And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offense toward God, and toward men.
A conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men. Bishop Butler's definition of "conscience" can hardly be surpassed. He says, "There is a principle of reflection in men, by which they distinguish between, approve and disapprove, their own actions. We are plainly constituted such sort of creatures as to reflect on our own nature. The mind can take a view of what passes within itself, its propensions, aversions, passions, affections, as respecting such objects and in such degrees, and of the several actions consequent thereupon. In this survey it approves of one and disapproves of another, and toward a third is affected in neither of these ways, but is quite indifferent. This is strictly conscience." (See previous Homily on Acts 23:1.) This subject may be fitly introduced by discussing - What is conscience? What is its sphere? and What are its limitations? The expressions in the text remind us that the testimonies of our conscience depend upon our cherished standards. There ought to be a due recognition of both Divine and human rules, and our conduct has to be regulated in view of both. St. Paul presents us the example of the man who is loyal to the revealed will of God, and loyal also to the rules which men make for the regulation of their social relations. These may indeed sometimes clash, and then the true-hearted man must follow out the Law of God, whatever may be the consequences. But usually there is found a practical harmony between the two, so that the moral life is acceptable both to God and man. In estimating the value of others' opinion of us, let us remember that the great thing to cherish is our will to that which is right, and our inward consciousness of being right. That conviction was the strength of St. Paul. When Plato was told that he had many enemies who spoke ill of him, "It is no matter," he said, "I would so live that none should believe them." It may be impressed, in conclusion, that the merely natural conscience is practically insufficient and untrustworthy as a guide of life; and it absolutely needs spiritual illumination, a quickening by the power of the Holy Ghost. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.