The apostle, having intimated that there may be, even among us, such a privilege as an assurance or sound persuasion of heart towards God, proceeds here,
I. To establish the court of conscience, and to assert the authority of it: For, if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things, 1 John 3:20. Our heart here is our self-reflecting judicial power, that noble excellent ability whereby we can take cognizance of ourselves, of our spirits, our dispositions, and actions, and accordingly pass a judgment upon our state towards God; and so it is the same with conscience, or the power of moral self-consciousness. This power can act as witness, judge, and executioner of judgment; it either accuses or excuses, condemns or justifies; it is set and placed in this office by God himself: the spirit of man, thus capacitated and empowered, is the candle of the Lord, a luminary lighted and set up by the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly, taking into scrutiny and viewing the penetralia—the private recesses and secret transactions of the inner man, Prov. 20:27. Conscience is God’s vicegerent, calls the court in his name, and acts for him. The answer of a good conscience towards God, 1 Pet. 3:21. God is chief Judge of the court: If our heart condemn us God is greater than our heart, superior to our heart and conscience in power and judgment; hence the act and judgment of the court are the act and judgment of God; as, 1. If conscience condemn us, God does so too: For, if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things, 1 John 3:20. God is a greater witness than our conscience, and knoweth more against us than it does: he knoweth all things; he is a greater Judge than conscience; for, as he is supreme, so his judgment shall stand, and shall be fully and finally executed. This seems to be the design of another apostle when he says, For I know nothing by myself, that is, in the case wherein I am censured by some. “I am not conscious of any guile, or allowed unfaithfulness, in my stewardship and ministry. Yet I am hereby justified; it is not by my own conscience that I must ultimately stand or fall; the justification or justifying sentence of my conscience, or self-consciousness, will not determine the controversy between you and me; as you do not appeal to its sentence, so neither will you be determined by its decision; but he that judgeth me (supremely and finally judgeth me), and by whose judgment you and I must be determined, is the Lord,” 1 Cor. 4:4. Or, 2. If conscience acquit us, God does so too: Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God (1 John 3:21), then have we assurance that he accepts us now, and will acquit us in the great day of account. But, possibly, some presumptuous soul may here say, “I am glad of this; my heart does not condemn me, and therefore I may conclude God does not.” As, on the contrary, upon the 1 John 3:20; some pious trembling soul will be ready to cry out, “God forbid! My heart or conscience condemns me, and must I then infallibly expect the condemnation of God?” But let such know that the errors of the witness are not here reckoned as the acts of the court; ignorance, error, prejudice, partiality, and presumption, may be said to be faults of the officers of the court, or of the attendants of the judge (as the mind, the will, appetite, passion, sensual disposition, or disordered brain), or of the jury, who give a false verdict, not of the judge itself; conscience—syneidesis, is properly self-consciousness. Acts of ignorance and error are not acts of self-consciousness, but of some mistaken power; and the court of conscience is here described in its process, according to the original constitution of it by God himself, according to which process what is bound in conscience is bound in heaven; let conscience therefore be heard, be well-informed, and diligently attended to.
II. To indicate the privilege of those who have a good conscience towards God. They have interest in heaven and in the court above; their suits are heard there: And whatsoever we ask we receive of him, 1 John 3:22. It is supposed that the petitioners do not desire, or do not intend to desire, any thing that is contrary to the honour and glory of the court or to their own intended spiritual good, and then they may depend upon receiving the good things they ask for; and this supposition may well be made concerning the petitioners, or they may well be supposed to receive the good things they ask for, considering their qualification and practice: Because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight, 1 John 3:22. Obedient souls are prepared for blessings, and they have promise of audience; those who commit things displeasing to God cannot expect that he should please them in hearing and answering their prayers, Ps. 66:18; Prov. 28:9.