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Volume 25 - Page 29 of 190 Index | Zoom | |
The answer of a good conscience.
A moral principle, not a law.
pp. 139 - 141
Someone has said that "conscience was born in the garden of Eden". Certain it is that
the moment that man sinned he became "conscious" of his state, needing no outside
condemnation to awaken him as to his condition:--
"Conscience is that secret voice--that moral principle that urges us to act in
conformity with our conviction, and condemns us whenever we are in opposition to it; it
is, so to speak, the main-spring of morality" (Dr. Vinet).
"Remember this plain distinction--a mistake which has ruined thousands--that your
conscience is not a law" (Sterne).
While our appeal in all things is to the Scriptures and to them alone, the two citations
given above are a contribution towards an attempt to define what conscience is, and what
it is not.
It is important, in the first place, to realize that conscience is not a law. A Hindoo
with a clear conscience could do that which no reader of this magazine would dare to
contemplate. A Jesuit could act in a way which would be impossible for one trained in
the truth of the gospel. It is not sufficient for any of us that our conscience does not
trouble us in certain matters, or that our conscience approves our actions; that of itself
does not prove that we are right. Dr. Vinet's statement relates conscience to an inside
standard, "a moral principle that urges us to act in conformity with our conviction". For
the believer, this "conviction" is that the Word of God is the only rule of faith and
practice; and his conscience, being enlightened, will never permit the believer to
transgress any portion of Scripture without protest.
It is important that we should appreciate the distinction between the law itself and the
monitor that commends or condemns us in relation to that law. If a pair of balances are
true, then the index finger will be true also; but if the balance is at fault, then the index
finger, though appearing to register equality, will be a false guide. The index finger of a
balance does not weigh anything; neither is it the standard of weight. It only registers. If
the standard and the balance be true it will be a safe guide, but if they are false it will be a
false guide. If the believer misunderstands or is wrongly instructed in the faith, and holds
as truth something that is false, his conscience will approve or condemn him in relation to
the error just as it would in relation to the truth. First of all we must have a standard, the
Word of God; then a conscience void of offence--the index finger upon the balance of
righteousness and truth.
We now turn our attention to the meaning of the word translated "conscience". The
Greek work translated "conscience" 32 times in the N.T. is suneidesis, a compound of