A Good Conscience
Arthur W. Pink, 1952
Not a little is said in the Bible about the conscience, even where it is not called by that particular name. In many places, the "heart" (1 John 3:20, etc.), the "spirit" (Romans 8:16; 1 Corinthians 2:11), the "thoughts" (Psalm 16:7), the "candle of the Lord" (Proverbs 20:27), and the "eye" (Luke 11:34-36) all signify the conscience. This inward monitor is one of the two eyes of the soul, the other one being the reason. Conscience is that faculty which . . .
perceives moral qualities,
enables us to discern of conduct in reference to right and wrong,
decides upon the lawfulness or unlawfulness of our desires and deeds,
and discriminates between truth and error. It estimates and declares the ethical character of whatever is presented to the mind, and that according to the measure of light which it has from reason and from the Word. Thus, conscience has a threefold office to perform:
First, to discover sin to us and to reveal our duty, with the penalty of the one and the reward of the other.
Second, when it has passed the verdict, pronouncing an act to be good or bad, its next office is to bear witness that we have done the one or the other.
Thus, third, it performs the office of judge, acquitting or condemning the soul by the comforting or terrifying evidence which it testifies unto.
Twice we read of a "pure conscience" (1 Timothy 3:9; 2 Timothy 1:3), and no less than six times is a "good conscience" mentioned in the New Testament, Acts 23:1; 1 Timothy 1:19; Hebrews 13:18; 1 Peter 3:16, 21. What then is a good conscience?
Not the natural faculty itself, for that is defiled by sin, but rather one that has been made good, as it was . . .
awakened by the Spirit,
renewed by grace,
purged by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:14),
purified by faith (Act 15:9),
instructed by the Scriptures.
Conscience is an enlightened monitor which directs unto holy conduct. It is the monitor which sets God before it, moving its possessor to act as in His presence, seeking to please Him, and to avoid whatever displeases Him — as in the case of Joseph, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Gen 39:9).
For the same reason, it causes its possessor to weigh what he says and ponder before he acts, and though fallible, yet according to the best of his knowledge he honestly endeavors to abstain from that which is evil and to cleave unto that which is good. He does so impartially and universally, "I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day" (Acts 23:1). Thus, a "good conscience" is to have a heart that does not reproach, but testifies in my favor.
A good conscience is one that properly discharges its office. It does not deal deceitfully, wrongly informing or flattering me. Yet, we say again, that in order to act properly, the conscience must be well-informed, illumined by the lamp of God's Word — for as there is a religious zeal which is not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2), so there are both activities in God's service (John 16:2) and humanly devised austerities (Col 2:20-22), which issue from a mistaken or ignorant conscience.
A good conscience bears witness within that I am really sincere in desiring with all my heart to be done entirely with sin and to be as holy as God is holy — that my strivings to please Him in all things and my ardent longings for unbroken communion with Him are genuine. And that I am honest when I mourn over my oft-repeated failures.
It is one that is kept "pure" and clean, or clear from guilt, and that by keeping short accounts with God, promptly confessing every known sin unto Him, and washing daily in that fountain which has been opened for sin and for immorality (Zechariah 13:1).
Therefore are we exhorted, "Let us draw near unto God with a true heart in full assurance of faith [that is, in a firm belief in the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice and an exclusive dependence upon Him], having our hearts sprinkled [by the approbation of Christ's blood] from an evil conscience" (Heb 10:22).
The maintenance of a good conscience is an essential part of personal piety. Said the apostle, "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and men" (Act 24:16). By which we understand him to mean that he observed a strict self-discipline, being careful that it might not justly accuse him of any offence. Paul took great pains to preserve peace within, and labored hard to discharge faithfully every duty required of God, both toward Himself and toward His creatures — being ever on his guard against offending the One or laying a stumbling-block before the others. His, "I exercise myself," was the human-responsibility side, the discharge of his moral obligations.
Such too was Job's resolution. Said he, "My heart shall not reproach me so long as I live" (Job 27:6). He was determined so to conduct himself that his conscience would not accuse him for any action. We should be just as careful not to offend conscience as we are of avoiding anything that would displease our best friend.
A good conscience can only be maintained . . .
by daily searching the Scriptures to discover our duty, "Understanding what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 5:17),
by serious inquiry into the state of our heart and ways, "Commune with your own heart" (Psalm 4:4; Psalm 139:23-4), and
by a uniform course of obedience, "Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him" (1 John 3:19).
The testimony of a good conscience is priceless. "For our rejoicing is this: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace." (2 Corinthians 1:12). The apostle was conscious both of the holiness of his life and the purity of his motives. He had an inward witness to the rectitude of his deeds, which approved of all and condemned for none. Though others ascribed his zealous service to unworthy incitements and ends, conscience testified to his integrity and piety. He acted "sincerity" or candor, for the word stands opposed to "double-dealing." He was actuated not by carnal prudence, but the grace of God. Asking himself not, "Is this good policy" or expedient — but "Is it right?" He knew that he was not directed by crookedness, that his spirit was without deceit, and the realization thereof was his "rejoicing."
Hence, he could say again that he had "renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Corinthians 4:2). He dreaded histrionic devices, relied not on the force of rhetoric, but aimed — with an eye single to God's glory and the good of souls — to convict his hearers by the truth.
Those who labor to keep conscience free from guilt, receive rich dividends in return. It supplies comfortable relief when we are falsely accused and unjust aspersions are cast upon us. It did so with Job when he was so misunderstood by his friends, for he feared not to say, "Let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know my heart" (Job 31:6).
Though Jeremiah was defamed by many, he was peacefully assured that his aims were upright. And therefore he hesitated not to expose his cause unto Him that "try the righteous and probes the heart and mind" (Jer 20:10-12).
So too David, "Judge me, O LORD; for I have walked in my integrity" (Psalm 26:1).
A clear conscience gives us assurance to approach unto God and freedom of utterance before him, "Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, then have we confidence toward God" (1 John 3:21). It is a real support under trouble, and in the approach of death. Thus, Hezekiah appealed to God, "Remember now, O LORD, how I have walked before you in truth and with a sincere heart" (Isa 38:3). In 1 Timothy 1:5 and 3:9, faith and a good conscience are linked together, for we cannot hold the one except in the other.
It is with the conscience that the Holy Spirit bears witness (Romans 8:16), shining upon His own work in the soul, assuring of our sincerity, giving us to see the genuineness of our profession by such evidences and fruits of the same.
Here are some of the qualities or characteristics of a good conscience:
1. Sincerity. Alas, how little of this virtue now remains in the world today. What shams and hypocrisy abound on every hand. There is scarcely any fidelity or reality left. But where the fear of the Lord is, there is a genuine desire to please Him, "in all things willing to live honestly" (Heb 13:8).
2. Tenderness. There is a wakefulness and sensitiveness, so that it smites for sin on all occasions. So far from being indifferent to God's claims, the heart is acutely sensible when they have been ignored. Even for what many regard as trifling matters, a good conscience chides and condemns.
3. Fidelity. A constant judging of ourselves before God and a measuring of our ways by His Word. The favorable opinion of a person's friends, affords no satisfaction to an upright man unless his heart can assure him that his conduct is right in the sight of God. No matter what are the beliefs and customs of others, he will not knowingly offend his inward monitor.
Marked are the differences between the actings of the natural conscience — and those of a renewed and good conscience. The natural conscience works mainly by means of slavish fear and the terror it impresses on the heart. It usually smites for total omissions or gross deeds — but not for the absence of spirituality or perfunctory performances. It works mainly when convictions are strongest, minding duty in time of distress, "in their affliction they will seek me early" (Hosea 5:15). But a renewed conscience moves us to perform duty out of love to God. If there were no binding precept — gratitude would prompt to the bringing of a thank-offering to Him!