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In the one it is set forth as the vicegerent of God himself, legislating, controlling, judging, according to immutable truth: in the other it is said to follow the judgment, to receive its dictates secondarily from Reason, and to be as variable as climate, customs and local institutions can make it.
Bishop Butler and his followers advocated the doctrine of its supremacy alluded to in the first signification: the direct tendency of Locke's argument, in his work on Human Understanding, is to support the second.
In the writings of others it is made at once to hold its authority and independence, as the seat, throne, or umpire of God in the soul; and yet with some appearance of inconsistency, it is allowed to bend its rule to circumstances, such as customs and religious institutions, however various;-to lower its standard, so as to acknowledge inferior rules of duty, and yet, even in this state of comparative humiliation, to claim the respect due to some sacred and inviolable truth.
These are phenomena in the mental constitution that are worthy of examination: indeed, it is impossible to understand what is meant by the inviolability of Conscience, which every truly enlightened mind in the present day is willing to acknowledge, without some illustration of the principles according to which these seeming inconsistencies may be reconciled.
I shall proceed to give a few examples of the first signification.
"Mankind," says Bishop Butler, "have various instincts, or principles of action, which brutes have not; particularly Conscience."—" Conscience, com pared with the other principles of action in man, plainly bears upon it marks of authority over all the rest, and claims the absolute direction of them all, to allow or forbid their gratification."-" To preside and govern, from the very economy and constitution of Man, belongs to it. This faculty was placed within to be our proper governor, to direct and regulate all undue principles, passions and motives of action. This is its right and office: thus sacred is its authority. Had it strength, as it has right; had it power, as it has manifest authority; it would absolutely govern the world. As in civil government, the constitution is broken in and violated by power and strength prevailing over authority; so the constitution of man is broken in upon and violated by the lower faculties or principles within, prevailing over that which is in its nature supreme over them all.” "Conscience does not only offer itself to shew us the way we should walk in, but it likewise carries its own authority with it, that it is our natural guide: the guide assigned us by the Author of our nature." Milton has well described its dignity and office:
"And I will place within them as a guide
"Conscience, Conscience!" exclaims Rousseau, in one of his happiest lucubrations: "Divine Instinct, immortal and heavenly Voice, sure Guide of a being ignorant and limited, but intelligent and free, infallible Judge of good and evil, by which Man is made like unto God! It is thou that constitutest the excellence of his nature and the morality of his actions: without thee I feel nothing in myself that raises me above the brute, but the sorrowful privilege of wandering from error into error by the assistance of an understanding without rule, and of a rational faculty without principle."
Cowper also, who in many of his poetical flights had a deep and clear insight into true philosophy, as well as into sound Christianity, when speaking of the internal light of the wise heathen, expresses him. self in the following words:
"Their fortitude and wisdom were a flame
Celestial, tho' they knew not whence it came,
Dr. Reid nearly agrees with Butler in his description of this Power. "Conscience," he says, prescribes measures to every Appetite, Affection, and Passion; and says to every other principle of action,
'so far thou mayst go, but no farther!' It is evident, that this principle has from its nature, authority to direct and determine with regard to our conduct; to judge, to acquit or condemn, and even to punish; an authority which belongs to no other principle of the human mind. It is the candle of the Lord set up within us to guide our steps." Essay 3. ch. 8. p. 310.
"It would seem," says Dr. Rush, "as if the supreme Being had preserved the Moral Faculty in man from the ruins of his fall, on purpose to guide him back again to Paradise; and at the same time had constituted the Conscience, both in man and fallen spirits, a kind of royalty in his Moral Empire, on purpose to shew his property in all intelligent creatures, and their original resemblance to himself."
Lord Bacon very clearly bears testimony-and a most important testimony it is-to the principle that "the light of Nature not only shines upon the human mind through the medium of a rational faculty, but by an internal Instinct, according to the law of Conscience, which is a sparkle of the purity of man's first estate." Most other writers, as Locke, make the light of nature to consist wholly in the deductions of a rational faculty, and set aside any internal light or instinct. But Bacon in this as in many other subjects, went deeper than some of the moderns, whose discoveries are thought to have superseded the penetrating views of that astonishing genius.
Pope evidently points to an original inherent right,
and not to any acquired authority of Conscience, in one of the stanzas of his Universal Prayer :—
"What Conscience dictates to be done
Or warns me not to do;
This teach me more than hell to shun,
That more than heav'n pursue."
"The Conscience of man is the seat
and throne of God, in him, of which God is the alone and infallible Judge." proper
"The dictates of Conscience," says Beattie, "are to every good man the highest authority in matters of duty,-what more interesting than to know, whether his notions of duty and of truth be the dictates of his nature, that is, the voice of God, or the positive institutions of Men?" See Essay on Truth, part 1. ch. 2.
Blair remarks "That when Conscience threatens punishment to secret crimes, it manifestly recognizes a supreme Governor, from whom nothing is hidden. The belief of our being accountable to him arises not merely from reasoning, but from internal sentiment. Conscience is felt to act as the delegate of an invisible Ruler; both anticipating his sentence and foreboding its execution.-Conscience is the guide or the enlightening and directing principle of conduct." Sermons, 13 vol. I & 5.
From the foregoing citations, which, it will be seen, have a remarkable coincidence, (and their number