« ZurückWeiter »
the mind in an outward volume, and made present to the mind in the act of perusing it. The abstract system, or the system of virtue as regarded according to our own natural and anterior notions of it, may be viewed also in the light of that which is objective --as separate from the mind, and distinct from any of those facts or phenomena of which the mind is the subject. It is true that the system of virtue in the Bible rectifies our own previous notions of it; and, by its enlightening effect upon the conscience, tends to assimilate more closely the ethical system of revelation with the ethical system of our now better instructed human nature. At length, instead of the likeness, we come to feel the identity between these two; but this, instead of lessening the objective character of our contemplation, makes it more singly and strongly objective than before. When we make a study of scripture, we, immediately and without any feeling of comparison, recognize the purity and perfection of those moral characteristics which enter into its ethical system—and so pronounce it worthy of having proceeded from the God, who is at once the fountain and the exemplar of all righteousness.
2. And this objective nature of the things which engage our attention is fully sustained, when, instead of looking to the virtues of scripture as the component parts of its ethical system, we look to them as embodied in the character of the Godhead. There is an evidence grounded on the accordancy which obtains between the representations in the Bible and our own previous notions of the Deityand still more, when these notions are rectified by
the Bible itself, to the appearance of which book in the world, we indeed owe the now purer and more enlightened theism of modern Europe. Still, when comparing God as set forth in scripture with God as seen in the light of our own minds, we compare the objective with the objective; and this character is if possible enhanced, when, instead of recognizing the likeness, we recognize the identity, and feel immediately on our perusal of scripture that God Himself is speaking to us, or that we are engaged in close and personal correspondence with God. It is when God thus announces Himself as present to us in the Bible, in His own characters of holiness and majesty, that this self-evidencing light is seen in its brightest manifestation. A simple uneducated peasant, when his eyes are opened to behold this, takes up immediately with scripture as a communication from heaven_which viewed altogether objectively by him, and without any reflex view of what passes within himself, makes direct revelation of its own divinity to his soul.
3. But though in the study of the moral evidence, the mind is altogether engaged objectively—it is not so in the study of the experimental evidence. Of the two parts of the tally which are here brought into comparison, the one is objective and the other subjective. It is on the accordancy between the sayings of scripture and the findings of conscience, that this evidence is chiefly founded_between the statements or proposals in the book of revelation on the one hand, and the facts or phenomena of our own felt and familiar nature upon the other. Yet to prepare us fully for a judgment on the
experimental, we must attend to things connected with the moral evidence also. When the Bible, for example, affirms the great moral depravation of the human character—to meet this by an independent judgment of our own, we must be able to pronounce, not only on what man is, but on what man ought to be. In other words, there must be a conscience or moral faculty which takes cognizance of the right and the wrong, as well as a consciousness or faculty of internal observation which enters into the penetralia of our own bosom, and takes cognizance of the desires and the affections and the purposes that have their being and operation there.
4. That men possess, and that natively and universally, the faculty of conscience, or that faculty which takes cognizance of and makes distinction between the morally good and evil, is palpable to all observation. This faculty or power is in fact met with throughout all the members of the human family. Under all the varieties of light and obscuration, and with allowance for every modification of sentiment-still there is a general sense of right and wrong that is characteristic of our species—a feeling of approval and complacency associated with the former—a feeling of shame and dissatisfaction and remorse associated
* It is unfortunate, that, in the use of language, the terms of conscience and consciousness are not kept as distinct from each other, as are the mental faculties which they express, and the provinces on which it is the part of these faculties respectively to expatiate. Consciousness has been strictly enough appropriated to its legitimate meaning ; but conscience bas been indiscriminately applied both to questions of right and wrong, and to questions which respect the actual state of one's own character.
with the latter. This peculiarity of our nature obtains in all countries, and among all the conditions of humanity. Whatever the practice may be, there is a certain truth of perception as to the difference between good and evil everywhere. There is a law of rectitude to which in every nation, how degraded soever, a universal homage is yielded by the sensibilities of the heart—however little it may be yielded to by the practical habit of their lives. In a word, there is a morality recognized by all men—imprinting the deepest traces of itself on the vocabulary of every language, and marking the residence of a conscience in every bosom—insomuch that, go to any outcast tribe of wanderers and, however sunk in barbarism, if we tell them of right and wrong, they will meet the demonstration with responding and intelligent sympathy. We do not speak to them in vocables unknown. There is a common feeling, a common understanding, betwixt us-one ground of fellowship at least, on which the most enlightened missionary from Europe might hold converse with the rudest savages of the desert.
5. But again, this conscience, this sense of morality, does not exist alone in the heart. It is more or less followed up by a certain sense or conception of some rightful sovereign who planted it there. The feeling of a judge within the breast, is in no case altogether apart from the faith of a judge above, who sits as overseer upon the doings, and as arbiter of the destinies of men. The moral sense does not terminate or rest in the mere abstract relations of right or wrong; but is embodied into
the belief of a substantive being, who dispenses the rewards that are due unto the one, and inflicts the penalties that are felt to be due unto the other. It is this which gives rise to the theology of conscience, more quick and powerful than the theology of academic demonstration-not so much an inference from the marks of design and harmony in external nature, as an instant suggestion from what is felt and what is feared within the recesses of our own bosom-because leading by one footstep from the felt supremacy of conscience within, to the feared supremacy of a God, the author of conscience, and who knoweth all things. It is a mistake to imagine of this theology, that it is not universal, or that any degree whether of ignorance or corruption can wholly obliterate it. It was not stified by the polytheism of Greece and Rome. Neither is it extinct, as may be seen by their invocations to the Great Spirit, among the tribes of the American wilderness. In short, wherever men are to be found, there is the impression at least, of a' reigning and a righteous God. When utterance is made of such a Being, even in the darkest places of the earth, they are not startled as if by the sound of a thing unknown. There is a ready coalescence with the theme—and as he speaks of God and sin and vengeance, there is a felt harmony between the conscience of the savage and the sermon of the missionary.
6. But there is a second faculty concerned in this matter of the experimental evidence, even the faculty of internal observation. Conscience, in the sense that we have just used it, is that faculty