Uses of Conscience

Source: The Works of Isaac Penington: A Minister of the Gospel in the Society of Friends : Including His Collected Letters, Volume 2

1. This is of God; this is from God; this is pure; this is spiritual; not of the fleshly, not of the natural ; for then it might be drawn sometime or other to consent to some of the corrupt desires of the natural ; but though the conscience be ever so much denied, yet the light in it self can never be denied. Indeed a man may set up that for light in his conscience, which may be darkness; but God's light, God's witness there, can never be bribed, but will speak truly, (when God at any time awakeneth, or raiseth it up) witnessing for him, both against the evil of the man, and against the searedness, hardness, and unfaithfulness of his conscience towards God. pg. 7

2. Christ is the light of the world, John viii. 12. or the Eternal "Word, John i. 1. which Light or Word speaks within every man's conscience. He that believes in it, hrings his deeds to it, and obeys it, is justified by it; but he that hates its reproof, is condemned by it, John iii. 20, 21. and not only shut out of life, but out of the very ways to it; for the reproofs of the instruction of this wisdom are the sole way or path of life to the sinner. Prov. vi. 23. pg 9

3. There are three things in general (besides many particulars) which the Protestant nations and churches have learned of you, which will cost them dear, ere they be made willing to part with them.

First, Their taking upon them authority over men's consciences, commanding them what they should believe ; which the apostles never did, but said expressly, they had not dominion over the faith of others, but were helpers of their joy. 2 Cor. i. 24. Thoy could not command any to believe their doctrine; but spake in the demonstration of the Spirit, waiting till Goo. opened the heart, 2 Cor. iv. 2. and would not have men 'rrofe«s, believe, or practise from their words, but by a feelirg of the power. 1 Cor. ii. 5. And when men did believe some things, and came into the unity and fel lowship of the faith, they did not require them to believe all that the chr.rch taught or held forth as true, but waited till God pleased to reveal further. Phil. iii. 15. Indeed they could command obedience to the faith: what truths the Spirit of the Lord revealed and taught any man, they could charge him in Ae name of the Lord to be faithful to. Rom. i. 5. But they knew it was God alone who could ingraft the truth into the heart and conscience, and also give the increase of it; and so from him alone they expected it; waiting in patience on the stubborn and perverse, till God should please to work upon them, 2 Tim. ii. 24, 25. and likewise on thoso that were convinced, and had subjected themselves to the faith, for his increase of it. 1 Cor. iii. 6, 7.

2dly. Their abridging men's liberty in things wherein God hath left them free, and pressing them to a uniformity in things which they themselves confess to be indifferent. Now the apostle (who had the care of all the churches, 2 Cor. xi. 28.), though he knew certainly how to determine about meats and days, ns himself confesseth, Rom. xiv. 14. yet he telleth the church at Rome expressly, that Christ was the Lord and Master of every disciple, to whom he must stand or fall herein, ver. 4. and that every man ought to do as he is fully persuaded in his own mind. ver. 5. Nay ho is so far from pressing a necessity of uniformity in such cases, that he presseth a necessity of bearing on each hand, ver. 3. So that, in the apostle's judgment, the church hath not power to lay commands on the conscience, but must receive the weakest in the faith, ver. -1. leaving him to the liberty of his conscience, and to his subjection to his own Lord and Master; to whom every believer must give an account of what he receives, and of what he obeys and per forms, ver. 10. — 12.

3dly. Their setting up a church-building, government, and discipline, by the magistrate's power. This the apos tles no where taught nor practised. They converted men by the power of the Spirit: they cut down errors, heresies, seducers, and hereties, by the same word; and they found the weapons of their warfare sufficient, 2 Cor. x. 4. they had no need of running to the magistrate. But that church, those doctrines, that government and discipline, which is set up by the magistrate's sword without and against the Spirit, that hath need of a carnal sword to defend it against the Spirit, and to cut down God's witnesses (whom he raiseth up to testify against it) for schismaties and hereties, or its nakedness will soon be made manifest, and its ruin approach. pgs. 21-23

4. Now though both these were added because of transgression, yet they had not both the same use and service in relation to transgression, but the one was added to discover sin, and to make it appear exceeding sinful, Rom. v. 20. the other to blot it out, to take it away, to make atonement for it; which the sacrifices did, making the sinner upright and perfect as relating to that outward state and capacity, though they could not as pertaining to the conscience. Heb. ix. 9. pg 56

5. The great enemy of God, all this night of the apostasy, hath been antichrist; who hath not been an open enemy only, but hath appeared as if he had been for Christ, commanding the worshipping and honoring of Christ, yea, and with a great zeal taking upon him to cause people to worship according to what he determined to be right: and thus ho getteth into the temple, erecting a usurping authority over the conscience, setting up and compelling to an invented worship. pg. 101

6. Now, therefore, it behoves this nation to consider what of Babylon may be found in it, and to part with it, that it may escape the plagues of Babylon, Rev. xviii. 4. which are very bitter, as ver. 7, 8, &c. these are the two main things whereof Babylon is guilty :

1. An invented form of worship, a likeness of the true worship ; but not the true worship itself.

2. A persecuting and endeavoring to suppress the power of the truth, even of the purity of the godly religion and worship, by means of this form; because for conscience' sake, men, who are taught otherwise by the spirit of God, cannot submit and subject thereto.

This God is coming down to plead with in that great city, Babylon ; and this God will first plead with in thee, O England ! Consider what of this is yet remaining in thee (or what of this thy heart hankers after), and part with it as thou lovest thy peace. The Lord is the witness of the integrity and fidelity of my heart to thee in these lines. It will be hard for thee to escape the Lord's hand ; yet it is not impossible. If thou bow before the mighty God, and lie abased in spirit at his feet, he can open that eye in thee which can let thee see thy danger, and also the way how to escape it.

7. Read the Acts of the Apostles. Behold what a precious people was brought forth, even in the beginning of the apostles' ministry; how full of faith, how stripped of the world, bow single-hearted to God, and one towards another! Acts ii. 42, &e., and Acts iv. 32. &e. What would these be, abiding and growing up in the vine? The cutting off of sin is necessary while in the body; but to make the committing of sin necessary while in the body, is a great derogation to the power of God's grace, and to the mystery of faith, which overcometh the evils of tho heart, and the worldly nature within; purifieth the conscience from dead works, and is "held in the pure conscience." Oh that men knew the power, and the faith which stands in the power! for then would they not judge it so impossible to be cleansed by the faith through the power. Oh, that light, that pure light of the Spirit, where in the living blood runs, which cleanseth from all sin. and keepeth clean them that abide and walk in it! If this were but a little felt, such doctrines as these (which are gathered in the comprehension from words read, without being let into the thing itself) would soon vanish, and find no place in the heart where the power dwells, nor in the understanding which is renewed, preserved, and fed by the power. For the things of (Jod are to be known and held in the understanding which is given of God (which understanding is of the Spirit, and is spiritual), and not with the natural understanding, which cannot receive the things of the Spirit, but only a carnal apprehension and sense of the words of the Spirit, according as a man can heat them out with, and comprehend them in, his reasoning part. pg. 118,119

8. Yet the government of Christ and his kingdom is not op posite to any just government of a nation or people. Christ's government is a righteous government of the heart, or inner man, chiefly ; which doth not oppose a righteous government of the outward man. Nay, those who are Christ's subjects, and singly obedient to his law of righteousness in their spirits, are more faithful to men, and more subject to anv just law of government, than others can he: for their fidelity and subjection is out of love, and for conscience' sake. But this is it which offends the world : men many times make laws in their own will, and according to their own wisdom (now the wisdom of the world is corrupt, and hath erred from the guidance of God), and are not free from self-ends and interests, not being gathered into that which cleanseth and keepeth pure the naturals. Now that which is of God cannot how to anything which is corrupt in man: it can lie down and suffer, and bear the plowing of long and deep furrows upon its back; but it cannot act that which is against its lite. It cannot he disloyal to its King, to gratify the spirit of this world ; but what practice or tes timony its King calls for against the evil and corruption of this world, it must obey singly and faithfully. pg. 133,134

9. THE Protestant churches, (as they are called in way of distinction from the church of Rome) the blessed martyrs, who Buffered for the testimony of a pure conscience towards God. pg. 136

10. And let it be singly considered, whether the church power in this nation hath not been a curb to the rising of the purity of religion, even a sharp check upon the tender conscience ; but such as the loose (yea, profane spirit) would take pleasure in and contend for.

The true church-power is only the power of the Spirit of Christ. That converts men to God, and that alone is able to govern them in the affairs of his kingdom, being con verted. Man, meddling with religion and church government in his wisdom, is but a beast, and must govern like a beast; namely, with force and cruelty over the spirit and conscience which is tender towards God. pg. 143

11. And let it be duly considered, whether the powers of this nation deal kindly with the Lord, in exacting an oath from his people, who (not in, the least disaffection to them, but only in fidelity of conscience to Christ, their Lord and master) cannot but refuse it. The question is concerning their fidelity and obedience to the king; that is the thing which an oath is required to ratify and confirm. Now the swearing itself, or formal taking of an oath, is of little value ; but to be obedient, to be faithful, is the thing of value. pg. 158

12. And oh! that men would not spend their strength, and hazard the loss of all in cherishing pretences and names of Christianity,  but would pray to the Lord at length to open that eye in. thom which can see the loveliness of tiic truth, power, and virtue of Christianity; that they might cherish that tenderness of conscience wherein the truth grows and springs up in its virtue and power. And then perhaps they would soon acknowledge the happiness of the world to depend upon the growth of that principle, and of that people, who are now despised by the world, and cannot but be so by the spirit and wisdom of the world, which lies in wickedness, they being drawn out of, and testifying; against, it. pg. 168

13. The disciple of Christ, who is persecuted for conscience' sake, who suffers from men and their laws for the uprightness of his heart towards, and for his obedience unto, Christ, that man is precious in the eye of Christ, and hath his Messing with him; yea, the more men disesteem and hate him upon this account the greater is his blessedness. pg. 198

14. The reward is great in this world also. There is a hundred-fold recompense to be reaped in this life. The peace of God in the conscience, the presence of God, the life of God, the virtue of God, the glory of the Spirit of God, which accompanieth, resteth with, and abideth on, the heart which is faithful, and waiteth upon God for .patience, meekness, innocency, and strength to carry through sufferings, may well be valued at above a hundred-fold in come and recompense for all the hardships and tribulations which are undergone for his name's sake. pg. 199

15. Persecution ariseth from unrighteousness and selfishness; righteousness and true equity would soon end it. If no man would make another man's conscience bow by force, who would not have his own so bowed, persecution would soon cease. But this is the great evil and unrighteousness of man; whoever is uppermost, thinks he hath a right to bow all the rest under him, and looks upon them as guilty and offenders, if their consciences do not yield and bow tinder him. And he that newly complained of the load laid on his conscience by others, yet if he can get ease and power into his hand, is presently laying a load upon others. Here is a wrong frame of spirit within, and how can it choose but bring forth injury and persecution outwardly? pg. 205

16. Obj. But will not this undermine magistracy, and interrupt its punishing of evil-doers, if they should be thus tender and considerate? For what man cannot pretend conscience for what he does? And if the magistrate should hearken to every pretence of conscience, the laws would soon be silent, government at a stand, and every one do what they list, bringing in all manner of licentiousness and disobedience to authority, under a pretence of conscience.


1. Conscience is of God; and tenderness and conscientiousness towards him is necessary to the receiving of his pure fear, and towards the springing up and growth of the good in the heart. The seed of good is tender; and if it be not received into tender and well prepared earth, hut in to thorny, stony, or highway ground, it cannot grow. And it cannot reasonably be supposed to be the intent of God in appointing governments, that ever their laws and authority should hurt that tenderness of conscience, wherein his seeds of good are sown.

2. It is true; the corrupt nature of man, which is selfish, and seeketh covers for evil, may also seek this cover to hido iniquity under, and may pretend conscience, when there ia no matter of conscience at all, but self-will and self-ends at bottom.

3. Notwithstanding this, God would not have the true conscientiousness and tenderness in any of his crushed; nor can it be done by any person, authority, or law, without provoking God on the one hand, or without injury to such who are so dealt with, vix: who are punished by man for the exercise of that conscientiousness which is of God, and which he requireth, and is pleasing to him.

4. It were far better in itself, safer for governors, more agreeable to equity and righteous government, and more pleasing to God and good men, rather to suffer some, by their craft and false covers, to escape due punishment, than to punish those who, by the goodness, innocency, and righteousness which God hath planted in them, are exempted from punishment. Yea, it were better and much safer to spare many evil men, than to punish one good man : for mercy and sparing, even of offenders, is natural to that which is good; but severity and punishments are unnatural and but for necessity's sake. And as for that man, who, by his subtlety and deceit, thus escapes man's hand, he will be no great gainer; for God, who is above all, will be sure to meet with him. Yea, that magistrate, who spares some evil and evil doers, merely upon this account, — lest he should hurt that which is good, the Lord will help and bless ; whereas, that power and government which wilfully errs herein, the Lord may soon cut down ; and that which errs thus through mistake (it being a grievous mistake to cut down the good instead of the evil), the Lord, who loveth the good and hateth the evil, may easily be provoked against. pg. 208,209


Quest. WHAT is the way of conversion?

Ans. To turn men from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God.

Quest. When is a man converted?

Ana. When he is gathered into the light, and into the power, out of the darkness of sin and dominions of Satan.

Quest. How is man converted?

 Ans. By the operation of the light and power of God upon his conscience.

Quest. In what condition is the conscience before God works upon it?

Ana. Hard and corrupt; hardened by selfish reasonings and dark imaginations, against the convictions of the light and operations of the power of God, and corrupted with the sin and iniquity that dwell in it.

Quest. What doth God make it in his working upon it?

Ans. Gentle and tender, tit to receive the impressions of his Spirit. By the influence and power of his Spirit on the conscience, he openeth the ear to hearken to his voice, and prepareth the heart to follow him in his leadings.

Quest. How doth God carry on his work in the converted soul?

Ans. By keeping it low and tender, out of the self-wisdom and hardening reasonings of the human understanding: by this means he keeps it pliable to the light and power of his Spirit.

Quest. Is only the tender conscience then fit to be wrought upon by God?

Ans. Yea, indeed, that alone. The heart that is hard is inconsiderate of the voice of God, and stiff and stubborn it against it; having ever nt hand some wisdom or will of the. flesh, to withstand the voice and leadings of God by.

Quest. Who is it that preserves the conscience tender?

Ans. The Lord of the conscience. He who made it knoweth the proper temper of it; and his light and power is alone able to preserve it in that tenderness which he formed it in.

Quest. What is it that hardens the conscience?

Aus. The wisdom of the flesh. Man, having gained a wisdom out of the light of God, by the imaginations, reasonings, and strength thereof, hardens himself against God.

Quest. What is most necessary for a man to be vigilant in, that desires to have the work of conversion to go on in his heart?

Ans. To be careful to turn from and avoid the reasonings of man's wisdom, and to have his eye and ear open to the light and voice of God's Spirit, that his conscience may be kept upright and clear before the Lord.

Quest. What stains the conscience?

Ans. Any disobedience to God's Spirit, any hearkening to, or following the voice of a strange spirit. This lets in the darkness, which denies, even as the light cleanses.

Quest. Is a man then to expect such a thing as the leadings of God's Spirit in his conscience? Aus. A man cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but he must be born again, even "born of the Spirit." So saith the Scripture, and so saith the experience of everyone who fuels the new birth. And when he is born of the Spirit, he is to abide with him, and learn the law of the new life, and recieve power from him daily; or the spirit of darkness will soon get ground upon him, and by degrees be recovering him back again into his dominions.

Quest. Surely if it be thus, hard is the way of religion, and few there be who are found in the truth of it.

Ans. The way of religion is hard indeed, and wholly contrary both to man's wisdom and will; insomuch as he cannot enter into it, nor walk therein, but as they are cut down, He that will be a disciple of Christ, and follow the leading of his Spirit, must deny himself wholly, and become another's, and be content to stand or fall to his own Master. He cannot please men, no not in his worshipping of God;  but must turn from that which is glorious in their eyes, mid sacrifice that which is to them an abomination. So that he must look to be condemned by men, who will be approved in the sight of God. pgs. 233-235

18. Quest. What if thore be disobedience?

Ans. The seed itself cannot disobey; but the vessel in which it is sown, and to which it is united, may prove weak, frail, brittle, yea, sometimes stubborn ; the weight and chastisement whereof the seed also bears, and in patient suffering helps and cleanses the vessel through the virtue of the blood of Jesus, which is felt in the seed which comes from Jesus. And here is the blood of sprinkling known in the soul, which cleanses the conscience from dead works, and washes away the iniquity thereof. pg. 309

19. To such as never knew what belonged to tenderness of conscience towards God, but have spent all their days either in licentiousness of spirit, or in a dead formality ; to such my soul saith:

 Oh Friends! wait to feel the power of God upon your hearts (which is present with that which sometimes lets you nee the evils thereof); that they may be melted and made tender by him, fit to receive the impressions of his life. Why should ye go down to the pit in a dream, and centre in the land of misery? Ye have immortal souls in these earthen vessels, which must either be redeemed to God by the power of his life, or be shut up from his glorious presence in the chambers of death. It is a dreadful thing to appear before God after death, and receive the sentence of condemnation for the things done in the body. Oh that the eye of your souls were awakened, that ye might see the hazard and danger ye are incurring daily; and might know the hope of escape set before mankind, by the appearance of the grace in you, and learn of the living God to fly there to for succor, that ye might be sheltered in the evil hour, which hasteneth apace upon all flesh! pg. 337

20. To such as are still tender, and dare not but exercise a conscience towards God, even in these searching and trying times:

 Friends, keep your standing in the life of God. What God hath begotten in you, let it depend upon him. Let him do what he will with his own in you, and let the creature be subject to that living principle, which God hath sown and raised in your hearts; sell not your peace with God for any ease or advantage in this world. Let the tenderness of your consciences, which is of value with God, be precious also in your eyes. The times and seasons are in the Father's hand, and he soeth good to let this day of trial coir.c upon you. His grace is able to carry you all through. It will be for his honor, to let all the world see how dear your God is to you, and how able ye are (in the meekness and strength of the Lamb's Spirit) to suffer for his name's sake. Thy will, 0 God, be done. pg. 338

21. Quest. 5. How is this justification wrought?

Ans. By faith in the virtue which floweth from Christ. God letting in of the nature of his Son into the heart, and begetting therein somewhat of his own likeness, in which he draweth, and which he giveth to believe in: this faith is imputed by God for righteousness, in every heart wherever it is found; and where this faith in the living virtue s found, there God blotteth out the iniquities for his name's sake; yea, and remission is felt in that which is made living. And there is one near, who hath power to bind or loose in the conscience, according to the nature of the dispensation; and who doth hind or loose in every dispensation as he findeth cause. But all loosing of sins is for Christ's sake, and through his blood; though every one in every dispensation is not able distinctly so to read it. Yea, under the law, the remission was by this sacrifice; though many of the Jews could not read the type. The promise is to the seed of the kingdom, and to man in the seed; and there it reacheth him whenever it findeth him; for in all his gatherings into, and being found in, that, he is blessed. pg. 382,383

22. Obj. 1. But is not this a turning away from the measure of life in a man's own vessel, to another man's measure?

Ans. Waiting on God in his ordinances and appointments, and upon the ministry which he hath set up, the measure of life in him teacheth; and it is not a turning from the measure, but a subjecting to the Lord in the measure of his life, so to teach and do. The measure of his life taught me thus to do at first, and teacheth me to do so still; and will teach so still, all that hearken to it. It did not teach subjection in the apostles' days to the ministry then, and an other thing now to the ministry now. But Christ is the same today as yesterday; his life the same, his Spirit the same, its doctrine and teaching the same ... page 400

23. So Paul also, writing to Timothy, tells him of perilous times in the last days. 2 Tim. iii. 1. For when the last days come, and the antichrists and false prophets appear, then men are in great danger of being deceived, and of making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. Then he that is not in the truth, but only in the form and outward appearance, will be swallowed up bj- the deceit, and take up his dwelling in the form without the power; for so saiith the apostle concerning them, ver. 5. they have a form of godliness, but deny the power of it. And all manner of wickedness will shelter itself under this form; &lf-locc, cor- etotisncss, boasfings, pride, blasphemy, disobedience to parents, unthankfulllness, unholiness, .(jr., ver. '2, 3, 4. and indeed what not? pg. 472

24. Hath the Lord drawn thy heart to hear the sound of truth, and given theesome senseand savor thereof, though perhaps not as yet full satisfaction in all things that are truly and faithfully testified concerning it? Oh prize this love of God to thee ! and watch and pray, and come into the pure fear ; that thou mayst walk worthy of it, and mayst discern in spirit what it is that gives thec the savor; and 80 receive the leaven of the kingdom, and feel its leavening virtue up on thy heart day by day. For after the Lord hath been at work, the enemy will be at work also ; and thou mayst both meet with him without, and within too, in reasonings and questionings against the demonstrations of God's Spirit to thy heart and conscience. Now if thou wilt hearken to these, they will eat out the sense and belief of what God's Spirit begat in thee. pg. 507

25. Now dear friend (for so far as thy heart is touched by God's Spirit and answereth thereto, thou art dear unto me), mind thy condition, and wait on the Lord in humility of heart, and in subjection to what he inwardly by his Spirit daily makes manifest; that thou mayest come into the obedience of the truth daily; that thou mayest daily feel the change which is wrought in the heart and conscience by the holy, eternal, ever-living power; that so thou mayest witness according to the Scriptures, "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." page 508