Eight Questions of Conscience
by Broken Wharfe
Benjamin Keach exposes an all-too-common occurrence among professing Christians in the following sketch of the conversation between True Godliness and Conscience. One of the strengths of puritan theology was applying biblical truth to the various expressions of a lost condition found among professing Christians. One also finds this strength among confessional Baptists of the 17th Century. Like skilful physicians of the soul, men like Keach were experts at identifying and diagnosing the disease of sin in its several manifestations. A lost condition may present itself in a variety of ways. A loving doctor of the soul is careful to distinguish between what may be a mere ‘form of godliness’ and biblical godliness that possesses divine power and grace. When dealing with souls, this distinction demands the delicate use of the two great tools that are at every true Christian’s disposal, law and gospel.
Like Christ, the Great Physician, believers must apply these tools wisely. The law of God is like a scalpal, which must be precisely applied to those who may be guilty of presumption. It aims to expose sin and deal with the cancer of spiritual pride, which lies at the root of many spiritual ailments. One must seek to cut out this cancer.
However, the gospel is like a healing ointment that believers should apply to those wounded by God’s law. Remember Paul’s words, ‘the commandment came, sin revived, and I died’ (Romans 7:9). After helping the proud and blind soul to see their need for a Saviour, the gospel aims to deliver the wounded soul from the temptation of despair, which is ironically a subtle form of pride, too. Thus, one must seek to apply the healing ointment of the gospel to the wounded conscience. Applying gospel medicine to those who have no wounds is a waste. Indeed, as Christ aptly said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.” (Mark 2:17)
If we are to be wise in the winning of souls (Proverbs 11:30), then we must ever labour to grow more skilful in how we apply both law and gospel. The best way of doing this is by learning to apply both the law and gospel to our own souls. In this way, we may become better physicians of those souls which God, in his providence, brings across our path.
In the following sketch, John Palmer highlights the skilful way confessional Baptists, like Keach, sought to apply the first tool, the law of God, to those who only possessed the husk of Christianity but were without the kernel. May we ever seek to grow better as those whom God calls to win souls.
Benjamin Keach was a General Baptist pastor who became convinced of the truth of Calvinism. He pastored the church at Horsley-down in Southwark which became eventually the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
On his continuing travels, Keach’s True Godliness comes to the house of Formalist, who seeks to convince him that he is a Christian. Godliness, however, remains unpersuaded. To discover the truth, he insists on interviewing Formalist’s servant, Conscience. Parts of the dialogue run as follows:
Conscience, I require you, in the fear of God, to answer me a question or two concerning your master. Doth he not secretły lodge and hide one in his house, called Hypocrisy?
Here, the original editor notes that “Hypocrisy is here intended to mean self deception as well as the deception of others.” This person is one who, beginning with trying to live out a sincere profession of Christianity, ends up maintaining a false profession to pass as a Christian before men. Compare the warnings of 1 John 1:5-10!
Godliness continues by propounding eight questions to Conscience. These are superbly designed by Keach as, in Godliness’ words, “… such a description of this subtle and deceitful enemy of mine, that you cannot well mistake.”
They are the questions which need to be brought home to the conscience of many. Those in Keach’s view are not, like last month, legalists- those who seek to be justified by their good endeavours. No, this is the Formalist- one who seems to be a godly person but is content with the form of godliness without the power.
The following are parts of what Keach puts into the mouth of True Godliness:
- Sir, was your master ever thoroughly wounded in the sense of sin, being convinced of its ugly and abominable nature?… not only convinced of the evil which attends it, or is the fruit of it, but that cursed evil there is in it; being utterly contrary to the holy and pure nature of God, a breach of his law…
- Is he not proud, minding more the honour, praise, and applause of men, in what he doth in religion, than the praise of God?…Is not the world more in his love and affections than God and Jesus Christ?… Does he see more evil in the least sin than in the greatest suffering?
- Does he desire as much to have his sins mortified as pardoned; to be made holy here, as well as happy hereafter? Is he as much in love with the work of holiness as with the wages of holiness? Does he love the word of God because of the purity of it?… Is he willing to…live to God on earth, as well as to live with God in heaven?
- Is he the same in private as in public? Does he not rest satisfied upon the bare performance of duty, not minding whether he hath met with God or not? Does he pray in private as if men saw him; and in public, as knowing God sees him?…
- Can he bear reproofs kindly for his faults, and take them patiently; nay, and esteem him his greatest friend, who deals most candidly with him?…
- Does he as much desire to have his heart filled with grace, as his head with knowledge? Does he take as much care to make the glory of God his end, as the command of God his ground, in what he does?
- Is he not more curious to know other men’s conditions than his own?
- Has he received a whole Christ with a whole heart? 1. A whole Christ comprehends all his offices. Has he received Christ, not only as a priest to die for him, but also as a prince to rule over him? Does he obey all God’s precepts, as well as believe all God’s promises? 2. A whole heart comprehends all the faculties and feelings. The understanding may be somewhat enlightened, but the affections may be carnal, and the will averse to True Godliness. Is his heart divided?
Sir, I must confess Hypocrisy is here…and he hath hid himself in my Master’s house ever since he came to live in this town of Religion…
Godliness then addresses Formalist:
…how can you pretend kindness to me, and thus secretly entertain one of my worst enemies? Sir, it is you who has brought so great a reproach upon this poor town Religion, and on all its inhabitants; nay, and it is through your means I am so vilified and condemned by Ignorance, for he is ready to conclude, that all my friends and true favourites are such as yourself, viz. mere loose and formal hypocrites…
Keach then narrates, “Formalist at this began to be very angry, being greatly offended at True Godliness” and then regarding True Godliness, “…no man’s state in all his travels did he indeed more lament than that of blinded, hopeless Formalist.”
Such self-examination, preaching and faithful pastoral work is so sorely needed in our day.