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It is in vain to say that it ought not to be so, and thence to argue that it is not so, just as it would be vain to argue against our seeing a star eighty millions of miles away, because ene fact and the other takes place by a natural sense receiving an external light. It is a matter of fact, that we have the natural eye; that the eye receives a light which originates millions of miles away, strange and incredible as it may seem. And so the natural faculty of Conscience is a fact; the existence of the Holy Spirit is a fact; his light upon us, connecting Time with Eternity, is a fact: better far make use of these facts for the purpose intended than attempt to argue against their existence; for facts lose not their reality by assertion, nor yet by argumentation. He that shuts his eyes does not annihilate the sun, nor will the arguments of a man that is blind by accident prove to me that there is no light. Upon all these matters, the universal persuasion of all mankind is naturally taken to be true, and is true.
Now as with regard to the “Withholding Conscience,” it checks, and the Recording Conscience presents again and again the fact of our transgression as a Stain, and the consequence in the man is the emotion of Shame; so with regard to the Prophetic Conscience, this is its office, that it connects acts of transgression against the Conscience, that have taken place in Time, with a responsibility in Eternity. It tells the man “what you have done here is not ended, although past, apparently come to an end, but it has its consequences there.” Thus the Prophetic Conscience, unto the breach of the dictates of Conscience, attaches the peculiar idea of responsibility for evil; the idea that although our act is done, and no earthly consequences but those that are beneficial may happen, still most certainly evil will, in the future, ensue.
For I think it a thing not to be denied, but a most certain fact, that men, in some cases, have done evil, from which, in this world, they have received not only no harm, but even good; so that no law of their own being or of external nature recompenses to them the evil they have deserved. I think it most certain that some men, acting against their own Consciences systematically and habitually, have yet in this world received no harm from it, but rather a superabundance of that which they estimated as good; and that the penalty of Evil and the reward of Good is not the consequence of a law of nature, but is the immediate infliction of punishment by the Will of a just and intelligent being, who is God.
The Prophetic nature of Conscience, then, consists in this, that by it acts against the Conscience are perpetually brought up and re-presented to the mind, with the intimation that the being who did them is liable to punishment, and that that punishment is in Eternity ; which two ideas, as combined in the mind, we term by that one phrase, “ Guilt ;" so that, with regard to an act against the Conscience, the effect of it upon the Conscience, in reference to the future, is the sense of its responsibility to a Judgment and Condemnation in Eternity. This liability we call “Guilt,” and the corresponding emotion we call “Fear.”
Now when we look at the facts of human nature, we find this of Responsibility a fundamental fact of our nature, a fact that for all evil we count ourselves “under the liability and obligation of punishment ;” and that this liability exists to a person; not to a physical or natural law, but to a person.
Secondly, that it implies to the eternal being an eternal punish-ment adequate to each act it has done in time, however numerous the sum total of the acts may have been.*
And thirdly, that for all men, up to the very date and hour of their death, the Prophetic Conscience places the punishment in the Future.
Hence may it be seen, from the first point, that the instinct of nature is towards the truth of a personal God, when declared to us, as universally it is, by the Tradition of Society; so that the feeling of Guilt in us is a proof of a personal Deity. The second fact implies that Eternity is a different state from Time in kind, not merely in degree: and the third, that the place of justice and true recompense is that state, and not our present one. We find all these ideas embodied in the feeling of “Guilt” and the emotion of “ Fear;" and the truths to which they answer are those of Responsibility to the One God, of a Judgment that gives to all acts their due, in a state that admits of complete justice, the state of Eternity. These are truths which no argumentation will refute, no denial invalidate, because, as we have shown, they are truths of our own nature, evinced by the facts of our own being, and witnessed unto by Almighty God through his Spirit.
* " That servant which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that did not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.” Luke xii. 47, 48.
Thus do we see that the Prophetic Conscience brings up to us acts against the Conscience in reference to Eternity, and with that peculiar mark upon them that we call “ Guilt,” the sense of obligation to a punishment after Time is passed away; and answering to this is the emotion of “Fear."
There are two supplementary questions that may be considered in this chapter. The first is this, Is Conscience a Judge ?—the second, Does Conscience punish us?
The answer to the first, from the account we have given, is that in the sense of pronouncing upon the quality of action, as liable to future condemnation, so far metaphorically Conscience may be called a judge; but in the true and real sense of finally and authoritatively pronouncing decision judicially, it is not a judge. It declares to us first the quality of action with great certainty; then again it records our transgressions, and in the future judgment it shall from that record be a most certain witness. And again, of that trial and its result, it gives us a certain prophecy. All this it does, but this amounts not to being a judge in any strict sense. The Judgment is in Eternity, when, instead of conferring with Him by means and faculties such as this of Conscience is, we shall be brought face to face with the Almighty.
Still, this warning, this recording, this prophesying has in itself a most important value, from the fact that it is by the Spirit of God, who is God of one substance with the Father,* that it takes place. But, as we have above said, it is, in this world, warning, recording, prophesying of judgment, and not judging.
The next question is this : Does Conscience punish? And the answer here again is: “No! Conscience does not punish in any
If we say thatt “suffering pain, in consequence of any action, is the punishment of that action," then we may say that “Conscience punishes.” But the principle is wholly untrue ; for suffering is not so connected with evil, as to be always its consequence; so that you can say, that always where there is in this world suffering, there has been sin on the part of the sufferer; and in this case, we can sce that“Shame” being the sense of Guilt, in no sense is the punishment of the act recorded, but only the feeling coming from the Stain ; and the Fear corresponding to the Guilt is by no means the punishment, but only the anticipation of the punishment.
* Nicene Creed.
† The opinion that personal suffering is always the punishment of personal transgression of the laws of the universe,” in other words, of Sin, is, 1 am sorry to say it, a very wide spread opinion in these days. It is an old error, held by the Pharisees, those men of hard hearts, in our Saviour's day, and by him rebuked severely. “Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? And He said, “ Neither this man did sin nor his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. Again, they told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifice. And he said, think ye that these Galileans were sinners above all
To speak, then, of Conscience inflicting punishment upon us, is a thing wholly and entirely wrong; while to speak of the "pain, or the “torments” of an accusing conscience, is perfectly right.
the Galileans, because they suffered such things. I tell you nay,
. or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, think you that they were sinners above all men that dwelt at Jerusalem ? I tell you nay."
This opinion destroys the doctrine of a future judgment. It tells the man who is robust, healthy and prosperous, that he has broken no law, whatever his conscience may tell him to the contrary. It tells the weak, the diseased, and the poor that their evils are punishments, by them justly deserved. To the one class, then, it puts an end to mercy and compassion ; in the other, to any belief in God's mercy and his justice. It destroys the idea that this world is a state of trial, and that pain may, in God's wisdom, have many other reasons besides punishment,—be a moral guide, a preventive of greater evil; nay, often a positive and actual good. Lastly, it is at variance with the phenomena of hereditary discase, as well as with the facts of that which ordinary men call accident, and the Christian calls Providence.
I would ask my reader, as an Ethical exercise, to investigate the consequences of this opinion, and he shall find them as I have said, most pernicious to all moral action, and subversive of all right ideas of God, and of the uses to us of the outward world.
And if he be a parent, I would, for the sake of his children, warn him against such books as “ Combe's Çonstitution of Man,” whereof this notion is the staple. For the idea, as he will see on further thought, by tracing out its extreme consequence, puts God, “the Personal and Ever-present, Omniscient, and Omnipotent, Governing Being,” out of the world, by substituting for Ilim an “ All-sufficing, Physical Law.” It is therefore nothing in spirit, but a coarse Physical and Natural Deism.
One thing more I would add as not unimportant. This idea, in another shape, " that sin has always aitached it as a natural consequence, a Temporal Penalty of bodily pain,”—a belief as false and as easily refuted,--is a pecu. liarly Roman Catholic doctrine, and lies at the very root of their doctrine of Purgatory, and of their horrible self-torturing penances. For this, see that most able work, “Palmer's Letters on Romanism."
So do extremes meet. The Romanist and the Deist unite in preaching the same false doctrine, of the natural and unavoidable connection of sin with bodily pain.
And upon examination, we shall find that these two phrases have done an immense deal of harm to religion; for if Conscience be, in this world, a judge, in the true and real sense, and truly and really the pain that comes from Conscience be a punishment inflicted by it; then, by a natural and unavoidable logic, the truth that the Holy Spirit is the true agent in the Conscience, combined with these false notions, “ that conscience is a real judge,” inflicting “real punishment,” at once leads to the conclusion that the Judgment is already past,—an heresy, stamped by St. Paul as ensuring condemnation, and in these days, because these false phrases, very frequent indeed.
The deficiencies of the Conscience and its laws deduced from its nature.--The
deficiencies of Conscience,the various kinds classified and enumerated.-Its Laws are three : First, of Obedience,--Examination of this law,—Practical inferences from this law.—2d Law of Conscience, Permanence. Its nature and effects.—By means of this second law all passions can be resisted, not otherwise.—Reason of sudden and unexpected moral falls.Besetting sins, or obstacles to moral progress. 3d Law of Conscience, The law of Subordination ; that is, “while it rules us, itself must be ruled.” The rule of Conscience is the law of God.—Evils that arise from ignorance of this law.--Morality is eternal and immutable.--Scruples of Conscience. Explanation of their nature, and how to treat them.
It is our object now, after that which we have said in the
previous chapters upon the nature of the Conscience, to consider the two parts that remain toward the completion of the subject: the deficiencies of the Conscience first; and secondly, the rules by which we shall be able to remedy those deficiencies, and to bring it to perfectness of action.
Now, upon the subject of its deficiency, we have already in our description of the nature and faculties of Conscience, shown that it consists of two parts, the first of which is the voice of the Holy Spirit of God speaking to us; the second, the natural faculty in us whereby we listen to that voice. Hence does it follow, as a necessary consequence, that all deficiencies are in the natural faculty,—that is, in the man. Hence the moral cultivation of the