I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,…
1. St. Paul does here a most difficult thing. He distinguishes two voices within, and his own voice from either. Conscience — the Holy Ghost — bearing me witness. These distinctions are important. Some confuse conscience and the Spirit, others leave the Spirit altogether out, and conscience alone recognised as the guide of man.
2. Conscience — which is, literally, co-knowledge — is a natural faculty. Like intellect, affection, or any other department of the man, conscience is rather a state than an ingredient of the person. We introduce confusion when we speak of the unit being as split into parts. Memory, will, conscience, and the rest, are, in reality, only so many conditions or moods of the one man.
3. Conscience is that state of the man in which he reviews and judges his own actions. It is natural to every man to ask of himself, Of what complexion is this thing which I have thought, spoken, or done, in regard to right and wrong? We cannot help it — it is a sign, therefore, neither of good nor evil — we must sit in judgment upon ourselves. Who is so happy as never to have passed an unquiet night in the remembrance of word spoken or deed done during the day? And yet there was no one to reproach him! The thing itself was unknown to the world. No matter! He was his own accuser, witness, judge, and executioner. But conscience also exercises a legislative as well as a judicial function. It says, This is right, do it — this is wrong, shun it — as well as, This was wrong, and thou hast done it, etc.
4. This conscience was without the gospel, and is still with it. See the case of Paul (Acts 23:1, of. 24:16; 2 Timothy 1:3, cf. 1 Timothy 1:19). As much towards man's nature, as towards the law, Christ's office was to elevate, to deepen, to perfect, not to abolish. Just as Christ took the instinct of patriotism, and turned it into a world-wide benevolence, or the love of those that love us (Matthew 5:46), and consecrated it into a universal charity; so He took the natural instinct which we call conscience, and both instructed it in the Divine law of which before it had but the dimmest conception, and also enabled it with that preventing grace which is the presence of the indwelling Spirit.
5. It is a great thing to be conscientious, but it does not make a man a Christian. St. Paul was conscientious, so were some Pharisees, and in these days of grace and the gospel there are conscientious lives which are both un-Christian and anti-Christian. But I am well assured of this, that for one man who lives a good life out of Christ, a hundred thousand are wallowing in the sty of sin for lack of Him. Even in those men who think them. selves able to dispense with Him I can always notice some damaging deficiency, self-conceit, coldness, exclusiveness, or uselessness. All this makes me understand why St. Paul and the Master should make so much of that superadded gift, which is the presence of God's Holy Spirit. There are those amongst us who have bitterly felt the powerlessness of conscience. They have suffered, resolved, hoped, struggled, but again and again they have found themselves no match for the strong man armed. We may blame, but the weak by nature may be made strong by grace. A man whose conscience has failed to give him the victory may find victory in Christ. It will be hard work for him; but prayer can prevail where resolution has faltered; the man whose conscience has been blunted may bare it set again and edged and made powerful by grace; he who knows what it is to have stifled and all but silenced the inward voice, may yet hear it again in new tones, but with new powers also, speaking of Christ crucified and the love of the Spirit.
6. The Church and the Church's Lord can compassionate the feebleness which man never pities. The Physician came not for the whole but for the sick. This it is which makes His gospel so inestimably precious, and makes us weep for surprise and joy when we find Jesus sitting at meat with publicans and sinners, bidding welcome to sinful women, and drawing His loveliest parables from the history of prodigals, etc. Cry out to Him for the Spirit of adoption — and where nature fails, and conscience, prayer and the Spirit shall prevail and conquer yet! Most of all do I commend this to those who have sunk the deepest. But the gospel is a voice for all men. It addresses the moral man as well as the sinner. It says to him, St. Paul was no libertine; yet even he found his righteousness of no avail in the day of his trial. In the brightness of heaven's light his fabric of self-assertion melted like snow. He cast away all trust in himself, and began to build quite afresh upon the one foundation which is Jesus Christ. How should it be otherwise with you?
7. Let so many of us as have risen into this higher life of grace and the Spirit see that we seek therein a liberty, not of sin, but of God. St. Paul himself exercised himself day by day to have always a conscience void of offence. Conscience in him was still the law; only it was a conscience not bounded by law, but enlarged and illuminated by the Spirit. When he described himself, for a moment, as without the law, he yet was careful to add, lest any should misinterpret him, being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ.
Parallel VersesKJV: I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,