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for bad ends, are proofs of the importance, which the good sense and the good principles of mankind assign, and which the most worthless are known to assign to that plea, when it is rightly used. Basely, however, has it been abused, as an instrument to the various kinds of craft, in which priests, statesmen, and even tyrants, when it suited them to play the game of impostors, find their own personal account. The bigot dogmatizes and reviles, because he, forsooth, in conscience is bound to maintain the momentous truths of religion. The inquisitor, because he shrinks from the daring impiety, and dreads the perilous contagion of heresy, is led by his conscience to have recourse to the excruciating rack and the slowly consuming fire. The corrupt judge will conscientiously inflict severe punishments, not in proportion to the degree, in which any known law has been actually violated, but in accommodation to his own temporizing purposes in obtaining or preserving the favour of the powerful oppressor. Led by conscience not to throw off all regard to reputation, the spendthrift puts aside the claims of common justice, in order to satisfy the claims of what he calls honour, and in this perversion of moral principle, he looks for sympathy, and sometimes finds it, among the dissolute or the inconsiderate. The miser, guided by his conscience to bear testimony to good morals, turns away his face from the helpless and weeping suppliant, because part of the sufferer's misfortunes arose from faults, which the covetous are not tempted to commit, and for this very reason are most prone to cen
sure. In my own experience, I have met with many instances of evasion or justification upon the ground of conscience, when some unpleasant duty was to be performed-when some inconvenient promise was to be fulfilled-when the humble were to be protected—when the proud were to be opposed--when a friend was to be relieved-or when a foe was to be spared. Hence, too, in the ordinary intercourse of life, impartial and serious observers are alarmed, where the smooth tongue, the mantling cheek, or the downcast eye lend their aid to specious pretences of conscience. The men, of whom I am speaking, by the very success with which they deceive others, acquire habitual dexterity in deceiving themselves, and for this transition of deceit we may easily account. They have to practise on the same credulity, which they had before turned to advantage. When superficial observers had, with good intentions, relied implicitly on the piteous tales, sanctimonious jargon, and oracular predictions of self-called conscientious men. They have to co-operate with the same depravity in other deceivers, who have a common interest in the accomplishment of their purposes, and who are therefore ready to profess what they do not inwardly believe, and to applaud what they inwardly condemn. They have to harangue upon the same plausible topics of tender and unfeigned solicitude for the public weal, while they are deliberately prosecuting their own private designs of selfishness or malignity.
Liars are said to give credit to their own lies when they have often been told without detection ; and, as it is much less agreeable to examine the real motives of our actions than to contemplate their appearances, the deceiver is imperceptibly himself deceived for a certain season, and to a certain extent. If, however, any unwelcome misgivings should now and then arise, he will endeavour to subdue them, and he will exercise his memory in resuscitating, and his diligence in re-embodying, and his ingenuity in re-modeling those arguments, which he first employed with hesitation, and in process of time enforces with confidence, because they have not been visibly refuted by facts. Thus, through that deceitfulness of the heart, to which I adverted, it happens, that the false plea of conscience, which is so odious to good men, beguiles and emboldens the bad. Be it so. Yet the latent force of conscience may be brought into action by numerous causessome obstacles, hitherto unexperienced, present themselves to the deceiver---some unexpected resistance is made to his plans—some unlucky excess in playing his part—some result of his measures different from that, which he held out to gain approbation and assistance-some overt act of meanness and oppression-some violation of sobriety, temperance, or chastity-some expressions hastily uttered, but severely scrutinized — some unfavourable rumour, well or ill founded--some insinuation of a rival in pretensions to extraordinary sanctity or extraordinary zeal—these, and many other circumstances, may strip the deceiver of his disguises; but having ceased to be misunderstood by others, he cannot fail in a short time to be rightly and fearfully un
derstood by himself. Indignation pursues the unmasked saint; and what, I would ask you, are the expedients through which the sinner, at once detested by others and detected by himself, can escape remorse? Mark, I beseech you well, what I am now going to observe. The authority of conscience, either in ourselves or other men, is alike demonstrated by the two contrary situations of concealment and discovery.
For the successful issue of his projects the deceiver is indebted to the general estimation, in which men hold the efficacy of conscience; and, in the reverse of his fortune, he experimentally knows, that the artifices employed toward other men, and the self-delusion, which he has long cherished, serve only to embitter his sorrows, when his natural sense of right and wrong has been excited by a just but involuntary view of his own real character.
Thus, conscience pretended, terminates in a sincere but painful feeling of conscience, and conscience disobeyed, inflicts the penalties of disobedience.
The sum of the foregoing statements, and the concomitant remarks is this
Knowing our weakness before we sin, and our blindness in sinning, the moral Governor of the World has furnished us with that principle of conscience, which, to men of calm and deep reflection, must assume the most awful aspect, as the representative of the Deity himself, as a monitor recalling to our memory what the Deity knows; and as an accuser, compelling us now to condemn what the Deity will hereafter punish.
Will the devout Christian then hesitate to adopt the opinion or the language of an ancient writer, where he concisely and luminously tells us—“ To the whole human race conscience is a God."*
That principle, if it be not counteracted by negligence, by perverseness, or habitual depravity, cannot fail to have the most powerful and most salutary efficacy. It will enable us in this state of moral discipline to be more than conquerors over the baseness of every selfish, and the maliciousness of every unsocial affection. It will remind us, that Jezebel incited Ahab to seize the vineyard of Naboth—that Herodias prevailed upon Herod to take away the life of John-that in neither case the tempter could eventually procure peace of mind to the tempted-that, after his interview with Elijah, Ahab rent his clothes, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth; and that, on the report of mighty deeds which Herod ascribed to John, he supposed him to have risen from the dead, as a minister for the justice of heaven against his destroyer. It will teach us to be more on our guard against the wanderings, irritations, and antipathies of our own minds, than against the spiteful or wily suggestions of other men. It will teach us not to “ think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think”-not to run the hazard of approaching temptation to those sing “which more easily beset us”-not to assume that we stand firmly, where it behoves us to “ take heed lest we fall”—not to forget that many, who like Peter, are puffed up by presumption, and by presump