*Paper delivered at the Conference of Protestant Reformed ministers in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In the first epistle to Timothy we find several passages that are of interest for our subject. In ch. 1:5 the apostle speaks of agapee ek suneideeseoos agathees, love out of a good, conscience, as the end of the commandment. The whole text reads as follows: “Now the end of the commandment is charity (love) out of a. pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” We may remark here: 1. That the apostle is especially thinking of the love of believers to one another, though this is never to be separated from the love of God, 2. True love is ethical. It is the bond of perfectness. It requires an ethically perfect subject and an ethically perfect object. 8. Hence, it can proceed only out of a pure heart, i.e., a heart that is capable of loving the good. And its activity requires a good conscience as its source, i.e., a conscience that is free from the condemning and damaging judgments of evil thoughts and designs with respect to the object of love. Where such judgments defile the conscience, they must first be removed. This is true of our love to God. Only when we are aware in our conscience of the justifying judgment of God concerning us, i.e., only in faith, can we actually and consciously love God, But this is equally true of the love to our neighbor. As long as we are conscious of evil designs in our heart concerning him or carry the testimony in our conscience that he has been or is plotting evil against us, love cannot function. Love requires a good conscience.

Also ch. 1:19 speaks of a good conscience. Timothy is exhorted to war a good warfare, “holding faith and a good conscience.” If he is to fight a good fight as minister of the gospel, he must not use craftiness and. deceit, as do the false teachers. He must keep a good conscience. That is, in holding and proclaiming the faith he must so walk that he may receive God’s approving judgment, so that, on the basis of it, his conscience may be free from the condemning judgments of evil motives and designs. A good conscience, therefore, is a conscience free from accusing and condemning judgments, awareness of God’s approving judgment. It is the same as a pure conscience. Cf. I Tim. 8:9.

On the other hand, in ch. 4:2 the apostle speaks of men that have their conscience seared with a hot iron: kekausteeriasmenoon teen idian suneideesin, Kekausteeriasmenoon is perfect participle passive of kausteeriadzoo, which means to brand or mark with a hot iron, an operation that was performed not only on slaves, but also on criminals. Hence, a conscience marked by a hot iron is not, as is usually supposed a blunted conscience that no longer bears testimony, but a conscience that is branded with the mark of evil, that bears the witness of evil and sin against its subject. We may remark here: 1. That the one who thus brands the conscience of the wicked, in this case of the false teachers, is God, who inscribes His own judgment of their evil work in their hearts. 2. That here, as in many other places, Scripture teaches us that the spreaders of false doctrines are conscious of their evil designs.

In the second epistle of Paul to Timothy the term conscience occurs only in ch. 1:8, where the apostle declares that he served God from his forefathers with a pure conscience. The meaning is that the gospel the apostle preached is a continuation of the doctrine and service of the O.T. fathers. He does not preach a new doctrine, or a strange God. Of this he has the testimony in his own conscience. He is aware of God’s approving judgment that he never knowingly falsified the truth of revelation.

Finally, we must call your attention to a few passages from, the epistle to the Hebrews. Speaking of the service of the earthly tabernacle, the author writes in 9:9: “Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both, gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience,” (kata teen eideesin). Similarly in ch. 10:2: “For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have no more conscience of sins,” (suneideesin hamartioon). In connection with both these passages we may at once take ch. 9 :14: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience to serve the living God?” And ch. 10:22: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience. . . With regard to these passages, we note:

  1. That dead works are works that have their origin in death, i.e., in the spiritual death of the natural mom ‘They are, therefore, characterized by death, i.e. they are void of the life of the love of God, and on the contrary motivated by the enmity of carnal mind. And they tend to death, i.e. to the destruction of a life apart from God.
  2. All these dead works of the natural man are under the condemning judgment of God, and the divine sentence of condemnation is constantly inscribed in man’s heart and consciousness. The awareness of, and agreement with, this divine judgment against his dead works is man’s conscience. It is an evil conscience, a defiled conscience.
  3. The sacrifices of the Old Testament in themselves could never blot out these sentences of divine condemnation, and the consciousness of them and agreement with them in the conscience. But the blood of Christ does purge the conscience from these dead works, these self-condemning sentences of the consciences are blotted out by His perfect sacrifice, because it is the sacrifice of the Son of God, offered through the eternal Spirit, and without spot, i.e. in perfect obedience. Through faith in Him the conscience is sprinkled and purged and the testimony of all everlasting and perfect righteousness takes its dominating place. Apart from, faith, therefore, and outside of Christ, the old witness of condemnation is still in the conscience: our conscience accuses us. But in Christ there is the testimony of an all overpowering righteousness, putting to silence even, the voice of the old conscience of sin. A purged conscience is a conscience that is justified by faith in Christ crucified and raised from the dead.

There is one more text in Hebrews in which, the term, conscience occurs, namely, ch. 13:18. Here the author declares: “for we trust, we have a good conscience.” For the meaning of this, however, we may refer to our discussion of a good conscience in the epistles to Timothy.” The fact that here kaleen is used instead of agatheen makes no material difference, it probably adds the notion that a good conscience is also beautiful, and pleasant.


We now offer the following conclusions:

  1. Conscience is that function of our consciousness whereby we are immediately aware of and agree with and consent to the judgment of God concerning all our actions with, respect to their ethical character and value, which He inscribes into our consciousness by the Spirit and Word, either approving or condemning us as the subject of our actions,
  2. Although the contents and the degree of clearness of the conscience vary according to the light of revelation received; and although, it is true that one may oppose and contradict the voice of his conscience; as an apprehension of the moral judgment of God the testimony and verdict of the conscience are always true and correct.
  3. The Scriptural idea of the conscience differs from the categorical imperative in that it is not antecedent but sequent; it is not directive but critical; it does not command the will, but judge moral actions. This does not mean, of course, that the critical, verdict of conscience when passed upon an inner thought or desire, may not restrain the outward act.
  4. Although the verdict of the conscience, strictly speaking, is always true and correct, the conscience should always be subjected to a critical examination in the light of objective revelation.
  5. A good conscience is the apprehension by faith of the justifying judgment of God in Christ; an evil conscience is the very opposite of this.
  6. Strictly speaking, the Christian is not delivered from his evil conscience as long as he is in this life: the consciousness of his past sins and his present transgressions, as well as of the defilement of his old nature, is always with him, and he is aware that God’s judgment condemns these sins. Hence, his own conscience accuses him. However, the apprehension by faith of the justifying judgment of God in Christ is not simply another conscience, coordinate with his carnal conscience, but is the awareness of a righteousness that overcomes and completely negates the condemning judgment of his accusing conscience. Hence, he is always in need of the forgiveness of sins.