Notes and Comments Vol. 1.
J. N. Darby.
As regards Conscience I have more than one point to note.
First, speaking, as infidels and annihilationists do, of its being the effect of education, etc., is all confusion - confusion between a rule by which it judges, and the intrinsic power to judge. No one denies - it may be misled by education - making such or such feelings a rule, an obligation; but a rule, or obligation imposed - and all such are so - is the opposite of conscience.
Conscience is the sense that there is right and wrong, and when called into activity by an act, that such is right or wrong, it pronounces, by its own judgment, that it is right or wrong, it pronounces for itself. I may have dimmed, blinded, influenced, misled it, but Consciences are; und fürsich (and in itself) is the judgment I pronounce from instinctive, and uninfluenced persuasion that such an act is right, such wrong.So far from its owning a law, it ceases whenever there is one which has authority, because it has not to judge for itself.
Quite true that the instinctive judgment of conscience is according to some inscrutable law, but that is another thing; it is not the perception of that law, but man's judgment of right and wrong in itself. It is our knowledge of good and evil, not a rule outside us. Hence, when Adam had it not, was not "become as one of us, knowing good and evil," he had a law, to which obedience was to be paid, and as to an act in which there was no right and wrong in itself - he might have eaten had it not been forbidden.
Man acquired this judgment of right and wrong, because "as one of us knowing good and evil"; of this there was no trace before. It was a question of obedience, law, and authority - subjection to God; but he enjoyed goodness - blessings - had to be grateful - but had no question of there being a right or a wrong perceived by himself - no power of it, no occasion for it, no possibility of it; it would have falsified his whole position, - he would have ceased to be innocent. Indeed the thing was impossible, for he was not as God, holy, i.e., essentially abhorring perfectly known evil - known because, and by being, holy; and sin was not in him, he could not innocently know evil to judge it. When a law was given, no doubt it might condemn what conscience did, but conscience had no more to do; if godly, under law man had only to obey.
105 Again, education may corrupt the judgment as to what is right and wrong, but supposes the judgment faulty. I suspect that the true test is, that whenever the conscience is falsified by education, the will and passions will be found to be at work, and though the person may not think of it, it could not be denied by a person not having his passions engaged. It is conventional right and wrong found by circumstances; hence, as in mere civil circumstances, conscience is the ultimate rule. We have Pascal's dictum, "juste c'est ce qui établi, donc tout ce qui est établi est juste"; only when this violates too seriously the conscience, or natural sense of right, or wrong, it tends to revolution, i.e., will breaks out against the pressure.
I suspect the immutable law of right and wrong is founded on relationships, whether with God, or as God has formed them; from them duties flow. Only that man having been set lord over the earth, possession has come in also; it is regulated by convention, only if it too much violates the right to possess in others - in many - it tends to violence in order to possess - wants ministering to this.
Grace has brought us out of law into absolute obedience to a Person, but then it has its own rules which we need, and has set up the absolute authority of a Person, and a relationship which governs conduct, i.e., right and wrong, as all relationships do; Christ being the perfect model of that in which we are with God and man.
But we must not confound the rule of right and wrong with conscience - the discernment of right and wrong. "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin"; that rule varies divinely, even because the relationship is changed. My duty was a man's, a child of Adam's to God, and to other children of Adam, for that was my place, and relationship; it is of a child, a son of God, of which Christ is the pattern. Hence one rule or test of right or wrong is universality, practically what I hold to be right for all everywhere, but modified by this principle, where the same relation exists, i.e., one formed of God, creature, son, daughter, wife, etc., man with God, and with men, general or specific, whatever He has ordered. Only we must distinguish between obedience to God, or what represents Him, and conscience viewed as judging right and wrong. It is right to obey Him, wrong to disobey, and so far conscience comes in, for man had a given, has an instinctive, recognition of God, but it is not any judgment of right and wrong, as such, in the act itself. It is not what man acquired by the Fall, i.e., the divine prerogative of judging right and wrong for himself, "one of us."
106 The question may arise, how far grounds of judgment, and so far reason enter into conscience, and I answer, "not at all"; they go to lead to the estimate of the fact of the relationship, and whether it be violated, and I conclude that the thing is wrong. I then pronounce judgment, not on the thing, but on myself, or another conscience is at work, I call it wrong; but conscience always judges the thing. But there are, thus, three ideas connected in our mind with conscience, which we must look at if we would not have confusion in our minds; firstly, the sense of responsibility to a Being above us, principally to God, not the duty of loving Him, that is law - but authority; this, Adam had before the Fall; secondly, the sense of good and evil; thirdly, the self-judgment or repulsion of heart, as to others, produced by it when an act is contemplated it condemns; the second is properly, I apprehend, Conscience.