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ly 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 rational arguments, 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 further observe,
4. Conscience appears to be a distinct faculty, from its performing various offices, which no other intellectual faculty can 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 our 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 and 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 perception, we could never discover the distinction between moral good and evil; nor perform a single action, which deserved 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 interest; reason could exactly cal culate the damages done to the merchant, but it could not discover the criminality and ill desert of the liar. In the view of reason, a sufficient sum of money would completely repair the damages, and settle the whole affair. But in the view of conscience, which discerns the moral quality of actions, all the gold of Ophir could not take away the sin, or moral evil of lying. Hence it appears, that conscience performs a part, which no other faculty of the mind can perform.
Secondly. It is the proper office of conscience to give us a sense of moral obligation. We all feel that we ought to do some things, and ought not to do others. Our reason, however, knows nothing about ought and
ought not, and can give us no sense of moral obligation. It is only our conscience, which tells us what is right and what is wrong; and, at the same time makes us feel, that we ought to do what is right, and ought not to do what is wrong. Reason can discover the advantage of virtue, and the disadvantage of vice; but it is conscience only, which can make us feel our moral obligation, to pursue the former, and to avoid the latter. Thus, for instance, reason tells us, that eternal happiness is infinitely more valuable than temporal enjoyments, and therefore it will really be for our interest, to give up temporal enjoyments, for the sake of securing eternal happiness: but it is the part of conscience to make us feel, that we ought, or that it is our indispensable duty, to renounce the whole world, rather than to lose our own souls.
Thirdly. It is the proper office of conscience, to approve men for what is right, and to condemn them for what is wrong, in all their moral conduct. The Apostle represents conscience as doing this office in the breasts of the Gentiles. "These, having not the law, are a law to themselves; which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing them witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another." A man's reason may teach him, that he has acted wisely in doing good, or that he has acted foolishly in doing evil; but it is his conscience only, which claims a right to call him to an account, and either approve or condemn him, according to the motives from which he has acted.
Fourthly. It is the proper office of conscience to make men feel that they deserve to be rewarded, or punished, according to their works. All mankind are capable of feeling their just deserts, though they are
often unwilling to receive the due reward of their deeds. We have a remarkable instance of this, in the case of Joseph's brethren, while they were suffering for their envy and cruelty, under the correcting hand of God. "And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us; and we would not hear: therefore is this distress come upon us." Reason had suffered them to live year after year in carnal ease and stupidity; but when conscience awoke, it gave them a lively sense of guilt, and made them feel, that they justly deserved the severest tokens of the divine displeasure. Thus it appears from the proper offices of conscience, and from various other considerations, that it is a peculiar and distinct faculty of the mind. The way is now prepared to show,
II. What we must do in order to keep a clear and inoffensive conscience.
The Apostle tells us, that "he exercised himself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men." The connexion of these words, and the occasion upon which they were spoken, may help us to discover their real import. Paul was making his defence before Felix. And, after a few intro ductory remarks, he freely owns, that he had embraeed that religion, which his adversaries called heresy. But yet he pleads, that he had acted an honest and upright part, in adopting the peculiar doctrines of the gospel. And to confirm his declaration, he assures the governor, that he had made it his practice to follow the dictates of conscience, in the general course of his conduct, respecting both God and man. In this connexion, therefore, he must mean by a conscience void of offence, a conscience free from reproach or remorse. And such a conscience may be maintained,
For our conscience can never reproach us, so long as we faithfully obey its dictates. But the serious and practical question now is, what we must do, to maintain the peace and approbation of conscience. This, the Apostle intimates, requires great exertion. "Herein do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offence."
All the faculties of the mind are in some measure under the influence of the will. Though they are all distinct from the will; yet it depends upon the will, whether they shall be freely and properly exercised. We have the power of perceiving external objects; but it depends upon the will, whether we shall open or shut our eyes upon them. We have the power of reasoning upon various subjects; but it depends upon the will, whether we shall improve or neglect to improve this noble faculty. So, we have the power of discerning our duty, and the obligations we are under to do it; but it depends upon the will whether we shall exercise, or stifle our moral discernment. All the natural faculties are talents, which the will can either use or abuse. Hence our own free and voluntary exertions are necessary, in order to maintain a conscience void of offence. We may, if we please, always have a pure and peaceable conscience; but in order to reach such a high and happy attainment, we must always exercise ourselves, in the following respects.
1. We must give conscience full liberty to judge, before we act. It always stands ready to judge, and to judge infallibly right. It belongs to its office to inform us what we ought, and what we ought not to do. And if we would only allow it to do its office, before we act, it would never reproach us after we have acted. But if we either neglect, or refuse to