The Atonement and Conscience -- By: Henry C. Mabie

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 070:279 (Jul 1913)
Article: The Atonement and Conscience
Author: Henry C. Mabie


The Atonement and Conscience

Henry C. Mabie, D.D.

Recognizing that the world has become disordered through sin, our present aim is to inquire what the moral sense of men has to say respecting the need of an atonement for sin.

Apart from explicit Bible teaching, does conscience affirm an objective divine reconciliation to be necessary? It will be my aim to show that it does, although in so doing I shall state some of the terms of that reconciliation in less conventional forms than are commonly employed.

The attempt to answer our question involves a metaphysic of the conscience. But this need not distress us, despite that “superstitious fear of metaphysics” which Eucken says attaches to the so-called modern mind. If we are to have any criteria at all wherewith to test the validity of our reasonings, we must have a metaphysic; otherwise the term rational is without meaning. We decline responsibility for certain outgrown conceptions of metaphysics, as of the sense-philosophy, which have furnished objectors with an excuse for rejecting metaphysics altogether, as most Ritschlians do. We, however, stand with Eucken when he says that it is the peculiarity and the greatness of Christianity that “its metaphysics should be always ethical, and its ethics always metaphysical,” and note also his pertinent caution that “If earlier ages made Christianity too mechanically and one-sidedly metaphysical,

we moderns must beware of allowing it to degenerate into mere ethics.”

But what is conscience? It has been called “the moral judiciary of the Soul.” It does not exist by itself separately as in a closed compartment. It always acts in organic, never in atomic, fashion; it is that mode of the abiding personal self in which all the other faculties also act, but with reference to some moral standard. This conscience not only has the power of judging, but must judge, according to the claim of duty, asserted by its own inward sense; for God himself founded it. It always asserts approval or disapproval with the degree of enlightenment it has. This enlightenment is indeed relative, and hence conscience needs education, for man is bound both to follow conscience and to have the best possible conscience to follow. Conscience is thus the sensorium of the moral soul; and within it the voice of God, in echo, is ever resounding, like the winding of a shell on the wave-swept seashore. It is the voice of God as lawgiver, and our best witness to him. Those who have a written revelation have the higher standard. But those who are without it have, in the law of conscience, an unwritten though compelling standard of moral judgment. And, in the thought of Paul, both Christian and pagan p...

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