How to get a good conscience
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
22 Feb, 2024

Sooner or later, our conscience will do its work of passing a verdict on us, so as to produce either shame (when conscience blames us) or comfort (when conscience approves of us). Those who have been regenerated can legitimately take comfort from knowing that the blood of Christ cleanses them from all sin. But how is this comfort possible, when even the regenerate still keep sinning? Samuel Annesley published a sermon on the conscience, in which he describes the ‘good conscience’ and, as the following updated excerpt shows, gives a list of ten suggestions as to how to get a good conscience.

What kind of conscience should we desire?

Two kinds of conscience are desirable, and cannot be commended too highly.

A good honest conscience. Conscience is good in respect of its integrity when it gives a right judgement of everything according to the Word of God. I grant that the law of nature binds, ecclesiastical laws bind, and political laws bind, but the Word of God is the principal rule, which precisely binds the conscience, because of its author. “There is one law-giver, who is able to save and to destroy …” (James 4:12).

A good peaceable conscience. Conscience is good in respect of its peace when it excuses, absolves, and comforts as it should — that is, when it is pacified by the blood of Christ. There was once a dying man, and it is said that the devil appeared to him, and showed him a very long parchment, where his sins were written on both sides, and they were many. Three quarters of the words he had spoken in his life were idle words, and all his actions were classified according to the ten commandments. Satan said to the poor sick man, “Do you see this? Behold your virtues! See how you will be judged!” But the poor sinner answered, “It is true, Satan, but you have not included everything, for you should have added here below, The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all our sins, and you have also forgotten, Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Why do we need a good conscience?

1. You cannot possibly get rid of your conscience, therefore be persuaded to get a good one. The unconverted do what they can to extinguish conscience. They flatter it with worldly reasoning, they bribe it with mock devotions, they wound it with heinous provocations, they scar it with habitual wickedness, they trample it underfoot by sinning in spite of it; they run away from it by diversions, and will not endure to hear it. Yet they can sooner turn their souls out of their bodies, than conscience out of their souls. Indeed, even amongst all these indignities, their conscience is as fresh and active as if it was not being abused in these ways. It is only waiting its opportunity to be heard, and then it will make what was done perhaps 40 years ago as if it had been but yesterday. A conscience you must have, and sooner or later it will do its job.

2. Your own conscience will be either your best friend or your greatest enemy (of all created things), to eternity. There’s no greater riches, no greater pleasure, no greater safety than a good conscience. However great may be the pressures of the body, the hurry of the world, or the intimidations of Satan, they can’t reach the conscience. A good conscience uniquely cheers the dying body, joyfully accompanies the departed soul to God, and triumphantly brings both soul and body to the tribunal to come. There’s no more profitable means, nor surer testimony, nor more eminent conveyer of eternal happiness than a good conscience. On the other hand, there is no greater torment than an evil conscience. Though its gentler checks may be disregarded, its louder clamours will make you tremble. What will you do, when conscience shall reproach you with your abuse of mercies, incorrigibleness under judgements, contempt of Christ, and hatred of holiness? If you can’t endure to hear what conscience has to say now, how will you endure it to eternity?

How can we get a good conscience?

But how shall we get such good consciences? Here are some suggestions.

Count no sin small

Screw up your obedience to every command to the highest. Ferret out every sin to the most secret corruption. When you have set your watch against the first risings of sin, beware of the borders of sin. Do not venture on temptations to sin, for you will find, like children on the ice, there’s always danger, never any good.

Repent immediately

There’s not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not, therefore, without delay, set about the healing duty of repentance, and on every slip into sin renew it, speedily renew it. If only I could snatch you out of your state of impenitency, and persuade you to daily actual repentance!

Compose yourself to live as under God’s eye

Live as in the (more than) tangible presence of the jealous God. Remember, all things are naked and bare before Him. You cannot deceive Him, for He is infinite wisdom; you cannot flee from Him, for He is every where; you cannot bribe Him, for He is righteousness itself. Keep therefore fresh realisations of God in your thoughts. Speak as knowing that God hears you. Walk as knowing that God is nearer to you than you are to yourself. Read through Psalm 139. Christians, do nothing but what you are willing that God should take notice of.

Be serious and frequent in the examination of your heart and life

This is so necessary to the getting and keeping of a right and peaceable conscience that it is impossible to have either without it. We have a thousand matters to think on all the day long, the night too, the week, the year — but who questions with his own heart, “What am I? what am I doing? how do I live? is the course I follow good and lawful? is that which I omit my duty, or not? Is God my friend? Am I His? What hope do have I of heaven? Say I die tomorrow, today, this very hour, where is my assurance I shall be saved? what reply can I make against the accusations of Satan and my conscience? will Christ be my advocate, when I shall stand in judgement? Have I grace, or have I none? do I grow in grace, or do I decay? Am I better this year than I was last year? what sins have I conquered now, that held me in combat then? what graces have I obtained now, that I did not have then?” Review each day whether your hearts have been intent upon religion, and indifferent to the world. Have special care of two portions, of your time, i.e., morning and evening — the morning to fore-think what ought to be done, and the evening to examine, whether you have done what you ought.

Pray

Be much in prayer — in all manner of prayer, but especially in secret prayer. Do not dismiss your own appeal by the love of sin, and you shall certainly be heard when you pray for grace. Believe it, Christian, it’s not your inevitable weakness, nor the spiritual dullness you feel, nor your lamented rovings, nor your distractions, nor your mistaken unbelief — not any of these, nor all of them together, can shut out your prayer. If you do “not regard iniquity in your heart,” then be encouraged. It is the voice of your beloved that says, “Verily, verily I say unto you, whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.”

Let every action have reference to your whole life, not only a part

The emphasis of the apostle’s exhortation is very great, “Exercise thyself unto godliness.” Let your whole life be a preparation for heaven, like an athlete’s preparation for victory. Strip yourself of all encumbrances, so that you may attend to piety. Pleasures may tickle you for a while, but they have a heart-aching farewell.

Live more on Christ then on the graces in you

Do not venture to sin because Christ has purchased a pardon — that is a most horrible and impious abuse of Christ. For this very reason there was no sacrifice under the Old Testament law for wilful wickedness, lest people might think they knew the price of sin. But so that no one will be overwhelmed with the sense of their unworthiness, know that we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and our salvation is better, safer, more for God’s glory, and our comfort, in His hand then in ours.

Be in every way nothing in your own eyes

It is the humble soul that thrives exceedingly, and alas! what do we have to be proud of? Whether you look at our constitution, or our conversation [lifestyle], our conception is sinful, our birth is penal, our life is toilsome, and our death we know not what. But all this is nothing to the state of our soul. A convert, when he comes to be conscious of sin at all, sees more cause to be weary of his life than proud of his graces. To rise and fall, to confess sin and commit it, to see others outrun us, when they set out after us, to recover the time for communion with God which we trifle away in unobserved trivialities — surely for such persons to be low and vile in their own eyes hardly deserves to be called humility! Use Agur’s words about himself (or some think they are Solomon’s), “Surely I am more brutish than any man. My knowledge of holy mysteries is very little, and in comparison with my ignorance, nothing.”

Think good thoughts of God

Think good thoughts of God, whatever He does with you, whatever He requires of you, whatever He lays on you. We never arrive to any holiness (or peace) worth mentioning, till we lose our selves in God. Once we can unriddle God’s methods of grace, and decode God’s methods of providence, getting a good spiritual use out of both, then we are not far from having a good conscience.

Yet there’s still one thing lacking, and it’s implied in thinking good thoughts of God, but it must be eminently expressed.

Do all you do out of love to God

Spiritual love-sickness is the soul’s healthiest state. When love to God is both cause, means, motive and end of all our activity in the business of religion, then the soul is on the wing towards its rest. Our love to other things is properly regulated when it is the goodness of God that moves us to love them. We ought to love God in such a way that with Him or under Him we love nothing else, but all things only in Him, because otherwise we do not love Him with our whole heart. When husbands love their wives, and wives their husbands — when parents love their children, and children their parents, it is a rare pitch to love all these in God, i.e., to advance our love to God by them, and so far as any of them draw away our love to God, to say to them, as Christ said to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan, thou art an offence unto me.”

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.