“Hold a Good Conscience”
“LET your conscience be your guide,” is a popular slogan of these times. But differently educated consciences guide their owners down widely divergent paths. A conscience developed in an environment of polygamy accepts the practice without a twinge. Another reared in surroundings of general sexual laxity and common-law marriages takes such wrongs for granted. Still another spawned in an atmosphere of sly business methods or general graft or political corruption silently condones such evils on the grounds that they are the accepted ways. Such improperly educated consciences are not safe guides. They have become so contaminated by their surroundings and so calloused through abuse that they are no longer clean and sensitive to sound out warnings and give safe guidance.
Their owners are more like animals, in that beasts have no conscience. Conscience, which is an inward sense of right and wrong that excuses or accuses us, is a gift from God to men. An animal may be trained to do or refrain from doing certain acts. It does not conform to this training out of a sense of right and wrong; it does so out of a fear of its master’s wrath. Fear of a beating, or harsh words, or some deprivation of liberty or privilege. When men correct wrongs only when exposure is near and punishment imminent, they are prodded by fear of consequences, and not by the conscience that knew all along about the wrongdoing yet did not guide its owner to corrective measures. To thus act on the fear of wrath alone is selfish and brutish. Some contend that President Truman now moves to crack down on government corruption out of a fear of political consequences rather than out of a good conscience and love of rightdoing, as shown by the following editorial comment: “Mr. Truman too often clings to old friends, to employes of old friends and to friends of old friends right down to the point where he either has to stop clinging or get into bad trouble.”—New York Times, December 14, 1951.
Christians obey God not only out of a fear of his wrath, but also and primarily out of a good conscience, a conscience trained in its sense of right and wrong by God’s Word. Paul made that point when he was admonishing Christians to be subject to the Higher Powers, Jehovah and Christ: “There is therefore compelling reason for you to be in subjection, not only on account of that wrath but also on account of your conscience.” (Rom. 13:5, NW) It is the divinely educated conscience with its prickings and proddings that helps in safely guiding Christians, much as the ancient goads kept the oxen plodding in the right way. (Acts 26:14, NW) Christians request of God this gift of a good conscience, made available to them through Christ. (1 Pet. 3:21, Ro) Receiving it, they treasure it and keep it clear and clean, that it might guide them safely. (Acts 23:1; 24:16) It helps them apply righteous principles to their daily living, making unnecessary detailed and written laws of conduct. The activity of the conscience in this capacity is shown by Paul, as follows:
“The hearers of law are not the ones righteous before God, but the doers of law will be declared righteous. For whenever people of the nations that do not have law do by nature the things of the law, these people although not having law are a law to themselves. They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts, while their conscience is bearing witness with them and, between their own thoughts, they are being accused or even excused.”—Rom. 2:13-15, NW.
The conscience must be protected from defilement and scarring. We should not contaminate it with false reasonings and rationalizations to silence its legitimate protests. If one’s conscience forbids his doing something, he should not do it. If there is no wrong in the act, he should seek to further educate his conscience to that fact by absorbing additional Scriptural truths before doing it. Then he will maintain his conscience in a state of peace, untroubled and at ease. This regard for conscience is necessary if it is to remain sensitive to wrong. We must not go roughly and heedlessly against its cries and thereby wound it, and forcing it to callous and scar over for its own healing and protection. We should not practice hypocrisy, doing things unconscientiously. Paul warned that in the last days some would fall away “by the hypocrisy of men who speak lies, marked in their conscience as with a branding iron”. (1 Tim. 4:2, NW) The mark left by a branding iron becomes scarred tissue void of the sense of feeling. A conscience so marked is incapable of sensing right or wrong.
Paul was very much aware of the voice of conscience, not only that of his own but also that of others. He would refrain from doing things his own conscience would allow, if those things would have offended the weaker consciences of others. Hence we read: “‘Conscience,’ I say, not yours, but that of the other person. For why should it be that my freedom is judged by another person’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 8:7-13; 10:27-29, NW) Contrary to some views, Paul was not here defending his personal rights and contending that his freedom of action should not be restricted by the judgments of others. Rather, he was saying that he would refrain from using the freedom his conscience granted him, if by using it he would be judged adversely by another person with a weaker conscience. He preferred to forego his conscientious freedom, if by using it he would trouble his weaker brother’s conscience.
But, on the other hand, Paul would not refrain from conscientious obedience to God’s Word just because that might offend consciences miseducated according to the false religions of his time. The remedy in such circumstances was not the abandonment of God’s service by Paul, but corrective, Scriptural education of the consciences defiled by false religions. The good things of God’s pure worship may seem unclean to defiled consciences, but clean to the divinely trained conscience. Hence Paul wrote: “All things [of the true faith] are clean to clean persons. But to persons defiled and faithless [because of contamination by false religious fables] nothing is clean, but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and disapproved for every good work.”—Titus 1:13-16, NW.
So we must obey our consciences if they are trained according to the righteous principles of God’s Word. We must show a high regard for the weaker consciences of some of our less mature brothers in the faith. But we must not let the defiled and faithless consciences of worldlings be our guides, nor allow them to turn us from rightdoing. To hold to our godly conscience may call for fortitude, but that will be agreeable to us and to God: “If someone because of conscience toward God bears up under afflictions and suffers unjustly, this is an agreeable thing.” (1 Pet. 2:19, NW) At all times and under all circumstances, “Hold a good conscience.”—1 Pet. 3:16, NW.