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Doctrine of Christian Liberty - Lord of the Conscience II

July 31, 2022 Series: Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith

Scripture: Galatians 5:1–13, Matthew 15:1–9

Quote – Samuel Rutherford

A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience

“The Word of God must be the rule of Conscience, and conscience is a servant; and an under-judge only, not a Lord, nor an Absolute and independent sovereign…Conscience is ruled by Scripture”

Review/ Introduction

Scripture: Galatians 5.1, 13; Matthew 15.1-9

The last time we met on this topic, we were talking about God alone, being Lord of the conscience.

We spoke about the Practical Nature of Liberty

  • How that practical side plays out in our ethic

Remember how we defined an ethic?

  • those set of moral principles guiding your life

For the Christian…

  • It is how you apply the counsels, doctrines, commands of Scripture
  • And also, how you do not apply them

The liberty that we have in Christ

  • 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 brings us to the law of God with a willingness and a new heart being able to obey the law of God

As we continue to open up Ch. 20, Art. 2 of the WCF

  • we begin to talk about the doctrines and commandments of men.

And God Himself, is in this article described as “The Lord of the Conscience Alone”

We spoke a little about that last week-

  • He is the unchallenged Lord of the conscience

God occupies a unique place.

By way of review, there are several implications that we have talked about before

  • Remember there is no authority but from God.

Romans 13 talks to us about the Civil magistracy that Paul is in the midst of

  • He is under Roman government
  • He himself is a Roman citizen.
  • In the midst of that context, he says →
    • The powers that be are ordained of God.

There are things to be said here

  • Whenever we have wicked rulers over us
    • let us not take a step back from that and say, Oh, God did not want this to happen.
      • Yes, he did.
    • In fact, God often sends wicked rulers to people, so that they will groan and call upon His name.
      • Hosea 13.11
      • Isaiah 10.5
    • The other side of this is that there is no authority upon heaven or earth that is able to command you to sin
      • They may have the authority within their own governments to put you to death
      • but they cannot command you to sin.

Many of our fathers and mothers in the faith have died for a confession of faith in Christ.

  • France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, England

You understand that there have been days where it was not so easy to be a Christian

Do you understand that men and women were commanded to leave Christ behind?

  • Yet there is no authority, except from God.
  • The powers that be are ordained of God.

Rounding out our discussion on the God alone being the Lord of Conscience, He is also Lord of our thoughts.

God is Lord of our Thoughts

When we say God is the Lord of our conscience, that also mean that He is Lord of our thoughts

Conscience is a faculty of the inner man, the soul.

  • As such if God is Lord of the conscience
    • He is the Lord of our soul

So often we content ourselves with thinking

  • since our sins have not broken out in scandal
  • since no one knows about them
  • since they are only in our minds
    • then we are okay
    • then they do not really matter

Or course, none of us would say that out loud

  • But often our behavior betrays us
    • that as long as no one knows about it
    • that as long as the other person does not hear
      • it does not matter

The Lord Jesus addresses this in the Sermon on the Mount

  • when talking to us about the completeness of God's law and how it reaches to all the powers of the soul and intentions and so on.

When Jesus says

  • that thou shalt not kill, but I say unto you, do not even hate your brother. Matt 5.21-22
  • Be careful how you look at a member of the opposite sex, and so on. Matt 5.27-28

Our Lord is setting forth his purview over our souls.

  • God alone is lord of the conscience
  • Therefore, the commands of God reach
    • to our thoughts
    • to our words
    • to our affections
    • and to all other powers of the soul.

The Connection Between Obedience and Thinking

2 Corinthians 10. 3-5

  • to control every thought – which means
  • the content of thinking and reasoning
  • the content of judgment, purpose, or intent

How often do you think of obedience and thinking in the same sentence?

Psalm 139

  • O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising,
    Thou understandest my thought afar off.
  • How does it end?
    • Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me,
      And lead me in the way everlasting.

This is recognized by a consistent biblical witness

  • When we say God alone is lord of the conscience and that He rules over our thoughts.
    • we might also remember
      • that although we have certain laws on our books in the United States right now,
      • that God is absolutely unique in that office, as Lord of the conscience as one who rules over our thoughts.

The civil government, as it was erected by God, was never intended to punish men for their thoughts.

  • Yet, today, our federal government attempts to punish men for their thoughts

When we say God alone, is lord of the conscience.

  • That means everyone else is not and has no right to dictate the thoughts of men.
  • God is unique in that authority
    • Only He rules over our conscience.

Our conscience is the fountain of all our actions, our thoughts, and our words, and our deeds.

So, you see, God is Lord of Our Thought and Has the Right to Call Us To Account For Those Thoughts

References: Genesis 17.15-22. Psalm 10.1-14, Psalm 14.1-3, Psalm 53.1-4

The Conscience Made Free

God alone is lord of the conscience, but He has left it Free.

  • from the doctrines and commandments of men.

Notice there is a particular context

  • which are in anything contrary to His Word in matters of faith or worship
  • or beside it in matters of faith or worship

When the divines say faith or worship, as the context, it is important for us to remember that

  • faith is overarching
  • worship is the practice of our faith.
  • Faith incites men to action through worship

When we talk about

  • how we worship
  • why we worship
  • ways we worship
    • those are a part of our faith
    • those are informed by our faith
    • those flow out of our faith

What is meant by faith is not just

do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?

Faith is the entire body of doctrine set forth in the Scriptures

  • And when it comes to that faith
  • And when it comes to what goes with that faith
    • God has made us free from the doctrines and commandments of men.
    • And God has bound us to His Word.

Bound to the All-Sufficient Scriptures

And how are bound to the Word of God?

  • In regard to things that are contrary to or beside the Word of God, with regard to faith.

For example, as requirements of faith and worship

  • We cannot require the sign of the cross
  • We cannot require kneeling entering the church
  • We cannot require fish only on Fridays

Do you recognize what they are saying here?

Do you recognize the doctrine this points to?

There is a strong assertion by the Westminster scholars on the Sufficiency of Scripture

  • They are saying that the Bible has everything in it that we need
    • for faith
    • for worship
      • for everything

You look at most churches today and even in some Reformed circles

  • You might find that this doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is not really taught, nor properly understood
  • Sometimes we think our word is sufficient to command against Scripture
  • Sometimes we think we can adjust Scripture to fit our circumstances and ignore what it really says – as if it truly is not sufficient

When we properly refer to the sufficiency of scripture

  • As it regards what we believe about God
  • As it regards what duty God requires of us
  • As it regards how we worship God

We believe the scriptures give us the sum total of that.

It is the words of Scripture – both implicit and explicit

  • what is called good and necessary inference
  • or good and necessary consequence from Scripture.
  • In other words, we use logic, to draw out of the scriptures
    • what the Scriptures teach
      • not that we use irrationality to turn the Scripture into anything that we want
      • but that we use logic and the science of rational inference to draw out those implicit statements not there explicitly.

We may have disagreements over what the Scripture teaches.

  • But those differences must be drawn from the Scriptures.
  • And yes, we understand we are not going to agree on every particular.
  • But notice what the foundation is.
    • The foundation is that God alone is lord of the conscience.
  • Where does God speak?
    • In the scriptures
  • Where does he speak surely and securely?
    • In the scriptures.

The foundation is and must always be

  • the all-sufficient scriptures.
  • the all-sufficient word of God
2 Timothy 3.14-17

Note, the apostle Paul does not say

  • the scriptures will only take you so far, and there are other good works that you must figure out on your own

No, All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable

  • for doctrine
  • for reproof
  • for correction
  • for instruction in righteousness
  • that the man of God may be perfect
    • artios → fully equipped with every necessary component, brought into his fullest sense of maturity, thoroughly furnished in and out, top to bottom, front to back
      • unto all good works.

Thus, we say God alone is lord of the conscience,

  • He has made it free from the doctrine and commandments of men, in any and every thing
    • in anything that is beside it
    • in anything that is contrary to it
      • regarding faith and worship.

Such a robust doctrine of the sufficiency of the scriptures

  • Is a challenge for us all.
    • There are so many voices today.
    • So many worldviews competing
    • So many competing for authority and honor
2 Timothy 4.7

Paul uses the word Faith in this sense when he says

  • I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course. I have kept the faith.

This is the use that the divines are using here when they talk about faith, or worship.

What is meant by faith is not just

do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?

Faith is the body of doctrine and practice that is taught in the scriptures. (1 Cor 9.25, Phil 1.27, 30, Rev 14.12)

Isaiah 29.13

Jesus quotes this passage in Matt 15.9

  • Although He quotes it from the Septuagint version, which is slightly different.
    • but the sense of it is certainly the same.

Notice what it says here.

  • Wherefore the Lord said, For as much as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me. And their fear toward me, is taught by the precept of men.

In this context, fear is used in such a way that it talks about the entirety of the service, devotion, and belief that we owe to God.

Listen to the words of Calvin and he comments on this passage:

But it is the will of the Lord, that our “fear,” and the reverence with which we worship him, shall be regulated by the rule of his word; and he demands nothing so much as simple obedience, by which we shall conform ourselves and all our actions to the rule of the word, and not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.

Notice how we are not to carry out those devotions here in Isaiah 291.3

  • by the precepts of men

This is why Matthew 15.1-9 is our text, once we take up the precepts of men, what do they do?

  • They push out the doctrines of God.
  • They push out what God requires
  • They make only room for themselves.

And so, in Matthew 15

  • they come to Christ, and they tell him the disciples do not wash their hands, according to the tradition of the elders.
    • They are not following their elders
    • They are not following their fathers.
    • They are violating the 5th commandment because they are not washing their hands
    • Our fathers taught us that we should wash our hands to maintain ritual purity.

Jesus says, If you want to talk about the 5th commandment, we can

  • and he goes on to talk to them how they have negated the 5th Commandment with their doctrine of Corban
  • they were required by the 5th commandment to care for their aging mother and father
    • but instead, they were dedicating what they had to the temple.
    • in dedicating it, they were able to retain control and benefit of it and they then did not have to give it to their parents.
    • They could not sell it because now it belonged to God
      • but they had the entire use of it.

That was the doctrine they had developed.

  • And so, by their tradition, by their precepts,
    • they pushed out the law of God
    • they pushed out their fear toward God,
    • And they said, I am serving God by dedicating this stuff to him and that is why I cannot provide for you.

Their fear toward God, their obedience to God

  • was taught by the precepts of men
    • rather than by the precept of God.

It is very dangerous to allow the doctrines and commandments of men to creep in

  • because their habit is to push out the commands of God at every turn
  • And so here, the 5th commandment in Matthew chapter 15, was made void.


If God alone is lord of the conscience, and we have this robust doctrine of the sufficiency of the scriptures

What is our duty?

  • Our duty is to search the Scriptures.
  • Our duty is to judge everything by them
  • Our duty is to hear what God says to us, speaking authoritatively in His Word
  • Our duty is to turn away from the doctrines and commandments of men.
  • Our Duty is to understand, in our Liberty, we are free from the doctrine & commandments of men
  • Our Duty is to understand that God is alone the Lord of the Conscience, and He alone tells us how to live our faith
  • Our Duty is then to live out our faith according to what is contained in Scripture and not according to the doctrines or commandments of men.


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