And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offense toward God, and toward men.
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.
V. RULES AND DIRECTIONS FOR THE KEEPING OF A CONSCIENCE VOID OF OFFENCE.
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.