“For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. But why dost thou judge thy brother?… for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ… So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
Order of Contents
God: Lord of the Conscience
God’s Word: Ultimate Rule of Actions, Not Conscience
Wrong to Act with Unsure Conscience
Does an Erroneous Conscience Oblige?
Good Intentions do Not Make an Evil Work Good
Definition: Binding the Conscience
Calvin, John – Institutes
(Banner of Truth, 1541 ed.), pp. 19, 93-94, 332, 369-70, 646-47, 712-13, 718, 721-22
Bruce, Robert – Robert Bruce’s Sermons on the Sacrament, ed. John Laidlaw (Edinburgh: Oliphant, 1901)
4th Sermon, ‘Upon the Preparation of the Lord’s Supper’, pp. 138-79
5th Sermon, ‘Upon the Preparation of the Lord’s Supper’, pp. 180-218
Bourne, Immanuel – The Anatomy of Conscience, or a Threefold Revelation of those Three Most Secret Books: 1. The Book of God’s Prescience. 2. The Book of Man’s Conscience. 3. The Book of Life, in a Sermon preached at the General Assizes… in Lent Last (London, 1623)
Bourne (1590-1672) was an Anglican clergyman.
A Discourse of Conscience, wherein is set down the Nature, Properties & Differences thereof: as also the way to get and keep Good Conscience (University of Cambridge, John Legate, 1596) 174 pp. Also in RHB, 8.1-111
A Case of Conscience, the greatest that ever was, how a man may know whether he be the son of God or no… Whereunto is added a brief discourse taken out of Jerome Zanchius (Edinburgh, 1592) 75 pp. Also in RHB, 8.595-638
Sibbes, Richard – Josiah’s Reformation in Works 6:29-90. See particularly the first of these four sermons, ‘The Tender Heart’, pp. 29-43.
The English Popish Ceremonies (Naphtali Press, 2013), pp. 16, 23-24, 28, 30-33, 40-43, 46, 48-49. 189, 287-288 & 307-309
Wholesome Severity Reconciled with Christian Liberty, pp. 321-384 in The Shorter Writings of George Gillespie, vol. 1. (Naphtali Press, 2021)
Burroughs, Jeremiah – Chs. 8 & 9 in Gospel Reconciliation (SDG, 1997), pp. 50-71, under the general subject of making peace with God.
Love, Christopher – ‘Saints Are To Confess Their Sin’ & ‘Cases of Conscience’ in The Penitent Pardoned (SDG 2002), pp. 1-48 & 108-144
Binning, Hugh, [Four untitled sermons on 1 Timothy 1:5], pp. 600-618, in Several Sermons upon the Most Important Subjects of Practical Religion, pp. 551-659. On the relation of faith to the law of God and to love and a good conscience.
Leigh, Edward – 16. ‘Of the Sanctification of the Conscience’ in A System or Body of Divinity… (London, A.M., 1654), bk. 7, pp. 544-46
Dickson, David – Ch. 1, ‘Of Conscience in General’ in Therapeutica Sacra [Sacred Therapeutics], Showing Briefly the Method of Healing the Diseases of the Conscience, Concerning Regeneration (Edinburgh, 1664), pp. 1-7
Caryl, Joseph – ‘Mr. Caryl’s Sermon, Preached August 17, 1662’ on Rev. 3:4, pp. 29-42 in Farewell Sermons (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1992), see especially pp. 34-38.
Baxter, Richard – ‘The Right Method for a Settled Peace of Conscience & Spiritual Comfort’ in Thirty-Two Directions, 2:882-973
Annesley, Samuel – ‘How May We Be Universally & Exactly Conscientious?’ in Puritan Sermons, 1:1-38
Pledger, Elias – ‘Of the Cause of Inward Trouble, & How a Christian should Behave Himself when Inward & Outward Troubles Meet’ in Puritan Sermons, 1:306-330
Flavel, John – ‘Doctrine: That the Wrath of God is Dreadfully Incensed Against All Those that Live in any Course of Sin, Against the Light & Dictates of their own Consciences’ in An Appendix to the Treatise on England’s Duty, in Works, 4.271-290
A Discourse Concerning Conscience: Wherein an Account is Given of the Nature & Rule & Obligation of it: & the Case of those who Separate from the Communion of the Church of England as by Law Established, upon this Pretense, that it is Against their Conscience to Join in it, is Stated & Discussed (London: 1684)
Sharp (1645–1714) was a latitudinarian, Anglican archbishop and divine.
‘A Discourse of Conscience, Showing: I. What Conscience is, & what are its acts and offices: II. What is the rule of it: III. The Several Sorts of Conscience: IV. How Some Practical Cases or Questions concerning Conscience may be Resolved: V. The Benefit & Happiness of a Good Conscience, & the Unhappiness of an Evil One: VI. How a Good Conscience may be Attained, & how we may Judge whether we have Attained it’ (London: 1697)
Sermon 16, ‘Concerning Man’s Conscience, when it is good, when it is not’ on Heb. 13:18 in Sixteen Casuistical Sermons Preached on Several Occasions, vol. 3 (London, 1716)
[Two] Sermons upon Acts 24:14-16 in Works, 17:419-40. See also 17:431-40.
Sermon upon Acts 24:25, in Works, 18:357-66. On the awakened but unconverted conscience.
‘Believers Communing with Their Own Hearts’ in Works, 4:262-268
‘Of the Benefits Flowing from Justification, Adoption & Sanctification’ in Works, 2:15-27 in An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, 1:9-2:659. On peace of conscience, see 2:19-23.
Edwards, Jonathan – ‘God Makes Men Sensible of Their Misery Before He Reveals His Mercy & Love’ in Works, 2:830-38. Also in Jonathan Edwards on Knowing Christ, pp. 49-78. Part of this sermon deals with God’s work on the conscience in bringing men to see their need of Christ.
Charles, Thomas – ‘Natural & Renewed Conscience’ in Spiritual Counsels, pp. 136-40
Payson, Edward – ‘God Heard in the Still Small Voice’ in Works, 2:496-506 On the manner of God’s addressing the conscience by the Spirit in reproving men for their sin.
Thornwell, James Henley – Moral Government in Discussions, 1:252-263 and in Lectures in Theology in Discussions, 1:3-441
Perkins, William – A Discourse of Conscience, Wherein is set Down the Nature, Properties & Differences Thereof: as also the Way to get and Keep Good Conscience GB (Cambridge: 1596)
Howesoun, John – A Short Exposition of the 20th & 21st verses of the Third Chapter of the First Epistle of St. John, Containing a very profitable discourse of Conscience, and of all the actions, sorts and kinds thereof, whereby every man may easily know his estate wherein he stands in the sight of his God, and whether his conscience be good or evil, with all things also belonging either to get a good conscience or else to relieve it out of trouble, being grieved and wounded, as in the Epistle to the Reader is more specially mentioned, and in the discourse itself clearly expressed (Edinburgh, 1600)
Howesoun was reformed.
Worship, William – The Christian’s Jewel, or the Treasure of a Good Conscience (London, 1617) Chapters 1-17 especially deal with the conscience in general.
Worship (fl.1603-1625) was a reformed, English chaplain.
Huit, Ephraim – The Anatomy of Conscience, or, The Sum of Paul’s Regeneracy, wherein are handled the places of conscience, worship, and scandal, with diverse rules of Christian practice: very profitable for the Weak Christian (London, 1626) ToC
Perkins, William – Three Books on Cases of Conscience in Works of William Perkins (RHB, 2019), 8.113-440
Bernard, Richard – Christian See to thy Conscience: or a Treatise of the Nature, Kinds & Manifold Differences of Conscience… (London, 1631) 450 pp. ToC
Bernard (bap.1568-1642) was an English conforming puritan.
Ames, William – Conscience with the Power & Cases Thereof Divided into Five Books, bks 1-3 ([Leiden & London] 1639) Here is bk. 3, ch. 1, ‘Of Obedience’ (EEBO has missing pages) which deals only with obedience to God (not to men). Bks. 4-5 do not appear to be online.
Bolton, Robert – A Treatise on Comforting Afflicted Consciences 390 pp.
Fenner, William – The Soul’s Looking-Glass, Lively Representing its Estate Before God with a Treatise of Conscience: Wherein the Definitions & Distinctions Thereof are Unfolded, & Several Cases [are] Resolved (Cambridge, 1643) 212 pp.
Fenner (c.1600-1640) was a reformed puritan.
Sanderson, Robert – Bishop Sanderson’s Lectures on Conscience & Human Law, Delivered in the Divinity School of Oxford (d. 1663; Oxford, 1877) ToC The first four lectures deal with the conscience generally.
Sanderson (1587-1663) was a reformed Anglican and casuist.
Sanderson, as was typical of the Anglican context, gets the answer to the bindingness of human laws wrong; he states at the end of the fifth lecture: “A human ruler does not oblige the conscience to obey the law, but God obliges the conscience to obey the human ruler, in all things not unlawful.”
Taylor, Jeremy – Ductor Dubitantium [A Guide to Doubtings]: or the Rule of Conscience in All her General Measures, Serving as a Great Instrument for the Determination of Cases of Conscience, in Four Books 2nd ed. (d. 1667; London, 1671) 890 pp. ToC
Taylor (1613–1667) was an Arminian, Latitudinarian, cleric in the Church of England who achieved fame as an author during the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. He is sometimes known as the ‘Shakespeare of Divines’ for his poetic style of expression, and he is frequently cited as one of the greatest prose writers in the English language.
La Placette, Jean – The Christian Casuist: or, a Treatise of Conscience (London: 1705) 490 pp. ToC
La Placette (1629-1718) was a French Huguenot minister.
Dabney, Robert – The Practical Philosophy: being the Philosophy of the Feelings, of the Will & of the Conscience, with the Ascertainment of Particular Rights & Duties Buy (1897) 365 pp. There is no table of contents, though there is an index at the beginning.
Order of Quotes
Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.10.3
‘The Puritan Conscience’ in Puritan Papers, Vol. Two: 1960-1962 (P&R, 2001), pp. 237-257
“…a Puritan was a man supremely concerned about conscience… The concern which was really supreme in the minds and hearts of the people called Puritans was a concern about God—a concern to know Him truly, and serve Him rightly, and so to glorify Him and to enjoy Him. But, just because this was so, they were in fact very deeply concerned about conscience, for they held that conscience was the mental organ in men through which God brought His Word to bear on them. Nothing, therefore, in their estimation, was more important for any man than that his conscience should be enlightened, instructed, purged, and kept clean. To them, there could be no real spiritual understanding, or any genuine godliness, except as men exposed and enslaved their consciences to God’s Word.”
On the History of the Doctrine of Conscience
On the Middle Ages
Potts, T.C. – Conscience in Medieval Philosophy (1980; Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002)
On the 1600’s – 1700’s
Goudriaan, Aza – 5. The Definition of Human Conscience & the Issue of Synderesis‘ in ch. 4, ‘The Human Being: His Soul & Body, Special Status & Conscience’ in Reformed Orthodoxy & Philosophy, 1625–1750: Gisbertus Voetius, Petrus Van Mastricht & Anthonius Driessen Buy (Brill, 2006)
Sibbes, Richard – Antidotum Contra Naufragium Fidei et Bonae Conscientiae (An Antidote against making shipwreck of Faith & Good Conscience) in Works, 7:547-560
Select Theological Disputations (Amsterdam: Jansson, 1667), vol. 4
On God as Lord of the Conscience
A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies… (1637), pt. 3, ch. 4, p. 49
“…what would he say of those Scottish protestants imprisoned in the Castle of Scherisburgh in France, who being commanded by the captain to come to the mass, answered that to do anything that was against their conscience they would not, neither for him nor yet for the king (History of the Church of Scotland, bk. 1, p. 181)?
If he approve this answer of theirs, he must allow us to say that we will do nothing which is against our consciences. We submit ourselves and all which we have to the king and to inferior governors we render all due subjection, which we owe to them. But no mortal man has domination over our consciences, which are subject to one only Lawgiver and ruled by his Law.”
That the Ultimate Rule of Actions is God’s Word, Not Conscience
The Divine Right of Church Government… (1646), p. 212
“God’s Word, not men’s persuasions of conscience (except in this also he be an Arminian) is the rule of men’s actions.”
Bernard, Richard – chs. 21-38 of Christian See to thy Conscience: or a Treatise of the Nature, Kinds & Manifold Differences of Conscience… (London, 1631)
Bernard (bap.1568-1642) was an English conforming puritan.
La Placette, Jean – Bk. 3, ‘Of the Care which every man ought to take of his own Conscience’, chs. 3-5 of The Christian Casuist: or, a Treatise of Conscience (London: 1705)
It is Wrong to Act Not being Assured that it is Right or Beneficial, or with an Unsure Conscience
“I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean…
Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
Rom. 14:14, 22-23
Order of Quotes
De adiaphoris, Theological & Scholastical Positions concerning the Nature & Use of Things Indifferent… (London, 1607), ch. 11, ‘A Solution of the Objections opposed by the Refractary Ministers’, p. 86 Powel (baptised 1576–1611) was a Welsh Anglican minister.
“77. It is certain that we must attempt nothing in all our actions whereof we are not certain that it pleases God: whatsoever is done otherwise, does make us guilty before God. The apostle says, ‘Blessed is he that condemneth not himself in that which he alloweth.’ Whereupon it comes to pass that he that judges and condemns anything, and yet admits it, or puts it in practice, he is damned [condemned], because he does it not of faith.
78. Conscience has that virtue and power that if some work being of it own nature indifferent, if the conscience be good, it makes the work also to be good: and contrariwise, if the conscience be evil, it makes the work also evil.
79. But yet nevertheless it cannot be that any work, being evil in its own nature, may by our conscience be made good. For whatsoever conscience thou hast, yet when thou doest forswear thyself, or when thou committest adultery, thou doest grievously sin. Wherefore the force of conscience has power only in things indifferent, and also in those actions, which of their own nature are good.
80. And amongst these things, somewhat may seem to be against a man’s conscience, or unlawful two ways. First, uncertainly and doubtfully, without full assent, persuasion or resolution; namely, when a man doubts or is uncertain, whether something be lawful, or not. Secondly, determinately and absolutely with a resolved persuasion, to wit, when a man is certainly persuaded that something is simply lawful, albeit by error of conscience, or upon false and erroneous grounds.
81. If anything appears to be unlawful unto a man uncertainly and doubtfully, he is to abstain from doing of it of himself, so long as he is at his owne free choice and liberty, till his doubts be removed.”
The Due Right of Presbyteries... (1644), Ch. 3, Section 3, Question 4, ‘Whether or No is there a Necessity of the Personal Presence of the Whole Church in All the Acts of Church-Censures?’, pp. 41-49
“1st Distinction. There be odds betwixt a free willing people executing the sentence of the Church, and mere executioners and lictors [those who execute judicial sentences].
2nd Distinction. There is a doubting of conscience-speculative, through ignorance of some circumstance of the fact; and a doubt of conscience practical through ignorance of something, which one is obliged to know, and so there is also a speculative and a practical certainty of a thing.
3rd Distinction. There is one certainty required in questione juris, in ‘a question of law’, and another in questione facti, in ‘question of fact’.
4th Distinction. There is, and may be an ignorance-invincible which a man cannot help, in a question of fact; but Papists and schoolmen err who maintain an invincible ignorance in questione juris, in ‘a question of law’, and in this they lay imperfection on God’s Word.
5th Distinction. There is a moral diligence given for knowledge of a thing which suffices to make the ignorance excusable, and there is a moral diligence not sufficient.
6th Distinction. There is a sentence manifestly unjust as the condemning of Christ by witnesses belying one another, and a sentence doubtsomely false.
3rd Conclusion. There is not required the like certainty of conscience-practical in a question of fact, that is required in a question of law:
1. Because in a question of law all ignorance is moral and culpably evil to any who undertakes actions upon conscience of obedience to others; for to all within the visible Church the Word of God is exactly perfect for faith and manners, and everyone is obliged to know all conclusions of law that are determinable by God’s Word.
2. Every one in his actions is to do out of a plerophory, and a full persuasion, of heart, that what he does pleases God, Rom. 14:14, ‘I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean of itself.’
3. We are to do nothing but what is lawful and what in our consciences we are persuaded is lawful, and are to know what is sin and what is no sin. All soldiers in war and lictors, and these who execute the sentence of excommunication, are to know what are the just causes of war and what crimes by God’s Law deserve death and what not, as what homicide, sorcery, parricide, incest and the like sins deserve by God’s Law, and what not: because every one is obliged to know morally what concerns his conscience, that he be not guilty before God; the executioner who beheaded John Baptist sinned, because he was obliged to know this [much]: a prophet who rebukes incest in a king ought not to be put to death; therefore [the conclusion follows]; it was unlawful for the men of Judah to come and make war with Jeroboam and the ten tribes because God forbade that war, 1 Kings 12:23-24.
4th Conclusion. It is not enough that some say: if the question be negatively-just, then soldiers and executioners and people may execute the sentence; that is, if they see no unlawfulness in the fact, I mean unlawfulness in materia juris, in ‘a matter of law’. Hence some say subjects and common soldiers not admitted to the secrets of the council of war may fight lawfully when there is this negative-justice in the war; but foreign soldiers who are conduced [brought in], may not do so, for the [Scriptural] law says he is not free of a fault who intermeddles with matters which belong not to him, to the hurt of others; so teaches Suarez, D. Bannes and Dr. Duvallius;
Yet the command of the prince can remove no doubt of conscience; also that the cause of the war in the matter of law, so far as it is agreeable to God’s Word, is not manifest to executioners, is there culpable ignorance no less than the ignorance of a sentence manifestly unjust; Ergo [Therefore], the practice of these who execute a sentence negatively-only-just, is not lawful. I prove the antecedent:
[1.] because the practical ignorance of what we do which is not warranted by God’s Word, is always culpable, whether the cause be clear or dark: for no obscurity of God’s Law does excuse our ignorant practice when the Word of God can sufficiently resolve us.
2. It is not enough that our moral actions in their lawfulness be just-negatively; because actions moral which are beside the Word of God (praeter dei verbum) to us, who hold God’s Word [to be] perfect in faith and manners, are also, contra dei verbum, against the Word of God, and so unlawful.
3. Because actions-moral, having no warrant but the sole will and commandment of superiors, are undertaken upon the sole faith that what superiors command, if it seem not to us unjust, though it be in itself unjust, may lawfully be done. Now we condemn this in schoolmen and Popish causuists, that the commandment of superiors (as says Gregory de Valent., Bannes, Suarez, Silvester, Navarre) may take away and remove all doubting of conscience and make the action lawful.
Whereas Navarre, Corduba, Sylvester [and] Adrian hold that an action done without a due practical-certainty is unlawful. If he should diligently (says Suarez) search for the truth, and cannot find it, yet the doubter may practice, so he practically persuade himself, he does it out of a good mind; and whereas the Jesuit says that it is his negligence in not seeking the truth, he answers, his negligence which is by past cannot have influence in his present action, to make it unlawful, because it is past and gone.
But I answer: it is physically past, but it is morally present to infect the action, as habitual ignorance makes the acts of unbelief morally worse or ill. And to these we may add that he who does with such a doubt:
1. He sins, because he does not in faith;
2. He exposes himself to the hazard of sinning and of joining with an unjust sentence.
3. It is the corrupt doctrine of Papists, who muzzle up the people in ignorance and discharge them to read God’s Word, and so maintain (because of the obscurity and imperfection of God’s Word, which is not able to determine all questions) that there is an ignorance of many lawful duties which is invincible and to be excused as no ways sinful and which vitiates not our moral actions; so Thomas, Bonaventura, Richard, Gabriele, Occam, Antoninus, Adrianus, Almaine, Suarez, though Occam and Almain may be expounded favorably.
5th Conclusion. Soldiers, lictors, servants [and] people under the eldership are not mere instruments moved only by superiors, as schoolmen say:
1. Because they are moral agents and are no less to obey in faith than superiors are to command in faith, and they are to obey their superiors only in the Lord.
2. They are to give all diligence that they be not accessory to unjust sentences, lest they partake of other men’s sins. What Aquinas, Greg. de Valent. and And. Duvallius says against this, is not to be stood upon.
6th Conclusion. But in questione facti, in matters of fact, there is not required that certainty of conscience. But that we may more clearly understand the conclusion, a question of fact is taken three ways:
1. For a fact expressly set down in God’s Word, as that Moses led the people through the wilderness, that Cain slew his brother Abel, these are questions de facto [in fact], not questiones facti [questions of fact], and must be believed as Almaine and Occam say well, with that same certainty by which we believe God’s Word.
2. A question of fact is [sometimes] taken for a question [which is actually mixed]: the subject whereof is a matter of fact, but the attribute is a matter of law: as if Christ, in saying He was the Son of God, did blaspheme; if the Lord’s priests, in giving David showbread, did commit treason against King Saul; there is some question there made circa factum, about the fact, but it is formally a question of law. For these questions may be cleared by God’s Word, and the ignorance of any questions which may be cleared by God’s Word is vincible [able to be overcome] and culpable, for the law says [that,] ‘The ignorance of these things which we are obliged to know is culpable’, and excuses not.
But thirdly, a question of fact is properly a question whether this Corinthian committed incest or no [1 Cor. 5], whether Titus committed murder or no; and in this there is sometimes invincible ignorance when all diligence morally-possible is given, to come to the knowledge of the fact. Now we know here [that] the question of law must be proved by the law; all are obliged in conscience to know what sins deserve death and excommunication. But whether this man John, Anna, Marie has committed such sins, is a question of fact and cannot be proved by the law or the Word of God, for the Law is not anent singulars or particulars; this is proved by sense and the testimony of witnesses, and therefore the certainty-practical of conscience here is human and fallible, not divine and infallible.
Now, though soldiers, lictors or people join to the execution of a sentence, and have their doubtings anent the fidelity of the witnesses, yet when all diligence morally possible is given to try the matter, they may well be said to do in faith, though they have not certainty of faith concerning the fact, because there cannot be certainty of divine faith in facts; men’s confession, sense [and] the testimony of witnesses cannot breed divine faith: yea here the judge himself may condemn the innocent, and yet the sentence of the judge may be most just because the witnesses are liars, and the judge gives out that sentence in faith, because God’s Word has commanded him to proceed secundum allegata & probata [according to what is alleged and proved]: he must give sentence under two or three witnesses.”
An Exposition of the Ten Commandments… (London, 1675), 1st Commandment, pp. 45-46
“If it be asked whether ignorance can excuse a man, and how far it excuses.
Answer 1. There is no ignorance (properly so called) that excuses wholly, pro toto, it being of itself sinful, and men being obliged to know what is sin, and what not; neither can ever men do that out of faith which they do in ignorance, and know not if it be in itself sinful or lawful: this is to be understood in respect of ignorantia Juris, non facti, of ‘the ignorance of the Law, and not of the ignorance of the fact’ (as they call it); for men may sometimes be ignorant of this, and yet be innocent, as when one is cutting with an axe, and it falls off the helve, etc. but in respect of the Law, there is no invincible ignorance that can excuse any for their not knowing God’s mind, because they are obliged to know it.”
Voet, Gisbert – 56. ‘Of Uncertain Faith, Conscience & Theology’ in Select Theological Disputations (Utrecht: Waesberg, 1655), vol. 3, pp. 825-34
Does an Erroneous Conscience Oblige, or Bind?
The Short Answer:
The person with the erroneous conscience, it being made known to him or disputed of, or he being warned of such, or he is not sure about it all:
1. Is not to do anything that he is not sure about and has not faith to do to the Lord;
2. May not do what he believes is right, though it is actually wrong, as this is yet a transgression of the Law of God;
3. May not do what is objectively right, because he does not believe it is right, and cannot do it with faith to the Lord;
4. May do any other number of things with faith unto the Lord that he knows are right, and are right, which are not the issues in dispute;
5. He ought to seek to further inform his conscience, by the Scriptures, counsel, etc., and others ought to help inform his conscience of what is right.
Gillespie, George – pp. 16-18 of pt. 1, ch. 5 of A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies… (1637)
A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience… (1649), ch. 11, ‘Of the Obliging Power of Conscience’, pp. 133-136. See the whole chapter for more.
“But touching an erring conscience, the question is not whether an erroneous conscience does so tie that we must do nothing on the contrary, nor is the question whether the nearest, actually obliging rule, be conscience; the Arminians tell us [that] though the Word of God, of itself, and by itself, have power to oblige, yet it actually obliges no man except it be understood, and so is believed to be understood, after we use all possible diligence and prudence, for no man is obliged to follow the true sense of the Word against his conscience, though it be erroneous;
But we think the Word of God is both the farest and nearest, and the only obliging rule, and that the ditement [judgment] of the conscience does neither bind potentially nor actually, but is a mere [in Greek], a messenger and an official relater of the will and mind to God to us, and all the obliging power is from the Word;
[???] the messenger of a king and judge is not the obliging [???] that ties the subject, or the herald’s promulgation of the Law, is no obliging rule; for [the] promulgation of heralds is common both to just and to unjust laws, and certainly unjust laws from a just prince lay no band on the conscience or on the man, far less can the promulgation, as the promulgation, lay any bands on the conscience; the word of a messenger and herald is at the best but a condition, or the approximation of the obliging power to us, but all the obliging power is from the king and the judge.
It is most false then, that these Libertines say that the Word does not actually oblige except it be understood, for the understanding, information and indictment of conscience does not add any actual obligation to the Word that it had not before, it only is a reporter, to carry both the Word and the actual obligation to the man; the herald promulgating the law adds no obligation, actual or potential, to the law that it had not before, only it makes an union in distance, and near application and conjunction between the actually obliging law and the understanding knowledge of the person or subject, who is obliged to keep the law; though it be true the fire cannot actually burn but as timber is cast to it, yet the fire has from its own nature both potential and actual burning, not from the act of casting the timber in the fire;
Nor is this a concludent reason, ‘no man is obliged [to] follow how the true sense of the Word against his conscience, though erroneous, ergo [therefore] the erroneous conscience does oblige, or ergo, actual obligation to obedience is not from the Word, but from the conscience;’ no more than this is a good consequence: no man is obliged to obey the Law in itself, just contrary to the promulgation of an erring and mistaking herald, ergo, the mistaking herald’s promulgation gives to the Law actual obligation over the subject; for it only follows [that] we are not to do contrary to the actual indictment of an erroneous conscience, but not obliged to follow the erroneous conscience;
Nor are we obliged to follow what our conscience says is true and good, because, or upon this formal reason and ground, that the conscience says so, more than we are to believe and practice what the Church or the conscience of others, [who are] the Church, the learned and godly, say; for we make not the word of the Church the formal object of our faith, but ‘thus saith the Lord’ only, because the Church is but a company of men and so our faith should depend upon men, even though holy and speaking ingenuously what their conscience dictates as true, which is absurd, ergo, by the same reason, what one man’s conscience, our own or others’ say, is not the formal object of our faith and practices, for so also our faith should depend on man, not on God.
And we say the conscience, at its best, is but regula regulata [a rule being regulated] not, regula regulans [a regulating rule], nor ought it to have the throne of God, for God is only Regula Regulans. If it were a rule, it is to be ruled by God and his Word, yea, as we are to try all things and not believe with a blind faith what others say, or their conscience proposes to themselves and us, as truth, for then we make a Pope of the consciences of men under the notion of teachers and Church; so we are not to be ruled without trying, and absolutely [ruled] by our own conscience, but to try its dictates by the Word of God, otherwise we make a Pope and a God of our own conscience.
…an erroneous conscience must be a transgressing conscience, and it is a contradiction that a faculty sinning should oblige to obedience to the Law of God, in the same consideration, because it sins.”
That Good Intentions do Not Make an Evil Work Good
The Divine Right of Church Government... (1646), p. 215
“We all know the intention of the end goes in the intention before the action, but not as an essential cause to make an evil action good, or [to] make an indifferent action necessary and honest: A good intention does make a good action good and better, but that a good intention (as idolators are full of good intentions) can never so season the means, as… that it can make evil to be good.
Vasquez condemns the Fathers of ignorance, because they said, Propositum bonum excusat malum opus [A proposed good excuses a bad work]: so Cassianus said [that] it was lawful to lie for a good end, and Chrysostom and Ambrose said the same, as Vasquez says: see Aquinas for this.”
pp. 76-77 of Case 4, ‘of Scandal’ in Nine Cases of Conscience Occasionally Determined (London, 1678)
“2. The first [way in which a man may be guilty of scandal] is, when a man does something before another man, which is in itself evil, unlawful and sinful, in which case, neither the intention of him that does it, nor the event, as to him that sees it done, is of any consideration;
For it matters not whether the doer had an intention to draw the other into sin thereby, or not: neither does it matter whether the other were thereby induced to commit sin or not: the matter or substance of the action being evil, and done before others, is sufficient to render the doer guilty of having given scandal, though he had neither any intention himself so to do, nor were any person actually scandalized thereby; because whatsoever is in itself, and in its own nature evil, is also of itself and in its own nature scandalous and of evil example.
Thus did Hophni and Phineas, the sons of Eli, give scandal by their wretched profaneness and greediness about the sacrifices of the Lord, and their vile and shameless abusing the women, 1 Sam. 2:17,22. And so did David also give great scandal in the matter of Uriah, 2 Sam. 12:14. Here the rule is, Do nothing that is evil, for fear of giving scandal.”
The Definition of Binding the Conscience
Gillespie, George – Sections 1-2, pp. 7-8 of pt. 1, ch. 4 of A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies… (1637)
On Attaining & Maintaining a Good Conscience
Perkins, William – A Discourse of Conscience, Wherein is set Down the Nature, Properties & Differences Thereof: as also the Way to get and Keep Good Conscience GB (Cambridge: 1596)
Worship, William – The Christian’s Jewel, or the Treasure of a Good Conscience (London, 1617)
Worship (fl.1603-1625) was a reformed, English chaplain.
Ward, Samuel – Balm from Gilead to Recover Conscience, in a Sermon (1616; London, 1618)
Ward (1577-1640) was an English puritan minister. Ward’s four heads are:
1. What Conscience is.
2. What a good one is; how it may be discerned from bad ones and known to be good.
3. How good a thing it is.
4. What is the use, office and effect of a good one.
Dyke, Jeremiah – Good Conscience: or a Treatise Showing the Nature, Means, Marks, Benefit & Necessity Thereof (London, 1626) ToC
Sibbes, Richard – ‘The Demand of a Good Conscience’ a sermon on 1 Pet. 3:21 in Evangelical Sacrifices, in 19 Sermons... (London, 1640)
Amyraut, Paul – The Triumph of a Good Conscience. Or a Sermon Preached upon the 2nd of the Revelation, the latter part of the 10th verse. Wherein the nature of faithfulness is in part opened, and the doctrine of perseverance confirmed, and some cases of conscience cleared (London, 1648) This work has an imprimatur by Edmund Calamy.
We do not have any bio info on this Amyraut (b. 1600 or 1601).
Stubbes, Henry – Conscience, the Best Friend upon Earth: or, The Happy Effects of Keeping a Good Conscience… (London, 1677) being 3 sermons
Stubbes (c.1605-1678) was an English presbyterian puritan that was ejected from the Church of England in 1662.
Durham, James – Heaven Upon Earth in the Serene Tranquility & Calm Composure, in the Sweet Peace & Solid Joy of a Good Conscience Sprinkled with the Blood of Jesus & Exercised Always to be Void of Offence Toward God & Toward Men: brought down and holden forth in 22 very Searching Sermons on Several Texts of Scripture… (Edinburgh, 1685)
English Popish Ceremonies (1637), pt. 2, ch. 1, p. 12
“Our gracious prince, who now by the blessing of God happily reigns over us, will not (we assure ourselves) be offended at us for having regard to our consciences [though it goes against his command], God’s own deputies placed in our souls, so far, that for all the world we dare not hazard their peace and quiet by doing anything with their repugnance and aversation;”
That One Cannot Repent of Something that One Cannot See the Blame in
On David Calderwood in 1617, p. xv in ‘Life of David Calderwood’, appended to The History of the Kirk of Scotland (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society, 1842-49), vol. 8
“He could not perceive, and therefore would not acknowledge, that he had committed anything worthy of blame.”
On Sinning Against One’s Conscience
On Wounded, Afflicted, Troubled & Burdened Consciences
On a Wounded Conscience
Bernard, Richard – ch. 45, ‘Of the Wounded Conscience, the Causes, the Continuance Longer or Shorter Time; the Effects & Preparatives to Cure it, of the Sovereign Salve, and Cordials After; how to keep from a Wounded Conscience, of the Difference Between it & the Desperate, & between it & Melancholic Passion’ in Christian See to thy Conscience: or a Treatise of the Nature, Kinds & Manifold Differences of Conscience… (London, 1631), pp. 304-344
Bernard (bap.1568-1642) was an English conforming puritan.
Fuller (c.1607-1661) was a reformed Anglican.
On an Afflicted or Troubled Conscience
Propositions Containing Answers to Certain Demands in Diverse Spiritual Matters Specially Concerning the Conscience Oppressed with the Grief of Sin. With an Epistle Against Hardness of Heart… (Edinburgh, 1597) ToC
Paramuthion, Two Treatises of the Comforting of an Afflicted Conscience… with Certain Epistles of the same argument. Hereunto are added Two Sermons, with certain grave and wise counsels and answers… (London, 1598)
Burton (bap.1578-1648) was an English, Independent (though he switched his views numerous times), puritan. Burton’s ears were cut off in 1637 for writing pamphlets attacking the views of Archbishop Laud. He appears to write in this book from personal experience.
Conformity’s Deformity. In a Dialogue Between Conformity & Conscience. Wherein the Main Head of all the Controversies in these times concerning Church-Government is Asserted & Maintained… (London, 1646) 27 pp. ToC
Bolton, Robert – Instructions for a Right Comforting [of] Afflicted Consciences: with Special Antidotes against some grievous Temptations: delivered for the most part in the lecture… EEBO (London, 1631) 445 pp. ToC
Downame, John – The Christian Warfare: Written Especially for their Sakes who are Exercised in the Spiritual Conflict of Tentations [Trials or Temptations], and are Afflicted in Conscience in the Sight & Sense of their Sins 4th ed. (London, 1634) ToC of pt. 1
Sedgwick, John – The Bearing & Burden of the Spirit, wherein the Sickness & Soundness of the Soul is Opened, and Eight Cases of Conscience Cleared & Resolved for the settling & comforting of perplexed Consciences (London, 1639)
We do not have any bio info on Sedgwick (c.1600-1643).
Sibbes, Richard – A Consolatory Letter to an Afflicted Conscience Full of Pious Admonitions & Divine Instructions (London, 1641) 6 pp. The first half deals with an afflicted conscience; the second half argues against separatism.
Sibbes (c.1577-1635) was a conforming puritan.
Dickson, David – Book 3 of Therapeutica Sacra [Sacred Therapeutics], Showing Briefly the Method of Healing the Diseases of the Conscience, Concerning Regeneration (Edinburgh, 1664) Use the links in the tables of contents to go the relevant chapter.
Dickson (1583-1662) was a Scottish covenanter.
Goodwin, Thomas – Certain Select Cases Resolved: I. A Child of Light Walking in Darkness, or a Treatise Showing the Causes by which, the Cases Wherein, and the Ends for Which, God Leaves his Children to Distress of Conscience, Together with Directions how to Walk so as to Come forth of such a Condition… on Isa. 50:10-11 in Works, vol. 3, pp. 231-344
On a Burdened Conscience
Collinges, John – A Cordial for a Fainting Soul, or, Some essays for the satisfaction of wounded spirits laboring under several burdens, in which several cases of conscience most ordinary to Christians, especially in the beginning of their conversion, are resolved: being the sum of fourteen sermons, delivered in so many lectures… with a table annexed, containing the several cases of conscience which… are spoken to directly or collaterally (London, 1649)
Collinges (1623-1690) was a puritan who continued Matthew Poole’s commentary on the whole Bible after he died. He is also represented in the six volumes of Puritan Sermons.
On a Scrupulous Conscience
Calamy, Benjamin – ‘A Discourse about a Scrupulous Conscience, Preached…’ (London, 1683) 41 pp.
Calamy (bap.1646-c.1685) was reformed.
On a Doubting Conscience
Sharp, John – ‘The Case of a Doubting Conscience’ in Sermons Preached on Several Occasions: with Two Discourses of Conscience, vol. 2 2nd ed. (London, 1729), p. 305 ff
Sharp (1645–1714) was a latitudinarian, Anglican archbishop and divine.
That the Magistrate Does not Bind the Conscience & the Church Craves the Conscience to be Subject to the Word
The Divine Right of Church Government… (1646)
“3. Magistrates as magistrates hold forth in their Law abstinence from these sins [of adultery, incest, murder, etc.], not as the ambassadors of Christ, craving subjection of conscience and divine faith to those charges, but only external obedience:
For though ministers as ministers crave faith and subjection of conscience to all commandments and inhibitions, as in Christ’s stead, 2 Cor. 5:19-20, yet the magistrate as the magistrate does not crave either faith or subjection of conscience, nor is he in Christ’s stead to lay divine bands on the conscience to submit the soul and conscience to believe and abstain; he is the deputy of God as the God of Order and as the Creator, and Founder, and another of human societies and of peace, to exact external obedience and to lay bands on your hands, not to shed innocent blood, and on your body not to defile it with adultery or incest, nor to violate the chastity of your brother;
Hence it is evident that the adversaries are far out who would have ministers who do hold forth commands that lay hold on the conscience and crave faith and soul-submission under the pain of eternal wrath, to do and act as the deputies and vicars of those who have nothing to do with the conscience [such as prelates who simultaneously held civil offices], and have neither office nor authority to crave soul submission or to threaten or inflict any punishment but such as is circumscribed within the limits of time and which the body of clay is capable of; yea, when the magistrate punishes spiritual sins, heresy, idolatry, he punishes them only with temporary punishment.”
On Non-Moral Actions, Ignorance, Fear & Guilt
See also, ‘Does Ignorance Excuse Sin?’, ‘It is Wrong to Act with Unsure Conscience’, ‘Does an Erroneous Conscience Oblige?’ and ‘On Error, Guilt, Certainty, Private Knowledge & Passive Obedience in Judicial Rulings, & Conscience in Following Them, or Not’.
Conscience with the Power & Cases Thereof (1639), bk. 3, ch. 19, ‘Of a Voluntary Act’, p. 92-4
“Question 2. What are those things which make an action to become not voluntary.
4th Answer. Nothing at all but either absolute violence of constraint, or chance which could not be foreseen or prevented. And for such things as are done through absolute violence or mere chance, they have neither the nature of obedience or sin. As if one should be forced to offer incense or bow the knee before an idol, or should merely by chance kill another, Deut. 19:5-10.
Question 3. What are we to think of those actions which are done through ignorance?
5th Answer. First, that ignorance which is in some sort a cause of the action (so that if a man knew what he did, he would not do it), if it be involuntary, both in itself and in its cause, that is, not affected nor procured, nor tolerated, does make the action merely casual and involuntary, and so excuses from sin.
6. Secondly, ignorance of the Law does never wholly excuse, because all men are bound to know the Will of God: but yet it does somewhat lessen the fault if it be not affected, 1 Tim. 1:13; John 4:41; Acts 3:17. But if it be affected, it is of itself a sin and so does not diminish, but rather increase the guilt of other sins, 2 Pet. 3:5.
7. Thirdly, an ignorance of the fact, if a man has used such diligence as he ought, does excuse him, because by such an ignorance the fact is made casual. So Jacob being deceived lay with Leah, whom he took to be Rachel, Gen. 29. But if due diligence have not been used, ignorance of the fact does not altogether excuse, although it do somewhat lessen the fault. And this seems to have been the case of Abimelech, Gen. 20:5.
Question 4. What are we to judge of those actions which are done through fear?
8th Answer. First, fear does not simply make an action involuntary: but does, considering the circumstances of time and place, etc., impel a man to will this or that. As appears in that known instance of the merchant, who is induced through fear of death to throw away his merchandise into the sea. Fear therefore does never wholly excuse from sin: yea more, fear itself is oft a sin forbidden, and a cause too of most grievous sins, Mt. 10:26; Phil. 1:28; 1 Pet. 3:14; Apoc. 21:8. Although therefore, a great fear or terror, such as is wont sometimes to trouble even a man of good courage before men, be accounted for a good excuse, and is of force to make contracts done through fear void, yet before God such an excuse will not be taken.
9. Secondly, yet that sin which is committed through some strong terror, is not so grievous (if other things be alike) as that which is committed of the voluntary inclination of the will without any such fear of danger, because in fear the temptation is stronger: and such a fall, if repentance follow, does proceed not so much from malice, as from infirmity and perturbation. And this was Peter’s case when he denied Christ.”
Question 6. What are we to judge of those actions which are done through inadvertency or through not minding of what we do?
11 Answer. Inadvertency or mindlesness is of the same nature with ignorance: because it differs not from it, but only as the privation of an act does differ from the privation of a disposition. Inadvertency therefore is itself often a sin and is opposed to watchfulness. At such a time therefore as we are bound to watch and attend, if we watch not and attend, not we may be rightly said to will this watchfulness, not to will it, yea to will our inadvertency, Isa. 1:3.
12. Again this inadvertency is sometimes voluntarily chosen in itself, Amos 6:10. Sometimes it is voluntarily chosen in its cause, Mt. 13.
Question 7. How are we said to will a thing in its cause?
13th Answer. When we do will something upon which another thing follows. He which will be present at immoderate drinkings may be said to will drunkenness. He which willingly gives himself to sleep and idleness, may be accounted guilty of a willing neglect of the duties of his calling. He which will please men may be said with his will to displease God, Gal. 1:10.”
van Mastricht, Peter – 5. XII, ‘[Objection:] That if we are not able to solve the contradictions objected by the Socinians, being ignorant, we ought to be brotherly’ in The Gangrene of the Cartesian Innovations… (Amsterdam, 1677), Section 2, the Particular Points of Cartesianism are Exhibited, 18. On the Nature of the Trinity, pp. 335-36