Today is the third, and final, post in a series of reflections on the conscience stimulated by a chapter in A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life. First, we thought about the nature of the conscience as first created by God. Second, we looked at the corruption of the conscience, specifically taking note of six kinds of evil conscience. Now let’s think about how God in His saving and sanctifying grace reclaims and restores the human conscience through four specific means.
- The conscience is awakened by biblical preaching: “Puritans believed the supreme excellence of a preacher was both his ability to teach doctrine clearly and his power to apply the Word to everyday living. One mark of a powerful preacher, according to the Puritans, was the way he would ‘rip up’ men’s consciences to show them what was at the bottom of their hearts. The purpose is to see what is inside, or underneath, as you would rip up a cushion to get all the feathers out….The best preachers, the Puritans said, who us how the Word of God goes to the very core of our being.”
- The conscience must be informed by Scripture: “If conscience is not guided by Scripture, it will still function, but according to inadequate standards. It will fail to condemn when it should; it will justify things that ought not to be justified. What appears to be the voice of God will not be the voice of God….The Puritans believed the only cure for a falsely calibrated conscience is for the conscience to be thoroughly educated in Scripture standards….One person may try to tyrannize another’s conscience, but only God may absolutely control our conscience.”
- The conscience must be healed by the gospel. “Since all men are fallen sinners, only a gospel-applied conscience can bring inner peace. The Puritans exposed sin both from the pulpit and in private to bring sinners to contrition, confession, and repentance and to drive them to Jesus Christ….A good conscience finds peace through the gospel and its promises. God’s promises are the means by which peace, pardon, acceptance, reconciliation to God, and affection between God and a person are offered to the conscience. The conscience must believe and rest in these promises.”
- The conscience must be exercised by self-examination. “Self-examination is a discipline, the Puritans said. It includes asking yourself questions to know whether you truly are walking in obedience to the Word of God, asking yourself how you are progressing along the road of obedience to the Ten Commandments and their summary in the two great commandments of loving God above all and your neighbor as yourself.”
The conscience is a gift from God, embedded into our being as a moral compass. As such, it has been infected by sin and may take on various evil persuasions. However, for the glory of God, the conscience may be reclaimed and restored to its intended use by means of conversion and the ongoing work of the Spirit and the Word.
If you are interested in the Puritans, I recommend you get yourself a copy of A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life.