« PreviousContinue »
lawful gain with which he tempts us is the price he bids for it: and though sometimes he bids exceeding low, yet if we take his price, though it be but a penny, we thereby strike the fatal bargain, and by our own act and deed consign and deliver our souls to him to be his slaves here and his martyrs hereafter. And what greater madness can a man be guilty of, than to sell his soul and all his hopes of happiness for ever, for the trifling and momentary gains of an unjust action ?
III. Consider the manifest inexcusableness of injustice in itself: for, as I have shewed you at large, all justice between man and man is reducible to that general rule, Do as you would be done by ; i. e. Do all that good to others which you could reasonably expect they should do to you, if you were in their circumstances, and they in yours: and this is so
: plain a rule, that no man can plead ignorance of it, who doth not wilfully shut his own eyes. It is true, whilst laws, though never so plain and useful in themselves, are yet obscure and perplexed in their promulgation, or over-numerous, they may prove a snare rather than a guide, and make more controversies than they can decide, and lose much of their force by being spun out into nice and subtile disputes: they may fall short of their aim, by not being able to reach the greater part of those persons whom they designed to direct; who either have not leisure sufficient to attend to, or capacities to understand them, or sagacity to apply them in all opportunities of action. But as for this general rule of justice, it is always at hand, and we carry it about us in our own breasts: for this is the peculiar advantage of this rule, that by it we may very easily discern all the specialities of our duty, without looking abroad, or having recourse to external instructions. So that by it we may be perfect lawgivers, skilful judges, and faithful casuists to our own souls : for it is legible to those that have no letters, and lies open and obvious to the most rude and ignorant. We need not search ancient records or dark repositories, revolve and ruminate upon old sentences or new glosses, or rove about the world to examine the various customs and constitutions of countries; we need not soar to heaven or dive to hell in quest of our duty: for if we will but return into ourselves, and look into our own hearts, there we may find it copied and engraven in legible characters. For when any opportunity of dealing justly by another presents itself to us, it is but asking ourselves how we would be dealt by in the same circumstances ; and our answer to that is our duty to those we deal with. I know very well how I should expect to be used, if my neighbour and I had changed persons and circumstances : my own heart tells me, that I should think it reasonable to expect such measures from him, and that therefore he hath just reason to expect the same from me. So that in most cases of justice between man and man, every man, if he pleases, may be his own casuist : for it is but exchanging persons and circumstances with his neighbour, which is quickly done, and then applying this general rule to his particular dealings with him; and his own heart will soon tell him what he is to do, and very rarely, but never grossly, misinform him. For by thus changing the scales, and making another man's case my own, I take the fairest and readiest way to understand what is right and due to
him. For now to be sure my passion and self-interest will not incline me one way more than another; and even that selfishness which inclines me to wrong another man for my own advantage, will likewise render me unwilling, when the scales are changed, that another man should wrong me; and that selfconceit, which makes me apt to scorn and despise another, will make me unwilling to be scorned and despised myself: and so, when I consult myself how I would be dealt by, those very passions which incline me to wrong others will instruct me to right them. So that there is no rule in the world can be pressed with fewer encumbrances, or darkened with less intricacy; none that can lie open to larger use, or be readier to present application, or more obvious to all sizes of apprehension than this, which is the measure and standard of our dealings and intercourses with one another. So that there is no pleading ignorance to excuse or palliate any great violations of the laws of righteousness; since in all matters of moment every man may easily understand how he ought to deal by every man, if he would but take care to consult the oracle in his own breast, and ask himself how he would expect to be dealt by, were he placed in the circumstances of those he deals with. And when men will not understand their duty, when it lies so plainly before them, or will not do their duty, when they do understand it, what colour of excuse can be made for them? Were the rule of our duty so obscure as that we could not easily apprehend it, the weakness of our understanding might partly excuse the error of our wills, and render it pitiable and pardonable, though not altogether innocent; but when it lies so
full in our view, as that we cannot but discern it, if we will but open our eyes, and fairly consult our own minds and thoughts, our understanding is acquitted, and our will only is chargeable with our folly and wickedness: so that now we sin at our own peril, and leap headlong into mischief with our eyes open. But as for injustice, the guilt of it is so open and visible, that however our other sins may be excused by our ignorance, and mitigated or connived at upon the seore of the natural defects of our understanding, this can admit of no cloak or extenuation; because whenever a man deals unjustly by another, his conscience will be sure to tell him (if he puts the question to it) that he would not be so dealt with, were the case and circumstances his
So that when we come to give up our accounts at the tribunal of God, and to answer for our unrighteous dealings with one another, they will so stare us in the face, that we shall be able to make no excuse or apology for them; but our own consciences will be forced to cry Guilty, Guilty, to anticipate our doom, and, when it is past, to approve and second it with a Just and righteous art thou, O Lord, in all thy ways. For when the rule of jus
. tice lies so very plain, and open to our very faculties, what can be said, if we do unjustly, but that we are obstinate and wilful and incorrigible robbers, that can claim no indulgence, deserve no pity, and pretend to no mitigation of our stripes, since we knew our Master's will, and did it not?
IV. Consider the fruitlessness and mischievousness of unjust dealing to ourselves. For the usual bait of injustice is gain and profit; we deplume our neighbour's wings with an intent to feather our own nests, and invade other men's properties to enrich ourselves with their spoils. This is the common game that fraud and oppression pursues and flies at; though usually they fly short or beyond it, and instead of enriching men, do finally damage and impoverish them. For how successful soever unjust dealing may sometimes prove to the raising a man's fortune and estate, it is in its natural tendency an effectual way to impair and ruin it, because by dealing unjustly he makes it every man's interest to forsake and abandon him, and in effect sets a cross upon his own door, to warn all customers from entering. For who would willingly have to do with a knave, that always lies upon the catch, waiting opportunities to rook and cozen him ; with whom he can neither speak nor act securely, but must be forced to stand upon his own guard with him, and treat him with the same circumspection and cautiousness as conjurers do their devils, for fear of being snapped and torn in pieces by him ? And how is it possible for a man to thrive, when nobody cares to deal with him ; when his house is haunted, and his frauds and cozenages appear like spectres at his door, to frighten all men from his shop and conversation ? And accordingly you see that justice and honesty in dealing is so absolutely necessary to men's thriving in the world, that even they who are not honest are fain to seem so: but for a man to seem to be honest, there is no way so certain and secure, as to be really so; for if he be not, it is a thousand to one but the events of things will one time or other unmask and discover him. No man can be secure of privacy in an unjust action, but let him carry it never so secretly and demurely, one accident or