Acts 24:17
And herein do I exercise myself, etc. Circumstances of the case justify the self-assertion. We must not be afraid to give our own example as a testimony to the truth.

I. Practical religion is founded on THE HEARTFELT ACCEPTANCE OF THE WORD OF GOD. "Herein," i.e. in the faith just described, distinguished from:

1. The irreligion of Felix; indifference and direct opposition to God.

2. The blind bigotry of Pharisaism; mere worship of the letter of Scripture and tradition; an excuse for conscientious life.

3. The speculative unbelief of Sadducees. Rationalism. Intellectual pride. Faith made living in Christ. The facts of the gospel opened the secrets of the Scriptures to Paul. Jesus became to him the Word of Life.

II. Practical religion demands CONSTANT EFFORT. "I exercise myself."

1. Not asceticism, but zealous endeavor to do good. in proclamation of the gospel.

2. Faithful and heroic patience under the trials of life.

3. The showing forth of Christian character before the world for a testimony, both by the blameless conduct, and by the calm and bold defense of the truth when necessary. The secret of strength and courage is a conscience void of offence. Those who do not exercise themselves both give offence and find offence. "If God be for us, who can be against us? " - R.

Herein do I exercise myself to have a conscience void of offence.
I. THERE ARE CERTAIN STATES OF MIND WHICH MAY BE MISTAKEN FOR A CONSCIENCE VOID OF OFFENCE. It has been wisely said that the office of conscience is to testify to every man the quality of his actions, and to enable him to regulate his conduct agreeably to some standard of right or wrong. Hence the importance of being acquainted with that code of morals which Almighty God has revealed to us, and of acknowledging His Word to be the sole standard of our faith and duty. Without this, we may mistake an unenlightened conscience for a conscience void of offence. Such a conscience may, indeed, faithfully testify against many things which are wrong: but, so long as its regulating principle is defective or erroneous; it cannot be depended on. We may also mistake a dormant conscience for a conscience void of offence. There are, unhappily, persons whose object seems to be to pass as smoothly as possible down the stream of life, and carefully avoid subjects which might awaken the conscience, and disturb their imaginary peace. We have often seen persons in this frame of mind visited by afflictive dispensations, which were obviously designed to lead them to reflection and prayer; but, alas! no such result has followed. Their trials have produced no other effect than to lead them to endeavour, by change of scene and other such means, to shake off as soon as possible the remembrance of their sorrows. There is also such a thing as a seared conscience, and even this may be mistaken for a conscience void of offence. It is said that there have been men who have persevered in stating falsehoods till they believed them to be true, and we must all have observed how certain persons will advocate an erroneous system of religion, with a measure of zeal and self-denial which seems to indicate a belief in its truth. To such St. Paul refers when he tells us that men shall arise "speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron." The expression was apparently intended to warn us that perseverance in error must produce a like effect upon the mind that cauterising does upon the body, and conscience, which was designed to be a faithful monitor, ceases to bear its testimony, and becomes seared as with a hot iron.

II. WE INQUIRE WHEREIN IT IS THAT A CONSCIENCE VOID OF OFFENCE MAY BE SAID TO CONSIST. The Bible clearly teaches that the first step towards this is the awakening of the conscience. "Conscience," says a distinguished writer, "seems to hold a place among the moral powers, analogous to that which reason holds among the intellectual"; and although in its natural condition its province appears to be to convey to us a certain conviction of what is morally right or wrong, independently of any acquired knowledge, yet viewed in connection with the great work of man's renewal in righteousness, it is needful that the conscience be awakened to perceive the infinite holiness of Almighty God, the spirituality of His law, and the fallen and sinful state of man. This can only be attained through the instrumentality of the Word, accompanied by the enlightening influences of the Holy Spirit. We must see the moral perfections of the Most High, and the exalted purity of His law; and we must acknowledge and confess that "we have erred and strayed from His ways like lost sheep, and there is no health in us." But the conscience thus awakened must be cleansed from its sense of guilt in the presence of an infinitely pure and holy God. It is here that revelation comes to our aid. It makes known to us the great atonement, propitiation, and satisfaction which our blessed Redeemer has offered for us upon the Cross, and it invites us to "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." A conscience thus cleansed St. Paul enjoyed. He knew that his sins were pardoned through the merit of his Lord, but he also knew his own shortcomings and infirmities, nay, he knew that when he would do good evil was present with him; and anxious to live near to God, and thirsting after pure and uninterrupted communion with Him, he exercised himself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men. He "exercised" himself. This expression implies that even an apostle found a continual effort to be needful. It was so with him and it is so with us all, so long as we are in the body. Our fallen wills and corrupt affections, the temptations that are in the world, and the fiery darts of our spiritual adversary — all unite to make the life of faith a constant struggle to maintain a good conscience. St. Paul's first concern was to have always a good conscience "towards God." He knew that God hath not called us to uncleanness but to holiness, that He pardons that He may purify, and justifies in order that He may sanctify the soul. Nor did he forget what was due to his fellow men. The man who lives by faith must show his faith by his works; the man who professes to be constrained by love to God, must take heed that he love his brother also. On points such as these a truly enlightened conscience will admit of no compromise, and he who would have the Spirit bearing witness with his spirit that he is a child of God, and an heir of the kingdom of heaven, must exercise himself to have always a conscience void of offence, not only towards God, but also towards men.

(Wm. Niven, B. D.)


1. Not that it is void of offence merely because it does not accuse. There are many so immersed in cares or pleasures, that they never reflect on the state of their souls (Hosea 7:2); and, if at any time their conscience be alarmed, they instantly endeavour to check its clamour and restore its tranquillity. Others persuade themselves that they have no cause for fear, and that they shall have peace, notwithstanding all their sins (Jeremiah 8:11; Deuteronomy 29:19). Others have, by resisting, quenched the light within them; and thus have reduced themselves to a state of awful obduracy (1 Timothy 4:2). Such persons have no other than an evil conscience.

2. Nor is a conscience necessarily void of offence even though it should approve. Many propose to themselves a false standard of right and wrong: by conforming to their own principles, they may gain the approbation of their own minds; but it does not, therefore, follow that they are innocent. Error may extenuate, but cannot remove their guilt (cf. Acts 8:3; Acts 9:1, with 1 Corinthians 15:9, and 1 Timothy 1:13, 15).

3. To be truly void of offence, conscience must have a clear discovery of the rule of duty. The rule of duty is concise and plain (Matthew 22:37-40).

4. It should be able also to testify, upon good grounds, that there is a correspondence between that rule and our actions. It should be able to appeal to God for the truth of its testimony; that, after the strictest search, it can find no sin habitually indulged, or duty allowedly neglected.


1. This is certainly the character of one who feareth God. The Christian maketh but little account of man's judgment (1 Corinthians 4:3). He knoweth that the eye of God is upon his heart (Hebrews 4:13), he therefore studies to approve himself to God. He hath respect to every part of his duty, toward God and man (James 3:17), and this, not at certain seasons only, but always. Nor will he be deterred by any regard to ease, or interest, or fear; inquiring only, "What is duty?" (Acts 21:39).

2. Nor can anyone be a true Christian who hath not attained it. Every pardoned sinner is supposed to be without guilt (Psalm 32:2). All in the primitive Church are spoken of in this light (Philippians 1:10; Philippians 2:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). St. Paul did not hesitate to affirm that this was his character (Acts 23:1; 2 Corinthians 1:12); and the same is ascribed to one who was far inferior to him (John 1:47). Nor is anyone in a state of salvation who hath not attained it. Many things may conspire to rob a Christian of the comfort of such a conscience; but a just ground for such a conscience he cannot but possess. This is expressly asserted by David (Psalm 66:18) and St. John (1 John 3:8-10).

(T. Hannam.)

That there is no cause so bad, but some will plead it; no man so good, but some will slander him; no case so clear, but some will question it; nothing so false, but some will swear it. Judges, then, had need to do as their ancients did, first sacrifice, then sentence. Thus the context: for the text, every man must chiefly look to this, that his conscience be not offended. Men, be they pleased or not pleased, conscience must not be displeased. This is the main, and for our briefer despatch of this point, this order will be taken, first, the terms must be unfolded, next the proposition confirmed, and then applied. In St. Paul's action and our proposition, three things come to be considered — the subject, object, end. For the first, no more but this: we infer from Paul's exercise each man's duty. It is true he was a preacher, but he is not now considered as a preacher, but as a man; and in my text his life is mentioned, not his faith or function. For the second it is conscience, a word of great latitude and infinite dispute. For the first, I take conscience to be both a faculty, and a distinct faculty, too, of the soul. The schools reject that, others this; but besides reason, the written Word bends most that way (1 Timothy 1). It is distinguished from the will (Titus 1:15), from the mind, and if we mark it, conscience is so far from being one of both, or both in one, as that there is between them first a jealousy, then an open faction; the other powers of the soul, taking conscience to be but a spy, do what they can first to hide themselves from it, next to deceive it, after to oppose it, and lastly to depose it. Conscience, on the other side, laboureth to hold its own, and, till it be blinded or bribed, proceeds in its office in despite of all oppositions, it cites all the powers of Nature, sits upon them, examines, witnesseth, judges, executes. Hereof come those λόγομοις self conferences, or reasonings, as St. Paul terms them (Romans 2.), thence those mutual apologies, and exceptions amongst themselves, when conscience sits. I know the words are otherwise carried; but μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων will hardly brook any other bias that is set upon them. For the second, the common subject of conscience is the reasonable soul. The third thing is its end and office. It is set in man to make known to man in what terms he stands with God, thence its name; therefore fitly termed the soul's glass, the understanding's light. Conscience therefore is a prime faculty of the reasonable soul, there set to give notice of its spiritual estate, in what terms it stands with God. Now secondly, it is taken sometimes more generally, sometimes for the whole court and proceedings of conscience, by the fathers; sometime for the whole soul of man, either stooping to conscience, or reflecting upon itself. The third followeth, without offence. It is the conscience that carries the soul as the foot the body, through all ways and weather, therefore St. Paul would be as chary of this as the traveller of that. Conscience should not be offended lest it should offend in its fit constitution and working, or managing of its proper actions, which as Paul delivers them are —

1. Knowing.

2. Witnessing.

3. Comforting.

4. And now accidentally since the fall, accusing and tormenting.And for its constitution it stands in clearness, tenderness, quietness, and when it is either so blinded or dazzled, feared, lamed, that it cannot do its office, then it is said to be offended. Every Christian must be carefully watchful that his soul, spirit, or conscience be no way grieved by sins. Now follows the proof, and that is most easy. First, from precept. Above all keepings keep thy heart, saith Solomon (Proverbs 4:23). Next, from example. We have a cloud of witnesses, prophets, apostles, martyrs, who would hazard themselves upon the angry seas, lions, flames, rather than upon a displeased conscience. Thirdly, from reason. First, for God's cause we should make much of conscience, that being His officer, and therein standing the chiefest of His image and man's excellency. The perfection of man is his knowledge; the perfection of knowledge is the knowledge thereof, which is conscience. Secondly, for our peace sake, conscience being like a wife, the best of comforts if good, the worst of naughts if bad. For first deal friendly with conscience, and it proves the best of friends, next God. First the truest, that will never flatter, but make thee know thyself. Secondly, the surest, that will never start, it lies with thee, it sits with thee, it rides with thee, it sleeps with thee, it wakes with thee, it walks with thee in every place beyond all times. Thirdly, it is the sweetest friend in the world. If natural cheerfulness be so good a housekeeper to a good man, that it feasts daily, as Solomon saith, oh, then what be the banquets of conscience sanctified and purified! what joys those which will carry a man above ground, and make him forget the best of Nature's comforts? Secondly, offend conscience, and it will prove as the inmost, so the utmost enemy. First, unavoidable; do what thou canst, thou canst not shake it off; when thou goest it goes, when thou fleest it runs. It meets thee in the dark, and makes thee leap; it meets thee in the day, and makes thee quake; it meets thee in thy dreams, and makes thee start, in every corner. Secondly, insufferable, it strips one of all comforts at one time; if a sick stomach will make one weary of chairs, beds, meats, drinks, friends, all, oh, what will a sick conscience do! Next, it puts one to intolerable pains, it racks the memory, and makes it run backward twenty years, as Joseph's brethren; yea, it twinges for sins of youth, as Job complains, it racks the understanding, and carries it forward beyond the grave, and makes it feel the very bitterness of death and hell before it sees them; it racks the phantasy, and makes it see ghosts in men. And shall such a thing as this, so near, so great a neighbour be offended?Use 1. We have done with proofs, we now apply. Wherein, first, shall we chide or weep, to see the wickedness of these times, and the infinite distance betwixt Paul and us? Oh, Paul, thou art almost alone; thou studiest conscience, we of this age craft; thou didst gauge thine own, we other men's; thy care was to please conscience, we the times; thine to walk evenly before God and man, ours to serve ourselves on both; thou everywhere was for conscience, we almost nowhere; thou wouldst see conscience take no wrong, now wit out reasons it, wealth outfaces it, money outbuys it, might overmatches it, all undervalue it.Use 2. As for you present, be entreated to two things: First, talk with your hearts alone, and in case conscience be angry with you once, agree, else never safe; nor field, nor town, nor bed, nor board, nor life, nor death, nor depth, nor grave can render you secure. Secondly, be of Paul's mind. First, set conscience at a high price, consider what it will be worth in the day of trouble, of death, of judgment, and resolve to beg, starve, burn, die over a thousand deaths to save conscience's life. Next, use Paul's means, look to God and man. For God; first, with Paul, we must believe what is written. Faith and conscience are embarked in the same ship (1 Timothy 1:5, and 1 Timothy 3:9). Secondly, for man; if we have given our voice or hand against the innocent, with St. Paul, we must retract it.Use 3. Now we have some special errands yet to deliver. First, to you of lower rank. Do you stand in the face of judgment this day with Paul's conscience? Though my house and land be yours, yet whilst I breathe, I will be none but mine own and God's. But I cannot live without Him. But thou canst die without Him; and it is better to die a thousand deaths than to stab one conscience. Whatever becomes of your places or estates, so walk, so go, as may be for your peace. Next, to you of higher rank I have a double suit. First, that you will have some mercy on ether men's consciences; next, on your own. Secondly, we in the ministry are in places of trust, the gospel is committed to us, as to St. Paul. Oh happy we, if we can say after him, "We preach not as pleasing men, but God which tries the heart." We are men of conscience, let conscience rule and master us.

(Robert Harris, D. D.)

A conscience is one of those terms which are common in the world, but of a very doubtful and uncertain, and sometimes of a dangerous signification. Some men understand nothing by it but a blind and hardy zeal for the opinion they espouse, which perhaps they have been confirmed in by the prejudice of education, or have taken up out of some motive of worldly interest or vanity. Others mean nothing by it but a scrupulous tenderness about things of little or no moment; things which, considered in themselves, are not of the substance, but only to be looked upon as decent circumstances of religion; which yet conscience is many times more nice and tender about, than the most weighty and important of religious duties. Thus we see conscience, according to the different tempers, passions, and prejudices of men, is made to signify very different things. And whereas it is the character of a good and well-informed conscience, to be void of offence towards God and towards man; as some persons understand conscience, nothing is more injurious or offensive, either to God or man.

I. As to the first inquiry, WHAT IS MEANT BY A CONSCIENCE VOID OF OFFENCE TOWARDS GOD AND TOWARDS MAN? We may easily come to a resolution if we do but consider what is the rule of conscience, or how we ought to proceed in regulating the judgments we make of our own actions. For not only the reason of the thing, but the very word conscience, in its proper signification, imports that there ought to be some law by which our conduct is to be tried, and the error or rectitude of it determined. When we know that our actions have been conformable to such a rule, we have a good and well-informed and inoffensive conscience; but if we depart from our rule, how specious soever our pretences may be, of a good intention or zeal for God's service and the interests of religion, in order to palliate or the better to set off a sinful action; yet the principle upon which we act cannot properly be called conscience; for conscience, in the proper sense of the word, always supposes a conformity between the rule and the action. It is therefore only private judgment or opinion upon which we proceed in such cases; and, strictly speaking, can no more be called conscience than I can be said to concur with another person in any design or action wherein I directly oppose him. Yet it must be granted that as men are willing to impose upon themselves by false names and appearances, and to call that conscience wherein they act in direct opposition to their rule; the apostle is sometimes pleased to express himself in compliance with this ordinary but improper way of speaking (1 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:15). There is a necessity indeed of this distinction, concerning conscience in a strict and in a popular and a large sense, to account for that very plea of our apostle (Acts 23:1). For it is evident, if we are to understand conscience according to its genuine signification, of a man's acting agreeably to a known and certain rule, the apostle, in this sense, could not be said to have had a good conscience in persecuting the Church of God, because in so doing his zeal was not according to knowledge, but he acted ignorantly, and beside his rule. By conscience, therefore, he could here intend no more than his private judgment or opinion, which, though in some measure, and in proportion to our weakness or ignorance, it may excuse an irregular or sinful action, yet will by no means justify it (1 Corinthians 15:6; Titus 1:13). Whatever pretensions men make to religion, how conscientious soever they apprehend themselves to be, or would appear to others, yet if they do not regulate their actions by the law of God, we may, notwithstanding, say of them, according to the fore-cited words of the apostle, that their very mind and conscience is defiled. Now this law of God, by which our actions are to be regulated, may be considered either as that natural law written on the table of our hearts; or else it may be understood of the revealed will of God discovered to us in the Holy Scriptures. In most cases, indeed, we need only put the question to our own hearts, and they will direct us what we are to do and what to forbear. The great lines of our duty towards God and man are so plain and visible to the eye of natural reason that those who do not see them must be sunk into the last degree of corruption or given up to a judicial blindness of mind. The apostle. observes this concerning the heathens, who had no other light to direct them but that of their own minds (Romans 2:14, 15). But because in this degenerate state of human nature the faculties of our souls are disordered, so that we do not always see the truths of religion in a clear light or reason justly concerning them, therefore God has been pleased to make a plain and standing revelation of His will to us in the Holy Scriptures. So that upon the whole matter, to have a conscience void of offence is to act conformably and knowingly according to that law which God has prescribed as the rule of our actions. If upon examining our conduct by this law we find there is a good agreement between them, then we may safely conclude we have done what we ought and that our own minds have no offence to reproach us for either towards God or towards men.


1. The first thing I would recommend to this end is a careful and diligent reading of the Holy Scriptures. For if the Scriptures be the rule by which our judgments in matters of conscience are to be informed and directed, and from which we cannot depart, then the only way to have a conscience void of offence is to consult and apply this rule to our particular cases and circumstances. And they are not only a rule to instruct men in their duty, but a powerful means to persuade them to a conscientious discharge of it. As the saving truths and principles of religion are only to be learned from them, so they furnish us with the most strong and invincible arguments to enforce the practical duties we owe both to God and man (Psalm 19:7, 8). And this power of the Holy Scriptures to open the hearts as well as the understanding of men, discovers itself in the good effects it often has, even upon those persons who are the least disposed to comply with it. We cannot fail, if we do not shut our eyes against the light or wilfully reject the motions of God's grace, to have, with St. Paul, always a conscience void of offence towards God and towards men.

2. In the next place, if we take care of the very first motions and beginnings of sin. For in this corrupt state of human nature our innocence is so weakly guarded, that it is for the most part much safer to prevent a siege than to run the hazard of an attack. Or if we happen to be attacked, which is sometimes unavoidable, what we have to do is to repel the enemy with all the vigour we can. If we give way in the least to him, we know not what further advances he may make.

3. I shall but lay down one direction more in order to our having and preserving a conscience void of offence; and it is this: That we should frequently state accounts between God and our consciences, and inquire what sins we have committed and what duties we have done or omitted to do.


1. With respect to this world there is nothing can afford us any true, solid, or lasting satisfaction without a good conscience. The pleasures of sin are always dashed with one impure bitter ingredient or other, besides that they are of a short duration, and go off with an ungrateful relish. But the pleasures, on the other hand, arising from the conscience of our having done what we ought, as they are pure and unmixed, so they last as long as the remembrance of those actions which occasioned them. Had we with this blessed apostle a conscience void of offence, it would be an unspeakable comfort to us under all the troublesome accidents and disappointments of this life. Whatever our condition might be in it, we might then say with him (2 Corinthians 1:12). And indeed if we can sincerely say this, we ought not to be much concerned at what befalls us in a life which is not designed for a perfect state of happiness, but only to prepare and train us up for it; and if God in His wisdom sees fit that through much tribulation we should enter into His kingdom, I am sure we shall at the last have no reason to complain.

2. But this leads me to represent to you in the next place the great blessing and advantage of a good conscience with respect to another world, and that both as it is a condition of our future happiness and a necessary qualification for it.(1) As it is a condition, and an indispensable one too, of our future happiness. In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, we and the whole world must be tried before Him for our actions done in the body, whether good or evil, and be acquitted or condemned according as our consciences bear witness for or against us (Romans 2:15, 16). But do we indeed duly consider what these two different sentences, which the Judge of the world will then pronounce, severally import? What it is to go away into everlasting punishment, and what into life eternal? Oh! most certainly such a reflection duly improved would never suffer us to take any ease or repose in our own mind till we had with the apostle exercised ourselves to have always a conscience void of offence towards God and towards man. Especially —(2) If we farther consider that to have a conscience void of offence is not only a condition, but a necessary qualification for heaven. What satisfaction would it be to a man in a violent fit of the gout or stone to be laid upon a bed of roses? As little satisfaction would a sinner take in the pure and spiritual joys of heaven without a heavenly temper and disposition of mind.

(R. Fiddes, D. D.)


1. We have a discernment of the difference between right and wrong.

2. We approve of the one, and disapprove of the other, as of good and bad laws.

3. We condemn ourselves for what conscience disapproves in our states and acts.

4. We are impelled by conscience to do what is right, and deterred by it from what is wrong. Conscience, therefore, is not a single faculty. It is a collective term for those exercises of our rational nature which concern moral good and evil. It includes cognition and judgment of approbation and disapprobation. And it is an impulse, as desires and affections are. It is not a mere decision as to truth.


1. It is independent of the understanding and will. No man can force himself by a volition to approve of what he sees to be wrong. Nor can conscience be perverted by mere sophistry of the understanding. If a man honestly thinks a wrong thing to be right, his conscience will approve his doing it; but no man can argue his conscience out of its convictions. Nor can it be silenced.

2. It is authoritative. It asserts the right to rule our hearts and lives. We may disregard and rebel against this authority, but we must admit it to be legitimate.

3. It does not speak in its own name. It is the representative of God, and brings the soul before His bar.

4. It is avenging, and is made so by God. Remorse is a state produced by conscience.


1. To enlighten it. It is not infallible in its judgment. Men differ widely as to what is right or wrong, and our thinking a thing right does not make it right.

2. To obey it. No man is better than his conscience; no man is as good. Conscience is to be obeyed not only in particular cases, but in all as the ruling authority; i.e., we must act not from impulse, self interest, inclination, feeling, in matters small and great. The ground of this obligation to obey conscience is —

(1)The authority of God in whose name it speaks.

(2)Respect for our own dignity as rational and moral beings.

(3)The greatest happiness springs from an approving, the greatest misery from a wounded conscience.

(C. Hodge, D. D.)


1. What is conscience?(1) A moral memory. Conscience has to do with the past chiefly. "This is twice living, to enjoy life past." On the other hand, "The first and foremost punishment of sinners is to have sinned."(2) A fellow knowledge; a knowledge shared with another, and that other oneself; a man's privity to his own conduct, in thought and word and deed. I am so made that I cannot help this fellow knowledge.

2. The word occurs more than thirty times in the New Testament, and of these more than twenty are in St. Paul's unquestioned writings.(1) It is to the conscience of man that he addresses his gospel. "By manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." Let each man's fellow knowledge feel, as he listens to my gospel, that it is a word worthy of God, and wholesome for man. "We are made manifest unto God, and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences."(2) To his own conscience he appeals for testimony. "My conscience also bearing me witness." His own fellow knowledge assures him of perfect truthfulness.(3) He speaks more than once of a good conscience.(4) He speaks of a weak conscience; of one whose self-judgment is timid, over scrupulous, unenlightened as to the extent of his Christian freedom, but who yet must respect and follow it.(5) He tells of an evil or bad conscience, of a self-knowledge which is a knowledge of evil, creating a discord within, and raising an impassable barrier between man and God.(6) He refers to a defiled conscience; a self-knowledge which is privy not only to particular acts of transgression, but to a thorough choice and love of evil.(7) From these there is but a step, if one, to the "conscience seared with a hot iron"; cauterised with an indelible mark and stain of evil.

II. THE CONSCIENCE AFTER WHICH ST. PAUL STROVE was an unstumbling one, not striking against stumbling stones.

1. He does not speak here of preserving his life from stumbling, but his conscience. He is determined that his perpetual judgment upon himself shall not find itself embarrassed in its course by evil done and the good left undone; shall not trip here over a hasty or uncharitable word, and there over a neglected duty, and there over an injured soul, and there over a corrupt imagination: its course shall be clear as it judges: the straight and smooth and unstained surface of the life and soul shall present nothing for the self-cognisance to dash against as a condemning object.

2. There are two chief departments of this unstumbling conscience; corresponding to the two great divisions of human duty. When the thought of God is presented, the self-judgment is not staggered: and when the thought of man is presented, still the self-cognisance is not beset by monuments of reproach or evil. Some men are not afraid of the second table. Like the rich young ruler they can say, "All these commandments have I observed from my youth." But when the attention of the inward judge is turned to the first table, then surely the self-deceiver will be unmasked to himself: the conscience is not void of offence: its course, as it hears the case, is not smooth but stumbling.

III. ST. PAUL'S EFFORT AFTER THE ATTAINMENT OF THIS CONSCIENCE. "Herein," on the strength of the hope of the resurrection. "I exercise" or train myself as an athlete. We are apt to think that, whatever other difficulties the apostles had to contend with, they had none within. How strongly does St. Paul combat this error! "So fight I, as not beating the air: but I keep under my body." It did not come naturally to him to have a conscience void of offence. He had to train himself for it, by daily buffetings of his own body, mortifications of his own inclination, and crucifixions of his own will. The hope of a glorious resurrection bore him up, and in Christ's strength he went forward conquering and to conquer. The subject is its own application.(1) The Christian life is not easy. St. Paul found it severe. But what then? Brave men are only roused by difficulties: if the gospel demands courage, it is all the more a gospel for men.(2) Learn the place of conscience in the Christian scheme. It is not enough for a man to be what is commonly called a conscientious man. Cornelius was that, and more, and so was Paul before conversion. Yet the one must send men to Joppa for one who should tell him words of salvation. And the other must see Christ showing him to his own heart as "the chief of sinners," and then disclosing to him "a more excellent way." But though obedience to conscience (apart from Christ) is not salvation, yet there is thus much of connection and continuity between a life before and a life after conversion, that it is still conscience which guides, only conscience itself has widened its field of vision and gained a new criterion of judgment. A man is not a conscientious man now, unless Christ, as well as God, "is in all his thoughts."

(Dean Vaughan.)

I. WHAT IS CONSCIENCE? There are certain phenomena of our moral nature of which all men are conscious.

1. The perception of moral distinctions.

2. A sense of moral obligation.

3. A feeling of approbation and disapprobation in regard to self and others. Whether and how far these exercises belong to the cognitive faculties, and how far to the susceptibilities — reason or feeling — is hard to determine. They are rational in so far as they suppose a rational nature and involve the exercise of reason. But every cognition when its object, moral or aesthetic, is not an act of the pure reason, involves feeling as well as knowledge.


1. Universal.

2. Innate.

3. Representative.

4. Independent.

5. Authoritative.

6. Indestructible.


1. Knowledge, which is light. Conscience needs this just as taste needs correct principles. Some knowledge is original and intuitive, other is acquired.

2. Due susceptibility. Men differ much as to this point. It may be excessive or deficient, but for a healthful conscience due susceptibility is necessary. So that moral distinctions do not concern light matters, or trifles give as much concern as serious matters.

3. Strength to constrain obedience. Sickly sentimentality is very different from a sound healthful conscience.


1. Perversion. This is due either to wrong principles, or to prejudices and passion. The cure is to be found in knowledge, objective and subjective.

2. Obduracy. Cause — ignorance and crime; cure — knowledge, regeneration, sanctification.

3. Scrupulosity. Cause — either weakness of conviction or undue sensibility, not really moral, but a sensitiveness analogous to false shame, bashfulness, etc. Cure — growth in strength. Be strong in faith.

4. Wounded conscience. The only cure is, the blood of Jesus, confession, restitution, reformation.


1. Our excellence.

2. Our happiness.

3. Our usefulness.

(C. Hodge, D. D.)


1. The name. It is called —

(1)Heart (1 Samuel 24:5; Ecclesiastes 7:22; 1 John 3:21).

(2)Spirit (Proverbs 18:14; 1 Corinthians 2:11).

(3)Conscience (Titus 1:15), which implies —

(a)The knowledge that several have of the same thing, so God knows with us (Job 16:20).

(b)The knowledge we have of several things (1 Samuel 24:5; 1 Corinthians 4:4).

2. The thing conscience is a habit of the practical understanding, whereby the mind of man applies the knowledge it hath to its own particular actions, by discourse of reason.


1. To apply general truths to ourselves (2 Samuel 12:7; Jeremiah 8:6).

2. To bear witness (Romans 2:15) of —

(1)God's law.

(2)Our actions.

3. To comfort us in our obedience (Isaiah 38:3).

4. To accuse us of sin (Romans 2:15; Revelation 20:12).

5. To judge (Psalm 4:4) —

(1)Our actions (Romans 14:22, 23, Lamentations 3:40).

(2)Our persons (1 Corinthians 11:31).


1. Conscience is God's vicegerent in the soul.

2. Rightly enlightened it dictates nothing but God's commands.

3. All God's commands concern Himself or our neighbour (Matthew 22:37, 38).

4. When we do what it commands our conscience excuses and comforts us (2 Corinthians 1:12).

5. It accuses for nothing but sin.

6. Therefore when we do nothing offensive to God or man our conscience is void of offence (Acts 23:1).


1. To God.

(1)Love Him (Deuteronomy 6:5).

(2)Desire Him above all creatures (Philippians 3:8).

(3)Seek Him before all treasures (Matthew 6:33).

(4)Believe Him in all His assertions.

(5)Fear Him above all powers (Jeremiah 5:22).

(6)Trust Him in all conditions (Psalm 62:8).

(7)Rejoice in Him more than in all enjoyment (Philippians 4:4; Habakkuk 3:17-19).

(8)Meditate on Him on all occasions (Psalm 139:18).

(9)Pray to Him all your days (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

(10)Praise Him for all your mercies (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

(11)Perform all His commands. (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

(12)Aim at His glory in all your actions (1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 14:6).

2. To man.(1) To all.

(a)Love all (Matthew 5:44; Hebrews 10:24).

(b)Pray for all (1 Timothy 2:1).

(c)Do good to all (Galatians 6:10).

(d)Forgive all the injuries they do us (Colossians 3:13; Luke 11:4).

(e)Be courteous to all (1 Peter 2:17; 1 Peter 3:8; Romans 12:10).

(f)Be just to all.(2) To good men.

(a)Love them above others.

(b)Do good to them especially.(3) To evil men.

(a)Pity them (Song of Solomon 8:8).

(b)Reprove their sins (Leviticus 19:17; Matthew 18:15).

(c)Use all means to bring them to Christ.


1. Get your conscience regulated by God's Word (Psalm 119:105).

2. Directed by His Spirit (Psalm 119:133; John 16:13).

3. Well grounded and settled (Romans 14:5; 2 Peter 1:12).

4. Do nothing against conscience (Romans 14:22, 23).

5. Do everything from conscience (Romans 13:5).

6. Avoid secret as well as open sins (1 John 3:20).

7. Choose the greatest sufferings rather than do the least sin.

8. Balk no duty.


1. A good conscience will be a comfort in all troubles (Proverbs 15:15; 2 Corinthians 1:12).

2. An evil conscience will be a trouble in all comforts (Proverbs 18:14).

3. Unless we keep a good conscience it will be a witness against us hereafter, and be our tormentor forever (Mark 9:43, 44), but a good conscience will be our eternal joy.

(Bp. Beveridge.)

I. That we may rightly understand this matter, we must consider a little WHAT IT IS TO HAVE A CONSCIENCE VOID OF OFFENCE, which was the ground of the apostle's plea. The office of conscience is two fold: to direct one in acting, and then to pass a censure upon his actions. Before the thing is done, conscience serves as a tutor to advise and teach; and after the fact is over it serves as a judge, either to acquit or to condemn him for it. So that to have a conscience void of offence is, in the apostle's sense, to be powerfully governed by one's conscience in the faithful discharge of his duty, and so to follow the light which is in his understanding, as not to fall into any known sin, nor to act anything which will wound his mind in the consequence. This the apostle protested now in open court was his constant exercise. But this must be understood chiefly of the time after his conversion to Christianity. For while he was yet a Jew and a zealous Pharisee his conscience was not void of all offence. We know what his sins were, and with what penitence and freedom he lamented them afterwards. But when he came to be thoroughly enlightened by the Sun of Righteousness, and his conscience was set to rights, it was his fixed endeavour to keep it more charity than the apple of his eye. As a man that has once broken his bones by chance is very careful lest he slip again, so was the apostle, after his conversion, industriously bent upon keeping his conscience from the least wound or blow. He valued no stripes as long as they did not touch that tender part. And this shows us all what ought to be the great care and business of our whole life; for whether conscience be well or ill kept, a man shall be sure to hear of it at last; he will certainly find the effects of it at home; let him take what course he pleases, his conscience will bear him company, and in the end prove his comfort or his plague. 'Tis true a man's conscience may not accuse him or fly upon him presently. How evil soever it be, it may lie quiet for a time. For a time it may be still and quiet, like a clock that stands when the weights are down, but one time or other the hand of God will wind it up again, and then every wheel and movement will stir to purpose. We should not trust, no, not our own hearts, because in the end our worst enemy will be that in our own bosom.


1. First, in case of public dangers, when the face of the world looks uncomfortable and dismal. Seldom do the things of this life continue at a stay. However, some are so hardy as to scoff at religion, and strive to wear out of their minds the sense of God, yet nothing can carry a man out in the day of trial but holy principles. And whoever he be that relieth upon these principles, and upon examining his actions, finds good reasons to believe that his heart is sincere and upright, he must needs be danger proof in a very high degree. You have an instance here in St. Paul, though the Jews had bound themselves under a curse that they would kill him; though Ananias used his authority and Tertullus his eloquence against him; though men and devils conspired to destroy him; yet his rejoicing was this, that his constant exercise was to have a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward man. Such evil days and times of danger every one of us is very apt to put far off from himself by reason of the uncertainty of them.

2. Secondly, there is another case which every day occurs against which a wise man will be well provided — the case of sickness, when we should have little else to do but to trim up our lamps and exercise our graces, and so to repose ourselves in the bosom of a faithful God and a merciful Redeemer. Now, he that makes a conscience of his ways, and studies to carry himself without offence toward God and man, will at that time have nothing in comparison to do but to wait God's pleasure, for as he foresees that such a day will come, so he prepares for it beforehand.

3. There is another case yet which I must mention, because from the highest to the lowest we must every one of us come to it in our order, for it is appointed unto all men once to die, and after death to go to judgment. What is it to die? Of what infinite importance is it to die well? What will become of us when we are dead and gone? Such religious meditations would prove very powerful restraints to keep men within the compass of their duty; for how slightly soever some have spoken of morality, I am confident no man ever yet repented of it on his death bed, nor can anything be a greater comfort to a man at the last than to consider that the care of his life has been to keep a conscience void of offence. It is a comfort that will stick to him to endless ages.


1. That we give all moral diligence to inform our consciences rightly of the lawfulness of all we do. This was the fault of St. Paul before his conversion, that he took things upon trust and went upon presumptions. Therefore to have a conscience void of offence, it is absolutely necessary to use all proper means for the removing and curing of mistakes, such as unprejudiced meditation, reading of good books, conference with skilful and upright teachers, and the like.

2. Our endeavours being thus honestly employed, the next way to have a conscience void of offence is to follow its dictates. Great is the power which everyone's conscience hath over him. It hath by the appointment of God Himself the immediate government of us, so that the very Word of God doth not otherwise guide us than by the light which it affords the conscience. Though the Divine will be the supreme rule, yet conscience is the inward and immediate measure of our actions; and on that account the command is so peremptory that everyone is to be fully persuaded in his own mind, and the determination is so positive that whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

3. To despise the world when it stands in competition with our duty is another sure way to keep one's conscience void of offence, because nothing is more apt to corrupt men's minds and to rifle them of their integrity than the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.

4. And so to resist the first temptations unto Bin; to get such a mastery over our own wills as to arm ourselves with firm purposes against it; to pray daily and heartily unto God not to lead us into temptation; and, above all, to have God always before our eyes.

(E. Pelling, D. D.)

Conscience is that within us which pronounces upon the moral character of our actions, and which justifies or condemns us accordingly. It is the Holy of holies in human nature — the majestic shrine in which God Himself is enthroned.


1. Must be enlightened. The sin of man has darkened his mind, and to have his conscience void of offence he must labour to obtain the fullest information about all moral questions. He must be on his guard against ignorance of the teaching of the moral law itself, and error as to the way in which that law is to be applied to the life. Micah the Ephraimite (Judges 17; Judges 18) had an ignorant conscience. Saul of Tarsus (Acts 26:9) had an erring conscience. And how many Christians in our time need to have their consciences instructed about many important matters of morals? How many, for example, about the use of minced oaths, the petty falsehoods of trade, the use of the means of grace?

2. Must be purified. Man, being guilty, endures the misery of an evil conscience. There is no torment comparable to the pangs of remorse. Even the sin-hardened are made "cowards" by it, and confess that "conscience is a thousand swords." "This disease is beyond the practice" of Lady Macbeth's physician. (These quotations remind us that our greatest poet is emphatically the poet of the conscience.) But the same necessity exists for all, even for those who are "not far from the kingdom of God."

3. Must be kept sensitive and tender. A healthy conscience will allow its possessor no peace so long as sin is indulged in or duty neglected. But how many there are, who, instead of cherishing a sensitive, vigilant conscience, prefer rather to lull the monitor into a state of coma! They say with the murderer in the tragedy, "There's few or none will entertain it. I'll not meddle with it. It is a dangerous thing. It makes a man a coward. 'Tis a blushing shamefaced spirit that mutinies in a man's bosom. It fills one full of obstacles," etc. And even a believer may sometimes allow his conscience to sink into a stupor. Lot did so when he went to live in Sodom, and David after his great transgression, and Peter until his Master's look of loving reproach awoke it. Thank God, there is such an awakening for every gracious soul. But the Bible speaks of those who have their "conscience seared with a hot iron," as the effect of persistent unbelief and sin. Such seems to have been the case with Pharaoh, Saul, Caiaphas, and Judas.

4. Must receive its rightful place of supreme authority in the soul. The intuitions of men in all ages have convinced them practically of this truth. Our nature tells us that conscience is a magistrate from whose decisions there should be no earthly appeal; and that these anticipate a still more effectual sentence, which shall proceed from the Judgment throne. To shape one's course according to another man's conscience is the very spirit of Popery. Paul was preeminently a conscientious man all his life through (Acts 23:1; 2 Corinthians 1:12). And the noble avowal of our text we can parallel with the brave words of Luther, "My conscience is a captive to God's Word: and it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience." The man who makes this the law of his life will succeed in having "a conscience void of offence." It will be so toward God (Psalm 26.) and toward men (1 Samuel 12:3; Acts 20:33).

II. THE EXERCISE NECESSARY IN ORDER TO HAVE SUCH A CONSCIENCE. The word "exercise" applied to the body denotes severe and bracing physical training; applied to the mind suggests assiduous intellectual drill and discipline. Paul's assertion, therefore, is that he makes the gymnastics of conscience his daily study and care. Let us inquire by what means this "exercise" is to be prosecuted.

1. To enlighten conscience, we must exercise ourselves with the study of Divine truth. The only rule of conscience which the heathen have is the "law written on their hearts"; but the Christian rule of right and wrong is the Word of God. God's Word lays bare to us our half-buried and forgotten moral convictions. It is the chisel which restores the defaced and worn inscriptions upon gravestones of our sin-dead hearts. We must therefore "search the Scriptures."

2. To purify conscience we must exercise ourselves with the application of the blood of Christ, which "purges the conscience from dead works" and "sprinkles the heart from an evil conscience."

3. To keep conscience tender, we must exercise ourselves with constant watching and prayer (Psalm 139:23, 24). To give conscience its place of supreme authority we must exercise ourselves with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. His grace is the one power which can make conscience regnant.

(C. Jerden, M. A.)

Theological Sketchbook.

1. Conscience is the secret testimony of the soul, whereby it approves things that are good and condemns those that are evil. A good conscience is purified by the blood of Christ (1 Timothy 1:5; Hebrews 9:14). An evil conscience is loaded with guilt (Hebrews 10:22); and a hardened conscience does not feel the evil of sin (1 Timothy 4:2).

2. To have a conscience void of offence three things are necessary. First, a good rule of conduct; secondly, an impartial comparison of our conduct with that rule; and thirdly, a conviction that there has been a conformity of conduct to our rule.

3. That man who has a conscience void of offence towards God is inwardly pious, and practises all the duties of piety.

4. He who has a conscience void of offence towards men carefully follows two rules. First, he injures no man, either in his person, in his property, or in his character; and, secondly, he does all the good which is in his power to every man with whom he is connected, both in word and deed.


1. Let us use those means by which we may obtain an enlightened conscience, that we may understand our duty both to God and men.

2. It should be an invariable rule with us to do nothing at any time, or under any circumstances, contrary to the dictates of conscience. When we act contrary to our views of things we are self-condemned.

3. In this holy exercise we should abstain from the appearance of evil; for if we yield to anything which our own mind condemns, or to anything which appears evil in the eyes of wise and good men, we shall soon fall into great and gross sins (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

4. That we may keep a conscience void of offence, let us be careful not to enter into temptation.

5. As a farther help in this important work, let us be vigilant.

6. To watchfulness let us add prayer. Let us pray for wisdom to conduct us safely through difficult circumstances (James 1:5).

7. It is essentially necessary, in this blessed exercise, to avoid secret sins. These are fully known to God (Psalm 90:8).

8. While we set God before us, in His justice and purity, and in His awful majesty and glory, we shall be careful to keep a conscience void of offence.

9. Let us be conversant with death and judgment.

(Theological Sketchbook.)

There is nothing that men so often mistake as what we call conscience. With a Scotchman it is frequently obstinacy; with an English. man, snobbishness; with a Yankee, prejudice. Conscience is not the thing that guides men, but the thing by which men justify themselves when they have made up their minds! They set their watches and then look at the time of day. It is difficult for some people to find their own pulse — that which marks the ebb and flow of that red tide of life which surges back and forth within them. So hard it often is for a man to put his finger on the real motive of his conduct. Men clip coin and then try to pass it for the genuine currency of the realm. The difference between men as good and bad is the difference in their treatment of conscience. A self-knowledge that is void of self-condemnation: this is the subject I shall discuss.

I. I remark THAT THERE IS NOTHING MORE WONDERFUL IN MAN THAN HIS POWER TO KNOW HIMSELF. It is the most fearful and wonderful thing in him. If he wants to get the temperature of his own body he must use a thermometer; if he wants to count his own pulse he must hold his watch in his hand. But the temperature of the man within, the pulse beat of the man within, he must find from a standard within. Conscience is the self-registering thermometer of the soul. Joseph's brethren never had lost their self-consciousness, their self-recognition — never, day or night, year in, year out. They knew themselves. It is a thing which cannot be lost, this conscience of self. But let them do the deed; let conscience make its registry respecting that deed, and they may wake and sleep; they may change their place of residence and traverse seas and deserts; years may pass over their heads, but they never can be rid of their own self-recognition. It is no longer like the mists of the morning. It is like the sin of Judah; it is written with a pen of iron and the point of a diamond upon the tables of the heart. It will carry its own deep self-knowledge throughout all eternity.

II. THERE IS NO HIGHER AIM FOR A MAN MADE IN GOD'S IMAGE THAN TO KEEP THIS SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS THE SOURCE OF COMFORT AND SUPPORT TO HIMSELF. It is like keeping the prow of the vessel pointed to the polar star. If a man maintains his self-respect it makes little difference what are his outward surroundings. They cannot affect his inward worth any more than the setting of a jewel affects its intrinsic value. Joseph was just as near to God and to the throne of God in Egypt as in the house of his father. His feet was hurt with fetters, but he could still run in the way of God's commandments.

III. THIS KEEPING OF SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS SERENE AND UNDISTURBED IS NEVER THE RESULT OF A HAPPY ACCIDENT, BUT OF A SETTLED PURPOSE AND MASTERLY AIM. The apostle's phraseology in the text is very strong: "And herein do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man." If a man means to make his living by the use of his arms he trains the muscles of his arms; if he means to make his living by the use of his voice he exercises his lungs so that he can produce voice; and so of his ears and his eyes, as his calling may require. In other words, he takes gymnastics which are suited to his necessities. Peace of conscience is not an accident, but an acquisition; is not a matter of temperament, but of attainment. I suppose the popular conception of the life of such men as St. Paul is that being so eminent in spiritual endowments, the Christian life in a sense takes care of itself. But I do not get any such conception of the apostle's language. It is not a Sabbath day experience. Notice that one word — always! It was his habitual method, the habit of his life. The conscience is the vision of the spiritual man. It determines duty for him. And the Saviour says, "If thine eye be single thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil or divided thy whole body shall be full of darkness." There is no darkness like the darkness which springs from a benighted conscience. There are no blunders like the blunders committed in the name of conscience. This is what the apostle means by a conscience void of offence, a conscience which does not make him stumble, because it has a clear vision for the inward man.

IV. EVERY MAN'S CONSCIENCE HAS TO DO WITH HIS CARRIAGE TOWARD GOD AND TOWARD MAN. It is like the eye — two organs and one sight. Some people think conscience has mainly to do with the inward walk, with regularity in the exercise of the spirit in what would be called worship and service. It was just this kind of conscience that Saul of Tarsus had when, like a bloodthirsty beast of prey, he was putting to death the members of the little flock of the Good Shepherd at Jerusalem. Then he exercised himself to have a conscience void of offence toward God, and stopped there. I do not think there can be a more merciless condition of the soul than for a man to try and keep a conscience void of offence toward God without reference to his fellow men. It accounts for all the awful things done in the way of persecution, done in the name of God and for the glory of God. Piety and humanity are the two necessary poles in all Christianity. The truth is that the highest Christian development is not possible if we do not have a warm side in us — the side where the heart is — toward humanity. If you think of it a moment, the Son of God was also the Son of man. A man cannot keep his conscience void of offence toward his fellow man by adopting another man's conscience as his standard — sinning under cover of another man's shield. This is the temptation which comes from improper intimacies in business and in social life. Since the death of Christ every man living has a new valuation. He is one for whom Christ has died. If a man be dishonest, he is dishonest toward one for whom Christ died.

(J. E. Rankin.)

Homiletic Review.
I. THE DETERMINATION AND PERSISTENCE OF THE APOSTLE TO KEEP HIS CONSCIENCE VOID OF OFFENCE. It is all in that word "exercise." The word literally means to go into training. This is what he really says, "I am not careless in this great matter; I do not live in any heedless fashion; I fight stains from my conscience as gladiators fight weakness; what my conscience cannot approve that I away with."

II. The apostle, thus exercising himself to keep a conscience void of offence toward God and man, WOULD NOT TRIFLE WITH HIS CONSCIENCE. Remember what he tells King Agrippa: "Immediately I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision."

III. This delicacy of conscience in the apostle LED HIM NECESSARILY TO A THOUGHTFUL AND GENEROUS REGARD OF THE CONSCIENCES OF OTHERS. "A man's first duty is never to trifle with his own conscience; his second duty is never to trifle with the consciences of those who, like himself, are in a world of responsibility and trial. Paul's manner of managing the matter of eating meat offered to idols (2 Corinthians 10:25-33).

IV. As conscientious as Paul was HE DID NOT BELIEVE HIS CONSCIENTIOUSNESS COULD SAVE HIM. For salvation there must be trust in the atoning Christ, and such shining conscientiousness is but the test that one has really trusted.

(Homiletic Review.)

Here is —

I. THE EXTENT OF A GOOD MAN'S PRACTICE as it respects God and man. And this distribution is frequent in Scripture (Exodus 20; Matthew 22:38).

II. HIS CONSTANCY AND PERSEVERANCE IN THIS COURSE. Paul exercised himself at all times. We must not only make conscience of our ways by fits and starts. There are some that will be very strict at some seasons, and perhaps for a little while after, then let themselves loose again to their former vicious course: but religion should be a constant frame of mind, discovering itself in the habitual course of our lives and actions.

III. A VERY EARNEST CARE AND ENDEAVOUR TO THIS PURPOSE. "Herein do I exercise myself." He applied himself to this business with all his care and might, and so we must take great care to understand our duty, and when we know it, we must be very careful in the performance of it.

IV. THE PRINCIPLE AND IMMEDIATE GUIDE OF OUR ACTIONS, which St. Paul here tells us was his conscience. Conscience is the great principle of moral actions, and our guide in matter of sin and duty. It is not the law and rule of our actions; that the law of God only is. Now, in common speech, every man is represented as having a tribunal in his own breast, where he tries himself and all his actions: and conscience, under one notion or other, sustains all parts in this trial; the court is called the court of a man's conscience, and the bar at which the sinner stands impleaded is called the bar of conscience; conscience is also the accuser; it is the record and register of our crimes, in which the memory of them is preserved; it is the witness which gives testimony for or against us; and it is likewise the judge which declares the law and passes sentence. But I shall only consider conscience as the judgment of a man's own mind concerning the morality of his actions.


1. Never in any case to act contrary to the persuasion and conviction of conscience.

2. Be very careful to inform conscience aright, that we may not mistake concerning our duty. And this rule is the more necessary because men are apt to think it a sufficient excuse for anything, that they did it according to their conscience. But this will appear to be a dangerous mistake.(1) That men may be guilty of the most heinous sins in following an erroneous conscience (John 16:2; Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17; Acts 26:9).(2) These sins may prove damnable without a particular repentance for them.

3. In all doubts of conscience endeavour to be impartial.

4. Suspect all pretences of conscience which are —(1) Accompanied with turbulent passion and a furious zeal (James 1:12; Acts 26:9).(2) Not accompanied with modesty and humility, and a teachable temper and disposition, willing to learn and to be better informed.

5. Be sure to mind that which is our plain and unquestionable duty — the great things of religion, and the things "which make for peace, and whereby we may edify one another," and let us not suffer our disputes about lesser matters to prejudice and hinder our main duty.

VI. THE GREAT MOTIVE AND ENCOURAGEMENT TO THIS (ver. 15). If we believe the resurrection of the dead and a future judgment, we ought to be very careful to discharge a good conscience now, in order to the rendering of a good account hereafter.

(Abp. Tillotson.)

It is not a trifle, this self-exercise: it is a strenuous matter of business, whenever it is carried on as it was carried on by the saintly Paul. It ought to be maintained in a similar way to that wherein earnest men strive after earthly objects. An artist, athirst for eminence in his pursuit, craving fellow fame with the great names that emblazon the history of painting and sculpture, will devote himself with affecting eagerness to the quiet of his studio: he will almost worship the glorious works of the master with whose style he would fain be imbued and ingrained; and, when the world is at rest, the light still burns in his room, and he still hangs over the canvas, the chill hand grudging to hold palette and brush at the fiat of the over-tasked brain. That he might but enroll his name among the Murillos and Correggios, oh, he would exercise himself day and night! And so the ambitious politician will spend daylight over statistics and tabular returns, and consume evening and midnight in exciting debate. And so the worshipper of Mammon will sit at the door of Mammon's temple and worship its golden pavement through life's prime and its decrepit age, by sunlight and by starlight a constant votary, intent on the lucre that a spiritual philosophy has defined to be "the root of all evil." Well, the Christian must learn a lesson from all this self-exercise: he must "walk by the same rule," though God forbid that he should "mind the same thing"! In devotion to the great object before him, that of a pure conscience, let him take a leaf from the book of the enthusiast in art, in public life, in money making: all whatsoever they teach, in reference to singleness and fervency of aim, let him observe and do; but let him not do after their works: let him rescue a splendid quality, that of earnestness in self-exercise, from the claims of the perishable, and consecrate it to the demands of heaven. The children of this world are, in this respect, more advanced than the children of light. These things ought not so to be, for there is no province so full of scope for earnestness as that tenanted by the believer in Christ's New Testament. We are sadly apt to treat religion with stiff, formal courtesy, as some periodical visitor who must be entertained politely while present, and forgotten till next advent; whereas it is meant to be identified with ourselves, inwrought in our nature, part and parcel of our being.

(F. Jacox, B. A.)

I. We will first make a few remarks on THE MEANING OF THE WORD CONSCIENCE. It means, properly, the knowledge with one's own self. It is that power of the human mind which discerns between right and wrong, and decides for itself, independently of the opinion of others. It makes man his own judge. It is by the means of this that God as it were speaks directly to us. And when we have learned to perceive the use of conscience, we shall see also its power. If it is the agent or instrument used to accuse and convict us of what is wrong, it is indeed a powerful one. It is intended to be the engine for completely crushing a man; and if it does not always exercise its full sway while the sinner is upon earth, he will not have to wait long in his iniquity before he finds its awful tyranny, when it becomes the gnawing worm of conscious guilt, as he wears away a weary eternity. But behold the man under a deep conviction of sin. Look at the man who has hitherto been honest and truthful, see him after the first breach of his principles, when his tongue has uttered almost his first lie, then you will outwardly witness the effects of the accuser within. Witness the Scripture case of the jailer at Philippi, as he rushed before Paul and Silas, saying, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Yes; none can properly tell, save those who have experienced, the great — I may say the mighty — power of conscience when the Holy Spirit's influence has awakened it to a deep sense of hell-deserving guilt. Let us go on to observe the property of conscience. It is immortal: it will never be extinguished. It is not a member of your body, which will return to dust: it is a faculty of your soul, which is never to die. If, therefore, it is at the present time the judge and the accuser within, so it will continue to be; so will it be forever and ever. Thus, then, we are led on to notice the quality of conscience. When viewed in its full extent (i.e., as the judge of a man's whole life, not confining its use and power to any particular sins), it must be either what is commonly called good or bad.

II. And now, passing on to another branch of our subject, WE ARE LED TO INQUIRE THE NATURE OF A GOOD CONSCIENCE; WHAT IS IT? Does it mean, simply, that we are free from any great crimes or open wickedness? Does it mean that we are not murderers or drunkards or liars? This is only a very small part of its meaning. It must be "void of offence" both "toward God and toward man." How often is this quite overlooked! People say, "Oh, I have a good conscience; I am happy; I am safe; for I never do those great sins which I see others commit. I do not lie, nor swear, nor injure my neighbour in any way. In fact, I am anxious to do all the good I can towards my neighbour." They never care first to inquire how their conscience is towards God. They seem to think that conscience only relates to this world and those in it. They forget that, whatever their human virtues, while they are living away from the gospel of Christ they are guilty, before God, of the greatest of crimes, for they are wilfully despising His love and His mercy. Of what use, then, their flattery to themselves that their consciences are good? A good conscience "toward God" must be without offence. The word offence properly means stumbling block; when it is used, as in this place, with reference to God, it simply means sin — a conscience clear of wilful transgression. But when we come to notice the conscience void of offence also "toward man," we see the full force of the word "offence." We must not put the stumbling block in our neighbour's way. We must not do those things which may be hindrances to his religion. We must not lead him astray; but do all we can for his temporal, but most particularly for his eternal, welfare. And the case of St. Paul, when he spoke the words of the text, shows this to be the meaning of his words. He was charged with the very crime of leading people astray by his preaching and his conduct. But he declared that the opposite was his object, and that his conscience was void of offence, quite clear of any design against man's good.

III. But we must hasten on to a third consideration — THE METHOD OF OBTAINING A GOOD CONSCIENCE.

1. And here, in the first place, we are reminded of the primary requisite, viz., that our sins be removed. We cannot possibly have a good conscience before God while our hearts remain blackened with the sins of our nature and the aggravated sins of our practice. "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God!" "Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience." The primary meaning, then, of a good conscience is that it has been cleansed by the Redeemer's blood; that through the influence of the Spirit of God it has been convinced of sin, and shown the provision made for its cleansing; and that through grace it has been led to take full advantage of the great Fountain; has by faith washed and been made clean.

2. And in connection with obtaining a good conscience, we see in our text the method of keeping it. viz., by exercise: "Herein I exercise myself," saith the apostle. He thus teaches us that, when we have been renewed in the spirit of our minds, it remains for us to keep in exercise the new powers and graces given to us. The health and muscular strength of the body are maintained and improved by proper exercise; so are the gifts and graces of the religion of Christ Jesus. We have difficulties to overcome: they must be subdued by exercise. We have higher attainments to reach: they must be got at by exercise. We must be diligent in our exercise of prayer to the Author of all help, that we may be able to resist and overcome evil. We must be diligent in our exercise of watchfulness. Let the consideration of this word "exercise" stir us up, lest we get idle, too trustful in our privileges.


1. Look at it, first, with regard to time, to the mere short-lived existence in this world. Just consider the blessings of that peace which it engenders. Thus you are enabled to feel God indeed as your Father in every need, in every sorrow. And is there not pleasure also in the exercise to keep the conscience void of offence towards those around us, by bringing into action our efforts for their present and eternal welfare.

2. And if a good conscience is of value in this life, conveying even here peace and comfort and rest, of how much greater value shall it be in that eternal existence where it is to spend its blissful immortality! If conscience, or consciousness, will be the ever-continuing torment of the future punishment, will not the same faculty be the agent of happiness in the future world of joy and glory?

(R. H. Davies.)

The moral sense, conscience, is the final arbiter. But of what is it that conscience does its arbitration? On what does it pass its exclusive judgments? On persons only. On things, never. The sea, the star, the hawk, the scorpion are as though they were not in the realm of morals. For them we have no condemnation; for them we have no claims. A pestilent fungus, a deadly microbe, seizes on your dear and only child, and by its dread vitality strikes it down to agony and death; but you cannot curse that microbe as base. There is no immorality in its act. The venomed fang of the cobra slays your friend, but you dare not call it wickedness. The stealthy tiger springs upon some loved one and rends him in the jungle, but you must not call it immorality. The liquid lustre of the sapphire — we do not count it virtue, nor do we count the sweet influence of the Pleiades as their character. We admire, we do not approve, the opal's melting colour; we dislike, we do not condemn, the unexpected acidity of the fruit. In them there is no merit, and there can be no demerit. But with irresistible impulse we approve, we disapprove of human actions. — Why? Because we know that they are the self-directed acts of persons with a knowledge of right, with a perception of wrong, with a will free and with a perception of wrong, with the will free and with a deep and mighty sense within — "I ought," "I ought not." If men were living machines no power in heaven or earth could ever make them moral. There might be beauty in their lives, but there could not be virtue. A machine may produce benefit, it may produce mischief, but it cannot produce character. If men could not help being good, where would be the virtue of goodness? Because a machine produces a superb fabric in silk or in paper is it a virtuous machine? Has it character? Verily not. You do not praise a summer because it gives you the autumnal wealth of golden harvest. You do not blame. You do not blame the lightning flash because it rent your parish church tower. No. It is man's moral personality that has made him sovereign in this earth and throws upon him a responsibility that, is awful; not compelled obedience even to right, but in life's unceasing conflict the choice of the good rather than the evil, the conscience before God and man unclouded.

(W. H. Dallinger.)

Take an illustration. You are rich. Your wealth is imperilled. Hitherto your whole life has been honourable. You have preserved your conscience cloudless. Now you see you can by an act of dishonour which none can ever detect, which no earthly mind can ever know of — in that act you can save your wealth. Now conscience is the court of appeal. You alone deliver judgment. The solicitations to dishonour are subtle and siren-tongued. Nay, they are mighty, they are there. On the other hand, the moral instinct points to the grandeur of right, the horror of wrong. Conscience, with the blessedness of eternal duration in its mission, says, "No. You ought. You owe it to your character and your God not to do this great wrong." Fellow men, in such a case you know that it is you, it is I, apart from all She forces of temptation, that determine which it is that we will yield to. It is you, it is I, that issue the mandate "I will" or "I will not." The will is free for practical purposes, or moral judgment is impossible. It is when two incompatible impulses appear in our souls and contest the field that the strength and patience or the weakness and depravity of our manhood appear; for we are made aware of their difference, and are driven to judge between them. And the sensibility of the mind to the graduations of contrast between good and evil is what we mean by conscience. Conscience is a critical moral organ, and blessed is he that has trained his conscience under the companionship of the Cross of Christ, and who, with a brave heart like the great apostle, strives to keep it before God and before man, void of offence.

(W. H. Dallinger.)

A man was once asked why he was so very particular to give good measure — over good — and he replied, "God has given me but one journey through this world; and when I am gone I cannot return to correct mistakes."


1. A conscience void of offence, not only toward men, who see what is before their eyes, but also before God, who looks at the heart.

2. Not only toward God, whose judgment Eternity only discloses, but also before men, who judge by fruits.


1. By believing knowledge of the way of salvation from the word of God.

2. By walking in that way with a life of holiness.

(K. Gerok.)

Bessus, a native of Pelonia, in Greece, being seen by his neighbours pulling down birds' nests, and destroying their harmless young, was severely rebuked for his cruelty. His excuse was, that their notes were insufferable to him, as they never ceased twitting him for the murder of his father. Poor birds I they were innocent enough in the matter; but it was a guilty conscience which muttered its ceaseless reproaches in the ears of the wretched parricide.

(J. N. Norton, D. D.)

This was beautifully set forth in the ring which the famous magician is related to have presented to his prince. The ring usually appeared like any other ornament of the sort, but so soon as its wearer formed an evil thought or desire, the golden circlet became a monitor, suddenly contracting, and by pinching the finger, warned him of sin.

(J. N. Norton, D. D.)

There are three classes of men:

1. The conscientious, who always ask, What is right?

2. The mass of men, who do what is agreeable, or what promotes their interests.

3. Those who in great matters are conscientious, but not in small.

I. THE NATURE OF CONSCIENTIOUSNESS. Acting from a sense of right, as opposed to acting from expediency or for self-indulgence.

II. ITS DIFFICULTY. Because of —

1. The strong opposing principles within.

2. The opposing influences without — those of friendship, party, example.

3. The moral courage and firmness of character it requires.


1. Personal religion.

2. Domestic life.

3. Business occupation.

4. Church activity.


1. A fixed purpose. The power of the will is great.

2. Living near to God.

3. Habit.

4. Prayer.


1. We are doing right.

2. It purifies the heart.

3. It gives power, because it secures influence and respect.

(C. Hodge, D. D.)

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