IV. A CLEAN, PURE CONSCIENCE
The Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matt. 5:8). This refers not just to a clean heart but to a pure heart. We also need a clean, pure conscience. In 2 Timothy 1:3 the Apostle says that he served God with a pure conscience. This is not just a clean conscience. Something that is clean is not necessarily pure, because there may be mixture in it. For instance, if you put a piece of steel and a piece of wood together and give them a thorough washing, they will be clean but not pure. We should have a conscience that is pure as well as clean.
Suppose someone asks God for a number of proper things, but he does not seek God absolutely in his conscience and has no sense of condemnation. This kind of conscience may be clean, but it is not sufficiently pure. A man can be for God and at the same time be for the work of the gospel—to preach the gospel successfully and to work and bring forth fruit. These things are neither bad nor defiled, but the intention within him may not be pure. He may still desire other things besides God. To have fruit in gospel preaching, to have power in carrying on the work, and to have the spreading and increase in leading the church—these are good, but the motive behind them may not be pure. This means the conscience is impure.
What does it mean to have a pure conscience? It means that you can say to God, “God, I only want You and nothing else. I do not even care for the work of the gospel, power for the work, fruits of the work, or the spreading and increase of the church. I just want You.” Such a conscience is a pure conscience. During the degradation of the church, Paul spoke in the letters to Timothy concerning a pure conscience as well as a good conscience. He said that he served God with a pure conscience. His conscience only sought God. Anything that was outside God had no place in him. He was one who served God with a conscience that was pure to such an extent.
Some have seriously condemned their work before God. This does not mean that their work was unsuccessful. On the contrary, their work may have been very effective. A good number of people may have been saved, and many may have received help. But one day when the light of God shines upon them, they will say to the Lord, “O Lord, these things have largely replaced You and have robbed You of Your place in me. Within me I am not pure, single, or absolute enough toward You. I still seek things other than You.” Such men, when you meet them, will give you a deep sense that they are those who live before God and whose conscience is pure. Please remember, only people like this can work for God, and the real fruit of the work will be manifested through them. But those who care for the results of the work may not always have results. And those who seek power to preach the gospel may not necessarily obtain power. Real results and real power are with those who care only for God Himself, for the results and the power are just God Himself. Such men have a pure conscience within them. Hence, they can serve God.
You need to understand the situation at the time Paul wrote the second epistle to Timothy. If he did not desire God alone, and if his conscience were not fixed on Him alone, it would have been impossible for him to stand firm at that time. For at that time he had lost everything. The churches in Asia, which had received the greatest help from him, had deserted him. Even Demas, his co-worker, having loved the present world, had forsaken him and gone to Thessalonica. All those who were beside him deserted him and left him alone in the prison. He had to handle the matter of his defense by himself. Nevertheless, he was not discouraged, for he knew what his desire was. He desired neither the church nor the work, but only God Himself. Therefore, in spite of the fact that the environment was entirely negative, he remained steadfast. His conscience was not only clean, but also pure.
If our conscience can be pure to such an extent, we also will condemn all things that are outside God. Not only will we condemn those things that are evil, but also those that are good, for we know that those things are not God Himself. What we seek is not the work, the blessings, or the church of God. What we desire is just God Himself. Then our conscience is not only clean but also pure. This is the word used by Paul when writing the second epistle to Timothy. At that time he was not only rejected by the Gentiles, but also was forsaken by the churches and his fellow-workers. Although everyone deserted him, he knew that the Lord had not left him. Hence, in such a trying hour, he was able to say that he served God with a pure conscience.
Brothers and sisters, many times God may not listen to our prayers. In the beginning, you may pray for ten things and know God has answered every one of them. But gradually you dare not and cannot pray for a number of things because you know that these are not what God is after. You know that He would not listen to your prayer for such things. If you do not deal with your conscience so that it becomes pure, you will say, “Oh, why should I pray? God would not listen to my prayer anyway. I do not need to pray anymore, neither do I need to serve God.” But if your conscience is pure to the degree that you do not care for anything but God Himself, then in this circumstance you would not murmur to God. Instead, you would say to Him, “God, I thank and praise You for not answering this particular prayer of mine, because what I asked for at that time was not You Yourself. Although it was something good and was not sinful, it still was not what You want.” When your conscience is clean and pure to this extent, you can be a very deep, very proper man of prayer.
Today, many of our prayers are not deep or proper enough. We are like children asking our parents for whatever we want. In the past our parents, considering that we were still young, gave us some things according to what we had asked. The same is true in our experience with the Lord. But gradually, as we grow before the Lord, we can no longer pray as we wish. In some instances we are not able to open our mouth and ask. In other instances, when the Lord fails to answer our prayer, we are no longer able to complain. Rather, we give thanks, for we know that God would never give us those things that are outside Himself. Hence, to be a deeper, proper man of prayer has very much to do with having a pure conscience.
(Lessons on Prayer, Chapter 9, by Witness Lee)