1 Peter 3:16
Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
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(16) Having a good conscience.—This strikes the key-note of the paragraph. How vigorously St. Peter repeats it! “Zealous for that which is good,” “for righteousness’ sake,” “sanctify the Lord,” “with meekness and fear,” “a good conscience,” “your good conversation.”

Whereas.—The word means precisely the same as in 1Peter 2:12, where see Note.

They speak evil of you, as of evil doers.—Tischendorf follows one of the best manuscripts and the Pesehito-Syriac version in reading whereas ye are evil spoken of. It is easy to see how the ordinary reading would come in, from the similarity of 1Peter 2:12; and we may pretty confidently adopt the emendation. In any case, the words “as of evil doers” should be removed.

They may be ashamed (or, confounded).—When? St. Peter is evidently thinking of the Christian at the bar of the curator or pro-consul, and the mortification of the delator, or spy, who had given information against him.

Falsely accuse.—Literally, insult, that is, “odiously calumniate.” The word occurs again only in Luke 6:28.

In Christ.—This is the nearest approach in St. Peter to a use of this word as a proper name. Still, it is not so. Other Hebrews, he reminds them in this word, were safe from persecution only by rejecting the national hope of a Messiah. It is simply because these men are “in Christ” that the heathens (perhaps also their fellow Jews) insult their conversation. The phrase “in Christ,” i.e., as members of the Church, occurs again in 1Peter 5:10; 1Peter 5:14, and the thought is common enough in St. John (e.g. 1John 5:20), but it does not come in 2 Peter, nor in Hebrews, St. James, or St. Jude. Of course, St. Paul’s writings teem with it. It contains the converse side of the Incarnation doctrine to that involved in 1Peter 3:15; we not only have the whole Christ dwelling in us, but He embraces us all; “Ye in me, and I in you” (John 14:20).

3:14-22 We sanctify God before others, when our conduct invites and encourages them to glorify and honour him. What was the ground and reason of their hope? We should be able to defend our religion with meekness, in the fear of God. There is no room for any other fears where this great fear is; it disturbs not. The conscience is good, when it does its office well. That person is in a sad condition on whom sin and suffering meet: sin makes suffering extreme, comfortless, and destructive. Surely it is better to suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing, whatever our natural impatience at times may suggest. The example of Christ is an argument for patience under sufferings. In the case of our Lord's suffering, he that knew no sin, suffered instead of those who knew no righteousness. The blessed end and design of our Lord's sufferings were, to reconcile us to God, and to bring us to eternal glory. He was put to death in respect of his human nature, but was quickened and raised by the power of the Holy Spirit. If Christ could not be freed from sufferings, why should Christians think to be so? God takes exact notice of the means and advantages people in all ages have had. As to the old world, Christ sent his Spirit; gave warning by Noah. But though the patience of God waits long, it will cease at last. And the spirits of disobedient sinners, as soon as they are out of their bodies, are committed to the prison of hell, where those that despised Noah's warning now are, and from whence there is no redemption. Noah's salvation in the ark upon the water, which carried him above the floods, set forth the salvation of all true believers. That temporal salvation by the ark was a type of the eternal salvation of believers by baptism of the Holy Spirit. To prevent mistakes, the apostle declares what he means by saving baptism; not the outward ceremony of washing with water, which, in itself, does no more than put away the filth of the flesh, but that baptism, of which the baptismal water formed the sign. Not the outward ordinance, but when a man, by the regeneration of the Spirit, was enabled to repent and profess faith, and purpose a new life, uprightly, and as in the presence of God. Let us beware that we rest not upon outward forms. Let us learn to look on the ordinances of God spiritually, and to inquire after the spiritual effect and working of them on our consciences. We would willingly have all religion reduced to outward things. But many who were baptized, and constantly attended the ordinances, have remained without Christ, died in their sins, and are now past recovery. Rest not then till thou art cleansed by the Spirit of Christ and the blood of Christ. His resurrection from the dead is that whereby we are assured of purifying and peace.Having a good conscience - That is, a conscience that does not accuse you of having done wrong. Whatever may be the accusations of your enemies, so live that you may be at all times conscious of uprightness. Whatever you suffer, see that you do not suffer the pangs inflicted by a guilty conscience, the anguish of remorse. On the meaning of the word "conscience," see the notes at Romans 2:15. The word properly means the judgment of the mind respecting right and wrong; or the judgment which the mind passes on the immorality of its own actions, when it instantly approves or condemns them. There is always a feeling of obligation connected with operations of conscience, which precedes, attends, and follows our actions. "Conscience is first occupied in ascertaining our duty, before we proceed to action; then in judging of our actions when performed." A "good conscience" implies two things:

(1) That it be properly enlightened to know what is right and wrong, or that it be not under the dominion of ignorance, superstition, or fanaticism, prompting us to do what would be a violation of the divine law; and,

(2) that its dictates must always be obeyed. Without the first of these - clear views of that which is right and wrong - conscience becomes an unsafe guide; for it merely prompts us to do what we esteem to be right, and if our views of what is right and wrong are erroneous, we may be prompted to do what may be a direct violation of the law of God. Paul thought he "ought" to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth Acts 26:9; the Saviour said, respecting his disciples, that the time would come when whosoever should kill them would think that they were doing God service, John 16:2; and Solomon says, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death," Proverbs 14:12; Proverbs 16:25 Under an unenlightened and misguided conscience, with the plea and pretext of religion, the most atrocious crimes have been committed; and no man should infer that he is certainly doing right, because he follows the promptings of conscience.

No man, indeed, should act against the dictates of his conscience; but there may have been a previous wrong in not using proper means to ascertain what is right. Conscience is not revelation, nor does it answer the purpose of a revelation. It communicates no new truth to the soul, and is a safe guide only so far as the mind has been properly enlightened to see what is truth and duty. Its office is "to prompt us to the performance of duty," not "to determine what is right." The other thing requisite that we may have a good conscience is, that its decisions should be obeyed. Conscience is appointed to be the "vicegerent" of God in inflicting punishment, if his commands are not obeyed. It pronounces a sentence on our own conduct. Its penalty is remorse; and that penalty will be demanded if its promptings be not regarded. It is an admirable device, as a part of the moral government of God, urging man to the performance of duty, and, in case of disobedience, making the mind its own executioner.

There is no penalty that will more certainly be inflicted, sooner or later, than that incurred by a guilty conscience. It needs no witnesses; no process for arresting the offender; no array of judges and executioners; no stripes, imprisonment, or bonds. Its inflictions will follow the offender into the most secluded retreat; overtake him in his most rapid flight; find him out in northern snows, or on the sands of the equator; go into the most splendid palaces, and seek out the victim when he is safe from all the vengeance that man can inflict; pursue him into the dark valley of the shadow of death, or arrest him as a fugitive in distant worlds. No one, therefore, can over-estimate the importance of having a good conscience. A true Christian should aim, by incessant study and prayer, to know what is right, and then always do it, no matter what may be the consequences.

That, whereas they speak evil of you - They who are your enemies and persecutors. Christians are not to hope that people will always speak well of them, Matthew 5:11; Luke 6:26.

As of evildoers - See the notes at 1 Peter 2:12.

They may be ashamed - They may see that they have misunderstood your conduct, and regret that they have treated you as they have. We should expect, if we are faithful and true, that even our enemies will yet appreciate our motives, and do us justice. Compare Psalm 37:5-6.

That falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ - Your good conduct as Christians. They may accuse you of insincerity, hypocrisy, dishonesty; of being enemies of the state, or of monstrous crimes; but the time will come when they will see their error, and do you justice. See the notes at 1 Peter 2:12.

16. Having a good conscience—the secret spring of readiness to give account of our hope. So hope and good conscience go together in Ac 24:15, 16. Profession without practice has no weight. But those who have a good conscience can afford to give an account of their hope "with meekness."

whereas—(1Pe 2:12).

they speak evil of you, as of evildoers—One oldest manuscript reads, "ye are spoken against," omitting the rest.

falsely accuse—"calumniate"; the Greek expresses malice shown in deeds as well as in words. It is translated, "despitefully use," Mt 5:44; Lu 6:28.

conversation—life, conduct.

in Christ—who is the very element of your life as Christians. "In Christ" defines "good." It is your good walk as Christians, not as citizens, that calls forth malice (1Pe 4:4, 5, 14).

Having a good conscience; this may be read either:

1. Indicatively, and joined (as by some it is) to the former verse; and then the sense is: If ye be always ready to answer every one that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, ye shall have a good conscience: or rather:

2. Imperatively (which our translation favours); q.d. Not only be ready to make confession of your faith, but let your life and practice be correspondent to it, in keeping yourselves pure from sin, and exercising yourselves unto godliness, from whence a good conscience proceeds; here therefore the effect is put for the cause, a good conscience for a good life, Acts 23:1.

That whereas they speak evil of you, &c.; the sense is, that whereas they speak evil of you, as of evil-doers, your good conversation may bear witness for you, confute their calumnies, and make them ashamed, when it appears that their accusations are false, and that they have nothing to charge upon you but your being followers of Christ.

Your good conversation in Christ; i.e. that good conversation which ye lead as being in Christ; viz. according to his doctrine and example, and by the influence of his Spirit.

Having a good conscience,.... Meaning not the faculty of the conscience itself, which is naturally evil, and defiled with sin, and is only made good by the sanctification of the Spirit, and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus, by which the heart is sprinkled from it, and that itself purged from dead works; but a life and conversation according to the dictates of such a conscience, in the uprightness and sincerity of it, and by the grace of God, and according to the Gospel, and whereby the doctrines of it are adorned; for, as besides internal sanctification of God, or a fearing of him, and believing in him with the heart, there must be a profession of him with the mouth, and a reason of faith and hope given verbally, when there is an occasion for it; so to both must be added a conscientious discharge of duty, both to God and men, which is one way of defending and recommending the doctrines of the Gospel:

that whereas they speak evil of you as of evildoers; as vain, proud, haughty, and arrogant persons, as seditious men, enemies to order and civil magistracy; as such that speak evil of dignities, and despise government; when they shall see your modest and humble deportment in the world, and before them, and with what reverence and esteem you treat them:

they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ; which was in consequence of their being in Christ, and made new creatures by him, and was as became his Gospel, and by and under the influence of his grace and Spirit.

Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
1 Peter 3:16. συνείδησιν ἔχοντες ἀγαθήν] These words are taken by several interpreters (Bengel, Steiger, de Wette, etc.) with ἁγιάσατε, 1 Peter 3:14, as co-ordinate with ἕτοιμοι; Wiesinger construes them with ἕτοιμοι, as subordinate to it. The latter is to be preferred, for συνείδ. ἐχ. denotes “the point essentially important, to being ever prepared to give an answer in a right manner” (Wiesinger). But it is better still to assume that it—like μετὰ πραΰτητος—belongs in a loose way to ἀπολογίαν, equivalent to “with good conscience,” i.e. in that your walk does not give the lie to your confession.[191] Calvin says correctly: quia parum auctoritatis habet sermo absque vita.

ἵνα ἐν ᾧ κ.τ.λ.] The construction is here the same as in chap. 1 Peter 2:12; see the exposition of this passage, where, too, Schott’s interpretation of ἐν ᾧ, equal to “in this, that,” is considered. The conjunctive of the Rec. καταλαλῶσιν would represent the case as possible, equal to “in which they may possibly slander you.”

ἵνα, as a final particle, refers to the whole preceding thought, especially to συνείδ. ἔχ. ἀγαθήν.

καταισχυνθῶσιν] comp. 2 Corinthians 7:14 : “that they may be put to shame,” i.e. since their slanders are openly proved to be lies.

οἱ ἐπηρεάζοντες κ.τ.λ.] The subject stands, by way of emphasis, at the end of the sentence. ἐπηρεάζειν, “to revile,” Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28. Hensler distinguishes, without any ground, the ἐπηρεάζοντες from the καταλαλοῦντες, as different persons; the former he considers to be the accusers of the Christians, who bring the slanders of others before the judge.

ὑμῶν τὴν ἀγαθὴν ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστροφήν] i.e.the good life which you lead in Christ (i.e. as Christians).”

[191] Hofmann says, “that it should not be joined with ἀπολογία, for the meaning is that they should do that whereunto they must be prepared with eagerness, and a good conscience which they should bring to it.” To this it is to be replied, that the ἀπολογία itself is precisely the thing for which they are to be ready. It is evidently arbitrary “to supplement an imperative (which?) to ἀλλά, and to connect συνείδησιν ἔχοντες ἀγ· with it.”

16. having a good conscience] We note once more the reproduction by St Peter of one of St Paul’s favourite phrases (Acts 23:1; Acts 24:16; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Timothy 1:19). Stress is laid on this condition as warning men that no skill of speech would do the work of the apologist rightly, if his life were inconsistent with his profession. Only when the two were in harmony with each other, could he give his answer at once with becoming boldness and with due reverence.

they may be ashamed that falsely accuse …] The latter verb, translated “despitefully use you,” in Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:28, indicates clamorous reviling rather than a formal accusation. On the general character of such revilings, see note on chap. 1 Peter 2:12, and on “conversation,” note on chap. 1 Peter 1:15. The “conversation” or “conduct” is here defined not only by the adjective, “good,” but as being “in Christ,” i.e. in union with Him, and therefore after His likeness.

1 Peter 3:16. Ἔχοντες, having) This is added to the word prepared without a copula.—ἐπηρεάζοντες ὑμῶνἀναστροφὴν, who falsely accuse yourconversation) An abbreviated form of speech: that is, who falsely accuse you on account of your good conversation.

Verse 16. - Having a good conscience. This word "conscience" (συνείδησις) is one of the many links between this Epistle and the writings of St. Paul. St. Peter uses it three times; St. Paul, very frequently. There is a close connection between this clause and the preceding verse. A good conscience is the best reason of the hope that is in us. An apology may be learned, well-expressed, eloquent; but it will not be convincing unless it comes from the heart, and is backed up by the life. Calvin (quoted by Huther) says, "Quid parum auctoritatis habet sermo absque vita." That, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers. The Revised Version follows the Sinaitic Manuscript in reading, "Wherein ye are spoken against," and omitting "as of evil-doers? It is possible that the received reading may have been interpolated from 1 Peter 2:12, where the same words occur; except that there the mood is indicative, here, conjunctive, "wherein they may possibly speak evil of you." They may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ; rather, as the Revised Version, they may be put to shame; that is, "proved to be liars" (comp. 2 Corinthians 7:14). The word translated "falsely accuse" is that which is rendered "despitefully use" in Matthew 5:44. Luke 6:28. It is a strong word. Aristotle defines the corresponding substantive as a thwarting of the wishes of others out of gratuitous malice ('Rhet.,' 2:2). For "good conversation," see 1 Peter 1:15, 18. The Christian's life is in Christ, in the sphere of his presence, he dwelling in us, and we in him (comp. 2 Corinthians 5:17, etc.). 1 Peter 3:16Having a good conscience (συνείδησιν ἔχοντες ἀγαθήν)

The position of the adjective shows that it is used predicatively: having a conscience good or unimpaired. Compare Hebrews 13:18, "We have a good conscience (καλὴν συνείδησιν)." Συνείδησις, conscience, does not occur in the gospels, unless John 8:1-11 be admitted into the text. Nor is it a word familiar to classical Greek. It is compounded of σύν, together with, and εἰδέναι, to know; and its fundamental idea is knowing together with one's self. Hence it denotes the consciousness which one has within himself of his own conduct as related to moral obligation; which consciousness exercises a judicial function, determining what is right or wrong, approving or condemning, urging to performance or abstinence. Hence it is not merely intellectual consciousness directed at conduct, but moral consciousness contemplating duty, testifying to moral obligation, even where God is not known; and, where there is knowledge of God and acquaintance with him, inspired and directed by that fact. A man cannot be conscious of himself without knowing himself as a moral creature. Cremer accordingly defines the word as "the consciousness man has of himself in his relation to God, manifesting itself in the form of a self-testimony, the result of the action of the spirit in the heart." And further, "conscience is, essentially, determining of the self-consciousness by the spirit as the essential principle of life. In conscience man stands face to face with himself." Conscience is, therefore, a law. Thus Bishop Butler: "Conscience does not only offer itself to show us the way we should walk in, but it likewise carries its own authority with it, that it is our natural guide, the guide assigned us by the Author of our nature; it therefore belongs to our condition of being; it is our duty to walk in that path and follow this guide." And again, "That principle by which we survey, and either approve or disapprove our own heart, temper, and actions, is not only to be considered as what is, in its turn, to have some influence, which may be said of every passion, of the lowest appetites; but likewise as being superior; as from its very nature claiming superiority over all others; insomuch that you cannot form a notion of this faculty, conscience, without taking in judgment, direction, superintendency. This is a constituent part of the idea, that is, of the faculty itself; and to preside and govern, from the very economy and constitution of man, belongs to it. Had it strength as it had right; had it power as it had manifest authority, it would absolutely govern the world" (Sermons II. and III., "On Human Nature").

Conscience is a faculty. The mind may "possess reason and distinguish between the true and the false, and yet be incapable of distinguishing between virtue and vice. We are entitled, therefore, to hold that the drawing of moral distinctions is not comprehended in the simple exercise of the reason. The conscience, in short, is a different faculty of the mind from the mere understanding. We must hold it to be simple and unresolvable till we fall in with a successful decomposition of it into its elements. In the absence of any such decomposition we hold that there are no simpler elements in the human mind which will yield us the ideas of the morally good and evil, of moral obligation and guilt, of merit and demerit. Compound and decompound all other ideas as you please, associate them together as you may, they will never give us the ideas referred to, so peculiar and full of meaning, without a faculty implanted in the mind for this very purpose" (McCosh, "Divine Government, Physical and Moral").

Conscience is a sentiment: i.e., it contains and implies conscious emotions which arise on the discernment of an object as good or bad. The judgment formed by conscience awakens sensibility. When the judicial faculty pronounces a thing to be lovable, it awakens love. When it pronounces it to be noble or honorable, it awakens respect and admiration. When it pronounces it to be cruel or vile, it awakens disgust and abhorrence.

In scripture we are to view conscience, as Bishop Ellicott remarks, not in its abstract nature, but in its practical manifestations. Hence it may be weak (1 Corinthians 8:7, 1 Corinthians 8:12), unauthoritative, and awakening only the feeblest emotion. It may be evil or defiled (Hebrews 10:22; Titus 1:15), through consciousness of evil practice. It may be seared (1 Timothy 4:2), branded by its own testimony to evil practice, hardened and insensible to the appeal of good. On the other hand, it may be pure (2 Timothy 1:3), unveiled, and giving honest and clear moral testimony. It may be void of offence (Acts 24:16), unconscious of evil intent or act; good, as here, or honorable (Hebrews 13:18). The expression and the idea, in the full Christian sense, are foreign to the Old Testament, where the testimony to the character of moral action and character is borne by external revelation rather than by the inward moral consciousness.

Falsely accuse (ἐπηρεάζοντες)

Compare Luke 6:28; the only other passage where the word occurs, Matthew 5:44, being rejected from the best texts. The word means to threaten abusively; to act despitefully. Rev., revile.

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