Truth and the Conscience
2 Corinthians 4:2
But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully…

No change in religious thought is more remarkable than that which recognises that the ultimate appeal is not to authority outside of man, but to the authority inside. I have heard it solemnly argued that if men were left to themselves, even though they followed that which was best within them, they would come to as many different conclusions as there are men to think, and, as a result, each would be a law unto himself. Within a quarter of a century emphasis has been placed upon the doctrine of the immanence of God — that is, God is not outside His universe, beyond the stars and spaces, but in the universe, pervading it, controlling it, using it, as the spirit of a man uses his body. With that central thought other truths have come into prominence. If God is within man, even though the Divine may have little, if any, opportunity for manifesting Himself, there is something to which appeal can be made. The apostle made his appeal, as a religious teacher, to the necessary correspondence between truth and conscience. His thought is something as follows: A man may be surrounded by a million of others and see no friendly face. Suddenly a companion of his boyhood appears. The recognition is instant. We are in a strange land. Faces are unfamiliar. The speech is like jargon. The door opens; a friend appears; instantly the eye brightens, and the recognition is complete. In the same way truth is recognised. We have been accustomed to be afraid of conscience — to think that it could not be trusted. But to it the Apostle Paul boldly turns. Two questions arise. What is the truth to which he referred? It was the gospel which he was preaching. What is the conscience? That is a more difficult question. There are many things which we know which we cannot define. The man approving the right and condemning the wrong is perhaps all that can be said concerning conscience. The being never lived who did not realise that he ought to do right and ought not to do wrong. There have been many explanations of this fact. Where did it come from? It is as old as history, It is universal. Opinions differ as to what is right, but not as to its authority. For myself I believe that conscience is the voice of God in every man. To violate conscience is to disobey God. Now the apostle, in his epistle, says that his appeal is made to the correspondence of the gospel that he preaches and this consciousness of right in every man. To realise that there is something within ourselves to which we can bring all questions, and by whose judgment we must stand or fall, makes excuse for wrong-doing an impossibility. I ask you to consider this appeal of the apostle. He did not say that conscience was a revealer, but that it had a judicial function. It judges concerning what comes before it, and its approval is all the authority which any statement needs. The truth which commends itself to conscience may be accepted wherever it comes from. This text teaches certain lessons which may well be studied by those who desire to know whether there is any solid foundation for truth. There is something in the natural man to which truth may appeal. Paul did not say that he was commended to the converted man, but to every man's conscience. The same thought is expressed in the second chapter of Romans: "For when Gentiles who have no law do by nature the things of the law, these having no law are a law unto themselves, in that they shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith." Again, in Romans 12:1, he appeals to reason: "I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies... which is your reasonable service." If there is not something even in a bad man which can be trusted, it is useless to present to him truth. If he cannot recognise it he is not blamable for rejecting it. If a man knocks at your door, and you have no means of telling whether he is a thief or a friend, you are not culpable if you turn him away. If in the heathen, or those wrecks of humanity which we see in all great cities, there is not something essentially Divine, they can never discover the Divine when it is manifested. There is that in all men which knows the good, feels the force of duty, and recognises the truth when it is presented. Exceptions to this statement are apparent, but not real. The Hindu mother believes that she ought to throw her child to the River God. In her ignorance she obeys. In the world's history there is not a more superb example of loyalty to conviction. What does that example show? That the woman is ignorant and needs instruction, not that her heart is wrong. This inner light may be obscured. The light in a lantern may be hidden by filth on the glass; the singing of a bird may be lost in the noise of a great city; the voice of a mother may be drowned by songs of dissipation. But the light in the lantern is waiting only for the filth to be removed. This inner light is an elemental fact. Elemental facts are those which inhere in the nature of things. Hunger is a fact. Love is a fact. The correspondence between the eye and the light is a fact; and these facts are not affected by theories concerning their origin. It is safe to appeal to this moral sense. If that cannot be trusted, nothing can be. If that deceives, there is no way by which a revelation about God, duty, or what lies beyond the grave could be received. If that cannot be trusted we may as well burn our Bibles, for it is precisely because of the appeal which the Scriptures make to it that they get their authority. Coleridge said, "I believe in the Bible because the Bible finds me." I put emphasis on this fact because it leaves unbelief without excuse. That which satisfies and completes our moral nature carries with it the evidence of its own truthfulness. I do not tell you to accept Christ because the Bible says He is Divine, but I do tell you that He will satisfy and complete your nature if you will only once bring Him where your inmost eye can clearly see Him. To this something in the natural man the Christian doctrine of God is presented. Does it commend itself as true, or is it repelled as false? What is the Christian doctrine of God? It begins and ends in Fatherhood. The apostle of culture says that God is that power outside ourselves which makes for righteousness, and that definition is clear and beautiful as a marble statue or a dome of ice. There is nothing in it which appeals to struggling humanity. Fatherhood touches all hearts. The New Testament says that God is Father. That does not mean that He is weak, the slave of His affections, but that all His relations towards humanity can be best indicated by the relation of parent and child. Then it is said, God is love; God is light; He makes all things work together for good; and, It is His nature to seek the salvation of those who are lost. What a splendid ideal comes from those old Hebrew writings! Love must be severe when severity is necessary. It must cut out the cancer that the whole body may be saved. It will punish the child to-day that he may be a man to-morrow. It will seek good at any cost. There is no conflict between love and justice. Nay, rather, justice is only the shadow of love. The Christian idea of God is so glorious that I wonder that any ever turn from it. Not a sparrow falls without His notice. He clothes even the lilies. Then what man is ever forgotten? The heart of the gospel is the proclamation of forgiveness, or the doctrine of salvation. The experience of guilt is the most universal and terrible. Those who laugh at the idea of a spiritual nature cannot get away from this fact. In all nations and ages the conviction of guilt has been a reality. Nothing has been sought more eagerly than an answer to the question, How can one who is in wrong relations with himself and the universe be made right? The doctrine of sacrifice is old as human history. The inquiry had been, What can we do? How can we get rid of these burdens? What can we pay? We will give of our flocks and our fields, of the fruit of our body for the sin of our souls. But the world's guilt grew heavier. The Master came with His message: "You cannot save yourselves. You cannot get away from the past. What you seek in vain by costly oblations and wearisome labours, I offer as a gift. Believe Me. You are not in the hands of a tyrant anxious that all his debts shall be paid; you are in the hands of a Father who is seeking for you as a shepherd for a sheep that is lost. Believe Me; if you will stop where you are and turn from the evil of your life, and follow Me, you will be forgiven." What a wonderful message! How simple! How strangely it has been misinterpreted! What shall I do to be saved? Turn from evil; follow Him who is the truth and the right. But how about that past? Leave that with God. That is the message of salvation. Have faith in Christ when He tells us that, if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Is not that reasonable? Has not difficulty about this subject of forgiveness arisen from the simple fact that we have imagined that God was a tyrant who demanded something which could not be paid, and we have said, "We cannot believe in such a God"? But when we get to the Divine revelation, when we read the story of the prodigal, and see that the son came back and found the father waiting for him, with a kiss and a new robe, and all that was necessary for him to do was simply to come home and enter into a new life, do we not find that which satisfies our consciousness of right? Now, you who are fighting this or that theory of the atonement, who are saying, "I cannot accept Christianity, because it shocks my moral sense," simply take the parables in the fifteenth chapter of Luke, which are the revelation of God's dealing with the repentant sinner, the first two showing how He seeks for the lost, and the third how He receives the penitent, and answer your own heart. Is there anything in that which does not attract? And again I say, Can that which satisfies the profoundest longings of your soul, which gives peace in the midst of the struggle of life, be only a dream and a falsehood? If now we turn to the teaching of Christianity concerning duty, do we not find the same correspondence? There have been as many theories of ethics as there have been thinkers to devise them. The old problem concerning obligation has had a million answers. How simple and beautiful is the teaching of Christi Make clean the inside of the cup. Pharisaism is hateful. External righteousness may be a garment hiding a corrupt spirit. The devil may masquerade in a cloak of light. Make the fountain pure, and the stream will be pure. Make the tree good, and the fruit will be good. Think right thoughts, and there will be no trouble about right acts. That is where the teaching of Christ begins. The next point concerns the value which should be placed upon self. Old theories of ethics had exalted the individual. Christ says it is the privilege of the individual to efface himself for the welfare of the many. The world says, "Exalt yourselves"; Christ says, "Humble yourselves." The culmination of Christ's ethical teaching was in the new commandment wherein He says, "A new commandment give I unto you, that ye should love one another as I have loved you." Nothing indefinite! nothing mystical! clear as the light! Do not ask who wrote the first books of the Bible. Do not care whether Jonah is history or fiction. Simply bring yourself face to face with these questions: Does Christ's teaching concerning God satisfy my conscience? Can I leave myself and all men in the hands of such a Being, assured that no harm can come from Him to any one? Is there anything but comfort in Christ's doctrine of salvation -- that He has come to give power to all those who will repent of their sin and turn towards Him to cease from sinning and live the Divine life? Is there anything that is either unreasonable or in violation of the moral sense when He asks us to believe Him that, us we forgive our children when they repent and begin to mend their ways, so the heavenly Father forgives us? And is there anything which does not carry with it the evidence of its own truthfulness in these high and searching principles which our Master emphasised? Make the tree right in order that the fruit may be right. Use all powers for the good of humanity, and remember that those who have injured you most are those whom you should serve most. "Love one another as I have loved you." You ask, "What am I to believe as the truth of God?" Here is a statement in the Bible. It can be explained in two ways. One way my moral nature commends; the other, I am told by those who profess to know, is the true interpretation. Which one am I to accept? I reply, always choose that which commends itself to your moral nature. If the Apostle Paul could appeal to conscience to certify truth, you cannot be wrong if you do the same.

(A. H. Bradford, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

WEB: But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

Truth and Conscience
Top of Page
Top of Page