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Now if Dr. Alexander means by this simply that all the conduct of an impenitent man is morally wrong, so long as he remains impenitent, whatever may be his intellectual or moral judgments of himself or his actions, we of course agree with him. But if he means that the moral faculty ever leads a person into sin, or requires him to remain in sin, or to perform a sinful act, we dissent from him entirely. We could by no means agree with him, even if we should include in the term "conscience" an exercise both of the understanding and the moral faculty. In order to a clear explanation of this point, we should notice the different senses of the word "wrong," when used as an epithet of an action. An action may be either morally wrong, or naturally wrong. It is morally wrong when it proceeds from a bad state of the will. It is naturally wrong when it is not suitable to the circumstances in which it is performed. A person may desire to injure another, and perform an action for that purpose. That is a morally wrong action because it proceeds from a bad state of the will. Again, a person may be sincerely desirous to benefit another, and perform an action for that purpose; but for want of sufficient knowledge, the action may be injurious, not fitted to benefit him. That action, though morally right, is naturally wrong. Now it is certain. that the moral faculty never requires a person to do a morally wrong action, an action which he cannot do without sinning. For such an action proceeds only from a bad state of the will, from a bad intention, which the moral faculty always condemns.
Admitting for the present that the moral faculty requires a person to perform the particular action, which his judg ment tells him is the proper expression of a good state of will, that it actually indorses that decision as its own; it does not follow that the action, though naturally wrong, must be a sinful action; that a person must commit sin in doing it. The moral faculty has required, in the case supposed, as it always does, the existence and exercise of a benevolent state of will. The understanding, under the in
fluence of that state, decides what, in its judgment, is the best expression of benevolence in action. But for want of sufficient knowledge, of natural ability, it cannot tell what action is best suited to the circumstances, what is naturally right. It decides, we will suppose, in favor of an action naturally wrong. The action is performed. Now no one can blame the will in this case, for by the supposition its intention is good. Nor can the understanding be blamed, for it acted under the influence of a good state of will, and according to the light which it possessed. But if the will and understanding are blameless, no fault can attach to the moral faculty for urging the performance of the action dictated by the understanding; for the moral faculty has no means of knowing anything respecting external actions—if we suppose it to know them at all—except through the understanding. It follows then, of course, that if no blame attaches to any of these faculties in the performance of the naturally wrong action, no sin is committed in performing it. The man acts according to the best of his ability.
But it may be said that the want of natural ability to do better, to perform a more suitable action, is owing to previous misconduct, to the misimprovement of the means of knowledge with which he had been favored. If so, he is certainly to be blamed for that misconduct. He ought to have improved his means of knowledge. He is responsible for his wrong conduct in this respect. But he is not responsible for the consequences of it. By the supposition, he has now a different state of will, is a different person morally, and of course is responsible in the future only for what he has natural ability to do. If he does not know, and cannot know, a better expression of love than that which he makes, no blame will attach to him in respect to that action, though it be positively injurious.
If we admit, therefore, that the moral faculty requires a person to perform the naturally wrong action, an action positively injurious, it does not follow that he must sin in obeying the requirement. He acts under a sense of moral
obligation, and with the very best intention of doing what is naturally right. Such conduct will always be approved of God. But the moral faculty does not require this naturally wrong action. It has no knowledge whateverof the decision of the understanding which dictates it, either when it is made or after it has been made; and of course it does not require the will to act in this particular manner; that is, it does not dictate this particular action. All that it requires, as we have seen, is the exercise of love. It throws the entire responsibility, as to the manner of expressing it in action, upon the will, which obtains all its knowledge from the understanding.
Still it may be asked, does not the moral faculty require the will to do in general what the understanding decides is best, though it may not know what the decision of the understanding is? In other words, is not a person morally bound to do the very thing which his judgment decides is, on the whole, best? Most certainly he is. This is an essential law of our mental constitution. The will has no rule of action but the dictates of the understanding. No light can come to it except through the understanding. If the will therefore act at all, it must act as the understanding dictates. Such being the constitution of the mind, if the moral faculty urges the will to express love in action, it must express it according to the judgment of the understanding, or not at all. Should the will refuse to act in this only way in which it can act, a new case would at once come before the moral faculty. The understanding would decide that a state of will which would not act in accordance with its decisions as to what is naturally right, is not a state intending good, and the moral faculty would immediately condemn it. But in all this no responsibility for one particular action, rather than another, rests upon the moral faculty. All that the moral faculty does is to hold the will to its normal action, to require it to do what God requires it to do, and what he has made it to do. It is God's ordinance that it shall conform to the decisions of the understanding, which, rightly used, is a safe guide. If the will exerts improper influence over the under
standing, as it may do, though it is under no natural necessity of doing it, and thus secures an erroneous decision, God is not responsible for that decision. Nor is the moral faculty, which expresses the voice of God, responsible for it. This simply requires the will to act honestly and truly, as it was made to act. The responsibility for the erroneous judgment of the understanding here, as well as for the erroneous judgment respecting the state of the will, rests entirely with the will.
Again, suppose the state of the will really bad, while the person thinks it good, and under the influence of this deception decides upon a course of action which is naturally wrong. What is the relation of the moral faculty to that state of will, and to the action affected by it? Does it require either the state of the will, or the action affected by it? Neither; it requires a good state of the will, no other. But suppose the moral faculty is not obeyed in this respect, the will continuing bad; does the moral faculty require that the action which the understanding decides is a proper expression of a right state of the will should be performed? Yes, in the sense explained, but not with a bad state of will. What the moral faculty approves in the case of self-deception, is not the existing state of will, but a state which the understanding decides intends good; and what it requires in action is the, expression of such a state, according to the natural ability which the will possesses. This is an exact explanation of the case of Saul of Tarsus, whose conscience, some think, required him to commit sin: "I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth." Here "thought" expresses the exercise of the understanding, and "ought" the exercise of the moral faculty. Through an improper influence of the will, the understanding decided that the will was in a state of love to God and man. The moral faculty approved of such a state. Again, through an improper influence of the will, the understanding decided that persecution of the church was the proper mode of expressing love. The moral faculty urged the expression of love, leaving the responsibility for
the mode of doing it with the will, in the use of the means which God had given it. The sin of Saul therefore did not consist in his obeying the moral faculty; but it consisted wholly in his disobeying it. The moral faculty required of the will-of him, love to God and man. This he refused to exercise. He disobeyed the command. Again, it required of the will the expression of love in action to the best of its ability. Here again, he refused obedience. He might have known, and with a different state of will would have known, that persecution was not the proper expression of love in the circumstances.
It follows, as a logical inference from the main points of the discussion, that the moral faculty cannot be improved or injured directly by any particular treatment to which we can subject it. We say directly, for as this faculty is an essential part of our mental constitution, whatever affects the whole mind must necessarily affect this. The idea which we mean to advance is, that the moral faculty cannot be improved by particular cultivation, nor injured by particular abuse or neglect, any more than the law of God, which is written on the sacred page. This language, we are aware, cannot be used in respect to conscience, which in some of its elements is subject to the same laws as the other mental faculties. We speak of a tender conscience, an enlightened conscience, a perverted conscience. The scriptures use similar forms of expression, as a "good conscience," a "weak conscience,” a “seared conscience," a "conscience void of offence." But such expressions, analyzed according to the principles which we have laid down, will show that these epithets do not belong to the moral faculty, but to other faculties closely connected in their operations with it. For example, "a good conscience" is not a conscience that has a good moral character; for conscience has no moral character, any more than memory. But by "a good conscience" we mean a state of the will which the moral faculty pronounces good. A "conscience void of offence" means a state of the will which does not offend the