« PreviousContinue »
with the disapprobation of all the inhabitants of heaven and hell, together with the condemnation of their own enlightened consciences. It will appear clearly to the view of the universe, that all who are condemned and punished ought to be condemned and punished for ever. Not one who is lost will have one in heaven or hell to take his part, or complain of his final and eternal destination. And what an intolerable weight will this add to that great and endless punishment which shall fall upon the vessels of wrath who are fitted for destruction!
This subject now admonishes all those who trifle with moral things, and make a mock at sin, of their extreme guilt and danger. "Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." The great day of light is coming, which will dissipate the mists and clouds in which stupid sinners have concealed themselves, and which will expose their stupidity and guilt both to themselves and to the universe. Then erroneous sinners, secret sinners, secure sinners, and skeptical sinners, will appear to themselves, and to all intelligent beings, in all their depravity, folly and guilt, and become swift witnesses against themselves, that they have deserved the united and eternal displeasure of the whole universe. Then it will be beyond their power to trifle with right and wrong, good and evil, or to despise the just and awful sentence which will fix them in endless darkness, guilt and despair. "Wo unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep." The universal contempt of God, of angels and of men, will be more than your wounded guilty souls can endure. "The spirit of a man may sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear!"
AND herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men. - ACTS, xxiv. 16.
It seems rather strange that those who have critically surveyed the powers and operations of their own minds, should entertain very different ideas of conscience. One tells us that conscience is nothing else but our own judgment of the moral rectitude or pravity of our own actions. A second tells us that conscience is properly no more than reason itself, considered as instructed in regard to the rule we ought to follow. A third tells us that there is a principle of reflection in men by which they distinguish between, approve and disapprove their actions. A fourth tells us that conscience, or the moral sense, is a cordial as well as intellectual exercise. This diversity of opinions respecting conscience has been the occasion of many disputes upon moral and religious subjects, and of many errors, not only in theory but in practice. It may be of some service, therefore, to consider conscience in both a speculative and practical light. The apostle speaks of it in both these views. He represents it as a distinct faculty of the mind, which he earnestly endeavored to keep always free from offence. "Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men." These words naturally lead us to consider,
I. What conscience is; and,
II. What we must do in order to keep it void of offence.
I. We are to consider what conscience is. This is a very difficult as well as important inquiry. But since we know that
conscience belongs to the mind, we must look within, and search for it there. Though the mind be immaterial and indivisible, yet it consists of more than one faculty. A mental faculty properly means a mental power of receiving ideas and impressions, independently of the will. According to this
definition we shall discover a number of distinct faculties in the human mind. Perception is a power of receiving ideas independently of the will. If we open our eyes in a clear day, we cannot help perceiving the visible objects around us, whether we wish to perceive them or not. Perception, therefore, is a distinct faculty of the mind.
Reason is the power of receiving, comparing and compounding ideas, independently of the will. If we hear a man assert that two and two are equal to four, we cannot help perceiving the truth of the proposition, whether we wish to perceive it or not. Or if we hear a man demonstrate the immortality of the soul, we cannot help drawing the conclusion that we must exist in a future state, whether we wish to exist in a future state or not. Reason, therefore, is a distinct faculty of the mind.
Memory is a power of retaining and recalling past ideas, independently of the will. If we hear what we have heard before, or see what we have seen before, we cannot help recollecting that we have heard or seen such things, whether we wish to recollect them or not. Memory, therefore, is, a distinct faculty of the mind.
Conscience is likewise a power of receiving ideas and impressions independently of the will. If we are credibly told that one man has killed another from malice prepense, we cannot help perceiving the criminality of the murderer, whether we wish to perceive it or not. Conscience, therefore, is a distinct faculty of the mind. But to make this more fully appear, I proceed to observe,
1. That conscience is seated in the breast.* The pleasure or pain arising from any mental faculty clearly determines the place where it resides and operates. We all know that the operation of conscience more immediately and sensibly affects the breast. It is here we feel pleasure or pain, whenever we are approved or condemned by conscience. But when we freely employ the powers of perception, reason and memory, we find it is the head, which is either agreeably or disagreeably affected. If it be safe, therefore, to follow the dictates of daily experience in reasoning upon the mind, we may safely con
It is impossible, perhaps, to determine the faculties, since spirit does not occupy space. is meant its seat of influence.
local seat of the soul, or of any of its By the seat of conscience, therefore,
clude that the conscience, which is seated in the breast, and performs all its operations there, is entirely distinct from all the mental powers, which are seated in the head.
2. The conscience may be impaired, without impairing any other faculty of the mind. A man who pursues evil courses and forms evil habits, will necessarily blunt the edge of conscience and weaken its moral discernment. But after he has thoroughly seared his conscience, he may still retain his reason, memory, and every other intellectual faculty, in their full force and activity. How often do the most loose and abandoned wretches, who have stifled and well-nigh extinguished con. science, appear to reason as well and to write as well upon any abstruse subject, as those of the most exemplary virtue and piety! This clearly proves that conscience may be impaired, without impairing any other intellectual faculty. But how can this be accounted for, without supposing conscience to be entirely distinct from every other mental power? If conscience were perception, then nothing could impair it but what impairs perception. Or if conscience were reason, then nothing could impair it but what impairs reason. It is a well-known fact that any distinct faculty of the mind may be distinctly impaired. Old age often impairs the memory, without impairing reason. A delirium often impairs reason, without impairing the memory. And blindness, or deafness, often impairs the perception, without impairing any other mental faculty. If these facts prove that either perception, reason or memory is a distinct faculty of the mind, then they equally prove that conscience is so. For it clearly appears from observation and experience, that conscience, like every other distinct faculty of the soul, may be distinctly and separately impaired.
3. There is often a propriety in appealing from reason to conscience; which is another evidence that these are really distinct faculties. In reasoning upon things of a moral nature, it is proper and necessary in many cases to appeal from the deductions of reason to the dictates of conscience. Those who are addicted to any particular vice, often endeavor to justify their conduct, and reason very plausibly in their own defence. But if they would fairly appeal from reason to conscience, conscience would immediately condemn both their false reasoning and criminal practice. If we hear a loose and subtile man reason very ingeniously against the truth of the scriptures, we may with great propriety desire him to consult his conscience upon this serious subject. And if his conscience be not extremely stupid, it will immediately tell him that his arguments are false and the scriptures are true. Or suppose two persons should dispute upon the practice of trading in the souls of men,
and one should endeavor to prove it to be right upon the principles of reason, and the other, instead of offering a single argument against it, should only appeal to conscience; would not conscience, in opposition to a thousand arguments from reason, clearly decide in this case, and condemn this inhuman practice? Now if conscience may justly claim a right to correct the errors of reason as well as the errors of the heart, then it must be a distinct and superior faculty of the mind. And this is what all mankind allow to be true, by their common practice of appealing from the court of reason to the court of conscience, upon any moral or religious subject. I may farther observe,
4. Conscience appears to be a distinct faculty, from its performing various offices which no other intellectual faculty can
Co perform. Here let us take a particular view of the various and
peculiar offices of conscience. And,
First. It is the proper office of conscience to teach us the moral difference between virtue and vice. We are all capable of discerning the moral and immutable distinction between right and wrong in the actions of moral agents. But if we examine our mental faculties, we shall find none but conscience which can enable us to discover the moral quality of moral actions.
We certainly cannot discover right and wrong by Memory, which is only a faculty of recalling past ideas and impressions.
By Perception, we discover nothing but natural objects, and their natural effects. This power is common to all sensitive natures. Brutes perceive the objects around them, and their natural tendency to do them good or hurt. They perceive the natural tendency of fire and water, and take peculiar care to avoid being burned by the one, or drowned by the other. But they have no idea of right or wrong, or of virtue and vice. And bare perception in men serves no higher purpose than in brutes. If we possessed no mental faculty superior to percep- tion, we could never discover the distinction between moral good and evil, nor perform a single action which deserves either praise or blame.
If we now examine the power of Reason, we shall find it equally destitute of moral discernment. It cannot discover the least merit or demerit in the conduct of moral agents. It can only measure the advantage or disadvantage, the natural good or evil, arising from their actions. If a man should spread a false report concerning a certain merchant, and that report should ruin the merchant's business, reason could exactly calculate the damages done to the merchant, but it could not discover the criminality and ill-desert of the liar. In the view of