Paul, "Tinkers," and Conscience

Each man has a conscience.

D.A. Delafield, Associate Secretary, Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.

Not everyone can live comfortably with his conscience, but the apostle Paul seemed to, and most of the time he enjoyed the associa­tion.

When the apostle appeared be­fore the chief priests and council in Jerusalem to answer for his faith (about A.D. 60), he began his defense by observing: "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day" (Acts 23:1). Weymouth's translation reads.

"Brethren, I have lived with a perfectly clear conscience before God up to this day."

But the conscience of the high priest Ananias was smitten by Paul's holy boast­ing, for he commanded them that stood by "to smite him on the mouth" (Acts 23:2). The courageous Paul revealed that the priest's conscience, in contrast with the apostle's, was blunted, for he said, "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" (verse 3).

Paul's assertion (Acts 23:1) can be made by relatively few people today. Even his apostolic contemporaries—Peter, James, and John—could not make a boast like that. As gospel ministers, are we able to assert as much? Could we do it with a good conscience? To obey one's conscience always is a mark of a superior man. "I thank God, said the circumspect apostle, "whom I serve from my forefathers with pure con­science" (2 Tim. 1:3). Paul was a moral giant.

Yet while Paul was a conscientious man, we must admit that the bells of conscience tolling in the citadel of his soul did not al­ways ring true. The bells of truth had a crack in them. Paul's conscience was damaged by false education. In earlier years, when the apostle belonged to the same Jerusalem council, a member of the San­hedrin, we read that Saul con­sented to execution and he did the nasty job with dispatch, his con­science first condemning, then relenting. It was his duty to get rid of this pestilential Stephen who lured innocent Jews from the holy religion of their fa­thers! Stone the man! So Stephen was martyred, an innocent victim of a religious man's sense of duty. Said Paul later, "I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day" (Acts 23:1). But what a conscience! Paul killed Stephen for the same reason that the fanatical Moslem severs the head of the Christian from his body—religious bigotry. "They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service" (John 16:2). So said Jesus. The New English Bi­ble reads: "They will ban you from the synagogue; indeed, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will suppose that he is performing a religious duty." *

Each Man Has a Conscience

Every intelligent being has a conscience based in the brain somewhere, be he Chris­tian or non-Christian, atheist or believer. The conscience witnesses our thoughts and behavior, accusing or excusing. An exam­ple is cited by Paul:

When Gentiles who do not possess the law carry out its precepts by the light of nature, then, al­though they have no law, they are their own law, for they display the effect of the law inscribed on their hearts. Their conscience is called as witness, and their own thoughts argue the case on either side, against them or even for them, on the day when God judges the secrets of human hearts through Christ Jesus. So my gospel declares (Rom. 2:14-16, N.E.B.).*

Cruder) describes conscience as—that faculty within us which decides as to the moral quality of our thoughts, words, and acts. It gives consciousness of the good of one's conduct or motives, or causes feelings of remorse at evil-doing. A conscience can be educated, or trained to recog­nize good and evil, but its action is involuntary. A good conscience is one which has no feeling of re­proach against oneself, does not accuse oneself of wilful wrong, Acts 24:16.

The conscience of man is the highest cit­adel of the soul structure. It is a power in the moral machinery of man, a "regula­tive faculty." While the will is the most important faculty of man, the conscience sways the will to decide moral questions. God and Satan and men utilize the con­science of man to influence decisions, to affect reason, thought, and behavior.

God never forces the will or the conscience; but Satan's constant resort—to gain control of those whom he cannot otherwise seduce—is compulsion by cruelty. Through fear or force he endeavors to rule the conscience, and to secure homage to him­self. To accomplish this, he works through both religious and secular authorities, moving them to the enforcement of human laws in defiance of the law of God.—The Great Controversy, p. 591.

Conscience is ever a student, youthful and immature, or mature and gray-headed, depending upon its absorption of facts, knowledge, and truth. Its behavior de­pends upon its own enlightenment. Wrote Sister White concerning the action of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth:

The Comforter is called "the Spirit of truth." His work is to define and maintain the truth. He first dwells in the heart as the Spirit of truth, and thus He becomes the Comforter. There is comfort and peace in the truth, but no real peace or comfort can be found in falsehood. It is through false the­ories and traditions that Satan gains his power over the mind. By directing men to false standards, he misshapes the character. Through the Scrip­tures the Holy Spirit speaks to the mind, and im­presses truth upon the heart. Thus He exposes error, and expels it from the soul. It is by the Spirit of truth, working through the word of God, that Christ subdues His chosen people to Himself.—The Desire of Ages, p. 671.

It should be our work to seek and find the truth and the facts and adjust the con­science to them in everything.

How many innocents have been slain by the actions of conscience vill never be known until we reach heaven. Paul is the only writer in the New Testament who really discusses the conscience. John makes a passing reference to it (John 8:9). But it was left to Paul to provide guidance to the Christian on this sensitive point. He was well qualified to write, for he was a learned and sincere man. "And herein do I exer­cise myself," he declared to his accusers, "to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men" (Acts 24: 16).

Paul exercised himself always to have a good conscience. He worked at the busi­ness of the moral life. To keep himself in harmony with his conscience he always avoided anything that gave him feelings of guilt. He esteemed his conscience as a rich treasure more priceless than rubies and diamonds. His actions were dictated by conscience. This was true from the be­ginning of his life. He wrote that he was "circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an He­brew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Phil. 3:5, 6; see also Gal. 1:14).

Paul a Successful Minister

As a Christian minister Paul was emi­nently successful, for his conscience ap­proved his activities. He rejoiced because of "the testimony of our conscience" (2 Cor. 1:12). To the church at Corinth he stated quite unaffectedly that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wis­dom but by the grace of God, he had his conversation in the world, and more abun­dantly toward the church.

And Paul learned as a Christian to re­spect the conscience of other men, whether they were right or wrong. The New Testa­ment discourse in 1 Corinthians 8 is a mon­umental and classical one dealing with the respect men should have for the conscien­tious scruples of others, even though they might not have a wise conscience. Paul said, "But when ye sin so against the breth­ren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ" (1 Cor. 8:12).

A minister told me once about a preacher friend who always had a bur­den to explode the ideas and arguments ad­vanced by conscientious men on church committees. He would say, "What you say, Brother Blank, is superannuated piffle." After a conference in which this debunk­ing statement was made, my friend counseled him to discontinue his harsh judg­ments. He retorted, "I must be true to my conscience and to my feelings in the mat­ter and state my convictions." This man apparently felt no pangs about committing mayhem on the conscience of others if he could thereby quiet his own conscience. He was a spiritual sadist. But he reformed.

Paul instructed us to commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor. 4:2). But how often we offend instead of commend ourselves to the other man's conscience. What tenderness is needed in dealing with the conscience of man, not just our own but the other fel­low's too.

In the first psalm David warned us away from "the seat of the scornful." He who scorns, persecutes. He who persecutes is not a Christian.

"Church Tinkers"

There are those also who appear to have no conscience of their own—their lives are an indication. But they would be conscience for the whole church. Ellen G. White re­ferred to these people as "church tinkers." But she observes that God had nothing to do with making such people. These inept moral mechanics are always looking for something to fix. But they should come down from the judgment seat, wrote the Lord's messenger (Child Guidance, p. 429). In trying to remedy the defective characters of others they make them much worse (Evangelism, p. 635).

Contrast the destructive criticisms of church tinkers with the labors of Ellen G. White, whose constructive counsels built the dynamics of Christian life and faith into the moral fabric of our church. The Lord's servant clearly stated God's plan for His people in specific matters of dress, eat­ing, and drinking, yet she did not make herself a criterion for anyone. Neither should we. (See Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 62.) God works with every man privately—edu­cating the conscience by the word and the testimonies of His Holy Spirit. Every man has a duty to work with God in the discov­ery of truth and its application to per­sonal experience and behavior. Truth is appreciated more when it is apprehended and appropriated by the individual mind. The Spirit through the Word will teach all honest and good men. There are people, of course, with extravagant notions and claims who will always be a problem to themselves and a problem to the church.

While conscientiousness is needed in do­ing God's work, "there is a conscientious­ness that will carry everything to extremes" (Selected Messages, book 2, p. 319). Sincere souls mistake "zeal and fanaticism for con­scientiousness" (Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 356). The cry of "the Spirit, the Spirit" is the battle cry of the zealots who have for­saken the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, for violent impulses and impressions. Luther had to contend with this in Munzer and other fanatics of Reformation times. "The experience founded in feeling, and savoring of fanaticism, you must not adhere to," wrote Ellen White. "It is unsafe. Move from principle, from a thorough under­standing. Search the Scriptures, and be able to give to every man that asketh you the reasons of the hope which is in you, with meekness and fear. Let self-exaltation die." —Ibid., vol. 2, pp. 92, 93.

Conscience and Health

While a clear and good conscience is effective in restoring health, poor health may throw the blanket of depression over the conscience, affecting behavior and re­sulting in bizarre activities. Over-conscien­tious people may indulge in such profitless things as unwise confessions, exposing the secrets of the soul—simply as a concession to guilt feelings. But such maneuvers are uncalled for. God does not require them. Note the following:

If you are burdened and weary, you need not curl up like leaves upon a withered branch. Cheer­fulness and a clear conscience are better than drugs, and will be an effective agent in your restora­tion to health.—My Life Today, p. 177.

And again:

The character and efficiency of the work depend largely upon the physical condition of the workers. Many committee meetings and other meetings for counsel have taken an unhappy tone from the dys­peptic condition of those assembled. And many a sermon has received a dark shadow from the minis­ter's indigestion. Health is an inestimable blessing, and one which is more closely related to conscience and religion than many realize.—Gospel Workers, p. 242.

Satan often suggests wrong ideas or no­tions to over-conscientious souls. He whis­pers his false doctrines or perverted reli­gious ideas to the minds of these people and their conscience troubles them as though they had conceived such sentiments them­selves. Ellen White wrote:

Do not for a moment acknowledge Satan's temp­tations as being in harmony with your own mind.

Turn from them as you would from the adversary himself. Satan's work is to discourage the soul. Christ's work is to inspire the heart with faith and hope. Satan seeks to unsettle our confidence. He tells us that our hopes are built upon false premises, rather than upon the sure, immutable word of Him who cannot lie.--Our High Calling, p. 85.

On one occasion Ellen G. 1.17hite had an interview with a distressed person who came to her for counsel. This poor woman thought she had forsaken God because the tempter placed in her mind the idea that Christ was only a man, just a good man. She conceived that Satan's whisperings were really her own ideas and she was horrified at the thought. The conviction took hold of her that she was denying Christ and she sank into a dreadful state of agony. Mrs. White assured her, however, that the sug­gestions of the enemy were not her thoughts but Satan's. She must meet these suggestions with courage that "must rise with the strength of the temptation."

The conscience of man truly speaks for God—if it is an educated conscience. This is the way God, through His Spirit, speaks to the soul. We are told that the conscience should be obeyed though it is difficult to do so, and that the will must be trained to obey the conscience (Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 57). The con­science touched by the Holy Spirit creates genuine love for Christ in the heart.

Paul, approving and directing in the martyrdom of Stephen, hardened his heart and steeled his soul against the voice of conscience. He "fully decided that the priests and scribes were right" in oppos­ing Christianity. He "became very bitter in his opposition to the doctrines taught by the disciples of Jesus. This was the result of "his education and prejudices, his re­spect for his former teachers, and his pride of popularity" (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 113). Paul learned that obedience to God was the only safe pathway to happiness. With experience he was able to say of Sa­tan, "We are not ignorant of his devices" (2 Cor. 2:11). All his life as a Christian he fought against the perversion of conscience and pleaded the case of a good conscience. So should we.

* The New English Bible, New Testament. The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961.

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D.A. Delafield, Associate Secretary, Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.

June 1964

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