Conscience – By Arthur Zepp

Chapter 17


This is the place to set up safeguards against the danger of a fanatical conscience, which is sometimes associated with extreme and erroneous views respecting the guidance of the Spirit. We lay down the following principles:

First‑The Holy Spirit dwelling in the heart does not supersede the activity of our own reason, judgment and moral sense in the decision of practical questions.

Second‑While the Holy Spirit’s testimony to the fact of adoption, including pardon, is direct and infallible, when corroborated by the fruit of the Spirit, His guidance in the conduct of life is not designed to be sole and infallible, but in connection with the inspired Word, our own common sense, divine Providences, and the godly judgment of Christian people.

Third‑No guidance is of the Holy Spirit which collides with the Bible inspired by the Spirit. In such collision the Holy Scriptures must be followed in preference to the supposed leading of the Spirit.

Fourth‑The Holy Spirit, so named because it is His office to create and conserve holiness, never leads into sin, nor to doctrines which belittle sin by denying its exceeding sinfulness and its desert of eternal punishment, or by weakening the motives of repentance.

Fifth‑It being the office of the Spirit to glorify Christ, no teaching that disparages His Divinity as the only Saviour can come from the Spirit.

Sixth‑It being the work of the Spirit to regenerate and to sanctify, the declaration of any substitute for the new birth and holiness cannot be approved by the Spirit of truth, much less can it be inspired by Him.

Seventh‑In practical matters, the province of mutable morality, where infallible intellectual processes are involved and erroneous conclusions are possible, it is a species of fanaticism to ascribe such conclusions to the Holy Spirit.

Eighth‑There are two classes of people with whom pastors of churches have difficulty. The first consists of those who consider consciences as infallible beyond the spheres of motives, dispositions and principles, and insist on infallibility in all practical questions, the realm of mutable ethics. They demand that the decisions of the intellect, in respect to all moral subjects, should be regarded as always right and clothed with the authority of intuitive judgments. just here is found a fruitful source of most dangerous self‑deception and of fanaticism in its various forms and degrees.

The second class includes those who make an analogous mistake in respect to the Holy Spirit. They insist that His infallibility, evinced in His direct witness to adoption, be carried into all questions of every‑day life, questions involving intellectual research and the practical reason.

These erroneous claims respecting conscience and the Holy Spirit put these two classes beyond the reach of argument, persuasion, and advice. If members of the, church, they inevitably become dictatorial, censorious and schismatic.

It is interesting and instructive to note the relation of’ the Holy Spirit to conscience in the work of regeneration and sanctification. If man was created to be a temple of God, his spirit must be the holy of holies in which He dwells, and his conscience must be the ark of the covenant which carries His law. Sin defiled that sacred ark and rendered it offensive to the holy God. The scheme of redemption must have direct reference to the purification of conscience. The writer to the Hebrews intimates that Mosaism “did not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience” (9: 9), and he exhorts the believer to draw ‘near having his heart sprinkled from an evil (guilty) conscience” (10: 22). The conscience, relieved of guilt through faith in the atonement made by Christ, and ever after prompting to a life of obedience, is the spiritual organ in which the Holy Spirit evermore dwells, keeping watchful guard over the living law in the heart and constantly witnessing to the persevering believer that he is well pleasing to God. Peace, the fruit of the Spirit, can dwell only with a “conscience void of offense.” Holiness, the work of the Spirit, is also attested by conscience. !’For our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience that in holiness we behaved ourselves,” etc. (Cor. 1:1:2, R. V.).‑Dr. Steele.

Some Questions

Question: How shall I reconcile some definitions herein given (as for example, conscience agrees with the Bible and if its light be followed by the heathen, salvation will result) with the doctrine of Total Depravity.?

Answer: This is simply the teaching of Paul. The conscience of the heathen “accuses”or “excuses,” according to whether they do good or evil. “That which may be known of God is manifest to them for God hath showed it to them.”

Question: If conscience is the reason exercised in arriving at what is right and what is wrong, how can its decisions be reliable if the reason, along with the rest of man, is totally depraved so that man of himself can not think one good thought or perform one good act?

Answer: The goodness in natural conscience is not of conscience alone, but rather of the prevenient grace of God and through the benefit of Christ’s atonement which ‘draws all men to him though all do not yield to His Spirit’s gracious drawings.

If by the modern demand that everything moral and religious should be settled by the individual’s conscience, especially because it is of the Twentieth Century enlightenment stamp, be meant this new superior enlightenment is of the Spirit of God and harmonizes with the immutable words of God, we gladly acquiesce, but if it be meant the intelligence of this special twentieth century stamp is sufficient, independent of the once for all revelation of God, we object to this poison in the church pot. It is old antinomianism in new clothes.

Here is a man who walks into the lawyer’s office and says I do not believe such and such a law. The lawyer replies. “I can not help that, sir; we must go by what is written in the law.” The management of a corporation for which we worked, changed hands. I frequently forgot and found myself saying to my new chief clerk when ordered to do something different from the way we had formerly done, “under the former management we did thus and so.” He replied, “it matters not what you did before, you are under a new management now; the old one don’t go now.” So it is of the Christian. He is under new management. He must live not by the former permissions of his conscience, but by what is written,

Here is another man who says I will do what I think is right and then I am all right. But how does be interpret what is right? Through diligent search of God’s law. Nay, verily, he has an easier and less costly way. He decides by his convenient, accommodating conscience, which allows him to violate all the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule without any compunctions of guilt whatever.