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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 cor rupt 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 ought to exercise ourselves, that conscience may have a fair opportunity of judging before We act.
3. We must cordially obey the dictates of conscience, while we are acting. The dictates of conscience must be obeyed from the heart, as well as the divine commands. Men may, indeed, deceive themselves, and imagine they have acted conscientiously, when they have paid a mere external obedience to the dictates of conscience. But whenever 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 dictates 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 that doeth good, and sinneth not; it is necessary to add,
4. That we ought to let conscience do its office, after 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 stifle conscience, while we are pursuing the concerns of life; we ought to give it a full liberty and a fair opportunity, of reviewing our past actions,
and of bringing in a true and faithful, though a disa greeable verdict. Self-examination is highly proper and necessary for such depraved and imperfect creatures as we are. And we cannot maintain a conscience void of offence, without frequently exercising ourselves in this serious and important duty. A number of instructive and useful inferences may now be fairly drawn, from what has been said in this dis
1. It appears from the description, which has been given of the nature and offices of conscience, that it is a superior faculty of mind, and absolutely necessary in order to constitute us moral agents. There is an essential difference between agents and moral agents; and it is conscience, which forms this difference be tween men and animals. All the lower species' are agents. They act under the influence of motives. They choose and refuse, in the view of external objects. One species chooses to live in the water, and another' chooses to live on the land. One species chooses to live in a warm climate, and another in a cold. One species chooses to feed on fruits, another on fish, and I another on fowls. But though these and all other species of animals act voluntarily in the view of motives; yet they are not moral agents, because they can neither distinguish between right and wrong, nor feel any moral obligation either to act, or to refrain from acting. And were men destitute of conscience, they would be equally incapable of feeling moral obliga tion, and of distinguishing the moral quality of actions: Neither perception, nor reason, could give them this moral discernment. It is conscience, therefore, which constitutes them moral agents, and raises them to the rank of accountable beings."
2. If it be true, that conscience is a distinct faculty of the soul and necessarily constitutes a moral agent; then it is very natural to conclude, that infants are moral agents as soon as they are agents. Though they are born weak and helpless creatures; yet they very early discover not only motion, but action. When they are but a few days old, they appear to act voluntarily in the view of motives. They are pleased with some objects, and displeased with others. They never fail, for instance, to prefer light to darkness, and sweet to bitter. By such instances of choosing and refusing, they appear to be agents, or to act voluntarily in the view of motives. But we cannot suppose, that they are mere agents, in these free, spontaneous, voluntary exertions. For if they were mere agents, they would not be men in miniature, nor be capable of becoming moral agents. Mere agents are utterly incapable of becoming moral agents. This has been demonstrated, by all the experiments, which have been made upon tamed animals. Though they have been taught to do many curious things, and to imitate a thousand human actions; yet they never have been taught to distinguish virtue from vice, nor to feel the force of moral obligation. They are by nature mere agents; and, without a new nature, they cannot be made, nor become moral agents. And if infants were, at first, mere agents, they could never be made, nor become moral agents. Neither experience, nor observation, nor instruction, could give them the faculty of moral discernment. We may use many means to strengthen and refine the mental powers of infants and children; but there are no means to be used, to give them any new intellectual faculty. If conscience, therefore, be an essential faculty of the human mind, it must belong to it in infancy. And if infants pos
sess this faculty of moral discernment, then they must of necessity commence moral agents, as soon as they commence agents. There seems to be no way to avoid this conclusion, but to suppose, that conscience cannot be exercised so early, as the other faculties of the mind. But how does it appear, that conscience cannot be exercised as early, as any other intellectual faculty? It does not appear from experience. For every person knows, that he has been able to distinguish right from wrong, and to feel a sense of guilt, ever since he can remember. It does not appear from observation. For infants discover plain marks of moral depravity, and appear to act wrong, as soon as they begin to act. And it does not appear from Scripture. For the Bible represents infants as sinful, guilty creatures as soon as they are born; which plainly implies, that they are moral agents. In a word, Scripture, reason, observation, and experience, are all in favor of the. moral agency of infants. And if we do not admit, that moral agency commences in infancy, it is impossible to determine, or even to form a probable conjecture, when it does commence.
3. If conscience be the only faculty of the mind, which gives us a sense of moral obligation; then its dictates are always to be followed. Though all allow that we ought to follow the dictates of conscience, when it is rightly informed; yet some suppose we ought not to follow its dictates when it is misinformed and erroneous. As this is a question concerning duty, so we are obliged to defer it to the decision of conscience. But if we refer it to conscience, it will instantaneously determine, that we ought always to follow its dictates. Conscience never fails to lay us under moral obligation to regard its precepts and prohibitions. If it tells us, that a certain mode of conduct