CONSCIENCE

This entry is part of 50 in the series article 26

(Acts 26 : 9.) 

MEN have attempted in vain to define this term 
explicitly. Psychology has even been unable to 
compound a definition that would stand the test under 
all circumstances. Although we can not understand 
just to what extent conscience abides in the spiritual 
man, nor formulate a statement that would compre- 
hend within itself all of its varied activities, yet there 
are several things which we can and do know about 
the term. It is the purpose of this discourse to 
elucidate the facts that have already been ascertained. 

The principal question for consideration is: To 
what extent can human conscience be depended upon 
as a guide in religious faith and practice? Can con- 
science be interpreted as the oracle of God? Is it 
"that spark of celestial fire" within man that is 
infallibly right under all circumstances? Or is human 
conscience liable to error? If infallible, it is reliable; 
if not infallible, it is not reliable under all circum- 
stances. It is exceedingly important that we study 
this matter, as there is much confusion in the popular 
mind regarding it. 

1. Man is by nature a dual being, Robert Louis 
Stevenson disclosed no new fact in "Dr. Jekyll and 
Mr. Hyde"; he merely stated a principle as old as 
the Bible itself. Man has both a carnal and a spiritual 
mind (Rom. 8:5-7). The carnal mind is not subject 
to the law of God; the purely carnal mind, if such 
a thing were possible in man, could not be subject to 
divine law. It would do no good to read the Ten 
Commandments to a horse, or preach the gospel to a 
cow, as neither could be subject to divine law. But as 
we know of no person absolutely carnally minded, or 
totally depraved, we know of no man that is not sub- 
ject to some form of divine law. 

The spiritual mind is subject to the law of God. 
It is capable of interpreting and applying law. Con- 
science is that factor of the spiritual mind which ap- 
plies law to individual conduct. Hence it follows that 
conscience will apply law according to previous train- 
ing. Therefore, if imperfectly educated, it is liable 
to error. 

The carnal mind produces carnal propensities-, the 
spiritual mind produces spiritual propensities. Paul 
calls the former the law of his members, and the latter 
the law of his mind, describing the warfare that is 
constantly going on between the two forces within 
him (Rom. 7:21-23). He speaks of the physical as 
the "outward" man; and of the spiritual, as the 
"inward" man (1 Cor. 4:16). Conscience is an attri- 
bute of the inward man. 

2. Conscience is superior to human law. It is a 
higher law than the Magna Charta, or the Constitu- 
tion of the United States. A man may refuse to obey 
civil law when it conflicts with the dictates of his con- 
science, and not incur the displeasure of God. All 
human law contains more or less of error; judicial 
decisions more often look at the technical than the 
moral side of an issue. Consequently, human law is 
liable, at times, to sink to a very low standard morally. 
The highest moral standard in human law is attained 
among those nations which have applied the ethical 
principles of the teachings of Christ and woven them 
into their systems of law. 

When Daniel was forbidden to pray, he disobeyed 
the edict and prayed according as his conscience dic- 
tated (Dan. 6). The apostles disobeyed the Jewish 
Sanhedrin because conscience told them to preach 
Jesus Christ as they had been commanded (Acts 4 
and 5). This nation was founded upon the principle 
of religious freedom, and only under such conditions 
could primitive Christianity ever have been restored. 
Such a propaganda would have been crushed in its 
infancy by ecclesiastical authority, had it been inaugu- 
rated on the old continent. 

No matter how many times a man may be acquitted 
in human courts, if he is guilty of crime, conscience 
will convict him and sometimes drive him to confes- 
sion, or suicide. We have several instances in the 
divine record wherein conscience has created remorse, 
sometimes leading to self-destruction (1 Sam. 24:5; 
John 8:1-11; Matt. 26:69-75; Matt. 27:1-5). No 
matter how much of a hypocritical mask a man may 
wear before the world, his conscience convicts him 
inwardly of sin. Conscience is of a higher order than 
human law. 

3. Conscience is supreme among heathen nations. 
It is the supreme moral law for people who have 
no positive revelation, but who have established sys- 
tems of natural religion. 

Man has never been found without a religion. It 
is as natural for him to pray as to eat. Worship is 
an instinct of the spiritual man. There are two kinds 
of revelation: The positive revelation of God, or the 
Bible, and the revelation of nature. The positive rev- 
elation of God is divided into two parts — the law and 
the gospel, or the old covenant and the new (Gal. 
3:24, 25; Heb. 8). Those races which have no posi- 
tive revelation build up a religious system of their 
own from the revelation of nature. Brahmanism is 
a fair example, in which God is worshiped as the 
essence of the material universe. The Aztecs wor- 
shiped Him as the sun; the American Indian, as the 
Great Spirit. Man, unaided by God, has never been 
able to grasp the spiritual conception of God, and 
consequently has failed to formulate any true system 
of religion. So Christianity is the true system in that 
it is the last positive revelation coming directly from 
the Almighty. 

Ps. 19 : 1, 2. Any one can discern God in the 
revelation of nature. The wonderful design of the 
material universe substantiates the existence of the 
infinite Architect. The existence of life in its varied 
forms is positive proof of the existence of a Power 
from which life has originated (Rom. 1:19, 20). His 
eternal power and Godhead have been manifested since 
the beginning of the world, in the marvels of the 
material universe. No man has any excuse for deny- 
ing God, whether he has a Bible or not. 

Rom. 2 : 14, 15. When Gentiles who have no writ- 
ten law (Bible) do by nature the things contained in 
the written law (Bible), they, having no written law, 
become a law unto themselves. They show the works 
of the law written in their hearts. Conscience will 
bear witness with their standard of moral law, either 
excusing or accusing them in the day when all will 
be judged. What are some of the works which heathen 
nations do by nature that are works of the written 
law? "We mention two in particular. The ceremony 
of marriage is observed among all heathen nations; as 
also the offering of bloody sacrifices to propitiate the 
anger of their deities. Both marriage and sacrifice 
are of divine origin — works of the written law. 

So we see that the law of conscience is supreme 
among heathen nations. 

4. Conscience is not the supreme law among 
nations which have a positive revelation. The positive 
revelation of God in the Bible is superior to the rev- 
elation of nature. Positive divine law is of a higher 
order than moral law. In order to test the faith of 
Abraham, God commanded him to offer up his only 
son, Isaac, on the sacrificial altar (Gen. 22). Now, it 
always was wrong to kill. The sentiment of filial 
affection forbade that being done which had been 
commanded. Yet the positive command of God made 
that right which was wrong within itself. When God 
commands we should obey, whether or not we can see 
any virtue in the thing commanded. 

Conscience is a creature of education. Those 
things which the popular conscience sanctions in one 
age, it will condemn in another. People upheld slav- 
ery one hundred years ago; to-day they condemn it. 
Ten years ago they upheld the liquor traffic as a body; 
to-day they are voting it out of existence. The pop- 
ular conscience is being educated to recognize such 
things as wrong in the sight of God. 

A person may have a deceived conscience as a 
result of improper training. Saul of Tarsus had been 
educated a Pharisee of the strictest sect (Acts 26 : 4, 
5). He thought, as a result of early training, that 
the religion of Christ was false, and he wrought havoc 
with the church at Jerusalem and persecuted the 
Christians even unto foreign cities (Acts 8:3; 26 : 9- 
11). Though sincere in the matter, he says himself 
that he was the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:12-15). 
Saul was following his conscience when persecuting 
Christ; but he was entirely in the wrong. Do you 
recall a time in your life when you were sincerely 
in the wrong? 

Just because a man is sincere is no evidence that 
he is right. Saul of Tarsus thought he was right in 
ruining the church, because he had a deceived con- 
science, or one that had been imperfectly trained. But 
it does not follow that he was right just because he 
thought so ; in fact, he was absolutely wrong in the 
sight of God. 

Conscience will dictate according to previous train- 
ing. That is why I will do things which I think to 
be right, that you look upon as wrong; and that is 
why you will do Ihings that you think are right, but 
that I look upon as wrong. Your conscience may 
have been trained to accept sprinkling or pouring for 
baptism; my conscience has been trained to regard 
immersion only as baptism. How are we to settle 
the matter? 

We must have a source of infallibility somewhere; 
So we go to that source — the divine guide — the Word, 
which is the revelation of God's conscience. What- 
ever the Word teaches about the matter is right, is 
regardless of our preconceived ideas. We can follow 
human conscience just to the extent that it has been 
trained in accordance with the Word (1 Pet. 4:11). 
Human conscience is not the supreme law for those 
who have a positive revelation from God. The life of 
Saul of Tarsus should be a constant warning to those 
who try to make human conscience supreme. 

Some say: "It matters not what you do, just so 
you are sincere. " An utter fallacy! There was a 
statute in the Mosaic law forbidding any person not 
a Levite to touch the ark of the covenant. As the 
ark was being taken to Jerusalem on a new cart, 
Uzzah saw it totter and threaten to fall. He put out 
his hand to steady it. What was the result? He fell 
dead on the spot (2 Sam. 6:1-7). No doubt that he 
was sincere in the matter, but sincerity did not keep 
him from suffering the penalty prescribed for violation 
of this particular law of God. 

When God outlines a definite program for man to 
follow, man must carry out every item of the pro- 
gram before God can do the rest for him. The story 
of Joshua before Jericho (Josh. 6). The story of 
Naaman the leper (2 Kings 5). When God commands 
us to believe, repent and be baptized into Christ for 
the remission of sins, we have no assurance that God 
has pardoned us until we have complied with every 
item of the program. We can not follow conscience 
because it is subject to positive divine law. We must 
obey the word of God. 

In this land where Bibles are so easily procured, 
there is no excuse for ignorance of divine law. Let us 
study to find out the will of God (2 Tim. 2: 15). Let 
us educate conscience correctly by a thorough study 
of the Word. As we grow in the knowledge of the 
redemptive system, we will respect the law of God 
more and more; and we will appreciate more highly 
His love and benevolence as manifested in the giving 
of His only begotten Son for the salvation of erring 
mankind (John 3:16),
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