The Arbiter of the Heart

By Thomas Cook

The following was taken from the book New Testament Holiness, written in the early twentieth century; and the men of whom the author either spoke of, or quoted, were eminent clergymen of the Christian religion.

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” – Isaiah 26:3

THE MAINTENANCE of a good conscience towards God from day to day is essential to the life of faith. True spirituality cannot exist unless it is accompanied by the purpose to do right at any cost. Archbishop Temple has truly said, “It is always a duty to obey conscience; it is never a duty to disobey it.” Conscience requires that we mean well and do our best. It requires not only that we follow all the light we have, but all that we can obtain, and that we do this gladly. Conscience demands first place in our character and in our conduct. The word “ought,” as in, “I ought to do my duty,” is, without a doubt, the most important word in any vocabulary.

But conscience guarantees only good intentions, for without knowledge and sound judgment, even those who are most conscientious may do much harm under the impression that they are doing the will of God. In some, conscience develops particular inconsistencies. Men are often extremely precise in some things and very lax in other things. Frederick Robertson emphasizes the fact that extreme preciseness about details often slides into laxity about the eternal laws of right and wrong.*

*Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of His day about this very thing. He said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” – Matthew 23:23

The Rev. John Newton, author of some of the most valuable hymns in the English language, was once, as is well known, a slave trader on the coast of Africa. After his conversion to Christianity his moral stupor was such that he saw no necessity for abandoning his diabolical trade. On his last voyage to the African coast for cargo he said that he “experienced sweeter and more frequent hours of Divine communion than he had ever known before.” Writing of his infamous occupation he said, “No other employment gives greater advantages for promoting the life of God in the soul, especially to one who has the command of a ship.”  This is the testimony of a slave dealer, yet the piety of John Newton at that time was scarcely less questionable than that of St. Paul. His moral sense had not yet been educated to see the extraordinary depravity of the course that he was pursuing.

The Bible says that the conscience can become seared, blunted and blinded. We have scriptural authority for saying that the conscience may become seared as with a hot iron.*

* Our conscience can become calloused if we do those things that we know are wrong, and it can become extremely hardened through repeated acts of wrongdoing, especially when we knowingly go against the truth of God’s Word. The Bible says, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate (undiscerning) mind, to do those things which are not convenient (right).” – Romans 1:28

In Newton’s case, his conscience gave him delirious judgment. He had written several hymns for Christian worship that the church sings today before he discovered how deep the pit truly was in which his moral nature was rotting. But when the awakening did come, he vaulted from the extremity of his moral stupor to the extremity of moral hysteria. From the conviction that nothing was sin, his conscience came to believe that everything was sin. For a time he could scarcely be persuaded to talk about things other than religious topics, for fear that he would incur the guilt of “idle words.”*

* Jesus said in Matthew 12:36 that “every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”

Is there any tyranny worse than that of an unenlightened conscience? Of all our ignorance and infirmities, nothing is more disastrous to Christian character than to fall into bondage to the ascetic scruples and tyrannical prohibitions of a conscience not properly instructed and mollified by good sense. It is reported that Oberlin once fell on his knees in a remorseful prayer because he had sent a letter in which he had neglected to cross the t’s and dot the i’s accurately. We may smile at his folly, but there are few Christians who cannot recall doing foolish things in their own lives while temporarily subjected to an austere conscience.

It is because of such possibilities of perversion and contortion that the human conscience is not always a safe and infallible guide. Our moral sense is not designed to stand alone in our conduct in life and in the building of our character. God has provided the Christian with another “arbiter” when judging between good and evil, and this arbiter is perfectly competent and reliable. “Let the peace of God,” said the apostle Paul, “rule in your hearts” (Col. 3:15).* Much of the force of this Scripture is lost by the use of the word “rule,” which is translated “arbitrate” in the margin of the Revised Version.**

* “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” – Colossians 3:15

** This was a Bible that is now out of print.

“It is evident,” said an eminent expositor of the Bible, “that St. Paul intended something peculiar by the use of the Greek word arbitrate, which is found nowhere else in the Holy Scriptures, and called a remarkable word by Bengel.” “Whenever there is a conflict of motives, or impulses, or reasons, the peace of God must step in and decide which of these is to prevail.” – Bishop Lightfoot. Dr. Maclaren explains that the meaning contained in the Greek word translated rule (arbitrate) is that of an umpire at a contest, who makes sure that the opponents observe the rules, and then awards the prize to the lawful winner.

This arbiter is not peace with God, but the peace of God. It is the fathomless ocean of Christ’s peace, which He has left as a legacy for His people. Jesus  said, “My peace I give unto you.”*

* “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” – John 14:27

This peace is a deep repose of spirit that we receive when we enthrone the God of peace as the Lord of our hearts and lives. When this peace becomes our chief consideration, then everything that disturbs this profound rest of the soul will be instinctively avoided, and we will instantly turn away from every act that would weave the thinnest veil between us and the face of our adorable Savior.  A man who is exploring an old well will first lower a candle into it, and if the candle keeps burning, he knows that he will be in no danger; but if the flame goes out, he also knows that it is not safe to explore the well any further. The peace of God is the Christian’s “test-flame,” and anything that disturbs our peace in the slightest degree should be instantly discarded — otherwise the storm has begun which will wreck the fair beauty and happiness of the soul.

The question of worldly amusements has been before the court of conscience for centuries, but no final decision has been reached. Before this arbiter (the peace of God), which the Gospel has summoned to the judgment-seat of the soul, the matter is quickly settled.*

* The peace of God will help us understand the difference between the enjoyment of innocent pleasures and lusting after the things of the world. The Bible says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” – 1 John 2:15-16

What we cannot do quietly, we cannot do safely. Whatever mars our tranquility or interferes with our inward rest is detrimental to our spiritual life. If we find that a certain course of action disturbs our peace, we may be certain that there is “poison in the cup,” and we should not drink of it anymore. Conscience may discern no evil, but the peace of God is a more delicate instrument, dealing with questions too subtle for conscience to answer, and operating in a higher sphere.

The peace of God will approve of nothing into which Christ cannot be introduced and assigned the seat of honor. The peace of God should be to us what the barometer is to the sailor, and if our peace is disturbed, let us take warning. Whenever we find our peace in peril, we must retrace our steps. In all matters of doubt, when contending impulses and reasons distract us and seem to pull us in opposite directions, our safety is to let the peace of God decide our course of action. Under His watchful leadership our soul settles down into a resolute and calm obedience to the law of Christ. Our hearts and lives are troubled, not by our circumstances, but by ourselves. We are restless because our wills are not in harmony with the will of God.

A calm and heavenly disposition is only possible to those who let the peace of God rule in their hearts. This stillness of the spirit is so sensitive that it warns us immediately when we are in the presence of an evil thing. Our peace departs when we allow what it forbids. Happy are those who have enthroned the peace of God as the arbiter of their hearts! We share with Christ the peace that He gives to us from His own deep heart, and this peace is as a great calm of the sea.

The halcyon (peaceful) rest within, calming the storms of dread and sin.

The Arbiter of the Heart was condensed revised.

NOTE: This article is also in French: L’ Arbitre du Cœur

To have the peace of God: (1) If you are a Christian, consecrate yourself entirely to God, to do His will as far as it is known to you. As an entirely consecrated Christian, it will be easy for you to believe that God, in the Name of Jesus Christ, will fill you with His peace through the agency of His divine Spirit, the Holy Spirit. (2) If you are not a Christian, in order to receive the peace of God, you must first have a sincere desire to turn your life over to God. Ask Him, in the Name of Jesus Christ, to forgive your sins (the Bible says that all people have sinned; Romans 3:23). Jesus died a sacrificial death for your sins and that is the reason why God can forgive them. You will know that your sins are forgiven and that God has received you into His favor when you are “born again” of His Spirit, the Holy Spirit. This is a spiritual birth, and you will know when you are born again of the Holy Spirit; then do step 1. – The Christian Hope

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