Friend or Enemy

Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;
~ Romans 15:30

And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.
~ Acts 23:1

Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
~ Romans 12:17

Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.
~ Romans 13:13

Our Best Friend ‌or Worst Enemy, by Arthur W. Pink. The following contains an excerpt from his work, “An Exposition of Hebrews, in Studies in the Scriptures”. January 1938.

Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.—Hebrews 13:18

Conscience is the faculty of the soul that enables us to perceive of conduct in reference to right and wrong, the inward principle that decides upon the lawfulness or unlawfulness of our desires and deeds. Conscience has well been termed the moral sense because it corresponds to those physical faculties whereby we have communion with the outward world, namely, the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Man has an ethical instinct, a faculty or moral sensibility informing and impressing him. “It is far higher in the scale and keener in its perceptions than any mere bodily sense. There is an inner eye that sees into the nature of right and wrong; an inner ear, sensitive to the faintest whisper of moral obligation; an inner touch that feels the pressure of duty and responds to it sympathetically.”

Conscience is the mysterious principle that bears its witness within us for good or evil. Therefore, it is the very center of human accountability, for it greatly adds to his condemnation that man continues sinning against the dictates of this internal sentinel. Conscience supplies us with self-knowledge and self-judgment, resulting in self-approbation or self-condemnation according to our measure of light. It is a part of the understanding in all rational creatures that passes judgment on all actions for or against them. It bears witness of our thoughts, affections, and actions, for it reflects upon and weighs whatever is proposed to and by the mind. That it bears witness of emotions is clear from, “My conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart” (Rom 9:1-2). So again, we read, “Take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: For oftentimes also thine own heart (conscience) knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast (inwardly) cursed others” (Ecc 7:21-22). The soul hears its voice secretly acquainting us with the right and wrong of things.

That conscience exists in the unregenerate is clear from Paul’s statement concerning the Gentiles: “Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts: their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another” (Rom 2:15). Though the heathen never received the Scriptures as Israel did, yet they had within them that which accused or excused them. There is within every man (save the idiot) that which reproves him for his sins, yes, for those most secret sins to which none are privy but themselves. Wicked men seek to stifle those inward chidings but are rarely if ever successful. “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites” (Isa 33:14). Unregenerate men are without faith, yet not without fear: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth” (Pro 28:1). There is within man that which appalls the stoutest sinner after committing any gross evil: his own heart reproves him.

The Creator has gifted the human soul with various faculties, such as the understanding, affections, and will; and He has also bestowed upon it this power of considering its own state and actions, both inward and outward, constituting conscience both a monitor and judge within man’s own bosom—a monitor to warn of duty, a judge to condemn for neglect of the same…It is an intrinsic part of our own very selves. Conscience anticipates the Grand Assize in the Day to come, for it forces man to pass verdict upon himself, as he is subject to the judgment of God. It is resident in the understanding, as is clear from 1 Corinthians 2:11, where the conscience is termed our “spirit.”

The presence of conscience within man supplies one of the clearest demonstrations of the existence of God. To this fact the Holy Spirit appeals in Psalm 53. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (v. 1). Now, how does he prove there is a God? Thus, “There were they in great fear, where no fear was” (v. 5). Though there was no outward cause for fear, none seeking to hurt them, yet even those who lived most atheistically were under a fear. An illustration is seen in the case of Joseph’s brethren, who accused themselves when there was none other to accuse them: “They said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother” (Gen 42:21). Though a man should hide himself from all the world, he cannot get away from himself—his heart will pursue and condemn him. Now the very fact that there is such a hidden fear in man after sinning—that their hearts smite them for crimes done in secret—argues there is a God.

This fear is found in the most obstinate sinners, and in those who, because of their high station and power, are exempt from human justice. History records how kings and emperors have followed their wickedness without interference, yet even the infamous Caligula trembled when it thundered. It was not a fear that they might be found out by man and punished by him, for in some notable instances this fear prevailed to such an extent that human punishment would have been a welcome relief, and failing which they perforce laid violent hands upon themselves. What can be the reason for this but that they feared a Judge and Avenger Who would call them to account? As the apostle said of the heathen, “…who knowing the judgment of God” (Rom 1:32): there is a witness in their own souls that they are liable to His justice. Mark the fearful consternation of Belshazzar: the paling of his countenance, smiting of his knees, loosing of his joints, when he read the sentence on the palace walls (Dan 5:6).

“There is nothing in man that more challenges and demands adequate explanation than his moral sense. Conscience is a court always in session and imperative in its summons. No man can evade it or silence its accusations. It is a complete assize. It has a judge on its bench, and that judge will not be bribed into a lax decision. It has its witness stand and can bring witnesses from the whole territory of the past life. It has its jury, ready to give a verdict, ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty,’ in strict accordance with the evidence; and it has its sheriff, remorse, with his whip of scorpions, ready to lash the convicted soul. The nearest thing in this world to the bar of God is the court of conscience. And though it be for a time drugged into a partial apathy or intoxicated with worldly pleasure, the time comes when in all the majesty of its imperial authority this court calls to its bar every transgressor and holds him to a strict account.”

But though the presence of conscience in us bears witness to the existence of a holy, righteous, sin-hating, and sin-avenging God, it is scarcely correct to say (as numbers have done) that the conscience is the voice of God speaking in the soul; rather is it that faculty that responds to what He says. When Christ declared, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Mat 11:15), He signified him that has a conscience attuned to the Most High, who desires to know His will and submit to His authority. Conscience sits upon the bench of the heart as God’s vicegerent, acquitting or accusing. It acts thus in the natural man; but in the regenerate, it is a godly conscience, guided in its operations by the Holy Spirit, bearing its testimony for or against the believer according to his character and conduct, Godwards and manwards.

The actual term conscience is derived from scio, “to know,” and con, “with.” There is some difference of opinion as to the precise application of the prefix, whether it be knowledge we have in common with God or a knowledge according to His Law. Really, it is a distinction with little difference. The “knowledge” is of one individual alone by himself, but this “knowledge with” is where two at least share the same secret, either of them knowing it together with the other. Conscience, then, is that faculty which combines two together and makes them partners in knowledge. It is between man and God. God knows perfectly all the doings of a man, no matter how carefully concealed; and man, by this faculty, also knows together with God the same things of himself. Hence, we read of “conscience toward God” (1Pe 2:19)…Conscience is God’s vicegerent, acting for and under Him.

Thus, as the very term implies, conscience must have a rule to work by: “knowledge together with.” It is not only knowledge, but knowledge coupled with a standard, according to which a process of inward judgment is carried on. Now, our only proper rule is the Word or revealed will of God. That is divided into two parts: what God speaks to man in His holy Law, and what He says to him in His blessed gospel. If conscience departs from that rule, then it is a rebellious one. It has ceased to speak and judge for God; then the light in man is turned into darkness, for the (inward) eye has become evil (Mat 6:23). In his primitive condition, man had only the Law. The proper work of conscience, then, was to speak warningly and condemningly in strict accordance with that rule and to allow none other. But our first parents listened to Satan’s lie, broke the Law, and came under its condemnation.

Wherever we go, conscience accompanies us. Whatever we think or do, it records and registers (with a view to) the Day of accounts. “When all friends forsake thee, yes, when thy soul forsakes thy body, conscience will not, cannot forsake thee. When thy body is weakest and dullest, thy conscience is most vigorous and active! (There is) never more life in the conscience than when death makes its nearest approach to the body. When it smiles, cheers, acquits, and comforts, oh, what a heaven doth it create within a man! And when it frowns, condemns, and terrifies, how doth it becloud, yea, benight all the pleasures, joy, and delights of this world?…It is certainly the best of friends or the worst of enemies in the whole creation. This is conscience.”

Conscience, as it doth respect ourselves is…the understanding power of our souls examining how matters do stand between God and us, comparing His will revealed with our state, condition, and carriage in thoughts, words, or deeds, done or omitted, and passing judgment thereupon as the case requires.
—David Dickson

He takes the best and the wisest course under heaven to preserve his good name in the world and to maintain the peace of his conscience, who is most studious and industrious to abstain from all appearances of evil (1Th 5:22).
—Thomas Brooks

In these unconscionable days…most people make no conscience to sin against conscience; some have sinned so long against conscience that they have lost all conscience of sin.
—Edmund Calamy