C‎ > ‎Chalmers, Thomas - 1780-1847‎ > ‎Volume 1‎ > ‎

Bk. 3. - Chap. 2. - "On the Supremacy of Conscience."


An abstract question in morals is distinct from a question respecting the constitution of man’s {Page No. 306.} moral nature; and the former ought no more to be confounded with the latter, than the truths of geometry with the faculties of the reasoning mind which comprehends them. The virtuousness of justice was a stable doctrine in ethical science, anterior to the existence of the species; and would remain so, though the species were destroyed — just as much as the properties of a triangle are the enduring stabilities of mathematical science; and that, though no matter had been created to exemplify the positions or the figures of geometry. The objective nature of virtue is one thing. The subjective nature of the human mind, by which virtue is felt and recognised, is another. It is not from the former, any more than from the eternal truths of geometry, that we can demonstrate the existence or attributes of God — but from the latter, as belonging to the facts of a creation emanating from His will, and therefore bearing upon it the stamp of His character. The nature and constitution of virtue form a distinct subject of inquuy from the nature and constitution of the human mind. Virtue is not a creation of the Divine will, but has had everlasting residence in the nature of the Godhead. The mind of man is a creation; and therefore indicates, by its characteristics, the character of Him, to the fiat and the forth-going of whose will it owes its existence. We must frequently, m the course of this discussion, advert to the principles of ethics; but it is not on the system of ethical doctrine that our argument properly is founded. It is on the phenomena and the laws of actual human nature, which itself, one of the great facts of {Page No. 307.} creation, may be regarded like all its facts, as bearing on it the impress of that mind which gave birth to creation.


But further. It is not only not with the system of ethical doctrine — it is not even with the full system of the philosophy of our nature that we have properly to do. On this last there is still a number of unsettled questions; but our peculiar argument does not need to wait for the conclusive determination of them. For example, there is many a controversy among philosophers respecting the primary and secondary laws of the human constitution. Now, if it be an obviously beneficial law, it carries evidence for a God, in the mere existence and operation of it, independently of the rank which it holds, or of the relation in which it stands to the other principles, of our internal mechanism. It is thus that there may, at one and the same time, be grounded on the law in question a clear theological inference; and yet there may be associated with it an obscure philosophical speculation. It is well that we separate these two; and, more especially, that the decisive attestation given by any part or phenomenon of our nature to the Divine goodness, shall not be involved in the mist and metaphysical perplexity of other reasonings, the object of which is altogether distinct and separate from our own. The facts of the human constitution, apart altogether from the philosophy of their causation, demonstrate the wisdom and benevolence of Him who framed it: and while it is our part to follow the light of this philosophy, as far as the light and the guidance of it are sure, we {Page No. 308.} are not, in those cases, when the final cause is obvious as day, though the proximate efficient cause should be hidden in deepest mystery — we are not, on this account, to confound darkness with light, or light with darkness.


By attending throughout to this observation, we shall be saved from a thousand irrelevancies as well as obscurities of argument; and it is an observation peculiarly applicable, in announcing that great fact or phenomenon of mind, which, for many reasons, should hold a foremost place in our demonstration. We mean the felt supremacy of conscience — a phenomenon of much greater weight and prominency than are commonly assigned to it in the demonstrations of Natural Theism — a phenomenon without which we should, in the multitude of processes around us with the infinite diversity of their effects, feel ourselves but as in a world of enigmas; but which, singly and of itself, serves the office of a great light to overrule the cross or contradictory intimations that are given by the lesser ones. Philosophers there are, who have attempted to resolve this fact into ulterior or ultimate ones in the mental constitution; and who have denied to the faculty a place among its original and uncompounded principles. Sir James Macintosh tells us of the generation of human conscience; and, not merely states, but endeavours to explain the phenomenon of its felt supremacy within us. Dr. Adam Smith also assigns a pedigree to our moral judgments; but, with all his peculiar notions respecting the origin of the awards of conscience, he never once disputes their authority; or, that, by {Page No. 309.} the general consent of mankind, this authority is, in sentiment and opinion at least, conceded to them. It is somewhat like an antiquarian controversy respecting the first formation and subsequent historical changes of some certain court of government, the rightful authority of whose decisions and acts is, at the same time, fully recognised. And so, philosophers have disputed regarding the court of conscience — of what materials it is constructed, and by what line of genealogy from the anterior principles of our nature it has sprung. Yet most of these have admitted the proper right of sovereignty which belongs to it; its legitimate place as the master and the arbiter over all the appetites and desires and practical forces of human nature. Or, if any have dared the singularity of denying this, they do so in opposition to the general sense and general language of mankind, whose very modes of speech compel them to affirm that the biddings of conscience are of paramount authority — its peculiar office being to tell what all men should, or all men ought to do.


The proposition, however, which we are now {Page No. 310.} urging, is not that the obligations of virtue are binding, but that man has a conscience which tells him that they are so — not that justice and truth and humanity are the dogmata of the abstract moral system, but that they are the dictates of man’s moral nature — not that in themselves they are the constituent parts of moral rectitude, but that there is a voice within every heart which thus pronounces on them. It is not with the constitution of morality, viewed objectively, as a system or theory of doctrine, that we have properly to do; but with the constitution of man’s spirit, viewed as the subject of certain phenomena and laws — and, more particularly, with a great psychological fact in human nature, namely, the homage rendered by it to the supremacy of conscience. In a word, it is not of a category, but of a creation that we are speaking. The one can tell us nothing of the Divine character, while the other might afford most distinct and decisive indications of it. We could found no demonstration whatever of the Divine purposes, on a mere ethical, any more than we could, on a logical or mathematical category. But it is very different with an actual creation, whether in mind or in matter — a mechanism of obvious contrivance, and whose workings and tendencies, therefore, must be referred to the design, and so to the disposition or character of that Being, whose spirit hath devised and whose fingers have framed it.


For it is not an abstract question in Moral Science that we are now discussing. It is a question of Fact, respecting man’s moral nature — {Page No. 311.} and as much to be decided by observation as the nature or properties of any substantive being. It is a Fact which we learn or become acquainted with, just as we become acquainted with the constitution of a watch by the inspection of its mechanism. Conscience in Man is as much a thing of observation — as the regulator in a watch is a thing of observation. It depends for its truth, therefore, on an independent and abiding evidence of its own, under all the diversities of speculation on the nature of Virtue. By the supremacy of Conscience we affirm a truth which respects not the nature of Virtue but the nature of Man. It is, that in every human heart, there is a faculty — not, it may be, having the actual power, but having the just and rightful pretension to sit as judge and master over the whole of human conduct. Other propensities may have too much sway — but the moral propensity, if I may so term it, never can — for to have the presiding sway in all our concerns, is just that which properly and legitimately belongs to it. A man under anger may be too strongly prompted to deeds of retaliation — or under sensuality be too strongly prompted to indulgence — or under avarice be too closely addicted to the pursuit of wealth — or even under friendship be too strongly inclined to partiality — but he never can under conscience be too strongly inclined to be as he ought and to do as he ought. We may say of a watch that its main-spring is too powerful: but we would never say that a Regulator is too powerful. We may complain of each of its other parts that it has too much influence over the rest — but not that the part whose office it is to {Page No. 312.} regulate and fix the rate of going has too much influence. And just as a watch cannot move too regularly, man cannot walk too conscientiously. The one cannot too much obey its regulator — the other cannot too much obey his conscience. In other words, Conscience is the rightful Sovereign in man — and if any other, in the character of a ruling passion, be the actual Sovereign — it is an usurper. In the former case, the mind is felt to be in its proper and well-conditioned state; in the latter ease, it is felt to be in a state of anarchy. Yet even in that anarchy, Conscience though despoiled of its authority, still lifts its remonstrating claims. Though deprived of its rights, it continues to assert them. Long after being stripped of its dominion over man, it still has its dwelling-place in his bosom; and even when most in practice disregarded, then it makes itself to be felt and heard.


The supremacy of Conscience does not seem to have been sufficiently adverted to by Dr. Thomas Brown. He treats the moral feeling rather as an individual emotion which takes its part in the enumeration along with others in his list, than as the great master-emotion that is not appeased but by its ascendancy over them all. Now, instead of a single combatant in the play of many others, and which will only obtain the victory, if physically of greater power and force; it should be viewed as separate and signalized from the rest by its own felt and inherent claim of superiority over them. Each emotion hath its own characteristic object wherewith it is satisfied. But the specific object of this emotion is the regulation of all the active {Page No. 313.} powers of the soul — and without this, it is not satisfied. The distinction made by the sagacious Butler between the power of a principle and its authority, enables us in the midst of all the actual anomalies and disorders of our state, to form a precise estimate of the place which Conscience naturally and rightfully holds in man’s constitution. The desire of acting virtuously, which is a desire consequent on our sense of right and wrong, may not be of equal strength with the desire of some criminal indulgence — and so, practically, the evil may preponderate over the good. And thus it is that the system of the inner man, from the weakness of that which claims to be the ascendant principle of our nature may be thrown into a state of turbulence and disorder. So it may happen of a system of Civil Government — and just, from the real power and the rightful authority being dissevered the one from the other. But still this does not hinder there being a rightful authority somewhere — and that it may have existence, although it may not have force to carry the execution of its dictates. It is the very same of the Government within. There might be pride and passion and sensuality and the love of ease, and a thousand more affections each having their own object and their own degree of strength — and withal a Conscience has claims the supremacy over all these; but which often of inferior strength to them all may suffer them to lord it over that domain of which it rightfully is the master and proprietor. To it belongs the mastery — although the mastery is often wrongfully taken away from it. But still our urgent {Page No. 314.} and unescapeable sense of the wrong; our remorse and self-dissatisfaction when conscience is disobeyed; the happiness and harmony which are felt within, when the voice of authority which it emits is also a voice of power; the well-conditioned state of the soul, when the moral faculty overrules all, and subordinates all — these are so many badges of the proper and native supremacy of Conscience; and they evince that its part and office in the mechanism of our moral system is to act as regulator of the whole.


And neither do we urge the proposition that conscience has m every instance the actual direction of human affairs, for this were in the face of all experience. It is not that every man obeys her dictates, but that every man feels he ought to obey them. These dictates are often in life and practice disregarded: so that conscience is not the sovereign de facto. Still there is a voice within the hearts of all which asserts that conscience is the sovereign de jure; that to her belongs the command rightfully, even though she do not possess it actually. In a season of national anarchy, the actual power and the legitimate authority are often disjoined from each other. The lawful monarch may be dethroned, and so lose the might; while he continues to possess — nay, while he may be acknowledged throughout his kingdom to possess the right of sovereignty. The distinction still is made, even under this reign of violence, between the usurper and the lawful sovereign; and there is a similar distinction among the powers and principles of the human constitution, when an insurrection takes {Page No. 315.} place of the inferior against the superior; and conscience, after being dethroned from her place of mastery and control, is still felt to be the superior, or rather supreme faculty of our nature notwithstanding. She may have fallen from her dominion, yet still wear the badges of a fallen sovereign, having the acknowledged right of authority, though the power of enforcement has been wrested away from her. She may be outraged in all her prerogatives by the lawless appetites of our nature — but not without the accompanying sense within of an outrage and a wrong having been inflicted, and a reclaiming voice from thence which causes itself to be heard and which remonstrates against it. The insurgent and inferior principles of our constitution may, in the uproar of their wild mutiny, lift a louder and more effective voice than the small still voice of conscience. They have the might but not the right. Conscience, on the other hand, is felt to have the right though not the might — the legislative office being that which properly belongs to her, though the executive power should be wanting to enforce her enactments. It is not the reigning but the rightful authority of conscience that we, under the name of her supremacy, contend for; or, rather the fact that, by the consent of all our higher principles and feelings, this rightful authority is reputed to be hers; and, by the general concurrence of mankind awarded to her.


And here it is of capital importance to distinguish between an original and proper tendency, and a subsequent aberration. This has been well illustrated by the regulator of a watch, whose office {Page No. 316.} and primary design, and that obviously announced by the relation in which it stands to the other parts of the machinery, is to control the velocity of its movements. And we should still perceive this to have been its destination, even though, by accident or decay, it had lost the power of command which at the first belonged to it. We should not misunderstand the purpose of its maker, although, in virtue of some deterioration or derangement which the machinery had undergone, that purpose were now frustrated. And we could discern the purpose in the very make and constitution of the mechanism. We might even see it to be an irregular watch; and yet this needs not prevent us from seeing, that, at its original fabrication, it was made for the purpose of moving regularly. The mere existence and position of the regulator might suffice to indicate this — although it had become powerless, either from the wearing of the parts, or from some extrinsic disturbance to which the instrument had been exposed. The regulator, in this instance, may be said to have the right, though not the power of command, over the movements of the time-piece; yet the loss of the power has not obliterated the vestiges of the right; so that, by the inspection of the machinery alone, we both learn the injury which has been done to it, and the condition in which it originally came from the hand of its maker — a condition of actual as well as rightful supremacy, on the part of the regulator, over all its movements. And a similar discovery may be made, by examination of the various parts and principles which make up the moral system of man: for we see various {Page No. 317.} parts and principles there. We see Ambition, having power for its object, and without the attainment of which it is not satisfied; and Avarice, having wealth for its object, without the attainment of which it is not satisfied; and Benevolence, having for its object the good of others, without the attainment of which it is not satisfied; and the love of Reputation, having for its object their applause, without which it is not satisfied; and lastly, to proceed no further in the enumeration. Conscience, which surveys and superintends the whole man, whose distinct and appropriate object it is to have the entire control both of his inward desires and outward doings, and without the attainment of this it is thwarted from its proper aim, and remains unsatisfied. Each appetite, or affection of our nature, has its own distinct object; but this last is the object of Conscience, which may be termed the moral affection. The place which it occupies, or rather which it is felt that it should occupy, and which naturally belongs to it, is that of a governor, claiming the superiority, and taking to itself the direction over all the other powers and passions of humanity. If tills superiority be denied to it, there is a felt violence done to the whole economy of man. The sentiment is, that the thing is not as it should be: and even after conscience is forced, in virtue of some subsequent derangement, from this station of rightful ascendancy, we can still distinguish between what is the primitive design or tendency, and what is the posterior aberration. We can perceive, in the case of a deranged or distempered watch, that the mechanism is out of order; but even then, on {Page No. 318.} the bare examination of its workmanship, and more especially from the place and bearing of its regulator, can we pronounce that it was made for moving regularly. And in like manner, on the bare inspection of our mental economy alone, and more particularly from the place which conscience has there, can we, even in the case of the man who refuses to obey its dictates, affirm that he was made for walking conscientiously.


The distinction which we now labour to establish between conscience, and the other principles of our nature, does not respect the actual force or prevalence which may, or may not, severally belong to them. It respects the universal judgment which, by the very constitution of our nature, is passed on the question, which of all these should have the prevalence, whenever there happens to be a contest between them. All which we affirm is, that if conscience prevail over the other principles, then every man is led, by the very make and mechanism of his internal economy, to feel that this is as it ought to be; or, if these others prevail over conscience, that this is not as it ought to be. One, it is generally felt, may be too ambitious, or too much set on wealth and fame, or too resentful of injury, or even too facile in his benevolence, when carried to the length of being injudicious and hurtful; but no one is ever felt, if he have sound and enlightened views of morality, to be too conscientious. When we affirm this of conscience, we but concur in the homage rendered to it by all men, as being the rightful, if not the actual superior, among all the feelings and faculties of our nature. It is a truth, {Page No. 319.} perhaps, too simple for being reasoned; but this is because, like many of the most important and undoubted certainties of human belief, it is a truth of instant recognition. When stating the supremacy of conscience, in the sense that we have explained it, we but state what all men feel; and our only argument, in proof of the assertion, is — our only argument can be, an appeal to the experience of all men.


Bishop Butler has often been spoken of as the first discoverer of this great principle in our nature; though, perhaps, no man can properly be said to discover what all men are conscious of. But certain it is, that he is the first who hath made the natural supremacy of conscience the subject of a full and reflex cognizance — and by this achievement alone hath become the author of one of the most important contributions ever made to moral science. It forms the argument of his three first sermons, in a volume which may safely be pronounced, the most precious repository of sound ethical principles extant in any language. The authority of conscience, says Dugald Stewart, “although beautifully described by many of the ancient moralists, was not sufficiently attended to by modern writers, as a fundamental principle in the science of ethics, till the time of Dr. Butler.” It belongs to the very essence of the principle, that we clearly distinguish, between what we find to be the actual force of conscience, and what we feel to be its rightful authority. These two may exist in a state of separation from each other just as in a Civil Government, the reigning power may, in {Page No. 320.} seasons of anarchy, be dissevered from that supreme court or magistrate to whom it rightfully belongs. The mechanism of a political fabric is not adequately or fully described by the mere enumeration of its parts. There must also enter into the description, the relation which the parts bear to each other; and more especially, the paramount relation of rightful ascendancy and direction, which that part, in which the functions of Government are vested, bears to the whole. Neither is the mechanism of man’s personal constitution fully or adequately described, by merely telling us in succession the several parts of which it is composed — as the passions, and the appetites, and the affections, and the moral sense, and the intellectual capacities, which make up this complex and variously gifted creature. The particulars of his mental system must not only be stated, each in their individuality; but the bearing or connexion which each has with the rest — else it is not described as a system at all. In making out this description, we should not only not overlook the individual faculty of conscience, but we must not overlook its relative place among the other feelings and faculties of our nature. That place is the place of command. What conscience lays claim to is the mastery or regulation over the whole man. Each desire of our nature rests or terminates in its own appropriate object, as the love of fame in applause, or hunger in food, or revenge in the infliction of pain upon its object, or affection for another in the happiness and company of the beloved individual. But the object of the moral sense is to arbitrate and direct among all {Page No. 321.} these propensities. It claims the station and the prerogative of a mistress over them. Its peculiar office is that of superintendence, and there is a certain feeling of violence or disorder, when the mandates which it issues in this capacity, are not carried into effect. Every affection in our nature is appeased by the object that is suited to it. The object of conscience is the subordination of the whole to its dictates. Without this it remains unappeased, and as if bereft of its rights. It is not a single faculty, taking its own separate and unconnected place among the other feelings and faculties which belong to us. Its proper place is that of a guide or a governor. It is the ruling power in our nature; and its proper, its legitimate business, is to prescribe that man shall be as he ought, and do as he ought. But instead of expatiating any further at present in language of our own, let us here admit a few brief sentences from Butler himself, that great and invaluable expounder both of the human constitution, and of moral science. “That principle by which we survey, and either approve or disapprove our own heart, temper, and actions, is not only to be considered as what in its turn is to have some influence, which may be said of every passion, of the basest appetites: but likewise as being superior; as from its very nature manifestly claiming superiority over all others: insomuch that you cannot form a notion of this faculty conscience, without taking in judgment direction and superintendency. This is a constituent part of the idea, that is of the faculty itself: and to preside and govern, from the very economy {Page No. 322.} and constitution of man, belongs to it. Had it strength, as it has right; had it power, as it has manifest authority; it would absolutely govern the world.” “This faculty was placed within us to be our proper governor; to direct and regulate all under principles, passions, and motives of action. This is its right and office. Thus sacred is its authority. And how often soever men violate and rebelliously refuse to submit to it, for supposed interest which they cannot otherwise obtain, or for the sake of passion which they cannot otherwise gratify; this makes no alteration as to the natural right and office of conscience.” “As the idea of a civil constitution implies in it united strength, various subordinations under one direction that of the supreme authority, the different strength of each particular member of the society not coming into the idea; whereas if you leave out the subordination, the union, and the one direction, you lose it; so reason, several appetites, passions and affections, prevailing in different degrees of strength, is not that idea or notion of human nature, which is meant when virtue is said to consist in following it, and vice in deviating from it; but that nature consists in these several principles considered as “having a natural respect to each other, in the several passions being naturally subordinate to the one superior principle of reflection or conscience. Every bias, instinct, pro-pension within, is a real part of our nature, but not the whole: Add to these the superior faculty, whose office it is to adjust, manage and preside over them, and take in this its natural superiority, and you complete the {Page No. 323.} idea of human nature. And as in civil government the constitution is broken in upon, 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. Thus when it is said by ancient writers, that tortures and death are not so contrary to human nature as injustice; by this, to be sure, is not meant, that the aversion to the former in mankind is less strong and prevalent than their aversion to the latter: But that the former is only contrary to our nature considered in a partial view, and which takes in only the lowest part of it, that which we have in common with the brutes; whereas the latter is contrary to our nature, considered in a higher sense, as a system and constitution, contrary to the whole economy of man.” The conclusion on the whole is — that “man cannot be considered as a creature left by his Maker to act at random, and live at large up to the extent of his natural power, as passion, human wilfulness, happen to carry him; which is the condition brute creatures are in; But that from his make, constitution, or nature, he is, in the strictest and most proper sense, a law to himself. He hath the rule of right within: What is wanting is only that he honestly attend to it.”


Now it is in these phenomena of Conscience that Nature offers to us, far her strongest argument, for the moral character of God. Had He been an unrighteous Being himself, would He have given to this the obviously superior faculty in man, so {Page No. 324.} distinct and authoritative a voice on the side of righteousness ? Would He have so constructed the creatures of our species, as to have planted in every breast a reclaiming witness against himself ? Would He have thus inscribed on the tablet of every heart the sentence of his own condemnation; and is not this just as unlikely, as that He should have inscribed it in written characters on the forehead of each individual ? Would He so have fashioned the workmanship of His own hands; or, if a God of cruelty, injustice, and falsehood, would He have placed in the station of master and judge that faculty which, felt to be the highest in our nature, would prompt a generous and high-minded revolt of all our sentiments against the Being who formed us ? From a God possessed of such characteristics, we should surely have expected a differently-moulded humanity; or, in other words, from the actual constitution of man, from the testimonies on the side of all righteousness, given by the vicegerent within the heart, do we infer the righteousness of the Sovereign who placed it there. He would never have established a conscience in man, and invested it with the authority of a monitor, and given to it those legislative and judicial functions which it obviously possesses; and then so framed it, that all its decisions should be on the side of that virtue which He himself disowned, and condemnatory of that vice which He himself exemplified. This is an evidence for the righteousness of God, which keeps its ground, amid all the disorders and aberrations to which humanity is liable; and can no more, indeed, be {Page No. 325.} deafened or overborne by these, than is the rightful authority of pubUc opinion, by the occasional out-breakings of iniquity and violence which take place in society. This public opinion may, in those seasons of misrule when might prevails over right, be deforced from the practical ascendancy which it ought to have; but the very sentiment that it so ought, is our reason for believing the world to have been originally formed, in order that virtue might have the rule over it. In like manner, when, in the bosom of every individual man, we can discern a conscience, placed there with the obvious design of being a guide and a commander, it were difficult not to believe, that, whatever the partial outrages may be which the cause of virtue has to sustain, it has the public mind of the universe in its favour; and that therefore He, who is the Maker and the Ruler of such a universe, is a God of righteousness. Amid all the subsequent deteriorations and errors, the original design, both of a deranged watch and of a deranged human nature, is alike manifest; first, of the maker of the watch, that its motions should harmonize with time; second, of the maker of man, that his movements should harmonize with truth and righteousness. We can, in most cases, discern between an aberration and an original law; between a direct or primitive tendency and the effect of a disturbing force, by which that tendency is thwarted and overborne. And so of the constitution of man. It may be now a loosened and disproportioned thing, yet we can trace the original structure — even as from the fragments of a ruin, {Page No. 326.} we can obtain the perfect model of a building from its capital to its base. It is thus that, however prostrate conscience may have fallen, we can still discern its place of native and original pre-eminence, as being at once the legislator and the judge in the moral system, though the executive forces of the system have made insurrection against it, and thrown the whole into anarchy. By studying the constitution, or what Butler calls the make of any thing, we may divine the purpose of the Maker. No one can mistake the design of the artificer in putting a regulator into a watch. It was to make it move regularly. And as little should we mistake the design of the Creator in putting a Conscience into man’s bosom. It was to make him walk conscientiously. Even although from some derangement in the machinery, the regulator had lost its power of control — yet from its plan of control the original purpose of it may still be abundantly manifest. And in like manner, though from the unhingement of man’s moral economy. Conscience may have fallen from the actual sway, it still bespeaks itself to be a fallen sovereign, and that the place of sovereignty is that which natively and rightfully belongs to it. When what is obviously the regulating power has quitted its hold, whether of the material or the spiritual mechanism, we distinctly recognise of each that it is not in its natural state but in a state of disorder, arising in the one case from the wear of the materials or from some shake that the machinery has received, arising in the other case either from some incidental disturbance, or from some inherent frailty and defect {Page No. 327.} that attaches to the creature. There is a depth of mystery in every thing connected with the existence and origin of evil in creation; yet, even in the fiercest uproar of our stormy passions, Conscience, though in her softest whispers, gives to the supremacy of rectitude the voice of an undying testimony; and her light still shining in a dark place, her unquelled accents still heard in the loudest outcry of Nature’s rebellious appetites, form the strongest argument within reach of the human faculties, that, in spite of all partial or temporary derangements, Supreme Power and Supreme Goodness are at one. It is true that rebellious man hath, with daring footstep, trampled on the lessons of Conscience; but why, in spite of man’s perversity, is conscience, on the other hand, able to lift a voice so piercing and so powerful, by which to remonstrate against the wrong, and to reclaim the honours that are due to her ? How comes it that, in the mutiny and uproar of the inferior faculties, that faculty in man, which wears the stamp and impress of the highest, should remain on the side of truth and holiness ? Would humanity have thus been moulded by a false and evil spirit; or would he have committed such impolicy against. himself, as to insert in each member of our species a principle which would make him feel the greatest complacency in his own rectitude, when he feels the most high-minded revolt of indignation and dislike against the Being who gave him birth ? It is not so much that Conscience takes a part among the other faculties of our nature; but that Conscience takes among them the part of a governor, and that man, if he do not obey her {Page No. 328.} suggestions, still, in despite of himself, acknowledges her rights. It is a mighty argument for the virtue of the Governor above, that all the laws and injunctions of the governor below are on the side of virtue. It seems as if He had left this representative, or remaining witness, for Himself, in a world that had cast off its allegiance; and that, from the voice of the judge within the breast, we may learn the will and the character of Him who hath invested with such authority His dictates. It s this which speaks as much more demonstratively for the presidency of a righteous God in human affairs, than for that of impure or unrighteous demons, as did the rod of Aaron, when it swallowed the rods of the enchanters and magicians in Egypt. In the wildest anarchy of man’s insurgent appetites and sins, there is still a reclaiming voice — a voice which, even when in practice disregarded, it is impossible not to own; and to which, at the very moment that we refuse our obedience, we find that we cannot refuse the homage of what we ourselves do feel and acknowledge to be the best, the highest principles of our nature. 


The question then is, would any other than a God of righteousness have made creatures of such a moral constitution at the first — and, however inexplicable its subsequent derangement may be, would He have left a conscience in every breast which gave such powerful testimony to the worth and the permanent importance of morality ? Shaded in all its original lineaments as the character of man now is, and dethroned although virtue be from the actual sovereignty, is there not still {Page No. 329.} amongst us a general and abiding sense of her rightful sovereignty ? Would even this imperfect but universal homage continue to be given, were it a wicked Being who presided over the great family of Nature, or breathed life and spirit and sentiment into the human framework ? Would He have placed so deeply within us that faculty by which as if with moral compulsion we are constrained to hold in supreme reverence, the goodness which in all its characteristics is the reverse and the counterpart of his own nature ? Would He have endowed the creatures which himself hath made with an admiration of all that is most opposite to himself — and how, if He be unrighteous hath He put into every bosom such an indelible sense of the obligation and precedency of righteousness ? Righteousness does not bear actual and unexcepted rule in the world — but there is a conscience in every man which proclaims that this rule it ought to have, and that though wrested from it, it is by the force of principles which are felt to be in their own nature inferior to Conscience. Had there been no Conscience in man, each propensity may at times have had its own temporary sway — as if gods of unequal strength shared the dominion over them. But there being a Conscience, invested with a rightful if not with an actual ascendancy which still keeps a remaining hold of our nature, and within the recesses of a Moral System, in evident disorder still causes its voice to be heard — this phenomenon, of itself, gives a blow to impure Polytheism, or at least degrades each member thereof to the rank of an inferior deity. The question is whether He be {Page No. 330.} a good or an evil spirit who presides over the destinies of our species. Were he an unrighteous God who has full sway over us, why is Conscience, that faculty which disowns unrighteousness and outlays it, permitted by him to assume the rank of an arbiter and not only to speak but to speak as one having authority ? If the actual Artificer of man’s moral mechanism be a wicked or a malignant spirit, it seems inexplicable that he should have placed such a judge and arbiter within us — one who bore constant testimony against the wrongness and the worthlessness of his own character. Thus to have written reproach against himself in every heart is just as inexplicable as if he had legibly written his own disgrace upon every forehead. It is true on the other hand, that if he be a righteous God who governs our world, Humanity is in a state of revolt against him — the result however not of the principles but of the passions, or of what Humanity itself judges and feels to be the inferior of its faculties — still He is borne witness to by that within the breast which claims to be the superior, the supreme faculty, and which obviously announces itself to be if not de facto, at least de jure the ruling power. 


However difficult from the very simplicity of the subject it may be, to state or to reason the argument for a God, which is founded on the supremacy of Conscience, still historically and experimentally, it will be found, that it is of more force than all other arguments put together, for originating and upholding the natural theism which there is in the world. The theology of Conscience {Page No. 331.} is not only of wider diffusion, but of far more practical influence than the theology of academic demonstration. The ratiocination by which this theology is established, is not the less firm or the less impressive, that, instead of a lengthened process, there is but one step between the premises and the conclusion — or, that the felt presence of a judge within the breast, powerfully and immediately suggests the notion of a Supreme Judge and Sovereign, who placed it there. Upon this question, the mind does not stop short at mere abstraction; but, passing at once from the abstract to the concrete, from the law of the heart it makes the rapid inference of a lawgiver. It is the very rapidity of this inference which makes it appear like intuition; and which has given birth to the mystic theology of innate ideas. Yet the theology of Conscience disclaims such mysticism, built, as it is, on a foundation of sure and sound reasoning; for the strength of an argumentation in nowise depends upon the length of it. The sense of a governing principle within, begets in all men the sentiment of a living Governor without and above them, and it does so with all the speed of an instantaneous feeling; yet it is not an impression, it is an inference notwithstanding — and as much so as any inference from that which is seen, to that which is unseen. There is, in the first instance, cognizance taken of a fact — if not by the outward eye, yet as good, by the eye of consciousness which has been termed the faculty of internal observation. And the consequent belief of a God, instead of being an instinctive sense of the Divinity, is the {Page No. 332.} fruit of an inference grounded on that fact. There is instant transition made, from the sense of a Monitor within to the faith of a living Sovereign above; and this argument, described by all, but with such speed as almost to warrant the expression of its being felt by all, may be regarded, notwithstanding the force and fertility of other considerations, as the great prop of natural religion among men. 


At all events it is of the utmost value in Theology — that there should be so much of Truth and of supremely important Truth placed so near us as to be laid hold of immediately by the mind; without the intervention of reasoning and without any sensible exertion on the part of the discursive faculty, or of that faculty by which it is, that we arrive at some distant conclusion by a train of inferences. Such for example are those truths which are seen, not merely in the light of the external senses but in the light of consciousness, and which instantly become manifest on the attention of the mind being turned towards them. There needs in these instances no lengthened argumentation to carry the belief — for the thing in question becomes palpable by our own vivid and intimate consciousness of our own nature. The supremacy of Conscience is one of those truths — not come at by a series of stepping-stones — but seen at once, in the light of what may be termed an instant manifestation. Now certain it is, that this Fact or Phenomenon in our nature, depones strongly both for a God and for the supreme righteousness of His Nature. But it depones to {Page No. 333.} these immediately; or, at most, there is but one inferential step which leads from the consciousness of what we feel to be in ourselves, to the impression of what we apprehend to be in Him from whom we derived our constitution and our being. There may here be one transition from the premises to the conclusion — but done with such rapidity by the mind that it is not conscious of an argument. And this it is, we believe, which has given a certain innate or a prior character to some of the notions and feelings of Natural Theism. They may be soundly bottomed notwithstanding — so that though mingled with the fears or the fancies of superstition, we can discern the substantial workings of Truth and Reason on the subject of a God, even in countries of grossest Heathenism. For the felt supremacy of Conscience established even there, a certain natural regimen of Morality — and gave the impression of a Jurisprudence wherewith the idea of an avenger and judge stood irresistibly associated. The Law written on the Heart suggested a Lawgiver however indistinct their personification of him may have been. Even the barbarous Theology of Greece and Rome, impure and licentious as it was, did not wholly obliterate what may be called the Theology of Natural Conscience. 


And we mistake, if we think it was ever otherwise, even in the ages of darkest and most licentious Paganism. This Theology of Conscience has often been greatly obscured, but never, in any country or at any period in the history of the world, has it been wholly obliterated. We behold the vestiges of it {Page No. 334.} in the simple Theology of the desert; and, perhaps, more distinctly there, than in the complex superstitions of an artificial and civilized heathenism. In confirmation of this, we might quote the invocations to the Great Spirit from the wilds of North America. But, indeed, in every quarter of the globe, where missionaries have held converse with savages, even with the rudest of Nature’s children — when speaking on the topics of sin and judgment, they did not speak to them in vocables unknown. And as this sense of a universal Law and a Supreme Lawgiver never waned into total extinction among the tribes of ferocious and untamed wanderers — so neither was it altogether stifled by the refined and intricate polytheism of more enlightened nations. The whole of classic authorship teems with allusions to a Supreme Governor and Judge: And when the guilty Emperors of Rome were tempest-driven by remorse and fear, it was not that they trembled before a spectre of their own imagination. When terror mixed, which it often did, with the rage and cruelty of Nero, it was the theology of conscience which haunted him. It was not the suggestion of a capricious fancy which gave him the disturbance — but a voice issuing from the deep recesses of a moral nature, as stable and uniform throughout the species as is the material structure of humanity; and in the lineaments of which we may read that there is a moral regimen among men, and therefore a moral Governor who hath instituted, and who presides over it. Therefore, it was that these imperial despots, the worst and haughtiest of recorded monarchs, stood aghast at the spectacle {Page No. 335.} of their own worthlessness. It is true, there is a wretchedness which naturally and essentially belongs to a state of great moral unhingement; and this may account for their discomforts, but it will not account for their fears. They may, because of this, have felt the torments of a present misery. But whence their fears of a coming vengeance ? They would not have trembled at Nature’s law, apart from the thought of Nature’s Lawgiver. The imagination of an unsanctioned law would no more have given disquietude, than the imagination of a vacant throne. But the law, to their guilty apprehensions, bespoke a judge. The throne of heaven, to their troubled eye, was filled by a living monarch. Righteousness, it was felt, would not have been so enthroned in the moral system of man, had it not been previously enthroned in the system of the universe; nor would it have held such place and pre-eminence in the judgment of all spirits, had not the Father of Spirits been its friend and ultimate avenger. This is not a local or geographical notion. It is a universal feeling — to be found wherever men are found, because interwoven with the constitution of humanity. It is not, therefore, the peculiarity of one creed, or of one country. It circulates at large throughout the family of man. We can trace it in the Theology of savage life; nor is it wholly overborne by the artificial Theology of a more complex and idolatrous Paganism. Neither crime nor civilization can extinguish it; and whether in the “conscientia scelerum” of the fierce and frenzied Catiline, or in the tranquil contemplative musings of Socrates and {Page No. 336.} Cicero, we find the impression of at once a righteous and a reigning Sovereign. 


With this felt Supremacy of Conscience, we cannot rid ourselves of the impression that whatever the actual power or prevalence of vice may be in the world, it is but the tumult and insurrection of lower against higher elements — and that moral rectitude still undislodged from its empire in the pure region of Sentiment and Thought, sits aloft as it were in empyreal dignity; and from an eminence whence no Power in Earth or Heaven can dethrone her, commands the homage of all that is best and worthiest in Nature. When there is war betwixt Opinion and Force, the latter may have the physical ascendancy, yet the former is ever counted the nobler antagonist — and thus it is, that although vice should have enlisted under its standard of rebellion all the families of mankind, there remains the moral greatness of Virtue, as erect in the consciousness of its strength as if it had the public mind of the Universe upon its side. It is difficult to resist the feeling, that amid all the mystery of present appearances, the highest power is at one with the highest principle. And it confirms still more our idea of a government — that conscience not only gives forth her mandates with the tone and authority of a Superior; but, as if on purpose to enforce their observance, thus follows them up with an obvious discipline of rewards and punishments. It is enough but to mention, on the one hand, that felt complacency which is distilled, like some precious elixir, upon the heart by the recollection of virtuous deeds and virtuous sacrifices; {Page No. 337.} and, on the other hand, those inflictions of remorse, which are attendant upon wickedness, and wherewith, as. if by the whip of a secret tormentor, the heart of every conscious sinner is agonized. We discern in these the natural sanctions of morality, and the moral character of Him who hath ordained them. We cannot otherwise explain the peace and triumphant satisfaction which spring from the consciousness of well doing — nor can we otherwise explain the degradation as well as bitter distress, which a sense of demerit brings along with it. Our only adequate interpretation of these phenomena is, that they are the present remunerations or the present chastisements of a God who loveth righteousness, and who hateth iniquity. Nor do we view them as the conclusive results of virtue and vice, but rather as the tokens and the precursors either of a brighter reward or of a heavier vengeance, that are coming. It is thus that the delight of self-approbation, instead of standing alone, brings hope in its train; and remorse, instead of standing alone, brings terror in its train. The expectations of the future are blended with these joys and sufferings of the present; and all serve still more to stamp an impression, of which traces are to be found in every quarter of the earth — that we live under a retributive economy, and that the God who reigns over it takes a moral and judicial cognizance of the creatures whom He hath formed. 


What then are the specific injunctions of conscience ? for on this question essentially depends every argument that we can derive from this power or property of our nature, for the moral character {Page No. 338.} of God. If, on the one hand, the lessons given forth by a faculty, which so manifestly claims to be the pre-eminent and ruling faculty of our nature, be those of deceit and licentiousness and cruelty — then, from the character of such a law, should we infer the character of the lawgiver; and so feel the conclusion to be inevitable, that we are under the government of a malignant and unrighteous God, at once the patron of vice and the persecutor of virtue in the world. If on the other hand, temperance, and chastity, and kindness, and integrity, and truth, be the mandates which generally, if not invariably proceed from her — then, on the same principles of judgment, should we reckon that He who is the author of conscience, and who gave it the place of supremacy and honour, which it so obviously possesess in the moral system of man, was himself the friend and the exemplar of all those virtues which enter into the composition of perfect moral rectitude. In the laws and the lessons of human conscience, would we study the character of the Godhead, just as we should study the views and dispositions of a monarch, in the instructions given by him to the viceroy of one of his provinces. If, on the one hand, virtue be prescribed by the authority of conscience, and followed up by her approval, in which very approval there is felt an inward satisfaction and serenity of spirit, that of itself forms a most delicious reward; and if, on the other hand, the perpetrations of wickedness are followed up by the voice of her rebuke, in which, identical with remorse, there is a sting of agony and discomfort, amounting to the {Page No. 339.} severest penalty — then, are we as naturally disposed to infer of Him who ordained such a mental constitution that He is the righteous Governor of men, as, if seated on a visible throne in the midst of us, He had made the audible proclamation of His law, and by His own immediate hand, had distributed of His gifts to the obedient, and inflicted chastisements on the rebellious. The law of conscience may be regarded as comprising ail those virtues which the hand of the Deity hath inscribed on the tablet of the human heart, or on the tablet of natural jurisprudence; and an argument for these being the very virtues which characterize and adorn Himself, is that they must have been transcribed from the prior tablet of His own nature. 


We are sensible that there is much to obscure this inference in the actual circumstances of the world. More especially — it has been alleged, on the side of scepticism, that there is an exceeding diversity of moral judgments among men; that, out of the multifarious decisions of the human conscience, no consistent code of virtue can be framed; and that, therefore, no consistent character can be ascribed to Him, who planted this faculty in the bosom of our species, and bade it speak so uncertainly and so variously. But to this it may {Page No. 340.} be answered, in the first place, that the apparent diversity is partly reducible into the blinding, or, at least, the distorting effect of passion and interest, which sometimes are powerful enough to obscure our perception, even of mathematical and historical truths, as well as of moral distinctions; and without therefore affecting the stability of either. It is thus, for example, that mercantile cupidity has blinded many a reckless adventurer to the enormous injustice of the slave-trade; that passion and interest together have transmuted revenge into a virtue; and that the robbery, which, if prosecuted only for the sake of individual gain, would have appeared to all under an aspect of most revolting selfishness, puts on the guise of patriotism, when a whole nation deliberates on the schemes, or is led by a career of daring and lofty heroism, to the spoliations of conquest. In all such cases, it is of capital importance to distinguish between the real character of any criminal action, when looked to calmly, comprehensively, and fully; and what that is in the action which the perpetrator singles out and fastens upon as his plea, when he is either defending it to others, or reconciling it to his own conscience. In as far as he knows the deed to be incapable of vindication, and yet rushes on the performance of it, there is but delinquency of conduct incurred, not a diversity of moral judgment; nor does Conscience, in this case, at all betray any {Page No. 341.} caprice or uncertainty in her decisions. It is but the conduct, and not the conscience, which is in fault; and to determine whether the latter is in aught chargeable with fluctuation, we must look not to man’s performance, but to his plea. Two men may differ as to the moral character of an action; but if each is resting the support of his own view on a different principle from the other, there may still be a perfect uniformity of moral sentiment between them. They own the authority of the same laws; they only disagree in the application of them. In the first place, the most vehement denouncer of a guilty commerce is at one with the most strenuous of its advocates, on the duty which each man owes to his family; and again, neither of them would venture to maintain the lawfulness of the trade, because of the miseries inflicted by it on those wretched sufferers who were its victims. The defender of this ruthless and rapacious system disowns not, in sentiment at least, however much he may disown in practice, the obligations of justice and humanity — nay, in all the palliations which he attempts of the enormity in question, he speaks of these as undoubted virtues, and renders the homage of his moral acknowledgments to them all. In the sophistry of his vindication, the principles of the ethical system are left untouched and entire. He meddles not with the virtuousness either of humanity or justice; but he tells of the humanity of slavery, and the justice of slavery. It is true, that he heeds not the representations which are given of the atrocities of his trade — that he does not attend because {Page No. 342.} he wills not to attend; and in this there is practical unfairness. Still it but resolves itself into perversity of conduct, and not into perversity of sentiment. The very dread and dislike he has for the informations of the subject, are symptoms of a feeling that his conscience cannot be trusted with the question; or, in other words, prove him to be possessed of a conscience which is just like that of other men. The partialities of interest and feeling may give rise to an infinite diversity of moral judgments in our estimate of actions; while there may be the most perfect uniformity and stability of judgment in our estimate of principles: and, on all the great generalities of the ethical code. Conscience may speak the same language, and own one and the same moral directory aU the world over. 


When consciences then pronounce differently of the same action, it is for the most part, or rather, it is almost always, because understandings view it differently. It is either because the controversialists are regarding it with unequal degrees of knowledge; or, each, through the medium of his own partialities. The consciences of all would come forth with the same moral decision, were all equally enlightened in the circumstances, or in the essential relations and consequences of the deed in question; and, what is just as essential to this uniformity of judgment, were all viewing it fairly as well as fully. It matters not, whether it be ignorantly or wilfully, that each is looking to this deed, but in the one aspect, or in the one relation that is favourable to his own peculiar sentiment. In either case, the diversity of judgment on the moral qualities of the {Page No. 343.} same action, is just as little to be wondered at as a similar diversity on the material qualities of the same object — should any of the spectators labour under an involuntary defect of vision, or voluntarily persist either in shutting or in averting his eyes. It is thus that a quarrel has well been termed a misunderstanding, in which each of the combatants may consider, and often honestly consider, himself to be in the right; and that, on reading the hostile memorials of two parties in a litigation, we can perceive no difference in their moral principles, but only in their historical statements; and that, in the public manifestoes of nations when entering upon war, we can discover no trace of a contrariety of conflict in their ethical systems, but only in their differently put or differently coloured representations of fact — all proving, that, with the utmost diversity of judgment among men respecting the moral qualities of the same thing, there may be a perfect identity of structure in their moral organs notwithstanding; and that Conscience, true to her office, needs but to be rightly informed, that she may speak the same language, and give forth the same lessons in all the countries of the earth. 


It is this which explains the moral peculiarities of different nations. It is not that justice, humanity, and gratitude are not the canonized virtues of every region; or that falsehood, cruelty, and fraud would not, in their abstract and unassociated nakedness, be viewed as the objects of moral antipathy and rebuke. It is, that, in one and the same material action, when looked to in all the lights of which, whether in reality or by the power {Page No. 344.} of imagination, it is susceptible, various, nay, opposite moral characteristics may be blended; and that while one people look to the good only without the evil, another may look to the evil only without the good. And thus the identical acts which in one nation are the subjects of a most reverent and religious observance, may, in another be regarded with a shuddering sense of abomination and horror. And this, not because of any difference in what may be termed the moral categories of the two people, nor because, if moral principles in their unmixed generality were offered to the contemplation of either, either would call evil good or good evil. When theft was publicly honoured and rewarded in Sparta, it was not because theft in itself was reckoned a good thing; but because patriotism, and dexterity, and those services by which the interests of patriotism might be supported, were reckoned to be good things. When the natives of Hindostan assemble with delight around the agonies of a human sacrifice, it is not because they hold it good to rejoice in a spectacle of pain; but because they hold it good to rejoice in a spectacle of heroic devotion to the memory of the dead. When parents are exposed or children are destroyed, it is not because it is deemed to be right that there should be the infliction of misery for its own sake; but because it is deemed to be right that the wretchedness of old age should be curtailed, or that the world should be saved from the miseries of an over-crowded species. In a word, in the very worst of these anomalies, some form of good may be detected, which has led to their establishment; {Page No. 345.} and still some universal and undoubted principle of morality, however perverted or misapplied, can be alleged in vindication of them. A people may be deluded by their ignorance; or misguided by their superstition; or, not only hurried into wrong deeds, but even fostered into wrong sentiments, under the influences of that cupidity or revenge, which are so perpetually operating in the warfare of savage or demisavage nations. Yet, in spite of all the topical moralities to which these have given birth, there is an unquestioned and universal morality notwithstanding. And in every case, where the moral sense is unfettered by these associations; and the judgment is uncramped, either by the partialities of interest or by the inveteracy of national customs which habit and antiquity have rendered sacred — Conscience is found to speak the same language; nor, to the remotest ends of the world, is there a country or an island, where the same uniform and consistent voice is not heard from her. Let the mists of ignorance and passion and artificial education be only cleared away; and the moral attributes of goodness and righteousness and truth be seen undistorted, and in their own proper guise; and there is not a heart or a conscience throughout earth’s teeming population, which could refuse to do them homage. And it is precisely because the Father of the human family has given such hearts and consciences to all his children, that we infer these to be the very sanctities of the Godhead, the verv attributes of his own primeval nature. 


There is a countless diversity of tastes in {Page No. 346.} the world, because of the infinitely various circumstances and associations of men. Yet is there a stable and correct standard of taste notwithstanding, to which all minds, that have the benefit of culture and enlargement, are gradually assimilating and approximating. It holds far more emphatically true, that, in spite of the diversity of moral judgments, which are vastly less wide and numerous than the former, there is a fixed standard of morals, rallying around itself all consciences, to the greater principles of which, a full and unanimous homage is rendered from every quarter of the globe; and even to the lesser principles and modifications of which, there is a growing and gathering consent, with every onward step in the progress of light and civilization. In proportion as the understandings of men become more enlightened, do their consciences become more accordant with each other. Even now there is not a single people on the face of the earth, among whom barbarity and licentiousness and fraud are deified as virtues — where it does not require the utmost strength, whether of superstition or of patriotism in its most selfish and contracted form, to uphold the delusion. Apart from these local and, we venture to hope, these temporary exceptions, the same moralities are recognised and honoured; and, however prevalent in practice, in sentiment at least, the same vices are disowned and execrated all the world over. In proportion as superstition is dissipated, and prejudice is gradually weakened by the larger intercourse of nations, these moral peculiarities do evidently wear away; till at length, if we may judge from the {Page No. 347.} obvious tendency of things, conscience will, in the full manhood of our species, assert the universality and the unchangeableness of her decisions. There is no speech nor language where her voice is not heard; her line is gone out through all the earth; and her words to the ends of the world. 


On the whole, then, conscience, whether it be an original or a derived faculty, yet as founded on human nature, if not forming a constituent part of it, may be regarded as a faithful witness for God the author of that nature, and as rendering to his character a consistent testimony. It is not necessary, for the establishment of our particular lesson, that we should turn that which is clear into that which is controversial by our entering into the scientific question respecting the physical origin of conscience, or tracing the imagined pedigree of its descent from simpler or anterior principles in the constitution of man. For, as has been well remarked by Sir James Macintosh — “If Conscience be inherent, that circumstance is, according to the common mode of thinking, a sufficient proof of its title to veneration. But if provision be made, in the constitution and circumstances of all men for uniformity, producing it by processes similar to those which produce other acquired sentiments, may not our reverence be augmented by admiration of that supreme wisdom, which, in such mental contrivances, yet more highly than in the lower world of matter, accomplish mighty purposes by instruments so simple ?” It is not therefore the physical origin, but the fact, of the uniformity of Conscience, wherewith is concerned the theological {Page No. 348.} inference that we attempt to draw from it. This ascendant faculty of our nature, which has been so often termed the divinity within us, notwithstanding the occasional sophistry of the passions, is on the whole, representative of the Divinity above us; and the righteousness and goodness and truth the lessons of which it gives forth every where, may well be regarded, both as the laws which enter into the juridical constitution, and as the attributes which enter into the moral character of God. 


We admit a considerable diversity of moral observation in the various countries of the earth, but without admitting any correspondent diversity of moral sentiment between them. When human sacrifices are enforced and applauded in one nation — this is not because of their cruelty, but notwithstanding of their cruelty. Even there, the universal principle of humanity would be acknowledged, that it were wrong to inflict a wanton and uncalled for agony on any of our fellows — but there is a local superstition which counteracts the universal principle, and overbears it. When in the republic of Sparta, theft, instead of being execrated as a crime, was dignified into an art and an accomplishment, and on that footing admitted into the system of their youthful education — it was not because of its infringement on the rights of property, but notwithstanding of that infringement, and only because a local patriotism made head against the universal principle, and prevailed over it. Apart from such disturbing forces as these, it will be found that the sentiments of men gravitate towards one and the same standard {Page No. 349.} all over the globe; and that, when once the obscurations of superstition and selfishness are dissipated, there will be found the same moral light in every mind, a recognition of the same moral law, as the immutable and eternal code of righteousness for all countries and all ages. We have already quoted the noble testimony of a heathen, who tells us with equal eloquence and truth, that, even amid all the perversities of a vitiated and endlessly diversified creed. Conscience sat mistress over the whole earth, and asserted the supremacy of her own unalterable obligations. 


Such then is our first argument for the moral character of God, and which, as a character implies an existence, might be resolved into an argument for the being of God — even the moral character of the law of conscience; that conscience which He hath inserted among the faculties of our nature; and armed with the felt authority of a master; and furnished with sanctions for the enforcement of its dictates; and so framed, that, apart from local perversities of the understanding or the habits, all its decisions are on the side of righteousness. The inference is neither a distant nor an obscure one, from the character of such a law to the character of its lawgiver. Neither is it an inference, destroyed by the insurrection which has taken place on the part of our lower faculties, or by the actual prevalence of vice in the world. For this has only enabled Conscience to come forth with another and additional demonstration of {Page No. 350.} its sovereignty — just as the punishment of crime in society bears evidence to the justice of the government which is established there. In general, the inward complacency felt by the virtuous, does not so impressively bespeak the real purpose and character of this the ruling faculty in man, as do the remorse, and the terror, and the bitter dissatisfaction, wherewith the hearts of the wicked are exercised. It is true, that, by every act of iniquity, outrage is done to the law of conscience; but there is a felt reaction within which tells that the outrage is resented; and then it is, that Conscience makes most emphatic assertion of its high prerogative, when, instead of coming forth as the benign and generous dispenser of its rewards to the obedient, it comes forth like an offended monarch in the character of an avenger. Were we endowed with prophetic vision, so as to behold, among the yet undisclosed secrets of futurity, the spectacle of a judge, and a judgment-seat, and an assembled world, and the retributions of pleasure and pain to the good and to the evil; this were fetching from afar an argument for the righteousness of God. But the instant pleasure and the instant pain wherewith conscience follows up the doings of man, brings this very argument within the limits of actual observation. Only, instead of being manifested by the light of a preternatural revelation, it is suggested to us by one of the most familiar certainties of experience, for in these phenomena and feelings of our own moral nature, do we behold not only a present judgment, but a present execution of the sentence. 
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Some perhaps may imagine the same sort of transition in this reasoning from the abstract to the concrete, that there is in the a priori argument. The abettors of this argument talk of our notion of any part of space as an inch, being but itself a part of our entire and original notion of immensity; and in like manner, that our notion of any part of time as an hour, is but part of the entire and original notion of eternity that is in every mind. They regard our ideas of infinite space and infinite time as belonging to the simplest elements of Thought; and that therefore the certainty of the things which they represent, carries in it all the light and authority of a first principle. And then upon the maxim that every attribute or quality implies a substantive Being in which it resides, they step from the abstract to the concrete, from the infinite extent and the infinite duration to an infinitely extended and an infinitely enduring God. We confess, though it should be called a similar transition from the abstract to the concrete, that we feel vastly greater confidence in passing by inference from a Law to a Lawgiver. The supremacy of Conscience is a fact in the constitution of human nature — seen in the light of consciousness by each man, of his own individual specimen; and verified in the light of observation, as extending to every other specimen within the compass of his knowledge. And however quick the inference may be from the supremacy of Conscience within the breast, to the Supreme Power who established it there being himself a righteous Sovereign — yet this is strictly an argument a posteriori both for {Page No. 352.} the Being and the Character of God. It is the strongest, we apprehend, which Nature furnishes for the Moral Perfections of the Deity; and even with all minds, or certainly with most minds, the most effective argument for His Existence — though ushered into the creed of Nature not by a train of inferences, but by the light of an almost immediate perception. It is thus that in our first addresses to any human Being on the subject of religion, we may safely presume a God without entering on the proof of a God. He has already the lesson within himself — and it is a lesson which tells liim more, or at least speaks to him with greater force than the whole of external Nature. Instead of bidding him look to its collocations, he will be more powerfully impressed and occupied with the idea of a God, if he but hearken to the voice of his own Conscience. It gave direct suggestion of a ruling and a righteous God, even in the days of corrupted Paganism And still with the unlettered of our present day and apart from the light of Christianity, along with the popular demonology of inferior spirits, there is the paramount impression of a one moral Governor among men.