The Echo of Conscience

…the law written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness.”

- Romans 2

William Ames wrote that the conscience belongs to the practical judgment by which a man can know right from wrong “to the end that it may be a rule within him to direct his will.” The conscience bears witness to all men and holds them accountable before God. No man can escape God’s governor within the soul. While men may silence it, profane it, and manipulate it, it will one day testify against them in God’s court.

In our explanation of the function of the conscience, we do not mean to over-simplify its activity. While the conscience takes certain information and forms judgments, the process can occur undetected by the individual, affecting his judgment and emotions. A person may simply feel guilty but not really understand why. So it is with the unredeemed who know they are guilty. Their conscience testifies to that truth by way of the law written on their hearts, but they cannot fully express why. Their minds are fuzzy and confused. Their desires war against what they know to be true. They allow their sin to gain victory over their consciences until they are hushed, silenced, and finally seared altogether.

The conscience is too vulnerable to the influence of sin to bring man to a right sense of his own sinfulness. James Buchanan wrote, “The conscience becomes weaker in proportion as sin grows stronger in the soul, till the sinner may arrive at a point of degeneracy at which he is wholly given over to a reprobate mind, and so far from being condemned by his conscience, he may dare to justify his wickedness by ‘calling good evil, and evil good.’ Instead of being ashamed of his guilt, he may even ‘glory in his shame.’”

The conscience needs to be reinforced, informed, and enlightened by the Spirit and the Word. But if the Word of God is ignored and sin allowed to continue and grow, the conscience will either become hopelessly misinformed by another rule, or it will be silenced by wicked desires, and its declarations of guilt will become a meaningless echo in a hardened soul. Such is the destiny of all those who rebel against God. If He does not change their hearts, awaken their consciences, and give them a desire to please Him, they will stagnate, harden, and eventually die in their sins.

Coram Deo

If God has given all people a conscience, why is there so much moral decay in our society (Rom. 1)? What role does the church play in restraining sin (Matt. 1)? What role does the individual Christian play? During the week, compare your behavior and ideas to those of unbelievers. Is there much difference? Are you salt and light?

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 95
Proverbs 28:14; 29:1
Romans 1; 13

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