Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

and' of bringing in a true and faithful, though a' disa. greeable verdict. Self-examination is highly' proper and necessary for such depraved and imperfect creatures as we are. And we cannot maintain a con. science void of offence, without' frequently exercising ourselves in this serious and important duty. A num. ber of instructive and useful inferences" may now be fairly drawn, from what has been said in this dis

course,

1. It appears from the description, which has been given of the nature and offices of conscience, that it is a "superior faculty of mind, and absolutely necessary in order to constitute us moral agents. There is an essential difference between agents and moral agents; and it is conscience, which forms this difference bem tween men and animals. All the lower species are agents. They act under the influence of motives. They choose and refuse, in the view of external objects. One specieś chooses to live in the'water, and another chooses to live on the land. One species 'chooses to live in a warm climate, and another in a cold. One species chooses to feed on fruits, another on fish, and another on'fowls. But though 'these and all other species of animals act voluntarily in the view of motives; yet they are not moral agents, because they can neither distinguish between right and wrong, nór feel any moral obligation either to act, or to refrain from acting. And were men destitute of conscience, they would be equally incapable of feeling moral obliga. tion, and of distinguishing the moral quality of ac. tions Neither perception, nör' reason, could give them this moral discernment. It is conscience, therefore, which constitutes them moral agents, and 'raises them to the rank of accountable beings,

2. If it be true, that conscience is a distinct faculty of the soul and necessarily constitutes a moral agent; then it is very natural to conclude, that infants are moral agents as soon as they are agents. Though they are born weak and helpless creatures; yet they very early discover not only motion, but action, When they are but a few days old, they appear to act voluntarily in the view of motives. They are pleased with some objects, and displeased with others. They never fail, for instance, to prefer light to darkness, and sweet to bitter. By such instances of choosing and refusing, they appear to be agents, or to act voluntarily in the view of motives. But we cannot suppose, that they are mere agents, in these free, spontaneous, voluntary exertions. For if they were mere agents, they would not be men in miniature, nor be capable of becoming moral agents. Mere agents are utterly incapable of becoming moral agents. This has been demonstrated, by all the experiments, which haye been made upon tạmed animals. Though they have been taught to do many curious things, and to imitata a thousand human actions; yet they never have been taught to distinguish virtue from vice, nor to feel the force of moral obligation. They are by nature mere agents; and, without a new nature, they cannot be made, nor become moral agents. And if infants were, at first, mere agents, they could peyer be made, nor become moral agents. Neither experience, nor observation, nor instruction, could give them the faculty of moral discerpment. We may use many means to strengthen and refine the mental powers of infants and children; but there are no means to be used, to give them any new intellectual faculty. If conscience, therefore, be an essential faculty of the human mind, hit must belong to it in infancy. And if infants por:

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

sess this faculty of moral discernment, then they must of necessity commence moral agents, as soon as they commence agents. There seems to be no way to avoid this conclusion, but to suppose, that conscience cannot be exercised so early, as the other faculties of the mind. But how does it appear, that conscience cannot be exercised as early, as any other intellectual faculty? It does not appear from experience. For every person knows, that he has been able to distinguish right from wrong, and to feel a sense of guilt, ever since he can remember. It does not appear from observation. For infants discover plain marks of moral depravity, and appear to act wrong, as soon as they begin to act. And it does not appear from Scripture. For the Bible represents infants as sinful, guilty creatures as soon as they are born; which plainly implies, that they are moral agents. In a word, Scripture, reason, observation, and experience, are all in favor of the. moral agency of infants. And if we do not admit, that moral agency commences in infancy, it is impossible to determine, or even to form a probable conjecture, when it does commence.

3. If conscience be the only faculty of the mind, which gives us a sense of moral obligation; then its dictates are always to be followed. Though all allow that we ought to follow the dictates of conscience, when it is rightly informed; yet some suppose ve ought not to follow its dictates when it is misinformed and erroneous. As this is a question concerning duty, so we are obliged to defer it to the decision of conscience. But if we refer it to conscience, it will instantaneously determine, that we ought always to follow its dictates. Conscience never fails to lay us under moral obligation to regard its precepts and prohibitions, If it tells us, that a certain mode of conduct

is right, it equally tells us, that we ought to pursue it; or if it tell us that a certain mode of conduct is wrong, it equally tells us, that we ought to avoid it. Así con" science always speaks with equal authority, whether enlightened or unenlightened; so we are always bound to obey it, whether enlightened or unenlightened. There is no propriety, nor occasion, tò dispute the aus thority of conscience, since it will always bear us out, in obeying its dictates from a sincere intention. For if conscience ever discovers, that we have submitted to it when it dictated wrong; it will justify our cordial submission, and pronounce it an act of duty. It is, in: deed, impossible to put a case, in which it would be right to counteract conscience. For, it is extremely absurd to suppose, that we both ought and ought not to do the same action. If there could be an instance, in which we ought not to obey the dictates of cons science, it is evident, that in such an instance, we ought not to follow any other guide. To suppose, therefore, that we ought not to follow the dictates of an erroneous conscience; is to suppose, that when: ever our conscience becomes erroneous, we cease to be : under moral obligation, and of course, cease to be moral agents.

4. It appears from what has been said upon a clear conscience, that men may be highly criminal in-doing those things, which they imagine conscience really requires. They often consult conscience with great partiality. They consult it with respect to their external conduct, without consulting it with respect to their internal motives. And in all such cases, they may externally obey the voice of conscience, while they internally disobey it. This appears to have been the ground of Paul's deception, while he was persecuting .. the church of Christ. He said to Agrippa, “I -verily"

thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme: and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities." While Paul was doing these things, his conscience seemed to justify his conduct; but it afterwards condemned him for being such a vile and malevolent persecutor. The truth of the case appears to be this. Paul considered Christ as a real impostor, and his followers as deluded fanatics, who were endeavoring to subvert the laws and religion of their country. And so long as he viewed them in this light, he verily thought it was his duty to oppose and destroy them, agreeably to the law respecting idolaters. But he never consulted conscience, with respect to the mo. tives of his conduct, or the temper of mind from which he acted. And this was the sole cause of his deception. Had he inquired of conscience whether he ought to oppose and persecute christians from a cruel and malevolent spirit, his conscience would have forbidden him to act from such a selfish and malignant heart. He deceived himself by imposing upon conscience. And moral sinners, at this day, deceive themselves in the same manner. They verily think they are conscientiously doing their duty, while they are pursuing their honest callings, and externally obeying the divine commands. They have the testimony of conscience, that they are doing those things which they ought to do. But if they would only consult conscience, with respect to the selfish motives

[ocr errors]
« ElőzőTovább »