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blessed.” Mrs. Shepherd seems to have adopted, from the outset of her Christian life, the resolution of the Apostle Paul, “Christ shall be inagnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." This was the basis of her consistency, and devotion, 'and eminence. She was a woman of indomitable energy. What she did, she did “ with her heart, as unto the Lord.” Many testimonies to her excellencies have been borne by the ministers who knew her, from which we select the following, as specimens of the rest. “She had great force of character,” says one;" and her decision for God was bappily come to in early life; and through many long and eventful years that followed, that decision never faltered, never changed. She went on her way rejoicing; and well and diligently did she fulfil the various duties which, as a parent, a Christian, a member of our Society, and an officebearer in the Church, she was called to perform. Like her Master,
she went about doing good.' Her light was not a fitful gleam, but a bright, steady flame, 'shining more and more unto the perfect day." “ She was eminently a mother in Israel,” says another; “ a Christian of rare integrity and uncompromising fidelity ; blended, however, with warm affection and condescending kindness towards all. She bore a testimony for Christ, never dubious, never fitful, never heartless, but certain, unchanging, ardent." And now that she is passed away, a voice from heaven proclaims, “ Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours ; and their works do follow them."
OF A GOOD CONSCIENCE."
A GOOD conscience has justly been considered an inestimable blessing. But what is “a good conscience ?" It would be a great mistake to suppose that a good conscience is merely a quiet one. It must not be presumed that because the monitor within is silent, therefore all is well; that because it says nothing, it has nothing to say. When conscience is enlightened and awake, when it is neither perverted by false principles, nor unduly influenced by passion or biased by self-love, its voice may be regarded as oracular, bespeaking the delegated sovereignty of heaven. But what is more common than an ignorant, stupid, insensible conscience ? How often is the heart hardened through the deceitfulness of sin! How often is the judgment biased! How unwilling are we to know the worst of ourselves! How partial are we in our own cause ! how ready to deceive ourselves, or to be deceived by others! “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means ; and My people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof ?”
There is a twofold inquiry to be made; a twofold question to be answered :
I. What is conscience ? and,
1. Conscience may be called the moral faculty,—that faculty in man by which he recognises the distinction between right and wrong, and feels himself to be the subject of moral obligation : by it he is enabled to estimate the moral character and desert of his own conduet, and to anticipate its future consequences.
Man is not only distinguished from the inferior creatures by the structure and upright position of his body, but still more by the faculties of his mind. And of all the endowments which have been bestowed on him by the Creator, that must surely be of the highest importance which constitutes him an accountable creature, the subject of moral government; thus mavifestly connecting his destiny with superior beings, and with a future and invisible world.
The faculty of conscience appears designed to guide and stimulate us in the performance of our duty; to be a monitor always at hand, with authority to direct our conduct, and to control our passions and appetites; and, if we refuse to be admonished, with power to chastise our delinquencies. When we go astray, this voice calls us back to the path of duty, and whispers, “ This is the way, walk ye in it.” And if we still refuse to listen to its counsels, it pursues us, like a chastening angel, with its lifted scourge; compelling us at length to exclaim, “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity ; but a wounded spirit who can bear ? "
1. We have spoken of conscience as a faculty of the mind; and it is often regarded as a single faculty, distinct from all others, if not independent of them. The mind, however, is not made up of parts, like the body, but is one and indivisible, although possessing and exercising various powers. Thus conscience is the power which the mind has to pass judgment on itself. It is indeed the regal faculty in human nature ; and poets have described it as a guardian angel, ever present; the vicegerent of heaven ; the oracle of God.* But as a king could not reign without subjects, whose services he may often have occasion to employ; so the existence and exercise of this faculty must imply the existence, and comprehend the exercise, of several faculties, usually regarded as distinct. Thus conscience is intimately connected with the understanding. Those creatures which are destitute of understanding are, for that reason, without moral responsibility. Conscience implies the ability to perceive, not objects only, but relations, especially the relation in which we stand to our fellow. creatures and to the great Creator of all, and the duties which arise from that relation. This capacity, which the inferior creatures are evidently without, mankind possess; and hence mankind alone are subject to the control of conscience. It is in the understanding that the foundation of human responsibility is laid, and here the operations of the moral faculty properly begin.
* "Yet still there whispers the small voice within,
Heard through Gain's silence, and o'er Glory’s din ;
2. But these operations also imply the exercise of judgment. In the process of conscience a comparison is made between our actual conduct and our supposed or acknowledged duty. Some standard of duty, more or less correct, exists in the mind, whether formally acknowledged or not: and to this standard appeal is made, and with it our character and conduct are compared. The comparison may not be voluntary, the process not slow. The mind is often conscious of thoughts and operations over which the will has no direct control. The thought will sometimes intrude, “Thus ought I to have acted; but how differently have I acted !” The conviction of our misdoing may be sudden and irresistible as lightning bursting from the electric cloud; and, awful as the pealing thunder, the sentence is heard as from heaven, and echoed in the most secret recesses of the soul, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting."
3. The memory is also concerved in the process of conscience. The retention and continuance of that knowledge which has once been gained, is what we call memory; without which no instruction could be of any avail: for no rules of conduct could guide our practice, or assist us in forming a judgment of ourselves, unless they could be remembered; nor could our actions be the subjects of such judgment, unless we were endowed with this faculty of retrospection and recol. lection. A consciousness of guilt implies a remembrance of the past; and one of the greatest scourges of the wicked is the remembrance of their evil deeds, and the self-reproach, the shame, and the remorse, with which, sooner or later, such actions are sure to be followed. Fain would the transgressor forget; but he finds it impossible. Neither the effort of his own will, nor the lapse of time, can confer
* " Conscience,” from the Latin conscientia, and the Greek word ovrednois, " implies the knowledge of two or more things together;” (Wesley, Sermon cv. ;) the knowledge of our conduct, and of the law, or standard of duty, with which we compare it." For conscience never commands or forbids anything authentically, but there is some law of God which commands or forbids it first. Conscience (as might be easily sbowo) being no distiuct power or faculty from the mind of man, but the mind of man itself applying the general rule of God's law to particular cases and actions."-South, Sermon OD 1 John üi. 21. Vol. ii., P. 449.
on him the coveted boon of self-oblivion. And on the other hand, one of the peculiar felicities of the good is to be able to look back on time well spent, and opportunities of usefulness improved : and this, not in a pharisaic, but a grateful, spirit; after the example of the Redeemer Himself, when, in addressing His Heavenly Father, He said, "I have glorified Thee on the earth : I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.”
4. And closely connected with and involved in the complex operation of conscience, is its anticipation of futurity: it points to the consequences of what we do, and indicates the probability of just retribution. According to the report which memory makes of the past, the feeling of hope or fear is awakened and made to predomi. nate: if that report is favourable, the prospect before us is bright and cheerful ; but if its report be condemnatory, our prospect of the future is overcast with gloom. Thus the Apostle Paul, in the near approach of martyrdom, is not only undismayed, but even triumphant. He exclaims, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith : henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.” (2 Tim. iv. 6-8.) And Saul's former victim, the protomartyr Stephen, when falling beneath the murderous blows of his infuriated persecutors, exclaimed, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.” And ere he closed his eyes in the sleep of death, invoking that Saviour with his last breath, he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” On the other hand, the sinner anticipates with terror the day of doom, from which he cannot escape. He may endeavour to persuade himself that he is not accountable, and that there is no future day of reckoning : but his infidel opinions are contradicted by his feelings. There is ever "a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery in. dignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” “ The wicked man travaileth with pain ” all the days of his life; and he “knoweth that the day of darkness is ready at his hand."
But while conscience is thus a guide to direct us, a recorder of our actions, a witness to give evidence against us or on our behalf, a judge to condemn or acquit, a ruler to reward or punish, and a prophet to foretell an ampler and more complete retribution, we must remember that its light is not inherent or original. As the eye can see nothing, unless it receive light from without, so the mind remains dormant until enlightened from above. By the influence of Divine truth, in whatever degree imparted, the moral faculties are awakened and directed. Revelation is older than the Written Word, and was at first oral and traditional. That knowledge which, as St. Paul tells us,
leaves wicked heathens "without excuse,” (Rom. i. 20,) must imply a revelation of duty, as well as of the Divine existence. Hence the same apostle tells us, that " when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves : which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.” (Rom. ii. 14, 15.) The Jews were still more highly favoured; their advantages, as the chosen people, were “much every way; chiefly, because that unto them were committed the Oracles of God.” But our privileges exceed even theirs ; for, in addition to the older Scriptures, we possess the New Testament. The advantages which have been thus conferred by a direct revelation are, that our duties are more fully made known, and more authoritatively enforced, than they are by the light of nature, while the motives to piety and virtue are greatly increased.
Nor is the authority of conscience independent, nor its supremacy absolute. Over the other faculties of the mind, indeed, it holds rightsulsway, and is not amenable to any external earthly tribunal: for the only Lord of conscience is God; on whose will and word, whether that word be uttered or unspoken, the authority of its decisions must ultimately rest. The court which it holds in the human breast is only subordinate to that tribunal which is absolute and supreme. Its decisions, though solemn and important, are provisional, not final. There will be held a court of universal and final review—the great agsize—the judgment of the great day; when the secrets of all hearts shall be made manifest, and the decisions of conscience will be reversed or corrected, if they have been in error; or confirmed beyond reversal, if they have been according to truth.
II. We have now to inquire, What is implied in having " a good conscience ?"
“A good conscience” may be described as one that properly fulfils every purpose for which that faculty was bestowed on man. In the fullest sense of the term, it is one that is both enlightened and faithful, wakeful and tender; yet burdened with no guilt, and pained with no remorse. It differs equally from a stupid and from a guilty conscience, from an insensible and an accusing one. It is of such a kind that its testimony is favourable yet honest, and its decisions are at the same time both satisfactory and according to truth.
1. “A good conscience" is an enlightened one: it must include a knowledge of our duty, as far as we have the opportunity and means of ascertaining it.
Whatever allowance may be made for that ignorance which is unavoidable, as in the case of persons born and brought up among barbarous tribes or in heathen countries, the plea of ignorance cannot