A Satisfied Conscience

[2 Cor. 1:12]---'For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience.'

In this letter to the Corinthian Church St. Paul is replying to charges directed against the character of his life and ministry. Alienation had arisen between the Apostle and the believers at Corinth. Lax practices had been tolerated in the Corinthian Church, and the Apostle had denounced them with fiery and scathing indignation. And they had answered his indictment by questioning his authority, and by insinuating charges against his moral integrity. They said he promised readily but was careless in performance. His word was not his bond. And how does he answer it? Not by calling outside witnesses---by appealing to the 'Paul party' in the Church at Corinth; but in the only way in which any man can find a satisfactory answer---by appealing to his own conscience, and ascertaining if the secret witness confirms or destroys the indictment of his foes. How did Paul examine his life? In what did he find his peace? His court of judgement was the conscience. The case to be submitted was his public and private conduct---the fidelity of his ministry. The verdict was one of moral approbation. 'For our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and sincerity of God, we behaved ourselves in the world, and more especially to you-wards.'

What is the conscience whose verdict the Apostle counted more than that of friend or foe? Philosophical writers differ in their theories and formulas, but we may define it as the Spirit of God in counsel with the spirit of man, and its function is not to differentiate between right and wrong in particular cases, but to utter the categorical imperative to the soul of a man, that the right, as he apprehends it, must at all costs be followed, and the wrong at all costs be renounced.

If we examine our English word 'conscience' we find it is a very accurate transcript of the original word used by the Apostle Paul. Take the word 'conscience' and break it in two. Put aside the preliminary syllable and we have left 'science'---knowledge. If we attach the preliminary syllable 'con' we have the idea of association, fellowship, intercourse. Where 'con' is, there is no isolation. 'Con-science' ; 'knowledge with' : here the two are engage! It is the communion of man and God. A practical description of the conscience, then, might be that it is a medium in personality through which is transmitted to the soul the moral judgment and imperatives of God. In every healthy conscience there is correspondence between the human and the Divine, and the quality of the correspondence is determined by the medium through which it is made.

The medium can be impaired. The conscience can become stony, numbed; it can be bribed, deluded, muzzled. Common experience gives confirmation to this. There are consciences which are lacking in accuracy, and there are consciences which are lacking in range. There are consciences which are domestically vigilant but politically dormant. Some consciences are responsive to private dept, but dumb and numb to public obligation. There is a sense of right which governs the home, but it does not circle the world. And so, if we are going to submit a matter to the conscience, it is of the utmost necessity that we first of all examine the tribunal itself. Is the court capable, pure, and true? When we go into conscience it must be into the most holy place, with only the thinnest veil between ourselves and God. When we hear the voice of conscience we ought to be able to say, with apostle and prophet, 'The Lord said unto me.'

It was before the tribunal of conscience that the Apostle submitted his public and private life. 'Our behavior in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.'

He appeared before the solemn sanctities of his conscience, and submitted his behavior as a Christian 'in the world' ---that realm of studied ambiguity and compromise. For a Christian to be 'in the world' is to be always exposed to the snare of dissembling, to the temptation of borrowing an accent or a dialect, and of practising the doleful arts of the person who modifies his policy, position or opinions. The Christian must move among its ambitions and not lose his aspirations. He must confront its experiences and not lose his principles. He must be able to look upon its coveted garlands and not throw away his crown. Can it be done? The Apostle Paul, at any rate, took his behavior in the world and quietly and confidently submitted it to the searching judgment of a conscience which registered the holy mind of God.

'Our behavior more abundantly to you-ward.' There are two outstanding things that his conscience testified to in his ministry. There was, first, the holiness of his ministry. Yet this is no arrogant clam to perfection. No one is further away from that presumptuous claim than the Apostle Paul. He had an intensely keen sense of personal sin. His letters burn with the consciousness of his own defilement. If he mentions his fellow-sinners he classes himself as 'chief.' He seeks no high place at the festival; for him the lowest place is most congenial. No, there is no overbearing clam to perfection in this man's life and witness. How frequently he tells us of the remoteness of his ideal! 'Not that I have already attained, or am already made perfect, but I press on!' Perfection is far ahead; it is an 'upward calling,' sounding from superlative heights. When this man glories in the testimony of his conscience he is referring, not to the perfection of his life but to the holiness of his behavior. His life-springs were in God and he was single-minded in his service. Holiness is something in the grain, it is in the stuff, in every thread and every fiber of his soul. What the Apostle claims is that his ministry was absolutely separated unto God. It aimed at God, at God's glory, at the welfare of man through the grace and love of God. Whatever he was doing the Lord dominated his purpose and work.

Then his conscience testified also to his sincerity. That was its second positive characteristic. And what is this word 'sincerity'? Its literal significance is 'sun-judged.' There are many things which pass muster when examined in the twilight. Many a garment is passable in the dingy winter days which has to be cast aside when the brighter days return. Many a custom is allowed to pass when judged by the daily standards of men which would be condemned in the radiance of the eternal Presence. Now the Apostle humbly boasts that his ministry among men is not condemned even in the searching light of God's countenance. He had sought his motives there! He had purposed nothing and endeavored nothing which would not bear the scrutiny of God. Even if he failed, do we wonder that he had a peace and joy which more than counterbalanced all his trials?

In Christ, Timothy.