What Bavinck says about The place of conscience and how it works in our lives; Peter Martyr Vermigli

 So let us start to think about the mechanisms that make conscience work.  The early church fathers and the scholastics have helped us a long way through syllogisms.  Syllogisms were also used by theologians from the reformed traditions.  Bavinck here is telling us about Peter Martyr Vermigli, an Italian reformed theologian:

Peter Martyr Vermigli was an Italian-born Reformed theologian. His early work as a reformer in Catholic Italy and his decision to flee for Protestant northern Europe influenced many other Italians to convert and flee as well. Wikipedia

Born: September 8, 1499, Florence, Italy

Died: November 12, 1562, Zürich, Switzerland

Education: University of Padua “(Taken from Google search)

from Public domain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Martyr_Vermigli

So, Bavinck wrote:

Vermigli put it this way: first comes syntérésis, the natural knowledge of things concerning our conduct, which provides the major premise (such as, fornication is sin). Conscience supplies the minor premise (what you want to do is fornication) and draws the conclusion: you should not do that. (Reformed Ethics, Herman Bavinck, edited by John Bolt, page 183).

In the major premise then, it is a ‘the natural knowledge of things concerning our conduct (such as, fornication is sin) ’. Natural knowledge of something bad does not mean that you have sinned.   

We also need the minor ‘premise (what you want to do is fornication) and draws the conclusion: you should not do that’.

The conclusion can then be that the conscience shows you that you are guilty because you are.  Conscience in itself can never make something right.  It is a judgement, and it only shows what has already taken place.

Obviously according to Vermigli the conscience can also judge things done admirably.  The syllogism Bavinck used as an example focused on looking at sin.  The syllogism as a tool can also be used with ethics that move in the direction of the Good. (page 183).  I think we also need to remember that even the conscience can get wrong answers at times because of the Fall (Adam and Eve turning their back on God). 

However, all rational creatures including angels have a conscience.  Though conscience in itself is inadequate for a proper measure, we rely on the Holy Spirit and Scripture as guides for us by God’s grace.  Concerning conscience then, there are two who know our deeds and judgements, you and God; not a third party.   A third party may guess objectively but subjectively it is impossible for others to know.  Bavinck then gives us two collecting points.

a.       The conscience is a witness to good acts or bad acts.

b.       The conscience makes a judgement about our past deed.

The conscience is only answerable to God and it follows through God’s command.   Our master theologian then gives us two verses:

22 For the LORD is our judge,

The LORD is our lawgiver,

The LORD is our king;

He will save us— Isaiah 33:22 NASB

And then:

12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbour? James 4:12 NASB


Before Bavinck goes on to explain in more details, he gives us this great gem:

There are many judges in the world, but God is the ultimate Judge.  When judges judge they will never know all the facts.  In God’s case, He understands and knows everything:

 “The reasoning conscience functions in two ways: through the mind and through the memory.  The intellect makes use of ecclesiastical (canon) law and civil law. Memory arises from particular deeds, either accomplished or only imagined, which the conscience judges by the norms of the law.” (Reformed Ethics, Herman Bavinck, edited by John Bolt, page 183-184).



We have discovered that the conscience is very important to our health and wellbeing here on earth, but it also has a say on our future into eternity.  God is Judge of the whole earth.  If we have a Christian faith of whatever background, then Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into the world to be a guide and teacher to his children.  God has also given us his word the Bible.  Although our consciences are broken by the Fall, through God’s grace by the Holy Spirit and Scripture these corrections help us to reach new heights of God’s activity in the world reaching to the lost.

If you are not a Christian, you too have a conscience my friend.  What have you done with your conscience?  Have you listened to it recently or do you ignore it?  We have all been created by God, believers and non-believers.  There are issues at hand such as floods, hunger, global warming.  Love of our family and our neighbours.  On a lot of these issues, it does not matter whether or not one is a Christian in this present age but we as human beings have to get together and make decisions to make this world a better place for our children’s sakes. 

Having said that, I invite you if you are not a Christian to think about these things.  Jesus is at the door of your heart, and he is knocking.  Will you invite him into your life?  If you do not know anything about the Lord Jesus, I think a Gospel I seriously like is Johns Gospel.   It may be that you know some Christians already and it is worth talking to a church minister or a better still; someone you know who a believer is, they could help you. 

I want to finish off by saying that we are all sinners and without God’s help we are lost.  My faith in Christ gives me a focus and a goal in life and I bow my knee only to Him.  Herman Bavinck has thought through some serious issues of what it means to serve God in the real world.  I hope and pray that you have also benefited from his wisdom as we walk along a path that he laid before us.

News about my commentary on the Book of Hebrews


If you go to https://weaver1hasonline.international/   You will find my other site.  At the moment I am going through the book of Hebrews.  At this site I also went through the whole of 1 Corinthians.  Last Week we looked at Psalm 96 as a background text to Apollos’ arguments in chapter 3 and 4.

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