S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
The unanswerable reasonings of Butler never reached the ear of the gray-haired pious peasant, but he needs not their powerful aid to establish his sure and certain hope of a blessed immortality. It is no induction of logic that has transfixed the heart of the victim of deep remorse, when he withers beneath an influence unseen by mortal eye, and shrinks from the anticipation of a reckoning to come. In both the evidence is within, a part of the original constitution of every rational mind, planted there by Him who framed the wondrous fabric. This is the power of conscience: with an authority which no man can put away from him it pleads at once for his own future existence, and for the moral attributes of an omnipresent and ever-present Deity. In a healthy state of the moral feelings, the man recognizes its claim to supreme dominion. Amid the degradation of guilt it still raises its voice and asserts its right to govern the whole man; and though its warnings are disregarded, and its claims disallowed, it proves within his inmost soul an accuser that cannot be stilled, and an avenging spirit that never is quenched.
A mans first care should be to avoid the reproaches of his own heart; his next, to escape the censures of the world. If the last interferes with the former, it ought to be entirely neglected; but otherwise there cannot be a greater satisfaction to an honest mind than to see those approbations which it gives itself seconded by the applauses of the public. A man is more sure of his conduct when the verdict which he passes upon his own behaviour is thus warranted and confirmed by the opinion of all that know him.
A good conscience is to the soul what health is to the body: it preserves a constant ease and serenity within us, and more than countervails all the calamities and afflictions which can possibly befall us.
Conscience is too great a power in the nature of man to be altogether subdued: it may for a time be repressed and kept dormant; but conjectures there are in human life which awaken it; and when once re-awakened, it flashes on the sinners mind with all the horrors of an invisible ruler and a future judgment.
It is thus, and for the same end, that they endeavour to destroy that tribunal of conscience which exists independently of edicts and decrees. Your despots govern by terror. They know that he who fears God fears nothing else; and therefore they eradicate from the mind, through their Voltaire, their Helvetius, and the rest of that infamous gang, that only sort of fear which generates true courage. Their object is, that their fellow-citizens may be under the dominion of no awe but that of their Committee of Research and of their lanterne.
Edmund Burke: Letter to a Member of the Nat. Assembly, 1791.
A tender conscience, of all things, ought to be tenderly handled: for if you do not, you injure not only the conscience, but the whole moral frame and constitution is injured, recurring at times to remorse, and seeking refuge only in making the conscience callous.
Edmund Burke: Speech on the Petition of the Unitarians, May 11, 1792.
In the wildest anarchy of mans insurgent appetites and sins, there is still a reclaiming voice; a voice which, even when in practice disregarded, it is impossible not to own; and to which, at the very moment that we refuse our obedience, we find that we cannot refuse the homage of what ourselves do feel and acknowledge to be the best, the highest principles of our nature.
Conscience is nothing but an actuated or reflex knowledge of a superior power and on equitable law; a law impressed, and a power above it impressing it. Conscience is not the lawgiver, but the remembrancer to mind us of that law of nature imprinted upon our souls, and actuate the considerations of the duty and penalty, to apply the rule to our acts, and pass judgment upon matter of fact: it is to give the charge, urge the rule, enjoin the practice of those notions of right, as part of our duty and obedience. But man is as much displeased with the directions of conscience, as he is out of love with the accusations and condemning sentence of this officer of God: we cannot naturally endure any quick and lively practical thoughts of God and his will, and distaste our own consciences for putting us in mind of it: they therefore like not to retain God in their knowledge; that is, God in their own consciences; they would blow it out, as it is the candle of the Lord in them to direct them and their acknowledgments of God, to secure themselves against the practice of its principles.
Every mans conscience testifies that he is unlike what he ought to be, according to that law engraven upon his heart. In some, indeed, conscience may be seared or dimmer; or suppose some men may be devoid of conscience, shall it be denied to be a thing belonging to the nature of man? Some men have not their eyes, yet the power of seeing the light is natural to man, and belongs to the integrity of the body. Who would argue that, because some men are mad, and have lost their reason by a distemper of the brain, that therefore reason hath no reality, but is an imaginary thing? But I think it is a standing truth that every man hath been under the scourge of it, one time or other, in a less or a greater degree; for, since every man is an offender, it cannot be imagined conscience, which is natural to man, and an active faculty, should always lie idle, without doing this part of its office.
Man in the first instant of the use of reason, finds natural principles within himself; directing and choosing them, he finds a distinction between good and evil; how could this be if there were not some rule in him to try and distinguish good and evil? If there were not such a law and rule in man, he could not sin; for where there is no law there is no transgression. If man were a law to himself, and his own will his law, there could be no such thing as evil; whatsoever he willed would be good and agreeable to the law, and no action could be accounted sinful; the worst act would be as commendable as the best. Everything at mans appointment would be good or evil. If there were no such law, how should men that are naturally inclined to evil disapprove of that which is unlovely, and approve of that good which they practise not? No man but inwardly thinks well of that which is good, while he neglects it; and thinks ill of that which is evil, while he commits it. Those that are vicious, do praise those that practise the contrary virtues. Those that are evil would seem to be good, and those that are blameworthy yet will rebuke evil in others. This is really to distinguish between good and evil; whence doth this arise, by what rule do we measure this, but by some innate principle?
Man witnesseth to a God in the operations and reflections of conscience. (Rom. ii. 15.) Their thoughts are accusing or excusing. An inward comfort attends good actions, and an inward torment follows bad ones; for there is in every mans conscience fear of punishment and hope of reward: there is, therefore, a sense of some superior judge, which hath the power both of rewarding and punishing. If man were his supreme rule, what need he fear punishment, since no man would inflict any evil or torment on himself; nor can any man be said to reward himself, for all rewards refer to another, to whom the action is pleasing, and is a conferring some good a man had not before; if an action be done by a subject or servant, with hopes of reward, it cannot be imagined that he expects a reward from himself, but from the prince or person whom he eyes in that action, and for whose sake he doth it.
From the transgression of this law of nature, fears do arise in the consciences of men. Have we not known or heard of men, struck by so deep a dart, that could not be drawn out by the strength of men, or appeased by the pleasure of the world; and men crying out with horror, upon a death-bed, of their past life, when their fear hath come as a desolation, and destruction as a whirlwind (Prov. i. 27): and often in some sharp affliction, the dust hath been blown off from mens consciences, which for a while hath obscured the writing of the law. If men stand in awe of punishment, there is then some superior to whom they are accountable; if there were no God, there were no punishment to fear. What reason of any fear, upon the dissolution of the knot between the soul and body, if there were not a God to punish, and the soul remained not in being to be punished?
Terrified consciences, that are Magor-missabib, see nothing but matter of fear round about. As they have lived without the bounds of the law, they are afraid to fall under the stroke of his justice: fear wishes the destruction of that which it apprehends hurtful: it considers him as a God to whom vengeance belongs, as the Judge of all the earth. The less hopes such an one hath of his pardon, the more joy he would have to hear that his judge should he stripped of his life: he would entertain with delight any reasons that might support him in the conceit that there were no God: in his present state such a doctrine would be his security from an account: he would as much rejoice if there were no God to inflame an hell for him, as any guilty malefactor would if there were no judge to order a gibbet for him.
There are excusing, as well as accusing reflections of conscience, when things are done as works of the law of nature (Rom. ii. 15.): as it doth not forbear to accuse and torture, when a wickedness, though unknown to others, is committed, so when a man hath done well, though he be attacked with all the calumnies the wit of man can forge, yet his conscience justifies the action, and fills him with a singular contentment. As there is torture in sinning, so there is peace and joy in well doing. Neither of those it could do, if it did not understand a Sovereign Judge, who punishes the rebel, and rewards the well-doer. Conscience is the foundation of all religion; and the two pillars upon which it is built, are the being of God, and the bounty of God to those who diligently seek him.
What is conscience? If there be such a power, what is its office? It would seem to be simply this: to approve of our own conduct when we do what we believe to be right, and to censure us when we commit whatever we judge to be wrong.
A good conscience is a port which is land-locked on every side, where no winds can possibly invade. There a man may not only see his own image, but that of his Maker, clearly reflected from the undisturbed and silent waters.
Your modesty is so far from being ostentatious of the good you do, that it blushes even to have it known: and therefore I must leave you to the satisfaction of your own conscience, which, though a silent panegyric, is yet the best.
Of late years, and by the best writers, the term conscience, and the phrases moral faculty, moral judgment, faculty of moral perception, moral sense, susceptibility of moral emotion, have all been applied to that faculty by which we have ideas of right and wrong in reference to actions, and correspondent feelings of approbation and disapprobation.
There is not on earth a more capricious, accommodating, or abused thing than Conscience. It would be very possible to exhibit a curious classification of consciences in genera and species. What copious matter for speculation among the varieties oflawyers consciencecleric consciencelay consciencelords consciencepeasants consciencehermits consciencetradesmans consciencephilosophers conscienceChristians conscienceconscience of reasonconscience of faithhealthy mans consciencesick mans conscienceingenious consciencesimple conscience, &c., &c., &c., &c.
Hither conscience is to be referred: If by a comparison of things done with the rule there be a consonancy, then follows the sentence of approbation; if discordant from it, the sentence of disapprobation.
What may we suppose is the reason of this? why are so many impressed and so few profited? It is unquestionably because they are not obedient to the first suggestion of conscience. What that suggestion is it may not be easy precisely to determine; but it certainly is not to make haste to efface the impression by frivolous amusement, by gay society, by entertaining reading, or even by secular employment: it is probably to meditate and pray. Let the first whisper, be what it may, of the internal monitor be listened to as an oracle, as the still small voice which Elijah heard when he wrapped his face in his mantle, recognizing it to be the voice of God. Be assured it will not mislead you; it will conduct you one step at least towards happiness and truth; and by a prompt and punctual compliance with it you will be prepared to receive ampler communications and superior light.
Robert Hall: Funeral Sermon for the Princess Charlotte.
Consciousness is thus, on the one hand, the recognition by the mind or ego of its acts and affections:in other words, the self-affirmation that certain modifications are known by me, and that these modifications are mine.
What is sorrow and contrition for sin? A being grieved with the conscience of sin, not only that we have thereby incurred such danger, but also that we have so unkindly grieved and provoked so good a God.
Person belongs only to intelligent agents, capable of a law, and happiness and misery: this personality extends itself beyond present existence to what is past only by consciousness, whereby it imputes to itself past actions, just upon the same ground that it does the present.
In the commission of evil, fear no man so much as thyself: another is but one witness against thee; thou art a thousand; another thou mayest avoid; thyself thou canst not. Wickedness is its own punishment.
Conscience is a Latin word, and, according to the very notation of it, imports a double or joint knowledge; one of a divine law, and the other of a mans own action; and so is the application of a general law to a particular instance of practice.
Every man brings such a degree of this light into the world with him, that though it cannot bring him to heaven, yet it will carry him so far that if he follows it faithfully he shall meet with another light which shall carry him quite through.
The reason of mankind cannot suggest any solid ground of satisfaction but in making God our friend, and in carrying a conscience so clear as may encourage us with confidence to cast ourselves upon him.
The testimony of a good conscience will make the comforts of heaven descend upon mans weary head like a refreshing dew or shower upon a parched land. It will give him lively earnests and secret anticipations of approaching joy; it will bid his soul go out of the body undauntedly, and lift up his head with confidence before saints and angels. The comfort which it conveys is greater than the capacities of mortality can appreciate, mighty and unspeakable, and not to be understood till it is felt.
A palsy may as well shake an oak, or a fever dry up a fountain, as either of them shake, dry up, or impair the delight of conscience. For it lies within, it centres in the heart, it grows into the very substance of the soul, so that it accompanies a man to his grave,he never outlives it; and that for this cause only, because he cannot outlive himself.
It is not necessary for a man to be assured of the righteousness of his conscience by such an infallible certainty of persuasion as amounts to the clearness of a demonstration; but it is sufficient if he knows it upon grounds of such a probability as shall exclude all rational grounds of doubting.
Were men so enlightened and studious of their own good, as to act by the dictates of their reason and reflection, and not the opinion of others, conscience would be the steady ruler of human life; and the words truth, law, reason, equity, and religion, could be but synonymous terms for that only guide which makes us pass our days in our own favour and approbation.
It is necessary to any easy and happy life, to possess our minds in such a manner as to be always well satisfied with our own reflections. The way to this state is to measure our actions by our own opinion, and not by that of the rest of the world. The sense of other men ought to prevail over us in things of less consideration, but not in concerns where truth and honour are engaged.
No word more frequently in the mouths of men than conscience; and the meaning of it is, in some measure, understood: however, it is a word extremely abused by many who apply other meanings to it which God Almighty never intended.
Conscience signifies that knowledge which a man hath of his own thoughts and actions; and because if a man judgeth fairly of his actions by comparing them with the law of God, his mind will approve or condemn him, this knowledge or conscience may be both an accuser and a judge.
He that loses his conscience has nothing left that is worth keeping. Therefore be sure you look to that. And in the next place, look to your health; and if you have it, praise God, and value it next to a good conscience; for health is the second blessing that we mortals are capable of; a blessing that money cannot buy; therefore value it, and be thankful for it.
As science means knowledge, conscience etymologically means self-knowledge . But the English word implies a moral standard of action in the mind, as well as a consciousness of our own actions . Conscience is the reason employed about questions of right and wrong, and accompanied with the sentiments of approbation and condemnation.