Tampering with Conscience
We must try to understand what the apostle means when he speaks of putting away a good conscience. He means what in the idiom of today we describe as tampering with conscience. The good conscience of our text does not just signify an approving conscience. It signifies a conscience that is working well, just as we might speak of a good clock. And as a man can tamper with his clock, so can he subtly tamper with his conscience until at last it ceases to be good. Let conscience work in liberty, and it registers unalterable certainties. It takes such things as truth and love and purity and stamps them with the signature of God. And whenever anybody begins to doubt and question these abiding and instinctive certainties, he is thrusting from him a good conscience. Men do that often under the stress of passion. They make the worse appear the better reason. They are eager to get the approval of their conscience for actions that are dubious or immoral. And conscience is such a delicate adjustment that for long periods they can achieve this, though I question if they can ever do it permanently. Such action implies a certain violence, and the word Paul uses carries that suggestion. It is the word that is used of the Egyptian when he pushed away the interfering Moses (Act 7:27). A little violent handling of one’s conscience like a little violent handling of one’s clock, and we silence the chiming of God’s hours.
Tampering with Conscience Means the Ruin of Life
Now we know that when anyone does this, he invariably makes shipwreck of his life. But Paul tells us that if anyone does this, he invariably makes shipwreck of his faith. Our Christian faith is a faith that God is love, and that in His love He gave us the Lord Jesus. It is a faith that we all are precious to the Father and are being guided to a perfect life. And this inspiring and sustaining faith, says Paul, does not strike its roots into a brilliant intellect; it strikes them into the soil of a good conscience. Tamper with conscience and God becomes unreal. Circumvent it, and the invisible grows dim. Wrest and manipulate its instant verdicts, and love and honor disappear from heaven. A man may have faith in all the Christian verities though his intellectual processes be childish; but he never can have faith in them once he begins to juggle with his conscience. To put it in more modern language, the conditions of all living faith are moral. They lie not in intellectual apprehension, but in honesty of intention and of heart. All which is fitted to be of infinite comfort to those who grope in intellectual darkness and are troubled because they cannot understand. Nobody makes shipwreck of his faith because he is powerless to understand. No ship that has set sail for heaven ever founders because the brain is dull. Shipwreck comes when the inward voice of conscience, challenging to truth and love and purity, is disowned in the interests of sin.
The Pure in Heart Do Not Tamper with Their Conscience
That this, too, was the teaching of our Lord is seen in His most exquisite beatitude. Blessed are the pure in heart, He said, for they shall see God. Now, to see God is not to set our eyes on Him. It is to have a living faith that He exists. It is to believe, what Christ Himself believed, that He is a loving and redeeming Father. It is to believe that just because He loves us He is guiding us with perfect understanding and carrying out His purpose in the world. A faith like that alters the whole of life and makes the sun shine in the darkest day. A faith like that is better than a fortune. It inspires serenity and courage. And the one condition of that faith, according to the teaching of our Lord, is not intellectual but moral. To be pure of heart is not to be perfect, else were there no hope for any man. It is to be sincere and single-eyed. It is to refuse to juggle with our conscience. It is to hold to it through every temptation that the imperious voice of conscience must be heeded, and that love and truth and purity and loyalty are demanded at whatsoever cost. Live like that, says Jesus, and you will never live long in a godless universe. Do your duty, as conscience tells you to, and God will surely bless in your life. The strange thing is that with Jesus, as with Paul, there is no word of intellectual processes. The conditions of belief are moral.
So are we led to this great truth for all who are really eager to believe. The way to faith is not the way of intellect. It is rather the simple way of duty. Far better than puzzling our brains is to do the next thing that is demanded. It may be hard to know what we should believe: it is seldom hard to know what we should do. And in doing that, at the command of conscience, with a single eye and a pure heart, we find ourselves, perhaps when we never dreamed of it, on the avenue that leads to God. We come to feel that truth is on the throne, or conscience never could demand truth. We come to feel that love is in the heavens, because at every hazard we must love. And as truth and love and purity and honor are but idle words without a person, duty brings us to the feet of God. To be pure-hearted is the way to see. To do His will the way to know. To listen to conscience and never seek to juggle with it is to touch the reality of all its values. He who does that, although the winds be contrary, will never suffer shipwreck in the deeps, but will come at last to his desired haven.