The Deficiencies of the Conscience
Let us notice the different conditions of conscience spoken of in the scriptures. Imperfect (Hebrews 9:9). Purged (Hebrews 9:14). Good (1 Timothy 1:5). Pure (1 Timothy 3:9). Defiled (Titus 1:15). Weak (1 Corinthians 8:7), etc. Now let us realize that whatever state and condition an individual’s conscience is in, it will pretty well set his course for life. A corrupt conscience would allow corrupt things in the life of the individual without remonstrating against them, while one whose conscience was pure would require strict purity in every phase of life and so on with all the different phases and conditions of the conscience. An imperfect conscience will allow an imperfect life, while a perfect conscience would demand a perfect life in order to keep clear. Paul persecuted the Church of God in a good conscience. He said in Acts 26:9 that he verily thought within himself that he “ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus.” We can see then that our conscience can be affected by the way we have been conditioned. Conscience is pretty much governed and regulated by what one believes to be right or wrong. It may be wrong, but if one believes it to be right, his conscience will allow him to do it. On the other hand, it may be right, but if one believes it to be wrong, his conscience would condemn him in doing it. And let us realize that there is such a thing as a “seared” conscience 1 Timothy 4:2, and when that happens, the conscience becomes entirely insensitive to anything. This condition is not arrived at immediately but comes gradually through one trifling with his conscience and failing to keep it clear and tender. I am told that there is in some heathen lands a belief that one can only appease the wrath of his god by sacrificing his firstborn child to the crocodiles in the river. These people take their children to the river and throw them in because their conscience requires that of them and would smite them severely if they withheld. But in more enlightened America, our conscience would smite us to death almost if we were to do such a thing. Thus we see that one person’s conscience would smite him severely for doing the same thing that another person’s conscience would smite him severely for not doing. Thus we see that conscience does not set any kind of a general standard at all and if it did, what kind would it be? Now let us realize that the teaching of conscience in the New Testament covers only things which are entirely neutral in principle and involve no moral principle of right or wrong at all. Paul brought it in under the heading of eating meat which was sacrificed to idols and said in his discussion of it in 1 Corinthians 8:8 that if we eat, we are no better and if we eat not, we are no worse. This covers a principle that should be applied and carried through all consideration of conscience matters. It applies only to things of an entirely neutral nature which would neither make one better nor worse either way. If it goes beyond this into something which involves moral principles of right and wrong, then we are to be governed by God’s Word and not by our conscience or what we think about it.
There has been a great cry in recent years for liberty of conscience. But let us realize that this tendency generally runs into a liberal conscience, and there is a vast difference between a liberal conscience and liberty of conscience. But God has talked to me some in times past on the text in Galatians 5:1, “Stand fast therefore the the liberty wherewith Christ hath made [you] free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” People today are contending for a great many liberties which Christ did not give them. He has never, at any time, liberated you and me from the obligations of His Word and the standard it sets forth. All He has done in that respect, at the best, is to just be patient and merciful and long-suffering with us and allow us time to get to the standard and get straightened out in our conscience and light, etc. But if we would not try to get to it but just contended for our own “think-so” in it, His patience, long-suffering and forbearance would run out on us and we would be cut off. The liberty Christ gave us was never liberty to follow our own conscience alone as a standard of holiness and spiritual life. Many other liberties which people contend for and with which people do not want to be interfered are liberties Christ did not make them free in, also.
God has never given to you and me free license to follow any questionable thing, even slightly, but has instructed us to “abstain from all appearance of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:22) The more we do this, the fuller and richer and more complete our spiritual lives will be and the more God’s blessings will abound in our souls. Brother Fred Pruitt and I were together in a meeting in Minnesota some years ago, and were staying in the home of a man who was pastor of the congregation where the meeting was being held. This man was accused to us by some of the members of his congregation that he drank beer. Brother Pruitt talked to him about it, and he never said if he did or did not, but his answer was that the Bible said to be temperate in all things, and that would include drinking beer the same as anything else, and one could not be condemned for drinking beer if he were temperate in it. But the liberties Christ gave never extended to such things as this, and He does not grant us license to indulge in any evil thing even temperately.
There seems to be a great fear with some of our people today with respect to extremism. I know there is such a thing and I fear it, too, to a certain extent. But I feel there is not much widespread danger of it within our ranks. There is much more danger of compromise among us at this time than of extremism and fanaticism as I see it. Those who are a little on the liberal side anyway seem especially fearful of fanaticism, but I certainly feel this is a trick of the devil to get their focus on this and pull them into compromise and liberalism to avoid it. It would not be so bad if people who feared extremism so much would fear compromise just as much and religiously steer away from both of them. But it is not usually this way. I am fully aware that an extreme spirit can never be satisfied. But neither can a compromise spirit; but when given way to, it will demand more and more and yet more, never being satisfied.
Let us consider Ahab, the king of Israel. He compromised the standard of God in the first place when he went out and married Jezebel, a heathen woman, which God had forbidden to be done in Israel. When he had done this thing, it took him out from under the favor of God and His sheltering wing. Then he was a victim of many things, being led captive by Satan at his will. When this woman came in, she naturally wanted to worship her god, Baal, and requested Ahab to have an altar built in the land to do sacrifice to Baal. He was already cut loose and drifting and under the power of a compromise spirit, so he conceded to this, also. Next, she wanted a temple built for Baal and he granted this request. This was a great abomination in the sight of God. But this woman could never be satisfied, so next she demanded that the altars of God be destroyed out of the land, and Ahab was so victimized by this spirit by then that he granted that request, also. Then she struck the final and fatal blow to the worship of the true God and demanded that the prophets of God be put to death and Ahab conceded to this, also. Brethren, let us realize that when we cut loose from our moorings and start drifting, there is no knowing where we will drift to. The only safe place for us is to stay anchored to the old landmarks and never take the first step away from them. We are instructed, in Jeremiah 6:16, to “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” Here the “old paths” are called the “good way.” This is the way God views it. This is God’s Word. Let us view it the same way and love the old paths as we are instructed to do here.