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Readings for Reflection: December 2012
from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel

Conscience
From Friends for 350 Years


This Reading is a selection from Friends for 350 Years, a revised edition of Howard Brinton’s Friends for 300 Years, with a historical update by Margaret Hope Bacon.

The Light Within is not to be identified with conscience. Conscience is not the Light in its fullness but “the measure of Light given us.” The Light illumines conscience and seeks to transform an impure conscience into its own pure likeness. Conscience is partly a product of the Light which shines into it and partly a product of social environment. Therefore conscience is fallible. But conscience must always be obeyed because it reflects whatever measure of Light we have by which to form our moral judgments. This measure of Light in the conscience may be increased; as this occurs conscience becomes more sensitive to moral Truth.

Spiritual growth was often described by Friends as a process of becoming more “tender.” The word “sensitive” did not then bear its modern connotation. One object of the meeting for worship was to make the conscience more tender, or sensitive. As the measure of Light in the conscience increases, we are, in Fox’s words, “guided up to God.” We become more and more able to see Truth with the eyes of God.

To use an analogy from science, the physical world is not known to us completely, but, as our scientific instruments become increasingly sensitive, we can learn more and more about it; similarly, moral truth may not be known to us completely, but as our consciences become sensitive, we can learn more about it. The Light is the Absolute to which man’s relative conscience gradually approaches as the physical world is the Absolute to which our relative scientific knowledge gradually approaches.


Friends for 350 Years, Pendle Hill, Wallingford, PA, 2002, pp. 43-44.


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