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ought not, and can give us no sense of moral obligation. It is only our conscience, which tells us what is right and what is wrong; and, at the same time makes us feel, that we ought to do what is right, and ought not to do what is wrong. Reason can discover the advantage of virtue, and the disadvantage of vice; but it is conscience only, which can make us feel our moral obligation, to pursue the former, and to avoid the latter. Thus, for instance, reason tells us, that eternal happiness is infinitely more valuable than temporal enjoyments, and therefore it will really be for our interest, to give up temporal enjoyments, for the sake of securing eternal happiness: but it is the part of conscience to make us feel, that we ought, or that it is our indispensable duty, to renounce the whole world, rather than to lose our own souls.
Thirdly. It is the proper office of conscience, to approve men for what is right, and to condemn them for what is wrong, in all their moral conduct. The Apostle represents conscience as doing this office in the breasts of the Gentiles. “These, having not the law, are a law to themselves; which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing them witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.” A man's reason may teach him, that he has acted wisely in doing good, or that he has acted foolishly in doing evil; but it is his conscience only, which claims a right to call him to an account, and either approve or condemn him, according to the motives from which he has acted.
Fourthly. It is the proper office of conscience to make men feel that they deserve to be rewarded, or punished, according to their works. All mankind are capable of feeling their just deserts, though they are
often unwilling to receive the due reward of theit deeds. We have a remarkable instance of this, in the case of Joseph's brethren, while they were suffering for their envy and cruelty, under the correcting hand of God. “And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us; and we would not hear: therefore is this distress come upon
Reason had suffered them to live year after year in carnal ease and stupidity; but when conscience awoke, it gave them a lively sense of guilt, and made them feel, that they justly deserved the severest. tokens of the divine displeasure. Thus it appears from the proper offices of conscience, and from various other considerations, that it is a peeuliar and distinct faculty of the mind. The way is now prepared to show,
II. What we must do in order to keep a clear and inoffensive conscience.
The Apostle tells us, that “he exercised himself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men.” The connexion of these words, and the occasion upon which they were spoken, may help us to discover their real import. Paul was making his defence before Felix. And, after a few intros ductory remarks, he freely owns, that he had embraeed that religion, which his adversaries called heresy. But yet he pleads, that he had acted an honest and upright part, in adopting the peculiar doctrines of the gospel. And to confirm his declaration, he assuires the governor, that he had made it his practice to fol. low the dictates of conscience, in the general course of his conduct, respecting both God and man. In this connexion, therefore, he must mean by a conscience void of offence, a conscience free from reproach or remorse. And such a conscience may be maintained.
For our conscience can never reproach us, so long
consult conscience upon what we are going to do and presume to act before we have obtained its approbation, it will certainly, sooner or later, condemn us for our rash and unwarrantable proceedings. Conscience claims a right of judging and dictating in all our moral conduct; and it is our indispensable duty in all cases, to give it full liberty of exercising this just and sacred right.
2. We must give conscience not only a full liberty, but also a fair opportunity, of judging before we act. Conscience always judges according to evidence; and if the evidence be false or partial, it will necessarily bring in a wrong verdict. We should be impartial in consulting conscience, and lay all the evidence of the case before it, that it may give a full and final decision. For, though we may impose upon conscience, for a time, by false or partial evidence; yet, it will finally discover the imposition, and condemn us for our folly and guilt. A person may have the. approbation of conscience while he is acting, and yet afterwards feel self-condemned for what he has done. And this will always be the case, if we allow a corrupt heart to blind the conscience, by false, or partial evidence. Here lies the necessity of peculiar exertion, in order to have always a conscience void of offence. Though every instance of duty be really a case of conscience; yet there are some more doubtful and difficult duties, which are more commonly and more emphatically called cases of conscience. And it is in these cases more especially, that we ought to collect, compare, and weigh evidence, in order to give conscience a fair opportunity of judging. In a thousand plain cases, it decides in a moment what is right or wrong; but in doubtful, difficult, and important cases, it never gives a full and final decision, until all the evidence has been collected and exhibited. Herein, therefore, we pught to exercise qurselves, that conscience may have a fair opportunity of judging before
3. We must cordially obey the dictates of cog. science, while we are acting. The dictates of con: science must be obeyed from the heart, as well as the divine commands. Men may, indeed, deceive them selves, and imagine they have acted conscientiously, . when they have paid a mere external obedience to the dictates of conscience. But wheneyer conscience comes to review their conduct, it will condemn them for their undutiful spirit. Conscience tells every man, that all real obedience, or disobedience lies in the heart; and that he is either praise, or blame worthy, according to the motives which govern his conduct. We can never, therefore, satisfy the demands of conscience, unless we act agreeably to its dictales from an upright heart. But as long as we properly conşult, and cordially obey the dictates of conscience, it will approve our conduct, and afford us that inward peace, which is the very balm of life. And this may well animate us to exercise ourselves, to have always a conscience void of offence. But since there is not a just man upon earth thạt doeth good, and sinnetla not; it is necessary to add,
4. That we ought to let conscience do its office, of ter we have acted, as well as before. Conscience will be regarded sooner or later. If we neglect to consult, or to obey it, before we act, or while we are acting, it will claim a right to review our conduct, and to condemn us for it. And since we are all liable to disregard and wille conscience, while we are pursuing the concerns of life; we ought to give it a full liberty and a luir opportunity, of reviewing our past actions,