Self-Government, Conscience & True Liberty:
Self-Government & the Law of Conscience
by Gerald R. Thompson
People often talk about the family as the most basic unit of society, but that is not true. The most basic unit of society is the individual. Each individual person is a creation of God who is born with a mind and a conscience, and is therefore a separate decision-making unit of society.
Families are, of course, supremely important to larger society, and it has truly been said that as long as the family unit stands strong, society will stand strong. None of which changes the fact that a family is merely a collection of individuals with an organizational structure and chain of command. Sure, the family structure, properly understood, is ordained by God. But again, belonging to a family does not override a person’s freedom of individual choice.
Accordingly, self-government is also the most basic unit of government. That the individual is also a unit of government should be obvious, when you consider that each person is a moral being, made in the image of God, such that each person is ultimately responsible for their own individual behavior. And, should anyone seek God’s forgiveness for the wrongs they have done, that is a matter utterly dependent on individual choice. We all stand condemned or forgiven based on our own choice – no one else can do it for us.
In fact, all natural rights, and all natural freedoms, are bestowed exclusively on individuals. There are no group rights or corporate freedoms, and no collective salvation. We each stand alone before God as a moral agent – and God fully expects us to govern ourselves accordingly, i.e., as responsible moral agents. Each person is morally aware of certain fundamental principles of right and wrong as evident in our consciences, which awareness guides us in our behavioral decisions.
Without self-government, none of the other social institutions would be sustainable. Thus, a family cannot maintain itself where the husband and wife do not love and respect each together, where either is unwilling to put the interests of others above their own self-interest, or where either spouse engages in serious self-destructive behavior. Before the family unit can be strong, the spouses/parents must first govern themselves responsibly, and each must really want – because neither can be forced – to fulfill their obligations to the other family members.
Similarly, where the members of a society are unwilling to refrain from unlawful or criminal behavior, no amount of civil government coercion will be able to fully restrain them. As individual unlawful behavior rises, anarchy also rises. And the witness of history is that anarchy is always followed by tyranny. Both anarchy and tyranny are essentially failures of civil government, and both have as their root cause a mass failure of self-government. One inevitably leads to the other.
When the members of a local church or any other association throw off the shackles of self-restraint and turn against each like ungoverned beasts, the result is very predictable – namely, church splits and disintegrations. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and the only thing which prevents deepening divisions in any institution or association is continual self-government and self-restraint. Hence, it is of supreme importance that every person know how God intends that each of us should function as an individual first, before we can function well in greater society.
In recent decades, the fundamental units of society have been subjected to an unrelenting attack. Much attention has been paid to the decline and redefinition of the family, and to be sure, the attacks on (and the weakening of) the family unit are very real and accelerating. Much less attention has been paid to the recent unrelenting attacks on individual self-government, and the lengths to which even well-intentioned people will go to deny others of the right of self-government. The so-called progress in that area has been staggering.
These attacks follow a predictable pattern, because it is one that has worked exceedingly well over the years. First, people are denied the right to exercise rightful self-government, then they are not only permitted but encouraged to make personal decisions that God never authorized or intended anyone to make. The end result is a warped and perverted view of personal liberty (calling good things bad and bad things good), which when fully realized, will undermine and destroy the fabric of society which holds everything together.
Thus, if we desire to preserve the fabric of society, we must do a better job of educating people on how to exercise responsible self-government.
Let’s start by considering the most fundamental principles of all self-government.
First, people are made in the image of God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27). While there are a number of principles which flow from this fact, the one I want to focus on here is that every person is a moral being. This is evidenced in the biblical account of creation by comparing Gen. 1:28 with Gen. 2:7. In the one, God gave mankind dominion over every living thing on the earth, by which is meant the animal kingdom, excluding people. In the other, man is referred to as a living soul (KJV) or a living being (NASB).
So the comparison is between living things and living beings (souls), by which the image of God is bestowed on people but not the animals, making each person a moral being and animals merely amoral things (life without morality). Thus, there is no expectation that animals will be self-governing. They are either dominated (or governed) by people, or they are wild (untamed, and thus ungoverned). In either case, animals cannot exercise self-control. Further, we do not speak of animals as being subject to the behavioral laws of God (i.e., they are not responsible for their actions).
This moral character means that the behavioral decisions of people are morally charged, i.e., our decisions raise issues of right and wrong. Not all decisions are right, and not all are wrong. There is a set of rules, called laws, which tells us what is right and wrong. This is the fundamental purpose of all laws. Right decisions are encouraged, and wrong decisions are punished. Learning the difference between them is where personal responsibility comes in.
Second, each person is ultimately responsible only for himself.
The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. (Ezek 18:20). [To the same effect are Dt. 24:16; 2 Ki. 14:6 and Jer. 31:30.]
The immediate question is whether fathers and sons are a special or unique case, or whether they are merely illustrative of a broader principle. Is this rule of personal responsibility one that applies to all people no matter what their relationship? I can think of no rationale whereby fathers and sons are a unique case under lonang (the laws of nature and nature’s God) – only that historically they would pose the most common case of abuse of the principle.
Thus, I conclude that personal responsibility is a general rule. Further, it is founded in the law of nature and is a foundational concept in understanding the nature of all government. What kind of world would it be, where people are held accountable for the wrongs of others? And is that, in fact, the kind of world we have? What evidence would support the idea that we live in a world where people are accountable for the sins (i.e., moral wrongs) of others before God? On what basis is the fate of my soul tied to the choices made by another?
A cardinal principle of all scripture is that I cannot choose either to bring salvation to any other person, or condemn them. Righteousness “will be counted to us who believe in him.” (Rom. 4:24). “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom. 8:14). “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9). Scripture consistently holds that belief in Christ is personal and individual.
Sin and redemption are profoundly individual, not collective. This is a universal truth. It is ironclad, admitting of no possible exceptions. There are no strange cases or weird circumstances whereby the rule does not apply. It is universal and inescapable.
The Restraint of Self
What is government?
Which brings us to the matter of government. What is government? Government is restraint. Government – all government (self-government, family government or civil government) – is the mechanism by which people are encouraged to make right decisions, and punished for making wrong ones. Since right decisions are always to be encouraged and one can never make too many right decisions, the restraint exercised by government is always a restraint of evil (or certain morally wrong decisions). Civil government, in particular, has been given the responsibility to restrain evil in general society.
Thus, civil government is charged with the authority to punish certain wrong behavioral decisions which constitute crimes, and we refer to this as the administration of justice. (Rom. 13:1-5). The other side of the coin is that civil rulers are to praise those who do good. (1 Pet. 2:14.) But where would society be if that were the only restraint on evil that we had? Civil government can only do so much (and some things, it does very poorly).
A stable society cannot exist where there is not also a pervasive and decentralized system of family government. The family is where parents teach their children to distinguish between right and wrong and use corrective discipline to make the lessons stick. Churches have a collaborative function (not being vested with the authority to punish wrongs), to provide additional moral guidance to all who would listen. In other words, to strengthen and reinforce the moral fabric of society by encouraging good behaviors.
Yet, even these are insufficient to fully restrain evil in society. The society which is governed best, is that which requires the least external restraint, because its citizens govern themselves well as a matter of internal self-regulation.
Consequently, self government is self-restraint. Self-restraint is the process by which the person ultimately responsible for making right and wrong decisions restrains his own decisions to comply with the rules of law. Self-restraint, when it exists, is always the best way to restrain evil, and is therefore primary. All other methods are less effective, and secondary.
A Personal Knowledge of the Law
However, before an individual can be held responsible under any law (whether God or man’s), he must first know what that law is, and what it requires. This is the law of promulgation.
It [law] is likewise “a rule prescribed.” Because a bare resolution, confined in the breast of the legislator, without manifesting itself by some external sign, can never be properly a law. It is requisite that this resolution be notified to the people who are to obey it.1
That a law may be obeyed, it is necessary that it should be known: that it may be known, it is necessary that it be promulgated. … To promulgate a law, is to present it to the minds of those who are to be governed by it in such manner as that they may have it habitually in their memories, and may possess every facility for consulting it, if they have any doubts respecting what it prescribes.2
Although Blackstone and Bentham were speaking solely of human laws, the same principle holds true for the Creator, who is the supreme lawgiver. (Isa. 33:22). God is fully aware of the law of promulgation. For “through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:20). Also, “sin is not counted where there is no law,” (Rom. 5:13) and “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” (Rom. 7:7).
Thus, in order for God to hold anyone personally responsible for their own wrongs, each person must first know what God requires. Logically, this means that if individual responsibility is to attach to every single person, then every single person must have a knowledge of God’s laws, without exception. Do all people in fact possess this knowledge? Yes, indeed.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. (Rom. 1:18-19).
God is certainly capable of keeping secrets, but when it comes to His laws and the standards of conduct He requires, He has taken great pains to reveal those to all people. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Dt. 29:29). Furthermore,
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Ps. 19:1-4, 7a).
What The Creation Reveals
I suspect some of you may be skeptical of the nature and extent of this knowledge which the scriptures claim everyone has. So, let’s briefly review what may be learned merely from observing the creation into which we have all been placed.
First, the creation speaks of the existence and attributes of God, the Creator. The end result of which is, every individual is without excuse before God.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom. 1:19-20).
Second, the creation speaks not only of scientific or physical laws, but also of the laws of human behavior.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. (Ps. 19:7-9).
Third, these laws include the prohibition of all forms of idolatry.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Rom. 1:21-23).
Fourth, bloodshed (murder) defiles and pollutes the land.
And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. … And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” (Gen. 4:8, 10-11).
Fifth, all forms of sexual immorality are contrary to nature and prohibited.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator …. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Rom. 1:24-27).
Sixth, all people are aware of behaviors which are generally evil, and that everyone who does evil things deserves to die.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Rom. 1:28-32).
Seventh, God has made it plain to everyone on earth what the essential gospel is.
But I ask, have they not heard [the word of Christ]? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” … Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” (Rom. 10:18, 20 – quoting Ps. 19:4 and Isa. 65:1).
This is just the really obvious stuff. There is, in fact, much more that can be learned from observing the creation, if you put some effort into it. Things like the law of the land, the law of inheritance, the laws of authority, the knowledge written in the stars, and others. But even a child can figure out the seven laws of nature listed above. Why do I say this? Because everyone has a head start, if you will – a certain knowledge of God’s laws of right and wrong placed inside us from the moment of our birth. We call this the conscience.
What Is The Conscience?
What is the connection between conscience and the law of nature? Philosophers and legal writers have argued over what the conscience is, and how it is to be ruled.
Whereof one doctor saith, that conscience is the law of our understanding. Another, that conscience is an habit of the mind discerning between good and evil. Another, that conscience is the judgment of reason judging on the particular acts of man.3
Conscience is properly no more than reason itself, considered as instructed in regard to the rule we ought to follow, or to the law of nature; and judging of the morality of our own actions, and of the obligations we are under in this respect, by comparing them to this rule.4
Frankly, I don’t know why commentators have had such a difficult time defining the conscience, because the scripture plainly tells us what it is.
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Rom. 2:14-16).
Thus, the human conscience consists of the laws of God written on our hearts. Since people are a part of God’s creation, He has seen fit to write the knowledge of His creation law on the heart (i.e., the innermost part of the thoughts) of every person. This is one more way in which people are made in the image of God. Thus, there is a sense in which some (but not all) of God’s laws of right and wrong behavior are a priori. This innate knowledge is the conscience.
Though Rom. 2:14-16 refers only to Gentiles (or, non-Jews), it must be equally true of all people, because all people are equally God’s creation. There is no time when God would have written His laws on the hearts of the Gentiles without doing so for the Jews, for all people ultimately trace their ancestors back to the same two people.
So the first function of the conscience is to instruct each individual about what behaviors are right and wrong in the sight of God, irrespective of the extent to which any person has actually observed the external creation (that is, external to one’s self). Even if it were possible that a person could know absolutely nothing about the physical universe apart from their own thoughts, they would still carry within them a limited knowledge of right and wrong.
Thus, the human conscience is itself a part of the natural creation. People are created by God, the universe was created by God, and He is the author of both. It is no surprise, then, that the conscience (in its nascent form) and the creation should fully agree with each other.
For this reason, some people conceive of the conscience as the voice of God speaking to us. I don’t mean an audible voice here – but when we encounter various situations, feelings or thoughts of right or wrong (or guilt) will rise up within our minds, because God put them there. For this reason – because God is the author of the conscience – the conscience is sacred. It is to be listened to and respected, not ignored or suppressed. The conscience is also – because it reflects the image of God in every person – something that we must respect in others as fellow human beings who also carry God’s image in them.
The second function of the conscience is to guide how we perceive the created universe around us, and to use that information to strengthen and confirm our knowledge of right and wrong consistent with the laws of nature. This is commonly referred to as the application or exercise of reason, to discover what may be known of God and His laws. Except, of course, our reason is corrupt and far from perfect as a result of the fall of mankind.
Yet undoubtedly the revealed law [of the scriptures] is of infinitely more authenticity than that moral system, which is framed by ethical writers, and denominated the natural law. Because one is the law of nature, expressly declared so to be by God himself; the other is only what, by the assistance of human reason [and the conscience], we imagine to be that law. If we could be as certain of the latter as we are of the former, both would have an equal authority; but, till then, they can never be put in any competition together.5
The conscience is the God-given mechanism to help us submit our individual will to the law of God written on our hearts. The conscience, in its native condition, is sufficient for us to be able to “read” nature. And though our reason will always be imperfect and corrupted, each person has the ability to come to a knowledge of at least some truth of God. How much truth we come to know, depends on how hard we look and inquire into matters, how much we respect and pay attention to our conscience, and whether our conscience has been hardened due to continual neglect.
The third function of the conscience is to be the primary mechanism of self-restraint. Conscience is the sole and exclusive means of internal self-restraint. All other means of restraint are external. This is why, when we talk about self-government, we have to include a consideration of the conscience. Self-government is self-restraint, and self-restraint originates in the conscience. Without a conscience, self-government simply would not be possible.
The opposite of conscience is that rule which says, “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” In other words, when the individual will submits to no other voice than itself (i.e., a lack of self-restraint). This rule indeed, besides having a historical connection to Satanism (via Alistair Crowley), is the very spirit of the Antichrist, who the scripture calls the man of lawlessness, and the son of destruction. (2 Th. 2:3). The Antichrist is the supreme example of a person who is a law unto himself, and refuses to submit to the law of God.
For we should be grossly mistaken, if, under a notion that conscience is the immediate rule of our actions, we were to believe, that every man may lawfully do whatever he imagines the law commands or permits.6
Responsibility For The Conscience
So then, God gives each person a conscience, which contains only a part (not the entirety) of God’s laws, and every person also has a corrupted reasoning ability with which to discern the laws of God from the creation. Clearly, we are all at a significant disadvantage in knowing God’s thoughts after Him. But that does not mean we are completely unable to perceive God’s laws, nor does it excuse us. What should we then do?
At this point, some of you may want to jump immediately to, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb. 11:6). However, I ask that you avoid this temptation. We are here not inquiring as to how one pleases God, or the manner of obtaining forgiveness. We are rather asking how we may train up our senses to better discern the laws of God for the purpose of obedience. True, having faith can assist in this process, but faith is not necessary for obedience. Also, if you want to argue that every person with faith is a better judge of right and wrong than the faithless, save your breath. If only that were so – the empirical evidence is clearly contrary.
The more sure path to consistent obedience is marked by self-reflection and practice, or self-discipline. The scriptural admonition is pretty clear: train up your conscience in the way it should go. If you aren’t actively making the effort, it won’t happen automatically. (And sadly, many believers – perhaps most – never make the effort.) The danger, of course, is that unless we take care to seek the things of God, our conscience may actually become damaged (or hardened) over time.
The discriminating power of conscience may be injured by neglecting to reflect upon the moral character of our actions, both before and after we have performed them. … If we yield to the impulses of passion, and turn a deaf ear to the monitions of conscience, the dividing line between right and wrong seems gradually to become obliterated. We pass from the confines of the one into those of the other, with less and less sensation, and at last neglect the distinction altogether.7
Conversely, we can each train our own conscience to be better at discerning good from evil, through self-reflection and practice.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2, emphasis added).
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb. 5:14, emphasis added).
To the wicked and the intentionally faithless, a conscience is the ultimate inconvenient truth. It checks us in our actions, shames us when we do wrong, and floods us with guilt and remorse when we hurt others. If you are hell bent in doing wrong, or denying God, the last thing you want is a conscience that is more attuned to God’s laws. Rather, you want it to be less attuned, so you numb your conscience, and eventually over much time and with great effort, try to deaden it completely.
If that is your goal, it is certainly achievable. But beware: the God of nature and all of creation won’t take it lightly. The Lord knows exactly what to do with such people:
Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. … For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. (2 Pet. 2:10-13, 17, emphasis added).
And so each of us needs to understand, as part of our own self-government, that we will all give an account for the condition of our conscience in the final judgment, and whether we have heeded it or not. No one else is responsible for your conscience, nor are you responsible for anyone else’s.
But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Rom. 2:5).
I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. (Rev. 2:23).
It has been truly said, that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Likewise, eternal vigilance is the price of a clear conscience. There will never be a point in your life when you can just forget about your conscience. Neither will there be a time when you have trained your conscience enough, and need not train it any more. The only time you can stop being vigilant is when you are dead.
The Liberty of Conscience
Now let’s take these basic principles or laws of conscience to their logical conclusion. First, because the conscience is sacred (God-given), it is inviolable. Which is to say, since the conscience represents the voice of God within us, to go against that voice of God (i.e., to violate one’s own conscience) is a sin. If the conscience is a knowledge of God’s laws, then to violate conscience is to violate God’s laws. A violation of God’s laws is the very definition of sin (i.e., a moral wrong).
Therefore, there is never a right way to violate your conscience. Violating your conscience is always wrong. There are no exceptions.
Second, we have already seen how God knows our innermost thoughts, and will hold us accountable for them in the final judgment. This is a fairly common theme in scripture. For example, “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb 4:12-13).
What we must also acknowledge is that this jurisdiction or authority is exclusive to God. Men are neither authorized, nor capable, of knowing or judging the thoughts of any other person. “
For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him?” (1 Cor. 2:11).
Since God has exclusive jurisdiction over the heart and mind, the conscience is not subject to the jurisdiction of men, which is to say the conscience is free. This is what is meant by the liberty of conscience. And this freedom is absolute. It is absolute in the sense that our conscience is nobody’s business but our own. Period. We don’t owe any one a duty to think a certain way, we are not accountable to any one for the way we think, and no one is actually capable of knowing what we think in any event.
Third, the liberty of conscience is an inalienable right. It is inalienable because the conscience is God-given, and also because a duty towards God is a right towards men. This view of the liberty of conscience is supported both by scripture and by its acceptance as a chief tenet of religious freedom in America. The link between liberty of conscience and religious liberty is no accident. Since the conscience pertains to our manner of thinking, it is inextricably linked with freedom of the mind – the basis of religious freedom.
Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who, being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do.8
Here, Jefferson makes the argument that not even God, who is all-knowing and all-powerful, ever forces anyone to change his or her mind contrary to their conscience – so how can mere men ever pretend to do so? Certainly, God can read our thoughts and will judge our consciences in the final judgment, yet He never forces anyone to think a certain way. The individual conscience is inviolable, and the freedom of conscience is absolute. James Madison wholeheartedly agreed.
The religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable; because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also; because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator.9
We should not be surprised, therefore, that scripture speaks of the liberty of conscience in a similar manner, affirming both the sanctity of the conscience and its inherent liberty.
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof. If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. … For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? (1 Cor. 10:25-27, 29b-30, emphasis added).
This law of the conscience, then, rests on these fundamental principles:
1. The conscience consists of the laws of God written on our hearts (or the voice of God speaking to our minds).
2. Each person is responsible for his own conscience (no one else for you, and you for no one else).
3. The conscience is sacred and inviolable (for anyone to violate their conscience is sin).
4. Everyone’s conscience is absolutely free as a God-given right.
5. Following one’s conscience is the primary means of exercising self-government.
1. Wm. Blackstone, 1 Commentaries on the Laws of England, Introduction, §2 (1765).
2. Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843), Vol. 1.
3. Christopher St. Germain, The Doctor and Student (1518), DIALOGUE 1, Ch 15.
4. Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, The Principles of Natural and Politic Law (1748), Bk 1, Pt 2, Ch 9.
5. Wm. Blackstone, 1 Commentaries on the Laws of England, Introduction, §2 (1765).
6. Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, The Principles of Natural Law, ch. 9 (1748).
7. Francis Wayland, The Elements of Moral Science, ch. 2, §4 (1856 ed.).
8. Thomas Jefferson, Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1779). Adopted by the General Assembly of Virginia on January 16, 1786, now part of Code of Virginia, §57-1.
9. James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785).