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A Conscience void of offence is light to the Soul

Johann Gerhard

(Translated by Rev. C. W. Heisler, A.M.)

IN all thou doest, guard carefully thy conscience. If the devil incites thee to the commission of any sin, honor its judgment. If thou fearest to sin in the presence of thy fellow-men, much more should thine own conscience restrain thee from sinning. This inward witness against thee is of more force than any outward testimony. Although thy sins may escape the notice and condemnation of men, yet thou never canst escape the inward testimony of thy conscience. Thy conscience will be one of those books, of which Revelation speaks, that are to be opened at the great judgment day (Rev. x. 12, 15). The first book is that of Divine Omniscience, in which shall plainly appear the deeds, the words, the thoughts of all men of all times and all climes. The second book is Christ Himself, the Book of Life; and whosoever, by true faith, is found written in this book shall be conducted by the holy angels into the heavenly assembly. The Holy Scriptures are the third book, according to which our faith and works shall be judged. “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John xii. 48), says our Saviour. The fourth book contains the external testimony of the poor whom we may have aided, who in the day of judgment shall receive us into everlasting habitations (Luke xvi. 9). The fifth book contains the internal testimony of conscience, in which are written all our sins. A large volume is conscience, and in it all our deeds have been inscribed with the pen of truth. The wicked cannot deny their sins in the judgment, because they will be convicted by the testimony of their own consciences. Nor will they be able to escape the accusation of their own sins, because the judgment-seat of conscience is within them, in the privacy of their own being, which they cannot evade.

A pure conscience is as a shining mirror, in which one beholds himself and God. But if the sight be dimmed it cannot see the splendor of the True Light. Hence our Saviour says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. v. 8). We take delight in a pure and beautiful face, and so a pure and guiltless conscience is pleasing in the eyes of God; but a corrupted conscience brings forth “the worm that dieth not.” This “worm of conscience” we ought to perceive and destroy in this life, and not nourish it, through our sins, into immortality.

To correct this book of conscience all the others have been devised. Of what avail will superior knowledge be to us, if our conscience is impure? Not out of the book of knowledge, but out of that of conscience, thou wilt one day be judged before God’s throne. If thou wouldst write this book correctly, write it after the pattern of the Book of Life, and that is Christ Jesus Himself. Let thy profession of faith be conformed to Christ’s rule of doctrine, and the whole course of thy life to His rule of life. Thou wilt have a good conscience, if thou art pure in heart, true in word, honest in deed. Use thy conscience as a light to direct thee in all thy deeds; for it will truly show thee what thou oughtest to do and what thou oughtest not to do. Avoid a trial at the bar of thine own conscience; for here thou must appear at the same time as defendant and plaintiff, as witness and judge, as the torturer, as the prison, as the scourge, as the executor, as the hangman. Pray how cant thou escape, when thine own conscience is the accusing witness against thee, and nothing can be concealed from Him who judges thee? What profits it though all men praise thee, if thy conscience accuses thee? And, on the other hand, what can possibly prejudice thy case if thou hast the testimony of a good conscience? This one judge alone is sufficient to accuse, to judge, to condemn every single individual. This judge is impartial, and cannot be turned aside by entreaties nor bribed with gifts. Whithersoever thou goest, wherever thou art, thou bearest thy conscience with thee, and it carefully guards whatsoever thou committest to its keeping, whether it be good or bad. What it thus receives it preserves for thee while living, and faithfully restores to thee when thou art dead. Truly a man’s foes are those of his own household (Matt. x. 36); so in thine own personal house, and from thine own personal family, thou hast thine own accusers, thine own spies upon thy conduct, thine own torturers for thine evil deeds. What can it profit thee to live in plenty and affluence, if thou art tortured with the scourge of thine own evil conscience? The springs of human happiness and misery are in the soul itself. What good does it do one burning with fever to lie on a golden bed? What joy can treasures of external happiness afford to one who is tormented by the flames of a guilty conscience?

As thou carest for thine eternal salvation, so guard thy conscience; for if a good conscience is lost, faith is also lost; and faith lost means the grace of God lost; and the grace of God lost, how canst thou hope for eternal life? According to the testimony of thy conscience thou mayst look for the judgment of Christ. Sinners shall become their own accusers; no one need bring a charge against them. Just as a drunkard while filling himself with wine is not sensible of its evil effects, but when he awakes from his drunken stupor suffers the miseries of his debauch; so while sin is being committed it darkens the mind and clouds the better judgment; but when conscience is at last aroused it torments us more severely than any other accuser possibly could. There are three judgments; the world’s, thine own, and God’s judgment. But as thou canst not escape thine own judgment so thou canst not that of God, although thou mayst at times avoid the world’s judgment. The most massive walls cannot hinder this witness beholding all thy deeds. What excuse canst thou offer in thy defense, when thy conscience within thee condemns thee?

A quiet conscience is the very beginning of eternal life; thou wilt more truly rejoice in the hardships of life with a good conscience than amidst all its pleasures with a guilty one. Against all the malice of wicked men thou canst appeal to a conscience void of offense. Question thyself closely concerning thyself, because thou knowest thyself far better than any one else knows thee. At the last judgment what will all the insincere praises of others profit thee, or how will all their false detractions harm thee? Thou wilt then stand or fall by the judgment of God and of thyself, and not on the testimony of others. Conscience never dies, as the soul never dies. So long as the lost suffer the torments of hell, so long shall the accusations of a guilty conscience continue. Material fire cannot so severely afflict the body as the flames of a guilty conscience can torture the soul. Eternal is the soul which burns in the fires of hell, and eternal is the fire of conscience which burns in the soul. No scourge can fall upon the body with such awful severity as the lashes of a guilty conscience upon a lost soul. Therefore flee the guilt of sin, that thou mayst escape the torments of conscience. Erase, by sincere repentance, thy sins from the book of conscience, lest they be read against thee in the dreadful day of judgment, and in horror thou hearest the voice of God pronounce thy doom. By the fervor of thy devotion destroy the worm of conscience, lest its horrible sting torment thee forever and ever. By thy penitential tears extinguish the flames of a guilty conscience, that thou mayst enjoy the delights of heavenly consolation.

O Lord Jesus, grant that we may fight the good fight (2 Tim. iv. 7), holding faith and a good conscience, so that at last we may reach our heavenly fatherland in safety and in peace!

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