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Conscience by its several Habitudes and Relations, or Tendencies towards its proper Object, is divided into several Kinds.
1. CONSCIENCE in respect of its information, or as it relates to its object, taken materially, and in the nature of the thing, is either true or false, right or wrong; true when it is rightly informed, and proceeds justly; false when it is deceived. Between these as participating of either extreme, stands the probable conscience; which if we consider as it relates to its object, is sometimes right, and sometimes wrong, and so may be reduced to either, according as it is in the event of things. For in two contradictories which are both probable, as if one be, both are; if one part be true, the other is false; and the conscience of the several men holding the opposite parts, must be so too, that is, right and wrong, deceived and not deceived, respectively. The division then of conscience, in respect of its object, is tripartite.
2. For in all questions, if notice can be certainly had, he that gets the notice, hath a true conscience; he that misses it, hath a false or erring conscience. But if the notices that can be had, be uncertain, imperfectly revealed, or weakly transmitted, or understood by halves, or not well represented; because the understanding cannot be sure, the conscience can be but probable. But according as the understanding is fortunate, or the man wise and diligent, and honest enough to take the right side of the probability, so the conscience takes its place in the extreme, and is reduced to right or wrong accordingly.
3. But to be right or wrong, is wholly extrinsical to the formal obligation of conscience, as it is a judge and a guide, and to the consequent duty of the man. For an erring conscience binds as much as the right conscience, directly and immediately, and collaterally more; that is, the man who hath an erring conscience, is tied to more and other duties, than he that is in the right. The conscience binds because it is heartily persuaded, not because it is truly informed; not because it is right, but because it thinks so.
4. It does indeed concern the duty of conscience, and its felicity, to see that it be rightly instructed, but as to the
consequence of the action, it is all one: this must follow whatsoever goes before. And therefore, although it concerns the man, as much as his felicity and all his hopes come to, to take care that his conscience be not abused in the matter of duty; yet a right and a wrong conscience are not made distinct guides and different judges. Since therefore we are to consider and treat of conscience, as it is the guide of our actions, and judge of our persons, we are to take it in other aspects, than by a direct face towards its object; the relation to which alone, cannot diversify its kind, so much as to become a universal rule to us in all cases and emergencies.
5. Now because intellectual habits, employed about the same general object, have no way to make them of different natures, but by their formal tendencies, and different manners of being affected with the same object; we are in order to the perfect division and assignation of the kinds of conscience, to consider the right conscience, either as it is sure, or as it is only confident, but not sure. For an erring conscience and the unerring are the same judge, and the same guide, as to the authority and persuasion, and as to the effect upon the person: but yet they differ infinitely in their rule; and the persons under their conduct differ as much in their state and condition. But our conscience is not a good guide unless we be truly informed, and know it. For if we be truly informed, and know it not, it is an uncertain and an imperfect guide. But if we be confident and yet deceived, the uncertainty and hesitation are taken off, but we are still very miserable. For we are like an erring traveller, who being out of the way, and thinking himself right, spurs his horse and runs full speed: he that comes behind, is nearer to his journey's end.
6. That therefore is the first kind of conscience, the right sure conscience; and this alone is fit to be our guide; but this alone is not our judge.
7. (2.) Opposite to this is the confident or erring conscience; that is, such which indeed is misinformed, but yet assents to its objects with the same confidence as does the right and sure; but yet upon differing grounds, motives, and inducements: which because they are always criminal, although the assent is peremptory and confident, yet the de
ception is voluntary and vicious in its cause; and therefore the present confidence cannot warrant the action, it only makes the sinuer bold. So that these two differ in their manner of entering into the assent; the one entering by the door, the other by the breaches of the wall: good will and bad, virtue and vice, duty and sin, keeping the several keys of the persuasion and consent.
8. This erring conscience I therefore affirm to be always voluntary and vicious in its principle, because all God's laws are plain in all matter of necessary duty: and when all men are to be guided, learned and unlearned, the rule is plain and easy, because it is necessary it should be so. But therefore if there happen any invincible ignorance, or involuntary deception, it is there where the rule is not plain; and then the matter is but probable, and then the conscience is according. And this makes the third kind of conscience, in respect of the different manner of being affected with the object.
9. (3.) The probable conscience is made by that manner of assent to the object, which is indeed without fear, but not without imperfection. The thing itself is of that nature, that it cannot properly make faith or certainty of adherence; and the understanding considers it as it is represented without any prejudice or prepossession; and then the thing must be believed as it deserves, and no more: but because it does not deserve a full assent, it hath but an imperfect one; but it is perfect enough in its kind, that is, it is as much as it ought to be, as much as the thing deserves. These are all the kinds of conscience that are perfect.
10. (4.) But sometimes the state and acts of conscience are imperfect; as the vision of an evil eye, or the motion of a broken arm, or the act of an imperfect or abused understanding so the conscience in some cases is carried to its object but with an imperfect assent, and operates with a lame and deficient principle: and the causes of it are the vicious or abused affections, accidents or incidents to the conscience. Sometimes it happens, that the arguments of both the sides in a question seem so indifferent, that the conscience being affrighted and abused by fear and weakness, dares not determine and consequently dares not do any thing; and if it be constrained to act, it is determined from without, not by itself, but by accidents and persuasion, by
importunity or force, by interest or fear: and whatever the ingredient be, yet when it does act, it acts with fear, because it reflects upon itself, and considers it hath no warrant, and therefore whatever it does, becomes a sin. This is the calamity of a doubting conscience. This doubting does not always proceed from the equality of the parts of the question, but sometimes wholly from want of knowing any thing of it as if we were put to declare whether there were more men or women in the world? Whether the number of the stars were even or odd? Sometimes from inconsideration, sometimes from surprise, sometimes from confusion and disease; but from what principle soever it be, there is always some fear in it. This conscience can neither be a good guide, nor a good judge: we cannot do any thing by its conduct, nor be judged by it; for all that can be done before or after it, is not by it, but by the suppletories of the perfect conscience.
11. (5.) A less degree of this evil, is that which by the masters of moral theology is called the scrupulous conscience, which is not a distinct kind of conscience, as is usually supposed, but differs from the doubting conscience only in the degrees of the evil. The doubt is less, and the fear is not so violent as to make it unlawful to do any thing: something of the doubt is taken off, and the man can proceed to action without sin, but not without trouble; he is uneasy and timorous, even when he is most innocent; and the causes of this are not only portions of the same weaknesses which cause the doubting conscience; but sometimes superstition, and melancholy, and pusillanimity, and mean opinions of God, are ingredients into this imperfect assent and in such cases, although the scrupulous man may act without sin, and produce his part of the determination, yet his scruple is not innocent, but sometimes criminal, but always calamitous. This is like a mote in the eye, but a doubt is like a beam.
12. This conscience may be a right guide, but dares not be a judge: it is like a guide in the dark, that knows the way, but fears every bush; and because he may err, thinks he does. The effect of this imperfection is nothing but a heartless and uncomfortable proceeding in our duty, and what else the devil can make of it, by heightening the evil
and abusing the man, who sits upon a sure foundation, but dares not trust it: he cannot rely upon that, which yet he cannot disbelieve.
13. (6.) There are some other affections of conscience, and accidental appendages; but because they do not vary the manner of its being affected with its proper object, they cannot diversify conscience into several kinds, as it is a guide and judge of human actions. But because they have no direct influence upon our souls, and relate not to duty, but are to be conducted by rules of the other kinds, I shall here only enumerate their kinds, and permit to preachers to discourse of their natures, and collateral obligations to duty, of their remedies and assistances, their advantages and disadvantages respectively. These also are five: 1. The tender conscience. 2. The hardened or obdurate. 3. The quiet. 4. The restless or disturbed. 5. And lastly, The perverse conscience. Concerning which, I shall at present say this only: that the two first are seated principally in the will, but have a mixture of conscience, as docibility hath of understanding. The two next are seated in the fancy, or the affections, and are not properly placed in the conscience, any more than love or desire; but yet from conscience they have their birth. And for the last, it is a heap of irregular principles, and irregular defects, and is the same in conscience, as deformity is in the body, or peevishness in the affections.
OF THE RIGHT OR SURE CONSCIENCE.
A right Conscience is that which guides our Actions by right and proportioned Means, to a right End.
THE end is, God's glory, or any honest purpose of justice