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man is to be his only guide, and God's glory his only measure and the public good, and the greater concernments of the interested be chiefly regarded.
OF THE PROBABLE, OR THINKING CONSCIENCE.
A probable Conscience is an imperfect Assent to an uncertain
Proposition, in which one Part is indeed clearly and fully chosen, but with an explicit, or implicit Notice that the contrary is also fairly eligible.
A PROBABLE conscience dwells so between the sure and the doubtful that it partakes something of both. For a sure conscience may begin upon a probable inducement, but is made sure either by an assent to the conclusion, stronger than the premises will infer, or by a reflex act, or some other collateral hardness and adventitious confidence, and therefore the
probable is distinguished from that by the imperfection of the assent. But because in that respect it approaches to the doubtful, and in that is alike, it is differenced from this by the determination. For a doubtful conscience considers the probabilities on each side, and dares not choose, and cannot. But the probable does choose, though it considers that in the thing itself there can be no certainty. And from them both it is distinguished by the intervening of the will. For in the sure conscience the will works not at all, because it is wholly conducted by the understanding, and its proper motives. In the doubtful the will cannot interpose by reason of fear and an uncertain spirit; but in the probable it can intervene, not directly, but collaterally and indirectly, because the motives of the probable conscience are not always sufficient to make the conclusion without something of the will applied to extrinsical motives, which reflect also upon the understanding; and yet in this conscience there is no fear, and therefore the will can here be obeyed, which in the first needs not, in the last it cannot. For it is remarkable, that a probable conscience though it be in speculation uncertain, yet it may be practically certain,—that is, he that believes his opinion to be probable, cannot but think that it is possible he may be in an actual error, but yet he may know that it is innocent to do that for which he hath a probable reason; for though in all these cases he may choose that which is the wrong part, yet he proceeds as safely as if he had chosen right: for it were not safe to do that which is only probable, then nothing could be done till something were demonstrated; and then in moral theology we should often stand still and suspend our act, but seldom do any thing; nay, sometimes we should neither act nor suspend, it being but probable that either is to be chosen. Yea, sometimes it happens what Aristotle said, that false things are made more probable than true,' as it is to all them who are innocently and invincibly abused; and in this case, if probability were not a sufficient conviction of conscience, such persons could not honestly consent to truth. For even wise men disagree in their sentences of truth and error, and after a great search, scarcely do they discover one single truth unto just measures of confidence; and, therefore, no other law could be exacted for human actions, than an opinion honestly entered into, and a probable conscience. And it is remarkable that Cicero a saith, that the word “ arbitror” is 6 verbum consideratissimum;" and the old Romans were reserved and cautious in the decrees of judges, and the forms of their oath began with · arbitror,', although they gave testimony of things whereof they were eye-witnesses; and the words which their prætors did use in their sentences, was “ fecisse videtur," or " non videtur.”-“ He that observeth the winds, shall not sow; and he that watcheth the clouds, shall never reap b;" which means, that if we start at every objection, and think nothing safe but what is certain, and nothing certain but what can be demonstrated, that man is over wise and over just, and by his too curious search misses what he inquires for. Λέγοιτο δ' αν ικανώς, εί κατά την υποκειμένην iany draraongein, “ That is well enough proved, that is proved according to the subject matter.”-For there is not the same exactness to be looked for in all disciplines, any more than
in all manufactures. But in those things which are honest and just, and which concern the public, τοσαύτην έχει διαφοράν xal maamu, “ There is so much dissension and deception,” that things are good or bad not by themselves, but as they are in law; πεπαιδευμένου γάρ έστιν επί τοσούτον τακριβές επιζητείν καθ' έκαστον γένος, εφ' όσον η του πράγματος φύσις επιδέχεται: « He is well instructed who expects that manner of proof for things, which the nature of the things will bear,” said Aristotle . And in moral things, it is sufficient that a thing is judged true and certain, though by an uncertain argument; and the opinion may be practically certain, when the knowledge of it is in speculation only probable.
It hath two sorts of motives, intrinsical and extrinsical. That is reason, this is authority: and both of them have great considerations in order to practice, of which I am to give account in the following rules.
A Conscience that is, at first, and in its own Nature, probable,
may be made certain by Accumulation of many Probabilities operating the same Persuasion.
EVERY probable argument hath in it something of persuasion and proof, and although it cannot produce evidence and entire conviction to a wise and a discerning spirit, yet it can effect all that it ought; and although, if the will list, or if passions rule, the understanding shall be made stubborn against it, and reject it easily; yet if nothing be put in bar against it, it may bring a man to adhere to it beyond the evidence. But in some cases there are a whole army of little people, heaps of probable inducements which the understanding amasses together, and from every side gathers all that can give light and motion to the article in question; it draws auxiliaries from every thing, fights with every weapon, and by all means pursues the victory; it joins line to line, and precept to precept, reason to reason, and reason to authority; the sayings of wise
c Ethic. lib. i. c. 3. Wilkinson, p. 5.
men with the proverbs of the people; consent of talkers, and the arguings of disputers; the nature of the thing, and the reasonableness of its expectations; the capacities and possibilities of men, and of accidents; the purposes and designs, the usefulness and rewards; and by what all agents are and ought to be moved; customs are mingled with laws, and decencies with consideration of profit; the understanding considers the present state and heap of circumstances, and by prudence weighs every thing in its own balance; it considers the consequent of the opinion it intends to establish, and well weighs the inconvenience of the contrary. But from the obscurity and insufficiency of these particulars, there cannot come a perfect light; if a little black be mingled with white, the product must have something of every influence that can be communicated from its principle, or material constitution; and ten thousand millions of uncertains cannot make one certain.
In this case, the understanding comes not to any certainty by the energy of the motives and direct arguments of probability, or by the first effort and impresses of their strength; but by a particular reflection which it makes upon the heap, and by a secondary discoursing 'extracted from the whole; as being therefore convinced, because it believes it to be impossible, that so many considerations, that no way conspire either in matter or design, should agree in the production of a lie. It is not likely that so many beams of light should issue from the chambers of heaven for no other reason but to lead us into a precipice. Probable arguments and prudential motives are the great hinges of human actions; for as a pope once said, " It is but a little wit that governs the world;' and the uncertainty of arguments is the great cause of contingency in events; but as uncertain as most counsels are, yet all the great transactions of the affairs of the world are resolved on and acted by them; by suspicions and fears and probable apprehensions infinite evils are prevented; and it is not, therefore, likely to be an error by which so perpetually so many good things are procured and effected. For it were a disparagement to the wise providence of God, and a lessening the rare economy of the Divine government, that he should permit almost all the world, and all reglements, the varieties of event, and all the changes of kingdoms, and all counsels and deliberations, to be conducted by moral demonstrations, and to be under the power of probabilities, and yet, that these should be deceitful and false. Neither is it to be imagined, that God should permit wise men and good,-men that on purpose place their reason in indifference, that abate of their heats, and quench their own extravagant fires,—-men that wipe away all clouds and mists from their eyes, that they may see clearly,-men that search as they ought to do, for things that they are bound to find, things that they are commanded to search, and upon which even all their interests depend, and yet, requiring after the end whither they are directed, and by what means it is to be required, that these men should be inevitably abused by their own reason, by the best reason they have; and that when concerning the thing which cannot be demonstrated by proper and physical arguments, yet we are to enter into a persuasion so great, that for the verification of it men must venture their lives and their souls ;-I say, if this kind of proof be not sufficient to effect all this, and sufficiently to assure such men, and competently to affirm and strengthen such resolutions, salvation and damnation must be by chance, or, which is worse, it must be impossible to be well, but when it cannot choose to be otherwise: and this, I say, is not to be imagined that God will or does permit, since all these intercourses so much concern God's glory and our eternal interest. The main events of heaven and hell do, in some regards, depend, as to us, upon our faith, whose objects are represented with such lights from God and right reason, as are sufficient to persuade, not to demonstrate; they are such which leave something to us of choice and love, and every proposition of Scripture, though it be as sure, yet it is not so evident as the principles of geometry; and the Spirit of God effects his purposes with an influence as soft and placid as the warmth of the sun,-while a physical demonstration blows hard and high as the north wind; indeed a man must use rudeness, if he does not quit his garment at so loud a call, but we are more willing to part with it, when the sun gently requires us: so is a moral demonstration, it is so human, so persuasive, so complying with the nature and infirmities of man, with the actions of his life and his manner of operation,