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Doctrine of Christian Liberty - Lord of the Conscience

July 24, 2022 Series: Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith

Scripture: Matthew 15:1–9, Malachi 1:6–13, 1 Peter 2:11–17, Genesis 1–8, Psalm 33:6–9, Psalm 148:1–14, Isaiah 45:11–23, James 4:11–12, 1 Corinthians 14:4, Deuteronomy 29:29

Quote – Samuel Rutherford

A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience

A good conscience is a complete entire thing, as our text saith, both toward God and man;

its not to be a moral man in the duties of the second table, and a skeptic in the duties of the first table,

not in some few fundamentals, as patrons for liberty of conscience do plead, but in the whole revealed will of God;

and therefore the good conscience consisteth in an indivisible point, as they say, the number of four doth, if you add one, or take one from it, you vary the essence, and make it three or five, not four;

so Paul taketh in completeness in it, I have all good conscience, either all or none; and a good conscience toward God and man;

not a conscience for the streets and the Church, and not for the house, and not for the days of Hosanna, and not for eternity;

therefore they require an habit to a good conscience

Review/ Introduction

Scripture -> Matthew 15.1-9

We’ve spent several weeks in reprogramming our thinking regarding liberty

We're going to find that liberty of conscience

  • is not a liberty to substitute the doctrines and commands of men for the doctrines and commands of God.

We're going to find that God alone is lord of the conscience.

There are several things that we must say at the outset

  • sometimes in Presbyterian churches there are overbearing elders that are doing things that are against the scriptures
    • and people say, well, you know, I really need to submit to my elders in this.

Let's make it clear, at the start, that it doesn't matter what the authority structure is:

  • whether it is in the family
  • whether it is in the church
  • whether it is in the state
  • whether it's the pecking order in your circle of friends

That there is no lawful authority except from God.

  • And God alone is lord of the conscience.

The Practical Nature of Liberty – Defining Your Ethic

Your understanding of God as Lord of the Conscience

  • Will determine your ethic

An ethic is a set of moral principles guiding your life

  • How you apply the counsels, doctrines, commands of Scripture
  • And how you don’t apply them

That is your ethic.

And we must not confuse that ethic with

  • a misplaced desire simply to take orders
  • a misplaced desire to throw off orders.

The liberty that we have in Christ, as we have studied

  • is a Liberty unto obedience
  • not a liberty unto disobedience

It is not a liberty that frees us from the law of God

  • It is a liberty and a freeness that comes with having a new heart being able to obey the law of God

Your Ethic Must Not be Like This

It is not a liberty as warned about in Malachi 1.6-13

Where we're doing the things that God has commanded but we’re doing them

  • with weariness
  • with disdain

Sure, you're keeping the commandments

  • But when you bring the lame, and the halt unto God for sacrifice, is it not evil?
  • But will your boss or parents accept those?
    • If they won't, why do you bring them to the Lord of the universe?

When the Westminster divines say → God alone is lord of the conscience.

  • They're not saying that there's no such thing as mediate authorities.
    • For mediate authorities have been placed before us for the very purpose of submitting to them
  • What they are saying is that those mediate authorities
    • also have a king to which they answer
    • and that we must obey their councils and commands
      • when they are indifferent
      • according to their station
      • according to the Word of God.

Your Ethic Must Consider This

1 Peter 2.11-17

  • This is the biblical position.

So, what does the civil magistrate have a duty to do, among other things?

  • There is a 6th commandment application
    • Let me ask → where in the Bible does it say that the speed limit on Hwy 74 should be 55?
    • Obviously, we're not going to find that.
  • But we are going to find that the civil magistrate
    • has a duty within those areas of authority that belong to him
  • As a magistrate
    • he has a particular duty for that
    • he is going to regulate speed limits.
  • He is doing his 6th commandment duty.
  • Now, we may think the speed limit should be 55.
    • You're free to violate that law
    • But you're also obliged to pay the consequences for that violation

Now, when I say you're free to break that law you're really not, not as part of the church of Christ

When Peter says, “Submit yourself to every ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake, whether to the king of supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him…”

  • Christians ought to be the most governable people in the world.
  • Sometimes we haven't had that reputation
    • because we have had enemies of the gospel in places of authority.
    • because we have been independent
    • because we have been rebellious, even
  • But let's understand
    • Under God, we are not free to throw off those laws.
    • Under God, we are not free to throw off those laws that we don’t like or don’t agree with
  • We are free, however
    • to cheerfully obey

Every ordinance of man means

  • every lawful ordinance
  • every ordinance that are that are in keeping with the government that the Lord has set over us

Now, if that government is unjust

  • then let us use lawful means of redress

Now, if that government is unjust

  • and there is no lawful means of redress
  • then let us go elsewhere.

There are all kinds of options other than rebellion.

  • there's also the doctrine of the lesser magistrate

But this is another discussion for another time.

How Do We Figure Out A Proper Ethic?

How do we figure an ethic in the midst of all of this?

  1. We see that God alone is lord of the conscience.
  2. We see that there is only one true authority in the universe.
  3. And because there is only one true authority in the universe
    • there is only one ethic in the universe

The ethic of the Scripture is our ethic

  • the 10 commandments
  • their implications and applications.

This is one of the great tenants of monotheism

  • one God
  • one law for all men of all ages

Unchallenged Lord of the Conscience

Let’s look at the ways in which God is the unchallenged Lord of the conscience.

First - He Created All Things

It should not denied by any Bible believing Christian, that God is the Creator and Sustainer of all creation

  • It is His creation
    • therefore, He is supreme over it

The ethic that he imposes is the only right ethic

  • But we like being in charge.
  • But we like having that small little circle, where we have absolute sway and people just do what we tell them

However, God has absolute sway

  • because He has created all things.

And so, He alone is Lord of the conscience

  • He alone dictates the ethic.

No man can be a law to himself, not rightly.

  • God Himself is the creator and sustainer
    • Everything belong s to Him

Genesis 6

What have we just read about in Genesis 1 and 2?

  • God created everything

Before the fall, God tells Adam

  • to name the animals
  • that he has a responsibility to subdue the earth, and to bring it under his own dominion
  • that he is to use creation and that dominion that God has given him to bring glory to God.

After the fall, the Lord still tells him again

  • that he is to exercise dominion.

The post fall covenant

  • still includes dominion
  • still includes subduing all things
  • still includes the one ethic -> the glory of God

Adam and his family begin to multiply, and we separate into two races.

  • the children of man
  • the children of God

But we see God's hand in all of that

  • the Lord arching over all of his creation is still commanding.

In the days of Enos, men called upon the name of the Lord (Gen 4). And in that godly line

  • we have those men that were mindful of the covenant that were giving praise to God

Unlike those that traveled out to the east with Cain

  • his people spent their time playing instruments and seeking after their own indulgence

This culminated in Lamech, who had done things that no man had ever done before (Gen 5)

  • taken two wives to himself

He slew a man, for an insult.

H e would not deny himself anything

  • a self-made man with no ethic but his own.

Then in Gen 6 the Lord declares his sovereignty overall.

  • He says, in a way, I'm going to start over
  • It's not because he made a mistake
  • it's not because it didn’t go the way he planned
  • This is still a part of the sovereign plan
    • He wasn’t surprised.

He is simply asserting His right to start over.

  • He gives the same mandate to Noah that He gave to Adam. (Gen 8)

He is asserting his sovereign rights over the creation.

  • You see, He was not beholden to mankind at all.

Psalm 33.6-9

Do you see what the Psalm is saying that when the Lord commands?

  • the earth springs into action to obey
  • that there is no action outside of that command
  • that He rules in a sovereign and unchallenged fashion over all the earth
  • that because He made it, He sets the ethic for it.

Psalm 148.4-14

Notice, everyone, no matter, young or old, rich, or poor, high, low, and everything, mountains and hills, deeps and seas, winds, and rain. Animals that walk or creep or fly

  • All have a responsibility
  • All must give an answer of praise to the Lord.
    • He requires it of them.
    • He alone is Lord.
    • Psalm 148 teaches this with great clarity.

When we say that God alone is lord of the conscience

  • the first reason we say that is because He created all things

Second - He Commands All Things

We see that the Lord has set his precepts in the earth to be obeyed.

He has not only created He has commanded.

Isaiah 45.11-23

This passage, and many other passages of Scripture teach us

  • Not only has God created
  • But God has also commanded

This is important, because there are a set of folks running loose on the landscape in our country today,

  • wanting to harken back to the founding fathers that talk about a creating God but not a commanding God.

If you want to go back to the God of the founding fathers

  • then you have to go back to a creating God
  • but not a commanding

We have a God, not only who creates, but also commands

  • He has not kept silence
  • He has spoken.
  • He has given us His Word.

Many of our founding fathers did not believe the Bible was the inspired and infallible and inerrant Word of God.

But in those commands, we understand that we must obey God alone

  • He is lord of the conscience.
  • He is the founder of our ethic.

There is no other ethic.

  • at least not a real one

James 4.11-12

This teaches us that there is ultimately one legislator

  • just one Commander …. God Himself.

And once we begin to sit in judgment of our brothers, in the sense that James is talking about here

  • with evil motives and with pride
  • we elevate ourselves to become judges of the law, rather than to have the law judge us.

This is a difficulty we have today, even in Christian circles

  • there are very many times when people sit in judgment upon the word of God, and we must never do that.

The Word of God must always sit in judgment of us because God alone is lord of the conscience.

  • We cannot be Lords of our own conscience.

Romans 14.4

The context into which Paul is writing there is that certain in the Roman church had set themselves up over one another, to become Lords of their faith

  • And Paul says, no. You can't do that.
  • To his own master He stands or falls.
  • Remember, God alone is lord of the conscience.

Now, this does not mean that every man is an island to himself

  • that he opens his Bible in his closet
  • that whatever he understands is what he does, and he doesn’t need help.
  • that he doesn't need mediate authorities
  • that he doesn't need teachers and all of that.

Rather it is to say

  • that every mediate teacher and every guide and all input received must be biblical.
    • show me chapter and verse
    • show me the good and necessary inference from scripture
      • to bind
      • to forbid

But after that is done, you must follow it or else you are again sitting in judgment of Scripture

  • But often, we read into Scripture, such that it seems to allow whatever we want
    • And never forbids that which we don’t want


The purpose of this section was to simply remind ourselves that God is the Ruler

  • Because He created all things
  • Because He commands all things

That when we say God is Lord of the Conscience →

  • we understand that he is the unchallenged Lord of the Conscience
  • we understand that He tells us what is right and what is wrong
    • We do not have that ability nor right

He is Lord of the conscience b/c He is the Creator.

  • In Genesis 6
    • He pressed his rights as creator and sent the flood to start over with 8 souls

He is Lord of the conscience b/c He is Commander

  • In Isaiah 45
    • He is the God who commands

Our conscience must be informed by the ethic of Holy Scripture.

Now, let us confess → this is easier said than done.

  • To say there is one God and one ethic is easy
    • But to decide what that ethic is often difficult.

So many times in Scripture we are counseled

  • to gather wisdom from others like your pastors and church elders
  • to gather wisdom from searching the Scriptures.
  • to take advantage of the gifts Christ has given the church

And sometimes, we can press too far.

  • we turn the providence of God into Precept.

The last thing we ever want to do is turn Providence into Precept.

Typically, this ends up as us finding the answer we were looking for anyway

  • We interpret events around us to support what we were looking to do or to have
  • Buying a car, getting married, finding a church

He tells us to work prescriptively according to His commandments

  • not according to His providence.

Outcomes belong to God

  • precepts are given to us.

Deuteronomy 29.29

  • We are bound to his precepts.

His precepts tell us certain things about Providence

  • always give thanks
  • never murmur
  • obey those that rule over you because they give an account to God for your souls

Those are preceptive things that surround providence.

  • The ethic that we have, is then to follow the commands and councils of Scripture.
  • It is in that way, that God alone is lord of the conscience.

So, when we hear that God alone is Lord of the Conscience

  • We must understand that it is the commanding God
    • We're not talking about God's providence.
    • We're not talking about God's office as creator
    • We’re talking about Gods as the commander

It is His commands and precepts from Deuteronomy 29.29

  • those things that are revealed
  • those are the things we hold on to for our ethic that we may do all this law.


May you grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.

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