosen, it is a fault, and (as I said before) it is the most unreasonable thing in the world, that any man's fault siioflld-proYe his excuse. So that this can be no enL 1 3 cou>couragement to ignorance, to fay that it extenuates the faults of men : for it does not extenuate them, whenever it is wilful and affected ; and whenever it is designed and chosen, it is wilful; and then no man can reasonably design to continue ignorant, that he ni.iy have an excuse for his faults, because then the ignorance is wilful, and whenever it is so, it ceaseth to be an excuse.
I the rather speak this, because ignorance hath had the good fortune to meer with great patrons in the world, and to be extolled, though not upon this account, yet upon another, for which there is less pretence of reason ; as if it were the mother of devor tion. Of superstition I grant it is, and of this we fee plentiful proof, among those who are so careful to preserve and cherish it: but that true piety and devotion should spring from it, is as unlikely, as that darkness should produce light. I do hope indeed, and charitably believe, that the ignorance in which some are detained by their teachers and governors, will be a real excuse, to as many of them as are otherwise honest and sincere ; but I doubt not, but the errors and faults which proceed from this ignorance, will ly heavy upon those who keep them in it. 1 proceed to the
Second observation, That the greater'advantages and opportunities any man hath ot knowing the will of Godj and his duty, the greater will be his condemnation if he do not do it. The servant which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to it, shall be beaten with many stripes. Which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself; the preparation of our mind to do the will of God, whenever there is occasion and opportunity for it, is accepted with him. A will rightly disposed to obev God, though it be not brought into act for want of opportunity, does not lose its reward : but when, notwithstanding we know our Lord's will, there arc neither of these, neither the act, nor the preparation and resolution of doing it, what punishment may we not expect?
The just God, in punishing the sins of men, pro
posr portions the punishment to the crime, and where the crime is greater, the punishment riseth; as amongst the Jews, where the crime was small, the malefactor was sentenced to a few stripes ; where it was great, he was beaten with many. Thus our Saviour repreferns the great Judge of the world dealing with sinners ; according as their sins are aggravated, he will add to their punishment. Now after all the aggravations of sin, there is none that doth more intrinsically heighten the malignity of it, than when it is committed against the clear knowledge of our duty, and that upon these three accounts:
First, Because the knowledge of God's will is so great an advantage to the doing of it. , .
Secondly, Because it is a great obligation upon us to the doing of it.
Thirdly, Because the neglect of our duty in this case, cannot be without a great deal of wilfulnefs and contempt. I shall speak briefly to these three.
First, Because the knowledge of God's will is so great an advantage to the doing of it ; and every advantage of doing our duty, is a certain aggravation of our neglect of it. And this is the reason which our Saviour adds here in the text, For to whomsoever much is given, of them much will be required \ and to whom men have committed much, of htm they will ask the more. It was, no doubt, a great dis* couragement and disadvantage to the Heathen, that they were so doubtful concerning the will of God, and in many cases left to the uncertainty of their own reason, by what way and means they might best apply themselves to the pleasing of him ; and this discouraged several of the wisest of them from all serious endeavours in religion, thinking it as good to do nothing, as to be mistaken about it. Others that were more naturally devout, and could not satisfy their consciences without some expressions of religion, fell into various superstitions, and were ready to embrace any way of worship which custom prescribed, or the fancies of men could suggest to> them ; and hence sprang all the stupid and barbarous idolatries of the Heathen, for ignorance growing
uponself in those foolish and abominable idolatries, which were practised among the Heathen.
And is it not then a mighty advantage to us, that we have the clear and certain direction of divine revelation > We have the will of God plainly discovered to us, and all the parts of our duty clearly defined and determined, so that no man, that is in any measure free from interest and preiudice, can eahly mistake in any great and material part of his duty. We have the nature of GoJ plainly revealed to us, and such a character of him given, as is most suitable to our natural conceptions of a Deity, as render him both awful and amiable; for the scripture represents him to us as greatandgood, powerful and merciful, a perfect hater of sin, and a great lover of mankind ; and we have the law and manner of his worship, (so far as was needful) and the rules of a good life clearly expressed and laid down; and as a powerful motive and argument to the obedience of those laws, a plain discovery made to US of the endless rewards and punishments of another world. And is not this a mighty advantage to the doing of God's will, to have it so plainly declared to us, and so powerfully enforced upon us ? so that our duty lies plainly before us ; we fee what we have to do, and the danger of neglecting it ; so that considering the advantage we have of doing God's will, by our clear knowledge of it, we are altogether inexcusable if we do it not.
Secondly, The knowledge of our Lord's will is
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it. For what ought in reason to oblige us more to do any thing, than to be fully assured that it is the will of God, and that it is the law of the great Sovereign of the world, who is able to save, or to destroy \ That it is the pleasure of him that made us, and who hath declared that he designs to make us happy, by our obedience to his laws > So that if we know these things to- be the will of God, we have
obligation upon us to the doing of
the the greatest obligation to do them, whether we consider the authority of God, or our own interest; and if we neglect them, we have nothing to fay in our own excuse. We know the law, and the advantage of keeping it, and the penalty of breaking it j and if aster this we will transgress, there is no apology to be made for us. They have something to plead for theinfelves, who can fay, that though they had some apprehension of some parts of their duty, and their minds were apt to dictate to them that they ought to do some things, yet the different apprehensions of mankind about several of these things, and the doubts and uncertainties of their own minds concerning them, made them easy to be carried off from their duty, by the vicious inclinations of their own nature, and the tyranny of custom and example, and the pleasant temptations of flesh and blood. But had they had a clear and undoubted revelation from God, and had certainly known these things to be his will, this would have conquered and born down all objections and temtations to the contrary ; or, if it had not, would ave stopt their mouths, and taken away all excuse from them. There is some colour in this plea, that in many 'cases they did not know certainly what the will of God was: 15ut for us who own a clear revelation from God, and profess to believe it, what can we fay for ourselves, to mitigate the severity of God towards us ; why he should not pour forth all his wrath, and execute upon us the fierceness of his anger }
Thirdly, The neglect of God's will, when we know it, cannot be without a great deal of wilfulness and contempt. If we know it, and do it not, the fault is solely in our wills; and the more wilful any sin is, the more heinoufly wicked is it. There can hardly be a greater aggravation of a crime, than if it proceed from mere obstinacy and perverseness ; and if we know it to be our Lord's will and do it not, we are guilty of the highest contempt of the greatest authority in the world. And do we think this to be but a small aggravation, to affront