Individual Conscience Not An Infallible Guide
In the preceding chapter we showed that Conscience is an inestimable blessing as in its unseared state it agrees essentially with God’s word, and if followed would lead to salvation. In this chapter by Divine help we wish to prove that though conscience is a great boon and blessing from God to man still the decisions of Conscience alone are not safe to follow. Conscience is safe only under certain conditions. Conscience is not an infallible guide. This is readily seen when we remember that the decisions of no two persons are wholly alike. How often grand juries disagree: Take two judges with the same data in a given criminal case and one is for life imprisonment and the other is for hanging or electrocution. Our decisions differ. Few men think wholly alike on all questions. A prominent Doctor of Divinity resigned the presidency of a college because some things were not done with satisfaction to his conscience The conference deliberating upon his resignation asked: “Must this conference be ruled by your conscience?” “No,” was the prompt reply, “but I must.” Here were manifestly good men differing in their decisions of rightness. So it is the world around.
Men differ. This fact renders it necessary for God to provide another standard than conscience which will insure unity and be fair to all. A standard by which all men can safely live, gladly die, and by which they can be justly judged.
The necessity of a standard to gauge conduct and character, and by which to give rewards or punishment, is easily seen when we keep in mind the wide difference in the liberties different people may allow. What one may allow, and with apparent freedom from condemnation, is poison to another. With all due allowance for education and environment, in some cases, which influence conduct, still it is hardly fair to all for one to be allowed liberties for which God condemns another.
A common expression in justification of the liberties of Conscience one takes which are manifestly questionable: “Oh, we do not all see alike!” Or, “You know the Bible says, ‘Blessed is he that condemns not himself in the thing which he allows,’ and I can allow these things and feel all right; and if my conscience does not trouble me I am all right.” Surely the Apostle Paul, by this statement, did not mean a man could allow looseness in things essential to salvation and then justify himself on the ground he does not condemn himself, as the Bible says, in the things he allows. Neither by any means did he mean to give by this (much abused) Scripture permission to practice things which are clearly out of harmony with God’s plain Word, the only safe rule of faith and practice.
A Perilous Demand
The sentiment growing in the church for the “lowering of the bars” and restrictions on worldliness, is fraught with peril to the church, if yielded to. We are not called to please the “individual conscience” or “the intelligence of the Twentieth Century,” but God. If the church makes it her ambition to please the worldly and unspiritual elements, she becomes no longer the servant of Christ. To let the “individual conscience” decide what is right and what is wrong is perilous when in many cases the individual conscience has not been awakened, purified and chastened of God; and worse still, is often seared and deadened by repeated violations and sin.
This course exalts Conscience to the place God’s revealed word should occupy. The idea of making a tribunal of a sin perverted violated conscience is preposterous. Think of allowing a thoroughly selfish and worldly professor to decide what is right and what is wrong by his defiled conscience, unaided or unrestricted. This class of people seem to glory in the fact that Conscience allows them questionable liberties without condemning them. How could their conscience condemn them when its reproofs have been so repeatedly stifled and resisted, until it is dead or dying? Instead of glorying (in their shame) they should be profoundly stirred and alarmed that Conscience is in such a deplorable condition that it allows what God condemns. If the reader’s conscience condemns him he has the profound sympathy of the writer, and, yet, it is an occasion of gratitude that it is so far alive as to condemn and reprove. But, if his conscience allows him, without reproof, to do things God condemns he should be alarmed. This condition is far worse than a condemning conscience.
The Methodist Episcopal Church requires the candidate for Elder’s Orders to confess he is persuaded that the Holy Scriptures contain sufficiently all doctrine required of necessity for eternal salvation, and that he will teach nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation, but that which he shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the Scriptures.
In the summing up of the General Rules we are in, formed that, “all of which we are taught of God to observe, even in His written Word, which is the only rule and the sufficient rule both of our faith and practice.”
But the strong sentiment now is for each individual to go by his own conscience rather than the written Word of God which our fathers declared was the only SAFE RULE. It seems when men can plead for the Deifying and exalting of Conscience to this lofty place which God’s sacred word alone should hold, they are forgetting solemn vows, as well as revealing their deplorably low spiritual state.
A prominent preacher, objecting to that paragraph in the Discipline which forbids dancing, card playing, theatre going, etc., said: “Our church should not be so arbitrary in dealing with these things. They should be a left to the ‘individual conscience.”‘ This is a strange statement, coming from one who believes the Word of God is the only safe rule for faith and practice. We are here reminded of Christ’s burning words of rebuke to some other Pharisees: “Ye do also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition. But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” For LAYING ASIDE the commandments of God, ye hold the tradition of men; and He said unto them, “Full well ye reject (or frustrate) the commandment of God that ye may keep your own tradition.” “Making the Word of God of none effect through your traditions.” The modern of all this is, men through their vain conceits, opinions and decisions of their perverted consciences, reject and lay aside the commandments of God, making them of none effect.
Here is a member of the church who says, with an assumed air of innocence, “My conscience does not condemn me for dancing,” as though her conscience were all she must live, die, and be judged by. How could she feel condemned by a defiled, selfish conscience? Yet God’s word, the real standard, condemns, “revelings and such like.” No deception has the enemy of souls palmed off on the modern church which is fraught with more disastrous results to faith and practice than this. “Oh! I always thought as long as your conscience does not bother you for what you do, it is all right,” says another. This is but another form of that other Satanic deception. “It doesn’t matter what one believes so he is sincere.” Well, he may be sincere in believing a lie. It matters much what he believes, or what his conscience allows, if said beliefs or indulgences conflict with what God demands of the soul in order to salvation and safety.
Jeremiah’s words are pertinent if taken in their spiritual application. “Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods, whom ye know not, and then come and stand before Me in this house (church) which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to all these abominations.”‘ Doubtless their Conscience delivered them to do such things without troubling them. But the law of God condemns all these practices.