« AnteriorContinuar »
vior. It is this, which reconciles all the great things ascribed to him, by the Prophets and the Apostles. It is this, which renders him worthy of the humble homage and praises of all the hosts of heaven. It is this, which establishes the truth and importance of the gospel. It is this, which ratifies the truth of those great and precious promises, that remain to be fulfilled; and assures us, that religion shall have a long and universal reign. It is this, which affords permanent light and consolation to all good men, while passing through the dark and dreary journey of life. In a word, it is the Divinity of Christ, which spreads a lustre over the face of the world, and calls upon Zion to rejoice, that her God reigneth,
ACTS xxiv, 16.
And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward
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 own 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 invisible, 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, ind ependently 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 a 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 fac.
ulty 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 ob
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 agreea bly or disagreeably affected. If it be safe, therefore, to follow the dictates of daily experience, in reasoning upon the mind; we may safely conclude, that the con science, 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 extin
*It is impossible, perhaps, to determine the local seat of the soul, or of any of its faculties, since spirit does not occupy space. By the seat of conscience, thorefore, is meant its seat of influence.
guished conscience, 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 im pair it but what impaired perception. Or if conscience were reason; then nothing could impair it but what impaired 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 subtle man reason very ingenious