Conscience

As a native faculty of every human being, conscience is most difficult of understanding and has too often been wholly neglected in works on Anthropology and psychology. When Immanuel Kant presented what has come to be the time-honored threefold division of the immaterial part of man as intellect, sensibility, and will, he failed to include conscience, vital feature of human existence though it is. The subject at best is shrouded in mystery. Personality seems to express its full scope and inclusiveness when it wills and executes its purpose guided by the intellect and the sensibilities; nevertheless, over and above this manifestation of personality, conscience sits in judgment whether the action be good or bad. The assumption of conscience as not having part in that which otherwise engages the entire being and yet being intuitively aware of each action to the extent of rendering judgment upon the deed suggests the peculiar and elusive character of this faculty. A wide range of opinion exists respecting the conscience. At the one extreme lies the contention that conscience is an acquired attitude of mind, a mere habit formed by the discipline of early training, which training accentuated the values of good and evil. The acid test of this opinion is somewhat brought to light by uncivilized people who have had no moral ideals held before them. Since conscience is capable of being weakened and seared, it could be expected that, whatever may have been its native strength in the early childhood of heathen peoples, it would be all but destroyed as one's years advance. At the other extreme lies a conviction that conscience is the voice of God speaking directly in the human soul. A test for this theory to pass would be the evident fact that conscience is capable of being weakened and wholly defeated—tendencies which are not easily associated with the actual voice of God. The Bible assumes the presence of conscience in man as a native factor of his being and predicates such limitations of it as to make it a fallible human characteristic. Though subject to weakening through abuse, conscience is presented in the Scriptures as a monitor over human actions. It seems to be something inborn and universal rather than an acquired faculty, and to be a voice of human origin rather than the voice of God. When an induction is made of all Scripture bearing on the conscience, the dependable facts representing this human competency will be revealed. The word occurs thirty times in the New Testament.

The following general divisions of the subject are suggested: (1) The conscience acts judicially, accusing or excusing (Rom. 2:15). (2) The conscience acts punitively, inflicting remorse and self-punishment. (3) The conscience anticipates future judgments and then acts by way of prediction. (4) The conscience acts socially in judging others (Rom. 14:4; 1 Cor. 8:13).

The truth respecting the human conscience is even more complex in the case of a believer. Being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and therefore subject to the mind and voice of the Spirit, the question may be raised whether a Christian really lives at all by the restricted impressions which an unaided conscience engenders. The Holy Spirit becomes the new Monitor, and the child of God either grieves or does not grieve the Holy Spirit. It is therefore written: "And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30). It is possible that the Holy Spirit works in and through the human conscience when registering His reactions to the believer's thought and conduct. The Apostle thus testified of himself, "My conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 9:1).

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