PART I: CONSCIENCE
CONSCIENCE IN THE HOUSE OF BODY
THE COURT OF APPEAL
Conscience, the Judge, always in Court.—The affairs of Mansoul do not by any means go right of themselves. We have seen how the powers that be, in body, mind, and heart, are in conflict with one another, each of them trying for sole rule of Mansoul; and again, how the best servants of the state are beset by certain dæmons. But all this conflict and rivalry is provided against. There is a Court of Appeal always open, and therein sits the Lord Chief Justice whom we call Conscience. Let us consider for a moment what is the office of a judge in a court of law. He does not know, and is not expected to know, the rights and wrongs of every case brought before him. Advocates on both sides get up these and set them in order before the judge; but he is in authority; he knows the law, and gives the right decision upon what he knows.
Everyone has a sense of Duty.—Just so, with Conscience. He proclaims the law, that is, Duty. No Mansoul is left without the sense of ought—everyone knows that certain behaviour is due from him, that he owes the ordering of his conduct to a higher Power. Duty, that which is due from us; ought, that which we owe, is the proclamation of Conscience. We are not our own; but God, who has given us life, and whose we are, has planted within us Conscience, to remind us continually that we owe ourselves to Him, and must order our ways to please Him, and that He is the Judge who will visit every offence surely and directly, if not to-day, then to-morrow. Conscience informs us, too, of the reason of this judging of our God. Judging is saving. It is the continual calling of us back from wrong ways, which injure and ruin, into right ways of peace and happiness. All this Conscience testifies to us; morning by morning, hour by hour, he witnesses that we are not free to do what we like, but must do what we ought.
Conscience may give Wrong Judgments.—But if Conscience gives judgment in every Mansoul, how is it that people continually go wrong? As we have seen, there is apt to be anarchy in the State. Sloth or temper, pride or envy, betrays Mansoul.
I need not dwell upon the fate of those who will not listen to Conscience; but there is danger, too, for those who do listen. We hear it said that a man acts ‘up to his lights,’ or ‘according to his lights.’ However wrong he may be, there are some who excuse him because he knew no better. If the man has had no chance of knowing better,
the excuse may be allowed; but it is not enough to act according to our lights, if we choose to carry a dim wick in a dirty lantern, when we might have a good light.
Conscience may be tampered with.—We have seen that the judge is not familiar with the ins and outs of the case he tries. It is so with the judge of our bosom. He, too, listens to advocates; Inclination hires Reason to plead before Conscience; and Reason is so subtle and convincing that the judge gives the verdict for the defendant. ‘Obey the law,’ says Conscience; but, ‘This that I choose to do is the law,’ says Reason, on behalf of the defendant. ‘Then, defendant’ (i.e. Inclination), ‘you may do the thing you choose.’ This subtle misleading of Conscience is an art practiced alike by little children and hardened criminals. It is possible that in this sense everyone acts up to his lights; he justifies himself; his reason proves that what he does is right in the circumstances, and Conscience lets him off—never ceasing to cry, ‘Thou shalt do right,’ but leaving each one free, to some extent, to decide as to what is right.
It is well we should know this limit to the power of Conscience, for many reasons; amongst others, it helps us to understand the histories of nations and individuals.
Conscience must be instructed.—It is necessary that we should all know something about the constitution of Mansoul, in order that we may recognise the voice of the speaker who instructs reason to put the case to conscience. Envy, for example, does not say, ‘I hate Jones because he has a rich father,’ or, ‘because he scores, whether in lessons
or games,’ or ‘because he is popular with the other fellows.’ Envy pretends that all he wishes for is fair play. ‘It’s not fair that one fellow should have lots of pocket-money and another have to pinch and scrape.’ ‘Jones got up by a fluke in the Ovid.’ ‘He’s always hunting for popularity: no decent fellow would lay himself out like that.’ With arguments such as these does envy prompt reason, who makes out a good case before conscience, and the defendant gets off.
But the person who knows that any depreciation of another, by way of making much of ourselves, comes of envy, and not justice, is on his guard. He keeps his tongue from evil and his thoughts from malice, and submits to the condemnation of his unbiassed conscience.
This straight way of looking at things is what our Lord calls the single eye. Many people seem to have it by nature, and cannot easily be deceived into calling wrong, right. But evil is specious and ready; and it is well for each of us to take pains that we may recognise misrepresentations brought before conscience. An instructed conscience rarely makes mistakes.