Continuing from yesterday’s post, I’d like us to think for a few more moments about what the Puritans taught concerning the conscience. In this post, consider a summary of six kinds of evil consciences which, again, are drawn from A Puritan Theology by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones.
- The Trembling or Doubting Conscience: The Puritans included this conscience in their “list of evil consciences as long as it does not drive its owner to Jesus Christ for salvation. The trembling or troubled conscience accuses the soul of sin and threatens the soul with God’s wrath and the expectation of death and judgment. The doubting soul hangs in suspense, scarcely knowing whether it is more sinful to believe or to doubt and not presume.” Though this conscience is closest to salvation, “it is still evil because it cannot give its owner peace and assurance until it finds rest in Christ.”
- The Moralist Conscience: “This conscience has some good elements, for it is grounded upon God’s law….Despite its admirable qualities, a moralist conscience is substantially different from the good conscience of the regenerate….Bernard said, ‘A moralist may lift up himself, as the young rich man in the Gospel did, yet can it not give him assurance of eternal life.'”
- The Scrupulous Conscience: “The scrupulous conscience is in many ways a counterfeit form of the good conscience, make much out of religious duties and moral trifles. It is scrupulously religious but does not look to Christ alone for salvation nor find peace in Christ….[it] is so afraid of sinning that it avoids even doing what is right and good.”
- The Erring Conscience: “This conscience includes various forms of ignorance and misperception because it wrongly applies God’s Word….Conscience, evil informed, takes human traditions and false doctrines, proposed under the show of Divine authority to be the will of God.”
- The Drowsy Conscience: “Based on Romans 11:8, which speaks of God giving sinners over to ‘the spirit of slumber,’ the Puritans had numerous names for a drowsy conscience, including a sleepy, stumbling, or benumbed conscience….The drowsy conscience makes sinners indifferent tot he reality of Scripture’s truths. Such sinners live in a fog, unaware of impending death and judgment and unmoved by the horrors of hell.”
- The Seared Conscience: “This is the worst of all consciences because it puts people almost beyond the hope of salvation….The seared conscience belongs to those whose destiny is determined by their hardness. It often belongs to people who have sinned against the Holy Spirit and are irrevocably lost already in this life.”
As we concluded yesterday, the place where our guilty consciences must always turn is to the Lord Jesus Christ, whose shed blood cleanses us from sin, and to a life of ongoing repentance. As we confess our sins to the Lord and to those whom we sin against, our consciences are set free from condemnation (Heb. 10:19-25; 1 John 1:5-2:1; James 5:16). When examining ourselves, the Puritans would counsel us this way: “for every look you take to yourself, take ten looks to Christ, for Christ alone can be the object of true faith.” The Word of God instructs our conscience to think rightly, according to the mind of Christ, and the Holy Spirit speaks to our inner man as we submit our mind and heart to His revelation in Scripture.