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they will choose that field of controversy, which gives the greatest scope for manæuvring, to prevent as much as may be, the possibility of their being pushed as it were into a corner, from whence there might be no escape. In defending their cause, therefore, knowing that much is to be faid, which is not to be con
troverted; they take care to confine themselves to · those generalities, to which their opponent cannot
object; whilst their mode of attack consists, for the most part, in driving their adversary into extremes, by a studious aggravation of his conclusions, for the purpose of establishing a ground-work for popular declamation and abuse.
By this mode of managing controversy, the exact point in which truth lies, is continually kept out of fight; for men, whose object it is, in the handling certain subjects, not so much to convince, as to confound, will studiously steer clear of those precise limits, which ought to constitute the boundary for all rational argument on the occasion. To the subjects here immediately in view the foregoing observations may not be deemed wholly inapplicable.
Upon the first of them, it has been imagined, that, provided men follow the direction of their own conSciences, they are justified in whatever mode of conduct they may adopt; which (as the term conscience is now too generally understood) is in other words to say, that because men are persuaded a thing is right, therefore it cannot be wrong. Upon this principle, it matters not what a man's profession is, provided he be sincere in it; consequently the fincere martyr for the faith, and the fincere persecutor of it, stand upon
the same footing. But though a conduct, in opposition to the dictate of conscience, carry with it its own condemnation, (for in such a case a man pronounces sentence upon. himself;) it by no means follows, that a conduct in conformity to it will, on that account, secure to itself an acquittal. For this would be to make private opinion the standard of right and wrong, instead of the law of God; an idea which has, on different occafions, led to an infinity of mischief.
Though the plea of conscience, therefore, confidered as the private judgment of the party upon the legality or illegality of his own conduct, might be a good one in the mouth of a heathen, who might have no surer guide to follow; yet it cannot be admitted in that of a Christian, but in proportion as it is conformable to the rule by which it will be judged
as preparatory to our forming a correct idea upon
this subject, it is neceffary that we know what conscience properly is; for of the number that make use of the word, nineteen in twenty, perhaps, may be ignorant of its true meaning.
By conscience, then, is to be understood, not that knowledge, opinion, or persuasion, which a man may poffefs upon any given subject; but that knowledge, opinion, or persuasion, which is reflected inward upon his mind from some reason, law, or rule, from without, which is the proper standard of judgment in the case in question. Conscience, therefore, as its compound title denotes is, comparative knowledge; it is the judgment which a man passes on his own actions compared with some law. Remove all law, and you all conscience. For where there is no law, there can be no transgression; and where there is no transgression, there can be no judgment, because there is no criminal. Without a law superior to conscience, therefore, there can be no such thing as conscience at all: for conscience is a private, personal principle, which must neceffarily be submitted to some law of -God, real or supposed, as its ultimate rule.
“ When we speak of conscience in our actions, (fays Archbishop SHARP) we have respect to fome law or rule, by which those actions are to be directed and
governed, and by their agreeableness or disagreeableness with which, they become morally good or evil.* The law of the Christian, in religious matters, is the revealed will of God; and what, upon proper authority, is deducible from it. The conscience of a Christian, consequently, is that testimony which the mind bears to the conduct, when compared with that i revealed will.
It is in fact the application of the general Christian law to a particular instance of practice. Hence it is, that conscience, as the vicegerent of God, carries a divine authority with it, because it has a divine word or precept to support it. But if no such word or precept is to be produced, it may, indeed, be strong opinion or persuasion, but it is not conscience. And no greater mischief has been done in the world, than from the want of a proper distinction having been made between conscience and mere confidence of opinion, or persuasion.
In temporal matters, should a man plead conscience, or it should rather be called private persuasion, against the determination of an existing law, he would be told, that he was not at liberty to make a rule for
* See“ Discourse concerning Conscience” by Archbishop SHARP, in London Cases, No. 8.
himself different from that which the fociety, of which he was a member, had made for him; and
upon which it was his duty to procure information. Were the case otherwise, the very end of society would be frustrated. For let it be considered, what must be the consequence of the admission of that principle, upon which the modern plea of conscience is too commonly founded; namely, that the private perfuasion of the party, furnishes a justification for his public conduct.
The Quaker, for instance, considers the payment of tithe to be unlawful. He therefore results the demand, upon the hacknied plea of conscience. But, as it has been already observed, nothing can be a rule of conscience, in religious matters, but some law of God, real or supposed. The plain law of God calls upon the Quaker, in common with all other members of a civilized community, to " submit himself to every ordinance of man for the Lord's fake;" and the legislature of his country has made the payment of tithe legal. Nothing, then, can justify an opposition to the legislature, in this case, but a firm conviction in the mind of the party, that the law enacted is in direct contradičtion to some law of God, natural or revealed.