The Nature of the Conscience According to the Puritans

A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life is a volume that I continue to work through one chapter at a time. The chapter on the conscience is especially helpful, I think, as it explains the nature of the conscience as created by God, the corrupt state of the conscience due to man’s sin, and the restoration of the conscience by the Word and the Holy Spirit. The editors of this theology book (Joel Beeke and Mark Jones) summarize the Puritans’ teaching on the conscience in the following helpful sentences:

  • “[T]he conscience is a universal aspect of human nature by which God has established His authority in the soul for men to judge themselves rationally.”
  • “[C]onscience expresses the moral consciousness or self-knowledge that we have, under God and in the presence of God, of having done right or wrong. Simply put, conscience is judgmental knowledge of our thoughts, words, and actions as God Himself knows us.”

The Puritans viewed the conscience as “reason in action on practical moral matters—that is, reason passing judgments upon what is right and wrong.” The conscience is

  1. a witness declaring facts (Rom. 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:12),
  2. a mentor prohibiting evil and prescribing standards (Acts 24:16; Rom. 13:5),
  3. a judge telling us of our ill desert (1 John 3:20-21).

Scripture teaches us that our conscience is made clean through confession of our sin on the grounds of the sacrifice of Christ. This enables us to draw near to God by faith, as the author of Hebrews teaches us, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (10:22).

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