And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offense toward God, and toward men.
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.