TEACH THE CONSCIENCE?
T. PIERCE BROWN
Did you ever hear of anyone trying to train a computer to do something? Or even TEACH one a new fact? Even if you know practically nothing about computers, you will surely recognize that this is an improper use of words. You do not TRAIN or TEACH a computer. You PROGRAM it. If you give it the wrong input, you get a wrong output. “Garbage in–garbage out” is the way they express it.
However, this article is not about computers, but about the conscience. All my life I have heard, and most of my life have taught, that “the conscience is a creature of training,” and “the conscience is not a safe guide unless it is trained right.” What I meant is true, but I am convinced that what I (and thousands of other gospel preachers) said is not true. I do not know how much difference it makes, but I am also convinced that it is ALWAYS better to be right than wrong, even on insignificant matters. So I write this article for your consideration.
My thesis in this article is that the conscience is NOT a “creature of training,” for the idea in “training” is that the thing trained can learn to do something that it could not otherwise do. I trained my fingers to type. Now they can do what they could not do before. An ax may function to cut down a tree. I can sharpen or dull it and make it do a worse or better job, but I cannot TRAIN IT to shoot a deer! I am confident that the conscience can not be trained to do anything that it would not otherwise do. Note carefully: The function of the conscience is to commend you when you do what you consider to be right and condemn you when you do what you consider to be wrong. Note well: NO MATTER WHAT YOU LEARN, OR HOW WELL TRAINED YOU ARE IN TRUTH, OR HOW IGNORANT YOU ARE, YOUR CONSCIENCE WILL STILL DO THAT. You have not “trained your conscience” when you learn a new truth. Your conscience is still doing exactly what it was before!
You may sharpen your conscience by paying attention to it and changing course when it condemns you. By disregarding its warnings and continuing to do what you think to be wrong you may dull it or sear it as with a hot iron, as Paul puts it in I Timothy 4:2, but you have not “trained it” to do anything different. And in the strictest sense, you have not “taught” it anything!
Your conscience is similar to a computer in this respect. I was writing a program of math for my grandson. I had problems of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. When he did the problem right, the computer would tell him, “Wonderful!” or “That’s great” or something of the sort. When he missed one it would tell him, “Sorry, you are wrong. Try again.” But when I first wrote the program, on one of the problems that he got right, it told him, “You missed it. Wonderful.” Then it told him, “You got six out of three right. Your grade is 200%.” I was shocked, amazed, and chagrined, but I did not “train” my computer to do anything different, because I COULDN’T! Nor did I teach it the difference between right and wrong! But I could REPROGRAM it to give the correct response when the correct information was fed to it.
That is basically what happened to Paul. He said, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” (Acts 23:1). When he learned the truth, it did not change his conscience or its function at all! His conscience was just as good before he was converted as afterwards! And it did EXACTLY the same thing–it commended him when he did what he thought was right and condemned him when he did what he thought was wrong!
Note carefully: Paul learned the truth with his mind–his intellect. But it is easy for us to see that the mind and the conscience are not the same thing. For although his MIND WAS CHANGED, his conscience did exactly as it did before. IT WAS NOT TRAINED TO DO ANYTHING DIFFERENT! The word “suneidesis,” translated “conscience” literally means, “knowing with” but what do we “know with?” We do NOT “know with the conscience” WHAT is right or wrong!
The reason we make the mistake of saying “The conscience must be trained” is that we have first made the mistake of saying “The conscience tells us WHAT is right or wrong.” That is not so! The function of the conscience is NOT to tell us WHAT is right or wrong. We find out about that from God’s Word! But when our intellect finds out what is right or wrong, then our intellect tells our conscience, “The thing I am doing is right,” and the conscience replies, “You are to be praised.” If the intellect tells the conscience, “The thing I am doing is wrong,” the conscience responds, “You are to be condemned.” IT CANNOT BE TRAINED TO DO ANYTHING ELSE! In the true sense, then, the conscience is not “taught” anything, any more than a computer is “taught” something. The conscience gets an input, “This is the right thing to do.” This is where the “knowing with” comes into the picture. We do not “know with” the conscience whether a thing is right or wrong, NOR CAN IT EVER BE TAUGHT TO TELL US THAT! But when it gets from the intellect the input that a thing is right, it can “know with” the intellect to say, “You are to be commended!” Whether the input to the conscience is “garbage” or “the Bread of Life,” the conscience will respond in exactly the same way! It can NEVER be trained to say, “You gave me the wrong information. Let me tell you the correct answer,” for God did not design it to function that way! So the idea of “knowing with ” is NOT that we know with our conscience WHAT is right or wrong, but that when our intellect is informed that a thing is right our conscience “knows with” it that we are to be commended for doing the right thing. So our conscience does NOT inform us, it commends us or condemns us.
So the thing to do is always keep your conscience clean and pure and sharp by doing what you believe to be right. In order for it to do its job effectively, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John8:32). But by learning the truth, you do not change the nature or function of your conscience. You simply enable yourself to provide it (program it) with the proper information so it will be able to do its job properly.