Conscience – By Arthur Zepp

Chapter 2

Definitions Of Conscience

What is conscience?

Conscience is that power, or faculty, or function of man by which he KNOWS. It primarily and literally means to know, be conscious of‑con with scio to know.

By conscience we have not only a knowledge of our own thoughts and actions, but also their praiseworthiness or blameworthiness. Conscience is that something God has placed in us all (sometimes called the voice of God in the soul), by which we know right from wrong, good from bad and sin from holiness. Conscience commends or condemns according to the tenor of our thoughts, actions, purposes, desires and motives‑ It approves when we do right, and condemns when we do wrong. It assumes voice and says (inwardly) : “This is right, but that is wrong; you ought not to do that, you should do this; that practice is questionable and shady, violates me; now you are displeasing God, or, again, you are pleasing Him. Your present course is commendable or condemnable.”

Conscience gives us a knowledge of our acts, states or characters, as right or wrong. In fact conscience is rightly termed the moral sense by which man distin­guishes right from wrong. It is that faculty, power, function or principle in man which decides the lawfulness or unlawfulness of his actions.

We give a few authorities in proof of above definitions:

“Conscience is the power or faculty in man by which he distinguishes between right and wrong in conduct or character, and which IMPERATIVELY compels and obligates him to do the right, and abstain from doing the wrong.”

“The feeling or sense of wrong; an intuitive moral impulse; IMMEDIATE PERCEPTION OF RIGHT OR WRONG.”

“In its ordinary use the word covers everything in man’s nature that has to do with the decisions and directions of moral conduct. Conscience supposes the existence of some such moral faculty and properly signifies our consciousness of having acted agreeably or contrary to its directions.”‑Standard Dictionary.

“Conscience is the faculty, power or inward principle which decides as to the character of one’s own actions, purposes, and affections, WARNING AGAINST and condemningthat which is wrong and approving and PROMPTING TO that which is right

“The moral faculty passing judgment on one’s self. Self knowledge.

“Conscience is the reason employed about questions of right and wrong and accompanied with sentiments of right and wrong.” ‑‑Webster.

“Conscience was never used in a religious sense by either Romans or Greeks. It is not found in the Old

Testament and is never used specifically by Jesus in the New (though He used equivalents).

“As employed by Paul it is the inborn sense of right

and wrong. The moral law written on our hearts which judges of the moral character of our motions and actions and approves or censures, condemns or justifies accordingly.THIS universal tribunal is established in the breast of every man, even the heathen.”‑Schaff.

Mr. Wesley gives some pointed paragraphs on Conscience:

“It is a kind of silent reasoning of the mind, whereby those things which are judged to be right are approved of with pleasure; but those that are judged evil are disapproved of with uneasiness. This is a tribunal in the breast of men to accuse sinners, and excuse them that do well.”

“The knowledge of two or more things together; fo example: The knowledge of (i) Our words and actions, and (2) at the same time, of their goodness or badness; if it be not the faculty whereby we know at once our actions and the quality of them.

“Conscience then, is that faculty whereby we are at once conscious of our own thoughts, words, and actions and of their merit or demerit, of their being good or bad, and, consequently, deserving either praise or censure. And some pleasure generally attends the former sentence and some uneasiness the latter; but this varies exceedingly, according to education and a thousand other circumstances.

“It cannot be doubted that conscience is found in every man born into the world‑ It appears as soon as reason begins to dawn. Every one knows then the difference between good and evil, how imperfect soever, the various circumstances of this sense of good or evil may be. Does not every man know it is good to honor his parents? Do not all men, however uneducated or barbarous, allow it is right to do to others as we would have them do to us? And are not all who know this condemned in their own mind, when they do anything contrary thereto? As on the other hand when they act suitable thereto, they have the approbation of their own conscience?

“To take a more distinct view of conscience, it appears to have a three‑fold office: First, it is a WITNESS, testifying what we have done in thought, word or action. Secondly, it is a JUDGE passing sentence on what we have done, that it is good or evil. THIRDLY, it in some sort executes the sentence by occasioning a degree of COMPLACENCY in him that does well, and a degree of UNEASINESS in him that does evil.

“What is conscience in the Christian sense? It is that faculty of the soul, which, by the assistance of the grace of God, sees at one and the same time:

First‑-Our tempers and lives.

Second‑-The real nature of the quality of our though s and actions.

Third-‑The rule whereby  we are to be directed.

Fourth-‑And the agreement or disagreement there‑with.

“To express this a little more largely: CONSCIENCE implies the faculty a man has of knowing himself. BY which he discerns in general and particular, his own tempers, thoughts, words and actions. But this is not possible for him to do by conscience alone, without the assistance of the grace of God.”


LET THE READER BEAR IN MIND ALL THE FOREGOING DEFINITIONS OF CONSCIENCE. ONLY HOLD TRUE OF A CONSCIENCE THAT HAS NOT BEEN VIOLATED, STIFLED AND DEADENED BY REPEATED REJECTIONS OF ITS REPROOFS. “Conscience may be weakened, perverted, stupefied, defiled, and hardened in various ways,” so that as a criterion of right and wrong, it is no longer reliable. And also that whatever good in unrenewed man, as also his longings for God, are not because of any intrinsic good in man himself, but by virtue of Jesus’ shed blood and prevenient grace.