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74

MAN INCOMPLETE

The man who lives for the present hour only is not living up to his nature; the brute can do no other, he has no future to look to. While the beasts are stationary, man alone progresses, for

"Man partly is and wholly hopes to be."

CHAPTER IV

that

CONSCIENCE

BROWNING defines conscience as "the great beacon-light God sets in all," and declares

1

"The worst man upon earth

Be sure, he knows, in his conscience, more

Of what right is, than arrives at birth

In the best man's acts that we bow before;
This last knows better-true, but my fact is,
'Tis one thing to know, and another to practise ; " 2

and he argues that "the real God-function" (in other words, the work of the Holy Spirit) is to furnish a motive and injunction for practising what we already know. He finds such injunction and motive in the acceptance of the God in Christ; having taken Him to the heart as Lord of Life who lived and died, and that for the mere love's sake, the man who does so obtains a new truth. This is the effect of the work of the Holy Spirit promised to those who accept the

1 Strafford, Act IV., sc. ii.

2 Christmas Eve.

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THE MORAL SENSE

God-Man. Religion with Browning lies at the root of morality. Agnostic writers admit this, as Professor Huxley himself owns: "I have been seriously perplexed to know by what practical measures the religious feeling, which is the essential basis of conduct, was to be kept up."1

Ethical and theological writers have differed greatly in their views and definitions of conscience. John Foster says the moral sense is a bundle of habits, and that among spiritual possessions there is nothing so absurd and chimerical as conscience. Pascal declares that "conscience is one thing north of the Pyrenees, and another south." Shaftesbury characterized the moral sense as a peculiar organ, analogous to taste in art, by which we discriminate between character and actions as good or bad. "Darwin seeks to render probable the view that the moral sense may have been derived through a long succession of inherited experiences from the social instinct, including sympathy. He regards it as in a high degree probable that any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense, or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well developed, or nearly as well developed, as in man."2

Herbert Spencer says: "I believe that the

1 Critiques and Addresses, p. 51.

2 The Religious Feeling, Newman Smyth, p. 37.

"GOD'S BEACON-LIGHT

experiences of utility organized and consolidated through all past generations of the human race have been producing corresponding modifications, which, by continued transmissions and accumulations, have become in us certain faculties of moral intuition certain emotions responding to right and wrong conduct, which have no apparent basis in the individual experiences of utility."1

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Our modern evolutionists do not recognize, therefore, in conscience either "God's Beaconlight," as Browning calls it, or the "Vicegerent of God," "The Oracle of God," as Byron termed it, or "God's aboriginal Vicar," as it has been described; but they regard it as an "hereditary set of the brain," and "the capitalized experience of the tribe."

Can we reconcile Browning's definition of conscience, orthodox as it is, with the scientific ideas of the evolutionists? This does not seem impracticable. Conscience is not a simple, but a highly complex part of our nature. Its decisions are often very apt to be intermingled with our fallible intellect. It has been well remarked that "Conscience is a practical commander, not a theoretical instructor." Though conscience is a beacon-fire, it may not always burn brightly; its light may be obscured by mists and clouds of ignorance; we may not see 1 Quoted by Darwin, Descent of Man, vol. i., p. 97.

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CONSCIENCE NOT INTELLECT

the brightness for the smoke. The decisions of conscience are often wrong. Saul was conscientious when he consented to the death of the proto-martyr Stephen, and when he persecuted the followers of Christ. His conscience was not enlightened.

The most orthodox theologians do not claim that conscience is our infallible guide of action. St. Thomas Aquinas and other scholastic writers define conscience as "the judgment or dictate of the practical intellect, which [arguing] from the general principles [of morals] pronounces that something in particular here and now is to be avoided, inasmuch as it is evil, or to be done, inasmuch as it is good." Conscience does not deal with general principles, but with some particular act to be done or not to be done. Conscience does not tell us that lying and theft are sinful; these are for the intellect to decide. Then when it comes to the practical test, it is for conscience to say, "You are bound to avoid this theft and this lie." It acts with authority. "It acts as the judge of all that we do, and as such it accuses or excuses, condemns or approves, punishes or rewards us with a voice of authority, which we may so far disregard, but the legitimacy of which we cannot dispute. It claims to rule our body and soul, heart and mind, all our appetites, affections, and faculties ; and the claim is admitted implicitly even by

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